By Horse-Cars Into Mexico
HISTORY goes into proverbs as well as into histories. The story of many centuries was framed in the old saying, “ All roads lead to Rome ; ” and the story of this century, in America, seems in a fair way to be similarly phrased in a statement that all roads lead to Mexico.
Looking over a map of the railroads in the United States to-day, one is reminded of nothing so much as of the wheel-shaped cobwebs which are to be seen glittering upon the grass in dewy summer mornings; their main spokes stretching out divergently to every point of the circle, and united by innumerable short-cut lines at various angles and intervals. A satirical person might be tempted to go farther, and say that the analogy did not stop with the resemblance in configuration ; that the purposes of some of the iron net - works were not unlike those of the shining gossamer systems; and that one might see, any day, helpless flies caught in the first, as they are in the second. What is known as “ the Gould system,” as it is marked out to-day on the maps, resembles one of these ingenious cobwebs, in the state in which they are often to be seen before the industrious builder has fully matured and completed his plans. On the outer circumference hang many semi-attached lines, waving in the wind, now this way, now that; giving no sure indication to the observer on which of the many near objects they will finally lay hold, or what their precise bearing and purpose may be. All the worse for flies, and all the better for spiders, — this sort of floating position : by one of these blowing, shifty threads, a fly may even be caught on the wing, in clear air, where a half second before he was as safe as he believed himself to be. His surprise is equaled only by his helplessness. But the carrying the cobweb metaphor thus far would be only the half idle fancy of one of those unfortunately constituted persons who are born with a worse than second sight; that sort of double sight which persists in seeing both sides of a thing, — in fact, all sides, no matter how many the thing may possess. The only happy people, one might almost say the only successful people, in this world are they who can see but one side of a question. No misgivings, no perplexities, no doubts, no pities, no compassions, hamper their progress, or hinder their success. Of such are the kingdoms of the world.
By the extensions of this railroad web-work north, south, east, and west, distances are fast being so lessened that it seems hardly a figure of speech to call them annihilated. The boon that this is can be fully realized only by two classes of the community: those whose needs compel them to go from place to place over great stretches of distance, and those whose love of change and of new scenes impels them to wide travel. A few years ago, to have spoken of running down from Colorado to the Mexican boundary for a few days’ trip would have been preposterous ; yet to do it to-day is only a matter of thirty-six hours. A train recently put on the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fé road, and appropriately named The Thunderbolt, leaving Colorado Springs at six in the evening, brings one, at half past ten the same night, one hundred miles east of Pueblo, to a point named La Junta, where connection is made with a train for the Pacific shore, and for Mexico. On the morning of the second day we breakfast in El Paso, on the banks of the Rio Grande.
The journey seems at once longer and shorter than it is, its transitions of air, coloring, atmosphere, are so great. At La Junta, it is a plunge into trackless wilderness. Even in the dark, the great, splendid, unbroken horizons look measureless, and suggest undiscovered worlds rather than countries beyond.
Dawn is breaking at Trinidad just as the train arrives. A long line of charcoal pits blaze luridly at base of a grand, fortress-shaped mountain of bare rock. The region looks sterile ; sparse growths of tree and shrub, and grasses scanty ; but in October it is a painter’s autumn palette. Every shade of red, of brown, of yellow, is to be seen in the foliage. Even the ground is spread thick with color; each weed has been either sunburnt or frost-bitten, into claret or terra-cotta red or brown, and the dead grass, sweeter and more nourishing now than any hay from eastern meadows, makes a groundwork and undertone of solid yellow by the solid mile. Above this, thrown up and out in fine dark relief, are the pinôn trees, stirless, weird, fantastic, no two alike, all stormbeaten, with contours twisted and wrenched, like wind-wrecked timbers, the sport of centuries of gales fiercer than seas often know.
Ahead in the southeast, across the track, stretches the Raton range, barrier between Colorado and New Mexico. Its sky-line looks like man’s work : straight cuts, castellated elevations, steps, and terraces, all chiseled in upright and horizontal strokes. On the north side of one peak, six regular steps, straight and proportioned like a noble staircase, lead from base to summit.
The range is tunneled at a narrow point: the west month of the tunnel is in Colorado, the east mouth in New Mexico, and the two are only two thousand feet apart. Around the New Mexico mouth has grown up a confused medley of battlement-fronted shanties, saloons, turn-tables, engine houses, machine shops, etc., called the city of Raton. It is the embryo which will be born a healthy city some day, when its time shall have been fulfilled. The city will be noted for the beauty of its site : a near background of majestic mountains; to the east and the south great reaches of plains; and the far horizons full of crests and peaks of myriad ranges, whose vast intervals and spaces are so crowded and foreshortened that they record themselves on the eye only by tiers of varying colors, built up into a wondrous mosaic against the sky.
To a dweller in the favored countries where lofty mountain ranges and vast plain stretches are thus brought into view together, it becomes a marvel how the human eye can content itself with either form of grandeur alone. Plains unbroken, their entire horizon line low, melting into sky, have the monotony of a stiffened open ocean : one feels a restless impatience, as if perpetually becalmed. In a purely mountainous region, surrounded by high peaks, there is a sense of imprisonment, of oppression ; the loftier and grander the peaks, the greater is one’s sense of the first and growing consciousness of the latter. There come times when each mountain front seems endued with personality, and takes on a look of cruel menace, of hostile and irresistible power. This can increase till one is driven, as it were, to flee for life, lest they fall on him and crush him. But with plains on one hand, and mountains on the other, one may turn either to a solid bulwark of protection and shelter, or to an open vista of unchecked freedom, according to his mood and the need of his every moment. To live in such vantage spots of the earth is to have at hand nature’s utmost, both of consolation and of stimulus ; and he who is not grateful for it deserves to be banished forever to the desert, or to mountain abysses.
The day’s journey beyond Raton is a journey through solitudes. Hour after hour, mile after mile, silent, unbroken, without vestige of any life, save the strange half fossil-like life of the aged piñons, the great levels sweep by. The breaking in of the noise, the interruption of the haste of the passing train, on the silence and the repose of the wilderness seem dangerous insolence. Here and there at stations, speechless, impassive, stand groups of gaunt Indians, by twos and threes, with steady gleamless eyes, watching as if they waited to see the primeval deities avenge themselves on such foolhardy intruders.
At long intervals the train halts at mud villages, part Indian, part Mexican, with a strange graft and frontage of board shanty and wide-awake American. At noon it reaches Las Vegas, an old Mexican town of importance, now being fast transformed into a new railroad city. The contrast between the narrow, crooked, adobe-walled alleys, low, flat-roofed mud houses, and ragged, lazy people — all picturesque and goodfor-nothing together — in the old town, with the straight streets, pert brick blocks, bustling money getters and begetters — all unpicturesque and well-to-do together — in the new town, is a sharp one, embodying and emphasizing the history and condition of New Mexico to-day, and foreshadowing its condition and the fate of its people in the near future.
Here, six miles from the town, in a beautiful little canyon, are the Las Vegas Hot Springs, famous for cures of rheumatism and myriads of other ailments. The sagacious railroad company has opened in this canyon a really fine hotel, not only well kept and well appointed in all particulars, but beautiful to look on ; planned and built by Boston architects, to whose taste its harmonious proportions and colors do great credit. Such a hotel as this, combined with the sunny winter climate and the long schedules and records of the medicinal waters and their cures, will prove no small factor in the future development of this part of New Mexico.
Las Vegas is 6400 feet above the sea ; an elevation which seems to afford in many instances a specific cure for pulmonary disease in its early stages. This altitude, and the great dryness of the air and mildness of the winters, will probably give to the upper half of New Mexico the preëminent place on that great central plateau, lying along the east base of the Rocky Mountains, which has come to be considered as the sanitarium in America for diseases of the lungs.
A short distance from Las Vegas looms up a strange, isolated peak, upon which one cannot look without a shudder. Its long slopes terminate abruptly in a straight-walled, fortress-shaped summit of stone. When the lower part of the mountain is in shadow, this rocky fortress stands out so sharply defined, one fancies he sees embrasure, gate, escarpment, wall; nothing seems wanting of a fortress’s equipment, and it is impossible to believe that mortal hand has wrought no stroke there. The mountain has a terrible name, born of a dreadful history. At its base is the little Mexican town of Bernal. Nearly half a century ago, the Navajo Indians, attacking the place, defeated the Mexicans and scattered their forces. A small band of the Mexicans escaped to the top of this mountain. It is accessible by only a single, narrow path, which one man could hold against an army. There were twenty-six of the Mexicans ; four hundred of the Navajoes. The Navajoes could not climb the mountain; but they could surround it, so that not a Mexican could come down. This they did, and waited patiently till their prisoners had died of hunger. Two crosses, to commemorate the frightful siege, were set up on the top of the mountain, and it was called no more Bernal Mountain, but Starvation Peak.
Beyond Las Vegas the country grows, if possible, wilder, lonelier; the people, poorer. At several of the stations, groups of cowboys, defiant, reckless, stood lounging on the platform, eying the train, — now whispering together, now talking loud, with impudent bravado. They were picturesque rascals, with loose, yellow-brown clothes, and drab-colored sombreros, bent into all possible shapes, and tossed carelessly on their heads. It was pitiable to see how young were many of their faces. In one group I counted four who were certainly not over twenty years old ; yet their countenances were the worst in the group. A strange, untamable look, half joy, half wonder, characterized them all. They were good types of exultant outlaws, and I wondered, as we moved on and left them gazing insolently, with loud laughs, after us, whether, as the rich grow richer and richer, and the socalled upper classes grow farther and farther removed from the lower, there does not come an increasing stimulus to and delight in all forms of outlawry.
At dawn of the second morning we were in sight of Mexico ; the Rio Grande trickling along on our right, the wonderful Organ range on the left. This range is well named, its abruptly broken, upright, narrow peaks looking like nothing so much as like walls of colossal organ pipes irregularly broken off at top. The whole range is rich in precious metals and minerals, — one of the richest in the country. As we neared El Paso we had a curious illustration of the oddities of the boundary-line system. The ground on which our train was running was in Texas. A few rods off, on the other side of the river, a white stone, on a low-hill range, marked the spot where Mexico ended ; and between that and the river was a narrow strip, seeming a mere hand’s-breadth, which was New Mexico. Standing on the Texas side of the river, one could throw a stone across three States’ land.
The town of El Paso is on the American side of the Rio Grande, opposite the old Mexican town of Paso del Norte. El Paso is two years old; Paso del Norte, three hundred and more,— how much more nobody knows.
A sharper antithesis could not be found in the world than these two towns afford, and the thorn in the flesh that El Paso is to Paso del Norte, only Paso del Norte people could describe. But they will not. They are as mute and gentle to-day as they were centuries ago, and submit to this second great conquest of their country even more silently than they did to the first. The steam-engine is greater than Cortez. Their doom was sealed before ; it will be accomplished now. Walking through the streets of Paso del Norte, seeing the primeval simplicity and poverty of the inhabitants, one wonders that they should not have welcomed the coming of a railroad, the bringing in of supplies, the opening of a market. But they did not. All they asked was to be let alone.
The town claims to number ten thousand inhabitants ; this seems incredible. Still, it stretches for miles along the banks of the Rio Grande, an almost unbroken line of mud houses, mud-walled vineyards and orchards; and similar lines of mud houses and mud walls, with muddy ditches added, run off at right angles to the river, for a long distance. Every doorway swarms with women and babies ; every shaded ditch bank swarms with children ; and the little plaza, of a Sunday, swarms with men. Perhaps there are ten thousand, after all ; but that ten thousand people could be living in a town, and the town remain one month what Paso del Norte is, is a marvel, and would be an impossibility to any other race in the world ; only the Mexicans could accomplish such inertia, or endure such discomfort.
Considered as a spectacle, as a picture, the town is perfect; all that heart could ask. To be there on a Sunday is to escape from America and the nineteenth century as from place and time forgotten.
The church is a long, low adobe building, with a good bell tower, of Moorish design. It is in all probability nearly three hundred years old. Part of the front has fallen, and, having been left lying where it fell, has been converted by the swift sand-blowing gales into a hardened mound. The winding staircase in the bell tower is made of solid rough hewn logs ; a clumsy post, also solid and rough hewn, being driven through them in the corner. The ceiling of the church is made of logs, reeds, and saplings. The logs are most curiously and effectively carved in deep-cut lines, intersecting each other so as to make regular diamond-shaped intervals ; in each of these intervals a sort of rose, and at each intersection a projecting peg. The effect is marvelously decorative ; it is a design which might well be copied by workmen of to-day. The logs are supported at each end by a graceful bracket, wrought in the same pattern, and every beam and support of the building is similarly carved. The spaces between these logs are about twice the width of the log, and are filled in with small round saplings or reeds, set at a slant corresponding to the slanting carved lines on the logs, and alternating right and left in the alternating spaces. This alternation greatly heightens the effect of the ceiling. There are traces of color decoration on the walls, but ruthless whitewash has nearly obliterated them; and there are no pictures or other adornments at all on the same plane as the wood-carving.
Early in the morning the people begin to creep towards the church : the women with black or gay shawls over their heads, held in place at the chin, or over the mouth, by one hand; in the other hand a prayer-book and rosary; little girls, not over six or seven, toddling along, in the same attire, as if in solemn mimicry of their elders. There must have come to be in Mexico such a thing as a hereditary knack at the shawl; else infant hands could not so deftly grasp and manage the folds of heavy shawls, frequently so large that they drag on the ground behind. The clothes of the men are shabby, often ragged ; but no matter how shabby, how ragged, be the suit, it is topped off by a resplendent sombrero, either of straw, fine plaited, with a big roll of twisted straw and silver wire around the crown, or else of gray felt, embroidered showily in silver and gold. The brims are so broad they shade face and neck, emphasizing every feature into relief; the crowns are high and soft, taking new shapes as often as the hat is put off and on. There is opportunity for much study and reflection on the Mexican sombrero; it is an embodiment of tradition, and represents many things in the race history. Probably no Mexican can feel wholly cast down in his mind so long as he wears one. In many of the Mexican towns the manufacture of them is a chief industry. When the net-work of projected railroads is completed, and carloads of everything are carried everywhere along the lines, no doubt the sombrero will disappear. It will be a pity.
The church stands on a sandy eminence, looking southward down on the sandy little plaza. Two sandy streets lead up to it; more than sandy they are, — ankle deep in sand, except here and there a rod or two of scattered pavement; prehistoric, apparently, and apparently held in reverence by the Mexicans, who seldom walk on it, choosing rather to wade in the sand. The more elegant of the women wear long skirts, trailing a foot or two behind them. They would scorn to lift them. It has never been the custom of the race to do so, and no dowager in England can sweep her brocade train over the queen’s floors with a finer combination of leisurely nonchalance and dignity than do the Mexican dames trail their dusty cottons through the clouds of sand in the streets of Paso del Norte. It is as fine a thing, in its way, as the sombrero, and as full of significance.
Long before the mass begins the floor of the church is crowded with kneeling figures; men on the right, women and children on the left. A few have brought gay rugs or blankets to kneel on ; but the most kneel humbly on the bare door. Upon all the faces is an expression of solemn, almost sad devotion, which would not have seemed inadequate even to Padre Gomez, who, two hundred years ago, used to preach from the queer little carved cask hanging precariously high up on the wall. The books of births, marriages, and deaths which he kept are still lying where he for so many years used to put them carefully away, in a big oaken chest in the sacristy. Their sheep-skin covers are fringed at the edges, and worn, almost as by stippling tools ; but his handwriting is as clear as ever, and the dates 1682, 1683, 1685, are as distinct as those written last year. One wonders what secrets, in the matter of ink, those old padres possessed ; certainly some of an efficacy not known now.
When the mass ends the people rise slowly, still with solemn faces and silent. One perceives, as the stir goes on, that in almost every group of kneelers there has been a crouching dog, also mute and motionless. Even now the subdued creatures make neither sound nor haste, but crawl along spiritlessly in the throng. Only the least devout of the people leave the church. At least half of the congregation remains. In groups of two and three, or kneeling solitarily, they all fall now to praying for their hearts’ chief desires. The murmur is like that of bees in a hive, and the stranger feels a sudden sense of intrusion on private devotions. I have never seen in any church, not even in Italy, such an atmosphere of earnest, solemn worship as here. One poor, starved-faced beggar, whose tatters barely covered him, knelt in the centre of the floor, praying and chanting aloud. Going to a huge cross which was set up in front of the choir, he embraced it rapturously, kissing the silvered nails over and over ; dipping his fingers in the holy water, and making the sign of the cross again and again on his forehead and on his breast. There was no expression of entreaty or petition on his countenance ; only of ecstatic love, worship, and thanksgiving. “ Oh,” we whispered, “ what can he have to be thankful for!”
On the south side of the plaza a few cottonwood-trees have made out to live and grow high enough to give shade. To this the congregation of worshipers slowly made their way. Already awaiting them there was a motley row of traffickers, with an odd and povertystricken show of goods for sale : little tables spread with peppers, onions, withered peaches and pears, — a handful or two of each ; small wheelbarrows half filled with cakes of dusky bread ; boiled sweet potatoes, or boiled yellow squashes. Behind these tables, or on the ground by the wheelbarrows, squatted old women, who anxiously eyed every possible customer. At intervals, new venders arrived, met with unwelcome glances by those on the spot. Some brought a half dozen cakes or loaves of bread in a basket neatly covered with a white cloth ; some brought a single watermelon, or boiled squash, which they cut into small pieces, and sold with as much gravity and precision as would suffice for the most important business transactions. Every one had roasted corn for sale, roasted in the husk. It seemed the favorite viand ; men, women, children, all ate it, standing, stripping off the husks and throwing them on the ground. For a few minutes, the spectacle was grotesque ; hundreds of hands holding corn ears at open mouths, white teeth gnawing, clicking, all around. A squad of Mexican soldiers, with neat white linen jackets and trousers and bright blue caps, were the greatest devourers of the corn. The ground under their feet was piled with the husks they had thrown down, and they laughingly shuffled them away with their feet as they tossed down fresh ones. An old beggar woman, half naked, and with long streaming gray hair, went about picking up the husks, and cramming them into her skirt, held up high, leaving her gaunt old legs bare to the knees. Another beggar had had the gift of half a watermelon. He leaned back in a corner of the plaza, his head resting on the wall; with his left hand holding the melon on his knee, with two fingers of the right he lazily scooped out mouthfuls of it, and carried them slowly to his mouth, the juice dripping like water all the way. At each mouthful, he shut his eyes and sighed with satisfaction. Lounging up and down in the crowd went a swarthy-faced man, wearing a red fez and the full-gathered Turkish trousers, selling rosaries of pearl and of olive-wood. He said the rosaries came from Jerusalem, and he was a Syrian. His face seemed strangely familiar to me. “ Where have I seen you before ? ” I exclaimed. “ Were you not at Ober-Ammergau, at the last Passion play?”
“ Yes, lady,” he replied.
It was, indeed, the very man from whom I had bought rosaries and Jerusalem roses, in the Ammergau Valley, two years ago. He smiled with a superior calm, as he passed on. To his Oriental mind there was nothing surprising in the encounter; and he would, no doubt, have compassionated me as the victim of an imagination bootlessly active, if he had known how pertinaciously my eyes and my wondering fancy followed him, as he strolled back and forth, swinging his crimson and pearly beads on the fingers of his right hand, offering them with a mute gesture, so slight it seemed hardly to demand recognition, and regarding with an equally nonchalant glance those who bought and those who turned away. From OberAmmergau to Paso del Norte to sell strings of beads ? It must have been some other errand that brought him.
In a little booth on one of the plaza corners stood another figure, almost as incongruous as the swart Syrian. It was an old man, with fair, pink cheeks, blue eyes, and white hair; as unmistakably a New Englander as could be found in the deacon’s seat in a village meeting-house in Vermont. Hearing our struggling efforts at conversation with some of the Mexicans, he came to the rescue. His clearly articulated syllables fell upon our ears even more startlingly than had the Syrian’s “ Yes, lady.” Each word proved him to be a man of education and of cleverness. Yet here he was, in a street booth, selling bread and wine to ragged Mexicans.
“ Do you live here ? ” we asked wonderingly.
“ I have lived here six years,” he answered, and a slight flush rose on his wrinkled cheeks. We were evidently treading on graves of mysteries and experiences in thus venturing to wonder what had brought this clear-voiced Yankee, in his old age, thus low in Paso del Norte.
Since the coming in of the railroads, frequent communication between El Paso and Paso del Norte has been a necessity. Each is a port of entry, with officials and guards, and a complete record of the duties daily paid, resisted, or evaded, in the two towns, would be amusing reading. On the El Paso side, every morning, in the fruit season, may be seen a motley group before the custom-house doors. Not a grape, pepper, peach, or tomato can come on the United States soil without a tax. The well-to-do man who brings his grapes in wagon-loads, and the poor vagabond who brings a few clusters in a basket on his head, both fare alike, and there is no safety in any evasions. If some poor fellow wades over, miles up or down the river, smuggles in his fruit, and begins to sell it in El Paso, the first thing he knows, some malicious person or some spy asks to see the custom-house ticket proving that his fruit has paid duty. Failing to show this, he loses fruit, basket, and all, and is fined beside. The day before we were there, the customhouse officers had thus seized a wagonload of fruit, and the wagon and the boxes. The foolish owner, well able to pay the tax, had lost hundreds of dollars.
The Mexican duties are enormous, and are levied upon almost everything ; upon canned fruits and vegetables, three times the value of the goods. We heard a droll story of a gift of canned fruits sent into Mexico, for which the unfortunate recipient had to pay twentyone dollars duty, the original cost of the fruit having been seven dollars and a half. The Mexican who buys him a seventy-five dollar buggy has to pay a duty of another seventy-five dollars before he can take his buggy home.
The Paso del Norte women are said to be wonderfully clever at smuggling. They buy calico in El Paso by the dozen yards, undress, wind it around their bodies, and nobody observes that they are any stouter when they return home at night than when they went out in the morning. An aptitude for smuggling, however, would seem to be a national trait with the Mexicans, if we may trust the testimony of their minister to Washington. In his Treasury Report for 1879, he estimates the amount of smuggling done in Mexico as approximately between three and four millions yearly. This is mainly along the United States frontier ; and these figures are significant as pointing to the amount of traffic on that frontier. It is, probably, all told, legitimate and illegitimate, not less than thirty-five millions a year. This is an increase of over ten millions in the last three years.
The capricious Rio Grande, sometimes so shallow that a child can ford it, sometimes so wide and turbulent as to be troublesome of ferriage, is at once a barrier and a link between El Paso and Paso del Norte. At the time of our visit it was at its lowest ebb; in fact, it seemed to have given up even ebbing, and was nine tenths sand. An enterprising Mexican — that is, enterprising for a Mexican — had made a temporary bridge, by tying two small boats and a short bit of plank together. He had also built him a tiny booth of boughs about the size of a dog-kennel. There he sat all day, to collect toll from foot passengers across his bridge ; a toll of two cents and a half, a rate determined by the existence of a little Mexican coin of that precise value. Most of his own people evaded the tax by slipping off their shoes, tying them together, flinging them over their shoulders, and wading across; only Americans and rich Mexicans, reckless of expenditure, walked over on the boats. The contrast between this rough pontoon crossing, and the substantial bridges a little farther down the river, just completed by the railroad and horse-car companies, was droll enough, — one more feature in the antithesis of race and age, everywhere cropping out.
The only other way of going from one town to the other is by vehicles, complacently mentioned in the El Paso Hotel as “ hacks,” which run at short intervals all day. The stranger who inquires in El Paso for some means of getting over to Paso del Norte is told to “ jest step out,” and he ’ll “ see a hack that ’ll take him across. They come along every few minutes, and he can’t miss ’em.” This is a mistake, for it is not until after a long period of wondering and waiting that it dawns upon him that the antiquated, ragged, fluttering, flapping, dirty old stage-coaches he has seen can be the hacks referred to. He has supposed them to be coaches just in from Arizona, or regions still more remote. Even the drivers cannot keep from laughing, as they draw up the cumbrous structures to the sidewalk for you to clamber in. Wooden bottoms full of holes, or patched with bits of plank ; sides open, and with tatters of leather flying; seats of bare boards; rugs of sheep-skin, or matted wads of what were cushions thirty years ago, — these are what remain of the first stages which used to run on the famous Butterfield line from New Orleans to Los Angeles, and are now hacks in El Paso. Their expression as they creak and wobble along, full of unwashed, gleaming, fantastic Mexicans, or bewildered, staring strangers, is comic beyond description. To compare their antiquatedness of look to the time-honored ark of Noah would be to commit an anachronism indeed, in which the ark would be insulted.
To understand Paso del Norte and its people, one must leave the plaza and the life which centres there, and go out into what might be called the suburbs of the place, if the phrase did not seem such a caricature of demarcation between one set of mud houses and another. The roads are lanes of sand, with sluggish ditches and rows of cottonwoodtrees on either hand. It is surprising how many picturesque and pleasing glimpses are made by these unpromising conditions. The long, shady vistas, walled by green and yellow leaves, with shining reflections in the still water below, are forced up into brilliancy by the stretches of pale sand and the long lines of brown adobe wall in every direction. The adobe walls have great value in the landscape : they are low, making only a narrow base to near foregrounds of the vineyards and orchards which they inclose; their tops are sometimes finished in a regular castellated pattern, that becomes highly decorative, pricked out on masses of green ; sometimes they are planted with a thick fringe of prickly pear, which is best of all. They have frequent abrupt breaks of level arches, doors, gates of cactus stalks, and sudden surprises of open ways into oases of verdure beyond ; often with a narrow glitter of water in the distance, and slender foot-bridges, reminding one, half grotesquely, half tenderly, of remote and secret water-ways, remembered from Venice. Over these broad, low levels of tapestried color and sheen arches the dome of a sky which only Mexico and Italy, in all the world, know ; blue of a blueness that dazzles like light, and as free from cloud or fleck as a shield hot from the burnisher’s hand. It is not a sky to love. But it is a sky marvelous in splendor as a background or a setting. It has gone, in all ages, with peoples of the gayest taste in attire ; that it may have had much to do with pitching the key-note of their instinct of decorations is easy to believe, seeing a Pueblo Indian in scarlet on his housetop, or a Mexican woman’s face framed in a rainbow shawl, and printed on a measureless disk of blue sky behind.
For three miles and a half southward from the plaza we drove in one of these shaded sand lanes, through a continuous succession of farms and farmhouses. There was scarce a break in the adobe wall, and few interruptions in the shade. Through open doorways we caught glimpses of court-yards, with gay flowers, fountains, and wells ; children playing, women working ; fields, with vines dusty and brown, tied up in irregular, sheaf-like bunches around stakes, the grapes all gathered ; pear and peach trees as dusty and brown as the vines, their fruit also gathered. Only the corn crop was yet in harvesting,— acres and acres of it; sheaves standing, carts piling, sheds overflowing ; even on the tops of their houses the men were stacking the unstripped stalks, making the roofs look like cornfields on stilts. In a cool vine-wreathed piazza, deep sunk between two wings of the house, we found a handsome German woman, wife of a United States army surgeon, who, weary of the shiftins; place and fortune in his profession, and holding sunshine first on the list of this world’s goods, has settled down on the banks of the Rio Grande, to grow grapes and pears. In the shade of this piazza it was cool as autumn. Yet up to its very threshold we had found torrid July heat, though it was October by the calendar. We were grateful for the shade and rest; and also for the cordial welcome, into which must have filtered much of the warmth of the tropical sky under which many years of the foreign lady’s life had already been spent. As simply as if she had been a woman of the country, she led us from room to room in her house, and into the inner court, where the ground was covered with drying corn, pears, peaches, and peppers. The corn was of variegated color, a purplish lead tint speckled with white predominating; but some ears were pink, and even deep red. There had been no vintage worth naming, she said ; never since she had lived in Mexico, had she known such a drought. There had been “ no rain to do any good ” for eighteen months. The little wine they had made was in rawhide sacks, hanging in the verandas of the outer court-yard, fermenting. It had been trodden out three weeks before. She showed us a small square leathern vat, the bottom full of holes, in which their Mexicans had danced with bare feet upon the grapes, pressing out the juice.
“ Oh, when people first see that,” she exclaimed, “ they say they will not drink one drop of wine in this country. But it is all silly. When you are used to it, it is nothing. A foot can be washed just so clean as a hand ; and what is the difference? ” All of which is true philosophy, no doubt, but does, not seem to touch the point of one’s instinctive preference for the hand over the foot, considering them both ingredientally in the matter of drinks.
On our way back to the town, we halted in front of a tempting doorway, through which we could see bowers of green and blossom, and an enchanting old well. In a second, came running forward the woman of the house and her little girl, with smiles and looks of invitation. It was the nooning: the man of the house was at home, and he soon appeared, behind his wife and daughter. We made signs of admiration of their flower garden inside ; they made signs to us to enter. We hesitated. Finally, the woman, mustering all the courage she could, said, “ Come in.” She pronounced the syllabes slowly, with great effort, and with a droll detached emphasis which made the “ come ” sound as if it were spelled with a dozen m’s, and yet had several left to prefix to the “ in.”
To their evident delight, we entered : and for half an hour what a carnival of pantomime and ejaculation inside those walls! “ Commm min” was all the English the woman knew, while the man spoke not a word. We spoke no Spanish; all the same we were eloquent of interest and admiration, and they were eloquent in hospitable good will. Through the house and the court-yards and gardens they took us ; laughing, pressing us to see this or that, plucking flowers for us, all the while chatting with each other in delighted comment on our wonder. It was evidently the house of a well-to-do wine-maker. In the open verandas around one of the inclosed courts were hanging one hundred rawhides, full of fermenting wine. The hide, dressed with the hair left on, is sewed by leather thongs on four stout sticks, making a square mouth. These queer, irregular - shaped sacks, with hairy outsides, red, gray, or brindled, swinging from the veranda roofs, were a strange sight. The aroma of the fermenting wine filled the air, delicious, but almost heavy enough to intoxicate.
Running ahead, and opening a door in the wall, the woman peered out; then turned quickly around, and signed to us to follow. It was a picture, indeed, which the doorway framed, opening immediately on the bank of a wide ditch, full of water and shaded by trees. Lying under these trees were three men, smoking cigarettes, and watching a small still, which stood on the bank, puffing away fragrant steam, as strong wine was being made into aguardiente. There was a world of meaning in the complacent nod which the woman gave, as she became satisfied that we understood what the still meant.
Looking on this scene of leisurely, not to say lazy, industry, of disorderly plenty, easy-going, contented discomfort, we recalled some of the words of the old Yankee wine-seller in the plaza. “ These people don’t want anything they have n’t got,” he observed. “ They don’t want to be bothered by railroads. They ’ve all got little farms; they live all along the river here ; raise all they need to eat, and drink too: for every house has its own still, and there’s no law to hinder their making all the brandy they want. It’s a sort of bliss, their ignorance. It seems ’most a pity to disturb them. But they’ve got to come to it.”
Warming under our evident interest and pleasure, the kindly people finally threw open the door of their darkened parlor, the sanctum of the house and the only ugly spot in it. It was a room not to be equaled outside of Mexico, and I hope not often there. It looked as if it had a worsted small-pox. In balls on tidies; in humps on mats; in splashes on chair, sofa, and table ; in fluffs, puffs, and circles ; nodding on wire trees in corners, — everywhere the hideous, myriad - colored woolen eruption was out. To crown it all, the father, opening a bureau drawer, brought forth a square of black broadcloth, with green, scarlet, and yellow crewels embroidered on it in bosses, like huge apples cut in half and laid down. This had been done by the little daughter, who stood by, full of shy pride, as we gazed at her work, speechlessly; I hope, not looking as aghast as we felt. Disappearing for a moment, she returned, bringing a card, on which she had written, in round, childish letters, a Mexican name. Holding it out to us, she said slowly, “ That my papa name ; what you name ? ” handing us the pencil. So we wrote our names below the " papa name ;” and then, after more handshaking and bowing and ejaculating, we bade the hospitable, simple creatures good by.
On the threshold the man offered us aguardiente to drink. It was white as water and smooth as oil, but burnt the mouth like a fiery cordial. He was surprised, and a trifle hurt, by our evident dismay at the first sip of it. “ Bueno, bueno,” said the woman, laughing at our tearful eyes. “ Bueno, bueno,” we echoed, laughing also, but waving the glass away.
As we drove back to the town, we stopped at the new station of the Mexican Central Railway. It is a substantial and handsome building, though it is of adobe, and built after the Mexican style, on the four sides of an inclosed court-yard, —a novel plan for a railway station. But this fashion of building was not a caprice; better than any other, it meets the exigencies of the climates in which it was devised. In any other fashion of house tropical heats would be unbearable.
In August, 1881, the first spike for this road was driven on the Mexican side of the Rio Grande. It is now completed a few miles beyond the city of Chihuahua, a distance of two hundred and twenty-five miles. The other end of the road is finished from the city of Mexico to Leon, two hundred and sixty miles. This leaves a gap of between seven and eight hundred miles, which, if work continues to be pushed at its present rate at both ends of the line, will be filled in less than two years.
A projected and partly built road across the country, connecting Tampico on the Gulf of Mexico, with San Blas on the Pacific coast, will compdete this company’s system. There is also another road, a narrow-guage road, the Mexican National, leaving the United States border at Laredo, Texas, and running its southward line nearer to the shores of the Gulf of Mexico. This line will have its Pacific coast terminus at Manzanillo. Its southern division from the city of Mexico to Morelia, the capital of the state of Michoacan, a distance of two hundred and twenty-seven miles, runs through the most thickly settled valley of the republic.
Upon this road, trains are already running some distance south of Monterey. One has only to look on a map of the country and trace out these roads, to see what will be compassed by such lines. San Blas was the old shipping point for supplies sent from Mexico to California, as far back as the days when Spanish viceroys ruled in Mexico, and California was a province of Spain, governed under her “ Laws of the Indies.” The heroic men who founded the Jesuit and Franciscan missions in California all sailed thither from San Blas, and there are in their old letters and records many items of interest relating to the port.
Mexican railway enterprises have been made the subject of some ridicule and abuse, latterly. Probably more ignorant writing has been done in regard to them than in regard to any subject of like importance now before the public. They can afford to bide their time; it is those who win, that laugh last. There will be on the line of the Mexican Central Railway twenty-one cities, nine of them capitals of States. The lowest population on the list is eight thousand. There are, without counting either the city of Mexico itself or Leon, eleven which have over twenty thousand ; two of this eleven, Guanajuato and Guadalajara, are large cities, the first numbering sixty-three thousand, the second seventyeight. All told, there is in the States through which this road will pass a population of over four millions. The Mexican National runs through, and taps a region still more densely populated, and having, in addition to all its other riches, great tracts of forests, of incalculable value.
It is not half a century since the United States received from the city of Chihuahua alone more silver coin than from all other sources put together. To-day there are coined there over eight hundred thousand dollars a year; in several other cities the coinage runs from one to four millions yearly. The statistics of coinage, of course, indicate only partially the amount of precious metals extracted. Statistics of all kinds are collected with difficulty in Mexico, the general Mexican sentiment in regard to any such precision of research being much akin to that of the Arab Sheikh Imaum All Zadi, who wrote the famous letter to Layard, in reply to his inquiries as to the statistics of certain towns : —
“ The thing you ask of me is both difficult and impossible. Although I have passed all my days in this place, I have neither counted the houses, nor have I inquired into the number of inhabitants ; and as to what this person loads on his mules, and that one stows away in the bottom of his ship, that is no business of mine. . . . We, praise be to God, were born here and never desire to quit it. Is it possible, then, that the idea of a general intercourse between mankind should make any impression on our minds ? Heaven forbid ! ”
But it does not need statistics of today to give the imagination foundations for picturing the future of Mexico, once her vast empire is threaded by railways, her revolutionary blood kept quiet by that eminent conciliator and enforcer of peace, the steam engine, and her lazy millions inoculated with the inevitable contagion of new industries and gains. One need read nothing later than the letters of Cortez and the records of Coronado to be able to forecast the events of the next hundred years in the land of Montezuma.
That noble but luckless monarch has faithful worshipers still, who pray daily for his return to his kingdom. Every morning at sunrise they look devoutly to the east, watching for the coming of his chariot in the skies. There is in their faith and their attitude a profound symbolism, a pregnant prophecy. They are not mistaken. Empire is on the way back to their land, but not in the shape for which they are watching.
Already, unwelcomed, regarded with hostile looks, on the El Paso bank of the Rio Grande stands a small but significant group of the forerunners of that empire: a row of trim, gay-colored, new horse-cars ! The bridge and track on which they are to run across the river into Mexico is done ; everything is ready ; but even the Mexican mule, it seems, is averse to novelty and progress, and does not take kindly to horse-car duty. The day we left El Paso, two of them, reluctant, were being patiently trained on the track, drawing an open platform ear up and down.
The next day, the cars were to begin their regular trips. We thought of waiting, for the sole sake of crossing the boundary in them, but we did not; on reflection, there seemed to be a profounder impression in the sight of the new car, standing bright, silent, ready, on the Rio Grande bank, than there could have been even in seeing its first crossing of the river.