THERE is an old saying about ” small beginnings ” that seems especially applicable to a mine. The beginning of a mine is a 7′ x 7′ hole in the ground. Its ending, however, is apt to be bigger. It may be a loss, but it is sure to be big.
Often it ends in a fortune and the 7′ x 7′ opening leads to a great underground world, with miles of tunnels, shafts that seem destined to reach the earth’s center, and thousands of workmen, toiling night and day.
When I first visited a Mexican silver mine, I was amazed at its unpretentious beginnings. A mine that was historical, that had produced countless millions, I could not believe my eyes when I saw the insignificant 7′ x 7′ aperture. That hole in the ground the entrance to treasure-land? Before I had gotten over my surprise, a train of ore cars, filled with ore and drawn by little mules, issued from the tunnel, dumped the ore on the patio and waited for us to get in. Then they galloped into the mine, a peon running ahead with a lighted torch.
At intervals we passed cross-cuts, which presented endless vistas of lights. I heard the ceaseless rap-rap-rap of the Burley drills and saw dusky forms gliding past, either going to or returning from a shift. Presently we met another train, with more metal, and still we kept on. I concluded the unpretentious hole meant more than at first appeared; and before I saw daylight again, I was sure of it. This was merely preliminary. The next day, the foreman asked me to go down through the mine with him, which meant to enter at the old works, on top of the mountain, and come out of the main tunnel, 1,500 feet below. We rode our mules to the summit, and turning them over to a mozo, went in at the great open cut. This was where the ancients commenced working the mine, running down on the ledge, and the tremendous, cavern-like opening seemed a fitting approach to such a wonderful treasure house. It was only in appearance though; for while every ounce of ore had to be carried up that steep ascent on men’s backs, it is hauled out by the ton in the mule cars from the commonplace tunnel below.
At first, the descent was made by regular ladders laid against the perpendicular wall; but these soon came to an end, and I found myself climbing down what are known in mining parlance as llaves; a series of rounds placed horizontally, one above the other, at intervals of from two to three feet. They were slippery with mud and slime, and I found it difficult to keep my footing. We kept running into side issues in the way of cross-cuts and upraises: and the foreman, who wanted to see how they were looking, insisted on my seeing them too. There was compensation in going down the llaves, be-cause every step brought me nearer the main tunnel and the mule cars; but climbing into upraises was quite an-other matter. We would haul ourselves up fifty or sixty feet over slippery cross-bars, to where a little bunch of naked miners were at work, drilling into the hard rock. Sometimes we found them in good metal, and the foreman was correspondingly cheerful. At others, they were in waste and we left them hammering away, without a word. Once I made a misstep, missed the last rung of the ladder, and slid several feet in the dark. The foreman seemed disturbed and said that in three feet more I would have gone down an ore chute; but by this time I had given up hope of getting out alive, and the manner of my taking off did n’t matter. I after-wards learned that this was one of the numerous chutes for conducting ore to the lower tunnel, and that getting into it meant a slide of 1,000 feet.
We did eventually reach the main tunnel, and I was listening for the mule-car, when the foreman remarked that of course I wanted to go down the shaft. Oh, yes, to be sure ! We got into an ore bucket, gripped a wire cable, with bristling strands that stuck into my hands like cactus spines, and were lowered 500 feet further into the bowels of the earth. There were four levels, and on each men were at work, taking out ore. After looking over the lower level, the foreman rang a bell, the bucket was lowered again and we were hauled to the surface, just in time to catch the ore-train for the outer world. On the way, I saw quite an elaborate shrine in a niche in the tunnel. It was trimmed with paper flowers and much tinsel, and had candles that were kept burning night and day. When I finally alighted on the patio, it was with sore hands and aching legs, but with a great appetite, and best of all, the proud consciousness that I had seen the mine. This I remarked to the foreman. He looked at me pityingly and said: ” You might spend a week inside, and then not see it all!”
Going through a mine, in operation and peopled by living beings, is not a circumstance to exploring one long-abandoned, and given over to bats and snakes. The noxious air seems devoid of oxygen, the bats circle about your head in droves. You eye the rotting chicken-ladders suspiciously, before trusting yourself to their support, and wonder where you would land if one gave way. The old Mexicans had the habit of running on the vein and taking out all the metal in sight as they came to it, only leaving pillars sufficient to keep the mine from caving. Hence their old workings are veritable labyrinths and they seem to have adopted the very hardest way for doing everything. If they ran down fifty or sixty feet on a ledge and found it in good metal, instead of running a tunnel in on that level, for getting out the ore, they preferred to carry it on their backs, up almost perpendicular ladders. I have explored a number of old tunnels whose age can not be approximated. They are fascinating and the chances of becoming a sort of ” Monte Cristo ” more so: but I never realized how much better the sunlight was than anything else in the world, till I first saw it after six hours in the gloomy depths of an old Mexican mine.
There are many pursuits connected with mining in Mexico besides exploring old mines. For instance, there is surveying. You go up on top of a mountain in the broiling sun to run a few lines, and send a man to hold the rod on a peak half a mile away. You have previously arranged a code of signals: if you raise your hand, he is to lift the target: if you lower it, he is to drop the target, etc., etc. When he gets in position, you look through the instrument and signal to raise. He promptly begins to lower. You wave frantically and yell yourself hoarse, but to no avail. You exhaust all the profanity at your command, both in Ingles and Castellano; but he keeps on doing exactly the opposite to what you want him to. When you finally meet, you are amazed to find that he is as mad as you are. The sun was in his eyes, he could n’t see your signals and while he has n’t heard your expletives, he has been doing a little in the same line. Finally you both cool off and go back to try it over.
Then there is assaying. You go to the mine, where you are prospecting, and the head barratero meets you with a glad eye. He says the men on the night shift heard voices inside the hanging wall, and that the last blast brought them into good metal. These superstitions of the mining folk affect you mysteriously when, you are looking for a bonanza. You inspect the face of the drift, and the barratero shakes his head wisely and says ” muy rico! ” (very rich!). You take numerous samples and it certainly does look well lots of lead and bronze and a suspicion of gold. As you ride down the mountain, you begin picking out the best place for a tramway and speculate as to how big a smelter you will put in. Then your thoughts drift further, and by the time you reach camp, you have even spent (in your mind) a portion of the wealth that seems a sure thing. The sight of the assay furnace is a bit of a dampener. There is no romance about an assay furnace. It melts everything down alike and proves the ” Survival of the fittest ” and ” Gold must be tried by fire.” You set to work to prepare and make the assays. It is a long process, but the last stage is finally reached, namely, cupelling in the furnace oven. If that bead would only stop at the size of a good, healthy pea! But it keeps reducing. Now it is only medium, and now caracoles! it is reduced to a pin point. ” Castles in Spain ” come to earth with a crash and incidentally tram-ways and smelters. I have heard during the assaying process even more violent expletives than ” Caracoles!” which is Spanish for ” snails!”
The peones, in fact all the people who work in the mines, interest me. A Mexican miner’s life is not so dreary as that of a worker in a Northern mine, a coal mine for instance. The Mexican miner is indolent, and no power on earth can make him work very hard. He is by instinct a rover. He may be comfortably housed, with fair pay and credit at the company store; but when the fever to wander is on him, nothing can keep him from going. If the family owns a burro, the household goods are loaded and away they go, over the mountains. Usually, however, the man carries the pack, with a small child seated on top, and the woman brings up the rear, barefooted and with a babe in her arms. This is the wandering Indian spirit, that will not be still, but leads the peon again and again into the mountains, and gixes him a taste of fresh air and sunshine.
I like the Mexican peon, lazy and tricky though he may sometimes be. ” His vices make up for his faults!” as the old woman said of an ingratiating and bad grand-son. In reality the peon has many virtues that incline me to overlook his failings. He is always respectful and submissive, when not in his cups, and, for that mat-ter, no man behaves any too well when drunk. Sun-day is the peon’s gala day. Then he puts on his snowy cotton clothes, if he is lucky enough to possess a’ change, throws his bright zarape over one shoulder, and goes to the store for his week’s rations. He buys like a lord while there is a cent coming to him, or as long as the company will trust him. Next to hats, his weakness is for handkerchiefs. What he does with so many is a mystery, but I consider his fondness for them a sign of refinement, to which the lower classes in some lands are strangers. Nor does he always buy red and yellow. I have been surprised to see him select a pale pink or delicate blue. Then he dumps into it his various purchases, beans, sugar, cigarros, corn or onions, ties them up snugly, and if he happens to think of something else he needs, buys another handkerchief to put it in. At the store he meets his friends and his slow and formal way of greeting seems a survival of ancient Indian and Spanish courtesy combined. He takes off his hat, shakes hands, and makes many polite inquiries as to the health of the family. He is generous to a fault; if he has still a few cents coming to him, and his corpañero, whose credit is exhausted, wants cigarros, he cheerfully buys them and has them charged on his own account. The method of charging is unique. As few of the peons know figures, a system of simple characters has been adopted, that all understand. Each man has his pass book, in which his purchases are entered by the store clerks. A long straight mark means a real (twelve and a half cents). A short one, half a real. A cipher stands for one dollar and half a cipher for half a dollar. Strangely enough the V and X are used to indicate five and ten dollars. Thus the following OOIIIVX would stand for $17.38, the consecutive order of the characters not affecting their value.
At ” La Puerta ” no liquor was sold, but there was plenty of music, and with music the peon is happy. At times, he plaintively solicits ” a few little drinks,” but when the graphophone begins playing ” La Golondrina,” he forgets his thirst. It is funny to see his amazed look at hearing the voice of a man, singing or talking from the graphophone. Isidro, the foreman, was a faithful fellow and a true friend a little inclined to take life easy, and with the vice of borrowing well-developed. One day, Don Alfredo, who was genuinely attached to Isidro, talked into a blank record, saying in effect that Isidro was very lazy and for that reason he could not lend him money. When Isidro came again to listen to the graphophone, it was playing a banjo piece and his face was wreathed in smiles. The music ceased. A gruff voice was talking: he heard his own name, he was ” un hombre muy flojo” (a man very lazy). His eyes were big with fright and without waiting to hear more, he fled in terror. I heard that some of the men said el Diablo was inside the box, and I noticed they all kept a safe distance.
In the San Dimas district the peon earns a dollar a day. The barratero, or man with the bar or drill, generally works on contract, running the tunnel at a given price per foot, and earns anywhere from five to twenty or even thirty dollars a week, according to his ability, his willingness to work, and the hardness of the rock he is running through. He works with a compañero, one holding the drill, while the other strikes; and long before you come up to him in the blackness of the mine, you hear his monotonous sing-song chant, with the sledge keeping rhythmic beat. He is stripped to the skin, with nothing on save his breech-clout and sandals, and his dark, sinewy form is dripping with sweat. You come to a shaft, two or three hundred feet deep, and while you are holding on to the wall for safety and looking down the dizzy descent, a peon comes gliding along, with his leather sack slung on his shoulder, and trips lightly down the perilous chicken-ladder, as you would down a broad and easy stairway. A chicken-ladder is the trunk of a tree, with its branches lopped off, and notches cut in it for steps. Peones prefer them to any other ladder. They say the American ladders hurt their feet. A peon will pick up a sack with a hundred and fifty pounds of metal, put it on his back with the strap across his fore-head, and walk up a hundred feet of chicken-ladders without stopping to breathe. They are a slim, well put-up set of fellows, every ounce bone and muscle.
For the morals of the peon, I must admit they are lax, at least from our standpoint. With him, marriage was formerly an expensive luxury not often indulged in; but it is becoming more frequent, now that it has been placed within his reach at a nominal cost by the government. I have been surprised to find aged couples, that have lived their lives peacefully together and reared families, without ever having the legal or church ceremony performed. The women are hard-working, grinding the corn, patting out the tortillas, and doing their endless washing, down on their knees beside some muddy stream. Indeed, the peon is forced to take to himself a mate, in order to get his cooking and washing done. There are no boarding-houses for the Mexican peon, and the women can seldom be prevailed upon to cook for any save their own men. Indifferent though the peon is to the marriage bond, he is inflexible on the matter of baptism; and will carry his infant for miles over the mountains that it may receive the rites of the Church. If at any time he and the mother wish to separate, he willingly provides for the child, placing it with some of his own people. It seems a sad state of affairs, but among these people nothing is thought of it. A peon is not always as dull as he looks. I had this illustrated in talking with one, whose father and grandfather before him were born in the mountains. I was curious to know his idea about the first coming of the Spaniards, if indeed he had any such idea, of which I was not sure. He said they were very cruel to the Indians and forced them to work in their mines: that all they cared for was getting rich ” But,” he added, ” that is all the Americanos care for.”
” That may be,” I replied; ” but they pay you for your labor, while the Spaniards made slaves of your people.”
” It is true,” he answered quick as a flash, ” and for that we drove them out.”
I was deeply interested in the songs of the mountain people. Dona Marciana’s maid, Gumecinda, who had a soft, pleasant voice and had often sung for us, presented me with two songs, which she had carefully copied, with considerable labor I am sure. She was a faithful soul, entirely devoted to Dona Marciana, and had left her own pueblo of Huahuapan, two days across the mountains, together with all her kith and kin, to follow her young mistress. So far as her own race was concerned, she was among strangers. Her songs were different from any I had heard. The opening lines of one were the following:
Si supieras cuanto te amo Fresco rosa, si supieras Cuanto te amo flor divina, El consuelo de mi alma!
Didst thou but know how much I love thee My fresh rose,didst thou but know How much I love thee, flower divine, Consolation of my soul !
The other song has a wild note both in the words and the music: it began:
Dicen que por estos montes han de haber Muchos tigres y leones a que cazar
“They say that in these mountains there should be Many tigers, many lions for the chase.”
It was the sort of a song I could listen to for hours and made me think of one that always charmed me as a youngster and went:
“We’ll chase the antelope over the plain, The lion’s cub we’ll bind with a chain.”
I asked Gumecinda where she learnel this song and she said from a man in the mountains who was a great hunter, who used to sing it when he was starting away with his gun. He had the skins of various animals that he had killed, and with these he would disguise himself, so he could creep quite near his prey, whether deer or mountain-lion. She offered to teach me the song and I accepted, but I had slight hope of catching all its weird cadences. This same woman was once with us on a camping trip and would sing for us at night, when we sat about the fire. She always went and crouched by her mistress’s side, with her face in shadow, and there she would sing by the hour; the mysterious night sounds in the forest lending a fit accompaniment to the low, melancholy voice. There was also a mozo with us who sang well, and on the day we were to break camp I was awakened long before daylight, to find him singing over the fire. He was making coffee and crooning a sort of fare-well song. The camp was in a beautiful spot, near a ruined pueblo which had once been called ” San Jose “; and I caught the words, ” Adios, San JoséAdios.” I think he made them up as he went along.
I like to hear these people sing, especially in the night. At La Puerta they were passing all night long with pack trains, through the road in the bed of the arroyo.
I could barely hear the rattle of the mules’ feet on the pebbles, above the sound of the water. One night, I knew from this pattering sound a train was passing; and then one of the arrieros began singing in a plaintive, monotonous, yet musical voice, something about ” una mujer ingrata” (ungrateful woman). He probably was not at all sad, though his voice sounded so, and he liked the song so well, he sang it over and over, and I was sorry enough when he was out of hearing. I was almost asleep, when I heard it again. The train was crossing a ridge, a hundred yards below the hacienda, and the strain floated back on the night wind: ” Esa mujer ingratingrata.”
If I were asked what interests me more than anything else, truth would compel me to answer, ” people.” It used to worry me, for I found it interfered with business. In Mexico, when I tried to get interested in mining, I would go to the mines, examine the ledge critically, pick up a piece of rock and look wise. Before I knew it, I would forget all about the mine and become interested in the people; the dark, silent men, hammering away at the flinty wall or gliding along the tunnel, laden with heavy sacks of ore. They were the nearest to beasts of burden I had ever seen in the shape of human beings and I wanted to know about them. Had their fathers ever been slaves and did they know this? Were the fine, Moorish faces that I frequently saw, a pure Indian type, or were they due to a Spanish strain? How many had Spanish blood anyway and what sort of people were their ancestors, before the Spaniards came? Some looked as though they had come from a line of cargadores with their huge feet and heavy limbs; while others were as trim and slight as a thoroughbred. I have seen a peon who could not write his name and never heard of Mexico City, yet with a face and carriage that needed only the pitiable adjunct of clothes and a little coaching, to make him hold his own on Fifth Avenue, so far as looks are concerned: and a girl, whose only shelter consisted of four poles with a roof of brushwood, whose one accomplishment was grinding corn for tortillas, yet whose delicate beauty, in the right setting, would start a city raving about her. When I see such sights I can’t help wondering about them, nor about a hundred other things that are none of my business. I used to wish I were different; but I finally gave in to the inevitable. I can’t say I have been sorry and I have learned some things. I have seen conditions that have made me realize what a sad thing ignorance is; and I have recognized noble traits and sterling qualities in the midst of these same conditions, that have made our vaunted civilization seem a poor thing. The people that possess these traits I re-member, and their portraits are in a gallery of my own with others that I have collected through the years; and the gallery never seems to become filled. The people are of all ranks and conditions, and of many different races: still there never seems anything incongruous in the way the portraits are hung. I think if I tried to de-fine the quality they all possess and which, to a degree, makes them fit company, one for another, I should call it Truth.
I first saw Gumecinda in the little, isolated Indian pueblo of Huahuapan where they had never laid eyes on white people. No longer young, pure Indian in type, she still possessed something, whether it was her manner, her voice, her way of doing things, that made her different from the others. She lived with her aunt, an old witch of a thing, with an eye for trouble and an appetite for mescal. Here a virtue crops out between the afore- said eye and the mescal. The witch gave Gumecinda a home because she was a relative. It would have been just the same, had she been worthless and good-for-nothing. ” Blood is thicker than water.” A relation must be cared for while there is a zarape to sleep under or a kernel of maiz in the corn-bin. It is the way of the country.
As it happened, Gumecinda was a much-prized member of the household. No one could make such good tamales, none such fine, snowy tortillas: no one could wash the cotton clothing in the little stream till it looked snow-white but Gumecinda. If a son or cousin had a sick wife in the mountain, who must go to nurse her and the little ones? Gumecinda, of course. She would pack her little bundle of herbs and remedies, muffle head and face in the voluminous cotton toalle (mantle) and ride away over the mountains, to stay till she was needed else-where.
I remember the first time we went to the witch’s house. Gumecinda was seated on a mat, doing drawn-work. I saw that she was barefooted and thenpresto she had on shoes. How she did it I never understood. She made us welcome without a sign of embarrassment. She placed the one chair and a box for us to sit on, and for want of another box, spread a mat on the door-step, chatting easily with us all the time. Her voice was low and musical, and if her speech was unlettered, we at least did n’t know it. She entertained us easily, naturally, talking of things most likely to interest us. I was amazed at first and then forgot my surprise and accepted it as a matter of course.
From that day, Gumecinda never changed. If we wanted to hear the songs of the people, she sang for us. If we wanted to see their dances, she hunted up a partner, and with him went through the figures of the jarabe, her good, plain face radiant with the delight of dancing, and the knowledge that she was pleasing others. She was always ready to help in a hundred ways, cooking, sewing, or in case of sickness; yet she would never accept a cent of money. Gifts, yes if her good friends wished, but not money. Unlettered, untaught, superstitious she was, like the rest of her people; but with an innate dignity and goodness, that shone through and obliterated all else. Gumecinda’s portrait is in the gallery, and it is hung in a good light.
I can see Don Loreto now by just shutting my eyes. He lived in a place that had once been the center of a rich mining district; and his father, judging from the extent of the ruined hacienda with its fine orange orchard, must have been a man of no mean ability. Don Loreto was the funniest little body I ever met. The merest manikin in size, with small, regular features, quite an imposing mustache and chin-whisker, the littlest hands and feet, and short, fat legs, slightly bowed, that could never, under any circumstances, do more than waddle. Don Loreto spoke a little pigeon-English that he had acquired as a boy, in the days when the hacienda was in funds. When the weather permitted, he wore a superb cloak lined with old-gold plush, faced with red; and he would fling it over his shoulder with a telling sweep of the arm, extend one small soiled paw in the direction of the pueblo, and exclaim, ” Oh, sir, you see all those people they were once my father’s servants ! ” He invariably began with ” Oh, sir ! ” and ended with the rising inflection. He would add, that his father was a man, very powerful and much respected by his workmen. ” When he held up one stick, all men fall down!” said Don Loreto. I never understood what he meant, but always pictured the pueblo reverentially deferring,” like the populace in the Mikado” at the approach of the Lord High Executioner.
Don Loreto once applied to a friend of mine for a position; he offered to look after his interests in a mining prospect, which happened to be near his own hacienda. He was engaged on the spot and on taking his departure said in a high and rather theatrical voice: ” Oh, sir, when I am in that country, you will tell me what I want?” It was only a mistake of one word, the substitution of “I” for ” you,” but together with the high voice, the pompous manner, above all the funny little man himself, it was excruciating.
‘ I once went on a long journey with Don Loreto, and passed the night at his mother’s house. She was a dear old lady and though I am sure she had received few, if any, foreigners before, I was warmly welcomed and showered with kind attentions. While on the road, Don Loreto did his utmost to be entertaining, and he scorned to speak any language but English. I was once riding with him and he called my attention to some little red berries, much like our “pigeon berries,” as follows:” Oh, sir, do you see these little fru-its? These are too kind, these are too beautiful? All the ladies, when they see, will like to take a walk to pluck.” Don Loreto had an uncle Juan, who was ” too brave ” and a very good shot. He was riding along with him one day, chatting pleasantly, when he suddenly saw a huge animal, coming down the mountain and making directly for them. He called his uncle Juan’s attention to it, who said, ” Oh, Loreto, that is one oso (bear). Excuse me one moment ! I will kill it.”
We got to know Don Loreto very well and to value him accordingly. His motto was, ” Always kind with all people,” and he lived up to it. He had a good-for-nothing younger brother who seemed to embody the not inconsiderable ability and likewise all the badness of his line. He lived off the proceeds of the little man’s labors and was ungrateful besides. We often counseled Don Loreto to set him adrift, but though he admitted the justice of it, he never did it. He was a happy-go-lucky soul, always looking for better days and eager as a child for amusement. When Christmas arrived and he heard of the doings in our tierra, with trees, stockings and what not, he was enchanted. The stocking part seemed especially to captivate him, and on Christmas morning he was invited in to take eggnog, and then led to the fireplace, where a long stocking hung, filled to the top, for him. He was as tickled as a youngster, and for the moment half inclined to believe in our strange santo. He would not take out a thing, but trotted away as fast as his fat legs would carry him, to open in the privacy of his own home and in the presence of his wifehis first Christmas stocking.
Years passed and though we often talked of Don Loreto, we never saw him until one day he appeared at the camp, riding a little podgy white mule, and attended by the bad but quite imposing brother. It is needless to say that Don Loreto was wined and dined and made much of. When dinner was over, he leaned back complacently and turning to his hostess said, ” Oh, misses, we talk now of many things, but not of Christmas and the stocking.” It was all so natural, the high voice, the rising inflection and all, that we laughed till we cried, and Don Loreto laughed with us, a trifle mystified, but delighted because we were. Then after many abrazos he mounted and rode away, the bad brother in the lead. I can see him now, bumping along on his queer little mule, his face hidden by the enormous sombrero, his fat legs encased in very shiny leggings, and his gorgeous cape blowing out behind, ” always kind with all people.”
I once knew a mozo whose name was Jesus, and I refused to temporize by calling him either Juan or Jose. Just pronounce it ” Haysoos,” with the accent on the last syllable, and it will sound all right. Jesus was hotel mozo, and I met him about two minutes after my arrival when he brought my luggage upstairs, filled the water pitcher, and complimented my foresight in taking a room at the back of the house, with such a fine view. The landlord came and begged me to have a room on the street, with an interesting outlook on the white walls of the house opposite, and at double the price; but I politely refused to change and Jesus understood. I inquired if he took care of the rooms and learning that he did, made a careful survey of him, to determine into what sort of hands I and my belongings had fallen. I find it a good way to make up my mind regarding mozos on the start, and ever after be perfectly easy regarding my possessions, or else lock them up.
My summing up of Jesus was satisfactory, though he was a decided innovation in types. His skin was swarthy like an Indian’s, but he had blue eyes, a shock of light brown hair and a broad, jolly countenance. He was short and stubby and his thick muscular legs seemed to have been literally melted and poured into the tight charro trousers. I speculated a good deal as to how he got in and out of those trousers, for his feet were large and substantial and did not look as though they would go through. I learned, however, that at night he merely lay down on the floor of the zaguan and covered himself with his zarape.
After deciding that Jesus was trustworthy, I consuited him as to the advisability of leaving my room open at all times, for the entrance of sunlight, fresh air and the greater convenience of us both. I remarked that I liked it better so and that, ,of course, my things would be perfectly safe. Jesus, who could not say a word with-out acting it out, touched each eye with his forefinger, swept the room at a glance and said, ” Don’t worry.” This understanding placed us at once on a confidential footing; and Jesus constituted himself not only general caretaker of my room, but master-of-the-wardrobe and body-servant in the bargain: at times his attentions were a bit overpowering. When I came in from riding he flew at me and had my spurs off before I was out of the saddle. He then followed me to my room, drew off my boots, brought another pair and seemed positively pained when I insisted on lacing them myself. If I went to wash my hands, he stood by with pitcher in one hand and towel in the other. This last performance always struck me as ridiculous but I concluded he had been valet for some luxurious and helpless individual who had exacted it. I finally asked him whose servant he had been, at which he informed me that he was a carpenter by trade and had never been servant to any-body. He had worked on the hotel, during its construction, at a wage of fifty cents daily; and then had stayed on as mozo, at ” quien sabe que sueldo ! ” (who knows what pay!). This financial uncertainty did n’t seem to worry him a particle. In fact I ‘m not sure that it did n’t add to his contentment. As to his marked accomplishments in the serving line, I concluded they must be the result of his own genius.
I used to watch Jesus about his work, singing at the top of his lungs, and tried to take lessons in the art of being happy. I came to the conclusion that it consisted mainly in having few wants. Jesus had enough to eat and a bed on the stone pavement in the zaguan. He owned a fairly good hat, a fine pink shirt with red lacings, a zarape and the irremovable trousers. What was there to wish for?
I found that of all my possessions, he regarded my camera with the greatest admiration; and when I worked with my pictures he hovered about me like a shadow. He was specially pleased with a photograph of the church, and as I found he was quite devout, I resolved to give him one. I had several laid aside with other photo-graphs, but when the day came to continue my journey and I looked for them, there was not one to be found. I searched high and low without success, and then suddenly my mind reverted to Jesus and his excessive admiration for the pictures. I hated myself for harboring a suspicion of his honesty; and resolutely put the thought away. Still I wondered about the pictures, and at last caught myself endeavoring to condone the offense, telling myself that the poor fellow knew no better, and that in his fondness for the church he had innocently appropriated one; perhaps it was for his novia. But there were several pictures and what could he want with so many? At last I started to unpack my trunk and make a last thorough search, and safely tucked away, in a most improbable corner, were the pictures, put there by my own hand in a fit of abstraction. I felt small enough and when Jesus appeared, with his usually beaming countenance a trifle serious, on account of my departure, I felt tempted to beg his pardon. On second thought I refrained, and presented him with several packages of cigarettes. When he had corded up my trunk for the second time that morning, he came and stood by my chair and humbly asked if I would do him the favor to give him a fotografia of the church, as a remembrance. For reply, I handed him one of each photograph I had made in his tierra. Then as he stood radiant, expressing his gracias in the voluble way of his people, somehow a portrait of Jesus found its way into the gallery. I am glad it is there and the experience it recalls has taught me a lesson.
One night, while wandering at dusk, I found myself in what we familiarly term a blind alley. I think the Spanish word rinconada means the same thing. I was turning to go back, when a girl began singing in a house at the end of the street. Her voice was strong and pure, and she sang as though her whole heart was in the song: ” Blanquisima paloma, consuelo de las almas ” which means, ” Whitest of doves, consolation of souls.” Then she stopped. I waited, wishing she would go on, and presently she sang the same words over, with an added line I did not understand, and then stopped again. I judged that she was at her work, sewing likely, and fancied her bending over it in the intervals. I was thinking what a pity it was women’s voices were never heard in the churches, when she took up the song again, and this time went through several phrases without stopping. I waited a long time for more, but there was not another note. People were passing back and forth, entering and leaving other doors, but no one paid the slightest attention to the mysterious house from whence issued the lovely voice. I began to grow impatient and besides to feel an overwhelming desire to see the singer. There was a bright light in the room and the window was shaded by a half-curtain of coarse white muslin. I was sure the voice was just back of that curtain and I began to edge closer. All at once she sang again, this time with deeper fervor, as though she loved and believed the words, ” Blanquisima paloma, consuelo de las almas .” ” Now,” thought I, ” she will sing it all; ” but instead of waiting, content with the song, I kept on till I reached the window. How she knew I was there, I never understood. She was sewing and she did not lift her eyes. She could not have seen me in any event, as it was quite dark outside. Still I knew, from the look that came over her face, she would not sing any more. She was a girl of the middle class. I shall not try to describe her, as I don’t think such descriptions ever amount to much. I know she had on a black dress, that her face was pale but very beautiful, and that she looked good. I stole away from the window and waited for the song to go on; but it never did, and I finally walked away thoroughly vexed with myself for not letting well enough alone, which nobody ever does.