CHAPTER IV. BOUND ABOUT LAKE CHAPALA
With the coming of November I left Guanajuato behind. The branch line down to Silao was soon among broad plains of corn, without rocks even along the flat, ragged, country roads, bringing to mind that it was long since I had walked on level and unobstructed ground. The crowding of the second-class car forced me to share a bench with a chorus girl of the company that had been castilianizing venerable Broadway favorites in Guanajuato's chief theater. She was about forty, looked it with compound interest, was graced with the form of a Panteon mummy, and a face - but some things are too horrible even to be mentioned in print. Most of the way she wept copiously, apparently at some secret a pocket mirror insisted on repeating to her as often as she drew it out, and regained her spirits only momentarily during the smoking of each of several cigarettes. Finally she took to saying her beads in a sepulchral, moaning voice, her eyes closed, and wagging her head from side to side in the rhythm of her professional calling, until we pulled into the one-story, adobe, checkerboard town. All the troupe except the two "stars" rode second-class, dressed much like peons, and carried their possessions in misshapen bundles under their arms. If the one performance I had seen was typical, this was far better treatment than they deserved.
The express from El Paso and the North set me down in the early night at Irapuato, out of the darkness of which bobbed up a dozen old women, men, and boys with wailing cries of "Fresas!" For this is the town of perennial strawberries. The basket of that fruit heaped high and fully a foot in diameter which sat before me next morning as we rambled away westward toward Guadalajara cost cuatro reales - a quarter, and if the berries grew symmetrically smaller toward the bottom, an all-day appetite by no means brought to light the tiniest. The way lay across a level land bathed in sunshine, of extreme fertility, and watered by harnessed streams flowing down from the distant hills. All the day one had a sense of the richness of nature, not the prodigality of the tropics to make man indolent, but just sufficient to give full reward for reasonable exertion. The rich, black, fenceless plains were burnished here and there with little shallow lakes of the rainy season, and musical with wild birds of many species. Primitive well-sweeps punctuated the landscape, and now and then the church towers of some adobe village peered through the mesquite trees. In the afternoon grazing grew more frequent and herds of cattle and flocks of goats populated all the scene. Within the car and without, the hats of the peons, with all their sameness, were never exactly alike. Each bore some individuality, be it in shape, shade, material, or manner of wearing, as distinct as among the fair sex in other lands; and that without resorting to decorating them with flowers, vegetables, or dead birds. Some wore around them ribbons with huge letters proposing, "Viva - - " this or that latest aspirant to the favor of the primitive-minded "pela'o," but these were always arranged in a manner to add to rather than detract from the artistic ensemble. Many a young woman of the same class was quite attractive in appearance, though thick bulky noses robbed all of the right to be called beautiful. They did not lose their charms, such as they were, prematurely, as do so many races of the South, and the simplicity of dress and hair arrangement added much to the pleasing general effect.
As night descended we began to pant upward through low hills, wooded, but free from the rocks and boulders of a mining region, and in the first darkness drew up at Guadalajara, second city of Mexico. It is a place that adorns the earth. Jalisco State, of which this is the capital, has been called the Andalusia of Mexico, and the city is indeed a Seville of the West, though lacking in her spontaneity of life, for this cruder people is much more tempered with a constant fear of betraying their crudeness and in consequence much weighed down by "propriety." But its bright, central plaza has no equal to the north. Here as the band plays amid the orange trees heavy with ripening fruit, the more haughty of the population promenade the inner square, outside which stroll the peons and "lower classes"; though only custom seems responsible for the division. One misses in Mexico the genuine democracy of Spain. The idea of a conquered race still holds, and whoever has a strain of white in his veins - or even in the hue of his collar - considers it fitting to treat the Indian mass with a cold, indifferent tone of superiority. Yet in the outer circle the unprejudiced observer found more pleasing than within. One was reminded of Mark Twain's suggestion that complexions of some color wear best in tropical lands. In this, above all, the women of the rebozo were vastly superior to those who stepped from their carriages at about the beginning of the third number and took to parading, the two sexes in pairs marching in opposite directions at a snail's pace. The "women of the people" had more sense of the fitness of things than to ape the wealthy in dress, like the corresponding class in our own land, and their simplicity of attire stood out in attractive contrast to the pasty features and unexercised figures in "Parisian" garb of the inner circle.