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HOME > Classical Novels > The Boy Travellers in Mexico > CHAPTER XX.
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The train by which our friends returned to the capital left Amecameca at 1.20 in the afternoon, and reached the San Lazero station at 4 o'clock. A crowd of cargadores swooped down on the baggage, and for a time threatened to disappear with it in as many directions as there were single pieces, but by dint of watchfulness and energy it was rescued and placed in charge of a runner from the hotel. The Morelos, or Interoceanic Railway, the one by which the party had travelled, is distinctively a Mexican line; it was built by Mexican capital, or capital borrowed by Mexicans, and the management is Mexican throughout. When finished it will be literally what its name implies, as it will connect the Atlantic Ocean at Vera Cruz with the Pacific at Acapulco. At the time our friends were in Mexico work was being pushed on the eastern division of the line (between Vera Cruz and the capital), and its managers were confident of completing it by the end of 1890 or 1891. At last accounts the completion of the western division (from the capital to Acapulco) was very much in the future.
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It seemed to Frank and Fred that they had been away from the city for a month or two, when in reality they had been gone less than a week. The next morning they were out early to ascertain if any changes had taken place during their absence—whether any new buildings had been erected or old ones demolished, new streets opened, or new avenues laid out. They strolled through the portales, and stopped at the little shops established between the arches of the covered way that shelters the sidewalks from sun and rain, to bargain for old books and odds and ends of curiosities. Fred had received a letter from a friend at home asking him to pick up certain old books if they were to be found, and he made many inquiries for the volumes. One after another, he found them, and the search roused in him a fever for book-buying which did not abate until he had invested several dollars in antique specimens of the printer's art.
"How does it happen that so many old books are sold at these stalls in the portales?" he said to Doctor Bronson on his return to the hotel.
"It comes from the confiscation of the Church property," was the reply. "For three centuries the churches and monasteries had been gathering
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 a fine collection of books for their libraries, and the confiscation of ecclesiastical buildings under the Laws of the Reform threw the most of these libraries into the market. Some of them were bought for speculation and others for private use; in either case they were pretty sure to drift sooner or later into the hands of the dealers. Gentlemen familiar with the subject say that Mexico is to-day the best place in the world for a book-collector to find what he is looking for."
From the portales the youths extended their walk through several of the principal streets, and reached the hotel just in time for breakfast. On their way they passed a school just as the pupils were going in, and this circumstance gave a hint on which they acted at once.
They proceeded to collect information concerning the public schools, in addition to what they had already learned. They found that there were in the capital 101 free secular schools, with an aggregate attendance of 7400 pupils; then there were thirty-seven Protestant and twenty-four Catholic schools, all free—the former with 1300 pupils, and the latter with 4000. The Catholic schools are held in large buildings, as will be readily
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 seen from the number of pupils in the twenty-four schools; while the Protestant establishments are on a smaller scale. There are something more than 100 private schools for primary instruction, with an average of thirty pupils to each school. All the wealthy families have their children taught by private tutors or governesses, but the grade of their education is not high. The whole number of educational establishments in the city is a little short of 300, with an attendance in the aggregate of about 16,000.
Mention has already been made of the San Carlos Academy of Fine Arts, the Conservatory of Music, the Military Academy, and the Medical College. To these should be added the Law School and the preparatory schools and colleges of Architecture, Theology, Commerce, and Astronomy. Some of these have been founded by the Government in recent times, while others are descended from those established by the Catholic Church in its days of prosperity.
Of some twenty hospitals and asylums of different names and kinds, fully two-thirds are the successors of benevolent institutions founded by the Church. The oldest is the hospital of Jesus Nazareno, and was founded by Cortez; he left a large endowment for it, and the hospital is still
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 supported by it in spite of many attempts by governments and individuals to break his will. The last effort in this direction was in 1885, when the will was sustained by the Mexican courts. The bad management of the hospital in its early days led to the founding of the San Hipolito hospital by Bernardo Alvarez in 1567. The pious people that joined him became a regular monastic order under the name of Brothers of Charity. The order was suppressed in 1820; the hospital fund passed into the hands of the municipality, and afterwards went to the general government. Since that time the city has managed the hospital, and provided the necessary funds for it.
One of the theatres in the city (the Teatro Principal) owes its beginning
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 to the necessity for money to support the Hospital Real, which was in the hands of the Brothers of Charity during the seventeenth century. The first theatre was in the hospital building, and the players were hired by the Brothers. Tradition says that the noise made by the performers and audiences seriously disturbed the sick, while the management of a theatre by a religious order caused a great scandal among pious people. The Brothers argued that, no matter what the origin of the money was, it was used for a good purpose, and they continued to enjoy the revenues of the theatre until the hospital was discontinued. The theatre, and with it part of the hospital, was burned one night in 1722, after the performance of "The Ruin and Burning of Jerusalem." The common people regarded the conflagration as a sign of heavenly disapproval, but the Brothers rebuilt immediately. A few years later they rebuilt again; and in 1752 they laid the foundation of the present theatre, and finished it in the following year. It has been changed so much since that time that very little now remains of the original edifice.
The theatre is one of the institutions of Mexico, and liberally patronized. On this subject Frank wrote the following:
"The Teatro Principal is not what its name implies, as it is not the principal theatre at all. It may have been so when it was the only one, but it certainly has not been of much account in late years. The most fashionable theatre is the Nacional. Italian and French opera are given there, and the place is open for one thing or another pretty much the whole year. It is the fashion to have the commencement exercises of the military and other colleges in the Teatro Nacional, and since we came here there has been a grand concert in the building.
"We went to the opera one night. The performance was fairly good, but nothing remarkable, and we came away with the impression that the Mexicans go there more to see and be seen than to listen to the performance.
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 The ladies were in full evening costume, and the men seemed to be about equally divided between dress-coats and double-breasted ones. There are boxes on two balconies and also around part of the parquet. The prices for seats and boxes vary according to the attraction, and the house is said to be generally well filled.
"Most of the men left their seats between the acts, some of them to smoke cigarettes in the lobby, and others to call on their lady friends in the boxes or send packages of dulces (sweetmeats) to them. The pretty women in the boxes seemed to enjoy being stared at, if we could judge by the way they smiled when opera-glasses were aimed at them. Many of the men paid no attention to the performance, but constantly eyed the beauties, and eyed them with their lorgnettes instead of their natural organs of sight. They came back just before the curtain rose on each act, and then each man stood up and made a survey of the horizon of boxes, reminding us of the quartermaster of a ship at sea looking for a sail. They tell us that the Mexican belles feel slighted if they are not thus stared at, and there is a keen rivalry among them as to who shall be the recipient of the greatest amount of attention.
"We have been accustomed in other parts of the world," continued the youth, "to hear the voice of the prompter at the opera, but we were not prepared for it in an ordinary theatre where the performance was a play in dialogue and not a musical one. We went one night to the Hidalgo Theatre to see and hear a Mexican play. The prompter pronounced every sentence before the actor did, and it was heard all through the house. It completely spoiled the play for us, and we left before it was over. What we liked a good deal better was the arrangement of the office, where there were five or six ticket-sellers seated in a row behind a grating, so that there was no delay in getting places.
"They showed us a plan of the theatre in which the seats were marked by pegs in holes. We selected three places, paid our money, and then the ticket-seller drew out the pegs and handed them to us. The pegs were numbered to correspond with the places, and we handed them to the usher as checks for our seats. We found that we could buy seats for a single act or for two acts, or three, just as we liked, on the same plan as in some of the cities of Europe.
"In addition to the theatre and opera, the Mexicans inherit the Spanish love for the bull-fight. This form of sport has had its ups and downs in the capital. It was abolished in the federal district for some time, but was recently re-established or permitted, and now there are bull-rings at the northern end of the Paseo and in San Cosme. There is always
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 a large attendance, but it is chiefly of the lower classes of the population.
"We have seen a bull-fight, but it was not a real one. It was given at a marionette theatre, and was said to be an excellent representation of the actual performance. The figures were about four inches high, and operated by cords invisible to the audience. It was interesting and funny, and we had a good laugh while looking at it. During Lent this marionette theatre has exhibitions called Los Processiones, in which long processions of various church dignitaries and characters are drawn slowly along a stage or walk extending the whole length of the room. At the time we saw the miniature bull-fight the walk had been removed, and the stage was at the end of the hall. The audience was of the lower class of natives, and we kept a good watch over our pockets.
"The real bull-fight was something we did not want to see, and we refused several invitations to witness it. It is a brutal, degrading sport,
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 from our point of c............
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