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A DINNER AND A RIDE
KINGS’ DAY, one of the brightest religious feast-days in Mexico, occurs in January. In the calendar of the Roman Catholic Church it is set aside for the adoration of the Gentile Kings or Wise Men, Gaspar, Melchor, and Baltazar, who were led by the star in the east to Bethlehem.
This feast of the Epiphany is observed in the churches with unusual services; at the cathedral there is solemn high mass at nine o’clock. Mexican flags hang from the big dome and vaulted roofs, and appropriate sermons are preached.
Aside from the religious observance of the holiday, there was much social gaiety, and our young people had a large share in the good times.
Juanita’s mother made plans to entertain at dinner a number of her friends. As she did not believe in shutting the children out of the good times, she told her daughter that she could ask several of her schoolmates. Naturally, Juanita invited the boys and girls with whom we have become acquainted, — Rosa and Panchito Alvarez and Carlos and Sarita Ortiz. In addition, Señora Jiminez sent invitations to Señor Alvarez and to Señoras Alvarez and Ortiz. Of course little Maria was not left out.
Impatiently Juanita waited for the time to pass before the party. She was the more impatient because papa had thrown out several hints that he was preparing a splendid surprise to follow the dinner.
No matter how much she teased her father, she could not get him to reveal the secret.
He only smiled broadly, and put on a very mysterious look. Juanita tried again and again to guess what it might be, but all to no purpose. The secret could not be discovered.
She talked with Sarita and Rosa about it, and even asked Panchito and Carlos what they supposed it could be; but the girls could only give vague guesses, and the boys put on a very superior air, saying they were not interested in secrets, anyway.
If the truth were known, when the boys got by themselves, they puzzled and guessed as much as the girls, but it would never do for them to own that they were at all curious —oh, no!
So there was nothing to do but to wait for the secret to reveal itself at its own good pleasure. Slowly the time passed, but at last the holiday came, and with it the friends who were to dine with the Jiminez family.
Two tables were set for the dinner. At one the grown members of the party were seated. At the other sat the young folks, with Juanita as hostess, and Panchito on her right.
The tables fairly groaned with the good things that were placed upon them, and both young and old did full justice to them. What most interested Juanita and her friends, though, was the cake that was served as dessert.
In many Mexican homes that day a large cake in the shape of a crown was provided. This was cut in as many slices as there were people present. A bean was hidden in the Kings’ Cake, which naturally some one in the party would draw. That person would have to give a party and dance to the rest within a stated time. This dance is called baile de los compadres.
Señora Jiminez had provided no such cake for her own table because some of her guests would have been unable to give a party to such a company of people. But before the children a beautiful Kings’ Cake had been placed. It was cut into five pieces, and to the finder of the hidden bean Señor Jiminez had promised a prize or reward.
“Oh, I hope I shall win,” said Carlos, with just a tinge of covetousness in his tone. Sarita, who sat beside him, said nothing, but gave him a rebuking look for the ill-mannered speech.
“I mean, I—“ But Carlos did not know how to qualify his remark, so he merely hung his head and looked ashamed.
Juanita, sorry for the embarrassment of her guest, said: “Of course we all want to find the bean, but shall also all be glad to congratulate the lucky winner.”
At this, she passed to each one a piece of the fateful cake. For a few moments not a word was said. As each one ate there was anxious search for the hidden bean. Finally, when the cake was nearly all eaten, a joyful cry was given and Sarita was heard to say, “I have it! I have it!”
Meanwhile, the older people at the other table had finished their meal and were looking on with much interest. When Señor Jiminez saw that Sarita was the fortunate one, he called her to him.
“I am going to tell you children now what the great secret is, but first will you please step to that window?” asked the Señor, indicating the one which commanded the street and the front entrance.
Sarita did as requested. A look of surprise came over her face, but she said nothing.
“What do you see?”
“A pair of fine horses.”
“A three-seated carriage.”
“Yes, a coachman.”
“Now I will tell you that the secret is a ride for all you children to the Alameda.”
“Oh, isn’t that splendid?”
These were the exclamations from the girls and boys.
“But, papa, what about Sarita’s prize?” asked Juanita.
“Oh, I nearly forgot. She is to sit on the front seat with me.”
Sarita thought that was a splendid reward for her lucky find, and thanked Señor Jiminez in her prettiest manner.
Before long Señor Jiminez and his gay young party were seated in the roomy and comfortable carriage, Sarita by his side on the front seat. Carlos and Panchito occupied the second seat, and Juanita and Rosa sat in the rear.
The older members of the party remained with Señora Jiminez while her husband took the children to ride.
For Juanita, this going to ride with her father was no new experience, but for the others it was an extraordinary occasion, and the mere sensation of riding behind two such fine horses was too pleasant to describe. The sights along the streets seemed very different to them than they had in previous days when they were on foot.
Many were the questions they asked of each other, and Señor Jiminez took pains to point out the objects of interest as he drove slowly along. Perhaps nothing on the way excited more comment than a quaint palace built of blue and white tiles.
“That house,” said Señor Jiminez, “was built over a hundred years ago, and there is a queer story about it.
“It seems that a certain rich man had a son. The son was extravagant in his habits and squandered the money which his father allowed him.
“Finally the father’s patience was exhausted, and he refused to provide a further supply of funds for his son. At the same time he gave him a severe lecture, winding up with an old Spanish proverb about the inability of spend-thrifts to build porcelain palaces.
“Now, with all his bad habits, the young man had a certain amount of pride, and he told his father that he could keep his old money. He would ask no more favours of him, anyway.
“So the son took his departure for parts unknown. For several years his father saw nothing of him.
“Finally, after a long time, a messenger called at the father’s house with a note requesting him to come to a certain street and number to meet an old acquaintance. On arriving at the place indicated, he found that it was this very place. In the reception-hall he found his son, who gave him a warm greeting and bade him look over the establishment. He also reminded his father of what he had said about spendthrifts and porcelain palaces.
“Of course the old gentleman was much surprised when he learned that his son was the builder of this palace, but he was none the less gratified at the young man’s success.”
“But where did the son get his money?” asked the practical Carlos.
“That part of the story we do not know,” was the answer; “but we do know that that was a time of pirates and brigands, and I guess the old gentleman didn’t care to investigate too closely the source of his son’s fortune.”
Many other beautiful and grand sights were seen along the way, as well as some that were picturesque and quaint. Often the pity as well as the curiosity of the children was excited, especially when they drove through some of the poorer streets. Even Carlos and Sarita knew little of the depth of poverty and wretchedness in some parts of the city.
After awhile our party arrived at the Alameda. As they entered the park, Señor Jiminez told something of its history. To Juanita, the story was not unknown, but the other children heard it for the first time.
“For over three hundred years,” said Juanita’s father, “the Alameda has been not only a big breathing-place for the people of the capital, but its chief pleasure park. It was laid out in 1592 under Viceroy Luis de Velasco, and alamos and cottonwood trees were planted; hence the name Alameda. The park used to be enclosed in a stone wall, but this was removed in 1885.
Long years ago, when the Inquisition prevailed in Mexico, there were executions on the grounds now occupied by the western end of the Alameda. But those cruel chapters in Mexican history are well-nigh forgotten, and now we see no outward trace of the Inquisition.”
But the glorious sight which presented itself to the vision of the children made these old stories of cruelty seem like a dream. The only realities to them were the beautiful green grass, the thick foliage of the waving trees, through which was caught an occasional glimpse of blue sky, and, above all, the ever moving panorama of life which passed before them.
Many a time, on a Thursday or Sunday forenoon, the children had visited the park to hear the military band play and to see the crowds of people. But never had the Alameda presented such a sight to them as on this holiday.
Hundreds of fine carriages and automobiles passed back and forth. In them were seated the most noted people of the city. Many of the men were dressed in military uniforms profusely decorated with gold lace, while the women were dressed in the most elaborate costumes the country could produce.
Then there were the multitudes of people on foot, laughing and chatting with each other or gazing at the passers-by in their carriages.
Señor Jiminez was kept busy telling his young people the names of prominent people who rode by. As they were jogging slowly along he suddenly said:
“Look quickly, children. See that carriage coming toward us in which is riding the sturdy, military-looking man with gray hair and moustache.”
“The one with plumed hat and so many badges, and who bows to so many people?” asked Sarita.
“The very one. That is President Diaz. You all want to get a good look at him; for though he is a sturdy, strong man, he is getting along in years, and you probably will not have many opportunities to see him.
“I want you to know that Mexico owes a large part of her present peace and prosperity to that man. Our country had practically no railroads until after General Diaz became President.
“He is a living example of the possibilities of the Mexican youth. Although he was born in an obscure corner of the country, in the city of Oaxaca, by successfully meeting new conditions as they presented themselves, he not only improved himself, but lifted his country out of the condition of chronic revolution under which it had suffered from the time of its emancipation from Spain, in the year 1821, until the year 1874, when the last revolutionary attempt ended.
“Much of the success for good that has followed the career of President Diaz was due to his boyhood training. His father and mother, although not well-to-do people, were industrious, frugal, and conscientious in giving young Porfirio as good an education as they could.
“As a lad he wanted to enter the army, but his parents placed him in the, seminary to study for the priesthood. This did not suit him, and he studied law. Later he entered the Mexican army and became one of the most illustrious soldiers of the republic.
When General Diaz became President, Mexico was so isolated from the United States that there were only about a dozen English-speaking people in the City of Mexico, while now in the city and vicinity are about four thousand Americans and English.
“A truer patriot never lived, and at times when funds were scarce in the government treasury, President Diaz has thrown off half his salary, which also was done by hundreds of patriotic statesmen, and the financial difficulties were successfully overcome.”
Carlos and Panchito were especially interested in Señor Jiminez’s talk about Diaz, and they gazed after the President’s retreating carriage till it was out of sight.
Meanwhile they continued on their way around the park, and came to the Paseo, or boulevard, leading to Chapultepec. At the head of the street stands the great statue of Charles IV.
“That statue,” said Señor Jiminez, “has only one superior in the world, that of Marcus Aurelius in Rome. This one is about twenty-two feet in height and weighs forty-five thousand pounds. It is so big that twenty men, it is said, can be stuffed into its stomach of bronze, which has led the common people of Mexico to call it the ‘Horse of Troy.’ It was made by Manuel Tolsa, the great architect and sculptor, who built the massive School of Mines.”
After riding a little way along the boulevard, the horses were turned homeward. The ride back furnished many new and interesting sights, as they drove by a different route.
The young folks were very profuse in their thanks for the afternoon’s outing, and all, both young and old, felt that the day had been happily and wisely spent.
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