America’s chewing gum industry began with the help of a deposed Mexican dictator. In the 1850s, Thomas Adams was secretary to General López de Santa Anna, then living in New York and plotting a return to power in Mexico. Santa Anna had arrived in New York with a boatload of chicle, a latex substance from the sapodilla tree, and the idea of selling it as an inexpensive alternative to rubber. It never caught on with buggy-tire makers, but Adams realized chicle could be made into chewing gum. After purchasing the cargo from Santa Anna, Adams began adding flavorings to the chicle. By 1871, he was selling “Adams New York Chewing Gum” in drugstores. In 1884, he introduced his first big hit: licorice-flavored “Black Jack” gum. In 1899, he introduced the popular Chiclets, as well as the vending machine, from which he dispensed his gum on New York City subway platforms. The Adams company continued production for decades, adding new flavors like Clove and Pepsin. But in the 1970s, declining sales caused the company to cease production. Now owned by the British confectionary company Cadbury, the company is again manufacturing gum and, for older gum chewers, nostalgia.
This article is featured in the July/August 2020 issue of The Saturday Evening Post. Subscribe to the magazine for more art, inspiring stories, fiction, humor, and features from our archives.
The conquistadors had a name for this place: El Despoblado, the unpeopled, but Maria saw hope in those vast sands. She cinched her bag up on her shoulder. She clapped cold hands, breathed mist in the penumbral dark. “Alex,” she whispered, the border miles away. “Hold my hand.”
Alex rushed forward. Prickly chamiza leaves cut along his ankles; sharp tips scratched the skin between his socks and the too-short hem of his pant legs, but what else could he do? His sister hadn’t bought new clothes in ages.
His small brown hand in hers, Maria looked at her light skin and sighed. She pulled her brother forward.
Miles ahead of them lay Juarez; but before that, a forest and the chance for rest and water, and before that, miles of desert stretched like the enormous belly of a spotted jaguar. Its evening breath in slumber made the desert rise and fall as Maria walked, left, right, left, right. Alex still stomped his feet in protest, but soon he tired. He let Maria drag him.
Clear winter nights like this, billions of stars lit up the mammal desert. To the East, a wall of rock, not quite a mesa, looked out over the plain like the head of the yaguara . Miles away, Maria thought she saw its tail of cirrus clouds twirl imperceptibly. The children hiked for hours. The desert seemed to turn its neck to watch them pass, its eye a burst of moonlight through a cleft in the red slabs of rock.
Red rock turned black under white moon. Breathing belly of a desert, rise and fall in time with children’s steps. Alex looked up. The light between the rocks narrowed; the jaguar closed its eye.
North, Thomas let his feet hang off the hood of his white F150 and sighed at the sound of his wife walking up behind him. Their small house sat on cinder blocks stacked six high, for the snakes, and the scorpions. Sandra said, “Going out?” And Tom said, “Yeah.”
As the children made their way past the head of the animal, the moon hung bare on its black cord in the same place. Was it possible they hadn’t moved at all? Maria chewed her braid. The jaguar’s head seemed lower to the ground, resting on the pooled shadows of its paws, it’s cloudy tail curling in the West. Maria stopped. She pulled their map and compass from his backpack, but Alex knew his sister wouldn’t need them.
Alex marvelled at the whiteness of the moon and of the sand. When he looked up, for a moment, he couldn’t tell what was light and what was dark. The sky was black, but everything around him glowed and dissipated in the light, every breath they took. There was nowhere to go now except El Norte, and Maria would never forget the direction their father had taken into the forest and out of the mountains. The last time he called, he’d sent a Western Union and told them to just make it. Just make it, mis hijos, he coughed into the phone. After Mama … after —
The white, the white. Alex couldn’t think about this anymore.
Sandra went inside as Tom’s truck rode away. Dust rose behind it like a pillar. The TV played blue light, no: an image of an African child with a fly on the white of its eye. Sandra made a tsk sound and reached for the remote.
Abuelita, Abuelita, Alex cried. All around, the desert sparkled in the darkness, a glittering pane of glass. ¡Callate el hocico, pendejo! his sister said. Maria bent over the map and pretended to read it in the dark. She didn’t know why she bothered. She barely understood the lines and gradients. And she knew they were going in the right direction. She told herself she was looking at the map to give Alex a break without hurting his little-boy pride.
She gave him the last sip from their before-last bottle of water. He swallowed the pills that were said to give you the strength to resist the freezing cold during your passage through the desert. She dry swallowed the pills that were said to keep you from having a baby. Who knows what worked or not. Maria folded everything back into their pack, she tossed the plastic bottle and it rolled down the grade, making rune lines in the sand. She tucked map into the pocket where the bottle had been.
The old man who gave her the map was the most recent to give them a ride. This was how they left Oaxaca weeks ago. One old man with a car at a time.
Tom reached out and touched his right hand to the rifle in the passenger seat, then the knife strapped to his leg, then the pistol cinched up under his left arm, instinctively, one after another, like a sign of the cross. He turned off highway 20, into the desert proper. A garbled voice snarled on the radio. He’d make a sweeping circle across the sand, then come back to the highway roughly where he’d left it. Tom thought about the guys, “Ghost” and them. With their codenames and gear. A few weeks back, they told him, pick a call sign. Tom said he wasn’t that creative. They told him, take your time.
The cab of the old man’s truck had filled with the smell of his sweat. She listened for Alex waiting outside, but she heard nothing except an old man’s deep and ragged breathing.
When she climbed down from the truck, she remembered that they were stopped on the side of the road. Sometimes she left herself, wherever she was, and flew up into the white ceiling of a house, a car, or even the sky. Sometimes she imagined herself floating in space above the earth, connected by a line, a hair, to her body on the planet below. She liked facing outward into space, imagining the stars as big as suns, just far away. She liked feeling the Earth at her back.
The sun set behind the truck. Time began to move again. Maria’s shadow stretched into the darkness of the Chihuahuan desert like a bridge, she felt herself like a big cat, coiled and dangerous. The old man had fished a map out of his glovebox, called to her. “Here,” he said. “May the Virgin—”
“And with you,” Maria interrupted.
At some point between then and now, morning begins to spill over the landscape. An orange wound in the East of the night. At the same time, a pinprick of light begins to form in the blackness to the North. It moves, imperceptibly, toward the children. The jaguar’s head is far behind them now. The moon enormous overhead.
Alex seems to sleep while he walks. Maria knows they only have to make it to the forest, and they can rest. They can drink water and prepare to cross the river, wait out the hottest part of the day. They might make it. They could.
But in a few miles, moments after we leave them, here, anywhere they are, Maria’s body and her brother’s body will appear as distant forms, animals maybe, unpeople in the empty desert, illuminated in the headlights of a truck.
What can you do?
Featured image: Shutterstock
The built landscape is often how we relate visually to history. We visit archaeological sites, monuments, churches, temples, mosques, museums, forts, castles, and buildings of state. We speak of the pleasure and splendor of ruins — but how often does an architect contemplate what their creation will look like when it falls into decay? Will it still have a tangible presence? It is time going backward, returning to the beginning and exposing the bones of the structure. Archaeological sites have a form and presence never anticipated by the builders; in their altered state, we are embraced in a backward-gazing dream.
For many sites, the façade is everything. Builders were aware of light and shadow and how the interplay of the two would change throughout the day. The setting can be just as important and seductive. This would be important regardless of whether the building was religious, monumental, utilitarian, or residential.
While ruins remind us how much we have forgotten, they also give us license to dream.
Architecture is often used to make religious and cultural statements. For example, Bayon, at Angkor Thom, in Cambodia, is a state temple, a complex monument that uses face towers to create stone mountains of ascending peaks, and below are two bas-relief galleries with delicately carved historical, religious, and mythological subjects sweeping across the walls. Dancing Apsarases — spirits of the clouds and waters — are incised on pillars.
In Europe, the façades of cathedrals have saints, clerics, and angels floating above our heads, and the interior is a manmade space meant to encompass the heavens and earth, with soaring ceilings and rich imagery and decoration. They invite the congregation to worship and pray. Everyone has access to God. The altarpiece is an artistic testament to God’s power and glory and the focus of the richest display of wealth: paintings, gold leaf, carvings, and elaborate niches. Windows let in light, sometimes through stained glass, which adds a kaleidoscope of rainbow colors dancing on the floor and walls as the sun moves. It is light, mysterious, and holy.
In the Americas, the Maya wrote their history on the outside of their buildings. Like any culture that believes the earth is alive, they used objects as symbols for the natural world. Their pyramids were mountains, and the doorways of their temples were the mouths of those mountains — cave entrances. Their Classic Period was noted for elite architecture, propagandistic monuments, and flamboyant theater-state rituals where epicenters of Maya sites were constructed as stage settings for religious spectacles, demonstrating the political and spiritual power of the rulers.
Humanity’s early impact on the landscape is found in the megalithic sites of Europe. Standing stones, stone circles, and cairns date to the Neolithic period and the Bronze Age. People have probably been anthropomorphizing the stones since soon after they were erected — brooding, pensive figures — maybe even witches or faeries in the woods or open moor. The builders of the Neolithic burial chamber at Pentre Ifan in Wales would never have intended it to be viewed as it is today — a large and elegant capstone balanced delicately on the tips of upright stones. They covered it with a mound of earth 130 feet long, traces of which still remain, but thousands of years of wind and rain have exposed the very essence of its design, revealing a monument of lyrical grace, equal to or surpassing modern sculpture.
An archaeological zone is referred to as a “dig” because we literally have to shovel through centuries of detritus to uncover the buildings to discover the site. There might only be the most teasing of hints, but often nothing left on the surface to tell us what will lie beneath. In the tropics we have archaeology under the canopy, mature hardwood forests crowning what once were palaces and pyramids, their roots, over time, inexorably crumbling masonry walls and breaking lintels in two.
We can see fragments of this happening today even where we live. The weeds that spring from the smallest of crevices; a sidewalk broken by a tree root, its outline traced by the bulges and cracks of the concrete; a vacant yard turned feral by neglect or foreclosure. Leaves and weeds accumulate, break down, and the mulch becomes soil. More weeds, bushes, and trees take root in the soil that collects on rooftops, inside vacant buildings, along abandoned tracks. An animal builds its nest, a bird drops a seed, and each and every thing adds its part — a reminder that, even in a city, we live in nature, even if that nature is a product of human influence. People and their towns and cities might hold nature in abeyance, by differing degrees, but it is always a part of our world, and once a city goes into decline or is abandoned, the natural world takes over.
Ruins provide us an enigma to study and try to decipher. We walk around trying to see the overall picture, meanwhile looking for the details that will inform our thoughts, and we are free to come up with our own hypotheses. Many archaeological sites are in park-like environments — they can be pleasant to visit. People bring picnics and play games and turn it into a family outing, cheerfully oblivious or simply enjoying that, once upon a time, intrigue and pageantry inhabited the spot. They might nibble on their appetizers where soldiers once massed, kings spoke to their subjects, merchants contemplated perilous and long journeys, and captives were sacrificed.
While ruins remind us how much we have forgotten, they also give us license to dream. We can try to imagine what buildings once looked like, what a square full of people might have sounded like, what the market might have smelled like packed with vendors and all the wealth of their wares. Ruins expose us to cultures we might not have known existed, to history we can look forward to learning, to discovering more about the people who probably never entertained the thought that one day we would be standing here wondering who they were.
We think of ruins as being isolated cultural sites, but our effect on the earth has been so significant that we have entered the Anthropocene Era. Sometimes we deceive ourselves into thinking that these changes have been utterly natural, but we are living in the ruins of a natural disaster of our own making, a process started thousands of years ago but accelerating quickly. “Nature is not a temple, but a ruin,” writes J.B. MacKinnon in The Once and Future World: Nature as It Was, as It Is, as It Could Be. “A beautiful ruin, but a ruin all the same.”
Just as Percy Bysshe Shelley wrote about impermanence in his sonnet “Ozymandias,” and later Robinson Jeffers in his poem “Hands,” we should realize that one day someone will stand where we now live and wonder who we were.
Photographer Macduff Everton wrote The Modern Maya (UT Press) and collaborated with Linda Schele and Peter Mathews on The Code of Kings: The Language of Seven Sacred Maya Temples and Tombs (Scribner). For more, visit macduffeverton.com.
This article is featured in the March/April 2020 issue of The Saturday Evening Post. Subscribe to the magazine for more art, inspiring stories, fiction, humor, and features from our archives.
Featured image: Sans Souci, Haiti: Built between 1810 and 1813, the ruins of the royal palace of King Christophe (Henry I) are now a National History Park and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Copyright © Macduff Everton. All rights reserved.
George Bradshaw wrote romances and mysteries for the Post and other popular magazines during his career that spanned more than 40 years. His last short story for this magazine, “The Privileged Class,” follows a curious mix of guests at a remote Mexican Inn and a romantic triangle that exposes the harsh truth about class differences and love.
Published on December 3, 1966
Civilization at the Hacienda Lucknow depended upon a gasoline engine. The gasoline engine made electricity, the electricity made ice, and the ice chilled the drinks which the guests at the hacienda so seriously needed.
The gasoline came by boat from Guaymas, a hundred miles across the gulf, and Doña Lucia, dubious of the winds and tides, always kept an excess supply at hand in drums sunk in the ground. Oh, there were occasional rumors of ice in the town of Las Rosas, but that was ten back-breaking miles around Santa Rosa Bay, and the rumors usually proved unfounded. As for ice beyond that — well, a road supposedly went west over the mountains to join the highway to La Paz, but no one had ever been found who soberly, truthfully, would say he had driven it. “Have more ice,” Doña Lucia would say. “There is plenty of gasoline.” On your first day at the Hacienda Lucknow you were not accustomed yet to think of ice as a triumph. But such it was.
I found Doña Lucia’s hotel by chance. You are not likely to hear of it, for it has only nineteen rooms, is never advertised, and can be reached only by plane or boat. I was staying in Guaymas when somebody told me about it. A young Mexican, Luis something, who had a converted C-47 which he used as a tramp, was flying over in a couple of days, and he agreed to take me. If I liked it, I could stay; if not, he would bring me back.
The trip was comfortable. Luis had equipped his plane with two ancient, overstuffed velvet chairs behind the cockpit. I had one of them; a young American girl, Helen Adams, had the other.
Miss Adams knew where she was going and why. In the forty-five minutes it took us to fly the Gulf of California, I learned something about this pretty girl.
Her room was reserved at the Hacienda Lucknow. She would stay a month. “I’m on a field trip,” she said. “I’m with the Hedges Oceanographic Institute. I’m a conchologist.”
I told her that was interesting.
“Of course, all this coastline has been hunted for shells,” she said, “but I still may be able to come up with something wonderful.”
“A golden cowrie?” I said.
She smiled tolerantly. “Golden cowries,” she said, “are found only in the South Pacific.”
I must be careful what I say about Hellie Adams. I could easily make her sound unattractive. She was not; she was only young. We often forget how learned the young are — certainly when I was twenty-two I knew five times what I know now. Hellie was a sharp reminder that knowledge can be pure, and opinions unshakable, and that to answer yes-and-no is a sure sign of age.
I never resented her; it was touching, rather, to see someone who had such faith in facts. And she was so pretty. That first day she had on a dark gray silk dress, an elegant cowhide pouch hung over her shoulder, and she carried a pair of smart, pale-blue sunglasses. Everything was right for her dark-brown hair and golden face; the figure hid the conchologist perfectly. Only her manner was scientific.
She said to me. “What do you do?” and when I explained, she seemed disappointed.
“I hoped, if you wrote, that you did articles,” she said. “I only like articles.”
I said to her, “Articles deal in truth, and truth is so subject to fashion that I find it unrewarding.”
She said, “You’re quite wrong.”
Suddenly Santa Rosa Bay and Baja California were beneath us, and we circled in for a landing.
Doña Lucia was Lucille Corbin, once of Urbana, Illinois. Almost sixty now, she had been for thirty years a self-satisfied exile from the rainy north. She had come in the beginning, I suppose, as a tourist, but then, falling in love with the country and needing to make a living, she had become an innkeeper, first in Taxco, then Acapulco, then Jalisco, and now on the far and inconvenient shores of Santa Rosa Bay.
She is a familiar figure. If you tramp around the world, you will see her in Bermuda, in Peru, in Mexico — the elderly American Bohemian, white hair bobbed, endless cigarettes dangling from her lips, native jewelry clanking. She has a Midwest prejudice against dirt, a merry disposition, and a fluent and incompetent command of the native language. She could have stayed at home and run a tearoom, but that would not have satisfied her wandering urge; she wanted the tearoom, all right, but it must have a romantic view, and a little foreign music in the air.
Doña Lucia had tiny, pretty feet, and she showed them vainly as she padded, barefoot, around her hotel. The Hacienda had been built by a German more than fifty years ago — there were stories of funny business with submarines during World War I — but Doña Lucia had so altered it and added to it that probably very little remained of the original structure. Now it was a cool maze of patios and loggias and fountains and pleasant views; flowers and shiny leaves exerted themselves in any possible corner, and everywhere there was a comfortable place to sit down.
I meant to work, but it is hard to start right away when you arrive in a new place. So for several days I explored the coves and beaches of Santa Rosa.
I either started out with or met Hellie. She was always up early, for like everything in nature, shells are idiosyncratic — some like dawn, some like dusk, some sun, some shade — and Hellie aimed to please them all. She collected basketfuls of beautiful, foul-smelling creatures. She told me their bothersome Latin names, and taught me to distinguish one from the other.
So Hellie and I became friends, but I am afraid nothing more. I won’t say she tolerated me — that is too strong a word. Rather, she treated me with the kindness one might use toward a bright child. I believe that she divided people into two categories: those engaged in the holy rites of science, and others. “Others” were often acceptable, but fundamentally they were unimportant. Of course, I am exaggerating this attitude slightly, but it was nevertheless sometimes strong enough to nettle Doña Lucia.
The three of us had our meals together. (There were other guests at the hotel, but they were waiting for the marlin to show up, and they don’t come into this story.) One day at lunch Doña Lucia said, “And what will you do, my dear, when earth’s last shell is catalogued? Get married?”
Hellie said, “Before that, maybe.”
“Well, then,” Doña Lucia said, “find a placid man, with plenty of money.”
“The money won’t matter.”
“Oh, come,” Doña Lucia said, “be sensible.”
“Or the placid either. I’m afraid I’ll have to have a man with a brain I can respect.” She looked at me. “One who isn’t afraid of the truth.”
“Ouch,” I said.
“Men are in various ways useful,” Doña Lucia said, “but whether they have brains or not is unimportant.”
So we might have gone on talking for a month, except that just then a waiter called and pointed, and as we looked out through the long windows, we saw a yacht slowly coming in to anchor off the hotel.
“It’s Foxie Benham!” Doña Lucia said.
Yes, it was Foxie Benham. With her yacht, her captain, her guests. and her husband, in that order.
Let’s take Foxie. The first thing to remember about her is that she was rich. Not new rich. Old rich: rich with the accumulation of four generations; rich to the point of quixotic stinginess; even rich enough to be a public benefactor. She must certainly have been in her forties, but when you saw her — which was never before noon, after she had been pounded and scrubbed and brushed — she looked a good twenty-eight. Her pale shining hair, her small, tanned face, her miraculous figure — all stood the test of the brightest sun. She swam and danced and drank and ate and laughed endlessly. I think one of the things we are apt to forget about rich people is what a good time they have. They take advantage of their advantages and enjoy themselves. Foxie had an energy that may have been compulsive but was certainly real. She talked in a quick, surprising way that passed for wit, and she had the appearance of constantly being busy. She was not busy, of course; she was simply making sure that she wouldn’t be bored.
Her guests on the boat were two other couples of her world — not so rich as she, and the women not quite so handsome — but gay and pleasant people who made every show of having a good time.
It’s hard to know what to say about Jerry Benham, her husband. He was her third. He had been married to her for nine years, and it was clear that he was not going to last much longer.
Poor Jerry. If things had been different — if he had never met Foxie, that is — he might have been a successful second-rate actor. He had been a moderately successful one, and had been on his way to a small notoriety when Foxie picked him up. It was still obvious that he had been a good-looking fellow ten years ago, but the ten years of idleness and alcohol had taken their toll: Jerry, at thirty-five, looked done for.
He was not a drunk; in fact, he drank rather less than the average, but alcohol went to his tongue. He didn’t stutter; there was simply a lag in his speech. He had to force the words out. Talking to him, you found yourself helping him, finishing sentences, nodding violent agreement with half-finished ones. It was tiring to talk to him, but also unrewarding, for Jerry really had little more to talk about than ten-year-old movie news.
Possibly it is condescension on my part to say I felt sorry for Jerry. He had made his bargain in marrying Foxie, yet somehow I believed he had expected something more.
Foxie was carrying on with the captain.
Oh, the captain.
Hellie gave the best description of him at dinner that first night after they all arrived. “He’s a beautiful specimen,” she said, and gave a frantic little laugh.
Doña Lucia looked at her coldly. “No need for hysteria,” she said. “Men have been handsome before this.”
“Not like the captain,” Hellie said.
“I thought that you wanted a man with brains.”
“I do. But as an example of what the race can produce … ”
“Hands off, now,” Doña Lucia said, “if you know what’s good for you.”
“I’m a scientist. I can appreciate a specimen, can’t I?”
“If you keep a scientific view, yes. But let me tell you, Foxie has the teeth of a wolf.”
“You don’t understand.” Hellie said.
“Yes, I do,” Doña Lucia said.
He was actually a very nice fellow, Bill Daniels. The Navy had given him a good education, and he loved boats, so this present job was a perfect one. And if Foxie went with it, he wasn’t averse.
I have found that extraordinarily handsome people are usually quite nice. They have no reason not to be. Everyone likes them on sight, they go everywhere, they are either given money or given a chance to earn it easily, they have none of those problems of making a place in the world for themselves, which seem to beset the rest of us. Enjoying life, they make life enjoyable for those around them.
At least, that is what Bill Daniels did for Hellie. Perhaps it would be more exact to say that is what he did in the morning; for the rest of the day, and the night, he was a hired hand. Hellie accepted this as natural.
They met early one morning by chance in a cove where Bill was swimming and she had gone to hunt for shells. They talked and swam and looked for shells until noon, when he had to leave. But they met the next morning. Then the next, and the next. When, however, they met at other times, they only smiled and nodded. Hellie said one day, “Don’t be silly. Bill’s told me all about it. Foxie’s husband is around every minute, isn’t he? It’s just that Foxie treats everyone like a servant, especially servants. She wants Bill on call.”
“Oh,” I said, “so that’s it.”
I’m sure it all started innocently enough. From Bill’s point of view, it was certainly more fun to go swimming with a pretty girl than not, and from Hellie’s — well, it was good to have a happy fellow dive to get shells for you.
Foxie either did not know about the meetings or had proof they meant nothing. Anyway, she took a liking to Hellie when she found out about her work.
“My word, shells,” she said one evening when all the yacht people were on shore for cocktails. “I know something about shells, you know. When I was a little girl my father used to bring me down here. He was very interested in the Hedges Institute. You know the collection there from Magdalena Bay?”
“Of course I do.” Hellie said. “They’re beautiful specimens.”
With a kind of childish pride, Foxie pointed to herself. “I collected a great many of them. They were my special thing.” She leaned toward Hellie, a string of sapphires rattling on her wrist. “Look here, you and I have a lot to talk about.”
And they did, for a good twenty minutes. “Oh,” Foxie said finally, “I’d love to go hunting again.”
“Why don’t you come?” Hellie said. “Some afternoon?”
“Tomorrow,” Foxie said. “I’ll do it.”
Jerry, who had been listening carefully to all this, looked at me and smiled. I smiled back at him and nodded wisely, hoping I told him I understood everything he was thinking.
I did not, of course. I did not know one thing Jerry was thinking. I spent too much time watching the situation as it developed.
For Hellie, despite all her talk and disclaimers, fell in love with Bill. It was one of those quick and awful things, groundless, and, so far as I could see, without hope, but hard and inescapable. It happens, I suppose, to everyone at least once in his life, and this was Hellie’s time.
In her eyes there was a new, distinguishable glow; she lost the thread of conversation, she walked differently, she seemed afraid that everyone was looking at her. I felt sorry for Hellie Adams.
For let’s be blunt about it: I could see, and I was also told quite plainly by one of Foxie’s guests, what was going on. Foxie had marked Bill for her next husband, and no sweet little girl who went around picking up seashells was going to upset the plan.
It was a recent thing with Foxie too, I was told. Bill had been hired as captain innocently enough — which would explain Jerry’s presence — and the change had taken place in the six weeks since the yacht had left Santa Barbara. As Hellie said, Bill Daniels was a healthy specimen.
There you have it — but with one thing to be added which might possibly be forgotten. I mean the intimacy of all concerned.
You remember what it was like in the old days when people traveled by ship instead of plane. At the end of six days going to Europe you felt that the people you had met the first day were old, old friends, that you had known them and everything about them for months or years. The same thing happened in the isolation of the Hacienda Lucknow. By the end of two weeks we had all been in each other’s pockets long enough to know the contents, and yet not be bored. We were all delighted new friends, in the happy way of a resort, which demands no responsibility. If some of us looked apprehensively at the spectacle of Foxie and Hellie and Captain Daniels, we were all very civilized, and did not talk about it — in public. We danced and drank and had suppers on the beach and swam in the moonlight. Everything was fine, and might have remained so.
But then the whales came. Of course, it is silly to suppose the whales had anything to do with it, but they marked the day.
Foxie had invited us all out fishing. We went in one of Doña Lucia’s powerful fishing boats. There had been rumors that marlin had been killed out of Guaymas, and since marlin were one of the main reasons Foxie was at Santa Rosa, off we went. By “we” I mean the yacht people and Hellie and me; Doña Lucia was invited, of course, but she had caught enough fish in her life.
It was one of those sharp blue days with an occasional flat-bottomed cloud to turn the pale water to ink. We went fast out into the Gulf and south. José, who ran the boat, was famous for knowing where fish liked to swim.
We had been gone three hours, the lines were out, and we were possibly twelve miles offshore when we saw the first whale. He was, José said, a couple of miles away when we saw him come up and blow.
I was standing next to José. He turned to me and shrugged. “There will be no marlin,” he said. “When the whales come, the marlin go.”
I said, “Whales don’t eat marlin?”
José made a face. “The marlin don’t take a chance.”
In a little while we saw another whale, or maybe it was the first one again. But then we saw three together.
There is no way to prepare yourself for the sight. Whales are monsters of an impossible size, awkwardly playful in a way that never seems quite under control. To me they are frightening. I watched dry-mouthed and helpless when one surfaced not two hundred yards from us, water streaming from his back; he eyed us incuriously, and dived again. José said they never attack small boats; but like the marlin. I did not want to take chances. I wanted to go home. We did, but it took us almost four hours. We saw twenty-one whales.
It was not a good day. Whatever spirits we had were sobered; for the most part, we watched silently. Foxie became irritable, and insisted to José he could drive the boat faster. We all had drinks, and left our lunch untouched.
I was sitting beside Jerry Benham. Poor Jerry, I think he hated the whales worse than any of us. At the time the nearest one surfaced, he let out a little strangled cry; the blood drained from his sunburned face and turned it yellow. His hand was like a claw clutching his whiskey and soda. When it was over, he said to me, in his halting way, “It’s the worst thing I ever saw. I-I — ”
“I know,” I said. Beside him I felt brave, and I was not brave. But Jerry was in pain.
I must add, here, that two of us were undisturbed: Bill and Hellie. They sat forward, over the cabin, fascinated, calling and pointing. Maybe they knew enough about whales to be confident. Anyway, they seemed to enjoy themselves. And it is just possible that it was their enjoyment, and not the speed of the boat, that made Foxie irritable.
Whales were not the only thing that happened that day. When we got home, tired and out of humor, Doña Lucia met us at the dock and said, “A tragedy has happened. The gasoline engine has broken. We have no ice.”
We had dinner on the yacht. We all had a swim first, and after it Foxie said, “Come have dinner with us. Maybe we can cheer up a little. We need to.” Doña Lucia came along, eagerly deserting her other guests. “Let them rough it,” she said.
On the rear deck of Foxie’s boat the chairs were long and low and comfortable. I sank into one and barely moved all evening. The wind was down and the sea was silent except for the occasional gentle slap of a wave against the hull. From somewhere, softly, came piano music on a phonograph. There was a sizable slice of moon, and the air was cool.
An ideal spot for a dinner, would you not think? — with the Mexican mountains rearing up gray and wild for a backdrop. Perhaps it was the drinks; everybody drank in the hope he would feel happy, but nobody did. Blame the whales, or the fear of them. It was an uneasy night.
Jerry drank too much — out of shame, maybe — and Hellie who wasn’t used to drinking at all, drank because her heart was broken.
For that was the night Foxie went out of her way to show whom Bill Daniels belonged to. It was no vulgar display, but by her tone, her requests, her intimacy, she left no doubt in Hellie’s mind about how things stood. Once — when Jerry was away for a moment, somewhere — Bill bent down to light her cigarette. She ran her hands through his hair and said, “O captain, my captain, you’re the most beautiful captain on the seven seas.” I will say for Bill that he seemed a little embarrassed, but also I will say he made no move to do anything that would displease Foxie.
I have no good way to describe the tension that mounted as the night went on. There was no overt act, but the whole atmosphere just turned nasty. Doña Lucia caught my eye once and made a face of disdain and disgust. I nodded. Rich people, I said to myself, are only good for poor people when they are happy. It seemed a bright thought at the time.
I saw Hellie get up and go forward, out of sight. I don’t know why she went — maybe because she couldn’t watch Foxie anymore, or maybe because she thought Bill would come to her. In any case, after a little while Jerry got up and went after her. It was about five minutes after that, I think, when I heard her scream.
It was a scream of rage, and it was followed by another, and then by some high, choked words we could not understand. Just as we turned our heads, Hellie came running along the deck to us. She was pulling at the shoulder of her dress with one hand, and running the other through her hair. “Doña Lucia,” she cried, “please get the boat. Please get me out of here.”
The old lady, shocked and I think frightened, half rose from her chair.
But Foxie said only, “What’s got into you?”
She had Bill sitting beside her, and one of her arms was draped over his bare shoulder.
“You know,” Hellie said, her breath coming almost as if she were crying. “You know very well what happened.”
“Relax,” Foxie said.
Hellie was holding her head with both hands now. “Relax!” she said. “Get me out of here!” And then she sobbed. “It was you!” she screamed at Foxie. “You put him up to it.”
“The girl’s drunk,” Foxie said, and leaned back. Hellie’s words were dangerous, for Jerry had come aft now and was standing listening.
“You belong under a microscope,” Hellie said. “You put your husband up to it to keep him quiet, to keep him satisfied while you and the captain … ”
Bill said, “Take it easy.”
Foxie said, “Shut up.”
“That’s what I said,” Hellie screamed, “while you and the captain … ”
Doña Lucia had her by one arm and I by the other, and together we got her down the side and into the little boat. She sobbed quietly all the way in to the dock. Doña Lucia led her to her room and put her to bed.
Later, when everyone else was asleep, the old lady and I had a rather shaky nightcap. We sat on the loggia looking out over the sea. The moon still shone too brightly; the water was motionless, and the night soundless, peaceful.
“The truth,” Doña Lucia said, “how dangerous it is. How it is to be avoided. Look at those people. Everyone knew the situation, but they managed to live together, and there could have been a solution. But not now. The truth has been said out loud. Now no one can look at anyone else.”
I said, “What morality!”
“No,” Doña Lucia said. “That’s not morality. Just a feeling for etiquette.”
When I finally got to bed that night, I slept like a rock till six, when Doña Lucia came into my room and shook me awake. “Get up, please,” she said. “Maybe you can help.”
In the night, Jerry Benham had got a gun, shot Foxie in the shoulder, Bill Daniels in the leg, and then, turning the gun on himself, had grazed an ear.
Poor, innocent Jerry. He had aimed for tragedy, but had only made a mess.
“A mess,” Doña Lucia said, sitting on my bed, and with trembling fingers, trying to light a cigarette. “A bloody mess.”
Luis’s plane. which brought the piece of machinery to repair the gasoline engine (which made the electricity which made the ice), took away Foxie and Jerry and, on a stretcher, Captain Bill Daniels. One of the men who had been Foxie’s guest went along. The other man and the two women flew off a couple of days later. The yacht stayed for a week, then somebody sent for it.
But the Hacienda Lucknow was, after all, a hotel. New people came, purposefully bent on enjoying themselves, unconcerned with the past. Some of them were quite amusing people, actually, whom I came to like very well. It wasn’t too long till nobody spoke of the yacht people and what happened to them.
I did not approve of this — this cutting off of a situation as with a pair of scissors. I like a little continuity to my days, even on vacation, but I didn’t see what I could do about it.
So you can imagine my pleasure when, three weeks after the Event, Hellie got a letter from Bill Daniels.
“This is more like it,” I said.
Doña Lucia was short with me. “You,” she said. “Always trying to dream up a happy ending.”
“What’s the matter with happy endings?”
“They only lead to trouble later.”
It was a newsy letter. Bill was out of the hospital, but had to walk with a cane. Foxie had fired him, and flown to New York — with Jerry, of all people. Finally, he hoped that when Hellie got back to Santa Barbara, she would let him know.
Hellie was bitter. “What kind of an insensitive creature can he be … ”
“Most unsuitable,” Doña Lucia said. “Most unsuitable.”
“Come off it,” I said. “Love isn’t suitable or unsuitable. Love is the curve of a neck or the sound of a step on the stairs.”
“God Almighty,” Doña Lucia said. She leaned back and closed her eyes. “You are an incorrigible nitwit.”
“Maybe,” I said, just to fill in the silence. I looked at Hellie. She was sitting quite still, with the letter in her hand, gazing out over the water. But she was not, it was plain, looking at that Mexican sea. Oh, no.
“Well,” I said, “let’s all keep in touch.”
Featured image: Illustrated by Neil Boyle. (©SEPS)
In 1862, the U.S. was embroiled in a Civil War, but there was also an entirely different battle going on in North America, as France fought Mexico at Puebla.
The French emperor, Napoleon III, saw Mexico as an ideal acquisition that would give France a foothold in the western hemisphere. French General Charles Lorencez decided to attack Mexican troops entrenched at Puebla.
It should have been an easy win, as 6,000 French soldiers attacked 2,000 Mexican troops on May 5, 1862. But the French assaults were repeatedly thrown back by the Mexicans, who inflicted heavy losses. The French lost 462 men, the Mexicans just 83.
American newspapers must have assumed what seemed the most likely outcome: That the Mexican government had fled Puebla and the French were advancing on Mexico City.
Not until May 31, 1862, was the Post able to set the record straight with this item under the heading “Mexican Affairs.”
Semi-official advices from sources favorable to Mexico, with dates from the City of Mexico to the 12th, from Jalapa to the 8th, and from Vera Cruz to the 12th inst., received at Washington, show the falsity of much that has been published.
The Constitutional Government has not abandoned the City of Mexico, nor is it likely to do so. The French and Mexicans had a battle at Humbres de Aculzingo, the result of which is not clear.
[The French captured the first line of Mexican defenses, causing the Mexicans to withdraw to Puebla.]
The French claim a victory, but would seem to have lost more men, especially in officers, than the Mexicans. Up to the last dates indeed the French had not occupied Puebla, which is only an easy two days’ march from Humbres.
General Zaragoza, the Mexican General-in-Chief, had defeated Marquez on his way to join the French, and was preparing to fight the French before Puebla. Great preparations were making in the City of Mexico for resistance to the invaders in case Puebla was lost. Gen. Ortega had arrived there with 6,000 volunteers from the state of which he is governor. Forces from other states were rallying to the defence of the capital.
As soon as the French left Soledad and Cordova, both places were occupied by Gen. Llave, the Constitutional Governor of the state of Vera Cruz, within the limits of which they are situated. He had cut off the invading army’s communication with the coast. Gen. Llave was also marching upon Orizaba. Almonte had vainly expected pronunciamentos [public declarations of opposition by troops, usually the preparation for a military coup] in his favor in the interior, in places not under French bayonets.
Mr. Corwin in the treaty which he has negotiated offers a loan from the United States to the Government of [Benito] Juarez of $10,000,000. Mr. Allen, our Consult at Minatitlan, had brought the treaty to Washington.
This item was followed in the next issue with this brief but important notice.
The steamer Orizaba brings news from the city of Mexico, via Acupulco, to the 8th ult. On that day the French army commenced retreating from before Puebla towards Amesa. It appears that there had previously been some fighting.
The following is the dispatch announcing the news to President Juarez:
“Puebla, May 8 — Word was received at the city of Mexico on the 7th p.m. that we have triumphed.
“The French has since commenced retreating. We offered them battle this morning, forming our troops in front of their camp, but they refused to accept our challenge, and have turned their backs to their foolish hardihood and unpardonable credulity.
“Please receive the compliments of General Sara Gasa [Zaragoza] and myself. Yours, forever (signed) Ignacio Migl.”
Americans would have welcomed the news. They dreaded the possibility of France establishing itself in the New World and involving itself in American politics, especially since the French government sympathized with the Confederacy and were ready to exchange military aid for southern cotton.
President Lincoln personally supported Mexico’s struggle for liberty, and he didn’t relish the idea of confronting both the Confederacy and a French colonial force. This probably explained the federal loan of $10 million to Mexico.
In time, that initial victory at Puebla was undone. The French rallied their forces and moved beyond Puebla to occupy Mexico City and install a puppet government. Napoleon III installed Mexico’s first emperor, Maximilian I.
But by 1866, Napoleon III realized he couldn’t suppress the continued Mexican resistance — and, with our Civil War ended, ongoing pressure from the U.S. He withdrew his troops and, within months, Maximilian I was led before a firing squad.
It is Mexico’s determination to remain independent, demonstrated to the world in 1862, that is celebrated on Cinco de Mayo.
Featured image: The Battle of Puebla (Wikimedia Commons)