At this stage of the plant's development a native comes to it several times a day to do the milking."
"What do you mean by ' milking' a plant?" I asked in some amusement.
" I refer to the extraction of its sap," was the reply, "and if you watch yonder native, you will see how it is done." I turned, and saw an Indian thrust the point of a hollow tube into the cavity of the plant, and suck the other end with all his might. His powers of persuasion in that line were certainly remarkable, for the sap, yielding to the suction, immediately filled the tube which the Indian quickly emptied into a pig-skin carried on his back. "This does not seem to me very appetizing," I said, "but it is interesting. What next is done with it?"
Milking The Maguey.
A Maguey Farm.
"Look over there upon the road," he rejoined; "that cart, the mules of which are raising such a dust, is loaded with pig-skins full of sap. They are to be taken to the farm, and emptied into vats, in which the liquid will ferment for twenty-four hours, till it becomes pulque (a magic word in the republic), when it is sent away to be immediately sold."
"Why 'immediately'? " I inquired, "can it not be bottled up and kept like lager beer?"
"Impossible," said my companion." It will not remain sweet more than forty-eight hours. Moreover, the least adverse ingredient will ruin it. An overseer, who had been discharged by his employer, once revenged himself by throwing a few drops of acid into his master's vat of pulque, thus spoiling what was worth a thousand dollars."
We climbed a little elevation and gazed upon the farm. It was a pretty sight. For many miles the fields looked like gigantic carpets of a terra-cotta groundwork, with the huge plants as decorative figures on their surfaces.
" How much time does ,the maguey require to ripen sufficiently to give forth sap?" I asked.
" About seven years," was the response. Even on reaching maturity, it furnishes the precious liquid for only about six weeks, and then dies; but, since another is immediately planted in its place, there is a constant series of arrivals and departures of maguey plants on these farms, like successive classes graduating from, and entering, a public school.
Carting Pulque To Market.
The owner of a pulque farm is usually wealthy; for the maguey crop can be counted on with absolute certainty. No insects spoil it, no weather affects it, and it can be made to yield the whole year round. Best of all, the liquid is at once disposed of at a good price and for ready cash. I gained some conception of the extent of the business, when I was told that from this district a long train, loaded with nothing but pulque, goes to the City of Mexico every morning throughout the entire year; and that for running this train alone the Vera Cruz railroad is paid thirty thousand dollars a month, or a thousand dollars a day. One man in the City of Mexico owns sixty shops, and sells twelve hundred dollars' worth of pulque daily. He is supposed to make a profit of sixty thousand dollars a year. A Mexican gentleman told me that his father owned a plantation of about ninety thousand maguey plants, one-tenth of which reach maturity every year. From this "small" plantation he receives an income of ten thousand dollars annually.
A Rich Field.
" Why does not every one go into the pulque business? " I asked.
"More would undoubtedly do so," was the answer," but (fortunately, or unfortunately), the district where good pulque can be produced is limited to a small area, and hence the farmers in that region have a monopoly."
Personally, there are few things of which I am so certain as the fact that I would infinitely rather be a producer of pulque than a consumer. I never shall forget the first glass of it that I tasted. An Indian Hebe offered it to me at a railway station, and I paid only a cent for it; but after one swallow, I considered a penny an exorbitant sum for what I had obtained. In color, consistency, odor, and taste Mexican pulque seemed to me like sour mucilage. People assured me that I would like it after a time. If so, it will be when "my time has come." Some travelers, however, find its taste agreeable, and the Mexicans are as fond of it as negroes are of watermelons.