Then the professor corralled those he wanted. He was to measure for scientific purposes 100 of the Indians, in the order in which they chanced to present themselves. After such wheedling as it must have taken infinite practice to acquire—pattings of the Zapotec back, hugging of the men, chucking the children, with elaborate explanations—the thing “took” and the people fell into the spirit of it. The jail was the only accessible building, and was strangely empty. It was of adobe, a jail of one room, with a dirt floor. There were no windows, only the single barred door.
From every cane-walled, thatched, tropical hut that helps to make the irregular cluster around the central plaza and its adjoining bull ring they came, if not to be measured, to see. They were driven by the highest of the town authorities—for every element of the population waited on the bidding of the little sugar-tongued professor from the north—one by one into the jail, and the rest curiously watched. The measuring was done without undressing, but the “busting” was the point of chief interest. Five representative specimens had been carefully selected for this purpose. They were won slowly, by the glitter of 75 cents of Mexican silver. In some towns, only 50 cents was required, and in others, $1. The smirking Indian, with his wildness hidden away, or only peeping from his eye, entered. He disrobed with no shame. He was put flat on the floor, face down, on a little piece of matting. At this stage some objected. Then the Anglo-Saxon was down on the floor, wheedling, talking such sweetness as can be spoken without silliness only in the Spanish tongue.
The victim finally consents. Then the Mexican plaster worker, who has followed the caravan from its start, goes to work. He makes a cast of the back of the head and shoulders, and the Indian is turned over, face up. Another cast of the breast and neck and chin is made, and yet another of the front half of the head and the face, with little tubes for breathing sticking through it. The Indian has grunted, snorted, laughed and squirmed, but he has been made to understand that he must be still. That great 75 cents is held always over him, and the thing is accomplished.
During all the process, the crowd of Indians about and in the jail was eager-eyed and astonished. The women wear odd woolen, blanket-like skirts of red or black, folded in two great plaits down the front. The dress does not reach the ankles, and the feet are bare. They carry the baby on the back, wound in the rebozo, with its bare legs straddling her and sticking out. The men wear a sandal quite different from the ordinary Mexican footgear.
Of the 100 that were to be measured, Jose was one. Jose was of a better family, a character in the town, and proud. He rebelled. This breach of the professor’s authority could not be allowed. Jose was summoned by the president of the town, the honeyed, affable “Senor Presidente,” the same who had been called the drunken scoundrel, now accommodating, a true and emotional friend. Jose sent a thousand excuses, and finally defiance.