The coronation ceremony was in Belize this time,
the king riding on a white horse in procession to the church
with the uniform of a British major, the others on foot
with red frock coats (castoff) of British officers
of all ranks and wearing sailor pants.
His Majesty was placed on a seat next to the altar
and the coronation rites were performed by the chaplain
acting on this occasion as the Archbishop of Canterbury.
When they reached the part that says: "And all the people said:
‘May the King live forever, long live the King' "
frigates shot off their cannon, and the Indian
and black vassals shouted: "Long live King Robert!
God save the King!" His Majesty meanwhile
seemed absorbed in looking at his lace. After the anointing
he kept touching with his finger the holy oil (which was
castor oil) and then putting his finger to his nose
but he did not flee in the midst of the ceremony to climb a coconut tree
as his illustrious ancestor had done in Jamaica.
After the ceremony the crowd
went to the schoolhouse for the gala banquet
in which no food other than rum was served
until King and court rolled dead drunk on the floor.
Vanderbilt never in his whole wretched life had had a vacation
and this time he determined to have one in Europe and therefore
a special ship was built. No one had ever seen anything
more fabulous on earth. The newspapers were stunned.
No private yacht could be compared with the North Star
in size or luxury: 2,500 tons; 300 feet long;
enormous paddle wheels moved by two motors. And the
walls of the vast saloons: of marble and granite.
The coffered ceilings of rosewood and sandalwood; in the ceiling
medallions of American heroes; the staterooms
like the apartments of Cosimo de'Medici
(even though his carpet in Washington Place was frayed)
and with a great cargo of ice, wines, rare foods, famous
chefs from New York, and a chaplain who blessed the food.
this time Vanderbilt "spent without his usual inhibitions."
In London the Daily News saluted the floating palace
with an editorial. He was given a reception in Mansion House
with many flunkies and with Carlyle. The Lord Mayor drank a toast to
"Mr. Vanderbilt the foe of monopolies" and Vanderbilt
made a speechthe only time in his life that he did so.
He saw Victoria and Prince Albert only at the Opera.
But in Russia Czar Alexander lent him his carriage
and Grand Duke Constantine, his son, inspected the ship
and asked permission to make a sketch of it. Emperor Napoleon (Louis)
paid him no attention because he was busy with the Crimean War.
They did not open the Tuileries for them and Mrs. Vanderbilt
did not see the wardrobes of the Empress Eugenie. Summer on the
Mediterranean . . . King Bomba of the Two Sicilies . . . then
Greece, etc., and the millionaire got bored and went back home.
But the British agents got screwed because the monarch
began to sell great portions of his kingdom
for barrels of rum.
In 1839 the sovereign "in the fourteenth year of his reign"
(having already sold a third of Nicaragua
half of Costa Rica
and a limitless stretch of Honduras)
was forced by McDonald to make his will
naming McDonald and others as "Regents"
in case His Majesty should die before the Heir Apparent
came of age
and shortly after this the King was kind enough to die
and his Eminence Colonel McDonald published a decree
in the name of the child king George William declaring
" . . . the said surrender of territories null and void . . .
because the grantees obtained them at a time when the king
was bereft of reason [drunk]." But the decrees of one king
were worth as much as those of another, and one Shepperd, an old British
sailor, almost blind, in his Greytown house (San Juan del Norte)
years later still kept in a cupboard those old papers, with "X his mark"
(because the sovereign couldn't sign)
of King Robert Charles Frederick,
that made him the owner of a third of the Mosquito Kingdom
("We, by our special grace, do give and grant . . .")
From Bluefields Bay to Colombia (Panama)
a total of twenty-two million acres
and a Texan named Kinney, who speculated in cattle and enormous
chunks of Texas, acquired the moth-eaten papers of the
sea-wolf through the promise of a half million dollars
(the biggest real-estate speculation in his whole life)
and he organized a so-called Central American Company
with authorized capital of $5,625,000 and 21 directors
and two hundred twenty-five thousand shares at $25.00 a share;
each share would bring 100 acres of land
on being presented at the company office in Greytown.
On Wall Street they believed he was a partner of Walker
but he was more a rival.
"I have land titles to begin legally," he said.
"I'm going to create a government and the rest is easy."
President Pierce, it was said, was on his side.
But the "Transit Company" was not . . .
In New York he recruited 500 men to capture Greytown
but before he could do it he was shipwrecked opposite Greytown
he reached Greytown shipwrecked and bankrupt to boot
with only 13 men and a printing press that he saved from the wreck.
But even so he had himself elected civil and military governor
by the handful of lazy inhabitants, in "a democratic election"
and he organized a provisional government while they were drawing up
the new constitution inspired by that of the United States.
Ten days later the press began to publish
the newspaper (bimonthly) The Central American with ads
for commercial firms in Greytown, import & export houses,
hotels, schools, bars, lawyers, banks,
clubs, doctors, bookstores, nightclubs, etc., etc.,
to attract immigrants. Alsop & Co., on California Street
(Buy and Sell Exchange) . . . Bernicia-Boarding School
for young gentlemenThe Atlantic Loan & Security Bank
The Ocean House ( . . . on a romantic Lagoon . . .)
CAFÉ FRANCIS (every kind of refreshment)
to attract immigrants to that place which was nothing but
a swamp with 50 houses (thatched roofs) and 300 inhabitants
of all colors, nearly all blacks (ex-slaves from Jamaica,
fugitives from justice, and an occasional European) on the shore of a
noxious lagoon, full of alligators and surrounded by the forest,
a place that had been described as "one of the saddest
and most desolate on earth . . . so much so that, however varied
the experiences that the traveler had had with lugubrious places
the memory of Greytown would stay with him
as among the most melancholy and dismal . . ." The only banks
were sand banks covered with shark bones
that obstructed the sea view. The lively dance halls,
the lively dance halls of Delmonico's (open till dawn)
were probably the frog-filled swamps.
The monkeys: perhaps they were the music at Mike's
("Visit Mike'sThe Best Restaurant"). Language Schools:
the cockatoos! The Green Resort perhaps wild boars
and tigers. Royal Caribbean with its enchanting singers
the Jamaica Grill, Jimmy's Café, so many more puddles
(or the luxurious St. John) with crocodiles, with mosquitoes
("Make your reservation . . .") but the immigrants did not arrive.
Vanderbilt had given up the presidency
of the Transit Company when he went to Europe
and he had made Morgan president and while he was traveling
Morgan and Garrison had made the shares fluctuate
earning enormous sums at Vanderbilt's expense
and he (who said "I don't give a shit for the law,
I've got the power") when he came back just sent them a note:
"Gentlemen: I will ruin you. Sincerely Yours, Cornelius Van Derbuilt"
The Transit Company had never paid Nicaragua
the 10% of the profits claiming that there weren't any profits
and Nicaragua couldn't claim that there were profits
because of the peculiar way the company kept its books,
which consisted of never recording either passengers or cargo.
Toward the end of December ‘56 the bar of the Hotel St. Charles
in New Orleans had more noise and more cocktails
than usual because the steamship Texas was leaving
white recruits for Walker toward the lands of the sunny South,
the hot, sensuous South, with the laudable intention
of robbing them (but those who went to Nicaragua almost never came back)
Italians who fought in Novara, Prussians
from the campaigns in Holstein, Englishmen from the Crimean War,
Yankees from the expedition to Cuba . . . (They carried the rifles in boxes
shaped like coffins.) And on the very same seas of Kidd and Morgan
the other Morgan, the piratethey would scan with their telescopes
the western, wood-covered coast of Cuba
saying that it would "sooner or later belong to the Uncle Sam."
(And when they got to Nicaragua they would open the coffins.) Morgan
and Garrison who were losing control of the company
courted Walker to that he would confiscate it from Vanderbilt
who had never paid anything to Nicaragua, which now belonged to Walker,
and would deliver to the two partners the dead corporation with
a new contract that would set them up as a new company.
A plan of unscrupulous captains of industry against
a rival equally unscrupulous. A shark fight
like those of the reef of San Juan del Norte. There was stupor
on Wall Street when they learned of Walker's confiscation.
Panic among investors. They all rushed
to sell their shares. On January 1st they had been at 18,
on February 14th at 231/4. On March 14th (when
the news arrived) they went down to 19, and on the 18th, to 13. In 4 days
15,000 shares changed hands. Vanderbilt, wounded,
attacked Walker. Oh, the bastard, said Vanderbilt
I'm going to screw Walker. No more boats to Nicaragua.
And as Morgan and Garrison weren't ready with theirs
the filibuster with the gray, empty eyes ("that in daguerreotypes
seem to be without eyelashes") and a mouth that under no circumstances
did anyone ever see smile, was left trapped in Nicaragua.
The immigrants didn't arrive. And the British agents
didn't recognize the "provisional government," and besides
Walker was now in control of Nicaragua, and Kinney had no funds anymore
and besides he was ill, and many of his followers
went off with Walker. For some months he vegetated in Greytown.
Then he went away sick and without one cent.
Sick and penniless.
Afterward Vanderbilt sold his ships and snapped up railroads, and forgot about Nicaragua.
His wife asked him: "Aren't you rich enough?"
Just about then a newsboy ran by under his window on
Washington Place shouting: CIVIL WAR!
The newspaper from San Juan del Norte with its fantastic ads
is disintegrating in the Library of Congress in Washington,
the librarians say, and it can't be Xeroxed; you touch it
and it turns to ashes.
Spanish; trans. Donald D. Walsh
Ernesto Cardenal, Spanish, trans. Donald D. Walsh, Zero Hour and Other Documentary Poems, New
Directions Publishing, 1980.