CENTRAL AMERICA. COSTA RICA–MOUNT IRAZU.

In the neighbourhood of San José there is a volcanic mountain, the
name of which is Irazu. I was informed that it still smoked, though
it had discontinued for the present the ejection of flames and lava.
Indeed, the whole country is full of such mountains. There is one,
the Monte Blanco, the summit of which has never yet been reached–so
rumour says in Costa Rica–far distant, enveloped among other
mountains, and to be reached only through dense aboriginal forests,
which still emits, and is always emitting fire and burning floods of
molten stones.

Different excursions have been made with the object of ascending the
Monte Blanco, but hitherto in vain. Not long since it was attempted
by a French baron, but he and his guide were for twenty days in the
woods, and then returned, their provisions failing them.

“You should ascend the Monte Blanco,” said Sir William Ouseley to me.
“You are a man at large, with nothing to do. It is just the work for
you.” This was Sir William’s satire on the lightness of my ordinary
occupations. Light as they might be, however, I had neither time nor
courage for an undertaking such as that; so I determined to satisfy
myself with the Irazu.

It happened, rather unfortunately for me, that at the moment of my
arrival at San José, a large party, consisting of Sir William’s
family and others, were in the very act of visiting the mountain.
Those, therefore, who were anxious to see the sight, and willing
to undergo the labour, thus had their opportunity; and it became
impossible for me to make up a second party. One hope I had. The
Secretary of Legation had not gone. Official occupation, joined to
a dislike of mud and rough stones, had kept him at home. Perhaps I
might prevail. The intensity of that work might give way before a
week’s unremitting labour, and that Sybarite propensity might be
overcome.

But all my eloquence was of no avail. An absence of a day and a half
only was required; and three were spent in proving that this could
not be effected. The stones and mud too were becoming worse and
worse, for the rainy season had commenced. In fact, the Secretary of
Legation would not budge. “Le jeu ne vaut pas la chandelle,” said the
Secretary of Legation; whereupon he lighted another cigar, and took a
turn in the grass hammock. Now in my mind it must be a very bad game
indeed that is not worth the candle; and almost any game is better
than no game at all.

I was thus in deep trouble, making up my mind to go alone, or rather
alone with my guide;–for the due appreciation of which state of
loneliness it must be borne in mind that, as I do not speak a word of
Spanish, I should have no possible means of communication with the
guide,–when a low and mild voice fell upon my ear, offering me its
proprietor as my companion.

“I went up with Sir William last week,” said the mild voice; “and if
you will permit me, I shall be happy to go with you. I should like to
see it twice; and I live at Cartago on the way.”

It was quite clear that the owner of the voice was sacrificing
himself, and offering to repeat this troublesome journey merely
out of good nature; but the service which he proposed to render me
was too essential, and I could not afford to reject the offer. He
lived in the country and spoke Spanish, and was, moreover, a mild,
kind-hearted little gentleman, very suitable as a companion, and not
given too pertinaciously to a will of his own. Now the Secretary
of Legation would have driven me mad half a score of times during
the journey. He would have deafened me with politics, and with such
politics too! So that on the whole I knew myself to be well off with
the mild voice.

“You must go through Cartago,” said the mild voice, “and I live
there. We will dine there at the inn to-morrow, and then do a portion
of our work the same evening.” It was so arranged. I was to be with
him the next day at three, with a guide and two mules.

On the next morning it rained provokingly. I ought to have started
at twelve; but at that time it was pouring, and neither the guide nor
the mules showed themselves. “You will never get there,” said the
Secretary of Legation, looking up to the murky clouds with a gleam of
delight. “The game is never worth such a candle as that.” “I shall
get there most assuredly,” said I, rather sulkily, “let the candle
cost what it may.” But still the mules did not come.

Men have no idea of time in any country that is or has been connected
with Spain. “Yes, señor; you said twelve, and it is now only two!
Well, three. The day is long, señor; there is plenty of time.
Vaminos? Since you are in such a hurry, shall we make a start of it?”

At half-past two o’clock so spoke–not my guide, for, as will be seen
by-and-by, he never spoke at all–but my guide’s owner, who came
accompanying the mules. In huge hurry, with sundry mute exclamations,
uttered by my countenance since my tongue was unintelligible, and
with appeals to my watch which should have broken the man’s heart
as I thrust it into his face, I clomb into my saddle. And then a
poor-looking, shoeless creature, with a small straw hat tied on to
his head by a handkerchief, with difficulty poised himself on the
other beast “Vamos,” I exclaimed, and trotted down the street; for
I knew that in that direction lay the road to Cartago. “God be with
you,” said the Secretary of Legation. “The rainy season has set
in permanently, I know; but perhaps you may have half an hour of
sunshine now and again. I hope you will enjoy yourself.”

It was not raining when I started, and in fact did not rain again the
whole afternoon. I trotted valiantly down the street, knowing my way
so far; but at the bottom of the town the roads divided, and I waited
for my guide. “Go on first,” said I, pointing along the road. But
he did not understand me, and stood still. “Go on,” said I, getting
behind his mule as though to drive him. But he merely stared, and
shuffled himself to the other side of the road. “Cartago,” I shouted,
meaning that he was to show me the way there. “Si, señor,” he
replied; and backed himself into the ditch out of my way. He was
certainly the stupidest man I ever met in my life, and I believe the
Secretary of Legation had selected him on purpose.

I was obliged to choose my own road out of two, and luckily chose the
right one. Had I gone wrong, I doubt whether the man would have had
wit enough to put me right. I again trotted on; but in a quarter of
an hour was obliged to wait, for my attendant was behind me, out of
sight, and I felt myself bound to look after my traps, which were
fastened to his mule. “Come on,” I shouted in good broad English
as soon as I saw him. “Why the mischief don’t you come on?” And my
voice was so pitched, that on this occasion I think he did understand
something of what I meant.

“Co-o-ome along,” I repeated, as he gently drew up to me. And I hit
his mule sharply on the crupper with my stick. “Spur him,” I said;
and I explained what I meant by sticking my own rowels into my own
beast. Whereupon the guide showed me that he had no spurs.

Now if there be one rule of life more strictly kept in Costa Rica
than another, it is this, that no man ever mounts horse or mule
without spurs. A man in England would as soon think of hunting
without breeches. No muleteer was ever seen without them. And when
a mule is hired, if the hirer have no saddle, he may chance to have
to ride without one; but if he have no spurs, he will always be
supplied.

I took off one of my own, which, by-the-by, I had borrowed out of the
Secretary of Legation’s establishment, and offered it to the man,
remembering the well-known doctrine of Hudibras. He then showed me
that one of his hands was tied up, and that he could not put the spur
on. Consequently I was driven to dismount myself, and to act equerry
to this knight. Thrice on the road I had to do so, for twice the spur
slipped from off his naked foot. Even with this I could not bring
him on. It is four leagues, or about sixteen miles, from San José to
Cartago, and with all my hastening we were three hours on the road.

The way lay through a rich and finely-cultivated country. The whole
of this is now called the valley of San José, and consists, in truth,
of a broad plateau, diversified by moderate hills and valleys, but
all being at a considerable height; that is, from three to four
thousand feet above the sea. The road also is fairly good; so
good that a species of omnibus runs on it daily, there being some
considerable traffic between the places; for Cartago is the second
town in the republic.

Cartago is now the second town, but not long since it was the
capital. It was, however, destroyed by an earthquake; and though it
has been rebuilt, it has never again taken its former position. Its
present population is said to be ten thousand; but this includes not
only the suburbs, but the adjacent villages. The town covers a large
tract of ground, which is divided into long, broad, parallel streets,
with a large pláza in the middle; as though it had been expected that
a fine Utopian city would have sprung up. Alas! there is nothing fine
about it, and very little that is Utopian.

Lingering near the hotel door, almost now in a state of despair, I
met him of the mild voice. “Yes; he had been waiting for three hours,
certainly,” he mildly said, as I spurred my beast up to the door.
“Now that I was come it was all right; and on the whole he rather
liked waiting–that is, when it did not result in waiting for
nothing.” And then we sat down to dinner at the Cartago hotel.

This also was kept by a German, who after a little hesitation
confessed that he had come to the country as a filibuster. “You have
fallen on your legs pretty well,” said I; for he had a comfortable
house, and gave us a decent dinner. “Yes,” said he, rather dubiously;
“but when I came to Costa Rica I intended to do better than this.”
He might, however, remember that not one in five hundred of them had
done so well.

And then another guide had to be found, for it was clear that the one
I had brought with me was useless. And I had a visit to make; for my
friend lived with a widow lady, who would be grieved, he said, if I
passed through without seeing her. So I did call on her. I saw her
again on my return through Cartago, as I shall specify.

With all these delays it was dark when we started. Our plan was to
ride up to an upland pasture farm at which visitors to the mountain
generally stop, to sleep there for a few hours, and then to start
between three and four so as to reach the top of the mountain by
sunrise. Now I perfectly well remember what I said with reference to
sunrises from mountain-tops on the occasion of that disastrous visit
to the Blue Mountain Peak in Jamaica; how I then swore that I would
never do another mountain sunrise, having always failed lamentably in
such attempts. I remember, and did remember this; and as far as the
sunrise was concerned would certainly have had nothing to do with the
Irazu at five o’clock, a.m.

But the volcano and the crater made the matter very different. They
were my attractions; and as the mild voice suggested an early hour,
it would not have become me to have hesitated. “Start at four?”
“Certainly,” I said. “The beds at the potrero”–such was the name
they gave the place at which we stopped–“will not be soft enough to
keep us sleeping.” “No,” said the mild voice, “they are not soft.”
And so we proceeded.

Our road was very rough, and very steep; and the night was very dark.
It was rough at first, and then it became slippery, which was worse.
I had no idea that earth could be so slippery. My mule, which was
a very fine one, fell under me repeatedly, being altogether unable
to keep her footing. On these occasions she usually scrambled up,
with me still on her back. Once, however, near the beginning of my
difficulties, I thought to relieve her; and to do so I got off her.
I soon found my mistake. I immediately slipped down on my hands and
knees, and found it impossible to stand on my feet. I did not sink
into the mud, but slipped off it–down, down, down, as if I were
going back to Cartago, all alone in the dark. It was with difficulty
that I again mounted my beast; but when there, there I remained let
her fall as she would. At eleven o’clock we reached the potrero.

The house here was little more than a rancho or hut; one of those log
farm buildings which settlers make when they first clear the timber
from a part of their selected lots, intending to replace them in a
year or two by such tidy little houses; but so rarely fulfilling
their intentions. All through Costa Rica such ranchos are common.
On the coffee plantations and in the more highly-cultivated part of
the country, round the towns for instance, and along the road to
Punta-arenas, the farmers have a better class of residence. They
inhabit long, low-built houses, with tiled roofs and a ground floor
only, not at all unlike farmers’ houses in Ireland, only that there
they are thatched or slated. Away from such patches of cultivation,
one seldom finds any house better than a log-built rancho.

But the rancho had a door, and that door was fastened; so we knocked
and hallooed–“Dito,” cried the guide; such being, I presume, the
familiar sobriquet of his friend within. “Dito,” sang out my mild
friend with all his small energy of voice. “Dito,” shouted I; and
I think that my voice was the one which wakened the sleepers within.

We were soon admitted into the hut, and found that we were by no
means the first comers. As soon as a candle was lighted we saw that
there were four bedsteads in the room, and that two of them were
occupied. There were, however, two left for my friend and myself. And
it appeared also that the occupiers were friends of my friend. They
were German savants, one by profession an architect and the other a
doctor, who had come up into the woods looking for birds, beasts,
and botanical treasures, and had already been there some three or
four days. They were amply supplied with provisions, and immediately
offered us supper. The architect sat up in bed to welcome us, and
the doctor got up to clear the two spare beds of his trappings.

There is a luck in these things. I remember once clambering to
the top of Scafell-Pike, in Cumberland–if it chance to be in
Westmoreland I beg the county’s pardon. I expected nothing more than
men generally look for on the tops of mountains; but to my great
surprise I found a tent. I ventured to look in, and there I saw two
officers of the Engineers, friends of my own, sharpening their knives
preparatory to the dissection of a roast goose. And beside the goose
stood a bottle of brandy. Now I always looked on that as a direct
dispensation of Providence. Walking down the mountain that same
evening to Whitehaven, I stopped at a small public-house on the
side of Enerdale, and called for some whisky and water. The article
produced was not good, and so I said, appealing to an elderly
gentleman in black, who sat by the hobside, very contemplative. “Ah,”
said he; “you can’t get good drink in these parts, sir; I know that
so well that I generally bring a bottle of my own.” I immediately
opened a warm conversation with that gentleman. He was a clergyman of
a neighbouring parish; and in a few minutes a magnum of port had made
its appearance out of a neighbouring cupboard. That I thought was
another dispensation of Providence. It was odd that they should have
come together; but the facts are as I state them.

I did venture on a glass of brandy and water and a slight morsel
of bread and meat, and then I prepared to throw myself on the bed
immediately opposite to the doctor’s. As I did so I saw something
move inside the doctor’s bed. “My wife is there,” said the doctor,
seeing the direction of my eyes. “Oh!” said I; and I at once became
very moderate in the slight change which I made in my toilet.

We were to start at four, and at four precisely I woke. As my friend
had said, there was little to tempt me to sleep. The great drawback
to the comfort of these ranchos is the quantity of dirt which
continually falls out of the roof into one’s eyes. Then the boards
are hard of course, and of course, also, they are infested with
vermin. They tell you indeed of scorpions and centipedes, of
preternatural wasps, and musquitos as big as young ostriches; but
I found none of these large-looming beasts of prey. Of beasts of a
smaller size I did find more than plenty.

At four I was up, but my friend was very unwilling to stir. It was
long before I could induce the mild voice to make itself heard in any
way. At that time it was fine, but it was long before I could get the
muleteer. When I had done so, and he had thrown their grass to the
beasts, it began to rain–of course. “It rains like the d—-” said
I, very crossly. “Does it?” said the mild voice from the bed. “I am
so sorry;” and in half a second he was again in the land of dreams.
The doctor snored; but from the furthest remote comer I could see the
eye of the doctor’s wife looking out at me.

It was between six and seven when we started. At that time it was
not raining, but the clouds looked as like rain as the Secretary of
Legation could have desired. And the two Germans were anything but
consolatory in their prophecies. “You’ll not see a stick or a stone,”
said the architect; “you’d better stop and breakfast with us.” “It
is very dangerous to be wet in the mountains, very dangerous,” said
the doctor. “It is a bad morning, certainly,” pleaded the mild voice
piteously. The doctor’s wife said nothing, but I could see her eyes
looking out at the weather. How on earth was she to get herself
dressed, it occurred to me then, if we should postpone our journey
and remain there?

It ended in our starting just two hours after the prescribed time.
The road up from the potrero is very steep almost the whole way to
the summit, but it was not so muddy as that we had passed over on
the preceding evening. For some little way there were patches of
cultivation, the ground bearing sweet potatoes and Indian corn. Then
we came into a tract of beautiful forest scenery. The land, though
steep, was broken, and only partially covered with trees. The grass
in patches was as good as in an English park, and the views through
the open bits of the forest were very lovely. In four or five
different places we found the ground sufficiently open for all the
requirements of a picturesque country house, and no prettier site for
such a house could well be found. This was by far the finest scenery
that I had hitherto seen in Costa Rica; but even here there was a
want of water. In ascending the mountain we saw some magnificent
forest trees, generally of the kind called cotton-trees in Jamaica.
There were oaks also–so called there–very nearly approaching our
holm-oak in colour and foliage, but much larger than that tree is
with us. They were all more or less covered with parasite plants, and
those parasites certainly add greatly to the beauty of the supporting
trunk.

By degrees we got into thick forest–forest I mean so thick that it
affords no views. You see and feel the trees that are close to you,
but see nothing else. And here the path became so steep that we were
obliged to dismount and let the beasts clamber up by themselves; and
the mist became very thick, so much so that we could hardly trace our
path; and then the guide said that he thought he had lost his way.

“People often do come out and go back again without ever reaching the
crater at all, don’t they?” said the mild voice.

“Very often,” said the guide.

“But we won’t be such people,” said I.

“Oh no!” said the mild voice. “Not if we can help it.”

“And we will help it. Allons; andiamos; vamos.”

The first word which an Englishman learns in any language is that
which signifies a determination to proceed.

And we did proceed, turning now hither and now thither, groping about
in the mist, till at last the wood was all left behind us, and we
were out among long grass on a mountain-side. “And now,” said the
guide, “unless the mist clears I can’t say which way we ought to go.”

The words were hardly out of his mouth when the mist did clear itself
away altogether from one side of us. Looking down to the left, we
could see far away into the valleys beneath, over large forests,
and across a lower range of hills, till the eye could reach the
cultivated plateau below. But on the other side, looking up to a
mountain higher still than that on which we stood, all was not only
misty, but perfectly dark and inscrutable.

The guide however now knew the spot. We were near the summit of
Irazu, and a further ride of a quarter of an hour took us there;
and indeed here there was no difficulty in riding. The side of the
hill was covered with grass, and not over steep. “There,” said the
mild voice, pointing to a broad, bushy, stumpy tree, “there is the
place where Lady Ouseley breakfasted.” And he looked at our modest
havresack. “And we will breakfast there too,” I answered. “But we
will go down the crater first.”

“Oh, yes; certainly,” said the mild voice. “But perhaps–I don’t
know–I am not sure I can go exactly down into the crater.”

The crater of the volcano is not at the top of the mountain, or
rather it is not at what is now the top of the mountain; so that at
first one has to look down upon it. I doubt even whether the volcano
has ever effected the absolute summit. I may as well state here that
the height of the mountain on which we were now standing is supposed
to be 11,500 feet above the sea-level.

Luckily for us, though the mist reached to us where we stood,
everything to the left of us was clear, and we could look down, down
into the crater as into a basin. Everything was clear, so that we
could count the different orifices, eight in number, of which two,
however, had almost run themselves into one; and see, as far as it
was possible to see, how the present formation of the volcano had
been brought about.

It was as though a very large excavation had been made on the side
of a hill, commencing, indeed, not quite from the summit, but very
near it, and leaving a vast hole–not deep in proportion to its
surface–sloping down the mountain-side. This huge excavation, which
I take to be the extent of the crater, for it has evidently been
all formed by the irruption of volcanic matter, is divided into two
parts, a broken fragment of a mountain now lying between them; and
the smaller of these two has lost all volcanic appearance. It is a
good deal covered with bush and scrubby forest trees, and seems to
have no remaining connection with sulphur and brimstone.

The other part, in which the crater now absolutely in use is
situated, is a large hollow in the mountain-side, which might perhaps
contain a farm of six hundred acres. Not having been able to measure
it, I know no other way of describing what appeared to me to be its
size. But a great portion of this again has lost all its volcanic
appendages; except, indeed, that lumps of lava are scattered over the
whole of it, as they are, though more sparingly, over the mountain
beyond. There is a ledge of rock running round the interior of this
division of the excavation, half-way down it, like a row of seats
in a Roman amphitheatre, or an excrescence, if one can fancy such,
half-way down a teacup. The ground above this ledge is of course more
extensive than that below, as the hollow narrows towards the bottom.
The present working mouth of the volcanic, and all those that have
been working for many a long year–the eight in number of which I
have spoken–lie at the bottom of this lowest hollow. This I should
say might contain a farm of about two hundred acres.

Such was the form of the land on which we looked down. The descent
from the top to the ledge was easy enough, and was made by myself
and my friend with considerable rapidity. I started at a pace which
convinced him that I should break my neck, and he followed, gallantly
resolving to die with me. “You’ll surely kill yourself, Mr. Trollope;
you surely will,” said the mild voice. And yet he never deserted me.

“Sir William got as far as this,” said he, when we were on the ledge,
but he got no further. “We will do better than Sir William,” said I.
“We will go down into that hole where we see the sulphur.” “Into the
very hole?” “Yes. If we get to windward, I think we can get into the
very hole. Look at the huge column of white smoke; how it comes all
in this direction! On the other side of the crater we should not feel
it.”

The descent below the ledge into my smaller farm was not made so
easily. It must be understood that our guide was left above with the
mules. We should have brought two men, whereas we had only brought
one; and had therefore to perform our climbing unassisted. I at first
attempted it in a direct line, down from where we stood; but I soon
found this to be impracticable, and was forced to reascend. The earth
was so friable that it broke away from me at every motion that I
made; and after having gone down a few feet I was glad enough to find
myself again on the ledge.

We then walked round considerably to the right, probably for more
than a quarter of a mile, and there a little spur in the hillside–a
buttress as it were to the ledge of which I have spoken–made the
descent much easier, and I again tried.

“Do not you mind following me,” I said to my companion, for I saw
that he looked much aghast. “None of Sir William’s party went down
there,” he answered. “Are you sure of that?” I asked. “Quite sure,”
said the mild voice. “Then what a triumph we will have over Sir
William!” and so saying I proceeded. “I think I’ll come too,” said
the mild voice. “If I do break my neck nobody’ll be much the worse;”
and he did follow me.

There was nothing very difficult in the clambering, but,
unfortunately, just as we got to the bottom the mist came pouring
down upon us, and I could not but bethink me that I should find it
very difficult to make my way up again without seeing any of the
landmarks. I could still see all below me, but I could see nothing
that was above. It seemed as though the mist kept at our own level,
and that we dragged it with us.

We were soon in one of the eight small craters or mouths of which I
have spoken. Looking at them from above, they seemed to be nearly on
a level, but it now appeared that one or two were considerably higher
than the others. We were now in the one that was the highest on that
side of the excavation. It was a shallow basin, or rather saucer,
perhaps sixty yards in diameter, the bottom of which was composed of
smooth light-coloured sandy clay. In dry weather it would partake
almost of the nature of sand. Many many years had certainly rolled by
since this mouth had been eloquent with brimstone.

The place at this time was very cold. My friend had brought a large
shawl with him, with which over and over again he attempted to cover
my shoulders. I, having meditated much on the matter, had left my
cloak above. At the present moment I regretted it sorely; but, as
matters turned out, it would have half smothered me before our walk
was over.

We had now nothing for it but to wait till the mist should go off.
There was but one open mouth to this mountain–one veritable crater
from which a column of smoke and sulphur did then actually issue, and
this, though the smell of the brimstone was already oppressive, was
at some little distance. Gradually the mist did go off, or rather
it shifted itself continually, now ascending far above us, and soon
returning to our feet. We then advanced between two other mouths, and
came to that which was nearest to the existing crater.

Here the aperture was of a very different kind. Though no smoke
issued from it, and though there was a small tree growing at the
bottom of it,–showing, as I presume, that there had been no
eruption from thence since the seed of that tree had fallen to the
ground,–yet the sides of the crater were as sharp and steep as the
walls of a house. Into those which we had hitherto visited we could
walk easily; into this no one could descend even a single foot,
unless, indeed, he descended somewhat more than a foot so as to dash
himself to pieces at the bottom. They were, when compared together,
as the interior of a plate compared to that of a tea-caddy. Now a
traveller travelling in such realms would easily extricate himself
from the plate, but the depths of the tea-caddy would offer him no
hope.

Having walked round this mute volcano, we ascended to the side of the
one which was now smoking, for the aperture to this was considerably
higher than that of the last one mentioned. As we were then situated,
the smoke was bearing towards us, and every moment it became more
oppressive; but I saw, or thought I saw, that we could skirt round to
the back of the crater, so as not to get its full volume upon us; and
so I proceeded, he of the mild voice mildly expostulating, but always
following me.

But when we had ascended to the level of the hole the wind suddenly
shifted, and the column of smoke dispersing enveloped us altogether.
Had it come upon us in all its thickest mass I doubt whether it would
not have first stupefied and then choked us. As it was, we ran for
it, and succeeded in running out of it. It affected me, I think, more
powerfully than it did my companion, for he was the first to regain
his speech. “Sir William, at any rate, saw nothing like that,” said
he, coughing triumphantly.

I hope that I may never feel or smell anything like it again. This
smoke is emitted from the earth at the bottom of a deep hole very
similar to that above described. The sides of it all round are so
steep that it is impossible to make even an attempt to descend it.
By holding each other’s hands we could look over into it one at
a time, and see the very jaws in the rock from which the stream of
sulphur ascends. It comes out quite yellow, almost a dark yellow, but
gradually blanches as it expands in its course. These jaws in the
rock are not in the centre of the bottom of the pit, but in a sharp
angle, as it were, so that the smoke comes up against one side or
wall, and that side is perfectly encrusted with the sulphur. It was
at the end of the orifice, exactly opposite to this, that we knelt
down and looked over.

The smoke when it struck upon us, immediately above this wall, was
hot and thick and full of brimstone. The stench for a moment was very
bad; but the effect went off at once, as soon as we were out of it.

The mild voice grasped my hand very tightly as he crept to the edge
and looked over. “Ah!” he said, rejoicing greatly, “Sir William never
saw that, nor any of his party; I am so glad I came again with you.
I wonder whether anybody ever was here before.” Hundreds doubtless
have been, and thousands will be. Nine out of every ten men in
London, between the ages of fifteen and fifty, would think little of
the trouble and less of the danger of getting there; but I could not
interfere with the triumph of my friend, so I merely remarked that it
certainly was a very singular place.

And then we had to reascend. It was now past eleven o’clock, and as
yet we had had no breakfast, for I cannot call that cup of coffee
which we took at starting a breakfast, even though the German
architect handed to each of us from out of his bed a hunch of beef
and a crust of bread. Luckily the air was clear for a while, so that
we could see what we were about, and we began to climb up on the side
opposite to that by which we had descended.

And here I happened to mention that Miss Ouseley had commissioned
me to get two bits of lava, one smooth and the other
rough–unfortunately, for at once the mild voice declared that he had
found two morsels which would exactly suit the lady’s taste. I looked
round, and, lo! there was my small friend with two huge stones, each
weighing about twenty pounds, which, on the side of the mountain, he
was endeavouring to pack under his arms. Now, the mountain here was
very steep and very friable; the burnt shingle slipped from under our
feet at every step; and, to make matters worse, we were climbing in a
slanting direction.

“My dear fellow, it would kill you to carry those lumps to the top,”
I said; “do not think of it.”

But he persevered. “There were no lumps of lava such as those,” he
said, “to be found at the top. They were just what Miss Ouseley
wanted. He thought he would be able to manage with them. They were
not so very heavy, if only the ground did not slip so much.” I said
what I could, but it was of no avail, and he followed me slowly with
his sore burden.

I never knew the weather change with such rapidity. At this moment
the sun was bright and very hot, and I could hardly bear my coat on
my shoulders as I crept up that hill. How my little friend followed
with his shawl and the lava rocks I cannot conceive. But, to own
the truth, going down hill suits me better than going up. Years and
obesity tell upon the wind sooner than they do on the legs–so, at
least, it is with me. Now my mild friend hardly weighed fifteen
ounces, while I–!

And then, when we were again on the ridge, it began to rain most
gloriously. Hitherto we had had mist, but this was a regular
down-pour of rain–such moisture as the Secretary of Legation had
been praying for ever since we started. Again and again the mild
voice offered me the shawl, which, when I refused it, he wrapped
round the lumps of lava, scorning to be drier than his companion.
From the summit to the ledge we had come down fast enough, but the
ascent was very different. I, at any rate, was very tired, and my
friend was by no means as fresh as he had been. We were both in want
of food, and our clothes were heavy with wet. He also still carried
his lumps of lava.

At last, all raining as it was, I sat down. How far we might still
be from the top I could not see; but be it far or be it near, nature
required rest. I threw myself on the ground, and the mild voice not
unwillingly crouched down close to me. “Now we can both have the
shawl,” said he, and he put it over our joint shoulders; that is, he
put the shawl on mine while the fringe hung over his own. In half a
minute we were both asleep, almost in each other’s arms.

Men when they sleep thus on a mountain-side in the rain do not
usually sleep long. Forty winks is generally acknowledged. Our nap
may have amounted to eighty each, but I doubt whether it was more. We
started together, rubbed our eyes, jumped to our feet, and prepared
ourselves for work. But, alas! where was the lava?

My impression is that in my sleep I must have kicked the stones and
sent them rolling. At any rate, they were gone. Dark and wet as it
was, we both went down a yard or two, but it was in vain; nothing
could be seen of them. The mild voice handed me the shawl, preparing
to descend in their search; but this was too much. “You will only
lose yourself,” said I, laying hold of him, “and I shall have to
look for your bones. Besides, I want my breakfast! We will get other
specimens above.”

“And perhaps they will be just as good,” said he, cheerfully, when he
found that he would not be allowed to have his way.

“Every bit,” said I. And so we trudged on, and at last reached our
mules. From this point men see, or think that they see, the two
oceans–the Atlantic and the Pacific–and this sight to many is one
of the main objects of the ascent. We saw neither the one ocean nor
the other.

We got back to the potrero about three, and found our German friends
just sitting down to dinner. The architect was seated on his bed on
one side of the table arranging the viands, while the doctor on the
other scooped out the brains of a strange bird with a penknife. The
latter operation he performed with a view of stuffing, not himself,
but the animal. They pressed us to dine with them before we started,
and we did so, though I must confess that the doctor’s occupation
rather set me against my food. “If it be not done at once,” said he,
apologizing, “it can’t he done well;” and he scraped, and scraped,
and wiped his knife against the edge of the little table on which
the dishes were placed. What had become of the doctor’s wife I do
not know, but she was not at the potrero when we dined there.

It was evening when we got into Cartago, and very tired we were.
My mind, however, was made up to go on to San José that night, and
ultimately I did so; but before starting, I was bound to repeat my
visit to the English lady with whom my mild friend lived. Mrs. X—-
was, and I suppose is, the only Englishwoman living in Cartago, and
with that sudden intimacy which springs up with more than tropical
celerity in such places, she told me the singular history of her
married life.

The reader would not care that I should repeat it at length, for it
would make this chapter too long. Her husband had been engaged in
mining operations, and she had come out to Guatemala with him in
search of gold. From thence, after a period of partial success, he
was enticed away into Costa Rica. Some speculation there, in which he
or his partners were concerned, promised better than that other one
in Guatemala, and he went, leaving his young wife and children behind
him. Of course he was to return very soon, and of course he did not
return at all. Mrs. X—- was left with her children searching for
gold herself. “Every evening,” she said, “I saw the earth washed
myself, and took up with me to the house the gold that was found.”
What an occupation for a young Englishwoman, the mother of three
children! At this time she spoke no Spanish, and had no one with her
who spoke English.

And then tidings came from her husband that he could not come to
her, and she made up her mind to go to him. She had no money, the
gold-washing having failed; her children were without shoes to their
feet; she had no female companion; she had no attendant but one
native man; and yet, starting from the middle of Guatemala, she made
her way to the coast, and thence by ship to Costa Rica.

After that her husband became engaged in what, in those countries,
is called “transit.” Now “transit” means the privilege of making
money by transporting Americans of the United States over the
isthmus to and from California, and in most hands has led to fraud,
filibustering, ruin, and destruction. Mr. X—-, like many others,
was taken in, and according to his widow’s account, the matter ended
in a deputation being sent, from New York I think, to murder him. He
was struck with a life-preserver in the streets of San José, never
fully recovered from the blow, and then died.

He had become possessed of a small estate in the neighbourhood of
Cartago, on the proceeds of which the widow was now living. “And will
you not return home?” I said. “Yes; when I have got my rights. Look
here–” and she brought down a ledger, showing me that she had all
manner of claims to all manner of shares in all manner of mines.
“Aurum irrepertum et sic melius situm!” As regards her, it certainly
would have been so.

For a coined sovereign, or five-dollar piece, I have the most
profound respect. It is about the most faithful servant that a man
can have in his employment, and should be held as by no means subject
to those scurrilous attacks which a pharisaically moral world so
often levels at its head. But of all objects of a man’s ambition,
uncoined gold, gold to be collected in sand, or picked up in nuggets,
or washed out of earth, is, to my thinking, the most delusive and
most dangerous! Who knows, or has known, or ever seen, any man that
has returned happy from the diggings, and now sits contented under
his own fig-tree?

My friend Mrs. X—- was still hankering after the flesh-pots of
Egypt, the hidden gold of the Central American mountains. She slapped
her hands loudly together, for she was a woman of much energy, and
declared that she would have her rights. When she had gotten her
rights she would go home. Alas! alas! poor lady!

“And you,” said I, to the mild voice, “will not you return?”

“I suppose so,” said he, “when Mrs. X—- goes;” and he looked up to
the widow as though confessing that he was bound to her service, and
would not leave her; not that I think they had the slightest idea of
joining their lots together as men and women do. He was too mild for
that.

I did ride back to San José that night, and a most frightful journey
I had of it. I resumed, of course, my speechless, useless, dolt of
a guide–the man whom the Secretary of Legation had selected for me
before I started. Again I put my spur on his foot, and endeavoured to
spirit him up to ride before me, so that I might know my way in the
dark; but it was in vain; nothing would move him out of a walk, and
I was obliged to leave him.

And then it became frightfully dark–pitch dark as men say–dark so
that I could not see my mule’s ears. I had nothing for it but to
trust to her; and soon found, by being taken down into the deep bed
of a river and through deep water, that we had left the road by which
I had before travelled. The beast did not live in San José I knew,
and I looked to be carried to some country rancho at which she would
be at home. But in a time sufficiently short, I found myself in San
José. The creature had known a shorter cut than that usually taken.