A YOUNG NATURALIST.
EDITED AND ADAPTED BY PARKER GILLMORE, AUTHOR OF "ALL ROUND THE WORLD," "GUN, ROD, AND SADDLE," "ACCESSIBLE FIELD SPORTS," ETC.
WITH ONE HUNDRED AND SEVENTEEN ILLUSTRATIONS.
NEW YORK: HARPER & BROTHERS, PUBLISHERS, FRANKLIN SQUARE. 1871.
There is no country on the face of the earth that possesses greater interest in the eyes of the scientific or travelled than Mexico, the scene where the adventures so graphically and clearly narrated in this volume transpired: nor is this partiality to be wondered at when we recall to memory what a lavish hand Nature has subtended to her.
Although several of our most celebrated naturalists have climbed its lofty volcanic mountains, explored its lagoons and giant rivers, and traversed its immense forests, still, from the vast extent of that country and variety of climate—caused by difference of elevation—much yet remains to be done ere the public become thoroughly conversant with its arboreal and zoological productions.
The elephant, hippopotamus, lion, and tiger, the largest and most formidable of the terrestrial mammals of the Old World, are not here to be found; but their places are well supplied by the swamp-loving tapir, the voracious alligator, the stealthy puma, and the blood-thirsty jaguar, all well worthy of the sportsman's rifle, or of the snake-visioned native warrior's weapons—for the power of destruction in these animals during life is great, while after death they either furnish valuable skins or wholesome food. Moreover, here the wolf awakes the reverberating echoes of the forest with its dismal howl; the raccoon, opossum, and squirrel pass their lives in sportive gambols; the wild and the ocellated turkeys strut about, pompous in manner, as if conscious of their handsome plumage, while the timid deer and shaggy-coated bison roam over prairies or through woodland glades, as yet unacquainted with the report of the white man's destructive fire-arms.
Can it, therefore, be surprising that our little hero should have craved to be permitted to have a sight of this new land, so rich in the prospect of adventure? How he behaved himself throughout the numerous ordeals to which he was submitted, suffice it for me to say that his conduct was worthy of the representative of any nationality, and such as was calculated to make all parents proud of their offspring; for whether suffering from thirst or hunger, being persecuted by noxious insects, straying in the woods, even when within reach of the fiercest carnivora or in the presence of the deadliest reptiles, he never for a moment hesitated in performing his seniors' instructions, lost his courage, or, better still, an opportunity of improving his mind.
That the young English reader may benefit as much by the perusal of this work as Master Lucien, otherwise "Sunbeam," did by his journey through the Cordilleras of Mexico, and that they may enjoy the information herein imparted upon the wonderful works of the Creator, is the sincere wish of
INTRODUCTION Page 13
Who we are.—Gringalet.—Sunrise.—The Sugar-cane.—A Halt. 20
Sugar.—Gringalet in the Molasses Tank.—L'Encuerado's obstinate Idea.—An Indian Supper. 34
Waking up in the Morning.—The pigmy World of Lilliput.—L'Encuerado and the Bottles.—Massacre of Thistles.—The Charcoal-burning Indians. 46
A difficult Ascent.—The Goat.—The Indian Girls.—The Tobacco-plant.—The Bull-fight.—Game.—Lucien's Gun.—Our Entry into the Wilderness. 61
The great Forest.—Crows.—The first Bivouac.—The Squirrel-hunt.—Our young Guide.—The Chant in the Desert. 76
Coffee.—Turpentine.—Couroucous.—Pine-needles.—Three Volcanoes in sight at once.—The Carabus Family.—Scorpions.—Salamanders.—A midnight Disturbance. 89
The Cats'-eyes Pomade.—Armadillo.—Lucien and the cruel Fern.—The fallen Mountain.—The Woodpecker.—The Basilisk.—L'Encuerado's fresh Idea. 104
A Vulture's Feast.—Dragon's Blood.—A Coral Serpent.—The Owl.—Mexican Moles.—Toucans.—The Scolopacidae.—L'Encuerado turned Tailor.—Sunset. 119
The South Wind.—The Hurricane.—A fearful Night.—The uprooted Giant.—The Sarsaparilla-plant.—Gringalet discovers a Spring.—Our Bivouac. 135
The Rabbit.—Wild Potatoes.—A difficult Path.—An extinct Crater.—Hoar-frost.—The Torrent.—The Fawn.—The Tettigones.—Dragon-flies. 148
A blue Lizard.—The Guava-tree.—A Cataract.—Nest of yellow Serpents.—A vegetable Helmet.—The Kingfisher.—Hunting Water-fleas.—The Tadpole.—A Collection of Water-bugs. 164
A Relation of Gringalet.—Our four-footed Guide.—A Review of our Party.—The Alligator-tortoise.—The Pheasants.—The Magnolia.—The Nutmeg-tree.—The Blue-plant.—The Caterpillar. 182
The Sensitive-plant.—Gringalet and the Porcupine.—The Mexican Chameleon.—The Kite and the Falcon.—An amphisbaena Snake.—A Council of Turkeys. 196
The Meteor.—God Almighty's Lanterns.—The Skunk.—The Jalap plant.—An aerial Journey.—The Orchids.—Bivouac in the Mouth of a Cave.—Gringalet and the Beetles.—A White Ants' Nest. 211
Our Substitutes for Lamps.—First Glance into the Cave.—The Elaterides.—The Gothic Hall.—Stalagmites and Stalactites.—A Chichiquimec Cemetery.—The "Tree of St. Ignatius."—The Opossum and its little ones. 235
The Earth-nuts.—A Wild-cat's Feast.—Another exploring Expedition to the Cave.—The Bats.—Excavations in a Tomb. 255
A forced March.—Wild-ducks.—Vegetable Soap.—An unwelcome Guest. 269
Wild Dahlias.—A painful Misadventure.—The Euphorbia Plants.—The Washer Raccoon.—Surprised by a Torrent.—L'Encuerado turned Hat-maker.—New Method for driving out Evil Spirits.—The Anhinga. 282
The Black Iguana.—Another Country.—Reminiscences of Childhood.—The Mirage.—A Fire in the Plain. 299
The Morning and Night Dew.—The Terre-Froide.—Water-spouts and Whirlwinds.—The Barbary Fig-trees.—The Cactus-plants.—The Viznaga.—Our Hopes disappointed.—Don Benito Coyotepec. 310
Black Skins and white Skins.—We have to turn Carpenters.—L'Encuerado chanting and preaching.—The Palm-leaves.—Vegetable Butter Tree. 326
Mexican Oak-apples.—A Stream lost in an Abyss.—The Wild Nasturtium.—Sportsmen deceived by Children.—The Grave-digging Beetles.—The Cochineal Insect.—Mexican Wine.—Good-bye to our Indian Hosts. 339
Again on the Road.—The Bird-catching Spider.—The Marten and the Skunk.—The Flying Squirrel.—The Otter-hunt.—L'Encuerado wounded. 353
A laborious Task.—Wild Lime-trees.—Pigeons.—The West India Cherry.—The Earwig.—Snakes and Serpents.—First Glance at the Terre-Chaude. 367
A Ground-squirrel.—A Mouse's Nest.—Humming-birds and their young ones.—The Locust-tree.—Mexican Wolves and their Retreat. 375
The Path through the Forest.—A forced March.—The Bromelaceae.—Mosquitoes.—The Water-plant.—The Promised Land.—A Band of Monkeys. 387
L'Encuerado and the Parrots.—Gringalet meets a Friend.—The Cougar, or American Lion.—A Stream.—Our "Palm-tree Villa."—Turtles' Eggs.—The Tantalus.—Herons and Flamingoes. 400
A Grove of Logwood trees.—Ants at their Work.—Parasitic Insects.—The Great Ant-eater.—Spoonbills and Herons.—Lost in the Forest. 415
A nocturnal Visitor.—The Fall of a Tree.—A fearful Night.—The Monkeys.—Master Job.—All right at last. 428
We build a Raft.—The Horned Serpent.—Good-bye to "Palm-tree Villa."—Mosquitoes and Horse-flies.—The Rattlesnake.—An Ocelot. 438
The Hunters hunted.—Escape from Peccaries.—A Jaguar-hunt.—An Ibis.—The Caymans.—The Wild Bulls. 446
The King of the Vultures.—The Ticks.—L'Encuerado frightened by a Demon.—The Tapirs.—Good-bye to the Stream.—The Puma's Prey.—A miserable Night.—Our Departure.—The Savannah.—Lucien carried in a Litter.—Hunger and Thirst.—We abandon our Baggage and Pets in Despair. 464
Thirst.—L'Encuerado's Return.—The Description of his Journey.—Janet, Verdet, and Rougette.—Hunting wild Horses.—Our last Adventure.—The Return. 483
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS.
We were just then passing through a plantation PAGE 28
At last, lagging a little, our party reached the foot of the mountains 44
The basket and its bearer chased one another down the hill 50
Almost immediately the foliage was pushed aside 56
On hearing the uproar two Indian women came running towards us 65
Behind us opened a dark, narrow ravine, with perpendicular sides 74
We now entered one of those glades 82
It was really a capital dinner 101
The dog began to howl desperately 114
A flock of vultures attracted our attention 121
Lucien loudly called out to me 126
Sumichrast halted near three gigantic stones 146
A labyrinth of rocks brought us out in front of a stony rampart more than a hundred feet in height 152
Sunset surprised us ere we had finished our labor 156
A shrub kept him from falling into the gulf 169
The cataract 174
Fall of Ingenio (from a drawing by the Marquis of Radepoint) 177
A tiger-cat bounded forward and seized the pheasant 191
The kite avoided the shock, and continued to rise in the air. 202
It looked like an immense pedestal, surmounted by two bronze statues 210
Above us, the trees crossed their branches 218
Then Sumichrast slid down the cord to the tree 223
I then ordered the Indian to light the fire 227
The wildest dreams could not picture a stranger style of architecture 241
Five or six skulls seemed to glare at me through their empty orbits 245
Crater of Popocatepetl 249
Our two scouts climbed some enormous heaps of rocks 262
The animal continued to retreat before him, and led him to the mouth of a cave 266
They were at once saluted by a platoon fire 273
I at once recognized the black sugar-cane snake 279
Following in Indian file, we ascended the course of the stream 287
The rocks came rolling down; dashing together under the impulse of a liquid avalanche 291
L'Encuerado set to work to plait us hats 295
I used to go iguana hunting with my brothers 301
The moon rose, and rendered the illusion more striking 307
The sand rose rapidly, whirling round and round 314
Everywhere the cactus might be seen assuming twenty different shapes 318
The water disappeared under a low arch 341
Four children appeared 346
An animal came tumbling down about ten paces from us 358
The sun was just setting 362
L'Encuerado was pressing his arm and uttering cries of pain 365
The Terre-Chaude was stretched out at my feet 373
And the Indian went away, saluting 379
I threw a stone at the beast 383
There was a whole tribe of monkeys frolicking about 397
I looked in vain for the cougar 403
L'Encuerado turned three somersets 407
It stood up on its hind legs 417
The bank to the right was covered with cranes, and that to the left with spoonbills 422
The head and bright eyes of a superb jaguar appeared about fifty paces from us 426
We now came upon some creeping plants 430
The monkey slid down, and fell dead at our feet 435
In front of us opened a glade, bordered by tall palm-trees 442
A band of peccaries were pursuing us 447
The banks of the river were covered with alligators 454
The Indian and his branch descended with a splash into the river 458
The entire drove dashed at full gallop into the stream 461
The reeds were pushed aside 468
The deer sank down under the weight of a puma 472
While the moon dimly lighted up the landscape. 475
Lucien began to repeat to the parrots the names of Hortense and Emile 479
We had to cross some muddy marshes 486
Also numerous Woodcuts embodied in, and illustrative of, the text.
The evening before leaving for one of my periodical excursions, I was putting in order my guns, my insect-cases, and all my travelling necessaries, when my eldest son, a lad nine years old, came running to me in that wheedling manner—using that irresistible diplomacy of childhood which imposes on fathers and mothers so many troublesome treaties, and which children so well know how to assume when they desire to obtain a favor.
"Are you going to make as long a journey as you did last month?" he asked.
"Longer, I think; for, as we are so soon leaving for Europe, I want to complete my collection as rapidly as possible. I know you will be a good boy during my absence, and obedient to your mother. You will think of me sometimes, will you not?"
"I should much prefer not to think of you," he responded.
"You would rather, then, that I staid at Orizava?"
"Oh no; I should like you to go, and—to go with you."
"What can you be thinking of? Before we were a mile on the road you would be knocked up, complaining of heat, thirst, fatigue—"
"That's quite a mistake, dear father. I know I should be very useful to you, if you would only take me. I could pick up wood, light the fire, and look after the cooking, besides catching butterflies and insects, both for your collection and mine."
"That's all very well; but the first time you were scratched by a thorn you would cry."
"Oh father! I promise you I will never cry, except when—I can't help it."
I could not resist smiling at this answer.
"Then it is a settled thing, and I am to go with you," exclaimed Lucien.
"We must consult your mother, and if she sees no objection, I—"
The child ran off without allowing me to finish my sentence.
While I went on cleaning my guns, I found that I was pleading with myself in favor of the little would-be traveller. I also remembered that when I was only seven years old I had travelled long distances on foot in company with my father, and to this early habit owed much of the power of accomplishing dangerous and fatiguing journeys, which would have frightened stronger men. I even persuaded myself that it would be useful, before leaving Mexico, to impress the memory of my son with a sight of some of the grand scenes of tropical nature, so that he should retain correct ideas of the wonderful country in which his infancy had been spent. I moreover knew that l'Encuerado, the gallant Indian who had been my servant for so many years, perfectly adored his young master, and would watch over him just as I should, and thus ward off any possible mishaps. On the other hand, I risked inspiring my son with that love of travel and adventure which had contributed materially to my scientific collection, but very little to my fortune. Nevertheless, what a wholesome influence is exercised over the mind by an almost unceasing struggle with the difficulties that beset one's course through an unknown country. Both the mind and body of my son must surely benefit by such an excursion, which might be curtailed if desirable. Soon after the boy returned, accompanied by his mother.
"What is all this about a journey, for which my consent is the only requisite?" asked my wife.
"Mine is needed too," I answered.
"Why not take him, dear? L'Encuerado has promised me that he will not lose sight of him for an instant."
"What! do you take his part?"
"He does long so much to go with you," she said.
"Be it so," I replied. "Get your clothes ready, for we must be off the day after to-morrow at daybreak."
Lucien was almost beside himself with joy. He rushed about the house from one end to the other; gave the servants much unnecessary trouble; leggings, boots, and a game-bag, he wanted; also a sword, a knife, insect-cases—in fact, a whole multitude of requirements. L'Encuerado, who was almost as rejoiced as the lad, cut him a travelling-staff, as strong and light as was requisite, and made him other auxiliaries necessary on such excursions. From this moment forward, Lucien was constantly running and climbing about all the rooms and the yards round the house, to accustom himself, as he said, to the fatigue of a long journey. At dinner-time he would take nothing but bread and water, in order to prepare his system for the meagre fare of the bivouac. In fact, I had to quiet him down by recommending more coolness to his excited little brain.
The eve of our departure arrived, and several friends came to bid me farewell. My son told them of all the great things he had determined to achieve—how he would crush the heads of scorpions, and with his sword cut down trees or kill serpents.
"If I tumble over the rocks," said he, "I shall only laugh at my bruises; and if we meet with any tigers—"[A]
An extremely warlike attitude terminated this sentence.
Ceasing at length from want of further words, he would very willingly have reduced to silence, with his sword, those who disapproved of my project of taking into the forests and savannahs my child of nine years old, and exposing him to all the unknown dangers of savage life—to fatigue, rain, and all kinds of maladies! Why, it appeared like tempting Providence, and risking, for mere amusement, the life, or at least the health, of my child. The unanimity of these reflections began to shake my resolution, and I expressed myself to that effect.
"Oh father!" cried Lucien, "are you going to break your word to me?"
"No," I replied; "neither now nor ever. I want you to become a man, so you shall go. But be off to bed, for you must be ready to start by four o'clock in the morning."
I had given notice of my intended tour to my friend Francois Sumichrast, a Swiss savant, well known for his discoveries in natural history, in whose company I had undertaken several journeys. About ten o'clock at night, I began to fancy my letter of information had miscarried, when a knock at the door startled me, and I soon recognized the happy voice of my friend. He had come expressly from Cordova, in order to make one in our little expedition. I told him all my doubts and fears about my boy, but he quite took the part of the young traveller; almost what I might have expected from a companion of Toepffer.
"Come here," he cried to Lucien, who, half-undressed, had just peeped in at the door.
The boy ran to him, and my friend, whose stature much exceeded the average, lifted him up and embraced him as an ally.
"At your age," said Sumichrast, "I had made the tour of Switzerland, my bag on my back, and had tried my teeth on bears'-steaks. I predict that you will behave like a man. Shall I be wrong?"
"Oh no, M. Sumichrast."
"Can you live without eating and drinking?"
"I will do all you do."
"That's well; now go to bed. If you keep your word, when we return in a month's time you'll be a prodigy."
Next morning Lucien was up and ready long before day-break, and complained of our tardiness. He was dressed in a jacket and breeches of blue cloth, with his Mexican cloak over them; he carried in his belt a sword ready sharpened, to cut his way through the creeping plants; while over his shoulder was passed the strap of a game-pouch, containing a knife, a cup, and a change of under-clothing. The broad-brimmed hat, or sombrero, on his head, gave him a most determined air. I had almost forgotten the famous travelling-staff which for the last two days had been resounding against all the floors in the house. L'Encuerado, a Mistec Indian, and an old tiger-hunter, who, through a thousand dangers faced in common, had become much attached to my person, at last made his appearance, clad in a leathern jacket and breeches, which had given him his name of "Encuerado."[B] The brave and adventurous Indian was almost beside himself with joy at the idea of conducting into the forest the child whom he had known from his cradle. On his back he fastened a basket containing our main stock of provisions—such as coffee, salt, pepper, dried maize, cakes, etc. Lucien's younger brother and sister had jumped out of bed, and were dancing all round us: the latter seemed somewhat sad and uneasy, but the former was dissatisfied, manfully asserting that he, too, was quite big enough to go with us.
At the last moment my poor wife lost all her courage, and regretted she had ever given her consent; but when Lucien saw the tears which his departure had called forth, he became heroic in his self-denial, throwing aside his hat and stick.
"Mother," he cried, embracing her in his arms, "I will not go away if it makes you cry."
"All right, then; I will go instead," said his brother Emile, who ran and picked up the stick and hat, and then walked towards the outer door, utterly disregarding his bedroom costume.
"No, no," said my wife; "I will not be the means of depriving you of so much pleasure."
The kind mother again kissed her child, and commended him anew to our joint care.
I led off my little companion; but when we got into the court-yard, I had to exercise all my authority to make his younger brother give up the stick and hat he had taken possession of. When restitution was effected, the two children kissed each other, and parted friends.
At last the outer gate was passed, and our footsteps rang through the quiet streets of Orizava. We were commencing the first stage of our journey in pursuit of scientific discoveries.
[A] The jaguar (Leopardus onca, Linn.) is frequently called a tiger in America. The tiger (Tigris regalis) is not found on that continent.—ED.
[B] Encuerado, in Spanish, means both naked and clad in leather.
WHO WE ARE.—GRINGALET.—SUNRISE.—THE SUGAR-CANE.—A HALT.
It was the 20th April, 1864. The clock of the church of the convent of Saint Joseph de Grace chimed 4 A.M. just as we turned into the main street that leads out of the town.
Sumichrast took the lead. Tall in stature, noble in mien, and broad-shouldered, he was, in spite of his blue eyes and fair hair, the perfect representative of moral and bodily strength. I was always in the habit of permitting him to lead the way, when, in any of our excursions, it was necessary to favorably impress the imagination of the Indians. He was distinguished as an ornithologist, and was never so much at home as in the midst of the forests; in fact, he often regretted that he had not been born an Indian. His gravity entirely devoid of sadness, his skill in shooting, and his silent laugh, often led me to compare him to Cooper's "Leather-Stocking;" but it was "Leather-Stocking" become a man of the world and of science.
Next let me describe my son. Like all children, he was imitative, so had commenced very early to make a collection of insects, and this was sufficient to give him a precocious taste for natural history; but in his character he was earnest and reflective, and very eager for knowledge. Sumichrast took pleasure in the boy's intelligence, and often amused himself by arguing with him. From the flashes of childish humor which he would display on such occasions, my friend sometimes gave him the nickname of "Sun-beam."
Next to the child came l'Encuerado, an Indian of the Mistec race—a strange mixture of delicacy, simplicity, kindness, candor, and obstinacy. In the interval that had elapsed since I first met him, twelve years before, in the Terre-Chaude, he had become my friend as much as my servant. But he was never happy in a town, and was always praising wild life, even the inconveniences of the solitudes in which he had been born.
"What a pity that it is so dark," said Lucien, whom Sumichrast was leading by the hand.
"For what reason do you wish for daylight?" I asked.
"Why? Because every one is asleep now, and none of my friends will see me pass with my sword, my gourd, and my game-pouch."
"So you think that your travelling-costume would make your companions envious?—that's not a kind feeling."
"No, father; I should like them to see me, certainly; but I don't want to give pain to any one."
We passed along the foot of Borrego, the mountain which has become so famous, owing to the conflict which took place there between sixty French soldiers and two thousand Mexicans, and had just reached the gateway of Angostura when a dog ran past, but soon returned, barking and fawning upon us in every way. It was Gringalet, an elegantly although strongly made greyhound, which had been a companion of my boy's from infancy, l'Encuerado having brought him up "by hand" for his young master. Gringalet was an orphan from the time of his birth, and had found in the Indian a most attentive foster-parent. Three times a day he gave his adopted child milk through a piece of rag tied over the neck of a bottle. The dog had grown up by the side of his young master; many a time, doubtless, he had snatched from his hands the half-eaten cake, but such casualties were only a temporary check upon their mutual attachment. He manifested, therefore, a decided preference for three objects—Lucien, his nurse, and bottles in general. I was at first rather vexed that the poor beast should have taken upon himself the liberty of joining our expedition, so I tried to drive him back. Gringalet ran to take refuge by the side of Lucien, with ears laid back, and one paw raised; and looked at me with such mild eyes, so full of supplication, that I could not find it in my heart to carry out my intention. Sumichrast and l'Encuerado both interceded for the animal, which, crouching and wagging his tail, came and lay down humbly at my feet. Lucien, who was afraid I should behave harshly to his favorite, hid his face in his hands. I was vanquished.
"Come along, then, and let us take Gringalet!" I said.
So I caressed the dog, which, clearly seeing that he had gained his cause, bounded along the road in the most extravagant leaps, clearly indicative of his emotions of pleasure. In spite of all his efforts to keep them back, tears escaped from Lucien's eyes, and I had to turn my head away to avoid having to recall the promise he made to refrain from crying. But, nevertheless, although I wished him to learn how to bear stoically any physical suffering, I had no desire to quench in him the evidences of a feeling heart—that potent source of our sweetest pleasure and our bitterest sorrow.
The gates of the town were still closed. On arriving in front of the guard-house, I rapped at the window to awake the old man, the guardian of the keys of the town.
"Won't he open the gate for us? Shall we be obliged to go home again? Can't we start to-day, M. Sumichrast?" eagerly asked Lucien.
"Keep quiet," replied Sumichrast; "the porter is an old man, and we are disturbing him earlier than we ought, which always puts him a little out of temper. However active we may be, it is a good thing to know 'how to wait.'"
At last the door-keeper made his appearance, the chains dropped one by one, the heavy gate turned on its hinges, and Lucien was the first to spring out into the open road. The sky was starless, the morning dew chilled our blood, and we felt that uncomfortable feeling which, in the tropics, affects the traveller just at the period when night gives place to day. I led Lucien by the hand, lest, in the dim light, he might fall. He shivered with cold, but was unwilling to complain; I stepped on quickly in order that he might get warm. Perhaps, just at this moment, he regretted his little bed, and thought of the cup of warm chocolate which his mother often used to bring him as soon as he awoke; but, unmurmuring, he retained his place by my side.
Beyond the village of Ingenio, a brisk south wind blew the dust in our faces and retarded our speed. All round the trees bent before the squall, and the large plantain leaves flew about, torn into ribbons. We now turned to the right, and crossed a prairie. L'Encuerado required breath, for his load weighed at least eighty pounds, although, like AEsop's burden, it would surely get lighter at every meal. An enormous rock, which had tumbled down from one of the surrounding mountains centuries past, offered us a retreat sheltered from the wind. At this moment a line of purple edging the eastern horizon announced the dawn of day.
"Come here," I called to Lucien.
And taking the lad between my knees, I said,
"You see that bright band of light which looks almost as if the horizon was on fire? Well, from the middle of it the sun is just going to rise. At this very moment, in Europe, it is almost noonday; but, as recompense, they will have dark night when it is three o'clock in the afternoon here, and we shall be pushing along, overwhelmed with the heat of an almost vertical sun. The red line is now getting wider and paler; it is more like a golden mist. But turn round and look at the mountain tops."
The child uttered a half-surprised cry; although we were in comparative obscurity, the ridges of the Cordilleras seemed all on fire.
"Do you understand that phenomenon?" asked Sumichrast.
"Yes; for I know the earth is round, and these mountains, which are higher than we are, of course first catch the rays of the sun."
The day broke, and a burning glow suffused the horizon; in a few minutes the sun rose and inundated us with light. The birds began to chant their morning song, and the eagles, careering from every mountain top, soared above our heads. The sunbeams twinkled through the dew-drops, and the grass of the prairie seemed decked with diamonds. Black vultures, which soared even higher than the eagles and the kites, traced out in the blue sky the immense curves of their majestic flight. On every bush insects spread their gauzy wings; perhaps they felt that not a minute should be lost by beings whose birth, life, and death are all comprised in one single day.
"Oh!" cried Lucien, "as soon as we get home I shall tell mamma how beautiful is sunrise! Is it not a shame that so many of us sleep through the hour when this lovely prospect can only be enjoyed?"
I was obliged to cut short the little fellow's admiration—an admiration I also shared. Each resumed his load; and now, in spite of the wind, we all felt eager to advance. Gringalet, as glad as we were at the return of day, frisked round Lucien, barking, jumping over ditches, and rolling in the dust in his wild gambols. Our young companion began imitating his frolics; but I soon called him to order, for our day's journey was to be as much as six to seven leagues, and it was necessary to prevent Lucien fatiguing himself unnecessarily.
"You always go either too quickly or too slowly," said Sumichrast to the boy; "travellers, like soldiers, must walk at a regular pace, so as to reach their halting-place without more than necessary fatigue. Come—form in line! That's well; now, on we go!"
Lucien measured his steps by those of his instructor. It was most amusing to see him trying to keep a pace quite at variance with the length of his short legs.
"Halt!" cried Sumichrast; "you can hardly imagine your legs are as long as mine. Perhaps in about ten years' time you may enjoy that privilege; but, in the mean time, walk naturally—without either effort or hurry. One, two, three!—now you are perfect. Keep on without noticing me; you can't walk at my pace, so I must take to yours."
As our journey was to extend to the distance of three hundred leagues, it was quite requisite that the boy should accustom himself to a regular step. After several attempts this was accomplished, and all progressed together.
We now directed our course towards the heights. Our intention was to make our way into the Cordillera, and, passing round the volcano of Orizava, to descend into the savannahs beyond, slanting off to the left so as ultimately to reach the sea. Then we thought of traversing the prairies and forests of the Terre-Chaude, so as again to come to our starting-point through the mountains of Songolica. This circuit would represent a journey of a hundred and fifty leagues as the crow flies, or at least three hundred leagues, reckoning all the circuits and bends we should be obliged to make. During this long expedition, we had made up our minds to seek, when opportunity offered, the hospitality of any Indian villages that might come in our road, and only when absolutely necessary to camp in the open air.
About eleven, the heat became overpowering, and Lucien began to inquire about breakfast. We were just then passing through a plantation, I might almost say a forest of sugar-canes. The stems of the plants were either of a yellowish hue or veined with blue, and were more than six feet high. The latter kind will ultimately supersede its rival; for the cultivators assert that, although not so large, it affords a much more certain crop. L'Encuerado, seizing his machete (a straight and a short cutlass, indispensable to the inhabitants of the Terre-Chaude), cut down a magnificent stem, and, peeling it, offered each of us a piece. The sugar-cane is extremely hard, and it is necessary to cut it up in order to break the cellules in which the sweet juice is contained. My companions set to work to chew the pith of the valuable plant; and even Gringalet seemed to be just as fond of it as they were.
Not far from the cane-field, some Indians were working on a new plantation. The ground was covered with ashes. The foreman explained to us that when the canes are cut down, the first thing is to pull off the long leaves, which are left on the ground. In eight days this rubbish is dried by the tropical sun; they then set them on fire, and the ashes which result serve as manure. Five or six Aztecs were cultivating this apparently sterile ground by means of a primitive kind of plough, made of a mere stake attached to circular discs of wood forming spokeless wheels; it was drawn by two oxen yoked together.
Sumichrast took Lucien by the hand.
"In future," said he, "when you crunch a lump of sugar, you shall know something of the manufacture of what you are eating. The sugar-cane is called, in Latin, Saccharum officinale, that is, 'druggist's sugar,' because the product of this plant was so rare that it was sold only at the druggists' shops. The plant itself is said to be a native of India, and is, as you see, a tuft of vegetation, from which spring six to twenty tall stalks, with joints varying, both in number and in distance, from each other. The most esteemed variety, the Tahiti cane, is striped with violet. The specimen you are looking at is one of the most remarkable as regards size, for it must be nearly thirteen feet high."
"It is like a stalk of maize," said the boy.
"That's true, except that maize has only one stem. Look, there's an Indian about to cut down the very plant I was showing you; he has severed it through obliquely at a single blow, as near the ground as possible. Now he is stripping off the leaves, and with another blow of his weapon lops away the green top, which is used for fodder. Next, he cuts it in lengths, taking care to sever it between the knots, as they are required for planting new ground."
"Planting!" repeated Lucien; "the knots are not seed?"
"No, Master 'Sunbeam;' the seed of the sugar-cane comes to maturity too slowly. It takes four years to produce a plant from it which is profitable. Now, as young fellows of your kind are rather numerous, and consume a good many preserves and sugar-plums, it is highly necessary to devise some rapid method of supplying the sugar you devour. This method has been found out. Each of these pieces of cane will be stuck into the earth, and the knot, from which in the open air the leaves spring, will send down roots into the soil. Small as it is, it will grow vigorously; and in a year, or eighteen months at most, it will have produced a dozen stalks quite as fine as the one you have been looking at."
During this long explanation l'Encuerado, who, on account of his load, disliked standing still, had kept moving, so we had to increase our pace to catch him up. As we were passing on, Lucien saw the Indian planting the very pieces of cane he had just observed cut up. Ere long we came upon a fresh plantation, in which the tender shoots, almost like grass, appeared over the ground. Sumichrast dug a little hole round one of the plants, and showed to his wondering pupil that the fragment of the stem was already provided with small rootlets.
Suddenly, at the turn of a path, I was saluted by a man on horseback. It was the steward of the estate that we were crossing.
"Hallo! Don Luciano, where are you off to with all that train?" cried the new-comer.
"To visit the forest of the Cordillera," I replied.
"May you travel safely! but is the young gentleman going with you?"
"Yes, to be sure. Good-bye, Antonio, till we meet again!"
"Till we meet again? By my word, you shall not say that just yet. The goodwife has some eggs and fried beans ready for breakfast; and I ought to have some bottles of Spanish wine, in which we'll drink to your pleasant journey, unless you're too proud to accept the hospitality of a poor man."
Being very hungry, with pleasure we accepted this cordial invitation. The steward further insisted upon taking our little traveller up in front of him. The child was only too pleased.
"Oh dear!" said Sumichrast; "why, it's spoiling the boy at the outset."
"It will be half a league the less for his poor legs," said Antonio; and, spurring his horse, he galloped off with Lucien to get our breakfast ready.
Gringalet was in consternation at his young master's departure. Raising his intelligent face, he seemed as if he wished to question us, and pricked up his ears as if to listen to the sound of the horse's feet dying away in the distance. At last he raised a plaintive howl, and started off in pursuit.
Surprised at not seeing l'Encuerado, I turned back, fancying he had remained behind. I was expecting to see him appear, when Sumichrast burst out laughing. At a turn of the road he had caught a sight of the horseman, with the dog on one side and the Indian on the other, who, in spite of his load, kept up without difficulty.
This feat on the part of my servant did not much surprise me, for I do not think that in the whole world there are any more indefatigable runners than the Mistec Indians.
At twelve o'clock, just as the bell was calling home the laborers, I entered the courtyard of the sugar-mill, where I caught sight of my youngster sitting on the ground, with his dog at his feet, looking with rapture at some ducks that were enjoying themselves in a muddy pool.
SUGAR.—GRINGALET IN THE MOLASSES TANK.—L'ENCUERADO'S OBSTINATE IDEA.—AN INDIAN SUPPER.
The breakfast was a cheerful one, thanks to the Spanish wine spoken of by our host. The Indian laborers, with their wives and children, assembled in inquisitive groups round the windows of the dwelling. Lucien certainly carried the day, for he it was that they chiefly sought to see. As for Gringalet, he was much less cordially received by his brother-dogs belonging to the place; consequently, he scarcely left his young master's side, and showed his teeth incessantly.
Sumichrast wishing, before we set out again, to explain to his pupil how sugar was made, took him to the mill, situated in a wide rotunda. Here two upright wooden cylinders, fitting close to one another, revolved on a pivot, set in action by means of two oxen yoked together, crushing the canes which an Aztec[C] was introducing between them. The machine groaned, and seemed almost ready to fall to pieces under the impetus of the powerful animals, which were urged on both by voice and gesture. Lucien remarked that the canes were cut in lengths of about a yard, and bevelled off at the ends, so as to be more readily caught between the two cylinders. After having been subjected to this heavy pressure, they came out squeezed almost dry, and the sweet juice, or sirup, flowed down into a large trough hollowed out of the trunk of a tree.
As soon as this receptacle was full of juice, an enormous valve was opened, and the turbid, muddy-looking liquid flowed along a trench, and emptied into a brick reservoir. On its way it passed through the meshes of a coarse bag, and was thus roughly filtered; it was then conveyed into immense coppers placed over a hot furnace. The fragments of crushed cane, having been rapidly dried in the sun, were used to feed the fire which boiled the juice so lately squeezed out of them.
Near the aloe-fibre filtering-bag, in front of which the morsels of cane and rubbish constantly accumulated, stood a little boy about twelve years old, whose duty it was to keep the passage clear. Lucien pulled my coat, to call my attention to the fact that the lad had only one arm.
"How did you lose your left arm, pobricito?" I asked.
"Between the crushers, senor."
"Was it your own fault?"
"Alas! yes. My father looked after the machine, and I helped him to drive the oxen; and he had forbidden my going near the cylinders. One day he went away for a few minutes, and I tried to put a piece of cane between the rollers; but my finger caught, and my arm was drawn in and crushed."
"It was a terrible punishment for your disobedience," I said.
"More terrible than you think, senor. My father died six months ago, and I have several little brothers. If I had both my arms, I could earn a quarter of a piastre a day, and also help my mother."
"How much do they give you for watching this filtering-bag from morning till night?"
"Only a medio,"[D] he answered.
I looked hard at Lucien, who threw himself into my arms.
"Oh! I will always obey you," he cried, with emotion; "but do allow me to give all the money in my purse to this little boy."
"Give him a piastre, my boy; we shall meet with others in want, and you must reserve something for them."
"Oh! young gentleman," said the poor mutilated lad, looking with wonder at the coin which represented sixteen days' work, "we will all pray for you!"
And he hurried to clear out the bag, which was already too full.
The process adopted in the sugar-mill we speak of was of most primitive simplicity. The European manufacturers employ iron cylinders turned by steam or water power; also lift and force pumps, which quickly convey the sap into the basins in which it is to be clarified by fermentation.
But for comprehending easily all the operations required in the extraction of sugar, Antonio's hacienda, in which every thing was done before our eyes, was much preferable to any of the modern mills provided with all kinds of improved apparatus.
When our young traveller saw the thick, muddy, and turbid liquid, which was being stirred up by a gigantic "agitator," he could hardly believe that it could ever produce the beautiful white crystal with which he was so well acquainted.
"But where's the sugar?" he eagerly asked.
"There, in front of you," replied Sumichrast. "The sugar-cane, like all other vegetables, contains a certain quantity of liquid, in which the sugar is held in a state of solution; if this is removed, prismatic crystals immediately form. Look now! the contents of the copper are just beginning to boil, and are covered with a blackish scum, which is carefully skimmed off; for in three or four days, when it has fermented, it will produce, by means of distillation, the ardent spirit which l'Encuerado is so fond of. The cloud of steam which is rising above the copper shows that the juice is evaporating; in a few minutes more it will be converted into sirup, and will ultimately form crystals. Come and see the result of the last operation."
We entered a large gallery, in which a number of moulds—made of baked earth and shaped like reversed sugar-loaves—were ranged in lines under the beams, like bottles in a bottle-rack. Into these, which had been previously moistened, some laborers were pouring the boiling sirup. A little farther on we were shown what had been boiled the day before, and was crystallizing, assisted in the process by an Indian, who stirred it slowly. From a trough, open at the lower end, a thick liquid was flowing, called "molasses," or treacle, which is used for making rum, gingerbread, and for other purposes. The lowest part of the sugar-loaf seemed, also, to be yellow and sticky.
Passing through a dark passage, Lucien noticed two half-naked laborers, who were moistening clay and converting it into a kind of dough.
"What a nasty mess!" he cried, with a self-satisfied tone. "What would mamma say, if she was here? It was only the other day she gave my brother and sister a good scolding."
"What was it for?" I asked.
"For mixing up mud to build a town and reservoir in the long passage in our house."
"What part did you take in it?"
"Oh, I was architect; but I was scolded as much as the others."
"That I can readily believe," replied Sumichrast, who could hardly keep his gravity; "but come, let us follow these laborers, and you will soon see that they are not mixing up this mud for mere pleasure."
To his great surprise, our little traveller saw them filling up, with a dark-colored liquid, the empty part of the moulds, from which the molasses had drained away.
"They are spoiling the sugar-loaves!" he cried.
"Quite the contrary; they are going to whiten it. The water that is contained in the clay will filter gradually through the sugar, and will drive before it the molasses that is left round the crystals; and this operation, several times repeated, will produce that spongy kind of sugar which is well known to retain a flavor of the cane, rather disliked by Europeans accustomed to the finer products of their refineries."
The only department we now had to visit was the "drying-room," where the sugar-loaves are piled up to dry, and wait for a purchaser.
In our way thither we nearly fell into an immense reservoir, level with the surface of the ground, and full of molasses; the scum floating on the top so exactly resembled the rough and sticky floor of the sugar-mill that it was easy to make a mistake. Gringalet was unfortunate enough to be the cause of our avoiding this accident. Restless, like all his kind, he ran smelling about in every direction, just as if he was trying to find some lost object: forcing his way between our legs, to get in front of us, he suddenly disappeared in the thick liquid. I pulled him out directly; but as soon as he was on his feet, he rolled over and over on the ground, so that when he stood up his coat was bristling with pieces of straw and wood; in fact, he scarcely looked like a dog at all. I called him towards the pond outside, but the poor brute was quite blind and confused, and did not seem to hear. As a matter of course, all the laborers raised shouts of laughter; but poor Lucien, fancying that his dog was going to die, followed him in despair. Gringalet, no doubt wishing to comfort his young master, leaped upon him and covered him with caresses, and of course with saccharine matter, in which he so lately had a bath. As it was too late for any other course, I made up my mind to laugh, like every one else. While l'Encuerado was washing the dog, our hostess cleaned the boy's clothes, soon after which we resumed our journey.
Don Antonio, like a real Mexican, pitied us for having to travel on foot like Indians; he especially commiserated our young companion, and thought, indeed, that we were very cruel.
"He must learn to use his legs; that's the reason why God gave them to him," said Sumichrast, who delighted in an argument with the steward.
"What good are horses, then?"
"To break your neck. Besides, there are plenty of infirmities in life without making one out of the horse."
"The horse an infirmity!" cried the Mexican.
"Yes, certainly—among your caste at least; for you could no more do without a horse than a cripple without his crutch."
Don Antonio whistled without making any reply, and, untying his horse, took Lucien up in front, and accompanied us for more than a league. At last, as his duties called him home, he shook us by the hand and turned back. Even after we had lost sight of him, we could still hear him wishing us a pleasant journey.
We had to cross a wide prairie; the heat was suffocating, and we marched on side by side in dead silence. Lucien's walking was much hindered by his game-pouch and gourd, which, in spite of all his efforts, would work round in front of him. I soon noticed that he had got rid of the troublesome gear.
"Hallo!" I cried, "what have you done with your provisions?"
"L'Encuerado wished to carry them for me."
"L'Encuerado's load is quite heavy enough now, and you must get accustomed to your own. In a few days you won't feel it. Habit makes many things easy which at first seem impossible."
"Senor," said l'Encuerado, "Chanito (this was the name he gave to Lucien) is tired, and this is his first journey; I'll give him back all his things to-morrow."
"It will be much better for him to get accustomed to them now. Give him back his baggage, it is not too heavy for him; if you don't, you will be the one to be scolded."
The Indian grumbled before he obeyed; then, taking the boy by the hand, dropped behind, muttering to him:
"When you don't want to walk any more, Chanito, you must tell me, and you shall ride on the top of my pack."
"No," said I, turning round; "if you do any thing of the kind, I will send both of you home."
"My shoulders are my own," replied the Indian, earnestly; "surely I have a right to employ them as I choose."
Sumichrast burst out laughing at this logic, and I was obliged to go on in front, or I should have done the same. Nevertheless, I feared lest Lucien should learn, on the very first day of his journey, to depend too much on l'Encuerado's kindness. I was, therefore, pleased to hear him refuse several times the Indian's offer of putting him up on his pack, an idea which the faithful fellow persisted in with an obstinacy which I had long known him to possess. A little time after—thinking, doubtless, that his dignity compelled him to prove that he was easily able to increase the weight of his load—he seized Gringalet, who was walking close behind lolling out his tongue, and throwing the dog up on his back, and commencing an Indian trot, ran by us with a triumphant look. Gringalet was at first taken by surprise, and, raising a cry of distress, wanted to jump down; but he soon sat quiet enough, without displaying any uneasiness, to the great joy of my son, who was much amused at the incident.
The plain which we were crossing seemed absolutely interminable.
"It's no use our walking," said Lucien; "we don't appear to make any advance."
"Fortunately, you are mistaken," replied Sumichrast. "Look in front of you, and you will see that the trees on ahead, which a short time ago looked like one uninterrupted mass of foliage, can now be discerned separately."
"You mean the forest which we can see from here?"
"What you take for a forest is nothing but a few trees scattered about the plain."
"Isn't M. Sumichrast wrong in that, father?"
"No, my boy; but those who have more experience than you might well be mistaken, for when objects are seen at a distance they always seem to blend together in a group. This morning, for instance, when we were walking along the main road, you were always exclaiming that it ended in a point; but you were convinced that your eyes deceived you. It is just the same now: these trees appear to be farther apart in proportion as we approach them; and you will be quite surprised presently when you see how distant they are from each other. The same illusion is produced by the stars, which are millions of miles apart, and yet appear so thick in the sky, that your brother Emile was regretting, the other night, that he was not tall enough to grasp a handful of them."
"And don't forget," added Sumichrast, "that light and imagination often combine to deceive us."
"Just as in the fable of the 'Camels and the floating sticks.'"
"Bravo! my young scholar; you've heard that fable?"
"Yes. One evening I was going into a dimly-lighted room, and I fancied I saw a great gray man seated in a chair; I cried out, and ran away, afraid. Then papa took me by the hand and led me into the dark room again, and I found that the giant which had frightened me so much was nothing but a pair of trowsers, thrown over the back of an arm-chair. The next day mamma made me learn the fable of the 'Camels.'"
On our road I called Lucien's attention to a small thorny shrub, a kind of mimosa, called huizachi by the Indians, who use its pods for dyeing black cloth, and for making a tolerably useful ink. The plain assumed by degrees a less monotonous aspect. Butterflies began to hover round us, and our young naturalist wanted to commence insect-hunting. I restrained his ardor, as I wished to keep our boxes and needles free for the rarer species which we might expect to find as soon as we had reached more uninhabited districts. At last, lagging a little, our party reached the foot of the mountains.
It was now five o'clock; night was coming on, so it was highly necessary to look out for shelter. We came in view of a bamboo-hut in the nick of time. An old Indian was reclining in front of it, warming his meagre limbs in the rays of the setting sun, clad in nothing but a pair of drawers and a hat with a torn brim. He rose as we came near, and proffered us hospitality. His wife, whose costume consisted of a cotton shirt edged with red thread, came running in answer to his call, and was quite in raptures at the prettiness of the "little white traveller," who completely ingratiated himself by saluting her in her own language. We had accomplished a journey of seven leagues, although Lucien, thanks to Don Antonio's horse, had not walked quite so far.
The aborigines set before us rice and beans. After this frugal repast, washed down with cold water, I wanted Lucien to lie down on a large mat; but the restless little being took advantage of his elders being comfortably stretched out to sleep, and ran off to see our hostess's fowls roosting for the night on a dead tree, and then to prowl up and down in company with l'Encuerado. The latter had ferreted out a three-corded guitar which was in the hut, and strummed away at the same tune for hours together—no doubt to the great pleasure of the boy, although to us it was quite the reverse.
At last our bedding was unrolled, and I enjoined repose on all. Gringalet couched down in the hut, at the feet of his young master. L'Encuerado, however, preferred sleeping in the open air, only too happy, as he said, to see the sky above, and to feel the wind blow straight into his face without having to be filtered through walls and windows.
[C] Two grotesque little phenomena were once shown in London and Paris as specimens of the Aztec race. When I speak of Aztecs, my young readers may perhaps think I allude to these dwarfs. I will therefore state, once for all, that this name is intended to apply only to the Indians, the descendants of the fine race over whom Montezuma was emperor when Cortez conquered them. By Mexicans, or Creoles, we mean the descendants of the Spanish race.
[D] About threepence.
WAKING UP IN THE MORNING.—THE PIGMY WORLD OF LILLIPUT.—L'ENCUERADO AND THE BOTTLES.—MASSACRE OF THISTLES.—THE CHARCOAL-BURNING INDIANS.
I rose long before day and woke my companion. Lucien rubbed his eyes two or three times, trying in vain to make out where he was. After some moments, drawing the coverlet over him, he turned round to go to sleep again.
"Now, then, young Lazybones!" I cried, "don't you hear the cock crowing, telling us we ought to be on our road? Jump up and look round, and you will see the birds and the insects are already busy."
The child got up, appearing half stupefied, and stretched himself with a long yawn.
"Oh, papa!" he said, "I ache all over; I'm sure I shall never be able to walk."
"You are quite mistaken," I replied, half supporting him. "You only feel a little tired and stiff; your limbs will very soon work as freely as ever. Go and warm yourself by the fire, where our kind hostess is preparing coffee."
The little fellow did as he was told; but he limped sadly.
"Do your legs feel like mine?" he asked of l'Encuerado.
"No, Chanito; we did not walk far enough yesterday for that."
"You can't mean that we haven't walked far? Papa says that we are now seven leagues from Orizava."
"Yes; that may seem a great deal to you, and perhaps too much; that is why I wanted to put you up on the top of my pack. Now, come, let me see where you suffer."
"All over my limbs, but particularly inside my knees."
"Wait a minute, and I'll soon cure you."
L'Encuerado then laid Lucien down in front of the fire, and began to rub him after the Indian method, vigorously shampooing the whole of his body. Next he made him walk and run with the longest strides he could take; and, after repeating this process, brought him a cup of boiling coffee. Having been revived and strengthened in this way, the lad quite recovered his sprightliness, and soon asked when we were going to start.
I gave a small present to the old couple who had so kindly accommodated us, and our little party began its second day's work; Gringalet sniffing the breeze, and evidently enjoying the excursion as much as any of the party.
When the sun rose, the sky was covered with grayish clouds, driven along quickly by a north wind; but the weather was cool, and well adapted to walking. A limestone mountain rose right in front of us, the slope of which we had to climb; but ere we reached the top, we halted at least twenty times to take breath. Our little companion, with his head bent down towards the ground, struggled to retain his place by our side. At last we reached the summit, and felt at liberty to rest.
Casting a glance on the plain beneath us, the boy surveyed a vast prairie, dotted over with clumps of bushes. He silently contemplated the panorama which was spread out beneath, although he failed to completely comprehend all that he saw.
"Look at those black spots moving about over the plain," said he.
"They are oxen," I replied.
"Oxen! Why they are scarcely as big as Gringalet."
"Don't you know that you must not trust to appearances? Recollect the trees you saw yesterday, which you thought were a forest."
"But if, from this height, the oxen appear no larger than sheep, the sheep ought not to look greater than flies."
"You can easily judge; there is a flock of goats down below."
"A flock of goats! It is like a swarm of ants."
"Exactly; but look at them through the telescope."
Availing himself of the glass, which he used rather unskillfully, Lucien raised a sudden cry.
"I see them! I see them!" he exclaimed. "How pretty they are! They are running about and crowding together, in front of a little boy who is driving them."
"It is most likely a man, who is diminished by the distance."
"The idea of men of that size!"
"Well, look at the foot of that wooded hill; the thin line which you might easily take for a mere pathway is the main road. Perhaps you may see an Indian family travelling along it."
Lucien kept shifting his telescope about for some minutes without descrying any thing; but at last he broke out in a fresh exclamation.
"Have you discovered any men?" I asked.
"Oh yes!—men, horses, and mules; but they are regular Lilliputians."
"You are quite right," said Sumichrast; "how do we know that Dr. Swift did not first form his idea of 'Gulliver's Travels' from looking at the world from the top of a high mountain?"
After a time, I was obliged to take the young observer away from this point for contemplation to proceed on our journey. The ridge of the mountain was soon crossed, and we began to descend the other side. I took Lucien by the hand, for the slope was so steep that it needed the utmost care to avoid rolling down over the naked rocks. Several times I slipped, and scratched my legs among the bushes. Sumichrast, who had taken his turn in looking after the boy, was no better off than myself. The descent was so steep that we were often forced to run, and sometimes the only thing possible to retard our impetus was to fall down, and run the risk of being hurt. Therefore, in spite of Lucien's promise to walk prudently and with measured step, I declined to allow him to go alone. We at last, to our great satisfaction, got over about two-thirds without any accident, when l'Encuerado, losing his equilibrium, fell, turning head over heels several times; the basket and its bearer chasing one another down the hill, finally disappearing into a thicket.
"Look after Lucien," I said to my companion, who was a few paces in front. And I dashed forward anxiously to assist l'Encuerado.
I feared that I should find the unfortunate Indian with some of his bones broken, even if not killed; so I called to him, when he replied almost immediately; but his voice sounded not from below, but from a spot a little to my left. I could not stay my rapid course except by grasping a tuft of brush-wood, to which I hung. Then, turning towards the left, I soon encountered the Mistec, who had already begun to collect his burden.
"Nothing broken?" I asked.
"No, Tatita; all the bottles are safe."
"It's your limbs that I mean, my poor fellow!"
"Oh! my nose and arms are a little scratched, and my body is rather knocked about; but there's not a single rent either in my jacket or breeches," added he, looking with complacency at the leathern garments which had given him the name of l'Encuerado.
"Well, you have had a narrow escape."
"Oh! senor, God is good! In spite of the basket-work case, the bottles might have been broken, and they are not the least hurt."
For my part, I was more inclined to recognize God's goodness in l'Encuerado's almost miraculous preservation. As to the basket, the Indian had tied it up so strongly, that I was not at all surprised to find that our provisions were uninjured.
"Give a call-cry," said I to the Indian, "Sumichrast can not see us, and may think that you are killed."
"Chanito, hiou, hiou, hiou, Chanito!"
"Ohe! ohe!" replied Lucien.
And the boy, looking pale and alarmed, almost immediately made his appearance. He rushed up to his friend, threw his arms round his neck, and embraced him. The brave Mistec, who had been but little injured by his terrible descent, could not help weeping at this proof of Lucien's attachment.
"It was nothing but a joke," he said. "You'll see me perform many a feat like that."
"Your face is all over with blood!"
"That's a mere joke, too. Would you like me to do it again?"
"No, no!" cried the child, catching the Indian by the jacket.
I dressed l'Encuerado's hurts, and we were about to continue our journey.
"I say," said Lucien, archly, just as the Indian was hoisting his basket on to his back; "how would it have been if I had been perched on it?"
"Then I should not have fallen," replied l'Encuerado, with the utmost gravity.
In a minute or two more we were at the foot of the mountain, when Lucien, overjoyed that the descent was accomplished, gave a leap which showed me that the back of his trowsers had suffered in the late struggle.
"There's a pretty beginning!" I cried; "how did you manage to get your trowsers in that state?"
"It is my fault," said Sumichrast, with consternation; "wishing to descend more rapidly, and fearing another tumble, I advised him to sit down and slide carefully. I did not foresee the very natural results of such a plan."
"Well, papa! it does not matter in the country."
"If my advice had been taken," broke in l'Encuerado, "he would have had a pair of leathern pantaloons, which wouldn't suffer from such contingencies. Never mind, Chanito, we'll mend them with the skin of the first squirrel which comes within reach of my gun."
We were now passing through a dark gorge full of thick brush-wood. In front of us rose a wooded mountain, which we had to climb. The shrubs were succeeded by gigantic thistles, which compelled us to advance with extreme care. These troublesome plants grew so thickly that we were obliged to use our knives to clear a passage. L'Encuerado, putting down his load, taught Lucien how to handle his; showing him that a downward cut, if the weapon slipped or met with but little resistance, might be dangerous. Enchanted with his lesson, and cutting down several stalks at a blow, our young pioneer soon opened for us an avenue rather than a path. The thistles gradually became fewer. Sumichrast walked in front, destroying the last obstacles that severed us from the under-wood.
It was now breakfast-time, and as we continued our course we looked out for a favorable spot to halt at, when the measured strokes of an axe fell upon our ears. This noise told of the presence of wood-cutters, who were certain to be provided with maize-cakes and beans; so we resolved to make our way up to them, and thus economize our own resources. After an hour's difficult ascent, just as we were despairing of reaching the Indian, whose axe had ceased to sound, Lucien cried out:
"Look, papa, there's a fire!"
At the same moment Gringalet began barking furiously, and a few paces more brought us to a burning charcoal-oven. The charcoal-burner, who was surprised at our visit, seized his long-handled axe. But the presence of the child appeared to reassure him.
"Good-morning, Don Jose," said I, using the common name which is applied in Mexico to all the Indians.
"God preserve you," replied he, speaking in broken Spanish.
"Are you all alone?"
"No. I have six companions."
"Well, will one of you sell us some maize-cakes, and give us some water?"
"We have neither water nor cakes."
"I'm quite sure you will be able to find some," I replied, placing a half-piastre in his hand.
The Indian took off his straw hat, scratched his forehead, and then, placing two fingers in his mouth, whistled a prolonged note. Almost immediately the foliage was pushed aside, and a boy about fifteen years old, wearing nothing but a pair of drawers, made his appearance, and halted, as if terrified at the sight of us.
"Run to the hut, and ask for cakes and some capsicums, and bring them here," said the wood-cutter, in the Aztec language.
"It's quite needless," I replied, in the same idiom; "we can breakfast much more comfortably in the hut."
The wood-cutter looked at me in artless admiration, then taking my hand, placed it on his breast. I spoke his language, and I was therefore his friend. This is a feeling common to all men, whatever may be their nationality or social position.
Following the young Indian, in five minutes we reached a very primitive dwelling; being but four stakes supporting a roof made of branches with their leaves on. The wood-men in Mexico construct such temporary places of shelter, for at the commencement of the rainy season they cease to dwell in the forests.
An Indian girl warmed us a dozen of those maize-flour fritters, which are called tortillas, and are eaten by the natives instead of bread. She also brought us a calabash full of cooked beans, which hunger rendered delicious.
"Why don't they serve the meat first?" asked Lucien.
"Because they have none," replied Sumichrast.
"Haven't these Indians any meat? Poor fellows! How will they dine, then?"
"Don't you know that the Indians never eat meat more than three or four times a year; and that their usual food is composed of nothing but black beans, rice, capsicums, and maize flour? Have you forgotten our dinner yesterday?"
"I fancied that we had arrived too late for the first course, and that all the meat had been used. But shall we live on beans the whole of our journey?"
"No; our meals will not be quite so regular as you seem to think. Yet we shall have plenty of meat when we have been lucky in shooting, a little rice when we have been unfortunate, and fried beans whenever chance throws in our way any inhabited hut."
"And we shall have to go without dessert?" said the child, making up his face into a comical pout.
"Oh no, Chanito, there will be dessert to-day," replied l'Encuerado. "Perhaps as good as the cook would provide at home; but, at any rate, it is sweet enough. Look at it!"
The Indian girl brought a calabash full of water, and a cone of black sugar, weighing about half a pound.
"What is that?" cried Lucien.
"Panela," answered the Indian girl.
"Poor man's sugar," interposed Sumichrast. "The manufacture of white sugar, which you saw yesterday, costs a good deal, for the laborers employed to make it have to work night and day, and thus it becomes expensive. Now, some sugar-makers avoid all this outlay, and they merely boil the juice, so that it will harden in cooling. This dark-colored sugar costs about one-half as much in making as the other."
"I can well believe it," said the child; "but it contains all that nasty scum which we saw."
"That makes it the nicer," said l'Encuerado; "it has a richer flavor."
And taking a morsel of the panela, he soaked it in the water in the calabash and sucked it.
When Lucien saw that we, too, imitated the Indian, he soon made up his mind to do likewise, the sweet taste overcoming his repugnance.
When we had finished, our young companion was anxious to know how charcoal was made. Sumichrast led him close to a recently-felled oak, the small branches of which an Indian was cutting into pieces two or three inches long, by means of an instrument something like an enormous pruning-knife. A little farther, on the open ground, two men were collecting these pieces of wood in circular rows. This pile was already seven feet in circumference, and about the same in height, although it was not half finished. Lucien could easily see this when he approached the Indian who was looking after the lighted furnace, in which the wood, completely covered with earth, formed a kind of dome, from the summit of which a blue flame was hovering, proving that the mass inside was in a red-hot state. The Indian kept walking round and round the furnace, plastering damp earth on any holes through which the flame started. For, as Sumichrast properly observed, a charcoal of good quality must be smothered while it is being burned.
"Suppose the fire went out?" said Lucien.
"Then all the work must be begun over again."
"But the fire might burn only one side."
"They would then have badly-burned charcoal, nearly half wood, which would cause a bad smell when it was used. The wood in the oven we are looking at will be entirely charred to-night; for the fire, which was lighted at the centre, is trying to break through all round the outside. Before long the Indians will cover up the opening at the top, over which the blue flame is hovering. The fire will then be quite deprived of air, and soon afterwards go out. In about eight days your mamma may perhaps buy this very charcoal which you have seen burned."
"Suppose the charcoal went on burning?"
"Then the Indian, to his great vexation, would find nothing left but ashes. But he will take good care not to lose the fruit of his labor. He will use as many precautions to prevent the fire burning up again as he does now to hinder it going out."
A little farther on a man was filling up his rush bags with charcoal which had cooled. As it would take him more than one day to reach the town, he was lining his sacks with a kind of balm, the penetrating odor of which always announces, in Mexico, the approach of a charcoal-carrier. This plan is adopted to preserve the charcoal from damp.
"When I used to see the Indians carrying on their backs their four little sacks of charcoal," said Lucien, "I had no idea that they were obliged to live in the woods, and cut down great trees to procure it; and that they had to pass several nights in watching the oven."
"No more idea, perhaps," I replied, "than the little boys in Europe have of the sugar-cane plantations; and that without the plant all those beautiful bon-bons, which delight the sight as much as the taste, could not be made."
"But, papa, haven't I heard you tell the Mexicans that in France they make sugar with beet-root?"
"Yes, certainly you have; and, in case of need, it might be extracted from many other roots, plants, or fruit; but beet-root alone yields enough sugar to repay the trouble of extraction."
It was quite time for us to be off; so I put an end to the ceaseless questions of the young traveller.
Our host told me that if we went on along the same path which had led us to their place, we should come, in less than two hours, to a hut situated on the plateau of the mountain. The Indians certainly seemed to forget that Lucien's short legs might delay our progress.
A DIFFICULT ASCENT.—THE GOAT.—THE INDIAN GIRLS.—THE TOBACCO-PLANT.—THE BULL-FIGHT.—GAME.—LUCIEN'S GUN.—OUR ENTRY INTO THE WILDERNESS.
Our way led through nothing but scrub oaks, for all the larger trees had gradually disappeared from the mountain-side, which had for some time been cultivated by the Indians. The path was steep, rugged, and stony; and seemed, at first, to defy any attempt to scale it. Notwithstanding the measured pace at which we were walking, we were obliged to stop every minute to recover our breath. Lucien followed us so eagerly that I was obliged to check him several times. He was surprised at not seeing any living creature, not even those beautiful golden flies which, in Mexico, flutter round every bush. But the north wind was blowing, and the sun was hidden behind the clouds, so that both the insects and birds kept in the deepest recesses of their hiding-places. As we advanced, our road became much steeper, and we were obliged to cling to the shrubs for support. L'Encuerado, who was impeded by the weight of his load, pulled himself up with his hands, so had hard work to keep his balance. Soon it became impossible for him to go farther; but, fortunately, we had foreseen ascents of this kind. So I gave the child into Sumichrast's charge, for if he had been left to climb by himself, he would most likely have rolled over and hurt himself against the stumps or sharp rocks.
I made my way into a copse, and with my machete I cut down a moderately-sized branch, the end of which I sharpened to a point. Then, going forward and unrolling a leathern thong, thirty feet in length, and commonly called by us a lasso, I fastened it to the stake, which I drove firmly into the ground. By means of this support, which served as a sort of hand-rail, l'Encuerado could clamber up to me, thanks to the strength of his wrists. Ten times this awkward job had to be repeated, and the path, instead of getting better, became worse. We then shifted our work, and I took charge of the load, while the tired Indian fixed the lasso. I was just making my third ascent, when Sumichrast, who had gone on before us to reconnoitre the ground, made his appearance above. When he saw me stumbling and twisting about, falling now on my side, and now on my knees, toiling to advance a single step, my companion burst into a fit of laughter. I had then neither time nor will to do as he did, and his ill-timed mirth vexed me. At last I caught hold of the stake, bruised and exhausted, and ready to wish there was no such thing as travelling. Sumichrast told us that we had scarcely three hundred feet more to ascend, and shouldered the basket himself. Now that I was a mere spectator, I could readily forgive him his fit of merriment. Nothing, in fact, could be more grotesque than the contortions he went through trying to keep his balance. L'Encuerado was the only one who retained his countenance. As for Lucien, he seemed to feel the efforts of Sumichrast as much as if they were his own.
"You see," I said to my son, "that in countries where there are no beaten roads a walk is not always an easy matter."
At last, we got out of this difficult locality. While all this was going on, Gringalet, gravely squatting down upon his haunches, seemed perfectly amazed at our efforts. Pricking up his ears and winking his eyes, he quietly surveyed us; no doubt secretly congratulating himself upon being able to run and gambol easily in places where we, less-suitably-constructed bipeds, found it difficult even to walk.
Here there were no trees to be seen. As on the evening before, we traversed a granite surface soil which formed the ridge of the mountain; but a sudden turn in the path led us to a plateau, on which stood a rudely-built hut.
Three children ran away as we came near, and two lean dogs began to prowl round Gringalet with any thing but friendly intentions. A goat, which was quietly cropping the scanty grass, suddenly raised its head, and, cutting several capers, ran with its head bent down, as if to butt our little companion. I could not reach the spot in time to prevent this unforeseen attack, nevertheless I shouted, in hopes of intimidating the animal; but Gringalet, who was far more nimble than I, boldly faced the enemy, and soon forced him to retreat.
"Weren't you afraid of him?" asked Sumichrast.
"Rather," answered Lucien, hanging down his head.
"Well, it did not prevent you facing the foe."
"If I had run away, the goat, who runs a great deal faster than I can, would soon have overtaken me. I waited for him, so as to frighten him with my stick, and, if possible, avoid his horns."
"You could not have acted more sensibly. At all events you've plenty of coolness, and that is about the best quality a traveller can show."
"All right now, but in future I shall keep clear of goats. But I thought they were afraid of men."
"Not always, as you were very near finding out to your cost. Perhaps, however," continued Sumichrast, smiling, "your enemy did not look upon you quite as a man; and, after all, I fancy he thought more of playing with you than of hurting you, for he must be thoroughly accustomed to the sight of children."
At this moment Gringalet came running up with his tail between his legs, and with a most doleful look; he was closely pursued by all the dogs of the plateau, who, instead of barking, were making a kind of howling noise, common to those that are but half domesticated.
On hearing all this uproar, two Indian women came running towards us, but stopped, abashed at our appearance.
The youngest of them, rather a pretty girl, wore nothing but a short linen chemise, and a piece of blue woollen stuff fastened round her hips by a wide band, ornamented with red threads. Her hair, which was plaited and brought over her forehead, formed a sort of coronet. Her companion, who was dressed in a similar way, wore, in addition, a long scarf, which was fixed to her head, and fell round her like a nun's cloak.
"God bless you, Maria!" I said to the eldest. "Can you take us in for one night?"
"I have nothing to offer you to eat, I am afraid."
"Perhaps you can sell us a fowl and some eggs."
"Well, I must see if my husband objects to guests."
"Surely your husband will not refuse the shelter of his roof to weary travellers?"
She reflected for a moment, and then answered,
"No, he is a Christian! Come in and rest yourselves."
The Indian woman called to her children, who one after the other showed their wild-looking heads peeping out from some hiding-place, and ordered them to drive away the dogs.
It was not without some degree of pleasure we got rid of our travelling gear, as we felt no ordinary amount of weariness, which was easily accounted for by the exertion of our recent ascent. L'Encuerado, always brisk, began to assist the housewife; he stirred up the fire, arranged the plates, and looked to their being clean. The Indian woman then asked him to go and draw some water from a spring about a hundred yards from the hut; and off he went, led by the children of our hostess. His young guides, completely naked, and their heads shaved, rode on bamboo-canes as make-believe horses, and pranced along in front of him.
Except on the side we had just ascended, the plateau was entirely surrounded by high mountains. The hut, which was built of planks and covered with thatch, appeared very cleanly kept. Behind it extended a small kitchen garden, in which fennel, the indispensable condiment in Aztec cookery, grew in great abundance; in front, there was a large tobacco plantation, and an inclosure where both goats and pigs lived on good terms with each other. The situation appeared somewhat dull to us; but in the tropics the absence of sunshine is sufficient to give a sombre look to the most beautiful landscape.
Lucien wanted to pay a visit to the tobacco-field. The stems of this plant are more than three feet high, covered with wide leaves of a dark-green color. The flowers, some of which were pink and others a yellowish hue, indicated two different species; their acrid smell was any thing but pleasant. Lucien was not a little surprised to learn that this beautiful vegetable belonged to the same botanical family as the potato, the tomato, the egg-plant, and the pimento.
"Among the ancient Aztecs," said Sumichrast, "tobacco was called pycietl; it was the emblem of the goddess Cihua-cohuatl, or woman-serpent.[E] In Mexican mythology, this divinity was supposed to be the first mother of children; and, in the legend about her, the European missionaries fancied that they recognized some features resembling the sacred history of Eve. Up to the present time, the Indians, who have renounced the errors of paganism and profess the Christian religion, continue to make use of the plant consecrated to their ancient goddess, as a remedy for the sting of venomous reptiles."
"Then that is why they cultivate tobacco," said Lucien, "for I know that they seldom smoke."
"No, but they sell their crops of it to the Creoles, among whom smoking is a universal habit. It is said that the word tobacco comes from the name of the island of Tabago, where the Spaniards first discovered it. About the year 1560, it was introduced into France by Jean Nicot, who gave it his own name; for savants call this plant nicotian. It is a certain fact that the modern Mexican Indians smoke hardly any thing but cigars or cigarettes. As for pipes, they have not long known of the existence of such things; and the works of certain romancers, who so often describe the Aztecs as having the pipe of peace, war, or council constantly in their mouths, are simply ridiculous. You may recollect how astonished the French were, on their arrival here, to find they could not procure any cut tobacco; while on the other hand the Indians crowded to see the foreigners inhale the smoke of the plant from instruments made of clay, wood, or porcelain."[F]
"I remember," cried Lucien, "that one day l'Encuerado took a pipe belonging to an officer who was staying with papa and began to smoke it. You should have seen what horrible faces he made."
"Well, what happened to him?" asked Sumichrast.
"The pipe made him sick, and then papa, who knew nothing about his smoking, gave him some medicine; but l'Encuerado told me that the medicine was not nearly so nasty as the pipe."
The culprit, who had just joined us, cast down his eyes at this tale about him, and murmured in a sententious tone of voice, "Pipes are an invention of the devil."[G]
Followed by my companions, I again drew near to the hut, and the master came out to bid us welcome. Our hostess placed upon a mat an earthen dish containing a fowl cooked with rice, and the Indian, his wife, and his sister-in-law, offered to wait on us. Lucien invited the children to partake of our repast; but they refused to sit down beside us. Towards the conclusion of our dinner, one of them brought us half a dozen bananas, which were most welcome; while we were drinking our coffee, the little troop made up a game of hide-and-seek. To my great satisfaction, I saw that, in spite of the long day's journey, Lucien joined in, and ran and jumped about with as much energy as his play-mates.
At last the children got tired of this game, and, bringing a kid, had a mock bull-fight. The animal, wonderfully well trained to the sport, ran after the youngsters, and more than once succeeded in knocking them down. When Lucien met this fate, Gringalet became furious and sprang upon the pretty little creature; but the dog's young master got up in a moment and soon quieted his protector's energy. We had noticed, ever since we set out, that Gringalet always preferred to follow close to the boy, and seemed to have taken upon himself the task of watching over his safety.
Our host told us that he was born and also married in the village of Tenejapa; but being enlisted for a soldier by force, he deserted and took up his abode on this plateau. We were the first white men who had paid him a visit for six years. His fields produced maize, beans, and tobacco, which his wife and sister-in-law took twice a year to Orizava to exchange for necessaries for housekeeping. He was as happy as possible, and was never tired of praising the charms of forest and plain. But his raptures were not required to convert us to his opinions.
Nightfall was accompanied by cold, to which we were but little accustomed. The Indians lent us some mats; then we all wrapped ourselves up, and were soon asleep, notwithstanding the primitiveness of our couch.
About two in the morning I woke up numbed from the lowness of the temperature; Lucien also was nearly frozen. I hastened to cover him up with my sarape, for on these heights we were exposed to the north wind blowing from the volcano of Citlatepetl, and the atmosphere would not get warm again until sunrise. Sumichrast soon joined me; he had also given up his covering to the child. I then set to work to look for some small branches to light the fire; but our movements ultimately roused up our host, and, thanks to him, we were soon able to sit down in front of a powerful blaze. Still l'Encuerado, from force of habit, who was hardly sheltered at all, was sleeping like a top. At last, aided by the heat, sleep resumed its influence, and I dropped off again in slumber.
When I awoke, the sun was shining in a cloudless sky, and every body was up. Sumichrast was inspecting the arms and ammunition, for from this day forward we should have to provide our own subsistence. I was quite surprised at the time I had been asleep; but a slight touch of lumbago reminded me of yesterday's difficult ascent, which fully accounted for my drowsiness. I must confess I felt much more inclined to go to bed again than to continue our journey; but, as I was obliged to set a good example, I began to help my companions in their preparations for departure. I have already described the dress of Lucien and l'Encuerado; Sumichrast's costume and mine also consisted of strong cloth trowsers, and a blouse made of the same stuff. The weapons of each were a revolver, a machete, a double-barrelled gun, and a game-bag filled with necessaries. We duly examined the contents of the basket, which l'Encuerado carried on his back by a strap fixed across his breast or forehead. Sumichrast then took out a long parcel he had put into the basket when we started, and unrolled the cloth which formed its first covering. His smile and mysterious look quite puzzled us; at last he drew from the paper a light fowling-piece, which he placed in Lucien's hands.