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A MONKISH LEGEND. 11
who in those days never stopped half way in any matter that touched the imagination, called it El Infierno de Masaya, or the Hell of Masaya. The historian, in speaking of Nicaragua, says, " There are burning mountains in this province, the chief of which is Masaya, where the natives at certain times offered up maids, throwing them into it, thinking by their lives to appease the fire, that it might not destroy the country, and they went to it very chearful;" and in another place he says," Three leagues from the city of Masaya is a small hill, flat and round, called Masaya, being a burning Mountain, the Mouth of it being half a League in Compass, and the Depth within it two hundred and fifty Fathoms. There are no Trees nor Grass, but Birds build without any Disturbance from the Fire. There is another Mouth like that of a Well about a Bowshot over, the distance from which to the Fire is about a hundred and fifty Fathoms, always boiling up, and that mass of Fire often rises and gives a great Light, so that it can be seen at a considerable Distance. It moves from one Side to the other, and sometimes roars so loud that it is dreadful, yet never casts up anything but Smoak and Flame. The Liquor never ceasing at the Bottom, nor its Boiling, imagining the same to be Gold, F. Blase de Yniesta, of the Order of St. Dominick,and two other Spaniards, were let down into the first Mouth in two Baskets, with a Bucket made of one Piece of Iron, and a long Chain to draw up some of that fiery Matter, and know whether it was Metal. The Chain ran a hundred and fifty Fathoms, and as soon as it came to the Fire, the Bucket melted, with some Links of the Chain, in a very short Time, and therefore they could not know what was below. They lay there that Night without any Want of Fire or Can dies, and came out again in their Baskets sufficiently frighted."
Either the monk, disappointed in his search for gold, had fibbed, or nature had made one of its most extraordinary changes. The crater was about a mile and a half in circumference, five or six hundred feet deep, with sides slightly sloping, and so regular in its proportions that it seemed an artificial excavation. The bottom was level, both sides and bottom covered with grass, and it seemed an immense conical green basin. There were none of the fearful marks of a volcanic eruption; nothing to terrify, or suggest an idea of el infierno; but, on the contrary, it was a scene of singular and quiet beauty. I descended to the side of the crater, and walked along the edge, looking down into the area. Toward the other end was a growth of arbolitos or little trees, and in one place no grass grew, and the ground was black and loamy, like mud drying up. This was perhaps the mouth of the mysterious well that sent up the flame, which gave its light a " consider* able distance," into which the Indian maidens were thrown, and which melted the monk's iron bucket. Like him, I felt curious to "know what was below;" but the sides of the crater were perpendicular. Entirely alone, and with an hour's very hard work between me and my guides, I hesitated about making any attempt to descend, but I disliked to return without. In one place, and near the black earth, the side was broken, and there were some bushes and scrub trees. I planted my gun against a stone, tied my handkerchief around it as a signal of my whereabout, and very soon was below the level of the ground. Letting myself down by the aid of roots, bushes, and projecting stones, I descended to a scrub tree which grew out of the side about half
DESCENT INTO THE CRATER. 13
way from the bottom, and below this it was a naked and perpendicular wall. It was impossible to go any farther. [ was even obliged to keep on the upper side of the tree, ind here I was more anxious than ever to reach the botlom; but it was of no use. Hanging midway, impressed with the solitude and the extraordinary features of a scene upon which so few human eyes have ever rested, and the power of the great Architect who has scattered his wonderful works over the whole face of the earth, I could not but reflect, what a waste of the bounties of Providence in this favoured but miserable land! At home this volcano would be a fortune; with a good hotel on top, a railing round to keep children from falling in, a zigzag staircase down the sides, and a glass of iced lemonade at the bottom. Cataracts are good property with people who know how to turn them to account. Niagara and Trenton Falls pay well, and the owners of volcanoes in Central America might make money out of them by furnishing facilities to travellers. This one could probably be bought for ten dollars, and I would have given twice that sum for a rope and a man to hold it. Meanwhile, though anxious to be at the bottom, I was casting my eyes wistfully to the top. The turning of an ankle, breaking of a branch, rolling of a stone, or a failure of strength, might put me where I should have been as hard to find as the government of Central America. I commenced climbing up, slowly and with care, and in due time hauled myself out in safety.
On my right was a full view of the broken crater of the Volcano of Nindiri. The side toward me was hurled down, and showed the whole interior of the crater. This the alcalde had declared inaccessible; and partly from sheer spite against him, I worked my way to it with extreme labour and difficulty. At length, after five hours of most severe toil among the rugged heaps of lava, I descended to the place where we had left our provisions. Here I seized the calabash of water, and stood for several minutes with my face turned up to the skies, and then I began upon the alcalde and the eatables. Both he and his companion expressed their utter astonishment at what I described, and persisted in saying that they did not know of the existence of such a place. I dwell upon this matter for the benefit of any future traveller who may go out competent and prepared to explore the interesting volcanic regions of Central America. Throughout my journey my labours were much increased by the ignorance and indifference of the people concerning the objects of interest in their immediate neighbourhood. A few intelligent and educated men know of their existence as part of the history of the country, but I never met one who had visited the Volcano of Masaya; and in the village at its foot the traveller will not obtain even the scanty information afforded in these pages. The alcalde was born near this volcano; from boyhood had hunted stray cattle on its side, and told me that he knew every foot of the ground; yet he stopped me short of the only object of interest, ignorant, as he said, of its existence. Now either the alcalde lied, and was too lazy to encounter the toil which I had undergone, or he was imposing upon me. In either case he deserves a flogging, and I beg the next traveller, as a particular favour to me, to give him one. I was too indignant with the alcalde to have anything farther to do with him; and bent upon making another attempt, on my return to the village I rode to the house of the cura, to obtain his assistance in procuring men and making other needful preparations. On the steps
A BLACK PRIEST. 15
of the back piazza I saw a young negro man, in a black gown and cap, sitting by the side of a good-looking, well-dressed white woman, and, if I mistake not, discoursing to her of other things than those connected with his priestly duties. His black reverence was by no means happy to see me. I asked him if I could make an inn of his house, which, though it sounds somewhat free, is the set phrase for a traveller to use; and, without rising from his seat, he said his house was small and incommodious, and that the alcalde had a good one. He was the first black priest I had seen, and the only one in the country who failed in hospitality. I must confess that I felt a strong impulse to lay the butt of a pistol over his head; and spurring my horse so that he sprang almost upon him, I wheeled short and galloped out of the yard. With the alcalde and cura both against me, I had no chance in the village. It was nearly dark, and I returned to Masaya. My vexation was lost in a sense of overpowering fatigue. It would be impossible to repeat the severe labour of the day without an interval of rest, and there was so much difficulty in making arrangements, that I determined to mount my macho and push on.
The next morning I resumed my journey. My mules had not been watered. To send them to the lake and back would give them a journey of two leagues; and to save them I bought water, which was measured out in a gourd holding about a quart. At about a league's distance we came in sight of the Lake of Managua, and before us the whole country was a bed of lava from the base of the volcano to the lake. I met a travelling party, the principal of which I recognised as a stranger. We had passed, when I turned round and accosted him in English; and after looking at me for a minute, to