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A FOREST ON FIRE. 237

scene that we could not tear ourselves away. At length we saw the flames rush up the side of the ravine, intercepting the path before us. We spurred our horses, shot by, and in a moment the whole was a sheet of flame. The fire was now spreading so rapidly that we became alarmed, and hurried back to the church, which, on an elevation strongly defined against the immense mountain in the background, stood before us as a place of refuge. By this time the villagers had become alarmed, and men and women were hurrying to the height to watch the progress of the flames. The village was in danger of conflagration; it would be impossible to urge the loaded mules up the hill we had descended, and we resolved to deposite the luggage in the church, and save the mules by driving them ur. unburdened. It was another of those wild scenes to which no effect can be given in words. We stopped on the brow of the hill before the square of the church, and while we were watching the fire, the black clouds and sheets of flame rolled up the side of the mountain, and spared the village. Relieved from apprehension, we sat down under a tree in front of the church to the calm enjoyment of the terrific spectacle and a cold fowl. The cinders and ashes fell around, and the destructive element rushed on, sparing the village before us, perhaps to lay some other in ruins.

We were obliged to wait two hours. From the foot of the hill on which the village stood the ground was hot and covered with a light coat of ashes; the brush and underwood were burned away; in some places were lying trees reduced to masses of live coal, and others were standing with their trunks and branches all on fire. In one place we passed a square of white ashes, the remains of some miserable Indian hut. Our faces and hands were scorched, and our whole bodies heated when we emerged from the fiery forest. For a few moments the open air was delightful; but we were hardly out of one trouble before we had another. Swarms of enormous flies, perhaps driven out by the fire, and hovering on the borders of the burned district, fell upon the mules. Every bite drew blood, and the tormentors clung to the suffering animals until brushed off by a stick. For an hour we laboured hard, but could not keep their heads and necks free. The poor beasts were almost frantic, and, in spite of all we could do, their necks, the inside of their legs, mouths, ears, nostrils, and every tender part of their skin, were trickling with blood. Hurrying on, in three hours we saw the Church of San Antonio de Giiista, and in a few minutes entered the village, beautifully situated on a tableland projecting from the slope of a mountain, looking upon an immense opening, and commanding on all sides a magnificent view. At this time we were beyond the reach of war, and free from all apprehensions. With the addition of Pawling's pistols and double-barrelled gun, a faithful muleteer, Santiago, and Juan on his legs again, we could have stormed an Indian village, and locked up a refractory alcalde in his own cabildo. We took possession of San Antonio de Giiista, dividing ourselves between the cabildo and the convent, sent for the alcalde (even on the borders of Central America the name of Carrera was omnipotent), and told him to stay there and wait upon us, or send an alguazil. The convent stood adjoining the church, on an open table of land, commanding a view of a magnificent valley surrounded by immense mountains, and on the left was a vista between two mountain ranges, wild, rugged, and lofty, losing their tops in clouds. Before

SAN ANTONIO IE QUISTA. 239 *

the door of the convent was a large cross on a high pedestal of stone, with the coating decayed, and covered with wild flowers. The convent was enclosed by a brush fence, without any opening until we made one. The padre was not at home, which was very fortunate for him, as there would not have been room enough for us all. In fact, everything seemed exactly intended for our party; there were three beds, just as many as we could conveniently occupy; and the style of them was new: they were made of long sticks about an inch thick, tied with bark strings at top and bottom, and resting on crotches about two feet high, driven into the dirt floor.

The alcalde and his major had roused the village. In a few moments, instead of the mortifying answer "no hay," there is none, the provision made for us was almost equal to the offers of the Turkish paradise. Twenty or thirty women were in the convent at one time, with baskets of corn, tortillas, dolces, plantains, hocotes, sapotes, and a variety of other fruits, each one's stock in trade being of the value of three cents; and among them was a species of tortillas, thin and baked hard, about twelve inches in diameter, one hundred and twenty for six cents, of which, as they were not expensive, we laid in a large supply.

At this place our muleteer was to leave us. We had but one cargo-mule fit for service, and applied to the alcalde for two carriers to go with us across the frontier to Comitan. He went out, as he said, to consult with the mozos, and told us that they asked six dollars apiece. Wc spoke to him of our friend Carrera, and on a second consultation the demand was reduced by two thirds. We were obliged to make provision for three days, and even to carry corn for the mules; and Juan and Santiago had a busy night, boiling fowls and eggs.

CHAPTER XIV.

Comfortable Lodgings.—Journey continued.—Stony Road.—Beautiful River.— Suspension Bridge.—The Dolores.— Rio Lagcrlero.— Enthusiasm brought down.—Another Bridge.—Entry into Mexico.—A Bath.—A Solitary Church. —A Scene of Barrenness.—Zapolouta.—Comitan.—Another Countryman.— More Perplexities. — Official Courtesy. — Trade of Comitan. — Smuggling. — Scarcity of Soap.

The next morning we found the convent was so comfortable, we were so abundantly served, the alcalde or his major, staff in hand, being in constant attendance, and the situation so beautiful, that we were in no hurry to go; but the alcalde told us that all was ready. We did not see our carriers, and found that he and his major were the mozos whom he had consulted. They could not let slip two dollars apiece, and laying down their staves and dignity, bared their backs, placed the straps across their foreheads, took up the loads, and trotted off.

We started at five minutes before eight. The weather was fine, but hazy. From the village we descended a hill to an extensive stony plain, and at about a league's distance reached the brink of a precipice, from which w. looked down into a rich oblong valley, two or three tnousand feet deep, shut in all around by a mountain .wall, and seeming an immense excavation. Toward Hie other end of the valley was a village with a ruined church, and the road led up a precipitous ascent to a plain on the same level with that on which we stood, undulating and boundless as the sea. Below us it seemed as if we could drop a stone to the bottom. We descended by one of the steepest and most stony paths we had yet encountered in the country, crossing and

A SUSPENSION BRIDGE. 241

recrossmg in a zigzag course along the side of the height,
perhaps making the descent a mile and a half long.
Very soon we reached the bank of a beautiful river,
running lengthwise through the valley, bordered on each
side by immense trees, throwing their branches clear
across, and their roots washed by the stream; and while
the plain beyond was dry and parched, they were green
and luxuriant. Riding along it, we reached a suspension
bridge of most primitive appearance and construction,
called by the natives La Hammaca, which had exist-
ed there from time immemorial. It was made of oziers
twisted into cords, about three feet apart, and stretch-
ed across the river with a hanging network of vines,
the ends fastened to the trunks of two opposite trees.
It hung about twenty-five feet above the river, which
was here some eighty feet wide, and was supported in
different places by vines tied to the branches. The ac-
cess was by a rude ladder to a platform in the crotch
of the tree. In the bottom of the hammaca were two
or three poles to walk on. It waved with the wind,
and was an unsteady and rather insecure means of
transportation. From the centre the vista of the river
both ways under the arches of the trees was beautiful,
and in every direction the hammaca was a most pic-
turesque-looking object. We continued on to the vil-
lage, and after a short halt and a smoke with the al-
calde, rode on to the extreme end of the valley, and by
a steep and stony ascent, at twenty minutes past twelve
reached the level ground above. Here we dismounted,
slipped the bridles of our mules, and seated ourselves
to wait for our Indians, looking down into the deep im-
bosomed valley, and back at the great range of Cordil-
leras, crowned by the Sierra Madre, seeming a barrier
fit to separate worlds.
Vol. II.—H h 21

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