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A REGION OF FIRE.
67 urnino repeated his 'sta bueno, with which he had cheered us through all the perplexities of the day, and we determined to set out again. Neither of us had any luggage he was willing to leave, for in all probability die would never see it again. We loaded our sadillebeasts and walked. Immediately on leaving the village we commenced ascending the mountain of Aguachapa, the longest and worst in the whole road, in the wet season requiring two days to cross it. A steep pitch at the beginning made me tremble for the result. The ascent was about three miles, and on the very crest, imbowered among the trees, was a blacksmith's shop, commanding a view of the whole country back to the village, and on the other side, of the slope of the mountain to the plain of Aguachapa. The clink of the hammer and the sight of a smith's grimed face seemed a profanation of the beauties of the scene. Here our dif. ficulties were over; the rest of our road was down hill. The road lay along the ridge of the mountain. On our right we looked down the perpendicular side to a plain two thousand feet below us; and in front, on another part of the same plain, were the lake and town of Aguachapa. Instead of going direct to the town, we Turned round the foot of the mountain, and came into a field smoking with hot springs. The ground was incrusted with sulphur, and dried and baked by subterranean fires. In some places were large orifices, from which steam rushed out violently and with noise, and in others large pools or lakes, one of them a hundred and fifty feet in circumference, of dark brown water, boiling with monstrous bubbles three or four feet high, which Homer might have made the head-waters of Acheron. All around, for a great extent, the earth was in a state of combustion, burning our boots and
frightening the horses, and we were obliged to be careful to keep the horses from falling through. At some distance was a stream of sulphur-water, which we followed up to a broad basin, made a dam with stones and bushes, and had a most refreshing warm bath. It was nearly dark when we entered the town, the frontier of the state and the outpost of danger. All were on the tiptoe of expectation for news from Guatimala. Riding through the plaza, we saw a new corps of about two hundred “patriot soldiers,” uniformed and equipped, at evening drill, which was a guarantee against the turbulence we had seen in Izalco. Colonel Angoula, the commandant, was the same who had broken up the band of Rascon. Every one we met was astonished at our purpose of going on to Guatimala, and it was vexatious and discouraging to have ominous cautions perpetually dinned into our ears. We rode to the house of the widow Padilla, a friend of Don Saturnino, whom we found in great affliction. Her eldest son, on a visit to Guatimala on business, with a regular passport, had been thrown into prison by Carrera, and had then been a month in confinement; and she had just learned, what had been concealed from her, that the other son, a young man just twenty-one, had joined Morazan's expedition. Our purpose of going to Guatimala opened the fountain of her sorrows. She mourned for her sons, but the case of the younger seemed to give her most distress. She mourned that he had become a soldier; she had seen so much of the horrors of war; and, as if speaking of a truant boy, begged us to urge General Morazan to send him home. She was still in black for their father, who was a personal friend of General Morazan, and had, besides, three daughters, all young women, the eldest not more than twenty-three, married to Colonel Molina,
the second in command; all were celebrated in that country for their beauty; and though the circumstances of the night prevented my seeing much of them, I looked upon this as one of the most ladylike and interesting family groups I had seen in the country. Our first inquiry was for mules. Colonel Molina, the son-in-law, after endeavouring to dissuade us from continuing, sent out to make inquiries, and the result was that there were none to hire, but there was a man who had two to sell, and who promised to bring them early in the morning. We had vexations enough without adding any between ourselves; but, unfortunately, the captain and Don Saturnino had an angry quarrel, growing out of the breaking down of the mules. I was appealed to by both, and in trying to keep the peace came near having both upon me. The dispute was so violent that none of the female part of the family appeared in the sala, and while it was pending Colonel Molina was called off by a message from the commandant. In half an hour he returned, and told us that two soldiers had just entered the town, who reported that Morazan had been defeated in his attack on Guatimala, and his whole army routed and cut to pieces; that he himself, with fifteen dragoons, was escaping by the way of the coast, and the whole of Carrera's army was in full pursuit. The soldiers were at first supposed to be deserters, but they were recognised by some of the town's people; and after a careful examination and calculation of the lapse of time since the last intelligence, the news was believed to be true. The consternation it created in our little household cannot be described. Morazan's defeat was the death-knell of sons and brothers. It was not a moment for strangers to offer idle consolation, and we withdrew. Our own plans were unsettled; the very dangers I feared had happened; the soldiers, who had been kept together in masses, were disbanded to sweep every road in the country with the ferocity of partisan war. But for the night we could do nothing. Our men were already asleep, and, not without apprehensions, the captain and I retired to a room opening upon the courtyard. Don Saturnino wrapped himself in his poncha and lay down under the corridor. None of us undressed, but the fatigue of the day had been so great that I soon fell into a profound sleep. At one o'clock we were roused by Colonel Molina shouting in the doorway “La gente vienne !” “The people are coming!” His sword glittered, his spurs rattled, and by the moonlight I saw men saddling horses in the courtyard. We sprang up in a moment, and he told us to save ourselves; “la gente” were coming, and within two hours' march of the town. My first, question was, What had become of the soldiers ? They were already marching out; everybody was preparing to fly; he intended to escort the ladies to a hidingplace in the mountains, and then to overtake the soldiers. I must confess that my first thought was “devil take the hindmost,” and I ordered Nicolas, who was fairly blubbering with fright, to saddle for a start. The captain, however, objected, insisting that to fly would be to identify ourselves with the fugitives; and if we were overtaken with them we should certainly be massacred. Don Saturnino proposed to set out on our journey, and go straight on to a hacienda two leagues beyond; if we met them on the road we would appear as travellers; in their hurry they would let us pass;
and, at all events, we would avoid the dangers of a general sacking and plunder of the town. I approved of this suggestion; the fact is, I was for anything that put us on horseback; but the captain again opposed it violently. Unluckily, he had four large, heavy trunks containing jewelry and other valuables, and no mules to carry them. I made a hurried but feeling comment upon the comparative value of life and property; but, the captain said that all he was worth in the world was in those trunks; he would not leave them; he would not risk them on the road; he would defend them as long as he had life; and, taking them up one by one from the corridor, he piled them inside of our little sleeping-room, shut the door, and swore that nobody should get into them without passing over his dead body. Now I, for my own part, would have taken a quiet stripping, and by no means approved this desperate purpose of the captain's. The fact is, I was very differently situated from him. My property was chiefly in horseflesh and muleflesh, at the moment the most desirable thing in which money could be invested; and with two hours' start, I would have defied all the Cachurecos in Guatimala to catch me. But the captain's determination put an end to all thoughts of testing the soundness of my investment; and perhaps, at all events, it was best to remain. I entered the house, where the old lady and her daughters were packing up their valuables, and passed through to the street. The church bells were tolling with a frightful sound, and a horseman, with a red banneret on the point of his lance, was riding through the streets warning the inhabitants to fly. Horses were standing before the doors saddled and bridled, and all along men were issuing from the doors with loads on