Page images

ing background of clouds. My ning flashed incessantly. The trusty henchman told me of town was now smeared with the wonderful panorama which rain. We crept into our hamwas to be seen from the north mocks, overcome by drowsiside of the city, to which I ness, and awakened a few hours replied characteristically- later to bright moonlight.

"Si, pero mañana." I thought to-morrow was time enough. was thinking of the pandemonium we should shortly witness from anywhere in the city. We just arrived in time to throw our bag and baggage helter-skelter into the empty void allotted to us. Nevertheless, it was an enclosure with four walls and a


which only leaked in places. A silent rain oozed ominously from the heavens, darkness spread rapidly, dampness hung like a veil. I had been on the Somme and felt this was zero hour. A report like that of a large bomb rent the air, and the attack was launched. There was no objective, it was just a violent struggle between ions atoms. The temperature had dropped owing to the wind blowing through the damp atmosphere. We groped about in the dim light of a candle, making tea. The Primus stove spluttered. Pat! and a big drop fell on the candle, extinguishing it. We tried to light a lamp, but the wicks were wet. Finally we were driven to the extravagance of electric torches, only intended for emergencies. We sat there sipping tea, prodding tinned foods with a knife, and smoking. The thunder rippled, rolled, and then roared, and the light

The room still dripped, and outside a thin filmy stream of water was silently flowing over the primitive road. The storm was past.

The next day we made a circuit outside the environments of the city, to investigate the many rumours of oil indications. We visited the Springs, Tablon, Aguacayo, Estanzuela, Caulote, and back to Suchitoto. Rumours proved to be without foundation. I had decided the next morning to return to San Salvador, when glowing accounts were given to me of the oil rocks in the mountains beyond the Lempa. I then changed my plans and agreed to make the journey. The next day we started, crossed the city, and a magnificent panorama lay before us, formed by the great broad cleft of the Lempa valley, and beyond, the steep uprising of the Chaletenango mountains. We descended into the valley and crossed the Lempa at Barca de San Juan, and then made our way slowly over the mountainous country, arriving at the town of Chaletenango towards afternoon. We at once made inquiries concerning the oil rock, and were informed that this was up in the barren mountains near Guarjila-a really rough journey, precipitous, stony, and barren. We arrived just before

up the

[ocr errors]

At last

Señor, you were kicked by a mule to-day. Is that so?" Yes," I replied.

[ocr errors]

sundown, and were informed excited conversation.
that the rock was two or he turned to me-
three miles farther
valley. No oil rock existed.
On investigation it proved to
be decolourisation by one of
the oxides of iron. It was
getting dark and we picked
our way back to Guarjila,
where we were taken in at a
farm. There were only a few
huts in all.

The farm was in wretched condition, but the best shack in this barren wilderness. The owner and his son were there, and informed me that I was the only Englishman who had ever visited this locality. I can only say that the rest of my countrymen have missed nothing except, perhaps, the hospitality, primitive though it


My host and the guide conversed together, and then the former turned to me, saying

"Yes, it happened in the chair in which you are now sitting, señor." I was a little puzzled. My knowledge of Spanish was slender.


"My wife, señor, was kicked by a mule when sitting in that chair, and died shortly afterwards."

The guide and I slept in the same room. The whole household passed through, the Indian domestics and all. It was a fearsome night. Fleas, mosquitoes, sand-flies, and feathered creatures-the inhabitants of the farmyard! Cats, dogs, pigs, filled the room with evil and hideous sounds. The big door entering on to the yard had inadvertently opened during the night. Even a donkey came braying, and then I heard the hoofs of a mule beating against the outside wall. That settled it. We lit the candle. I had had enough of mules during the day. Drastic action was necessary. The quadrupedic and feathered world must be removed, and together we drove them out-bipeds, quad

What happened?" I asked rupeds, and all, fastening the

"My wife was done to death there, where you now sit."

A creepy feeling spread up my spine. The rooms behind me were pitch dark; the verandah on which we were sitting was lighted only by a dim lamp, and beyond was a silent starlit wilderness. I sat there expectant, and patiently awaiting some further explanation. My host had, meanwhile, once more engaged the guide in

door, and this time securely. We once again lay down-no, not to sleep. Slumber, beyond a half-wakeful drowsiness, was impossible. We lay down to scratch. About 4 A.M. I suggested that we should rise, and the guide readily acquiesced, for the irritation was beyond endurance. It was a true case of saving one's skin.

We were on the road before daybreak, and two days later arrived back in San Salvador.

The geologist, Chatsworth by name, arrived the same week, and shortly afterwards submitted his plans for a two hundred and fifty miles' traverse through the southern half of

this republic. The same guide, Valdo, was to accompany us. There were to be just the three of us, and the muleteers in charge of the pack mules.


I think it was Emerson who said, "A man animates that which he sees, and he sees only that which he animates." How very true this is! The archæologist, for example, brings to life dead cities and ancient civilisations, the pageantry and pomp of Maya and Aztec fires his brain. He glories in a bygone and romantic age, yet no more romantic than his own. It is merely a psychical illusion, for the steeper the perspective the deeper the romance. geologist lays bare nature's skeleton, studies her bones and the vast muscular forces by which hills and great mountain chains have been brought into being. He should call this branch of his work Anatomy, but he calls it Tectonics.



his work is visualising, seeing with the mind what the eye can never see, and piecing together this mighty puzzle. The predominant fossils or minerals in some formation, perhaps shale or sand, enable him to trace this formation again in other localities. He pursues his quarry up precipitous cliffs, down gulleys, along the shores of lakes, and over mountain ranges. In short, he must be an amphibious creature, like

the alligator, push his way through the long grass, flop noiselessly across some river, and be content just to dry his hide in the sunshine. It is a droll occupation, demanding a deep intuitive mind, together with a microscopic eye and intense concentration.

The mules were kicking up the dust which lay on the road like a fresh fall of snow, and which through the clear atmosphere could be seen at a great distance, marking the slow but steady progress of our little party, a pillar of dust by day. We were once again heading for Suchitoto, but this time by way of Tonacatepeque. This was to be a long journey; two hundred and fifty miles on mule-back is quite a long stretch, and we hoped to accomplish it in two weeks. Chatsworth had worked out a complete time-table. He was a systematic orderly person, intensely disciplined, and always spotlessly clean even in the most remote places; hardly, perhaps, what I should call a physically strong man, but rather a virile man, with an immense store of nervous energy, a man who is always pulsing the vital. The world

did not move fast enough for nostrils, breathing his indignahim, yet time went too quickly. tion upon the custodians of He could not crowd enough the law. into a day, but everything else seemed to lag behind. Well, perhaps he was right, for Emerson says, "To fill the hour, that is Life." But it has certain disadvantages. He was, by the way, a poor sleeper, but a good cook, and this latter is a great asset to the traveller.

It is fatiguing in a tropical climate, when riding all day, having constantly to mount and dismount to take angles of dip and samples of rock, and we were glad of a brief respite at Tonacatepeque. Here we unsaddled the mules and let mules and let them out to graze. After about half an hour we started to collect them. We secured them all except mine, who would wait until I was within a few feet of him and then scamper off. It was noon, and pouring with perspiration, I gave chase. At last, thoroughly exhausted and exasperated, I threw discretion to the winds and stoned him. That settled it. He scampered off, and did not return. I felt I could annihilate him, but where was he

I tramped into the town and made for the Plaza. There is always a Plaza; not that this fact interested me at that moment in the least. But the police station is usually situated there, and I felt sure that obstinate, ill-mannered, fourlegged beast had gone there to tell the tale. And sure enough he had. There he was, standing with feet astride and distended

That night we slept in Suchitoto, and on the following day visited the Springs, but Chatsworth likewise pronounced them of no value, and we pushed on to Tejutepeque. The next day we passed through the big town of Ilobasco, and came to rest that night at San Isidro, or rather just outside it. Towns in these parts are full of vermin. We struck a little farm. ably filthy. ably filthy. We were allotted the best room, but Chatsworth would not even enter it. It certainly was an evil-smelling place, swarming with anopheles, and pitch dark. A mud floor and thatched walls, no doubt crawling with insect life. There was a lean-to outside the building provided for the donkeys, and we turned them out and prepared to occupy it. I am sure our host thought that in the donkeys' quarters we were suitably housed, for these country people like to shut up everything and sleep huddled together, for protection, I suppose, although this part of the country was quite peaceable.

It was indescrib

I remember it was a lovely moonlight night, and Chatsworth and I lay there flooded in that pale weird light. I soon reached that deliciously dreamy state when you only think pleasant thoughts. San Isidro, the town we had left but a few miles behind us, was famed for its lovely maidens. The Hun had settled in these

parts, but I must not call him that now that he has entered into a League of Nations.

Isn't it a funny thing that whereas the boys had the square head and the ugly Germanic features, the girls had apportioned to themselves only the more charming ones. Both sexes, although unmistakably Indians, were fair, almost white, but the girls had eyes of Teuton blue, and moved with graceful


The mountain tribes in these parts are nearly always superior to those on the plains, and the old Boche had certainly improved the breed. Beauty is a pleasant thought to slumber on.

We travelled hard, and passing through the town of Sansuntepeque, made Nuevo Eden de San Juan by nightfall. Here the village carnival was in progress, with the most surprising fireworks I have ever witnessed. Men dressed up to represent Mephistopheles and other sinister celebrities had squibs and such-like explosives actually attached to them. Chatsworth and I watched in wonderment. Nobody was hurt, and it was certainly a marvellous and most daring performance. Then they burnt the devil-I mean, of course, his effigy. His Satanic majesty himself must surely be fireproof. This was the sign for hilarious joy, which gave me the cue that it was no mere carnival, but in reality a religious festival prompted by the priests.

The next day we passed through San Luis de la Reina, and then took a short cut down

into Carolina and the Devil's Hole. It was not so precipitous as the other route I had previously taken, taken, but bad enough. Chatsworth examined the oil rock and pronounced it valueless, as I had already done. The following day we left Carolina, and three days later we saw the spires of San Miguel. This was a welcome sight after the loneliness of the past week, and we made up our minds that we would take one complete day in bed to rest our aching legs and tired muscles. I felt suddenly elated at the thought of the comparative comfort which lay before us, and this, together with the gorgeous evening air, caused me in a sudden fit of enthusiasm to cry out, "Come, I'll race you! Spurring up my mule, I started to dash ahead. The guide, who was a sport, followed me like a rocket. The pack-mules caught the fit, and humped along with their loads almost trailing on the ground, whilst Chatsworth, I knew full well, would see that he came in first; but, alas! his horse stumbled, and hearing a cry, we drew up our mules and looked round. Chatsworth had gone clean over his horse's head, and was now caught with one foot still in the stirrup. His mule had turned round, and Valdo, by now thoroughly excited, dashed back to get in front of Chatsworth's mule.

[ocr errors]

The mule, however, thinking it was still a race, started off, dragging Chatsworth with him. My heart was in my mouth. It was only Chatsworth's mili

« PreviousContinue »