The Lure Of Mexico
( Originally Published Early 1911 )
The Lure of Mexico: California a Stepping-Stone: Invitation to Visit a Mexican Mine: The Outfit: A Fortunate Meeting: Railroad Travel and Opinions of Fellow Travelers: The English Race Natural Fault-Finders: Arrival at Durango: A Vanishing Mexican Friend: Baths of Las Canoas: My First Bull-Fight: Preparations for a Long Journey: Over Mexico's Mountains on a Mule.
FROM boyhood I felt the lure of Mexico. Reared in California, where the romance of early Mexican days still lingers, and where the prodigality of nature and of life are in keeping with Mexican tradition, I ardently dreamed of this Spanish-American southland. California is a good stepping-stone to Mexico — at least it proved so for me. I had been living for several years in New England, when I received an invitation from an old California friend couched in the warm phraseology peculiar to Californians, asking me to visit him and his wife at his mines in Mexico. The mines were located, he informed me, in the State of Durango.
To reach them from San Francisco, they took the boat for Mazatlan, and from Mazatlan rode on horses or mules for three days in the mountains, ascending as high as ten thousand feet above the sea. In his letter he referred in a matter-of-fact way to mozos (guides), saddle-animals, pack-mules, army-saddles, rifles, fishing-tackle and other attractive impedimenta,— to sleeping on pine boughs by the camp-fire, to the delicious night air of the sierra, and to the delectable dishes prepared by the aforesaid mozos, who from all accounts were ubiquitous and useful persons.
My friend then went on to prescribe the route by which I should journey to this mysterious silver mine, which lay concealed in a remote and beautiful valley, in the heart of the Sierra Madre. It seemed that I must approach it from the opposite direction, for he was then on the Pacific coast and I on the Atlantic, with the mountains between us. I was to proceed immediately to Tennessee and there join a young Southern mining man, who after visiting his home was about to return to the famous mine La Candelaria, in San Dimas, Durango — about a day's ride from my destination.
My friend also advised me as to my outfit, which included a khaki riding-suit, a pair of high laced boots, a pair of wading-boots, heavy and thin underwear, several suits of overalls, woolen gloves, army blankets, a cloth cap, a rifle, a revolver, fishing-rod and flies, and a medicine-kit. All these I secured and the clothing and blankets I packed in a pair of horse-hide trunks, weighing about 15o pounds each. These proved useful throughout my journeys in Mexico, making a fair load for a pack-animal, and being easily adjusted and not hard on a mule's back. A well-chosen if abbreviated library of favorite authors, while it added to the rail-road charge for excess baggage, proved an inestimable solace, not only during the year I passed in the isolated mining region, but throughout my five years' stay in Mexico.
I found my traveling companion an alert, able and kindly young Southerner, and after a few days' delightful hospitality in both Tennessee and Georgia, where he had numerous farewell visits to make and where he insisted on my accompanying him, we proceeded via New Orleans to Eagle Pass, crossed the Rio Grande to Ciudad Porfirio Diaz, and went from there by rail across the northern State of Coahuila and a strip of Zacatecas to the junction city of Torreon, and thence to Durango, a fine city of about 32,000 inhabitants, the capital of the state of the same name, and situated at the foot of the eastern slope of the Sierra Madre.
There were numbers of English-speaking men on the train, several being Americans, all of whom were re-turning to the mines. The concensus of opinion seemed to be that Mexicans did not like Americans, and my companion, whom I now addressed, at his request, as Bob, shared this opinion. My upbringing in cosmopolitan California had made me distinctly hopeful as to human friendliness, and while I listened to what was said, I kept my mind open for actual experience. I had known many Mexicans in California, and I fancied the same kindly nature I had recognized in them would be found in their cousins across the border.
As yet I scarcely could believe that I was in the land of Heart's Desire. The country was flat and uninteresting, not unlike New Mexico and Arizona, as seen from the car windows. English was spoken by my fellow-passengers; and, what was even more familiar, it often was employed in disparagement of Mexico and the Mexicans. Fault-finding is natural to the English race. When I inquired why they were returning to Mexico, they related fabulous tales of wealth and adventure that were quite past belief. I decided that I would believe only what I saw, and I venture to counsel the reader, when visiting a foreign land, to do likewise.
At the railroad station in Durango we hired a coach drawn by a pair of sleek, black mules, and after turning our luggage over to a couple of cargadores or porters, drove to the hotel, where we were lodged in a spacious, sunny room, with French windows opening on the street, red-tiled floors, and three single iron beds placed in a row; the apartment having been retained by a Mexican associate of Bob's, who was to join our cavalcade and who now occupied one of the beds. Bob said the first thing to do was to go for a bath and accordingly led the way to the hotel entrance, where the coach was waiting for us. We got in, the coachman lashed the sleek mules into a gallop, and we set out for the baths of "las Canoas," which are housed in a long, low, white building, about ten-minutes' drive from the center of the city. The proprietor, a portly, benign-looking man, who was seated in the porch, greeted Bob affably. He then called a mozo (this term is generally applied throughout Mexico to a male servant), and the latter led us to a large room, with a window opening into a garden, where we could see orange trees and flowers. In the center of the room there was a huge tank, perhaps eight feet square and four feet deep, empty and spotlessly clean, with steps leading down to the bottom. The mozo brought fresh straw mats, two large cotton sheets, rough towels, a little toilet glass with fittings, soap and zacate (fiber), which does service as a sponge. The soap and zacate were in small, tin dishes which float on the water, and are thus near at hand when required. He next pulled out a wooden plug in the side of the tank and a torrent of water gushed in, filling the tank to the height of a man's waist ere we could divest ourselves of our clothing. Bob jumped in without ado; but I paused on the top step and dipped in a wary toe to try the water. Finding it only a trifle cooler than body temperature, I too made the plunge and reveled in the soft, greenish-clear water, which carries iron and sulphur. All the cities of Mexico are favored with fine baths, but for delightful water and arrangements I commend " las Canoas " of Durango.
Returning to our hotel, where the small mules drew us at a gallop, we were in an excellent mood for dinner; and while it was good enough and everything deliciously flavored, I was amazed at the numberless meat courses and the great lack of vegetables. First came a soup, then rice with a meaty flavor, this being called " dry soup," next eggs in any style one preferred, and then meat, meat, meat, with different colored gravies and well-cooked, to be sure, but scarcely what one would expect in a hot climate and in the midst of prolific vegetation. Dinner ended with delicious frijoles (black beans), coffee, a sweet, and, I am glad to record, oranges and bananas.
The next day being Sunday, we went to the bullfight. I was not consulted, our seats, like our beds, having been engaged weeks ago by this same obliging but disappearing friend of Bob's, who never retired until after we were asleep, nor awoke until long after we had arisen. I finally met him and was glad to thank him for his forethought and careful arrangement for our comfort; but beyond one or two fleeting conversations, our acquaintance progressed no further. Bob excused his constant absence by explaining that he was a calavera (sport).
And now for my first bull-fight: it was a strong, fierce, tense experience that comes back as vividly today as it did — say the week after. It took me quite a week to recover a normal sense of discrimination. The Durango plaza was large and massively built. When we entered we found an immense crowd of people, from every social grade; the aristocrats, elegantly attired, agreeable in looks and manner, filled the boxes; the occupants of the first-class benches, characterized as la Sombra,, or shady side, included hosts of Americans and Europeans; while the multitude thronged the sunny side of the arena called el Sol, and it was el sol indeed with all the blaze of a cloudless afternoon. And there, beneath the in-tense blue of the Mexican heavens, the sport that in more senses than one is tragedy was enacted. The band struck up " El Toreador," the pageant entered, and the fight began. A savage little black Mexican bull made his entrance, flaunting a gaudy ribbon from the tiny steel dart jabbed into his shoulder as he cleared the gate. The picadores on their wretched, blindfolded hacks began prodding him with lances. With his sharp horns he caught one of the shambling horses and disemboweled him. The picadores retired and the banderilleros performed graceful and daring acts, luring the bull to charge, then lightly swerving, to avoid his onslaught, and planting the banderillos in his neck as he lurched past. The multitude in el Sol, highly pleased, began shouting. The little bull made a swift rush, sprang into the air, all feet off the ground, got his fore-legs over the first paling — at least five feet high, and plunged over it into the narrow lane between it and the audience, scattering the attendants in every direction. But he was driven back into the ring, and there he received the death-thrust from the sword of the matador, the star of the performance. A spike-team of white mules adorned with ribbons and bells then dashed in and as rapidly out again, drawing the dead bull. The music struck up, another bull sprang into the arena, and the show went on. Seven bulls were killed. I can describe my state only as one of dazed excitement. What happened after we quitted the bull-ring I cannot recall. I felt exhausted and retired early, only to wake repeatedly with a sense of nightmare. The next morning, on waking, I had much difficulty in realizing that the scenes of the previous day were not a dream.
Bob now devoted himself to securing a mozo and animals for our journey. The friend, it seemed, could not tear himself away from the charming night-life of Durango; and while he continued to occupy his bed by day, I did not again meet him, clothed and in his right mind, so to speak. I cherish memories, however, of an affable and obliging man. Our preparations for the mountains I found intensely interesting. In the first place I must buy a mule for myself. Then my California friend, who will figure in these pages as Don Alfredo, that being his name in the Mexican mining regions, had commissioned Bob to purchase for him the best saddle-mule he could find, the Durango mules being famed for their easy pace. Bob, who was a judge of mules, secured a prize for $100 Mexican money. She was coal-black, slender as a thoroughbred, with an easy trot, a good running gait, and as gentle as the proverbial kitten. Her name was " Queen." The beast I chose was the next best to be had in the market. She was fairly good-looking, dark brown in color, and had an excellent gait, half-pace, half-singlefoot. She cost me $70 Mexican money. She had no name, it appeared, and though I called her " Rhea," and tried to cultivate her friendship, she seemed endowed with native distrust of the Gringo "; and while she carried me patiently for a year, she was as reserved at parting as when I first acquired her. These two mules were as unlike in character as any two human beings could possibly be. Bob now engaged as mozo a somewhat saturnine-looking party, who was reputed to be a good guide, a mule for the mozo to ride, another to carry our grub-box and blankets; and after purchasing our provisions and necessary cooking outfit, we were at last prepared to invade the fastnesses of the impregnable Sierras, which loomed purple in the distance, the white clouds floating about their summits, beyond which lay mystery and adventure.
Have you ever ridden over the mountains of Mexico on a mule? If not there is joy before you—provided that you love the mountains, and long days of brilliant sunshine, and cloudless, starlit nights. It goes without saying that the time for such a ride is the dry season, which begins in October and with few variations lasts until the ensuing May.
Choose a mule by all means— a mare makes the best saddle-animal and after you have ridden her a day, you will feel absolute confidence in the creature. A Mexican mule takes no chances. She springs lightly over a heap of dead leaves on the trail, rather than risk a possibly concealed pitfall, and leaps from one boulder to another with the agility of a cat. If overtaken by darkness, you may drop your bridle-rein on your mule's neck, and be perfectly secure in her caution and judgment. With her nose close to the narrow and often dangerous trail, that you no longer see, she will follow it as unerringly as a dog follows the scent.
In the mountains, the heat is seldom oppressive save at midday. Then your mozo finds a cool spot, near a stream if possible, for your luncheon and siesta. Your mozo is nearly always a cheerful, obliging individual, of sanguine temperament, trained to servitude and hardship, expecting little, yet accepting without effusiveness any little luxuries you may care to bestow. After a long day's ride, he unsaddles the animals, has a fire blazing in a jiffy, and cooks your supper; while you lie on the ground and stretch your tired legs, inhaling the grateful fumes of meat on the coals. You are ravenous, and for the moment slipper is of more importance than anything else in life. If you have provided well, you are soon devouring a steak, broiled as only a mozo can broil, hot tortillas (corn cakes), frijoles (beans) and perhaps tamales. Then comes a steaming cup of black coffee, and with pipe or cigarro for company, you roll yourself in your blankets and lazily watch the stars, the camp-fire,— and listen to the wind in the trees until — you stretch yourself luxuriously with the feeling that you have been asleep and behold your mozo calmly preparing breakfast, while the animals, near at hand, are munching their corn. It is four o'clock. You have slept eight solid hours and must be off at the crack of dawn, in order that you may rest when the heat comes. You may have rolled in, more tired than ever before in your life. You awake, rested in every limb, feeling that you could run, leap, sing—so wonderful is this mountain air.
Then too—the pine woods, through which you ride for hours, frequently for days — there is magic in their balm for weary bodies and tired nerves. You will try to analyze the peculiar charm that pervades your entire journey. Perhaps it partly lies in the endless vista of mountains beyond, in the feeling that this free existence must go on forever. You gain a cumbre or summit, ten thousand feet above sea level, and gazing over miles of forest and meadow, you behold another mountain, its crest enveloped in white mist, and you know that tomorrow you will tread its height. When it is gained, there are still more mountains before you, more beautiful in contour and color, and the charm never fails.
You may ride for days without meeting a human being, but now and again you hear your mozo singing, as he follows with the pack-animals, and you are never lonesome. Should you pass a rancho, you will find there fresh eggs, milk and delicious cheese and a roof for the night if you desire. The house and all it contains are at your service while you remain, and you have a struggle to make the owners accept a cent in return. Though almost invariably poor, these mountain folk have hospitality bred in the bone and a gentle, innate courtesy. I often found that a gift of coffee, tobacco, sugar and such luxuries were more acceptable and less mortifying to them than money. It seemed more like an exchange of kindnesses.
But mountain journeys, like all pleasant experiences, must end. Perhaps your goal is some ancient Spanish mine, long since abandoned, from which fabulous wealth was taken centuries ago, and which will yet make you rich beyond your wildest dreams. Such mines have been bought in Mexico for a song, and many more remain. But whether you gain a fortune or not, one good you have had past losing—the joy of long, health-giving days and restful nights; and their memory will remain with you and haunt you, till some fine day will see you again in the saddle, astride your nimble mule, bound for the mountain heights of sunny Mexico.
The inevitable delays which always attend the beginning of a journey in Mexico were not lacking in Durango, and it was ten o'clock before we were ready to start. Finally our mozo appeared with his pack-mule, the grub-box and light traveling baggage were loaded and lashed in place with rawhide reatas or ropes, and Bob, mounted on the black mule, headed our cavalcade, with myself next and the mozo and pack-animal bringing up the rear.
The ascent began at the outskirts of the city, where the foot-hills led up gradually to the mountains. The beginning of the ride was hot and dusty, and by noon the heat was intense. At one o'clock we crossed a shallow barranca with a sluggish stream, and Bob called a halt for luncheon. As there was no shade, we sat on the banks of the stream in the broiling sun, while the mozo started a fire, and cutting off a huge chunk of beef, he impaled it on a pointed stake and began singeing it in the flames. I was just owning to an inward feeling of disappointment at the inept culinary efforts of the mozo, when Bob began openly to express his disapproval, and declared that he himself could cook far better. He accordingly produced some bacon and a frying-pan, and also brewed some excellent coffee. With the addition of rolls we made a meal, while the mozo, left to his own devices, devoured the beef to the last morsel. His bloodshot eye and sullen manner now excited Bob's suspicion, and coming on him unexpectedly, while feeding the mules, he found him drinking mezcal from a quart bottle. As it was nearly empty, there was nothing to do but make the best of a bad bargain — and this he proved. A more surly dog I never en-countered; indeed all the other mozos I subsequently knew were quite up to what I had heard of them in excellence.
In mountain travel, distances are not calculated in miles but in hours or days, this resulting in considerable vagueness as to the chance of arriving anywhere. From the barranca to the rancho where we intended to sleep that night was, according to the mozo, a matter of four hours. At the expiration of four hours, however, no rancho was in sight, and we rode for two hours more before we arrived, it being then nearly eight o'clock. This indefiniteness as to time and distance, at first exasperating, finally becomes a matter of course; and I may say I have never yet arrived at any place in the mountains at the time the mozo predicted.
The owner of the rancho was a fat, good-natured man, who received us pleasantly, assured us his house was ours, and invited us to join him at supper. We were glad enough to avail ourselves of his hospitality and though his beds were without springs we were asleep almost as soon as our heads touched the pillows, which were of wool and stuffed as hard as rocks. The first day of a journey is always trying and after nine hours in the saddle I was weary to exhaustion. To my surprise I awoke in the morning without a particle of fatigue or soreness, and this has always been my experience in the mountains.
On this, our second day, we made an early start. We had a long ride ahead, to make a favorable camp for the night, and Bob set the pace at a spanking trot. I had slung my rifle at one side of my saddle and my fishing rod at the other, and felt rather pleased with my outfit; but after we had ridden three hours, during which we had made good headway, I discovered that my fishing rod had become loosed from its moorings and disappeared. It was a fine, jointed rod and I did not want to lose it; so shouting to Bob that I would soon over-take him, I turned my mule about and began racing back over the trail; but not a sign of the rod did I see. The thought that every moment I was putting a greater distance between the others and myself was not comforting, especially as I knew nothing of the country and did not speak enough Spanish to ask a direction even if I met a living soul, which I did not. Giving up the search I started to overtake Bob and the mozo, and now I observed, for the first time, that frequently the trail forked, so that I was in doubt which one to follow. Fortunately no other animals had passed since our own and I was able to make out the hoof-marks in the trail and after two hours' hard riding I overtook them. A year later, while paying a visit to a mine owned by Americans, the storekeeper handed me a note scrawled on a piece of wrapping paper, and addressed to " Senor Americano," asking if by any chance it was for me. It ran as follows: " I found on the Durango trail a bag and it had four yellow sticks and a gun-wiper; you can stop at my rancho when you go back and get it by paying for the same." There was no signature, and while the store-keeper, who was a Mexican, knew the man and told me where his rancho was, he did not know his name or nationality,— he asserted, however, that he was an extranjero (foreigner). Another year passed, and on my way out from the mines I passed by the rancho and inquired for the extranjero. The place was occupied by Mexicans, and to all my inquiries they placidly answered " Quien saber" I only learned that he had gone away and he doubtless took the " four yellow sticks and the gun-wiper " with him.
The second night shortly after sundown we reached a fine camping place in the pines, beside a clear stream. The mozo, who was suffering the aftermath of his spree, was still in a partial stupor. Bob, therefore, constituted himself chef once more, while he set the mozo to collecting dry logs for the night fire. We were now at an altitude of about seven thousand feet and at this height the air cools with great rapidity after sunset. After supper Bob piled some big logs on the fire and then showed me how to make my bed; in this operation every available article is utilized, including saddle and saddle-cloths. The mules after eating their corn, were hobbled and allowed to graze at will, and we were glad to crawl into our beds and go to sleep.
About midnight I was awakened by the cold, which, de-spite the fire, was intense. There was no wind, and the heavens were bright with enormous stars, that seemed very near, with a subsidiary spangling of small stars that made one think of diamond dust. Notwithstanding my army blankets and a thick rug I was shaking with the cold and Bob, waking at the same instant, proposed that we move our beds together and thus obtain double covering from our blankets. This we did, and with the additional warmth of our bodies we were soon comfort-able again and slept soundly. The mozo, who had only his ordinary zarape or blanket, had wrapped it about his head and mouth, and was crouching over the fire.
The next day we descended several thousand feet and found the valley intensely hot. Bob had been at considerable tension from the beginning of our journey, and the hot weather together with the sullen mozo were irritating him greatly. While our acquaintance had been too brief for an exchange of confidences, I gathered that he held a position of trust at the mines, and that after a prolonged absence, due partly to previous illness, he was anxious to be again at his post. As he neared his destination his anxiety increased. In his early twenties, of Southern family and with the nervous, eager temper imparted by Celtic race, very ambitious and excited by the lure of the mines, at the period when a young man's blood courses swiftly, he had been drawn into the feverish business until it wholly possessed him.
I had never before realized the relentless cruelty of this pursuit of gold—or rather of silver, which is twice as bad, because you must obtain twice as much. True, I was also bound for the mines; but, whether it be for good or ill, the pursuit of gold has ever failed to absorb my attention for long. Sometimes it seems a defect of character, but I try to analyze it in vain. Not that I do not want gold and what gold can buy; but life is so rich, so full, so insistent — and gold is so elusive ! It is as though life were forever pressing, full-handed, its treasure upon us — the beauty of the world, love, friend-ship; while gold, which offers itself grudgingly, can not confer any of the gifts that life so freely bestows.
I could not but feel sad about Bob, so young and generous, with all his bright day-dreams depending on one thing only —the acquisition of gold. For him the purple, distant mountains had no meaning, save that perhaps they concealed rich veins of ore. The clear, leaping streams were good for one thing alone—to turn a turbine wheel in an ore mill. The sunset had no charm - for it came too soon, forcing us into camp when he would be farther on the way. The boy fretted and fumed and goaded the ugly mozo into a fury, and the latter, taking it out on the pack-mule, lashed the poor beast until she dropped in her tracks and refused to get up again. So here we were in a pretty fix,— with mule and grub-box on the ground.
Fortunately at this moment we heard a whistle and then the sound of hoofs and a ranchman appeared, mounted on a stocky roan horse with a thick, long black mane and tail. Bob immediately asked him if he wanted to sell. The ranchman said he did not, but so insistent was Bob and so tempting the roll of money he flourished before the man's eyes, the latter began to hesitate and finally said he would take seventy dollars for the horse, which Bob promptly counted out and gave him. The mozo's saddle was now transferred to the roan, the grub-box and blankets to the other mule, and the pack-mule, which still lay on the ground, was commended to the care of the ranchman, whose rancho was not far off, and who promised to get the tired beast on its feet and care for it until the mozo should return and claim it. Bob seemed highly pleased with his new purchase. He had the Southerner's love of horse-flesh, and he now recalled the old saying about the staying powers of a roan or a gray. This beast had an ugly mouth, and when the mozo mounted him he stood up on his hind legs and pawed the air. It was now the mozo's turn to be pleased and the result of this horse trade was an improvement in the spirits of the entire party.
Bob now proposed that as we had lost so much time and it was desirable we should make a rancho for the night, we should content ourselves with a handful of provender from the grub-box and push on. He said we had still a long ride to the rancho, and I readily acquiesced. As for the mozo, he was as pleased with the fiery little roan as a child with a toy; and if he ate any-thing between breakfast and supper I did n't see him. Eating seems a matter of chance rather than a regular system with a mozo. If it so happens, he eats three meals a day. If it does n't happen, he bides his time, and then tucks away enough to make up for the meals he has missed. I never heard a Mexican mozo emit the slightest complaint about discomfort or privation, though I often have seen him suffer both.
The sun went down and signs of the rancho there were none. The mozo calmly averred that it was " just over there," pointing to the next hill ahead of us; but as he had said this of the four preceding hills, and each had presented nothing but more hills in perspective, I began to think he knew no more about the proximity of the rancho than we did.
We were anxious to arrive though it was to be our last night together, the rancho lying at the point where our trails divided. Bob would keep straight on the main trail, arriving at the Candelaria mine the next night; while I was to branch off on to a comparatively untraveled one, which should lead me to the Huahuapan district. Before we left Durango, Bob telegraphed his mine, asking them to send a mozo to the rancho to act as my guide to Huahuapan; it being necessary to engage a mozo who belonged in that part of the mountains and who knew the route to this mysterious valley which was my destination.
It was now quite dark and I was beginning to fear we had missed the trail, when on crossing another low hill we saw a blazing fire straight ahead and heard a most amazing sound; it was nothing more nor less than the squeaking of a fiddle accompanied by the monotonous beating of a drum. We could now distinguish the low outline of buildings and several figures about the fire. It is the custom in these parts to build a bonfire at night in the corral before the ranch-house; and it is not at all a bad custom, affording as it does an opportunity to take the fresh air and enjoy the blaze at the same time.
Arriving at the fire, we learned that the owner of the rancho was away on a journey, and the place was in charge of the Indian peones. The fiddler, it seemed, was a stray nomad who had stopped over night, and was doubtless paying for his entertainment with his tunes.
The drum, the peones told us, had been left at the rancho, quien sabe how, why, or by whom, and one of their number had the happy inspiration of beating it to accompany the fiddler. With the equanimity that obtains in Mexico, neither of the performers stopped for one moment on our account; and the effect produced by the weird tune and the incessant, dull note of the drum was strange and savage. Add to this the motion-less forms of the other peones and the huge wavering shadows cast by the fire, and you have a strange scene, which was not lessened by the arrival, from out the darkness, of our cavalcade.
I had already begun to have the experience of wondering whether anything really was strange after all; and while Mexico in general is conducive to this, the mountains are especially so. I believe that these mountain people are chastened and humbled by the stupendous expressions of nature which always surround them. The peones, while perfectly apathetic to us, made no objection to our cooking our meal at the fire and sleeping in a small, dungeon-like outhouse. The main dwelling was locked and barred and not to be opened on any account until the master's return.
The serious thing was the failure of my mozo to put in an appearance, the only possible explanation being that Bob's wire did not go through; but this did pot seem nearly so strange to me as that it should have gone through. There was something incredible in the thought of telegraph wires crossing those stupendous mountains; and while Bob assured me that they did so, I extracted from him the admission that the wires were down a good part of the time and that they probably were down now.
He also told me a diverting if somewhat disturbing tale about the mails. He said the mail bag was carried by special mozos, between the mines and the nearest post-offices, which were usually the trivial distance of from two to three days' journey. The mozo went on foot. Why? Because he knew short cuts that no mule could travel. On mule-back it would take twice as long. Not many months since, Bob said, he despatched the mail mozo with a large batch of correspondence, and as he was gone much longer than he should be, he sent another mozo to look for him. The second mozo came across the first, asleep in the woods and very drunk. Beside him was the rifled mail-bag with the remains of letters he had opened, not apparently with justifiable intent. Only a small portion of the letters were there, however, and it developed that, growing tired of his innocent pastime, he had thrown the balance into the river. I must add in justice to the tribe of mozos that my letters were carried by one for more than a year, and that I never missed a piece of mail to my knowledge.
While I was spreading my blankets on the dirt floor of the small dungeon referred to, the music stopped. Presently Bob entered and remarked that he had paid the fiddler and the drummer liberally and that as the former said he knew the Huahuapan trail, he had en-gaged him to act as my guide, for the moderate sum of six dollars. I begged him to call me when he awoke the following morning, so that I might take leave of him then, and also start away from the rancho at the same time that he did. That nothing impressed me any longer as strange or unusual was indicated by my not giving a second thought to my new guide, though I was aware that Bob had never set eyes on him before. The mountains, I think, had normalized me too and I slept peacefully.