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_ashes_. Windows, hatches, and doors were shut as soon as we
discovered the nature of this strange visitation, and in about half
an hour we were through the worst of it: whereupon dustpans, brooms,
and dusters came into great requisition. It took us completely by
surprise, for we had no reason to expect anything of the sort.
Assuming the dust to be of volcanic origin, it must have travelled an
immense distance; the nearest volcano, as far as we know, being that
of Corcovado, in the island of Chiloe, nearly 300 miles off. We had
heard from Sir Woodbine Parish, and others at Buenos Ayres, of the
terrible blinding dust-storms which occur _there_, causing utter
darkness for a space of ten or fifteen minutes; but Buenos Ayres is on
the edge of a river, with hundreds and thousands of leagues of sandy
plains behind it, the soil of which is only kept together by the roots
of the wiry pampas grass. For this dust to reach the Messier Channel,
where we now are, it would have to surmount two chains of snowy
mountains, six or seven thousand feet in height, and in many places
hundreds of miles in width, and traverse a vast extent of country
besides.

The weather was still so fine, and the barometer so high - 30.52
inches - that Tom determined to go to sea to-day, instead of stopping
at Hale Cove for the night, as we had originally intended. Directly we
got through the English Narrows, therefore, all hands were busily
engaged in once more sending up the square-yards, top-masts, &c., and
in making ready for sea. Just before sunset, as we were quitting the
narrow channels, the sun pierced through the clouds and lightened up
the lonely landscape as well as the broad waters of the Pacific Ocean.
Its surface was scarcely rippled by the gentle breeze that wafted us
on our course; the light of the setting sun rested, in soft and varied
tints, on the fast-fading mountains and peaks; and thus, under the
most favourable and encouraging circumstances, we have fairly entered
upon a new and important section of our long voyage.

Although perhaps I ought not to say so, I cannot help admiring the
manner in which Tom has piloted his yacht through the Straits, for it
would do credit, not only to any amateur, but to a professional
seaman. He has never hesitated or been at a loss for a moment, however
intricate the part or complicated the directions; but having
thoroughly studied and mastered the subject beforehand, he has been
able to go steadily on at full speed the whole way. It has, however,
been very fatiguing work for him, as he hardly ever left the bridge
whilst we were under way.

We steamed the whole distance from Cape Virgins to the Gulf of Peñas,
659 knots, in 76 hours, anchoring six times. This gives seven days'
steaming, of an average length of eleven hours each; and as we stopped
two or three hours, at different times, for Fuegians, photographs, and
sketches, our average speed was nine and a half knots, though
sometimes, when going with strong currents, it was twelve or fourteen,
and, when going against them, barely six knots.

Just at dark, we passed between Wager Island and Cheape Channel, where
H.M.S. 'Wager,' commanded by Captain Cheape, was wrecked, and we spent
the night in the Gulf of Peñas, almost becalmed.

_Friday, October 13th_. - We ceased steaming at 7.30 a.m., and made
every effort throughout the rest of the day, by endless changes of
sail, to catch each fleeting breath of wind. We did not, however, make
much progress, owing to the extreme lightness of the breeze.

Sorry as we are to lose the scenery of the Straits, it is pleasant to
find the weather getting gradually warmer, day by day, and to be able
to regard the morning bath once more as a luxury instead of a terror.
The change is also thoroughly appreciated by the various animals we
have on board, especially the monkeys and parrots, who may now be seen
sunning themselves in every warm corner of the deck. In the Straits,
though the sun was hot, there was always an icy feeling in the wind,
owing to the presence of enormous masses of snow and ice on every
side.

_Saturday, October 14th_. - Light winds and calms prevailed the whole
day. About 2 p.m. we were off the island of Socorro. In the afternoon
a large shoal of whales came round the yacht. I was below when they
first made their appearance, and when I came on deck they were
spouting up great jets of water in all directions, suggestive of the
fountains at the Crystal Palace. We were lying so still that they did
not seem to be in the least afraid of us, and came quite close,
swimming alongside, round us, across our bows, and even diving down
under our keel. There was a shoal of small fish about, and the whales,
most of which were about fifty or sixty feet in length, constantly
opened their huge pink whalebone-fringed mouths so wide that we could
see right down their capacious throats. The children were especially
delighted with this performance, and baby has learned quite a new
trick. When asked, 'What do the whales do?' she opens her mouth as
wide as she can, stretches out her arms to their fullest extent, then
blows, and finishes up with a look round for applause.

Soon after 8 p.m. the wind completely died away, and, fearing further
detention, we once more got up steam.

_Sunday, October 15th_. - Still calm. We had the litany and hymns at 11
a.m.; prayers and hymns and a sermon at 5 p.m. In the course of the
afternoon we were again surrounded by a shoal of whales. We passed the
island of Chiloe to-day, where it always rains, and where the
vegetation is proportionately dense and luxuriant. It is inhabited by
a tribe of peculiarly gentle Indians, who till the ground, and who are
said to be kind to strangers thrown amongst them. Darwin and Byron
speak well of the island and its inhabitants, who are probably more
civilised since their time, for a steamer now runs regularly once a
week from Valparaiso to San Carlos and back for garden produce. The
potato is indigenous to the island.

[Illustration: Catching Cape Pigeons in the Gulf of Peñas]

_Tuesday, October 17th_. - At 6 a.m., there being still no wind, Tom,
in despair of ever reaching our destination under sail alone, again
ordered steam to be raised. Two hours later a nice sailing breeze
sprang up; but we had been so often disappointed that we determined to
continue steaming. Just before sunset we saw the island of Mocha in
the distance. It is said to have been inhabited at one time by herds
of wild horses and hogs, but I think they have now become extinct.

One of our principal amusements during the calm weather has been to
fish for cape-pigeons, cape-hens, gulls, and albatrosses, with a hook
and line. We have caught a good many in this way, and several
entangled themselves in the threads left floating for the purpose over
the stern. The cape-pigeons were so tame that they came almost on
board, and numbers of them were caught in butterfly-nets. Their
plumage is not unlike grebe, and I mean to have some muffs and
trimmings for the children made out of it. Allen, the coxswain of the
gig, skins them very well, having had some lessons from Ward before we
left England. I want very much to catch an albatross, in order to have
it skinned, and to make tobacco-pouches of its feet and pipe-stems of
the wing-bones, for presents.




CHAPTER X.

CHILI.

_Sunbeam of summer, oh what is like thee,_
_Hope of the wilderness, joy of the sea._


_Wednesday, October 18th_. - At 3.30 a.m. we were close to the land
lying south of the Bay of Lota; at 4 a.m. the engines were stopped on
account of the mist; and at 6 a.m. we began to go slowly ahead again,
though it was still not very easy to make out the distance and bearing
of the coast. The passage into the bay, between the island of Santa
Maria and Lavapié Point, is narrow and difficult, and abounds with
sunken rocks and other hidden dangers, not yet fully surveyed. Tom
said it was the most arduous piece of navigation he ever undertook on
a misty morning; but happily he accomplished it successfully. Just as
he entered the sun broke through the mist, displaying a beautiful bay,
surrounded on three sides by well-wooded hills, and sheltered from all
winds except the north. One corner is completely occupied by the huge
establishment belonging to Madame Cousiño, consisting of coal-mines,
enormous smelting-works, and extensive potteries. The hill just at the
back is completely bare of vegetation, which has all been poisoned by
the sulphurous vapours from the furnaces. This spot, from its
contiguity to the works, has been selected as the site of a village
for the accommodation of the numerous labourers and their families. It
is therefore to be hoped that sulphur fumes are not as injurious to
animal as they evidently are to vegetable life. As we drew nearer to
the shore we could distinguish Madame Cousiño's house, in the midst of
a park on the summit of a hill, and surrounded on all sides by
beautiful gardens. Every prominent point had a little summer-house
perched upon it, and some of the trees had circular seats built round
their trunks half-way up, approached by spiral staircases, and
thatched like wigwams. The general aspect of the coast, which is a
combination of rich red earth, granite cliffs, and trees to the
water's edge, is very like that of Cornwall and Devonshire.

We had scarcely dropped our anchor before the captain of the port came
on board, and told us we were too far from the shore to coal, which
was our special object in coming here; so up went the anchor again,
and we steamed a few hundred yards further in, and then let go close
to the shore, in deep water. Captain Möller waited to go ashore with
us, introduced our steward to the butcher and postmaster of the place,
and then accompanied us to Madame Cousiño's gardens.

It was a steep climb up the hill, but we were well rewarded for our
labour. Tended by over a hundred men, whose efforts are directed by
highly paid and thoroughly experienced Scotch gardeners, these grounds
contain a collection of plants from all the four quarters of the
globe, and from New Zealand, Polynesia, and Australia. Amid them were
scattered all kinds of fantastic grottoes, fountains, statues, and
ferneries; flights of steps, leading downwards to the beach, and
upwards to sylvan nooks; arcades, arched over with bamboos, and
containing trellis-work from Derbyshire, and Minton tiles from
Staffordshire; seats of all sorts and shapes, _under_ trees, _in_
trees, and _over_ trees; besides summer-houses and pagodas, at every
corner where there was a pretty view over land or sea.

One of the heads of the establishment, a great friend of Madame
Cousiño's, was unfortunately very ill, and as she was nursing him, she
could not come out to see us; but she kindly gave orders to her
gardener to send some cut flowers and some ferns on board the yacht,
to decorate the saloon; and as she was unable to invite us to luncheon
at the big house, she sent some champagne and refreshments down to the
Casa de la Administracion, where we were most hospitably entertained.
She has had the latter place comfortably fitted up for the use of the
principal employés on the works, and has provided it with a
billiard-table, a very fair library, and several spare bed-rooms for
the accommodation of visitors.

After luncheon we went to see the copper-smelting works, which were
very interesting. The manager walked through with us, and explained
the processes very clearly. He could tell at once, on taking up a
piece of rough ore, fresh from the mine, what percentage of copper or
iron it contained, the amount varying from ten to seventy-five per
cent, of the gross weight. The furnaces are kept burning night and
day, and are worked by three gangs of men; and the quantity of copper
produced annually is enormous. In fact, three parts of the copper used
in Europe comes from here. The ore is brought from various parts of
Chili and Peru, generally in Madame Cousiño's ships; and coal is found
in such abundance, and so near the surface, that the operation of
smelting is a profitable one. Our afternoon, spent amid smoke, and
heat, and dirt, and half-naked workmen, manipulating with dexterous
skill the glowing streams of molten ore, was a great contrast to our
morning ramble.

Having seen the works, and received a curious and interesting
collection of copper ore, as a remembrance of our visit, we started in
a little car, lined with crimson cloth, and drawn by a locomotive, to
visit the various coal-mines. First we went through the park, and then
along a valley near the sea, full of wild flowers and ferns, and trees
festooned with 'copigue,' the Chilian name for a creeper which is a
speciality of this country, and which imparts a character of its own
to the landscape during the month of May, when its wreaths of
scarlet, cherry, or pink flowers are in full bloom. We went to the
mouths of three coal-pits, and looked down into their grimy depths,
but did not descend, as it would have occupied too much time. They are
mostly about 1,000 yards in depth, and extend for some distance under
the sea.

We next visited a point of land whence we could see an island which
closely resembles St. Michael's Mount. It is quite uninhabited, except
by a few wild goats and rabbits. The sea-shore is lined with trees to
the water's edge, and there are many bold rocks and fine white sandy
caves in different parts of it. Some boats were drawn up high and dry
on the beach, along which several picturesque-looking groups of
shell-fish collectors were scattered. The mussels that are found here
are enormous - from five to eight inches in length - and they, together
with cockles and limpets, form a staple article of food.

A steam-launch had been sent to meet us, but it could not get near
enough to the shore for us to embark. A rickety, leaky small boat,
half full of water, was therefore, after some delay, procured, and in
this we were sculled out, two by two, till the whole party were safely
on board. Outside there was quite a swell, and a north wind and rain
are prophesied for to-morrow. Mr. Mackay returned with us to the
yacht, and stayed to dinner. Before he left, the prognostications of
bad weather were to some extent justified; for the wind changed, and
rain, the first we have felt for some time, began to fall.

_Thursday, October 19th_. - We have been persuaded by our friends here
to try and see a little more of the interior of Chili than we should
do if we were to carry out our original intention of going on to
Valparaiso in the yacht, and then merely making an excursion to
Santiago from that place. We have therefore arranged to proceed at
once overland to Santiago, by a route which will enable us to see
something of the Cordillera of the Andes, to have a peep at the
Araucanian Indians on the frontier, and to visit the baths of
Cauquenes. Tom, however, does not like to leave the yacht, and has
decided to take her up to Valparaiso, and then come on to Santiago and
meet us, in about five or six days' time. The anchor was accordingly
hove short, and the mizen hoisted, when we landed this morning, in a
drenching rain.

A coach runs daily from Lota to Concepcion, the first stage of our
journey, but a special vehicle was engaged for our accommodation, and
a curious affair it was to look at. It seemed to be simply a huge
wooden box, suspended, by means of thick leather straps, from C
springs, without windows or doors, but provided with two long, narrow
openings, through which you squeezed yourself in or out, and which
could be closed at pleasure by roll-up leather blinds. Inside, it was
roomy, well-padded, and comfortable.

The rain had made the road terribly greasy, and several times the
carriage slewed half-way round and slid four or five feet sideways
down the hill, causing us to hold on, in expectation of a spill. At
last we reached the bottom in safety, and, crossing a small river,
emerged upon the sea-shore at Playa Negra, or Black Beach, along which
we drove for some distance through the deep, loose sand, the horses
being up to their fetlocks in water most of the time. Then we forded
another little river, and, leaving the beach, proceeded up a steep
road, not more than three yards wide, with a ditch on one side and a
steep precipice on the other, to the little village of Coronel,
overlooking the bay of the same name. While the horses were being
changed, we walked down to the little wooden pier, on the sea-shore,
and saw the 'Sunbeam' just coming out of Lota Bay.

Drawn up by the side of the pier was a picturesque-looking
market-boat, full of many sorts of vegetables, and little piles of
sea-eggs, with their spines removed, and neatly tied up with rushes in
parcels of three. The people seemed to enjoy them raw, in which state
they are considered to be most nutritious; and when roasted in their
shells, or made into omelettes, they are a favourite article of food
with all classes. Coronel is a great coaling station, and the bay,
which is surrounded by tall chimneys, shafts, and piers, connected
with the mines, was full of steamers and colliers.

Our road now ran for some time through undulating pasture-land, in
which were many large trees, the scene resembling a vast park. Masses
of scarlet verbena, yellow calceolaria, and white heath, grew on all
sides, while the numerous myrtle, mimosa, and other bushes, were
entwined with orange-coloured nasturtiums, and a little scarlet
tropæolum, with a blue edge, whose name I forget. Beneath the trees
the ground was thickly carpeted with adiantum fern. The road over
which we travelled was of the worst description, and our luncheon was
eaten with no small difficulty, but with a considerable amount of
merriment. Once, when we jolted into an unusually big hole, the whole
of our provisions, basket and all, made a sudden plunge towards one
side of the coach, and very nearly escaped us altogether.

Half-way between Coronel and Concepcion, we met the return
stage-coach, crowded with passengers, and looking as if it had just
come out of the South Kensington Museum or Madame Tussaud's, or like
the pictures of a coach of Queen Elizabeth's time. It was a long low
vehicle, with unglazed windows all round it, painted bright scarlet
decorated with brilliant devices on every panel, and suspended, like
our own, by means of innumerable leather straps, from huge C springs.
The seats on either side held three passengers, and there was a stool
in the middle, like the one in the Lord Mayor's coach, on which four
people sat, back to bask.

Soon after we drew up to rest the horses at a little posada, kept by
two Germans, called 'Half-way House,' and seven miles more brought us
to a rich and well-cultivated farm belonging to Mr. Hermann, where we
stopped to change horses.

It was six o'clock in the evening when we reached the Bio-Bio, a wide
shallow river, at the entrance of the town of Concepcion; it had to be
crossed in a ferry-boat, carriage and all, and as it was after hours,
we had some difficulty in finding any one to take us over. At last, in
consideration of a little extra pay, six men consented to undertake
the job, and having set a square-sail, to keep us from being carried
down the river by the current, they punted us over with long poles.
Sometimes there was nine feet of water beneath us, but oftener not
more than four or five. The boat could not get close to the opposite
shore, and it was a great business to get the carriage out and the
horses harnessed, in some eighteen inches of water. First the carriage
stuck in the sand, and then the horses refused to move, but after a
great deal of splashing, and an immense display of energy in the way
of pulling, jerking, shrieking, shouting - and, I am afraid,
swearing - we reached the bank, emerged from the water, struggled
through some boggy ground, and were taken at full gallop through the
streets of the town, until we reached the Hotel Comercio, where we
found comfortable rooms and a nice little dinner awaiting us.

This was all very well, as far as it went, but when we came to inquire
about our onward route we were disappointed to learn that the line to
Angol was closed, owing to the breaking down of a bridge, and would
remain so until next month, and that, with the exception of a
contractor's train, which runs only once a week, there was nothing by
which we could travel. 'To-morrow is Friday,' added Monsieur
Letellier, 'and that is so near Monday, what can Madame do better than
wait here till then?' By way of consolation, he informed us that there
were no Indians now at Angol, as the Araucanian [6] Indians had
recently all been driven further back from the frontier by the
Chilenos, but that, if we were still bent on trying to get there, we
could go by boat as far as Nacimiento, where we might, with some
difficulty, procure a carriage. The river just now, however, is so
low, that the boat frequently gets aground, and remains for two or
three days; therefore, taking everything into consideration, we have
decided to abandon this part of our programme, for otherwise we shall
not reach Santiago in time. In any case, the journey will be a much
longer one than we expected.

[Footnote 6: I have lately received a letter from a friend in Paris,
who says: 'Strange to tell, it is only a few days ago that poor Orélie
Antoine I., ex-King of Araucania, died at Bordeaux, in a hospital. He
reigned for some years, and then made war upon Chili, which gave him a
warm reception; even captured his Majesty and sent him back to his
native land. I met him here a few years ago, surrounded by a small
court, which treated him with great deference. I found him a
dignified, intelligent sovereign. He attempted to return to his
kingdom, but was captured on the high seas by a Brazilian cruiser, and
sent back to France to die a miserable death.]

_Friday, October 20th_. - We went out for a short stroll round the
Plaza before breakfast, which meal was scarcely over when Mr. Mackay
arrived in a carriage, and took us off to see what there was to see in
the town. The Plaza was full of bright-looking flower-beds, in which
were superb roses, and many English flowers, shaded by oranges,
pomegranates, and deutzias. Each plot belongs to one of the principal
families in the town, and great emulation is displayed as to whose
little garden shall be in the best order and contain the finest
collection of plants and flowers.

Concepcion has suffered, and still suffers, much from earthquakes. The
existing town is only thirty-five years old. The houses are all one
story high only, and the streets, or rather roads, between them are
wide, in order to afford the inhabitants a chance of escape, should
their dwellings be thrown down by a sudden shock. In summer everybody
rushes out into the street, no matter what hour of the day or night it
may be, as soon as the first symptoms of an earthquake are felt; but
during the winter, when the shocks are never so severe, the alarm
caused is not so great. The old town was about two miles distant from
the present site, near a place now called Penco, but after being
demolished in the ordinary way, an immense wave rolled up and
completely destroyed all traces of its existence.

We drove out to Puchacai, Mr. Mackay's hacienda, a pretty little
thatched cottage, surrounded by a verandah, in the midst of a garden,
where laburnums and lilacs bloom side by side with orange-trees and
pomegranates. Round the garden are groves of shady English oaks (the
first we have seen since leaving home) and Norfolk Island pines, the
effect of the whole scene being strangely suggestive of the idea that
a charming little bit of English rural scenery has in some mysterious
manner been transported to this out-of-the-way spot in Chili. The
interior of the house, which is simply but tastefully furnished, and
at the time of our visit was full of fresh flowers, arranged with an
artistic eye to colour, bears the same indescribable _homelike_ air.
We were kindly received and regaled with luncheon, including, amongst
other good things, fried _pejerey_ (king of fish), deservedly so
called.

In the afternoon we strolled about the garden, and looked at the farm
and stable, and were shown the probable winner of one of the prizes at
the forthcoming race-meeting. In the cottages on the estate some
specimens of _miñaque_ lace were offered to us - a lace made by most of
the peasants in this part of the country. It varies considerably in
quality, from the coarse kind, used for covering furniture, to the
finest description, used for personal adornment It is very cheap,



Online LibraryAnnie Allnut BrasseyA Voyage in the 'Sunbeam' → online text (page 12 of 38)