‘Alas!’ thought Isabel, after hearing Charlotte’s reminiscences; ’how close I have lived to a world of which I was in utter ignorance! How little did we guess that, by the careless ease and inattention of our household, we were carrying about a firebrand, endangering not only poor Walter, but doing fearful harm wherever we went!’
On Darien’s sands and deadly dew.
Enterprise and speed both alike directed Fitzjocelyn’s course across the Isthmus of Panama, which in 1853 had newly become practicable for adventurous travellers. A canal conducted him as far as Cruces, after which he had to push on through wild forest and swamp, under the escort of the muleteers who took charge of the various travellers who had arrived by the same packet.
It was a very novel and amusing journey, even in the very discomforts and the strange characters with whom he was thrown, and more discontented travellers used to declare that Don Luis, as he told the muleteers to call him, always seemed to have the best success with the surly hotel-keepers, though when he resigned his acquisitions to any resolute grumbler, it used to be discovered that he had been putting up with the worst share.
A place called Guallaval seemed to be the most squalid and forlorn of all the stations—outside, an atmosphere of mosquitoes; inside, an atmosphere of brandy and smoke, the master an ague-stricken Yankee, who sat with his bare feet high against the wall, and only deigned to jerk with his head to show in what quarter was the drink and food, and to ’guess that strangers must sleep on the ground, for first-comers had all the beds’—hammocks slung up in a barn, or unwholesome cupboards in the wall.
At the dirty board sat several of the party first arrived, washing down tough, stringy beef with brandy. Louis was about to take his place near a very black-bearded young man, who appeared more civilized than the rest, and who surprised him by at once making room for him, leaving the table with an air of courtesy; and when, in his halting Spanish, he begged ‘his Grace’ not to disturb himself, he was answered, in the same tongue, ‘I have finished.’