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The Door in the Wall and Other Stories

The Country Of The Blind
Three hundred miles and more from Chimborazo, one hundred from the snows of
Cotopaxi, in the wildest wastes of Ecuador's Andes, there lies that mysterious mountain
valley, cut off from all the world of men, the Country of the Blind. Long years ago that
valley lay so far open to the world that men might come at last through frightful gorges
and over an icy pass into its equable meadows, and thither indeed men came, a family or
so of Peruvian half-breeds fleeing from the lust and tyranny of an evil Spanish ruler.
Then came the stupendous outbreak of Mindobamba, when it was night in Quito for
seventeen days, and the water was boiling at Yaguachi and all the fish floating dying
even as far as Guayaquil; everywhere along the Pacific slopes there were land-slips and
swift thawings and sudden floods, and one whole side of the old Arauca crest slipped and
came down in thunder, and cut off the Country of the Blind for ever from the exploring
feet of men. But one of these early settlers had chanced to be on the hither side of the
gorges when the world had so terribly shaken itself, and he perforce had to forget his wife
and his child and all the friends and possessions he had left up there, and start life over
again in the lower world. He started it again but ill, blindness overtook him, and he died
of punishment in the mines; but the story he told begot a legend that lingers along the
length of the Cordilleras of the Andes to this day.
He told of his reason for venturing back from that fastness, into which he had first been
carried lashed to a llama, beside a vast bale of gear, when he was a child. The valley, he
said, had in it all that the heart of man could desire--sweet water, pasture, an even
climate, slopes of rich brown soil with tangles of a shrub that bore an excellent fruit, and
on one side great hanging forests of pine that held the avalanches high. Far overhead, on
three sides, vast cliffs of grey-green rock were capped by cliffs of ice; but the glacier
stream came not to them, but flowed away by the farther slopes, and only now and then
huge ice masses fell on the valley side. In this valley it neither rained nor snowed, but the
abundant springs gave a rich green pasture, that irrigation would spread over all the
valley space. The settlers did well indeed there. Their beasts did well and multiplied, and
but one thing marred their happiness. Yet it was enough to mar it greatly. A strange
disease had come upon them and had made all the children born to them there--and,
indeed, several older children also--blind. It was to seek some charm or antidote against
this plague of blindness that he had with fatigue and danger and difficulty returned down
the gorge. In those days, in such cases, men did not think of germs and infections, but of
sins, and it seemed to him that the reason of this affliction must he in the negligence of
these priestless immigrants to set up a shrine so soon as they entered the valley. He
wanted a shrine--a handsome, cheap, effectual shrine--to be erected in the valley; he
wanted relics and such-like potent things of faith, blessed objects and mysterious medals
and prayers. In his wallet he had a bar of native silver for which he would not account; he
insisted there was none in the valley with something of the insistence of an inexpert liar.
They had all clubbed their money and ornaments together, having little need for such
treasure up there, he said, to buy them holy help against their ill. I figure this dim-eyed
young mountaineer, sunburnt, gaunt, and anxious, hat brim clutched feverishly, a man all
unused to the ways of the lower world, telling this story to some keen-eyed, attentive