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Chapter I.1
IN THE time of Spanish rule, and for many years afterwards, the town of Sulaco--
the luxuriant beauty of the orange gardens bears witness to its antiquity--had
never been commercially anything more important than a coasting port with a
fairly large local trade in ox-hides and indigo. The clumsy deep-sea galleons of
the conquerors that, needing a brisk gale to move at all, would lie becalmed,
where your modern ship built on clipper lines forges ahead by the mere flapping
of her sails, had been barred out of Sulaco by the prevailing calms of its vast gulf.
Some harbours of the earth are made difficult of access by the treachery of
sunken rocks and the tempests of their shores. Sulaco had found an inviolable
sanctuary from the temptations of a trading world in the solemn hush of the deep
Golfo Placido as if within an enormous semi-circular and unroofed temple open
to the ocean, with its walls of lofty mountains hung with the mourning draperies of
On one side of this broad curve in the straight seaboard of the Republic of
Costaguana, the last spur of the coast range forms an insignificant cape whose
name is Punta Mala. From the middle of the gulf the point of the land itself is not
visible at all; but the shoulder of a steep hill at the back can be made out faintly
like a shadow on the sky.
On the other side, what seems to be an isolated patch of blue mist floats lightly
on the glare of the horizon. This is the peninsula of Azuera, a wild chaos of sharp
rocks and stony levels cut about by vertical ravines. It lies far out to sea like a
rough head of stone stretched from a green-clad coast at the end of a slender
neck of sand covered with thickets of thorny scrub. Utterly waterless, for the
rainfall runs off at once on all sides into the sea, it has not soil enough--it is said--
to grow a single blade of grass, as if it were blighted by a curse. The poor,
associating by an obscure instinct of consolation the ideas of evil and wealth, will
tell you that it is deadly because of its forbidden treasures. The common folk of
the neighbourhood, peons of the estancias, vaqueros of the seaboard plains,
tame Indians coming miles to market with a bundle of sugar-cane or a basket of
maize worth about threepence, are well aware that heaps of shining gold lie in
the gloom of the deep precipices cleaving the stony levels of Azuera. Tradition
has it that many adventurers of olden time had perished in the search. The story
goes also that within men's memory two wandering sailors-- Americanos,
perhaps, but gringos of some sort for certain--talked over a gambling, good-for-
nothing mozo, and the three stole a donkey to carry for them a bundle of dry
sticks, a water-skin, and provisions enough to last a few days. Thus
accompanied, and with revolvers at their belts, they had started to chop their way
with machetes through the thorny scrub on the neck of the peninsula.
On the second evening an upright spiral of smoke (it could only have been from
their camp-fire) was seen for the first time within memory of man standing up
faintly upon the sky above a razor-backed ridge on the stony head. The crew of a
coasting schooner, lying becalmed three miles off the shore, stared at it with