Page:Travels in Mexico and life among the Mexicans.djvu/394

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half-way up—did not extend beyond the snow-line. Dear Don Felipe! he embraced me as though for the last time, and his serious face assumed an even graver expression as he warned me to return immediately that I felt symptoms of giddiness. Then he turned and plodded down the mountain, as we prepared to ascend.

A sublime spectacle was opened to me as I stood by the lonely black cross, wedged into the fire-scathed rock, at this elevation of 15,000 feet. The eye ranged over a vast valley, down the ridges, above the black belt of volcanic sand, across the pines, to La Mujer Blanca, the dead White Woman, now with a wreath of cloud above her, and her snowy breasts upturned, bared to the pitiless sky. A broad table-land lies between the two volcanoes, which appears, at a lower elevation, like a narrow gap. Through this gap, which I passed the night before, runs the trail that Cortés took, when he first approached the valley of Mexico. From its western slope, the future conquerors first saw the wonderful vision that seemed to them like a picture of enchanted land. "Eight leagues from the city of Cholula," wrote Cortés, in his letters to his sovereign, "are two very lofty and remarkable mountains; in the latter part of August their summits are covered with snow; and from the highest, by night as well as by day, a volume of smoke arises, which ascends above the mountain to the clouds, as straight as an arrow. As I have desired to render your Highness a very minute account of everything in this part of the world, I wished to ascertain the cause of this phenomenon, as it appeared to me, and I despatched ten of my companions, such as I thought suitable for this purpose, with several natives of the country for guides, charging them to use every endeavor to ascend the mountain and find out the cause of that smoke. They went, and struggled with all their might to reach the summit, but were unable, on account of the great quantity of snow that lay on the mountain and the whirlwinds of ashes that swept over it, and also because they found the cold insupportable. But they reached very near the summit, and while they were there the smoke began to issue forth with so much force and noise that it seemed as if the whole sierra was crum-