Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God;
But only he who sees takes off his shoes;
The rest sit round it, and pick blackberries,
Elizabeth Barrett Browning.
Morro Velho, where is the queen of the Minas Geraes Mines, is a very curious and interesting place, unlike any other I have seen in Brazil. It has a good deal of bustle, life, and cheerfulness about it which one scarcely sees elsewhere. It is an extensive, elevated valley, surrounded by mountains and divided into districts or settlements, each consisting of villages made up of detached cottages without streets, after the manner of most villages in Minas Geraes. Congonhas must be excepted, as that is a regular village with shops; we passed through it on the outskirts of the gold-mining colony; although it is independent of, still it is supported by, its wealthy neighbour.
Mr. Gordon, the English superintendent of the mines, was like a local king at Morro Velho and all over the province. He was consulted and petitioned by every one, beloved, respected, and depended on; in short, a universal father; and well he deserved respect.
The first Sunday we were with the Gordons at Casa Grande we witnessed the slave muster; and when it was over the slaves gave us an Indian representation of a sham palaver, war-dance, and fight. They were dressed in war-paint and feathers. The King and his son were enthroned on chairs, and the courtiers came and seated themselves around on the grass, and the attendants carried umbrellas. First there was a council. The King was dissatisfied with his Minister of War, who was seized and brought before him. Then the Minister made a speech in his own praise. Then there was a fight, in which the captain of War took every one prisoner, and gave the swords to the King. Then the Minister was poisoned by the enemy, but cured by a nut which the King gave him. Then all the captives crawled on the ground like snakes to the King’s feet to do him homage. The King’s jesters were great fun. They had a gong and bells and tom-tom, and sang and danced at the same time. They danced a curious step-little steps in which they adhered to a peculiar time.
On Wednesday, July 10, we left Morro Velho for a space in light marching order. Mr. Gordon wished Richard to inspect a seam of ore of disputed substance, and he organized a trip for us to the place. It was to last eleven days, and we were then to return to Morro Velho. We set out from the Casa Grande at 8.15. Our road was very bad, chiefly over mountains and through rivers, but incessantly up and down, without any repose of level ground.
We rode for more than four hours, and then stopped at a village called Morro Vermelho, where we stopped an hour for breakfast and to change animals.
The Slave Muster at Morro Velho
Our road after this, till six o’clock in the evening, lay through the most exquisite forests, but with terrible footing for the mules — thick, pudding-like, wet mud, and loose, slippery stones, corduroys of hard mud striping some of the most difficult places, where only a sure-footed mule can tread. We stopped, in passing, at the house of a Mr. Brockenshaw, an English miner. It was a tumbledown ranch, but in the wildest, most desolate, and most beautiful spot imaginable. The chief features of the scenery were mountain-peaks, virgin forests, and rivers. And oh the foliage of the forest! The immense avenues of leafage looked like mysterious labyrinths, with castles and arches of ferns forty feet high. We crossed an awful serra all in ruts, and full of scarped rock, mud-holes, or atoleiros; the highest point was four thousand two hundred feet. Just as we were at the worst of our difficulties, and Mr. E— had broken his crupper, we heard a cheery English voice shouting behind us, “O! da casa?” (“Any one at home?"), which is what people say in Brazil when they enter a house apparently empty and want to make somebody hear at the back. Turning, we beheld a Scotch gentleman with a merry face and snow-white hair, and a beard like floss silk down to his waist. The Brazilians call him “O Padre Eterno,” as he is like the picture of God the Father. He was Mr. Brown, Superintendent of the Cuiabá Mine. After cordial greetings he joined our party.
We eventually arrived at Gongo Soco, the original peat-mining village, once gay and rich, now worked out, abandoned, and poor. The river of the same name runs through it. It was now a little before five o’clock, and we came to a better track, and rode on some miles farther to the house and iron foundry of Senhor Antonio Marcos, the Ranger of Woods and Forests, who had prepared hospitality for us. We dismounted at six o’clock very stiff. We had been nine hours and a quarter in the saddle, and had ridden thirty-two miles of difficult country, which did not, however, prevent us from passing a merry evening with Mr. Brown’s assistance.
After a good night, yet still aching from the rough road, we went out early to see the iron business. The soil is a mixture of iacutinga (iron and charcoal), and the process, slow and primitive, is known as the “Catalan process.” We saw the whole thing done from beginning to end. We left the foundry at 10.15, and went down the watershed of the river Gongo Soco, crossing it twice, and in an hour and a quarter arrived at São João do Morro Grande. Thence we rode to Brumado, a decayed village. Here we stopped for an hour in the great house of the Commendador João Alves de Sousa Continho, where we changed animals. This was once a gay and high house in great repute. It looked now as if withered; it has fallen into decay, and is inhabited by the old ex-courtier, once a favourite of the first Emperor. We proceeded across the ridge to the Santa Barbara, or main road. As we wound down a hill, in a somewhat romantic spot, we espied descending from the opposite height a troop of people dressed in black and white, and my conventual eye at once detected them to be Sisters of Charity. The rest of our party could not make them out, and were quite in a state of excitement at seeing these pilgrims. We met upon the bridge crossing the river. There were eleven sisters and two priests, all in religious habit and mounted on poor hack mules. They were going to form a new house at Dimantina, there being only one other convent in the interior, and that at Marianna. I recognized some old friends amongst them. They presented a very curious and pretty sight, as they came round a corner on the mountain-side, with their black habits and white bonnets. After stopping and talking for a little while, we rode on, and arrived at 4 p.m. at Catas Altas, having done twenty miles in five hours. Here we called on the padre and saw the church.
In the evening the good old padre came to visit us, but could not be persuaded to take a glass of champagne, of which we had a bottle in the provision basket.
We left Catas Altas next morning at 6.20, and rode for two miles till we reached Agua Quente (“hot water”). Here we had to make divers arrangements. We stayed there less than an hour, and rode on to a place about three hours’ ride from Agua Quente, through forests and a mountain ascent, in a heavy rain.
We eventually arrived at a piece of country that appeared like a gigantic basin with a mountain-ridge running nearly all round it. The soil was lumpy and ferruginous, and covered with a coarse, high grass, and very difficult of passage. At the top of this ridge we had to ride till we came successively to two places with small mountain torrents, which had sliced through the rock, and the bits that were broken away were like cakes of coal. There we had to sit and breakfast, while Richard went to examine this curious coal formation, which it was supposed might some day be valuable. This operation over, we mounted again, and at about one o’clock arrived at a little ranch called Moreira. We had left one change of mules and horses to follow us, and we missed them terribly, as we had to ride the same wretched animals all day.
Then Mr. Gordon, who had accompanied us thus far, wished us good-bye for a few days, as his business took him another way, and we rode through pretty woods to Inficionado (“Infected”) twenty-four miles in all, and reached it at 3.30. It is a long village, with several ranches and a few churches, very pretty, but remarkable for its number of idiots and deformities.
It was pleasant after the day’s fatigues to sit by a running brook opposite the ranch. The sun was not quite set yet; the almost full moon was visible. Richard and Mr. E— were sitting by the ranch door, and herds of mules were picketed in front. It was a most picturesque scene.
We left Inficionado next morning at 9.30, and rode along a bad road, which reminded me of the common pictures of Napoleon on an impossible horse crossing the Alps. We reached a ranch called Camargos at 12.15. To-day we ate while riding, and did not stop; the ride was hot and steep. We never drew rein till we reached Sant’ Anna, where we expected friends to take us in. We had fortunately sent on a black messenger with our letters of introduction, and to apprise them of our coming; and he ran to meet us a few hundred yards before we reached the house, and told us that the owner, Captain Treloar, superintendent of these mines, could not receive us, as his wife was dying. Much grieved and shocked, we returned to a neighbouring vendha for a few minutes to write a note of sympathy and apology for our untimely intrusion, and also to consult as to what we had better do with ourselves, since we had “counted our chickens” prematurely, certain of the never-failing hospitality of our compatriots, and had given away all our provisions. Now we were thrown on the wide world without so much as a biscuit. We soon decided to prospect the place we were in, and then ride to Marianna, where we had a letter of introduction to a Dr. Mockett. Sant’ Anna looked a desolate, dead-alive place, and consisted of the Casa Grande, or Superintendent’s house, a chapel on the hill, a big universal kitchen, and a hospital. These were the only four large buildings; but there were plenty of small white cottages, which looked like dots on the hill, for the English, and for the black settlers a line of huts. The valley, which was pretty, was occupied by the houses, which appeared small after Morro Velho.
When we returned to our vendha, we found waiting for us Mr. Symmonds, son-in-law of Captain Treloar who insisted on our going to-morrow to his house. He said it was empty, all the family being together at Sant’ Anna during their affliction; but as he kindly remarked we should be more comfortable there, we agreed, and mounted and rode with him along a pleasant, sandy road — not track — for two miles or more, till we passed a pretty villa in the centre of some wild-looking mountains. There lived Captain Treloar and his wife with a large family of nine daughters, six of whom were married, and three sons. All the men of the family, sons and sons-in-law, are connected with the mine.
We had a pretty ride of two miles more, and arrived on the brink of a height, and suddenly viewed a mass of spires and domes in the valley beneath, which we at once knew was the pretty cathedral town of Marianna. We rode down into it, and sent our letter to Dr. Mockett; but he too was absent attending Mrs. Treloar — a second disappointment; but we found a ranch. Marianna has nine churches, a seminary, a bishop’s palace, a convent, hospital, college, and orphanage of Sisters of Charity, but no hotel save a miserable ranch. It is a regular cathedral city, and so dead-alive, so unvisited by strangers, that I suppose it would not pay to have one. Our fare was of the worst description. My feet stuck out of the end of my miserable, short, straw bed, and it was a bitterly cold night. We sent round all our letters of introduction; but that night no one seemed to wake up to the fact of our arrival.
The next day, Sunday, was a wet and miserable morning. However, later Captain Treloar’s son-in-law came and rescued us, and took us to his house. This was a comfortable English home, where we found nicely furnished rooms, and were cheered with the sight of Bass’s ale, sherry, and everything imaginable to eat and drink, a piano, and plenty of books. We did not tear ourselves away from these luxuries for three days — from Sunday to Wednesday.
From here we went to visit the Passagem Mine. We changed our clothes, and each with a lantern and stick descended a steep, dark, slippery tunnel of forty-five fathoms deep — the caverns large and vaulted, and in some places propped up with beams and dripping with water. The stone is a mixture of quartz and gold. The miners were all black slaves. They were chanting a wild air in chorus in time to the strokes of the hammer. They work with an iron crowbar called a drill and a hammer, and each one bores away four palmes a day. If they do six, they get paid for the two over. They were streaming with perspiration, but yet seemed very merry. The mine was lit up with torches for us. We then descended thirty-two fathoms deeper, seeing all the different openings and channels. To the uninitiated like myself, it looked probable that the caverns of stone, apparently supported by nothing, would fall in. I took down my negret Chico. He showed great symptoms of fear, and exclaimed, “Parece O inferno!” I was rather struck by the justice of the observation. The darkness, the depth of the caverns, the glare of the torches lighting up the black figures humming against the walls, the heat and want of air, the horrid smells, the wild chant, reminded me of Dante. I wondered if he took some of his hells out of a mine?
Next day poor Mrs. Treloar died, after fifteen days of bilious attack. In this country, if you are well and strong, in good nerve and spirits, and can fight your own way, you do very well; but the moment you are sick, down with you, fall out of the ranks and die, unless you have some one who values your life as his own. But even this could not save poor Mrs. Treloar. Mr. Symmonds requested Richard, as English Consul, to perform the funeral service, as they had no church, no clergyman, no burial-ground; so they would not distress her mind by the knowledge that she was dying. My husband seemed to have been sent by Providence to perform this sad affair, as the English here hold greatly to their consuls performing a ceremony in the absence of a clergyman. The Treloars were to have gone home to England for good the previous month, having several of their children at school in England, and only put it off for that “little while” often so fatal in the tropics. She was buried on the hilltop, and was followed by all the men in the neighbourhood, black and white. Women do not attend funerals, nor sales, nor shops, nor post-offices in Brazil. Richard read the service, and I was left in charge of the house and blacks while they were all absent. A little before the funeral I heard a tremendous noise in the kitchen like the crashing of crockery, black women screaming, and men swearing angry oaths. I ran in and found two of the men kniving each other over a piece of money which we had given the servants for their attention to us. Blood was upon the ground. I rushed in between them and wrenched their knives away, and ordered them all out upon the grass upon their knees, and they obeyed. The funeral was now winding up the hill opposite the house, and I read prayers for the dead.
Directly after the funeral we mounted our animals and rode for six miles along a pretty mountainous road to Ouro Preto. We rode down into the town (which looked rather imposing from the height we viewed it) as the clock struck six. It was now dark, and we were received into the house of Commendador Paula Santos, Director of the Bank, and were made very comfortable.
Ouro Preto is the capital of Minas Geraes. It is by far the most hilly town I ever saw; walking up and down the streets is quite as difficult as ascending and descending ladders, and there is an equal danger of falling. I think one could throw a stone from the top of a street to the bottom without its touching anything en route. The President of the Province lives here, and has a white palace like a little fortress. There is a small theatre, a bank, two tramways (one provincial and one imperial), a prison and large police barrack, a townhall, several carved stone fountains, and fifteen churches. We found the one usual English family, a general shopkeeper and watchmaker, with a wife and children, brother and sister. They were very hospitable. We stayed here two days.
We left Ouro Preto at 9.40 on Saturday morning, and rode along a neither very good nor very bad road, with fine mountain scenery, and the wind rather too cool. We were now turning our faces back again towards Morro Velho. We followed the course of the river, riding in the dry bed. We arrived at Casa Branca (a few ranches) at 1.15, and came up with a party of American immigrants. Here we only changed animals, and mounted again at two o’clock, as we had a long, weary ride facing wind and rain on the mountain-tops. We at last arrived at the house of Mr. Treloar (brother of the Mr. Treloar of Sant’ Anna). Here we hoped to find hospitality; but he too was in affliction, so we rode on to Rio das Pedras, and dismounted at 3 p.m. The hamlet was a few huts and a burnt-down church. We luckily got in fifteen minutes before the Americans, and secured some rough beds and food. Here we had an amusing evening with the immigrants. They were an old father with an oldish daughter, two young married couples, and one stray man, one old, grey-haired, swallowed-tailed gentleman, and a young woman with a lot of chicks. They were wandering about in search of land to settle down and be farmers, and were amusing, clever, and intelligent.
Richard awoke us at 3 a.m. It rained in torrents all night, and there was a succession of bad storms of thunder and lightning; so I was very loath to get up. But whether I liked it or not I was ordered to mount at 6 a.m.
We had a long, muddy, rainy, weary, up and down hill ride, slipping back two steps for every one forward, and going downhill much faster than we wished, which made the journey appear double the distance. After eight miles we arrived at our old sleeping-place on the borders of Morro Velho, Coche d’Agua. The old people were gone, and the new ones were not very civil, and we had great difficulty in getting even a cup of coffee. We had some amusement coming along. Mr. E— was strongly in favour of riding with a loose rein. We were scaling a greasy hill, and his animal, after slithering about several minutes, fell on its stomach. Chico and I dismounted, for our beasts couldn’t stand; but when we were off neither could we. Mr. E—‘s mule got up and ran away; and Richard, through wicked fun, though safe at the top, would not catch it. Chico’s mule was only donkey size. Mr. E— jumped upon it, and being tall he looked as if he were riding a dog and trailing his legs on the ground. He rode after his mule and caught it in half an hour, and we were all right again.
From Coche d’Agua next morning we rode on to Morro Velho, and found the church bells ringing, and pretty girls with sprays of flowers in their hair going to hear Mass. I was not allowed to go, so I paid two old women to go and hear Mass for me, much to the amusement of the party. We breakfasted by the roadside, and rode into Morro Velho and to the Gordons. The journey, though only twenty-four miles, had been long and tedious on account of the rain and mud and constant steep ascents and descents. We arrived looking like wet dogs at our kind host's door; and my appearance especially created mirth, as my skirt up to my waist was heavy with mud, my hat torn to ribbons, with the rain running down the tatters. A big bath was prepared for each of us. We changed our clothes, and sat down to a comfortable and excellent dinner, thankful to be in the hospitable shelter of the Casa Grande again. Here we tarried for a fortnight, and thoroughly explored Morro Velho this time.
Among other things, I determined to go down into the mine, which has the reputation of being the largest, deepest, and richest gold-mine in Brazil. We had been very anxious to visit its depths when we were at Morro Velho before, but Mr. Gordon had put us off until our return.
It was considered rather an event for a lady to go down the mine, especially as Mrs. Gordon, the Superintendent’s wife, who had been at Morro Velho nine years and a half, had never been down. However, she consented to accompany me. She said, “I have never yet taken courage; I am sure if I don’t do it now, I never shall.” So the end of it was that a crowd of miners and their families and blacks collected along the road and at the top of the mine to see us descend. One lady staying in the house with us (Casa Grande) could not make up her mind to go; and when I asked Chico, he wrung his hands, and implored me not to go, weeping piteously. As we went along we could hear the miners’ delighted remarks, and their wives wondering: “Well, to be sure now, to think of they two going down a mile and a quarter in the dark, and they not obliged to, and don’t know but that they may never come up again! I’d rather it was they than me!” “Aye, that’s our countrywomen; they’s not afeared of nothing! I’d like to see some o’ they Brazzys put into that ’ere kibble.”
We were dressed in brown Holland trousers, blouse, belt, and miner’s cap, and a candle was stuck on our heads with a dab of clay. The party to go down consisted of Mr. Gordon, Richard, Mr. E— and Mr. John Whitaker, an engineer. There are two ways of going down, by ladders and by a bucket. The ladders are nearly a thousand yards long. If you see lights moving like sparks at enormous distances beneath, it is apt to make you giddy. Should your clothes catch in anything, should you make a false step, you fall into unknown space. The miners consider this safe. They do it in half an hour, running down like cats, do their day’s work, and run up again in three-quarters of an hour; but to a new-comer it is dreadfully fatiguing, and may occupy four hours — to a woman it is next to impossible.
The other way is easy, but considered by the miners excessively unsafe. It is to be put into an iron bucket called a kibble, which is like a huge gypsy-pot (big enough to hold two ordinary-sized people thinly clad), suspended by three chains. It is unwound by machinery, and let down by an iron rope or chain as the lifts are in London. It takes about twenty minutes, and is only used for hauling tons of stone out of the mine or hauling up wounded men. The miners said to me, “We make it a point of honour to go down by the ladders; for the fact is, on the ladder we depend on ourselves, but in the kibble we depend on every link of the chain, which breaks from time to time.” If the slightest accident happens, you can do nothing to help yourself, but are dashed into an apparently fathomless abyss in darkness. The opening where we first embarked was a narrow, dark hole, very hot and oppressive. The kibble was suspended over the abyss. Richard and Mr. E— went first. Mr. Gordon and Mr. Whitaker, being superintendent and engineer, went by the ladders.
In due time the kibble returned, and Mrs. Gordon and I were put into it, with some candles fastened to the side by a dab of clay, a piece of lighted tow in the chain above us that we might see the beauties of the lower regions, and a flask of brandy in case we got faint, which I am proud to say we did not touch. As we looked up many jokes were exchanged, and word was given to lower away. We waved a temporary farewell to the sea of faces, and the last thing we saw was Chico and Mrs. Gordon’s black maid weeping bitterly and wringing their hands. A tremendous cheer reached us, even when some distance below.
We began to descend slowly, and by means of our rough illuminations we saw all that we passed through. Lower and lower on all sides were dark abysses like Dante’s Inferno. The huge mountain-sides were kept apart by giant tree trunks. How they came there or how fastened up is one of the wonders of man’s power and God’s permission. As we went down, down into the bowels of the earth, each dark, yawning cavern looked uglier than its neighbour. Every here and there was a forest of timber. Whenever we passed any works, the miners lifted their lighted caps, which looked like sparks in the immensity, and spoke or gave us a viva, that we might not be frightened. It was a comfort to hear a human voice, though it could do us no good if anything went wrong. Suddenly in a dark, desolate place our kibble touched some projecting thing and tilted partly over. I clutched at the chains above my head, and Mrs. Gordon held me. It righted itself in a second. In their anxiety to do well they had put us into the wrong kibble, which had a superfluity of chain, and had played out a little too much of it above. This happened three times, and they were three moments of agony — such moments as make people’s hair turn grey. I was too full of life and hope to want to die. Every one ought to experience some such moments in his life, when his heart flies up in supplication to God. It was wonderful, when half-way down, to look below and see the lights, like fireflies in the forest, moving about. At length the kibble stood still, and began to roll like a boat. Then it began to descend perpendicularly; and after a little while we saw the glare of lights, and friendly voices bid us welcome to the mines. Loud vivas greeted us from the workmen.
I cannot describe how kind and thoughtful all the rough workmen were. Everything was done to show us how much they were pleased and flattered by our visit, to allay fear, to amuse us, and to show us everything of interest. It would have been a good lesson in manners to many London drawing-rooms. We each had two men to guide us about.
It was a stupendous scene of its kind. Caverns of quartz pyrites and gold, whose vaulted roofs, walls, and floors swarmed with blacks with lighted candles on their heads, looked excessively infernal. Each man had drill and hammer, and was singing a wild song and beating in time with his hammer. Each man bores eight palmes (pounds) a day, and is paid accordingly, though a slave. If he bores more, he is paid for his over-work. Some are suspended to the vaulted roof by chains, and in frightful-looking positions; others are on the perpendicular walls.
After seeing the whole of this splendid palace of darkness in the bowels of the earth, we sat on a slab of stone and had some wine. Richard said to Mr. Gordon, “Suppose this timber should ever catch fire, what would you do?” Mr. Gordon laughed, and said, “Oh, that is impossible; the whole place is dripping with water, and the wood is all damp, and it would not take; and we have no chance of fire-damp and other dangers of explosion as in other mines — coal-mines, for instance. Oh, I’m not afraid of that.” 23
At this time the mine was at its climax of greatness and perfection, perfectly worked and regulated, and paying enormously.
We mounted as we came. I found it a much more unpleasant sensation and more frightening to ascend than to descend. Yet sometimes out of some caverns of horror on the way up would pop an urchin of ten or twelve laughing, and hop across a beam like a frog without the least fear. The Brazilian authorities wanted to interfere to prevent children being employed in the mine, and Mr. Gordon to please them stopped it; but whole families came and implored on their knees to be taken back. They earned much, and their lives were rendered respectable and well regulated, and their condition superior under the existing régime. But there is no doubt that this part of the province would degenerate terribly, should the colony be broken up, or the present Superintendent leave.
In the evening the miners and their officers gave us a concert. A large room in the stores was very prettily decorated with palm and the flower of Saint John (which is a creeper like a rich orange honeysuckle and dark green leaves), and chandeliers were intermixed. There was a little stage for the performers, adorned with a large painted representation of the British arms, and a place for the band. The room, though large, was crowded; all the little colony was present. We had comic performances, Christy Minstrels, and sentimental songs for about two hours, wound up by a dance, and at midnight broke up with “God save the Queen.”
We were now preparing for the second half of our trip — to canoe down the Rio São Francisco (thirteen hundred miles) from Sabará to the sea. The expedition was to be Richard, myself (if permitted), and Mr. E— who was to choose whether he would go or not (as it turned out, fortunately for him, he preferred to return to Rio with the Gold Troop on July 28). I was entreating to go, and my fate was hanging in the balance, when the question was settled for me by an accident.
Richard had been requested to give a lecture on his travels. The night of July 27 was fixed. The room was arranged as before. Richard spoke of the pleasure he had in becoming acquainted with them all, and told them his impressions about Morro Velho. He thanked the officers, captains, miners, and all for their kindness and attention, and touched upon his travels generally, especially the Nile, Mecca, and Dahomé. Mr. Gordon then spoke, and Mr. E— and many pretty little speeches were made. It lasted about an hour, and then we had a short concert. I sang four times; and Chico was dressed up, and sang very prettily with the guitar, and danced. All the singers did something, and a little dancing, and “God save the Queen” as usual terminated the festivities. Unfortunately for me, after my first song, as I was going off the platform there was a deep step to take in the dark, and I fell off and sprained my ankle severely; but I managed to perform my part to the end by sitting still, excepting when I had to sing; so that it was not found out until all was over, and I had to be carried home. This was a dreadful bore for Richard, who could not take me, and did not like to leave me; so he good-naturedly put off his journey for ten days.
The doctor at first thought my leg was broken, but it turned out to be only a severe contusion. I was five days in bed, and then was promoted to crutches, litter, and sofa, which lasted me twenty days.
At last the day came to see Richard off on his important journey in a canoe from Sabará down the Rio das Velhas and Rio São Francisco to the sea, visiting the diamond-mines at Diamantina from the nearest point (to that city) of the river. Mr. E— had already started for Rio. I did not think it convenable to travel alone with the jeune brigand, so he did not wait for me. We set out from Morro Velho on August 6, a large party on horse and mule back, poor me in a litter, and of course ordered to return with the party. The litter is a covered stretcher, with a mule in front and one behind, in shafts, and it takes two men to manage it. It is expensive travelling, and a great luxury for those who tire soon in the saddle; but I would rather ride any distance, as the motion makes me ill. It is not easy like the hammock. We rode for twelve miles over a pretty mountainous road to Sabará, a very picturesque, ancient-looking town, with eight churches and some important houses, and with a decent vendha, or ranch. It is on a head of the Rio das Velhas, and seems to be the centre of North American emigration here. The first view of the town and winding river is exceedingly pretty. A church on a hilltop is the first indication or landmark of Sabará, the town being immediately below it. We arrived, ranched ourselves, and got a good dinner. We went to the only shop, and bought some French jewellery for a few coppers, as parting presents for each other, by way of “chaff”; and after seeing the town, ended the evening as usual seated round an empty ranch on the floor or on our boxes, and drank execrable tea, which tasted like hot brandy-and-water without sugar, and some beer presented us by the great man of the place. As I was told he was very rich and stingy, I asked him to make me a present of a few bottles of beer for my party, as we were thirsty; but if I remember right, he sent me in a bill for it next morning.
In the morning we got a good ranch breakfast, during which we were visited by all the “swells” of Sabará. We set out for the river, where the canoes were. Two canoes were lashed together, boarded, and covered over with an awning just like a tent. There was a little brick stove, benches, and a writing-table erected. Richard and I went on board, and the young lady of the party, Miss Dundas, niece of “Uncle Brown,” the before-mentioned “Padre Eterno,” broke a bottle of caxassi over her bows, exclaiming, “Brig Eliza,” whereby hangs an untold joke. Besides our own party, nearly all the village followed us. So there arose respectable cheers for the “Brig Eliza,” “Captain and Mrs. Burton,” “Success to the expedition,” “The Superintendent and his wife,” “The Queen of England,” with many vivas. We then took all our own party on board, and sent the animals forward to meet us, and shoved off. There were two blacks in the stern, and two in the bows to paddle and pole, and one black to cook for Richard and attend upon him. One old black was disagreeably nervous, and begged Richard to exchange him at the next town, which he did. We spooned down with the stream, which ran very fast, and went down two rapids, and got aground twice, and towards sunset arrived at Roça Grande. Here they all took leave of Richard — I need not say how sadly. They kindly left me behind for a space to follow, as it was a more serious business for me to say “good-bye” than for them. “I was not to expect him till I saw him. It might be two months, or four, or six.” He did not know what might happen. The dangers were Indians, piranhas (a sort of river pike), fever and ague, and of course the rapids. At last I parted from him on his ‘brig,’ with the old swallow-tailed gentleman (before mentioned), who had begged a two-days’ passage, and a savage cão de féla and his five blacks; and from a bank I watched the barque with dim eyes round a winding of the river, which hid it from my sight. The sun was sinking as I turned away. I was put into my litter, and taken back to Sabará, where I fell in with my party, and we returned to Morro Velho as we came. This was August 7.
I remained with my kind friends the Gordons till I got well enough to ride all day without injury. On one occasion I was able to be of use to Mr. Gordon in a small matter which required a little diplomacy and a gallop of three leagues, twelve miles either way, out and in within a given time, the message he had sent having failed. I asked to go; I wanted to try if I was fit for my long ride, and he gave me my choice of all the stables. I selected a white horse of remarkable speed and endurance, with a strong cross of the Arab in him, and it certainly would have been my own fault if I had failed as to time. I rode there, found the desired decision, and walked into his office with the answer long before the time, which pleased him very much. After that I thought I was fit to set out on my return journey to Rio. I had already stayed so long in their house, receiving great kindness and hospitality; and though they begged of me to continue with them until it was time to meet Richard at Rio, I felt that life was too serious to pass my days in the pleasant dolce far niente of catching butterflies, which really was my principal occupation at Morro Velho. There was too much to be done elsewhere, so I begged Mr. Gordon to lend me seven animals, two slaves, and one of his tropeiro captains, or muleteers, and I prepared to leave this hospitable family on the coming August 25.
Before this date, as I felt sufficiently recovered, I had gradually emancipated myself from litter and sofa, and tried my strength as usual. I had one very pleasant and amusing excursion.
There was a village called Santa Rita, about five miles from Morro Velho, where they have a church, but no priest; and being the Feast of the Assumption of Our Lady, a great day, the villages had sent over to borrow the Morro Velho padre. They sent a mounted attendant and a horse saddled with silver trappings to bring him there and back. I asked him to take me. Mr. Gordon lent me a horse and a mounted attendant, and we set out on a most lovely morning for our pretty mountain ride. The padre was in the height of Minas fashion and elegance. He wore jack-boots, white corduroys, a very smart coat, waistcoat, watch-chain, embroidered Roman collar, a white pouche with tassels and silk cravat, and enormous silver spurs. On arriving, we were received by upwards of forty people in a private house on the way to the church. From there we went on to the church, a small, tawdry, roadside chapel, where the padre said Mass; and though the people were very devout, the children and dogs were very distracting. We then went to a vendha, and spread our basket of provisions. This made the people furious. The padre had passed me off as his niece, so everybody was anxious to have the honour of doing hospitality to the padre and his niece. About fifteen messages were sent to us, so we said we would go round and take coffee with them after our breakfast. The great attraction of the place was a handsome old lady, Donna Floris Vella, civilized and intelligent by nature. She petted me a good deal at first for being the padre’s niece, and called me bena moca (here to be young and fat is the highest personal compliment they can pay you), and quarrelled with us for going off into the mato — the forest, as she called the vendha — to breakfast, instead of coming to her. But I suddenly forgot that I was the padre’s niece, and turned round and spoke to Mr. Fitzpatrick, the Morro Velho Master of Horse, who had been sent to attend upon me, in English. When she heard me speaking English so fluently, she flew at the padre and punched him in the ribs in a friendly way, and told him he was a liar; but she kept up the joke with the rest; so we had coffee and very interesting general conversation about England and civilization, church matters and marriages, and were taken round to several houses. They would have been jealous if we had only visited one; so we did not reach home till late in the afternoon.
One day afterwards, as I was sitting at the church door at Morro Velho, I saw some hammocks with bodies lying in them. They were carried by others, all dripping with blood. The kibble — the same one we had been down the mine in — had broken a link of its chain and fallen. How sorry it made me feel, and how thankful that it did not happen on our day, as it easily might! Mr. Gordon is so careful about accidents that he has the chain hauled over and examined every twelve hours, and a prize is given to any one who can find a faulty link; yet in spite of all this from time to time it will break away. I think it happened twice during my stay. There is not the smallest occurrence that happens in that large colony that does not come under Mr. Gordon’s eye between nine and ten o’clock every morning. The wonder is how he finds time for everything and every one with so much ease to himself.
While I was at Morro Velho he allowed me to organize little singing parties every night. All who could sing used to assemble, and he would join us, and we learnt duets, trios, quartettes, chorus glees, and so on. It brought people together; and he said it was refreshing after the day’s work, instead of sitting reading or writing in a corner, always tired.
So passed the time at Morro Velho, until the day of my departure dawned.
23 Yet the mine was almost destroyed by fire some six months after our visit.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:48