CHAPTER X. CHILI.
Sunbeam of summer, oh what is like thee,
Hope of the wilderness, joy of the sea.
Wednesday, October 18th. - At 3.30 a.m. we were close to the land lying south of the Bay of Lota; at 4 a.m. the engines were stopped on account of the mist; and at 6 a.m. we began to go slowly ahead again, though it was still not very easy to make out the distance and bearing of the coast. The passage into the bay, between the island of Santa Maria and Lavapie Point, is narrow and difficult, and abounds with sunken rocks and other hidden dangers, not yet fully surveyed. Tom said it was the most arduous piece of navigation he ever undertook on a misty morning; but happily he accomplished it successfully. Just as he entered the sun broke through the mist, displaying a beautiful bay, surrounded on three sides by well-wooded hills, and sheltered from all winds except the north. One corner is completely occupied by the huge establishment belonging to Madame Cousino, consisting of coal-mines, enormous smelting-works, and extensive potteries. The hill just at the back is completely bare of vegetation, which has all been poisoned by the sulphurous vapours from the furnaces. This spot, from its contiguity to the works, has been selected as the site of a village for the accommodation of the numerous labourers and their families. It is therefore to be hoped that sulphur fumes are not as injurious to animal as they evidently are to vegetable life. As we drew nearer to the shore we could distinguish Madame Cousino's house, in the midst of a park on the summit of a hill, and surrounded on all sides by beautiful gardens. Every prominent point had a little summer-house perched upon it, and some of the trees had circular seats built round their trunks half-way up, approached by spiral staircases, and thatched like wigwams. The general aspect of the coast, which is a combination of rich red earth, granite cliffs, and trees to the water's edge, is very like that of Cornwall and Devonshire.
We had scarcely dropped our anchor before the captain of the port came on board, and told us we were too far from the shore to coal, which was our special object in coming here; so up went the anchor again, and we steamed a few hundred yards further in, and then let go close to the shore, in deep water. Captain Moeller waited to go ashore with us, introduced our steward to the butcher and postmaster of the place, and then accompanied us to Madame Cousino's gardens.
It was a steep climb up the hill, but we were well rewarded for our labour. Tended by over a hundred men, whose efforts are directed by highly paid and thoroughly experienced Scotch gardeners, these grounds contain a collection of plants from all the four quarters of the globe, and from New Zealand, Polynesia, and Australia. Amid them were scattered all kinds of fantastic grottoes, fountains, statues, and ferneries; flights of steps, leading downwards to the beach, and upwards to sylvan nooks; arcades, arched over with bamboos, and containing trellis-work from Derbyshire, and Minton tiles from Staffordshire; seats of all sorts and shapes, under trees, in trees, and over trees; besides summer-houses and pagodas, at every corner where there was a pretty view over land or sea.
One of the heads of the establishment, a great friend of Madame Cousino's, was unfortunately very ill, and as she was nursing him, she could not come out to see us; but she kindly gave orders to her gardener to send some cut flowers and some ferns on board the yacht, to decorate the saloon; and as she was unable to invite us to luncheon at the big house, she sent some champagne and refreshments down to the Casa de la Administracion, where we were most hospitably entertained. She has had the latter place comfortably fitted up for the use of the principal employes on the works, and has provided it with a billiard-table, a very fair library, and several spare bed-rooms for the accommodation of visitors.
After luncheon we went to see the copper-smelting works, which were very interesting. The manager walked through with us, and explained the processes very clearly. He could tell at once, on taking up a piece of rough ore, fresh from the mine, what percentage of copper or iron it contained, the amount varying from ten to seventy-five per cent, of the gross weight. The furnaces are kept burning night and day, and are worked by three gangs of men; and the quantity of copper produced annually is enormous. In fact, three parts of the copper used in Europe comes from here. The ore is brought from various parts of Chili and Peru, generally in Madame Cousino's ships; and coal is found in such abundance, and so near the surface, that the operation of smelting is a profitable one. Our afternoon, spent amid smoke, and heat, and dirt, and half-naked workmen, manipulating with dexterous skill the glowing streams of molten ore, was a great contrast to our morning ramble.