AN ATLANTIC STORY

by PAULINE RUSH FADIMAN

WE WERE prepared to dislike them, even before they appeared, because we had hoped to ride to the volcano without an extra American couple in our car. But the road leading from the town of Uruapan — where the nearest hotels were — to the volcano at Paricutin did not indulge the snobbism of one tourist for another. Its jagged lava surface was too rough for us to make use of the little car in which Miguel, our paragon guide, had driven Eleanor and me down from Mexico City. Only the heavy public cars with reinforced parts and special tires could make the trip; and even these, Miguel explained with satisfaction, took such a bastinado on the volcanic rubble that they rarely lasted more than a year.

To kill some time we had tried to have tea in the hotel dining room but, vanquished by the hordes of flies there, we had left too early for the scheduled departure hour. By four o’clock we had already been waiting almost a half hour in one of these big cars in front of the Hotel Mirador (rated in the guidebook as the finest hotel in Uruapan, a point we should never be hardy enough to put to the test) for the American couple to come out. If they didn’t appear soon, we should miss seeing the volcano by daylight.

Eleanor had just leaned over to the front seat to say to our guide, “Miguel, can’t you please get the driver to start soon, even if those people don’t show up?” when I saw them hurrying towards us.

They seemed to be moving at the same rate, but Mr. Eakers (the couple’s name, where they had come from, and where they were going after Uruapan, had already been determined by Miguel) walked at a calm pace, while his wife trolled her heavy weight beside him in uneven spurts. Held out straight in front of him, like a votive offering, he was carrying the two lunch boxes which the hotel provided for the tourists’ evening meal. Mrs. Eakers wasn’t carrying anything, though she trailed extensively — an extra sweater, a scarf, a steamer blanket, and two veils. “Dress warmly and protect your face from the dust,” advised Toor’s New Guide to Mexico, and Mrs. Eakers complied. She was, I discovered later, the kind of woman who stoutly prefers her own judgment to that of all other human beings, but who slavishly follows any suggestion printed in a guidebook. Though Miguel explained that the lava dust at Paricutin had settled more than a year ago, Mrs. Eakers took the veils. She would continue to protect her face until the next edition appeared.

As he squeezed into the little bracket seat in front of his wife, Mr. Eakers bowed courteously to us. His face bore the constrained look of an amiable man who has been kept waiting too long. “I am deeply sorry to have delayed you,” he said in a pleasant formal voice, while his wife began to embroider on his words with loose phrases, most of them complaining. The veins on her flushed face grew purple as she recalled how the tires of their car had become so overheated that they couldn’t make the Mirador until three o’clock, no, it was a quarter past three, the stupid hotel boy had brought up every valise except the one she really wanted, why hadn’t the guidebook warned about needing slacks for the horseback trip — at the last minute she had had to alter these corduroy pants of Mr. Eakers, she hoped she didn’t look too silly in them.

Her husband shifted in his seat and smiled uneasily, his eyes begging us to consider Mrs. Eakers’s talk as her little joke, I was so fascinated by his peculiar hair that I did not at first notice what a handsome face he had, rather like a kindly Roman emperor. His gray-blond hair grew low on his forehead, forming a thick halo, then it ended at the center in an astonishing bald spot. This patricianFoxy Grandpa air was at once appealing. About forty-eight or forty-nine, I thought, and amused myself by wondering, if I inquired his age of Miguel, how long it would take our guide to manage a look at Mr. Eakers’s tourist card and produce the exact figure.

We had just come to the outskirts of Uruapan, and our car began to pick up speed, when Mrs. Eakers screamed, “Stop, oh, do stop!” The car shuddered to a halt. Mrs. Eakers was pointing towards one of the lovely public huertas which line the edge of the town and where, almost hidden in the tropical vegetation, an Indian woman was sitting behind a circle of gourds and platters decorated in the blatant Tarascan patterns of the local lacquer ware. “That large black tray there, with the blue and orange flowers, that’s exactly what I’ve been looking for. I’ll just be a few minutes,” she said, placing both hands behind her and beginning to raise her bulk from the seat.

Mr. Eakers put a restraining hand on her shoulder, but it kept on rising. “Please don’t, dear, we’ve already kept these good people waiting too long. I’m sure you’ll be able to buy it tomorrow.”

“No, no, it’ll be gone by tomorrow. You know I’ve been looking all over for just that kind of a tray.” And she stood up now, her knees pushing against her husband in the bracket seat.

Mr. Eakers’s face had a controlled set which seemed to indicate that he was not going to permit this delay. But as his wife’s voice rose in pitch, he must have recognized some portent, which made him decide that it would take less time to buy the thing than to dissuade her from it. “I shall make this just as quick as possible,” he said to us in a low tone, and helped his wife out of the car. After about ten minutes of what Mrs. Eakers patently considered expert Mexican bargaining, in her heavytongued Spanish, they came back with the enormous floral platter, which Mr. Eakers jammed between his legs before his wife could ask us to admire it.

“The volcano at Paricutin,” he began at once, eager to clear the air of the incident, “ought to be a wonderful spectacle. I’ve always been interested in volcanoes, but I’ve never seen a live —”

“Yes,” cut in Mrs. Eakers, “it’s the one thing in Mexico he’s really crazy to see. I don’t know why the idea of this volcano in action appeals to him so much. I must say he hasn’t cared for any of the famous sights around Mexico City, imagine, not even for the floating gardens of Xochimilco!”

“Floating gardens of Coca-Cola and Carta Blanca,” said Mr. Eakers softly, “why can’t they let you alone?”

“You see,” his wife went on, “I would rather have gone to the Indian market at Oaxaca, but we didn’t have time to do both, so we’re having it his way. I certainly hope this volcano will be worth it. You know, I can tell by the guidebook, though they don’t come right out with it, that it’s an awful trip.”

2

I COULD hear Miguel in the front seat clearing his throat, like an actor awaiting his cue, for the right pause in the conversation to begin his lecture on Paricutin. A “graduated guide,” as the card in the scrolled frame in his own car proclaimed him, Miguel had carefully memorized all the information in the two guidebooks on Mexico and in his exhaustive collection of pamphlets issued by the Asociación Mexicana de Turismo. He was proud of his English, which was fluent though foreign, — as a boy he had lived in San Antonio, Texas, — and conscientious about improving it. It was for this reason, he said handsomely, that he liked to travel with us: he could benefit by our good vocabulary. Whenever Eleanor or I used a word unfamiliar to him — and we soon began to grow self-conscious about our chatter in the back seat — he would ask, “Definition, please, pronunciation? And one idiomatic example?” All this he would neatly put down in its alphabetical order in a notebook with homemade index tabs of adhesive tape. We liked to travel with Miguel because he was the only driver in Mexico who could describe something without taking both hands off the wheel.

“Now this volcano at Paricutin,”he began, “is the only true volcano to break forth in the Western Hemisphere for more than a century — our only living volcano. Paricutin may be considered the world’s baby volcano, because it erupted less than two and a half years ago, on February 20, 1943. I will tell you the curious story.”

Miguel’s voice had changed to his special lecture voice and Eleanor and I smiled at each other as we discerned the quotation marks gathering round his words. Mrs. Eakers nudged her husband to pay attention (he was already listening with absorption), and settled back in her seat, obviously pleased at their opportunity to profit by this free guide service.

“On that day,” Miguel continued, “a peasant, Dionisio Pulido, is plowing his peaceful cornfield, when he feels the earth growing very warm under his bare feet.” And he told us the now celebrated story of how Dionisio had thought it was the devil himself coming out of the ground and had run to his priest to pray for his sins, and how they had found, when they returned to the crack in the earth, that the cone of the volcano had already formed, and in a few days the little hill had grown into a mountain which has been growing ever since.

“How high is it now?” asked Mr. Eakers.

“More than 1200 feet.”

Leaning forward with his elbows on the back of Miguel’s seat, Mr. Eakers gave a low whistle of admiration, and our guide expanded towards his rapt listener. Miguel had now reached his high point — El Paricutin. This was his special love, what he always called “the attraction of the century,” and he burst with pride in showing it off. Mostly his eyes were turned in admiration towards the ways of Norteamérica; he was only depressed by the picturesque side of Mexico which he had to show to his clients. But Paricutin, that was for him the unique achievement of the new Mexico.

“Well, you can imagine how the countryside is soon transformed from a region of pastoral peace to a scene of desolation. During the first few days the lava flows out of the volcano in a stream 3000 feet wide, devouring everything in its path, and soon an area of more than a million square yards is inundated. Imagine how hot it is — even three weeks after the lava begins to burst out of the mouth of the volcano, when the pyrometer measures the temperature, it is still 1600 degrees Fahrenheit!

“As the peasants of the region flee their punishment, with their bellowing cattle running before them and birds dropping out of the sky dead, they meet thousands of tourists and scientists going in the opposite direction. For the first time a volcano comes under scientific observation from the day of its birth. I arrived on the third day and never shall I forget the spectacle which greeted me! Even the victims of the cataclysm have to stop in their tracks to look back — fortunately there have been plenty of warnings and nobody is killed — lost in admiration of this miracle of nature. It has a beauty which is from another world — our people believe it is a tangible message from the Apocalypse. One might say that the flames of Paricutin accomplish a purifying action in the hearts of men.”

This eloquent flight from the Revista de México Eleanor and I had read in the hotel lobby the night before. But Mr. Eakers seemed startled by the message; his bald head inclined eagerly as he asked Miguel if he would please say it again. It was repeated, this time with such dramatic relish that Eleanor and I had to stare hard in opposite directions to keep from laughing. Mr. Eakers had not taken his eyes off Miguel during the entire lecture and his absorbed face was a rebuke to us. For him the message held a clear meaning.

We had now turned off the highway from Uruapan and onto the road which led to Paricutin. On either side, in waves of powdery soot several feet deep, stretched miles of absolutely black fields. The descent of volcanic ash had withered all of the old plant life and covered over every human vestige in the village of Paricutin. Only the twin spires of the church and the tops of the taller trees could still be seen, stripped of their leaves and beaten into crazy shapes, like trees in a dream. But out of this desolate blackness, tiny new plants of white poppies had sprung to life, and their paper whiteness gleamed unreal against the fields of black ash.

3

THE road itself had become a bed of jagged rubble, broken up by deep fissures of ash and mud. It was the kind of road which, encountered anywhere else on earth, a sensible driver would have correctly judged as impassable. But our powerful car went over it, at eight miles an hour, swaying like a camel, the driver fighting to keep the wheels from sinking into the soft ash. For the first time I understood the phenomenon of car sickness, something I had always dismissed as a fantasy, but which now loomed up as a most reasonable — indeed, as a predestined — reality. For a few minutes I comforted myself with the idea of changing places with Miguel in what I hoped was the less convulsive front seat; but a glance at Eleanor and Mrs. Eakers showed me that their inner feelings were no happier than mine. So I closed my eyes, wondering dully how Mr. Eakers could still be leaning forward to listen so alertly. By this time, Miguel had given up the attempt to hold the attention of the women and was addressing his rich flow of details about Paricutin solely to Mr. Eakers.

It was pure bliss to get out of the car at San Juan de las Colchas, a tiny settlement where one changes to horses. Our malaise vanished as soon as our feet touched the ground, and Eleanor and I walked about in the afternoon sun in an ecstasy of good feeling, watching the groups of tourists mounting their horses. Miguel, who had gone off to arrange about our horses, came back looking red and angry. “That desgracia of a driver,” he said, his English becoming jumbled in his indignation, “he’s tipped off the horse owners that a big party of Cook’s comes here. So now they want thirty pesos instead of twenty for each horse. Never do I pay more than twenty. Besides, it is the crazy thing, I know that there is no such party in Uruapan now — nobody will not arrive.”

He was anxious for us to wait and prove that he was right so that we could have the horses at the regular price. Mr. Eakers restrained his impatience and tried a tactful bit of persuasion. First he warmly expressed his agreement with Miguel’s view, and then, even more warmly, depicted our eagerness to start at once. Mollified at last, Miguel came back with five horses, each one led by a local Tarascan Indian.

As soon as we had mounted, Mrs. Eakers asked Miguel, “Do you think you could get a mule for me instead? I just remember reading that they’re much more sure-footed.” One of the Indian guides went off with her horse and another came back with a mule. This turned out to be cheaper than a horse and set off some complication in the refunding of money. Mrs. Eakers mounted the mule. She decided that the animal was too small, the stirrups too short, for her comfort. Could she have the horse back again? I avoided looking at Mr. Eakers.

After we had started at last and gone about halfway up the mountain, we came to a landing place, a circular plateau where all the tourists had dismounted to examine the huge mounds of smoldering fresh lava which piled up here on the way down from the crater. The heat of this lava was of a curious sort. When you threw in a stick, it did not blaze up. It just disappeared, quietly eaten up by the intense heat. Mr. Eakers and Miguel leaned over the lava ridge, throwing in one stick after another and watching them being consumed. Mrs. Eakers stood turned aside, waiting for the nonsense to be over.

The rumbling of the volcano came to us clearly now, and whenever it started, Mr. Eakers would raise his head as if in answer to a beckoning call. Paricutin seemed very close and the air was electric with its excitement. In the distance we could see clouds of smoke from the central crater curling their fantastic trail up to the sky. Miguel told us that the thunderous explosions we now heard sometimes wilted the courage of the more timid travelers, who turned back at this spot.

It was hot here, but we were grateful for the warmth because a cold wind had chilled us during the last part of the ride. As we stood warming ourselves in the heat of the lava, we suddenly felt the pleasant glow being doused. A driving tropical rain came down and we ran for shelter to a large, leafless tree. Most of the tourists began making preparations for the return. Our Indian guides collected in a huddle near the horses, and after a few minutes of consultation, one of them came to us and explained that it was a much heavier rain than usual and that it might be too difficult to make the ascent tonight.

With alacrity Mrs. Eakers started to gather up her things, saying to her husband, “I knew we should have gone to Oaxaca instead. Come, we’re going down now.”

Eleanor and I looked at each other with resignation, prepared to turn back. Then I saw Mr. Eakers’s face: he Avas not resigned to missing the volcano. It was plain, however, that he didn’t know what to do about it. “Don’t you think we could Wait a bit?” he appealed to me. “I’m sure this rain will let up soon.”

His look of pure yearning was not to be resisted. “Of course,” I heard myself lying, “we never thought of giving up now.”

Mrs. Eakers came between us, digging her elbow into me in her haste, her eyes glaring at us from under her dripping eywbrows. “I can handle this myself, thank 3’ou, we’re not going up a mountain in this awful rain. And I know enough Spanish to understand that these guides said it would be too slippery for the horses. It’s just too dangerous. Come on, Alfred, we’re going back now,” she said, and the assurance in her voice was compelling, like that of a nursery school teacher who knows she has only to say a thing with enough positive expectation, then the child can do nothing but comply. By this time Mr. Eakers’s face had a determined set too, though his eyes had a troubled look which said he had not yet found the way that would allow him to see the volcano. Eleanor and I now cared passionately to go up, and Miguel instinctively ranged himself on our side. Mrs. Eakers began walking towards the horses and called to her husband in a tense voice, “You coming, Alfred?”

The air was charged with currents of hostility. I prayed that Miguel’s resourcefulness would clear the impasse for us. It did. He began talking very fast and with authority. Of course the lady should not go up against her wish; luckily there was a fine shelter at San Juan de las Colchas where he would arrange for her to be warm and comfortable until we returned from our trip in “ una pequeña hora.” For her part the lady’s mordacious look showed plainly that she hated us all, that she resented our interference in a matter she could have managed with ease by herself. Mr. Eakers stuck closely to our little group while Miguel helped his wife onto her horse and gave instructions to the sullen-looking guide who was going back with her.

4

We started up the mountain again, and after we had ridden for about ten minutes in the drenching rain, our guides remembered that under the saddles were some rubber ponchos. They served now only to plaster our dripping garments still closer. The second half of the ascent became much steeper, the ground changing from thick mud to volcanic rock and rolling stones over which our horses stumbled frequently, recovering themselves always, however, with the ease born of routine. In front of me I could hear Mr. Eakers humming to himself in a cheerful monotone. Suddenly, in the same way it had begun, without warning, the rain stopped and we finished our ride squinting into the rays of the setting sun.

When we reached the summit it was already twilight, which meant that we would not be able t o see the volcano by daylight as well as at night, as the guidebook advises. But as we came upon the clearing whence the cone of the volcano was visible, I realized that if we had arrived earlier we should not have seen the spectacle in the breathtaking way it burst upon us now against the darkened sky. Here it was — the volcano at Paricutin. I had been prepared for an unusual tourist sight, but this transcended the purple passages in the travel literature. It was in truth not a sight at all: it was a huge, living, moving experience. The volcano varied from day to day in its periods of rest and activity, and tonight it was putting on an extravagant performance. Every twenty seconds or so there was a roaring explosion, followed by a column of foaming red smoke, hot boulders, and lava which hurled itself thousands of feet into the air. From the center of the crater, flames shot out in glowing tracer streaks, then, pulled by gravity, plumed gracefully back again in a fountain of titanic fireworks.

There was something buoyant and heartwarming about the scene. It did not dwarf or depress you the way some of nature’s other grand spectacles do — the Grand Canyon, for instance, which hits you like the end of the world. This feu de joie at Paricutin seemed lit by a prodigal hand, setting off millions of Roman candles. It had a lively, excessive quality and the effect was exhilarating. We stood there, the four of us, in a little half circle and found ourselves smiling at each other in an expansion of good feeling. The look of elation on Mr. Eakers’s face gave me an impulse to congratulate him in some way, to shake hands or pat him on the back, and I put out my arm; but in doing so, I caught myself self-consciously and pretended to be looking at my wrist watch. “Pretty fine, isn’t it?” I concluded fatuously.

I had to strain to catch his voice above the thundering cannonade of the volcano. “Yes, it’s wonderful,” he said. “And these boiling clouds of smoke — don’t they seem like a sample of the awful forces inside the earth? All the hidden energies seem to be escaping, bubbling out of their imprisonment here. Yet this volcano is so beautiful —it’s not frightening, it rather fills one with confidence, don’t you think?” The words, as he spoke them, did not sound pompous.

Miguel came up to us and pointed out, over towards the left of where we stood, a stream of red lava which was spilling out from the crater and coursing slowly down the mountainside like a broad moving street of fire. He also showed us how Paricutin was still growing: over at the far end we could make out a new crater, a “cinder cone” which was being born tonight. These things Miguel demonstrated as if he himself had helped to produce Mexico’s phenomenon for us. To get a better view, he led Eleanor and me (for the moment he abandoned Mr. Eakers, conscientiously remembering that he was our paid guide) up to a higher wooded place. We started walking over to the edge and Miguel called out to us to be careful of the precipitous drop there.

“Aren’t you glad we didn’t turn back?” Eleanor asked. “ Did you notice how ecstatic our Mr. Eakers looks — and to think that female almost made him miss it all.”

I held on to a tree and looked down over the precipice. “Too bad she didn’t come. Boy, this would make an ideal spot for quietly shoving off the witch wife.” We hadn’t counted on the wind, and as I spied Mr. Eakers approaching us I realized that our words had carried to him. He didn’t pretend not to have overheard.

His lips were pursed in an expression of shock, but his eyes were unmistakably good-humored. “There now,” he chided, “it’s not so bad as you think. She just wants to have her own way, like lots of other people. Like myself, for instance — today, at least.”

“Well, I hope we haven’t crossed her too much by coming up here, that we haven’t made it awkward for you,” I said, calculating to extract all the drama I could from the situation.

“No, no,” he protested quickly, “this is worth anything. But there won’t be any trouble now. ‘A hard beginning maketh a good ending,’ you know. I’ve already done the hardest thing, the first step, in getting up here. My wife won’t mind now.”

I wanted to ask, “The first step towards what?” but I felt that his words had slipped out involuntarily and that he wouldn’t like to be pressed about their meaning. Besides, I could see by Mr. Eakers’s face that I had already been too importunate.

“Come,” he said, taking Eleanor and me each by an arm, “let’s go back and watch those amazing fireworks.”

5

WHEN we returned to the clearing, the last bit of daylight was gone; the only illumination came from a bonfire which some Indian boys had built near the small government shelter. They squatted cross-legged around the fire singing the Mexican song “Amor, Amor, Amor” in a dirge-like repetition, or wrestling aimlessly with each other and shouting in gleeful horror whenever one of them was almost pushed into the fire. All the time they kept a keen eye on the tourists; the moment a tourist came to the end of the box lunch, a boy would dart out of the circle and stand by, a little to the side, waiting to carry off the remains. I don’t know how they arranged it, but these Mexican youngsters never quarreled over their spoils. Occasionally one of them would eat a sandwich, but most of the food was piled up against the wall of the shelter to be taken back to their families.

The four of us sat down on a log facing the volcano and opened our cardboard boxes. Mr. Eakers didn’t seem to be hungry. He ate nothing except an orange, then walked over to the bonfire and handed the intact meal of dry sandwiches, hardboiled eggs, and raisin cake to the smallest boy in the group, who was hopping around the fire on one leg, calling attention to his performance by chanting in a piercing staccato. The startled boy repeated his gracias several times, while Mr. Eakers patted him on the head; he then ran off and started dancing around the fire again, still on one leg, showing off his full box. This time the older boys watched him with some admiration.

When Mr. Eakers came back, he sat down by himself at the end of our log and contemplated the volcano. Against the dead-black sky, the rockets of fire were now outlined with sharp flamboyance. Even after the first wonder of Paricutin wore off, it still held a fierce charm — the magic of a hearth fire, magnified a million times. We sat there for about a half hour in silence. The moon came up radiantly in the thin mountain air and an absolute quiet blanketed the place after most of the tourists and all of the Indian boys had departed; our guides lay sprawled against the wall of the shelter, asleep. Hypnotized by the fire, I had not realized how cold it had become Until I put my hands up to my hair and found myself unable to manipulate my fingers. I rubbed my hands, and Eleanor and Miguel by contagion began to do the same. Soon there was a general stamping of numb feet. Only Mr. Eakers sat quietly. I hated to end the spell for him, but I was grateful when Miguel thought to explain what an enormous difference in temperature we had passed through from the tropical day at Uruapan to the night air up here. Too courteous to ignore our hints, Mr. Eakers began reluctantly to rise. “Would you like to start back now?” he asked, pulling out his watch and tilting it to catch the moon’s rays. “Good Lord, it’s nine o’clock!” I thought with satisfaction of Mrs. Eakers waiting her “little hour” at San Juan de las Colchas all this time.

Miguel woke up the guides and we remounted our horses stiffly. The ride down was probably much more dangerous than the ascent, but dazed and numb with cold, we felt no sensation, not even when the horses skidded down the steep, wet grades. I settled back in the cradle saddle and clung shamelessly to the pommel, my eyes shut. The flames of the volcano danced cheerfully before my closed eyes, and whenever I half opened them,

I could see that Eleanor and Miguel were also riding drowsy and relaxed. Mr. Eakers, however, sat up straight in his saddle, whistling softly and looking up at the red glow in the sky, or patting his horse now and then when it recoiled at the loose stones.

As we neared the shelter at San Juan de las Colchas, coming up from the valley, I could make out the figure of Mrs. Eakers standing in the doorway above us. The lamplight behind her outlined her arms spread against the door jambs like a statue of Deliberating Justice. Mr. Eakers rode up abreast of me and both of us watched her. The sight of her filled me with a dim uneasiness and all at once I knew that the thought which occurred to me now had also flashed on him at the same moment: Why hadn’t we arranged to have Mrs. Eakers go back to the hotel in one of the cars which had left hours ago? It would have been very simple; only the urgency of our desire to get her out of the way quickly, before she could interfere with our going up to the volcano, had blocked such a sensible procedure. I felt an apprehension about this long wait — that it might somehow put a bad ending to Mr. Eakers’s “first step.”

As we dismounted we all waved and called to Mrs. Eakers with forced cheerfulness. She did not upbraid us for being late, and as we piled silently into the car, I grew more apprehensive. Miguel invited Mr. Eakers to share the front seat with himself and the driver, and the suggestion was accepted with disproportionate enthusiasm.

Jolting our way back on the volcanic road, the return trip seemed endless to us, but not so painful as the approach, because now the darkness obscured the rolling landscape. I went into a sort of trance, fixing my mind only on the bright image of a hot bath at the hotel. All the excitement of Paricutin I put away as something to think about tomorrow. In my let-down state Mr. Eakers receded from my consciousness, and when thoughts of him floated back to me, they left me with a vague depression, a feeling that I had wholly made up the little drama of his transfiguration. He was a goodnatured fool who let himself be imposed upon by a malevolent one. They were a very sorry couple indeed.

Mrs. Eakers’s unpleasant voice broke into my stupor. “You know,” she was saying to her husband, “we won’t get back to Uruapan before half past eleven. So we can’t be in bed until midnight, so I don’t know how you expect us to get up at six and start out as we planned. We’ll never get to Mexico City in time for our dinner date with the Hardys. You’ve certainly messed things up.”

Yes, she would have the last word, she would make him feel guilty and spoil the wonder of Paricutin for him. I roused myself to catch his answer. Now, however, I no longer had any urge to protect him or even to feel sorry for him.

Mr. Eakers turned his head at a sharp right, angle and the cigarette he was smoking lit up his Roman-emperor profile with its odd fringe of hair. He did not reply at once, but slowly blew out a lingering puff of smoke. Then his voice carried back to us distinctly. “No, dear, we are not leaving in the morning. As long as we’re here, I’m going up for another look at the volcano tomorrow. It will give you a chance to enjoy it too.”

I tried to avoid catching Eleanor’s eye, afraid that Mrs. Eakers would intercept the gloating elation which spread between us. But she didn’t even glance our way. She just sat there wordlessly with a twisted look of shock and resignation, staring hard at her husband’s head, as if she would bore an explanation out of him. But Mr. Eakers kept his face turned directly forward. Only the back of his bald head glistened at us triumphantly in the brilliant mountain moonlight.