The consulate official gazed down towards where the canal was being worked on, his eyes followed the deep empty trench from the edge of the lake westwards towards the Pacific. Here on the edge of the volcano he could see the Pacific on the horizon. He’d been sent here partly due to his ability to speak Spanish, and partly due to his father’s influence. The son of a Senator and former ambassador to Mexico with little productive to do before he was old enough to seek a House seat of his own in his native Massachusetts he’d joined the foreign service to be shipped off to the Federal Republic of Central America. With its awkward position between the Holy Catholic Republic of Mexico and the Republic of Gran Columbia the FRCA had long looked to the United States for its protection, its banking, and as a major trading partner. James Wilberforce Stratton the Second was proud of his family history, and looked forward toward to when his own history intertwined with history books. But today he’d decided that he wanted to climb the volcano island, and clear his mind of the letter he’d had to send the day before.
As the head of the legation here on the western edge of the republic his primary concern was to ensure the rights of Americans involved in the construction of the canal. Most of the engineers were Americans, along with a smattering of the construction crew supervisors. By and large the construction crews were locals, laborers who had come from the villages all across the Federal Republic seeking the wages paid by the construction company. The construction company had trained nearly thirty supervisors in Spanish to reduce potential conflicts, while the remaining 70 were local hires. Meanwhile, the Vanderbilt owned railroad continued to haul passengers and freight across the isthmus including the letter from the day before.
Young Stratton turned towards his climbing companion, the railroad’s clerk at Rivas, the local market town and where the local consulate was located. “You’re certain that the letter will arrive in Washington by the end of the week?”
“As long as there’s no storms in the gulf yes, of course it will. It will be on a ship this afternoon, Thursday it should reach Tampa, and then the next morning the letter will be in Washington. Since it’s addressed to a senator I’d imagine it will get from the central post office to his office quickly. If it’s such a rush, why not send a telegram, it’s certainly within your rights to send one coded as a consulate officer.”
“I can’t use the official channels. It is a family matter, a matter of family honor, and involves something that the current administration could well interfere with. Bryant and his ilk dream of allowing at least some of the exiled in Brazil to return, or at least their children. That is something my father and the party oppose.”
The two climbers pressed on higher and higher along the western slope of the volcano, well above the tree line that clung to the lower slopes, following the gorges that rain carved into the side of the mountain. Soon they entered the cloud that had gathered around the peak. When they were unable to see more than a few feet in front of them the pair stopped, and waited hoping that the cloud would dissipate. Instead the cloud thickened and their cotton clothing began to get damper and damper. Unable to light a fire they began to climb downwards. Once free of the cloud the condensation quickly evaporated from their clothes on the sunbaked slopes finding their way through old fissures.
“Do you smell that? It smells of sulfur along here” the young clerk said.
“Well, this is a volcano remember. I’m hardly an expert but the fact that it’s venting sulfur doesn’t seem like a good thing.”
“Well, I guess when we get back to Rivas I will have a good reason to use the telegraph. We should certainly inform the work crews. Who knows what sort of eruption could occur, if any.”
Straton and Williamson arrived back in Rivas later that day. Rivas had been there before the railroad came, and had spent only a brief time as the end of track when the Vanderbilt concern had pushed its railroad line through in the 1850s. Now it had grown again, with the surrounding shanty towns so typical of great engineering projects of the 1890s. Across the United States there were at least eight similar towns any year, with a population four or five times what a town should have, as railroads moved westwards towards the Oregon country. Mexico had completed the last of its three trans-continental lines in the 1880s, across the northern edge of her holdings in Nuevo Mexico from the Pueblos along the upper Rio Grande across to Alta California. Supported by the burgeoning fields of Alta California Mexico’s population continued to surge in Tejas, Nuevo Mexico and even in the arid lands south below the Mogollon Rim. From the Irish, Polish, Free Black and Czech settlements in Tejas to the Pueblos along the Rio Grande to the Basques, North African and Levantine Catholics of Arizona the region between the United States and the Pacific had filled with the old world’s oppressed Catholics. The two neighboring republics had enjoyed a level of détente since the end of the United States Civil War for nearly thirty years.
The pair of young men went first to the railroad depot to check for mail and telegrams, and then sent their own to advise the Federal Republic’s government, the American Government and the various financial concerns of what they’d come to suspect about the volcano. Williamson returned to his rooms beside the depot, while Straton went to the consulate, made certain that nothing serious had happened on this Lord’s Day, wrote out a couple loans for trusted canal contractors to bail out crewmen from the night before and went to his own rooms across the compound.