Page images

tending far into January, so that it is not until February that the roads begin to dry up.

I had much riding about. The mines worked by us, when I first went out, extended from Consuelo, a mile higher up the valley, to Pavon, a mile below Santo Domingo; and even after I had concentrated our operations to those nearer to our reduction works, there were many occasions for me to ride into the woods. I had to look after our woodcutters and charcoal-burners, to see that they did not encroach upon the lands of our neighbours, as they were inclined to do, and involve us in squabbles and lawsuits ; paths had to be opened out, to bring in nispera and cedar timber, our property surveyed, and new mines, found in the woods, visited and explored. Besides this, I spent most of my spare time in the forest, which surrounded us on every side. Longer excursions were frequent. The Nicaraguans, like all Spanish Americans, are very litigious, and every now and then I would be summoned, as the representative of the company, to appear at Libertad, Juigalpa, or Acoyapo, to answer some frivolous complaint, generally made with the expectation of extorting money, but entertained and probably remanded from time to time by unscrupulous judges, who are so badly paid by the government that they have to depend upon the fees of suitors for their support, and are much open

to corruption. These rides and strolls into the woods were very fruitful in natural-history acquisitions and observations. I shall give an account of some of those made in the immediate vicinity of Santo Domingo, and I wish I could transfer to my readers some of the pleasure that they afforded me. They gave the relief that enabled me to carry on for years an incessant struggle, under great difficulties, to bring the mines into a paying state, continually hampered for want of sufficient capital, with most inadequate machinery, and all the annoyances, delays, and disappointments inevitable in carrying on such a precarious enterprise as gold-mining far in the interior of a half-civilised country.

The brook that ran at the foot of the bank below my house, and there called the “Quebrada de Santo Domingo,” is dignified half a mile lower down, after passing the mines of the Javali Company and receiving the waters of another brook coming down from the westward, by the name of the Javali river. The Indians, however, both at the Indian village of Carca, seven miles back in the mountains, and those lower down the river itself, call it“Artígua.” The preservation of these old Indian names is important, as they might sometime or other throw considerable light on the early inhabitants of the country. In all parts of the world the names of mountains, valleys, lakes, and rivers are among the most certain memorials of the ancient inhabitants. The reason the names of the natural features of a country remain unchanged under the sway of successive nations, speaking totally different languages, appears to be this. The successful invaders of a country, even in the most cruel times, never exterminated the people they conquered; at the least, the young women were spared. The conquerors established their own language, and to everything they had known in their own land they gave their own names; but to things quite new to them, which nearly always included the mountains, valleys, lakes, and rivers, and often the towns and many of the natural productions, they accepted the existing names from the survivors of the conquered people. Often the names were corrupted, the new inhabitants altering them just a little, to render their pronunciation easier, or to make them significant in their own language. Thus the fruit of the Persea gratissima was called “ahuacatl ” by the ancient Mexicans; the Spaniards corrupted it to "avocado," which means an advocate; and our sailors still further, to “alligator pears.” The town of Comelapa, in Chontales, the name of which means, in Spanish, “Eat a macaw,” is undoubtedly a corruption of some old Indian name of similar form to that of the neighbouring village of Comoapa, although the Spaniards give an absurd explanation of it, evidently invented, according to which it was so called because a sick man was cured of a deadly disease by eating the bird indicated.

The Artígua-I shall call it so, to do what I can to save the name from oblivion—is woefully polluted by the gold-mining on its banks, and flows, a dark muddy stream, through the village of Santo Domingo, and just below it precipitates itself one hundred and twenty feet over a rocky fall. One of the forest roads leads down its banks for several miles to some small clearings, where a few scattered, Spanish-speaking Indians and half-breeds cultivate maize and plantains. After leaving Santo Domingo, it at first follows the left bank of the stream, through low bushes and small trees of second growth, then crosses a beautiful clear brook coming down from the east, and finally winding round a slope covered with great trees and dense undergrowth, reaches the site chosen for the machinery at Pavon, where a large space has been cleared, much of which is covered with grass. After descending a steep hill, the Artígua, with its muddy water, is crossed. Here, in the dry season, in the hot afternoons, the wet sandy banks were the favourite resorts of multitudes of butterflies, that gathered in great masses on particular moist spots in such numbers that with one swoop of my net I have enclosed more than thirty in its gauzy folds. These butterflies were principally different species of Callidryas, yellow and white, mixed with brown and red species of Timetes, which, when disturbed, rose in a body and circled about; on the ground, looking like a bouquet; when rising, like a fountain of flowers. In groups, by themselves, would be five or six specimens of yellow and black Papilios, greedily sucking up the moisture, and vibrating their wings, now and then taking short flights and settling again to drink. Hesperidæ, too, abounded; and in a favourable afternoon more than twenty different species of butterflies might be taken at these spots, the finest being a lovely white, green, and black swallow-tailed Papilio, the first capture of which filled me with delight. Near the river were some fallen-down wooden sheds, partly overgrown with a red-flowered vine. Here a large spider (Nephila) built strong yellow silken webs, joined one on to the other, so as to make a complete curtain of web, in which were entangled many large butterflies, generally forest species, caught when flying across the clearing. I was at first surprised to find that the kinds that frequent open places were not caught, although they abounded on low white-flowered shrubs close to the webs; but, on getting behind them, and trying to frighten them within the silken curtain, their instinct taught them to avoid it, for, although startled, they threaded their way through open spaces and between the webs with the greatest ease. It was one instance of many I have noticed of the strong instinct implanted in insects to avoid their natural enemies. I shall mention two others. The Heliconido, a tribe of butterflies peculiar to tropical America, with long, narrow, weak wings, are distasteful to most animals: I have seen even spiders drop them out of their webs again; and small monkeys, which are extremely fond of insects, will not eat them, as I have proved over and over again. Probably, in consequence of this special protection, they have not needed stronger wings, and hence their weak flight. They are also very bold, allowing one to walk close up to flowers on which they alight. There is one genus with transparent wings that frequents the whiteflowered shrubs in the clearings, and I have sometimes advanced my hand within six inches of them without frightening them. There is, however, a yellow and black banded wasp that catches them to store his nest with ; and whenever one of these came about, they would rise fluttering in the air, where they were safe, as I never saw the wasp attack them on the wing. It would hawk round the groups of shrubs, trying to pounce on one unawares; but their natural dread of this foe made it rather difficult to do so. When it did catch one, it would quietly bite off its wings, roll it up into a ball, and fly off with it. Again, the cockroaches that infest the houses of the tropics are very wary, they have numerous enemies-birds, rats, scorpions, and spiders: their long, trembling antennæ are ever stretched out, as if feeling the very texture of the air around them; and their long legs quickly take them out of danger.


« EelmineJätka »