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251 misadventure, and laughed and talked to each other about it. Rito also laughed much at the mistake he had made, and though disposed to be angry at his obstinacy in bringing us several miles out of our course, we knew that he had done his best. All the native servants, when they make a mistake, or do any damage accidentally, treat it as a joke; and it is best, under such circumstances, to be good-humoured with them, as, if reproved, they are very likely to turn sulky, and do some more damage. They are independent, and care nothing about being discharged, as any one can live in Nicaragua without working much. Rito was an active, merry fellow, and might every now and then be observed laughing to himself; if asked what it was about, he was sure to answer that he was thinking about some little accident that had occurred. I once, when trying to loop up the side of my hammock, fell out of it, and next day Rito could not control himself, but was continually exploding in a burst of laughter; and for days afterwards any allusion to it would set him into convulsions. When we returned to Santo Domingo, it was one of his stock stories. He used to say he wanted very much to come to my assistance, but could not for laughing
Next morning we started at daylight, and soon found the path the Indians had told us about, which took us to a place called Jamailý (pronounced Hamerlee), where was an extensive indigo plantation About 100 men were employed weeding and clearing the ground. No fences are required for indigo growing, as neither horses nor cattle will eat the plant. A mile beyond Jamailý we saw, amongst some bushes, a poor-looking, grass
thatched hut, with the sides made of an open work of branches and leaves. We went up to it to try to buy something to eat, but found only three children in it; the oldest, a very dirty little girl of about five years of age, with a piece of cloth worn like a shawl, her only clothing, and the two younger quite naked. A little boy, about three years old, was very talkative, and prattled away all the time we were there. He said that some people living near had four cows, but that they had none; that his father shot deer and sold their skins, and that two days before he fired at a rock, thinking it was a deer.
We heated some water and made tea, and with some sweet bread and native cheese managed to allay our hunger, the little boy amusing us all the time with his prattle. Pointing to a mangy dog lying on the floor covered with some old rags, he said it had fever, and that at night it threw off the rags, and the fleas got at it, but that during the day he kept it well covered up. I was amused with the little fellow, who in that squalid hut, without a scrap of clothing, and fed with the coarsest food, was as happy as, if not happier than any child I had seen. By-and-by an elder girl came along from some other hut, and told us that the man was away hunting for deer, and that his wife had gone to her mother's, about a mile distant. She also informed us that the hunter had not a gun of his own, but gave half the meat of the deer he killed for the loan of one. He had a trained ox, which, as soon as it saw a deer, commenced eating, and walking gradually towards it; whilst the man followed, concealed, and thus got within distance to shoot it. He generally got two when he
went out, and sold the hides for twenty cents per pound, the skins averaging five pounds' weight each. It is astonishing that deer should be so little afraid of man as they are, after having been objects of chase for probably thousands of years. Sometimes when one is encountered in the forest it will stand within twenty yards stupidly gazing at a man, or perhaps striking the ground impatiently with its forefoot, and often waiting long enough for an unloaded gun to be charged. The woman of the house came in before we left, and we paid her for the use of her fire. She did not know how old her children were, and Velasquez told me that very few of the lower classes in Nicaragua knew either their own age or that of their children.
The soil about here, for many leagues, was full of small angular fragments of white quartz. They had attracted my attention the day before, and I now found they were derived from thick beds of conglomerate, the decomposition of which released the fragments of quartz, of which it was mainly composed. Many of these beds of conglomerate were inclined at high angles. I noticed also some contorted, highly-inclined talcose schists, full of small quartz veins, generally running between the laminæ of the schists. Probably the conglomerates bad been produced by the wearing down of these schists.
We passed through two Indian towns—the first Yalaguina, the second Totagalpa. At the last the church looked very clean and pretty, and was ornamented with a single square tower, built of rough stones, and covered with white cement that glistened like marble at a short distance. The peculiar shining appearance of the cement is due to the admixture of a fine
black sand in the whitewash used. The cement itself is strong and durable, and its manufacture was known to the Indians long before the advent of the Spaniards. Bernal Diaz de Castillo, one of the followers of Cortez, often speaks, in his history, of the houses built of stone and lime, and covered with cement. On their march to Mexico, when they arrived at Cempoal, he says, “Our advanced guard having gone to the great square, the buildings of which had been recently plastered and whitewashed, in which art the people are very expert; one of our horsemen was so struck with the splendour of their appearance in the sun that he came back in full speed to Cortez to tell him that the walls of the houses were of silver.” We also learn from the same historian that the city of Cholula “had at that time above 100 lofty white towers, which were the temples of their idols.”
Between Yalaguina and Totagalpa there was much of the conglomerate rock that I have already mentioned. Over this the soil was dry and stony, and filled with small quartz pebbles. The vegetation was scanty, principally thorny shrubs and trees. Amongst the former the Pinuela, a plant closely allied to the pine-apple, and used to make fences, was the most abundant. In the alluvial flats were many fine patches of maize looking extremely well, for in Segovia the crops had not been injured by drought. The low hills were very sandy and dry, and the beds of the brooks waterless, but a little beyond Totagalpa we found a small running stream, and stopped an hour to refresh our mules and to eat some provisions we had bought at Yalaguina.
All through Segovia the country is divided into town
ships, embracing an area of from twenty to twenty-five square leagues. Over each of these there is an alcalde, living in the small central town, and elected by the inhabitants of the townships. The boundaries are marked by heaps of stones surmounted by wooden crosses, set up on the roads leading from one town to another.
After riding a few more leagues over rocky hills with scanty vegetation, we came in sight, from the top of one of the ranges, of the town of Ocotal, the capital of Segovia, with its white walls and red-tiled roofs. Descending a long rocky slope we forded one of the affluents of the Rio Wanks, and half a mile further on arrived at the town, situated on a dry plain. A heavy thunderstorm broke over us as we entered the town, and the rain came down in torrents whilst we were searching for a house to put up at. In answer to our inquiries we were directed to the best house in the town. It was situated at the corner of the plaza, had lofty well-built walls, large doors and gateway, clean tiled floors, and in the courtyard behind a pretty flower garden, with a tank to hold rain water. We were received by two elderly ladies, the sisters of the owner Don Pedro, who made us welcome in a stately sort of way, and got some dinner prepared, consisting of beans, tortillas, avocados, and coffee.
We learnt that the present town was about seventy years old and not very flourishing, as the land around was dry and sterile. The old capital of Segovia was situated five leagues further down the river, where the land around was fertile. But the buccaneers came up the river in their boats and sacked the town, and the site was deserted for one more difficult of access, the