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could only be called unwillingly to them. Our jaded animals trudged on with mechanical steps, and, tired ourselves, we thought of nothing but getting to the end of our day's journey, and resting our weary frames.
We did not return from Palacaguina by the road we had come, but took one much more to the westward. This we did, not only to see a fresh line of country, but to gratify Rito with a visit to his relations, whom he had not seen for two years. Two miles beyond Palacaguina, we crossed a river, beyond which I saw no more of the quartz conglomerate that I have so often mentioned whilst passing through Segovia. From this place to the mines the rocks were soft decomposing dolerites, with many harder bands of felsite, and, occasionally, plains composed of more recent trachytic lavas.
We passed through another weedy, dilapidated town, called Condego, where they have a singular custom at their annual festival held on the 15th of May. For some weeks before this date, they catch all the wild beasts and birds they can, and keep them alive. During the night preceding the feast-day they plant the plaza in front of the church with full-grown plants of maize, rice, beans, and all the other vegetables that they cultivate; and amongst them they fasten the wild beasts and birds that have been collected; so that the sun that set on a bare, weedy plaza rises on one full of vegetable and animal life. The year before, a young jaguar that had been caught was the great attraction. It has now grown so large, that they are afraid of it, and do not know what to do with it. It is kept in an empty house at Pueblo Nuevo, along with a dog, to which it is greatly attached, although it is the one that caught it when young. The custom of planting the square with vegetables, and
bringing together all the wild animals that can be collected, is doubtless an Indian one. The ancient Nicaraguans are said to have worshipped maize and beans, but the service may not have had more significance than our own harvest feasts.
We reached the edge of the savannahs of the plain of Segovia and began to ascend the high ranges that divide it from the province of Matagalpa, and soon entered a mountainous country. Our course at first lay up the banks of a torrent that had cut deeply into beds of boulder clay filled with great stones. The lower part of the range was covered with trees of various kinds, but none of them growing to a great height; higher up we reached the sighing pine trees, and higher still, the hills were covered with grass, and supported herds of cattle. About noon, we arrived at a poor-looking hacienda near the top of the range. The proprietor owned about two hundred cattle, and lived in a house, mud-walled and grass-thatched, consisting of one room and a kitchen. Round the sides of the room were crowded eight rude bedsteads, and hammocks were slung across the centre. A mob of twenty-one men, women, and children, lived at the house, and must have herded together like cattle at night. There were a great number of half-clothed and naked children running about. The women, of whom there were six, made us some chocolate and tortillas ready, and we rested awhile. Before we left, the men came in with the milking cows and calves. There were two men on horseback, but as the country was too rough for riding fast, they were accompanied by three boys on foot, who were sweating profusely with running after the cattle. The calves were separated from the cows and fastened up. The cows would keep near the corral until the next morning, when they would be milked, and the calves turned out with them again.
We continued to ascend for a mile further, and then reached the top of the range, which was bare of trees and covered with sedgy grass. Heavy rain came on, with tremendous gusts of wind, and as the path lay along the very crest of the mountain range, we were exposed to all the fury of the storm. In some places the cargo mule was nearly blown down the steep slope, and the one I was riding had to stop sometimes to keep its feet. The wind was bleak, and we were drenched with rain, and very cold. Fortunately the storm of rain did not last for more than half-an-hour, but the high cold wind continued all the time we were on the ridge, which was several miles long, with steep slopes on either side. We were glad when we got to a more sheltered spot, where some mountain oak trees protected us from the wind, and at four o'clock, reaching a small scattered settlement called Sontúli, we determined, although early in the day, to stay there, as it was Rito's birthplace, and his only sister, whom he had not seen for two years, lived there. All the hamlet were Rito's friends, and he had soon a crowd about him talking and laughing
None of the lands around were enclosed—all seemed to be common property; and every family had a few cows and two or three brood mares. A little maize was grown, but the climate was rather too bleak and wet for it. We were now close to the boundary of the province of Matagalpa, and began again to hear of the drought that had destroyed most of the maize crop in that province, although in Chontales, on one side of it, we
had had rather more rain than usual, and in Segovia, on the other, we had seen that the crops were excellent. Probably the high ranges that bound Matagalpa on every side had intercepted the rains and drained the winds of their moisture.
Having made such an early halt, we intended to have made up for it by an equally early start the next morning, but were detained by our mules having strayed during the night, and it was seven o'clock before they could be found. We had a long day's journey before us, during which we should not be able to buy any provisions, so, over night, Rito's sister had cooked a fowl for us to take with us. She had married one of the settlers of Sontúli, and, although still young and freshlooking, had already three lusty children. The great number of children at all the houses had surprised me greatly, as I had been told that the country was decreasing in population. This, I have no doubt, is a mistake, and the inhabitants, if the country should remain at peace, would multiply rapidly.
On leaving Sontúli, the road led over mountain pastures and through woods of the evergreen oak draped from top to bottom with the grey moss-like Tillandsia, which hung in long festoons from every branch, and was wound around the trunks, like garlands, by the wind: the larger masses, waving in the breeze, hung down for four or five feet below the branches. The small birds build in them, and they form excellent hiding-places for their nests, where they are tolerably secure from the attacks of their numerous enemies. I had often, when in the tropics, to notice the great sagacity or instinct of the small birds in choosing
places for their nests. So many animals—monkeys, wild-cats, raccoons, opossums, and tree-rats—are constantly prowling about, looking out for eggs and young birds, that, unless placed with great care, their progeny would almost certainly be destroyed. The different species of Oropendula or Orioles (Icterido) of tropical America choose high, smooth-barked trees, standing apart from others, from which to hang their pendulous nests. Monkeys cannot get at them from the tops of other trees, and any predatory mammal attempting to ascend the smooth trunks would be greatly exposed to the attacks of the birds, armed, as they are, with strong sharp-pointed beaks. Several other birds in the forest suspend their nests from the small but tough air roots that hang down from the epiphytes growing on the branches, where they often look like a natural bunch of moss growing on them. The various prickly bushes are much chosen, especially the bull's-horn thorn, which I have already described. Many birds hang their nests from the extremities of the branches, and a safer place could hardly be chosen, as with the sharp thorns and the stinging ants that inhabit them, no mammal would, I think, dare to attempt the ascent of the tree. Stinging ants are not the only insects whose assistance birds secure by building near their nests. A small parrot builds constantly on the plains in a hole made in the nests of the termites, and a species of flycatcher makes its nest alongside of that of one of the wasps. On the savannahs, between Acoyapo and Nancital, there is a shrub with sharp curved prickles, called Viena paraca (come here) by the Spaniards, because it is difficult to extricate oneself from its hold