Page images

the mines we found that none of the labouring class were to be trusted; but robberies of a daring character or accompanied by violence were never committed by the natives to my knowledge.

In their drinking bouts they often quarrel among themselves, and slash about with their long heavy knives, inflicting ugly gashes and often maiming each other for life. One-armed men are not uncommon; and I knew of two cases where an arm was chopped off in these encounters. Nearly every pay-week our medical officer was sent for to sew up the wounds that had been received. Fortunately even at these times they do not interfere with foreigners, their quarrels being amongst themselves, and either faction fights or about their women, or gambling losses. Many of the worst cases of cutting with knives were by the Honduraneans employed at the mines, who generally got off through the mountains to their own country. One who was taken managed to escape by inducing the soldiers who had him in charge to take him up to the mines to bring out his tools. He went in at the level whilst they guarded the entrance. Hour after hour passed without his returning, and at last they learnt that he had got through some old workings to another opening into the mine and had started for Honduras. Once in the bush pursuit is hopeless, as the undergrowth is so dense that it is impossible to follow by sight.

We left Jinotega at seven in the morning, passed over the pine-clad ranges again, and at one o'clock came in sight of the town of Matagalpa. At the river a mill was at work grinding wheat. I went into the shed that covered it and found it to be simple and ingenious. Below the floor was a small horizontal water-wheel driven by the stream striking against the inclined floats. The shaft of the wheel passed up through the floor and the lower stone, and was fixed to the upper one, which turned round with it without any gearing. The flour made is dark and full of impurities, as no care is taken to keep it clean.

We found the mules and horses we had left at Matagalpa in good condition, and after getting some dinner started again, taking the road towards Teustepe instead of that by which we had come, as we were told we should avoid the swamps by so doing, for more to the westward they had had no rain. We rode down the valley below the town and found it very dry and barren, the only industry worth naming being a small indigo plantation. Indigo seems to have been more cultivated formerly than now. In many parts I saw the deserted vats in which the plants were steeped to extract the dye. We ascended a high range to the left of the valley, on the top of which were a few pine trees. These we were told were the last we should see on the road to Chontales. On the other side of the range the descent was very steep, and the road was carried down the precipitous and rocky slope in a series of zigzags, so that we saw the mules a few score yards in advance directly under our feet.

From the hill we had seen a house in the valley, and as night was setting in we sought for it, but the whole district was so covered with low scrubby trees with many paths running in various directions that it was long before we found it. When at last we discovered it,

the prospect before us of a night's lodging was so discouraging that had it not then been getting quite dark, and being told that we should have to travel several miles before coming to another house, we should have sought for other shelter. The small hut was as usual filled with men, women, and children. Two of the women were lying ill, and one seemed to be dying. There was no room for us in the hut if we had been willing to enter it. We slung our hammocks under a small opensided shed near by and passed a miserable night. A strong cold wind was blowing, and the swinging of the hammocks caused by it kept a number of dogs continually barking and snapping at our hammocks and boots. We rose cold and cramped at daylight, and without waiting to make ready any coffee, saddled our beasts and rode away.

A little maize was grown about this place, and the people told us that sugar thrived, but the plantations of it were small and ill-kept, and everything had a look of poverty and decadence. They said that twenty years ago there was no bush growing around their house. The country was then open grassed savannahs, and there was less fever. Now the bush grows up to their very doors, and they will not take the trouble to cut it down even to save themselves from the attacks of fever. Here, as everywhere throughout the central provinces, deep ingrained indolence paralyses all industry or enterprise, and with the means of plenty and comfort on every side, the people live in squalid poverty.

For four leagues we rode over high ranges with very fine valleys separating them, containing many thatched houses and fields of maize, sugar, and beans. Where not now cultivated the sides of the ranges were covered with weedy-looking shrubs and low trees, proving that all the land had at one time been cropped, and this was further shown by the old lines of pinuela fences and ditches that were seen here and there amongst the brushwood. As we got further south the alluvial flats in the valleys increased in size and fertility, and the cultivated fields were enclosed with permanent fences. On some of the ranges we crossed, the rocks were amygdaloidal, containing nests of a white zeolite, the fractured planes of which glittered like gems on the pathway.

Eight leagues from Matagalpa we reached the small town of Tierrabona, where, as the name implies, the land is very good. Every house had an enclosure around it, planted with maize and beans: and though it was evident that the land was cropped year after year, it still seemed to bear well. We stopped at a small brook just outside the town, and ate some provisions we had brought from Matagalpa. Some speckled tiger-beetles ran about the dusty road, and on wet muddy places near the stream groups

of butterflies collected to suck the moisture. Amongst them were some fine swallow-tails (Papilio), quivering their wings as they drank, and lovely blue hair-streaks (Thecle). The latter, when they alight, rub their wings together, moving their curious tail-like appendages up and down. Great dragon-flies hawked after flies; while on the surface of still pools “whirligigs” (Gyrinidae) wheeled about in mazy gyrations, just as they are seen to do at home.

Savannahs, sparingly timbered, were next crossed ; then we reached one of those level plains, with black soil and blocks of porous trachyte lying on the surface,

which are swamps in the rainy season, and have for vegetation sedgy grasses and scattered jicara trees, cactuses and thorny acacias. Up to the time we passed, there had been no rain in these parts, and the plain was dry and bare, with great cracks in the black soil. The grass had not sprung up, not a breath of air was stirring, and the heated air quivered over the parched ground, forming in the distance an imperfect mirage.

Directly overhead the noonday sun hung hot in the hazy sky. As we moodily toiled over the plain, my attention was arrested by a dust whirlwind that suddenly sprang up about fifty yards to our left. The few dry leaves on the ground began to whirl round and round, and to ascend. In a minute a spiral column was formed, reaching, perhaps, to the height of fifty feet, consisting of dust and dry dead leaves, all whirling round with the greatest rapidity. The column was only a few yards in diameter. It moved slowly along, nearly parallel with our course, but only lasting a few minutes. Before I could point it out to Velasquez, who had ridden on ahead, it had dissolved away. I had been very familiar with these air eddies in Australia, and had hoped to carry on some investigations concerning them, begun there, in Central America; but, though common on the plains of Mexico and of South America, this was the only one I witnessed in Central America.

The interest with which I regarded these miniature storms was due to the assistance that their study was likely to give in the discussion of the cause of all circular movements of the atmosphere, including the dreaded typhoon and cyclone. The chief meteorologists who have discussed this difficult question have

« EelmineJätka »