Page images
PDF
EPUB
[ocr errors][merged small][merged small]

dragged him on shore. Some of the “vacqueros," as the herdsmen are called, are wonderfully adroit in throwing the lasso, when riding at full speed; they throw it over the horns of the cattle, and the heads of the horses, and can hold the strongest if sideways on, but I have seen some old bulls that knew how to get loose. They would run straight away from the vacquero in places where he could not ride round them, and getting a straight pull on the lasso, would break it, or draw it out of his hands. There are no horses or mules, and very few cattle, however, that know how to do this.

After crossing the river, we soon reached Pital, where I had a cup of tea and got a fresh mule. We now turned nearly at right angles to our former course, and struck into the dark forest, the road through which I have already described. It was very wet and muddy. In some places, although it was only the commencement of the wet season, the mules sank above their knees. On this occasion, as on many others, I had often to notice how well the mule remembered places where in some former year it had avoided a particularly bad place by making a detour. I was riding a mule that had tender feet, having just recovered from the bite of a spider, that had occasioned the loss of one of its hoofs, and when it came near to a place where it could escape the deep mud by going over a stony part it would slacken its pace and look first at the mud, then at the stones, evidently balancing in its mind which was the least evil. Sometimes, too, when it came to a very bad place, which was better at the sides, I left it to itself, and it would be so undecided which side was the best, that making towards one it would look towards the other, and end by getting into the worst of the mud. It was just like many men who cannot decide which of two courses to take, and end by a middle one, which is worse than either. And just as in men, so in mules, there is every variety of disposition and ability. Some are easily led, others most obstinate and headstrong; some wise and prudent, others foolish and rash. The memory of localities is much stronger in horses and mules than in man. When travelling along a road that they have been over only once, and that some years before, where there are numerous branch roads and turnings, they will never make a mistake, even in the dark; and I have often, at night, when I could not make out the road myself, left them to their own guidance, and they have taken me safely to my destination. Only once was I misled, and that through the too good memory of my mule. Many years before it had been taken to a pasture of good grass, and recollecting this, it took me several miles out of my road towards its old feeding-ground, causing me to be benighted in consequence.

I reached the mines at nine o'clock, and found that during my absence it had been raining almost continuously, although at Juigalpa there had been only a few slight showers.

CHAPTER XI.

Start on journey to Segovia-Rocky Mountain road-A poor lodging

- The rock of Cuapo—The use of large beaks in some birdsComoapa-A native doctor-Vultures-Flight of birds that soar-Natives live from generation to generation on the same spot--Do not give distinctive names to the rivers Caribs barter guns and iron pots for dogs—The hairless dogs of tropical America-Difference between artificial and natural selectionThe cause of sterility between allied species considered— The disadvantages of a covering of hair in a domesticated animal in a tropical country.

In July of the same year, 1872, I made the longest journey of any I undertook in Nicaragua. It had been for some time difficult to obtain sufficient native labourers for our mines, and as we contemplated extending our operations, it was very important that it should be ascertained whether or not we could depend upon obtaining the additional workmen that would be required. Nearly all our native miners came from the high lands of the province of Segovia, near to the boundary of Honduras. The inhabitants of the lower country are mostly vacqueros, used to riding on horseback after cattle, and not to be tempted, even by the much higher wages they can obtain, to engage in the toilsome labour of underground mining. The inhabitants of Segovia, on the contrary, have been miners from time immemorial, and it is work they readily take to. I had often desired

to see for myself what supply of labour could be obtained, but the journey was a long and toilsome one, and it was not until the labour question became urgent that I resolved to undertake it.

Having determined on the journey, I soon completed my preparations. I took my Mestizo boy, Rito, with me; Velasquez was to join me on the road; a pack mule carried our equipment, consisting of some bread, rugs, a large waterproof sheet, a change of clothes, and a hammock. We started at seven o'clock on the morning of the 11th July, and, as usual, made very slow progress through the forest as far as Pital, in consequence of the badness of the road, which was now worse than when I had passed over it a month before. After reaching the savannahs, we proceeded more rapidly. We followed the Juigalpa road until we got two leagues beyond Libertad, when we turned more to the north, taking a path that led over mountain ranges. This road was very rocky and steep; we were continually ascending or descending, and as it rained all the afternoon, the footing for our beasts was very bad. I was riding on a horse, and he not being so sure-footed or so cautious as a mule, often stumbled on the steep and slippery slopes. In some places the path led along the top of the narrow ridge of a long hog-backed hill, in others by a series of zigzags, we surmounted or came down the precipitous slopes. I nearly came to grief at one place. We had climbed up one of these steep hills, and at the top a rocky shelf or cap had to be leaped, at right angles to the narrow path that slanted up the face of the hill. I put my horse to it, but he slipped on the smooth rock and fell. If he had gone back over the narrow path, he must have rolled

[ocr errors][merged small][merged small]

down the abrupt slope; but he made another spring, fell again, but this time with his forefeet over the rock, and on the third attempt he scrambled over and landed me

[graphic][subsumed][merged small]

safely on the top, but, I confess, much shaken in my seat. My straw-hat came off in the struggle, and was rolling merrily down the hill, when it was caught in a low bush, much to Rito's satisfaction, who was anticipating a long tramp after it. We had a fine view from the top of this range over a deep valley, bounded with precipitous cliffs and dark patches of forest. Over our heads floated drifting rain-clouds from the north-east that sometimes concealed the mountain tops, sometimes lifted and showed their craggy summits.

Our beasts were tired out with the rough travelling, and we moved along slowly. About five o'clock we came in sight of the rock of Cuapo, an isolated perpendicular cliff rising about 300 feet above the top of a hill that it crowns. After descending a long, steep range, we reached, near dusk, a small hut, called Tablason, and here we determined to pass the night, although the accommodation was about the scantiest possible. A man and his wife, six children, and a woman to grind the

« EelmineJätka »