Page images

Ch. XIV.]



the proprietor, Don Estevan Espinosa. Had Nicaragua many such sons they would soon change the face of the country, and turn måny a wilderness into a fruitful garden.

Passing over a stony range, we descended by a steep pass into the valley of the Estelý, and followed it down to the westward across low dry hills with prickly bushes and scrub. About five o'clock we reached an extended plain covered with prickly trees and shrubs, and pressed on to reach the village of Palacaguina, where we proposed to pass the night. There were many paths leading across the plain, and there was no person to be seen to direct us which to take; whilst the scrubby trees interrupted our view in every direction. Rito had once before been in the neighbourhood, and thought he knew the way, so we submitted ourselves to his guidance; but, as it proved, he took a path which lead us past, instead of to, the town. Night set in as we were pushing across dry weed-covered hills, destitute of grass or water, every minute expecting to meet some one who could tell us about the road. Rito was still confident that he was right, although both Velasquez and myself had concluded we must have got on the wrong road. The only animal we met with was a black and white skunk, with a young one following it. The mother ran too fast up a rocky slope for the young one, which was left behind, and came towards us. It was very pretty, with its snowwhite bushy tail laid over its black back; but we were afraid to touch it, fearing that, young as it was, it might have a supply of the fætid fluid that they discharge with too sure an aim at any assailant. The skunks move slowly about, and their large white tails render


them very conspicuous. Their formidable means of defence makes for them the obscure colouration of other dusk-roaming mammals unnecessary, as they do not need concealment.

Hour after hour passed, and we reached no house, nor met any one on the road; and at last, about nine o'clock, we determined to stop at a spot where there was a little grass, but no water, as the poor jaded mules had been ridden since daylight, excepting for an hour at midday. We spread our waterproof sheet from the branch of a tree, and lay down dinnerless and supperless, having bad nothing but a little sweet bread and native cheese all day; we were now too thirsty to eat even that. Hearing some frogs croaking in the distance, Velasquez went away in the direction from whence the sound came, hoping to find some water; but there was none, the frogs being in damp cracks in the ground. About eleven we heard the noises of men talking; and holloaing to them, our shouts were returned. We ran across the plain, through the bushes, and found two Indians, who were returning from some plantations of maize to their home, several miles distant. Both were nearly naked, the youngest having only a loin-cloth on. When talking to us, they shouted as if we were many yards distant; and as soon as one began to answer a question, the other went on repeating, in a higher key, what the first said.

They told us that we had come two leagues past Palacaguina, and were on the road to a small town called Pueblo Nuevo, and directed us how we should find the right track in the morning for continuing our journey to Ocotal. They were highly amused at our mnisadventure, and laughed and talked to each other

[ocr errors]

Ch. XIV.]



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 very 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


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, grassthatched 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 some 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 was as happy, if not happier, in that squalid hut, without a scrap of clothing, and fed with the coarsest food, as any child I had ever 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 of his

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 behind it, and thus got within distance to shoot it. He generally got two when he went out, and sold the hides for twenty cents per


a gun

Ch. XIV.]



pound, the skins averaging five pounds weight each. It is astonishing that the 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 sometimes 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 had 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

« EelmineJätka »