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We reached Palacaguina an hour before dark; and on asking for lodging for the night, were directed to a small poor-looking house. The front door of this was closed when we rode up, but was opened with haste, and about a dozen young men rushed out, who, it turned out afterwards, had been gambling, and hence the closed doors. We were asked to alight; one man took the gun; others offered to take our hats, to unload the pack-mule, &c. Two or three of them were Zambeses, and not very good-looking; they made themselves so officious, that Velasquez confessed to me afterwards that he was rather afraid of them, and thought they were too pressing in their attentions, and meant to rob us. Our fears were groundless; they had been suddenly startled in the midst of an illegal game, and were glad to find that we were not government officers pouncing upon them. The house itself was dirty and small, with one hammock and one chair for its furniture; we should have fared badly if one of the men, Don Trinidad Soso, had not recollected having once seen Velasquez before, and on the strength of that considered himself bound to take our entertainment into his own hands. He was the nephew of the padre, who was absent, and he invited us to his uncle’s house, where we were soon installed, and found it much more comfortable quarters. The padre had a good-looking housekeeper, who was also an excellent cook; and she soon got us ready a Supper of venison, tortillas, eggs, and chocolate, to which we did not fail to do justice. Then the padre's bedstead was placed at my disposal, so that altogether we had been most fortunate in meeting with our good friend Don Trinidad.
Most of the people living at Palacaguina were half
Ch. XV.] FRESHNESS OF EARLY MORNING. 285
breeds with a large infusion of negro blood; and the weed-covered streets and plaza and dilapidated church compared unfavourably with the not far distant Indian town of Totagalpa. The Mestizos are a thriftless, careless people; but I cannot here dilate on their failings. Let only the hospitality and kindness I experienced in Palacaguina live in my mind, and let regret draw a veil over their failings, and censure forget to chide. Next morning Don Trinidad went himself to get us milk for our chocolate, and three or four others assisted us as kindly on our departure as they had welcomed us on our arrival; so that we rode away with more pleasant recollections of the weedy-looking town than if we had been entertained by grandees; for these people were poor, and had assisted us out of pure good nature. The country at first was level, and the roads Smooth and dry. The morning was delightfully cool; and as we trotted along our spirits were high and gay, and Snatches of Song sprung unbidden to our lips. How delightful these rides in the early morning were ! how all nature seemed to be in accord with our feelings | Every bush and tree was noted, every bird-call heard. We would shout to one another, “Do you see this or that?” or set Rito off into convulsions with some thin joke. Every sense was gratified; it was like the youth of life. But as the day wore on, the Sun would shine hotter and hotter; what had been a pleasure became a toil; and we would push on determinedly but silently. The day would wear on, and our shadows come again and begin to lengthen; the heat of the day was past, but our spirits would not mount to their morning's height. The beautiful flowers, the curious thorny bushes, the gorgeous butterflies, and many-coloured birds, were all there; but our attention 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,
Ch. XV.] ASCEND THE HIGH RANGES. 287
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 been dissimilar to 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 reached 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 Sontuli, we determined to stay, early as it was, 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