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Ch. XVI.]

DARING ROBBERIES UNKNOWN.

295

small island he admitted was new to him, as he thought it was part of the United States or at least joined to them. He asked if it was true that Rome was one of the four quarters of the globe. We explained that it was only a large city, to which he replied gravely, that he knew it was so, but wished to have our opinion to confirm his own.

No newspapers came to Jinotega, excepting occasionally a Government gazette, and only a few of the grownup people are able to read. News travels quickly from one to another bat every incident is greatly exaggerated, and many extravagant stories are set afloat with no other foundation than the inventive faculties of some idle brain. To appreciate what an immense aid a newspaper press is to the dissemination of truth one must travel in some such country as Nicaragua where newspapers do not circulate. It is impossible to get trustworthy intelligence about any event that has happened a hundred miles away, and stories of murders and robberies that were never committed are widely circulated amongst the credulous people. As far as my experience goes highway robbery is unknown in Nicaragua. Foreigners entrusted with money have stated they have been robbed, but there has always been suspicions that they have themselves embezzled the money that they say they have lost. I myself never carried arms for defence in the country, and was never molested nor even insulted, though I often travelled alone. The only dangerous characters in the country are the lower class of foreigners, and these are not numerous. Petty thefts are common enough, and at 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 myself 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 workins to another opening into the mine and had started for Honduras. Once in the bush pursuit is hopeless, 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 ingenivus. Below the floor was a small horizontal water-wheel driven by the stream striking against the inclined fluats

as the

Ch. XVI.)

UNCOMFORTABLE LODGING.

297

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 greasing. 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, as in many parts I saw the deserted vats in which the plants are 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 that 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; and when at last we discovered it, the prospect before us of a night's lodging was so discouraging that if it had not then been getting quite dark, and we were 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, but 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 porerty and decadence. They said that twenty years ago there was no bush growing around their house, but the country was open grassed savannahs, and that there was less ferer; now the bush grows up to their very doors, and they will not take the trouble to cut it down even to sare 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 rallers separating them, containing many thatclied houses and fields of maize, sugar, and beans. Where not now cultivated the sides of the ranges were covered with werdy-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

Ch. XVI.) TIGER-BEETLES AND BUTTERFLIES.

299

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 was 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

year after year, it still seemed to bear well. We stopped at a small brook just outside the town, and eat 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 hairstreaks (Theclæ). The latter, when they alight, rub their wings together, moving their curious tail-like appendages up and down. Great dragon-flies hawked after flies; and on the surface of still pools “ whirligigs” (Gyrinidæ) 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 porus 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

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