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hand near it without being struck, and the blow would always draw blood. That in the tropics birds should have some special development for the protection of their breeding-places is not to be wondered at when we reflect upon the great number of predatory mammals, monkeys, raccoons, opossums, &c., that are constantly searching about for nests and devouring the eggs and young ones. I have already mentioned the great danger they run from the attacks of the immense armies of foraging ants, and the importance of having some means of picking off the scouts, that they may not return and scent the trail for the advance of the main body, whose numbers would overcome all resistance.
After examining round the rock without finding any place by which it could be ascended, I rejoined Rito in the valley below, and we continued our journey. We passed over some ranges and wide valleys, where there was much grass and a few scattered huts, but very little cattle ; the country being thinly populated. On the top of a rocky range we stayed at a small house for breakfast, and they made us ready some tortillas. As usual, there seemed to be three or four families all living together, and there were a great number of children. The men were two miles away at a clearing on the edge of the forest, looking after their “milpas,” or maize patches. The house, though small, was cleaner and tidier than the others we had seen, and in furniture could boast of a table and a few chairs, which showed we had chanced to fall on the habitation of one of the well-to-do class. The ceiling of the room we were in was made of bamboo - rods, above which maize was stored. The women were good-looking, and appeared
A VILLAGE DOCTOR.
to be of nearly pure Spanish descent; which perhaps accounted for the chairs and table, and also for the absence of any attempt at gardening around the house
—for the Indian eschews furniture, but is nearly always à gardener.
We finished our homely breakfast and set off again, crossing some more rocky ranges, and passing several Indian huts with orange trees growing around them, and at two o'clock in the afternoon reached the small town of Comoapa, where I determined to wait for Velasquez. Looking about for a house to stay at, we found one kept by a woman who formerly lived at Santo Domingo, and who was glad to receive us; though we found afterwards she had already more travellers staying with her than she could well accommodate.
I had shot a pretty mot-mot on the road, and proceeded to skin it, to the amusement and delight of about a dozen spectators, who wondered what I could want with the “hide” of a bird, the only skinning that they had ever seen being that of deer and cattle. A native doctor, who was staying at the house, insisted on helping me, and as the mot-mot's skin is very tough, he did not do much harm. The bird had been shot in the morning, and some one remarking that no blood flowed when it was cut, the doctor said, with a wise air, that that class of birds had no blood, and that he knew of another class that also had none, to which his auditors gave a satisfied “Como no” (“Why not?"). He also gave us to understand that he had himself at one time skinned birds, for being evidently looked up to as an authority on all subjects by the simple country people, he was unwilling that his reputation should suffer by it being supposed that a stranger had come to Comoapa who knew something that he did not. Having skinned my bird and put the skin out in the sun to dry, I took a stroll through the small town, and found it composed mostly of huts inhabited by Mestizos, with a tumbledown church and a weed-covered plaza. Around some of the houses were planted mango and orange trees, but there was a general air of dilapidation and decay, and not a single sign of industry or progress visible.
Velasquez arrived at dusk, having ridden from Libertad that day. About a dozen of us slung our hammocks in the small travellers' room, where, when we had all gone to rest, we looked like a cluster of great bats hanging from the rafters. No one could get along the room without disturbing every one else, and the next morning all were early astir. We got our animals saddled as soon as possible, and set off on our journey. It was a clear and beautiful morning, and a cool breeze from the north-east fanned us as we rode blithely over grassy savannahs and hills. High up in the air soared a couple of large black vultures, floating on the wind, and describing large circles without apparent movement or exertion, scanning from their airy height the country for miles around, on the look-out for their carrion food. Like all birds that soar, both over sea and land, when it is calm the vultures are obliged to flap their wings to fly; but when a breeze is blowing they are able to use their specific gravity as a fulcrum, by means of which they present their bodies and outstretched wings and tails at various angles to the wind, and literally sail. How often, when becalmed on southern seas, when not
FLIGHT OF BIRDS IN STORMS.
a breath of air was stirring and the sails idly flapped against the mast, have I seen the albatross, the petrel, and the Cape-pigeon resting on the water, or rising with difficulty, and only by the constant motion of their long wings able to fly at all. But when a breeze sprang up they were all life and motion, wheeling in graceful circles, now presenting one side, now the other, to view, descending rapidly with the wind, and so gaining velocity to turn and rise up again against it. Then, as the breeze freshened to a gale, the petrels darted about, playing round and round the scudding ship, at home on the wings of the storm, poising themselves upon the wind as instinctively and with as little effort as a man balances himself on his feet. The old times recurred as I rode over the savannah, and the soaring vultures brought back to my mind the wheeling stormy petrels that darted about whilst under close-reefed topsails we struggled against the gale, rounding the stormy southern cape; when great blue seas, “green glimmering towards the summit," towered on every side, or struck our gallant ship like a sledge, making it shiver with the blow, and sending a driving cloud of spray from stem to stern. Then the petrels were in their element; then they darted about—above, below, now here, now there—all life and motion ; as if their chief pleasure was, like Ariel, “ to ride on the curled cloud” and “point the tempest.”*
We were travelling nearly parallel with the edge of the great forest which was two or three miles away on our right; in all other directions the view was bounded by ranges, some grassed to their tops, others with forests climbing up their steep sides, excepting where white cliffs gave no foothold for the trees. We passed several grass-thatched huts inhabited by half-clad Indians or Mestizos, who generally possess a few cows, and, away on the edge of the forest, small clearings of maize. These people, with unlimited fertile land at their disposal, were all sunk in what looked like squalid poverty; but they had a roof over their heads, and sufficient, though coarse, food, and they cared for nothing more. Our road lay a couple of miles to the north of the village of Huaco, where much of the maize of the province is grown; the road then led over many swampy valleys, and our beasts had hard work plunging through the mud. We passed through La Puerta, a scattered collection of Indian huts; then over a river called the Aguasco, running to the east, and probably emptying into the Rio Grande. There were a few orange trees about some of the huts, but most of the people were Mestizos, or half-breeds, and nothing but weeds grew around their habitations. Their plantations of maize were always some miles distant, and they never seem to think of moving their houses nearer to their clearings on the edge of the forest. Nearly always when I asked the question, I found that the grown-up people had been born on the spot where they lived, and they are evidently greatly attached to the localities where they have been brought up. Probably when the settlements were first made, forest land lay near, in which they made their clearings and raised their crops of corn. Since then the edge of the forest has
* The Duke of Argyll, in his “ Reign of Law," has some excellent remarks on the flight of birds that soar, or hover. My remarks, of which the above account is a paraphrase, were written out in my journal in 1852, but were not published.