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Ch. XX.]

ASIATIC ORIGIN.

373

bound for another seaport, but were overtaken by a storm, in which they lost the helm and mast. Till that day their ship had been drifting about, a mere butt for the winds and waves, during seventeen months; and of thirty-five men only three remained, all the others having died of hunger.'” Is it not likely that in ancient times such accidents may have occurred again and again, and that information of the astronomical and chronological systems of eastern Asia may thus have been brought to the Nahuatls, who, from the ease with which they embraced the religion of the Spaniards, are shown to have been open to receive foreign ideas ?

The three arguments on which Humboldt principally relied to prove that a communication had existed between the east of Asia and the Mexicans may be explained without adopting his theory that the Nahuatls had travelled round from the old world. The remarkable resemblance of the Mexican and Thibeto - Japanese calendars might result from the accidental stranding of a Japanese or Chinese vessel on their shores, bringing to them some man learned in the astronomy of the old world. The correct orientation of the sides of their pyramidal temples was but the result of their great astronomical knowledge and of the worship of the sun. And the resemblance of their traditions of four epochs of destruction and of the dispersion of mankind after a great flood of waters, arose from the fact that the great catastrophes that befell the human race at the melting of the ice of the glacial period were universal over the world.

CHAPTER XXI.

Return to Santo Domingo–The birds of Chontales—The insects of

Chontales-Mimetic forms—Departure from the mines-Nicaragua as a field for emigration—Journey to Greytown—Return to England.

HAVING finished our business at Masaya, we rode back to Granada on the evening of the second day, and the next morning took a passage in a fine steamboat that Mr. Hollenbeck, of Greytown, had placed on the lake to convey passengers and goods between Granada and San Carlos, at the head of the river San Juan. We arrived at San Ubaldo at two o'clock, and found our mules safe but foot-sore, through travelling over the rocky hills from Santo Claro. The San José plains were in a dreadfully muddy state, and for five miles we went plunging through the swamps. Most of the mules fell several times, and we had great difficulty in getting them up again. We passed two travellers with their mules up to their girths in mud, and incapable of extricating themselves, but could not help them, as we dared not allow ours to stand, or they would stick fast also. We had met, at San Ubaldo, the son of Dr. Seemann, on his way home to England. His pack-mule had stuck fast in the plains the night before, and he had passed the night sitting on his boxes, half sunk in the mud, and attacked by myriads of mosquitoes that had covered his hands, face, and neck with blisters.

Ch. XXI.]

MUDDY PLAINS.

375

It was two hours after dark before we got across the weary plains. We found shelter for the night at a small hut on their border, where, for a consideration, the occupants gave up to us their mosquito curtains and stretchers, and sat up themselves. I suppose in such situations people get used to the mosquitoes, but to us they were intolerable. They buzzed around us and settled on our hands and face, if the former were not incessantly employed driving them off. Those of our party who had no curtains had a lively time of it. A gentleman of colour, from Jamaica, who was returning to the mines after escorting young Mr. Seemann to the port, and who could find no place to rest in, excepting an old hammock, kept his long arms going round like a windmill, every now and then wakening every one up with a loud crack, as he tried to bring his flat hand down on one of his tormentors. A mosquito, however, is not to be caught, even in the dark, in such a way. It holds up its two hinder legs as feelers ; the current of air driven before a descending blow warns it of the impending danger, and it darts off to one side, to renew its attack somewhere else. The most certain way to catch them in the dark is to move the outstretched finger cautiously towards where one is felt, until a safe striking distance is reached. But what is the use of killing one when they are in myriads ? None whatever, excepting that it is some occupation for the sleepless victim. The black gentleman was a thinker and a scholar, and used to amuse himself at the mines by writing letters addressed to Mr. Jacob Elam, Esqre. (himself), in which he informed himself that he had been left legacies of ten, twenty, or thirty thousand pounds, a few thousand more or less costing nothing. Pondering during that weary night over the purpose of creation, he startled me about one in the morning with the question, “Mr. Belt, sir, can you tell me what is the use of mosquitoes ?”.

“ To enjoy themselves and be happy, Jacob.”

“Ah, sir! if I was only a mosquito!” said Jacob, as he came down with another fruitless whack.

At the first cock-crow we were up, and as the cheerful dawn lighted up the east, we were in our saddles, and the miseries of the night were but the jests of the morning. The mules even seemed to be eager to leave that dismal swamp, where malaria hung in the air, and mosquitoes did their best to drive mankind away. The dry savannahs were before us, our hearts were young as the morning, the tormenting spirits of the night had flown away with the darkness, and jest and banter enlivened the road. We reached Acoyapo at nine o'clock; my good friend Don Dolores Bermudez lent me a fresh mule, and riding all day, I reached Santo Domingo in the evening.

I have little more of interest to relate. Years had sped on at Santo Domingo; and the time approached when I should be set free from the worries and responsibilities attending the supervision of gold-mines, the products of which were just at that tantalising point, on the verge between profit and loss, that made their superintendence a most irksome and anxious duty. The difficulty of the task was vastly increased by the capital of the company having been originally wasted in the erection of machinery that proved to be useless; so

Ch. XXI.]

BIRDS OF NICARAGUA.

377

that financial questions constantly retarded the completion of the works. This book has not been written, however, to tell the story of the struggles of a mining engineer; and I turn aside with pleasure from this slight digression to say what little more I have to tell of my natural-history experiences.

I did not, until near the conclusion of my stay, commence collecting the skins of birds, contenting myself with watching and noting their habits. I obtained the skins of ninety-tw.o species only; but small as this collection was, it proved an important addition to the knowledge of the bird-fauna of Nicaragua. The eminent ornithologist, Mr. Osbert Salvin, published in the Ibis for July 1872 a list of seventy-three species that I had up to that time sent to England. Altogether, only one hundred and fifty species, including those that I had collected, were known from Nicaragua. Fragmentary as our knowledge is, it is sufficient, in Mr. Salvin's opinion, to indicate, with tolerable accuracy, to which of the two sub-provinces of the Central American fauna the forest region of Chontales belongs. The birds I sent to England proved nearly conclusively that the Costa-Rican sub-province included Chontales in Nicaragua, and that the boundary between it and the subprovince of Southern Mexico and Guatemala must be sought for more to the north-west.

Of the southern species, which in Chontales find their northern limit, so far as is known, there are in my small collection thirty-two species, whilst belonging to the northern sub-province, and not known to range further south, there are only seven species ; showing that the connection with Costa Rica and the south is

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