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EXTEMPORE SHOEMAKING. 53
machete, made proper holes, and, passing a leather string under the instep, around the heel, and between the great doigt du pied and the one next to it, was shod.
Again our road lay on the ridge of a high mountain, with a valley on each side. At a distance were beautiful hillsides, green, and ornamented with pine-trees and cattle grazing upon them, that reminded us of park scenery in England. Often points presented themselves, which at home would have been selected as sites for dwellings, and embellished by art and taste. And it was a land of perpetual summer; the blasts of winter never reach it; but, with all its softness and beauty, it was dreary and desolate.
At two o'clock it began to rain; in an hour it cleared off, and from the high mountain ridge we saw the Motagua River, one of the noblest in Central America, rolling majestically through the valley on our left. Descending by a wild, precipitous path, at four o'clock we reached the bank directly opposite Encuentros. It was one of the most beautiful scenes I ever beheld: all around were giant mountains, and the river, broad and deep, rolled through them with the force of a mighty torrent.
On the opposite bank were a few houses, and two or three canoes lay in the water, but not a person was in sight. By loud shouting we brought a man to the bank, who entered one of the canoes and set her adrift; he was immediately carried far down the stream; but, taking advantage of an eddy, he brought her across to the place where we stood. Our luggage, the saddles, bridles, and other trappings of the mules, were put oa board, and we embarked. Augustin sat in the stern, holding the halter of one of the mules, and leading her like a decoy duck; but the rest had no disposition to follow. The muleteer drove them in up to their necks, but they ran back to the shore. Several times, by pelting them with sticks and stones, he drove them in as before. At length he stripped himself; and, wading to the depth of his breast, with a stick ten or twelve feet long, succeeded in getting them all afloat, and on a line within the reach of his stick. Any one that turned toward the shore received a blow on his nose, and at length they all set their faces for the opposite bank; their little heads were all that we could see, aimed directly across, but carried down by the current. One was carried below the rest; and, when she saw her companions landing, she raised a frightened cry, and almost drowned herself in struggling to reach them.
During all this time we sat in the canoe, with the hot sun beating upon our heads. For the last two hours we had suffered excessively from heat; our clothes were saturated with perspiration and stiff with mud, and we looked forward almost with rapture to a bath in the Motagua and a change of linen. We landed, and walked up to the house in which we were to pass the night. It was plastered and whitewashed, and adorned with streaks of red in the shape of festoons; and in front was a fence made of long reeds, six inches in diameter, split into two; altogether the appearance was favourable. To our great vexation, our luggage had gone on to a rancho three leagues beyond. Our muleteers refused to go any farther. We were unpleasantly situated, but we did not care to leave so soon the Motagua river. Our host told us that his house and all that he had were at our disposal; but he could give us nothing to eat; and, telling Augustin to ransack the village, we returned to the river. Every
THE LUXURY OP WATER. 55
where the current was too rapid for a quiet bath. Call, ing our canoe man, we returned to the opposite side, and in a few minutes were enjoying an ablution, the luxury of which can only be appreciated by those who, like us, had crossed the Mico Mountain without throwing away their clothes.
There was an enjoyment in this bath greater even than that of cooling our heated bodies. It was the moment of a golden sunset. We stood up to our necks in water clear as crystal, and calm as that of some diminutive lake, at the margin of a channel along which the stream was rushing with arrowy speed. On each side were mountains several thousand feet high, with their tops illuminated by the setting sun; on a point above us was a palm-leafed hut, and before it a naked Indian sat looking at us; while flocks of parrots, with brilliant plumage, almost in thousands, were flying over our heads, catching up our words, and filling the air with their noisy mockings. It was one of those beautiful scenes that so rarely occur in human life, almost realizing dreams. Old as we were, we might have become poetic, but that Augustin came down to the opposite bank, and, with a cry that rose above the chattering of parrots and the loud murmur of the river, called us to supper.
We had one moment of agony when we returned to our clothes. They lay extended upon the bank, emblems of men who had seen better days. The setting sun, which shed over all a soft and mellow lustre, laid bare the seams of mud and dirt, and made them hideous. We had but one alternative, and that was to go without them. But, as this seemed to be trenching upon the proprieties of life, we picked them up and put them on reluctant. I am not sure, however, but that we made an unnecessary sacrifice of personal comfort. The proprieties of life are matters of conventional usage. Our host was a don; and when we presented our letter he received us with great dignity in a single garment, loose, white, and very laconic, not quite reaching his knees. The dress of his wife was no less easy; somewhat in the style of the oldfashioned shortgown and petticoat, only the shortgown and whatever else is usually worn under it were wanting, and their place supplied by a string of beads, with a large cross at the end. A dozen men and half-grown boys, naked except the small covering formed by rolling the trousers up and down in the manner I have mentioned, were lounging about the house; and women and girls in such extremes of undress, that a string of beads seemed quite a covering for modesty.
Mr. C. and I were in a rather awkward predicament for the night. The general reception-room contained three beds, made of strips of cowhide interlaced. The don occupied one; he had not much undressing to do, but what little he had, he did by pulling off his shirt. Another bed was at the foot of my hammock. I was dozing, when I opened my eyes, and saw a girl about seventeen sitting sideway upon it, smoking a cigar. She had a piece of striped cotton cloth tied around her waist, and falling below her knees; the rest of her dress was the same which Nature bestows alike upon the belle of fashionable life and the poorest girl; in other words, it was the same as that of the don's wife, with the exception of the string of beads. At first I thought it was something I had conjured up in a dream; and as I waked up perhaps I raised my head, for she gave a few quick puffs of her cigar, drew a cotton sheet over her head and shoulders, and lay down to
PRIMITIVE COSTUMES. 57
sleep. I endeavoured to do the same. I called to mind the proverb, that " travelling makes strange bedfellows." I had slept pellmell with Greeks, Turks, and Arabs. I was beginning a journey in a new country; it was my duty to conform to the customs of the people; to be prepared for the worst, and submit with resignation to whatever might befall me.
As guests, it was pleasant to feel that the family made no strangers of us. The wife of the don retired with the same ceremonies. Several times during the night we were waked by the clicking of flint and steel, and saw one of our neighbours lighting a cigar. At daylight the wife of the don was enjoying her morning slumber. While I was dressing she bade me good-morning, removed the cotton covering from her shoulders, and arose dressed for the day.
We started early, and for some distance our road lay along the banks of the Motagua, almost as beautiful by morning as by evening light. In an hour we commenced ascending the spur of a mountain; and, reaching the top, followed the ridge. It was high and narrow, commanding on both sides an almost boundless view, and seemed selected for picturesque effect. The scenery was grand, but the land wild and uncultivated, without fences, enclosures, or habitations. A few cattle were wandering wild over the great expanse, but without imparting that domestic aspect which in other countries attends the presence of cattle. We met a few Indians, with their machetes, going to their morning's work, and a man riding a mule, with a woman before him, his arm encircling her waist.
I was riding ahead of my companions, and on the summit of the ridge, a little aside from the road, saw a little white girl, perfectly naked, playing before a