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A M O D E R N B O N A D E A 63
an indication of a change of feeling and government; as a prelude to the restoration of the influence of the church and the revival of ceremonies dear to the heart of the Indian. As such, it was hailed by all the villages through which she had passed; and that night she would receive the prayers of the Christians of Gualan.
The Santa Lucia enjoyed a peculiar popularity from her miraculous power over the affections of the young; for any young man who prayed to her for a wife, or any young woman who prayed for a husband, was sure to receive the object of such prayer; and if the person praying indicated to the saint the individual wished for, the prayer would be granted, provided such individual was not already married. It was not surprising that a saint with such extraordinary powers, touching so directly the te'nderest sensibilities, created a sensation in a place where the feelings, or, rather, the passions, are particularly turned to love.
Donna Bartola invited us to accompany her, and, Betting out, we called upon a friend of hers; during the whole visit, a servant girl sat with her lap full of tobacco, making straw cigars for immediate use. It was the first time we had smoked with ladies, and, at first, it was rather awkward to ask one for a light; but we were so thoroughly broken in that night that we never had any delicacy afterward. The conversation turned upon the saint and her miraculous powers; and when we avowed ourselves somewhat skeptical, the servant girl, with that familiarity, though not want of respect, which exists throughout Central America, said that it was wicked to doubt; that she had prayed to the saint herself, and two months afterward she was married, and to the very man she prayed for, though at the time he had no idea of her, and, in fact, wanted another girl.
With this encouragement, locking the house, and accompanied by children and servants, we set out to pay our homage to the saint. The sound of a violin and the firing of rockets indicated the direction of her temporary domicil. She had taken up her residence in the hut of a poor Indian in the suburbs; and, for some time before reaching it, we encountered crowds of both sexes, and all ages and colours, and in every degree of dress and undress, smoking and talking, and sitting or lying on the ground in every variety of attitude. Room was made for our party, and we entered the hut.
It was about twenty feet square, thatched on the top and sides with leaves of Indian corn, and filled with a dense mass of kneeling men and women. On one side was an altar, about four feet high, covered with a clean white cotton cloth. On the top of the altar was a frame, with three elevations, like a flower-stand, and on the top of that a case, containing a large wax doll, dressed in blue silk, and ornamented with gold leaf, spangles, and artificial flowers. This was the Santa Lucia. Over her head was a canopy of red cotton cloth, on which was emblazoned a cross in gold. On the right was a sedan chair, trimmed with red cotton and gold leaf, being the travelling equipage of the saint; and near it were Indians in half-sacerdotal dress, on whose shoulders she travelled; festoons of oranges hung from the roof, and the rough posts were inwrapped with leaves of the sugar-cane. At the foot of the altar was a mat, on which girls and boys were playing; and a little fel, low about six years old, habited in the picturesque costume of a straw hat, and that only, was coolly surveying the crowd.
The ceremony of praying had already begun, and the music of a drum, a violin, and a flageolet, under the di
HOW TO GAIN A HUSBAND. 65
rection of the Indian master of ceremonies, drowned the noise of voices. Donna Bartola, who was a widow, and the other ladies of our party, fell on their knees; and, recommending myself to their prayers, I looked on without doing anything for myself, but I studied attentively the faces of those around me. There were some of both sexes who could not strictly be called young; but they did not, on that account, pray less earnestly. In some places people would repel the imputation of being desirous to procure husband or wife; not so in Gualan: they prayed publicly for what they considered a blessing. Some of the men were so much in earnest that perspiration stood in large drops upon their faces; and none thought that praying for a husband need tinge the cheek of a modest maiden. I watched the countenance of a young Indian girl, beaming with enthusiasm and hope; and, while her eyes rested upon the image of the saint and her lips moved in prayer, I could not but imagine that her heart was full of some truant, and perhaps unworthy lover.
Outside the hut was an entirely different scene. Near by were rows of kneeling men and women, but beyond were wild groups of half-naked men and boys, setting off rockets and fireworks. As I moved through, a flash rose from under my feet, and a petard exploded so near that the powder singed me; and, turning round, I saw hurrying away my rascally muleteer. Beyond were parties of young men and women dancing by the light of blazing pine sticks. In a hut at some little distance were two haggard old women, with large caldrons over blazing fires, stirring up and serving out the contents with long wooden ladles, and looking like witches dealing out poison instead of love-potions.
At ten o'clock the prayers to the saint died away, and
the crowd separated into groups and couples, and many fell into what in English would be called flirtations. A mat was spread for our party against the side of the hut, and we all lighted cigars and sat down upon it. Cups made of small gourds, and filled from the caldrons with a preparation of boiled Indian corn sweetened with various dolces, were passed from mouth to mouth, each one sipping and passing it on to the next; and this continued, without any interruption, for more than an hour. We remained on the ground till after midnight, and then were among the first to leave. On the whole, we concluded that praying to the Santa Lucia must lead to matrimony; and I could not but remark that, in the way of getting husbands and wives, most seemed disposed to do something for themselves, and not leave all to the grace of the saint.
The next day it was excessively hot, and we remained within doors. In the evening we visited the padre, who had just returned from a neighbouring village. He was a short, fat man, and had on a white nightcap, a blue striped jacket, and white pantaloons, and we found him swinging in a hammock and smoking a cigar. He had a large household of women and children; but as to the relation in which they stood to him, people differed. He gave us more information in regard to the country than we had yet been able to obtain, and particularly in regard to Copan, a ruined city which Ave wished to visit. He was familiar with the history of the Indians, and understood thoroughly the character of the present race; and, in answer to our question if they were all Christians, said that they were devout and religious, and had a great respect for the priests and saints. With this he hitched up his bursting pantaloons, and lighted another cigar. We might have smiled at
the idea of his confounding his comfortable figure with the saints; but he had so much good sense and good feeling that we were not disposed to be captious. The next morning our muleteer came, but, through some misunderstanding, he had not mules enough to carry all our luggage. Rather than wait, we started without him, and left part of the baggage for him to bring on to Zacapa the next day. Leaving Gualan, we had on our right the Motagua River, which had now become to us a friend, and beyond it the great range of the mountains of Vera Paz, six or eight thousand feet high. In an hour we commenced ascending. Soon we were in a wilderness of flowers; shrubs and bushes were clothed in purple and red; and on the sides of the mountain, and in the ravines leading down to the river, in the wildest positions, were large trees so covered with red that they seemed a single flower. In three hours we descended from our mountain height, and came once more to the river side, where it was rolling swiftly, and in some places breaking into rapids. We followed for about an hour, and rose again several thousand feet. At two o'clock we reached the village of San Pablo, situated on a lofty table of land, looking down upon the river, and having its view bounded by the mountains of Vera Paz. The church stood at the entrance of the village. We turned our mules loose to graze, and took our meal in the porch. It was a beautiful position, and two waterfalls, shining like streaks of silver on the distant mountain side, reminded us of cascades in Switzerland. We procured a guide from the alcalde to conduct us to Zacapa; and, resuming our journey, for two hours more had the same great range upon our right. The sun was obscured, but occasionally it broke through