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A NIGHTS LODGING 21
hooked each of them to the hammock. While he was preparing them the woman was showing horn combs, beads, earrings, and rosaries, and entrapped the daughter of the host into the purchase of a comb. The house had an unusual influx of company. The young man, the female merchant, and I do not know how many of the family, slept in a back room. The elder traveller offered me the hammock, but I preferred the long chest, made from the trunk of a tree, which in every house in Nicaragua served as a sort of cupboard.
Beautiful Plain.—Leon.—Stroll through the Town.—Baneful Effects of Party Spirit.—Scenes of Horror.—Unpleasant Intelligence.—Journey continued.— A fastidious Beggar.—Chinandega.—Gulf of Conchagua.—Visit to Realejo.— Cotton Factory.—Harbour of Realejo.—El Viejo.—Port of Naguiscolo —Importance of a Passport.—Embarking Mules.—A Bungo.—Volcano of Coseguina.—Eruption of 1835.—La Union.
At two o'clock we were awakened by the crowing of the cocks, and at three the cargo-mules were loaded and we set off. The road was level and wooded, but desperately dusty. For two hours after daylight we had shade, when we came upon an open plain, bounded on the Pacific side by a low ridge, and on the right by a high range of mountains, forming part of the great chain of the Cordilleras. Before us, at a great distance, rising above the level of the plain, we saw the spires of the Cathedral of Leon. This magnificent plain, in richness of soil not surpassed by any land in the world, lay as desolate as when the Spaniards first traversed it. The dry season was near its close; for four months there had been no rain, and the dust hung around us in thick clouds, hot and fine as the sands of Egypt. At nine o'clock we reached Leon, and I parted from my companions, but not without a courteous invitation from the younger to take up my rest at the house of his brother. The suburbs were more miserable than anything I had yet seen. Passing up a long street, across which a sentinel was patrolling, I saw in front of the quartel a group of vagabond soldiers, a match for Carrera's, who cried out insolently, " Quitese su sombrero," " Take off your hat." I had to traverse the whole extent of the
AN UNCIVIL HOSTESS. 23
city before I reached the house to which I had been recommended. I dismounted, and entered it with confidence of a warm reception; but the lady, with considerable expedition, told me that her husband was not at home. I gave her a note with which I had been furnished, addressed to herself; but she said she could not read English, and handed it back. I translated it word for word, being a request that she would give me lodgings. Her brow actually knit with vexation; and she said she had but one spare room, and that was reserved for the English vice-consul from Realejo. I answered that the vice-consul did not intend leaving Realejo for the present. She asked me how long I intended to stay; and when I replied only that night, she said that if such was the case I might remain. The reader will perhaps wonder at my want of spirit; but the fact is, I was loth to consider any incivility personal. My only alternative was to seek out the young man whose invitation I had declined, and whose name I did not know, or to ask admission from door to door. It is said that women are governed by appearances, and mine was not very seductive. My dress was the same with which I had left Grenada, soiled by the ascent of the Volcano of Masaya, and now covered with dust. Making the most of my moderate wardrobe, on my reappearance I was more favourably received. At least I had a capital breakfast; and as it was very hot, and I wanted to rest, I remained in doors and played with the children. At dinner I had the seat of honour at the head of the table, and had made such progress, that, if I had desired it, I would have ventured to broach the subject of remaining another day; and I owe it to the lady to say, that, having assented to my remaining, 8he treated me with great civility and attention, and particularly used great exertions in procuring me a guide to enable me to set out the next day.
After dinner Nicolas came to my room, and with uplifted hands cried out against the people of Leon, Gente indecente, sin verguenza (literally), indecent people, without shame. . He had been hooted in the streets, and had heard such stories of the state of the country before us that he wanted to return home. I was extremely loth to make another change, and particularly for any of the assassin-looking scoundrels whom I had seen on my entry; but I did not like the responsibility of taking him against his will, and told him that if he would procure me two honest men he might leave me. I had advanced him more than .was due, but I had a security against his deserting me in his apprehension of being taken for a soldier.
This over, I walked out to take a view of the town. It had an appearance of old and aristocratic respectability, which no other city in Central America possessed. The houses were large, and many of the fronts were full of stucco ornaments; the plaza was spacious, and the squares of the churches and the churches themselves magnificent. It was the seat of a bishopric, and distinguished for the costliness of its churches and convents, its seats of learning, and its men of science, down to the time of its revolution against Spain; but in walking through its streets I saw palaces in which nobles had lived dismantled and roofless, and occupied by half-starved wretches, pictures of misery and want; and on one side an immense field of ruins, covering half the city.
Almost immediately on the establishment of inde
SCENES OF HORROR. 25
pendence, and the drawing of the great party-lines between the Centralists and Federalists, the State of Nicaragua became the theatre of a furious struggle. In an unfortunate hour the people elected a Central governor and Liberal vice-governor. A divided administration led to drawing of blood and the most sanguinary conflict known in civil wars. Inch by inch the ground was disputed, till the whole physical force and deadly animosity of the state were concentrated in the capital. The contending parties fought up to the very heart of the city; the streets were barricaded, and for three months not a person could pass the line without being shot at. Scenes of horror surpassing human belief are fresh in the memory of the inhabitants. The Liberals prevailed; the Central chief was killed, his forces massacred, and in the phrensy of the moment, the part of the city occupied by the Centralists was burned and razed to the ground; besides the blood of murdered citizens, the tears and curses of widows and orphans, the victors had the rich enjoyment of a desolated country and a ruined capital. The same ruthless spirit still characterized the inhabitants of Leon. The heroes of Taguzegalpa, without a single prisoner as a monument of mercy, had been received with ringing of bells and firing of cannon, and other demonstrations of joy, and they were still in the city, flushed with their brutal victory, and anxious to be led on to more such triumphs.
I must confess that I felt a degree of uneasiness in walking the streets of Leon that I never felt in any city in the East. My change of dress did not make my presence more acceptable, and the eagle on my hat attracted particular attention. At every corner was a group of scoundrels, who stared at me as if disposed to pick a quarrel. With some my official character made Vol. II.—D 3