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SCARCITY OF PROVISIONS. 2S3
barely enough for the season, and this turning out bad, they were reduced to fruits, plantains, and roots in stead of tortillas. Each white family had about enough for its own use, but none to spare. The shortness of the corn-crop made everything else scarce, as they were obliged to kill their fowls and pigs from want of anything to feed them with. The alcalde, who to his other offences added that of being rich, was the only man in the place who had any to spare, and he was holding on for a greater pressure. At Tumbala we had bought good corn at thirty ears for sixpence; here, with great difficulty, we prevailed upon the alcalde to spare jus a little at eight ears for a shilling, and these were so musty and worm-eaten that the mules would hardly touch them. At first it surprised us that some enterprising capitalist did not import several dollars' worth from Tumbala; but on going deeper into the matter we found that the cost of transportation would not leave much profit, and, besides, the course of exchange was against Palenque. A few back-loads would overstock the market; for as each white family was provided till the next crop came in, the Indians were the only persons who wished to purchase, and they had no money to buy with. The brunt of the famine fell upon us, and particularly upon our poor mules. Fortunately, how ever, there was good pasture, and not far off. We slipped the bridles at the door and turned them loose in the streets; but after making the circuit they came back in a body, and poked their heads in at the door with an imploring look for corn.
Our prospects were not very brilliant; nevertheless, we had reached Palenque, and toward evening storms came on, with terrific thunder and lightning, which made us feel but too happy that our journey was over. The house assigned to us by the alcalde was next his own, and belonged to himself. It had a cosina adjoining, and two Indian women, who did not dare look at us without permission from the alcalde. It had an earthen floor, three beds made of reeds, and a thatched roof, very good, except that over two of the beds it leaked. Under the peaked roof and across the top of the mud walls there was a floor made of poles, serving as a granary for the alcalde's mouldy corn, inhabited by industrious mice, which scratched, nibbled, squeaked, and sprinkled dust upon us all night. Nevertheless, we had reached Palenque, and slept well.
The next day was Sunday, and we hailed it as a day of rest. Heretofore, in all my travels, I had endeavoured to keep it as such, but in this country I had found it impossible. The place was so tranquil, and seemed in such a state of repose, that as the old alcalde passed the door we ventured to wish him a good-morning; but again he had got up wrong; and, without answering our greeting, stopped to tell us that our mules were missing, and, as this did not disturb us sufficiently, he added that they were probably stolen; but when he had got us fairly roused and on the point of setting off to look for them, he said there was no danger; they had only gone for water, and would return of themselves.
The village of Palenque, as we learned from the prefect, was once a place of considerable importance, all the goods imported for Guatimala passing through it; but Balize had diverted that trade and destroyed its commerce, and but a few years before more than half the population had been swept off by the cholera. Whole families had perished, and their houses were desolate and falling to ruins. The church stood at the
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head of the street, in the centre of a grassy square. On each side of the square were houses with the forest directly upon them; and, being a little elevated in the plaza, we were on a line with the tops of the trees. The largest house on the square was deserted and in ruins. There were a dozen other houses occupied by white families, with whom, in the course of an hour's stroll, I became acquainted. It was but to stop before the door, and I received an invitation, "Pasen adelante," "Walk in, captain," for which title I was indebted to the eagle on my hat. Each family had its hacienda in the neighbourhood, and in the course of an hour I knew all that was going on in Palenque; i., e., I knew that nothing was going on.
At the upper end of the square, commanding this scene of quiet, was the house of an American named William Brown! It was a strange place for the abode of an American, and Mr. Brown was a regular "goahead" American. In the great lottery he had drawn a Palenquian wife, which in that quiet place probably saved him from dying of ennui. What first took him to the country I do not know; but he had an exclusive privilege to navigate the Tobasco River by steam, and would have made a fortune, but his steamboat foundered on the second trip. He then took to cutting logwood on a new plan, and came very near making another fortune, but something went wrong. At the time of our visit he was engaged in canalling a short cut to the sea, to connect two rivers near his hacienda. To the astonishment of the Palenquians, he was always busy, when he might live quietly on his hacienda in the summer, and pass his winters in the village. Very much to our regret, he was not then in the village. It
would have been interesting to meet a countryman of his stamp in that quiet corner of the world.
The prefeto was well versed in the history of Palen- que. It is in the province of Tzendales, and for a century after the conquest of Chiapas it remained in possession of the Indians. Two centuries ago, Lorenzo Mugil, an emissary direct from Rome, set up among them the standard of the cross. The Indians still preserve his dress as a sacred relic, but they are jealous of showing it to strangers, and I could not obtain a sight of it. The bell of the church, too, was sent from the holy city. The Indians submitted to the dominion of the Spaniards until the year 1700, when the whole province revolted, and in Chillon, Tumbala, and Palenque they apostatized from Christianity, murdered the priests, profaned the churches, paid impious adoration to an Indian female, massacred the white men, and took the women for their wives. Bui, as soon as the intelligence reached Guatimala, a strong force was sent against them, the revolted towns were reduced and recovered to the Catholic faith, and tranquillity was restored. The right of the Indians, however, to the ownership of the soil was still recognised, and down to the time of the Mexican Independence they received rent for land in the villages and the milpas in the neighbourhood.
A short distance from Palenque the River Chacamal separates it from the country of the unbaptized Indians, who are here called Caribs. Fifty years ago the Padre Calderon, an uncle of the prefect's wife, attended by his sacristan, an Indian, was bathing in the river, when the latter cried out in alarm that some Caribs were looking at them, and attempted to fly; but the padre took his cane and went toward them. The Ca
PREPARATIONS FOR HOUSEKEEPING. 287
ribs fell down before him, conducted him to their huts, and gave him an invitation to return, and make them a visit on a certain day. On the day appointed the padre went with his sacristan, and found a gathering of Caribs and a great feast prepared for him. He remained with them some time, and invited them in return to the village of Palenque on the day of the file of St. Domingo. A large party of these wild Indians attended, bringing with them tiger's meat, monkey's meat, and cocoa as presents. They listened to mass, and beheld all the ceremonies of the Church; whereupon they invited the padre to come among them and teach them, and they erected a hut at the place where they had first met him, which he consecrated as a church; and he taught his sacristan to say mass to them every Sunday. As the prefect said, if he had lived, many of them would probably have been Christianized; but, unfortunately, he died; the Caribs retired into the wilderness, and not one had appeared in the village since.
The ruins lie about eight miles from the village, perfectly desolate. The road was so bad, that, in order to accomplish anything, it was necessary to remain there, and we had to make provision for that purpose. There were three small shops in the village, the stock of all together not worth seventy-five dollars; but in one of them we found a pound and a half of coffee, which we immediately secured. Juan communicated the gratifying intelligence that a hog was to be killed the next morning, and that he had engaged a portion of the lard; also, that there was a cow with a calf running loose, and an arrangement might be made for keeping her up and milking her. This was promptly attended to, and all necessary arrangements were made for vis