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more to make the improvements, which consisted of a hut made of poles and thatched with corn-husks, and a cosina or kitchen at a little distance. The stables and outhouses were a clearing bounded by a forest so thick that cattle could not penetrate it, and on the roadside by a rude fence. Altogether, in that mild climate the effect was good; and it was one of those occasions which make a man feel, away from the region of fictitious wants, how little is necessary for the comforts of life. The furniture of the hut consisted of two reed bedsteads, a table, and a bench, and in one corner was a pile of corn. The cura sent out for half a dozen fresh pineapples; and while we were refreshing ourselves with them we heard an extraordinary noise in the woods, which an Indian boy told us was made by “un animal.” Pawling and I took our guns, and entering a path in the woods, as we advanced the noise sounded fearful, but all at once it stopped. The boy opened a way through thickets of brush and underwood, and through an opening in the branches I saw on the limbs of a high tree a large black animal with fiery eyes. The boy said it was not a mico or monkey, and I supposed it to be a catamount. I had barely an opening through which to take aim, fired, and the animal dropped below the range of view; but, not hearing him strike the ground, I looked again, and saw him hanging by his tail, and dead, with the blood streaming from his mouth. Pawling attempted to climb the tree; but it was fifty feet to the first branch, and the blood trickled down the trunk. Wishing to examine the creature more closely, we sent the boy to the house, whence he returned with a couple of Indians. They cut down the tree, which fell with a terrible crash, and still the animal hung by its tail. The ball had hit him in the mouth and knocked out the fore teeth, passed out at the top of his back between his shoulders, and must have killed him instantly. The tenacity of his tail seened marvellous, but was easily explained. It had no grip, and had lost all muscular power, but was wound round the branch with the end under, so that the weight of the body tightened the coil, and the harder the strain, the more secure was the hold. It was not a monkey, but so near a connexion that I would not have shot him if I had known it. In fact, he was even more nearly related to the human family, being called a monos or ape, and measured six feet including the tail; very muscular, and in a struggle would have been more than a match for a man; and the padre said they were known to have attacked women. The Indians carried him up to the house and skinned him; and when lying on his back, with his skin off and his eyes staring, the padre cried out, “es hombre,” it is a man, and I almost felt liable to an indictment for homicide. The Indians cooked the body, and I contrived to preserve the skin as a curiosity, for its extraordinary size; but, unluckily, I left it on board a Spanish vessel at sea.
In the inean time the padre had a fowl boiled for dinner. Three guests at a time were not too much for his open hospitality, but they went beyond his dinnerservice, which consisted of three bowls. There was no plate, knife, fork, or spoon, and for the cura himself not even a bowl. The fowl was served in an ocean of broth, which had to be disposed of first. Tortillas and a small cake of fresh cheese composed the rest of the meal. The reader will perhaps connect such an entertainment with vulgarity of manners; but the curate was a gentleman, and made no apologies, for he gave us the best he had. We had sent our carriers on be
fore, the padre gave us a servant as a guide, and at three o'clock we bade him farewell. He was the last padre whom we met, and put a seal, upon the kindness we had received from all the padres of that country. At five o'clock, by a muddy road, through a picturesque country, remarkable only for swarms of butterslies with large yellow wings which filled the air, we reached Las Playas. This village is the head of navigation of the waters that empty in this direction into the Gulf of Mexico. The whole of the great plain to the sea is intersected by creeks and rivers, some of them in the summer dry, and on the rising of the waters overflowing their banks. At this season the plain on one side of the village was inundated, and seemed a large lake. The village was a small collection of huts upon what might be called its banks. It consisted of one street or road, grass-grown and still as at Palenque, at the extreme end of which was the church, under the pastoral care of our friend the padre. Our guide, according to the directions of the padre, conducted us to the convent, and engaged the sexton to provide us with supper. The convent was built of upright sticks, with a thatched roof, mud floor, and furnished with three reed bedsteads and a table. At this place we were to embark in a canoe, and had sent a courier a day beforehand, with a letter from the prefect to the justitia, to have one ready for us. The justitia was a portly mulatto, well dressed, and very civil, had a canoe of his own, and promised to procure us two bogadores or rowers in the morning. Very soon the moschetoes made alarming demonstrations, and gave us apprehensions of a fearful night. To make a show of resistance, we built a large fire in the middle of the convent. At night the storm came on with a high wind, which made it necessary to close the doors. For two Vol. II.-
hours we had a tempest of wind and rain, with terrific thunder and lightning. One blast burst open the door and scattered the fire, so that it came very near burning down the convent. Between the smoke and moschetoes, it was a matter of debate which of the two to choose, suffocation or torture. We preferred the former, and had the latter besides, and passed a miserable night. The next morning the justitia came to say that the bogadores were not ready and could not go that day. The price which he named was about twice as much as the cura told us we ought to pay, besides possol (balls of mashed Indian corn), tortillas, honey, and meat. I remonstrated, and he went off to consult the mozos, but returned to say that they would not take less, and, after treating him with but little of the respect due to office, I was obliged to accede; but I ought to add, that throughout that country, in general, prices are fixed, and there is less advantage taken of the necessity of travellers than in most others. We were loth to remain, for, besides the loss of time and the moschetoes, the scarcity of provisions was greater than at Palenque. The sexton bought us some corn, and his wife made us tortillas. The principal merchant in the place, or, at least, the one who traded most largely with us, was a little boy about twelve years old, who was dressed in a petate or straw hat. He had brought us some fruit, and we saw him coming again with a string over his naked shoulder, dragging on the ground what proved to be a large fish. The principal food of the place was young alligators. They were about a foot and a half long, and at that youthful time of life were considered very tender. At their first appearance on the table they had not an inviting aspect, but ce n'est que le .
premier pas qui coute, they tasted better than the fish, and they were the best food possible for our canoe voy. age, being dried and capable of preservation. Go where we will, to the uttermost parts of the earth, we are sure to meet one acquaintance. Death is al. ways with us. In the afternoon was the funeral of a child. The procession consisted of eight or ten grown persons, and as many boys and girls. The sex- . ton carried the child in his arms, dressed in white, with a wreath of flowers around its head. All were huddled around the sexton, walking together; the father and mother with him; and even more than in Costa Rica I remarked, not only an absence of solemnity, but cheerfulness and actual gayety, from the same happy conviction that the child had gone to a better world. I happened to be in the church as they approached, more like a wedding than a burial party. The floor of the church was earthen, and the grave was dug inside, because, as the sexton told me, the father was rich and could afford to pay for it, and the father seemed pleased and proud that he could give his child such a burial-place. The sexton laid the child in the grave, folded its little hands across its breast, placing there a small rude cross, covered it over with eight or ten inches of earth, and then got into the grave and stamped it down with his feet. He then got out and threw in more, and, going outside of the church, brought back a pounder, being a log of wood about four feet long and ten inches in diameter, like the rammer used among . us by paviors, and again taking his place in the grave, threw up the pounder to the full swing of his arm, and brought it down with all his strength over the head of the child. My blood ran cold. As he threw it up a second time I caught his arm and remonstrated with