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Very soon we came to a part of the river where the alligators seemed to enjoy undisturbed possession. Some lay basking in the sun on mudbanks, like logs of driftwood, and in many places the river was dotted with their heads. The Spanish historian says that “They swim with their Head above the water, gaping at whatsoever they see, and swallow it, whether Stick, Stone, or living Creature, which is the true reason of their swallowing Stones; and not to sink to the bottom, as some say, for they have no need to do so, nor do they like it, being extraordinary Swimmers; for the Tail serves instead of a Rudder, the Head is the Prow, and the Paws the Oars, being so swift as to catch any other fish as it swims. An hundred Weight and an half of fresh Fish has been found in the Maw of an Alligator, besides what was digested; in another was an Indian Woman whole, with her Cloaths, whom he had swallowed the Day before, and another with a pair of Gold Bracelets, with Pearls, the Enamel gone off, and Part of the Pearls dissolved, but the Gold entire.”
Here they still maintained their dominion. Accidents frequently happen ; and at the Palisada Don Francisco told us that a year before a man had had his leg bitten off and was drowned. Three were lying together at the mouth of a small stream which emptied into the river. The patron told us that at the end of the last dry season upward of two hundred had been counted in the bed of a pond emptied by this stream. The boatmen of several bungoes went in among them with clubs, sharp stakes, and machetes, and killed upward of sixty. The river itself, discoloured, with muddy banks, and a fiery sun beating upon it, was ugly enough; but these huge and ugly monsters, neither fish nor flesh, made it absolutely hideous. The boatmen called them
enemigos de los Christianos, by which they mean ene. mies of mankind. In a canoe it would have been unpleasant to disturb them, but in the bungo we brought out our guns and made indiscriminate war. One monster, twenty-five or thirty feet long, lay on the arm of a gigantic tree which projected forty or fifty feet, the lower part covered with water, but the whole of the alligator was visible. I hit him just under the white line ; he fell off, and with a tremendous convulsion, reddening the water with a circle of blood, turned over on his back, dead. A boatman and one of the Peten lads got into a canoe to bring him alongside. The canoe was small and tottering, and had not proceeded fifty yards before it dipped, filled, upset, and threw them both into the water. At that moment there were perhaps twenty alligators in sight on the banks and swimming in different parts of the river. We could do nothing for the man and boy, and the old bungo, which before hardly moved, seemed to start forward purposely to leave them to their fate. Every moment the distance between us and them increased, and on board all was confusion; the patron cried out in agony to the sefiores, and the señores, straining every nerve, turned the old bungo in to the bank, and got the masts foul of the branches of the trees, which held her fast. In the mean time our friends in the water were not idle. The Peten lad struck out vigorously toward the shore, and we saw him seize the branch of a tree which projected fifty feet over the water, so low as to be within reach, haul himself up like a monkey, and run along it to the shore. The marinero, having the canoe to himself, turned her bottom upward, got astride, and paddled down with his hands. Both got safely on board, and, apprehension over, the affair was considered a good joke.
In the mean time our masts had become so locked in the branches of the trees that we carried away some of our miserable tackling in extricating them; but at length were once more in the middle of the river, and renewed our war upon los enemigos de los Christianos. The sun was so hot that we could not stand outside the awning, but the boatmen gave us notice when we could have a shot. Our track down the river will be remem-bered as a desolation and scourge. Old alligators, by dying injunction, will teach the rising generation to keep the head under water when the bungoes are coming. We killed perhaps twenty, and others are probably at this moment sitting on the banks with our bullets in their bodies, wondering how they came there. With rifles we could have killed at least a hundred.
At three o'clock the regular afternoon storm came on, beginning with a tremendous sweep of wind up the river, which turned the bungo round, drove her broadside up the stream, and before we could come to at the bank we had a deluge of rain. At length we made fast, se- cured the hatch over the place prepared for us, and crawled under. It was so low that we could not sit up, and, lying down, there was about a foot of room above us. On our arrival at the Palisada we considered ourselves fortunate in finding a bungo ready, although she had already on board a full load of logwood from stem to stern. Don Francisco said it would be too uncomfortable, and wished us to wait for a bungo of his own; but delay was to us a worse evil, and I made a bargain to have a portion of the logwood taken out behind the mainmast, so as to admit of a hatch on deck, and give room below. But we had not given any personal superintendence; and when we came on board, though the logwood seemed of a rather hard species for sleep
ing on, we did not discover the extreme discomfort of the place until forced below by the rain. Even the small place engaged, and paid for accordingly, we had not to ourselves. The Peten lads crawled under with us, and the patron and señores followed. We could not drive them out into a merciless rain, and all lay like one mass of human flesh, animated by the same spirit of suffering, irritation, and helplessness. During this time the rain was descending in a deluge; the thunder rolled fearfully over our heads; lightning flashed in through the crevices of our dark burrowing-place, dazzling and blinding our eyes; and we heard near us the terrific crash of a falling tree, snapped by the wind, or, as we then supposed, shivered by lightning.
Such was our position. Sometimes the knots in the logwood fitted well into the curves and hollows of the body, but in general they were just where they should not be. We thought we could not be worse off, but very soon we found our mistake, and looked back upon ourselves as ungrateful murmurers without cause. The moschetoes claimed us as waifs, and in murderous swarms found the way under the hatches, humming and buzzing
- “Fee, faw, fum,
I now look back upon our troubles at that place with perfect equanimity; but at the moment, with the hea! and confinement, we were in anything but an amiable humour, and at ten o’clock broke out furious, upbraided the patron and his lazy señores for not reaching the mouth of the river before night, as is usually done, and as he had been charged by the alcalde to do, and insisted upon his hauling out into the stream. Vol. II —
The rain had ceased, but the wind was still furious, and dead ahead. By the misty light we saw a large bungo, with one sail set, seemingly flying up the river like a phantom. We made the patron haul out from the bank, but we could not keep the river, and, after a few zigzag movements, were shot across to the opposite side, where we brought upon us new and more hungry swarms. Here we remained an hour longer, when the wind died away, and we pushed out into the stream. This was a great relief. The señores, though more used to the scourge of moschetoes than we, sufscred quite as much. The clouds rolled away, the moon broke out, and, but for the abominable insects, our float down the wild and desolate river would have been an event to live in memory; as it was, not one of us attempted to sleep; and I verily believe a man could not have passed an entire night on the banks and lived.
At daylight we were still in the river. Very soon we reached a small lake, and, making a few tacks, entered a narrow passage called the Boca Chico, or Little Mouth. The water was almost even with the banks, and on each side were the most gigantic trees of the tropical forests, their roots naked three or four feet above the ground, gnarled, twisted, and interlacing each other, gray and dead-looking, and holding up, so as to afford an extended view under the first branches, a forest of vivid green. At ten o'clock we passed the Boca Chica and entered the Lake of Terminos. Once more in salt water and stretching out under full sail, on the right we saw only an expanse of water; on the left was a border of trees with naked roots, which seemed growing out of the water; and in front, but a little to the left, and barely visible, a long line of trees, marking the island of Carmen, on which stood the town of La