Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas and Yucatan/Chapter 25
RECEPTION AT THE GOVERNMENT HOUSE—THE CAPTAIN IN TROUBLE—A CHANGE OF CHARACTER—ARANGEMENT FOR JOURNEY TO PALENQUE—ARREST OF THE CAPTAIN—HIS RELEASE—DANGERS IN PROSPECT—FEARFUL STATE OF THE COUNTRY—LAST INTERVIEW WITH CARRERA—DEPARTURE FROM GUATEMALA—A DON QUIXOTE—CIUDAD VIEJA—PLAIN OF EL VIEJA—VOLCANOES, PLAINS, AND VILLAGES—SAN ANDRES ISAPA—DANGEROUS ROAD—A MOLINO—ANOTHER JOURNEY CONTINUED—BARBANCAS—TECPAN GUATIMALA—A NOBLE CHURCH—A SACRED STONE—THE ANCIENT CITY—DESCRIPTION OF THE RUINS—A MOLINO—ANOTHER EARTHQUAKE—PATZUM—A RAVINE—FORTIFICATIONS—LOS ALTOS—GODINES—LOSING A GOOD FRIEND—MAGNIFICENT SCENERY—SAN ANTONIO—LAKE OF ATITLAN.
The next day I called upon the chief of the state. At this time there was no question of presenting credentials, and I was received by him and all gentlemen connected with him without any distrust or suspicion, and more as one identified with them in feelings and interests than as a foreign agent. I had seen more of their country than any one present, and spoke of its extraordinary beauty and fertility, its volcanoes and mountains, the great canal which might make it known to all the civilized world, and its immense resources, if they would let the sword rest and be at peace among themselves. Some of the remarks in these pages will perhaps be considered harsh, and a poor return for the kindness shown to me. My predilections were in favour of the Liberal party, as well because they sustained the Federation as because they gave me a chance for a government; but I have a warm feeling toward many of the leading members of the Central party. If I speak harshly, it is of their public and political character only; and if I have given offence, I regret it.
As I was leaving the Government House a gentleman followed me, and asked me who that captain was that had accompanied me, adding, what surprised me not a little, that the government had advices of his travelling up with me from La Union, his intention to join Morazan's expedition, and his change of purpose in consequence of meeting Morazan defeated on the road; that as yet he was not molested only because he was staying at my house. I was disturbed by this communication. I was open to the imputation of taking advantage of my official character to harbour a partisan. I was the only friend the captain had, and of course determined to stand by him; but he was not only an object of suspicion, but actually known; for much less cause men were imprisoned and shot; in case of any outbreak, my house would not be a protection; it was best to avoid any excitement, and to have an understanding at once. With this view I returned to the chief of the state, and mentioned the circumstances under which we had travelled together, with the addition that, as to myself, I would have taken a much more questionable companion rather than travel alone; and as to the captain, if he had happened to be thrown ashore on their coast, he would very likely have taken a campaign on their side; that he was not on his way to join the expedition when we met Morazan, and assured him most earnestly that now he understood better the other side of the question, and I would answer for his keeping quiet. Don Rivera Paz, as I felt well assured, was desirous to allay rather than create excitement in the city, received my communication in the best spirit possible, and said the captain had better present himself to the government. I returned to my house, and found the captain alone, already by no means pleased with the turn of his fortunes. My communication did not relieve him, but he accompanied me to the Government House. I could hardly persuade myself that he was the same man whose dashing appearance on the road had often made the women whisper "muy valiente," and whose answer to all intimations of danger was, that a man can only die once. To be sure, the soldiers in the corridor seemed to intimate that they had found him out; the gentlemen in the room surveyed him from head to foot, as if taking notes for an advertisement of his person, and their looks appeared to say they would know him when they met him again. On horseback and with a fair field, the captain would have defied the whole noblesse of Guatimala; but he was completely cowed, spoke only when he was spoken to, and walked out with less effrontery than I supposed possible.
And now I would fain let the reader sit down and enjoy himself quietly in Guatimala, but I cannot. The place did not admit of it. I could not conceal from myself that the Federal Government was broken up; there was not the least prospect of its ever being restored, nor, for a long time to come, of any other being organized in its stead. Under these circumstances I did not consider myself justified in remaining any longer in the country. I was perfectly useless for all the purposes of my mission, and made a formal return to the authorities of Washington, in effect, "after diligent search, no government found."
I was once more my own master, at liberty to go where I pleased, at my own expense, and immediately we commenced making arrangements for our journey to Palenque. We had no time to lose; it was 1,000 miles distant, and the rainy season was approaching, during which part of the road was impassable. There was no one in the city who had ever made the journey. The archbishop, on his exit from Guatimala eight years before, had fled by that road, and since his time it had not been travelled by any resident of Guatimala; but we learned enough to satisfy us that it would be less difficult to reach Palenque from New York than from where we were. We had many preparations to make, and, from the impossibility of getting servants upon whom we could rely, were obliged to attend to all the details ourselves. The captain was uncertain what to do with himself, and talked of going with us. The next afternoon, as we were returning to the house, we noticed a line of soldiers at the corner of the street. As usual, we gave them the sidewalk, and in crossing I remarked to the captain that they eyed us sharply and spoke to each other. The line extended past my door and up to the corner of the next street. Supposing that they were searching for General Guzman or other officers of General Morazan who were thought to be secreted in the city, and that they would not spare my house, I determined to make no difficulty, and let them search. We went in, and the porter, with great agitation, told us that the soldiers were in pursuit of the captain. He hardly finished when an officer entered to summon the captain before the corregidor. The captain turned as pale as death. I do not mean it as an imputation upon his courage; any other man would have done the same. I was as much alarmed as he, and told him that if he said so I would fasten the doors; but he answered it was of no use; they would break them down; and it was better for him to go with the officers. I followed him to the door, telling him not to make any confessions, not to commit himself, and that I would be with him in a few minutes. I saw at once that the affair was out of the hands of the chief of the state, and had got before an inferior tribunal. Mr. Catherwood and Mr. Savage entered in time to see the captain moving down the street with his escort. Mr. S., who had charge of my house during my absence, and had hoisted the American flag during the attack upon the city, had lived so long in that country, and had beheld so many scenes of horror, that he was not easily disturbed, and knew exactly what to do. He accompanied me to the cabildo, where we found the captain sitting bolt upright within the railing, and the corregidor and his clerk, with pen, ink, and paper, and ominous formality, examining him. His face brightened at sight of the only man in Guatimala who took the least interest in his fate. Fortunately, the corregidor was an acquaintance, who had been pleased with the interest I took in the sword of Alvarado, an interesting relic in his custody, and was one of the many whom I found in that country proud of showing attentions to a foreign agent. I claimed the captain as my travelling companion, said that we had had a rough journey together, and I did not like to lose sight of him. He welcomed me back to Guatimala, and appreciated the peril I must have encountered in meeting on the road the tyrant Morazan. The captain took advantage of the opportunity to detach himself, without any compunctions, from such dangerous fellowship, and we conversed till it was too dark to write, when I suggested that, as it was dangerous to be out at night, I wished to take the captain home with me, and would be responsible for his forthcoming. He assented with great courtesy, and told the captain to return at nine o'clock the next morning. The captain was immensely relieved; but he had already made up his mind that he had come to Guatimala on a trading expedition, and to make great use of his gold chains.
The next day the examination was resumed. The captain certainly did not commit himself by any confessions; indeed, the revolution in his sentiments was most extraordinary. The Guatimala air was fatal to partialities for Morazan. The examination, by favour of the corregidor, was satisfactory; but the captain was advised to leave the city. In case of any excitement he would be in danger. Carrera was expected from Quezaltenango in a few days, and if he took it up, which he was not unlikely to do, it might be a bad business. The captain did not need any urging. A council was held to determine which way he should go, and the road to the port was the only one open. On a bright morning he pulled off his frockcoat, put on his travelling dress, mounted, and set off for Balize. I watched him as he rode down the street till he was out of sight. Poor captain, where is he now? The next time I saw him was at my own house in New York. He was taken sick at Balize, and got on board a brig bound for Boston, was there at the time of my arrival, and came on to see me; and the last that I saw of him, afraid to return across the country to get the account sales of his ship, he was about to embark for the Isthmus of Panama, cross over, and go up the Pacific. I was knocked about myself in that country, but I think the captain will not soon forget his campaign with Morazan.
In my race from Nicaragua I had cheered myself with the idea that, on reaching Guatimala, all difficulty was over, and that our journey to Palenque would be attended only by the hardships of travelling in a country destitute of accommodations; but, unfortunately, the horizon in that direction was lowering. The whole mass of the Indian population of Los Altos was in a state of excitement, and there were whispers of a general rising and massacre of the whites. General Prem, to whom I have before referred, and his wife, while travelling toward Mexico, had been attacked by a band of assassins; he himself was left on the ground for dead, and his wife murdered, her fingers cut off, and the rings torn from them. Lieutenant Nichols, the aide-de-camp of Colonel M'Donald arrived from the Balize with a report that Captain Caddy and Mr. Walker, who had set out for Palenque by the Balize River, had been speared by the Indians; and there was a rumour of some dreadful atrocity committed by Carrera in Quezaltenango, and that he was hurrying back from that place infuriate, with the intention of bringing all the prisoners out into the plaza and shooting them. Every friend in Guatimala, and Mr. Chatfield particularly, urged us not to undertake the journey. We felt that it was a most inauspicious moment, and almost shrunk; I have no hesitation in saying that it was a matter of most serious consideration whether we should not abandon it altogether and return by the way we came; but we had set out with the purpose of going to Palenque, and could not return without seeing it.
Among the petty difficulties of fitting ourselves out I may mention that we wanted four iron chains for trunks, but could only get two, for every blacksmith in the place was making chains for the prisoners. In a week from the time of my arrival everything was ready for our departure. We provided ourselves with all the facilities and safeguards that could be procured. Besides passports, the government furnished us special letters of recommendation to all the corregidors; a flattering notice appeared in the government paper, El Tiempo, mentioning my travels through the provinces and my intended route, and recommending me to hospitality; and, upon the strength of the letter of the Archbishop of Baltimore, the venerable Provisor gave me a letter of recommendation to all the curas under his charge. But these were not enough; Carrera's name was worth more than them all, and we waited two days for his return from Quezaltenango. On the 6th of April, early in the morning, he entered the city. At about nine o'clock I called at his house, and was informed that he was in bed, had ridden all night, and would not rise till the afternoon.
I have mentioned that there were rumours in the city of some horrible outrage committed by Carrera at Quezaltenango. He had set out from Guatimala in pursuit of Morazan. Near the Antigua he met one of his own soldiers from Quezaltenango, who reported that there had been a rising in that town, and the garrison were compelled to lay down their arms. Enraged at this intelligence, he abandoned his pursuit of Morazan, and, without even advising the government of his change of plan, marched to Quezaltenango, and among other minor outrages seized eighteen of the municipality, the first men of the state, and without the slightest form of trial shot them in the plaza; and, to heighten the gloom which this news cast over the city, a rumour preceded him that, immediately on his arrival, he intended to order out all the prisoners and shoot them also. At this time the repressed excitement in the city was fearful. An immense relief was experienced on the repulse of Morazan, but there had been no rejoicing; and again the sword seemed suspended by a single hair.
And here I would remark, as at a place where it has no immediate connexion with what precedes or what follows, and consequently, where no application of it can be made, that some matters of deep personal interest, which illustrate, more than volumes, the dreadful state of the country, I am obliged to withhold altogether, lest, perchance, these pages should find their way to Guatimala and compromise individuals. In my long journey I had had intercourse with men of all parties, and was spoken to freely, and sometimes confidentially. Heretofore, in all the wars and revolutions the whites had the controlling influence, but at this time the Indians were the dominant power. Roused from the sloth of ages, and with muskets in their hands, their gentleness was changed into ferocity; and even among the adherents of the Carrera party there was a fearful apprehension of a war of castes, and a strong desire, on the part of those who could get away, to leave the country. I was consulted by men having houses and large landed estates, but who could only command 2,000 or 3,000 dollars in money, as to their ability to live on that sum in the United States; and individuals holding high offices under the Central party told me that they had their passports from Mexico, and were ready at any moment to fly. There seemed ground for the apprehension that the hour of retributive justice was nigh, and that a spirit was awakened among the Indians to make a bloody offering to the spirits of their fathers, and recover their inheritance. Carrera was the pivot on which this turned. He was talked of as El Rey de los Indios, The King of the Indians. He had relieved them from all taxes, and, as they said, supported his army by levying contributions upon the whites. His power by a word to cause the massacre of every white inhabitant, no one doubted. Their security was, as I conceived, that, in the constant action of his short career, he had not had time to form any plans for extended dominion, and knew nothing of the immense country from Texas to Cape Horn, occupied by a race sympathising in hostility to the whites. He was a fanatic, and, to a certain extent, under the dominion of the priests; and his own acuteness told him that he was more powerful with the Indians themselves while supported by the priests and the aristocracy than at the head of the Indians only; but all knew that, in the moment of passion, he forgot entirely the little of plan or policy that ever governed him; and when he returned from Quezaltenango, his hands red with blood, and preceded by the fearful rumour that he intended to bring out 200 or 300 prisoners and shoot them, the citizens of Guatimala felt that they stood on the brink of a fearful gulf. A leading member of the government, whom I wished to call with me upon him and ask him for his passport, declined doing so, lest, as he said, Carrera should think the government was trying to lead him. Others paid him formal visits of ceremony and congratulation upon his return, and compared notes with each other as to the manner in which they were received. Carrera made no report, official or verbal, of what he had done; and though all were full of it, no one of them dared ask him any questions, or refer to it. They will perhaps pronounce me a calumniator, but even at the hazard of wounding their feelings, I cannot withhold what I believe to be a true picture of the state of the country as it was at that time.
Unable to induce any of the persons I wished, to call with me upon Carrera; afraid, after such a long interval and such exciting scenes as he had been engaged in, that he might not recognise me; and feeling that it was all important not to fail in my application to him, I remembered that in my first interview he had spoken warmly of a doctor who had extracted a ball from his side. This doctor I did not know, but I called upon him, and asked him to accompany me, to which, with great civility, he immediately assented.
It was under these circumstances that I made my last visit to Carrera. He had removed into a much larger house, and his guard was more regular and formal. When I entered, he was standing behind a table on one side of the room, with his wife, and Rivera Paz, and one or two others, examining some large Costa Rica chains; and at the moment he had one in his hands, which had formed part of the contents of those trunks of my friend the captain, and which had often adorned his neck I think it would have given the captain a spasm if he had known that anything once around his neck was between Carrera's fingers. His wife was a pretty, delicate-looking Mestitzso, not more than twenty, and seemed to have a woman's fondness for chains and gold. Carrera himself looked at them with indifference. My idea at the time was, that these jewels were sent in by the government as a present to his wife, and, through her, to propitiate him; but perhaps I was wrong. The face of Rivera Paz seamed anxious, Carrera had passed through so many terrible scenes since I saw him, that I feared he had forgotten me; but he recognised me in a moment, and made room for me behind the table next to himself. His military coat lay on the table, and he wore the same roundabout jacket,—his face had the same youthfulness, quickness, and intelligence, his voice and manners the same gentleness and seriousness,—and he had again been wounded. I regretted to meet Rivera Paz there; for I thought it must be mortifying to him, as the head of the government, to see that his passport was not considered a protection without Carrera's indorsement: but I could not stand upon ceremony, and took advantage of Carrera's leaving the table to say to him that I was setting out on a dangerous road, and considered it indispensable to fortify myself with all the security I could get. When Carrera returned, I told him my purpose,—that I had waited only for his return,—showed him the passport of the government, and asked him to put his stamp upon it. Carrera had no delicacy in the matter; and taking the passport out of my hand, threw it on the table, saying he would make me out a new one, and sign it himself. This was more than I expected; but in a quiet way, telling me to "be seated," he sent his wife into another room for the secretary, and told him to make out a passport for the "Consul of the North." He had an indefinite idea that I was a great man in my own country, but he had a very indefinite idea as to where that country was. I was not particular about my title, so that it was big enough; but the North was rather a broad range, and, to prevent mistakes, I gave the secretary my other passport. He took it into another room, and Carrera sat down at the table beside me. He had heard of my having met Morazan on his retreat, and inquired about him, though less anxiously than others; but he spoke more to the purpose,—said that he was making preparations, and in a week he intended to march upon San Salvador with 3,000 men,—adding that if he had had cannon he would have driven Morazan from the plaza very soon. I asked him whether it was true that he and Morazan met personally on the heights of Calvary; and he said that they did—that it was towards the last of the battle, when the latter was retreating. One of Morazan's dismounted troopers tore off his holsters; Morazan fired a pistol at him, and he struck at Morazan with his sword, and cut his saddle. Morazan, he said, had very handsome pistols; and it struck me that he thought if he had killed Morazan, he would have got the pistols. I could not but think of the strange positions into which I was thrown—shaking hands and sitting side by side with men who were thirsting for each other's blood, well received by all, hearing what they said of each other, and in many cases their plans and purposes, as unreservedly as if I was a travelling member of both cabinets. In a few minutes the secretary called him, and he went out and brought back the passport himself, signed with his own hand, the ink still wet It had taken him longer than it would have done to cut off a head, and he seemed more proud of it. Indeed, it was the only occasion in which I saw him in the slightest elevation of feeling. I made a comment upon the excellence of the handwriting; and with his good wishes for my safe arrival in the North, and speedy return to Guatimala, I took my leave. Now, I do not believe, if he knew what I say of him, that he would give me a very cordial welcome; but I believe him honest, and if he knew how, and could curb his passions, he would do more good for Central America than any other man in it.
I was now fortified with the best security we could have for our journey. We passed the evening in writing letters and packing up things to be sent home (among which was my diplomatic coat), and on the 7th of April we rose up set out. The first movement was to take down our beds. Every man in that country has a small cot called a catre, made to double with a hinge, which may be taken down and wrapped up, with pillows and bedclothes, in an oxhide, to carry on a journey. Our great object was to travel lightly. Every additional mule and servant gave additional trouble, but we could not do with less than a cargo-mule apiece. Each of us had two petacas, trunks made of oxhide lined with thin straw matting, having a top like that of a box, secured by a clumsy iron chain with large padlocks, containing, besides other things, a hammock, blanket, one pair of sheets, and pillow, which, with alforgas of provisions, made one load apiece. We carried one catre, in case of sickness. We had one spare cargo-mule; the grey mule with which I had ascended the volcano of Cartago and my macho for Mr. Catherwood and myself, and a horse for relief in all six animals; and two mozos, or men of all work, untried. While in the act of mounting, Don Saturnino Tinoca, my companion from Zonzonate, rode into the yard, to accompany us two days on our journey. We bade farewell to Mr. Savage, my first, last, and best friend, and in a few minutes, with a mingled feeling of regret and satisfaction, left for the last time the barrier of Guatimala.
Don Saturnino was most welcome to our party. His purpose was to visit two brothers of his wife, curas, whom he had never seen, and who lived at Santiago Atitan, two or three days' journey distant. His father was the last governor of Nicaragua under the royal rule, with a large estate, which was confiscated at the time of the revolution; he still had a large hacienda there, had brought up a stock of mules to sell at San Salvador, and intended to lay out the proceeds in goods in Guatimala. He was about forty, tall, and as thin as a man could be to have activity and vigour, wore a roundabout jacket and trousers of dark olive cloth, large pistols in his holsters, and a long sword with a leather scabbard, worn at the point, leaving about an inch of the steel naked. He sat his mule as stiff as if he had swallowed his own sword, holding the reins in his right hand, with his left arm crooked from the elbow, standing out like a pump-handle, the hand dropping from the wrist, and shaking with the movement of the mule. He rode on a Mexican saddle plated with silver, and carried behind a pair of alforgas with bread and cheese, and atole, a composition of pounded parched corn, cocoa, and sugar, which, mixed with water, was almost his living. His mozo was as fat as he was lean, and wore a bell-crowned straw hat, cotton shirt, and drawers reaching down to his knees. Excepting that instead of Rosinante and the ass, the master rode a mule and the servant went afoot, they were a genuine Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, the former of which appellations, very early in our acquaintance, we gave to Don Saturnino.
We set out for Quezaltenango, but intended to turn aside and visit ruins, and that day we went three leagues out of our road to say farewell to our friend Padre Alcantara at Ciudad Vieja.
At five o'clock in the afternoon we reached the convent, where I had the pleasure of meeting again Padre Alcantara, Señor Vidaurre, and Don Pepé, the same party with whom I had passed the day with so much satisfaction before. Mr. Catherwood had in the meantime passed a month at the convent. Padre Alcantara had fled at the approach of the tyrant Morazan; Don Pepé had had a shot at him as he was retreating from the Antigua, and the padre had a musket left at night by a flying soldier against the wall of the convent.
The morning opened with troubles. The grey mule was sick. Don Saturnino bled her on both sides of her neck, but the poor animal was not in a condition to be ridden. Shortly afterwards Mr. Catherwood had one of the mozos by the throat, but Padre Alcantara patched up a peace. Don Saturnino said that the grey mule would be better for exercise, and for the last time we bade farewell to our kind host.
Don Pepé escorted us, and crossing the plain of El Vieja in the direction in which Alvarado entered it, we ascended a high hill, and turning the summit, through a narrow opening looked down upon a beautiful plain, cultivated like a garden, which opened to the left as we advanced, and ran off to the lake of Duenos, between the two great volcanoes of Fire and Water. Descending to the plain, we entered the village of San Antonio, occupied entirely by Indians. The cura's house stood on an open plaza, with a fine fountain in front, and the huts of the Indians were built with stalks of sugarcane. Early in the occupation of Guatimala, the lands around the capital were partitioned out among certain canonigos, and Indians were allotted to cultivate them.
Each village was called by the canonigo's own name. A church was built, and a fine house for himself, and by judicious management the Indians became settled and the artisans for the capital. In the stillness and quiet of the village, it seemed as if the mountains and volcanoes around had shielded it from the devastation and alarm of war. Passing through it, on the other side of the plain we commenced ascending a mountain. About half way up, looking back over the village and plain, we saw a single white line over the mountain we had crossed to the Ciudad Vieja, and the range of the eye embraced the plain and lake at our feet, the great plain of Escuintla, the two volcanoes of Agua and Fuego, extending to the Pacific Ocean. The road was very steep, and our mules laboured. On the other side of the mountain the road lay for some distance between shrubs and small trees, emerging from which we saw an immense plain, broken by the track of the direct road from Guatimala, and afar off the spires of the town of Chimaltenango. At the foot of the mountain we reached the village of Paramos. We had been three hours and a half making six miles. Don Pepé summoned the alcalde, showed him Carrera's passport, and demanded a guide to the next village. The alcalde called his alguazils, and in a very few minutes a guide was ready. Don Pepé told us that he left us in Europa, and with many thanks we bade him farewell.
We were now entering upon a region of country which, at the time of the conquest, was the most populous, the most civilized, and best cultivated in Guatimala. The people who occupied it were the descendants of those found there by Alvarado, and perhaps four-fifths were Indians of untainted blood. For three centuries they had submitted quietly to the dominion of the whites, but the rising of Carrera had waked them up to a recollection of their fathers, and it was rumoured that their eyes rolled strangely upon the white men as the enemies of their race. For the first time we saw fields of wheat and peach-trees. The country was poetically called Europa; and though the volcano de Agua still reared in full sight its stupendous head, it resembled the finest part of England on a magnificent scale.
But it was not like travelling in England. The young man with whose throat Mr. Catherwood had been so familiar loitered behind with the sick mule and a gun. He had started from Ciudad Vieja with a drawn knife in his hand, the blade about a foot and a half long, and we made up our minds to get rid of him; but we feared that he had anticipated us, and had gone off with the mule and gun. We waited till he came up, relieved him from the gun, and made him go forward, while we drove the mule. At the distance of two leagues we reached the Indian village of San Andres Isapa. Don Saturnine flourished Carrera's passport, introduced me as El Ministro de Neuva-York, demanded a guide, and in a few minutes an alguazil was trotting before us for the next village. At this village, on the same requisition, the alcalde ran out to look for an alguazil, but could not find one immediately, and ventured to beg Don Saturnino to wait a moment. Don Saturnino told him he must go himself; Carrera would cut off his head if he did not; "the minister of New York" could not be kept waiting. Don Saturnino, like many others of my friends in that country, had no very definite notions in regard to titles or places. A man happened to be passing, whom the alcalde pressed into service, and he trotted on before with the halter of the led horse. Don Saturnino hurried him along; as we approached the next village Carrera's soldiers were in sight, returning on the direct road to Guatimala, fresh from the slaughter at Quezaltenango. Don Saturnino told the guide that he must avoid the plaza and go on to the next village. The guide begged, and Don Saturnino rode up, drew his sword, and threatened to cut his head off. The poor fellow trotted on, with his eye fixed on the uplifted sword; and when Don Saturnino turned to me with an Uncle Toby expression of face, he threw down the halter, leaped over a hedge fence, and ran toward the town. Don Saturnino not disconcerted, caught up the halter, and, spurring his mule, pushed on. The road lay on a magnificent table-land, in some places having trees on each side for a great distance. Beyond this we had a heavy rain-storm, and late in the afternoon reached the brink of an immense precipice, in which, at a great distance, we saw the molino or wheat- mill, looking like a New-England cotton factory. The descent was very steep and muddy, winding in places close along the precipitous side of the ravine. Great care was necessary with the mules; their tendency was to descend sidewise, which was very dangerous; but in the steepest places, by keeping their heads straight, they would slip in the mud several paces, bracing their feet and without falling.
At dark, wet and muddy, and in the midst of a heavy rain, we reached the molino. The major-domo was a Costa Rican, a countryman of Don Saturnino, and, fortunately, we had a room to ourselves, though it was damp and chilly. Here we learned that Tecpan Guatimala, one of the ruined cities we wished to visit, was but three leagues distant, and the major-domo offered to go with us in the morning.
In the morning the major-domo furnished us with fine horses, and we started early. Almost immediately we commenced ascending the other side of the ravine which we had descended the night before, and on the top entered on a continuation of the same beautiful and extensive table-land. On one side, for some distance, were high hedge fences, in which aloes were growing, and in one place were four in full bloom. In an hour we arrived at Patzum, a large Indian village. Here we turned off to the right from the high road to Mexico by a sort of by-path; but the country was beautiful, and in parts well cultivated. The morning was bracing, and the climate like a spring morning in May. The immense table-land was elevated some 5,000 or 6,000 feet, but none of these heights have ever been taken. We passed on the right two mounds, such as are seen in many parts of the United States, and on the left an immense barranca. The table-land was level to the very edge, where the earth seemed to have broken off and sunk, and we looked down into a frightful abyss 2,000 or 3,000 feet deep. Gigantic trees at the bottom of the immense cavity looked like shrubs. At some distance beyond we passed a second of these immense barrancas, and in an hour and a half reached the Indian village of Tecpan Guatimala. For some distance before reaching it the road was shaded by trees and shrubs, among which were aloes thirty feet high. The long street by which we entered was paved with stones from the ruins of the old city, and filled with drunken Indians; and rushing across it was one with his arms around a woman's neck. At the head of this street was a fine plaza, with a large cabildo, and twenty or thirty Indian alguazils under the corridor, with wands of office in their hands, silent, in full suits of blue cloth, the trousers open at the knees, and cloak with a hood like the Arab burnouse. Adjoining this was the large courtyard of the church, paved with stone, and the church itself was one of the most magnificent in the country. It was the second built after the conquest. The façade was 200 feet wide, very lofty, with turrets and spires gorgeously ornamented with stuccoed figures, and a high platform, on which were Indians, the first we had seen in picturesque costume; and with the widely-extended view of the country around, it was a scene of wild magnificence in nature and in art. We stopped involuntarily; and while the Indians, in mute astonishment, gazed at us, we were lost in surprise and admiration. As usual, Don Saturnino was the pioneer, and we rode up to the house of the padre, where we were shown into a small room, in which the padre was dozing in a large chair, with the window closed and a ray of light admitted from the door. Before he had fairly opened his eyes, Don Saturnino told him that we had come to visit the ruins of the old city, and wanted a guide, and thrust into his hands Carrera's passport and the letter of the Provisor. The padre was old, fat, rich, and infirm, had been 35 years cura of Tecpan Guatimala, and was not used to doing things in a hurry; but our friend, knowing the particular objects of our visit, with great earnestness and haste told the padre that the minister of New York had heard in his country of a remarkable stone, and the Provisor and Carrera were anxious for him to see it. The padre said that it was in the church, and lay on the top of the grand altar; the cup of the sacrament stood upon it; it was covered up, and very sacred; he had never seen it, and he was evidently unwilling to let us see it, but said he would endeavour to do so when we returned from the ruins. He sent for a guide, and we went out to the courtyard of the church; and while Mr. Catherwood was attempting a sketch, I walked up the steps. The interior was lofty, spacious, richly ornamented with stuccoed figures and paintings, dark and solemn, and in the distance was the grand altar, with long wax candles burning upon it, and Indians kneeling before it. At the door a man stopped me, and said that I must not enter with sword and spurs, and even that I must take off my boots. I would have done so, but saw that the Indians did not like a stranger going into their church. They were evidently entirely unaccustomed to the sight of strangers, and Mr. Catherwood was so annoyed by their gathering round him that he gave up his drawing; and fearing it would be worse on our return, I told Don Saturnino that we must make an effort to see the stone now. Don Saturnino had a great respect for the priests and the Church He was not a fanatic, but he thought a powerful religious influence good for the Indians. Nevertheless, he said we ought to see it; and we went back in a body to the padre, and Don Saturnino told him that we were anxious to see the stone now, to prevent delay on our return. The good padre's heavy body was troubled. He asked for the Provisor's letter again, read it over, went out on the corridor and consulted with a brother about as old and round as himself, and at length told us to wait in that room and he would bring it. As he went out he ordered all the Indians in the courtyard, about forty or fifty, to go to the cabildo and tell the alcalde to send the guide. In a few minutes he returned, and opening with some trepidation the folds of his large gown, produced the stone.
Fuentes, in speaking of the old city, says—"To the westward of the city there is a little mount that commands it, on which stands a small round building about six feet in height, in the middle of which there is a pedestal formed of a shining substance resembling glass, but the precise quality of which has not been ascertained. Seated around this building, the judges heard and decided the causes brought before them, and their sentences were executed upon the spot. Previous to executing them, however, it was necessary to have them confirmed by the oracle, for which purpose three of the judges left their seats and proceeded to a deep ravine, where there was a place of worship containing a black transparent stone, on the surface of which the Deity was supposed to indicate the fate of the criminal. If the decision was approved, the sentence was executed immediately; if nothing appeared on the stone, the accused was set at liberty. This oracle was also consulted in the affairs of war. The Bishop Francisco Marroquin, having obtained intelligence of this slab, ordered it to be cut square, and consecrated it for the top of the grand altar in the Church of Tecpan Guatemala. It is a stone of singular beauty, about a yard and a half each way." The "Modern Traveller" refers to it as an "interesting specimen of ancient art;" and, in 1824, concludes—"we may hope, before long, to receive some more distinct account of this oracular stone."
The world—meaning thereby the two classes into which an author once divided it, of subscribers and non-subscribers to his work—the world that reads these pages is indebted to Don Saturnino for some additional information. The stone was sewed up in a piece of cotton cloth drawn tight, which looked certainly as old as the thirty-five years it had been under the cura's charge, and probably was the same covering in which it was enveloped when first laid on the top of the altar. One or two stitches were cut in the middle, and this was perhaps all we should have seen; but Don Saturnino, with a hurried jargon of "strange, curious, sacred, incomprehensible, the Provisor's letter, minister of New York," &c., whipped out his penknife, and the good old padre, heavy with agitation and his own weight, sunk into his chair, still holding on with both hands. Don Saturnino ripped till he almost cut the good old man's fingers, slipped out the sacred tablet, and left the sack in the padre's hands. The padre sat a picture of self-abandonment, helplessness, distress, and self-reproach. We moved toward the light, and Don Saturnino, with a twinkle of his eyes and a ludicrous earnestness, consummated the padre's fear and horror by scratching the sacred stone with his knife. This oracular slab is a piece of common slate, fourteen inches by ten, and about as thick as those used by boys at school, without characters of any kind upon it. With a strong predilection for the marvellous, and scratching it most irreverently, we could make nothing more out of it. Don Saturnino handed it back to the padre, and told him he had better sew it up and put it back; and probably it is now in its place on the top of the grand altar, with the sacramental cup upon it, an object of veneration to the fanatic Indians.
But the agitation of the padre destroyed whatever there was of comic in the scene. Recovering from the shock, he told us not to go back through the town; that there was a road direct to the old city; and concealing the tablet under his gown, he walked out with a firm step, and in a strong, unbroken voice, rapidly, in their own unintelligible dialect, called to the Indians to bring up our horses, and directed the guide to put us in the road which led direct to the molino. He feared that the Indians might discover our sacrilegious act; and as we looked in their stupid faces, we were well satisfied to get away before any such discovery was made, rejoicing more than the padre that we could get back to the molino without returning though the town.
We had but to mount and ride. At the distance of a mile and a half we reached the bank of an immense ravine. We descended it, Don Saturnino leading the way; and at the foot, on the other side, he stopped at a narrow passage, barely wide enough for the mule to pass. This was the entrance to the old city. It was a winding passage cut in the side of the ravine, twenty or thirty feet deep, and not wide enough for two horsemen to ride abreast; and this continued to the high table-land on which stood the ancient city of Patinamit.
When we rose upon the table-land for some distance it bore no marks of ever having been a city. Very soon we came upon an Indian burning down trees, and preparing a piece of ground for planting corn. Don Saturnino asked him to go with us and show us the ruins, but he refused. Soon after we reached a hut, outside of which a woman was washing. We asked her to accompany us, but she ran into the hut. Beyond this we reached a wall of stones, but broken and confused. We tied our horses in the shade of trees, and commenced exploring on foot. The ground was covered with mounds of ruins. In one place we saw the foundations of two houses, one of them about 100 feet long by 50 feet broad. It was 140 years since Fuentes published the account of his visit; during that time the Indians had carried away on their backs stones to build up the modern village of Tecpan Guatimala, and the hand of ruin had been busily at work. We inquired particularly for sculptured figures; our guide knew of two, and after considerable search brought us to them. They were lying on the ground, about three feet long, so worn that we could not make them out, though on one the eyes and nose of an animal were distinguishable. The position commanded an almost boundless view, and it is surrounded by an immense ravine, which warrants the description given of it by Fuentes. In some places it was frightful to look down into its depths. On every side it was inaccessible, and the only way of reaching it was by the narrow passage through which we entered, its desolation and ruin adding another page to the burdened record of human contentions, and proving that, as in the world whose history we know, so in this of whose history we are ignorant, man's hand has been against his fellow. The solitary Indian hut is all that now occupies the site of the ancient city; but on Good Friday of every year a solemn procession of the whole Indian population is made to it from the village of Tecpan Guatimala, and, as our guide told us, on that day bells are heard sounding under the earth.
Descending by the same narrow passage, we traversed the ravine, and ascended on the other side. Our guide put us into the road that avoided the town, and we set off on a gallop.
Don Saturnino possessed the extremes of good temper, simplicity, uprightness, intelligence, and perseverance. Ever since I fell in with him he had been most useful, but this day he surpassed himself; and he was so well satisfied with us as to declare that if it were not for his wife in Costa Rica, he would bear us company to Palenque. He had an engagement in Guatimala on a particular day; every day that he lost with us was so much deducted from his visit to his relatives; and at his earnest request we had consented to pass a day with them, though a little out of our road We reached the molino in time to walk over the mill. On the side of the hill above was a large building to receive grain, and below it an immense reservoir for water in the dry season, but which did not answer the purpose intended. The mill had seven sets of grindstones, and working night and day, ground from seventy to ninety negases of wheat in the twenty-four hours, each negas being six arobas of twenty-five pounds. The Indians bring the wheat, and each one takes a stone and does his own grinding, paying a rial (sixpence halfpenny) per negas for the use of the mill. Flour is worth about from fourteen to sixteen shillings the barrel.
Don Saturnino was one of the best men that ever lived, but in undress there was a lankness about him that was ludicrous. In the evening, as he sat on the bed with his thin arms wound around his thin legs, and we reproved him for his sacrilegious act in cutting open the cotton cloth, his little eyes twinkled, and Mr. C. and I laughed as we had not before laughed in Central America.
But in that country one extreme followed close upon another. At midnight we were roused from sleep by that movement which, once felt, can never be mistaken. The building rocked, our men in the corridor cried out, "temblor," and Mr. C. and I at the same moment exclaimed, "an earthquake!" Our catres stood transversely. By the undulating movement of the earth he was rolled from side to side, and I from head to foot. The sinking of my head induced an awful faintness of heart. I sprang upon my feet, and rushed to the door. In a moment the earth was still. We sat on the sides of the bed, compared movements and sensations, lay down again, and slept till morning.
Early in the morning we resumed our journey. Unfortunately, the grey mule was no better. Perhaps she would recover in a few days, but we had no time to wait. My first mule, too, purchased at the price of seeing Don Clementine's sister, which had been a most faithful animal, was drooping. Don Saturnino offered me his own, a strong, hardy animal, in exchange for the latter, and the former I left behind, to be sent back and turned out on the pasture-grounds of Padre Alcantara. There were few trials greater in that country than that of being obliged to leave on the road these tried and faithful companions.
To Patzum our road was the same as the day before. Before reaching it we had difficulty with the luggage, and left at a hut on the road, our only catre. Leaving Patzum on the left, our road lay on the high, level table-land, and at ten o'clock we came to the brink of a ravine, 8,000 feet deep, saw an immense abyss at our feet, and opposite, the high, precipitous wall of the ravine. Our road lay across it. At the very commencement the descent was steep. As we advanced the path wound fearfully along the edge of the precipice, and we met a caravan of mules at a narrow place, where there was no room to turn out, and we were obliged to go back, taking care to give them the outside. All the way down we were meeting them; perhaps more than 500 passed us, loaded with wheat for the mills, and cloths for Guatimala. In meeting so many mules laden with merchandise, we lost the vague and indefinite apprehensions with which we had set out on this road. We were kept back by them more than half an hour, and with great labour reached the bottom of the ravine. A stream ran through it; for some distance our road lay in the stream, and we crossed it thirty or forty times. The sides of the ravine were of an immense height. In one place we rode along a perpendicular wall of limestone rock smoking with spontaneous combustion.
At twelve o'clock we commenced ascending the opposite side. About half way up we met another caravan of mules, with heavy boxes on their sides, tumbling down the steep descent. They came upon us so suddenly that our cargo-mules got entangled among them, turned around, and were hurried down the mountain. Our men got them disengaged, and we drew up against the side. As we ascended, toward the summit, far above us, were rude fortifications, commanding the road up which we were toiling. This was the frontier post of Los Altos, and the position taken by General Guzman to repel the invasion of Carrera. It seemed certain death for any body of men to advance against it; but Carrera sent a detachment of Indians, who clambered up the ravine at another place, and attacked it in the rear. The fortifications were pulled down and burned, the boundary lines demolished, and Los Altos annexed to Guatimala. Here we met an Indian, who confirmed what the muleteers had told us, that the road to Santiago Atitlan, the place of residence of Don Saturnino's relatives, was five leagues, and exceedingly bad, and, in order to save our luggage-mules, we resolved to leave them at the village of Godines, about a mile further on. The village consisted of but three or four huts, entirely desolate; there was not a person in sight. We were afraid to trust our mozos alone; they might be robbed, or they might rob us themselves; besides, they had nothing to eat. We were about at the head of the lake of Atitlan. It was impossible, with the cargo-mules, to reach Santiago Atitlan that day; it lay on the left border of the lake; our road was on the right, and it was agreed for Don Saturnino to go on alone, and for us to continue on our direct road to Panajachel, a village on the right border opposite Atitlan, and cross the lake to pay our visit to him. We were told that there were canoes for this purpose, and bade farewell to Don Saturnino with the confident expectation of seeing him the next day at the house of his relatives; but we never met again.
At two o'clock we came out upon the lofty table-land bordering the lake of Atitlan. In general I have forborne attempting to give any idea of the magnificent scenery amid which we were travelling, but here forbearance would be a sin. From a height of 3,000 or 4,000 feet we looked down upon a surface shining like a sheet of molten silver, enclosed by rocks and mountains of every form, some barren, and some covered with verdure, rising from 500 to 5,000 feet in height. Opposite, down on the borders of the lake, and apparently inaccessible by land, was the town of Santiago Atitlan, to which our friend was wending his way, situated between two immense volcanoes 8,000 or 10,000 feet high. Farther on was another volcano, and further still another, more lofty than all, with its summit buried in clouds. There were no associations connected with this lake; until lately we did not know it even by name; but we both agreed that it was the most magnificent spectacle we ever saw. We stopped and watched the fleecy clouds of vapour rising from the bottom, moving up the mountains and the sides of the volcanoes. We descended at first by a steep pitch, and then gently for about three miles along the precipitous border of the lake, leaving on our right the camino real and the village of San Andres, and suddenly reached the brink of the table-land, 2,000 feet high. At the foot was a rich plain running down to the water; and on the opposite side another immense perpendicular mountain-side, rising to the same height with that on which we stood. In the middle of the plain, buried in foliage, with the spire of the church barely visible, was the town of Panajachel. Our first view of the lake was the most beautiful we had ever seen, but this surpassed it. All the requisites of the grand and beautiful were there; gigantic mountains, a valley of poetic softness, lake, and volcanoes, and from the height on which we stood a waterfall marked a silver line down its sides. A party of Indian men and women were moving in single file from the foot of the mountain toward the village, and looked like children. The descent was steep and perpendicular, and, reaching the plain, the view of the mountain-walls was sublime. As we advanced, the plain formed a triangle with its base on the lake, the two mountain ranges converged to a point, and communicated by a narrow defile beyond with the village of San Andres.
Riding through a thick forest of fruit and flower trees, we entered the village, and at three o'clock rode up to the convent. The padre was a young man, cura of four or five villages, rich, formal, and polite; but all over the world women are better than men; his mother and sister received us cordially. They were in great distress on account of the outrage at Quezaltenango. Carrera's troops had passed through on their return to Guatimala, and they feared that the same bloody scenes were to be enacted all through the country. Part of his outrages were against the person of a cura, and this seemed to break the only chain that was supposed to keep him in subjection. Unfortunately, we learned that there was little or no communication with Santiago Atitlan, and no canoe on this side of the lake. Our only chance of seeing Don Saturnino again was that he would learn this fact at Atitlan, and if there was a canoe there, send it for us. After dinner, with a servant of the house as guide, we walked down to the lake. The path lay through a tropical garden. The climate was entirely different from the table-land above, and productions which would not grow there flourished here. Sapotes, jocotes, aguacates, manzanas, pine-apples, oranges, and lemons, the best fruits of Central America, grew in profusion, and aloes grew 30 to 35 feet high, and 12 or 14 inches thick, cultivated in rows, to be used for thatching miserable Indian huts. We came down to the lake at some hot springs, so near the edge that the waves ran over the spring, the former being very hot, and the latter very cold.
According to Juarros, "the Lake of Atitlan is one of the most remarkable in the kingdom. It is about twenty-four miles from east to west, and ten from north to south, entirely surrounded by rocks and mountains. There is no gradation of depth from its shores, and the bottom has not been found with a line of 300 fathoms. It receives several rivers, and all the waters that descend from the mountains, but there is no known channel by which this great body is carried off. The only fish caught in it are crabs, and a species of small fish about the size of the little finger. These are in such countless myriads that the inhabitants of the surrounding ten villages carry on a considerable fishing for them."
At that hour of the day, as we understood to be the case always at that season of the year, heavy clouds were hanging over the mountains and volcanoes, and the lake was violently agitated by a strong south-west wind; as our guide said, "la laguna es muy brava." Santiago Atitlan was nearly opposite, at a distance of seven or eight leagues, and in following the irregular and mountainous border of the lake, from the point where Don Saturnino left us, we doubted whether he could reach it that night. It was much father off than we supposed, and with the lake in such a state of agitation, and subject, as our guide told us, at all times to violent gusts of wind, we had but little inclination to cross it in a canoe. It would have been magnificent to see there a tropical storm, to hear the thunder roll among the mountains, and see the lightnings flash down into the lake. We sat on the shore till the sun disappeared behind the mountains at the head of the lake. Mingled with our contemplations of it were thoughts of other and far distant scenes, and at dark we returned to the convent.