Narrative of an Official Visit to Guatemala from Mexico/Chapter 23

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CHAPTER XXIII.


Preparations for departure.—Provide a companion or attaché.—Leave the Capital.


The gefe politico of the new town of Guatemala, Don Gregorio Salazar, this day, returned the visit I had made him at the Antigua. The next, for I determined to set off for the coast on the following, was spent in preparations for my departure: in the midst of these, it had never occurred to me before, that I was about to make an arduous journey and perhaps difficult voyage without a single attendant; and in justice to the nature of my employment, began to look out seriously for some respectable person to accompany me, who might take care of my despatches in case of any unforeseen accident or casualty occurring.

There had been domesticated in the family for the last fortnight a young man about nineteen years of age, by name Don Eugenio: he was the youngest son of Doña Vicente, my very kind and hospitable friend: he had just returned from San Blas, where he had been on a visit, of commercial enterprise on his mother's account, to his eldest brother, the director of the customs under the Mexican government. The latter had accompanied Eugenio to Guatemala, and having ascertained that the youth was intended for a mercantile life, it occurred to me that, by taking him to England, I might benefit him as well as myself by his companionship in my travels; for he had twice passed the port of Izabal, and was in every respect an intelligent, active, youth.

The proposition to take him with me was received with great gratitude by his mother and the rest of the family, which was now augmented by the late arrival of Doña Gertrudis, the Penelope of Sonsonate; for although her brothers had both returned, her husband still remained at the port which they had just left;—and my offer being accepted, it was found necessary for me to delay another day in order that the necessary preparations for the youth's departure might be made: these were easily effected, for in every house of any degree of respectability there are seamstresses almost constantly employed. They are usually seated in a row on the floor of the inner colonnade of the building: three or four extra hands had been for some days engaged in order to make me specimens of some of the more curious embroideries and artificial ornamental works peculiar to the country; amongst the latter of which were little birds, monkeys, and other animals beautifully and naturally imitated in silk. In order to get ready the supply of clothing thought necessary for my companion, about half a dozen more hands were added to this list of native spinsters, and the whole group presented a very novel and curious appearance: added to this, all the other domestics, with many who had been called in to help them, were diligently employed in preparations for the journey: some were making wholesale supplies of chocolate, others dulces or sweetmeats, or cooking provisions, such as fowls, tongues, and hams: these were stowed away in two large baskets; the interstices of which were filled up with new rolls, a whole batch of which had been baked for the occasion. In the inner yard, the male servants were busied in preparing the saddles and mule furniture: the latter lay in a large heap, appearing of itself to be a sufficient load for all the poor animals, without the addition of the cumbrous weights which they were doomed also to bear. In looking over my packages which had now been assorted into mule-loads, it was discovered that at least six more mules would be necessary for their conveyance.

On leaving Mexico, I had disburthened myself of every thing which might not be absolutely requisite for my wants: clothing of every kind, which had been worn, I had either distributed amongst my servants, or given to Mexican friends, who esteemed them highly for their make and quality, but more, perhaps, on account of their being in both respects genuine English. The only article which I really felt the loss of was an English saddle, the last I had remaining, but which I presented, on the evening of my departure from that capital, to my esteemed friend Don Domingo Saviñon, who, it will be remembered, accompanied me on my first journey from San Cosme. He had some months previously enforced my acceptance of a beautiful horse, merely because I happened to admire it, whilst riding with him, and I believe would have willingly given me the choice of another of his best animals for the trifling remembrance which I left him on that occasion. I was glad he appeared so gratified with my little gift, though I am sure it is the last time I shall ever leave myself so unprovided when undertaking an equestrian journey of a thousand miles. I say that I had not any thing superfluous about me, travelling as lightly as could be possibly managed: the following was the arrangement of my baggage. For the beds of myself and attendants three mules; for provisions, cooking apparatus and utensils four, for attendants to ride three, in all ten; and the remaining six for baggage made up the sixteen. Indeed four were sufficient for my baggage, but I wished to have two sumpters, in case of accident,—a provident arrangement which every traveller should adopt, to insure the end of his journey at a given time,—the omission of which may subject him to great delay, and ultimately to more expense than the whole first hire of his retinue.

Tuesday, 12th July. The bustle occasioned by my departure was increased on this day by the circumstance being known that Don Eugenio was to accompany me. Many of the most respectable inhabitants came to take leave of him, and to congratulate the poor lad, (I am sure I know not why,) on his good fortune. The anxious mother invited them all to a grand entertainment in the evening; the additional preparations for which increased the occupations of the domestics who were already all fully employed. I ordered a fresh quantity of champaign to do honour to the occasion: it arrived safely at the house, but although it did not disappear in the unwelcome manner as did a former lot, it underwent a very unpleasant transmigration;—for it was almost all of it made up into very sweet punch. The supper was profuse and excellent: about seventy persons sat down in the comedor, which was as many as could be accommodated, and the rest, consisting of all the young people, had formed themselves into groups on the floors of the other apartments, where they regaled themselves in gipsy fashion. The shouts of laughter and merriment ill accorded with the state dignity of the grand supper table. I was unfortunately placed at the head of it, and had to do the aimable with jewelled dowagers and men of consideration:—Colman, I think, says it is dull though very dignified to sit under laurels; and I confess, I would willingly have exchanged my position for a chance-seat in any of the other apartments. I had promised myself a very pleasant evening, but found it a very dull one.

When the company had retired, about one o'clock in the morning, an hour unprecedentedly late for Guatemalian festivities, I took the liberty of complaining to one of the companions of my little friend, Doña Maria, that she had made a very unpleasant division of the company, by taking all the cheerful portion of it to herself; when she playfully replied that she presumed Doña Maria thought that she and her companions would have been awed by the presence of a Gran Señor.

By six o'clock the next morning I was awakened with a noise occasioned by the arrieros who were engaged in loading the mules: I saw the long spare figure of the Chinese standing in the door-way, as motionless as an image: he was waiting for me to awake; for, having been all his life servant to old Spaniards, he was fearful of disturbing my rest: he stood vacant and fixed as the meridian of Greenwich, and as undefinable as its longitude:—I considered him as the point of my departure, and immediately arose, being anxious about the nature of my unknown journey and the dispositions necessary for making it practicable.

About nine o'clock, four of the mules were loaded, and every thing seemed in a state of readiness for departure except my servant. The cool rainy nights which we had experienced for the last three weeks had greatly deranged his feelings of comfort: he had never existed except upon the eastern coasts of China and the western of Mexico; and had never enjoyed his health so well as at Acapulco. The climate of Guatemala, at this season, was almost death to him, for the thermometer seldom stood higher in the night than at 88°. The poor fellow had weighed all these circumstances in his mind, and felt them in his body; and, with some hesitation, entreated me not to take him to any place colder than Guatemala. Upon my insisting that I would take him with me to England, his copper face turned pale, and he cut short all nicer discussion by assuring me — he would never go there. I was obliged to be content with availing myself of his services to the coast, to which he had no objection, and, in the course of ten minutes, he was ready for the expedition.

He had a great contempt for dress of any kind, and, on this occasion, in addition to the cotton drawers and shirt which usually formed the whole of his apparel, he had loaded his person with a pair of laced Wellingtons and thin sky-blue cotton Wellington overalls. He had usually worn a very narrow brimmed old English hat, which had completely lost the nap but retained the felt; allowing him to feel, what he so much enjoyed, the full influence of the sun. I had purchased a Guayaquil hat made of a fine elastic reed peculiar to that country, as fine as, and much more durable than, Leghorn, and consequently gave him a straw one which I had purchased at Madeira, very light and about seven inches in the brim. He considered for a minute what he should do; and looking at his old companion with a sort of scrutinizing affection, jerked it suddenly away, and, then, deliberately adopting its successor, with its flimsy pretensions to such capital preferment, completed his costume.

The anxious moment of departure was now arrived: the last mules were tramping slowly but steadily through the gateway, without hoot or encouragement, but following instinctively their companions and the sound of the little bell suspended to the neck of their leader.

Don Eugenio had received the reiterated blessings and repeated embraces of his mother and sisters, and was already mounted for the journey: I had also taken my leave of this hospitable family; and was proceeding through the gateway, when I had another object, unexpectedly, to encounter. It was Doña Maria standing on the side of the porch with her head erect, her arms extended, her eyes streaming with tears; and, as her hair, half dishevelled, flowed down unconfined over her neck and shoulders, she seemed some half-animated portrait of the Maria Dolorosa, with which the churches and houses of these countries are so usually adorned. No words of consolation which I ventured to offer could rouse her from the stupor in which her grief had plunged her: to all my observations she indistinctly muttered, "Mi hermano" (my brother). She was still motionless; the scene was become too distressing to witness, and I hastened through the porch: I proceeded slowly along the street: the house extended for a considerable distance down it: there were five windows in the front, and as I passed the last, which was my bed-room, and the shutters of which were open, I looked into it, and my sight was again distressed with the figure of the poor girl, in the same attitude, and exclaiming as I slowly moved along, "Mi hermano." Contrasting her appearance with that which it exhibited the preceding evening when her life and animation had given increased radiance to the enjoyment she was sharing with her youthful companions, I could not help considering the instability of human happiness, and sincerely sympathized in her present distress.

As I passed through the Grand Plaza, I met the archbishop, who was taking an airing in his carriage: he never, I believe, went abroad on foot, and although he is allowed to be a firm advocate of the independent cause, I could not help thinking that he exhibited, in this instance, as it were, a detached remnant of the exclusive dignity of the party which he had renounced.

As I was quite alone, I hardly knew my route out of the town, but guessed it by the position of the sun as well as by the appearance of the surrounding country, which I had often contemplated from the azotea, or roof of the house in which I resided. Having never before passed this way, I was agreeably surprised in coming out upon a cheerful little hamlet, consisting of a few cottages, on a lively green skirted on two sides with level but unworn roads, the whole being hemmed in with uncouth gates and fences, and sheltered with fine trees, amongst which the orange offered at once its refreshment and its shade: pigs, children, and geese were squatted upon the sward: a cow and an ass stood under the shade of one of the largest trees, gazing at each other as if in mute admiration or in tranquil enticement of the pencil of a Morland. The scene reminded me of the village greens which, when a boy, I had seen in England in the environs of its metropolis, but which are now involved in another Babylonian, but splendid and happy, captivity.

Having given the rein to my little Arabian, I came up, in the course of ten minutes, with the stragglers of my party. The first whom I encountered was Don Domingo, the eldest brother of my attaché, Don Eugenio. He had been loitering behind in order to talk to me about his views regarding this young man, who was the cadet (the youngest son) of the family. His father, I knew, had been one of the old Spanish descent, and had married a Guatemalian lady, Doña Vicente, whose relatives had accumulated considerable wealth in haciendas, or farming estates, in which they bred innumerable droves of mules, which, being employed in the carrying trade, had greatly enriched the family, in addition to the fortune which, by his exclusive privileges as a trader, the father, as an old Spaniard, had obtained. Although Don Domingo was the head of the family, yet, owing to the effects of the civil disturbances, which had destroyed the ancient privileges of his house, he had accepted of a situation as comptroller of the customs under the Mexican Government at San Blas: he was, consequently, well aware of the more solid advantages of trade; and the summit of his wishes was that I would place his brother in some respectable mercantile house in England, in order that he might afterwards conduct the affairs of his family at home, and take advantage of such connexions as his residence in England, and his knowledge of European business, might possibly afford.

About four o'clock in the evening, he took leave of me, to return to the capital: like his amiable little sister, Doña Maria, he tried, upon this occasion, to give utterance to his feelings; but nature predominated even in the rougher sex, and all he could say, as he unconsciously acceded to the irritability of his mule which seemed to have partaken of his excitement and was moving onwards, was, "Mi hermanito" (my youngest brother).—I came up with my Chinese servant; but hardly knew him, for he had taken off his hat, which he had slung behind him to the saddle, and had tied a handkerchief round his head in its stead: the sun was setting, and he probably wished to enjoy the last influence of its rays.