The tradition attached to this spot had nothing but a misty and spectral outline. It was indefinite in the date, uncertain as to persons, mysterious as to the event,—just such a tradition as to whet the edge of one's curiosity and to leave it hopeless of gratification. I may relate it in a few words.
Once upon a time, somewhere between one and two hundred years ago, there was a man by the name of Talbot, a kinsman of Lord Baltimore, who had committed some crime, for which he fled and became an outlaw and was pursued by the authorities of the Province. To escape these, he took refuge in the wilderness on the Susquehanna, where he found this cave, and used it for concealment and defence for some time,—how long, the tradition does not say. This region was then inhabited by a fierce tribe of Indians, who are described on Captain John Smith's map as the "Sasquesahannocks," and who were friendly to the outlaw and supplied him with provisions. To these details was added another, which threw an additional interest over the story,—that Talbot had a pair of beautiful English hawks, such as were most prized in the sport of falconry, and that these were the companions of his exile, and were trained by him to pursue and strike the wild duck that abounded, then as now, on this part of the river; and he thus found amusement to beguile his solitude, as well as sustenance in a luxurious article of food, which is yet the pride of gastronomic science, and the envy of bons vivants throughout this continent.
These hawks my aged friend had often himself seen, in his own boyish days, sweeping round the cliffs and over the broad expanse of the Susquehanna. They were easily distinguished, he said, by the residents of that district, by their peculiar size and plumage, being of a breed not known to our native ornithology, and both being males. For many years, it was affirmed,—long after the outlaw had vanished from the scene,—these gallant old rovers of the river still pursued their accustomed game, a solitary pair, without kindred or acquaintance in our woods. They had survived their master,—no one could tell how long,—but had not abandoned the haunts of his exile. They still for many a year saw the wilderness beneath their daily flight giving place to arable fields, and learned to exchange their wary guard against the Indian's arrow for a sharper watch of the Anglo-Saxon rifle. Up to the last of their appearance the country-people spoke of them as Talbot's hawks.
This is a summary of the story, as it was told to me. No inquiry brought me any addition to these morsels of narrative. Who this Talbot was,—what was his crime,—how long he lived in this cave, and at what era,—were questions upon which the oracle of my tradition was dumb.
Such a story would naturally take hold of the fancy of a lover of romance, and kindle his zeal for an enterprise to learn something more about it; and I may reasonably suppose that this short sketch has already stirred the bosoms of the novel-reading portion, at least, of my readers with a desire that I should tell them what, in my later researches, I have found to explain this legend of the Cave. Even the outline I have given is suggestive of inferences to furnish quite a plausible chapter of history.
First, it is clear, from the narrative, that Talbot was a gentleman of rank in the old Province,—for he was kinsman to the Lord Proprietary; and there is one of the oldest counties of Maryland that bears the name of his family,—perhaps called so in honor of himself. Then he kept his hawks, which showed him to be a man of condition, and fond of the noble sport which figures so gracefully in the annals of Chivalry.
Secondly, this hawking carries the period of the story back to the time of one of the early Lords Baltimore; for falconry was not common in the eighteenth century: and yet the date could not have been much earlier than that century, because the hawks had been seen by old persons of the last generation somewhere about the period of our Revolution; and this bird does not live much over a hundred years. So we fix a date not far from sixteen hundred and eighty for Talbot's sojourn on the river.
Thirdly, the crime for which he was outlawed could scarcely have been a mean felony, perpetrated for gain, but more likely some act of passion,—a homicide, probably, provoked by a quarrel, and enacted in hot blood. This Talbot was too well conditioned for a sordid crime; and his flight to the wilderness and his abode there would seem to infer a man of strong purpose and self-reliance.
And, lastly, as he must have had friends and confederates on the frontier, to aid him in his concealment, and to screen him from the pursuit of the government officers, and, moreover, had made himself acceptable to the Indians, to whose power he had committed himself, we may conclude that he possessed some winning points of character; and I therefore assume him to have been of a brave, frank, and generous nature, capable of attracting partisans and enlisting the sympathies and service of bold men for his personal defence.
So, with the help of a little obvious speculation, founded upon the circumstantial evidence, we weave the network of quite a natural story of Talbot; and our meagre tradition takes on the form, and something of the substance, of an intelligible incident.
At this point I leave the hero of my narrative for a while, in order that I may open another chapter.
Many years elapsed, during which the tradition remained in this unsatisfactory state, and I had given up all hope of further elucidation of it, when an accidental discovery brought me once more upon the track of inquiry.
There was published in the city of Baltimore, in the year 1808, a book whose title was certainly as little adapted to awaken the attention of one in quest of a picturesque legend as a treatise on Algebra. It was called "The Landholder's Assistant," and was intended, as its name imported, to assist that lucky portion of mankind who possessed the soil of Maryland in their pursuit of knowledge touching the mysteries of patents, warrants, surveys, and such like learning, necessary to getting land or keeping what they had. The character and style of this book, in its exterior aspect, were as unpromising as it's title. It was printed by Messrs. Dobbin & Murphy, on rather dark paper, in a muddy type,—such as no Mr. Dobbin nor Mr. Murphy of this day would allow to bear his imprimatur,—though in 1808, I doubt not, it was considered a very creditable piece of Baltimore typography. This unpretending volume was compiled by Chancellor Kilty. It is a very instructive book, containing much curious matter, is worthy of better adornment in the form of its presentation to the world, and ought to have a title more suggestive of its antiquarian lore. I should call it "Fossil Remains of Old Maryland Law, with Notes by an Antiquary."
It fell into my hands by a purchase at auction, some twenty years after I had abandoned the Legend of the Cave and the Hawks as a hopeless quest. In running over its contents, I found that a Colonel George Talbot was once the Surveyor-General of Maryland; and in two short marginal notes (the substance of which I afterwards found in Chalmers's "Annals") it was said that "he was noted in the Province for the murder committed by him on Christopher Rousby, Collector of the Customs,"—the second note adding that this was done on board a vessel in Patuxent River, and that Talbot "was conveyed for trial to Virginia, from whence he made his escape; and after being retaken, and" (as the author expresses his belief) "tried and convicted, was finally pardoned by King James the Second."
These marginal notes, though bringing no clear support to the story of the Cave, were embers, however, of some old fire not entirely extinct,—which emitted a feeble gleam upon the path of inquiry. The name of the chief actor coincided with that of the tradition; the time, that of James the Second, conformed pretty nearly to my conjecture derived from the age of the hawks; and the nature of the crime was what I had imagined. There was just enough in this brief revelation to revive the desire for further investigation. But where was the search to be made? No history that I was aware of, no sketch of our early time that I had ever seen, nothing in print was known to be in existence that could furnish a clue to the story of the Outlaw's Cave.
And here the matter rested again for some years. But after this lapse, chance brought me upon the highway of further development, which led me in due time to a strange realization of the old proverb that "Murder will out,"—though, in this case, its discovery could bring no other retribution than the settlement of an historical doubt, and give some posthumous fame to the subject of the disclosure.
In the month of May, 1836, I had a motive and an opportunity to make a visit to the County of St. Mary's. I had been looking into the histories of our early Maryland settlement, as they are recounted in the pages of Bozman, Chalmers, and Grahame, and found there some inducements to persuade me to make an exploration of the whereabouts of the old city which was planted near the Potomac by our first pilgrims. Through the kindness of a much valued friend, whose acquirements and taste—both highly cultivated—rendered him a most effective auxiliary in my enterprise, I was supplied with an opportunity to spend a week under the hospitable roof of Mr. Carberry, the worthy Superior of the Jesuit House of St. Inigoes on the St. Mary's River, within a short distance of the plain of the ancient city.
Mr. Campbell and myself were invited by our host to meet him, on an appointed day, at the Church of St. Nicholas on the Patuxent, near the landing at Town Creek, and we were to travel from there across to St. Inigoes in his carriage,—a distance of about fifteen miles.
Upon our arrival at St. Nicholas, we found a full day at our disposal to look around the neighborhood, which, being the scene of much historical interest in our older annals, presented a pleasant temptation to our excursion. Our friendly guide, Mr. Carberry, took us to Drum Point, the southern headland of the Patuxent at its entrance into Chesapeake Bay. Here was, at that time, and perhaps still is, the residence of the Carroll family, whose ancestors occupied the estate for many generations. The dwelling-house was a comfortable wooden building of the style and character of the present day, with all the appurtenances proper to a convenient and pleasant country homestead. Immediately in its neighborhood—so near that it might be said to be almost within the curtilage of the dwelling—stood an old brick ruin of what had apparently been a substantial mansion-house. Such a monument of the past as this, of course, could not escape our special attention, and, upon inquiry, we were told that it was once, a long time ago, the family home of the Rousbys, the ancestors of the present occupants of the estate; that several generations of this family, dating back to the early days of the Province, had resided in it; and that when it had fallen into decay, the modern building was erected, and the old one suffered to crumble into the condition in which we saw it. I could easily understand and appreciate the sentiment that preserved it untouched as part and parcel in the family associations of the place, and as a relic of the olden time which no one was willing to disturb.
The mention of the name of the Rousbys, here on the Patuxent River, was a sudden and vivid remembrancer to me of the old story of Talbot, and gave new encouragement to an almost abandoned hope of solving this mystery.
A GRAVEYARD AND AN EPITAPH.
Within a short distance of this spot, perhaps not a mile from Drum Point, there is a small creek which opens into the river and bears the name of Mattapony. In early times there was a notable fort here, and connected with it a stately mansion, built by Charles Calvert, Lord Baltimore, for his own occasional residence. The fort and mansion are often mentioned in the Provincial records as the place where the Council sometimes met to transact business; and accordingly many public acts are dated from Mattapony.
Calvert was doubtless attracted to this spot by the pleasant scenery of the headland which here looks out upon the noble water-view of the Chesapeake, and by its breezy position as an agreeable refuge from the heats of summer.
Our party, therefore, determined to set out upon a search for some relics of the mansion and fort; and as a guide in this enterprise, we engaged an old negro who seemed to have a fair claim in his own conceit to be regarded both as the Solomon and the Methuselah of the plantation. He was a wrinkled, wise-looking old fellow, with a watery eye and a grizzled head, and might, perhaps, have been about eighty; but, from his own account, he left us to infer that he was not much behind that great patriarch of Scripture whose years are described as one hundred and threescore and fifteen.
Finding that he was native to the estate, and had lived here all his life, we interrogated him with some confidence in his ability to contribute something useful to the issue of our pursuit. Amongst all the Solomons of this world, there is not one so consciously impressed with the unquestionable verity of his wisdom and the intensity of his knowledge as one of these veterans of an old family-estate upon which he has spent his life. He is always an aristocrat of the most uncompromising stamp, and has a contemptuous disdain and intolerance for every form of democracy. Poor white people have not the slightest chance of his good opinion. The pedigree and history of his master's family possess an epic dignity in his imagination; and the liberty he takes with facts concerning them amounts to a grand poetical hyperbole. He represents their wealth in past times to have amounted to something of a fabulous superfluity, and their magnificence so unbounded, that he stares at you in describing it, as if its excess astonished himself.
When we now questioned our venerable conductor, to learn what he could tell us of the old Proprietary Mansion, he said, in his way, he "membered it, as if it was built only yesterday: he was fotch up so near it, that he could see it now as if it was standing before him: if he couldn't pint out where it stood, it was time for him to give up: it was a mighty grand brick house,"—laying an emphasis on brick, as a special point in his notion of its grandeur; and then he added, with all the gravity of which his very solemn visage was a copious index, that "Old Master Baltimore, who built it, was a real fine gentleman. He knowed him so well! He never gave anything but gold to the servants for tending on him. Bless you! he wouldn't even think of silver! Many a time has he given me a guinea for waiting on him."
This account of Old Master Baltimore, and his magnificent contempt of silver, and the intimacy of our patriarch with him, rather startled us, and I began to fear that the story of the house might turn out to be as big a lie as the acquaintance with the Lord Proprietary,—for Master Baltimore had then been dead just one hundred and twenty-one years. But we went on with him, and were pleasantly disappointed when he brought us upon a hill that sloped down to the Mattapony, and there traced out for us, by the depression of the earth, the visible lines of an old foundation of a large building, the former existence of which was further demonstrated by some scattered remains of the old imported brick of the edifice which were imbedded in the soil.
This spot had a fine outlook upon the Bay, and every advantage of locality to recommend its choice for a domestic establishment. We could find nothing to indicate the old fort except the commanding character of the hill with reference to the river, which might warrant a conjecture as to its position. I believe that the house was included within the ramparts of the fortification, as I perceive in some of the old records that the fortification itself was called the Mattapony House, which was once beleaguered and taken by Captain John Coode and Colonel Jowles.
After we had examined all that was to be seen here, our next point of interest was a graveyard, which, we had been informed by some of the household at Mrs. Carroll's, had been preserved upon the estate from a very early period. Our old gossip professed to know all about this, from its very first establishment. It was in another direction from the mansion-house, about a mile distant, on the margin of an inlet from the Bay, called Harper's Creek; and thither we accordingly went. Before we reached the spot, the old negro stopped at a cabin that lay in our route and provided himself with a hoe, which, borne upon his shoulder, gave a somewhat mysterious significance to the office he had assumed. He did not explain the purpose of this equipment to us, and we forbore to question him. After descending to the level of the tide and passing through some thickets of wild shrubbery, we arrived upon a grassy plain immediately upon the border of the creek; and there, in a quiet, sequestered nook of rural landscape, the smooth and sluggish little inlet begirt with waterlilies and reflecting wood and sky and the green hill-side upon its surface, was the chosen resting-place of the departed generations of the family. A few simple tombstones—some of them darkened by the touch of Time—lay clustered within an old inclosure. The brief memorials engraved upon them told us how inveterately Death had pursued his ancient vocation and gathered in his relentless tribute from young and old in times past as he does to-day.
Here was a theme for a sermon from the patriarch, who now leaned upon his hoe and shook his head with a slow ruminative motion, as if he hoped by this action to disengage from it some profound moral reflections, and then began to enumerate how many of these good people he had helped to bury; but before he had well begun this discourse we had turned away and were about leaving the place, when he recalled us by saying, "I have got one tombstone yet to show you, as soon as I can clear it off with the hoe: it belongs to old Master Rousby, who was stobbed aboard ship, and is, besides that, the grandest tombstone here."
Here was another of those flashes of light by which my story seemed to be preordained to a prosperous end. We eagerly encouraged the old man to this task, and he went to work in removing the green sod from a large slab which had been entirely hidden under the soil, and in a brief space revealed to us a tombstone fully six feet long, upon which we were able to read, in plainly chiselled letters, an inscription surmounted by a carved heraldic shield with its proper quarterings and devices.
Our group at this moment would have made a fine artistic study. There was this quiet landscape around us garnished with the beauty of May; there were the rustic tombs,—the old negro, with a countenance surcharged with the expression of solemn satisfaction at his employment, bending his aged figure over the broad, carved stone, and scraping from it the grass which had not been disturbed perhaps for a quarter of a century; and there was our own party looking on with eager interest, as the inscription every moment became more legible. That interest may be imagined, on reading the inscription, which, when brought to the full light of day, revealed these words:—
"Here lyeth the body of Xph'r Rousbie Esquire, who was taken out of this world by a violent death received on board his Majesty's ship The Quaker Ketch, Capt. Tho's. Allen Commander, the last day of October 1684. And also of Mr. John Rousbie, his brother, who departed this naturall life on board the Ship Baltimore, being arrived in Patuxen the first day of February 1685."
This was a picturesque incident in its scenic character, but a still more engaging one as an occurrence in the path of discovery. Here was most unexpectedly brought to view a new link in the chain of our story. It was a pleasant surprise to have such a fact as this breaking upon us from an ambuscade, to help out a half-formed narrative which I had feared was hopeless of completion. The inscription is a necessary supplement to the marginal notes. As an insulated monument, it is meagre in its detail, and stands in need of explanation. It does not describe Christopher Rousby as the Collector of the Customs; it does not affirm that he was murdered; it makes no allusion to Talbot: but it gives the name of the ship and its commander, along with the date of the death. "The Landholder's Assistant" supplies all the facts that are wanting in this brief statement. These two memorials help each other and enlarge the common current of testimony, like two confluent streams coming from opposite sources. From the two together we learn, that Colonel Talbot, the Surveyor-General in 1684, killed Mr. Christopher Rousby on board of a ship of war; and we are apprised that Rousby was a gentleman of rank and authority in the Province, holding an important commission from the King. The place at which the tomb is found shows also that he was the owner of a considerable landed estate and a near neighbor of the Lord Proprietary.
The story, however, requires much more circumstance to give it the interest which we hope yet to find in it.
I have now to change my scene, and to pursue in another quarter more important investigations. I break off with some regret from my visit to St. Mary's, because it had many attractions of its own, which would form a pleasant theme for description. Some of the results of that visit I embodied, several years ago, in a fiction which I fear the world will hardly credit me in saying has as much history in it as invention. [Footnote: Rob of the Bowl.] But my journey had no further connection with the particular subject before us, after the discovery of the tomb. I therefore take my leave, at this juncture, of good Father Carberry and St. Inigoes, and also of my companion in this adventure,—pausing but a moment to say, that the Superior of St. Inigoes has, some time since, gone to his account, and that I am not willing to part with him in my narrative without a grateful recognition of the esteem I have for his memory, in which I share with all who were acquainted with him,—an esteem won by the simple, unostentatious merit of his character, his liberal religious sentiment, and his frank and cordial hospitality, which had the best flavor of the good old housekeeping of St. Mary's,—a commendation which every one conversant with that section of Maryland will understand to imply what the Irish schoolmaster, in one of Carleton's tales, calls "the hoighth of good living."
After my return from this excursion, I resolved to make a search amongst the records at Annapolis, to ascertain whether any memorials existed which might furnish further information in regard to the events to which I had now got a clue. And here comes in a morsel of official history which will excuse a short digression.
The Legislature had, about this time, directed the Executive to cause a search through the government buildings, with a view to the discovery of old state papers and manuscripts, which, having been consigned, time out of mind, to neglect and oblivion, were known only as heaps of promiscuous lumber, strewed over the floors of damp cellars and unfrequented garrets. The careless and unappreciative spirit of the proper guardians of our archives in past years had suffered many precious folios and separate papers to be disposed of as mere rubbish; and the not less culpable and incurious indolence of their successors, in our own times, had treated them with equal indifference. The attention of the Legislature was awakened to the importance of this investigation by Mr. David Ridgely, the State Librarian, and he was appointed by the Executive to undertake the labor. Never did beagle pursue the chase with more steady foot than did this eager and laudable champion of the ancient fame of the State his chosen duty. He rummaged old cuddies, closets, vaults, and cocklofts, and pried into every recess of the Chancery, the Land Office, the Committee-Rooms, and the Council-Chamber, searching up-stairs and down-stairs, wherever a truant paper was supposed to lurk. Groping with lantern in hand and body bent, he made his way through narrow passages, startling the rats from their fastnesses, where they had been intrenched for half a century, and breaking down the thick drapery—the Gobelin tapestry I might call it—woven by successive families of spiders from the days of the last Lord Proprietary. The very dust which was kicked up in Annapolis, as the old newspapers tell us, at the passage of the Stamp Act, was once more set in motion by the foot of this resolute and unwearied invader, and everywhere something was found to reward the toil of the search. But the most valuable discoveries were made in the old Treasury,—made, alas! too late for the full fruition of the Librarian's labor. The Treasury, one of the most venerable structures in the State, is that lowly and quaint little edifice of brick which the visitor never fails to notice within the inclosure of the State-House grounds. It was originally designed for the accommodation of the Governor and his Council, and for the sessions of the Upper House of the Provincial Legislature; the Burgesses, at that time, holding their meetings in the old State House, which occupied the site of the present more imposing and capacious building: this latter having been erected about the year 1772.
In some dark recess of the Treasury Office Mr. Ridgely struck upon a mine of wealth, in a mouldy wooden box, which was found to contain many missing Journals of the Provincial Council, some of which bore date as far back as 1666. It was a sad disappointment to him, when his eye was greeted with the sight of these folios, to see them crumble, like the famed Dead-Sea Apples, into powder, upon every attempt, to handle them. The form of the books was preserved and the character of the writing distinctly legible, but, from the effect of moisture, the paper had lost its cohesion, and fell to pieces at every effort to turn a leaf. I was myself a witness to this tantalizing deception, and, with the Librarian, read enough to show the date and character of the perishing record.
Through this accident, the Council Journals of a most interesting period, embracing several years between 1666 and 1692, were irretrievably lost. Others sustained less damage, and were partially preserved. Some few survived in good condition.
Our Maryland historians have had frequent occasion to complain of the deficiency of material for the illustration of several epochs in the Provincial existence, owing to the loss of official records. No research has supplied the means of describing the public events of these intervals, beyond some few inferences, which are only sufficient to show that these silent periods were marked by incidents of important interest. The most striking of these privations occurs towards the end of the seventeenth century,—precisely that period to which the crumbling folios had reference.
This loss of the records has been ascribed to their frequent removals during periods of trouble, and to the havoc made in the rage of parties. The Province, like the great world from which it was so far remote, was distracted with what are sometimes called religious quarrels, but what I prefer to describe as exceedingly irreligious quarrels, carried on by men professing to be Christians, and generated in the heat of disputes concerning the word of the great Teacher of "peace on earth." Out of these grew any quantity of rebellion and war, tinctured with their usual flavor of persecution. For at this era the wars of Christendom were chiefly waged in support of dogmas and creeds, and took a savage hue from the fury of religious bigotry. The wars of Europe since that period have arisen upon commercial and political questions, and religion has been freed from the dishonor of promoting these bloody strifes so incompatible with its high office. In these quarrels of the fathers of Maryland, the archives of government were seized more than once, and, perhaps, destroyed. On one occasion they were burnt. And so, amongst all these disorders, it has fallen out that the full development of the State history has been rendered impossible.
Mr. Ridgely's foray, however, into this domain of dust and darkness has happily rescued much useful matter to aid the future chronicler in supplying the deficiency of past attempts to trace the path of our modest annals through these silent intervals. Incidentally the Librarian's work has assisted my story; for, although the recovered folios did not touch the exact year of my search, the pursuit of them led me to what I may claim as a discovery of my own. I found what I could not say was wholly lost, but what, until Mr. Ridgely's exploration drew attention to the records, might have been said to have shrunk from all notice of the present generation, and to be fast falling a prey to the tooth of time and the visit of the worm. A few years more of neglect and the ill usage of careless custodians, and it would have passed to that depository of things lost upon the earth, which fable has placed in the moon. It was my good fortune, in this upturning of relics of the past, to lay my hand upon a sadly tattered and decayed MS. volume,—unbound, without beginning and without end, coated with the dust which had been gathering upon it ever since Chalmers and Bozman had done their work of deciphering its quaint old text. It lay in the state of rubbish, in an old case, where many documents of the same kind had been consigned to the same oblivion, and with it had been sleeping for as many years, perhaps, as the Beauty in the fairy tale,—happily destined, at last, to be awakened, as she was, by one who by his perseverance had won a title to herself.
This manuscript was now, in this day of revival, brought out from its hiding-place, and, upon inspection, proved to be a Journal of the Council for some few years including the very date of the death of the Collector on the Patuxent.
The record was complete, neatly written in the peculiar manuscript character of that age, so difficult for a modern reader to decipher. Its queer old-fashioned spelling suggested the idea that our ancestors considered both consonants and vowels too weak to stand alone, and that therefore they doubled them as often as they could; and there was such an actual identification of its antiquity in its exterior aspect as well as in its forms of speech, that, when I have sat poring over it alone at midnight in my study, as I have often done, I have turned my eye over my shoulder, expecting to see the apparition of Master John Llewellin—who subscribes his name with a very energetic nourish as Clerk of the Council—standing behind me in grave-colored doublet and trunk-hose, with a starched ruff, a wide-awake hat drawn over his brow, and a short black feather falling amongst the locks of his dark hair towards his back.
This Journal lets in a blaze of light upon the old tradition of Talbot's Cave. The narrative of what it discloses it is now my purpose to make as brief as is compatible with common justice to my subject.
A FRAGMENT OF HISTORY.
Charles Calvert, Lord Baltimore, the son of Cecilius, was, according to the testimony of all our annalists, a worthy gentleman and an upright ruler. He was governor of Maryland, by the appointment of his father, from 1662 to 1675, and after that became the Lord Proprietary by inheritance, and administered the public affairs in person. His prudence and judgment won him the esteem of the best portion of his people, and the Province prospered in his hands.
All our histories tell of the troubles that beset the closing years of his residence in Maryland. They arose partly out of his religion, and in part out of the jealousy of the crown concerning the privileges of his charter.
He was a Roman Catholic; but, like his father, liberal and tolerant in opinion, and free from sectarian bias in the administration of his government. Apart from the influence of his father's example, the training of his education, his real attachment to the interests of the Province, and his own natural inclination,—all of which pointed out to him the duty as well as the advantage of affording the utmost security to the freedom of religious opinion,—the conditions under which he held his proprietary rights rendered a departure from this policy the most improbable accusation that could be made against him. The public mind of England at that period was fevered to a state of madness by the domestic quarrel that raged within the kingdom against the Catholics. The people were distracted with constant alarms of Popish plots for the overthrow of the government. The King, a heartless profligate, absorbed in frivolous pleasures, scarcely entertained any grave question of state affairs that had not some connection with his hatreds and his fears of Catholics and Dissenters. Then, also, the Province itself was composed, in far the greater part, of a Protestant population,—computed by some contemporary writers at the proportion of thirty to one,—a population who were guarantied freedom of conscience by the Charter, and who possessed all necessary power both legal and physical to enforce it.
Under such circumstances as these, how is it possible to impute designs against the old established toleration, which had marked the history of Maryland from its first settlement to that day, to so prudent and careful a ruler as Charles Calvert, without imputing to him, at the same time, a folly so absurd as to belie every opinion that has ever been uttered to his advantage?
Yet, notwithstanding these improbabilities, the accusation was made and affected to be believed by the King and his Council; the result of which was that a royal order was sent to the Proprietary, commanding him to dismiss every Catholic from employment in the Province, and to supply their places by the appointment of Protestants.
The most plausible theory upon which I can account for this harsh proceeding is suggested by the fact that parties in the Province took the same complexion with those in the mother country and ran parallel with them,—that the same excitements which agitated the minds of the people in England were industriously fomented here, where no similar reason for them existed, as the volunteer work of demagogues who saw in them the means of promoting their own interest,—that, in fact, this opposition to the Proprietary grew out of a failing in our ancestors which has not yet been cured in their descendants, a weakness in favor of the loaves and fishes. The party in the majority carried the elections, and felt, of course, as all parties do who perform such an exploit, that they had made a very gigantic sacrifice for the good of the country and deserved to be remunerated for such an act of heroism, and thereupon set up and asserted that venerable doctrine which has been erroneously and somewhat vaingloriously claimed as the conception of a modern statesman, namely,—"that to the victors belong the spoils." I rejoice in the discovery that a dogma so profound and so convenient has the sanction of antiquity to commend it to the platform of the patriots of our own time.
I must in a few words notice another charge against Lord Baltimore, which was even more serious than the first, and to which the cupidity of the King lent a willing ear. Parliament had passed an act for levying certain duties on the trade of the Southern Colonies, which were very oppressive to the commerce of Maryland. These duties were gathered by Collectors specially appointed for the occasion, who held their commissions from the Crown, and who were stationed at the several ports of entry of the Province. The frequent evasion of these duties gave rise to much ill-will between the Collectors and the people. Lord Baltimore was charged with having connived at these evasions, and with obstructing the collection of the royal revenue. His chief accusers were the Collectors, who, being Crown officers, seemed naturally to array themselves against him. Although there was really no foundation for this complaint, yet the King, who never threw away a chance to replenish his purse, compelled the Proprietary to pay by way of retribution a large sum into the Exchequer.
I have no need to dwell upon this subject, and have referred to it only because it explains the relation between Lord Baltimore and Christopher Rousby, and has therefore some connection with my story. Rousby was an enemy to the Proprietary; and from a letter preserved by Chalmers it appears there was no love lost between them. Lord Baltimore writes to the Earl of Anglesey, the President of the King's Council, in 1681,—"I have already written twice to your Lordship about Christopher Rousby, who I desired might be removed from his place of Collector of his Majesty's Customs,—he having been a great knave, and a disturber of the trade and peace of the Province"; which letter, it seems, had no effect,—as Christopher Rousby was continued in his post. He was doubtless emboldened by the failure of this remonstrance against him to exhibit his ill-will towards the Proprietary in more open and more vexatious modes of annoyance.
All these embarrassments threw a heavy shadow over the latter years of Lord Baltimore's life, and now drove him to the necessity of making a visit to England for the purpose of personal explanation and defence before the King. He accordingly took his departure in the month of June, 1684, intending to return in a few months; but a tide of misfortune that now set in upon him prevented that wish, and he never saw Maryland again.
In about half a year after Calvert's arrival in England, King Charles the Second was gathered to his fathers, and his brother, the Duke of York, a worse man, a greater hypocrite, and a more crafty despot, reigned in his stead.
James the Second was a Roman Catholic, and Calvert, on that score alone, might have expected some sympathy and favor: he might, at least, have expected justice. But James was heartless and selfish. The Proprietary found nothing but cold neglect, and a contemptible jealousy of the prerogatives and power conferred by his charter. James himself claimed to be a proprietary on this continent by virtue of extensive royal grants, and was directly interested with William Penn in defeating the claims of the Baltimore family to the country upon the Delaware; he was, therefore, in fact, the secret and prepossessed enemy of Calvert. Instead of protection from the Crown, Calvert found proceedings instituted in the King's Bench to annul his charter, which, but for the abrupt termination of this short, disgraceful reign in abdication and flight, would have been consummated under James's own direction. The Revolution of 1688 brought up other influences more hostile still to the Proprietary; and the Province, which was always sedulous to follow the fashions of London, was not behindhand on this occasion, but made, also, its revolution, in imitation of the great one. The end of all was the utter subversion of the Charter, and a new government of Maryland under a royal commission. How this was accomplished our historians are not able to tell. From 1688 to 1692 is one of our dark intervals of which I have spoken. It begins with a domestic revolution and ends with the appointment of a Royal Governor, and that is pretty nearly all we know about it. After this, there was no Proprietary dominion in Maryland, until it was restored upon the accession of George the First in 1715, when it reappears in the second Charles Calvert, a minor, the grandson of the late Proprietary. This gentleman was the son of Benedict Leonard Calvert, and was educated in the Protestant faith, which his father had adopted as more consonant with the prosperity of the family and the hopes of the Province.
Before Lord Baltimore took his departure, he made all necessary arrangements for the administration of the government during his absence. The chief authority he invested in his son Benedict Leonard, to whom I referred just now,—at that time a youth of twelve or fourteen years of age. My old record contains the commission issued on this occasion, which is of the most stately and royal breadth of phrase, and occupies paper enough to make a deed for the route of the Pacific Railroad. In this document "our dearly beloved son Benedict Leonard Calvert" is ordained and appointed to be "Lieutenant General, Chief Captain, Chief Governor and Commander, Chief Admiral both by sea and land, of our Province of Maryland, and of all our Islands, Territories, and Dominions whatsoever, and of all and singular our Castles, Forts, Fortresses, Fortifications, Munitions, Ships, and Navies in our said Province, Islands, Territories, and Dominions aforesaid."
I hope to be excused for the particularity of my quotation of this young gentleman's titles, which I have given at full length only by way of demonstration of the magnificence of our old Palatine Province of Maryland, and to excite in the present generation a becoming pride at having fallen heirs to such a principality; albeit Benedict Leonard's more recent successors to these princely prerogatives may have reason to complain of that relentless spirit of democracy which has shorn them of so many worshipful honors. But we republicans are philosophical, and can make sacrifices with a good grace.
As it was quite impossible for this young Lieutenant General to go alone under such a staggering weight of dignities, the same commission puts him in leading-strings by the appointment of nine Deputy or Lieutenant Governors who are charged with the execution of all his duties. The first-named of these deputies is "our dearly beloved Cousin," Colonel George Talbot, who is associated with "our well-beloved Counsellor," Thomas Tailler, Colonel Vincent Low, Colonel Henry Darnall, Colonel William Digges, Colonel William Stevens, Colonel William Burgess, Major Nicholas Sewall, and John Darnall, Esquire. These same gentlemen, with Edward Pye and Thomas Truman, are also commissioned to be of the Privy Council, "for and in relation to all matters of State."
These appointments being made and other matters disposed of, Charles Calvert took leave of his beautiful and favorite Maryland, never to see this fair land again.
A BORDER CHIEFTAIN.
I have now to pursue the narrative of my story as I find the necessary material in the old Council Journal. I shall not incumber this narrative with literal extracts from these proceedings, but give the substance of what I find there, with such illustration as I have been able to glean from other sources.
Colonel George Talbot, whom we recognize as the first-named in the commission of the nine Deputy Governors and of the Privy Council, seems to have been a special favorite of the Proprietary. He was the grandson of the first Baron of Baltimore, the Secretary of State of James the First. His father was an Irish baronet, Sir George Talbot, of Cartown in Kildare, who had married Grace, one of the younger sisters of Cecilius, the second Proprietary and father of Charles Calvert. He was, therefore, as the commission describes him, the cousin of Lord Baltimore, who had now invested him with a leading authority in the administration of the government.
He was born in Ireland, and from some facts connected with his history I infer that he did not emigrate to Maryland until after his marriage, his wife being an Irish lady.
That he was a man of consideration in the Province, with large experience in its affairs, is shown by the character of the employments that were intrusted to him. He had been, for some years before the departure of Lord Baltimore on his visit to England, a conspicuous member of his Council. He had, for an equal length of time, held the post of Surveyor-General, an office of high responsibility and trust. But his chief employment was of a military nature, in which his discretion, courage, and conduct were in constant requisition. He had the chief command, with the title and commission of Deputy Governor, over the northern border of the Province, a region continually exposed to the inroads of the fierce and warlike tribe of the "Sasquesahannocks."
The country lying between the Susquehanna and the Delaware, that which now coincides with parts of Harford and Cecil Counties in Maryland and the upper portion of the State of Delaware, was known in those days as New Ireland, and was chiefly settled by emigrants from the old kingdom whose name it bore. This region was included within the range of Talbot's command, and was gradually increasing in population and in farms and houses scattered over a line of some seventy or eighty miles from east to west, and slowly encroaching upon the thick wilderness to the north, where surly savages lurked and watched the advance of the white man with jealous anger.
The tenants of this tract held their lands under the Proprietary grants, coupled with a condition, imposed as much by their own necessities as by the law, to render active service in the defence of the frontier as a local militia. They were accordingly organized on a military establishment, and kept in a state of continual preparation to repel the unwelcome visits of their hostile neighbors.
A dispute between Lord Baltimore and William Penn, founded upon the claim of the former to a portion of the territory bounding on the Delaware, had given occasion to border feuds, which had imposed upon our Proprietary the necessity of building and maintaining a fort on Christiana Creek, near the present city of Wilmington; and there were also some few block-houses or smaller fortified strongholds along the line of settlement towards the Susquehanna.
These forts were garrisoned by a small force of musketeers maintained by the government. The Province was also at the charge of a regiment of cavalry, of which Talbot was the Colonel, and parts of which were assigned to the defence of this frontier.
If we add to these a corps of rangers, who were specially employed in watching and arresting all trespassers upon the territory of the Province, it will complete our sketch of the military organization of the frontier over which Talbot had the chief command. The whole or any portion of this force could be assembled in a few hours to meet the emergencies of the time. Signals were established for the muster of the border. Beacon fires on the hills, the blowing of horns, and the despatch of runners were familiar to the tenants, and often called the ploughman away from the furrow to the appointed gathering-place. Three musket-shots fired in succession from a lonely cabin, at dead of night, awakened the sleeper in the next homestead; the three shots, repeated from house to house, across this silent waste of forest and field, carried the alarm onward; and before break of day a hundred stout yeomen, armed with cutlass and carbine, were on foot to check and punish the stealthy foray of the Sasquesahannock against the barred and bolted dwellings where mothers rocked their children to sleep, confident in the protection of this organized and effective system of defence.
In this region Talbot himself held a manor which was called New Connaught, and here he had his family mansion, and kept hospitality in rude woodland state, as a man of rank and command, with his retainers and friends gathered around him. This establishment was seated on Elk River, and was, doubtless, a fortified position. I picture to my mind a capacious dwelling-house built of logs from the surrounding forest; its ample hall furnished with implements of war, pikes, carbines, and basket-hilled swords, mingled with antlers of the buck, skins of wild animals, plumage of birds, and other trophies of the hunter's craft; the large fireplace surrounded with hardy woodsmen, and the tables furnished with venison, wild fowl, and fish, the common luxuries of the region, in that prodigal profusion to which our forefathers were accustomed, and which their descendants still regard as the essential condition of hearty and honest housekeeping. This mansion I fancy surrounded by a spacious picketed rampart, presenting its bristling points to the four quarters of the compass, and accessible only through a gateway of ponderous timber studded thick with nails: the whole offering defiance to the grim savage who might chance to prowl within the frown of its midnight shadow.
Here Talbot spent the greater portion of the year with his wife and children. Here he had his yacht or shallop on the river, and often skimmed this beautiful expanse of water in pursuit of its abundant game,—those hawks of which tradition preserves the memory his companions and auxiliaries in this pastime. Here, too, he had his hounds and other hunting-dogs to beat up the game for which the banks of Elk River are yet famous.
This sylvan lodge was cheered and refined by the presence of his wife and children, whose daily household occupations were assisted by numerous servants chosen from the warm-hearted people who had left their own Green Isle to find a home in this wilderness.
Amidst such scenes and the duties of her station we may suppose that Mrs. Talbot, a lady who could not but have relinquished many comforts in her native land for this rude life of the forest, found sufficient resource to quell the regrets of many fond memories of the home and friends she had left behind, and to reconcile her to the fortunes of her husband, to whom, as we shall see, she was devoted with an ardor that no hardship or danger could abate.
Being the dispenser of her husband's hospitality,—the bread-giver, in the old Saxon phrase,—the frequent companion of his pastime, and the bountiful friend, not only of the families whose cottages threw up their smoke within view of her dwelling, but of all who came and went on the occasions of business or pleasure in the common intercourse of the frontier, we may conceive the sentiment of respect and attachment she inspired in this insulated district, and the service she was thus enabled to command.
This is but a fancy picture, it is true, of the home of Talbot, which, for want of authentic elements of description, I am forced to draw. It is suggested by the few scattered glimpses we get in the records of his position and circumstances, and may, I think, be received at least as near the truth in its general aspect and characteristic features.
He was undoubtedly a bold, enterprising man,—impetuous, passionate, and harsh, as the incidents of his story show. He was, most probably, a soldier trained to the profession, and may have served abroad, as nearly all gentlemen of that period were accustomed to do. That he was an ardent and uncompromising partisan of the Proprietary in the dissensions of the Province seems to be evident. I suppose him, also, to have been warm-hearted, proud in spirit, and hasty in temper,—a man to be loved or hated by friend or foe with equal intensity. It is material to add to this sketch of him, that he was a Roman Catholic,—as we have record proof that all the Deputy Governors named in the recent commission were, I believe, without exception,—and that he was doubtless imbued with the dislike and indignation which naturally fired the gentlemen of his faith against those who were supposed to be plotting the overthrow of the Proprietary government, by exciting religious prejudice against the Baltimore family.
[To be continued.]
HUNTING A PASS.
A SKETCH OF TROPICAL ADVENTURE.
On the 18th of April, having collected such information bearing on our purposes as it was possible to obtain, we left La Union, and fairly commenced the business of "Hunting a Pass." To reach the valley of the Goascoran, on the extent and character of which so much depended, it was necessary to go round the head of the Bay of La Union. For several miles our route coincided with that of the camino real to San Miguel, and we rode along it gayly, in high and hopeful spirits. The morning was clear and bright, the air cool and exhilarating, and the very sense of existence was itself a luxury. At the end of four miles we struck off from the high road, at right angles, into a narrow path, which conducted us over low grounds, three miles farther, to the Rio Sirama, a small stream, scarcely twenty feet across, the name of which is often erroneously changed in the maps for that of Goascoran or Rio San Miguel. Beyond this stream the path runs over low hills, which, however, subside into plains near the bay, where the low grounds are covered with water at high tide. The natives avail themselves of this circumstance, as did the Indians before them, for the manufacture of salt. They inclose considerable areas with little dikes of mud, leaving openings for the entrance of the water, which are closed as the tide falls. The water thus retained is rapidly evaporated under a tropical sun, leaving the mud crusted over with salt. This is then scraped up, dissolved in water, and strained to separate the impurities, and the saturated brine reduced in earthen pots, set in long ranges of stone and clay. The pots are constantly replenished, until they are filled with a solid mass of salt; they are then removed bodily, packed in dry plantain-leaves, and sent to market on the backs of mules. Sometimes the pots are broken off, to lighten the load, and great piles of their fragments—miniature Monti testacci—are seen around the Salinas, as these works are called, where they will remain long after this rude system of salt-manufacture shall be supplanted by a better, as a puzzle for fledgling antiquaries.
Six miles beyond the Rio Sirama we came to another stream, called the Siramita or Little Sirama, for the reason, probably, as H. suggested, that it is four times as large as the Sirama. It flows through a bed twenty feet deep and upwards of two hundred feet wide, paved with water-worn stones, ragged with frayed fragments of trees, and affording abundant evidence that during the season of rains it is a rough and powerful torrent. Between this stream and the Goascoran there is a maze of barren hills, relieved by occasional level reaches, covered with acacias and deciduous trees. Through these the road winds in easy gradients, and there are numerous passes perfectly feasible for a railway, in case it should ever be deemed advisable to carry one around the head of the bay to La Union.
The traveller emerges suddenly from among these hills into the valley of the Goascoran, and finds the river a broad and gentle stream flowing at his feet. At the time of our passage, the water at the ford was nowhere more than two feet deep, with gravelly bottom and high and firm banks, without traces of overflow. We had now passed the threshold of the unknown region on which we were venturing, and although we had a moral conviction that the valley before us afforded the requisite facilities for the enterprise which we had in hand, yet it was not without a deep feeling of satisfaction, almost of exultation, that, on riding to the summit of a bare knoll close by, we traced the course of the river, in a graceful curve, along the foot of the green hills on our left, and saw that it soon resumed its general direction north and south, on the precise line most favorable for our purposes. In the distance, rising alone in the very centre of the valley, we discerned the castellated Rock of Goascoran, behind which, we were told, nestled the village of Goascoran, where we intended passing the night. We had taken its bearings from the top of Conchagua, and were glad to find that the intervening country was level and open, chiefly savanna, or covered with scattered trees. There was no need of instrumentation here, and so, ordering Dolores to bring up the baggage as rapidly as possible, we struck across the plain in a right line, in total disregard of roads or pathways, for the Rock of Goascoran. A smart gallop of two hours brought us to its foot, and in a few minutes after we entered the village, and rode straight to the Cabildo, or House of the Municipality, tied our mules to the columns of the corridor, pushed open the door, and made ourselves at home.
And here I may mention that the Cabildo, throughout Honduras, is the stranger's refuge. Its door is never locked, and every traveller, high or low, rich or poor, has a right to enter it unquestioned, and "make it his hotel" for the time being. Its accommodations, it is true, are seldom extensive and never sumptuous. They rarely consist of more than one or two hide-covered chairs, a rickety table, and two or three long benches placed against the wall, with a tinaja or jar for water in the corner, and possibly a clay oven or rude contrivance for cooking under the back corridor. In all the more important villages, which enjoy the luxury of a local court, the end of the Cabildo is usually fenced off with wooden bars, as a prison. Occasionally the traveller finds it occupied by some poor devil of a prisoner, with his feet confined in stocks, to prevent his digging a hole through the mud walls or kicking down his prison-bars, who exhibits his ribs to prove that he is "muy flaco," (very thin,) and solicits, in the name of the Virgin and all the Santos, "algo para comer" (something to eat).
In most of the cabildos there is suspended a rude drum, made by drawing a raw hide over the end of a section of a hollow tree, which is primarily used to call together the municipal wisdom of the place, whenever occasion requires, and secondarily by the traveller, who beats on it as a signal to the alguazils, whose duty it is to repair at once to the Cabildo and supply the stranger with what he requires, if obtainable in the town, at the rates there current. Not an unwise, nor yet an unnecessary regulation this, in a country where nobody thinks of producing more than is just necessary for his wants, and, having no need of money, one does not care to sell, lest his scanty store should run short, and he be compelled to go to work or purchase from his neighbors.
The people of Goascoran stared at us as we rode through their streets, but none came near us until after we had vigorously pounded the magical drum, when the alguazils made their appearance, followed by all the urchins of the place, and by a crowd of lean and hungry curs,—the latter evidently in watery-mouthed anticipation of obtaining from the strangers, what they seldom got at home, a stray crust or a marrow-bone. We informed our alguazils that we had mules coming, and wanted sacate for them. To which they responded,—
"No hay." (There is none.)
"Then let us have some maize."
"What! no maize? What do you make your tortillas of?"
"We have no tortillas."
"How, then, do you live?"
"We don't live."
"But we must have something for our animals; they can't be allowed to starve."
To which our alguazil made no reply, but looked at us vacantly.
"Do you hear? we must have some sacate or some maize for the animals."
Still no reply,—only the same vacuous look,—now more stolid, if possible, than before.
I had observed that the Teniente's wrath was rising, and that an explosion was imminent. But I must confess that I was not a little startled, when, drawing his bowie-knife from his belt, he strode slowly up to our impassible friend, and, firmly grasping his right ear, applied the cold edge of the steel close to his head. The supplementary alguazil and the rabble of children took to their heels in affright, followed by the dogs, who seemed to sympathize in their alarm. But, beyond a slight wincing downwards, and a partial contraction of his eyes and lips, the object of the Teniente's wrath made no movement, nor uttered a word of expostulation. He evidently expected to lose his ears, and probably was surprised at nothing except the pause in the operation. My own apprehensions were only for an instant; but, had they been more serious than they were, they must have given way before the extreme ludicrousness of the group. I burst into a roar of laughter, in which the Teniente could not resist joining, but which seemed to be incomprehensible to the alguazil, whose face assumed an expression which I can only describe as that of astonished inanity. I don't think he is quite certain, to this day, that the incident was not altogether an ugly dream. At any rate, he lost no time in obeying my order to go straight to the first alcalde of the village, and tell him that he was wanted at the Cabildo.
Reassured by seeing the alguazil come out alive, the muchachos returned, greatly reinforced, edging up to the open door timidly, ready to retreat on our slightest movement. We had not long to wait for the first alcalde, of whose approach we were warned by a sudden scramble of curs and children, who made a broad lane for his passage. Evidently, our alcalde was a man of might in Goascoran, and he established an immediate hold on our hearts by stopping on the corridor and clearing it of its promiscuous occupants by liberal applications of his official cane. He was a man of fifty, burly in person, and wore his shirt outside of his trousers, but, altogether, carried himself with an air of authority. He was prompt in speech, and, although evidently much surprised to find a party of foreigners in the Cabildo, rapidly followed up his salutation by putting himself and the town and all the people in it "at the disposition of our Worships."
I explained to him how it was that he had been sent for, placing due emphasis on the stupidity of the alguazil. He heard me without interruption, keeping, however, one eye on the alguazil, and handling his cane nervously. By the time I had finished, the cane fairly quivered; and the delinquent himself, who had scarcely flinched under the Teniente's knife, was now uneasily stealing away towards the door. Our alcalde saw the movement, and, with a hurried bow, and "Con permiso, Caballeros" (With your permission, gentlemen,) started after the fugitive, who was saluted with "Que bestia!" (What a beast!) and a staggering blow over his shoulders. He hurried his pace, but the alcalde's cane followed close, and with vigorous application, half-way across the plaza. And when the alcalde returned, out of breath, but full of apologies, he received a welcome such as could be inspired only by a profound faith in his ability and willingness to secure for us not merely sacate and maize, but everything else that we might desire. We told him that he was a model officer and a man after our own hearts, all of which he listened to with dignified modesty, wiping the perspiration from his face, meanwhile, with—well, with the tail of his shirt!
The alcalde was very hard on his constituency, and, from all that we could gather, he seemed to regard them collectively as "bestias," and "hombres sin vergueenza" (men without shame). We concurred with him, and regretted that he had not a wider and more elevated official sphere, and gave him, withal, a trago of brandy, which he seemed greatly to relish, and then again approached the subject of sacate for our mules. To our astonishment, the alcalde suddenly grew grave, and interrupted me with—
"Pero, no hay, Senor." (But there is none, Sir.)
"Well, maize will answer."
"What! no maize? What do you make your tortillas of?"
"We have no tortillas."
"How, then, do you live?"
"We don't live."
A general shout of laughter greeted this last reply, in which, after a moment of puzzled hesitation, the alcalde himself joined.
"So, you don't live?"
"But you eat?"
"Very little. We are very poor."
"Well, what do you eat?"
"Cheese, frijoles, and an egg now and then."
"But, no tortillas?"
"No. We planted the last kernel of maize two days ago."
And so it was. The little stock of dried grass and maize-stalks stored up from the present rainy season had long ago been consumed, and the maize itself, which is here the real staff of life, had run short,—and that, too, in a country where three crops a year might easily be produced by a very moderate expenditure of labor in the way of tillage and irrigation.
Fortunately for our poor animals, Dolores had provided against contingencies like this, and taken in a supply of maize at La Union. As for ourselves, what with a few eggs and frijoles, furnished by the alcalde, in addition to the stock of edibles, pickled oysters and other luxuries, prepared for us by Dona Maria, we contrived to fare right sumptuously in Goascoran. We afterwards found out, experimentally, what it was not to live, in the sense intended to be conveyed by the unfortunate alguazil and the impetuous alcalde, and which H. declared logically meant to be without tortillas—But we could never make out why the alcalde should call the alguazil "a beast," and beat him over his shoulders with a cane, withal.
Goascoran is a small town, of about four hundred inhabitants, and boasts a tolerably genteel church and a comfortable cabildo. It is situated on the left bank of the river to which it gives its name, and which here still maintains its character of a broad and beautiful stream. On the opposite side from the town rises a high, picturesque bluff, at the foot of which the river gathers its waters in deep, dark pools with mirror-like surfaces, disturbed only by the splash of fishes springing at their prey, or by the sudden dash of water-fowls settling from their arrowy flight in a little cloud of spray.
I have alluded to the castellated Rock of Goascoran, which, however, is only a type of the general features of the surrounding country. The prevailing rock is sandstone, and it is broken up in fantastic peaks, or great cubical blocks with flat tops and vertical walls, resembling the mesas of New Mexico. At night, their dark masses, rising on every hand, might be mistaken for frowning fortresses or massive strongholds of the Middle Ages. They seem to mark the line where the volcanic forces which raised the high islands in the Bay of Fonseca had their first conflict with the sedimentary and primitive rocks of the interior. The river is full of boulders of quartz and granite reddened by fire, resembling jasper, and alternating with worn blocks of lava,—further evidences of volcanic action. Altogether, the country, in its natural aspects, reminds the traveller of the district lying between Pompeii and Sorrento, in Italy, and probably owes its essential features to the same causes.
From Goascoran to Aramacina, a distance of twelve miles, the road traverses a slightly broken country, while the river pursues its course, as before, through a picturesque valley, narrowed in places by outlying mesas, but still regular, and throughout perfectly feasible for a railway. Aramacina itself is prettily situated, in a bend of one of the tributaries of the Goascoran, the Rio Aramacina, and numbers perhaps three hundred inhabitants. Immediately in front rises a broad sandstone table or mesa, at the foot of which there are some trickling springs of salt water, much frequented by cattle, and corresponding to the saltlicks of our Western States.
Behind the town is a high spur of the mountain range of Lepaterique, covered with pines, and veined with silver-bearing quartz. We visited the abandoned mines of Marqueliso and Potosi, but the shafts were filled with water, and only faint traces remained of the ancient establishments. Extravagant traditions are current of the wealth of these mines, and of the amounts of treasure which were taken from them in the days of the Viceroys. A few specimens of the refuse ore, which we picked up at the mouth of the principal shaft, proved, on analysis, to be exceedingly rich, and gave some color to the local traditions.
The cabildo of Aramacina was very much dilapidated, and promised us but poor protection against the rain, which now began to fall every night with the greatest regularity. We nevertheless selected the corner where the roof appeared soundest, and managed to pass the night without a serious wetting. The evening was enlivened by visits from all the leading inhabitants, whom we found to be far more communicative than their neighbors of Goascoran. Our most entertaining visitor, however, was a "countryman," as he styled himself, a negro by the name of John Robinson, born in New York, and now a magnate in Aramacina, where he had resided for upwards of sixteen years. Although he had fallen into the habits of the native population, and wore neither shirt nor shoes, he entertained for them a superlative contempt, which he expressed in a strange jumble of bad English and worse Spanish. He had been with Perry on Lake Erie, and afterwards on board various vessels of war, in some capacity which he did not explain with great clearness, but which he evidently intended should be understood as but little lower than that of commander. A glass of brandy made him eloquent, and he took a position in the middle of the cabildo, and gave us an oration on the people of Honduras, in a style singularly grotesque and demonstrative. In broken and scarcely intelligible English,—for he had nearly forgotten the language of his youth,—he denounced them as "thieves and liars," and then asked them, "Is it not true?" Imagining, doubtless, that he was declaiming their praises, the enthusiastic assemblage responded, "Si! si!" (Yes! yes!) Not a crime so gross, nor a trait of character so degraded, but he laid it to their charge, receiving always the same vehement response, "Si! Si!"
We got rid of our paisano with difficulty, and only under a promise to visit his chacra, somewhere in the vicinity, next morning. But we saw no more of him,—not much to our regret; for John Robinson, I fear, was sadly addicted to brandy, of which our supply was far too small to admit of honoring many such drafts as he had made the preceding evening.
One and a half miles to the southeast of Aramacina is a ledge of sandstone rock, with a smooth vertical face, which is covered over with figures, deeply cut in outline. This ledge forms one side of a rural amphitheatre overlooking the adjacent valley, and is by nature a spot likely to be selected as a "sacred place" by the Indians. It faces towards the west, and from all parts of the amphitheatre, which may have answered the purposes of a temple, the morning sun would appear to rise directly over the rock. The engravings in some places are much defaced or worn by time, so that they cannot be made out; but generally they are deep and distinct,—so deep, indeed, that I used those which run horizontally as steps whereby to climb up the face of the ledge. I should say that they were two and a half inches deep. A portion had been effaced by a rude quarry which the people of Aramacina had opened here to obtain stone for their church.
Some of the figures are easily recognizable as those of men and animals, while others appear entirely arbitrary, or designed simply for ornament. Enough can be clearly made out to show the affiliation of the engravers with the ancient Mexican families of Nicaragua and San Salvador. The space covered by these inscriptions is about one hundred feet long, by twelve or fifteen in height. A quarter of a mile to the southward are other smaller rocks with figures, too much defaced, however, to be traced satisfactorily. Vases of curious workmanship, human bones in considerable quantities, and other relics and remains, it is said, may be discovered by digging in the earth anywhere within the natural amphitheatre to which I have referred. This is another circumstance going to favor the belief that this was anciently a place of great sanctity; for it is a universal custom among all nations to bury their dead in the neighborhood of shrines and temples.
Although the immediate district in which these aboriginal traces are found does not seem to have fallen within the region occupied by the Nahuatt or Mexican tribes of Central America at the time of the Conquest, but in what was called the country of the Chontals, yet it is not difficult to suppose, that, in the various hostile encounters which we know took place between the two nations, the Nahuatts may have penetrated as far as Aramacina, and left here some record of their visit,—if, indeed, they did not succeed in effecting a temporary lodgment. At any rate, there can be but little doubt that a portion of the engravings on the rocks above described, but particularly those which seem to record dates, were made by them.
From Aramacina to Caridad, the next town on our course, and four leagues distant, the road is laid out on Spanish principles, which are the very reverse of scientific. Instead of keeping along the river-valley, it passes directly over a high, rocky spur of the lateral mountains, through a pass called El Portillo, (The Portal,) elevated fifteen hundred feet above the sea. The view from its summit, whence we were enabled to trace our course up to this point, as if on a map, in some degree compensated us for the labor of the ascent. From here we could also look ahead, beyond the town of Caridad; and we saw, with some misgivings, that there the lateral ranges of mountains seemed to send down their spurs boldly to the river, leaving only what the Spaniards call a canon or narrow gorge, walled in with precipitous rocks, for its passage. A shadow came over every face, in view of the possible obstacles in our path; and although we tried to reassure ourselves by the reflection, that, where so large a stream could pass, there must certainly be room enough for a road, yet, it must be confessed, we wound down the hill of El Portillo to Caridad with spirits much depressed. Moreover, a drizzling rain set in before we reached the village, and clouds and vapor settled down gloomily on the surrounding hills and mountains, rendering us altogether more dismal than we had been since leaving New York. We rode up to the cabildo of Caridad in silence, and fortunately found it new, neat, and comfortable, with cover for our mules, ample facilities for cooking, and an abundance of dry wood for a fire, now rendered necessary to comfort by the damp, and the proximity of high mountains. Fortunately, also, we experienced no difficulty in getting fodder for our animals and food for ourselves,—a bright-eyed Senora, wife of the principal alcalde, volunteering to send us freshly baked and crisp tortillas, which were brought to us hot, in the folds of the whitest of napkins. After dinner and coffee, and under the genial influences of a fire of the pitch-pine, which gave us both light and heat, our spirits returned, and we did not refuse a hearty laugh, when H. read from a dingy paper, which he found sticking on the wall of the cabildo, the report of the day's transactions on the Caridad Exchange, "marked by a great and sudden decline in railway shares, caused by the timidity of holders, and by an equally sudden reaction, occasioned by two dozen of soft-boiled eggs and a peck of tortillas."
Caridad is a neat little town, of about three hundred inhabitants, situated on a level plateau nearly surrounded by high mountains,—the valley of the river, both above and below, being reduced to its narrowest limits. To the northeastward of the town, and on a shelf of the Lepaterique Mountains, which rise abruptly in that direction, and are covered with pine forests to their summits, is distinctly visible the Indian town of Lauterique,—its position indicating clearly that it had been selected with reference to defensive purposes. We had seen its white church from El Portillo, looking like a point of silver on the dark green slope of the mountain.
Rain fell heavily during the night; but the morning broke bright and clear. The increased roar of the river, however, made known to us that it was greatly swollen, and when we walked down to its brink we found it a rapid and angry torrent, with its volume of water more than double that of the previous day. This was not an encouraging circumstance; for we had learned, that, if we intended following up the stream, instead of making a grand detour over the mountains, it would be necessary to ford the river, about a mile above the town. All advised us against attempting the passage. "Manana," (Tomorrow,) they said, would do as well, and we had better wait. Meanwhile the waters would subside. Nobody had ever attempted the passage after such a storm; and the river was "muy bravo" (very angry). I have said that all advised us against moving; but I should except the second alcalde, who had taken a great fancy to us, and wanted to enter our service. His dignity did not rebel at the position of arriero or muleteer; any place would suit him, so that we would agree to take him finally to "El Norte,"—for such is the universal designation of the United States among the people of Central America. He shared in none of the fears of his townsmen, and told them, that, fortunately, all the world was not as timid as themselves, and wound up by volunteering to accompany us and get us across. We gladly accepted his offer, and started out with the least possible delay. I need not say that we made rather an anxious party. The unpromising observations of the preceding day, and the possibilities of the mountains' closing down on the river so as to forbid a passage, were uppermost in every mind; but all sought to hide their real feelings under an affectation of cheerfulness, not to say of absolute gayety. As we advanced, and rounded the hills which shut in the little plateau of Caridad on the north, we saw that the high lateral mountains sent down their rocky spurs towards each other like huge buttresses, lapping by, and, so far as the eye could discern, forming a complete and insurmountable barrier. Over the brow of one of these, a zigzag streak of white marked the line of the mule-path. Our guide traced it out to us with his finger, and assured us that it traversed a bad portillo, over which the wind sometimes sweeps with such force as to take a loaded mule off his feet, and dash him down the steep sides of the mountain. Half a mile of level ground still intervened between us and the apparent limit of our advance, and we trotted over it in silence, pulling up on the abrupt bank of the deep trough of the river, which foamed and chafed among the great boulders in its bed, and against its rocky shores, nearly a hundred feet below us. A break-neck path wound down to a little sandpit; and on the opposite side of the stream another path wound up, in like manner, to a narrow plateau, on which stood a single hut, with its surroundings of plantain-trees and maize-fields. I looked anxiously up the stream, but a sudden bend, a few hundred yards above, shut off the view; and there the flinty buttresses of the mountain rose sheer and frowning, perpendicularly from the water's edge.
The eyes of the Lieutenant had followed mine, and we exchanged a glance which expressed as plainly as words, that, unless the mountain-spur which projected into the bend of the river should prove sufficiently narrow to be tunnelled, or should fall off so as to admit of a side-cutting in the rock, our project might be regarded as at an end. To determine that point was our next and most important step. Down the steep descent, scrambling amongst rocks and bushes, where it seemed a goat would hardly dare to venture,—down we plunged to the water's edge. Here the stream was not less than a hundred yards broad, flowing over a rocky bed full of rolling stones and boulders, with a velocity which it seemed impossible for man or beast to stem. But our alcalde was equal to the emergency.
Stripping himself naked, he took a long pole shod with iron, which seemed to be kept here for the purpose, and started out boldly into the stream, for the purpose of making a preliminary survey of the line of passage. Planting his pole firmly down the stream, so as to support himself against the current, he cautiously advanced, step by step, "prospecting" the bottom with his feet, so as to ascertain the shallowest ford, and that freest from rocks and stones. Sometimes he slipped into deep holes and disappeared beneath the surface, but be always recovered himself, and went on with his work with the greatest deliberation and composure. After crossing and recrossing the river in this manner three or four times, he succeeded in fixing on a serpentine line, where the water, except for a few yards near the opposite bank, was only up to his shoulders, and which he pronounced "muy factible" (very feasible).
"But, amigo" exclaimed H., in an excited tone, "you forget that you are six feet high, and that I am but five feet five!"
"No hay cuidado!" (Have no care!) was the reassuring reply of the alcalde, as he slapped his broad chest with his open palm; "soy responsable!" (I am responsible!)
The mules were now unsaddled, and the trunks taken over, one by one, on the alcalde's head. Next, the animals were forced into the water, and, after vehement flounderings, now swimming, now stumbling over rolling stones, they were finally, bruised and bleeding and the forlornest of animals, got across in safety. Next came our turn, and I led the way, with a thong fastened around my body below the armpits, and attached, in like manner, to our stalwart alcalde. Long before we reached the middle of the stream, notwithstanding I carried a large stone under each arm by way of ballast, I was swept from my feet out to the length of my tether, and thus towed over by our guide. When all were snugly across, the laughter was loud and long over the ridiculous figure which everybody had cut in everybody's eyes, except his own. H. immortalized the transit in what the French call un croquis, but it would hardly bear reproduction in the pages of a narrative so staid as this.
Intent on determining, with the least possible delay, the important question, whether the mountains really opposed an insurmountable obstacle to our project, I left my companions and Dolores to resaddle and get under way at their leisure, and pushed ahead with the alcalde. Striking off from the mule-path, we climbed up, among loose rocks and dwarf-trees and bushes, to the top of the mountain. My excitement gave me unwonted vigor, and my sturdy guide, streaming with perspiration long before we reached the summit, prayed me, "in the name of all the saints," to moderate my rate of speed, and give him a trago of Cognac. My suspense was not of long duration; for, on reaching the crest of the eminence, I found that we were indeed on a narrow spur, easily tunnelled, or readily turned by galleries in the rock, and that, beyond, the country opened out again in a broad table-land sloping gently from the north, and traversed nearly in its centre by the gorge of the river. The break in the Cordilleras was now distinct, and I could look quite through it, and see the blue peaks of the mountains on the Atlantic slope of the continent. A single glance sufficed to disclose all this to my eager vision, and the next instant six rapid shots from my revolver conveyed the intelligence to my companions, who were toiling up the narrow mule-path, half a mile to my right. The Teniente dismounted, evidently with the intention of joining us, but soon got back again into his saddle,—having experienced, as H. explained, "a sudden recurrence of palpitation."
Rejoining my companions, I dismissed our guide with a reward which surprised him, and we pursued our way to the Portillo. This name is given to the point where the path, after winding up the side of the mountain half-way to its summit, suddenly turns round its brow, and commences its descent. It is a narrow shelf, in some places scarcely more than a foot wide, rudely worked in the living rock, which falls off below in a steep and almost precipitous descent to the river; and although it did not quite realize the idea we had formed of it from the description of our guide, it was sufficiently pokerish to inspire the most daring mountaineer with caution. At any rate, most of our party dismounted, preferring to lead their mules around the point to having their heads turned in riding past it. Exposed to the full force of the winds, which are drawn through this river-valley as through a funnel, and with a foothold so narrow, it was easy to believe that neither man nor beast could pass here during the season of the northers, except at great risk of being dashed down the declivity.
A little beyond the Portillo, the road diverges from the valley proper of the river, and is carried over an undulating country to the village of San Antonio del Norte, finely situated on a grassy plain, of considerable extent, a dependency of the valley of the Goascoran. We had intended stopping here for the night; but the cabildo was already filled with a motley crowd of arrieros and others on their way to San Miguel. A tall mestizo, covered with ulcers, sat in the doorway, and two or three culprits extended their claw-like hands towards us through the bars of their cage and invoked alms in the name of the Virgin and all things sacred. We therefore contented ourselves with a lunch under the corridor of a neighboring house, and, notwithstanding it was late in the afternoon, pressed forward towards the little Indian town of San Juan, three leagues distant.
It was a long and rough and weary way, and as night fell without any sign of a village in front, we began to have a painful suspicion that we had lost our road,—if a narrow mule-path, often scarcely traceable, can be dignified by that name. So we stopped short, to allow a man on foot, whom we had observed following on our track for half an hour, to come up. He proved to be a bright-eyed, good-natured Indian, who addressed us as "Vuestras Mercedes," and who informed us not only that we were on the right road to San Juan, but also that he himself belonged there and was now on his way home.
"Good, amigo!—but how far is it?"
"Hay no mas" (There is no more,) was the consoling response.
"But where is the town?"
And he threw his hand forward, and projected his lips in the direction he sought to indicate,—a mode of indication, I may add, almost universal in Central America, and explicable only on the assumption that it costs less effort than to raise the hand.
Our new friend was communicative, and told us that he had been all the way to Caridad to bring a priest to San Juan, "para hacer cosas de familia," (to attend to family affairs,) which he explained as meaning "to marry, baptize, and catechize." The people of San Juan, he added, were too poor to keep a priest of their own; they couldn't pay enough; and, moreover, their women were all old and ugly. And he indulged in a knowing wink and chuckle.
Meantime we had kept on our course, and it had become quite dark; still there was no sign of the village,—not even the flicker of lights or the barking of dogs.
"What did the fellow say about the distance?" inquired H., angrily.
"That there was no more distance."
"Ask him again; he couldn't have understood you."
"Amigo, where is your village? You said just now that it was close by."
"Hay no masita, Senor!"
"He says that the distance was nothing before, and is still less now!"
"Bah! he's a fool!" Half an hour later, which to H.'s indignant imagination seemed an age, we reached the top of a high ridge, and saw the first glimmer of the lights of the village, on the farther edge of a broad plain, a mile and a half distant.
"Estamos aqui!" (Here we are!) exclaimed our guide, triumphantly.
Our mules pricked forward their ears at the welcome sight, and we trotted briskly over the plain, and, as usual, straight to the cabildo,—a newly constructed edifice of canes plastered with mud, but, for a tropical country, suffering under the slight defect of having no windows or aperture for ventilation besides the door. The drum brought us the most attentive of alguazils, and we fared by no means badly in San Juan; that is to say, we had plenty of milk and eggs.
When supper was over, H. lighted a pine splinter, and put on record his "Observations on the Standard of Measurement in Honduras," which I am allowed to copy for the information of travellers.
"Distances here are computed by what may be called Long Measure. League is a vague term, and, like x in an algebraic equation, stands for an unknown quantity. It may mean ten miles, more or less,—any distance, in fact, over five miles. The unit of measure, as fixed by law, is estamos aqui, (here we are,) which is a mile and a half; hay no masita (a little less than nothing) is five miles; hay no mas (there is no more) is ten miles; and muy cerca (very near) is a hard day's journey. As regards spirituous liquors, a trago of brandy, or 'a drink,' is whatever may be in the bottle, be the same large or small, and the quantity more or less."
San Juan is insignificant in point of size, but its population seems to be well to do in the world, in the relative sense in which that term is to be interpreted in Central America. Here we found that the river forks,—the principal branch, however, which retains the name of Goascoran, still preserving its general course north and south. The smaller branch, called Rio de San Juan, descends from high mountains to the westward, having its rise, we were told, near the secluded Indian pueblos of Similaton and Opotoro. We found the elevation of San Juan to be nine hundred feet above the sea,—an altitude sufficiently great, combined with the proximity of the Cordilleras, to give it a generally cool and delightful climate. The change in temperature from that of the sea-coast, however, is less marked than the change in scenery and vegetation. It is true, we find the ever-graceful palm, the orange, plantain, and other tropical fruit-trees; but the country is no longer loaded down with forests. It spreads out before the traveller in a succession of swelling hills and level savannas, clothed with grass, and clumped over with pines, and miniature parks of deciduous trees, sufficiently open to permit cattle and horsemen to roam freely in every direction. During the dry season, however, this open region becomes dry and parched, and the traveller passing over it then would be apt to pronounce the whole country sterile and without cultivation. But in little lateral valleys and coves among the mountains, sheltered from the sun, and watered by springs or running streams, there are many plantations of sugar-cane, maize, rice, and other standard products of the tropics, of unsurpassed luxuriance. We sometimes came on these green places unexpectedly, far away from any habitation, and all the more gem-like and beautiful from their rough setting of sere savanna and rugged mountain.
We left San Juan early in the morning, crossing to the left bank of the river, still a noble stream, a hundred and fifty feet broad, and pure as crystal. A government tambo, or rancho, opposite the town, on the bank, indicated that even here the river was sometimes unfordable. Hence the construction of this public shelter for travellers obliged to wait for the subsidence of the waters. These government ranchos are common on all the roads, in the less populous parts of the country, or where the towns are widely separated, and are the refuge of the wayfarer benighted or overtaken by a storm in his journey. They seldom consist of more than four forked posts planted in the ground, supporting a roof of paja or thatch. Occasionally one or two sides are wattled up with canes, or closed with poles placed closely together. They are usually built where some spring or stream furnishes a supply of water, and where there is an open patch of pasturage; and although they afford nothing beyond shelter, they are always welcome retreats to the weary or belated traveller. For one, I generally preferred stopping in them to passing the night in the little villages, where the cabildos are often dirty and infested with fleas, and where a horrible concert is kept up by the lean and mangy curs which throughout Central America disgrace the respectable name of dog. In fact, a large part of the romance and many of the pleasantest recollections of our adventures in Honduras are connected with these rude shelters, and with the long nights which we passed in them, far away in dark valleys, or on mountain-crests, but always amongst Nature's deepest solitudes.