Page:The Rambler in Mexico.djvu/43

This page has been validated.
37
PUEBLO VIEJO.

I have a bad memory, but I recollect that such a thing as change for a dollar was never required; indeed, it was as much as you could do to get it for a doubloon, I recollect we paid eight Spanish dollars for a ham; and that to shoe a horse, required three dollars a shoe, and a dollar to a man to hold the animal's nose: though all our steeds were patient as sheep, expostulation was vain-such was the custom.

The heat grew more and more oppressive daily, the moschetoes more bloodthirsty at evening, and more knowing in their attacks upon the faulty corners of our moscheto nets during the watches of the night. The nights were splendid, with a glorious round moon beaming on the river and on the lakes, by the light of which the wild dogs on the opposite shore held most uproarious festivals, to the utter destruction of our rest—the more so, as the numerous dogs of the town never ceased to yell in concert.

The 24th of February the heat was almost unbearable; but in the afternoon a film was drawn over the sky and across the sun, and before midnight we were all shivering in a norte. However, we had sent our horses over the river to Pueblo Viejo the preceding day, and determined to proceed. We left our prison about 10 a.m., crossing the boiling surface of the river with our baggage, not without danger; after a thousand detentions, finally got to horse, and on the approach of the evening, in spite of the lowering sky, advanced two leagues on our route inland to Tampico Alta, once, at the time of the conquest, if historians lie not, a town with seventy thousand inhabitants, now a village of two dozen poor huts, and a small rudely built church. It is situated on a high commanding bluff, within view of the gulf, and rising over an upland and undulating country, carpeted with magnificent shrubberies of low trees and bushes. Over the general level of the vegetation, here and there a gigantic banian spread its hundred arms, the resort of numberless parrots; or the high white pyramidal cluster of flowers of the Spanish palmetto rose conspicuously above the bushes.