Richard Harding Davis.

Three gringos in Venezuela and Central America online

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they had nothing to conceal, or that now, while
they are fighting for existence, they would rather
risk being abused than not being mentioned at
all. For they can fight abuse ; they have had
to do that for a long time. It is silence and ob-
livion that they fear now ; the silence that means
they are forgotten, that their arrogant glory has
departed, that they are only a memory. They
can fight those who fight them, but they cannot
fight with people who, if they think of them at
all, think of them as already dead and buried.
It was neither of these reasons that gave me free
admittance to the workings of the lottery ; it
was simply that to Mr. and Mrs. Barross the
lottery was a religion ; it was the greatest chari-
table organization of the age, and the purest
philanthropist of modern times could not have
more thoroughly believed in his good works than
did Mrs. Barross believe that noble and gener-
ous benefits were being bestowed on mankind at
every turn of the great wheel in her back parlor.
This showed itself in the admiration which
she shares with her husband for the gentlemen
of the company, and their coming once a month
is an event of great moment to Mrs. Barross,
who must find it dull sometimes, in spite of the
great cool house, with its many rooms and broad
porches, and gorgeous silk hangings over the
beds, and the clean linen, and airy, sunlit dining-
room. She is much more interested in telling


the news that the gentlemen brought down with
them when they last came than in the result of
the drawing, and she recalls the compliments
they paid her garden, but she cannot remember
the number that drew the capital prize. It was
interesting to find this big gambling scheme in
the hands of two such simple, kindly people, and
to see how commonplace it was to them, how
much a matter of routine and of habit. They
sang its praises if you wished to talk of it, but
they were more deeply interested in the lesser
affairs of their own household. And at one time
we ceased discussing it to help try on the baby's
new boots that had just arrived on the steamer,
and patted them on the place where the heel
should have been to drive them on the extremi-
ties of two waving fat legs. We all admired the
tassels which hung from them, and which the
baby tried to pull off and put in his mouth.
They were bronze boots with black buttons, and
the first the baby had ever worn, and the event
filled the home of the exiled lottery with intense

In the cool of the afternoon Mr. Barross sat
on the broad porch rocking himself in a big bent-
wood chair and talked of the civil war, in which
he had taken an active part, with that enthusiasm
and detail with which only a Southerner speaks
of it, not knowing that to this generation in the
North it is history, and something of which one


reads in books, and is not a topic of conversa-
tion of as fresh interest as the fall of Tammany or
the Venezuela boundary dispute. And as we lis-
tened we watched Mrs. Barross moving about
among her flowers with a sunshade above her
white hair and holding her train in her hand,
stopping to cut away a dead branch or to pluck
a rose or to turn a bud away from the leaves so
that it might feel the sun.

And inside, young Barross was going over the
letters which had arrived with the morning's
steamer, emptying out the money that came with
them on the table, filing them away, and noting
them as carefully and as methodically as a bank
clerk, and sealing up in return the little green
and yellow tickets that were to go out all over
the world, and which had been paid for by clerks
on small salaries, laboring-men of large families,
idle good-for-nothings, visionaries, born gamblers
and ne'er-do-wells, and that multitude of others
of this world who want something for nothing,
and who trust that a turn of luck will accomplish
for them what they are too listless and faint-
hearted and lazy ever to accomplish for them-
selves. It would be an excellent thing for each
of these gamblers if he could look in at the great
wheel at Puerto Cortez, and see just what one
hundred thousand tickets look like, and what
chance his one atom of a ticket has of forcing
its way to the top of that great mass at the ex-


act moment that the capital prize rises to the
surface in the other wheel. lie could have seen
it in the old days at the Charles Theatre, and he
is as free as is any one to see it to-day at Puerto
Cortez ; but I should think it would be unfortu-
nate for the lottery if any of its customers be-
came too thorough a student of the doctrine of

The room in which the drawings are held is
about forty feet long, well lighted by many long,
wide windows, and with the stage upon which
the wheels stand blocking one end. It is unfur-
nished, except for the chairs and benches, upon
which the natives or any chance or intentional
visitors are welcome to sit and to watch the
drawing. The larger wheel, which holds, when
all the tickets are sold, the hopes of one hundred
thousand people, is about six feet in diameter,
with sides of heavy glass, bound together by a
wooden tire two feet wide. This tire or rim is
made of staves, formed like those of a hogshead,
and in it is a door a foot square. After the
tickets have been placed in their little rubber
jackets and shovelled into the wheel, this door is
locked with a padlock, and strips of paper are
pasted across it and sealed at each end, and so
it remains until the next drawing. One hundred
thousand tickets in rubber tubes an inch long
and a quarter of an inch wide take up a great
deal of space, and make such an appreciable


difference in the weight of the wheel that it re-
quires the efforts of two men pulling on the
handles at either side to even budge it. Another
man and myself were quite satisfied when we
had put our shoulders to it and had succeeded
in turning it a foot or two. But it was interest-
ing to watch the little black tubes with even
that slow start go slipping and sliding down over
the others, leaving the greater mass undisturbed
and packed together at the bottom as a wave
sweeps back the upper layer of pebbles on a
beach. This wheel was manufactured by Jack-
son & Sharp, of Wilmington, Delaware. The
other wheel is much smaller, and holds the prizes.
It was made by John Robinson, of Baltimore.

Whenever there is a drawing, General W. L.
Cabell, of Texas, and Colonel C. J. Villere, of
Louisiana, who have taken the places of the late
General Beau regard and of the late General
Early, take their stand at different wheels, Gen-
eral Cabell at the large and Colonel Villere at
the one holding the prizes. They open the
doors which they had sealed up a month previ-
ous, and into each wheel a little Indian girl puts
her hand and draws out a tube. The tube hold-
ing the ticket is handed to General Cabell, and
the one holding the prize won is given to Colonel
Villere, and they read the numbers aloud and
the amount won six times, three times in Spanish
and three times in English, on the principle


probably of the man in the play who had only
one line, and who spoke that twice, " so that the
audience will know I am saying it."

The two tickets are then handed to young
Barross, who fastens them together with a rub-
ber band and throws them into a basket for fur-
ther reference. Three clerks with duplicate
books keep tally of the numbers and of the prizes
won. The drawing begins generally at six in
the morning and lasts until ten, and then, every-
body having been made rich, the philanthropists
and generals and colonels and Indian girls and,
let us hope, the men who turned the wheel go
in to breakfast.

So far as I could see, the drawings are con-
ducted with fairness. But with only 3434 prizes
and 100,000 tickets the chances are so infinitesi-
mal and the advantage to the company so enor-
mous that honesty in manipulating the wheel
ceases to be a virtue, and becomes the lottery's
only advertisement.

But what is most interesting about the lottery
at present is not whether it is or it is not con-
ducted fairly, but that it should exist at all ; that
its promoters should be willing to drag out such
an existence at such a price and in so fallen a
state. This becomes all the more remarkable
because the men who control the lottery belong
to a class which, as a rule, cares for the good
opinion of its fellows, and is willing to sacrifice



much to retain it. But the lottery people do
not seem anxious for the good opinion of any
one, and they have made such vast sums of
money in the past, and they have made them so
easily, that they cannot release their hold on the
geese that are laying the golden eggs for them,
even though they find themselves exiled and ex-
communicated by their own countrymen. If
they were thimble-riggers or confidence men in
need of money their persistence would not appear
so remarkable, but these gentlemen of the lottery
are men of enormous wealth, their daughters are
in what is called society in New Orleans and in
New York, their sons are at the universities, and
they themselves belong to those clubs most diffi-
cult of access. One would think that they had
reached that point when they could say " we are
rich enough now, and we can afford to spend
the remainder of our lives in making ourselves re-
spectable." Becky Sharp is authority for the fact
that it is easy to be respectable on as little as five
hundred pounds a year, but these gentlemen, hav-
ing many hundreds of thousands of pounds, are
not even willing to make the effort. Two years
ago, when, according to their own account, they
were losing forty thousand dollars a month,
which, after all, is only what they once cleared in
a day, and when they were being driven out of
one country after another, like the cholera or any
other disease, it geems strange that it never oc-


curred to them to stop fighting, and to get into
a better business while there was yet time.

Even the keeper of a roulette wheel has too
much self-respect to continue turning when there
is only one man playing against the table, and
in comparison with him the scramble of the lot-
tery company after the Honduranian tin dol-
lar, and the scant savings of servant-girls and of
brakesmen and negro barbers in the United
States, is to me the most curious feature of this
once great enterprise.

What a contrast it makes with those other
days, when the Charles Theatre was filled from
boxes to gallery with the " flower of Southern
chivalry and beauty," when the band played,
and the major-generals proclaimed the result of
the drawings. It is hard to take the lottery se-
riously, for the day when it was worthy of abuse
has passed away. And, indeed, there are few men
or measures so important as to deserve abuse,
while there is no measure if it be for good so insig-
nificant that it is not deserving the exertion of
a good word or a line of praise and gratitude.

And the only emotion one can feel for the lot-
tery now is the pity which you might have experi-
enced for William M. Tweed when, as a fugitive
from justice, he sat on the beach at Santiago de
Cuba and watched a naked fisherman catch his
breakfast for him beyond the first line of break-
ers, or that you might feel for Monte Carlo were


it to be exiled to a fever-stricken island off the
swampy coast of West Africa, or, to pay the lot-
tery a very high compliment indeed, that which
you give to that noble adventurer exiled to the
Isle of Elba.

There was something almost pathetic to me
in the sight of this great, arrogant gambling
scheme, that had in its day brought the good
name of a state into disrepute, that had boasted
of the prices it paid for the honor of men, and
that had robbed a whole nation willing to be
robbed, spinning its wheel in a back room in a
hot, half-barbarous country, and to an audience of
gaping Indians and unwashed Honduranian gen-
erals. Sooner than fall as low as that it would
seem to be better to fall altogether; to own
that you are beaten, that the color has gone
against you too often, and, like that honorable
gambler and gentleman, Mr. John Oakhurst,
who " struck a streak of bad luck about the
middle of February, 1864," to put a pistol to
your head, and go down as arrogantly and de-
fiantly as you had lived.*

* Since this was written, Professor S. H. Woodbridge, of the
Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has been successful in
having a bill passed which hinders the lottery still further by
closing to it apparently every avenue of advertisement and corre-

The lottery people in consequence are at present negotiating
with the government of Venezuela, and have offered it fifty thou-
sand dollars a year and a share of the earnings for its protection.


EGUCIGALPA is the odd name of
the capital of the republic of Hon-
duras, the least advanced of the re-
publics of Central or South America.
Somerset had learned that there were no means
of getting to this capital from cither the Pacific
Ocean on one side or from the Caribbean Sea on
the other except on muleback, and we argued
that while there were many mining-camps and
military outposts and ranches situated a nine
days' ride from civilization, capitals at such a
distance were rare, and for that reason might
prove entertaining. Capitals at the mouths of
great rivers and at the junction of many railway
systems we knew, but a capital hidden away be-
hind almost inaccessible mountains, like a mon-
astery of the Greek Church, we had never seen.
A door-mat in the front hall of a house is use-
ful, and may even be ornamental, though it is




never interesting; but if the door-mat be hid-
den away in the third-story back room it instantly
assumes an importance and a value which it
never could have attained in its proper sphere of

Our ideas as to the characteristics of Hon-
duras were very vague, and it is possible that we
might never have seen Tegucigalpa had it not
been for Colonel Charles Jeffs, whom we found


apparently waiting for us at Puerto Cortez, and
who, we still believe, had been stationed there by
some guardian spirit to guide us in safety across
the continent. Colonel Jeffs is a young Ameri-
can mining engineer from Minneapolis, and has
lived in Honduras for the past eleven years.
Some time ago he assisted Bogran, when that
general was president, in one of the revolutions
against him, and was made a colonel in conse-
quence. So we called him our military attache",
and Griscom our naval attache, because he was
an officer of the Naval Brigade of Pennsylvania.
Jeffs we found at Puerto Cortez. It was there
that he first made himself known to us by telling
our porters they had no right to rob us merely
because we were gringos, and so saved us some
dollars. He made us understand at the same
time that it was as gringos, or foreigners, we
were thereafter to be designated and disliked.
We had no agreement with Jeffs, nor even what
might be called an understanding. He had, as
I have said, been intended by Providence to
convey us across Honduras, and every one con-
cerned in the outfit seemed to accept that act
of kindly fate without question. We told him
we were going to the capital, and were on pleas-
ure bent, and he said he had business at the
capital himself, and would like a few days'
shooting on the way, so we asked him to come
with us and act as guide, philosopher, and


friend, and he said, " The train starts at eight
to-morrow morning for San Pedro Sula, where I
will hire the mules." And so it was settled, and
we went off to get our things out of the custom-
house with a sense of perfect confidence in our
new acquaintance and of delightful freedom
from all responsibility. And though, perhaps, it
is not always best to put the entire charge of an
excursion through an unknown country into the
hands of the first kindly stranger whom you see
sitting on a hotel porch on landing, we found
that it worked admirably, and we depended on
our military attache so completely that we never
pulled a cinch-strap or interviewed an ex-presi-
dent without first asking his permission. I wish
every traveller as kindly a guide and as good a

The train to San Pedro Sula was made up of
a rusty engine and three little cars, with no
glass in the windows, and with seats too wide
for one person, and not at all large enough for
two. The natives made a great expedition of
this journey, and piled the cramped seats with
bananas and tortillas and old bottles filled with
drinking-water. We carried no luncheons our-
selves, but we had the greater advantage of
them in that we were enjoying for the first time
the most beautiful stretch of tropical swamp
land and jungle that we came across during our
entire trip through Honduras. Sometimes the



train moved through tunnels of palms as straight
and as regular as the elms leading to an English
country-house, and again through jungles where
they grew in the most wonderful riot and dis-
order, so that their branches swept in through'
the car-windows and brushed the cinders from
the roof. The jungle spread out within a few
feet of the track on either side, and we peered



into an impenetrable net -work of vines and
creepers and mammoth ferns and cacti and giant
trees covered with orchids, and so tall that one
could only see their tops by looking up at them
from the rear platform.

The railroad journey from Puerto Cortez to
San Pedro Sula lasts four hours, but the distance
is only thirty -seven miles. This was, until a
short time ago, when the line was extended by a
New York company, the only thirty-seven miles
of railroad track in Honduras, and as it has
given to the country a foreign debt of $27,992,-
850, the interest on which has not been paid
since 1872, it would seem to be quite enough.
About thirty years ago an interoceanic railroad
was projected from Puerto Cortez to the Pacific
coast, a distance of one hundred and forty-eight
miles, but the railroad turned out to be a co-
lossal swindle, and the government was left with
this debt on its hands, an army of despoiled
stockholders to satisfy, and only thirty- seven
miles of bad road for itself. The road was to
have been paid for at a certain rate per mile,
and the men who mapped it out made it in
consequence twice as long as it need to have
been, and its curves and grades and turns would
cause an honest engineer to weep with disap-

The grades are in some places very steep, and
as the engine was not as young as it had been,

6 2


two negro boys and a box of sand were placed
on the cow-catcher, and whenever the necessity
of stopping the train was immediate, or when it
was going downhill too quickly, they would


lean forward and pour this sand on the rails.
As soon as Griscom and Somerset discovered
these assistant engineers the}' bribed them to
give up their places to them, and after the first


station we all sat for the remainder of the jour-
ney on the cow-catcher. It was a beautiful and
exhilarating ride, and suggested tobogganing, or
those thrilling little railroads on trestles at Co-
ney Island and at the fetes around Paris. It was
even more interesting, because we could see each
rusty rail rise as the wheel touched its nearer
end as though it meant to fly up in our faces,
and when the wheel was too quick for it and
forced it down again, it contented itself by
spreading out half a foot or so to one side,
which was most alarming. And the interest rose
even higher at times when a stray steer would
appear on the rails at the end of the tunnel of
palms, as at the end of a telescope, and we saw
it growing rapidly larger and larger as the train
swept down upon it. It always lurched off to
one side before any one was killed, but not until
there had been much ringing of bells and blow-
ing of whistles, and, on our part, some inward
debate as to whether we had better jump and
abandon the train to its fate, or die at our post
with our hands full of sand.

We lay idly at San Pedro Sula for four days,
while Jeffs hurried about collecting mules and
provisions. When we arrived we insisted on
setting forth that same evening, but the place
put its spell upon us gently but firmly, and
when we awoke on the third day and found we
were no nearer to starting than at the moment



of our arrival, Jeffs's perplexities began to be
something of a bore, and we told him to put
things off to the morrow, as did every one else.

San Pedro Sula lay in peaceful isolation in a
sunny valley at the base of great mountains, and
from the upper porch of our hotel, that had been


built when the railroad was expected to continue
on across the continent, we could see above the
palms in the garden the clouds moving from one
mountain -top to another, or lying packed like
drifts of snow in the hollows between. We used
to sit for hours on this porch in absolute idle-
ness, watching Jeffs hurrying in and out below
with infinite pity, while we listened to the palms
rustling and whispering as they bent and cour-
tesied before us, and saw the sunshine turn the
mountains a light green, like dry moss, or leave
half of them dark and sombre when a cloud
passed in between. It was a clean, lazy little
place of many clay huts, with gardens back of
them filled with banana-palms and wide-reach-
ing trees, which were one mass of brilliant crim-
son flowers. In the centre of the town was a
grass -grown plaza where the barefooted and
ragged boy-soldiers went through leisurely evolu-
tions, and the mules and cows gazed at them
from the other end.

Our hotel was leased by an American woman,
who was making an unappreciated fight against
dirt and insects, and the height of whose am-
bition was to get back to Brooklyn and take in
light sewing and educate her two very young
daughters. Her husband had died in the in-
terior, and his portrait hung in the dining-room
of the hotel. She used to talk about him while
she was waiting at dinner, and of what a well-



read and able man he had been. She would
grow so interested in her stories that the dinner
would turn cold while she stood gazing at the
picture and shaking her head at it. We became
very much interested in the husband, and used
to look up over our shoulders at his portrait
with respectful attention, as though he were
present. His widow did not like Honduranians;
and though she might have made enough money
to take her home, had she consented to accept
them as boarders, she would only receive gringos
at her hotel, which she herself swept and scrubbed
when she was not cooking the dinner and mak-
ing the beds. She had saved eight dollars of the
sum necessary to convey her and her children
home, and to educate them when they got there ;
and as American travellers in Honduras are few,
and as most of them ask you for money to help
them to God's country, I am afraid her chance
of seeing the Brooklyn Bridge is very doubtful.
We contributed to her fund, and bought her a
bundle of lottery tickets, which we told her
were the means of making money easily ; and I
should like to add that she won the grand prize,
and lived happily on Brooklyn Heights ever
after; but when we saw the list at Panama, her
numbers were not on it, and so, I fear, she is
still keeping the only clean hotel in Hondu-
ras, which is something more difficult to ac-
complish and a much more public- spirited


thing to do than to win a grand prize in a

We left San Pedro Sula on a Sunday morn-
ing, with a train of eleven mules ; five to carry
our luggage and the other six for ourselves,
Jeffs, Charl wood, Somerset's servant, and Emilio,
our chief moso, or muleteer. There were two
other mosos, who walked the entire distance, and
in bull-hide sandals at that, guarding and driving
the pack-mules, and who were generally able to
catch up with us an hour or so after we had

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Online LibraryRichard Harding DavisThree gringos in Venezuela and Central America → online text (page 3 of 11)