Obrázky stránek

tives, stark naked. At the unexpected sight of us they ran for the shelter of their nearby hut and presently emerged in the garments which were reserved for rare trips to the mainland, thirty-five miles away. This family of old-time pearl fishers were the only inhabitants within miles. We learned from them that similar little groups were to be found at widely separated points around the coast, but that the total number of inhabitants of the island would not amount to one hundred. Asked what was the prevailing condition of the islanders, they answered: “ Necessidad!" They were extremely poor, but their condition was probably not an unhappy one. They toiled not, neither did they reap. Nothing whatever was cultivated, but they had plenty to eat between fish, deer, bananas and cocoanuts.

President Obaldia had provided us with a letter addressed to alcaldes and other officials, but these people could not read. It was to meet such a contingency that we had manufactured a document that was calculated to strike awe into the ignorant breast. The basis of it was a certificate of admission to practice before the Supreme Court of the Canal Zone. This was signed in large characters and blood-red ink by " Buster Brown,' Tommy Dodd,” and “Weary Willie.” A large red seal held down two yellow cigar ribbons in the left-hand corner. The document was punched and tied up with a piece of red tape and a brass employe's check of the I. C. C.

Impressed by the imposing appearance of this document, the Coibans told us all that they knew about their island, which was not much. It was too thickly covered with forest and undergrowth to be penetrable. No one, to their knowledge, had gone into the interior these many years back. They believed that there were Indians back among the central mountains, because gourds, hand-fashioned, and other articles of human use had come down from time to time in the streams to the coast.

President Obaldia had told us how, a generation ago, Coiba had produced the fattest cattle and the heaviest sugar cane in all Panama. An American, named Captain Harkness, had settled not far from the point where we landed and had set up a sugar mill. He died on the island and his place was abandoned. The remains of it have long since been swallowed up by the wilderness.

A lumbering operation on a large scale might be established on this island with profit, and after the trees had been cleared, the extremely rich land would yield abundant crops of various kinds. The island is about thirty-five miles in length and from seven to ten in breadth. It is well watered and slopes in every direction from a small group of mountains that occupy the interior.

Without machete men it would not be possible to make an excursion across the island as we had intended and it was evident that machete men in sufficient numbers could not be had. So, after buying some fruit and a pet deer from the islanders, we rowed back to the ship in the light of the moon, arriving at about ten o'clock.

The remainder of our journey did not differ in any important respect from the former part of it. We arrived in due course at Pedragal, the port of David, and there we were met by Don Lorenzo Obaldia, the manager of his father's Chiriqui ranch, and one of the most genial and hospitable gentlemen it has ever been my good fortune to come in contact with.



DAVID is an old town. There was a settlement where it stands at least two centuries back. The country thereabouts contained several fine estates, occupying large tracts of land, that had been granted to members of distinguished Spanish families by the Crown. In the Obaldia town house is a portrait of Don Lorenzo's great-grandfather, a stately old gentleman in the stiff and formal costume of the day, which the gentlemen of that time wore, to their great discomfort, in the most remote foreign countries. This first of the Obaldias in Chiriqui built, after the manner of his people, a substantial mansion and great stone gateways, remains of which are to be seen about the place at the present time. He was one of the pioneers of the Chiriqui cattle business. His good lady planted wild fig trees on the large expanse of llano before the house, and many



« PředchozíPokračovat »