Page images

suit, which is a very common occurrence, all his ingenuity must be exerted to beguile them from the true scent.

In this, however, he is not always successful, being followed by those who are entirely aware of the arts he may use, and whose eyes are so quick that the lightest turn of a leaf, or the faintest impression of a foot is unerringly perceived: even the dried leaves that


be strewed upon the ground, often help to conduct to the secret spot, and it consequently happens that persons so engaged must frequently undergo the disappointment of finding an advantage they had promised to themselves, seized on by others. The hidden treasure being detected, the next operation is the felling a sufficient number of trees to employ the gang during the season. The Mahogany tree is commonly cut about ten or twelve feet from the ground, a stage being erected for the axe-men employed in levelling it. This, to an observer, would appear a labour of much danger ; but it is very rarely that an accident happens to the people engaged in it. The trunk of the tree, from the dimensions of the wood it furnishes, is deemed the most valuable; but, for purposes of an ornamental kind, the limbs or branches are generally preferred, the grain of them being much closer, and the veins more rich and variegated. A sufficient number of trees being now felled to occupy the gang during the season, they commence cutting the roads by which they are to be conveyed to the river. This may fairly be estimated at two-thirds of the labour and expense. Each Mahogany work forms in itself a small village on the banks of a river, the choice of situation being always regulated by the proximity of such river to the Mahogany intended as the object of future research.

In the arranging and appearance of the habitations much rural taste is often displayed. We have frequently seen houses of this kind completed in a single day, with no other implement than the axe; consequently every workman is capable of performing the labour required to build his own dwelling. After completing this establishment, a main road is opened for it, in as near a direction as possible to the centre of the body of trees so felled, into which branch roads are often made. The ground through which the roads are to run is a mass of dense forest of high trees and underwood. They commence clearing the underwood with cutlasses, which, although in appearance but a slender instrument, yet, from the dexterity with which it is used, answers the purpose admirably.

This labour is usually performed by task work of one hundred yards each man, per day, which expert workmen will perform in six hours. The underwood being removed, the larger trees are then felled by the axe, as even with the ground as possible, the task being also at this work one hundred yards per day; although it is more difficult from the number of hard woods growing here, which, on the failure of the axe, are removed by the application of fire. The trunks of these trees, although many of them are valuable for different purposes, such as the Bullet-tree, Iron-wood, &c., are thrown away as useless, unless they happen to be near to some creek or small river which may intersect the road; in that case they are applied to the construction of bridges, which are frequently of great size, and require vast labour to make them of sufficient strength to bear such immense loads as are brought over them. The quantity and distance of the road to be cut each season depends upon the situation of the body of the Mahogany trees, which, if much dispersed or scattered, will increase the labour and expense of road cutting; and it not unfrequently happens that many bridges, and miles of road, are made to a single tree, and which tree may ultimately yield but one log.

The roads being cleared of all the brushwood, still require the labour of hoes, pick-axes, and sledge hammers, to level the hillocks and break the rocks, and such of the remaining stumps as might impede the wheels that are hereafter to pass over them. The roads being all made, which may generally be done in the month of December, the cross cutting," as it is technically called, com

This is merely dividing cross wise, by means of the saw, each Mahogany tree into logs, according to the length; and it often occurs that while some are but long enough for one log, others, on the contrary, will admit of four or five being cut from the same tree,—the chief guide for dividing the trees into logs being to equalise the loads which the cattle have to draw, and prevent their being over-burdened: consequently, as the tree increases in thickness, so the logs are reduced in



length. This, however, does not altogether obviate the irregularity of the loads, and a supply of oxen are constantly kept in readiness to add to the usual numbers according to the weight of the log ; this becomes unavoidable from the very great difference in size of the Mahogany trees; the logs taken from one tree being about three hundred feet, while those from the rest may be as many thousand. The largest log ever cut in Honduras was of the following dimensions. Length 17 feet, breadth 57 inches, depth 64 inches, measuring 5168 superficial feet; weight 15 tons. The sawing being completed, the logs are separated one from the other, and placed in whatever position will admit the largest square to be formed, according to the shape which the end of each log presents, and is then reduced by means of the axe into a square form, although some of the smaller logs are brought in round; yet, with the larger description, it is essential to make them square, not only because the weight is thereby lessened, but because it prevents their rolling on the trunk or carriage.

We now reach the month of March, when all the preparation before described is, or ought

« PreviousContinue »