Who Goes There? by Rowland W. Cater
The world is but a huge playground, after all; and just as the sympathy
of those who witness a fight between two boys—one of whom is a big
fellow and a reputed bully, while the other is a plucky youngster but
one-half his opponent's size—invariably goes with the smaller and
weaker combatant, so it is even amongst nations. Thus, early in the past
century, when the tiny States of Spanish America were keenly struggling
with the mother-country in their endeavour to cast off the Spanish yoke,
practically the whole world wished them the success which eventually
crowned their efforts.
It seems ridiculous to call them "tiny" States when the smallest of
those of which we are treating—the Republics of Central
America—could find room for all the counties of Wales; while, if we
were able to set down the whole of England upon the largest, we should
find not only that it fitted in comfortably, but that the foreign State
would yet have a goodly slice of land to spare—sufficient, at any rate,
to accommodate three or four cities of the size of London. I call them
tiny, therefore, solely because they are such when compared with other
countries on the American Continent, such as Canada, the United States,
During the years 1820 and 1821 a very keen spirit of independence was
manifested in those regions, and by 1823 the last link of the rusty
chain which had bound those colonies to Spain was snapped altogether
beyond repair; and then, for a time, Central America became part of the
State of Mexico. One by one, however, the colonies withdrew, and in 1824
the independent Republic of Central America was formed, which, in its
turn, was dissolved; and ever since the States have been continually at
war—either with their neighbours or amongst themselves.
It is these incessant wars and revolutions which have given the country
its present rather bad name, and have convinced those who happened to
sympathise with the inhabitants when they were fighting for their
independence that, after all, they had fared better even under the lame
government of Spain than they have done under their own.
The present-day native of Central America can scarcely be said to be an
improvement on the inhabitant of 1824. He still retains the fire and ire
of the Spaniard in his blood—in fact, he is nothing short of an
unfortunate mixture of the fiery Spaniard and the extremely restless
Indian. Small wonder, then, that "peace" is quite a luxury in those
parts, and that revolutions break out periodically.
In Nicaragua—the country with which my tale is concerned—this is
especially the case. One year passed without a revolution is a rarity;
and I have gone through certainly not less than four such outbreaks.
While the trouble exists it is decidedly inconvenient and uncomfortable
for the foreigner, but the real danger is often sadly exaggerated.
During one of these disturbances, nevertheless, I narrowly escaped
coming into serious conflict with the authorities—and all through a
boyish freak, which at any time would have been boyish, but amounted
almost to madness when played in the very heart of a town under martial
law. When I first set foot on Central American soil, however, my
majority was still many months ahead of me, and I had not yet done with
that period of puerile frivolity through which most youths have to pass.
Thus I will offer no other excuse, but will merely relate what took
A pig—a common or garden pig—was at the bottom of it all. The natives
are very fond of pork indeed, and nearly every household boasts of at
least one porker, which is allowed the entire run of the house and
looked upon almost as "one of the family." The air in the town where I
was staying at the time had suddenly thickened with rumours of war; and
it was a well-known fact that some thousands of men were ready to
shoulder their rifles at a given signal and, with a few well-tried
veterans at their head, to make a mad and murderous rush upon anything
and everything belonging to the Government.
In such cases nothing is too bad for either party, excepting perhaps
interference with foreigners, whom, owing to one or two severe lessons
received of late years, the natives have now learned to respect.
Fusillades in the centre of a town, a sudden charge with the bayonet in
a thronged market-place, the unexpected firing of a mine, and similar
proofs of the "patriotism" of one party or the other, may be expected at
any moment; and although pretending to inclusion in the list of
civilised nations, either party will spurn the idea of notice or warning
previous to the bombardment of a town. Every one is on the alert, and
the tension is trying indeed if it happens to be one's first
Bloodthirsty natives, speaking scarcely above a whisper, may be seen in
small groups at almost every street corner, and in such quarters of the
town where reside known sympathisers with the attacking party much
military movement is noticeable. Every few hundred yards are stationed
pickets of gendarmes or barefooted soldados; and after dusk, no matter
who you be or what your errand, you stand every chance of a bullet
should you fail to give prompt satisfaction on being challenged with the
usual quien vive?
And so it was on the occasion to which I have alluded. Everybody's
nerves were strung up to a painful pitch, and any unusual noise—any
sound, almost, above a half-smothered cough—would bring fifty or sixty
reckless gendarmes, with fixed bayonets, to the spot in a very brief
interval. It was generally looked upon as certain that an assault upon
the town—in which one half the inhabitants were willing, nay, even
anxious to join—would commence before morning; and an ominous silence
Then it was that my "little joke" or scheme was hatched. I was indulging
in a quiet game of "cannons" on a small French billiard-table in my
hotel, and during the game had been several times annoyed by the
proprietor's favourite pig, which insisted every now and then on
strolling beneath the table, to emerge on the other side quite
unexpectedly and bump heavily against my legs just as I was squaring for
some difficult shot. The brute had done this at least four times, with
the result that my opponent was many points to the good. I had often
licked him at the same game before, so the reader must not imagine that
I am merely excusing my own play—it was the pig's fault, without a
doubt, and I was beginning to lose my temper.
"I'll teach that pig a lesson when the game is over," I remarked to my
opponent; and, in effect, I had soon put away my cue, and, cornering the
porker, fastened a piece of cord to his hind trotter. A large empty
biscuit-tin and a bunch of Chinese crackers did the rest—the tin being
secured to the other end of the line and the crackers nestling snugly
inside the tin.
The natives who stood around watching these preparations evidently
foresaw certain results which my boyish vision failed to reach, for
they whispered and laughed to one another, and at intervals, rubbing
their hands together with glee, would exclaim, "A good joke." "Eh! a
good joke, you see!"
The whole town was startled a few minutes later by the uproar, and the
shouts and laughter of those who witnessed the porker's departure from
Lighting the tiny fuse attached to the crackers, I put them back again
into the tin, and a kick at the latter was sufficient to startle the hog
off at a gallop down the street.
The slight pull on his hind leg caused by the weight of the tin
evidently annoyed him, and, wishing to get away from it, he ran the
Boom! boom! The biscuit-tin swung from side to side at every pace, and
each time it struck the ground with a noisy report which in itself was
sufficient to arouse the already alarmed town.
Then, the fuse having burned down, the crackers commenced business.
Bang! bang! Burr-rr—bang! Burr-rr—bang-bang-BANG! they went, the
vibrations of the tin adding volume to each detonation; and it would be
difficult indeed to imagine a better imitation of a distant fusillade.
The frightened hog only went the faster.
I was running behind, endeavouring to keep up with the pig, for I did
not wish to lose any of the fun; but he soon out-distanced me, although
I was fortunate enough to be within ear-shot when the crackers gave
their final kick.
Bang! bang! Burr—rr—bang! Bang! BANG!
Then began the fun. The inhabitants crowded to their doors to inquire
in which direction the attack on the town had commenced, and the
military were tearing hither and thither, like so many madmen. Big
generals in their shirt-sleeves galloped through the streets on little
horses, collecting their men; pieces of artillery were rushed out of the
barracks and held in readiness; scouts went out to reconnoitre in every
conceivable direction, and the military band, playing all the national
airs within their ken, paraded the public square, halting every now and
then so that an officer might read to the public the Commandante's
orders to the effect that all the inhabitants must remain indoors under
pain of all sorts of outrageous and impossible penalties.
In view of the latter, however, I deemed it wise to give up my chase and
return to my hotel, there to await developments; and as I retraced my
steps cries of El enemigo! El enemigo! hailed me at almost every pace.
Hundreds of questions as to the whereabouts of the attacking forces were
hurled at me as I went, but I dared not stop to respond, or without a
doubt I should have betrayed myself. At the onset, boylike, I had
considered this a "splendid joke," but now the alarm was so widespread
that I did not know whether to feel startled by the result or flattered
to think I had succeeded in putting an entire town in an uproar.
I thought of the pleasure that would be experienced by the ordinary
"romp" at home were he able to make so vast an impression with his
everyday practical jokes; and it was to me a matter of tremendous wonder
that a harmless biscuit-tin, a common or garden firework, and a
"domestic" pig could possibly combine to cause such intense excitement.
With very great difficulty I managed to pass the various pickets
stationed along the streets, being detained by each one for
cross-examination; and ere I reached my hotel I was overtaken by half a
company of soldados returning to barracks with a prisoner. Then my
conscience began to prick me.
"This has gone rather too far," I thought. "I did not intend to do any
one an injury, but only desired to teach that wretched porker a lesson."
In fact, I felt distinctly uncomfortable as I trudged along, and
somewhat alarmed at this new turn of events; and I resolved that in the
future I would look ahead before attempting even the commonest practical
When I reached the spot where the next picket was stationed, I was
surprised to find that the men failed to challenge me. I was getting
quite used to the "Who goes there?" which had met me at every street
corner, and the absence of it in this case made me somewhat suspicious.
The explanation was not long in coming. I found them all in fits of
laughter; and, availing myself of the opportunity which their mirth
afforded me, I made inquiries as to the name of the prisoner who had
been marched past me a few minutes ago. My question provoked more
mirth, but I eventually secured the information, which had the effect of
adding my mirth to theirs, for I learned that the prisoner was—a pig
with a tin tied to his leg.
This pig, I was informed, was the cause of the whole alarm. There was no
attack—in fact, there was no enemy near enough to the town, as yet, to
indulge in an assault. All was a practical joke—some one had let this
pig loose with a biscuit-tin tied to his leg, and this had started the
alarm. The porker had been run down and lassoed by the military on the
outskirts of the town, so that it was all over now—excepting that the
authorities were looking for the perpetrator, or the originator of the
Realising now the extent of my folly, I, who hitherto had been laughing
up my sleeve at the discomfiture and alarm of others, was in my turn
genuinely alarmed, and all the way back to my hotel I was wondering as
to what would be my best course of action—foreseeing, whichever way I
turned for a solution, visions of heavy fines, probable imprisonment,
and possible banishment from the country altogether.
On reaching the hotel I was hailed by many of those who had witnessed
"the start," and consequently knew my connection with the affair. They
soon posted me as to what had happened during my absence.
Ere the pig and myself had been gone five minutes, a picket of soldiers
made a rush upon the hotel, went inside, and, closing every exit,
informed the occupants that every one must consider himself under arrest
until the real originator of the "scare" was discovered. The officer
remarked that he knew for a fact that the matter began there, and
although the pig had not yet been caught it had been recognised as
"belonging to the proprietor's family."
Then, to the surprise of every one concerned, a certain Colonel Moyal, a
native keenly opposed to the Government and a suspected revolutionist,
stepped forward and declared that he had carried the whole thing through
from beginning to end, so was prepared to take the consequences.
Needless to say, my champion was arrested and marched off to the
Cabildo; and I was informed that the plucky fellow had done this to
shield me, merely to keep me out of trouble because he had taken a fancy
Not for this, however, would I let him remain in his unenviable
position. It did not take me long to resolve that, to be honourable, I
must myself bear the consequences of my own folly; and in a very short
time afterward I was interviewing the Commandante. That official, in
whose favour I had long since made it my business to firmly establish
myself, informed me that it was then too late at night to take any
evidence, or, in fact, to move at all in the matter; but that he would
attend to me at eight o'clock next morning.
The following day at the appointed hour I waited on him, told him I was
the real culprit, secured the colonel's release, paid a fine of a few
dollars, and by nine o'clock was back again in my hotel; and when I sat
down with the Colonel that night to a special cena to which I had
invited him—intending in some measure to prove to him my gratitude for
his generosity and esteem—I made a rather boyish speech in which I
regretted tremendously the Colonel's having passed an exceedingly
uncomfortable night in prison on my account, and my inability to release
him the night before.
Moyal, to my intense surprise, replied that he had to thank me for the
opportunity I had given him. "Of course," said he, "I should not like to
see you in trouble, and would have done anything in my power to keep you
out of it, but I must admit that my motive was not the generous one that
has been attributed to me. It was a rather selfish motive, you see,
between you and me. I am a moving spirit in this revolution which is
brewing, and I have important business with the Government soldiers
inside the Cabildo. In the ordinary course, since I am known as a
revolutionist, I cannot possibly get into open or secret communication
with them—so of course I had to get arrested, and you gave me that
I was about to ask him, boylike, whether he was successful in his
mission, when he added, "The only pity is that you didn't let me stay
there a bit longer—but you were not to know, so I appreciate your
However, I had reason to believe afterwards that he had not succeeded
in his object, which, I have no doubt, was to "buy" all the soldados
over to his side, for up to this day the political party to which the
Colonel belonged is out of power, though it has repeatedly made efforts
to get in.