The Purple Land
W. H. Hudson
Part 1 out of 5
Produced by Juliet Sutherland, Eric Eldred, Charles Franks
and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team.
THE PURPLE LAND
Being the Narrative of One Richard Lamb's Adventures in The Banda
Oriental, in South America, as Told By Himself
W. H. Hudson
Second Edition, 1904
This work was first issued in 1885, by Messrs. Sampson Low, in two
slim volumes, with the longer, and to most persons, enigmatical title
of _The Purple Land That England Lost_. A purple land may be found
in almost any region of the globe, and 'tis of our gains, not our
losses, we keep count. A few notices of the book appeared in the papers,
one or two of the more serious literary journals reviewing it (not
favourably) under the heading of "Travels and Geography"; but the
reading public cared not to buy, and it very shortly fell into oblivion.
There it might have remained for a further period of nineteen years,
or for ever, since the sleep of a book is apt to be of the unawakening
kind, had not certain men of letters, who found it on a forgotten heap
and liked it in spite of its faults, or because of them, concerned
themselves to revive it.
We are often told that an author never wholly loses his affection for
a first book, and the feeling has been likened (more than once) to
that of a parent towards a first-born. I have not said it, but in
consenting to this reprint I considered that a writer's early or
unregarded work is apt to be raked up when he is not standing by to
make remarks. He may be absent on a journey from which he is not
expected to return. It accordingly seemed better that I should myself
supervise a new edition, since this would enable me to remove a few
of the numerous spots and pimples which decorate the ingenious
countenance of the work before handing it on to posterity.
Besides many small verbal corrections and changes, the deletion of
some paragraphs and the insertion of a few new ones, I have omitted
one entire chapter containing the Story of a Piebald Horse, recently
reprinted in another book entitled _El Ombù_. I have also dropped
the tedious introduction to the former edition, only preserving, as
an appendix, the historical part, for the sake of such of my readers
as may like to have a few facts about the land that England lost.
W. H. H.
[FOR THE SECOND EDITION]
[Illustration: SANTA COLOMA]
Three chapters in the story of my life--three periods, distinct and
well defined, yet consecutive--beginning when I had not completed
twenty-five years and finishing before thirty, will probably prove the
most eventful of all. To the very end they will come back oftenest to
memory and seem more vivid than all the other years of existence--the
four-and-twenty I had already lived, and the, say, forty or
forty-five--I hope it may be fifty or even sixty--which are to follow.
For what soul in this wonderful, various world would wish to depart
before ninety! The dark as well as the light, its sweet and its bitter,
make me love it.
Of the first of these three a word only need be written. This was the
period of courtship and matrimony; and though the experience seemed
to me then something altogether new and strange in the world, it must
nevertheless have resembled that of other men, since all men marry.
And the last period, which was the longest of the three, occupying
fully three years, could not be told. It was all black disaster. Three
years of enforced separation and the extremest suffering which the
cruel law of the land allowed an enraged father to inflict on his child
and the man who had ventured to wed her against his will. Even the
wise may be driven mad by oppression, and I that was never wise, but
lived in and was led by the passions and illusions and the unbounded
self-confidence of youth, what must it have been for me when we were
cruelly torn asunder; when I was cast into prison to lie for long
months in the company of felons, ever thinking of her who was also
desolate and breaking her heart! But it is ended--the abhorrent
restraint, the anxiety, the breedings over a thousand possible and
impossible schemes of revenge. If it is any consolation to know that
in breaking her heart he, at the same time, broke his own, and made
haste to join her in that silent place, I have it. Ah no! it is no
comfort to me, since I cannot but reflect that before he shattered my
life I had shattered his by taking her from him, who was his idol. We
are quits then, and I can even say, "Peace to his ashes!" But I could
not say it then in my frenzy and grief, nor could it be said in that
fatal country which I had inhabited from boyhood and had learned to
love like my own, and had hoped never to leave. It was grown hateful
to me, and, flying from it, I found myself once more in that Purple
Land where we had formerly taken refuge together, and which now seemed
to my distracted mind a place of pleasant and peaceful memories.
During the months of quietude after the storm, mostly spent in lonely
rambles by the shore, these memories were more and more with me.
Sometimes sitting on the summit of that great solitary hill, which
gives the town its name, I would gaze by the hour on the wide prospect
towards the interior, as if I could see, and never weary of seeing,
all that lay beyond--plains and rivers and woods and hills, and cabins
where I had rested, and many a kindly human face. Even the faces of
those who had ill-treated or regarded me with evil eyes now appeared
to have a friendly look. Most of all did I think of that dear river,
the unforgettable Yí, the shaded white house at the end of the little
town, and the sad and beautiful image of one whom I, alas! had made
So much was I occupied towards the end of that vacant period with these
recollections that I remembered how, before quitting these shores, the
thought had come to me that during some quiet interval in my life I
would go over it all again, and write the history of my rambles for
others to read in the future. But I did not attempt it then, nor until
long years afterwards. For I had no sooner begun to play with the idea
than something came to rouse me from the state I was in, during which
I had been like one that has outlived his activities, and is no longer
capable of a new emotion, but feeds wholly on the past. And this
something new, affecting me so that I was all at once myself again,
eager to be up and doing, was nothing more than a casual word from a
distance, the cry of a lonely heart, which came by chance to my ear;
and, hearing it, I was like one who, opening his eyes from a troubled
doze, unexpectedly sees the morning star in its unearthly lustre above
the wide, dark plain where night overtook him--the star of day and
everlasting hope, and of passion and strife and toil and rest and
I need not linger on the events which took us to the Banda--our
nocturnal flight from Paquíta's summer home on the pampas; the hiding
and clandestine marriage in the capital and subsequent escape northwards
into the province of Santa Fé; the seven to eight months of somewhat
troubled happiness we had there; and, finally, the secret return to
Buenos Ayres in search of a ship to take us out of the country. Troubled
happiness! Ah, yes, and my greatest trouble was when I looked on her,
my partner for life, when she seemed loveliest, so small, so exquisite
in her dark blue eyes that were like violets, and silky black hair and
tender pink and olive complexion--so frail in appearance! And I had
taken her--stolen her--from her natural protectors, from the home where
she had been worshipped--I of an alien race and another religion,
without means, and, because I had stolen her, an offender against the
law. But of this no more. I begin my itinerary where, safe on our
little ship, with the towers of Buenos Ayres fast fading away in the
west, we began to feel free from apprehension and to give ourselves
up to the contemplation of the delights before us. Winds and waves
presently interfered with our raptures, Paquíta proving a very
indifferent sailor, so that for some hours we had a very trying time
of it. Next day a favourable north-west breeze sprang up to send us
flying like a bird over those unlovely red billows, and in the evening
we disembarked in Montevideo, the city of refuge. We proceeded to an
hotel, where for several days we lived very happily, enchanted with
each other's society; and when we strolled along the beach to watch
the setting sun, kindling with mystic fire heaven, water, and the great
hill that gives the city its name, and remembered that we were looking
towards the shores of Buenos Ayres, it was pleasant to reflect that
the widest river in the world rolled between us and those who probably
felt offended at what we had done.
This charming state of things came to an end at length in a somewhat
curious manner. One night, before we had been a month in the hotel,
I was lying wide awake in bed. It was late; I had already heard the
mournful, long-drawn voice of the watchman under my window calling
out, "Half-past one and cloudy."
Gil Blas relates in his biography that one night while lying awake he
fell into practising a little introspection, an unusual thing for him
to do, and the conclusion he came to was that he was not a very good
young man. I was having a somewhat similar experience that night when
in the midst of my unflattering thoughts about myself, a profound sigh
from Paquíta made me aware that she too was lying wide awake and also,
in all probability, chewing the cud of reflection. When I questioned
her concerning that sigh, she endeavoured in vain to conceal from me
that she was beginning to feel unhappy. What a rude shock the discovery
gave me! And we so lately married! It is only just to Paquíta, however,
to say that had I not married her she would have been still more
unhappy. Only the poor child could not help thinking of father and
mother; she yearned for reconciliation, and her present sorrow rose
from her belief that they would never, never, never forgive her. I
endeavoured, with all the eloquence I was capable of, to dispel these
gloomy ideas, but she was firm in her conviction that precisely because
they had loved her so much they would never pardon this first great
offence. My poor darling might have been reading _Christabel_,
I thought, when she said that it is toward those who have been most
deeply loved the wounded heart cherishes the greatest bitterness. Then,
by way of illustration, she told me of a quarrel between her mother
and a till then dearly loved sister. It had happened many years ago,
when she, Paquíta, was a mere child; yet the sisters had never forgiven
"And where," I asked, "is this aunt of yours, of whom I have never
heard you speak until this minute?"
"Oh," answered Paquíta, with the greatest simplicity imaginable, "she
left this country long, long ago, and you never heard of her because
we were not even allowed to mention her name in the house. She went
to live in Montevideo, and I believe she is there still, for several
years ago I heard some person say that she had bought herself a house
in that city."
"Soul of my life," said I, "you have never left Buenos Ayres in heart,
even to keep your poor husband company! Yet I know, Paquíta, that
corporeally you are here in Montevideo, conversing with me at this
"True," said Paquíta; "I had somehow forgotten that we were in
Montevideo. My thoughts were wandering--perhaps it is sleepiness."
"I swear to you, Paquíta," I replied, "that you shall see this aunt
of yours to-morrow before set of sun; and I am positive, sweetest,
that she will be delighted to receive so near and lovely a relation.
How glad she will be of an opportunity of relating that ancient quarrel
with her sister and ventilating her mouldy grievances! I know these
old dames--they are all alike."
Paquíta did not like the idea at first, but when I assured her that
we were getting to the end of our money, and that her aunt might be
able to put me in the way of obtaining employment, she consented, like
the dutiful little wife she was.
Next day I discovered her relation without very much trouble, Montevideo
not being a large city. We found Doña Isidora--for that was the lady's
name--living in a somewhat mean-looking house at the eastern extremity
of the town, farthest away from the water. There was an air of poverty
about the place, for the good dame, though well provided with means
to live comfortably, made a pet of her gold. Nevertheless, she received
us very kindly when we introduced ourselves and related our mournful
and romantic story; a room was prepared for our immediate reception,
and she even made me some vague promises of assistance. On a more
intimate acquaintance with our hostess we found that I had not been
very far out in guessing her character. For several days she could
talk of nothing except her immemorial quarrel with her sister and her
sister's husband, and we were bound to listen attentively and to
sympathise with her, for that was the only return we could make for
her hospitality. Paquíta had more than her share of it, but was made
no wiser as to the cause of this feud of long standing; for, though
Doña Isidora had evidently been nursing her wrath all those years to
keep it warm, she could not, for the life of her, remember how the
After breakfast each morning I would kiss her and hand her over to the
tender mercies of her Isidora, then go forth on my fruitless
perambulations about the town. At first I only acted the intelligent
foreigner, going about staring at the public buildings, and collecting
curios--strangely marked pebbles, and a few military brass buttons,
long shed by the garments they once made brave; rusty, misshapen
bullets, mementoes of the immortal nine or ten years' siege which had
won for Montevideo the mournful appellation of modern Troy. When I had
fully examined from the outside the scene of my future triumphs--for
I had now resolved to settle down and make my fortune in Montevideo--
Ibegan seriously to look out for employment. I visited in turn every
large mercantile establishment in the place, and, in fact, every house
where I thought there might be a chance of lighting on something to
do. It was necessary to make a beginning, and I would not have turned
up my nose at anything, however small, I was so heartily sick of being
poor, idle, and dependent. Nothing could I find. In one house I was
told that the city had not yet recovered from the effects of the late
revolution, and that business was, in consequence, in a complete state
of paralysis; in another that the city was on the eve of a revolution,
and that business was, in consequence, in a complete state of paralysis.
And everywhere it was the same story--the political state of the country
made it impossible for me to win an honest dollar.
Feeling very much dispirited, and with the soles nearly worn off my
boots, I sat down on a bench beside the sea, or river--for some call
it one thing, some the other, and the muddied hue and freshness of the
water, and the uncertain words of geographers, leave one in doubt as
to whether Montevideo is situated on the shores of the Atlantic, or
only near the Atlantic and on the shores of a river one hundred and
fifty miles wide at its mouth. I did not trouble my head about it; I
had other things that concerned me more nearly to think of. I had a
quarrel with this Oriental nation, and that was more to me than the
greenness or the saltness of the vast estuary that washes the dirty
feet of its queen--for this modern Troy, this city of battle, murder,
and sudden death, also calls itself Queen of the Plata. That it was
a very just quarrel on my part I felt well assured. Now, to be even
with every human being who despitefully uses me has ever been a
principle of action with me. Nor let it be said that it is an
unchristian principle; for when I have been smitten on the right or
left cheek (the pain is just the same in either case), before I am
prepared to deliver the return blow so long a time has often elapsed
that all wrathful or revengeful thoughts are over. I strike in such
a case more for the public good than for my own satisfaction, and am
therefore right in calling my motive a principle of action, not an
impulse. It is a very valuable one too, infinitely more effective than
the fantastical code of the duellist, which favours the person who
inflicts the injury, affording him facilities for murdering or maiming
the person injured. It is a weapon invented for us by Nature before
Colonel Colt ever lived, and it has this advantage, that one is
permitted to wear it in the most law-abiding communities as well as
amongst miners and backwoodsmen. If inoffensive people were ever to
cast it aside, then wicked men would have everything their own way and
make life intolerable. Fortunately the evil-doers always have the fear
of this intangible six-shooter before them; a wholesome feeling, which
restrains them more than reasonableness or the law courts, and to which
we owe it that the meek are permitted to inherit the earth. But now
this quarrel was with a whole nation, though certainly not with a very
great one, since the population of the Banda Orientál numbers only
about a quarter of a million. Yet in this sparsely settled country,
with its bountiful soil and genial climate, there was apparently no
place for me, a muscular and fairly intelligent young man, who only
asked to be allowed to work to live! But how was I to make them smart
for this injustice? I could not take the scorpion they gave me when
I asked them for an egg, and make it sting every individual composing
the nation. I was powerless, utterly powerless, to punish them, and
therefore the only thing that remained for me to do was to curse them.
Looking around me, my eyes rested on the famous hill across the bay,
and I all at once resolved to go up to its summit, and, looking down
on the Banda Orientál, pronounce my imprecation in the most solemn and
The expedition to the _cerro_, as it is called, proved agreeable
enough. Notwithstanding the excessive heats we were just then having,
many wild flowers were blooming on its slopes, which made it a perfect
garden. When I reached the old ruined fort which crowns the summit,
I got upon a wall and rested for half an hour, fanned by a fresh breeze
from the river and greatly enjoying the prospect before me. I had not
left out of sight the serious object of my visit to that commanding
spot, and only wished that the malediction I was about to utter could
be rolled down in the shape of a stupendous rock, loosed from its hold,
which would go bounding down the mountain, and, leaping clear over the
bay, crash through the iniquitous city beyond, filling it with ruin
"Whichever way I turn," I said, "I see before me one of the fairest
habitations God has made for man: great plains smiling with everlasting
spring; ancient woods; swift, beautiful rivers; ranges of blue hills
stretching away to the dim horizon. And beyond those fair slopes, how
many leagues of pleasant wilderness are sleeping in the sunshine, where
the wild flowers waste their sweetness and no plough turns the fruitful
soil, where deer and ostrich roam fearless of the hunter, while over
all bends a blue sky without a cloud to stain its exquisite beauty?
And the people dwelling in yon city--the key to a continent--they are
the possessors of it all. It is theirs, since the world, out of which
the old spirit is fast dying, has suffered them to keep it. What have
they done with this their heritage? What are they doing even now? They
are sitting dejected in their houses, or standing in their doorways
with folded arms and anxious, expectant faces. For a change is coming:
they are on the eve of a tempest. Not an atmospheric change; no
blighting simoom will sweep over their fields, nor will any volcanic
eruption darken their crystal heavens. The earthquakes that shake the
Andean cities to their foundations they have never known and can never
know. The expected change and tempest is a political one. The plot is
ripe, the daggers sharpened, the contingent of assassins hired, the
throne of human skulls, styled in their ghastly facetiousness a
Presidential Chair, is about to be assaulted. It is long, weeks or
even months, perhaps, since the last wave, crested with bloody froth,
rolled its desolating flood over the country; it is high time,
therefore, for all men to prepare themselves for the shock of the
succeeding wave. And we consider it right to root up thorns and
thistles, to drain malarious marshes, to extirpate rats and vipers;
but it would be immoral, I suppose, to stamp out these people because
their vicious natures are disguised in human shape; this people that
in crimes have surpassed all others, ancient or modern, until because
of them the name of a whole continent has grown to be a byword of scorn
and reproach throughout the earth, and to stink in the nostrils of all
"I swear that I, too, will become a conspirator if I remain long on
this soil. Oh, for a thousand young men of Devon and Somerset here
with me, every one of them with a brain on fire with thoughts like
mine! What a glorious deed would be done for humanity! What a mighty
cheer we would raise for the glory of the old England that is passing
away! Blood would flow in yon streets as it never flowed before, or,
I should say, as it only flowed in them once, and that was when they
were swept clean by British bayonets. And afterwards there would be
peace, and the grass would be greener and the flowers brighter for
that crimson shower.
"Is it not then bitter as wormwood and gall to think that over these
domes and towers beneath my feet, no longer than half a century ago,
fluttered the holy cross of St. George! For never was there a holier
crusade undertaken, never a nobler conquest planned, than that which
had for its object the wresting this fair country from unworthy hands,
to make it for all time part of the mighty English kingdom. What would
it have been now--this bright, winterless land, and this city commanding
the entrance to the greatest river in the world? And to think that it
was won for England, not treacherously, or bought with gold, but in
the old Saxon fashion with hard blows, and climbing over heaps of slain
defenders; and after it was thus won, to think that it was lost--will
it be believed?--not fighting, but yielded up without a stroke by
craven wretches unworthy of the name of Britons! Here, sitting alone
on this mountain, my face burns like fire when I think of it--this
glorious opportunity lost for ever! 'We offer you your laws, your
religion, and property under the protection of the British Government,'
loftily proclaimed the invaders--Generals Beresford, Achmuty,
Whitelocke, and their companions; and presently, after suffering one
reverse, they (or one of them) lost heart and exchanged the country
they had drenched in blood, and had conquered, for a couple of thousand
British soldiers made prisoners in Buenos Ayres across the water; then,
getting into their ships once more, they sailed away from the Plata
for ever! This transaction, which must have made the bones of our
Viking ancestors rattle with indignation in their graves, was forgotten
later on when we seized the rich Falklands. A splendid conquest and
a glorious compensation for our loss! When yon queen city was in our
grasp, and the regeneration, possibly even the ultimate possession,
of this green world before us, our hearts failed us and the prize
dropped from our trembling hands. We left the sunny mainland to capture
the desolate haunt of seals and penguins; and now let all those who
in this quarter of the globe aspire to live under that 'British
Protection' of which Achmuty preached so loudly at the gates of yon
capital, transport themselves to those lonely antarctic islands to
listen to the thunder of the waves on the grey shores and shiver in
the bleak winds that blow from the frozen south!"
After delivering this comminatory address I felt greatly relieved, and
went home in a cheerful frame of mind to supper, which consisted that
evening of mutton scrag, boiled with pumpkin, sweet potatoes, and milky
maize--not at all a bad dish for a hungry man.
Several days passed, and my second pair of boots had been twice resoled
before Doña Isidora's schemes for advancing my fortunes began to take
form. Perhaps she was beginning to think us a burden on her somewhat
niggardly establishment; anyway, hearing that my preference was for
a country life, she gave me a letter containing half a dozen lines of
commendation addressed to the Mayordomo of a distant cattle-breeding
establishment, asking him to serve the writer by giving her
_nephew_--as she called me--employment of some kind on the
_estancia_. Probably she knew that this letter would really lead
to nothing, and gave it merely to get me away into the interior of the
country, so as to keep Paquíta for an indefinite time to herself, for
she had become extremely attached to her beautiful niece. The
_estancia_ was on the borders of the Paysandù department, and not
less than two hundred miles from Montevideo. It was a long journey,
and I was advised not to attempt it without a _tropilla_, or troop
of horses. But when a native tells you that you cannot travel two
hundred miles without a dozen horses, he only means that you cannot
do the distance in two days; for it is hard for him to believe that
one may be satisfied with less than one hundred miles a day. I travelled
on one horse, and it therefore took me several days to accomplish my
journey. Before I reached my destination, called Estancia de la Virgin
de los Desamparados, I met with some adventures worth relating, and
began to feel as much at home with the _Orientáles_ as I had long
been with the _Argentinos_.
Fortunately, after I left the town, a west wind continued blowing all
day, bringing with it many light, flying clouds to mitigate the sun,
so that I was able to cover a good number of leagues before the evening.
I took the road northwards through Camelones department, and was well
on into the Florida department when I put up for the night at the
solitary mud _rancho_ of an old herdsman, who lived with his wife
and children in a very primitive fashion. When I rode up to the house,
several huge dogs rushed out to attack me: one seized my horse by the
tail, dragging the poor beast about this way and that, so that he
staggered and could scarcely keep his legs; another caught the
bridle-reins in his mouth; while a third fixed his fangs in the heel
of my boot. After eyeing me for some moments, the grizzled old herdsman,
who wore a knife a yard long at his waist, advanced to the rescue. He
shouted at the dogs, and finding that they would not obey, sprang
forward and with a few dexterous blows, dealt with his heavy
whip-handle, sent them away howling with rage and pain. Then he welcomed
me with great courtesy, and very soon, when my horse had been unsaddled
and turned loose to feed, we were sitting together enjoying the cool
evening air and imbibing the bitter and refreshing _maté_ his
wife served to us. While we conversed I noticed numberless fireflies
flitting about; I had never seen them so numerous before, and they
made a very lovely show. Presently one of the children, a bright little
fellow of seven or eight, came running to us with one of the sparkling
insects in his hand, and cried:
"Look, _tatita_, I have caught a _linterna_. See how bright it is!"
"The Saints forgive you, my child," said the father. "Go, little son,
and put it back on the grass, for if you should hurt it, the spirits
would be angry with you, for they go about by night, and love the
_linterna_ that keeps them company."
What a pretty superstition, I thought; and what a mild, merciful heart
this old Oriental herdsman must possess to show so much tenderness
towards one of God's tiny creatures. I congratulated myself on my good
fortune in having fallen in with such a person in this lonely place.
The dogs, after their rude behaviour to me and the sharp punishment
they had suffered in consequence, had returned, and were now gathered
around us, lying on the ground. Here I noticed, not for the first time,
that the dogs belonging to these lonely places are not nearly so fond
of being noticed and caressed as are those of more populous and
civilised districts. On attempting to stroke one of these surly brutes
on the head, he displayed his teeth and growled savagely at me. Yet
this animal, though so truculent in temper, and asking for no kindness
from his master, is just as faithful to man as his better-mannered
brother in the more settled country. I spoke on that subject to my
"What you say is true," he replied. "I remember once during the siege
of Montevideo, when I was with a small detachment sent to watch the
movements of General Rivera's army, we one day overtook a man on a
tired horse. Our officer, suspecting him to be a spy, ordered him to
be killed, and, after cutting his throat, we left his body lying on
the open ground at a distance of about two hundred and fifty yards
from a small stream of water. A dog was with him, and when we rode off
we called it to follow us, but it would not stir from its dead master's
"Three days later we returned to the same spot, to find the corpse
lying just where we had left it. The foxes and birds had not touched
it, for the dog was still there to defend it. Many vultures were near,
waiting for a chance to begin their feast. We alighted to refresh
ourselves at the stream, then stood there for half an hour watching
the dog. He seemed to be half-famished with thirst, and came towards
the stream to drink; but before he got half-way to it the vultures,
by twos and threes, began to advance, when back he flew and chased
them away, barking. After resting a few minutes beside the corpse, he
came again towards the stream, till, seeing the hungry birds advance
once more, he again flew back at them, barking furiously and foaming
at the mouth. This we saw repeated many times, and at last, when we
left, we tried once more to entice the dog to follow us, but he would
not. Two days after that we had occasion to pass by that spot again,
and there we saw the dog lying dead beside his dead master."
"Good God," I exclaimed, "how horrible must have been the feelings you
and your companions experienced at such a sight!"
"No, señor, not at all," replied the old man. "Why, señor, I myself
put the knife into that man's throat. For if a man did not grow
accustomed to shed blood in this world, his life would be a burden to
What an inhuman old murderer! I thought. Then I asked him whether he
had ever in his life felt remorse for shedding blood.
"Yes," he answered; "when I was a very young man, and had never before
dipped weapon in human blood; that was when the siege began. I was
sent with half a dozen men in pursuit of a clever spy, who had passed
the lines with letters from the besieged. We came to a house where,
our officer had been informed, he had been lying concealed. The master
of the house was a young man about twenty-two years old. He would
confess nothing. Finding him so stubborn, our officer became enraged,
and bade him step out, and then ordered us to lance him. We galloped
forty yards off, then wheeled back. He stood silent, his arms folded
on his breast, a smile on his lips. Without a cry, without a groan,
with that smile still on his lips, he fell pierced through with our
lances. For days afterwards his face was ever present to me. I could
not eat, for my food choked me. When I raised a jug of water to my
lips I could, señor, distinctly see his eyes looking at me from the
water. When I lay down to sleep, his face was again before me, always
with that smile that seemed to mock me on the lips. I could not
understand it. They told me it was remorse, and that it would soon
leave me, for there is no ill that time will not cure. They spoke
truth, and when that feeling left me I was able to do all things."
The old man's story so sickened me that I had little appetite for
supper, and passed a bad night thinking, waking or sleeping, of that
young man in this obscure corner of the world who folded his arms and
smiled on his slayers when they were slaying him. Very early next
morning I bade my host good-bye, thanking him for his hospitality, and
devoutly hoping that I should never look upon his abhorred face again.
I made little progress that day, the weather proving hot, and my horse
lazier than ever. After riding about five leagues, I rested for a
couple of hours, then proceeded again at a gentle trot till about the
middle of the afternoon, when I dismounted at a wayside _pulpería_
or store and public-house all in one, where several natives were sipping
rum and conversing. Standing before them was a brisk-looking old
man--old, I say, because he had a dark, dry skin, though his hair and
moustache were black as jet--who paused in the discourse he appeared
to be delivering, to salute me; then, after bestowing a searching
glance on me out of his dark, hawk-like eyes, he resumed his talk.
After calling for rum and water, to be in the fashion, I sat down on
a bench, and, lighting a cigarette, prepared to listen. He was dressed
in shabby gaucho habiliments--cotton shirt, short jacket, wide cotton
drawers, and _chiripa_, a shawl-like garment fastened at the waist
with a sash, and reaching down half-way between the knees and ankles.
In place of a hat he wore a cotton handkerchief tied carelessly about
his head; his left foot was bare, while the right one was cased in a
colt's-skin stocking, called _bota-de-potro_, and on this
distinguished foot was buckled a huge iron spur, with spikes two inches
long. One spur of the kind would be quite sufficient, I should imagine,
to get out of a horse all the energy of which he was capable. When I
entered he was holding forth on the pretty well-worn theme of fate
_versus_ free will; his arguments were not, however, the usual
dry philosophical ones, but took the form of illustration, chiefly
personal reminiscences and strange incidents in the lives of people
he had known, while so vivid and minute were his descriptions--sparkling
with passion, satire, humour, pathos, and so dramatic his action, while
wonderful story followed story--that I was fairly astonished, and
pronounced this old _pulpería_ orator a born genius.
His argument over, he fixed his keen eyes on me and said:
"My friend, I perceive you are a traveller from Montevideo: may I ask
what news there is from that city?"
"What news do you expect to hear?" said I; then it came into my thought
that it was scarcely proper to confine myself to more commonplace
phrases in replying to this curious old Oriental bird, with such ragged
plumage, but whose native woodnotes wild had such a charm in them. "It
is only the old story over again!" I continued. "They say there will
be a revolution some day. Some of the people have already retired into
their houses, after chalking in very big letters on their front doors,
'Please come into this house and cut the owner's throat for him, so
that he may rest at peace, and have no fear of what may happen.' Others
have climbed on to their roofs, and occupy themselves there looking
at the moon through spy-glasses, thinking that the conspirators are
concealed in that luminary, and only waiting for a cloud to obscure
it, in order to descend upon the city unobserved."
"Hear!" cried the old man, rapping delighted applause on the counter
with his empty glass.
"What do you drink, friend?" I asked, thinking his keen appreciation
of my grotesque speech deserved a treat, and wishing to draw him out
a little more.
"Rum, friend, thank you. They say it warms you in winter, and cools
you in summer--what can you have better?"
"Tell me," said I, when his glass had been refilled by the storekeeper,
"what I shall say when I return to Montevideo, and am asked what news
there is in the country?"
The old fellow's eyes twinkled, while the other men ceased talking,
and looked at him as if anticipating something good in reply to my
"Say to them," he answered, "that you met an old man--a horse tamer
named Lucero--and that he told you this fable for you to repeat to the
townspeople: Once there was a great tree named Montevideo growing in
this country, and in its branches lived a colony of monkeys. One day
one of the monkeys came down from the tree and ran full of excitement
across the plain, now scrambling along like a man on all fours, then
erect like a dog running on its hind legs, while its tail, with nothing
to catch hold of, wriggled about like a snake when its head is under
foot. He came to a place where a number of oxen were grazing, and some
horses, ostriches, deer, goats, and pigs. 'Friends all,' cried the
monkey, grinning like a skull, and with staring eyes round as dollars,
'great news! great news! I come to tell you that there will shortly
be a revolution.' 'Where?' said an ox. 'In the tree--where else?' said
the monkey. 'That does not concern us,' said the ox. 'Oh, yes, it
does!' cried the monkey, 'for it will presently spread about the country
and you will all have your throats cut.' Then the ox replied, 'Go back,
monkey, and do not molest us with your news, lest we get angry and go
to besiege you in your tree, as we have often had to do since the
creation of the world; and then, if you and the other monkeys come
down to us, we will toss you on our horns.'"
This apologue sounded very well, so admirably did the old man picture
to us with voice and gesture the chattering excitement of the monkey
and the majestic _aplomb_ of the ox.
"Señor," he continued, after the laugh had subsided, "I do not wish
any of my friends and neighbours here present to fly to the conclusion
that I have spoken anything offensive. Had I seen in you a Montevidean
I should not have spoken of monkeys. But, señor, though you speak as
we do, there is yet in the pepper and salt on your tongue a certain
"You are right," I said; "I am a foreigner."
"A foreigner in some things, friend, for you were doubtless born under
other skies; but in that chief quality, which we think was given by
the Creator to us and not to the people of other lands--the ability
to be one in heart with the men you meet, whether they are clothed in
velvet or in sheep-skins--in that you are one of us, a pure Oriental."
I smiled at his subtle flattery; possibly it was only meant in payment
of the rum I had treated him to, but it pleased me none the less, and
to his other mental traits I was now inclined to add a marvellous skill
in reading character.
After a while he invited me to spend the night under his roof. "Your
horse is fat and lazy," he said with truth, "and, unless you are a
relation of the owl family, you cannot go much farther before to-morrow.
My house is a humble one, but the mutton is juicy, the fire warm, and
the water cool there, the same as in another place."
I readily accepted his invitation, wishing to see as much as I could
of so original a character, and before starting I purchased a bottle
of rum, which made his eyes sparkle so that I thought his
name--Lucero--rather an appropriate one. His _rancho_ was about
two miles from the store, and our ride thither was about as strange
a gallop as I ever took. Lucero was a _domador_, or horse-tamer,
and the beast he rode was quite unbroken and vicious as it could be.
Between horse and man a fierce struggle for mastery raged the whole
time, the horse rearing, plunging, buck-jumping, and putting into
practice every conceivable trick to rid itself of its burden; while
Lucero plied whip and spur with tremendous energy and poured out
torrents of strange adjectives. At one moment he would come into violent
collision with my old sober beast, at another there would be fifty
yards of ground between us; still Lucero would not stop talking, for
he had begun a very interesting story at starting, and he stuck to his
narrative through everything, resuming the thread after each tempest
of execration vented on his horse, and raising his voice almost to a
shout when we were far apart. The old fellow's staying powers were
really extraordinary, and when we arrived at the house he jumped airily
to the ground, and seemed fresh and calm as possible.
In the kitchen were several people sipping _maté_, Lucero's
children and grandchildren, also his wife, a grey old dame with
dim-looking eyes. But then my host was old in years himself, only,
like Ulysses, he still possessed the unquenched fire and energy of
youth in his soul, while time bestowed infirmities together with
wrinkles and white hairs on his helpmate.
He introduced me to her in a manner that brought the modest flame to
my cheeks. Standing before her, he said that he had met me at the
_pulpería_ and had put to me the question which a simple old
countryman must ask of every traveller from Montevideo--What the news
was? Then, assuming a dry, satirical tone, which years of practice
would not enable me to imitate, he proceeded to give my fantastical
answer, garnished with much original matter of his own.
"Señora," I said, when he had finished, "you must not give me credit
for all you have heard from your husband. I only gave him brute wool,
and he has woven it for your delight into beautiful cloth."
"Hear him! Did I tell you what to expect, Juana?" cried the old man,
which made me blush still more.
We then settled down to _maté_ and quiet conversation. Sitting
in the kitchen on the skull of a horse--a common article of furniture
in an Oriental _rancho_--was a boy about twelve years old, one
of Lucero's grandchildren, with a very beautiful face. His feet were
bare and his clothes very poor, but his soft dark eyes and olive face
had that tender, half-melancholy expression often seen in children of
Spanish origin, which is always so strangely captivating.
"Where is your guitar, Cipriano?" said his grandfather, addressing
him, whereupon the boy rose and fetched a guitar, which he first
politely offered to me.
When I had declined it, he seated himself once more on his polished
horse-skull and began to play and sing. He had a sweet boy's voice,
and one of his ballads took my fancy so much that I made him repeat
the words to me while I wrote them down in my notebook, which greatly
gratified Lucero, who seemed proud of the boy's accomplishment. Here
are the words translated almost literally, therefore without rhymes,
and I only regret that I cannot furnish my musical readers with the
quaint, plaintive air they were sung to:
O let me go--O let me go,
Where high are born amidst the hills
The streams that gladden all the south,
And o'er the grassy desert wide,
Where slakes his thirst the antlered deer,
Hurry towards the great green ocean.
The stony hills--the stony hills,
With azure air-flowers on their crags,
Where cattle stray unowned by man;
The monarch of the herd there seems
No bigger than my hand in size,
Roaming along the tall, steep summit.
I know them well--I know them well,
Those hills of God, and they know me;
When I go there they are serene,
But when the stranger visits them
Dark rain-clouds gather round their tops--
Over the earth goes forth the tempest.
Then tell me not--then tell me not
'Tis sorrowful to dwell alone;
My heart within the city pent
Pines for the desert's liberty;
The streets are red with blood, and fear
Makes pale and mournful women's faces.
O bear me far--O bear me far,
On swift, sure feet, my trusty steed:
I do not love the burial-ground,
But I shall sleep upon the plain,
Where long green grass shall round me wave--
Over me graze wild herds of cattle.
Leaving the eloquent old horse-tamer's _rancho_ early next morning,
I continued my ride, jogging quietly along all day and, leaving the
Florida department behind me, entered upon that of the Durazno. Here
I broke my journey at an _estancia_ where I had an excellent
opportunity of studying the manners and customs of the Orientals, and
where I also underwent experiences of a mixed character and greatly
increased my knowledge of the insect world. This house, at which I
arrived an hour before sunset to ask for shelter ("permission to
unsaddle" is the expression the traveller uses), was a long, low
structure, thatched with rushes, but the low, enormously thick walls
were built of stone from the neighbouring sierras, in pieces of all
shapes and sizes, and presenting, outwardly, the rough appearance of
a stone fence. How these rudely piled-up stones, without cement to
hold them together, had not fallen down was a mystery to me; and it
was more difficult still to imagine why the rough interior, with its
innumerable dusty holes and interstices, had never been plastered.
I was kindly received by a very numerous family, consisting of the
owner, his hoary-headed old mother-in-law, his wife, three sons, and
five daughters, all grown up. There were also several small children,
belonging, I believe, to the daughters, notwithstanding the fact that
they were unmarried. I was greatly amazed at hearing the name of one
of these youngsters. Such Christian names as Trinity, Heart of Jesus,
Nativity, John of God, Conception, Ascension, Incarnation, are common
enough, but these had scarcely prepared me to meet with a
fellow-creature named--well, Circumcision! Besides the people, there
were dogs, cats, turkeys, ducks, geese, and fowls without number. Not
content with all these domestic birds and beasts, they also kept a
horrid, shrieking paroquet, which the old woman was incessantly talking
to, explaining to the others all the time, in little asides, what the
bird said or wished to say, or, rather, what she imagined it wished
to say. There were also several tame young ostriches, always hanging
about the big kitchen or living-room on the look-out for a brass
thimble, or iron spoon, or other little metallic _bonne bouche_
to be gobbled up when no one was looking. A pet armadillo kept trotting
in and out, in and out, the whole evening, and a lame gull was always
standing on the threshold in everybody's way, perpetually wailing for
something to eat--the most persistent beggar I ever met in my life.
The people were very jovial, and rather industrious for so indolent
a country. The land was their own, the men tended the cattle, of which
they appeared to have a large number, while the women made cheeses,
rising before daylight to milk the cows.
During the evening two or three young men--neighbours, I imagine, who
were paying their addresses to the young ladies of the establishment--
dropped in; and after a plentiful supper, we had singing and dancing to
the music of the guitar, on which every member of the family--excepting
the babies--could strum a little.
About eleven o'clock I retired to rest, and, stretching myself on my
rude bed of rugs, in a room adjoining the kitchen, I blessed these
simple-minded, hospitable people. Good heavens, thought I to myself,
what a glorious field is waiting here for some new Theocritus! How
unutterably worn out, stilted, and artificial seems all the so-called
pastoral poetry ever written when one sits down to supper and joins
in the graceful _Cielo_ or _Pericon_ in one of these remote,
semi-barbarous South American _estancias_! I swear I will turn poet
myself, and go back some day to astonish old _blasé_ Europe with
something so--so--What the deuce was that? My sleepy soliloquy was
suddenly brought to a most lame and impotent conclusion, for I had
heard a sound of terror--the unmistakable _zz-zzing_ of an insect's
wings. It was the hateful _vinchuca_. Here was an enemy against
which British pluck and six-shooters are of no avail, and in whose
presence one begins to experience sensations which are not usually
supposed to enter into the brave man's breast. Naturalists tell us
that it is the _Connorhinus infectans_, but, as that information
leaves something to be desired, I will proceed in a few words to
describe the beast. It inhabits the entire Chilian, Argentine, and
Oriental countries, and to all the dwellers in this vast territory it
is known as the _vinchuca_; for, like a few volcanoes, deadly
vipers, cataracts, and other sublime natural objects, it has been
permitted to keep the ancient name bestowed on it by the aborigines.
It is all over of a blackish-brown colour, as broad as a man's
thumb-nail, and flat as the blade of a table-knife--when fasting. By
day it hides, bug-like, in holes and chinks, but no sooner are the
candles put out, than forth it comes to seek whom it may devour; for,
like the pestilence, it walks in darkness. It can fly, and in a dark
room knows where you are and can find you. Having selected a nice
tender part, it pierces the skin with its proboscis or rostrum, and
sucks vigorously for two or three minutes, and, strange to say, you
do not feel the operation, even when lying wide awake. By that time
the creature, so attenuated before, has assumed the figure, size, and
general appearance of a ripe gooseberry, so much blood has it drawn
from your veins. Immediately after it has left you the part begins to
swell up and burn as if stung by nettles. That the pain should come
after and not during the operation is an arrangement very advantageous
to the _vinchuca_, and I greatly doubt whether any other blood-sucking
parasite has been equally favoured by nature in this respect.
Imagine then my sensations when I heard the sound of not one, but two
or three pairs of wings! I tried to forget the sound and go to sleep.
I tried to forget about those rough old walls full of interstices--a
hundred years old they were, my host had informed me. Most interesting
old house, thought I; and then very suddenly a fiery itching took
possession of my great toe. There it is! said I; heated blood, late
supper, dancing, and all that. I can almost imagine that something has
actually bitten me, when of course nothing of that kind has happened.
Then, while I was furiously rubbing and scratching it, feeling a
badger-like disposition to gnaw it off, my left arm was pierced with
red-hot needles. My attentions were quickly transferred to that part;
but soon my busy hands were called elsewhere, like a couple of
hard-worked doctors in a town afflicted with an epidemic; and so all
night long, with only occasional snatches of miserable sleep, the
contest went on.
I rose early, and, going to a wide stream, a quarter of a mile from
the house, took a plunge which greatly refreshed me and gave me strength
to go in quest of my horse. Poor brute! I had intended giving him a
day's rest, so pleasant and hospitable had the people shown themselves;
but now I shuddered at the thought of spending another night in such
a purgatory. I found him so lame that he could scarcely walk, and so
returned to the house on foot and very much cast down. My host consoled
me by assuring me that I would sleep the siesta all the better for
having been molested by those "little things that go about," for in
this very mild language he described the affliction. After breakfast,
at noon, acting on his hint, I took a rug to the shade of a tree and,
lying down, quickly fell into a profound sleep, which lasted till late
in the afternoon.
That evening visitors came again, and we had a repetition of the
singing, dancing, and other pastoral amusements, till near midnight;
then, thinking to cheat my bedfellows of the night before, I made my
simple bed in the kitchen. But here also the vile _vinchucas_ found me,
and there were, moreover, dozens of fleas that waged a sort of guerilla
warfare all night, and in this way exhausted my strength and distracted
my attention, while the more formidable adversary took up his position.
My sufferings were so great that before daybreak I picked up my rugs and
went out a distance from the house to lie down on the open plain, but I
carried with me a smarting body and got but little rest. When morning
came I found that my horse had not yet recovered from his lameness.
"Do not be in a hurry to leave us," said my host, when I spoke of it.
"I perceive that the little animals have again fought with and defeated
you. Do not mind it; in time you will grow accustomed to them."
How _they_ contrived to endure it, or even to exist, was a puzzle
to me; but possibly the _vinchucas_ respected them, and only dined
when, like the giant in the nursery rhyme, they "smelt the blood of
I again enjoyed a long siesta, and when night came resolved to place
myself beyond the reach of the vampires, and so, after supper, went
out to sleep on the plain. About midnight, however, a sudden storm of
wind and rain drove me back to the shelter of the house, and the next
morning I rose in such a deplorable state that I deliberately caught
and saddled my horse, though the poor beast could scarcely put one
foot on the ground. My friends laughed good-humouredly when they saw
me making these resolute preparations for departure. After partaking
of bitter _maté_, I rose and thanked them for their hospitality.
"You surely do not intend leaving us on that animal!" said my host.
"He is unfit to carry you."
"I have no other," I replied, "and am anxious to reach my destination."
"Had I known this I would have offered you a horse before," he returned,
and then he sent one of his sons to drive the horses of the
_estancia_ into the corral.
Selecting a good-looking animal from the herd, he presented it to me,
and as I did not have money enough to buy a fresh horse whenever I
wanted one, I accepted the gift very gladly. The saddle was quickly
transferred to my new acquisition, and, once more thanking these good
people and bidding adieu, I resumed my journey.
When I gave my hand before leaving to the youngest, and also, to my
mind, the prettiest of the five daughters of the house, instead of
smiling pleasantly and wishing me a prosperous journey, like the others,
she was silent, and darted a look at me, which seemed to say, "Go,
sir; you have treated me badly, and you insult me by offering your
hand; if I take it, it is not because I feel disposed to forgive you,
but only to save appearances."
At the same moment, when she bestowed that glance on me which said so
much, a look of intelligence passed over the faces of the other people
in the room. All this revealed to me that I had just missed a very
pretty little idyllic flirtation, conducted in very novel circumstances.
Love cometh up as a flower, and men and charming women naturally flirt
when brought together. Yet it was hard to imagine how I could have
started a flirtation and carried it on to its culminatory point in
that great public room, with all those eyes on me; dogs, babes, and
cats tumbling about my feet; ostriches staring covetously at my buttons
with great vacant eyes; and that intolerable paroquet perpetually
reciting "How the waters came down at Lodore," in its own shrieky,
beaky, birdy, hurdy-gurdy, parrot language. Tender glances, soft
whispered words, hand-touchings, and a thousand little personal
attentions, showing which way the emotions tend, would scarcely have
been practicable in such a place and in such conditions, and new signs
and symbols would have to be invented to express the feelings of the
heart. And doubtless these Orientals, living all together in one great
room, with their children and pets, like our very ancient ancestors,
the pastoral Aryans, do possess such a language. And this pretty
language I should have learnt from the most willing of teachers, if
those venomous _vinchucas_ had not dulled my brain with their
persecutions and made me blind to a matter which had not escaped the
observation of even unconcerned lookers-on. Riding away from the
_estancia_, the feeling I experienced at having finally escaped
from these execrable "little things that go about" was not one of
Continuing my journey through the Durazno district, I forded the pretty
River Yí and entered the Tacuarembó department, which is immensely
long, extending right away to the Brazilian frontier. I rode over its
narrowest part, however, where it is only about twenty-five miles wide;
then, crossing two very curiously named rivers, Rios Salsipuedes Chico
and Salsipuedes Grande, which mean Get-out-if-you-can Rivers, Little
and Big, I at length reached the termination of my journey in the
province or department of Paysandù. The Estancia de la Virgen de los
Desamparados, or, to put it very shortly, Vagabonds' Rest, was a
good-sized, square brick house built on very high ground, which
overlooked an immense stretch of grassy, undulating country.
There was no plantation about the house, not even a shade tree or
cultivated plant of any description, but only some large _corrales_, or
enclosures, for the cattle, of which there were six or seven thousand
head on the land. The absence of shade and greenery gave the place a
desolate, uninviting aspect, but if I was ever to have any authority here
this would soon be changed. The Mayordomo, or manager, Don Policarpo
Santierra de Peñalosa, which, roughly done into English, means Polycarp
of the Holy Land abounding in Slippery Rocks, proved to be a very
pleasant, affable person. He welcomed me with that quiet Oriental
politeness which is never cold and never effusive, and then perused the
letter from Doña Isidora. Finally he said, "I am willing, my friend, to
supply you with all the conveniences procurable at this elevation; and,
for the rest, you know, doubtless, what I can say to you. A ready
understanding requires few words. Nevertheless, there is here no lack of
good beef, and, to be short, you will do me a great favour by making this
house with everything it contains your own, while you honour us by
remaining in it."
After delivering himself of these kindly sentiments, which left me
rather in a mist as to my prospects, he mounted his horse and rode
off, probably on some very important affair, for I saw no more of him
for several days.
I at once proceeded to establish myself in the kitchen. No person inthe
house appeared ever to pay even a casual visit to any other room.
This kitchen was vast and barn-like, forty feet long at least, and
proportionately wide; the roof was of reeds, and the hearth, placed
in the centre of the floor, was a clay platform, fenced round with
cows' shank-bones, half buried and standing upright. Some trivets and
iron kettles were scattered about, and from the centre beam, supporting
the roof, a chain and hook were suspended to which a vast iron pot was
fastened. One more article, a spit about six feet long for roasting
meat, completed the list of cooking utensils. There were no chairs,
tables, knives, or forks; everyone carried his own knife, and at
meal-time the boiled meat was emptied into a great tin dish, whilst
the roast was eaten from the spit, each one laying hold with his fingers
and cutting his slice. The seats were logs of wood and horse-skulls.
The household was composed of one woman, an ancient, hideously ugly,
grey-headed negress, about seventy years old, and eighteen or nineteen
men of all ages and sizes, and of all colours from parchment-white to
very old oak. There was a _capatas,_ or overseer, and seven or eight paid
_peones,_ the others being all _agregados_--that is, supernumeraries
without pay, or, to put it plainly, vagabonds who attach themselves like
vagrant dogs to establishments of this kind, lured by the abundance of
flesh, and who occasionally assist the regular _peones_ at their work,
and also do a little gambling and stealing to keep themselves in small
change. At break of day everyone was up sitting by the hearth sipping
bitter _maté_ and smoking cigarettes; before sunrise all were mounted
and away over the surrounding country to gather up the herds; at midday
they were back again to breakfast. The consumption and waste of meat
was something frightful. Frequently, after breakfast, as much as twenty
or thirty pounds of boiled and roast meat would be thrown into a
wheelbarrow and carried out to the dust-heap, where it served to feed
scores of hawks, gulls, and vultures, besides the dogs.
Of course, I was only an _agregado_, having no salary or regular
occupation yet. Thinking, however, that this would only be for a time,
I was quite willing to make the best of things, and very soon became
fast friends with my fellow _agregados_, joining heartily in all
their amusements and voluntary labours.
In a few days I got very tired of living exclusively on flesh, for not
even a biscuit was "procurable at this elevation"; and as for a potato,
one might as well have asked for a plum-pudding. It occurred to my
mind at last that, with so many cows, it might be possible to procure
some milk and introduce a little change into our diet. In the evening
I broached the subject, proposing that on the following day we should
capture a cow and tame her. Some of the men approved of the suggestion,
remarking that they had never thought of it themselves; but the old
negress, who, being the only representative of the fair sex present,
was always listened to with all the deference due to her position,
threw herself with immense zeal into the opposition. She affirmed that
no cow had been milked at that establishment since its owner had paid
it a visit with his young wife twelve years before. A milch-cow was
then kept, and on the señora partaking of a large quantity of milk
"before breaking her fast," it produced such an indigestion in her
that they were obliged to give her powdered ostrich stomach, and finally
to convey her, with great trouble, in an ox-cart to Paysandù, and
thence by water to Montevideo. The owner ordered the cow to be released,
and never, to her certain knowledge, had cow been milked since at La
Virgen de los Desamparados.
These ominous croakings produced no effect on me, and the next day I
returned to the subject. I did not possess a lasso, and so could not
undertake to capture a half-wild cow without assistance. One of my
fellow _agregados_ at length volunteered to help me, observing
that he had not tasted milk for several years, and was inclined to
renew his acquaintance with that singular beverage. This new-found
friend in need merits being formally introduced to the reader. His
name was Epifanio Claro. He was tall and thin, and had an idiotic
expression on his long, sallow face. His cheeks were innocent of
whiskers, and his lank, black hair, parted in the middle, fell to his
shoulders, enclosing his narrow face between a pair of raven's wings.
He had very large, light-coloured, sheepish-looking eyes, and his
eyebrows bent up like a couple of Gothic arches, leaving a narrow strip
above them that formed the merest apology for a forehead. This facial
peculiarity had won for him the nickname of Cejas (Eyebrows), by which
he was known to his intimates. He spent most of his time strumming on
a wretched old cracked guitar, and singing amorous ballads in a
lugubrious, whining falsetto, which reminded me not a little of that
hungry, complaining gull I had met at the _estancia_ in Durazno.
For, though poor Epifanio had an absorbing passion for music, Nature
had unkindly withheld from him the power to express it in a manner
pleasing to others. I must, however, in justice to him, allow that he
gave a preference to ballads or compositions of a thoughtful, not to
say metaphysical, character. I took the trouble of translating the
words of one literally, and here they are:
Yesterday my senses opened,
At a rap-a-tap from Reason,
Inspiring in me an intention
Which I never had before,
Seeing that through all my days
My life has been just what it is.
Therefore when I rose I said,
To-day shall be as yesterday,
Since Reason tells me I have been
From day to day the self-same thing.
This is very little to judge from, being only a fourth part of the
song; but it is a fair specimen, and the rest is no clearer. Of course
it is not to be supposed that Epifanio Claro, an illiterate person,
took in the whole philosophy of these lines; still, it is probable
that a subtle ray or two of their deep meaning touched his intellect,
to make him a wiser and a sadder man.
Accompanied by this strange individual, and with the grave permission
of the _capatas_, who declined, however, in words of many syllables, all
_responsabilidad_ in the matter, we went out to the grazing grounds in
quest of a promising-looking cow. Very soon we found one to our liking.
She was followed by a small calf, not more than a week old, and her
distended udder promised a generous supply of milk; but unfortunately she
was fierce-tempered, and had horns as sharp as needles.
"We will cut them by and by," shouted Eyebrows.
He then lassoed the cow, and I captured the calf, and lifting it into
the saddle before me, started homewards. The cow followed me at a
furious pace, and behind came Claro at a swinging gallop. Possibly he
was a little too confident, and carelessly let his captive pull the
line that held her; anyhow, she turned suddenly on him, charged with
amazing fury, and sent one of her horrid horns deep into the belly of
his horse. He was, however, equal to the occasion, first dealing her
a smart blow on the nose, which made her recoil for a moment; he then
severed the lasso with his knife, and, shouting to me to drop the calf,
made his escape. We pulled up as soon as we had reached a safe distance,
Claro drily remarking that the lasso had been borrowed, and that the
horse belonged to the _estancia_, so that we had lost nothing.
He alighted, and stitched up the great gash in the poor brute's belly,
using for a thread a few hairs plucked from its tail. It was a difficult
task, or would have been so to me, as he had to bore holes in the
animal's hide with his knife-point, but it seemed quite easy to him.
Taking the remaining portion of the severed lasso, he drew it round
the hind and one of the fore feet of his horse, and threw him to the
ground with a dexterous jerk; then, binding him there, performed the
operations of sewing up the wound in about two minutes.
"Will he live?" I asked.
"How can I tell?" he answered indifferently. "I only know that now he
will be able to carry me home; if he dies afterwards, what will it
We then mounted and rode quietly home. Of course, we were chaffed
without mercy, especially by the old negress, who had foreseen all
along, she told us, just how it would be. One would have imagined, to
hear this old black creature talk, that she looked on milk-drinking
as one of the greatest moral offences man could be guilty of, and that
in this case Providence had miraculously interposed to prevent us from
gratifying our depraved appetites.
Eyebrows took it all very coolly.
"Do not notice them," he said to me. "The lasso was not ours, the horse
was not ours, what does it matter what they say?"
The owner of the lasso, who had good-naturedly lent it to us, roused
himself on hearing this. He was a very big, rough-looking man, his
face covered with an immense shaggy black beard. I had taken him for
a good-humoured specimen of the giant kind before, but I now changed
my opinion of him when his angry passions began to rise. Blas, or
Barbudo, as we called the giant, was seated on a log sipping _maté_.
"Perhaps you take me for a sheep, sirs, because you see me wrapped in
skins," he observed; "but let me tell you this, the lasso I lent you
must be returned to me."
"These words are not for us," remarked Eyebrows, addressing me, "but
for the cow that carried away his lasso on her horns--curse them for
being so sharp!"
"No, sir," returned Barbudo, "do not deceive yourself; they are not
for the cow, but for the fool that lassoed the cow. And I promise you,
Epifanio, that if it is not restored to me, this thatch over our heads
will not be broad enough to shelter us both."
"I am pleased to hear it," said the other, "for we are short of seats;
and when you leave us, the one you now encumber with your carcass will
be occupied by some more meritorious person."
"You can say what you like, for no one has yet put a padlock on your
lips," said Barbudo, raising his voice to a shout; "but you are not
going to plunder me; and if my lasso is not restored to me, then I
swear I will make myself a new one out of a human hide."
"Then," said Eyebrows, "the sooner you provide yourself with a hide
for the purpose, the better, for I will never return the lasso to you;
for who am I to fight against Providence, that took it out of my hands?"
To this Barbudo replied furiously:
"Then I will have it from this miserable starved foreigner, who comes
here to learn to eat meat and put himself on an equality with men.
Evidently he was weaned too soon; but if the starveling hungers for
infant's food, let him in future milk the cats that warm themselves
beside the fire, and can be caught without a lasso, even by a
I could not endure the brute's insults, and sprang up from my seat.
I happened to have a large knife in my hand, for we were just preparing
to make an assault on the roasted ribs of a cow, and my first impulse
was to throw down the knife and give him a blow with my fist. Had I
attempted it I should most probably have paid dearly for my rashness.
The instant I rose Barbudo was on me, knife in hand. He aimed a furious
blow, which luckily missed me, and at the same moment I struck him,
and he reeled back with a dreadful gash on his face. It was all done
in a second of time, and before the others could interpose; in another
moment they disarmed us, and set about bathing the barbarian's wound.
During the operation, which I daresay was very painful, for the old
negress insisted on having the wound bathed with rum instead of water,
the brute blasphemed outrageously, vowing that he would cut out my
heart and eat it stewed with onions and seasoned with cummin seed and
various other condiments.
I have often since thought of that sublime culinary conception of Blas
the barbarian. There must have been a spark of wild Oriental genius
in his bovine brains.
When the exhaustion caused by rage, pain, and loss of blood had at
length reduced him to silence, the old negress turned on him, exclaiming
that he had been rightly punished, for had he not, in spite of her
timely warnings, lent his lasso to enable these two heretics (for that
is what she called us) to capture a cow? Well, his lasso was lost;
then his friends, with the gratitude only to be expected from
milk-drinkers, had turned round and well-nigh killed him.
After supper the _capatas_ got me alone, and with excessive
friendliness of manner, and an abundance of circumlocutory phrases,
advised me to leave the _estancia_, as it would not be safe for
me to remain. I replied that I was not to blame, having struck the man
in self-defence; also, that I had been sent to the _estancia_ by
a friend of the Mayordomo, and was determined to see him and give him
my version of the affair.
The _capatas_ shrugged his shoulders and lit a cigarette.
At length Don Policarpo returned, and when I told him my story he
laughed slightly, but said nothing. In the evening I reminded him of
the subject of the letter I had brought from Montevideo, asking him
whether it was his intention to give me some employment on the _estancia_.
"You see, my friend," he replied, "to employ you now would be useless,
however valuable your services might be, for by this time the
authorities will have information of your fight with Blas. In the
course of a few days you may expect them here to make inquiries into
that affair, and it is probable that you and Blas will both be taken
"What then would you advise me to do?" I asked.
His answer was, that when the ostrich asked the deer what he would
advise him to do when the hunters appeared, the deer's reply was, "Run
I laughed at his pretty apologue, and answered that I did not think
the authorities would trouble themselves about me--also that I was not
fond of running away.
Eyebrows, who had hitherto been rather inclined to patronise me and
take me under his protection, now became very warm in his friendship,
which was, however, dashed with an air of deference when we were alone
together, but in company he was fond of parading his familiarity with
me. I did not quite understand this change of manner at first, but by
and by he took me mysteriously aside and became extremely confidential.
"Do not distress yourself about Barbudo," he said. "He will never again
presume to lift his hand against you; and if you will only condescend
to speak kindly to him, he will be your humble slave and proud to have
you wipe your greasy fingers on his beard. Take no notice of what the
Mayordomo says, he also is afraid of you. If the authorities take you,
it will only be to see what you can give them: they will not keep you
long, for you are a foreigner, and cannot be made to serve in the army.
But when you are again at liberty it will be necessary for you to kill
someone." Very much amazed, I asked him why. "You see," he replied,
"your reputation as a fighter is now established in this department,
and there is nothing men envy more. It is the same as in our old game
of _pato,_ where the man that carries the duck away is pursued
by all the others, and before they give up chasing him he must prove
that he can keep what he has taken. There are several fighters you do
not know, who have resolved to pick quarrels with you in order to try
your strength. In your next fight you must not wound, but kill, or you
will have no peace." I was greatly disturbed at this result of my
accidental victory over Bias the Bearded, and did not at all appreciate
the kind of greatness my officious friend Claro seemed so determined
to thrust upon me. It was certainly flattering to hear that I had
already established my reputation as a good fighter in so warlike a
department as Paysandu, but then the consequences entailed were
disagreeable, to say the least of it; and so, while thanking Eyebrows
for his friendly hint, I resolved to quit the _estancia_ at once.
I would not run away from the authorities, since I was not an evil-doer,
but from the necessity of killing people for the sake of peace and
quietness I certainly would depart. And early next morning, to my
friend's intense disgust, and without telling my plans to anyone, I
mounted my horse and quitted Vagabond's Rest to pursue my adventures
Faith in the _estancia_ as a field for my activities had been weak from
the first; the Mayordomo's words on his return had extinguished it
altogether; and after hearing that ostrich parable I had only remained
from motives of pride. I now determined to go back towards Montevideo,
not, however, over the route I had come by, but making a wide circuit
into the interior of the country, where I would explore a new field, and
perhaps meet with some occupation at one of the _estancias_ on the way.
Riding in a south-westerly direction towards the Rio Marlo in the
Tacuarembó department, I soon left the plains of Paysandù behind me, and,
being anxious to get well away from a neighbourhood where I was expected
to kill someone, I did not rest till I had ridden about twenty-five
miles. At noon I stopped to get some refreshment at a little roadside
_pulpería_. It was a wretched-looking place, and behind the iron bars
protecting the interior, giving it the appearance of a wild beast's cage,
lounged the storekeeper smoking a cigar. Outside the bar were two men
with English-looking faces. One was a handsome young fellow with a
somewhat worn and dissipated look on his bronzed face; he was leaning
against the counter, cigar in mouth, looking slightly tipsy, I thought,
and wore a large revolver slung ostentatiously at his waist. His
companion was a big, heavy man, with immense whiskers sprinkled with
grey, who was evidently very drunk, for he was lying full-length on a
bench, his face purple and swollen, snoring loudly. I asked for bread,
sardines, and wine, and, careful to observe the custom of the country I
was in, duly invited the tipsy young man to join in the repast. An
omission of this courtesy might, amongst proud and sensitive Orientals,
involve one in a sanguinary quarrel, and of quarrelling I had just then
He declined with thanks, and entered into conversation with me; then
the discovery, quickly made, that we were compatriots gave us both
great pleasure. He at once offered to take me to his house with him,
and gave a glowing account of the free, jovial life he led in company
with several other Englishmen--sons of gentlemen, every one of them,
he assured me--who had bought a piece of land and settled down to
sheep-farming in this lonely district. I gladly accepted the invitation,
and when we had finished our glasses he proceeded to wake the sleeper.
"Hullo, I say, Cap, wake up, old boy," shouted my new friend. "Quite
time to go home, don't you know. That's right--up you come. Now let
me introduce you to Mr. Lamb. I'm sure he's an acquisition. What, off
again! Damn it, old Cloud, that's unreasonable, to say the least of
At length, after a great deal of shouting and shaking, he succeeded
in rousing his drunken companion, who staggered up and stared at me
in an imbecile manner.
"Now let me introduce you," said the other. "Mr. Lamb. My friend,
Captain Cloudesley Wriothesley. Bravo! Steady, old cock--now shake
The Captain said nothing, but took my hand, swaying forwards as if
about to embrace me. We then with considerable difficulty got him on
to his saddle and rode off together, keeping him between us to prevent
him from falling off. Half an hour's ride brought us to my host Mr.
Vincent Winchcombe's house. I had pictured to myself a charming little
homestead, buried in cool greenery and flowers, and filled with pleasant
memories of dear old England; I was, therefore, grievously disappointed
to find that his "home" was only a mean-looking _rancho,_ with a ditch
round it, protecting some ploughed or dug-up ground, on which not one
green thing appeared. Mr. Winchcombe explained, however, that he had not
yet had time to cultivate much. "Only vegetables and such things, don't
you know," he said.
"I don't see them," I returned.
"Well, no; we had a lot of caterpillars and blister beetles and things,
and they ate everything up, don't you know," said he.
The room into which he conducted me contained no furniture except a
large deal table and some chairs; also a cupboard, a long mantelpiece,
and some shelves against the walls. On every available place were
pipes, pouches, revolvers, cartridge-boxes, and empty bottles. On the
table were tumblers, cups, a sugar-basin, a monstrous tin teapot, and
a demijohn, which I soon ascertained was half-full of Brazilian rum,
or caña. Round the table five men were seated smoking, drinking tea
and rum, and talking excitedly, all of them more or less intoxicated.
They gave me a hearty welcome, making me join them at the table, pouring
out tea and rum for me, and generously pushing pipes and pouches towards
"You see," said Mr. Winchcombe, in explanation of this convivial scene,
"there are, altogether, ten of us settlers here going in for
sheep-farming and that sort of thing. Four of us have already built
houses and bought sheep and horses. The other six fellows live with
us from house to house, don't you know. Well, we've made a jolly
arrangement--old Cloud--Captain Cloud, don't you know, first suggested
it--and it is that every day one of the four--the Glorious Four we are
called--keeps open house; and it's considered the right thing for the
other nine fellows to drop in on him some time during the day, just
to cheer him up a bit. Well, we soon made the discovery--old Cloud,
I fancy, made it--that tea and rum were about the best things to have
on these occasions. To-day it was my day, and to-morrow it will be
some other fellow's, don't you know. And, by Jove, how lucky I was to
meet you at the _pulperia!_ It will be ever so much jollier now."
I had certainly not stumbled upon a charming little English paradise
in this Oriental wilderness, and as it always makes me uncomfortable
to see young men drifting into intemperate habits and making asses of
themselves generally, I was not rapturously delighted with "old Cloud's"
system. Still, I was glad to find myself with Englishmen in this distant
country, and in the end I succeeded in making myself tolerably happy.
The discovery that I had a voice pleased them greatly, and when,
somewhat excited from the effects of strong cavendish, rum, and black
tea, I roared out:
And may his soul in heaven dwell
Who first found out the leather botél,
they all got up and drank my health in big tumblers, and declared they
would never let me leave the colony.
Before evening the guests departed, all except the Captain. He had sat
with us at the table, but was too far gone in his cups to take part
in the boisterous fun and conversation. Once in about every five minutes
he had implored someone in a husky voice to give him a light for his
pipe, then, after two or three ineffectual puffs, he would let it go
out again. He had also attempted two or three times to join in the
chorus of a song, but soon relapsed again into his imbecile condition.
Next day, however, when he sat down refreshed by a night's sleep to
breakfast, I found him a very agreeable fellow. He had no house of his
own yet, not having received his money from home, he confidentially
informed me, but lived about, breakfasting in one house, dining in a
second, and sleeping in a third. "Never mind," he would say, "by and
by it will be my turn; then I will receive you all every day for six
weeks to make it all square."
None of the colonists did any work, but all spent their time lounging
about and visiting each other, trying to make their dull existence
endurable by perpetual smoking and tea and rum drinking. They had
tried, they told me, ostrich-hunting, visiting their native neighbours,
partridge-shooting, horse-racing, etc.; but the partridges were too
tame for them, they could never catch the ostriches, the natives didn't
understand them, and they had finally given up all these so-called
amusements. In each house a peon was kept to take care of the flock
and to cook, and as the sheep appeared to take care of themselves, and
the cooking merely meant roasting a piece of meat on a spit, there was
very little for the hired men to do.
"Why don't you do these things for yourselves?" I innocently asked.
"I fancy it wouldn't quite be the right thing, don't you know," said
"No," said the Captain gravely, "we haven't quite come down to that
I was greatly surprised to hear them. I had seen Englishmen sensibly
roughing it in other places, but the lofty pride of these ten
rum-drinking gentlemen was quite a new experience to me.
Having spent a somewhat listless morning, I was invited to accompany
them to the house of Mr. Bingley, one of the Glorious Four. Mr. Bingley
was really a very nice young fellow, living in a house far more worthy
of the name than the slovenly _rancho_ tenanted by his neighbour
Winchcombe. He was the favourite of the colonists, having more money
than the others, and keeping two servants. Always on his reception-day
he provided his guests with hot bread and fresh butter, as well as
with the indispensable rum-bottle and teapot. It therefore happened
that, when his turn came round to keep open house, not one of the other
nine colonists was absent from his table.
Soon after our arrival at Bingley's the others began to appear, each
one on entering taking a seat at the hospitable board, and adding
another cloud to the dense volume of tobacco smoke obscuring the room.
There was a great deal of hilarious conversation; songs were sung, and
a vast amount of tea, rum, bread and butter, and tobacco consumed; but
it was a wearisome entertainment, and by the time it was over I felt
heartily sick of this kind of life.
Before separating, after "John Peel" had been sung with great
enthusiasm, someone proposed that we should get up a fox-hunt in real
English style. Everyone agreed, glad of anything, I suppose, to break
the monotony of such an existence, and next day we rode out, followed
by about twenty dogs, of various breeds and sizes, brought together
from all the houses. After some searching about in the most likely
places, we at length started a fox from a bed of dark-leafed
_mio-mio_ bushes. He made straight away for a range of hills about
three miles distant, and over a beautifully smooth plain, so that we
had a very good prospect of running him down. Two of the hunters had
provided themselves with horns, which they blew incessantly, while the
others all shouted at the top of their lungs, so that our chase was
a very noisy one. The fox appeared to understand his danger and to
know that his only chance of escape lay in keeping up his strength
till the refuge of the hills was reached. Suddenly, however, he changed
his course, this giving us a great advantage, for by making a short
cut we were all soon close at his heels, with only the wide level plain
before us. But reynard had his reasons for what he did; he had spied
a herd of cattle, and in a very few moments had overtaken and mixed
with them. The herd, struck with terror at our shouts and horn-blowing,
instantly scattered and flew in all directions, so that we were able
still to keep our quarry in sight. Far in advance of us the panic in
the cattle ran on from herd to herd, swift as light, and we could see
them miles away fleeing from us, while their hoarse bellowings and
thundering tread came borne by the wind faintly to our ears. Our fat
lazy dogs ran no faster than our horses, but still they laboured on,
cheered by incessant shouts, and at last ran into the first fox ever
properly hunted in the Banda Orientál.
The chase, which had led us far from home, ended close to a large
_estancia_ house, and while we stood watching the dogs worrying their
victim to death, the _capatas_ of the establishment, accompanied by three
men, rode out to inquire who we were, and what we were doing. He was a
small dark native, wearing a very picturesque costume, and addressed us
with extreme politeness.
"Will you tell me, señores, what strange animal you have captured?"
"A fox," shouted Mr. Bingley, triumphantly waving the brush, which he
had just cut off, over his head. "In our country--in England--we hunt
the fox with dogs, and we have been hunting after the manner of our
The _capatas_ smiled, and replied that, if we were disposed to join him,
it would afford him great pleasure to show us a hunt after the manner of
the Banda Orientál.
We consented gladly, and, mounting our horses, set off at a swinging
gallop after the _capatas_ and his men. We soon came to a small herd of
cattle; the _capatas_ dashed after them, and, unloosening the coils of
his lasso, flung the noose dexterously over the horns of a fat heifer he
had singled out, then started homewards at a tremendous pace. The cow,
urged forward by the men, who rode close behind, and pricked it with
their knives, rushed on, bellowing with rage and pain, trying to overtake
the _capatas_, who kept just out of reach of its horns; and in this way
we quickly reached the house. One of the men now flung his lasso and
caught the beast's hind leg; pulled in two opposite directions, it
quickly came to a standstill; the other men, now dismounting, first
ham-strung, then ran a long knife into its throat. Without removing the
hide, the carcass was immediately cut up, and the choice pieces flung on
to a great fire of wood, which one of the men had been making. In an
hour's time we all sat down to a feast of _carne con cuero_, or meat
roasted in the hide, juicy, tender, and exquisitely flavoured. I must
tell the English reader who is accustomed to eat meat and game which has
been kept till it is tender, that before the tender stage is reached it
has been permitted to get tough. Meat, game included, is never so tender
or deliciously flavoured as when cooked and eaten immediately after it is
killed. Compared with meat at any subsequent stage, it is like a new-laid
egg or a salmon with the cream on, compared with an egg or a salmon after
a week's keeping.
We enjoyed the repast immensely, though Captain Cloud bitterly lamented
that we had neither rum nor tea to wash it down. When we had thanked
our entertainer and were about to turn our horses' heads homewards,
the polite _capatas_ once more stepped out and addressed us.
"Gentlemen," he said, "whenever you feel disposed to hunt, come to me
and we will lasso and roast a heifer in the hide. It is the best dish
the republic has to offer the stranger, and it will give me great
pleasure to entertain you; but I beg you will hunt no more foxes over
the ground belonging to this _estancia,_ for you have caused so
great a commotion amongst the cattle I am placed here in charge of,
that it will take my men two or three days to find them all and bring
them back again."
We gave the desired promise, plainly perceiving that fox-hunting in
the English fashion is not a sport adapted to the Oriental country.
Then we rode back, and spent the remaining hours at the house of Mr.
Girling, of the Glorious Four, drinking rum and tea, smoking unlimited
pipes of cavendish, and talking over our hunting experience.
I spent several days at the colony; and I suppose the life I led there
had a demoralising effect on me, for, unpleasant as it was, every day
I felt less inclined to break loose from it, and sometimes I even
thought seriously of settling down there myself. This crazy idea,
however, would usually come to me late in the day, after a great deal
of indulgence in rum and tea, a mixture that would very soon drive any
One afternoon, at one of our convivial meetings, it was resolved to
pay a visit to the little town of Tolosa, about eighteen miles to the
east of the colony. Next day we set out, every man wearing a revolver
slung at his waist, and provided with a heavy _poncho_ for
covering; for it was the custom of the colonists to spend the night
at Tolosa when they visited it. We put up at a large public-house in
the centre of the miserable little town, where there was accommodation
for man and beast, the last always faring rather better than the first.
I very soon discovered that the chief object of our visit was to vary
the entertainment of drinking rum and smoking at the "Colony," by
drinking rum and smoking at Tolosa. The bibulous battle raged till
bedtime, when the only sober member of our party was myself; for I had
spent the greater part of the afternoon walking about talking to the
townspeople, in the hope of picking up some information useful to me
in my search for occupation. But the women and old men I met gave me
little encouragement. They seemed to be a rather listless set in Tolosa,
and when I asked them what they were doing to make a livelihood, they
said they were _waiting._ My fellow-countrymen and their visit
to the town was the principal topic of conversation. They regarded
their English neighbours as strange and dangerous creatures, who took
no solid food, but subsisted on a mixture of rum and gunpowder (which
was the truth), and who were armed with deadly engines called revolvers,
invented specially for them by their father the devil. The day's
experience convinced me that the English colony had some excuse forits
existence, since its periodical visits gave the good people of
Tolosa a little wholesome excitement during the stagnant intervals
between the revolutions.
At night we all turned into a large room with a clay floor, in which
there was not a single article of furniture. Our saddles, rugs, and
_ponchos_ had all been thrown together in a corner, and anyone wishing
to sleep had to make himself a bed with his own horse-gear and toggery
as best he could. The experience was nothing new to me, so I soon made
myself a comfortable nest on the floor, and, pulling off my boots,
coiled myself up like an opossum that knows nothing better and is
friendly with fleas. My friends, however, were evidently bent on making
a night of it, and had taken care to provide themselves with three or
four bottles of rum. After conversation, with an occasional song, had
been going on for some time, one of them--a Mr. Chillingworth--rose
to his feet and demanded silence.
"Gentlemen," he said, advancing into the middle of the room, where,
by occasionally throwing out his arms to balance himself, he managed
to maintain a tolerably erect position, "I am going to make a
Furious cheers greeted this announcement, while one of the hearers,
carried away with enthusiasm at the prospect of listening to his
friend's eloquence, discharged his revolver at the roof, scattering
confusion amongst a legion of long-legged spiders that occupied the
dusty cobwebs above our heads.
I was afraid the whole town would be up in arms at our carryings on,
but they assured me that they all fired off their revolvers in that
room and that nobody came near them, as they were so well known in the
"Gentlemen," continued Mr. Chillingworth, when order had been at length
restored, "I've been thinking, that's what I've been doing. Now let's
review the situation. Here we stand, a colony of English gentlemen:
here we are, don't you know, far from our homes and country and all
that sort of thing. What says the poet? I daresay some of you fellows
remember the passage. But what for, I ask! What, gentlemen, is the
object of our being here? That's just what I'm going to tell you, don't
you know. We are here, gentlemen, to infuse a little of our Anglo-Saxon
energy, and all that sort of thing, into this dilapidated old tin-pot
of a nation."
Here the orator was encouraged by a burst of applause.
"Now, gentlemen," he continued, "isn't it hard--devilish hard, don't
you know, that so little is made of us? I feel it--I feel it, gentlemen;
our lives are being frittered away. I don't know whether you fellows
feel it. You see, we ain't a melancholy lot. We're a glorious
combination against the blue devils, that's what we are. Only sometimes
I feel, don't you know, that all the rum in the place can't quite kill
them. I can't help thinking of jolly days on the other side of the
water. Now, don't you fellows look at me as if you thought I was going
to blubber. I'm not going to make such a confounded ass of myself,
don't you know. But what I want you fellows to tell me is this: Are
we to go on all our lives making beasts of ourselves, guzzling rum--I--I
beg your pardon, gentlemen. I didn't mean to say that, really. Rum is
about the only decent thing in this place. Rum keeps us alive. If any
man says a word against rum, I'll call him an infernal ass. I meant
to say the country, gentlemen--this rotten old country, don't you know.
No cricket, no society, no Bass, no anything. Supposing we had gone
to Canada with our--our capital and energies, wouldn't they have
received us with open arms? And what's the reception we get here? Now,
gentlemen, what I propose is this: let's protest. Let's get up a
what-d'you-call-it to the thing they call a government. We'll state
our case to the thing, gentlemen; and we'll insist on it and be very
firm; that's what we'll do, don't you know. Are we to live amongst
these miserable monkeys and give them the benefit of our--our--yes,
gentlemen, our capital and energies, and get nothing in return? No,
no; we must let them know that we are not satisfied, that we will be
very angry with them. That's about all I have to say, gentlemen."
Loud applause followed, during which the orator sat down rather suddenly
on the floor. Then followed "Rule Britannia," everyone assisting with
all the breath in his lungs to make night hideous.
When the song was finished the loud snoring of Captain Wriothesley
became audible. He had begun to spread some rugs to lie on, but,
becoming hopelessly entangled in his bridle-reins, surcingle, and
stirrup-straps, had fallen to sleep with his feet on his saddle and
his head on the floor.
"Hallo, we can't have this!" shouted one of the fellows. "Let's wake
old Cloud by firing at the wall over him and knocking some plaster on
to his head. It'll be awful fun, you know."
Everybody was delighted with the proposal, except poor Chillingworth,
who, after delivering his speech, had crept away on all fours into a
corner, where he was sitting alone and looking very pale and miserable.
The firing now began, most of the bullets hitting the wall only a few
inches above the recumbent Captain's head, scattering dust and bits
of plaster over his purple face. I jumped up in alarm and rushed amongst
them, telling them in my haste that they were too drunk to hold their
revolvers properly, and would kill their friend.
My interference raised a loud, angry remonstrance, in the midst of
which the Captain, who was lying in a most uncomfortable position,
woke, and, struggling into a sitting posture, stared vacantly at us,
his reins and straps wound like serpents about his neck and arms.
"What's all the row 'bout?" he demanded huskily. "Getting up rev'lution,
I s'pose. A'right; only thing to do in this country. Only don't ask
me to be pres'dent. Nor good enough. Goo' night, boys; don't cut my
throat by mistake. Gor bless you all."
"No, no, don't go to sleep, Cloud," they shouted. "Lamb's the cause
of all this. He says we're drunk--that's the way Lamb repays our
hospitality. We were firing to wake you up, old Cap, to have a drink--"
"A drink--yes," assented the Captain hoarsely.
"And Lamb was afraid we would injure you. Tell him, old Cloud, whether
you're afraid of your friends. Tell Lamb what you think of his conduct."
"Yes, I'll tell him," returned the Captain in his thick tones. "Lamb
shan't interfere, gentlemen. But you know you took him in, didn't you,
now? And what was my opinion of him? It wasn't right of you fellows,
was it, now? He couldn't be one of us, you know, could he now? I'll
leave it to you, gentlemen; didn't I say the fellow was a cad? Why the
devil doesn't he leave me alone then? I'll tell you what I'll do with
Lamb, I'll punch his damned nose, don't you know."
And here the gallant gentleman attempted to rise, but his legs refused
to assist him, and, tumbling back against the wall, he was only able
to glare at me out of his watery eyes.
I went up to him, intending, I suppose, to punch _his_ nose, but,
suddenly changing my mind, I merely picked up my saddle and things,
then left the room with a hearty curse on Captain Cloudesley
Wriothesley, the evil genius, drunk or sober, of the colony of English
gentlemen. I was no sooner outside the door than the joy they felt at
being rid of me was expressed in loud shouts, clapping of hands, and
a general discharge of firearms into the roof.
I spread my rugs out of doors and soliloquised myself to sleep. "And
so ends," said I, fixing my somewhat drowsy eyes on the constellation
of Orion, "adventure the second, or twenty-second--little does it
matter about the exact number of them, since they all alike end in
smoke--revolver smoke--or a flourish of knives and the shaking of dust
from off my feet. And, perhaps, at this very moment Paquíta, roused
from light slumbers by the droning cry of the night-watchman under her
window, puts out her arms to feel me, and sighs to find my place still
vacant. What must I say to her? That I must change my name to Ernandes
or Fernandes, or Blas or Chas, or Sandariaga, Gorostiaga, Madariaga,
or any other 'aga,' and conspire to overthrow the existing order of
things. There is nothing else for me to do, since this Oriental world
is indeed an oyster only a sharp sword will serve to open. As for arms
and armies and military training, all that is quite unnecessary. One
has only got to bring together a few ragged, dissatisfied men, and,
taking horse, charge pell-mell into poor Mr. Chillingworth's dilapidated
old tin-pot. I almost feel like that unhappy gentleman to-night, ready
to blubber. But, after all, my position is not quite so hopeless as
his; I have no brutalised, purple-nosed Briton sitting like a nightmare
on my chest, pressing the life out of me."
The shouts and choruses of the revellers grew fainter and fewer, and
had almost ceased when I sank to sleep, lulled by a solitary tipsy
voice droning out in a lugubrious key:
We won't go--home till morning.
Early next morning I left Tolosa and travelled the whole day in a
south-westerly direction. I did not hurry, but frequently dismounted
to give my horse a sip of clear water and a taste of green herbage.
I also called during the day at three or four _estancia_ houses,
but failed to hear anything that could be advantageous to me. In this
way I covered about thirty-five miles of road, going always towards
the eastern part of the Florida district in the heart of the country.
About an hour before sunset I resolved to go no farther that day; and
I could not have hoped to find a nicer resting-place than the one now
before me--a neat _rancho_ with a wide corridor supported by
wooden pillars, standing amidst a bower of fine old weeping-willows.
It was a calm, sunshiny afternoon, peace and quiet resting on
everything, even bird and insect, for they were silent, or uttered
only soft, subdued notes; and that modest lodge, with its rough stone
walls and thatched roof, seemed to be in harmony with it all. It looked
like the home of simple-minded, pastoral people that had for their
only world the grassy wilderness, watered by many clear streams, bounded
ever by that far-off, unbroken ring of the horizon, and arched over
with blue heaven, starry by night and filled by day with sweet sunshine.
On approaching the house I was agreeably disappointed at having no
pack of loud-mouthed, ferocious dogs rushing forth to rend the
presumptuous stranger to pieces, a thing one always expects. The only
signs of life visible were a white-haired old man seated within the
corridor smoking, and a few yards from it a young girl standing under
a willow-tree. But that girl was a picture for one to gaze long upon
and carry about in his memory for a lifetime. Never had I beheld
anything so exquisitely beautiful. It was not that kind of beauty so
common in these countries, which bursts upon you like the sudden
south-west wind called _pampero_, almost knocking the breath out
of your body, then passing as suddenly away, leaving you with hair
ruffled up and mouth full of dust. Its influence was more like that
of the spring wind, which blows softly, scarcely fanning your cheek,
yet infusing through all your system a delicious, magical sensation
like--like nothing else in earth or heaven. She was, I fancy, about
fourteen years old, slender and graceful in figure, and with a
marvellously clear white skin, on which this bright Oriental sun had
not painted one freckle. Her features were, I think, the most perfect
I have ever seen in any human being, and her golden brown hair hung
in two heavy braids behind, almost to her knees. As I approached, she
looked up to me out of sweet, grey-blue eyes; there was a bashful smile
on her lips, but she did not move or speak. On the willow-branch over
her head were two young doves; they were, it appeared, her pets, unable
yet to fly, and she had placed them there. The little things had crept
up just beyond her reach, and she was trying to get them by pulling
the branch down towards her.
Leaving my horse, I came to her side.
"I am tall, señorita," I said, "and can perhaps reach them."
She watched me with anxious interest while I gently pulled her birds
from their perch and transferred them to her hands. Then she kissed
them, well-pleased, and with a gentle hesitation in her manner asked
Under the corridor I made the acquaintance of her grandfather, the
white-haired old man, and found him a person it was very easy to get
on with, for he agreed readily with everything I said. Indeed, even
before I could get a remark out he began eagerly assenting to it.
There, too, I met the girl's mother, who was not at all like her
beautiful daughter, but had black hair and eyes, and a brown skin, as
most Spanish-American women have. Evidently the father is the
white-skinned, golden-haired one, I thought. When the girl's brother
came in, by and by, he unsaddled my horse and led him away to pasture;
this boy was also dark, darker even than his mother.
The simple spontaneous kindness with which these people treated me had
a flavour about it the like of which I have seldom experienced
elsewhere. It was not the common hospitality usually shown to a
stranger, but a natural, unstrained kindness, such as they might be
expected to show to a beloved brother or son who had gone out from
them in the morning and was now returned.
By and by the girl's father came in, and I was extremely surprised to
find him a small, wrinkled, dark specimen, with jet-black, bead-like
eyes and podgy nose, showing plainly enough that he had more than a
dash of aboriginal Charrua blood in his veins. This upset my theory
about the girl's fair skin and blue eyes; the little dark man was,
however, quite as sweet-tempered as the others, for he came in, sat
down, and joined in the conversation, just as if I had been one of the
family whom he had expected to find there. While I talked to these
good people on simple pastoral matters, all the wickedness of
Orientals--the throat-cutting war of Whites and Reds, and the
unspeakable cruelties of the ten years' siege--were quite forgotten.
I wished that I had been born amongst them and was one of them, not
a weary, wandering Englishman, overburdened with the arms and armour
of civilisation, and staggering along, like Atlas, with the weight of
a kingdom on which the sun never sets on his shoulders.
By and by this good man, whose real name I never discovered, for his
wife simply called him Batata (sweet potato), looking critically at
his pretty girl, remarked: "Why have you decked yourself out like this,
my daughter--it is not a Saint's day?"
His daughter indeed! I mentally ejaculated; she is more like the
daughter of the evening star than of such a man. But his words were
unreasonable, to say the least of it; for the sweet child, whose name
was Margarita, though wearing shoes, had no stockings on, while her
dress--very clean, certainly--was a cotton print so faded that the
pattern was quite undistinguishable. The only pretence of finery of
any description was a narrow bit of blue ribbon tied about her
lily-white neck. And yet, had she been wearing richest silks and
costliest gems, she could not have blushed and smiled with a prettier
"We are expecting Uncle Anselmo this evening, _papita_," she replied.
"Leave the child, Batata," said the mother. "You know what a craze she
has for Anselmo: when he comes she is always prepared to receive him
like a queen."
This was really almost too much for me, and I was powerfully tempted
to jump up and embrace the whole family on the spot. How sweet was
this primitive simplicity of mind! Here, doubtless, was the one spot
on the wide earth where the golden age still lingered, appearing like
the last beams of the setting sun touching some prominent spot, when
elsewhere all things are in shadow. Ah, why had fate led me into this
sweet Arcadia, since I must presently leave it to go back to the dull
world of toil and strife.
That vain low strife
Which makes men mad, the tug for wealth and power,
The passions and the cares that wither life
And waste its little hour?
Had it not been for the thought of Paquíta waiting for me over there
in Montevideo, I could have said, "O good friend Sweet Potato, and good
friends all, let me remain for ever with you under this roof,
sharing your simple pleasures, and, wishing for nothing better, forget
that great crowded world where all men are striving to conquer Nature
and death and to win fortune; until, having wasted their miserable
lives in their vain endeavours, they drop down and the earth is
shovelled over them!"
Shortly after sunset the expected Anselmo arrived to spend the night
with his relations, and scarcely had he got down from his horse before
Margarita was at his side to ask the avuncular blessing, at the same
time raising his hand to her delicate lips. He gave his blessing,
touching her golden hair; then she lifted her face bright with new
Anselmo was a fine specimen of the Oriental gaucho, dark and with good
features, his hair and moustache intensely black. He wore costly
clothes, while his whip-handle, the sheath of his long knife, and other
things about him were of massive silver. Of silver also were his heavy
spurs, the pommel of his saddle, his stirrups, and the headstall of
his bridle. He was a great talker; never, in fact, in the whole course
of my varied experience have I encountered anyone who could pour out
such an incessant stream of talk about small matters as this man. We
all sat together in the social kitchen, sipping _maté_; I taking
little part in the conversation, which was all about horses, scarcely
even listening to what the others were saying. Reclining against the
wall, I occupied myself agreeably watching the sweet face of Margarita,
which in her happy excitement had become suffused with a delicate rosy
colour. I have always had a great love for the beautiful: sunsets,
wild flowers, especially verbenas, so prettily called margaritas in
this country; and beyond everything the rainbow spanning the vast
gloomy heavens, with its green and violet arch, when the storm-cloud
passes eastward over the wet sun-flushed earth. All these things have
a singular fascination for my soul. But beauty when it presents itself
in the human form is even more than these things. There is in it a
magnetic power drawing my heart; a something that is not love, for how
can a married man have a feeling like that towards anyone except his
wife? No, it is not love, but a sacred ethereal kind of affection,
resembling love only as the fragrance of violets resembles the taste
of honey and the honey-comb.
Back to Full Books