The Purple Land
W. H. Hudson
Part 3 out of 5
of the Banda Orientál, and did not wish to compromise myself by joining
a military expedition of any kind. He shrugged his shoulders, and,
renewing his promise of a horse next day, retired to rest.
On rising next morning I found that the others were already up. The
horses were standing saddled at the door, and Alday, pointing out a
very fair-looking animal, informed me that it had been saddled for me,
and then added that he and his friends would ride one or two leagues
with me to put me on the right road to Montevideo. He had suddenly
become almost too kind, but in the simplicity of my heart I believed
that he was only making amends for the slight inhospitality of the day
After partaking of bitter _maté_, I thanked my hostess, looked
my last into Monica's dark, sorrowful eyes, lifted for one moment to
mine, and kissed little Anita's pathetic face, by so doing filling the
child with astonishment and causing considerable amusement to the other
members of the family. After we had ridden about four miles, keeping
nearly parallel with the river, it struck me that we were not going
in the right direction--the right one for me, at any rate. I therefore
checked my horse and told my companions that I would not trouble them
to ride with me any further.
"My friend," said Alday, approaching me, "you will, if you leave us
now, infallibly fall into the hands of some _partida_, who, finding
you without a passport, will take you to El Molino, or to some other
centre. Though it would make no difference if you had a passport, for
they would only tear it up and take you all the same. In these
circumstances it is your safest plan to go with us to El Molino, where
General Santa Coloma is collecting his forces, and you will then be
able to explain your position to him."
"I refuse to go to El Molino," I said angrily, exasperated at his
"You will then compel us to take you there," he returned.
I had no wish to become a prisoner again so soon, and, seeing that a
bold stroke was necessary to keep my liberty, I suddenly reined up my
horse and drew my revolver. "My friends," I said, "your road lies inthat
direction; mine in this. I wish you good morning."
I had scarcely finished speaking before a blow of a heavy whip-handle
descended on my arm below the elbow, almost breaking it, and sending
me off my horse, while the revolver went spinning away a dozen yards.
The blow had been dealt by one of Alday's two followers, who had just
dropped a little to the rear, and the rascal certainly showed a
marvellous quickness and dexterity in disabling me.
Wild with rage and pain, I scrambled to my feet, and, drawing my knife,
threatened to stab the first man who approached me; and then, in
unmeasured language, I abused Alday for his cowardice and brutality.
He only smiled and replied that he considered my youth, and therefore
felt no resentment against me for using such intemperate words.
"And now, my friend," he continued, after picking up my revolver and
remounting his horse, "let us waste no more time, but hasten on to El
Molino, where you can state your case to the General."
As I did not wish to be tied on to my horse and carried in that
unpleasant and ignominious manner, I had to obey. Climbing into the
saddle with some difficulty, we set out towards the village of El
Molino at a swinging gallop. The rough motion of the horse I rode
increased the pain in my arm till it became intolerable; then one of
the men mercifully bound it up in a sling, after which I was able to
travel more comfortably, though still suffering a great deal.
The day was excessively warm, and we did not reach our destination
till about three o'clock in the afternoon. Just before entering the
town we rode through a little army of gauchos encamped on the adjacent
plain. Some of them were engaged cooking meat, others were saddling
horses, while others, in bodies of twenty or thirty, were going through
cavalry exercises, the whole making a scene of wonderful animation.
Very nearly all the men wore the ordinary gaucho costume, and those
who were exercising carried lances, to which were attached little
white, fluttering bannerets. Passing through the encampment, we
clattered into the town, composed of about seventy or eighty houses
of stone or mud, some thatched, others with tiled roofs, and every
house with a large garden attached to it. At the official building
facing the plaza a guard of ten men, armed with carbines, was stationed.
We dismounted and went into the building, only to hear that the General
had just left the town, and was not expected back till the following
Alday spoke to an officer sitting at a table in the room we were shown
into, addressing him as Major. He was a thin, elderly man, with calm
grey eyes and a colourless face, and looked like a gentleman. After
hearing a few words from Alday, he turned to me and said courteously
that he was sorry to tell me I should have to remain in El Molino till
the General's return, when I could give an account of myself to him.
"We do not," he said in conclusion, "wish to compel any foreigner, or
any Oriental even, to join our forces; but we are naturally suspicious
of strangers, having already caught two or three spies in the
neighbourhood. Unfortunately you are not provided with a passport, and
it is best that the General should see you."
"Sir officer," I replied, "by ill-treating and detaining an Englishman
you are doing your cause no good."
He answered that he was grieved that his people had found it necessary
to treat me roughly, for he put it in that mild way. Everything, he
said, short of liberating me, would be done to make my sojourn in El
"If it is necessary that the General should see me himself before I
can have my liberty, pray let these men take me to him at once," I
"He has not yet left El Molino," said an orderly, standing in the room.
"He is at the end of the town at the Casa Blanca, and does not leave
till half-past three."
"It is nearly that now," said the officer, consulting his watch. "Take
him to the General at once, Lieutenant Alday."
I thanked the officer, who had looked and spoken so unlike a
revolutionary bandit, and, as soon as I had succeeded in clambering
on to my horse, we were once more dashing along the main street at a
fast gallop. We drew up before a large, old-looking stone house at the
end of the town, standing some distance back from the road, and screened
from it by a double row of tall Lombardy poplars. The back of the house
was towards the road, and, passing round to the front after leaving
our horses at the gate, we entered a spacious _patio_, or yard.
Running along the front of the dwelling was a wide corridor, supported
by wooden pillars, painted white, while the whole of the _patio_
was shaded by an immense grape-vine. This was evidently one of the
best houses in the place, and, coming directly from the glaring sun
and the white, dusty road, the vine-shaded _patio_ and corridor
looked delightfully cool and inviting. A gay company of twelve or
fifteen people were gathered under the corridor, some sipping
_maté_, others sucking grapes; and when we came on the scene a
young lady was just finishing a song she was singing. I at once singled
out General Santa Coloma, sitting by the young lady with the guitar--a
tall, imposing man, with somewhat irregular features, and a bronzed,
weather-beaten face. He was booted and spurred, and over his uniform
wore a white silk _poncho_ with purple fringe. I judged from his
countenance that he was not a stern or truculent man, as one expects
a Caudillo--a leader of men--in the Banda Orientál to be: and,
remembering that in a few minutes he would be leaving the house, I was
anxious to push forward and state my case to him. The others, however,
prevented me, for the General just then happened to be engaged in a
vivacious conversation with the young lady sitting by him. When I had
once looked attentively at this girl I had eyes for no other face
there. The type was Spanish, and I have never seen a more perfect face
of the kind; a wealth of blue-black hair shading the low, broad
forehead, straight nose, dark, luminous eyes, and crimson, pouting
lips. She was tall, perfect in her figure as in her face, and wore a
white dress with a deep red China rose on her bosom for only ornament.
Standing there unnoticed at the end of the corridor, I gazed with a
kind of fascination on her, listening to her light, rippling laughter
and lively talk, watching her graceful gestures, her sparkling eyes,
and damask cheeks flushed with excitement. Here is a woman, I thought
with a sigh--I felt a slight twinge at that disloyal sigh--I could
have worshipped. She was pressing the guitar on the General.
"You have promised to sing one song before you go, and I cannot let
you off," she exclaimed.
At length he took the instrument, protesting that his voice was a very
bad one; then, sweeping the strings, began that fine old Spanish song
of love and war:
"_Cuando suena la trompa guerrera_."
His voice was uncultivated and somewhat harsh, but there was a good
deal of fire and expression in the performance, and it was rapturously
The moment the song was over he handed her back the guitar, and,
starting up hastily, bade the company adieu, and turned to go.
Coming forward, I placed myself before him and began to speak.
"I am pressed for time and cannot listen to you now," he said quickly,
scarcely glancing at me. "You are a prisoner--wounded, I see; well,
when I return--" Suddenly he stopped, caught hold of my wounded arm,
and said, "How did you get hurt? Tell me quickly."
His sharp, impatient manner, and the sight of twenty people all standing
round staring at me, quite upset me, and I could only stammer out a
few unintelligible words, feeling that my face was blushing scarlet
to the very roots of my hair.
"Let me tell you, General," said Alday, advancing.
"No, no," said the General; "he shall speak."
The sight of Alday so eager to give his version of the affair first
restored my anger to me, and with that came back the power of speech
and the other faculties which I had lost for a moment.
"Sir General, all I have to say is this," I said; "I came to this man's
house at night, a stranger, lost, on foot, for my horse had been stolen
from me. I asked him for shelter in the belief that at least the one
virtue of hospitality still survives in this country. He, assisted by
these two men, treacherously disabled me with a blow on my arm and
dragged me here a prisoner."
"My good friend," said the General, "I am extremely sorry that you
have been hurt through an excess of zeal on the part of one of my
people. But I can scarcely regret this incident, painful as it seems,
since it enables me to assure you that one other virtue besides
hospitality still survives in the Banda Orientál--I mean gratitude."
"I do not understand you," I said.
"We were companions in misfortune a very short time ago," he returned.
"Have you forgotten the service you did me then?"
I stared at him, astonished at his words; and while I looked into his
face, suddenly that scene at the magistrate's _estancia_, when
I went with the key to let my fellow-traveller out of the stocks, and
he jumped up and seized my hand, flashed on me. Still I was not quite
sure, and half whispered tentatively, "What, Marcos Marcó?"
"Yes," he returned, smiling, "that was my name at that moment. My
friends," he continued, resting a hand on my shoulder, and speaking
to the others, "I have met this young Englishman before. A few days
ago, when I was on my way hither, I was arrested at Las Cuevas in his
company; it was by means of his assistance that I succeeded in making
my escape. He did this good deed, believing at the time that he was
helping a poor peasant, and not expecting any return."
I might have reminded him that only after he had given me a solemn
assurance that he did not intend attempting to make his escape, did
I consent to get his legs out of the stocks. However, as he thought
proper to forget that part of the affair I was not going to recall it
There were many surprised exclamations from the bystanders, and,
glancing at that beautiful girl, who was standing near with the others,
I found her dark eyes fixed on my face with an expression of tenderness
and sympathy in them that sent the blood rushing to my heart.
"They have hurt you badly, I fear," said the General, addressing me
again. "To continue your journey now would be imprudent. Let me beg
of you to remain where you are, in this house, till your arm is better."
Then, turning to the young lady, he said, "Dolores, will you and your
mother take charge of my young friend till I return, and see that his
injured arm is attended to?"
"My General, you will make us happy by leaving him in our care," she
replied, with a bright smile.
He then introduced me as Don Ricardo simply--for he did not know my
surname--to the lovely señorita, Dolores Zelaya; after which he again
bade us adieu and hurried away.
When he had gone, Alday advanced, hat in hand, and gave me back my
revolver, which I had forgotten all about. I took it with my left hand,
and put it in my pocket. He then apologised for having treated me
roughly--the Major had taught him that word--but without the faintest
trace of servility in his speech or manner; and after that he offered
me his hand.
"Which will you have," I said, "the hand you have injured or the left
He immediately dropped his own hand to his side, then, bowing, said
he would wait till I had recovered the use of my right hand. Turning
to go, he added with a smile that he hoped the injury would soon heal,
so that I would be able to wield a sword in my friend Santa Coloma's
His manner, I thought, was a little too independent. "Pray take back
your horse now," I said, "as I have no further use for it, and accept
my thanks for conducting me thus far on my journey."
"Do not mention it," he replied, with a dignified wave of his hand.
"I am pleased to have been able to render you this small service."
When Alday had left us, the charming señorita, in whose care I was
well pleased to find myself, led me into a cool, spacious room, dimly
lighted, scantily furnished, and with a floor of red tiles. It was a
great relief to drop into a sofa there, for I now felt fatigued and
suffered great pain from my arm. In a few moments I had the señorita,
her mother, Doña Mercedes, and an old serving-woman all round me.
Gently drawing off my coat, they subjected my wounded arm to a minute
examination; their compassionate finger-tips--those of the lovely
Dolores especially--feeling like a soft, cooling rain on the swollen,
inflamed part, which had become quite purple.
"Ah, how barbarous of them to hurt you like that! a friend, too, of
our General!" exclaimed my beautiful nurse; which made me think that
I had involuntarily become associated with the right political party
in the State.
They rubbed the arm with sweet oil; while the old servant brought in
a bundle of rue from the garden, which, being bruised in a mortar,
filled the room with a fresh, aromatic smell. With this fragrant herb
she made a cooling cataplasm. Having dressed my arm, they placed it
in a sling, then in place of my coat a light Indian _poncho_ was
brought for me to wear.
"I think you are feverish," said Doña Mercedes, feeling my pulse. "We
must send for the doctor--we have a doctor in our little town, a very
"I have little faith in doctors, señora," I said, "but great faith in
women and grapes. If you will give me a cluster from your vine to
refresh my blood I promise to be well very soon."
Dolores laughed lightly and left the room, only to return in a few
minutes with a dish full of ripe, purple clusters. They were delicious,
and did seem to allay the fever I felt, which had probably been caused
as much by angry passions as by the blow I had received.
While I reclined luxuriously, sucking my grapes, the two ladies sat
on each side of me, ostensibly fanning themselves, but only, I think,
trying to make the air cooler for me. Very cool and pleasant they made
it, certainly, but the gentle attentions of Dolores were at the same
time such as might well create a subtler kind of fever in a man's
veins--a malady not to be cured by fruit, fans, or phlebotomy.
"Who would not suffer blows for such compensation as this!" I said.
"Do not say such a thing!" exclaimed the señorita, with wonderful
animation. "Have you not rendered a great service to our dear
General--to our beloved country! If we had it in our power to give you
everything your heart might desire it would be nothing, nothing. We
must be your debtors for ever."
I smiled at her extravagant words, but they were very sweet to hear,
none the less.
"Your ardent love of your country is a beautiful sentiment," I remarked
somewhat indiscreetly, "but is General Santa Coloma so necessary to
She looked offended and did not reply. "You are a stranger in our
country, señor, and do not quite understand these things," said the
mother gently. "Dolores must not forget that. You know nothing of the
cruel wars we have seen and how our enemies have conquered only by
bringing in the foreigner to their aid. Ah, señor, the bloodshed, the
proscriptions, the infamies which they have brought on this land! But
there is one man they have never yet succeeded in crushing: always
from boyhood he has been foremost in the fight, defying their bullets,
and not to be corrupted by their Brazilian gold. Is it strange that
he is so much to us, who have lost all our relations, and have suffered
many persecutions, being deprived almost of the means of subsistence
that hirelings and traitors might be enriched with our property? To
us in this house he is even more than to others. He was my husband's
friend and companion in arms. He has done us a thousand favours, and if
he ever succeeds in overthrowing this infamous government he will restore
to us all the property we have lost. But _ai de mi_, I cannot see
"_Mamita,_ do not say such a thing!" exclaimed her daughter. "Do
you begin to despair now when there is most reason to hope?"
"Child, what can he do with this handful of ill-armed men?" returned
the mother sadly. "He has bravely raised the standard, but the people
do not flock to it. Ah, when this revolt is crushed, like so many
others, we poor women will only have to lament for more friends slain
and fresh persecutions." And here she covered her eyes with her
Dolores tossed her head back and made a sudden gesture of impatience.
"Do you, then, expect to see a great army formed before the ink is dry
on the General's proclamation? When Santa Coloma was a fugitive without
a follower you hoped; now when he is with us, and actually preparing
for a march on the capital, you begin to lose heart--I cannot understand
Doña Mercedes rose without replying, and left the room. The lovely
enthusiast dropped her head on her hand, and remained silent, taking
no notice of me, a cloud of sorrow on her countenance.
"Señorita," I said, "it is not necessary for you to remain longer here.
Only tell me before going that you forgive me, for it makes me very
unhappy to think that I have offended you."
She turned to me with a very bright smile and gave me her hand.
"Ah, it is for you to forgive me for hastily taking offence at a light
word," she said. "I must not allow anything you say in future to spoil
my gratitude. Do you know I think you are one of those who like to
laugh at most things, señor--no, let me call you Richard, and you shall
call me Dolores, for we must remain friends always. Let us make a
compact, then it will be impossible for us to quarrel. You shall be
free to doubt, question, laugh at everything, except one thing only--my
faith in Santa Coloma."
"Yes, I will gladly make that agreement," I replied. "It will be a new
kind of paradise, and of the fruit of every tree I may eat except of
this tree only."
She laughed gaily.
"I will now leave you," she said. "You are suffering pain, and are
very tired. Perhaps you will be able to sleep." While speaking she
brought a second cushion for my head, then left me, and before long
I fell into a refreshing doze.
I spent three days of enforced idleness at the Casa Blanca, as the
house was called, before Santa Coloma returned, and after the rough
experience I had undergone, during which I had subsisted on a flesh
diet untempered by bread or vegetables, they were indeed like days
spent in paradise to me. Then the General came back. I was sitting
alone in the garden when he arrived, and, coming out to me, he greeted
"I greatly feared from my previous experience of your impatience under
restraint that you might have left us," he said kindly.
"I could not do that very well yet, without a horse to ride on," I
"Well, I came here just now to say I wish to present you with a horse
and saddle. The horse is standing at the gate now, I believe; but, if
you are only waiting for a horse to leave us I shall have to regret
making you this present. Do not be in a hurry; you have yet many years
to live in which to accomplish all you wish to do, and let us have the
pleasure of your company a few days longer. Doña Mercedes and her
daughter desire nothing better than to keep you with them."
I promised him not to run away immediately, a promise which was not
hard to make; then we went to inspect my horse, which proved to be a
very fine bay, saddled with a dashing native _recado_.
"Come with me and try him," he said. "I am going to ride out to the
The ride proved an extremely pleasant one, as I had not mounted a horse
for some days, and had been longing to spice my idle hours with a
little exhilarating motion. We went at a swinging gallop over the
grassy plain, the General all the time discoursing freely of his plans
and of the brilliant prospects awaiting all those timely-wise
individuals who should elect to link their fortunes with his at this
early stage of the campaign.
The Cerro, three leagues distant from the village of El Molino, was
a high, conical hill standing quite alone and overlooking the country
for a vast distance around. A few well-mounted men were stationed on
the summit, keeping watch; and, after talking with them for a while,
the General led me to a spot a hundred yards away, where there was a
large mound of sand and stone, up which we made our horses climb with
some difficulty. While we stood here he pointed out the conspicuous
objects on the surface of the surrounding country, telling me the names
of the _estancias_, rivers, distant hills, and other things. The
whole country about us seemed very familiar to him. He ceased speaking
at length, but continued gazing over the wide, sunlit prospect with
a strange, far-off look on his face. Suddenly dropping the reins on
the neck of his horse, he stretched out his arms towards the south and
began to murmur words which I could not catch, while an expression of
mingled fury and exultation transformed his face. It passed away as
suddenly as it came. Then he dismounted, and, stooping till his knee
touched the ground, he kissed the rock before him, after which he sat
down and quietly invited me to do the same. Returning to the subject
he had talked about during our ride, he began openly pressing me to
join him in his march to Montevideo, which, he said, would begin almost
immediately, and would infallibly result in a victory, after which he
would reward me for the incalculable service I had rendered him in
assisting him to escape from the Juez of Las Cuevas. These tempting
offers, which would have fired my brain in other circumstances--the
single state, I mean--I felt compelled to decline, though I did not
state my real reasons for doing so. He shrugged his shoulders in the
eloquent Oriental fashion, remarking that it would not surprise him
if I altered my resolution in a few days.
"Never!" I mentally ejaculated.
Then he recalled our first meeting again, spoke of Margarita, that
marvellously beautiful child, asking if I had not thought it strange
so fair a flower as that should have sprung from the homely stalk of
a sweet potato? I answered that I had been surprised at first, but had
ceased to believe that she was a child of Batata's, or of any of his
kin. He then offered to tell me Margarita's history; and I was not
surprised to hear that he knew it.
"I owe you this," he said, "in expiation of the somewhat offensive
remarks I addressed to you that day in reference to the girl. But you
must remember that I was then only Marcos Marcó, a peasant, and, having
some slight knowledge of acting, it was only natural that my speech
should be, as you find it in our common people, somewhat dry and
"Many years ago there lived in this country one Basilio de la Barca,
a person of so noble a figure and countenance that to all those who
beheld him he became the type of perfect beauty, so that a 'Basilio
de la Barca' came to be a proverbial expression in Montevidean society
when anyone surpassingly handsome was spoken of. Though he had a gay,
light-hearted disposition and loved social pleasures, he was not spoilt
by the admiration his beauty excited. Simple-minded and modest he
remained always; though perhaps not capable of any very strong passion,
for though he won, without seeking it, the hearts of many fair women,
he did not marry. He might have married some rich woman to improve his
position had he been so minded, but in this, as in everything else in
his life, Basilio appeared to be incapable of doing anything to advance
his own fortunes. The de la Barcas had once possessed great wealth in
land in the country, and, I have heard, descended from an ancient noble
family of Spain. During the long, disastrous wars this country has
suffered, when it was conquered in turn by England, Portugal, Spain,
Brazil, and the Argentines, the family became impoverished, and at
last appeared to be dying out. The last of the de la Barcas was Basilio,
and the evil destiny which had pursued all of that name for so many
generations did not spare him. His whole life was a series of
calamities. When young he entered the army, but in his first engagement
he received a terrible wound which disabled him for life and compelled
him to abandon the military career. After that he embarked all his
little fortune in commerce, and was ruined by a dishonest partner. At
length when he had been reduced to great poverty, being then about
forty years old, he married an old woman out of gratitude for the
kindness she had shown to him; and with her he went to live on the
sea-coast, several leagues east of Cabo Santa Maria. Here in a small
_rancho_ in a lonely spot called Barranca del Peregrine, and with
only a few sheep and cows to subsist on, he spent the remainder of his
life. His wife, though old, bore him one child, a daughter, named
Transita. They taught her nothing; for in all respects they lived like
peasants and had forgotten the use of books. The situation was also
wild and solitary, and they very seldom saw a strange face. Transita
spent her childhood in rambling over the dunes on that lonely coast,
with only wild flowers, birds, and the ocean waves for playmates. One
day, her age being then about eleven, she was at her usual pastimes,
her golden hair blowing in the wind, her short dress and bare legs wet
with the spray, chasing the waves as they retired, or flying with merry
shouts from them as they hurried back towards the shore, flinging a
cloud of foam over her retreating form, when a youth, a boy of fifteen,
rode up and saw her there. He was hunting ostriches, when, losing sight
of his companions, and finding himself near the ocean, he rode down
to the shore to watch the tide coming in.
"Yes, I was that boy, Richard--you are quick in making conclusions."
This he said not in reply to any remark I had made, but to my thoughts,
which he frequently guessed very aptly.
"The impression this exquisite child made on me it would be impossible
to convey in words. I had lived much in the capital, had been educated
in our best college, and was accustomed to associate with pretty women.
I had also crossed the water and had seen all that was most worthy of
admiration in the Argentine cities. And remember that with us a youth
of fifteen already knows something of life. This child, playing with
the waves, was like nothing I had seen before. I regarded her not as
a mere human creature; she seemed more like some being from I know not
what far-off celestial region who had strayed to earth, just as a bird
of white and azure plumage, and unknown to our woods, sometimes appears,
blown hither from a distant tropical country or island, filling those
who see it with wonder and delight. Imagine, if you can, Margarita
with her shining hair loose to the winds, swift and graceful in her
motions as the waves she plays with, her sapphire eyes sparkling like
sunlight on the waters, the tender tints of the sea-shell in her
ever-changing countenance, with a laughter that seems to echo the wild
melody of the sandpiper's note. Margarita has inherited the form, not
the spirit, of the child Transita. She is an exquisite statue endowed
with life. Transita, with lines equally graceful and colours just as
perfect, had caught the spirit of the wind and sunshine and was all
freedom, motion, fire--a being half human, half angelic. I saw her
only to love her; nor was it a common passion she inspired in me. I
worshipped her, and longed to wear her on my bosom; but I shrank then
and for a long time after from breathing the hot breath of love on so
tender and heavenly a blossom. I went to her parents and opened my
heart to them. My family being well known to Basilio, I obtained his
consent to visit their lonely _rancho_ whenever I could; and I,
on my part, promised not to speak of love to Transita till her sixteenth
year. Three years after I had found Transita, I was ordered to a distant
part of the country, for I was already in the army then, and, fearing
that it would not be possible for me to visit them for a long time,
I persuaded Basilio to let me speak to his daughter, who was now
fourteen. She had by this time grown extremely fond of me, and she
always looked forward with delight to my visits, when we would spend
days together rambling along the shore, or seated on some cliff
overlooking the sea, talking of the simple things she knew, and of
that wonderful, far-away city life of which she was never tired of
hearing. When I opened my heart to her she was at first frightened at
these new strange emotions I spoke of. Soon, however, I was made happy
by seeing her fear grow less. In one day she ceased to be a child; the
rich blood mantled her cheeks, to leave her the next moment pale and
tremulous; her tender lips were toying with the rim of the honeyed
cup. Before I left her she had promised me her hand, and at parting
even clung to me, with her beautiful eyes wet with tears.
"Three years passed before I returned to seek her. During that time
I sent scores of letters to Basilio, but received no reply. Twice I
was wounded in fight, once very seriously. I was also a prisoner for
several months. I made my escape at last, and, returning to Montevideo,
obtained leave of absence. Then, with heart afire with sweet
anticipations, I sought that lonely sea-coast once more, only to find
the weeds growing on the spot where Basilio's _rancho_ had stood.
In the neighbourhood I learnt that he had died two years before, and
that after his death the widow had returned to Montevideo with Transita.
After long inquiry in that city I discovered that she had not long
survived her husband, and that a foreign señora, had taken Transita
away, no one knew whither. Her loss cast a great shadow on my life.
Poignant grief cannot endure for ever, nor for very long; only the
memory of grief endures. To this memory, which cannot fade, it is
perhaps due that in one respect at least I am not like other men. I
feel that I am incapable of passion for any woman. No, not if a new
Lucrezia Borgia were to come my way, scattering the fiery seeds of
adoration upon all men, could they blossom to love in this arid heart.
Since I lost Transita I have had one thought, one love, one religion,
and it is all told in one word--_Patria_.
"Years passed. I was captain in General Oribe's army at the siege of
my own city. One day a lad was captured in our lines, and came very
near being put to death as a spy. He had come out from Montevideo, and
was looking for me. He had been sent, he said, by Transita de la Barca,
who was lying ill in the town, and desired to speak to me before she
died. I asked and obtained permission from our General, who had a
strong personal friendship for me, to penetrate into the town. This
was, of course, dangerous, and more so for me, perhaps, than it would
have been for many of my brother officers, for I was very well known
to the besieged. I succeeded, however, by persuading the officers of
a French sloop of war, stationed in the harbour, to assist me. These
foreigners at that time had friendly relations with the officers of
both armies, and three of them had at one time visited our General to
ask him to let them hunt ostriches in the interior. He passed them on
to me, and, taking them to my own _estancia_, I entertained them
and hunted with them for several days. For this hospitality they had
expressed themselves very grateful, inviting me repeatedly to visit
them on board, and also saying that they would gladly do me any personal
service in the town, which they visited constantly. I love not the
French, believing them to be the most vain and egotistical, consequently
the least chivalrous, of mankind; but these officers were in my debt,
and I resolved to ask them to help me. Under cover of night I went on
board their ship; I told them my story, and asked them to take me on
shore with them disguised as one of themselves. With some difficulty
they consented, and I was thus enabled next day to be in Montevideo
and with my long-lost Transita. I found her lying on her bed, emaciated
and white as death, in the last stage of some fatal pulmonary complaint.
On the bed with her was a child between two and three years old,
exceedingly beautiful like her mother, for one glance was sufficient
to tell me it was Transita's child. Overcome with grief at finding her
in this pitiful condition, I could only kneel at her side, pouring out
the last tender tears that have fallen from these eyes. We Orientals
are not tearless men, and I have wept since then, but only with rage
and hatred. My last tears of tenderness were shed over unhappy, dying
"Briefly she told me her story. No letter from me had ever reached
Basilio; it was supposed that I had fallen in battle, or that my heart
had changed. When her mother lay dying in Montevideo she was visited
by a wealthy Argentine lady named Romero, who had heard of Transita's
singular beauty, and wished to see her merely out of curiosity. She
was so charmed with the girl that she offered to take her and bring
her up as her own daughter. To this the mother, who was reduced to the
greatest poverty and was dying, consented gladly. Transita was in this
way taken to Buenos Ayres, where she had masters to instruct her, and
lived in great splendour. The novelty of this life charmed her for a
time; the pleasures of a large city, and the universal admiration her
beauty excited, occupied her mind and made her happy. When she was
seventeen the Señora Romero bestowed her hand on a young man of that
city, named Andrada, a wealthy person. He was a fashionable man, a
gambler, and a Sybarite, and, having conceived a violent passion for
the girl, he succeeded in winning over the señora to aid his suit.
Before marrying him Transita told him frankly that she felt incapable
of great affection for him; he cared nothing for that, he only wished,
like the animal he was, to possess her for her beauty. Shortly after
marrying her he took her to Europe, knowing very well that a man with
a full purse, and whose spirit is a compound of swine and goat, finds
life pleasanter in Paris than in the Plata. In Paris Transita lived
a gay, but an unhappy life. Her husband's passion for her soon passed
away, and was succeeded by neglect and insult. After three miserable
years he abandoned her altogether to live with another woman, and then,
in broken health, she returned with her child to her own country. When
she had been several months in Montevideo she heard casually that I
was still alive and in the besieging army; and, anxious to impart her
last wishes to a friend, had sent for me.
"Could you, my friend, could any man, divine the nature of that dying
request Transita wished to make?
"Pointing to her child, she said, 'Do you not see that Margarita
inherits that fatal gift of beauty which won for me a life of splendour,
with extreme bitterness of heart and early death? Soon, before I die,
perhaps, there will not be wanting some new señora Romero to take
charge of her, who will at last sell her to some rich, cruel man, as
I was sold; for how can her beauty remain long concealed? It was with
very different views for her that I secretly left Paris and returned
here. During all the miserable years I spent there I thought more and
more of my childhood on that lonely coast, until, when I fell ill, I
resolved to go back there to spend my last days on that beloved spot
where I had been so happy. It was my intention to find some peasant
family there who would be willing to take Margarita and bring her up
as a peasant's child, with no knowledge of her father's position and
of the life men live in towns. The siege and my failing health made
it impossible for me to carry out that plan. I must die here, dear
friend, and never see that lonely coast where we have sat together so
often watching the waves. But I think only of poor little Margarita
now, who will soon be motherless: will you not help me to save her?
Promise me that you will take her away to some distant place, where
she will be brought up as a peasant's child, and where her father will
never find her. If you can promise me this, I will resign her to you
now, and face death without even the sad consolation of seeing her by
me to the last.'
"I promised to carry out her wishes, and also to see the child as often
as circumstances would allow, and when she grew up to find her a good
husband. But I would not deprive her of the child then. I told her
that if she died, Margarita would be conveyed to the French ship in
the harbour, and afterwards to me, and that I knew where to place her
with good-hearted, simple peasants who loved me, and would obey my
wishes in all things.
"She was satisfied, and I left her to make the necessary arrangements
to carry out my plans. A few weeks later Transita expired, and the
child was brought to me. I then sent her to Batata's house, where,
ignorant of the secret of her birth, she has been brought up as her
mother wished her to be. May she never, like the unhappy Transita,
fall into the power of a ravening beast in man's shape."
"Amen!" I exclaimed. "But surely, if this child will be entitled to
a fortune some day, it will only be right that she should have it."
"We do not worship gold in this country," he replied. "With us the
poor are just as happy as the rich, their wants are so few, and easily
satisfied. It would be too much to say that I love the child more than
I love anyone else; I think only of Transita's wishes; that for me is
the only right in the matter. Had I failed to carry them out to the
letter, then I should have suffered a great remorse. Possibly I may
encounter Andrada some day, and pass my sword through his body; that
would give me no remorse."
After some moments of silence he looked up and said, "Richard, you
admired and loved that beautiful girl when you first saw her. Listen,
if you wish it you shall have her for a wife. She is simple-minded,
ignorant of the world, affectionate, and where she is told to love she
will love. Batata's people will obey my wishes in everything."
I shook my head, smiling somewhat sorrowfully when I thought that the
events of the last few days had already half obliterated Margarita's
fair image from my mind. This unexpected proposition had, moreover,
forced on me, with a startling suddenness, the fact that by once
performing the act of marriage a man has for ever used up the most
glorious privilege of his sex--of course, I mean in countries where
he is only allowed to have one wife. It was no longer in my power to
say to any woman, however charming I might find her, "Be my wife." But
I did not explain all this to the General.
"Ah, you are thinking of conditions," said he; "there will be none."
"No, you have guessed wrong--for once," I returned. "The girl is all
you say; I have never seen a being more beautiful, and I have never
heard a more romantic story than the one you have just told me about
her birth. I can only echo your prayer that she may not suffer as her
mother did. In name she is not a de la Barca, and perhaps destiny will
spare her on that account."
He glanced keenly at me and smiled. "Perhaps you are thinking more of
Dolores than of Margarita just now," he said. "Let me warn you of your
danger there, my young friend. She is already promised to another."
Absurdly unreasonable as it may seem, I felt a jealous pang at that
information; but then, of course, we are _not_ reasonable beings,
whatever the philosophers say.
I laughed, not very gaily, I must confess, and answered that there was
no need to warn me, as Dolores would never be more to me than a very
Even then I did not tell him that I was a married man; for often in
the Banda Orientál I did not quite seem to know how to mix my truth
and lies, and so preferred to hold my tongue. In this instance, as
subsequent events proved, I held it not wisely but too well. The open
man, with no secrets from the world, often enough escapes disasters
which overtake your very discreet person, who acts on the old adage
that speech was given to us to conceal our thoughts.
With a horse to travel on, and my arm so much better that the sling
supporting it was worn rather for ornament than use, there was nothing
except that promise not to run away immediately to detain me longer
in the pleasant retreat of the Casa Blanca; nothing, that is, had I
been a man of gutta-percha or cast-iron; being only a creature of
clay--very impressionable clay as it happened--I could not persuade
myself that I was quite well enough to start on that long ride over
a disturbed country. Besides, my absence from Montevideo had already
lasted so long that a few days more could not make much difference one
way or the other; thus it came to pass that I still stayed on, enjoying
the society of my new friends, while every day, every hour in fact,
I felt less able to endure the thought of tearing myself away from
Much of my time was spent in the pleasant orchard adjoining the house.
Here, growing in picturesque irregularity, were fifty or sixty old
peach, nectarine, apricot, plum, and cherry trees, their boles double
the thickness of a man's thigh; they had never been disfigured by the
pruner's knife or saw, and their enormous size and rough bark, overgrown
with grey lichen, gave them an appearance of great antiquity. All about
the ground, tangled together in a pretty confusion, flourished many
of those dear familiar Old World garden flowers that spring up round
the white man's dwelling in all temperate regions of the earth. Here
were immemorial wallflowers, stocks and marigolds, tall hollyhock, gay
poppy, brilliant bachelor's button; also, half hid amongst the grass,
pansy and forget-me-not. The larkspur, red, white, and blue, flaunted
everywhere; and here, too, was the unforgotten sweet-william, looking
bright and velvety as of yore, yet, in spite of its brightness and
stiff, green collar, still wearing the old shame-faced expression, as
if it felt a little ashamed of its own pretty name. These flowers were
not cultivated, but grew spontaneously from the seed they shed year
by year on the ground, the gardener doing nothing for them beyond
keeping the weeds down and bestowing a little water in hot weather.
The solstitial heats being now over, during which European garden
flowers cease to bloom for a season, they were again in gayest livery
to welcome the long second spring of autumn, lasting from February to
May. At the farther end of this wilderness of flowers and fruit trees
was an aloe hedge, covering a width of twenty to thirty yards with its
enormous, disorderly, stave-like leaves. This hedge was like a strip
of wild nature placed alongside of a plot of man's improved nature;
and here, like snakes hunted from the open, the weeds and wildings
which were not permitted to mix with the flowers had taken refuge.
Protected by that rude bastion of spikes, the hemlock opened feathery
clusters of dark leaves and whitish umbels wherever it could reach up
to the sunshine. There also grew the nightshade, with other solanaceous
weeds, bearing little clusters of green and purple berries, wild oats,
fox-tail grass, and nettles. The hedge gave them shelter, but no
moisture, so that all these weeds and grasses had a somewhat forlorn
and starved appearance, climbing up with long stringy stems among the
powerful aloes. The hedge was also rich in animal life. There dwelt
mice, cavies, and elusive little lizards; crickets sang all day long
under it, while in every open space the green _epeiras_ spread
their geometric webs. Being rich in spiders, it was a favourite
hunting-ground of those insect desperadoes, the mason-wasps, that flew
about loudly buzzing in their splendid gold and scarlet uniform. There
were also many little shy birds here, and my favourite was the wren,
for in its appearance and its scolding, jerky, gesticulating ways it
is precisely like our house-wren, though it has a richer and more
powerful song than the English bird. On the other side of the hedge
was the _potrero_, or paddock, where a milch-cow with two or three
horses were kept. The manservant, whose name was Nepomucino, presided
over orchard and paddock, also to some extent over the entire
establishment. Nepomucino was a pure negro, a little old round-headed,
blear-eyed man, about five feet four in height, the short lumpy wool
on his head quite grey; slow in speech and movements, his old black
or chocolate-coloured fingers all crooked, stiff-jointed, and pointing
spontaneously in different directions. I have never seen anything in
the human subject to equal the dignity of Nepomucino, the profound
gravity of his bearing and expression forcibly reminding one of an
owl. Apparently he had come to look upon himself as the sole head and
master of the establishment, and the sense of responsibility had more
than steadied him. The negrine propensity to frequent explosions of
inconsequent laughter was not, of course, to be expected in such a
sober-minded person; but he was, I think, a little too sedate for a
black, for, although his face would shine on warm days like polished
ebony, it did not smile. Everyone in the house conspired to keep up
the fiction of Nepomucino's importance; they had, in fact, conspired
so long and so well, that it had very nearly ceased to be a fiction.
Everybody addressed him with grave respect. Not a syllable of his long
name was ever omitted--what the consequences of calling him Nepo, or
Cino, or Cinito, the affectionate diminutive, would have been I am
unable to say, since I never had the courage to try the experiment.
It often amused me to hear Doña Mercedes calling to him from the house,
and throwing the whole emphasis on the last syllable in a long, piercing
crescendo: "Ne--po--mu--ci--no--o." Sometimes, when I sat in the
orchard, he would come, and, placing himself before me, discourse
gravely about things in general, clipping his words and substituting
r for l in the negro fashion, which made it hard for me to repress a
smile. After winding up with a few appropriate moral reflections he
would finish with the remark: "For though I am black on the surface,
señor, my heart is white"; and then he would impressively lay one of
his old crooked fingers on the part where the physiological curiosity
was supposed to be. He did not like being told to perform menial
offices, preferring to anticipate all requests of that kind and do
whatever was necessary by stealth. Sometimes I would forget this
peculiarity of the old black, and tell him that I wanted him to polish
my boots. He would ignore the request altogether, and talk for a few
minutes of political matters, or on the uncertainty of all things
mundane, and by and by, glancing at my boots, would remark incidentally
that they required polishing, offering somewhat ostentatiously to have
them done for me. Nothing would make him admit that he did these things
himself. Once I tried to amuse Dolores by mimicking his speech to her,
but quickly she silenced me, saying that she loved Nepomucino too well
to allow even her best friend to laugh at him. He had been born when
blacks were slaves in the service of her family, had carried her in
his arms when she was an infant, and had seen all the male members of
the house of Zelaya swept away in the wars of Reds and Whites; but in
the days of their adversity his faithful, dog-like affection had never
failed them. It was beautiful to see her manner towards him. If she
wanted a rose for her hair or dress she would not pluck it herself or
allow me to get it for her, but Nepomucino must be asked to get it.
Then every day she would find time to sit down in the garden by his
side to tell him all the news of the village and of the country at
large, discuss the position of affairs with him, and ask his advice
about everything in the house.
Indoors or out I generally had Dolores for a companion, and I could
certainly not have had a more charming one. The civil war--though the
little splutter on the Yí scarcely deserved that name yet--was her
unfailing theme. She was never weary of singing her hero Santa Coloma's
praises--his dauntless courage and patience in defeat; his strange
romantic adventures; the innumerable disguises and stratagems he had
resorted to when going about in his own country, where a price was set
on his head; ever labouring to infuse fresh valour into his beaten,
disheartened followers. That the governing party had any right to be
in power, or possessed any virtue of any kind, or were, in fact,
anything but an incubus and a curse to the Banda Orientál, she would
not for one moment admit. To her mind her country always appeared like
Andromeda bound on her rock and left weeping and desolate to be a prey
to the abhorred Colorado monster; while ever to the deliverance of
this lovely being came her glorious Perseus, swift as the winds of
heaven, the lightnings of terrible vengeance flashing from his eyes,
the might of the immortals in his strong right arm. Often she tried
to persuade me to join this romantic adventurer, and it was hard, very
hard, to resist her eloquent appeals, and perhaps it grew harder every
day as the influence of her passionate beauty strengthened itself upon
my heart. Invariably I took refuge in the argument that I was a
foreigner, that I loved my country with an ardour equal to hers, and
that by taking arms in the Banda Orientál I should at once divest
myself of all an Englishman's rights and privileges. She scarcely had
patience to listen to this argument, it seemed so trivial to her, and
when she demanded other better reasons I had none to offer. I dare not
quote to her the words of sulky Achilles:
The distant Trojans never injured me, for that argument would have
sounded even weaker to her than the former one. She had never read
Homer in any language, of course, but she wouldhave quickly made me
tell her about Achilles, and when the end came, with miserable Hector
dragged thrice round the walls of besieged Troy--Montevideo was called
Modern Troy, she knew--then she would have turned my argument against
me and bidden me go and serve the Uruguayan President as Achilles
served Hector. Seeing me silent, she would turn indignantly away only
for a moment, however; the bright smile would quickly return, and she
would exclaim, "No, no, Richard, I shall not forget my promise, though
I sometimes think you try to make me do so."
It was noon: the house was quiet, for Doña Mercedes had retired after
breakfast to take her unfailing siesta, leaving us to our conversation.
In that spacious, cool room where I had first reposed in the house,
I was lying on the sofa smoking a cigarette. Dolores, seating herself
near me with her guitar, said, "Now let me play and sing you to sleep
with something very soft." But the more she played and sang the further
was I from un-needed slumber.
"What, not sleeping yet, Richard!" she would say, with a little laugh
after each song.
"Not yet, Dolores," I would reply, pretending to get drowsy. "But my
eyes are getting heavy now. One more song will send me to the region
of dreams. Sing me that sweet favourite---
_Desde aquel doloroso momento_."
At length, finding that my sleepiness was all pretence, she refused
to sing any more, and presently we drifted once more into the old
"Ah, yes," she replied to that argument about my nationality, which
was my only shield, "I have always been taught to believe foreigners
a cold, practical, calculating kind of people--so different from us.
You never seemed to me like a foreigner; ah, Richard, why will you
make me remember that you are not one of us! Tell me, dear friend, if
a beautiful woman cried out to you to deliver her from some great
misfortune or danger, would you stop to ask her nationality before
going to her rescue?"
"No, Dolores; you know that if you, for instance, were in distress or
danger I would fly to your side and risk my life to save you."
"I believe you, Richard. But tell me, is it less noble to help a
suffering people cruelly oppressed by wicked men who have succeeded
by crimes and treachery and foreign aid in climbing into power? Will
you tell me that no Englishman has drawn a sword in a cause like that?
Oh, friend, is not my mother-country more beautiful and worthy to be
helped than any woman? Has not God given her spiritual eyes that shed
tears and look for comfort; lips sweeter than any woman's lips, that
cry bitterly every day for deliverance? Can you look on the blue skies
above you and walk on the green grass where the white and purple flowers
smile up at you and be deaf and blind to her beauty and to her great
need? Oh, no, no, it is impossible!"
"Ah, if you were a man, Dolores, what a flame you would kindle in the
hearts of your countrymen!"
"Yes, if I were a man!" she exclaimed, starting to her feet; "then I
should serve my country not with words only; then I would strike and
bleed for her--how willingly! Being only a weak woman, I would give
my heart's blood to win one arm to aid in the sacred cause."
She stood before me with flashing eyes, her face glowing with
enthusiasm; then I also rose to my feet and took her hands in mine,
for I was intoxicated with her loveliness and almost ready to throw
all restraints to the winds.
"Dolores," I said, "are not your words extravagant? Shall I test their
sincerity? Tell me, would you give even as much as one kiss with your
sweet lips to win a strong arm for your country?"
She turned crimson and cast her eyes down; then, quickly recovering
"What do your words mean? Speak plainly, Richard."
"I cannot speak plainer, Dolores. Forgive me if I have offended once
more. Your beauty and grace and eloquence have made me forget myself."
Her hands were moist and trembling in mine, still she did not withdraw
them. "No, I am not offended," she returned in a strangely low tone.
"Put me to the test, Richard. Do you wish me to understand clearly
that for such a favour as that you would join us?"
"I cannot say," I replied, still endeavouring to be prudent, though
my heart was on fire and my words when I spoke seemed to choke me.
"But, Dolores, if you would shed your blood to win one strong arm,
will you think it too much to bestow the favour I spoke of in the hope
of winning an arm?"
She was silent. Then, drawing her closer, I touched her lips with mine.
But who was ever satisfied with that one touch on the lips for which
the heart has craved? It was like contact with a strange, celestial
fire that instantly kindled my love to madness. Again and yet again
I kissed her; I pressed her lips till they were dry and burned like
fire, then kissed cheek, forehead, hair, and, casting my arms about
her strained her to my breast in a long, passionate embrace; then the
violence of the paroxysm was over, and with a pang I released her. She
trembled: her face was whiter than alabaster, and, covering it with
her hands, she sank down on the sofa. I sat down beside her and drew
her head down on my breast, but we remained silent, only our hearts
were beating very fast. Presently she disengaged herself, and, without
bestowing one glance on me, rose and left the room.
Before long I began to blame myself bitterly for this imprudent
outburst. I dared not hope to continue longer on the old familiar
footing. So high-spirited and sensitive a woman as Dolores would not
easily be brought to forget or forgive my conduct. She had not repelled
me, she had even tacitly consented to that one first kiss, and was
therefore partly to blame herself; but her extreme pallor, her silence,
and cold manner had plainly shown me that I had wounded her. My passion
had overcome me, and I felt that I had compromised myself. For that
one first kiss I had all but promised to do a certain thing, and not
to do it now seemed very dishonourable, much as I shrank from joining
the Blanco rebels. I had proposed the thing myself; she had silently
consented to the stipulation. I had taken my kiss and much more, and,
having now had my delirious, evanescent joy, I could not endure the
thought of meanly skulking off without paying the price.
I went out full of trouble and paced up and down in the orchard for
two or three hours, hoping that Dolores might come to me there, but
I saw no more of her that day. At dinner Doña Mercedes was excessively
affable, showing clearly that she was not in her daughter's confidence.
She informed me, simple soul! that Dolores was suffering from a grievous
headache caused by taking a glass of claret at breakfast after eating
a slice of water-melon, an imprudence against which she did not omit
to caution me.
Lying awake that night--for the thought that I had pained and offended
Dolores made it impossible for me to sleep--I resolved to join Santa
Coloma immediately. That act alone would salve my conscience, and I
only hoped that it would serve to win back the friendship and esteem
of the woman I had learned to love so well. I had no sooner determined
on taking this step than I began to see so many advantages in it that
it seemed strange I had not taken it before; but we lose half our
opportunities in life through too much caution. A few more days of
adventure, all the pleasanter for being spiced with danger, and I would
be once more in Montevideo with a host of great and grateful friends
to start me in some career in the country. Yes, I said to myself,
becoming enthusiastic, once this oppressive, scandalous, and besotted
Colorado party is swept with bullet and steel out of the country, as
of course it will be, I shall go to Santa Coloma to lay down my sword,
resuming by that act my own nationality, and as sole reward of my
chivalrous conduct in aiding the rebellion, ask for his interest in
getting me placed say, at the head of some large _estancia_ in
the interior. There, possibly on one of his own establishments, I shall
be in my element and happy, hunting ostriches, eating _carne con
cuero_, possessing a _tropilla_ of twenty cream-coloured horses
for my private use, and building up a modest fortune out of hides,
horns, tallow, and other native products. At break of day I rose and
saddled my horse; then, finding the dignified Nepomucino, who was the
early bird (blackbird) of the establishment, told him to inform his
mistress that I was going to spend the day with General Santa Coloma.
After taking a _maté_ from the old fellow, I mounted and galloped
out of the village of Molino.
Arrived at the camp, which had been moved to a distance of four or
five miles from El Molino, I found Santa Coloma just ready to mount
his horse to start on an expedition to a small town eight or nine
leagues distant. He at once asked me to go with him, and remarked that
he was very much pleased, though not surprised, at my having changed
my mind about joining him. We did not return till late in the evening,
and the whole of the following day was spent in monotonous cavalry
exercises. I then went to the General and requested permission to visit
the Casa Blanca to bid adieu to my friends there. He informed me that
he intended going to El Molino the next morning himself and would take
me with him. The first thing he did on our arrival at the village was
to send me to the principal storekeeper in the place, a man who had
faith in the Blanco leader, and was rapidly disposing of a large stock
of goods at a splendid profit, receiving in payment sundry slips of
paper signed by Santa Coloma. This good fellow, who mixed politics
with business, provided me with a complete and much-needed outfit,
which included a broadcloth suit of clothes, soft brown hat rather
broad in the brim, long riding-boots, and _poncho_. Going back
to the official building or headquarters in the plaza, I received my
sword, which did not harmonise very well with the civilian costume I
wore; but I was no worse off in this respect than forty-nine out of
every fifty men in our little army.
In the afternoon we went together to see the ladies, and the General
had a very hearty welcome from both of them, as I also had from Doña
Mercedes, while Dolores received me with the utmost indifference,
expressing no pleasure or surprise at seeing me wearing a sword in the
cause which she had professed to have so much at heart. This was a
sore disappointment, and I was also nettled at her treatment of me.
After dinner, over which we sat talking some time, the General left
us, telling me before doing so to join him in the plaza at five o'clock
next morning. I then tried to get an opportunity of speaking to Dolores
alone, but she studiously avoided me, and in the evening there were
several visitors, ladies from the town with three or four officers
from the camp, and dancing and singing were kept up till towards
midnight. Finding that I could not speak to her, and anxious about my
appointment at five in the morning, I at length retired sorrowful and
baffled to my apartment. Without undressing I threw myself on my bed,
and, being very much fatigued with so much riding about, I soon fell
asleep. When I woke, the brilliant light of the moon, shining in at
open window and door, made me fancy it was already daylight, and I
quickly sprang up. I had no means of telling the time, except by going
into the large living-room, where there was an old eight-day clock.
Making my way thither, I was amazed to see, on entering it, Dolores
in her white dress sitting beside the open window in a dejected
attitude. She started and rose up when I entered, the extreme pallor
of her face heightened by contrast with her long, raven-black hair
hanging unbound on her shoulders.
"Dolores, do I find you here at this hour?" I exclaimed.
"Yes," she returned coldly, sitting down again. "Do you think it very
"Pardon me for disturbing you," I said; "I came here to find out the
time from your clock."
"It is two o'clock. Is that all you came for? Did you imagine I could
retire to sleep without first knowing what your motive was in returning
to this house? Have you then forgotten everything?"
I came to her and sat down by the window before speaking. "No, Dolores,"
I said; "had I forgotten, you would not have seen me here enlisted in
a cause which I looked on only as your cause."
"Ah, then you have honoured the Casa Blanca with this visit not to
speak to me--that you considered unnecessary--but merely to exhibit
yourself wearing a sword!"
I was stung by the extreme bitterness of her tone. "You are unjust to
me," I said. "Since that fatal moment when my passion overcame me I
have not ceased thinking of you, grieving that I had offended you. No,
I did not come to exhibit my sword, which is not worn for ornament;
I came only to speak to you, Dolores, and you purposely avoided me."
"Not without reason," she retorted quickly. "Did I not sit quietly by
you after you had acted in that way towards me, waiting for you to
speak--to explain, and you were silent? Well, señor, I am here now,
"This, then, is what I have to say," I replied. "After what passed I
considered myself bound in honour to join your cause, Dolores. What
more can I say except to implore your forgiveness? Believe me, dear
friend, in that moment of passion I forgot everything--forgot that
I--forgot that your hand was already given to another."
"Given to another? What do you mean, Richard? Who told you that?"
"General Santa Coloma."
"The General? What right has he to occupy himself with my affairs?
This is a matter that concerns myself only, and it is presumption on
his part to interfere in it."
"Do you speak in that tone of your hero, Dolores? Remember that he
only warned me of my danger out of pure friendship. But his warning
was thrown away; my unhappy passion, the sight of your loveliness,
your own incautious words, were too much for my heart."
She dropped her face on her hands and remained silent.
"I have suffered for my fault, and must suffer more. Will you not say
you forgive me, Dolores?" I said, offering my hand.
She took it, but continued silent.
"Say, dearest friend, that you forgive me, that we part friends."
"Oh, Richard, must we part then?" she murmured.
"Yes--now, Dolores; for, before you are up, I must be on horseback and
on my way to join the troops. The march to Montevideo will probably
commence almost immediately."
"Oh, I cannot bear it!" she suddenly exclaimed, taking my hands in
both hers. "Let me open my heart to you now. Forgive me, Richard, for
being so angry with you, but I did not know the General had said such
a thing. Believe me, he imagines more than he knows. When you took me
in your arms and held me against your breast it was a revelation to
me. I cannot love or give my hand to any other man. You are everything
in the world to me now, Richard; must you leave me to mingle in this
cruel civil strife in which all my dearest friends and relations have
She had had her revelation; I now had mine, and it was an exceedingly
bitter one. I trembled at the thought of confessing my secret to her,
now when she had so unmistakably responded to the passion I had insanely
Suddenly she raised her dark, luminous eyes to mine, anger and shame
struggling for mastery on her pale face.
"Speak, Richard!" she exclaimed. "Your silence at this moment is an
insult to me."
"For God's sake, have mercy on me, Dolores," I said. "I am not free--I
have a wife."
For some moments she sat staring fixedly at me, then, flinging my hand
from her, covered her face. Presently she uncovered it again, for shame
was overcome and cast out by anger. She rose and stood up before me,
her face very white.
"You have a wife--a wife whose existence you concealed from me till
this moment!" she said. "Now you ask for mercy when your secret has
been wrung from you! Married, and you have dared to take me in your
arms, to excuse yourself afterwards with the plea of passion!
Passion--do you know what it means, traitor? Ah, no; a breast like
yours cannot know any great or generous emotion. Would you have dared
show your face to me again had you been capable of shame even? And you
judged my heart as shallow as your own, and, after treating me in that
way, thought to win my forgiveness, and admiration even, by parading
before me with a sword! Leave me, I can feel nothing but contempt for
you. Go; you are a disgrace to the cause you have espoused!"
I had sat utterly crushed and humiliated, not daring even to raise my
sight to her face, for I felt that my own unspeakable weakness and
folly had brought this tempest upon me! But there is a limit to
patience, even in the most submissive mood; and when that was
overpassed, then my anger blazed out all the more hotly for the
penitential meekness I had preserved during the whole interview. Her
words from the first had fallen like whip-cuts, making me writhe with
the pain they inflicted; but that last taunt stung me beyond endurance.
I, an Englishman, to be told that I was a disgrace to the Blanco cause,
which I had joined, in spite of my better judgment, purely out of my
romantic devotion to this very woman! I too was now upon my feet, and
there face to face we stood for some moments, silent and trembling.
At length I found my speech.
"This," I cried, "from the woman who was ready yesterday to shed her
heart's blood to win one strong arm for her country? I have renounced
everything, allied myself with abhorred robbers and cut-throats, only
to learn that her one desire is everything to her, her divine, beautiful
country nothing. I wish that a man had spoken those words to me,
Dolores, so that I might have put this sword you speak of to one good
use before breaking it and flinging it from me like the vile thing it
is! Would to God the earth would open and swallow up this land for
ever, though I sank down into hell with it for the detestable crime
of taking part in its pirate wars!"
She stood perfectly still, gazing at me with widely dilated eyes, a
new expression coming into her face; then when I paused for her to
speak, expecting only a fresh outburst of scorn and bitterness, a
strange, sorrowful smile flitted over her lips, and, coming close to
me, she placed her hand on my shoulder.
"Oh," she said, "what a strength of passion you are capable of! Forgive
me, Richard, for I have forgiven you. Ah, we were made for each other,
and it can never, never be."
She dropped her head dejectedly on my shoulder. My anger vanished atthose
sad words; love only remained--love mingled with profoundest
compassion and remorse for the pain I had inflicted. Supporting her
with my arm, I tenderly stroked her dark hair, and, stooping, pressed
my lips against it.
"Do you love me so much, Dolores," I said, "enough even to forgive the
cruel, bitter words I have just spoken? Oh, I was mad--mad to say such
things to you, and shall repent it all my life long! How cruelly have
I wounded you with my love and my anger! Tell me, dearest Dolores, can
you forgive me?"
"Yes, Richard; everything. Is there any word you can speak, any deed
you can do, and I not forgive it? Does your wife love you like that--can
you love her as you love me? How cruel destiny is to us! Ah, my beloved
country, I was ready to shed my blood for you--just to win one strong
arm to fight for you, but I did not dream that this would be the
sacrifice required of me. Look, it will soon be time for you to go--we
cannot sleep now, Richard. Sit down here with me, and let us spend
this last hour together with my hand in yours, for we shall never,
never, never meet again."
And so, sitting there hand in hand, we waited for the dawn, speaking
many sad and tender words to one another; and at last, when we parted,
I held her once more unresisting to my breast, thinking, as she did,
that our separation would be an eternal one.
About the stirring events of the succeeding days I have little to
relate, and no reader who has suffered the malady of love in its acutest
form will wonder at it. During those days I mixed with a crowd of
adventurers, returned exiles, criminals, and malcontents, every one
of them worth studying; the daylight hours were passed in cavalry
exercises or in long expeditions about the country, while every evening
beside the camp fire romantic tales enough to fill a volume were told
in my hearing. But the image of Dolores was ever before my mind, so
that all this crowded period, lasting nine or ten days, passed before
me like a phantasmagoria, or an uneasy dream, leaving only a very
confused impression on my brain. I not only grieved for the sorrow I
had occasioned her, but mourned also that my own heart had so terribly
betrayed me, so that for the moment the beautiful girl I had persuaded
to fly from home and parents, promising her my undying affection, had
ceased to be what she had been, so great was this new inconvenient
passion. The General had offered me a commission in his tatterdemalion
gathering, but, as I had no knowledge of military matters, I had
prudently declined it, only requesting, as a special favour, that I
might be employed constantly on the expeditions he sent out over the
surrounding country to beat up recruits, seize arms, cattle, and horses,
and to depose the little local authorities in the villages, putting
creatures of his own in their places. This request had been granted,
so that morning, noon, and night I was generally in the saddle.
One evening I was in the camp seated beside a large fire and gloomily
staring into the flames, when the other men, who were occupied playing
cards or sipping _maté_, hastily rose to their feet, making the
salute. Then I saw the General standing near gazing fixedly at me.
Motioning to the men to resume their cards, he sat down by my side.
"What is the matter with you?" he said. "I have noticed that you are
like a different person since you joined us. Do you regret that step?"
"No," I answered, and then was silent, not knowing what more to say.
He looked searchingly at me. Doubtless some suspicion of the truth was
in his mind; for he had gone to the Casa Blanca with me, and it was
scarcely likely that his keen eyes had failed to notice the cold
reception Dolores gave me on that occasion. He did not, however, touch
on that matter.
"Tell me," he said at length, "what can I do for you?"
I laughed. "What can you do except to take me to Montevideo?" I replied.
"Why do you say that?" he returned quickly.
"We are not merely friends now as we were before I joined you," I said.
"You are my General; I am simply one of your men."
"The friendship remains just the same, Richard. Let me know frankly
what you think of this campaign, since you have now suddenly turned
the current of the conversation in that direction?"
There was a slight sting in the concluding words, but I had, perhaps,
deserved it. "Since you bid me speak," I said, "I, for one, feel very
much disappointed at the little progress we are making. It seems to
me that before you are in a position to strike, the enthusiasm and
courage of your people will have vanished. You cannot get anything
like a decent army together, and the few men you have are badly armed
and undisciplined. Is it not plain that a march to Montevideo in these
circumstances is impossible, that you will be obliged to retire into
the remote and difficult places to carry on a guerilla war?"
"No," he returned; "there is to be no guerilla war. The Colorados made
the Orientals sick of it, when that arch-traitor and chief of
cut-throats, General Rivera, desolated the Banda for ten years. We
must ride on to Montevideo soon. As for the character of my force,
that is a matter it would perhaps be useless to discuss, my young
friend. If I could import a well-equipped and disciplined army from
Europe to do my fighting, I should do so. The Oriental farmer, unable
to send to England for a threshing-machine, is obliged to go out and
gather his wild mares from the plain to tread out his wheat, and I,
in like manner, having only a few scattered _ranchos_ to draw my
soldiers from, must be satisfied to do what I can with them. And now
tell me, are you anxious to see something done at once--a fight, for
instance, in which we might possibly be the losers?"
"Yes, that would be better than standing still. If you are strong, the
best thing you can do is to show your strength."
He laughed. "Richard, you were made for an Oriental," he said, "only
nature at your birth dropped you down in the wrong country. You are
brave to rashness, abhor restraint, love women, and have a light heart;
the Castilian gravity you have recently assumed is, I fancy, only a
"Your words are highly complimentary and fill me with pride," I
answered, "but I scarcely see their connection with the subject of our
"There is a connection, nevertheless," he returned pleasantly. "Though
you refuse a commission from me, I am so convinced that you are in
heart one of us that I will take you into my confidence and tell you
something known to only half a dozen trusted individuals here. You
rightly say that if we have strength we must show it to the country.
That is what we are now about to do. A cavalry force has been sent
against us and we shall engage it before two days are over. As far as
I know, the forces will be pretty evenly balanced, though our enemies
will, of course, be better armed. We shall choose our own ground; and,
should they attack us tired with a long march, or if there should be
any disaffection amongst them, the victory will be ours, and after
that every Blanco sword in the Banda will be unsheathed in our cause.
I need not repeat to you that in the hour of my triumph, if it ever
comes, I shall not forget my debt to you; my wish is to bind you, body
and heart, to this Oriental country. It is, however, possible that I
may suffer defeat, and if in two days' time we are all scattered to
the winds, let me advise you what to do. Do not attempt to return
immediately to Montevideo, as that might be dangerous. Make your way
by Minas to the southern coast; and when you reach the department of
Rocha, inquire for the little settlement of Lomas de Rocha, a village
three leagues west of the lake. You will find there a storekeeper, one
Florentino Blanco--a Blanco in heart as well. Tell him I sent you to
him, and ask him to procure you an English passport from the capital;
after which it will be safe for you to travel to Montevideo. Should
you ever be identified as a follower of mine, you can invent some story
to account for your presence in my force. When I remember that botanical
lecture you once delivered, also some other matters, I am convinced
that you are not devoid of imagination."
After giving some further kind advice, he bade me good night, leaving
me with a strangely unpleasant conviction in my mind that we had changed
characters for the nonce, and that I had bungled as much in my new
part as I had formerly done in my old. He had been sincerity itself,
while I, picking up the discarded mask, had tied it on, probably upside
down, for it made me feel excessively uncomfortable during our
interview. To make matters worse, I was also sure that it had quite
failed to hide my countenance, and that he knew as well as I knew
myself the real cause of the change he had noticed in me.
These disagreeable reflections did not trouble me long, and then I
began to feel considerable excitement at the prospect of a brush with
the government troops. My thoughts kept me awake most of the night;
still, next morning, when the trumpet sounded its shrill réveillé close
at hand, I rose quickly, and in a much more cheerful mood than I had
known of late. I began to feel that I was getting the better of that
insane passion for Dolores which had made us both so unhappy, and when
we were once more in the saddle the "Castilian gravity," to which the
General had satirically alluded, had pretty well vanished.
No expeditions were sent out that day; after we had marched about
twelve or thirteen miles eastward and nearer to the immense range of
the Cuchilla Grande, we encamped, and after the midday meal spent the
afternoon in cavalry exercises.
On the next day happened the great event for which we had been
preparing, and I am positive that, with the wretched material he
commanded, no man could have done more than Santa Coloma, though, alas!
all his efforts ended in disaster. Alas, I say, not because I took,
even then, any very serious interest in Oriental politics, but because
it would have been greatly to my advantage if things had turned out
differently. Besides, a great many poor devils who had been an
unconscionable time out in the cold would have come into power, and
the rascally Colorados sent away in their turn to eat the "bitter
bread" of proscription. The fable of the fox and the flies might here
possibly occur to the reader; I, however, preferred to remember Lucero's
fable of the tree called Montevideo, with the chattering colony in its
branches, and to look upon myself as one in the majestic bovine army
about to besiege the monkeys and punish them for their naughty
Quite early in the morning we had breakfast, then every man was ordered
to saddle his best horse; for every one of us was the owner of three
or four steeds. I, of course, saddled the horse the General had given
me, which had been reserved for important work. We mounted, and
proceeded at a gentle pace through a very wild and broken country,
still in the direction of the Cuchilla. About midday scouts came riding
in and reported that the enemy were close upon us. After halting for
half an hour, we again proceeded at the same gentle pace till about
two o'clock, when we crossed the Cañada de San Paulo, a deep valley
beyond which the plain rose to a height of about one hundred and fifty
feet. In the _cañada_ we stopped to water our horses, and there
heard that the enemy were advancing along it at a rapid pace, evidently
hoping to cut off our supposed retreat towards the Cuchilla. Crossing
the little stream of San Paulo, we began slowly ascending the sloping
plain on the farther side till the highest point was gained; then,
turning, we saw the enemy, numbering about seven hundred men, beneath
us, spread out in a line of extraordinary length. Up from the valley
they came towards us at a brisk trot. We were then rapidly disposed
in three columns, the centre one numbering about two hundred and fifty
men, the others about two hundred men each. I was in one of the outside
columns, within about four men from the front. My fellow-soldiers, who
had hitherto been very light-hearted and chatty, had suddenly become
grave and quiet, some of them even looking pale and scared. On one
side of me was an irrepressible scamp of a boy about eighteen years
old, a dark little fellow, with a monkey face and a feeble, falsetto
voice like a very old woman. I watched him take out a small sharp knife
and without looking down draw it across the upper part of his surcingle
three or four times; but this he did evidently only for practice, as
he did not cut into the hide. Seeing me watching, he grinned
mysteriously and made a sign with head and shoulders thrust forward
in imitation of a person riding away at full speed, after which he
restored his knife to its sheath.
"You intend cutting your surcingle and running away, little coward?"
"And what are you going to do?" he returned.
"Fight," I said.
"It is the best thing you can do, Sir Frenchman," said he, with a grin.
"Listen," I said, "when the fight is over, I will look you up to thrash
you for your impertinence in calling me a Frenchman."
"After the fight!" he exclaimed, with a funny grimace. "Do you mean
next year? Before that distant time arrives some Colorado will fall
in love with you, and--and--and----"
Here he explained himself without words by drawing the edge of his
hand briskly across his throat, then closing his eyes and making
gurgling sounds, supposed to be uttered by a person undergoing the
painful operation of having his throat cut.
Our colloquy was carried on in whispers, but his pantomimic performance
drew on us the attention of our neighbours, and now he looked round
to inform them with a grin and a nod that his Oriental wit was getting
the victory. I was determined not to be put down by him, however, and
tapped my revolver with my hand to call his attention to it.
"Look at this, you young miscreant," I said. "Do you not know that I
and many others in this column have received orders from the General
to shoot down every man who attempts to run away?"
This speech effectually silenced him. He turned as pale as his dark
skin would let him, and looked round like a hunted animal in search
of a hole to hide in.
On my other hand a grizzly-bearded old gaucho, in somewhat tattered
garments, lit a cigarette and, oblivious of everything except the
stimulating fragrance of the strongest black tobacco, expanded his
lungs with long inspirations, to send forth thereafter clouds of blue
smoke into his neighbours' faces, scattering the soothing perfume over
a third portion of the army.
Santa Coloma rose equal to the occasion; swiftly riding from column
to column, he addressed each in turn, and, using the quaint, expressive
phraseology of the gauchos, which he knew so well, poured forth his
denunciations of the Colorados with a fury and eloquence that brought
the blood with a rush to many of his followers' pale cheeks. They were
traitors, plunderers, assassins, he cried; they had committed a million
crimes, but all these things were nothing, nothing compared with that
one black crime which no other political party had been guilty of. By
the aid of Brazilian gold and Brazilian bayonets they had risen to
power; they were the infamous pensioners of the empire of slaves. He
compared them to the man who marries a beautiful wife and sells her
to some rich person so as to live luxuriously on the wages of his own
dishonour. The foul stain which they had brought on the honour of the
Banda Orientál could only be washed away with their blood. Pointing
to the advancing troops, he said that when those miserable hirelings
were scattered like thistle-down before the wind, the entire country
would be with him, and the Banda Orientál, after half a century of
degradation, free at last and for ever from the Brazilian curse.
Waving his sword, he galloped back to the front of his column, greeted
by a storm of _vivas_.
Then a great silence fell upon our ranks; while up the slope, their
trumpets sounding merrily, trotted the enemy, till they had covered
about three hundred yards of the ascending ground, threatening to close
us round in an immense circle, when suddenly the order was given to
charge, and, led by Santa Coloma, we thundered down the incline upon
Soldiers reading this plain, unvarnished account of an Oriental battle
might feel inclined to criticise Santa Coloma's tactics; for his men
were, like the Arabs, horsemen and little else; they were, moreover,
armed with lance and broadsword, weapons requiring a great deal of
space to be used effectively. Yet, considering all the circumstances,
I am sure that he did the right thing. He knew that he was too weak
to meet the enemy in the usual way, pitting man against man; also that
if he failed to fight, his temporary prestige would vanish like smoke
and the rebellion collapse. Having decided to hazard all, and knowing
that in a stand-up fight he would infallibly be beaten, his only plan
was to show a bold front, mass his feeble followers together in columns,
and hurl them upon the enemy, hoping by this means to introduce a panic
amongst his opponents and so snatch the victory.
A discharge of carbines with which we were received did us no damage. I,
at any rate, saw no saddles emptied near me, and in a few moments
we were dashing through the advancing lines. A shout of triumph went
up from our men, for our cowardly foes were flying before us in all
directions. On we rode in triumph till we reached the bottom of the
hill, then we reined up, for before us was the stream of San Paulo,
and the few scattered men who had crossed it and were scuttling away
like hunted ostriches scarcely seemed worth chasing. Suddenly with a
great shout a large body of Colorados came thundering down the hill
on our rear and flank, and dismay seized upon us. The feeble efforts
made by some of our officers to bring us round to face them proved
unavailing. I am utterly unable to give any clear account of what
followed immediately after that, for we were all, friends and foes,
mixed up for some minutes in the wildest confusion, and how I ever got
out of it all without a scratch is a mystery to me. More than once I
was in violent collision with Colorado men, distinguished from ours
by their uniform, and several furious blows with sword and lance were
aimed at me, but somehow I escaped them all. I emptied the six chambers
of my Colt's revolver, but whether my bullets did any execution or not
I cannot pretend to say. In the end I found myself surrounded by four
of our men who were furiously spurring their horses out of the fight.
"Whip up, Captain, come with us this way," shouted one of them who
knew me, and who always insisted on giving me a title to which I had
As we rode away, skirting the hill towards the south, he assured me
that all was lost, in proof of which he pointed to scattered bodies
of our men flying from the field in all directions. Yes, we were
defeated; that was plain to see, and I needed little encouragement
from my fellow-runaways to spur my horse to its utmost speed. Had the
falcon eye of Santa Coloma rested on me at that moment he might have
added to the list of Oriental traits he had given me the un-English
faculty of knowing when I was beaten. I was quite as anxious, I believe,
to save my skin--_throat_, we say in the Banda Orientál--as any
horseman there, not even excepting the monkey-faced boy with the squeaky
If the curious reader, thirsting for knowledge, will consult the
Uruguayan histories, I daresay he will find a more scientific
description of the battle of San Paulo than I have been able to give.
My excuse must be that it was the only battle--pitched or other--at
which I have ever assisted, also that my position in the Blanco forces
was a very humble one. Altogether I am not overproud of my soldiering
performances; still, as I did no worse than Frederick the Great of
Prussia, who ran away from his first battle, I do not consider that
I need blush furiously. My companions took our defeat with the usual
Oriental resignation. "You see," said one in explanation of his mental
attitude, "there must always be one side defeated in every fight, for
had we gained the day, then the Colorados would have lost." There was
in this remark a sound practical philosophy; it could not be
controverted, it burdened our brains with no new thing, and it made
us all very cheerful. For myself, I did not care very much, but could
not help thinking a great deal of Dolores, who would now have a fresh
grief to increase her pain.
For a distance of three or four miles we rode at a fast gallop, on the
slopes of the Cuchilla paused to breathe our horses, and, dismounting,
stood for some time gazing back over the wide landscape spread out
before us. At our backs rose the giant green and brown walls of the
sierras, the range stretching away on either hand in violet and deep
blue masses. At our feet lay the billowy green and yellow plain, vast
as ocean, and channelled by innumerable streams, while one black patch
on a slope far away showed us that our foes were camping on the very
spot where they had overcome us. Not a cloud appeared in the immense
heavens; only, low down in the west, purple and rose-coloured vapours
were beginning to form, staining the clear, intense white-blue sky
about the sinking sun. Over all reigned deep silence; until, suddenly,
a flock of orange and flame-coloured orioles with black wings swept
down on a clump of bushes hard by and poured forth a torrent of wild,
joyous music. A strange performance! screaming notes that seemed to
scream jubilant gladness to listening heaven, and notes abrupt and
guttural, mingling with others more clear and soul-piercing than ever
human lips drew from reed or metal. It soon ended; up sprang the
vocalists like a fountain of fire and fled away to their roost among
the hills, then silence reigned once more. What brilliant hues, what
gay, fantastic music! Were they indeed birds, or the glad, winged
inhabitants of a mystic region, resembling earth, but sweeter than
earth and never entered by death, upon whose threshold I had stumbled
by chance? Then, while the last rich flood of sunshine came over the
earth from that red, everlasting urn resting on the far horizon, I
could, had I been alone, have cast myself upon the ground to adore the
great God of Nature, who had given me this precious moment of life.
For here the religion that languishes in crowded cities or steals
shame-faced to hide itself in dim churches flourishes greatly, filling
the soul with a solemn joy. Face to face with Nature on the vast hills
at eventide, who does not feel himself near to the Unseen?
Out of his heart God shall not pass:
His image stampèd is on every grass.
My comrades, anxious to get through the Cuchilla, were already on
horseback, shouting to me to mount. One more lingering glance over
that wide prospect--wide, yet how small a portion of the Banda's twenty
thousand miles of everlasting verdure, watered by innumerable beautiful
streams? Again the thought of Dolores swept like a moaning wind over
my heart. For this rich prize, her beautiful country, how weakly and
with what feeble hands had we striven! Where now was her hero, the
glorious deliverer Perseus? Lying, perhaps, stark and stained with
blood on yon darkening moor. Not yet was the Colorado monster overcome.
"Rest on thy rock, Andromeda!" I sadly murmured, then, leaping into
the saddle, galloped away after my retreating comrades, already half
a mile away down in the shadowy mountain pass.
Before it had been long dark, we had crossed the range and into the
department of Minas. Nothing happened till towards midnight, when our
horses began to be greatly distressed. My companions hoped to reach
before morning an _estancia_, still many leagues distant, where
they were known and would be allowed to lie in concealment for a few
days till the storm blew over; for usually shortly after an outbreak
has been put down an _indulto_, or proclamation of pardon, is
issued, after which it is safe for all those who have taken arms against
the constituted government to return to their homes. For the time we
were, of course, outlaws, and liable to have our throats cut at any
moment. Our poor horses at last became incapable even of a trot, and,
dismounting, we walked on, leading them by the bridles.
About midnight we approached a watercourse, the upper part of the Rio
Barriga Negra--Black Belly River--and on coming near it the tinkling
of a bell attracted our attention. It is the usual thing for every man
in the Banda Orientál to have one mare, called _madrina_, in his
_tropilla_, or herd of geldings; the _madrina_ always carries
a bell attached to her neck, and at night her forefeet are usually
hobbled to prevent her wandering far from home; for the horses are
always very much attached to her and will not leave her.
After listening for a few moments, we concluded that the sound came
from the bell of a _madrina_, and that her forefeet were bound,
for the tinkle came in violent jerks, as from an animal laboriously
hopping along. Proceeding to the spot, we found a _tropilla_ of
eleven or twelve dun-coloured horses feeding near the river. Driving
them very gently towards the bank, where a sharp bend in the stream
enabled us to corner them, we set to work catching fresh horses.
Fortunately they were not very shy of strangers, and after we had
caught and secured the _madrina_, they gathered whinnying round
her, and we were not very long in selecting the five best-looking duns
in the herd.
"My friends, I call this stealing," I said, though at that very moment
I was engaged in hastily transferring my saddle to the animal I had
"That is very interesting information," said one of my comrades.
"A stolen horse will always carry you well," said another.
"If you cannot steal a horse without compunction, you have not been
properly brought up," cried the third.
"In the Banda Orientál," said the fourth, "you are not looked upon as
an honest man unless you steal."
We then crossed the river and broke into a swift gallop, which we kept
up till morning, reaching our destination a little while before sunrise.
There was here a fine plantation of trees not far from the house,
surrounded by a deep ditch and a cactus hedge, and after we had taken
_maté_ and then breakfast at the house, where the people received
us very kindly, we proceeded to conceal our horses and ourselves in
the plantation. We found a comfortable little grassy hollow, partly
shaded with the surrounding trees, and here we spread our rugs, and,
fatigued with our exertions, soon dropped into a deep sleep which
lasted pretty well all day. It was a pleasant day for me, for I had
waking intervals during which I experienced that sensation of absolute
rest of mind and body which is so exceedingly sweet after a long period
of toil and anxiety. During my waking intervals I smoked cigarettes
and listened to the querulous pipings of a flock of young black-headed
siskins flying about from tree to tree after their parents and asking
to be fed.
Occasionally the long, clear cry of the venteveo, a lemon-coloured
bird with black head and long beak like a kingfisher, rang through the
foliage; or a flock of pecho amarillos, olive-brown birds with bright
yellow vests, would visit the trees and utter their confused chorus
of gay notes.
I did not think very much about Santa Coloma. Probably he had escaped,
and was once more a wanderer disguised in the humble garments of a
peasant; but that would be no new experience to him. The bitter bread
of expatriation had apparently been his usual food, and his periodical
descents upon the country had so far always ended in disaster: he had
still an object to live for. But when I remembered Dolores lamenting
her lost cause and vanished peace of mind, then, in spite of the bright
sunshine flecking the grass, the soft, warm wind fanning my face
andwhispering in the foliage overhead, and the merry-throated birds that
came to visit me, a pang was in my heart, and tears came to my eyes.
When evening came we were all wide awake, and sat till a very late
hour round the fire we had made in the hollow, sipping _maté_ and
conversing. We were all in a talkative mood that evening, and after
the ordinary subjects of Banda Orientál conversation had been exhausted,
we drifted into matters extraordinary--wild creatures of strange
appearance and habits, apparitions, and marvellous adventures.
"The manner in which the lampalagua captures its prey is very curious,"
said one of the company, named Rivarola, a stout man with an immense,
fierce-looking black beard and moustache, but who was very mild-eyed
and had a gentle, cooing voice.
We had all heard of the lampalagua, a species of boa found in these
countries, with a very thick body and extremely sluggish in its motions.
It preys on the larger rodents, and captures them, I believe, by
following them into their burrows, where they cannot escape from its
jaws by running.
"I will tell you what I once witnessed, for I have never seen a stranger
thing," continued Rivarola. "Riding one day through a forest I saw
some distance before me a fox sitting on the grass watching my approach.
Suddenly I saw it spring high up into the air, uttering a great scream
of terror, then fall back upon the earth, where it lay for some time
growling, struggling, and biting as if engaged in deadly conflict
withsome visible enemy. Presently it began to move away through the wood,
but very slowly and still frantically struggling. It seemed to be
getting exhausted, its tail dragged, the mouth foamed, and the tongue
hung out, while it still moved on as if drawn by an unseen cord. I
followed, going very close to it, but it took no notice of me. Sometimes
it dug its claws into the ground or seized a twig or stalk with its
teeth, and it would then remain resting for a few moments till the
twig gave away, when it would roll over many times on the ground,
loudly yelping, but still dragged onwards. Presently I saw in the
direction we were going a huge serpent, thick as a man's thigh, its
head lifted high above the grass, and motionless as a serpent of stone.
Its cavernous, blood-red mouth was gaping wide, and its eyes were fixed
on the struggling fox. When about twenty yards from the serpent the
fox began moving very rapidly over the ground, its struggles growing
feebler every moment, until it seemed to fly through the air, and in
an instant was in the serpent's mouth. Then the reptile dropped its
head and began slowly swallowing its prey."
"And you actually witnessed this yourself?" said I.
"With these eyes," he returned, indicating the orbs in question by
pointing at them with the tube of the _maté_-cup he held in his
hand. "This was the only occasion on which I have actually seen the
lampalagua take its prey, but its manner of doing it is well known to
everyone from hearsay. You see, it draws an animal towards it by means
of its power of suction. Sometimes, when the animal attacked is very
strong or very far off--say two thousand yards--the serpent becomes
so inflated with the quantity of air inhaled while drawing the victim
"That it bursts?" I suggested.
"That it is obliged to stop drawing to blow the wind out. When this
happens, the animal, finding itself released from the drawing force,
instantly sets off at full speed. Vain effort! The serpent has no
sooner discharged the accumulated wind with a report like a cannon----"
"No, no, like a musket! I have heard it myself," interrupted Blas Aria,
one of the listeners.
"Like a musket, than it once more brings its power of suction to bear;
and in this manner the contest continues until the victim is finally
drawn into the monster's jaws. It is well known that the lampalagua
is the strongest of all God's creatures, and that if a man, stripped
to the skin, engages one, and conquers it by sheer muscular strength,
the serpent's power goes into him, after which he is invincible."
I laughed at this fable, and was severely rebuked for my levity.
"I will tell you the strangest thing that ever befell me," said Blas
Aria. "I happened to be travelling alone--for reasons--on the northern
frontier. I crossed the River Yaguaron into Brazilian territory, and
for a whole day rode through a great marshy plain, where the reeds
were dead and yellow, and the water shrunk into muddy pools. It was
a place to make a man grow weary of life. When the sun was going down,
and I began to despair of getting to the end of this desolation, I
discovered a low hovel made of mud and thatched with rushes. It was
about fifteen yards long, with only one small door, and seemed to be
uninhabited, for no person answered me when I rode round it shouting
aloud. I heard a grunting and squealing within, and by and by a sow,
followed by a litter of young pigs, came out, looked at me, then went
in again. I would have ridden on, but my horses were tired; besides,
a great storm with thunder and lightning was coming up, and no other
shelter appeared in sight. I therefore unsaddled, loosed my horses to
feed, and took my gear into the hovel. The room I entered was so small
that the sow and her young occupied all the floor; there was, however,
another room, and, opening the door, which was closed, I went into it,
and found that it was very much larger than the first; also, that it
contained a dirty bed made of skins in one corner, while on the floor
was a heap of ashes and a black pot. There was nothing else except old
bones, sticks, and other rubbish littering the floor. Afraid of being
caught unawares by the owner of this foul den, and finding nothing to
eat in it, I returned to the first room, turned the pigs out of doors,
and sat down on my saddle to wait. It was beginning to get dark when
a woman, bringing in a bundle of sticks, suddenly appeared at the door.
Never, sirs, have I beheld a fouler, more hideous object than this
person. Her face was hard, dark, and rough like the bark of the
_ñandubuy_ tree, while her hair, which covered her head and
shoulders in a tangled mass, was of a dry, earthy colour. Her body was
thick and long, yet she looked like a dwarf, for she scarcely had any
legs, only enormous knees and feet; and her garments were old ragged
horse-rugs tied round her body with thongs of hide. She stared at me
out of a pair of small black rat eyes, then, setting down her bundle,
asked me what I wanted. I told her I was a tired traveller, and wanted
food and shelter. 'Shelter you can have: food there is none,' she said;
then, taking up her sticks, she passed to the inner room and secured
it with a bolt on the inside. She had not inspired me with love, and
there was little danger of my attempting to intrude on her there. It
was a black, stormy night, and very soon the rain began to fall in
torrents. Several times the sow, with her young pigs loudly squealing,
came in for shelter, and I was forced to get up and beat them out with
my whip. At length, through the mud partition separating the two rooms,
I heard the crackling of a fire which the vile woman was lighting;
and, before long, through the chinks came the savoury smell of roast
meat. That surprised me greatly, for I had searched the room and failed
to find anything to eat in it. I concluded that she had brought in the
meat under her garments, but where she had got it was a mystery. At
length I began to doze. There were many sounds in my ear as of thunder
and wind, the pigs grunting at the door, and the crackling of the fire
in the hag's room. But by and by other sounds seemed to mingle with
these--voices of several persons talking, laughing, and singing. At
length I became wide awake, and found that these voices proceeded from
the next room. Some person was playing a guitar and singing, then
others were loudly talking and laughing. I tried to peep through the
cracks in the door and partition, but could not see through them. High
up in the middle of the wall there was one large crack through which
I was sure the interior could be seen, so much red firelight streamed
through it. I placed my saddle against the partition, and all my rugs
folded small, one above the other, until I had heaped them as high as
my knees. Standing on my toes on this pile, and carefully clinging to
the wall with my finger-nails, I managed to bring my eyes to a level
with the crack, and peeped through it. The room inside was brightly
lighted by a big wood fire burning at one end, while on the floor a
large crimson cloak was spread, on which the people I had heard were
sitting with some fruit and bottles of wine before them. There was
the foul hag, looking almost as tall sitting as she had appeared when
standing; she was playing on a guitar and singing a ballad in
Portuguese. Before her on the cloak lay a tall, well-formed negro
woman, wearing only a narrow white cloth round her loins, and broad
silver armlets on her round black arms. She was eating a banana, and
against her knees, which were drawn up, sat a beautiful girl about
fifteen years old, with a dark pale face. She was dressed in white,
her arms were bare, and round her head she wore a gold band keeping
back her black hair, which fell unbound on her back. Before her, on
his knees on the cloak, was an old man with a face brown and wrinkled
as a walnut, and beard white as thistle-down. With one of his hands
he was holding the girl's arm, and with the other offering her a glass
of wine. All this I saw at one glance, and then all of them together
turned their eyes up at the crack as if they knew that someone was
watching them. I started back in alarm, and fell with a crash to the
ground. Then I heard loud screams of laughter, but I dared not attempt
to look in on them again, I took my rugs to the farther side of the
room, and sat down to wait for morning. The talking and laughter
continued for about two hours, then it gradually died away, the light
faded from the chinks, and all was dark and silent. No person came
out; and at last, overcome with drowsiness, I fell asleep. It was day
when I woke. I rose and walked round the hovel, and, finding a crack
in the wall, I peered into the hag's room. It looked just as I had
seen it the day before; there was the pot and pile of ashes, and in
the corner the brutish woman lying asleep in her skins. After that I
got on to my horse and rode away. May I never again have such an
experience as I had that night."
Something was then said about witchcraft by the others, all looking
"You were very hungry and tired that night," I ventured to remark,
"and perhaps after the woman locked her door you went to sleep and
dreamed all that about people eating fruit and playing on the guitar."
"Our horses were tired and we were flying for our lives yesterday,"
returned Blas contemptuously. "Perhaps it made us dream that we caught
five dun horses to carry us."
"When a person is incredulous, it is useless arguing with him," said
Mariano, a small dark grey-haired man. "I will now tell you a strange
adventure I had when I was a young man; but remember I do not put a
blunderbuss to any man's breast to compel him to believe me. For what
is, is; and let him that disbelieves shake his head till he shakes it
off, and it falls to the ground like a cocoanut from the tree.
"After I got married I sold my horses, and, taking all my money,
purchased two ox-carts, intending to make my living by carrying freight.
One cart I drove myself, and to drive the other I hired a boy whom I
called Mula, though that was not the name his godfathers gave him, but
because he was stubborn and sullen as a mule. His mother was a poor
widow, living near me, and when she heard about the ox-carts she came
to me with her son and said, 'Neighbour Mariano, for your mother's
sake, take my son and teach him to earn his bread, for he is a boy
that loves not to do anything.' So I took Mula and paid the widow for
his services after each journey. When there was no freight to be had
I sometimes went to the lagoons to cut rushes, and, loading the carts
with them, we would go about the country to sell the rushes to those
who required them to thatch their houses. Mula loved not this work.
Often when we were all day wading up to our thighs in the water, cutting
the rushes down close to their roots, then carrying them in large
bundles on our shoulders to land, he would cry, complaining bitterly
of his hard lot. Sometimes I thrashed him, for it angered me to see
a poor boy so fastidious: then he would curse me and say that some day
he would have his revenge. 'When I am dead,' he often told me, 'my ghost
will come to haunt and terrify you for all the blows you have given
me.' This always made me laugh.
"At last, one day, while crossing a deep stream, swollen with rains,
my poor Mula fell down from his perch on the shaft and was swept away
by the current into deep water and drowned. Well, sirs, about a year
after that event I was out in search of a couple of strayed oxen when
night overtook me a long distance from home. Between me and my house
there was a range of hills running down to a deep river, so close that
there was only a narrow passage to get through, and for a long distance
there was no other opening. When I reached the pass I fell into a
narrow path with bushes and trees growing on either side; here,
suddenly, the figure of a young man stepped out from the trees and
stood before me. It was all in white--_poncho, chiripà_, drawers,
even its boots, and wore a broad-brimmed straw hat on its head. My
horse stood still trembling; nor was I less frightened, for my hair
rose up on my head like bristles on a pig's back; and the sweat broke
out on my face like raindrops. Not a word said the figure; only
itremained standing still with arms folded on its breast, preventing me
from passing. Then I cried out, 'In Heaven's name, who are you, and
what do you want with Mariano Montes de Oca, that you bar his path?'
At this speech it laughed; then it said, 'What, does my old master not
know me? I am Mula; did I not often tell you that some day I should
return to pay you out for all the thrashings you gave me? Ah, Master
Mariano, you see I have kept my word!' Then it began to laugh again.
'May ten thousand curses light on your head!' I shouted. 'If you wish
for my life, Mula, take it and be for ever damned; or else let me pass,
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