I often look back upon these jolly times. Work was exacted with anything but kindness, but the life was simple and very healthy, and many pleasant reminiscences are talked over when it is my luck to join others around the camp fire before falling to sleep with nothing but a bullock's head as a pillow and a "recado" as a blanket and the glorious, starry sky above one.
THE SOCIAL SIDE OF CAMP LIFE.
To an outsider, life in the camps or country might be considered very slow: the distance between the estancias being so great, the ordinary form of social life is quite impossible; for instance, when one goes to pay a call on a neighbour, even a first call, it means going for the day, starting in the cool of the morning and returning in the evening, and so allowing the horses to have a rest. Of course, if everyone had a motor-car, this might not be necessary; but as yet they are very few and far between. This is no doubt owing to the bad roads; in most districts, after a few hours' rain, the roads are flooded, and what is worse still, "pantanosa" (thick, sticky mud).
Most estancieros keep open house, and are only too pleased when people "drop in," which they do at all times and for any meal, almost without a "by your leave." An estancia house has to be very elastic, and ready to provide, at a moment's notice, board and lodging for unexpected guests. This is quite the nicest way of entertaining one's friends—no fuss of preparation, and, more often than not, a very jolly evening of cards, music, or games.
It is a delightful country for men, a healthy, open-air life, with plenty of hard work and hard riding; each man has from four to six horses allowed him for working purposes, and then, as a rule (talking of the English mayor-domo), he has two or three polo ponies of his own. Sunday is the great day for polo; there is very little time in our busy Argentine even for a practice game during the week, so Sunday means a merry meeting of friends wherever there is a polo club in the district, people going in six or seven leagues (or even more) from one side of the town to meet friends who have come an equal distance from the other side, a thing they might not do for months if it were not for the polo club. Each lady takes her turn in providing tea on these polo Sundays, and there is great competition as to who makes the best cakes, especially as it often falls to the lady herself to make these luxuries.
Wherever there is a polo club the most exciting event of the year is the Spring Race Meeting, two days' racing, often followed by a polo match or tournament with neighbouring clubs, and always as many dances as possible, as it is the only time in the year when enough girls can be collected together; every estancia house has its own party, as many as can be crowded in, including friends from Buenos Aires and Rosario, who delight in these camp meetings, and she is a proud hostess who can count a few girls amongst her party. I may as well add here that girls are almost "non est" in the camp, many districts for leagues and leagues round not being able to boast of one English girl.
Most clubs hold a Gymkhana Meeting in the Autumn, which makes one more excitement in the year: it is a very merry meeting as a rule, with always a dance or two if enough girls can be found. During the Winter season (from April 1st to September 1st) the shooting is very good in most parts, and many good shooting parties are given where there is enough game to make it worth while asking one's friends. The bag consists of partridges, martinetta (similar to the pheasant) and hares (which are not considered worth picking up); when there are a number of guns, dogs are not used, but two men on horseback drag a wire through the grass (several in a line, if a big party), which forces the birds to rise, and the guns walk behind. Peons on horseback, carrying sacks, keep close up to them and pick up the birds as they fall, and close on their heels comes a big brake, into which are emptied the contents of the sacks as they get too heavy. The ladies of the party follow in all sorts and conditions of vehicles, cheering on the shooters and dispensing much-needed refreshments. A shoot is always followed up by a jolly evening, after a hot bath and a good dinner. The men, forgetting how tired they are, are quite ready to sing, dance, or play bridge until the small hours. Another great event not to be forgotten is the visit of the Camp Chaplain: he goes from one district to another holding services, every Sunday in a different place. In a well-populated district he would hold one about every two months, but to some places, where there are next to no English people, he would probably only go about once or twice a year. Church Sunday is quite an event, and again gives one an opportunity of meeting friends from a distance. The parson is very lenient with us as a rule, and does not object to any form of amusement in the afternoon, such as polo, tennis, cricket, football, or golf, and encourages the young men to come to Church (usually a room hired for the occasion) in costumes suitable for such. Our poor Camp Chaplain does not have an easy time; distances are so great that more than half his time is spent on the train.
CARNIVAL IN THE ARGENTINE.
Carnival falls every year during the week before the beginning of Lent. It is a general holiday, and much fun and amusement are crammed into the few days which precede the dull season of fasting.
Carnival is more observed in camp towns than in the bigger cities, where the custom of celebrating it is very much on the wane, and where the law forbids water-throwing and other such damp forms of amusement, which are winked at by the more lenient authorities in local towns.
It is really quite a pretty sight to see a camp town during carnival. The one main street, which does not boast of pavements, and is generally a yard deep in dust, is gaily decorated with bunting and festoons. Small stands are put up every ten yards or so, in which the "caballeros" take up their positions and pelt the "senoritas" with confetti and "serpentinas" (blocks of different coloured paper which look like rolls of tape about 30 or 50 yards long). The elite of the "pueblo" drive round in the procession; ladies, some in the very latest creations, and some in beautiful fancy dresses, parade round in flower and ribbon bedecked carriages. A prize is generally given to the best decorated conveyance, and to the best fancy costume, which causes a lot of competition and jealousy amongst the fair sex.
On an estancia, carnival is celebrated in a much more drastic fashion. On one place, the giddy members of the household have a very rowdy time of it, and make things very lively for the unwary. On one occasion, they determined to give the mayor-domo his share of the general drenching which he had missed; so when he rode in at midday, after a long and busy morning's work in the camp, he was welcomed with a volley of buckets of water, which were emptied over him from the top of the house, where the delinquents had taken up their advantageous position.
Another time a certain young damsel, a guest in the same house, saw from the window her hostess entertaining one of the boys, a fresh arrival from England, who had ridden over from a neighbouring estancia. Prompted by her daring friends she was induced to take up a jug of water, and stealing up behind his chair, emptied the contents of the vessel over the visitor's head, and then bolted; the injured party, after recovering his self-possession, rose to the occasion and gave chase, and after a desperate struggle, and in spite of penitent apologies, she was borne off by her captor and deposited in the first tub he happened to see, which turned out to be a freshly painted rubbish barrel.
There is not much respecting of persons on these occasions, the girls generally combine against the boys, who, as a rule, come off best. The most binding promises are made on both sides, who vow not to throw anything larger than a "globo" (a small balloon filled with water, which bursts when it touches anything solid) or "poms" (leaden squirt full of scent); but in the excitement of the fray which follows all is forgotten, and buckets of water, the garden hose, and even the ducking of some in water troughs, are the final outcome.
The scene after an afternoon or evening's battle is very funny; girls, with their hair lying in dripping masses over their faces and shoulders, their dresses, generally the oldest of thin cotton ones, clinging hopelessly to their wearied forms, present a truly comic sight. When they are all tired of strife, they retire by common consent to the house, where, after discarding their soaking garments and taking a warm bath, they are ready to discuss the glories of the day over a much-wanted dinner.
HORSE-RACING IN THE ARGENTINE.
HORSE-RACING IN THE ARGENTINE.
In this country a great deal more racing goes on than in Europe, and it is not confined to the moneyed classes only. Even the "peones" hold their small meetings and match their grass-fed ponies. Estancieros and mayor-domos have camp race-meetings once or twice yearly at all the larger polo clubs, and at Palermo and Hurlingham every class of society in Buenos Aires may be seen on the stands.
At Palmero race-meetings are held frequently, almost weekly in fact, on Sunday afternoons; and the stands are generally well filled. On days of festival, when there is a special programme, the place is crowded, and these occasions correspond, more or less, with the more important meetings in England.
The course is of earth, and perfectly flat, so that the only thing which interferes with the view is dust. The stands are magnificent and the different grades of society are divided by railings, while at the back of each may be seen the row of offices of the "Sport," which is the betting system of the country.
This consists of tickets, which are sold at a fixed price, with the name of one of the entries. After the race there is a great rush to the offices, made by those who have bought the winner, to collect their winnings, which are the total receipts, minus a small percentage, divided by the number of those who bought the winner. In this way a very hot favourite will pay very little more than the original purchase money, while an outsider who wins will pay his backers perhaps ten, or even twenty times their deposit. There is also private betting, of course, but no public bookmakers.
The horses are of very good quality, though not up to the standard of the classic races in Europe. A number of youngsters are imported yearly from England and the United States, and among them usually some good selling-plate winners, and one or two that have been placed in first-class flat races. The country also produces some excellent horses, and they are improving every year; the stud farms are already well known in Europe as some of the best in the world. Of these, the most important, perhaps, is the "Ojo de Agua," so-called from its famous spring, which waters all the stables as well as dwelling quarters. It is the home of the famous Cyllene, whose offspring we expect to see winning races in the near future; Polar Star, scarcely less known, and Ituzaingo, a native of this country, are his present companions; while the remains of Gay Hermit, Stiletto, Pietermaritzburg, and Kendal, all of whom are well known among turf circles at home, rest beneath its soil. There are several other equally famous stud farms, such as the "San Jacinto," the present home of Val d'Or, who won the Eclipse Stakes from Cicero, the Derby winner of that year; at another, Diamond Jubilee, whose list of victories is long, resided for the latter part of his life.
Nor are the jockeys unworthy of their mounts, and some very fine riding may be witnessed both at Palermo and Hurlingham.
In contrast to these races, run on a well-ordered course, and watched from luxurious stands, are the native "cancha" meetings, held, probably, at some country public-house, and run on a "cancha," consisting of a soft piece of road, or along a fence where there are no holes. The races consist of matches arranged between two ponies, over short distances. The start is made only by agreement of both the jockeys, and thus many hours are wasted in their manoeuvres to get the advantage of one another at the start. If the judges have money on the loser, the race is often given a dead heat, and has to be run again. The pony of most endurance has usually the best chance of winning, though the race itself is short, as his rival may be tired out by repeated false starts. Large sums of money often change hands at these meetings, as the native is a born gambler, and understands this primitive method of racing better than the more complicated systems of the regular course. Owing to this, and to the competitors' efforts to cheat one another, not infrequently knives are drawn during the heated discussion which follows the race.
The ponies are, for the most part, taken straight off the camp, though in some cases they have been fed on maize and trained. They are ridden either bareback or with the native "recado," and catch-weights: as may be gathered from the method, it is usually "owners up."
Between these two extreme classes of racing in this country are the English camp race-meetings, which are held by all the larger polo clubs once or twice a year. Being of rare occurrence, and as some, if not all, of the faces are open to members of other clubs, these are among the chief social gatherings in camp life: in many cases there is a small polo tournament attached, as it is the best opportunity for those who come from a distance, and could not come twice. Therefore it usually means a two or three days' holiday, and often a dance, or some entertainment in the evenings. Old friends exchange reminiscences, and new acquaintances are formed; while the ladies also make the best of the opportunity to put on their smartest frocks and hats.
The races themselves, too, are the source of considerable talk and excitement: both horses and jockeys are well known by sight or reputation to the chief part of the company, and any "dark horse" or new arrival, is inspected with care and anxiety by his rivals.
The class of horse entered varies between the three-quarter bred and the "criollo" with no pretence to breeding at all, who often carries off the short polo pony sprints. Occasionally there may be a thoroughbred entered who has been found wanting at Palermo or Hurlingham, but these are few and not always successful, as the longest races do not often exceed about a mile and a-half. As the weights correspond to steeplechase weights at home the jockeys are practically always amateurs, and a large percentage of "owners up" is always found. Young mayor-domos who have never ridden at a meeting before often find themselves ranged alongside of Grand National riders at the start, and some amusing incidents have occurred, though there is some very good amateur riding to be seen as well.
The betting is on a smaller scale generally than at the native meeting, and is often conducted by someone setting up as a public bookmaker; at other times a "sport" is formed after the fashion of Palermo. Also the auction of all entries before the start of the races in the American way is a great favourite; the total receipts for each race are divided proportionately between those who bought the winner and "placed" horses.
There is opportunity for a little horse-dealing too, and many good polo ponies to send home or play in the tournaments have been picked up in this way. The shorter races for ponies under polo height give an opportunity to the polo player, and the mayor-domo who cannot train his ponies for longer distances, to try the mettle of their mounts against outside and purer blood.
Nowadays most of the entries are trained to some extent, though not many go to regular training establishments. To have a reasonable chance of running well in the longer races, however, it is necessary to have your mounts in stable exercised regularly and fed on corn. It is only quite lately, however, that even so much training has been adopted at all generally. In the old pioneer days of English estancias, when these clubs were formed, they raced ponies taken straight off grass and kept fit by riding the regular rounds of camp and stock.
There are many tales of the great "rags" that happened in those days, and curious incidents of racing, too. On one occasion a winner of a polo pony race was objected to as over height. The measurement was to be taken after the end of the meeting; and it must be remembered that all ponies out in the camp are unshod. The man who had come in second went round to the stables before the measuring and noticed in the winner's stall a number of large pieces of hoof recently chopped off. The pony passed with an inch off his forefeet and nothing was said, though it had been obviously over height. That evening at bridge the owner happened to win considerably from the man who had lodged the complaint, who, when the score was to be settled, threw down some pieces of hoof on the table saying, "Take back your dirty chips."
Nowadays, of course, things are not quite so rough and ready, and most of the clubs are affiliated, and run under Hurlingham or the Jockey Club rules, so that good sport and good feeling prevail. In fact the camp man looks forward to these occasions as the best bits of sport and amusement that he will get during the year.
SUNDAYS IN CAMP.
SUNDAYS IN CAMP.
In no place is Sunday more looked forward to and enjoyed than in camp. Holidays on the estancia come but seldom, and were it not for the welcome break that gives the campman a day of rest every week, his life would be a round of work, and probably make him the proverbial "dull boy." All the busy working-days are so filled with the various duties that when evening comes and dinner is over the tired worker has little inclination for reading or any other relaxation, the thought of that early bell which rouses him before sunrise makes him take advantage of every hour's sleep he can. At an hour when the townman is thinking of beginning the evening's amusement at theatre or concert, the campman is sleeping the sound sleep that fresh air combined with hard work never denies. But on one evening an exception is made to these early hours, and that is Saturday. With the pleasant feeling of a week's work completed and the morrow's rest before them, our campmen begin their weekly holiday by an extra hour or two at billiards or music, or perhaps a rubber of bridge, turning in with a fervid "Thank goodness, to-morrow's Sunday." Then the pleasure of waking at the usual hour (4 a.m. or even earlier in summer) and remembering that it is the blessed Day of Rest, and having time to enjoy the extra hours, then the luxury of dressing at one's leisure, choosing the collar and most becoming tie and adjusting them with care, and coming out in spotless white duck or smart riding breeches, ready to enjoy whatever sport is in season; tennis is mostly played all the year round; and when birds are plentiful a shoot on the lagunas attracts the sportsman, the "bag" making a welcome variety to the dinner table; snipe, partridge, hares, and many varieties of duck are common in a season that has not been too dry. Then, to those lucky ones who have a polo club within reach, Sunday during the winter season is a day of real enjoyment.
The game, which in England can only be played by men of means, can on the estancia be enjoyed by all at little expense, the useful little Argentine horses being easily trained to the game. Sometimes one finds a few enterprising golfers who, with not a little trouble, make a few "greens" and do a couple of rounds just to keep their hand in, but it is not a general camp game. It will be seen, however, that the Day of Rest is not one of idleness, but rather a healthful and beneficial change of exercise.
Church service enters but seldom into the camp Sunday—such privileges are rare, although now camp parsons are more numerous than a few years ago—but at best one can only count on one or two services a year. When a Church service is held he would be a carping critic indeed who is not satisfied and pleased with the earnest attention with which the service is followed and the vigorous singing of hymns and chants in which all the boys join so lustily; it is a reminder of Home to them, and the familiar service is thoroughly enjoyed.
The Day of Rest, so essential to one's well-being, seems to come round with such surprising rapidity that we may say truly it proves that estancia life, with its long hours of hard work, so far from being monotonous or wearisome, is a happy life. Where time flies past quickly it means it passes happily, and amongst the most pleasant of the days we spend in this land of sunshine we must count the Sundays in camp.
THE SERVANT PROBLEM IN ARGENTINA.
THE SERVANT PROBLEM IN ARGENTINA.
We often hear complaints from friends at home about the trouble they experience over obtaining and keeping good servants, and there is no doubt that the servant problem is a serious one in England, and is getting worse every year; but it pales into insignificance when compared with the trials and tribulations of those who live in the Argentine and have to keep house.
From all one hears, those living in Buenos Aires and the larger towns have a terrible time of it with their servants, especially if they are not overburdened with the good things of this world in the shape of hard cash; but my experiences have been confined to the camp, so that of the town side of the question I cannot speak.
I have been three years in the province of Cordoba, and all the servants I have met with except one were Argentines from the foothills of the Cordoba Sierras.
They were without exception quite untrained as far as the English idea goes, and the first thing to do with them was usually to teach them the primitive ideas of cleanliness. The first servant I had was an ancient female named Andrea, about forty years old, and it proved quite impossible to get her to see the necessity of keeping anything in the kitchen clean, as she seemed imbued with the idea that it was great waste of time washing saucepans and frying-pans, as they would only get dirty again when next used, and the most she could be persuaded to do was to rub them round inside with a bit of old newspaper or a handful of grass. Needless to say, after a time I got tired of these methods, and so we parted.
My next servant, Angelina, was one of the best I had, as she was clean, which was a great consideration, and also she was quick to learn and soon picked up the rudiments of cooking according to our ideas; her great failing, however, was that she was anything but honest, and could not refrain from petty pilfering; and another drawback to her was her objection to wearing shoes or stockings in the hot weather; in spite of being constantly told that she must not appear without them, she would insist in doing so, and this was a continual cause of trouble.
After getting rid of No. 2 our real troubles began, and we had eight changes in ten months. At the time we were living in wooden huts about two miles from a village which was a summer resort for rich people from Buenos Aires, and this caused a dearth of servants during the summer months, as the place was full from the beginning of December to the end of March, and people who came up for the summer and rented houses usually were willing to pay anything to get servants, with the result that we outside would get none, or only the cast-off ones. Nos. 3 and 4 stayed but a short time. My fifth attempt was a terrible girl, too dirty for words; and though apparently willing to learn, too utterly lacking in intelligence to ever learn anything. She used to get herself into the most awful grimy condition, and one incident during her time with me is worth mentioning. I had with great difficulty one day got her to understand that a wood floor could not be properly cleaned with a grass broom dipped in cold water and just swished about over it, and, by going down on my knees with a scrubbing brush and hot water and soap, and giving a practical demonstration of how a floor should be washed, had started her away to clean it, and judged that I might safely leave her, to attend to the other household duties in the kitchen. I must tell you that the day previously I had given her a practical lesson in black-leading a stove by doing it myself while she looked on. Well, after an hour in the kitchen I returned to see how she was getting on, when I found to my great pleasure that not content with scrubbing the floor, she had also attacked the stove with hot water, soap, and scrubbing brush, with the result that my hard work of the previous day was all undone and the whole room well sprinkled with black specks and the stove a mass of rust. Two weeks of similar experiences finished our acquaintance, and she gave place to No. 6. After I had spent three weeks teaching No. 6 cooking, she quietly informed me that she was leaving at the end of the week to take up a place as cook in Rosario, as she now knew enough cooking for the position; so I had not only wasted all my time in teaching her, but had paid her into the bargain for learning enough to leave me.
The next servant, No. 7, Alexandrina, was, I think, the worst. She was a Spaniard from Barcelona. She was an awful individual, and would insist on wearing clothes of so light and scanty a nature that she was not decent to have about the house; also, whenever we happened to have a joke of any sort to laugh over at meals, she used immediately to come in from the kitchen to see what was going on, and I had the greatest difficulty to get her to return to the kitchen. I had to get rid of her, because her moral reputation was anything but good, and two days in the week she refused to get out of bed, and told me to do my own dirty work, as she was ill; so at the end of two weeks she had to go. No. 8, Maria, was a girl direct from the sierras, and was very stupid and silly, and did not a single thing. One day I was buying vegetables, and she asked me why I wanted to buy roots, and when I told her they were to eat, she said even poor people could afford to buy meat, and she would not eat them. One day I took this girl out with me to do some shopping, and called on some people who had a piano. It was twilight, and someone was playing the piano, and she rushed in the room and out again, with her face very white, and said someone was beating a big, black animal in the corner of the room, and it was screaming dreadfully with the pain. This girl's mother was a very talkative old lady, and would insist on coming with three children every day and taking up her position in the kitchen, and when once she commenced to talk, one could not get away from her. At the end of the month she came for the girl's pay, and wanted me to pay her more money, which I was not willing to do, as I had been unable to teach her much; so she asked if her daughter might go away for the day and night, as she had to bath. This I was only too willing to agree to, and let her go; but they returned in the middle of the night, and removed all her belongings. After a few days I managed to get No. 9, who was a widow with two children: but she only stayed two weeks. Our tenth and last attempt was made with No. 4 once more, as she was again able to come to us. She stayed two months, when we went away for four weeks' holiday. A week after our return I paid her in full for the month, though she had never been near the house all that time, and she promptly said she could not stay with us any longer, and left. We nearly got to No. 11, as we engaged a girl to come at $20 a month to start with, and she was to come the next morning at eight o'clock to begin work. She arrived at 10 a.m., and informed me that, as we had paid our last servant $25 the month, she could not come for less. I was so sick and tired of my experiences that this finished me, and I decided to do without any servant. Since then, for the last year, I have done the work myself.
POLICE OF A BYGONE DAY.
POLICE OF A BYGONE DAY.
Yes, times have changed since I went to San Cristobal just twenty years ago. For then the English were pioneers, so to speak; not in a country of savagery, but of semi-savagery, a very different and much worse matter. I wonder is A.J., the Chief of Police, still to the fore? Ye gods, how that man tried to break my heart, and how nearly he succeeded! I was a Mayor-domo then, and G. was my boss, standing in the place of the owners to me. The boss had a mortal dread of the police and their powers, seen and unseen. So that when the worthy Chief of Police suddenly decided to add the trade of butchering to his many lucrative businesses, I received orders to sell him cows at twenty-five per cent. less price than I sold to any of his competitors. Thus, whereas I was selling them at twenty dollars paper, then worth about one pound per head, I had to sell him at fifteen shillings, with the inevitable result that he almost immediately became master of the situation and the entire local market became his, enabling him to charge what he liked for meat, while I was forbidden to raise the price of the cows sold him.
Insatiable in his greed, he began to ask for cattle twice a week, always taking from ten to twenty animals, until one day, after exceptionally wet weather, I protested that it was not possible to round up the stock in the then state of the camp and destroy so much grass for a small bunch of cows. Unlucky thought and ill-judged protest! For when he urged that the inhabitants of the town were starving, and that a small point of half-breed heifers would do to go on with, I received orders to let him part out from our best herd. Twenty fine half-bred Herefords did he pick while I almost shed tears of blood, though all the time, of course, I had to show a smiling face.
This sort of thing had been going on for some time, when one of the boundary riders told me that the fence between the town and one of our nearest paddocks had been cut during the night.
"Then mend it up," said I.
"Sir, it is mended already."
Not a week had passed before the same man brought me the same report. So I determined to "parar rodeo" (round up the cattle) immediately, and count them. Twenty heifers short in one square league, and in less than a month! This thing had to stop. I told the Capataz to take the boundary rider off that beat, without telling him why, and then the Capataz and I patrolled the fence night after night for a week, during which it was never cut.
We put a new boundary rider on, and three mornings later he came to see me bright and early, saying that not only had the fence been cut, but that there were distinct traces of cattle having passed out recently.
After assuring myself that there was no doubt about the matter, for I found the hoof marks of what I calculated to be not less than twenty animals, I went post haste to my friend the Chief of Police, never doubting that after all the favours shown him he would prove a friend in need. I was young then.
"You don't say so, Don Ernesto!" said his podgy, putty-faced little Highness. "Where was it? When was——— By heavens, somebody shall suffer for this! Just let me or any of my soldiers catch the thieves, and not one of them shall reach Santa Fe alive. Now, I'll tell you what. Just leave it to me, and don't you worry nor think any more about the matter, much less mention it to a soul. In less than two days I'll have the thief or thieves here in the stocks."
I told him plainly that that was not my programme, and that, whatever he did, I was not going to leave that fence unpatrolled until I could move the stock out of the paddock.
"Then this is what we'll do, Don Ernesto. You shall be one of us. You come and dine with me at six o'clock this evening, and afterwards we'll go out with the sergeant and five or six men and catch 'em."
It was about the equinox, if I remember rightly—the springtime, when everything is lovely and lovable: the camp flowers all in bloom, the aroma of the trees burdening the air with delicious perfume, the fresh verdure and plenty of grass, the powerful, stout-hearted bounding of the horse (no longer "poor") beneath one, and, above all, the great issue expected of the business in hand, the most important business to me in the world at the time—all these combined spelled but one word, "Hope!"
Carbine in hand, Colt in holster, I arrived at his residence. There he was, sitting at the door of his corner house, whence he could look down three streets at once. How like a spider, I thought.
His welcome was cordial, but he seemed to smile at my eagerness, and told me that he never dined before eight.
"But let us sit here in the cool of the evening," said he, handing out a chair for me to sit by him on the footpath, "and let us take some refreshment to while away the time. But, tell me, where did you say that the fence was cut? But did you really see signs that cattle had passed? Preposterous! The sons of guns shall suffer for this. Eh well, I'm glad of it in a way—glad to have a little work, and perhaps a little excitement. It doesn't do to have a too orderly district, for the Governor and his satellites in Santa Fe imagine I'm lazy and not looking after my business if they hear of no commotions. That black fellow you sent me the other day, Don Ernesto—the fellow that was molesting a mad woman in the camp—- I've got him seventeen years in the line for that. I wish you would send me a few more, for hardly a letter comes from Santa Fe in which I am not asked to send in recruits, so hard up are they for Provincial soldiers."
Just then a poor Italian colonist came up, hat in hand. He, too, and all his class were pioneers in those days, and God knows what they suffered.
"Well, what d'ye want?" asked my companion.
"Sir," said the wretched man, stuttering in his nervousness, "one of my bullocks has been stolen, and I know the thief. I have been to the Justice of the Peace, and he told me to bring the thief to him; but, sir, the th-thief refuses to come."
"Bueno! Ten dollars, and ten dollars down," roared the majesty of law.
"No! But me no buts! Ten dollars at once, or I'll call the sergeant to lock you up until you can get it."
I could see that the poor fellow's heart was breaking as he drew the money from his pocket and handed it over. Smilingly the bully turned to me and said, as his victim walked slowly away, "I'll bet you that that man doesn't come around to molest me again. I'll guarantee to you, Don Ernesto, that there isn't a district in the whole province where so few appeals for justice are made."
At last it was dinner-time, and, being ushered into a dirty room with a brick floor, dim light and grimy tablecloth, I seated myself at the table with my host, his secretary, the doctor, and a clerk. The dinner was in the usual native style of those days: ribs of beef roasted on the gridiron, beef and pumpkin boiled together, to finish up with "caldo," which is simply the water in which the beef and vegetables have been boiled, with a good thick coating of grease.
No sooner had we begun dinner than it was noticed that we had no wine.
"No wine! How's this? What d'ye mean?" as he angrily turned to the sergeant who was waiting.
"If you please, sir, So-and-so and So-and-so," mentioning the name of a local firm of storekeepers, "say that they can supply no more wine until they can get some of their accounts settled."
"How dare you bring me such a message as that! Take the corporal with a couple of men and bring a half-barrel at once—in less than three minutes, or I'll know the reason why."
The barrel was brought, and, with a bit and brace, quickly tapped, and the wine set flowing round the table.
The dinner dragged on and on, until I thought he meant us to sit there all night. Ten o'clock came, half-past, and then eleven. Then I began to smell a rat. I kept on urging the necessity for action, but it became more and more evident that the Chief was fooling. He pressed wine upon all and upon me in particular, while he drank little himself, although he pretended otherwise. At last, I could stand it no longer, and got up in no very good humour to go.
"No, but stop, Don Ernesto! Where are you going? Sit down again. The horses are not saddled yet: not even caught up. Sit down and have patience and we'll all go with you in good time."
It was after twelve when at last we made a start. There were the Chief, the sergeant, a corporal, four men, and myself. We rode slowly in a northerly direction until we came to a small gate in the fence, of which I had the key. All the way thither the Chief, while commending me for my forethought in bringing arms, had been impressing upon me the importance of not using them, no matter what happened, "Because, you see, you are not an arm of the law, and if you were to shoot anyone, I should be obliged to arrest you and send you to Santa Fe."
When we got through the fence, what was my surprise when the Chief said, "Bueno, Don Ernesto, you and I have had a long day. What I propose is that you and I off-saddle and doss down here, while the sergeant and men patrol with muffled bits and spurs at a short distance from the fence. Then the moment they hear anything they can come and let us know!"
In vain I protested that this was not my idea at all, and that I too wanted to do the patrolling, but when he told a man to take the saddle off my horse and shake down a bed for me, I thought it wiser to acquiesce, or, at least, appear to do so. I shall never forget that night. How we talked and talked and talked as we lay beneath the brilliant stars, I, boiling with rage and anxiety under my assumed tranquillity, while he, doubtless, was as much annoyed at having to keep me in conversation. It must have been nearly four o'clock when I told him that I really must sleep. "Bueno," said he, as he rolled over on his side, "hasta manana."
In five minutes he was snoring. Even so, I did not dare to move, for fear that he might be foxing. About an hour passed, during which he moved, coughed, expectorated, and had other signs of conscious animation, much to my disgust, until at last I thought the snoring sounded too genuine to be shammed, so I crept towards him and whispered in his ear that I thought I heard sounds of movement. But his snoring was rhythmic and swinish, so I gathered up my saddle and gear and stole over to my horse, which was picketed some yards off, and proceeded to saddle him up. In doing so, my stirrups somehow clashed and thought it was all up, for what a fool I should look if he woke and discovered me. But it was all right: the music continued.
I led the horse for some little distance, then mounting, I rode him down alongside the fence for about a mile until I came to a fresh gap in it.
Horror! Even though it was but what my suspicions had depicted, the realisation came as a shock to me. "The—! The—!" To repeat my expressions would edify no one.
Guided by the signal-lights at the station, I moved along at a smart trot and soon recognised the quick tramping of animals ahead. Then I drew back, and as the day was just breaking, I drew round to the west side of the cavalcade, so that I might see without being seen. Yes, sure enough, there were six military chacots outlined against the great sky and a troop of animals ahead of them.
I halted to let them get well away from me, and then, with rage and hatred in my heart, swearing vengeance all the while, I galloped as hard as ever I could to the estancia, to impatiently await the uprising of my boss.
"We must wire, or one of us must go to the Governor in Santa Fe at once," I urged. But what was my disgust to be met with but a quiet smile of amusement!
"Not if I know it," said he. "Why, good God, man, do you want to have all our throats cut? This man is a personal friend of the Governor's, and what satisfaction do you think we are likely to get out of that?"
"Then let us go to the Consul, the British Minister, or even to the President of the Republic?"
A quiet smile with a negatory shake of the head was the only answer.
A fortnight later I sought him in his private sitting-room and found the Chief of Police sitting in an easy-chair.
"Ha! ha! ha! Don Ernesto. So you caught us, did you? Well, it was worth the fun. I never laughed so much in all my life as when I awoke that morning and found that you had given me the slip!"
A VISIT TO THE NORTHERN CHACO.
After three years on an estancia in the vast monotonous, treeless, but most fertile plains of the Central Argentine, under scorching sun, driving rains, and biting wind, one feels that one would like to see a river sometimes, animal life and more congenial surroundings; and so I determined to visit the Northern Chaco, that enormous tract of land which lies North of Santa Fe and stretches right away for many hundreds of miles to North, East, and West.
Leaving Rosario by the night express, one crosses the great, slightly undulating plains, probably among the richest in the world for the growth of wheat, linseed, and maize, reaching Santa Fe early the following morning. This town, the capital and Government centre of the province, is rather an uninteresting place; chiefly noticeable in it are the great number of fine churches and the magnificent sawmills owned by a large French company. Santa Fe is supposed to be one of the most religious centres in the Republic. More than once it has almost been washed away in an eddy of the giant Parana in flood, the water rising four feet in the houses on the highest level in the town.
After spending a day of sight-seeing in Santa Fe, we embarked at nightfall for Vera, the headquarters of the Santa Fe Land Company's wood department, arriving there in the early morning. The land around here from the train appears to be a dry, salty country, devoid of herbage, and only valuable on account of the excellent forest trees and timber.
Our morning meal was taken in the station waiting-room (the only restaurant in the town), and consisted of cold coffee and what the Argentine understands by boiled eggs, which have in reality been in boiling water half a minute, and which, in order to eat, one has to tip into a wine-glass and beat up with a fork, adding pepper and salt, etc. This is the general way of eating eggs in South America; an egg cup is one of the few things one cannot get in the country without going to an English store in Buenos Aires.
Leaving Vera at 8 a.m. the train goes at a snail's pace along the branch line to Reconquista, covering the distance of about thirty leagues in five hours. Arriving there in the sweltering midday heat, we were met by an English friend and his capataz, the latter dressed in his enormous slouch hat, deerskin apron, and silver spurs weighing probably a full kilo.
One cannot help noticing at once the different type of natives; from the slow, slouching, don't-care kind of men, which one sees in Cordoba and Southern Santa Fe, to the quick, straight, hawk-eyed half-Indian Chaquenos.
Reconquista on a hot summer's day is one of the dirtiest places on this earth, which is saying a good deal. One drives through streets two feet deep in light sandy dust, which hangs in clouds all over the town. There is an excellent hotel in the centre of the town, built on typical Spanish plans with fine large open patios, which are filled with splendid tropical plants and ferns. Having washed off the dust of three days' travel from our weary persons, and having changed into more suitable travelling gear, we sat down to an excellent spread.
In the cool of the evening we made a tour of the town, being most interested in the cigar factories, where we bought excellent smokes for $2 a hundred, all hand-made from pure tobacco leaf by the brown-hued lasses of Reconquista.
The rest of the evening we spent in unpacking our native saddles, and preparing everything for our long horseback journey—not having forgotten to see that our tropilla of fifteen grey ponies were fit and ready to make an early start next morning.
Three a.m. next morning found us out in the "corrales" having our ponies allotted to us by the capataz—we found the tropilla on "ronda"—that is, in a corner with a lasso tied across in front of them, the height of their chests, and all facing outwards. This is the most general way of teaching horses to stand in the Chaco, as, if taught to stand singly, they would fall too easy a prey to the Indians and gauchos. In order to saddle these ponies we had to "manear" them, that is, tie their forelegs together, for without this they refused to let us put the blankets on their backs.
All being ready, we started off, four of us, two in front and two behind, with eleven loose ponies between us. By this time the sky was beginning to grow light, and evidently the fresh morning air had disagreed with my friend T.'s horse, which suddenly cleared down a side street with his head between his forelegs and his back arched like the bend in an archer's bow.
After some seconds of this amusing sight T. managed to get the pony's head up and came along again, looking very warm and beaming; his pink-nosed pony quite satisfied that he would have to carry more than his own weight for some distance further.
Leaving Reconquista on the north we crossed, over an old railway embankment, a large stretch of low country, through which a small stream glided with winding course, and jogging along league after league we gradually got into more interesting country: little clumps of trees with very thick undergrowth, clinging creepers, bright-coloured flowers, and gorgeously plumaged birds.
All along the sides of the roads were little farms, apparently uncultivated, except for small patches of wonderfully grown maize and browning linseed. Practically all these farms are owned by Swiss and German peasants, each one with his small herd of cows and working bullocks.
We changed our ponies every three or four leagues, always going at the same jog-trot, stopping occasionally at a wayside inn to wet our parched throats with fresh well water (with a drop of cana in it to kill the microbes), and smoking hard all the time to keep off the swarms of mosquitoes.
After travelling ten leagues or so we began to leave these habitations behind us, and got into wilder country with no fences, only long stretches of undulating land, dotted with patches of splendid-looking trees and enticing shade.
The road occasionally crossed small streams, which gradually became more tropical looking, until we came to quite a large river, two or three hundred metres wide, looking beautifully peaceful and oily. Standing above on the bank, in the shade of some magnificent quebracho trees, we looked down upon this lazy stretch of perfect scenery, when suddenly there was a slight disturbance in the water and a small black dot appeared on the top of the water. The capataz at once pulled out his revolver, all of us doing likewise, only to have to put them back again, as the dot had disappeared as quickly as it came. This was the first sign of wild animal life we saw, the "jacare" or alligator. In the more civilised parts of the Chaco, these animals, as well as the carpincho or water-hog, are getting quite rare, and having been so much shot at and worried they need the most careful stalking.
As we got further away, we came upon many more of these streams, all looking much the same; some had bridges over them made of quebracho logs, laid endways on and covered with earth, very dangerous to cross after wet weather or floods, especially at night, as they are generally full of holes where the earth has fallen in.
At 10 a.m. each day we unsaddled for lunch, which was generally composed of "charque" or salted beef, biscuits, and coffee. The first night we slept at the last habitation which we saw, a small wayside inn. Arriving there late in the evening, we had the greatest difficulty in obtaining entrance on account of the chorus of barking, snapping dogs, and on account of the innkeeper's fear of drunken gauchos.
Another early start on the second day saw us well on our journey by siesta time, which we spent on the edge of a very fine forest. The afternoon was very hot, and we did not start off again until 4 o'clock. During the evening we swam across a small river which we found overflowing its banks on account of the local rains, and, as darkness fell, we found it almost impossible to see our way on account of the fireflies, which made such a glare in front of us that the slight track which we had been following was almost invisible. It was a very dark night, and once or twice we felt rain. We had to go very slowly, so that we should not miss the track. Thus we trotted on in Indian file, each of us now leading spare horses, in silence, except when one of us asked how many leagues it was to the estancia, only to jog on again for what seemed two or three hours, until almost midnight. With a cheerful yell we suddenly came on a barbed wire fence, and after hunting about for a time, a wire gate.
Immediately tongues seemed to be mechanically loosened and the conversation flowed freely, discussing the ride, horses, coming stiffness, and all the things that one has to talk about after two and a-half days in the saddle. On reaching the estancia about 2 a.m., none of us needed much bed, and throwing our things down on the grass outside, we soon were dreaming of alligators, broken bridges, swimming rivers, etc.
About 10 o'clock the next morning I awoke to find myself on a most neat little estancia high up on a hill, overlooking, across a slight valley, magnificent forests where one could see the glint of running water.
The house was brick floored and had four very nice rooms, which had been colour-washed by my friends with excellent success. The ceilings at once attracted attention, being of a deep-coloured black wood, well oiled and seasoned. "Timbo" it is called, and is the best carving and furniture wood in the country.
Out in the garden were oranges, lemons, citrons, pomegranates, limes, and all kinds of luxurious fruits and vegetables. In a small fenced paddock at the end of the garden, were sweet potatoes, pea-nuts, cotton, tobacco, and some magnificent maize.
The men's huts were made of mud over a cane network, and the roofs were made of split palm trees, hollowed out and made in the form of a large ~~~~~~~ the palms being placed concavely and convexly alternately, making fine drainage for the heavy rains. The whole place was surrounded by a ring of fine chaco paraiso trees and "ombu." The horse corrals were all palo a pique, that is, made of solid posts, stuck in close together side by side, and about two metres high, with no wire.
The camp was more or less on the real banks of the Parana, sloping away to the river four leagues away, and forming one of the most fertile spots in the Republic. This low-lying land is the finest and cheapest grazing in the north, but it is unreliable because it is quite inundated in time of floods, when the cattle have to be withdrawn to higher camp.
During various excursions on the following days we saw tracks of "tigers" (leopard) and "lions" (puma); the kill of the latter, a small gazelle buck, "guasuncho," we found neatly covered up with grass and leaves, and easily distinguishable from the tiger's kill, which is always left uncovered. A very fine tiger's skin was brought in one night, measuring 1.84 metres from the tip of the nose to the root of the tail, and 1.56 metres across. The man had suddenly come across it while on foot in the monte, and after wounding it with his Winchester had run it down with his dogs and killed it.
One evening we caught sight of a tapi (tapir) coming down to drink, but were unable to shoot on account of the bad light. Each day we saw many wild pigs ("chancho moro") and various kinds of wild cats, including the splendid "gato once" or ounce cat, whose skin is one of the finest, and only to be compared with the "lobo" or golden otter, which has a most magnificent fluffy pelt with a golden tint on the tips. The latter is unfortunately getting very rare now.
The great wolf or "aguaras" is still common, and is a very stately beast, as he slopes along with his hind-quarters well under him, with pricked ears and shaggy black mane.
The forests here are mostly in long strips and clumps, with excellent pasture land between them; and they contain, among other commoner chaco trees, lance wood, four crowns, and tala. Amongst the strange trees there is one enormous broad-leafed tree called "guapoij," which has long creeping roots, which cling on to neighbouring trees and gradually pull them down and absorb all their goodness, killing them, and in some marvellous way apparently eating them up. One finds occasionally one of these trees embracing another bigger than itself, and gradually rooting it out of the ground.
On all low ground one generally finds "Zeibos"—a tree with very soft wood and very pretty branches of scarlet flowers.
The wild apricot or "ijguajay" grows everywhere, and looks a very tempting fruit, fatal, however, to most Europeans, as it is a very powerful purge. The Indian children eat the fruit with joy, and it apparently has no bad effect on them.
The forests are full of all kinds of animals, and, in addition to those already mentioned, there are red deer, black and brown monkeys, and bear, and the ring-tailed coons, which latter make noises like the grunting of pigs.
Of ground game there are foxes, tattoo or mulita, armadillo, and ostriches.
Amongst the birds the most common are various kinds of hawks, including some very much like the great bustard, English brown buzzard, and osprey falcon, and two or three kinds of parrots and cockatoos, the green parrots being the curse to agriculturists, eating all the maize, as the locusts do in the South.
There are many different kinds of "carpinteros" or woodpeckers, most of them having most wonderful plumage of brown, green, scarlet, blue, and yellow.
A strange bird which is not often seen is the "tucan," a small black bird, with a beak almost as big as his body, and of a splendid orange colour with a scarlet tip; he is a top-heavy looking little chap when seen seated on an orange tree, his favourite haunt.
Amongst table birds there are grey pheasants, martinetta, and partridges. Of wild fowl, there are enormous varieties, including the "pato real" or great tree duck, whistling mallard, various kinds of teal and shovellers, widgeon, muscony and hooded duck, black-headed geese, grey geese, and swans. Amongst water-birds are the black, grey, and white "garza" or heron. The latter are especially valuable on account of the splendid feathers on the back of their necks. Of the smaller birds there is the gallinetta, a kind of landrail, the curse of hunters shooting wild duck, their wretched screech warning every bird in the district. The beautifully coloured and almost transparently winged golden moorhen covers every stretch of water inland, and the "chaja" or wild turkey, one of the most useless birds in the Chaco, and quite uneatable, sends forth his dismal cry "chaja."
The kingfishers are, perhaps, the most noticeable of all the river birds, and are of all sizes, from the small European variety to one almost ten times their size. Gorgeously plumaged, they skim, like flashes of light, over the water, which is full of all kinds of fish including "Dorado," a splendid fighting fish, excellent eating, which can be caught with rod or fly, and goes up to 10 kilos in weight; "Suravi," a great mud fish, which is seen sometimes basking out of water, weighing up to 50 kilos, with enormous head, and good eating; "Savala," the mud-eating cruiser, which one sees nearly always with its tail out of water, and which makes excellent revolver shooting; "Palmieta," the curse of the Chaco streams and rivers, making bathing unadvisable on account of its hostile assaults on the extremities of all foreign bodies; and the "rallo," or sun fish, a large flat fish with a long tail.
Thus was spent a week of happy days of excursions and explorations, where sometimes we had to walk through great distances of undergrowth and the everywhere-abundant prickly cactus, cutting our way with large cavalry swords, always with our eyes skinned to catch sight of some strange bird, beast, or flower. Sometimes we waded for miles through swamps, which, in some places, abound with enormous water snakes up to 6 metres long.
We put up all kinds of water-fowl, as we struggled on, splashing through rivers, clambering up and skeltering down slippery banks, reaching home tired and weary every night to recount all the day's doings, sitting out in the patio in the cool evening, eaten up by mosquitoes.
So ended my holiday, with hurried packing, much toast-drinking, and a final little farewell dance to the accompaniment of guitar, gramophone, mouth-organ, and accordion. The journey south was of no great interest, half on horseback, half in "galera," or public mail coach, with, as fellow passengers, a German traveller, a cure (most jovial of beings, who had brought enough food with him to feed a whole regiment), a head of police and his men, and two coach boys.
The coach, with five young horses tied in abreast, went bumping and jolting along hour after hour, until we came to a big river, unfortunately in flood. The horses were unhitched, tied together and swum across; a boat coming from some unseen corner, took passengers and luggage across, leaving the coach itself alone, with a long wire tied to the end of the pole. The horses were fastened to the end of this wire on the other side of the river, and then, with a whoop and a cheer, the coach tumbled head-over-heels into the raging flood, twisting and turning in all ways, first one side up and then the other, until at last it reached the near bank. And so we travelled on, back to civilisation; a tiring journey in dust and heat by rail, bringing us home to the same old flat, treeless, priceless plains of the Central Argentine, to dream for many days of birds, fishes, animals, flowers, trees, good friends, and the fine natives of the Northern Chaco.
WORK IN THE WOODS.
WORK IN THE WOODS.
The worker in the forests is of necessity an early riser, the nature of his task requiring that he should be up betimes. His preparations for breakfast are simple, and he is ready to start out after half an hour spent in imbibing a few mates full of yerba infusion. The cartmen tie in their bullocks, kept overnight in a corral, and drive off to bring in wood prepared by the axemen, the bullock-herd takes his charges to pasture and the men's employer mounts his horse to visit the camp of his axemen, or goes to the store to fetch meat and provisions. The axemen generally live in tents or temporary shelters, convenient to their work, and some distance from the contractor's rancho. They have to work hard, stripped to the waist in summer; they fell the trees, and either square the logs for baulks and sleepers, or cut the bark and outside layer of white wood off to make logs for export, working by moonlight when the heat of the day is excessive. Their food consists of biscuits, called Galleta, dried to the consistency of flint; these they soften in soup made from fresh meat or dried "Charki." To this soup is added rice, maize, or "Fido's," which is coarse macaroni.
The favourite roast, called the "Asado," is made from ribs of beef impaled on a stick and placed near the fire till sufficiently cooked. This delicacy, usually as hard as nails, is enjoyed by the men, who cut off portions, which they hold in their teeth, while, with a jack-knife, mouthfuls are sawn off close to the nose, at the risk of shortening that organ. Water is drunk, or coffee sweetened liberally with moist sugar. This coffee is made in the country, chiefly from beans or maize, with a large percentage of chicory to give it body.
It is picturesque to see a long string of carts enter a deposit to the sound of pistol cracks from long whips, and to watch the cartmen unload the heavy logs.
A cartman will load his cart with logs of a ton and upwards, each with the aid of his team of bullocks, placing the chains so that the animals, at the desired moment, by advancing a short distance, roll the log from the ground on to the cart. In the case of very heavy logs the cart is placed upside down on the log, which is then bound to it, and the bullocks pull the whole thing over. The distances which have to be covered by these carts are considerable, fifteen miles in the day is not unusual, changing bullocks once en route, but a great deal depends on the roads being dry, as in wet weather the wheels sink up to the hubs in the mud and the roads are soon dotted here and there with loads abandoned till better conditions enable them to be reloaded and delivered at a depository.
These cartmen are hardy fellows and work wet to the skin, covered with mud up to their knees, or, again, hidden in the dust from the roads, which envelopes the moving carts in a choking cloud.
It is little to be wondered at if the axemen and cartmen, when pay day arrives, go in for a spree, which for them usually takes the form of gambling, enlivened by dancing and drinking till daylight.
The result of sojourning in the woods does not, as might be expected, have the effect of making these men unsociable, and they embrace every opportunity of attending a race meeting or dance. When the men are excited by drink quarrels are frequent, and the police search them for arms before admitting them to a Re-union.
Arms are carried ostensibly as a precaution against meeting with Indians and bad characters in the lonely recesses of the forest, and the men like to carry a knife and a good revolver, or, better still, a Winchester, to enable them to get a shot at any wild animal they may come across, the skins of these being much prized. They take a pleasure in presenting a visitor with a puma skin or other trophy of the chase.
Among these people one looks for, and finds, the primitive idea of hospitality, an unaffected welcome and willingness to give of the best they have. Here are men independent by virtue of their labour, which gives them sufficient for their daily wants. They have no thought for the morrow or what will be their lot when too feeble to work.
The axemen, who are natives of Italy and Austria, are very good workmen, but compare unfavourably with natives of the country, being extremely dirty in their persons, to such a degree that it is a disagreeable experience to have to interview them in an office, whereas the Argentine native puts on his best apparel when he goes to an estancia.
The forest workers are nomads, and, as the woods get cut out, move on to fresh camping grounds, leaving the woods to revert to their former solitude, a haunt for the wild animals, who creep back once silence has returned.
CACHAPES, AND OTHER THINGS.
CACHAPES, AND OTHER THINGS.
To a man coming from the Southern Camps to the forest belt of Santa Fe, the cachape must appeal as something peculiar to the district, and most essentially local. He has had a surfeit of carts with two wheels, each 12 feet high, and dragged by anything from sixteen to twenty-eight horses; Russian carts, like Thames punts on four wheels, no longer amuse him, while American spring carts are much too European to warrant unslinging the Kodak. But the cachape—here is something not to be lightly passed over. Lying idle it may not strike him at first sight as a cart, but rather as a remnant of some revolution, when, tired of waging light operatic war, the army disbanded, leaving their gun-carriages to serve more peaceful purposes.
Two pairs of short, squat, enormously powerful wheels; between, and joining them, a roughly hewn pole and various chains in an apparently hopeless tangle. Yet see them in work—every niche doing its work, every chain taking ten per cent, more strain than it was ever intended to take, creaking, groaning, crashing into holes, crawling laboriously over snaps and trunks to fall again with its load of four tons with a jerking, swaying, and straining as though struggling to free itself from its load, and you recognise the raison d'etre of the queer little cart.
The capache is not without its humorous moments. Supposing the cartmen find a log too heavy to load in the ordinary way; they do not return and inform the boss that the log must be hoisted by mechanical means or propose high-priced cranes. Seeing that obviously they can't put the log on the cart, they accept the alternative and put the cart on the log, chain it on securely, then haul everything right side up again with the bullocks and proceed to the unloading station. Once there, it might be supposed that they would tumble the cart over again, but here the intelligent foreigner is misled. The correct proceeding now is for the cartmen to lie on their backs and push with their feet, after the manner of the gentlemen in music halls, who, reclining on sawed-off sofas, twiddle gold-spangled spheres with their toes; only our cartmen lie in water and mud and the gold-spangled sphere is changed for a three-ton log. The force the men can exert in this position is little short of marvellous. Out one crawls, reviews the situation, then back again under, a creak, a combined push, and over the wheels comes the log, throwing up the mud and water for 50 feet around. Then back they go again for another load six miles through the forest. Wet through, their clothes hanging in ribbons from shoulders and belt, one day's mud caking on another's, and with a long sword stuck through their belt in front, they present a figure comical enough were it not that one knew the other side of the picture.
Reeking with inherited consumption, they live the one life which is certain to kill them before they are forty. Wet through and chilled, they are called upon again and again to suddenly exert enormous strength, since no man can desert his cart. He must "get there." He must get out of his trouble. He eats largely when and how he can, and when he has saved any money the merry "Taba" bone charms it from him in a way too universal perhaps to call for any remark. Sometimes he finishes his carting days through too decided opinions as to the other man's integrity in playing "Taba"; sometimes on his canvas bed in a hut of mud and branches, his browny yellow face and sunken eyes asking no pity, betraying no emotion; in either case he is rarely over thirty-five and often leaves a wife and children.
I say "wife and children," since it sounds the usual thing; but, as a matter of strict fact, the ceremony of getting married is deprecated among them, as it signifies "Putting on side," and is only resorted to when they are in a village and there is a chance that the presents that are given will more than compensate the tremendous expense they have to go to. Speaking to a gentleman of this kidney, I was informed that when the cross-eyed blacksmith Strike got married, it cost him three dollars and a-half (say 5s.) in fire crackers alone, and my informant went on to say that the only case he knew of where marriage had been really successful was that of the fair-haired carpenter, who was married and asked all the bosses on the place, who each gave something, with which he was able to buy a sewing machine for the eldest girl, then aged six.
But, mark you, lest you should judge them lightly, remember that their unwritten pact is just as binding to them as our formal marriage tie is to us, and that in their way they are probably better husbands and fathers than your Balham clerk. In their young days they may chop and change, which changes are generally marked by little iron crosses in the woods, but, once they have settled down, desertion is far rarer than in civilised countries. I have seen a native workman with his shoulder blade in his arm-pit, his face cut to ribbons, and with pieces of casting sticking to his back through the carrying away of a crane, cavil against the idea of being taken into the township where the doctor was, lest his old woman, unused to a town life, should find the surroundings uncongenial. This in a broken, muttered whisper, twelve hours after the accident had happened, during which time every new arrival had been called upon to witness the peculiar nature of his injuries.
Much has been said about the terrible wickedness of the lower-class native, his gambling, his immorality, his almost fanatical desire to murder everyone he sees; and for complete and detailed lists of crimes and monstrosities appeal to any newcomer, who will be delighted to hold forth on the subject; but when one has lived with them and worked with them under varying conditions, and has suffered in some degree what they suffer, one hesitates to condemn them offhand.
Blackguards they are—but manly, humorous blackguards. Immoral, one must confess them to be, according to our lights, but even in England "Custom from time immemorial" is held as law.
The vast majority will steal raw hide gear as a cat steals fish, but will not touch your money, much as in a community of young men property is common to all with the same exception. They will lie if scared, or rather will substitute for the truth something they think you would like to hear, and they will do as little work as you will let them.
But, have a bad case of sickness in the house and ask a man to go out at midnight with the carriage to get the doctor, or to go on horseback on his own horse twenty miles for medicine, and he goes as quietly and pleasantly as though he were going about the most commonplace work. He expects no tip, no extra wage, nor is he lauded as a hero. He may have come down, horse and all, in the dark, but is happy if he has not smashed the bottle of medicine, and he resumes his work on return, just as if he hadn't been up all night riding at a hard canter over broken ground full of holes and snags.
No, he is by no means an ideal worker, neither is he half so bad as he's painted, and I'd rather meet him in the next world than lots of men who boss him in this.
MY FRIEND THE AXEMAN.
MY FRIEND THE AXEMAN.
Eighty square leagues of dense forest. One is inclined to feel a trifle small and overcome when this fraction of Mother Earth is put into one's hands (metaphorically), with orders to know all about it and to be able to answer all questions as to what is going on in it.
The work is like most other occupations: not quite so romantic as it sounds at first, but as interesting as one cares to make it.
One's main employment can best be illustrated by a leaf out of a mental diary.
Fulano de Tal, axeman, wants credit for provisions at the almacen or general store—Has he sufficient wood cut to warrant it? It is the Mayor-domo's business to find out.
With this end in view, he rides along "The Mangy" watercourse till he comes to the lowland of "The Blind Cow." The barking of half a dozen mongrel curs leads him into the edge of the forest, and he comes upon the residence of Fulano de Tal. The man has perhaps recently moved to this spot, and has not had time or energy to build himself a "rancho," and therefore the homestead consists of about four yards of canvas stretched across the branch of a tree like the roof of a tent.
Beneath this is a "New Home" sewing machine, a Brummagem bedstead, and a small trunk, made burglar-proof by innumerable bands and fastenings of bright tin, or even gilt wall-paper. Scattered around are the little Fulanos, in costumes varying from nothing to very little.
Their mother ceases her cooking operations, wipes her hands on the nearest child's head, and invites the visitor to dismount.
He answers that he is looking for her husband, and she directs him with a sweep of the hand which covers a quadrant of the compass and includes several square leagues of thick forest. Taking a likely track, however, he soon hears the ring of axe-strokes, and finds his man patiently chipping away at a felled tree, which is rapidly taking the form of a baulk, with the sides as smooth as if sawn.
His horse is tied up near, and he takes the Mayor-domo through his "corte," showing him the wood prepared for the carters. Give him a chance and he will count every log twice (most likely he has already plastered mud over the marks which show the rotten patch in the wood, and is wondering whether he has cleared the black sufficiently off a piece of "campana" to persuade a reasonable man that it is really fresh wood).
It is part of the inspector's stock in trade to know these and a myriad other tricks, too numerous to take separately.
The typical axeman in the Santa Fe Chaco is more genuinely "childlike" than, and quite as "bland" as, the famous Celestial. He never quite grows up; he will spend his last dollar on a mouth-organ when he is forty, and give a wild war-whoop of delight as a stack of newly piled sleepers falls crashing to the ground.
He loves sweets and the bright clothes which he wears with childish dignity on feast-days and holidays.
His amour propre is tremendous, and influences his code of honour to a great extent. The first ten commandments he will break most cheerfully, but the eleventh—"Thou shalt not be found out"—he respects to the best of his power.
Stealing, for instance, he regards as a pastime, but call him a thief and you must be prepared for trouble. A perfect instance of this can be quoted in the case of an estanciero who found a peon wearing one of his shirts.
"You are wearing my shirt," said the master. "No, Senor; I bought it in the store." "But you stole it from me," insisted the estanciero, pointing to the tab at the front, where his name was written in marking ink; "there is my name on it."
The man, being quite illiterate, had not reckoned on such damning evidence, but he recovered himself and replied with dignity: "Very well, Senor; if it is yours, take it; but don't call me a thief."
Honesty is with them, admittedly, a matter of degree. A man will always say if questioned about some small deficiency, "Do you think I would swindle you for a matter of two dollars?" or "Do you think I would risk my credit with the Company for the sake of one calf?" To be honest in a case where a larger profit is involved is a height of integrity to which he does not even pretend. "I am going to be frank with you"—that is an expression which puts the wise man on his guard, for it is generally followed by a cascade of lies.
Business must be done on a completely different basis to that which obtains in England. To return to our friend Fulano, for instance: he wishes perhaps to ask for an increase of fifty cents per ton on his wood, and introduces the subject by a short conversation about the points of his horse, passing on to the bad state of the bullocks and enlarging on the chance of a rainy winter. You have just decided that he has nothing more to say and are preparing to leave him, when he makes his request with as much circumlocution as possible. To have come straight to the point would have been contrary to all his ideas of correct procedure.
I have heard two natives make one another's acquaintance with a bout of verbal sparring which an Englishman would obviate by a single sentence, such as "Good morning; Mr. Brown, I believe?" "Yes," the other would answer, and the business would be entered upon immediately.
The Spanish blood, however, calls for some such dialogue as the following, which is taken from real life.
A.—"How are you, Senor?"
B.—"Very well, thank you, Senor; how are you?"
A.—"Very well, thank you."
B.—"I am glad."
B.—"Don't mention it."
A.—"I am speaking to Mr. Juan Sosa?"
B.—"At your service."
A.—"It gives me great pleasure to know you."
They are flowery always, whether in greeting, praise, commendation, or in denunciation.
In illustration of the last point, I once heard a cartman give vent to a quite Olympic challenge.
His cart had stuck in a deep rut up to the axles, and he commenced operations by addressing his bullocks with tender words and soft names swiftly followed by lurid curses. This proving useless, he invoked higher powers, and called on his pet saints by name—"Help me, San Pedro, San Geronimo, Santa Lucia, San Juan." Still no result:—
Then his patience failed entirely—"If you won't help me, San Pedro," he shouted, "come down and I'll fight you;" "Come down, San Juan, and I'll take you both on together."
Still no reply.
Taking his hat off he placed it on the ground, made the motion of clawing his guardians from the skies and placing them in his hat.
"Stay there, San Geronimo; Stay there, San Juan; Stay there, San Marco."
When his hat was full enough for his satisfaction he leapt into the air, came down on it with both feet, and continued to dance on it for about three minutes.
Thus, for a real or imagined slight, the streak of black blood will show up and convert a friend into a relentless enemy.
It is not surprising when one considers the lack of civilising influences which ought to be exerted from the top downwards, but which have no root in the highest power they know, which is the arm of the law. It might be interesting to note a few proofs of the corruption which exists among those who wield the local weapons of justice—among the commissaries, police, and justices of the peace.
The Chief of Police of——, for instance, a town of only about 7,000 inhabitants, refused L2,000 a year for the local gambling rights.
Again, a gardener, whom I knew, was put in jail for being drunk and disorderly. On going to the place some time later I found the man still imprisoned. "Why," I asked, "for such a small offence"? "We found," was the answer, "that when sober he was such a good workman that we could not spare him from the job of cleaning the stables."
On the other hand, a friend of mine was dissatisfied with the policeman he had, and sent the sergeant into the township to exchange him for another. The man returned with a particularly villainous-looking specimen, and when asked where he had got him, explained that the Chief of Police had told him to look among the prisoners for a suitable man, give him a uniform and take him.
"I thought this was the best of them; but they all wanted to come," he concluded ingenuously.
Another commissary in the north of this country flattered himself on his revolver-shooting, and used to perform the feat of shooting the hat off a man's head without hurting him. He was in the local bar one day when a peon entered with a brand new white hat; it was an opportunity not to be missed. Crack—and the man fell with a bullet through his temple instead of his hat.
Did the Comisario stand stricken with remorse, or burst into self-reproach? No. He moved the body with the toe of his boot and remarked: "Carramba, I am getting a very poor shot nowadays."
A story which was told me in the province of Rio Negro, and which was well vouched for, contained serio-comic elements of which I believe the perpetrator, whom I knew personally, quite capable.
An old man who owned a considerable quantity of land, died intestate. A man who lived with him, Garcia by name, had no idea of letting the property go to distant unknown relations, and concocted the following plot (obviously with the connivance of the neighbouring Justice of the Peace, who was a friend of his).
The law allows that a sane man "in articulo mortis," and past the power of speech, may make statements by signs: so when the Justice was summoned to the house, Garcia told him that the man was not yet dead, and wished to make his will.
Garcia seated himself at the foot of the bed, while the Justice at the side addressed questions to the deceased on the following lines:—
"Do you wish me to record your last will and testament?"
The corpse nodded.
"Do you wish your property to pass into your cousins' hands?"
The head moved from side to side.
"Do you intend to make Garcia your sole legatee?"
The deceased nodded several times.
Two witnesses were brought, and the business was settled with commendable promptitude.
I think it was Garcia himself who explained, some time afterwards, that as the dead man wore a full beard and whiskers, it was easy enough to hide the strings passing from his ears and chin to the foot of the bed under the coverings.
In this connection I have since heard that one of the legal ceremonies in a coroner's inquest in Central America is to solemnly ask the deceased who killed him.
To return to the point, however; if such things exist among those in the highest positions of trust it is not surprising to find wholesale chicanery among the lower orders; that they realise their shortcomings is evidenced by the fact that if they wish to impress you with the truth of a statement, they add "palabra de Ingles," i.e., "on the word of an Englishman."
Their Indian descent is answerable for a great deal, the white and black blood being so mixed that it is almost impossible to note the dividing line. Their dusky ancestors were blessed with an extremely limited intelligence, only being able to count up to four. The following incidents were related to me by an old estanciero. He once saw a trainload of Indian prisoners who had had oranges given them throwing the skins against the windows and showing great surprise when they fell inside.
In another instance a woman came with her daughter to place her in domestic service at the estancia, and as the mother did all the talking, the estanciero's wife asked if the daughter could speak Spanish.
"Oh, yes," answered the mother, "but she is barefoot, and would not presume to talk Spanish unless she had shoes on."
This same girl at first insisted on turning up the carpet whenever she entered a room and walking along the boards at the side.
I fear that I have given a black character to the people I work among, but there are lights as well as shades, and I have had many a weary hour's ride wiled away by the philosophy and anecdotes of some peon or small contractor, without mentioning the enjoyment of that hospitality which is a characteristic of the nation.
Beside a camp fire, under the stars, while the mate pot passes from hand to hand, or when huddled under a horse cloth with the rain dousing the last embers, I have found the Correntino, or Santa Fecino, a cheery and uncomplaining companion, who compares well with the recently arrived Englishman, who, under the same circumstances, is generally sleepy or bad tempered.
Treat him well and he will treat you well, but if it is necessary to chasten him for his soul's good, keep your hand a little nearer to your revolver than his is to his knife.
DUST AND OTHER STORMS.
DUST AND OTHER STORMS.
Life in South America has many and varied experiences, though not so uncomfortably exciting perhaps to-day as they were, when more than three years seldom passed without a revolution of some kind, either national or provincial. The year 1893 was marked by two revolutions in Rosario, the first provincial and the second national, with perhaps little more than two months between them. It sounds terribly alarming to hear that a revolution has broken out, and pictures of the French Revolution immediately rise before one, but, fortunately, those of South American cities are not of that calibre; reports and rumours fly about of the terrible things that are going to be done, but these generally end in rumour, and after a few persons, those who have nothing to do with the movement, have been killed, probably by soldiers letting off their rifles up some street just on the chance of hitting something (often that at which they are not aiming), the revolution fizzles out very quickly.
In the second revolution of 1893 great excitement was caused in Rosario by a revolutionary gunboat being pursued by a Government boat and a naval battle (!) being fought on the river outside Rosario. These two boats blazed away at each other till the revolutionary gunboat was reduced to a wreck; the Government boat then threatened to turn its guns on Rosario unless the revolutionists capitulated. The town was given twenty-four hours to decide, and, after various disasters, including a terrible battle, had been threatened, as usual the revolution came to a sudden end, on this particular occasion owing to the revolutionist leader, D. Alem, committing suicide. That same year, 1893, distinguished itself by drawing to a close with three of the most terrible dust storms ever seen in a country that, after any lengthened period of dry weather, suffers from dust storms of a greater or lesser degree. The first of these occurred early in December, after many months of drought, on a brilliantly sunny afternoon. Standing at the front door of a house at Fisherton, a suburb about six miles from Rosario, we noticed right down in the S.W., on the horizon, great banks of grey-looking clouds, which, to our surprise, seemed to be rolling rapidly up the sky towards us. They had a most alarming appearance, for these masses of grey cloud approaching so rapidly seemed to portend a storm of terrible force. In less than twenty minutes from the time we first saw the clouds the afternoon had changed from brilliant sunshine to pitchy darkness. So rapidly had the darkness come on us that no one was prepared, and no matches or lights were forthcoming; so there we stood in a room in absolute darkness, no glimmer of light even revealing where the windows were situated in the room. Though all doors and windows were closely shut, we could feel the dust entering in clouds through the cracks, making it quite unpleasant breathing. When the storm caught us we had to stand and wait, I must own with some fear as to how it was going to end. Up to this time the storm had come up and fallen on us in total silence: now, after about ten minutes of pitch darkness, we could hear in the far distance the wind coming. It came up with cyclonic force, and then everything in the way of tins and buckets began to be blown in every direction, and the horses to gallop about neighing, evidently very much frightened. The wind was the forerunner of the rain, which gradually began to clear the air, though, of course, for some time it rained mud, much to the detriment of the houses, and to anyone unfortunate enough to be caught out of doors in the storm; indeed, one of our friends, who insisted on starting for the station just as the storm descended on us, was found crouching under his umbrella by one of the posts of the railway fence, with a face as black as a sweep's, and, by then, deeply repentant that he had started for the station against advice. Indeed, many caught out in camp by the storm lost their lives through falling into wells, and, in some cases, the river. But, fortunately, nowadays—principally, I fancy, owing to the larger area of country under cultivation—these dust storms do not recur.
During the past century considerable study has been centred upon the life and habits of the locust, mainly from the desire to seek its subjugation and destruction, and, whilst much general biological information has been written upon the subject, there are things which we do not yet know about this insect or its habits. We do not know what precise influences cause their migration, nor do we know what is the exact length of life of the locust or its breeding power, or the precise locality in any country which may be defined as its permanent abode. Locusts are classified under the order of orthopterous insects of the family Acrydiidae, and are very closely related to grasshoppers.
There are a large number of species, the differentiating features being more or less the form and sculpture of protorax, the size of the head, the length and size of the prosternal spine, the comparative length and size of the hind thighs and shanks, the amount and arrangement of the tegmina mottlings, the comparative length of wings, and the general build of the entire insect, which may be robust or fairly slender.
A general description of the distinctive physical features of migratory locusts might be given as a strong, wild-looking head, a strong collar inside which the neck moves, powerful and peculiarly-formed legs attached to a short, strong, square trunk or thorax, four wings, two antennae or feelers, six legs, and a long segmentary abdomen. The ground colour of the locust is generally brownish, straw, or red, but its colour varies somewhat according to the particular season of the year or some other peculiar circumstance, but nothing certain is known as to what influences the shade of colour. Mere ground colour is immaterial and does not signify a new species.
Besides having a pair of compound eyes which form so noticeable a feature in its head, there are three other simple little eyes, placed like shining dots at three angles of a triangle below the two feelers.
The mouth, which is a fearful apparatus, consists of nine distinct and well-marked organs; an interior or upper lip, consisting of a plate deeply cleft and capable of opening enormously; two true jaws or powerful mandibles; and two pairs of jointed organs called (maxillary) palpi, and two lower jaws. The mandibles and jaws move laterally from right to left.
The thorax or trunk consists really of three rings. To the first is attached the two front legs; to the second, the two middle legs and the first pair of wings, and to the third, the two hind legs and the second pair of posterior wings. Along the posterior margin is a well marked serrated (spinous) arrangement by means of which the locust adheres and grips forcibly. The trunk appears to be full of a fatty sort of substance.
The abdomen consists of a number of horny segments which are joined together by an elastic membrane, a construction which enables the insect to extend its body several centimetres beyond its normal extent. It can also be increased in thickness.
The front and middle feet of this insect are short and weak, but the length, strength, and formation of the hind legs enable it to take extraordinary leaps. A full-grown locust can jump seven or eight feet in height, whilst it is said to be able to leap more than 200 times the length of its body.