'Spring always comes early to dear Coila,' I was saying; 'and I'm so glad the ship broke down, just to give me a chance of saying "Good-bye" to the loch. You, Dugald, did say "Good-bye" to it, you know, but I never had a chance.
Ahem! We were startled by the sound of a little cough right behind us—a sort of made cough, such as people do when they want to attract attention.
Standing near us was a gentleman of soldierly bearing, but certainly not haughty in appearance, for he was smiling. He held a book in his hand, and on his arm leant a beautiful young girl, evidently his daughter, for both had blue eyes and fair hair.
Dugald and I had started to our feet, and for the life of me I could not help feeling awkward.
'I fear,' I stammered, 'we are trespassing. But—but my brother and I ran down from London to say good-bye to Coila. We will go at once.'
'Stay one moment,' said the gentleman. 'Do not run away without explaining. You have been here before?'
'We are the young M'Crimmans of Coila, sir.'
I spoke sadly—I trust not fiercely.
'Pardon me, but something seemed to tell me you were. We are pleased to meet you. Irene, my daughter. It is no fault of ours—at least, of mine—that your family and the M'Raes were not friendly long ago.'
'But my father would have made friends with the chief of Strathtoul,' I said.
'Yes, and mine had old Highland prejudices. But look, yonder comes a thunder-shower. You must stay till it is over.'
'I feel, sir,' I said, 'that I am doing wrong, and that I have done wrong. My father, even, does not know we are here. He has prejudices now, too,'
'Well,' said the officer, laughing, 'my father is in France. Let us both be naughty boys. You must come and dine with me and my daughter, anyhow. Bother old-fashioned blood-feuds! We must not forget that we are living in the nineteenth century.'
I hesitated a moment, then I glanced at the girl, and next minute we were all walking together towards the castle.
We did stop to dinner, nor did we think twice about leaving that night. The more I saw of these, our hereditary enemies, the more I liked them. Irene was very like Flora in appearance and manner, but she had a greater knowledge of the world and all its ways. She was very beautiful. Yes, I have said so already, but somehow I cannot help saying it again. She looked older than she really was, and taller than most girls of fourteen.
'Well,' I said in course of the evening, 'it is strange my being here.'
'It is only the fortune of war our both being here,' said M'Rae.
'I wonder,' I added, 'how it will all end!'
'If it would only end as I should wish, it would end very pleasantly indeed. But it will not. You will write filially and tell your good father of your visit. He will write cordially, but somewhat haughtily, to thank us. That will be all. Oh, Highland blood is very red, and Highland pride is very high. Well, at all events, Murdoch M'Crimman—if you will let me call you by your name without the "Mr."—we shall never forget your visit, shall we, darling?'
I looked towards Miss M'Rae. Her answer was a simple 'No'; but I was much surprised to notice that her eyes were full of tears, which she tried in vain to conceal.
I saw tears in her eyes next morning as we parted. Her father said 'Good-bye' so kindly that my whole heart went out to him on the spot.
'I'm not sorry I came,' I said; 'and, sir,' I added, 'as far as you and I are concerned, the feud is at an end?'
'Yes, yes; and better so. And,' he continued, 'my daughter bids me say that she is happy to have seen you, that she is going to think about you very often, and is so sorrowful you poor lads should have to go away to a foreign land to seek your fortune while we remain at Coila. That is the drift of it, but I fear I have not said it prettily enough to please Irene. Good-bye.'
We had found fine weather at Coila, and we brought it back with us to London. There was no hitch this time in starting. The Canton got away early in the morning, even before breakfast. The last person to come on board was the Scot, Moncrieff. He came thundering across the plank gangway with strides like a camel, bearing something or somebody rolled in a tartan plaid.
Dugald and I soon noticed two little legs dangling from one end of the bundle and a little old face peeping out of the other. It was his mother undoubtedly.
He put her gently down when he gained the deck, and led her away amidships somewhere, and there the two disappeared. Presently Moncrieff came back alone and shook hands with us in the most friendly way.
'I've just disposed of my mither,' he said, as if she had been a piece of goods and he had sold her. 'I've just disposed of the poor dear creature, and maybe she won't appear again till we're across the bay.'
'You did not take the lady below?'
'There's no' much of the lady about my mither, though I'm doing all I can to make her one. No; I didn't take her below. Fact is, we have state apartments, as you might say, for I've rented the second lieutenant's and purser's cabins. There they are, cheek-by-jowl, as cosy as wrens'-nests, just abaft the cook's galley amidships yonder.'
'Well,' I said, 'I hope your mother will be happy and enjoy the voyage.'
'Hurrah!' shouted the Scot; 'we're off at last! Now for a fair wind and a clear sea to the shores of the Silver West. I'll run and tell my mither we're off.'
That evening the sun sank on the western waves with a crimson glory that spoke of fine weather to follow. We were steaming down channel with just enough sail set to give us some degree of steadiness.
Though my brothers and I had never been to sea before, we had been used to roughing it in storms around the coast and on Loch Coila, and probably this may account for our immunity from that terror of the ocean, mal-de-mer. As for aunt, she was an excellent sailor. The saloon, when we went below to dinner, was most gay, beautifully lighted, and very home-like. The officers present were the captain, the surgeon, and one lieutenant. The captain was president, while the doctor occupied the chair of vice. Both looked thorough sailors, and both appeared as happy as kings. There seemed also to exist a perfect understanding between the pair, and their remarks and anecdotes kept the passengers in excellent good humour during dinner.
The doctor had been the first to enter, and he came sailing in with aunt, whom he seated on his right hand. Now aunt was the only young lady among the passengers, and she certainly had dressed most becomingly. I could not help admiring her—so did the doctor, but so also did the captain.
When he entered he gave his surgeon a comical kind of a look and shook his head.
'Walked to windward of me, I see!' he said. 'Miss M'Crimman,' he added, 'we don't, as a rule, keep particular seats at table in this ship.'
'Don't believe a word he says, Miss M'Crimman!' cried the doctor. 'Look, he's laughing! He never is serious when he smiles like that. Steward, what is the number of this chair?'
'Fifteen, Miss M'Crimman, and you won't forget it; and this table-napkin ring, observe, is Gordon tartan, green and black and orange.'
'Miss M'Crimman,' the captain put in, as if the doctor had not said a word, 'to-morrow evening, for example, you will have the honour to sit on my right.'
'Honour, indeed!' laughed the doctor.
'The honour to sit on my right. You will find I can tell much better stories than old Conserve-of-roses there; and I feel certain you will not sit anywhere else all the voyage!'
'Ah, stay one moments!' cried a merry-looking little Spaniard, who had just entered and seated himself quietly at the table; 'the young lady weel not always sit dere, or dere, for sometime she weel have de honour to sit at my right hand, for example, eh, capitan?'
There was a hearty laugh at these words, and after this, every one seemed on the most friendly terms with every one else, and willing to serve every one else first and himself last. This is one good result that accrues from travelling, and I have hardly ever yet known a citizen of the world who could be called selfish.
There were three other ladies at table to-night, each of whom sat by her husband's side. Though they were all in what Dr. Spinks afterwards termed the sere and yellow leaf, both he and the good captain really vied with each other in paying kindly attention to their wants.
So pleasantly did this our first dinner on board pass over that by the time we had risen from our seats we felt, one and all, as if we had known each other for a very long time indeed.
Next came our evening concert. One of the married ladies played exceedingly well, and the little Spanish gentleman sang like a minor Sims Reeves.
'Your sister sings, I feel sure,' he said to me.
'My aunt plays the harp and sings,' I answered.
'And the harp—you have him?'
'Oh, bring him—bring him! I do love de harp!'
While my aunt played and sang, it would have been difficult to say which of her audience listened with the most delighted attention. The doctor's face was a study; the captain looked tenderly serious; Captain Bombazo, the black-moustachioed Spaniard, was animation personified; his dark eyes sparkled like diamonds, his very eyelids appeared to snap with pleasure. Even the stewards and stewardess lingered in the passage to listen with respectful attention, so that it is no wonder we boys were proud of our clever aunt.
When she ceased at last there was that deep silence which is far more eloquent than applause. The first to break it was Moncrieff.
'Well,' he said, with a deep sigh, 'I never heard the like o' that afore!'
The friendly relations thus established in the saloon lasted all the voyage long—so did the captain's, the doctor's, and little Spanish officer's attentions to my aunt. She had made a triple conquest; three hearts, to speak figuratively, lay at her feet.
Our voyage was by no means a very eventful one, and but little different from thousands of others that take place every month.
Some degree of merriment was caused among the men, when, on the fourth day, big Moncrieff led his mother out to walk the quarter-deck leaning on his arm. She was indeed a marvel. It would have been impossible even to guess at her age; for though her face was as yellow as a withered lemon, and as wrinkled as a Malaga rasin, she walked erect and firm, and was altogether as straight as a rush. She was dressed with an eye to comfort, for, warm though the weather was getting, her cloak was trimmed with fur. On her head she wore a neat old-fashioned cap, and in her hand carried a huge green umbrella, which evening and morning she never laid down except at meals.
This umbrella was a weapon of offence as well as defence. We had proof of that on the very first day, for as he passed along the deck the second steward had the bad manners to titter. Next moment the umbrella had descended with crushing force on his head, and he lay sprawling in the lee scuppers.
'I'll teach ye,' she said, 'to laugh at an auld wife, you gang-the-gate swinger.'
'Mither! mither!' pleaded Moncrieff, 'will you never be able to behave like a lady?'
The steward crawled forward crestfallen, and the men did not let him forget his adventure in a hurry.
'Mither's a marrvel,' Moncrieff whispered to me more than once that evening, for at table no 'laird's lady' could have behaved so well, albeit her droll remarks and repartee kept us all laughing. After dinner it was just the same—there were no bounds to her good-nature, her excellent spirits and comicality. Even when asked to sing she was by no means taken aback, but treated us to a ballad of five-and-twenty verses, with a chorus to each; but as it told a story of love and war, of battle and siege, of villainy for a time in the ascendant, and virtue triumphant at the end, it really was not a bit wearisome; and when Moncrieff told us that she could sing a hundred more as good, we all agreed that his mother was indeed a marvel.
I have said the voyage was uneventful, but this is talking as one who has been across the wide ocean many times and oft. No long voyage can be uneventful; but nothing very dreadful happened to mar our passage to Rio de Janeiro. We were not caught in a tornado; we were not chased by a pirate; we saw no suspicious sail; no ghostly voice hailed us from aloft at the midnight hour; no shadowy form beckoned us from a fog. We did not even spring a leak, nor did the mainyard come tumbling down. But we did have foul weather off Finisterre; a man did fall overboard, and was duly picked up again; a shark did follow the ship for a week, but got no corpse to devour, only the contents of the cook's pail, sundry bullets from sundry revolvers, and, finally, a red-hot brick rolled in a bit of blanket. Well, of course, a man fell from aloft and knocked his shoulder out—a man always does—and Mother Carey's chickens flew around our stern, boding bad weather, which never came, and shoals of porpoises danced around us at sunset, and we saw huge whales pursuing their solitary path through the bosom of the great deep, and we breakfasted off flying fish, and caught Cape pigeons, and wondered at the majestic flight of the albatross; and we often saw lightning without hearing thunder, and heard thunder without seeing lightning; and in due course we heard the thrilling shout from aloft of 'Land ho!' and heard the officer of the watch sing out, 'Where away?'
And lo and behold! three or four hours afterwards we were all on deck marvelling at the rugged grandeur of the shores of Rio, and the wondrous steeple-shaped mountain that stands sentry for ever and ever and ever at the entrance to the marvellous haven.
When this was in sight, Moncrieff rushed off into the cabin and bore his mother out.
He held the old lady aloft, on one arm, shouting, as he pointed landwards—
'Look, mither, look! the Promised Land! Our new home in the Silver West!'
ON SHORE AT RIO.
It was well on in the afternoon when land was sighted, but so accurately had the ship been navigated for all the long, pleasant weeks of our voyage that both the captain and his first officer might easily have been excused for showing a little pride in their seamanship. Your British sailor, however, is always a modest man, and there was not the slightest approach to bombast. The ship was now slowed, for we could not cross the bar that night.
At the dinner-table we were all as merry as schoolboys on the eve of a holiday. Old Jenny, as Moncrieff's mother had come to be called, was in excellent spirits, and her droll remarks not only made us laugh, but rendered it very difficult indeed for the stewards to wait with anything approaching to sang-froid. Moncrieff was quietly happy. He seemed pleased his mother was so great a favourite. Aunt, in her tropical toilet, looked angelic. The adjective was applied by our mutual friend Captain Roderigo de Bombazo, and my brothers and I agreed that he had spoken the truth for once in a way. Did he not always speak the truth? it may be asked. I am not prepared to accuse the worthy Spaniard of deliberate falsehood, but if everything he told us was true, then he must indeed have come through more wild and terrible adventures, and done more travelling and more fighting, than any lion-hunter that ever lived and breathed.
He was highly amusing nevertheless, and as no one, with the exception of Jenny, ever gave any evidence of doubting what he said and related concerning his strange career, he was encouraged to carry on; and even the exploits of Baron Munchausen could not have been compared to some of his. I think it used to hurt his feelings somewhat that old Jenny listened so stolidly to his relations, for he used to cater for her opinion at times.
'Ah!' Jenny would say, 'you're a wonderful mannie wi' your way o't! And what a lot you've come through! I wonder you have a hair in your heed!'
'But the senora believes vot I say?'
'Believe ye? If a' stories be true, yours are no lees, and I'm not goin' ahint your back to tell ye, sir.'
Once, on deck, he was drawing the long-bow, as the Yankees call it, at a prodigious rate. He was telling how, once upon a time, he had caught a young alligator; how he had tamed it and fed it till it grew a monster twenty feet long; how he used to saddle it and bridle it, and ride through the streets of Tulcora on its back—men, women, and children screaming and flying in all directions; how, armed only with his good sabre, he rode it into a lake which was infested with these dread saurians; how he was attacked in force by the awful reptiles, and how he had killed and wounded so many that they lay dead in dozens next day along the banks.
'Humph!' grunted old Jenny when he had finished.
The little captain put the questions,
'Ah! de aged senora not believe! De aged senora not have seen much of de world?'
Jenny had grasped her umbrella.
'Look here, my mannie,' she said, 'I'll gie ye a caution; dinna you refer to my age again, or I'll "aged-snorer" you. If ye get the weight o' my gingham on your shou'ders, ye'll think a coo has kick't ye—so mind.'
And the Spanish captain had slunk away very unlike a lion-hunter, but he never called Jenny old again.
To-night, however, even before we had gone below, Jenny had given proofs that she was in an extra good temper, for being a little way behind Bombazo—as if impelled by some sudden and joyous impulse—she lifted that everlasting umbrella and hit him a friendly thwack that could be heard from bowsprit to binnacle.
'Tell as mony lees the nicht as ye like, my mannie,' she cried, 'and I'll never contradict ye, for I've seen the promised land!'
'And so, captain, you must stay at Rio a whole week?' said my aunt at dessert.
'Yes, Miss M'Crimman,' replied the captain. 'Are you pleased?'
'I'm delighted. And I propose that we get up a grand picnic in "the promised land," as good old Jenny calls it.'
And so it was arranged. Bombazo and Dr. Spinks, having been at Rio de Janeiro before, were entrusted with the organization of the 'pig-neeg,' as Bombazo called it, and held their first consultation on ways and means that very evening. Neither I nor my brothers were admitted to this meeting, though aunt was. Nevertheless, we felt confident the picnic would be a grand success, for, to a late hour, men were hurrying fore and aft, and the stewards were up to their eyes packing baskets and making preparations, while from the cook's gally gleams of rosy light shot out every time the door was opened, to say nothing of odours so appetising that they would have awakened Van Winkle himself.
Before we turned in, we went on deck to have a look at the night. It was certainly full of promise. We were not far from the shore—near enough to see a long line of white which we knew was breakers, and to hear their deep sullen boom as they spent their fury on the rocks. The sky was studded with brilliant stars—far more bright, we thought them, than any we ever see in our own cold climate. Looking aloft, the tall masts seemed to mix and mingle with the stars at every roll of the ship. The moon, too, was as bright as silver in the east, its beams making strange quivering lines and crescents in each approaching wave. And somewhere—yonder among those wondrous cone-shaped hills, now bathed in this purple moonlight—lay the promised land, the romantic town of Rio, which to-morrow we should visit.
We went below, and, as if by one accord, my brothers and I knelt down together to thank the Great Power on high who had guided us safely over the wide illimitable ocean, and to implore His blessing on those at home, and His guidance on all our future wanderings.
Early next morning we were awakened by a great noise on deck, and the dash and turmoil of breaking water. The rudder-chains, too, were constantly rattling as the men at the wheel obeyed the shouts of the officer of the watch.
'Starboard a little!'
'Starboard it is, sir!'
'Easy as you go! Steady!'
'Steady it is, sir!'
'Port a little! Steady!'
Then came a crash that almost flung us out of our beds. Before we gained the deck of our cabin there was another, and still another. Had we run on shore? We dreaded to ask each other.
But just then the steward, with kindly thought, drew back our curtain and reassured us.
'We're only bumping over the bar, young gentlemen—we'll be in smooth water in a jiffey.'
We were soon all dressed and on deck. We were passing the giant hill called Sugar Loaf, and the mountains seemed to grow taller and taller, and to frown over us as we got nearer.
Once through the entrance, the splendid bay itself lay spread out before us in all its silver beauty. Full twenty miles across it is, and everywhere surrounded by the grandest hills imaginable. Not even in our dreams could we have conceived of such a noble harbour, for here not only could all the fleets in the world lie snug, but even cruise and manoeuvre. Away to the west lay the picturesque town itself, its houses and public buildings shining clear in the morning sun, those nearest nestling in a beauty of tropical foliage I have never seen surpassed.
My brothers and I felt burning to land at once, but regulations must be carried out, and before we had cleared the customs, and got a clean bill of health, the day was far spent. Our picnic must be deferred till to-morrow.
However, we could land.
As they took their seats in the boat and she was rowed shoreward, I noticed that Donald and Dugald seemed both speechless with delight and admiration; as for me, I felt as if suddenly transported to a new world. And such a world—beauty and loveliness everywhere around us! How should I ever be able to describe it, I kept wondering—how give dear old mother and Flora any notion, even the most remote, of the delight instilled into our souls by all we saw and felt in this strange, strange land! Without doubt, the beauty of our surroundings constitutes one great factor in our happiness, wherever we are.
When we landed—indeed, before we landed—while the boat was still skimming over the purple waters, the green mountains appearing to mingle and change places every moment as we were borne along, I felt conquered, if I may so express it, by the enchantment of my situation. I gave in my allegiance to the spirit of the scene, I abandoned all thoughts of being able to describe anything, I abandoned myself to enjoyment. Laisser faire, I said to my soul, is to live. Every creature, every being here seems happy. To partake of the dolce far niente appears the whole aim and object of their lives.
And so I stepped on shore, regretting somewhat that Flora was not here, feeling how utterly impossible it would be to write that 'good letter' home descriptive of this wondrous medley of tropical life and loveliness, but somewhat reckless withal, and filled with a determination to give full rein to my sense of pleasure. I could not help wondering, however, if everything I saw was real. Was I in a dream, from which I should presently be rudely awakened by the rattle and clatter of the men hauling up ashes, and find myself in bed on board the Canton? Never mind, I would enjoy it were it even a dream.
What a motley crowd of people of every colour! How jolly those negroes look! How gaily the black ladies are dressed! How the black men laugh! What piles of fruit and green stuff! What a rich, delicious, warm aroma hovers everywhere!
An interpreter? You needn't ask me. I'm not in charge. Ask my aunt here; but she herself can talk many languages. Or ask that tall brawny Scot, who is hustling the darkies about as if South America all belonged to him.
'A carriage, Moncrieff? Oh, this is delightful! Auntie, dear, let me help you on board. Hop in, Dugald. Jump, Donald. No, no, Moncrieff, I mean to have the privilege of sitting beside the driver. Off we go. Hurrah! Do you like it, Donald? But aren't the streets rough! I won't talk any more; I want to watch things.'
I wonder, though, if Paradise itself was a bit more lovely than the gardens we catch glimpses of as we drive along?
How cool they look, though the sun is shining in a blue and cloudless sky! What dark shadows those gently waving palm-trees throw! Look at those cottage verandahs! Look, oh, look at the wealth of gorgeous flowers—the climbing, creeping, wreathing flowers! What colours! What fantastic shapes! What a merry mood Nature must have been in when she framed them so! And the perfume from those fairy gardens hangs heavy on the air; the delicious balmy breeze that blows through the green, green palm-leaves is not sufficient to waft away the odour of that orange blossom. Behold those beautiful children in groups, on terraces and lawns, at windows, or in verandahs—so gaily are they dressed that they themselves might be mistaken for bouquets of lovely flowers!
I wonder what the names of all those strange blossom-bearing shrubs are. But, bah! who would bother about names of flowers on a day like this? The butterflies do not, and the bees do not. Are those really butterflies, though—really and truly? Are they not gorgeously painted fans, waved and wafted by fairies, themselves unseen?
The people we meet chatter gaily as we pass, but they do not appear to possess a deal of curiosity; they are too contented for anything. All life here must be one delicious round of enjoyment. And nobody surely ever dies here; I do not see how they could.
'Is this a cave we are coming to, Moncrieff? What is that long row of columns and that high, green, vaulted roof, through which hardly a ray of sunshine can struggle? Palm-trees! Oh, Moncrieff, what glorious palms! And there is life upon life there, for the gorgeous trees, not apparently satisfied with their own magnificence of shape and foliage, must array themselves in wreaths of dazzling orchids and festoons of trailing flowers. The fairies must have hung those flowers there? Do not deny it, Moncrieff!'
And here, in the Botanical Gardens, imagination must itself be dumb—such a wild wealth of all that is charming in the vegetable and animal creation.
'Donald, go your own road. Dugald, go yours; let us wander alone. We may meet again some day. It hardly matters whether we do or not. I'm in a dream, and I don't think I want to awaken for many a long year.'
I go wandering away from my brothers, away from every one.
A fountain is sending its spray aloft till the green drooping branches of the bananas and those feathery tree-ferns are everywhere spangled with diamonds. I will rest here. I wish I could catch a few of those wondrous butterflies, or even one of those fairylike humming-birds—mere sparks of light and colour that flit and buzz from flower to flower. I wish I could—that I—I mean—I—wish—'
'Hullo! Murdoch. Where are you? Why, here he is at last, sound asleep under an orange-tree!'
It is my wild Highland brothers. They have both been shaking me by the shoulders. I sit up and rub my eyes.
'Do you know we've been looking for you for over an hour?'
'Ah, Dugald!' I reply, 'what is an hour, one wee hour, in a place like this?'
We must now go to visit the market-place, and then we are going to the hotel to dine and sleep.
The market is a wondrously mixed one, and as wondrously foreign and strange as it is possible to conceive. The gay dresses of the women—some of whom are as black as an ebony ball; their gaudy head-gear; their glittering but tinselled ornaments; their round laughing faces, in which shine rows of teeth as white perhaps as alabaster; the jaunty men folks; the world of birds and beasts, all on the best of terms with themselves, especially the former, arrayed in all the colours of the rainbow; the world of fruit, tempting in shape, in beauty, and in odour; the world of fish, some of them beautiful enough to have dwelt in the coral caves of fairyland beneath the glittering sea—some ugly, even hideous enough to be the creatures of a demon's dream, and some, again, so odd-looking or so grotesque as to make one smile or laugh outright;—the whole made up a picture that even now I have but to close my eyes to see again!
When night falls the streets get for a time more crowded; side-paths hardly exist—at all events, the inhabitants show their independence by crowding along the centre of the streets. Not much light to guide them, though, except where from open doors or windows the rays from lamps shoot out into the darkness.
Away to the hotel. A dinner in a delightfully cool, large room, a punkah waving overhead, brilliant lights, joy on all our faces, a dessert fit to set before a king. Now we shall know how those strange fruits taste, whose perfume hung around the market to-day. To bed at last in a room scented with orange-blossoms, and around the windows of which the sweet stephanotis clusters in beauty—to bed, to sleep, and dream of all we have done and seen.
We awaken—at least, I do—in the morning with a glad sensation of anticipated pleasure. What is it? Oh yes, the picnic!
But it is no ordinary picnic. It lasts for three long days and nights, during which we drive by day through scenes of enchantment apparently, and sleep by night under canvas, wooed to slumber by the wind whispering in the waving trees.
'Moncrieff,' I say on the second day, 'I should like to live here for ever and ever and ever.'
'Man!' replies Moncrieff, 'I'm glad ye enjoy it, and so does my mither here. But dinna forget, lads, that hard work is all before us when we reach Buenos Ayres.'
'But I will, and I shall forget, Moncrieff,' I cry. 'This country is full of forgetfulness. Away with all thoughts of work; let us revel in the sunshine like the bees, and the birds, and the butterflies.'
'Revel away, then,' says Moncrieff; and dear aunt smiles languidly.
On the last day of 'the show,' as Dugald called it, and while our mule team is yet five good miles from town, clouds dark and threatening bank rapidly up in the west. The driver lashes the beasts and encourages them with shout and cry to do their speedy utmost; but the storm breaks over us in all its fury, the thunder seems to rend the very mountains, the rain pours down in white sheets, the lightning runs along the ground and looks as if it would set the world on fire; the wind goes tearing through the trees, bending the palms like reeds, rending the broad banana-leaves to ribbons; branches crack and fall down, and the whole air is filled with whirling fronds and foliage.
Moncrieff hastily envelopes his mother in that Highland plaid till nought is visible of the old lady save the nose and one twinkling eye. We laugh in spite of the storm. Louder and louder roars the thunder, faster and faster fly the mules, and at last we are tearing along the deserted streets, and hastily draw up our steaming steeds at the hotel door. And that is almost all I remember of Rio; and to-morrow we are off to sea once more.
MONCRIEFF RELATES HIS EXPERIENCES.
Our life at sea had been like one long happy dream. That, at all events, is how it had felt to me. 'A dream I could have wished to last for aye.' I was enamoured of the ocean, and more than once I caught myself yearning to be a sailor. There are people who are born with strange longings, strange desires, which only a life on the ever-changing, ever-restless waves appears to suit and soothe. To such natures the sea seems like a mother—a wild, hard, harsh mother at times, perhaps, but a mother who, if she smiles but an hour, makes them forget her stormy anger of days or weeks.
But the dream was past and gone. And here we had settled down for a spell at Buenos Ayres. We had parted with the kindly captain and surgeon of the Canton, with many a heartily expressed hope of meeting again another day, with prayers on their side for our success in the new land, with kindliest wishes on ours for a pleasant voyage and every joy for them.
Dear me! What a very long time it felt to look back to, since we had bidden them 'good-bye' at home! How very old I was beginning to feel! I asked my brothers if their feelings were the same, and found them identical. Time had been apparently playing tricks on us.
And yet we did not look any older in each other's eyes, only just a little more serious. Yes, that was it—serious. Even Dugald, who was usually the most light-hearted and merry of the three of us, looked as if he fully appreciated the magnitude of what we had undertaken.
Here we were, three—well, young men say, though some would have called us boys—landed on a foreign shore, without an iota of experience, without much knowledge of the country apart from that we had gleaned from books or gathered from the conversations of Bombazo and Moncrieff. And yet we had landed with the intention, nay, even the determination, to make our way in the new land—not only to seek our fortunes, but to find them.
Oh, we were not afraid! We had the glorious inheritance of courage, perseverance, and self-reliance. Here is how Donald, my brother, argued one night:
'Look, here, Murdo,' he said. 'This is a land of milk and honey, isn't it? Well, we're going to be the busy bees to gather it. It is a silver land, isn't it? Well, we're the boys to tap it. Fortunes are made here, and have been made. What is done once can be done five hundred times. Whatever men dare they can do. Quod erat demonstrandum.'
'Et nil desperandum,' added Dugald.
'I'm not joking, I can tell you, Dugald, I'm serious now, and I mean to remain so, and stick to work—aren't you, Murdo?'
'I am, Donald.'
Then we three brothers, standing there, one might say, on the confines of an unknown country, with all the world before us, shook hands, and our looks, as we gazed into each other's eyes, said—if they said anything—'We'll do the right thing one by the other, come weal, come woe.'
Aunt entered soon after.
'What are you boys so serious about?' she said, laughing merrily, as she seated herself on the couch. 'You look like three conspirators.'
'So we are, aunt. We're conspiring together to make our fortunes.'
'What! building castles in the air?'
'Oh, no, no, no,' cried Donald, 'not in the air, but on the earth. And our idols are not going to have feet of clay, I assure you, auntie, but of solid silver.'
'Well, we shall hope for the best. I have just parted with Mr. Moncrieff, whom I met down town. We have had a long walk together and quite a nice chat. He has made me his confidant—think of that!'
'What! you, auntie?'
'Yes, me. Who else? And that sober, honest, decent, Scot is going to take a wife. It was so good of him to tell me. We are all going to the wedding next week, and I'm sure I wish the dear man every happiness and joy.'
'So do we, aunt.'
'And oh, by the way, he is coming to dine here to-night, and I feel sure he wants to give you good advice, and that means me too, of course.'
'Of course, auntie, you're one of us.'
Moncrieff arrived in good time, and brought his mother with him.
'Ye didn't include my mither in the invitation, Miss M'Crimman,' said the Scot; 'but I knew you meant her to come. I've been so long without the poor old creature, that I hardly care to move about without her now.'
'Poor old creature, indeed!' Mrs. Moncrieff was heard to mumble. 'Where,' she said to a nattily dressed waiter, 'will you put my umbrella?'
'I'll take the greatest care of it, madam,' the man replied.
'Do, then,' said the little old dame, 'and I may gi'e ye a penny, though I dinna mak' ony promises, mind.'
A nicer little dinner was never served, nor could a snugger room for such a tete-a-tete meal be easily imagined. It was on the ground floor, the great casement windows opening on to a verandah in a shady garden, where grass was kept green and smooth as velvet, where rare ferns grew in luxurious freedom with dwarf palms and drooping bananas, and where stephanotis and the charming lilac bougainvillea were still in bloom.
When the dessert was finished, and old Jenny was quite tired talking, it seemed so natural that she should curl up in an easy-chair and go off to sleep.
'I hope my umbrella's safe, laddie,' were her last words as her son wrapped her in his plaid.
'As safe as the Union Bank,' he replied.
So we left her there, for the waiter had taken coffee into the verandah.
Aunt, somewhat to our astonishment, ordered cigars, and explained to Moncrieff that she did not object to smoking, but did like to see men happy.
'You're a marvel as well as my mither,' he said.
He smoked on in silence for fully five minutes, but he often took the cigar from his mouth and looked at it thoughtfully; then he would allow his eyes to follow the curling smoke, watching it with a smile on his face as it faded into invisibility, as they say ghosts do.
'Mr. Moncrieff,' said aunt, archly, 'I know what you are thinking about.'
Moncrieff waved his hand through a wreath of smoke as if to clear his sight.
'If you were a man,' he answered, 'I'd offer to bet you couldn't guess my thoughts. I was not thinking about my Dulcinea, nor even about my mither; I was thinking about you and your britheries—I mean your nephews.'
'You are very kind, Mr. Moncrieff.'
'I'm a man of the worrrld, though I wasn't aye a man of the worrrld. I had to pay deep and dear for my experience, Miss M'Crimman.'
'I can easily believe that; but you have benefited by it.'
'Doubtless, doubtless; only it was concerning yourselves I was about to make an observation or two.'
'Oh, thanks, do. You are so kind.'
'Never a bit. This is a weary worrrld at best. Where would any of us land if the one didn't help the other? Well then, there you sit, and woman of the worrrld though you be, you're in a strange corner of it. You're in a foreign land now if ever you were. You have few friends. Bah! what are all your letters of introduction worth? What do they bring you in? A few invitations to dinner, or to spend a week up country by a wealthy estanciero, advice from this friend and the next friend, and from a dozen friends maybe, but all different. You are already getting puzzled. You don't know what to do for the best. You're stopping here to look about you, as the saying is. You might well ask me what right have I to advise you. The right of brotherhood, I may answer. By birth and station you may be far above me, but—you are friends—you are from dear auld Scotland. Boys, you are my brothers!'
'And I your sister!' Aunt extended her hand as she spoke, and the worthy fellow 'coralled' it, so to speak, in his big brown fist, and tears sprang to his eyes.
He pulled himself up sharp, however, and surrounded himself with smoke, as the cuttle-fish does with black water, and probably for the same reason—to escape observation.
'Now,' he said, 'this is no time for sentiment; it is no land for sentiment, but for hard work. Well, what are you going to do? Simply to say you're going to make your fortune is all fiddlesticks and folly. How are you going to begin?'
'We were thinking—' I began, but paused.
'I was thinking—' said my aunt; then she paused also.
Moncrieff laughed, but not unmannerly.
'I was thinking,' he said. 'You were thinking; he, she, or it was thinking. Well, my good people, you may stop all your life in Buenos Ayres and conjugate the verb "to think"; but if you'll take my advice you will put a shoulder to the wheel of life, and try to conjugate the verb "to do".'
'We all want to do and act,' said Donald, energetically.
'Right. Well, you see, you have one thing already in your favour. You have a wee bit o' siller in your pouch. It is a nest egg, though; it is not to be spent—it is there to bring more beside it. Now, will I tell you how I got on in the world? I'm not rich, but I am in a fair way to be independent. I am very fond of work, for work's sake, and I'm thirty years of age. Been in this country now for over fourteen years. Had I had a nest egg when I started, I'd have been half a millionaire by now. But, wae's me! I left the old country with nothing belonging to me but my crook and my plaid.'
'You were a shepherd before you came out, then?' said aunt.
'Yes; and that was the beauty of it. You've maybe heard o' Foudland, in Aberdeenshire? Well, I came fra far ayant the braes o' Foudland. That's, maybe, the way my mither's sae auldfarrent. There, ye see, I'm talkin' Scotch, for the very thought of Foudland brings back my Scotch tongue. Ay, dear lady, dear lady, my father was an honest crofter there. He owned a bit farm and everything, and things went pretty well with us till death tirled at the door-sneck and took poor father away to the mools. I was only a callan o' some thirteen summers then, and when we had to leave the wee croft and sell the cows we were fain to live in a lonely shieling on the bare brae side, just a butt and a ben with a wee kailyard, and barely enough land to grow potatoes and keep a little Shetland cowie. But, young though I was, I could herd sheep—under a shepherd at first, but finally all by myself. I'm not saying that wasn't a happy time. Oh, it was, lady! it was! And many a night since then have I lain awake thinking about it, till every scene of my boyhood's days rose up before me. I could see the hills, green with the tints of spring, or crimson with the glorious heather of autumn; see the braes yellow-tasselled with the golden broom and fragrant with the blooming whins; see the glens and dells, the silver, drooping birch-trees, the grand old waving pines, the wimpling burns, the roaring linns and lochs asleep in the evening sunset. And see my mither's shieling, too; and many a night have I lain awake to pray I might have her near me once again.'
'And a kind God has answered that prayer!'
'Ay, Miss M'Crimman, and I'll have the sad satisfaction of one day closing her een. Never mind, we do our duty here, and we'll all meet again in the great "Up-bye." But, dear boys, to continue my story—if story I dare call it. Not far from the hills where I used to follow Laird Glennie's sheep, and down beside a bonnie wood and stream, was a house, of not much pretension, but tenanted every year by a gentleman who used to paint the hills and glens and country all round. They say he got great praise for his pictures, and big prices as well. I used often to arrange my sheep and dogs for him into what he would call picturesque groups and attitudes. Then he painted them and me and dogs and all. He used to delight to listen to my boyish story of adventure, and in return would tell me tales of far-off lands he had been in, and about the Silver Land in particular. Such stories actually fired my blood. He had sown the seeds of ambition in my soul, and I began to long for a chance of getting away out into the wide, wide world, and seeing all its wonders, and, maybe, becoming a great man myself. But how could a penniless laddie work his way abroad? Impossible.
'Well, one autumn a terrible storm swept over the country. It began with a perfect hurricane of wind, then it settled down to rain, till it became a perfect "spate." I had never seen such rain, nor such tearing floods as came down from the hills.
'Our shieling was a good mile lower down the stream than the artist's summer hut. It was set well up the brae, and was safe. But on looking out next day a sight met my eyes that quite appalled me. All the lowlands and haughs were covered with a sea of water, down the centre of which a mighty river was chafing and roaring, carrying on its bosom trees up-torn from their roots, pieces of green bank, "stooks" of corn and "coles" of hay, and, saddest of all, the swollen bodies of sheep and oxen. My first thought was for the artist. I ran along the bank till opposite his house. Yes, there it was flooded to the roof, to which poor Mr. Power was clinging in desperation, expecting, doubtless, that every moment would be his last, for great trees were surging round the house and dashing against the tiles.
'Hardly knowing what I did, I waved my plaid and shouted. He saw me, and waved his arm in response. Then I remembered that far down stream a man kept a boat, and I rushed away, my feet hardly seeming to touch the ground, till I reached—not the dwelling, that was covered, but the bank opposite; and here, to my delight, I found old M'Kenzie seated in his coble. He laughed at me when I proposed going to the rescue of Mr. Power.
'"Impossible!" he said. "Look at the force of the stream."
'"But we have not to cross. We can paddle up the edge," I insisted.
'He ventured at last, much to my joy. It was hard, dangerous work, and often we found it safest to land and haul up the boat along the side.
'We were opposite the artist's hut at length, hardly even the chimney of which was now visible. But Power was safe as yet.
'At the very moment our boat reached him the chimney disappeared, and with it the artist. The turmoil was terrible, for the whole house had collapsed. For a time I saw nothing, then only a head and arm raised above the foaming torrent, far down stream. I dashed in, in spite of M'Kenzie's remonstrances, and in a minute more I had caught the drowning man. I must have been struck on the head by the advancing boat. That mattered little—the sturdy old ferryman saved us both; and for a few days the artist had the best room in mither's shieling.
'And this, dear lady, turned out to be—as I dare say you have guessed—my fairy godfather. He went back to Buenos Ayres, taking me as servant. He is here now. I saw him but yesterday, and we are still the fastest friends.
'But, boys, do not let me deceive you. Mr. Power was not rich; all he could do for me was to pay my passage out, and let me trust to Providence for the rest.
'I worked at anything I could get to do for a time, principally holding horses in the street, for you know everybody rides here. But I felt sure enough that one day, or some day, a settler would come who could value the services of an honest, earnest Scottish boy.
'And come the settler did. He took me away, far away to the west, to a wild country, but one that was far too flat and level to please me, who had been bred and born among the grand old hills of Scotland.
'Never mind, I worked hard, and this settler—a Welshman he was—appreciated my value, and paid me fairly well. The best of it was that I could save every penny of my earnings.
'Yes, boys, I roughed it more than ever you'll have to do, though remember you'll have to rough it too for a time. You don't mind that, you say. Bravely spoken, boys. Success in the Silver Land rarely fails to fall to him who deserves it.
'Well, in course of time I knew far more about sheep and cattle-raising than my master, so he took me as a partner, and since then I have done well. We changed our quarters, my partner and I. We have now an excellent steading of houses, and a grand place for the beasts.'
'And to what qualities do you chiefly attribute your success?' said my aunt.
'Chiefly,' replied Moncrieff, 'to good common-sense, to honest work and perseverance. I'm going back home in a week or two, as soon as I get married and my mither gets the "swimming" out of her head. She says she still feels the earth moving up and down with her; and I don't wonder, an auld body like her doesn't stand much codging about.
'Well, you see, boys, that I, like yourselves, had one advantage to begin with. You have a bit o' siller—I got a fairy godfather. But if I had a year to spare I'd go back to Scotland and lecture. I'd tell them all my own ups and downs, and I'd end by saying that lads or young men, with plenty of go in them and willingness to work, will get on up country here if they can once manage to get landed. Ay, even if they have hardly one penny to rattle against another.
'Now, boys, do you care to go home with me? Mind it is a wild border-land I live on. There are wild beasts in the hill jungles yet, and there are wilder men—the Indians. Yes, I've fought them before, and hope to live to fight them once again.'
'I don't think we'll fear the Indians very much,' said my bold brother Donald.
'And,' I added, 'we are so glad you have helped us to solve the problem that we stood face to face with—namely, how to begin to do something.'
'Well, if that is all, I'll give you plenty to do. I've taken out with me waggon-loads of wire fencing as well as a wife. Next week, too, I expect a ship from Glasgow to bring me seven sturdy Scotch servant men that I picked myself. Every one of them has legs like pillar post-offices, hands as broad as spades, and a heart like a lion's. And, more than all this, we are trying to form a little colony out yonder, then we'll be able to hold our own against all the reeving Indians that ever strode a horse. Ah! boys, this Silver Land has a mighty future before it! We have just to settle down a bit and work with a will and a steady purpose, then we'll fear competition neither with Australia nor the United States of America either.
'But you'll come. That's right. And now I have you face to face with fate and fortune.
"Now's the day and now's the hour, See the front of battle lower."
Yes, boys, the battle of life, and I would not give a fig for any lad who feared to face it.
'Coming, mither, coming. That's the auld lady waking up, and she'll want a cup o' tea.'
SHOPPING AND SHOOTING.
We all went to Moncrieff's wedding, and it passed off much the same way as do weddings in other parts of the world. The new Mrs. Moncrieff was a very modest and charming young person indeed, and a native of our sister island—Ireland. I dare say Moncrieff loved his wife very much, though there was no extra amount of romance about his character, else he would hardly have spoken about his wife and a truck-load of wire fencing in the self-same sentence. But I dare say this honest Scot believed that wire fencing was quite as much a matter of necessity in the Silver West as a wife was.
As for my brothers and me, and even aunt, we were impatient now—'burning' bold Donald called it—to get away to this same Silver West and begin the very new life that was before us.
But ships do not always arrive from England exactly to a day; the vessel in which Moncrieff's men, dogs, goods, and chattels were coming was delayed by contrary winds, and was a whole fortnight behind her time.
Meanwhile we restrained ourselves as well as we could, and aunt went shopping. She had set her heart upon guanaco robes or ponchos for each of us; and though they cost a deal of money, and were, according to Moncrieff, a quite unnecessary expense, she bought them all the same.
'They will last for ever, you know,' was aunt's excuse for the extravagance.
'Yes,' he said, 'but we won't. Besides,' he added, 'these ponchos may bring the Gaucho malo (the bad Gaucho) round us.'
'All the better,' persisted aunt. 'I've heard such a deal about this Gaucho malo that I should very much like to see a live specimen.'
'I much prefer dead specimens,' he said, with that canny twinkle in his eye. 'That's the way I like to see them served up. It is far the safest plan.'
We were very fond of aunt's company, for she really was more of a sister to us than our auntie; but for all that we preferred going shopping with Moncrieff. The sort of stores he was laying in gave such earnest of future sport and wild adventure.
Strange places he took us to sometimes—the shop of a half-caste Indian, for instance, a fellow from the far south of Patagonia. Here Moncrieff bought quite a quantity of ordinary ponchos, belts, and linen trousers of great width with hats enough of the sombrero type to thatch a rick. This mild and gentle savage also sold Moncrieff some dozen of excellent lassoes and bolas as well. From the way our friend examined the former, and tried the thong-strength of the latter, it was evident he was an expert in the use of both. Bolas may be briefly described as three long leather thongs tied together at one end, and having a ball at the free end of each. On the pampas, these balls are as often as not simply stones tied up in bits of skin; but the bolas now bought by Moncrieff were composed of shining metal, to prevent their being lost on the pampas. These bolas are waved round the heads of the horsemen hunters when chasing ostriches, or even pumas. As soon as the circular motion has given them impetus they are dexterously permitted to leave the hand at a tangent, and if well thrown go circling round the legs, or probably neck of the animal, and bring it to the ground by tripping it up, or strangling it.
The lasso hardly needs any description.
'Can you throw that thing well?' said Dugald, his eyes sparkling with delight.
'I think I can,' replied Moncrieff. 'Come to the door and see me lasso a dog or something.'
Out we all went.
'Oh!' cried Dugald, exultingly, 'here comes little Captain Bombazo, walking on the other side of the street with my aunt. Can you lasso him without hurting auntie?'
'I believe I can,' said Moncrieff. 'Stand by, and let's have a good try. Whatever a man dares he can do. Hoop la!'
The cord left the Scotchman's hand like a flash of lightning, and next moment Bombazo, who at the time was smiling and talking most volubly, was fairly noosed.
The boys in the street got up a cheer. Bombazo jumped and struggled, but Moncrieff stood his ground.
'He must come,' he said, and sure enough, greatly to the delight of the town urchins, Moncrieff rounded in the slack of the rope and landed the captain most beautifully.
'Ah! you beeg Scot,' said Bombazo, laughing good-humouredly. 'I would not care so mooch, if it were not for de lady.'
'Oh, she won't miss you, Bombazo.'
'On the contraire, she veel be inconsolabeel.'
'Ha, ha, ha!' laughed Moncrieff. 'What a tall opinion of yourself you have, my little friend!'
Bombazo drew himself up, but it hardly added an inch to his height, and nothing to his importance.
Saddles of the pampas pattern the semi-savage had also plenty of, and bridles too, and Moncrieff gave a handsome order.
A more respectable and highly civilized saddler's store was next visited, and real English gear was bought, including two charming ladies' saddles of the newest pattern, and a variety of rugs of various kinds.
Off we went next to a wholesale grocer's place. Out came Moncrieff's great note-book, and he soon gave evidence that he possessed a wondrous memory, and was a thorough man of business. He kept the shopman hard at it for half an hour, by which time one of the pyramids of Egypt, on a small scale, was built upon the counter.
'Now for the draper's, and then the chemist's,' said our friend. From the former—a Scot, like himself—he bought a pile of goods of the better sort, but from their appearance all warranted to wear a hundred years.
His visit to the druggist was of brief duration.
'Is my medicine chest filled?'
'Yes, sir, all according to your orders.'
'Thanks; send it, and send the bill.'
'Never mind about the bill, Mr. Moncrieff. You'll be down here again.'
'Send the bill, all the same. And I say, Mr. Squills—'
'Don't forget to deduct the discount.'
But Moncrieff's shopping was not quite all over yet, and the last place he went to was a gunsmith's shop.
And here I and my brothers learned a little about Silver West shooting, and witnessed an exhibition that made us marvel.
Moncrieff, after most careful examination, bought half a dozen good rifles, and a dozen fowling pieces. It took him quite a long time to select these and the ammunition.
'You have good judgment, sir,' said the proprietor.
'I require it all,' said Moncrieff. 'But now I'd look at some revolvers.'
He was shown some specimens.
'Toys—take them away.'
He was shown others.
'Toys again. Have you nothing better?'
'There is nothing better made.'
'Very well. Your bill please. Thanks.'
'If you'll wait one minute,' the shopkeeper said, 'I should feel obliged. My man has gone across the way to a neighbour gunsmith.'
'Couldn't I go across the way myself?'
'No,' and the man smiled. 'I don't want to lose your custom.'
'Your candour is charming. I'll wait.'
In a few minutes the man returned with a big basket.
'Ah! these are beauties,' cried Moncrieff. 'Now, can I try one or two?'
The man led the way to the back garden of the premises. Against a wall a target was placed, and Moncrieff loaded and took up his position. I noticed that he kept his elbow pretty near his side. Then he slowly raised the weapon.
Crack—crack—crack! six times in all.
'Bravo!' cried the shopkeeper. 'Why, almost every shot has hit the spot.'
Moncrieff threw the revolver towards the man as if it had been a cricket-ball.
'Take off the trigger,' he said.
'Off the trigger, sir?'
'Yes,' said Moncrieff, quietly; 'I seldom use the trigger.'
The man obeyed. Then he handed back the weapon, which he had loaded.
Moncrieff looked one moment at the target, then the action of his arm was for all the world like that of throwing stones or cracking a whip.
He seemed to bring the revolver down from his ear each time.
Bang—bang—bang! and not a bullet missed the bull's-eye.
'How is it done?' cried Dugald, excitedly.
'I lift the hammer a little way with my thumb and let it go again as I get my aim—that is all. It is a rapid way of firing, but I don't advise you laddies to try it, or you may blow off your heads. Besides, the aim, except in practised hands like mine, is not so accurate. To hit well it is better to raise the weapon. First fix your eye on your man's breast-button—if he has one—then elevate till you have your sight straight, and there you are, and there your Indian is, or your "Gaucho malo."'
Moncrieff pointed grimly towards the ground with his pistol as he spoke, and Dugald gave a little shudder, as if in reality a dead man lay there.
'It is very simple, you see.'
'Oh, Mr. Moncrieff,' said Dugald, 'I never thought you were so terrible a man!'
Moncrieff laughed heartily, finished his purchases, ordering better cartridges, as these, he said, had been badly loaded, and made the weapon kick, and then we left the shop.
'Now then, boys, I'm ready, and in two days' time hurrah for the Silver West! Between you and me, I'm sick of civilization.'
And in two days' time, sure enough, we had all started.
The train we were in was more like an American than an English one. We were in a very comfortable saloon, in which we could move about with freedom.
Moncrieff, as soon as we had rattled through the streets and found ourselves out in the green, cool country, was brimful of joy and spirits. Aunt said he reminded her of a boy going off on a holiday. His wife, too, looked 'blithe' and cheerful, and nothing could keep his mother's tongue from wagging.
Bombazo made the old lady a capital second, while several other settlers who were going out with us—all Scotch, by the way—did nothing but smile and wonder at all they saw. We soon passed away for a time beyond the region of trees into a rich green rolling country, which gave evidence of vast wealth, and sport too. Of this latter fact Dugald took good notice.
'Oh, look!' he would cry, pointing to some wild wee lake. 'Murdoch! Donald! wouldn't you like to be at the lochside yonder, gun in hand?'
And, sure enough, all kinds of feathered game were very plentiful.
But after a journey of five hours we left the train, and now embarked on a passenger steamer, and so commenced our journey up the Parana. Does not the very name sound musical? But I may be wrong, according to some, in calling the Parana beautiful, for the banks are not high; there are no wild and rugged mountains, nor even great forests; nevertheless, its very width, its silent moving power, and its majesticness give it a beauty in my eye that few rivers I know of possess. We gazed on it as the sunset lit up its wondrous waters till an island we were passing appeared to rise into the sky and float along in the crimson haze. We gazed on it again ere we retired for the night. The stars were now all out, and the river's dark bosom was studded here and there with ripples and buttons of light; but still it was silent, as if it hid some dark mysterious secret which it must tell only to the distant ocean.
We slept very soundly this night, for the monotonous throb-throb of the engine's great pulse and the churning rush of the screw not only wooed us to slumber, but seemed to mingle even with our dreams.
All night long, then, we were on the river, and nearly all next day as well. But the voyage appeared to my brothers and me to be all too short. We neared Rosario about sunset, and at last cast anchor. But we did not land. We were too snug where we were, and the hotel would have had far fewer charms.
To-night we had a little impromptu concert, for several of Moncrieff's friends came on board, and, strange to say, they were nearly all Scotch. So Scotch was spoken, Scotch songs were sung, and on deck, to the wild notes of the great bagpipes, Scotch reels and strathspeys were danced. After that,
'The nicht drave on wi' songs and clatter,'
till it was well into the wee short hours of the morning.
At Rosario we stopped for a day—more, I think, because Moncrieff wished to give aunt and his young wife a chance of seeing the place than for any business reason. Neither my brothers nor I were very much impressed by it, though it is a large and flourishing town, built somewhat on Philadelphia principles, in blocks, and, like Philadelphia, gridironed all over with tramway lines. It is a good thing one is able to get off the marble pavements into the cars without having far to go, for the streets are at times mere sloughs of despond. It is the same in all new countries.
Rosario lies in the midst of a flat but fertile country, on the banks of the Parana. The hotel where we lodged was quite Oriental in its appearance, being built round a beautiful square, paved with marble, and adorned with the most lovely tropical shrubs, flowers, and climbing plants.
There seems to be a flea in Rosario, however—just one flea; but he is a most ubiquitous and a most insatiably blood-thirsty little person. The worst of it is that, night or day, you are never perfectly sure where he may be. It is no use killing him either—that is simply labour thrown away, for he appears to come to life again, and resumes his evil courses as merrily as before.
Fifty times a day did I kill that flea, and Dugald said he had slain him twice as often; but even as Dugald spoke I could have vowed the lively pulex was thoroughly enjoying a draught of my Highland blood inside my right sock.
Although none of our party shed tears as we mounted into the train, still the kindly hand-shakings and the hearty good-byes were affecting enough; and just as the train went puffing and groaning away from the station they culminated in one wild Highland hurrah! repeated three times thrice, and augmented by the dissonance of a half-ragged crew of urchins, who must needs wave their arms aloft and shout, without the faintest notion what it was all about.
We were now en route for Cordoba, westward ho! by Frayle Muerto and Villa Neuva.
A JOURNEY THAT SEEMS LIKE A DREAM.
It was towards sunset on the day we had left Rosario, and we had made what our guard called a grand run, though to us it was a somewhat tedious one. Moncrieff had tucked his mother up in the plaid, and she had gone off to sleep on the seat 'as gentle as "ewe lammie,"' according to her son. My aunt and the young bride were quietly talking together, and I myself was in that delightful condition called "twixt sleeping and waking,' when suddenly Dugald, who had been watching everything from the window, cried, 'Oh, Donald, look here. What a lovely changing cloud!'
Had Moncrieff not been busy just then—very earnestly busy indeed—discussing the merits of some sample packets of seeds with one of his new men, he might have come at once and explained the mystery.
It was indeed a lovely cloud, and it lay low on the north-western horizon. But we had never before seen so strange a cloud, for not only did it increase in length and breadth more rapidly than do most clouds, but it caught the sun's parting rays in quite a marvellous manner. When first we looked at it the colour throughout was a bluish purple; suddenly it changed to a red with resplendent border of fiery orange. Next it collapsed, getting broader and rounder, and becoming a dark blue, almost approaching to black, while the border beneath was orange-red. But the glowing magnificence of the colour it is impossible to describe in words; and the best artist would have failed to reproduce it even were he ten times a Turner.
At this moment, and just as the cloud was becoming elongated again, Moncrieff came to our side. His usually bright face fell at once as soon as he glanced at it.
'Locusts!' He almost gasped the word out.
'Locusts!' was re-echoed from every corner of the carriage; and immediately all eyes were strained in the direction of our 'lofty golden cloud.'
As we approached nearer to it, and it came nearer to us, even the light from the setting sun was obscured, and in a short time we were in the cloud, and apparently part of it. It had become almost too dark to see anything inside our carriage, owing to that dense and awful fog of insect life. We quickly closed the windows, for the loathsome insects were now pattering against the glass, and many had already obtained admittance, much to the horror of young Mrs. Moncrieff, though aunt took matters easy enough, having seen such sights before.
The train now slowly came to a standstill. Something—no one appeared to know what—had happened on ahead of us, and here we must wait till the line was clear. Even Moncrieff's mother had awakened, and was looking out with the rest of us.
'Dearie me! Dearie me!' she exclaimed. 'A shower o' golochs! The very licht o' day darkened wi' the fu'some craiters. Ca' you this a land o' milk and honey? Egyptian darkness and showers o' golochs!'
We descended and walked some little distance into the country, and the sight presented to our astonished gaze I, for one, will not forget to my dying day. The locusts were still around us, but were bearing away southward, having already devastated the fields in this vicinity. But they fell in hundreds and thousands around us; they struck against our hands, our faces, and hats; they got into our sleeves, and even into our pockets; and we could not take a step without squashing them under foot.
Only an hour before we had been passing through a country whose green fertility was something to behold once and dream about for ever. Evidence of wealth and contentment had been visible on all sides. Beautiful, home-looking, comfortable estancias and out-buildings, fat, sleek cattle and horses, and flocks of beautiful sheep, with feathered fowls of every description. But here, though there were not wanting good farmsteadings, all was desolation and threatened famine; hardly a green blade or leaf was left, and the woebegone looks of some of the people we met wandering aimlessly about, dazed and almost distracted, were pitiful to behold. I was not sorry when a shriek from the engine warned us that it was time to retrace our slippery footsteps.
'Is this a common occurrence?' I could not help asking our friend Moncrieff.
He took me kindly by the arm as he replied,
'It's a depressing sight to a youngster, I must allow; but we should not let our thoughts dwell on it. Sometimes the locusts are a terrible plague, but they manage to get over even that. Come in, and we'll light up the saloon.'
For hours after this the pattering continued at the closed windows, showing that the shower of golochs had not yet ceased to fall. But with lights inside, the carriage looked comfortable and cheerful enough, and when presently Moncrieff got out Bombazo's guitar and handed it to him, and that gentleman began to sing, we soon got happy again, and forgot even the locusts—at least, all but Moncrieff's mother did. She had gone to sleep in a corner, but sometimes we heard her muttering to herself, in her dreams, about the 'land o' promise,' 'showers of golochs,' and 'Egyptian darkness.'
The last thing I remember as I curled up on the floor of the saloon, with a saddle for a pillow and a rug round me—for the night had grown bitterly cold—was Bombazo's merry face as he strummed on his sweet guitar and sang of tresses dark, and love-lit eyes, and sunny Spain. This was a delightful way of going to sleep; the awakening was not quite so pleasant, however, for I opened my eyes only to see a dozen of the ugly 'golochs' on my rug, and others asquat on the saddle, washing their faces as flies do. I got up and went away to wash mine.
The sun was already high in the heavens, and on opening a window and looking out, I found we were passing through a woodland country, and that far away in the west were rugged hills. Surely, then, we were nearing the end of our journey.
I asked our mentor Moncrieff, and right cheerily he replied,
'Yes, my lad, and we'll soon be in Cordoba now.'
This visit of ours to Cordoba was in reality a little pleasure trip, got up for the special delectation of our aunt and young Mrs. Moncrieff. It formed part and parcel of the Scotchman's honeymoon, which, it must be allowed, was a very chequered one.
If the reader has a map handy he will find the name Villa Maria thereon, a place lying between Rosario and Cordoba. This was our station, and there we had left all heavy baggage, including Moncrieff's people. On our return we should once more resume travelling together westward still by Mercedes. And thence to our destination would be by far and away the most eventful portion of the journey.
'Look out,' continued Moncrieff, 'and behold the rugged summits of the grand old hills.'
'And these are the Sierras?'
'These are the Sierras; and doesn't the very sight of mountains once again fill your heart with joy? Don't you want to sing and jump—'
'And call aloud for joy,' said his mother, who had come up to have a peep over our shoulders. 'Dearie me,' she added, 'they're no half so bonny and green as the braes o' Foudland.'
'Ah! mither, wait till you get to our beautiful home in Mendoza. Ye'll be charmed wi' a' you see.'
'I wish,' I said, 'I was half as enthusiastic as you are, Moncrieff.'
'You haven't been many days in the Silver Land. Wait, lad, wait! When once you've fairly settled and can feel at home, man, you'll think the time as short as pleasure itself. Days and weeks flee by like winking, and every day and every week brings its own round o' duty to perform. And all the time you'll be makin' money as easy as makin' slates.'
'Money isn't everything,' I said.
'No, lad, money isn't everything; but money is a deal in this worrrld, and we mustn't forget that money puts the power in our hands to do others good, and that I think is the greatest pleasure of a'. And you know, Murdoch, that if God does put talents in our hands He expects us to make use of them.'
'True enough, Moncrieff,' I said.
'See, see! that is Cordoba down in the hollow yonder, among the hills. Look, mither! see how the domes and steeples sparkle in the mornin's sunshine. Yonder dome is the cathedral, and further off you see the observatory, and maybe, mither, you'll have a peep through a telescope that will bring the moon so near to you that you'll be able to see the good folks thereon ploughin' fields and milkin' kye.'
We stayed at Cordoba for four days. I felt something of the old pleasant languor of Rio stealing over me again as I lounged about the handsome streets, gazed on the ancient churches and convent, and its world-renowned University, or climbed its barranca, or wandered by the Rio Balmeiro, and through the lovely and romantic suburbs. In good sooth, Cordoba is a dreamy old place, and I felt better for being in it. The weather was all in our favour also, being dry, and neither hot nor cold, although it was now winter in these regions. I was sorry to leave Cordoba, and so I feel sure was aunt, and even old Jenny.
Then came the journey back to Villa Maria, and thence away westward to Villa Mercedes. The railway to the latter place had not long been opened.
It seems all like a beautiful halo—that railway ride to the Ultima Thule of the iron horse—and, like a dream, it is but indistinctly remembered. Let me briefly catch the salient points of this pleasant journey.
Villa Maria we reach in the evening. The sun is setting in a golden haze; too golden, for it bodes rain, and presently down it comes in a steady pour, changing the dust of the roads into the stickiest of mud, and presently into rivers. Moncrieff is here, there, and everywhere, seeing after his manifold goods and chattels; but just as the short twilight is deepening into night, he returns 'dressed and dry,' as he calls it, to the snug little room of the inn, where a capital dinner is spread for us, and we are all hungry. Even old Jenny, forgetting her troubles and travels, makes merry music with knife and fork, and Bombazo is all smiles and chatter. It rains still; what of that? It will drown the mosquitoes and other flying 'jerlies.' It is even pleasant to listen to the rattle of the rain-drops during the few lulls there were in the conversation. The sound makes the room inside seem ever so much more cosy. Besides, there is a fire in the grate, and, to add to our enjoyment, Bombazo has his guitar.
Even the landlord takes the liberty of lingering in the room, standing modestly beside the door, to listen. It is long, he tells us, since he has had so cheerful a party at his house.
Aileen, as Moncrieff calls his pretty bride, is not long in discovering that the innkeeper hails from her own sweet Isle of Sorrow, and many friendly questions are asked on both sides.
Bed at last. A bright morning, the sun coming up red and rosy through an ocean of clouds more gorgeous than ever yet was seen in tame old England.
We are all astir very early. We are all merry and hungry. Farewells are said, and by and by off we rattle. The train moves very slowly at first, but presently warms to her work and settles down to it. We catch a glimpse of a town some distance off, and nearer still the silver gleam of a river reflecting the morning sun. By and by we are on the river bridge, and over it, and so on and away through an open pampa. Such, at least, I call it. Green swelling land all around, with now and then a lake or loch swarming with web-footed fowl, the sight of which makes Dugald's eyes water.
We pass station after station, stopping at all. More woods, more pampa; thriving fields and fertile lands; estancias, flocks of sheep, herds of happy cattle. A busy, bustling railway station, with as much noise around it as we find at Clapham Junction; another river—the Rio Cuarto, if my memory does not play me false; pampas again, with hills in the distance. Wine and water-melons at a station; more wine and more water-melons at another.
After this I think I fall asleep, and I wonder now if the wine and the water-melons had anything to do with that. I awake at last and rub my eyes. Bombazo is also dozing; so is old Jenny. Old Jenny is a marvel to sleep. Dugald is as bright as a humming bird; he says I have lost a sight.
'What was the sight?'
'Oh, droves upon droves of real wild horses, wilder far than our ponies at Coila.'
I close my eyes again. Dear old Coila! I wish Dugald had not mentioned the word. It takes me back again in one moment across the vast and mighty ocean we have crossed to our home, to father, mother, and Flora.
Before long we are safe at Villa Mercedes. Not much to see here, and the wind blows cold from west and south.
We are not going to lodge in the town, however. We are independent of inns, if there are any, and independent of everything. We are going under canvas.
Already our pioneers have the camp ready in a piece of ground sheltered by a row of lordly poplars; and to-morrow morning we start by road for the far interior.
* * * * *
Another glorious morning! There is a freshness in the air which almost amounts to positive cold, and reminds one of a November day in Scotland. Bombazo calls it bitterly cold, and my aunt has distributed guanaco ponchos to us, and has adorned herself with her own. Yes, adorned is the right word to apply to auntie's own travelling toilet; but we brothers think we look funny in ours, and laugh at each other in turn. Moncrieff sticks to the Highland plaid, but the sight of a guanaco poncho to old Jenny does, I verily believe, make her the happiest old lady in all the Silver Land. She is mounted in the great canvas-covered waggon, which is quite a caravan in every respect. It has even windows in the sides and real doorways, and is furnished inside with real sofas and Indian-made chairs, to say nothing of hammocks and tables and a stove. This caravan is drawn by four beautiful horses, and will be our sitting-room and dining-room by day, and the ladies' boudoir and bedroom for some time to come.
Away we rattle westwards, dozens of soldiers, half-bred Chilians, Gauchos, and a crowd of dark-eyed but dirty children, giving us a ringing cheer as we start.
What a cavalcade it is, to be sure! Waggons, drays, carts, mules, and horses. All our imported Scotchmen are riding, and glorious fellows they look. Each has a rifle slung across his shoulder, belts and sheath knives, and broad sombrero hat. The giant Moncrieff himself is riding, and looks to me the bravest of the brave. I and each of my brothers have undertaken to drive a cart or waggon, and we feel men from hat to boots, and as proud all over as a cock with silver spurs.
We soon leave behind us those tall, mysterious-looking poplar trees. So tall are they that, although when we turned out not a breath of wind was blowing on the surface of the ground, away aloft their summits were waving gently to and fro, with a whispering sound, as if they were talking to unseen spirits in the sky.
We leave even the estancias behind. We are out now on the lonesome rolling plain. Here and there are woods; away, far away, behind us are the jagged summits of the everlasting hills. By and by the diligence, a strange-looking rattle-trap of a coach—a ghost of a coach, I might call it—goes rattling and swaying past us. Its occupants raise a feeble cheer, to which we respond with a three times three; for we seem to like to hear our voices.
After this we feel more alone than ever. On and on and on we jog. The road is broad and fairly good; our waggons have broad wheels; this retards our speed, but adds to our comfort and that of the mules and horses.
Before very long we reach a broad river, and in we plunge, the horsemen leading the van, with the water up to their saddle-girths. I give the reins of my team to my attendant Gaucho, and, running forward, jump on board the caravan to keep the ladies company while we fight the ford. But the ladies are in no way afraid; they are enjoying themselves in the front of the carriage, which is open. Old Jenny is in an easy-chair and buried to the nose in her guanaco robe. She is muttering something to herself, and as I bend down to listen I can catch the words: 'Dearie me! Dearie me! When'll ever we reach the Land o' Promise? Egyptian darkness! Showers of golochs! Chariots and horsemen! Dearie me! Dearie me!'
But we are over at last, and our whole cavalcade looks sweeter and fresher for the bath.
Presently we reach a corral, where two men beckon to Moncrieff. They are wild and uncouth enough in all conscience; their baggy breeches and ponchos are in sad need of repair, and a visit to a barber would add to the respectability of their appearance. They look excited, wave their arms, and point southwards. But they talk in a strange jargon, and there are but two words intelligible to me. These, however, are enough to set my heart throbbing with a strange feeling of uneasiness I never felt before.
'Los Indios! Los Indios!'
Moncrieff points significantly to his armed men and smiles. The Gauchos wave their arms in the air, rapidly opening and shutting their hands in a way that to me is very mysterious. And so they disappear.
THE TRAGEDY AT THE FONDA.
I could not help wondering, as I glanced at aunt whether she had heard and understood the meaning of those wild Gauchos' warning. If she did she made no sign. But aunt is a M'Crimman, and the sister of a bold Highland chief. She would not show fear even if she felt it. Yes, the brave may feel fear, but the coward alone is influenced by it.
Old Jenny had gone to sleep, so I said good-bye to aunt, nodded to Aileen, and went back to my waggon once more.
We made good progress that day, though we did not hurry. We stopped to feed our cattle, and to rest and feed ourselves. The jolting had been terrible on some parts of the road. But now the sun was getting very low indeed, and as we soon came to a piece of high, hard ground, with a view of the country round us for miles, we determined to bivouac for the night.
The horses and mules were hobbled and turned off to graze under the charge of sentry Gauchos. No fear of their wandering off far. They were watered not an hour ago, and would be fresh by daybreak.
Now, Moncrieff had been too long in the wilds to neglect precautions while camping out. I had taken an early opportunity to-day to interview our leader concerning the report that Indians were abroad.
'Ah!' he answered, 'you heard and understood what that half-breed said, then?'
'Just a word or two. He appeared to give us a warning of some kind. Is it of any account?'
'Well, there's always some water where the stirkie drowns; there's always some fire where you see smoke; and it is better to be sure than sorry.'
I could elicit no more information from my canny countryman than that. I said nothing to any one, not even my brothers. Why should I cause them the slightest alarm, and speak a word that might tend to make them sleep less soundly?
However, as soon as the halt was made, I was glad to see that Moncrieff took every precaution against a surprise. The caravan was made the centre of a square, the waggons being 'laggered' around it. The fire was lit and the dinner cooked close beside a sheltering barranca, and as soon as this meal was discussed the fire was extinguished.
'Then came still evening on,'
and we all gathered together for prayer. Even the Gauchos were summoned, though I fear paid but little attention, while Moncrieff, standing bare-headed in the midst of us, read a chapter from the Book by the pale yellow light of the western sky. Then, still standing—
'Brothers, let us pray,' he said.
Erect there, with the twilight shadows falling around him, with open eyes and face turned skywards, with the sunset's after-glow falling on his hard but comely features, his plaid depending from his broad shoulders, I could not help admiring the man. His prayer—and it was but brief—had all the trusting simplicity of a little child's, yet it was in every way the prayer of a man communing with his God; in every tone thereof was breathed belief, reliance, gratitude, and faith in the Father.
As he finished, Dugald pressed my arm and pointed eastwards, smiling. A star had shone out from behind a little cloud, and somehow it seemed to me as if it were an angel's eye, and that it would watch over us all the live-long night. Our evening service concluded with that loveliest of hymns, commencing—
'O God of Bethel, by whose hand Thy children still are fed; Who through this weary wilderness Hath all our fathers led.'
He gave it out in the old Scotch way, two lines at a time, and to the tune 'Martyrdom.'
It was surely appropriate to our position and our surroundings, especially that beautiful verse—
'Oh, spread Thy covering wings around, Till all our wanderings cease, And at our Father's loved abode Our souls arrive in peace.'
We now prepared for rest. The sentries were set, and in a short time all was peace and silence within our camp. More than once during the night the collies—dogs brought out by Moncrieff's men—gave an uneasy bark or two, their slumbers being probably disturbed by the cry of some night bird, or the passing of a prowling fox.
So, wrapped in our guanaco robes—the benefit of which we felt now—my brothers and I slept sweetly and deeply till the sun once more rose in the east.
Soon all was bustle and stir again.
Thus were our days spent on the road, thus our evenings, and eke our nights. And at the end of some days we were still safe and sound, and happy. No one sick in the camp; no horse or mule even lame; while we were all hardening to travel already.
So far, hardly anything had happened to break the even tenour of our journey. Our progress, however, with so much goods and chattels, and over such roads, was necessarily slow; yet we never envied the lumbering diligence that now and then went rattling past us.
We saw many herds of wild horses. Some of these, led by beautiful stallions, came quite close to us. They appeared to pity our horses and mules, condemned to the shafts and harness, and compelled to work their weary lives away day after day. Our beasts were slaves. They were free—free as the breezes that blew over the pampas and played with their long manes, as they went thundering over the plains. We had seen several ostriches, and my brothers and I had enjoyed a wild ride or two after them. Once we encountered a puma, and once we saw an armadillo. We had never clapped eyes on a living specimen before, but there could be no mistaking the gentleman in armour. Not that he gave us much time for study, however. Probably the creature had been asleep as we rounded the corner of a gravel bank, but in one moment he became alive to his danger. Next moment we saw nothing but a rising cloud of dust and sand; lo! the armadillo was gone to the Antipodes, or somewhere in that direction—buried alive. Probably the speed with which an armadillo—there are several different species in the Silver West—disappears at the scent of any one belonging to the genus homo, is caused by the decided objection he has to be served up as a side-dish. He is excellent eating—tender as a chicken, juicy as a sucking-pig, but the honour of being roasted whole and garnished is one he does not crave.
Riding on ahead one day—I had soon got tired of the monotony of driving, and preferred the saddle—at a bend of the road I came suddenly upon two horsemen, who had dismounted and were lying on a patch of sward by the roadside. Their horses stood near. Both sprang up as I appeared, and quick as lightning their hands sought the handles of the ugly knives that depended in sheaths from their girdles. At this moment there was a look in the swarthy face of each that I can only describe as diabolical. Hatred, ferocity, and cunning were combined in that glance; but it vanished in a moment, and the air assumed by them now was one of cringing humility.
'The Gaucho malo,' I said to myself as soon as I saw them. Their horses were there the nobler animals. Bitted, bridled, and saddled, the latter were in the manner usual to the country, the saddle looking like a huge hillock of skins and rags; but rifles were slung alongside, to say nothing of bolas and lasso. The dress of the men was a kind of nondescript garb. Shawls round the loins, tucked up between their legs and fastened with a girdle, did duty as breeches; their feet were encased in potro boots, made of the hock-skin of horses, while over their half-naked shoulders hung ponchos of skin, not without a certain amount of wild grace.
Something else as well as his rifle was lashed to the saddle of one of these desert gipsies, and being new to the country, I could not help wondering at this—namely, a guitar in a case of skin.
With smiles that I knew were false one now beckoned me to alight, while the other unslung the instrument and began to tune it. The caravan must have been fully two miles behind me, so that to some extent I was at the mercy of these Gauchos, had they meant mischief. This was not their plan of campaign, however.
Having neighed in recognition of the other horses, my good nag stood as still as a statue; while, with my eyes upon the men and my hand within easy distance of my revolver, I listened to their music. One sang while the other played, and I must confess that the song had a certain fascination about it, and only the thought that I was far from safe prevented me from thoroughly enjoying it. I knew, as if by instinct, however, that the very fingers that were eliciting those sweet sad tones were itching to clutch my throat, and that the voice that thrilled my senses could in a moment be changed into a tiger yell, with which men like these spring upon their human prey.
On the whole I felt relieved when the rumble of the waggon wheels fell once more on my ears. I rode back to meet my people, and presently a halt was made for the midday feed.
If aunt desired to feast her eyes on the Gaucho malo she had now a chance. They played to her, sang to her, and went through a kind of wild dance for her especial delectation.
'What romantic and beautiful blackguards they are!' was the remark she made to Moncrieff.
Moncrieff smiled, somewhat grimly, I thought.
'It's no' for nought the cland whistles,' he said in his broadest, canniest accents.
These Gauchos were hunting, they told Moncrieff. Had they seen any Indians about? No, no, not an Indian. The Indians were far, far south.
Aunt gave them some garments, food, and money; and, with many bows and salaams, they mounted their steeds and went off like the wind.
I noticed that throughout the remainder of the day Moncrieff was unusually silent, and appeared to wish to be alone. Towards evening he beckoned to me.
'We'll ride on ahead,' he said, 'and look for a good bit of camping-ground.'
Then away we both went at a canter, but in silence.
We rode on and on, the ground rising gently but steadily, until we stopped at last on a high plateau, and gazed around us at the scene. A more bleak and desolate country it would be impossible to imagine. One vast and semi-desert plain, the eye relieved only by patches of algarrobo bushes, or little lakes of water. Far ahead of us the cone of a solitary mountain rose on the horizon, and towards this the sun was slowly declining. Away miles in our rear were the waggons and horses struggling up the hill. But silence as deep as death was everywhere. Moncrieff stretched his arm southwards.