The manufacture of many different kinds of preserves was quite an industry at the estancia, and one that paid fairly well. There were orangeries as well as vineries; and although the making of marmalade had not before been attempted, Moncrieff meant now to go in for it on quite a large scale. This branch was to be superintended by old Jenny herself, and great was her delight to find out that she was of some use on the estate, for 'really 'oman,' she told aunt, 'a body gets tired of the stockin'—shank, shank, shank a' day is hard upon the hands, though a body maun do something.'
Well, the waggons were laden and off at last. With them went Moncrieff's Welsh partner as commander, to see to the sale, and prevent the Gauchos and drivers generally from tapping the casks by the way. The force of men, who were all well armed, was quite sufficient to give an excellent account of any number of prowling Indians who were likely to put in an appearance.
And now summer, in all its glory, was with us. And such glory! Such glory of vegetable life, such profusion of foliage, such wealth of colouring, such splendour of flowers! Such glory of animal life, beast and bird and insect! The flowers themselves were not more gay and gorgeous than some of these latter.
Nor were we very greatly plagued with the hopping and blood-sucking genera. Numerous enough they were at times, it must be confessed, both by day and night; but somehow we got used to them. The summer was wearing to a close, the first wing of our Coila Villa was finished and dry, the furniture was put in, and as soon as the smell of paint left we took possession.
This was made the occasion for another of Moncrieff's festive gatherings. Neighbours came from all directions except the south, for we knew of none in this direction besides the wild Pampean Indians, and they were not included in the invitation. Probably we should make them dance some other day.
About a fortnight after our opening gathering, or 'house-warming,' as Moncrieff called it, we had a spell of terribly hot weather. The heat was of a sultry, close description, difficult to describe: the cattle, sheep, and horses seemed to suffer very much, and even the poor dogs. These last, by the way, we found it a good plan to clip. Long coats did not suit the summer season.
One evening it seemed hotter and sultrier than ever. We were all seated out in the verandah, men-folk smoking, and aunt and Aileen fanning themselves and fighting the insects, when suddenly a low and ominous rumbling was heard which made us all start except Moncrieff.
Is it thunder? No; there is not at present a cloud in the sky, although a strange dark haze is gathering over the peaks on the western horizon.
'Look!' said Moncrieff to me. As he spoke he pointed groundwards. Beetles and ants and crawling insects of every description were heading for the verandah, seeking shelter from the coming storm.
The strange rumbling grew louder!
It was not coming from the sky, but from the earth!
 Pampero, a storm wind that blows from the south.
 For-fochten = worn out. The term usually applies to barn-yard roosters, who have been settling a quarrel, and pause to pant, with their heads towards the ground.
 Swans usually commence laying some time before either ducks or geese; but much depends upon the season.
With a rapidity that was truly alarming the black haze in the west crept upwards over the sky, the sun was engulfed in a few minutes, and before half an hour, accompanied by a roaring wind and a whirl of dust and decayed leaves, the storm was with us and on us, the whole estancia being enveloped in clouds and darkness.
The awful earth sounds still continued—increased, in fact—much to the terror of every one of us. We had retreated to the back sitting-room. Moncrieff had left us for a time, to see to the safety of the cattle and the farm generally, for the Gauchos were almost paralyzed with fear, and it was found afterwards that the very shepherds had left their flocks and fled for safety—if safety it could be called—to their puestos.
Yet Gauchos are not as a rule afraid of storms, but—and it is somewhat remarkable—an old Indian seer had for months before been predicting that on this very day and night the city of Mendoza would be destroyed by an earthquake, and that not only the town but every village in the province would be laid low at the same time.
It is difficult to give the reader any idea of the events of this dreadful night. I can only briefly relate my own feelings and experiences. As we all sat there, suddenly a great river of blood appeared to split the dark heavens in two, from zenith to horizon. It hung in the sky for long seconds, and was followed by a peal of thunder of terrific violence, accompanied by sounds as if the whole building and every building on the estate were being rent and riven in pieces. At the self-same moment a strange, dizzy, sleepy feeling rushed through my brain. I could only see those around me as if enshrouded in a blue-white mist. I tried to rise from my chair, but fell back, not as I thought into a chair but into a boat. Floor and roof and walls appeared to meet and clasp. My head swam. I was not only dizzy but deaf apparently, not too deaf, however, to hear the wild, unearthly, frightened screams of twenty at least of our Gaucho servants, who were huddled together in the centre of the garden. It was all over in a few seconds: even the thunder was hushed and the wind no longer bent the poplars or roared through the cloud-like elm-trees. A silence that could be felt succeeded, broken only by the low moan of terror that the Gauchos kept up; a silence that soon checked even that sound itself; a silence that crept round the heart, and held us all spellbound; a silence that was ended at last by terrible thunderings and lightnings and earth-tremblings, with all the same dizzy, sleepy, sickening sensations that had accompanied the first shock. I felt as if chaos had come again, and for a time felt also as if death itself would have been a relief.
But this shock passed next, and once more there was a solemn silence, a drear stillness. And now fear took possession of every one of us, and a desire to flee away somewhere—anywhere. This had almost amounted to panic, when Moncrieff himself appeared in the verandah.
'I've got our fellows to put up the marquee,' he said, almost in a whisper. 'Come—we'll be safer there. Mither, I'll carry you. You're not afraid, are you?'
'Is the worruld comin' tae an end?' asked old Jenny, looking dazed as her son picked her up. 'Is the worruld comin' tae an end, and the marmalade no made yet?'
In about an hour after this the storm was at its worst. Flash followed flash, peal followed peal: the world seemed in flames, the hills appeared to be falling on us. The rain and hailstones came down in vast sheets, and with a noise so great that even the thunder itself was heard but as a subdued roar.
We had no light here—we needed none. The lightning, or the reflection of it, ran in under the canvas on the surface of the water, which must have been inches deep. The hail melted as soon as it fell, and finally gave place to rain alone; then the water that flowed through the tent felt warm, if not hot, to the touch. This was no doubt occasioned by the force with which it fell to the ground. The falling rain now looked like cords of gold and silver, so brightly was it illuminated by the lightning.
While the storm was still at its height suddenly there was a shout from one of the Gauchos.
'Run, run! the tent is falling!' was the cry.
It was only too true. A glance upwards told us this. We got into the open air just in time, before, weighted down by tons of water, the great marquee came groundwards with a crash.
But though the rain still came down in torrents and the thunder roared and rattled over and around us, no further shock of earthquake was felt. Fear fled then, and we made a rush for the house once more. Moncrieff reached the casement window first, with a Gaucho carrying a huge lantern. This man entered, but staggered out again immediately.
'The ants! the ants!' he shouted in terror.
Moncrieff had one glance into the room, as if to satisfy himself. I took the lantern from the trembling hands of the Gaucho and held it up, and the sight that met my astonished gaze was one I shall never forget. The whole room was in possession of myriads of black ants of enormous size; they covered everything—walls, furniture, and floor—with one dense and awful pall.
The room looked strange and mysterious in its living, moving covering. Here was indeed the blackness of darkness. Yes, and it was a darkness too that could be felt. Of this I had a speedy proof of a most disagreeable nature. I was glad to hand the lantern back and seek for safety in the rain again.
Luckily the sitting-room door was shut, and this was the only room not taken possession of.
After lights had been lit in the drawing-room the storm did not appear quite so terrible; but no one thought of retiring that night. The vague fear that something more dreadful still might occur kept hanging in our minds, and was only dispelled when daylight began to stream in at the windows.
By breakfast-time there was no sign in the blue sky that so fearful a storm had recently raged there. Nor had any very great violence been done about the farmyards by the earthquake.
Many of the cattle that had sought shelter beneath the trees had been killed, however; and in one spot we found the mangled remains of over one hundred sheep. Here also a huge chestnut-tree had been struck and completely destroyed, pieces of the trunk weighing hundreds of pounds being scattered in every direction over the field.
Earthquakes are of common occurrence in the province of Mendoza, but seldom are they accompanied by such thunder, lightning, and rain as we had on this occasion. It was this demonstration, coupled with the warning words of the Indian seer, which had caused the panic among our worthy Gaucho servants. But the seer had been a false prophet for once, and as the Gauchos seized him on this same day and half drowned him in the lake, there was but little likelihood that he would prophesy the destruction of Mendoza again.
Mendoza had been almost totally destroyed already by an awful earthquake that occurred in 1861. Out of a population of nearly sixteen thousand souls no less than thirteen thousand, we are told, were killed—swallowed up by the yawning earth. Fire broke out afterwards, and, as if to increase the wretchedness and sad condition of the survivors, robbers from all directions—even from beyond the Andes—flocked to the place to loot and pillage it. But Mendoza is now built almost on the ashes of the destroyed city, and its population must be equal to, even if it does not exceed, its former aggregate.
* * * * *
With the exception of a few losses, trifling enough to one in Moncrieff's position, the whole year was a singularly successful one. Nor had my brothers nor I and the other settlers any occasion to complain, and our prospects began to be very bright indeed.
Nor did the future belie the present, for ere another year had rolled over our heads we found ourselves in a fair way to fortune. We felt by this time that we were indeed old residents. We were thoroughly acclimatized: healthy, hardy, and brown. In age we were, some would say, mere lads; in experience we were already men.
Our letters from home continued to be of the most cheering description, with the exception of Townley's to aunt. He had made little if any progress in his quest. Not that he despaired. Duncan M'Rae was still absent, but sooner or later—so Townley believed—poverty would bring him to bay, and then—
Nothing of this did my aunt tell me at the time. I remained in blissful ignorance of anything and everything that our old tutor had done or was doing.
True, the events of that unfortunate evening at the old ruin sometimes arose in my mind to haunt me. My greatest sorrow was my being bound down by oath to keep what seemed to me the secret of a villain—a secret that had deprived our family of the estates of Coila, had deprived my parents—yes, that was the hard and painful part. For, strange as it may appear, I cared nothing for myself. So enamoured had I become of our new home in the Silver West, that I felt but little longing to return to the comparative bleakness and desolation of even Scottish Highland scenery. I must not be considered unpatriotic on this account, or if there was a decay of patriotism in my heart, the fascinating climate of Mendoza was to blame for it. I could not help feeling at times that I had eaten the lotus-leaf. Had we not everything that the heart of young men could desire? On my own account, therefore, I felt no desire to turn the good soldier M'Rae away from Coila, and as for Irene—as for bringing a tear to the eyes of that beautiful and engaging girl, I would rather, I thought, that the dark waters of the laguna should close over my head for ever.
Besides, dear father was happy. His letters told me that. He had even come to like his city life, and he never wrote a word about Coila.
Still, the oath—the oath that bound me! It was a dark spot in my existence.
Did it bind me? I remember thinking that question over one day. Could an oath forced upon any one be binding in the sight of Heaven? I ran off to consult my brother Moncrieff. I found him riding his great bay mare, an especial favourite, along the banks of the highest estancia canal—the canal that fed the whole system of irrigation. Here I joined him, myself on my pet brown mule.
'Planning more improvements, Moncrieff?' I asked.
He did not speak for a minute or two.
'I'm not planning improvements,' he said at last, 'but I was just thinking it would be well, in our orra moments, if we were to strengthen this embankment. There is a terrible power o' water here. Now supposing that during some awful storm, with maybe a bit shock of earthquake, it were to burst here or hereabouts, don't you see that the flood would pour right down upon the mansion-house, and clean it almost from its foundations?'
'I trust,' I said, 'so great a catastrophe will not occur in our day.'
'It would be a fearful accident, and a judgment maybe on my want of forethought.'
'I want to ask you a question,' I said, 'on another subject, Moncrieff.'
'You're lookin' scared, laddie. What's the matter?'
I told him as much as I could.
'It's a queer question, laddie—a queer question. Heaven give me help to answer you! I think, as the oath was to keep a secret, you had best keep the oath, and trust to Heaven to set things right in the end, if it be for the best.'
'Thanks, Moncrieff,' I said; 'thanks. I will take your advice.'
That very day Moncrieff set a party of men to strengthen the embankment; and it was probably well he did so, for soon after the work was finished another of those fearful storms, accompanied as usual by shocks of earthquake, swept over our valley, and the canal was filled to overflowing, but gave no signs of bursting. Moncrieff had assuredly taken time by the forelock.
One day a letter arrived, addressed to me, which bore the London post-mark.
It was from Archie, and a most spirited epistle it was. He wanted us to rejoice with him, and, better still, to expect him out by the very first packet. His parents had yielded to his request. It had been the voyage to Newcastle that had turned the scale. There was nothing like pluck, he said; 'But,' he added, 'between you and me, Murdoch, I would not take another voyage in a Newcastle collier, not to win all the honour and glory of Livingstone, Stanley, Gordon-Cumming, and Colonel Frederick Burnaby put in a bushel basket.'
I went tearing away over the estancia on my mule, to find my brothers and tell them the joyful tidings. And we rejoiced together. Then I went off to look for Moncrieff, and he rejoiced, to keep me company.
'And mind you,' he said, 'the very day after he arrives we'll have a dinner and a kick-up.'
'Of course we will,' I said. 'We'll have the dinner and fun at Coila Villa, which, remember, can now boast of two wings besides the tower.'
'Very well,' he assented, 'and after that we can give another dinner and rout at my diggings. Just a sort of return match, you see?'
'But I don't see,' I said; 'I don't see the use of two parties.'
'Oh, but I do, Murdoch. We must make more of a man than we do of a nowt beast. Now you mind that bull I had sent out from England—Towsy Jock that lives in the Easter field?—well, I gave a dinner when he came. L250 I paid for him too.'
'Yes, and I remember also you gave a dinner and fun when the prize ram came out. Oh, catch you not finding an excuse for a dinner! However, so be it: one dinner and fun for a bull, two for Archie.'
'That's agreed then,' said Moncrieff.
Now, my brothers and I and a party of Gauchos, with the warlike Bombazo and a Scot or two, had arranged a grand hunt into the guanaco country; but as dear old Archie was coming out so soon we agreed to postpone it, in order that he might join in the fun. Meanwhile we commenced to make all preparations.
They say that the principal joy in life lies in the anticipation of pleasure to come. I think there is a considerable amount of truth in this, and I am sure that not even bluff old King Hal setting out to hunt in the New Forest could have promised himself a greater treat than we did as we got ready for our tour in the land of the guanaco, and country of the condor.
We determined to be quite prepared to start by the time Archie was due. Not that we meant to hurry our dear cockney cousin right away to the wilds as soon as he arrived. No; we would give him a whole week to 'shake down,' as Moncrieff called it, and study life on the estancia.
And, indeed, life on the estancia, now that we had become thoroughly used to it, was exceedingly pleasant altogether.
I cannot say that either my brothers or I were ever much given to lazing in bed of a morning in Scotland itself. To have done so we should have looked upon as bad form; but to encourage ourselves in matutinal sloth in a climate like this would have seemed a positive crime.
Even by seven in the morning we used to hear the great gong roaring hoarsely on Moncrieff's lawn, and this used to be the signal for us to start and draw aside our mosquito curtains. Our bedrooms adjoined, and all the time we were splashing in our tubs and dressing we kept up an incessant fire of banter and fun. The fact is, we used to feel in such glorious form after a night's rest. Our bedroom windows were very large casements, and were kept wide open all the year round, so that virtually we slept in the open air. We nearly always went to bed in the dark, or if we did have lights we had to shut the windows till we had put them out, else moths as big as one's hand, and all kinds and conditions of insect life, would have entered and speedily extinguished our candles. Even had the windows been protected by glass, this insect life would have been troublesome. In the drawing and dining rooms we had specially prepared blinds of wire to exclude these creatures, while admitting air enough.
The mosquito curtains round our beds effectually kept everything disagreeable at bay, and insured us wholesome rest.
But often we were out of bed and galloping over the country long before the gong sounded. This ride used to give us such appetites for breakfast, that sometimes we had to apologize to aunt and Aileen for our apparent greediness. We were out of doors nearly all day, and just as often as not had a snack of luncheon on the hills at some settler's house or at an outlying puesto.
Aunt was now our housekeeper, but nevertheless so accustomed had we and Moncrieff and Aileen become to each other's society that hardly a day passed without our dining together either at his house or ours.
The day, what with one thing and another, used to pass quickly enough, and the evening was most enjoyable, despite even the worry of flying and creeping insects. After dinner my brothers and I, with at times Moncrieff and Bombazo, used to lounge round to see what the servants were doing.
They had a concert, and as often as not some fun, every night with the exception of Sabbath, when Moncrieff insisted that they should retire early.
At many estancias wine is far too much in use—even to the extent of inebriety. Our places, however, owing to Moncrieff's strictness, were models of temperance, combined with innocent pleasures. The master, as he was called, encouraged all kinds of games, though he objected to gambling, and drinking he would not permit at any price.
One morning our post-runner came to Coila Villa in greater haste than usual, and from his beaming eyes and merry face I conjectured he had a letter for me.
I took it from him in the verandah, and sent him off round to the kitchen to refresh himself. No sooner had I glanced at its opening sentences than I rushed shouting into the breakfast-room.
'Hurrah!' I cried, waving the letter aloft. 'Archie's coming, and he'll be here to-day. Hurrah! for the hunt, lads, and hurrah! for the hills!'
 Orra = leisure, idle. An orra-man is one who does all kinds of odd jobs about a farm.
 Nowt = cattle.
OUR HUNTING EXPEDITION.
If not quite so exuberant as the welcome that awaited us on our arrival in the valley, Archie's was a right hearty one, and assuredly left our cousin nothing to complain of.
He had come by diligence from Villa Mercedes, accomplishing the journey, therefore, in a few days, which had occupied us in our caravan about as many weeks.
We were delighted to see him looking so well. Why, he had even already commenced to get brown, and was altogether hardy and hearty and manlike.
We were old estancieros, however, and it gave us unalloyed delight to show him round our place and put him up to all the outs and ins of a settler's life.
Dugald even took him away to the hills with him, and the two of them did not get home until dinner was on the table.
Archie, however, although not without plenty of pluck and willingness to develop into an estanciero pure and simple, had not the stamina my brothers and I possessed, but this only made us all the more kind to him. In time, we told him, he would be quite as strong and wiry as any of us.
'There is one thing I don't think I shall ever be able to get over,' said Archie one day. It may be observed that he did not now talk with the London drawl; he had left both his cockney tongue and his tall hat at home.
'What is it you do not think you will ever get over, Arch?' I asked.
'Why, the abominable creepies,' he answered, looking almost miserable.
'Why,' he continued, 'it isn't so much that I mind being bitten by mosquitoes—of which it seems you have brutes that fly by day, and gangs that go on regular duty at night—but it is the other abominations that make my blood run positively cold. Now your cockroaches are all very well down in the coal-cellar, and centipedes are interesting creatures in glass cases with pins stuck through them; but to find cockroaches in your boots and centipedes in your bed is rather too much of a good thing.'
'Well,' said Dugald, laughing, 'you'll get used to even that. I don't really mind now what bites me or what crawls over me. Besides, you know all those creepie-creepies, as you call them, afford one so excellent an opportunity of studying natural history from the life.'
'Oh, bother such life, Dugald! My dear cousin, I would rather remain in blissful ignorance of natural history all my life than have even an earwig reposing under my pillow. Besides, I notice that even your Yahoo servants—'
'I beg your pardon, cousin; Gaucho, not Yahoo.'
'Well, well, Gaucho servants shudder, and even run from our common bedroom creepies.'
'Oh! they are nothing at all to go by, Archie. They think because a thing is not very pretty it is bound to be venomous.'
'But does not the bite of a centipede mean death?'
'Oh dear no. It isn't half as bad as London vermin.'
'Then there are scorpions. Do they kill you? Is not their bite highly dangerous?'
'Not so bad as a bee's sting.'
'Then there are so many flying beetles.'
'Beauties, Archie, beauties. Why, Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like some of these.'
'Perhaps not. But then, Solomon or not Solomon, how am I to know which sting and which don't?'
'Experientia docet, Archie.'
'Again, there are spiders. Oh, they do frighten me. They're as big as lobsters. Ugh!'
'Well, they won't hurt. They help to catch the other things!'
'Yes, and that's just the worst of it. First a lot of creepies come in to suck your blood and inject poison into your veins, to say nothing of half scaring a fellow to death; and then a whole lot of flying creepies, much worse than the former, come in to hunt them up; and bats come next, to say nothing of lizards; and what with the buzzing and singing and hopping and flapping and beating and thumping, poor me has to lie awake half the night, falling asleep towards morning to dream I'm in purgatory.'
'Poor you indeed!' said Dugald.
'You have told me, too, I must sleep in the dark, but I want to know what is the good of that when about one half of those flying creepies carry a lamp each, and some of them two. Only the night before last I awoke in a fright. I had been dreaming about the great sea-serpent, and the first thing I saw was a huge creature about as long as a yard stick wriggling along my mosquito curtains.'
'Ah! How could you see it in the dark?'
'Why, the beggar carried two lamps ahead of him, and he had a smaller chap with a light. Ugh!'
'These were some good specimens of the Lampyridae, no doubt.'
'Well, perhaps; but having such a nice long name doesn't make them a bit less hideous to me. Then in the morning when I looked into the glass I didn't know myself from Adam. I had a black eye that some bug or other had given me—I dare say he also had a nice long name. I had a lump on my brow as large as a Spanish onion, and my nose was swollen and as big as a bladder of lard. From top to toe I was covered with hard knots, as if I'd been to Donnybrook Fair, and what with aching and itching it would have been a comfort to me to have jumped out of my skin.'
'Was that all?' I said, laughing.
'Not quite. I went to take up a book to fling at a monster spider in the corner, and put my hand on a scorpion. I cracked him and crushed the spider, and went to have my bath, only to find I had to fish out about twenty long-named indescribables that had committed suicide during the night. Other creepies had been drowned in the ewer. I found earwigs in my towels, grasshoppers in my clothes, and wicked-looking little beetles even in my hairbrushes. This may be a land flowing with milk and honey and all the rest of it, Murdoch, but it is also a land crawling with creepie-creepies.'
'Well, anyhow,' said Dugald, 'here comes your mule. Mount and have a ride, and we'll forget everything but the pleasures of the chase. Come, I think I know where there is a jaguar—an immense great brute. I saw him killing geese not three days ago.'
'Oh, that will be grand!' cried Archie, now all excitement.
And five minutes afterwards Dugald and he were off to the hills.
But in two days more we would be off to the hills in earnest.
For this tour we would not of our own free-will have made half the preparations Moncrieff insisted on, and perhaps would hardly have provided ourselves with tents. However, we gave in to his arrangements in every way, and certainly we had no cause to repent it.
The guide—he was to be called our cacique for the time being—that Moncrieff appointed had been a Gaucho malo, a pampas Cain. No one ever knew half the crimes the fellow had committed, and I suppose he himself had forgotten. But he was a reformed man and really a Christian, and it is difficult to find such an anomaly among Gauchos. He knew the pampas well, and the Andes too, and was far more at home in the wilds than at the estancia. A man like this, Moncrieff told us, was worth ten times his weight in gold.
And so it turned out.
* * * * *
The summer had well-nigh gone when our caravan at length left Moncrieff's beautiful valley. The words 'caravan at length' in the last sentence may be understood in two ways, either as regards space or time. Ours was no caravan on wheels. Not a single wheeled waggon accompanied us, for we should cross deserts, and pass through glens where there would be no road, perhaps hardly even a bridle-path. So the word caravan is to be understood in the Arab sense of the word. And it certainly was a lengthy one. For we had a pack mule for every two men, including our five Gauchos.
Putting it in another way, there were five of us Europeans—Donald, Dugald, Archie Bateman, Sandie Donaldson, and myself; each European had a horse and a Gaucho servant, and each Gaucho had a mule.
Bombazo meant to have come; he said so to the very last, at all events, but an unfortunate attack of toothache confined him to bed. Archie, who had no very exalted idea of the little Spanish captain's courage, was rude enough to tell us in his hearing that he was 'foxing.' I do not pretend to understand what Archie meant, but I feel certain it was nothing very complimentary to Bombazo's bravery.
'Dear laddies,' old Jenny had said, 'if you think you want onybody to darn your hose on the road, I'll gang wi' ye mysel'. As for that feckless loon Bombazo, the peer body is best in bed.'
Our arms consisted of rifles, shot-guns, the bolas, and lasso. Each man carried a revolver as well, and we had also abundance of fishing tackle. Our tents were only three in all, but they were strong and waterproof, a great consideration when traversing a country like this.
We were certainly prepared to rough it, but had the good sense to take with us every contrivance which might add to our comfort, so long as it was fairly portable.
Archie had one particular valise of his own that he declared contained only a few nicknacks which no one ought to travel without. He would not gratify us by even a peep inside, however, so for a time we had to be content with guessing what the nicknacks were. Archie got pretty well chaffed about his Gladstone bag, as he called it.
'You surely haven't got the tall hat in it,' said Dugald.
'Of course you haven't forgotten your nightcap,' said Donald.
'Nor your slippers, Archie?' I added.
'And a dressing-gown would be indispensable in the desert,' said Sandie Donaldson.
Archie only smiled to himself, but kept his secret.
What a lovely morning it was when we set out! So blue was the sky, so green the fields of waving lucerne, so dense the foliage and flowers and hedgerows and trees, it really seemed that summer would last for many and many a month to come.
We were all fresh and happy, and full of buoyant anticipation of pleasures to come. Our very dogs went scampering on ahead, barking for very joy. Of these we had quite a pack—three pure Scotch collies, two huge bloodhound-mastiffs, and at least half a dozen animals belonging to our Gauchos, which really were nondescripts but probably stood by greyhounds. These dogs were on exceedingly good terms with themselves and with each other—the collies jumping up to kiss the horses every minute by way of encouragement, the mastiffs trotting steadily on ahead cheek-by-jowl, and the hounds everywhere—everywhere at once, so it appeared.
Being all so fresh, we determined to make a thorough long day's journey of it. So, as soon as we had left the glen entirely and disappeared among the sand dunes, we let our horses have their heads, the capataz Gaucho riding on ahead on a splendid mule as strong as a stallion and as lithe as a Scottish deerhound.
Not long before our start for the hunting grounds men had arrived from the Chilian markets to purchase cattle. The greatest dainty to my mind they had brought with them was a quantity of Yerba mate, as it is called. It is the dried leaves of a species of Patagonian ilex, which is used in this country as tea, and very delightful and soothing it is. This was to be our drink during all our tour. More refreshing than tea, less exciting than wine, it not only seems to calm the mind but to invigorate the body. Drunk warm, with or without sugar, all feeling of tiredness passes away, and one is disposed to look at the bright side of life, and that alone.
We camped the first night on high ground nearly forty miles from our own estancia. It was a long day's journey in so rough a country, but we had a difficulty earlier in the afternoon in finding water. Here, however, was a stream as clear as crystal, that doubtless made its way from springs in the sierras that lay to the west of us at no very great distance. Behind these jagged hills the sun was slowly setting when we erected our tents. The ground chosen was at some little distance from the stream, and on the bare gravel. The cacti that grew on two sides of us were of gigantic height, and ribboned or edged with the most beautiful flowers. Our horses and mules were hobbled and led to the stream, then turned on to the grass which grew green and plentiful all along its banks.
A fire was quickly built and our great stewpan put on. We had already killed our dinner in the shape of a small deer or fawn which had crossed our path on the plains lower down. With biscuits, of which we had a store, some curry, roots, which the Gauchos had found, and a handful or two of rice, we soon had a dinner ready, the very flavour of which would have been enough to make a dying man eat.
The dogs sat around us and around the Gauchos as we dined, and, it must be allowed, behaved in a most mannerly way; only the collies and mastiffs kept together. They must have felt their superiority to those mongrel greyhounds, and desired to show it in as calm and dignified a manner as possible.
After dinner sentries were set, one being mounted to watch the horses and mules. We were in no great fear of their stampeding, but we had promised Moncrieff to run as little risk of any kind as possible on this journey, and therefore commenced even on this our first night to be as good as our word.
The best Gauchos had been chosen for us, and every one of them could talk English after a fashion, especially our bold but not handsome capataz, or cacique Yambo. About an hour after dinner the latter began serving out the mate. This put us all in excellent humour and the best of spirits. As we felt therefore as happy as one could wish to be, we were not surprised when the capataz proposed a little music.
'It is the pampas fashion, senor,' he said to me.
'Will you play and sing?' I said.
'Play and sing?' he replied, at once producing his guitar, which lay in a bag not far off. 'Si, senor, I will play and sing for you. If you bid me, I will dance; every day and night I shall cook for you; when de opportunity come I will fight for you. I am your servant, your slave, and delighted to be so.'
'Thank you, my capataz; I have no doubt you are a very excellent fellow.'
'Oh, senor, do not flatter yourself too mooch, too very mooch. It is not for the sake of you young senors I care, but for the sake of the dear master.'
'Sing, capataz,' I said, 'and talk after.'
To our surprise, not one but three guitars were handed out, and the songs and melodies were very delightful to listen to.
Then our Sandie Donaldson, after handing his cup to be replenished, sang, Ye banks and braes with much feeling and in fine manly tenor. We all joined in each second verse, while the guitars gave excellent accompaniment. One song suggested another, and from singing to conversational story-telling the transition was easy. To be sure, neither my brothers nor I nor Archie had much to tell, but some of the experiences of the Gauchos, and especially those of our capataz, were thrilling in the extreme, and we never doubted their truth.
But now it was time for bed, and we returned to the tents and lit our lamps.
Our beds were the hard ground, with a rug and guanaco robe, our saddles turned upside down making as good a pillow as any one could wish.
We had now the satisfaction of knowing something concerning the contents of that mysterious grip-sack of Archie's. So judge of our surprise when this wonderful London cousin of ours first produced a large jar of what he called mosquito cream, and proceeded to smear his face and hands with the odorous compound.
'This cream,' he said, 'I bought at Buenos Ayres, and it is warranted to keep all pampas creepies away, or anything with two wings or four, six legs or sixty. Have a rub, Dugald?'
'Not I,' cried Dugald. 'Why, man, the smell is enough to kill bees.'
Archie proceeded with his preparations. Before enshrouding himself in his guanaco mantle he drew on a huge waterproof canvas sack and fastened it tightly round his chest. He next produced a hooped head-dress. I know no other name for it.
'It is an invention of my own,' said Archie, proudly, 'and is, as you see, composed of hoops of wire—'
'Like a lady's crinoline,' said Dugald.
'Well, yes, if you choose to call it so, and is covered with mosquito muslin. This is how it goes on, and I'm sure it will form a perfect protection.'
He then inserted his head into the wondrous muslin bladder, and the appearance he now presented was comical in the extreme. His body in a sack, his head in a white muslin bag, nothing human-looking about him except his arms, that, encased in huge leather gloves, dangled from his shoulders like an immense pair of flippers.
We three brothers looked at him just for a moment, then simultaneously exploded into a perfect roar of laughter. Sandie Donaldson, who with the capataz occupied the next tent, came rushing in, then all the Gauchos and even the dogs. The latter bolted barking when they saw the apparition, but the rest joined the laughing chorus.
And the more we looked at Archie the more we laughed, till the very sand dunes near us must have been shaken to their foundations by the manifestation of our mirth.
'Laugh away, boys,' said our cousin. 'Laugh and grow fat. I don't care how I look, so long as my dress and my cream keep the creepies away.'
 Peer = poor.
IN THE WILDERNESS.
Some days afterwards we found ourselves among the mountains in a region whose rugged grandeur and semi-desolation, whose rock-filled glens, tall, frowning precipices, with the stillness that reigned everywhere around, imparted to it a character approaching even to sublimity.
The capataz was still our guide, our foremost man in everything; but close beside him rode our indefatigable hunter, Dugald.
We had already seen pumas, and even the terrible jaguar of the plains; we had killed more than one rhea—the American ostrich—and deer in abundance. Moreover, Dugald had secured about fifty skins of the most lovely humming-birds, with many beetles, whose elytra, painted and adorned by Nature, looked like radiant jewels. All these little skins and beetles were destined to be sent home to Flora. As yet, however, we had not come in contact with the guanaco, although some had been seen at a distance.
But to-day we were in the very country of the guanaco, and pressing onwards and ever upwards, in the hopes of soon being able to draw trigger on some of these strange inhabitants of the wilderness.
Only this morning Dugald and I had been bantering each other as to who should shoot the first.
'I mean to send my first skin to Flora,' Dugald had said.
'And I my first skin to Irene,' I said.
On rounding the corner of a cliff we suddenly came in sight of a whole herd of the creatures, but they were in full retreat up the glen, while out against the sky stood in bold relief a tall buck. It was the trumpet tones of his voice ringing out plaintively but musically on the still mountain air that had warned the herd of our approach.
Another long ride of nearly two hours. And now we must have been many thousands of feet above the sea level, or even the level of the distant plains.
It is long past midday, so we determine to halt, for here, pure, bubbling from a dark green slippery rock, is a spring of water as clear as crystal and deliciously cool. What a treat for our horses and dogs! What a treat even for ourselves!
I notice that Dugald seems extra tired. He has done more riding to-day than any of us, and made many a long detour in search of that guanaco which he has hitherto failed to find.
A kind of brotherly rivalry takes possession of me, and I cannot help wishing that the first guanaco would fall to my rifle. The Gauchos are busy preparing the stew and boiling water for the mate, so shouldering my rifle, and carelessly singing to myself, I leave my companions and commence sauntering higher up the glen. The hill gets very steep, and I have almost to climb on my hands and knees, starting sometimes in dread as a hideous snake goes wriggling past me or raises head and body from behind a stone, and hisses defiance and hate almost in my face. But I reach the summit at last, and find myself on the very edge of a precipice.
Oh, joy! On a little peak down beneath, and not a hundred yards away, stands one of the noblest guanacos I have ever seen. He has heard something, or scented something, for he stands there as still as a statue, with head and neck in the air sniffing the breeze.
How my heart beats! How my hand trembles! I cannot understand my anxiety. Were I face to face with a lion or tiger I could hardly be more nervous. A thousand thoughts seem to cross my mind with a rush, but uppermost of all is the fear that, having fired, I shall miss.
He whinnies his warning now: only a low and undecided one. He is evidently puzzled; but the herd down in the bottom of the canon hear it, and every head is elevated. I have judged the distance; I have drawn my bead. If my heart would only keep still, and there were not such a mist before my eyes! Bang! I have fired, and quickly load again. Have I missed? Yes—no, no; hurrah! hurrah! yonder he lies, stark and still, on the very rock on which he stood—my first guanaco!
The startled herd move up the canon. They must have seen their leader drop.
I am still gazing after them, full of exultation, when a hand is laid on my shoulder, and, lo! there stands Dugald laughing.
'You sly old dog,' he says, 'to steal a march on your poor little brother thus!'
For a moment I am startled, mystified.
'Dugald,' I say, 'did I really kill that guanaco?'
'No one else did.'
'And you've only just come—only just this second? Well, I'm glad to hear it. It was after all a pure accident my shooting the beast. I did hold the rifle his way. I did draw the trigger——'
'Well, and the bullet did the rest, boy. Funny, you always kill by the merest chance! Ah, Murdoch, you're a better shot than I am, for all you won't allow it.'
Wandering still onwards and still upwards next day, through lonely glens and deep ravines, through canons the sides of which were as perpendicular as walls, their flat green or brown bottoms sometimes scattered with huge boulders, casting shadows so dark in the sunlight that a man or horse disappeared in them as if the earth had opened and swallowed him up, we came at length to a dell, or strath, of such charming luxuriance that it looked to us, amid all the barrenness of this dreary wilderness, like an oasis dropped from the clouds, or some sweet green glade where fairies might dwell.
I looked at my brother. The same thought must have struck each of us, at the same moment—Why not make this glen our habitat for a time?
'Oh!' cried Archie, 'this is a paradise!'
'Beautiful! lovely!' said Dugald. 'Suppose now—'
'Oh, I know what you are going to say,' cried Donald.
'And I second the motion,' said Sandie Donaldson.
'Well,' I exclaimed, 'seeing, Sandie, that no motion has yet been made—'
'Here is the motion, then,' exclaimed Dugald, jumping out of his saddle.
It was a motion we all followed at once; and as the day was getting near its close, the Gauchos set about looking for a bit of camping-ground at once. As far as comfort was concerned, this might have been chosen almost anywhere, but we wanted to be near to water. Now here was the mystery: the glen was not three miles long altogether, and nowhere more than a mile broad; all along the bottom it was tolerably level and extremely well wooded with quite a variety of different trees, among which pines, elms, chestnuts, and stunted oak-trees were most abundant; each side of the glen was bounded by rising hills or braes covered with algorroba bushes and patches of charmingly-coloured cacti, with many sorts of prickly shrubs, the very names of which we could not tell. Curious to say, there was very little undergrowth; and, although the trees were close enough in some places to form a jungle, the grass was green beneath. But at first we could find no water. Leaving the others to rest by the edge of the miniature forest, Dugald and I and Archie set out to explore, and had not gone more than a hundred yards when we came to a little lake. We bent down and tasted the water; it was pure and sweet and cool.
'What a glorious find!' said Dugald. 'Why, this place altogether was surely made for us.'
We hurried back to tell the news, and the horses and mules were led to the lake, which was little more than half an acre in extent. But not satisfied with drinking, most of the dogs plunged in; and horses and mules followed suit.
'Come,' cried Donald, 'that is a sort of motion I will willingly second.' He commenced to undress as he spoke. So did we all, and such splashing and dashing, and laughing and shouting, the birds and beasts in this romantic dale had surely never witnessed before.
Dugald was an excellent swimmer, and as bold and headstrong in the water as on the land. He had left us and set out to cross the lake. Suddenly we saw him throw up his arms and shout for help, and we—Donald and I—at once commenced swimming to his assistance. He appeared, however, in no danger of sinking, and, to our surprise, although heading our way all the time, he was borne away from us one minute and brought near us next.
When close enough a thrill of horror went through me to hear poor Dugald cry in a feeble, pleading voice,
'Come no nearer, boys: I soon must sink. Save yourselves: I'm in a whirlpool.'
It was too true, though almost too awful to be borne. I do not know how Donald felt at that moment, but as for myself I was almost paralyzed with terror.
'Back, back, for your lives!' shouted a voice behind us.
It was our Gaucho capataz. He was coming towards us with powerful strokes, holding in one hand a lasso. Instead of swimming on with us when he saw Dugald in danger, he had gone ashore at once and brought the longest thong.
We white men could have done nothing. We knew of nothing to do. We should have floated there and seen our dear brother go down before our eyes, or swam recklessly, madly on, only to sink with him.
Dugald, weak as he had become, sees the Gaucho will make an attempt to save him, and tries to steady himself to catch the end of the lasso that now flies in his direction.
But to our horror it falls short, and Dugald is borne away again, the circles round which he is swept being now narrower.
The Gaucho is nearer. He is perilously near. He will save him or perish.
Again the lasso leaves his hand. Dugald had thrown up his hands and almost leapt from the water. He is sinking. Oh, good Gaucho! Oh, good capataz, surely Heaven itself directed that aim, for the noose fell over our brother's arms and tightened round the chest!
In a few minutes more we have laid his lifeless body on the green bank.
Lifeless only for a time, however. Presently he breathes, and we carry him away into the evening sunshine and place him on the soft warm moss. He soon speaks, but is very ill and weak; yet our thanks to God for his preservation are very sincere. Surely there is a Providence around one even in the wilderness!
We might have explored our glen this same evening, perhaps we really ought to have done so, but the excitement caused by Dugald's adventure put everything else out of our heads.
In this high region, the nights were even cold enough to make a position near the camp fire rather a thing to be desired than otherwise. It was especially delightful, I thought, on this particular evening to sit around the fire and quietly talk. I reclined near Dugald, who had not yet quite recovered. I made a bed for him with extra rugs; and, as he coughed a good deal, I begged of him to consider himself an invalid for one night at least; but no sooner had he drunk his mug of mate than he sat up and joined in the conversation, assuring us he felt as well as ever he had in his life.
It was a lovely evening. The sky was unclouded, the stars shining out very clear, and looking very near, while a round moon was rising slowly over the hill-peaks towards the east, and the tall dark pine-trees were casting gloomy shadows on the lake, near which, in an open glade, we were encamped. I could not look at the dark waters without a shudder, as I thought of the danger poor Dugald had so narrowly escaped. I am not sure that the boy was not always my mother's favourite, and I know he was Flora's. How could I have written and told them of his fearful end? The very idea made me creep nearer to him and put my arm round his shoulder. I suppose he interpreted my thoughts, for he patted my knee in his brotherly fond old fashion.
Our Gaucho capataz was just telling a story, an adventure of his own, in the lonely pampas. He looked a strange and far from comely being, with his long, straggling, elf-like locks of hair, his low, receding forehead, his swarthy complexion, and high cheek bones. The mark of a terrible spear wound across his face and nose did not improve his looks.
'Yes, senors,' he was saying, 'that was a fearful moment for me.' He threw back his poncho as he spoke, revealing three ugly scars on his chest. 'You see these, senors? It was that same tiger made the marks. It was a keepsake, ha! ha! that I will take to de grave with me, if any one should trouble to bury me. It was towards evening, and we were journeying across the pampa. We had come far that day, my Indians and me. We felt tired—sometimes even Indians felt tired on de weary wide pampa. De sun has been hot all day. We have been chased far by de white settlers. Dey not love us. Ha! ha! We have five score of de cattle with us. And we have spilt blood, and left dead and wounded Indians plenty on de pampa. Never mind, I swear revenge. Oh, I am a bad man den. Gaucho malo, mucho malo, Nandrin, my brother cacique, hate me. I hate him. I wish him dead. But de Indians love him all de same as me. By and by de sun go down, down, down, and we raise de toldo in de canon near a stream. Here grow many ombu-trees. The young senors have not seen this great tree; it is de king of the lonely pampa. Oh, so tall! Oh, so wide! so spreading and shady! Two, three ombu-trees grow near; but I have seen de great tiger sleep in one. My brother cacique have seen him too. When de big moon rise, and all is bright like de day, and no sound make itself heard but de woo-hoo-woo of de pampa owl, I get quietly up and go to de ombu-tree. I think myself much more brave as my brother cacique. Ha! ha! he think himself more brave as me. When I come near de ombu-trees I shout. Ugh! de scream dat comes from de ombu-tree make me shake and shiver. Den de terrible tiger spring down; I will not run, I am too brave. I shoot. He not fall. Next moment I am down—on my back I lie. One big foot is on me; his blood pour over my face. He pull me close and more close to him. Soon, ah, soon, I think my brother cacique will be chief—I will be no more. De tiger licks my arm—my cheek. How he growl and froth! He is now going to eat me. But no! Ha! ha! my brother cacique have also leave de camp to come to de ombu-tree. De tiger see him. P'r'aps he suppose his blood more sweet as mine. He leave poor me. Ha! ha! he catch my brother cacique and carry him under de shade of de ombu-tree. By and by I listen, and hear my brother's bones go crash! crash! crash! De tiger is enjoying his supper!'
'But, capataz,' I said, with a shudder, 'did you make no attempt to save your brother chief?'
'Not much! You see, he all same as dead. Suppose I den shoot, p'r'aps I kill him for true; 'sides, I bad Gaucho den; not love anybody mooch. Next day I kill dat tiger proper, and his skin make good ponchos. Ha! ha!'
Many a time during the Gaucho's recital he had paused and looked uneasily around him, for ever and anon the woods re-echoed with strange cries. We white men had not lived long enough in beast-haunted wildernesses to distinguish what those sounds were, whether they proceeded from bird or beast.
As the capataz stopped speaking, and we all sat silent for a short time, the cries were redoubled. They certainly were not calculated to raise our spirits: some were wild and unearthly in the extreme, some were growls of evident anger, some mere groanings, as if they proceeded from creatures dying in pain and torment, while others again began in a low and most mournful moan, rising quickly into a hideous, frightened, broken, or gurgling yell, then dying away again in dreary cadence.
I could not help shuddering a little as I looked behind me into the darkness of the forest. The whole place had an uncanny, haunted sort of look, and I even began to wonder whether we might not possibly be the victims of enchantment. Would we awaken in the morning and find no trees, no wood, no water, only a green canon, with cliffs and hills on every side?
'Look, look!' I cried, starting half up at last. 'Did none of you see that?'
'What is it? Speak, Murdoch!' cried Archie; 'your face is enough to frighten a fellow.'
I pressed my hand to my forehead.
'Surely,' I said, 'I am going to be ill, but I thought I could distinctly see a tall grey figure standing among the trees.'
We resumed talking, but in a lower, quieter key. The events of the evening, our strange surroundings, the whispering trees, the occasional strange cries, and the mournful beauty of the night, seemed to have cast a glamour over every heart that was here; and though it was now long past our usual hour for bed, no one appeared wishful to retire.
All at once Archie grasped me by the shoulder and glanced fearfully into the forest behind me. I dared scarcely turn my head till the click of Yambo's revolver reassured me.
Yes, there was the figure in grey moving silently towards us.
'Speak, quick, else I fire!' shouted our capataz.
Yambo lowered the revolver, and we all started to our feet to confront the figure in grey.
 Toldo = a tent.
THE MOUNTAIN CRUSOE.
The figure in grey—the grey was a garment of skin, cap, coat, breeches, and even boots, apparently all of the same material—approached with extended hand. We could see now it was no ghost who stood before us, but a man of flesh and blood. Very solid flesh, too, judging from the cheeks that surmounted the silvery beard. The moon shone full on his face, and a very pleasant one it was, with a bright, merry twinkle in the eye.
'Who are you?' said I.
'Nay, pardon me,' was the bold reply, 'but the question would come with greater propriety from my lips. I need not ask it, however. You are right welcome to my little kingdom. You are, I can see, a party of roving hunters. Few of your sort have ever come here before, I can tell you.'
'And you?' I said, smiling.
'I am—but there, what need to give myself a name? I have not heard my name for years. Call me Smith, Jones, Robinson; call me a hunter, a trapper, a madman, a fool—anything.'
'A hermit, anyhow,' said Dugald.
'Yes, boy, a hermit.'
'And an Englishman?'
'No; I am a Portuguese by birth, but I have lived in every country under the sun, and here I am at last. Have I introduced myself sufficiently?'
'No,' I said; 'but sit down. You have,' I continued, 'only introduced yourself sufficiently to excite our curiosity. Yours must be a strange story.'
'Oh, anybody and everybody who lives for over fifty years in the world as I have done has a strange story, if he cared to tell it. Mine is too long, and some of it too sad. I have been a soldier, a sailor, a traveller; I have been wealthy, I have been poor; I have been in love—my love left me. I forgot her. I have done everything except commit crime. I have not run away from anywhere, gentlemen. There is no blood on my hands. I can still pray. I still love. She whom I love is here.'
'Oh!' cried Dugald, 'won't you bring the lady?'
The hermit laughed.
'She is here, there, all around us. My mistress is Nature. Ah! boys,' he said, turning to us with such a kind look, 'Nature breaks no hearts; and the more you love her, the more she loves you, and leads you upwards—always upwards, never down.'
It was strange, but from the very moment he began to talk both my brothers and I began to like this hermit. His ways and his manners were quite irresistible, and before we separated we felt as if we had known him all our lives.
He was the last man my brothers and I saw that night, and he was the first we met in the morning. He had donned a light cloth poncho and a broad sombrero hat, and really looked both handsome and picturesque.
We went away together, and bathed, and I told him of Dugald's adventure. He looked interested, patted my brother's shoulder, and said:
'Poor boy, what a narrow escape you have had!
'The stream,' he continued, 'that flows through this strange glen rises in the hills about five miles up. It rises from huge springs—you shall see them—flows through the woods, and is sucked into the earth in the middle of that lake. I have lived here for fifteen years. Walk with me up the glen. Leave your rifles in your tents; there is nothing to hurt.'
We obeyed, and soon joined him, and together we strolled up the path that led close by the banks of a beautiful stream. We were enchanted with the beauty displayed everywhere about us, and our guide seemed pleased.
'Almost all the trees and shrubs you see,' he said, 'I have planted, and many of the beautiful flowers—the orchids, the climbers, and creepers, all are my pets. Those I have not planted I have encouraged, and I believe they all know me.'
At this moment a huge puma came bounding along the path, but stopped when he saw us.
'Don't be afraid, boys,' said the hermit. 'This, too, is a pet. Do not be shy, Jacko. These are friends.'
The puma smelt us, then rubbed his great head against his master's leg, and trotted along by his side.
'I have several. You will not shoot while you live here? Thanks. I have a large family. The woods are filled with my family. I have brought them from far and near, birds and beasts of every kind. They see us now, but are shy.'
'I say, sir,' said Dugald, 'you are Adam, and this is Paradise.'
The hermit smiled in recognition of the compliment, and we now approached his house.
'I must confess,' I said, 'that a more Crusoe-looking establishment it has never been my luck to behold.'
'You are young yet,' replied the hermit, laughing, 'although you speak so like a book.
'Here we are, then, in my compound. The fence, you see, is a very open one, for I desire neither to exclude the sunshine nor the fresh air from my vegetables. Observe,' he continued, 'that my hut, which consists of one large room, stands in the centre of a gravel square.'
'It is strange-looking gravel!' said Dugald.
'It is nearly altogether composed of salt. My house is built of stone, but it is plastered with a kind of cement I can dig here in the hills. There is not a crevice nor hollow in all the wall, and it is four feet thick. The floor is also cemented, and so is the roof.'
'And this,' I remarked, 'is no doubt for coolness in summer.'
'Yes, and warmth in winter, if it comes to that, and also for cleanliness. Yonder is a ladder that leads to the roof. Up there I lounge and think, drink my mate and read. Oh yes, I have plenty of books, which I keep in a safe with bitter-herb powder—to save them, you know, from literary ants and other insects who possess an ambition to solve the infinite. Observe again, that I have neither porch nor verandah to my house, and that the windows are small. I object to a porch and to climbing things on the same principle that I do to creeping, crawling creatures. The world is wide enough for us all. But they must keep to their side of the house at night, and I to mine. And mine is the inside. This is also the reason why most of the gravel is composed of salt. As a rule, creepies don't like it.'
'Oh, I'm glad you told us that,' said Archie; 'I shall make my mule carry a bushel of it. I'm glad you don't like creepies, sir.'
'But, boy, I do. Only I object to them indoors. Walk in. Observe again, as a showman would say, how very few my articles of furniture are. Notice, however, that they are all scrupulously clean. Nevertheless, I have every convenience. That thong-bottomed sofa is my bed. My skins and rugs are kept in a bag all day, and hermetically sealed against the prying probosces of insectivora. Here is my stove, yonder my kitchen and scullery, and there hangs my armoury. Now I am going to call my servant. He is a Highlander like yourselves, boys; at any rate, he appears to be, for he never wears anything else except the kilt, and he talks a language which, though I have had him for ten years, I do not yet understand. Archie, Archie, where are you?'
'Another Archie!' said Dugald, 'and a countryman, too?'
'He is shy of strangers. Archie, boy! He is swinging in some tree-top, no doubt.'
'What a queer fellow he must be! Wears nothing but the kilt, speaks Gaelic, swings in tree-tops, and is shy! A rara avis indeed.'
'Ah! here he comes. Archie, spread the awning out of doors, lay the table, bring a jug of cold mate and the cigars.'
Truly Archie was a curious Highlander. He was quite as tall as our Archie, and though the hermit assured us he was only a baby when he bought him in Central Africa for about sevenpence halfpenny in Indian coin, he had now the wrinkled face of an old man of ninety—wrinkled, wizened, and weird. But his eye was singularly bright and young-looking. In his hand he carried a long pole from which he had bitten all the bark, and his only dress was a little petticoat of skunk skin, which the hermit called his kilt. He was, in fact, an African orang-outang.
'Come and shake hands with the good gentlemen, Archie.'
Archie knitted his brows, and looked at us without moving. The hermit laughingly handed him a pair of big horn-rimmed spectacles. These he put on with all the gravity of some ancient professor of Sanscrit, then looked us all over once again.
We could stand this no longer, and so burst into a chorus of laughing.
'Don't laugh longer than you can help, boys. See, Archie is angry.'
Archie was. He showed a mouth full of fearful-looking fangs, and fingered his club in a way that was not pleasant.
'Archie, you may have some peaches presently.'
Archie grew pleasant again in a moment, and advanced and shook hands with us all round, looking all the time, however, as if he had some silent sorrow somewhere. I confess he wrung our hands pretty hard. Neither my brother nor I made any remark, but when it came to Archie's turn—
'Honolulu!' he shouted, shaking his fingers, and blowing on them. 'I believe he has made the blood come!'
'I suppose,' said Dugald, laughing, 'he knows you are a namesake.'
Off went the great baboon, and to our intense astonishment spread the awning, placed table and camp-stools under it, and fetched the cold mate with all the gravity and decorum of the chief steward on a first-class liner.
I looked at my brothers, and they looked at me.
'You seem all surprised,' the hermit said, 'but remember that in olden times it was no rare thing to see baboons of this same species waiting at the tables of your English nobility. Well, I am not only a noble, but a king; why should not I also have an anthropoid as a butler and valet?'
'I confess,' I said, 'I for one am very much surprised at all I have seen and all that has happened since last night, and I really cannot help thinking that presently I shall awake and find, as the story-books say, it is all a dream.'
'You will find it all a very substantial dream, I do assure you, sir. But help yourself to the mate. You will find it better than any imported stuff.'
'Archie! Archie! Where are you?'
'Ah! ah! Yah, yah, yah!' cried Archie, hopping round behind his master.
'The sugar, Archie.'
'Ah, ah, ah! Yah, yah!'
'Is that Gaelic, Dugald?' said our Archie.
'Not quite, my cockney cousin.'
'I thought not.'
'Why?' said Dugald.
'It is much more intelligible.'
The hermit laughed.
'I think, Dugald,' he said, 'your cousin has the best of you.'
He then made us tell him all our strange though brief history, as the reader already knows it. If he asked us questions, however, it was evidently not for the sake of inquisitiveness, but to exchange experiences, and support the conversation. He was quite as ready to impart as to solicit information; but somehow we felt towards him as if he were an elder brother or uncle; and this only proves the hermit was a perfect gentleman.
'Shall you live much longer in this beautiful wilderness?' asked Donald.
'Well, I will tell you all about that,' replied the hermit. 'And the all is very brief. When I came here first I had no intention of making a long stay. I was a trapper and hunter then pure and simple, and sold my skins and other odds and ends which these hills yield—and what these are I must not even tell to you—journeying over the Andes with mules twice every year for that purpose. But gradually, as my trees and bushes and all the beauty of this wild garden-glen grew up around me, and so many of God's wild children came to keep me company, I got to love my strange life. So from playing at being a hermit, I dare say I have come to be one in reality. And now, though I have money—much more than one would imagine—in the Chilian banks, I do not seem to care to enter civilized life again. For some years back I have been promising myself a city holiday, but I keep putting it off and off. I should not wonder if it never comes, or, to speak more correctly, I should wonder if it ever came. Oh, I dare say I shall die in my own private wilderness here, with no one to close my eyes but old Archie.'
'Do you still go on journeys to Chili?'
'I still go twice a year. I have strong fleet mules. I go once in summer and once in winter.'
'Going in winter across the Andes! That must be a terribly dreary journey.'
'It is. Yet it has its advantages. I never have to flee from hostile Indians then. They do not like the hills in winter.'
'Are you not afraid of the pampas Indians?'
'No, not at all. They visit me occasionally here, but do not stay long. I trust them, I am kind to them, and I have nothing they could find to steal, even if they cared to be dishonest. But they are not. They are good-hearted fellows in their own way.'
'Yes,' I said, 'very much in their own way.'
'My dear boy,' said the hermit, 'you do not know all. A different policy would have made those Indians the sworn friends, the faithful allies and servants of the white man. They would have kept then to their own hunting-grounds, they would have brought to you wealth of skins, and wealth of gold and silver, too, for believe me, they (the Indians) have secrets that the white trader little wots of. No, it is the dishonest, blood-stained policy of the Republic that has made the Indian what he is—his hand against every man, every man's hand against him.'
'But they even attack you at times, I think you gave us to understand?'
'Nay, not the pampas or pampean Indians: only prowling gipsy tribes from the far north. Even they will not when they know me better. My fame is spreading as a seer.'
'As a seer?'
'Yes, a kind of prophet. Do not imagine that I foster any such folly, only they will believe that, living here all alone in the wilds, I must have communication with—ha! ha! a worse world than this.'
As we rose to go the hermit held out his hand.
'Come and see me to-night,' he said; 'and let me advise you to make this glen your headquarters for a time. The hills and glens and bush for leagues around abound in game. Then your way back lies across a pampa north and east of here; not the road you have come.'
'By the by,' said Archie, 'before we go, I want to ask you the question which tramps always put in England: "Are the dogs all safe?"'
'Ah,' said the hermit, smiling, 'I know what you mean. Yes, the dogs are safe. My pet pumas will not come near you. I do not think that even my jaguars would object to your presence; but for safety's sake Archie shall go along with you, and he shall also come for you in the evening. Give him these peaches when you reach camp. They are our own growing, and Archie dotes upon them.'
So away back by the banks of the stream we went, our strange guide, club in hand, going hopping on before. It did really seem all like a scene of enchantment.
We gave Archie the peaches, and he looked delighted.
'Good-bye, old man,' said Dugald, as he presented him with his.
'Speak a word or two of Gaelic to him,' said our Archie.
Sandie Donaldson was indeed astonished at all we told him.
'I suppose it's all right,' he said, 'but dear me, that was an uncanny-looking creature you had hirpling on in front of you!'
In the evening, just as we had returned from a most successful guanaco hunt, we found Donaldson's uncanny creature coming along the path.
'I suppose he means us to dine with him,' I remarked.
'Ah, ah, ah! Yah, ah, yah!' cried the baboon.
'Well, will you come, Sandie?'
Sandie shook his head.
'Not to-night,' said Sandie. 'Take care of yourselves, boys. Mind what the old proverb says: "They need a lang spoon wha sup wi' the deil."'
We found the hermit at his gate, and glad he seemed to see us.
'I've been at home all the afternoon,' he said, 'cooking your dinner. Most enjoyable work, I can assure you. All the vegetables are fresh, and even the curry has been grown on the premises. I hope you are fond of armadillo; that is a favourite dish of mine. But here we have roast ducks, partridges, and something that perhaps you have never tasted before, roast or boiled. For bread we have biscuit; for wine we have mate and milk. My goats come every night to be milked. Archie does the milking as well as any man could. Ah, here come my dogs.'
Two deerhounds trotted up and made friends with us.
'I bought them from a roving Scot two years ago while on a visit to Chili.'
'How about the pumas? Don't they—'
'No, they come from the trees to sleep with Rob and Rory. Even the jaguars do not attempt to touch them. Sit down; you see I dine early. We will have time before dusk to visit some of my pets. I hope they did not keep you awake.'
'No, but the noise would have done so, had we not known what they were.'
Conversation never once flagged all the time we sat at table. The hermit himself had put most of the dishes down, but Archie duly waited behind his master's chair, and brought both the mate and the milk, as well as the fruit. This dessert was of the most tempting description; and not even at our own estancia had I tasted more delicious grapes. But there were many kinds of fruit here we had never even seen before. As soon as we were done the waiter had his repast, and the amount of fruit he got through surprised us beyond measure. He squatted on the ground to eat. Well, when he commenced his dinner he looked a little old gentleman of somewhat spare habit; when he rose up—by the aid of his pole—he was decidedly plump, not to say podgy. Even his cheeks were puffed out; and no wonder, they were stuffed with nuts to eat at his leisure.
'I dare say Archie eats at all odd hours,' I said.
'No, he does not,' replied the hermit. 'I never encouraged him to do so, and now he is quite of my way of thinking, and never eats between meals. But come, will you light a cigarette and stroll round with me?'
'We will stroll round without the cigarette,' I said.
'Then fill your pockets with nuts and raisins; you must do something.'
'Feed the birds, Archie.'
'Ah, ah, ah! Yah, ah! Yah, yah!'
'The birds need not come to be fed; there is enough and to spare for them in the woods, but they think whatever we eat must be extra nice. We have all kinds of birds except the British sparrow. I really hope you have not brought him. They say he follows Englishmen to the uttermost parts of the world.'
We waited for a moment, and wondered at the flocks of lovely bright-winged doves and pigeons and other birds that had alighted round the table to receive their daily dole, then followed our hermit guide, to feast our eyes on other wonders not a whit less wonderful than all we had seen.
WILD ADVENTURES ON PRAIRIE AND PAMPAS.
If I were to describe even one half of the strange creatures we saw in the hermit's glen, the reader would be tired before I had finished, and even then I should not have succeeded in conveying anything like a correct impression of this floral wilderness and natural menagerie.
It puzzled me to know, and it puzzles me still, how so many wild creatures could have been got together in one place.
'I brought many of them here,' the hermit told us, 'but the others came, lured, no doubt, by the water, the trees, and the flowers.'
'But was the water here when you arrived?'
'Oh yes, else I would not have settled down here. The glen was a sort of oasis even then, and there were more bushes and trees than ever I had seen before in one place. The ducks and geese and swans, in fact, all the web-footed fraternity, had been here before me, and many birds and beasts besides—the biscachas, the armadilloes, the beetle-eating pichithiego, for instance—the great ant-eater, and the skunk—I have banished that, however—wolves, foxes, kites, owls, and condors. I also found peccaries, and some deer. These latter, and the guanaco, give me a wide berth now. They do not care for dogs, pumas, and jaguars. Insects are rather too numerous, and I have several species of snakes.'
Archie's—our Archie's—face fell.
'Are they?' he began, 'are they very—'
'Very beautiful? Yes; indeed, some are charming in colour. One, for example, is of the brightest crimson streaked with black.'
'I was not referring to their beauty; I meant were they dangerous?'
'Well, I never give them a chance to bite me, and I do not think they want to; but all snakes are to be avoided and left severely alone.'
'Or killed, sir?'
'Yes, perhaps, if killed outright; for the pampan Indians have an idea that if a rattlesnake be only wounded, he will come back for revenge. But let us change the subject. You see those splendid butterflies? Well, by and by the moths will be out; they are equally lovely, but when I first came here there were very few of either. They followed the flowers, and the humming-birds came next, and many other lovely gay-coloured little songsters. I introduced most of the parrots and toucans. There are two up there even now. They would come down if you were not here.'
'They are very funny-looking, but very pretty,' said Dugald. 'I could stop and look at them for hours.'
'But we must proceed. Here are the trees where the parrots mostly live. Early as it is, you see they are retiring.'
What a sight! What resplendency of colour and beauty! Such bright metallic green, lustrous orange, crimson and bronze!
'Why do they frequent this particular part of the wood?' said Dugald.
'Ah, boy,' replied the hermit, 'I see you want to know everything. Don't be ashamed of that; you are a true naturalist at heart. Well, the parrots like to be by themselves, and few of my birds care to live among them. You will notice, too, that yonder are some eucalyptus trees, and farther up some wide-spreading, open-branched trees, with flowers creeping and clinging around the stems. Parrots love those trees, because while there they have sunshine, and because birds of prey cannot easily tell which is parrot and which is flower or flame-coloured lichen.'
'That is an advantage.'
'Well, yes; but it is an advantage that also has a disadvantage, for our serpents are so lovely that even they are not easily seen by the parrots when they wriggle up among the orchids.'
'Can the parrots defend themselves against snakes?'
'Yes, they can, and sometimes even kill them. I have noticed this, but as a rule they prefer to scare them off by screaming. And they can scream, too. "As deaf as an adder," is a proverb; well, I believe it was the parrot that first deafened the adder, if deaf it be.'
'Have you many birds of prey?'
'Yes, too many. But, see here.'
'I see nothing.'
'No, but you soon shall. Here in the sunniest bank, and in this sunniest part of the wood, dwell a family of that remarkable creature the blind armadillo, or pichithiego. I wonder if any one is at home.'
As he spoke, the hermit knelt down and buried his hands in the sand, soon bringing to the surface a very curious little animal indeed, one of the tenderest of all armadilloes.
It shivered as it cuddled into the hermit's arms.
Dugald laughed aloud.
'Why,' he cried, 'it seems to end suddenly half-way down; and that droll tail looks stuck on for fun.'
'Yes, it is altogether a freak of Nature, and the wonder to me is how, being so tender, it lives here at all. You see how small and delicate a thing it is. They say it is blind, but you observe it is not; although the creatures live mostly underground. They also say that the chlamyphorus truncatus—which is the grand name for my wee friend,—carries its young under this pink or rosy shell jacket, but this I very much doubt. Now go to bed, little one.
'I have prettier pets than even these, two species of agoutis, for instance, very handsome little fellows indeed, and like rats in many of their ways and in many of their droll antics. They are not fond of strangers, but often come out to meet me in my walks about the woods. They live in burrows, but run about plentifully enough in the open air, although their enemies are very numerous. Even the Indians capture and eat them, as often raw as not.
'You have heard of the peccary. Well, I have never encouraged these wild wee pigs, and for some years after I came, there were none in the woods. One morning I found them, however, all over the place in herds. I never knew where they came from, nor how they found us out. But I do know that for more than two years I had to wage constant war with them.'
'They were good to eat?'
'They were tolerably good, especially the young, but I did not want for food; and, besides, they annoyed my wee burrowing pets, and, in fact, they deranged everything, and got themselves thoroughly hated wherever they went.'
'And how did you get rid of them?'
'They disappeared entirely one night as if by magic, and I have never seen nor heard one since. But here we are at my stable.'
'I see no stable,' I said.
'Well, it is an enclosure of half an acre, and my mules and goats are corralled here at night.'
'Do not the pumas or jaguars attempt to molest the mules or goats?'
'Strange to say, they do not, incredible as it may seem. But come in, and you will see a happy family.'
'What are these?' cried Dugald. 'Dogs?'
'No, boy, one is a wolf, the other two are foxes. All three were suckled by one of my dogs, and here they are. You see, they play with the goats, and are exceedingly fond of the mules. They positively prefer the company of the mules to mine, although when I come here with their foster-dam, the deerhound, they all condescend to leave this compound and to follow me through the woods.
'Here come my mules. Are they not beauties?'
We readily admitted they were, never having seen anything in size and shape to equal them.
'Now, you asked me about the jaguars. Mine are but few; they are also very civil; but I do believe that one of these mules would be a match even for a jaguar. If the jaguar had one kick he would never need another. The goats—here they come—herd close to the mules, and the foxes and wolf are sentinels, and give an alarm if even a strange monkey comes near the compound. Ah, here come my pet toucans!'
These strange-beaked birds came floating down from a tree to the number of nearly a dozen, nor did they look at all ungainly, albeit their beaks are so wondrously large.
'What do they eat?'
'Everything; but fruit is the favourite dish with them. But look up. Do you see that speck against the cloud yonder, no bigger in appearance than the lark that sings above the cornfields in England? See how it circles and sweeps round and round. Do you know that bird is a mile above us?'
'That is wonderful!'
'And what think you it is doing? Why, it is eyeing you and me. It is my pet condor. The only bird I do not feed; but the creature loves me well for all that. He is suspicious of your presence. Now watch, and I will bring him down like an arrow.'
The hermit waved a handkerchief in a strange way, and with one fell downward swoop, in a few seconds the monster eagle had alighted near us.
Well may the condor be called 'king of the air,' I thought, for never before had I seen so majestic a bird. He was near us now, and scrutinizing us with that bold fierce eye of his, as some chieftain in the brave days of old might have gazed upon spies that he was about to order away to execution. I believed then—and I am still of the same opinion—that there was something akin to pity and scorn in his steadfast looks, as if we had been brought here for his especial delectation and study.
'Poor wretched bipeds!' he seemed to say; 'not even possessed of feathers, no clothes of their own, obliged to wrap themselves in the hair and skins of dead quadrupeds. No beaks, no talons; not even the wings of a miserable bat. Never knew what it was to mount and soar into the blue sky to meet the morning sun; never floated free as the winds far away in the realms of space; never saw the world spread out beneath them like a living panorama, its woods and forests mere patches of green or purple, its lakes like sheets of shimmering ice, its streams like threads of spiders' webs before the day has drunk the dew, its very deserts dwarfed by distance till the guanacos and the ostriches look like mites, and herds of wild horses appear but crawling ants. Never knew what it was to circle round the loftiest summits of the snow-clad voiceless Andes, while down in the valleys beneath dark clouds rolled fiercely on, and lightnings played across the darkness; nor to perch cool and safe on peak or pinnacle, while below on earth's dull level the hurricane Pampero was levelling house and hut and tree; or the burning breath of the Zonda was sweeping over the land, scorching every flower and leaf, drinking every drop of dew, draining even the blood of moving beings till eyes ache and brains reel, till man himself looks haggard, wild, and worn, and the beasts of the forest, hidden in darkling caves, go mad and rend their young.'
The hermit returned with us to our camping-ground just as great bats began to circle and wheel around, as butterflies were folding their wings and going to sleep beneath the leaves, and the whole woodland glen began to awake to the screaming of night-birds, to the mournful howling of strange monkeys, and hoarse growl of beasts of prey.
We sat together till far into the night listening to story after story of the wild adventures of our new but nameless hero, and till the moon—so high above us now that the pine-trees no longer cast their shadows across the glade—warned us it was time to retire.
'Good night, boys all,' said the hermit; 'I will come again to-morrow.'
He turned and walked away, his potro boots making no sound on the sward. We watched him till the gloom of the forest seemed to swallow him up.
'What a strange being!' said Archie, with a sigh.
'And what a lonely life to lead!' said Donald.
'Ah!' said Dugald, 'you may sigh as you like, Archie, and say what you please, I think there is no life so jolly, and I've half a mind to turn hermit myself.'
We lived in the glen for many weeks. No better or more idyllic headquarters could possibly have been found or even imagined, while all around us was a hunter's paradise. We came at last to look upon the hermit's dell as our home, but we did not bivouac there every night. There were times when we wandered too far away in pursuit of the guanaco, the puma, jaguar, or even the ostrich, which we found feeding on plains at no great distance from our camp.
It was a glorious treat for all of us to find ourselves on these miniature pampas, across which we could gallop unfettered and free.
Under the tuition of Yambo, our capataz, and the other Gauchos, we became adepts in the use of both bolas and lasso. Away up among the beetling crags and in the deep, gloomy caverns we had to stalk the guanacos as the Swiss mountaineer stalks the chamois. Oh, our adventures among the rocks were sometimes thrilling enough! But here on the plains another kind of tactics was pursued. I doubt if we could have ridden near enough to the ostriches to bola them, so our plan was to make detours on the pampas until we had outflanked, encircled, and altogether puzzled our quarry. Then riding in a zigzag fashion, gradually we narrowed the ring till near enough to fire. When nearer still the battue and stampede commenced, and the scene was then wild and confusing in the extreme. The frightened whinny or neigh of the guanacos, the hoarse whirr of the flying ostriches, the shouts of the Gauchos, the bark and yell of dogs, the whistling noise of lasso or bolas, the sharp ringing of rifle and revolver—all combined to form a medley, a huntsman's chorus which no one who has once heard it and taken part in it is likely to forget.
When too far from the camp, then we hobbled our horses at the nearest spot where grass and water could be found, and after supping on broiled guanaco steak and ostrich's gizzard—in reality right dainty morsels—we would roll ourselves in our guanaco robes, and with saddles for pillows go quietly to sleep. Ah, I never sleep so soundly now as I used to then beneath the stars, fanned by the night breeze; and although the dews lay heavy on our robes in the morning, we awoke as fresh as the daisies and as happy as puma cubs that only wake to play.
We began to get wealthy ere long with a weight of skins of birds and beasts. Some of the most valuable of these were procured from a species of otter that lived in the blackest, deepest pools of a stream we had fallen in with in our wanderings. The Gauchos had a kind of superstitious dread of the huge beast, whom they not inappropriately termed the river tiger.
We had found our dogs of the greatest use in the hills, especially our monster bloodhound-mastiffs. These animals possessed nearly all the tracking qualities of the bloodhound, with more fierceness and speed than the mastiff, and nearly the same amount of strength. Their courage, too, and general hardiness were very great.
Among our spoils we could count the skins of no less than fifteen splendid pumas. Several of these had shown fight. Once, I remember, Archie had leapt from his horse and was making his way through a patch of bush on the plains, in pursuit of a young guanaco which he had wounded. He was all alone: not even a dog with him; but Yambo's quick ear had detected the growl of a lion in that bit of scrub, and he at once started off three of his best dogs to the scene of Archie's adventure. Not two hundred yards away myself, but on high ground, I could see everything, though powerless to aid. I could see Archie hurrying back through the bush. I could see the puma spring, and my poor cousin fall beneath the blow—then the death struggle began. It was fearful while it lasted, which was only the briefest possible time, for, even as I looked, the dogs were on the puma. The worrying, yelling, and gurgling sounds were terrible. I saw the puma on its hind legs, I saw one dog thrown high in the air, two others on the wild beast's neck, and next moment Yambo himself was there, with every other horseman save myself tearing along full tilt for the battle-field.