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The Purple Land by W. H. Hudson

Part 2 out of 5

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At length, some time after supper, Margarita, to my sorrow, rose to
retire, though not without first once more asking her uncle's blessing.
After her departure from the kitchen, finding that the inexhaustible
talking-machine Anselmo was still holding forth fresh as ever, I lit
a cigar and prepared to listen.


When I began to listen, it was a surprise to find that the subject of
conversation was no longer the favourite one of horse-flesh, which had
held undisputed sway the whole evening. Uncle Anselmo was just now
expatiating on the merits of gin, a beverage for which he confessed
to a special liking.

"Gin is, without doubt," said he, "the flower of all strong drinks.
I have always maintained that it is incomparable. And for this reason
I always keep a little of it in the house in a stone bottle; for, when
I have taken my _mat_ in the morning, and, after it, one or two
or three or four sips of gin, I saddle my horse and go out with a
tranquil stomach, feeling at peace with the whole world.

"Well, sirs, it happened that on the morning in question, I noticed
that there was very little gin left in the bottle; for, though I could
not see how much it contained, owing to its being of stone and not of
glass, I judged from the manner in which I had to tip it upwards when
pouring it out. In order to remember that I had to bring home some
with me that day I tied a knot in my handkerchief; then, mounting my
horse, I rode out towards the side on which the sun sets, little
expecting that anything unusual was going to happen to me that day.
But thus it often is; for no man, however learned he may be and able
to read the almanac, can tell what a day will bring forth."

Anselmo was so outrageously prosy, I felt strongly inclined to go to
bed to dream of beautiful Margarita; but politeness forbade, and I was
also somewhat curious to hear what extraordinary thing had happened
to him on that very eventful day.

"It fortunately happened," continued Anselmo, "that I had that morning
saddled the best of my cream-noses; for on that horse I could say
without fear of contradiction, I am on horseback and not on foot. I
called him Chingolo, a name which Manuel, also called the Fox, gave
him, because he was a young horse of promise, able to fly with his
rider. Manuel had nine horses--cream-noses every one--and how from
being Manuel's they came to be mine I will tell you. He, poor man, had
just lost all his money at cards--perhaps the money he lost was not
much, but how he came to have any was a mystery to many. To me, however,
it was no mystery, and when my cattle were slaughtered and had their
hides stripped off by night, perhaps I could have gone to
Justice--feeling like a blind man for something in the wrong place--and
led her in the direction of the offender's house; but when one has it
in his power to speak, knowing at the same time that his words will
fall like a thunderbolt out of a blue sky upon a neighbour's dwelling,
consuming it to ashes and killing all within it, why, sirs, in such
a case the good Christian prefers to hold his peace. For what has one
man more than another that he should put himself in the place of
Providence? We are all of flesh. True, some of us are only dog's flesh,
fit for nothing; but to all of us the lash is painful, and where it
rains blood will sprout. This, I say; but, remember, I say not that
Manuel the Fox robbed me--for I would sully no man's reputation, even
a robber's, or have anyone suffer on my account.

"Well, sirs, to go back to what I was saying, Manuel lost everything;
then his wife fell ill with fever; and what was there left for him but
to turn his horses into money? In this way it came about that I bought
the cream-noses and paid him fifty dollars for them. True, the horses
were young and sound; nevertheless, it was a great price, and I paid
it not without first weighing the matter well in my own mind. For in
things of this nature if a person makes not his reckoning beforehand,
where, let me ask, sirs, will he find himself at the year's end? The
devil will take him with all the cattle he inherited from his fathers,
or got together by his own proper abilities and industry.

"For you see the thing is this. I have a poor head for figures; all
other kinds of knowledge come easy to me, but how to calculate readily
has never yet found an entrance into my head. At the same time, whenever
I find it impossible to make out my accounts, or settle what to do,
I have only to take the matter to bed with me and lie awake thinking
it over. For when I do that, I rise next morning feeling free and
refreshed, like a man that has just eaten a water-melon; for what I
have to do and how it is to be done is all as plain to my sight as
this _mat_-cup I hold in my hand.

"In this difficulty I therefore resolved to take the subject of the
horses to bed with me, and to say, 'Here I have you and you shall not
escape from me.' But about supper-time Manuel came in to molest me,
and sat in the kitchen with a sad face, like a prisoner under sentence
of death.

"'If Providence is angry against the entire human race,' said he, 'and
is anxious to make an example, I know not for what reason so harmless
and obscure a person as I am should have been selected.'

"'What would you have, Manuel?' I replied. 'Wise men tell us that
Providence sends us misfortunes for our good.'

"'True, I agree with you,' he said. 'It is not for me to doubt it, for
what can be said of that soldier who finds fault with the measures of
his commander? But you know, Anselmo, the man I am, and it is bitter
that these troubles should fall on one who has never offended except
in being always poor.'

"The vulture,' said I, 'ever preys on the weak and ailing.'

"'First I lose everything,' he continued, 'then this woman must fall
ill of a calenture; and now I am forced to believe that even my credit
is gone, since I cannot borrow the money I require. Those who knew me
best have suddenly become strangers.'

"'When a man is down,' said I, 'the very dogs will scratch up the dust
against him.'

"'True,' said Manuel; 'and since these calamities fell on me, what has
become of the friendships that were so many? For nothing has a worse
smell, or stinks more, than poverty, so that all men when they behold
it cover up their faces or fly from such a pestilence.'

"'You speak the truth, Manuel,' I returned; 'but say not all men, for
who knows--there being so many souls in the world--whether you may not
be doing injustice to someone.'

"'I say it not of you,' he replied, 'On the contrary, if any person
has had compassion on me it is you; and this I say, not in your presence
only, but publicly proclaim it to all men.'

"Words only were these. 'And now,' he continued 'my cards oblige me
to part with my horses for money; therefore I come this evening to
learn your decision.'

"'Manuel,' said I, 'I am a man of few words, as you know, and
straightforward, therefore you need not have used compliments, and
before saying this to have said so many things; for in this you do not
treat me as a friend.'

"'You say well,' he replied; 'but I love not to dismount before checking
my horse and taking my toes from the stirrups.'

"'That is only as it should be,' said I; 'nevertheless, when you come
to a friend's house, you need not alight at such a distance from the

"'For what you say, I thank you,' he answered. 'My faults are more
numerous than the spots on the wild cat, but not amongst them is

"'That is what I like,' said I; 'for I do not love to go about like
a drunk man embracing strangers. But our acquaintance is not of
yesterday, for we have looked into and know each other, even to the
bowels and to the marrow in the bones. Why, then, should we meet as
strangers, since we have never had a difference, or any occasion to
speak ill of each other?'

"'And how should we speak ill,' replied Manuel, 'since it has never
entered into either of us, even in a dream, to do the other an injury?
Some there are, who, loving me badly, would blow up your head like a
bladder with lies if they could, laying I know not what things to my
charge, when--heaven knows--they themselves are perhaps the authors
of all they so readily blame me for.'

"'If you speak,' said I, 'of the cattle I have lost, trouble not
yourself about such trifles; for if those who speak evil of you, only
because they themselves are evil, were listening, they might say, This
man begins to defend himself when no one has so much as thought of
drawing against him.'

"'True, there is nothing they will not say of me,' said Manuel;
'therefore I am dumb, for nothing is to be gained by speaking. They
have already judged me, and no man wishes to be made a liar.'

"'As for me,' I said, 'I never doubted you, knowing you to be a man,
honest, sober, and diligent. If in anything you had given offence I
should have told you of it, so great is my frankness towards all men.'

"'All that you tell me I firmly believe,' said he, 'for I know that
you are not one that wears a mask like others. Therefore, relying on
your great openness in all things, I come to you about these horses;
for I love not dealing with those who shake you out a whole bushel of
chaff for every grain of corn.'

"'But, Manuel,' said I, 'you know that I am not made of gold, and that
the mines of Peru were not left to me for an inheritance. You ask a
high price for your horses.'

"'I do not deny it,' he replied. 'But you are not one to stop your
ears against reason and poverty when they speak. My horses are my only
wealth and happiness, and I have no glory but them.'

"'Frankly, then,' I answered, 'to-morrow I will tell you yes or no.'

"'Let it be as you say; but, friend, if you will close with me tonight
I will abate something from the price.'

"'If you wish to abate anything,' said I, 'let it be to-morrow, for
I have accounts to make up to-night and a thousand things to think of.'

"After that Manuel got on to his horse and rode away. It was black and
rainy, but he had never needed moon or lantern to find what he sought
by night, whether his own house, or a fat cow--also his own, perhaps.

"Then I went to bed. The first question I asked myself, when I had
blown out the candle, was, Are there fat wethers enough in my flock
to pay for the cream-noses? Then I asked, How many fat wethers will
it take at the price Don Sebastian--a miserly cheat be it said in
passing--offers me a head for them to make up the amount I require?

"That was the question; but, you see, friends, I could not answer it.
At length, about midnight, I resolved to light the candle and get an
ear of maize; for by putting the grains into small heaps, each heap
the price of a wether, then counting the whole, I could get to know
what I wanted.

"The idea was good. I was feeling under my pillow for the matches to
strike a light when I suddenly remembered that all the grain had been
given to the poultry. No matter, said I to myself, I have been spared
the trouble of getting out of bed for nothing. Why, it was only
yesterday, said I, still thinking about the maize, that Pascuala, the
cook, said to me when she put my dinner before me, 'Master, when are
you going to buy some grain for the fowls? How can you expect the soup
to be good when there is not even an egg to put in it? Then there is
the black cock with the twisted toe--one of the second brood the spotted
hen raised last summer, though the foxes carried off no less than three
hens from the very bushes where she was sitting--he has been going
round with drooping wings all day, so that I verily believe he is going
to have the pip. And if any epidemic comes amongst the fowls as there
was in neighbour Gumesinda's the year before last, you may be sure it
will only be for want of corn. And the strangest thing is, and it is
quite true, though you may doubt it, for neighbour Gumesinda told me
only yesterday when she came to ask me for some parsley, because, as
you know very well, her own was all rooted up when the pigs broke into
her garden last October; well, sir, she says the epidemic which swept
off twenty-seven of her best fowls in one week began by a black cock
with a broken toe, just like ours, beginning to droop its wings as if
it had the pip.'

"'May all the demons take this woman!' I cried, throwing down the spoon
I had been using, 'with her chatter about eggs and pip and neighbour
Gumesinda, and I know not what besides! Do you think I have nothing
to do but to gallop about the country looking for maize, when it is
not to be had for its weight in gold at this season, and all because
a sickly spotted hen is likely to have the pip?'

"'I have said no such thing,' retorted Pascuala, raising her voice as
women do. 'Either you are not paying proper attention to what I am
telling you, or you pretend not to understand me. For I never said the
spotted hen was likely to have the pip; and if she is the fattest fowl
in all this neighbourhood you may thank me, after the Virgin, for it,
as neighbour Gumesinda often says, for I never fail to give her chopped
meat three times a day; and that is why she is never out of the kitchen,
so that even the cats are afraid to come into the house, for she flies
like a fury into their faces. But you are always laying hold of my
words by the heels; and if I said anything at all about pip, it was
not the spotted hen, but the black cock with the twisted toe, I said
was likely to have it.'

"'To the devil with your cock and your hen!' I shouted, rising in haste
from my chair, for my patience was all gone and the woman was driving
me crazy with her story of a twisted toe and what neighbour Gumesinda
said. 'And may all the curses fall on that same woman, who is always
full as a gazette of her neighbours' affairs! I know well what the
parsley is she comes to gather in my garden. It is not enough that she
goes about the country giving importance to the couplets I sang to
Montenegro's daughter, when I danced with her at Cousin Teodoro's dance
after the cattle-marking, when, heaven knows, I never cared the blue
end of a finger-nail for that girl. But things have now come to a
pretty pass when even a chicken with a broken toe cannot be indisposed
in my house without neighbour Gumesinda thrusting her beak into the

"Such anger did I feel at Pascuala when I remembered these things and
other things besides, for there is no end to that woman's tongue, that
I could have thrown the dish of meat at her head.

"Just then, while occupied with these thoughts, I fell asleep. Next
morning I got up, and without beating my head any more I bought the
horses and paid Manuel his price. For there is in me this excellent
gift, when I am puzzled in mind and in doubt about anything, night
makes everything plain to me, and I rise refreshed and with my
determination formed."

Here ended Anselmo's story, without one word about those marvellous
matters he had set out to tell. They had all been clean forgotten. He
began to make a cigarette, and, fearing that he was about to launch
forth on some fresh subject, I hastily bade good night and retreated
to my bed.


Early next morning Anselmo took his departure, but I was up in time
to say good-bye to the worthy spinner of interminable yarns leading
to nothing. I was, in fact, engaged in performing my morning ablutions
in a large wooden bucket under the willows when he placed himself in
the saddle; then, after carefully arranging the drapery of his
picturesque garments, he trotted gently away, the picture of a man
with a tranquil stomach and at peace with the whole world, even
neighbour Gumesinda included.

I had spent a somewhat restless night, strange to say, for my hospitable
hostess had provided me with a deliciously soft bed, a very unusual
luxury in the Banda Orientl, and when I plunged into it there were
no hungry bedfellows waiting my advent within its mysterious folds.
I thought about the pastoral simplicity of the lives and character of
the good people slumbering near me; and that inconsequent story of
Anselmo's about Manuel and Pascuala caused me to laugh several times.
Finally my thoughts, which had been roaming around in a wild, uncertain
manner, like rooks "blown about the windy skies," settled quietly down
to the consideration of that beautiful anomaly, that mystery of
mysteries, the white-faced Margarita. For how, in the name of heredity,
had she got there? Whence that pearly skin and lithesome form; the
proud, sweet mouth, the nose that Phidias might have taken for a model;
the clear, spiritual, sapphire eyes, and the wealth of silky hair,
that if unbound would cover her as with a garment of surpassing beauty?
With such a problem vexing my curious brain, what sleep could a
philosopher get?

When Batata saw me making preparations for departure, he warmly pressed
me to stay to breakfast. I consented at once, for, after all, the more
leisurely one does a thing the sooner will it be accomplished--especially
in the Banda Orientl. One breakfasts here at noon, so that I had plenty
of time to see, and renew my pleasure in seeing, pretty Margarita.

In the course of the morning we had a visitor; a traveller who arrived
on a tired horse, and who slightly knew my host Batata, having, I was
told, called at the house on former occasions. Marcos Marc was his
name; a tall, sallow-faced individual about fifty years old, slightly
grey, very dirty, and wearing threadbare gaucho garments. He had a
slouching gait and manner, and a patient, waiting, hungry animal
expression of face. Very, very keen were his eyes, and I detected him
several times watching me narrowly.

Leaving this Oriental tramp in conversation with Batata, who with
misplaced kindness had offered to provide him with a fresh horse, I
went out for a walk before breakfast. During my walk, which was along
a tiny stream at the foot of the hill on which the house stood, I found
a very lovely bell-shaped flower of a delicate rose-colour. I plucked
it carefully and took it back with me, thinking it just possible that
I might give it to Margarita should she happen to be in the way. On
my return to the house I found the traveller sitting by himself under
the corridor, engaged in mending some portion of his dilapidated
horse-gear, and sat down to have a chat with him. A clever bee will
always be able to extract honey enough to reward him from any flower,
and so I did not hesitate tackling this outwardly very unpromising

"And so you are an Englishman," he remarked, after we had had some
conversation; and I, of course, replied in the affirmative.

"What a strange thing!" he said. "And you are fond of gathering pretty
flowers?" he continued, with a glance at my treasure.

"All flowers are pretty," I replied.

"But surely, seor, some are prettier than others. Perhaps you have
observed a particularly pretty one growing in these parts--the white

Margarita is the Oriental vernacular for verbena; the fragrant white
variety is quite common in the country; so that I was justified in
ignoring the fellow's rather impudent meaning. Assuming as wooden an
expression as I could, I replied, "Yes, I have often observed the
flower you speak of; it is fragrant, and to my mind surpasses in beauty
the scarlet and purple varieties. But you must know, my friend, that
I am a botanist--that is, a student of plants--and they are all equally
interesting to me."

This astonished him; and, pleased with the interest he appeared to
take in the subject, I explained, in simple language, the principles
on which a classification of plants is founded, telling him about that
_lingua franca_ by means of which all the botanists in the world
of all nations are able to converse together about plants. From this
somewhat dry subject I launched into the more fascinating one of the
physiology of plants. "Now, look at this," I continued, and with my
penknife I carefully dissected the flower in my hand, for it was evident
that I could not now give it to Margarita without exposing myself to
remarks. I then proceeded to explain to him the beautiful complex
structure by means of which this campanula fertilises itself.

He listened in wonder, exhausting all the Spanish and Oriental
equivalents of such expressions as "Dear me!" "How extraordinary!"
"Lawks a mussy!" "You don't say so!" I finished my lecture, satisfied
that my superior intellect had baffled the rude creature; then,
tossingaway the fragments of the flower I had sacrificed, I restored the
penknife to my pocket.

"These are matters we do not often hear about in the Banda Orientl,"
he said. "But the English know everything--even the secrets of a flower.
They are also able to do most things. Did you ever, sir botanist, take
part in acting a comedy?"

After all, I had wasted my flower and scientific knowledge on the
animal for nothing! "Yes, I have!" I replied rather angrily; then,
suddenly remembering Eyebrows' teaching, I added, "and in tragedy

"Is that so?" he exclaimed. "How amused the spectators must have been!
Well, we can all have our fill of fighting presently, for I see the
_White Flower_ coming this way to tell us that breakfast is ready.
Batata's roast beef will give something for our knives to do; I only
wish we had one of his own floury namesakes to eat with it."

I swallowed my resentment, and when Margarita came to us, looked up
into her matchless face with a smile, then rose to follow her into the


After breakfast I bade a reluctant good-bye to my kind entertainers,
took a last longing, lingering look at lovely Margarita, and mounted
my horse. Scarcely was I in the saddle before Marcos Marc, who was
also about to resume his journey on the fresh horse he had borrowed,

"You are travelling to Montevideo, good friend; I am also going in
that direction, and will take you the shortest way."

"The road will show me the way," I rejoined curtly.

"The road," he said, "is like a lawsuit; round-about, full of puddles
and pitfalls, and long to travel. It is only meant to be used by old
half-blind men and drivers of bullock-carts."

I hesitated about accepting the guidance of this strange fellow, who
appeared to have a ready wit under his heavy-slouching exterior. The
mixed contempt and humility in his speech every time he addressed me
gave me an uncomfortable sensation; then his poverty-stricken appearance
and his furtive glances filled me with suspicion. I looked at my host,
who was standing near, thinking to take my cue from the expression of
his face; but it was only a stolid Oriental face that revealed nothing.
An ancient rule in whist is to play trumps when in doubt; now my rule
of action is, when two courses are open to me and I am in doubt, to
take the bolder one. Acting on this principle, I determined to go with
Marcos, and accordingly we rode forth together.

My guide soon struck away across-country, leading me wide of the public
road, through such lonely places that I at length began to suspect him
of some sinister design against my person, since I had no property
worth taking. Presently he surprised me by saying: "You were right,
my young friend, in casting away idle fears when you accepted my
company. Why do you let them return to trouble your peace? Men of your
blood have never inflicted injuries on me that cry out for vengeance.
Can I make myself young again by shedding your life, or would there
be any profit in changing these rags I now wear for your garments,
which are also dusty and frayed? No, no, sir Englishman, this dress
of patience and suffering and exile, my covering by day and my bed by
night, must soon be changed for brighter garments than you are wearing."

This speech relieved me sensibly, and I smiled at the poor devil's
ambitious dream of wearing a soldier's greasy red jacket; for I supposed
that that was what his words meant. Still, his "shortest way" to
Montevideo continued to puzzle me considerably. For two or three hours
we had been riding nearly parallel to a range of hills, or _cuchilla,_
extending away on our left hand towards the south-east. But we were
gradually drawing nearer to it, and apparently going purposely out of our
way only to traverse a most lonely and difficult country. The few
_estancia_ houses we passed, perched on the highest points of the great
sweep of moor-like country on our right, appeared to be very far away.
Where we rode there were no habitations, not even a shepherd's hovel; the
dry, stony soil was thinly covered with a forest of dwarf thorn-trees,
and a scanty pasturage burnt to a rust-brown colour by the summer heats;
and out of this arid region rose the hills, their brown, woodless sides
looking strangely gaunt and desolate in the fierce noonday sun.

Pointing to the open country on our right, where the blue gleam of a
river was visible, I said: "My friend, I assure you, I fear nothing,
but I cannot understand why you keep near these hills when the valley
over there would have been pleasanter for ourselves, and easier for
our horses."

"I do nothing without a reason," he said, with a strange smile. "The
water you see over there is the Rio de las Canas [River of Grey Hairs],
and those who go down into its valley grow old before their time."

Occasionally talking, but oftener silent, we jogged on till about three
o'clock in the afternoon, when suddenly, as we were skirting a patch
of scraggy woodland, a troop of six armed men emerged from it, and,
wheeling about, came directly towards us. A glance was enough to tell
us that they were soldiers or mounted policemen, scouring the country
in search of recruits, or, in other words, of deserters, skulking
criminals, and vagabonds of all descriptions. I had nothing to fear
from them, but an exclamation of rage escaped my companion's lips,
and, turning to him, I perceived that his face was of the whiteness
of ashes. I laughed, for revenge is sweet, and I still smarted a little
at his contemptuous treatment of me earlier in the day.

"Is your fear so great?" I said.

"You do not know what you say, boy!" he returned fiercely. "When you
have passed through as much hell-fire as I have and have rested as
sweetly with a corpse for a pillow, you will learn to curb your
impertinent tongue when you address a man."

An angry retort was on my lips, but a glance at his face prevented me
from uttering it--it was, in its expression, the face of a wild animal
worried by dogs.

In another moment the men had cantered up to us, and one, their
commander, addressing me, asked to see my passport.

"I carry no passport," I replied. "My nationality is a sufficient
protection, for I am an Englishman as you can see."

"We have only your word for that," said the man. "There is an English
consul in the capital, who provides English subjects with passports
for their protection, in this country. If you have not got one you
must suffer for it, and no one but yourself is to blame. I see in you
only a young man complete in all his members, and of such the republic
is in need. Your speech is also like that of one who came into the
world under this sky. You must go with us."

"I shall do nothing of the sort," I returned.

"Do not say such a thing, master," said Marcos, astonishing me very
much with the change in his tone and manner. "You know I warned you
a month ago that it was imprudent to leave Montevideo without our
passports. This officer is only obeying the orders he has received;
still, he might see that we are only what we represent ourselves to

"Oh!" exclaimed the officer, turning to Marcos, "you are also an
Englishman unprovided with a passport, I suppose? You might at least
have supplied yourself with a couple of blue crockery eyes and a yellow
beard for your greater safety."

"I am only a poor son of the soil," said Marcos meekly. "This young
Englishman is looking for an _estancia_ to buy, and I came as his
attendant from the capital. We were very careless not to get our
passports before starting."

"Then, of course, this young man has plenty of money in his pocket?"
said the officer.

I did not relish the lies Marcos had taken upon himself to tell about
me, but did not quite know what the consequences of contradicting them
might be. I therefore replied that I was not so foolish as to travel
in a country like the Banda Orientl with money on my person. "To pay
for bread and cheese till I reach my destination is about as much as
I have," I added.

"The government of this country is a generous one," said the officer
sarcastically, "and will pay for all the bread and cheese you will
require. It will also provide you with beef. You must now come with
me to the Juzgado de las Cuevas, both of you."

Seeing no help for it, we accompanied our captors at a swinging gallop
over a rough, undulating country, and in about an hour and a half
reached Las Cuevas, a dirty, miserable-looking village, composed of
a few _ranchos_ built round a large plaza overgrown with weeds.
On one side stood the church, on the other a square stone building
with a flagstaff before it. This was the official building of the Juez
de Paz, or rural magistrate; just now, however, it was closed, and
with no sign of life about it except an old dead-and-alive-looking man
sitting against the closed door, with his bare, mahogany-coloured legs
stretched out in the hot sunshine.

"This is a very fine thing!" exclaimed the officer, with a curse. "I
feel very much inclined to let the men go."

"You will lose nothing by doing so, except, perhaps, a headache," said

"Hold your tongue till your advice is asked!" retorted the officer,
thoroughly out of temper.

"Lock them up in the _calaboso_ till the Juez comes to-morrow,
Lieutenant," suggested the old man by the door, speaking through a
bushy white beard and a cloud of tobacco-smoke.

"Do you not know that the door is broken, old fool?" said the officer.
"Lock them up! Here I am neglecting my own affairs to serve the State,
and this is how I am treated. We must now take them to the Juez at his
own house and let him look after them. Come on, boys."

We were then conducted out of Las Cuevas to a distance of about two
miles, where the Seor Juez resided in the bosom of his family. His
private residence was a very dirty, neglected-looking _estancia_
house, with a great many dogs, fowls, and children about. We dismounted,
and were immediately taken into a large room, where the magistrate sat
at a table on which lay a great number of papers--goodness knows what
they were about. The Juez was a little hatchet-faced man, with bristly
grey whiskers, standing out like a cat's moustache, and angry eyes--or,
rather with one angry eye, for over the other a cotton handkerchief
was tied. No sooner had we all entered than a hen, leading a brood of
a dozen half-grown chickens, rushed into the room after us, the chickens
instantly distributing themselves about the floor in quest of crumbs,
while the mother, more ambitious, flew on the table, scattering the
papers right and left with the wind she created.

"A thousand demons take the fowls!" cried the Juez, starting up in a
fury. "Man, go and bring your mistress here this instant. I command
her to come."

This order was obeyed by the person who had ushered us in, a
greasy-looking, swarthy-faced individual, in threadbare military
clothes; and in two or three minutes he returned, followed by a very
fat, slatternly woman, looking very good-tempered, however, who
immediately subsided, quite exhausted, into a chair.

"What is it, Fernando?" she panted.

"What is it? How can you have the courage to ask such a question,
Toribia? Look at the confusion your pestilent fowls are creating amongst
my papers--papers that concern the safety of the republic! Woman, what
measures are you going to take to stop this before I have your fowls
all killed on the spot?"

"What can I do, Fernando?--they are hungry, I suppose. I thought you
wanted to ask my advice about these prisoners--poor fellows! and here
you are with your hens."

Her placid manner acted like oil on the fire of his wrath. He stormed
about the room, kicking over chairs, and hurling rulers and
paper-weights at the birds, apparently with the most deadly intentions,
but with shockingly bad aim--shouting, shaking his fist at his wife,
and even threatening to commit her for contempt of court when she
laughed. At last, after a great deal of trouble, the fowls were all
got out, and the servant placed to guard the door, with strict orders
to decapitate the first chicken that should attempt to enter and disturb
the proceedings.

Order being restored, the Juez lit a cigarette and began to smooth his
ruffled feathers. "Proceed," he said to the officer, from his seat at
the table.

"Sir," said the officer, "in pursuance of my duty I have taken in
charge these two strangers, who are unprovided with passports or
documents of any description to corroborate their statements. According
to their story, the young man is an English millionaire going about
the country buying up estates, while the other man is his servant.
There are twenty-five reasons for disbelieving their story, but I have
not sufficient time to impart them to you now. Having found the doors
of the Juzgado closed, I have brought these men here with great
inconvenience to myself; and I am now only waiting to have this business
despatched without further delay, so that I may have a little time
left to devote to my private affairs."

"Address not me in this imperative manner, sir officer!" exclaimed the
Juez, his anger blazing out afresh. "Do you imagine, sir, that I have
no private interests; that the State feeds and clothes my wife and
children? No, sir, I am the servant of the republic, not the slave;
and I beg to remind you that official business must be transacted
during the proper hours and at the proper place."

"Sir Juez," said the officer, "it is my opinion that a civil magistrate
ought never to have any part in matters which more properly come under
the military authorities. However, since these things are differently
arranged, and I am compelled to come with my reports to you in the
first place, I am only here to know, without entering into any
discussion concerning your position in the republic, what is to be
done with these two prisoners I have brought before you."

"Done with them! Send them to the devil! cut their throats; let them
go; do what you like, since you are responsible, not I. And be sure,
sir officer, I shall not fail to report your insubordinate language
to your superiors."

"Your threats do not alarm me," said the officer; "for one cannot be
guilty of insubordination towards a person one is not bound to obey.
And now, sirs," he added, turning to us, "I have been advised to release
you; you are free to continue your journey."

Marcos rose with alacrity.

"Man, sit down!" yelled the irate magistrate, and poor Marcos,
thoroughly crestfallen, sat down again. "Sir Lieutenant," continued
the fierce old man, "you are dismissed from further attendance here.
The republic you profess to serve would perhaps be just as well off
without your valuable aid. Go, sir, to attend to your private affairs,
and leave your men here to execute my commands."

The officer rose, and, having made a profound and sarcastic bow, turned
on his heel and left the room.

"Take these two prisoners to the stocks," continued the little despot.
"I will examine them to-morrow."

Marcos was first marched out of the room by two of the soldiers; for
it happened that an outhouse on the place was provided with the usual
wooden arrangement to make captives secure for the night. But when the
other men took me by the arms, I recovered from the astonishment the
magistrate's order had produced in me, and shook them roughly aside.
"Seor Juez," I said, addressing him, "let me beg you to consider what
you are doing. Surely my accent is enough to satisfy any reasonable
person that I am not a native of this country. I am willing to remain
in your custody, or to go wherever you like to send me; but your men
shall tear me to pieces before making me suffer the indignity of the
stocks. If you maltreat me in any way, I warn you that the government
you serve will only censure, and perhaps ruin you, for your imprudent

Before he could reply, his fat spouse, who had apparently taken a great
fancy to me, interposed on my behalf, and persuaded the little savage
to spare me.

"Very well," he said, "consider yourself a guest in my house for the
present; if you are telling the truth about yourself, a day's detention
cannot hurt you."

I was then conducted by my kind intercessor into the kitchen, where
we all sat down to partake of _mat_ and talk ourselves into good

I began to feel rather sorry for poor Marcos, for even a worthless
vagabond, such as he appeared to be, becomes an object of compassion
when misfortune overtakes him, and I asked permission to see him. This
was readily granted. I found him confined in a large empty room built
apart from the house; he had been provided with a _mat_-cup and
a kettle of hot water, and was sipping his bitter beverage with an air
of stoical indifference. His legs, confined in the stocks, were thrust
straight out before him; but I suppose he was accustomed to
uncomfortable positions, for he did not seem to mind it much. After
sympathising with him in a general way, I asked him whether he could
really sleep in that position.

"No," he replied, with indifference. "But, do you know, I do not mind
about being taken. They will send me to the _comandancia_, I
suppose, and after a few days liberate me. I am a good workman on
horseback, and there will not be wanting some _estanciero_ in
need of hands to get me out. Will you do me one small service, friend,
before you go to your bed?"

"Yes, certainly, if I can," I answered.

He laughed slightly and looked at me with a strange, keen glitter in
his eyes; then, taking my hand, he gave it a powerful grip. "No, no,
my friend, I am not going to trouble you to do anything for me," he
said. "I have the devil's temper, and to-day, in a moment of rage, I
insulted you. It therefore surprised me when you came here and spoke
kindly to me. I desired to know whether that feeling was only on the
surface; since the men one meets with are often like horned cattle.
When one falls, his companions of the pasture-ground remember only his
past offences, and make haste to gore him."

His manner surprised me; he did not now seem like the Marcos Marc I
had travelled with that day. Touched with his words, I sat down on the
stocks facing him, and begged him to tell me what I could do for him.

"Well, friend," said he, "you see the stocks are fastened with a
padlock. If you will get the key, and take me out, I will sleep well;
then in the morning, before the old one-eyed lunatic is up, you can
come and turn the key in the lock again. Nobody will be the wiser."

"And you are not thinking of escaping?" I said.

"I have not even the faintest wish to escape," he replied.

"You could not escape if you did," I said, "for the room would be
locked, of course. But if I were disposed to do what you ask, how could
I get the key?"

"That is an easy matter," said Marcos. "Ask the good seora to let you
have it. Did I not notice her eyes dwelling lovingly on your face--for,
doubtless, you reminded her of some absent relative, a favourite nephew,
perhaps. She would not deny you anything in reason; and a kindness,
friend, even to the poorest man, is never thrown away."

"I will think about it," I said, and shortly after that I left him.

It was a sultry evening, and, the close, smoky atmosphere of the kitchen
becoming unendurable, I went out and sat down on a log of wood out of
doors. Here the old Juez, in his character of amiable host, came and
discoursed for half an hour on lofty matters relating to the republic.
Presently his wife came out, and, declaring that the evening air would
have an injurious effect on his inflamed eye, persuaded him to go
indoors. Then she subsided into a place at my side, and began to talk
about Fernando's dreadful temper and the many cares of her life.

"What a very serious young man you are!" she remarked, changing her
tone somewhat abruptly. "Do you keep all your gay and pleasant speeches
for the young and pretty seoritas?"

"Ah, seora, you are yourself young and beautiful in my eyes," I
replied; "but I have no heart to be gay when my poor fellow-traveller
is fastened in the stocks, where your cruel husband would also have
confined me but for your timely intervention. You are so kind-hearted,
cannot you have his poor tired legs taken out in order that he may
also rest properly to-night?"

"Ah, little friend," she returned. "I could not attempt such a thing.
Fernando is a monster of cruelty, and would immediately put out my
eyes without remorse. Poor me, what I have to endure!"--and here she
placed her fat hand on mine.

I drew my hand away somewhat coldly; a born diplomatist could not have
managed the thing better.

"Madam," I said, "you are amusing yourself at my expense. When you
have done me a great favour, will you now deny me this small thing?
If your husband is so terrible a despot, surely you can do this without
letting him know! Let me get my poor Marcos out of the stocks and I
give you my word of honour that the Juez will never hear of it, for
I will be up early to turn the key in the lock before he is out of his

"And what will my reward be?" she asked, again putting her hand on

"The deep gratitude and devotion of my heart," I returned, this time
without withdrawing my hand.

"Can I refuse anything to my sweet boy?" said she. "After supper I
shall slip the key into your hand; I am going now to get it from his
room. Before Fernando retires, ask to see your Marcos, to take him a
rug, or some tobacco or something; and do not let the servant see what
you do, for he will be at the door waiting to lock it when you come

After supper the promised key was secretly conveyed to me, and I had
not the least difficulty in liberating my friend in misfortune. Luckily
the man who took me to Marcos left us alone for some time, and I related
my conversation with the fat woman.

He jumped up, and, seizing my hand, wrung it till I almost screamed
with pain.

"My good friend," he said, "you have a noble, generous soul, have done
me the greatest service it is possible for one man to render to another.
You have, in fact, now placed me in a position to--enjoy my night's
rest. Good night, and may Heaven's angels put it in my power to reward
you at some future time!"

The fellow was overdoing it a little, I thought; then, when I had seen
him safely locked up for the night, I walked back to the kitchen slowly
and very thoughtfully.


I walked thoughtfully back, because, after rendering that unimportant
service to Marcos, I began to experience sundry qualms of conscience
and inward questionings concerning the strict morality of the whole
proceeding. Allowing that I had done something very kind, charitable,
and altogether praiseworthy in getting the poor fellow's unfortunate
feet out of the stocks, did all that justify the cajolery I had
practised to attain my object? Or, to put it briefly in the old familiar
way: Does the end sanctify the means? Assuredly it does in some cases,
very easy to be imagined. Let us suppose that I have a beloved friend,
an ailing person of a nervous, delicate organisation, who has taken
it into his poor cracked brains that he is going to expire at the
stroke of twelve on a given night. Without consulting the authorities
on ethical questions, I should, in such a case, flit about his room
secretly manipulating his timepieces, till I had advanced them a whole
hour, and then, just before the stroke of midnight, triumphantly produce
my watch and inform him that death had failed to keep the appointment.
Such an acted lie as that would weigh nothing on the conscience of any
man. The fact of the matter is, the circumstances must always be
considered and every case judged on its own particular merits. Now,
this affair of getting the key was not one for me to judge, since Ihad
been a chief actor in it, but rather for some acute and learned
casuist. I therefore made a mental note of it, with the intention of
putting it impartially before the first person of that description I
should meet. Having thus disposed of a troublesome matter, I felt
greatly relieved in mind, and turned into the kitchen once more. I had
scarcely sat down, however, before I round that one disagreeable
consequence of my performance--the fat seora's claim on my undying
devotion and gratitude--had yet to be faced. She greeted my entrance
with an effusive smile; and the sweetest smiles of some people one
meets are less endurable than their black looks. In self-defence I
assumed as drowsy and vacant an expression as I could summon on the
instant to a countenance by nature almost too ingenuous. I pretended
not to hear, or to misunderstand, everything that was said to me;
finally I grew so sleepy that I was several times on the point of
falling off my chair, then, after each extravagant nod, I would start
up and stare vacantly around me. My grim little host could scarcely
conceal a quiet smile, for never had he seen a person so outrageously
sleepy before. At length he mercifully remarked that I seemed fatigued,
and advised me to retire. Very gladly I made my exit, followed in my
retreat from the kitchen by a pair of sad, reproachful eyes.

I slept soundly enough in the comfortable bed, which my obese Gulnare
had provided for me, until the numerous cocks of the establishment
woke me shortly after daybreak with their crowing. Remembering that
I had to secure Marcos in the stocks before the irascible little
magistrate should appear on the scene, I rose and hastily dressed
myself. I found the greasy man of the brass buttons already in the
kitchen sipping his matutinal _mat-amargo,_ and asked him to
lend me the key of the prisoner's room; for this was what I had been
instructed to do by the seora. He got up and went with me to open the
door himself, not caring, I suppose, to trust me with the key. When
he threw the door open we stood silently gazing for some time into the
empty apartment. The prisoner had vanished and a large hole cut in the
thatch of the roof showed how and where he had made his exit. I felt
very much exasperated at the shabby trick the fellow had played on us,
on me especially, for I was in a measure responsible for him.
Fortunately the man who opened the door never suspected me of being
an accomplice, but merely remarked that the stocks had evidently been
left unlocked by the soldiers the evening before, so that it was not
strange the prisoner had made his escape.

When the other members of the household got up, the matter was discussed
with little excitement or even interest, and I soon concluded that the
secret of the escape would remain between the lady of the house and
myself. She watched for an opportunity to speak to me alone, then,
shaking her fat forefinger at me in playful anger, whispered, "Ah,
deceiver, you planned it all with him last evening and only made me
your instrument!"

"Seora," I protested, with dignity, "I assure you on the word of
honour of an Englishman, I never suspected the man had any intention
of escaping. I am very angry it has happened."

"What do you suppose I care about his escaping?" she replied laughingly.
"For your sake, sweet friend, I would gladly open the doors of every
prison in the Banda if I had the power."

"Ah, how you flatter! But I must now go to your husband to learn from
him what he intends doing with the prisoner who has not attempted to

With this excuse I got away from her.

The wretched little Juez, when I spoke to him, put me off with a number
of vague, meaningless phrases about his responsible position, the
peculiar nature of his functions, and the unsettled state of the
republic--as if it had ever known or was ever likely to know any other
state! He then mounted his horse and rode away to Las Cuevas, leaving
me with that dreadful woman; and I verily believe that in doing so he
was only carrying out her private instructions. The only comfort he
gave me was the promise he made before going that a communication
respecting me would be forwarded to the Commandante of the district
in the course of the day, which would probably result in my being
passed on to that functionary. In the meanwhile he begged me to make
free use of his house and everything in it. Of course, the misguided
little wretch had no intention of throwing his fat wife at my head;
still, I had no doubt that it was she who inspired these complimentary
phrases, telling him, perhaps, that he would lose nothing by a courteous
treatment of the "English millionaire."

When he rode away he left me sitting on the gate, feeling very much
disgusted, and almost wishing that, like Marcos Marc, I had run away
during the night. Never had I taken so sudden and violent a dislike
to anything as I then and there did to that estancia, where I was an
honoured, albeit a compulsory guest. The hot, brilliant morning sunshone
down on the discoloured thatch and mud-plastered walls of the
sordid-looking building, while all about wherever I cast my eyes they
rested on weeds, old bones, broken bottles, and other rubbish--eloquent
witnesses of the dirty, idle, thriftless character of the inmates.
Meanwhile my sweet, angelic child-wife, with her violet eyes dim with
tears, was waiting for me far away in Montevideo, wondering at my long
absence, and even now perhaps shading her face with her lily hand and
looking out on the white dusty road watching for my arrival! And here
I was compelled to sit, idly swinging my legs on the gate, because
that abominable fat woman had taken a fancy to keep me by her! Feeling
mad with indignation, I suddenly jumped down from the gate with an
exclamation not intended for ears polite, causing my hostess to jump
also and utter a scream; for there she was (confound her!) standing
just behind me.

"The Saints defend me!" she exclaimed, recovering herself and laughing;
"what made you startle me so?"

I apologised for the strong expression I had used; then added, "Seora,
I am a young man full of energy and accustomed to take a great deal
of exercise every day, and I am getting very impatient sitting here
basking in the sunshine, like a turtle on a bank of mud."

"Why, then, do you not take a walk?" she said, with kind concern.

I said I would gladly do so, and thanked her for the permission; then
she immediately offered to accompany me. I protested very ungallantly
that I was a fast walker, and reminded her that the sun was excessively
hot, and I should also have liked to add that she was excessively fat.
She replied that it did not matter; so polite a person as myself would
know how to accommodate his pace to that of his companion. Unable to
shake her off, I started for my walk in a somewhat unamiable mood, the
stout lady resolutely trudging on at my side, perspiring abundantly.
Our path led us down to a little caada, or valley, where the ground
was moist and abounding with numerous pretty flowers and feathery
grasses, very refreshing to look at after leaving the parched yellow
ground about the estancia house.

"You seem to be very fond of flowers," observed my companion. "Let me
help you gather them. To whom will you give your nosegay when it is

"Seora," I replied, vexed at her trivial chatter, "I will give it to
the--" I had almost said to the devil, when a piercing scream she
uttered suddenly arrested the rude speech on my lips.

Her fright had been caused by a pretty little snake, about eighteen
inches long, which she had seen gliding away at her feet. And no wonder
it glided away from her with all the speed it was capable of, for how
gigantic and deformed a monster that fat woman must have seemed to it!
The terror of a timid little child at the sight of a hippopotamus,
robed in flowing bed-curtains and walking erect on its hind legs, would
perhaps be comparable to the panic possessing the shallow brain of the
poor speckled thing when that huge woman came striding over it.

First I laughed, and then, seeing that she was about to throw herself
for protection like a mountain of flesh upon me, I turned and ran after
the snake--for I had observed that it belonged to a harmless species,
one of the innocuous Coronella genus--and I was anxious to annoy the
woman. I captured it in a moment; then, with the poor frightened
creature struggling in my hand and winding itself about my wrist, I
walked back to her.

"Did you ever see such lovely colours?" I cried. "Look at the delicate
primrose yellow on its neck, deepening into vivid crimson on the belly.
Talk of flowers and butterflies! And its eyes are bright as two small
diamonds--look closely at them, seora, for they are well worth your

But she only turned and fled away screaming at my approach, and at
last, finding that I would not obey her and drop the terrible reptile,
she left me in a towering rage and went back to the house by herself.

After that I continued my walk in peace amongst the flowers; but my
little speckled captive had served me so well that I would not release
it. It occurred to me that if I kept it on my person it might serve
as a sort of talisman to protect me from the disagreeable attentions
of the seora. Finding that it was a very sly little snakey, and, like
Marcos Marc in captivity, full of subtle deceit, I put it into my
hat, which, when firmly pressed on to my head, left no opening for the
little arrowy head to insinuate itself through. After spending two or
three hours botanising in the _caada_, I returned to the house.
I was in the kitchen refreshing myself with a bitter _mat_, when
my hostess came in beaming with smiles, for she had, I suppose, forgiven
me by this time. I politely rose and removed my hat. Unfortunately I
had forgotten the snake, when out it dropped on the floor; then followed
screams, confusion and scuttling out of the kitchen by madame, children,
and servants. After that I was compelled to carry the snake out and
give it back its liberty, which no doubt tasted very sweet to it after
its close confinement. On my return to the house, one of the servants
informed me that the seora was too much offended to sit in the same
room with me again, so that I was obliged to have my breakfast alone;
and for the remainder of the time during which I was a prisoner I was
avoided by everyone (except Brass Buttons,--who appeared indifferent
to everything on earth), as if I had been a leper or a dangerous
lunatic. They thought, perhaps, that I still had other reptiles
concealed about my person.

Of course, one always expects to find a cruel, unreasoning prejudice
against snakes amongst ignorant people, but I never knew before to
what ridiculous lengths it will carry them. The prejudice makes me
angry, but on this occasion it had a use, for it enabled me to pass
the day unmolested.

In the evening the Juez returned, and I soon heard him loud in a stormy
altercation with his wife. Perhaps she wanted him to have me
decapitated. How it ended I cannot say; but when I saw him his manner
towards me was freezing, and he retired without giving me an opportunity
of speaking to him.

Next morning I got up resolved not to be put off any longer. Something
would have to be done, or I would know the reason why. On stepping out
I was very much surprised to see my horse standing saddled at the gate.
I went into the kitchen and asked Brass Buttons, the only person up,
what it meant.

"Who knows?" he returned, giving me a _mat_. "Perhaps the Juez
desires you to leave the house before he is up."

"What did he say?" I demanded.

"Say? Nothing--what should he say?"

"But you saddled the horse, I suppose?"

"Of course. Who else would do it?"

"Were you told to do so by the Juez?"

"Told? Why should he tell me?"

"How, then, am I to know that he wishes me to leave his beautiful
house?" I asked, getting angry.

"The question!" he returned, shrugging his shoulders. "How do you know
when it is going to rain?"

Finding there was nothing more to be got out of the fellow, I finishing
taking _mat_, lit a cigar, and left the house. It was a lovely
morning, without a cloud, and the heavy dew sparkled on the grass like
drops of rain. What a pleasant thing it was to be able to ride forth
again free to go where I liked!

And so ends my snake-story, which is perhaps not very interesting; but
it is true, and therefore has one advantage over all other snake-stories
told by travellers.


Before leaving the magistrate's _estancia_ I had made up my mind
to return by the shortest route, and as quickly as possible, to
Montevideo; and that morning, mounted on a well-rested horse, I covered
a great deal of ground. By twelve o'clock, when I stopped to rest my
horse and get some refreshment at a wayside _pulpera_, I had got
over about eight leagues. This was travelling at an imprudent pace,
of course; but in the Banda Orientl it is so easy to pick up a fresh
horse that one becomes somewhat reckless. My journey that morning had
taken me over the eastern portion of the Durazno district, and I was
everywhere charmed with the beauty of the country, though it was still
very dry, the grass on the higher lands being burnt to various shades
of yellow and brown. Now, however, the summer heats were over, for the
time was near the end of February; the temperature, without being
oppressive, was deliciously warm, so that travelling on horseback was
delightful. I might fill dozens of pages with descriptions of pretty
bits of country I passed that day, but must plead guilty of an
unconquerable aversion to this kind of writing. After this candid
confession, I hope the reader will not quarrel with me for the omission;
besides, anyone who cares for these things, and knows how evanescent
are the impressions left by word pictures on the mind, can sail the
seas and gallop round the world to see them all for himself. It is
not, however, every wanderer from England--I blush while saying it--who
can make himself familiar with the home habits, the ways of thought
and speech, of a distant people. Bid me discourse of lowly valley,
lofty height, of barren waste, shady wood, or cooling stream where I
have drunk and been refreshed; but all these places, pleasant or dreary,
must be in the kingdom called the heart.

After getting some information about the country I had to traverse
from the _pulpero_, who told me that I would probably reach the
River Y before evening, I resumed my journey. About four o'clock in
the afternoon I came to an extensive wood of thorn-trees, of which the
_pulpero_ had spoken, and, in accordance with his instructions,
I skirted it on the eastern side. The trees were not large, but there
was an engaging wildness about this forest, full of the musical chatter
of birds, which tempted me to alight from my horse and rest for an
hour in the shade. Taking the bit from his mouth to let him feed, I
threw myself down on the dry grass under a clump of shady thorns, and
for half an hour watched the sparkling sunlight falling through the
foliage overhead, and listened to the feathered people that came about
me, loudly chirping, apparently curious to know what object had brought
me to their haunts. Then I began to think of all the people I had
recently mixed with: the angry magistrate and his fat wife--horrid
woman!--and Marcos Marc, that shabby rascal, rose up before me to
pass quickly away, and once more I was face to face with that lovely
mystery Margarita. In imagination I put forth my hands to take hers,
and drew her towards me so as to look more closely into her eyes,
vainly questioning them as to their pure sapphire hue. Then I imagined
or dreamt that with trembling fingers I unbraided her hair to let it
fall like a splendid golden mantle over her mean dress, and asked her
how she came to possess that garment of glory. The sweet, grave, child
lips smiled, but returned no answer. Then a shadowy face seemed to
shape itself dimly against the green curtain of foliage, and, looking
over the fair girl's shoulder, gaze sadly into my eyes. It was the
face of Paquta. Ah, sweet wife, never let the green-eyed monster
trouble the peace of your heart! Know that the practical Saxon mind
of your husband is puzzling itself over a purely scientific problem,
that this surpassingly fair child interests me only because her fairness
seems to upset all physiological laws. I was, in fact, just sinking
to sleep at this moment when the shrill note of a trumpet blown close
by and followed by loud shouts from several voices made me spring
instantly to my feet. A storm of answering shouts came from another
quarter of the wood, then followed profound silence. Presently the
trumpet sounded again, making me feel very much alarmed. My first
impulse was to spring on to my horse and ride away for dear life; but,
on second thoughts, I concluded that it would be safer to remain
concealed amongst the trees, as by leaving them I should only reveal
myself to the robbers or rebels, or whatever they were. I bridled my
horse so as to be ready to run, then drew him into a close thicket of
dark-foliaged bushes and fastened him there. The silence that had
fallen on the wood continued, and at last, unable to bear the suspense
longer, I began to make my way cautiously, revolver in hand, towards
the point the sounds had proceeded from. Stealing softly through the
bushes and trees where they grew near together, I came at length in
sight of an open piece of ground, about two or three hundred yards
wide, and overgrown with grass. Near its border on one side I was
amazed to see a group of about a dozen boys, their ages ranging from
about ten to fifteen, all standing perfectly motionless. One of them
held a trumpet in his hand, and they all wore red handkerchiefs or
rags tied round their heads. Suddenly, while I crouched amongst the
leafage watching them, a shrill note sounded from the opposite side
of the open space, and another troop of boys wearing white on their
heads burst from the trees and advanced with loud shouts of _vivas_
and _mueras_ towards the middle of the ground. Again the red heads
sounded their trumpet, and went out boldly to meet the new-comers. As
the two bands approached each other, each led by a big boy, who turned
at intervals and with many wild gestures addressed his followers,
apparently to encourage them, I was amazed to see them all suddenly
draw out long knives, such as the native horsemen usually wear, and
rush furiously together. In a moment they were mingled together in a
desperate fight, uttering the most horrible yells, their long weapons
glittering in the sunshine as they brandished them about. With such
fury did they fight that in a few moments all the combatants lay
stretched out on the grass, excepting three boys wearing the red badges.
One of these bloodthirsty young miscreants then snatched up the trumpet
and blew a victorious blast, while the other two shrieked an
accompaniment of _vivas_ and _mueras_. While they were thus
occupied one of the white-headed boys struggled to his feet, and,
snatching up a knife, charged the three reds with desperate courage.
Had I not been perfectly paralysed with amazement at what I had
witnessed, I should then have rushed out to aid this boy in his forlorn
attempt; but in an instant his three foes were on him and dragged him
down to the ground. Two of them then held him fast by the legs and
arms, the other raised his long knife, and was just about to plunge
it in the struggling captive's breast, when, uttering a loud yell, I
sprang up and rushed at them. Instantly they started up and fled
screaming towards the trees in the greatest terror; and then, most
wonderful thing of all, the dead boys all came to life, and, springing
to their feet, fled from me after the others. This brought me to a
stand, when, seeing that one of the boys limped painfully after his
companions, hopping on one leg, I made a sudden dash and captured him
before he could reach the shelter of the trees.

"Oh, seor, do not kill me!" he pleaded, bursting into tears.

"I have no wish to kill you, you unspeakable young miscreant, but I
think I ought to thrash you," I answered, for, though greatly relieved
at the turn things had taken, I was excessively annoyed at having
experienced all those sensations of blood-curdling horror for nothing.

"We were only playing at Whites and Reds," he pleaded.

I then made him sit down and tell me all about this singular game.

None of the boys lived very near, he said; some of them came a distance
of several leagues, and they had selected this locality for their
sports on account of its seclusion, for they did not like to be found
out. Their game was a mimic war of Whites and Reds, manoeuvres,
surprises, skirmishes, throat-cutting, and all.

I pitied the young patriot at the last, for he had sprained his ankle
badly and could scarcely walk, and so assisted him to the spot where
his horse was hidden; then, having helped him to mount and given him
a cigarette, for which he had the impudence to ask me, I laughingly
bade him good-bye. I went back to look for my own horse after that,
beginning to feel very much amused at the whole thing; but, alas! my
steed was gone. The young scoundrels had stolen him, to revenge
themselves on me, I suppose, for disturbing them; and to relieve me
from all doubt in the matter they left two bits of rag, one white and
the other red, attached to the branch I had fastened the bridle to.
For some time I wandered about the wood, and even shouted aloud in the
wild hope that the young fiends were not going to carry things so far
as to leave me without a horse in that solitary place. Nothing could
I see or hear of them, however, and as it was getting late and I
wasbecoming desperately hungry and thirsty, I resolved to go in search
of some habitation.

On emerging from the forest I found the adjacent plain covered with
cattle quietly grazing. Any attempt to pass through the herd would
have been almost certain death, as these more than half-wild beasts
will always take revenge on their master man when they catch him
dismounted in the open. As they were coming up from the direction of
the river, and were slowly grazing past the wood, I resolved to wait
for them to pass on before leaving my concealment. I sat down and tried
to be patient, but the brutes were in no hurry, and went on skirting
the wood at a snail's pace. It was about six o'clock before the last
stragglers had left, and then I ventured out from my hiding-place,
hungry as a wolf and afraid of being overtaken by night before finding
any human habitation. I had left the trees half a mile behind me, and
was walking hurriedly along towards the valley of the Y, when, passing
over a hillock, I suddenly found myself in sight of a bull resting on
the grass and quietly chewing his cud. Unfortunately the brute saw me
at the same moment and immediately stood up. He was, I think, about
three or four years old, and a bull of that age is even more dangerous
than an older one; for he is quite as truculent as the other and far
more active. There was no refuge of any kind near, and I knew very
well that to attempt to escape by running would only increase my danger,
so after gazing at him for a few moments I assumed an easy, unconcerned
manner and walked on; but he was not going to be taken in that way,
and began to follow me. Then for the first, and I devoutly hope for
the last, time in my life I was compelled to resort to the gaucho plan,
and, casting myself face downwards on the earth, lay there simulating
death. It is a miserable, dangerous expedient, but, in the circumstances
I found myself, the only one offering a chance of escape from a very
terrible death. In a few moments I heard his heavy tramp, then felt
him sniffing me all over. After that he tried unsuccessfully to roll
me over, in order to study my face, I suppose. It was horrible to
endure the prods he gave me and lie still, but after a while he grew
quieter, and contented himself by simply keeping guard over me;
occasionally smelling at my head, then turning round to smell at my
heels. Probably his theory was, if he had one, that I had fainted with
fear at the sight of him and would recover presently, but he was not
quite sure at which end of me returning life would first show itself.
About once in every five or six minutes he seemed to get impatient,
and then he would paw me with his heavy hoof, uttering a low, hoarse
moaning, spattering me with froth from his mouth; but as he showed no
disposition to leave, I at last resolved to try a very bold experiment,
for my position was becoming unendurable. I waited till the brute's
head was turned from me, then worked my hand cautiously down to my
revolver; but before I had quite drawn it, he noticed the movement and
wheeled swiftly round, kicking my legs as he did so. Just as he brought
his head round close to mine, I discharged the weapon in his face, and
the sudden explosion so terrified him that he turned tail and fled,
never pausing in his lumbering gallop till he was out of sight. It was
a glorious victory; and though I could scarcely stand on my legs at
first, so stiff and bruised did I feel all over, I laughed with joy,
and even sent another bullet whizzing after the retreating monster,
accompanying the discharge with a wild yell of triumph.

After that I proceeded without further interruption on my walk, and,
had I not felt so ravenously hungry and so sore where the bull had
trod on me or prodded me with his horns, the walk would have been very
enjoyable, for I was now approaching the Y. The ground grew moist and
green, and flowers abounded, many of them new to me, and so lovely and
fragrant that in my admiration for them I almost forgot my pain. The
sun went down, but no house appeared in sight. Over the western heavens
flamed the brilliant hues of the afterglow, and from the long grass
came the sad, monotonous trill of some night insect. Troops of hooded
gulls flew by me on their way from their feeding grounds to the water,
uttering their long, hoarse, laughter-like cries. How buoyant and happy
they seemed, flying with their stomachs full to their rest; while I,
dismounted and supperless, dragged painfully on like a gull that had
been left behind with a broken wing. Presently, through the purple and
saffron-hued vapours in the western sky, the evening star appeared,
large and luminous, the herald of swift-coming darkness; and
then--weary, bruised, hungry, baffled, and despondent--I sat down to
meditate on my forlorn position.


I sat there till it was very dark, and the longer I sat the colder and
stiffer I grew, yet I felt no disposition to walk farther. At length
a large owl, flapping down close to my head, gave utterance to a long
hiss, followed by a sharp, clicking sound, ending with a sudden loud,
laugh-like cry. The nearness of it startled me, and, looking up, I saw
a twinkling yellow light gleam for a moment across the wide, black
plain, then disappear. A few fireflies were flitting about the grass,
but I felt sure the gleam just witnessed proceeded from a fire; and
after vainly trying to catch sight of it again from my seat on the
ground, I rose and walked on, keeping before me a particular star
shining directly over the spot where that transient glimmer had
appeared. Presently, to my great joy, I spied it again in the same
place, and felt convinced that it was the gleam of firelight shining
from the open door or window of some _rancho_ or _estancia_ house. With
renewed hope and energy I hastened on, the light increasing in brightness
as I progressed; and, after half an hour's brisk walking, I found myself
approaching a human dwelling of some kind. I could make out a dark mass
of trees and bushes, a long, low house, and, nearer to me, a corral, or
cattle-pen, of tall, upright posts. Now, however, when a refuge seemed so
close, the fear of the terrible, savage dogs kept on most of these
cattle-breeding establishments made me hesitate. Unless I wished to run
the risk of being shot, it was necessary to shout loudly to make my
approach known, yet by shouting I would inevitably bring a pack of huge,
frantic dogs upon me; and the horns of the angry bull I had encountered
were less terrible to contemplate than the fangs of these powerful,
truculent brutes. I sat down on the ground to consider the position, and
presently heard the clatter of approaching hoofs. Immediately afterwards
three men rode past me, but did not see me, for I was crouching down
behind some scrubby bushes. When the horsemen approached the house the
dogs rushed forth to assail them, and their loud, fierce barking, and the
wild shouts of some person from the house calling them off, were enough
to make a dismounted man nervous. However, now was my only chance, and,
starting up, I hurried on towards the noise. As I passed the corral the
brutes became aware of my approach, and instantly turned their attention
on me. I wildly shouted. _"Ave Maria,"_ then, revolver in hand, stood
awaiting the onset; but when they were near enough for me to see that
the pack was composed of eight or ten huge yellow mastiff-like brutes,
my courage failed, and I fled to the corral, where, with an agility
surpassing that of a wild cat, so great was my terror, I climbed up
a post and placed myself beyond their reach. With the dogs furiously
barking under me, I renewed my shouts of _"Ave Maria"_--the proper
thing to do when you approach a strange house in these pious latitudes.
After some time the men approached--four of them--and asked me who
I was and what I did there. I gave an account of myself, then asked
whether it would be safe for me to descend. The master of the house
took the hint, and drove his faithful protectors off, after which I
came down from my uncomfortable perch.

He was a tall, well-made, but rather fierce-looking gaucho, with keen
black eyes, and a heavy black beard. He seemed suspicious of me--a
very unusual thing in a native's house, and asked me a great many
searching questions; and finally, still with some reluctance in his
manner, he invited me into the kitchen. There I found a big fire blazing
merrily on the raised clay hearth in the centre of the large room, and
seated near it an old grey-haired woman, a middle-aged, tall,
dark-skinned dame in a purple dress--my host's wife; a pale, pretty
young woman, about sixteen years old, and a little girl. When I sat
down my host began once more questioning me; but he apologised for
doing so, saying that my arrival on foot seemed a very extraordinary
circumstance. I told them how I had lost my horse, saddle, and
_poncho_ in the wood, and then related my encounter with the bull.
They listened to it all with very grave faces, but I am sure it was
as good as a comedy to them. Don Sinforiano Alday--the owner of the
place, and my questioner--made me take off my coat to exhibit the
bruises the bull's hoofs had inflicted on my arms and shoulders. He
was anxious, even after that, to know something more about me, and so
to satisfy him I gave him a brief account of some of my adventures in
the country, down to my arrest with Marcos Marc, and how that plausible
gentleman had made his escape from the magistrate's house. That made
them all laugh, and the three men I had seen arrive, and who appeared
to be casual visitors, became very friendly, frequently passing me the
rum-bottle with which they were provided.

After sipping _mat_ and rum for half an hour we settled down to
discuss a plentiful supper of roast and boiled beef and mutton, with
great basins of well-seasoned broth to wash it down. I consumed an
amazing quantity of meat, as much, in fact, as any gaucho there; and
to eat as much as one of these men at a sitting is a feat for an
Englishman to boast about. Supper done, I lit a cigar and leant back
against the wall, enjoying many delightful sensations all
together--warmth, rest, and hunger satisfied, and the subtle fragrance
of that friend and comforter, divine tobacco. On the farther side of
the room my host was meanwhile talking to the other men in low tones.
Occasional glances in my direction seemed to show that they still
harboured some suspicion of me, or that they had some grave matters
to converse about unsuitable for a stranger to hear.

At length Alday rose and addressed me. "Seor, if you are ready to
rest I will now conduct you to another room, where you can have some
rugs and _ponchos_ to make a bed with."

"If my presence here is not inconvenient," I returned, "I would rather
remain and smoke by the fire."

"You see, seor," he said, "I have arranged to meet some neighbours
and friends, who are coming here to discuss matters of importance with
me. I am even now expecting their arrival, and the presence of a
stranger would scarcely allow us to talk freely over our affairs."

"Since you wish it, I will go to any part of the house you may think
proper to put me in," I returned.

I rose, not very cheerfully, I must say, from my comfortable seat
before the fire, to follow him out, when the tramp of galloping horses
came to our ears.

"Follow me this way--quick," exclaimed my impatient conductor; but
just as I reached the door about a dozen mounted men dashed up close
to us and burst forth in a perfect storm of yells. Instantly all those
who were in the kitchen sprang to their feet uttering loud exclamations
and looking greatly excited. Then came from the mounted men another
wild outburst as they all yelled together, _"Viva el General Santa

The other three men then rushed from the kitchen, and in excited tones
began to ask if anything fresh had happened. Meanwhile I was left
standing at the door by myself. The women appeared almost as excited
as the men, except the girl, who had glanced at me with shy compassion
in her large, dark eyes when I had been roused from my seat by the
fire. Taking advantage of the general excitement, I now repaid that
kindly look with one of admiration. She was a quiet, bashful girl, her
pale face crowned with a profusion of black hair; and while she stood
there waiting, apparently unconcerned by the hubbub outside, she looked
strangely pretty, her homemade cotton gown, of limp and scanty material,
clinging closely to her limbs so as to display her slender, graceful
form to the best advantage. Presently, seeing me looking at her, she
came near, and, touching my arm in passing, told me in a whisper to
go back to my seat by the fire. I gladly obeyed her, for my curiosity
was now thoroughly aroused, and I wished to know the meaning of this
outcry which had thrown these phlegmatic gauchos into such a frenzied
state of excitement. It looked rather like a political row--but of
General Santa Coloma I had never heard, and it seemed curious that a
name so seldom mentioned should be the rallying cry of revolutionists.

In a few minutes the men all streamed back into the kitchen. Then the
master of the house, Alday, his face on fire with emotion, thrust
himself into the midst of the crowd.

"Boys, are you mad!" he cried. "Do you not see a stranger here? What
is the meaning of all this outcry if nothing new has happened?"

A roar of laughter from the new-comers greeted this outburst, after
which they raised another yell of "_Viva Santa Colomal_"

Alday became furious. "Speak, madmen!" he shouted; "tell me, in God's
name, what has happened--or do you wish to ruin everything with your

"Listen, Alday," replied one of the men, "and know how little we need
fear the presence of a stranger. Santa Coloma, the hope of Uruguay,
the saviour of his country, who will shortly deliver us out of the
power of Colorado assassins and pirates--Santa Coloma has come! He is
here in our midst; he has seized on El Molino del Y, and has raised
the standard of revolt against the infamous government of Montevideo!
_Viva Santa Colomal_"

Alday flung his hat off, and, falling on his knees, remained for some
moments in silent prayer, his hands clasped before him. The others all
snatched off their hats and stood silent, grouped about him. Then he
stood up, and all together joined in a _viva_, which far surpassed
in its deafening power their previous performances.

My host now appeared to be almost beside himself with excitement.

"What," he cried, "my General come! Do you tell me that Santa Coloma
has come? Oh, friends, the great God has remembered our suffering
country at last! He has grown weary of looking on man's injustice, the
persecutions, the bloodshed, the cruelties that have almost driven us
mad. I cannot realise it! Let me go to my General, that these eyes
that have watched for his coming may see him and rejoice. I cannot
wait for daylight--this very night must I ride to El Molino, that I
may see him and touch him with my hands, and know that it is not a

His words were welcomed with a shout of applause, and the other men
all immediately announced their intention to accompany him to El Molino,
a small town on the Y some leagues distant.

Some of the men now went out to catch fresh horses, while Alday busied
himself in bringing out a store of old broadswords and carbines from
their concealment in some other part of the house. The men, talking
excitedly together, occupied themselves in scouring and sharpening the
rusty weapons, while the women cooked a fresh supply of meat for the
last comers; and in the meantime I was permitted to remain unnoticed
by the fire, smoking peacefully.


The girl I have mentioned, whose name was Monica, and the child, called
Anita, were the only persons there besides myself who were not carried
away by the warlike enthusiasm of the moment. Monica, silent, pale,
almost apathetic, was occupied serving _mat_ to the numerous
guests; while the child, when the shouting and excitement was at its
height, appeared greatly terrified, and clung to Alday's wife, trembling
and crying piteously. No notice was taken of the poor little thing,
and at length she crept away into a corner to conceal herself behind
a faggot of wood. Her hiding-place was close to my seat, and after a
little coaxing I induced her to leave it and come to me. She was a
most forlorn little thing, with a white, thin face and large, dark,
pathetic eyes. Her mean little cotton frock only reached to her knees,
and her little legs and feet were bare. Her age was seven or eight;
she was an orphan, and Alday's wife, having no children of her own,
was bringing her up, or, rather, permitting her to grow up under her
roof. I drew her to me, and tried to soothe her tremors and get her
to talk. Little by little she gained confidence, and began to reply
to my questions; then I learnt that she was a little shepherdess,
although so young, and spent most of the time every day in following
the flock about on her pony. Her pony and the girl Monica, who was
some relation--cousin, the child called her--were the two beings she
seemed to have the greatest affection for.

"And when you slip off, how do you get on again?" I asked.

"Little pony is tame, and I never fall off," she said. "Sometimes I
get off, then I climb on again."

"And what do you do all day long--talk and play?"

"I talk to my doll; I take it on the pony when I go with the sheep."

"Is your doll very pretty, Anita?"

No answer.

"Will you let me see your doll, Anita? I know I shall like your doll,
because I like you."

She gave me an anxious look. Evidently doll was a very precious being
and had not met with proper appreciation. After a little nervous
fidgeting she left me and crept out of the room; then presently she
came back, apparently trying to screen something from the vulgar gaze
in her scanty little dress. It was her wonderful doll--the dear
companion of her rambles and rides. With fear and trembling she allowed
me to take it into my hands. It was, or consisted of, the forefoot of
a sheep, cut off at the knee; on the top of the knee part a little
wooden ball wrapped in a white rag represented the head, and it was
dressed in a piece of red flannel--a satyr-like doll, with one hairy
leg and a cloven foot. I praised its pleasing countenance, its pretty
gown and dainty little boots; and all I said sounded very precious to
Anita, filling her with emotions of the liveliest pleasure.

"And do you never play with the dogs and cats and little lambs?" I

"Not with the dogs and cats. When I see a very little lamb asleep I
get down and go softly, softly and catch it. It tries to get away;
then I put my finger in its mouth, and it sucks, and sucks; then it
runs away."

"And what do you like best to eat?"

"Sugar. When uncle buys sugar, aunt gives me a lump. I make doll eat
some, and bite off one small piece and put it in pony's mouth."

"Which would you rather have, Anita--a great many lumps of sugar, or
a beautiful string of beads, or a little girl to play with?"

This question was rather too much for her neglected little brain, which
had fed itself with such simple fare; so I was obliged to put it in
various ways, and at last, when she understood that only one of the
three things could be chosen, she decided in favour of a little girl
to play with.

Then I asked her if she liked to hear stories; this also puzzled her,
and after some cross-questioning I discovered that she had never heard
a story, and did not know what it meant.

"Listen, Anita, and I will tell you a story," I said. "Have you seen
the white mist over the Y in the morning--a light, white mist that
flies away when the sun gets hot?"

Yes, she often saw the white mist in the morning, she told me.

"Then I will tell you a story about the white mist and a little girl
named Alma."

"Little Alma lived close to the River Y, but far, far from here,
beyond the trees and beyond the blue hills, for the Y is a very long
river. She lived with her grandmother and with six uncles, all big
tall men with long beards; and they always talked about wars, and
cattle, and horse-racing, and a great many other important things that
Alma could not understand. There was no one to talk to Alma and for
Alma to talk to or to play with. And when she went out of the house
where all the big people were talking, she heard the cocks crowing,
the dogs barking, the birds singing, the sheep bleating, and the trees
rustling their leaves over her head, and she could not understand one
word of all they said. At last, having no one to play with or talk to,
she sat down and began to cry. Now, it happened that near the spot
where she sat there was an old black woman wearing a red shawl, who
was gathering sticks for the fire, and she asked Alma why she cried.

"'Because I have no one to talk to and play with,' said Alma. Then the
old black woman drew a long brass pin out of her shawl and pricked
Alma's tongue with it, for she made Alma hold it out to be pricked.

"'Now,' said the old woman, 'you can go and play and talk with the
dogs, cats, birds, and trees, for you will understand all they say,
and they will understand all you say.'

"Alma was very glad, and ran home as fast as she could to talk to the

"'Come, cat, let us talk and play together,' she said.

"'Oh no,' said the cat. 'I am very busy watching a little bird, so you
must go away and play with little Niebla down by the river.'

"Then the cat ran away among the weeds and left her. The dogs also
refused to play when she went to them; for they had to watch the house
and bark at strangers. Then they also told her to go and play with
little Niebla down by the river. Then Alma ran out and caught a little
duckling, a soft little thing that looked like a ball of yellow cotton,
and said:

"'Now, little duck, let us talk and play.'

"But the duckling only struggled to get away and screamed, 'Oh, mamma,
mamma, come and take me away from Alma!'

"Then the old duck came rushing up, and said:

"'Alma, let my child alone: and if you want to play, go and play with
Niebla down by the river. A nice thing to catch my duckie in your
hands--what next, I wonder!'

"So she let the duckling go, and at last she said, 'Yes, I will go and
play with Niebla down by the river.'

"She waited till she saw the white mist, and then ran all the way to
the Y, and stood still on the green bank close by the water with the
white mist all round her. By and by she saw a beautiful little child
come flying towards her in the white mist. The child came and stood
on the green bank and looked at Alma. Very, very pretty she was; and
she wore a white dress--whiter than milk, whiter than foam, and all
embroidered with purple flowers; she had also white silk stockings,
and scarlet shoes, bright as scarlet verbenas. Her hair was long and
fluffy, and shone like gold, and round her neck she had a string of
big gold beads. Then Alma said, 'Oh, beautiful little girl, what is
your name?' to which the little girl answered:


"'Will you talk to me and play with me?' said Alma.

"'Oh, no,' said Niebla, 'how can I play with a little girl dressed as
you are and with bare feet?'

"For you know poor Alma only wore a little old frock that came down
to her knees, and she had no shoes and stockings on. Then little Niebla
rose up and floated away, away from the bank and down the river, and
at last, when she was quite out of sight in the white mist, Alma began
to cry. When it got very hot she went and sat down, still crying, under
the trees; there were two very big willow-trees growing near the river.
By and by the leaves rustled in the wind and the trees began talking
to each other, and Alma understood everything they said.

"'Is it going to rain, do you think?' said one tree.

"'Yes, I think it will--some day,' said the other.

"'There are no clouds,' said the first tree.

"'No, there are no clouds to-day, but there were some the day before
yesterday,' said the other.

"'Have you got any nests in your branches?' said the first tree.

"'Yes, one,' said the other. 'It was made by a little yellow bird, and
there are five speckled eggs in it.'

"Then the first tree said, 'There is little Alma sitting in our shade;
do you know why she is crying, neighbour?'

"The other tree answered, 'Yes, it is because she has no one to play
with. Little Niebla by the river refused to play with her because she
is not beautifully dressed.'

"Then the first tree said, 'Ah, she ought to go and ask the fox for
some pretty clothes to wear. The fox always keeps a great store of
pretty things in her hole.'

"Alma had listened to every word of this conversation. She remembered
that a fox lived on the hillside not far off; for she had often seen
it sitting in the sunshine with its little ones playing round it and
pulling their mother's tail in fun. So Alma got up and ran till she
found the hole, and, putting her head down it, she cried out, 'Fox!
Fox!' But the fox seemed cross, and only answered, without coming out,
'Go away, Alma, and talk to little Niebla. I am busy getting dinner
for my children and have no time to talk to you now.'

"Then Alma cried, 'Oh, Fox, Niebla will not play with me because I
have no pretty things to wear. Oh, Fox, will you give me a nice dress
and shoes and stockings and a string of beads?'

"After a little while the fox came out of its hole with a big bundle
done up in a red cotton handkerchief and said, 'Here are the things,
Alma, and I hope they will fit you. But you know, Alma, you really
ought not to come at this time of day, for I am very busy just now
cooking the dinner--an armadillo roasted and a couple of partridges
stewed with rice, and a little omelette of turkeys' eggs. I mean
plovers' eggs, of course; I never touch turkeys' eggs.'

"Alma said she was very sorry to give so much trouble.

"'Oh, never mind,' said the fox. 'How is your grandmother?'

"'She is very well, thank you,' said Alma, 'but she has a bad headache.'

"'I am very sorry to hear it,' said the fox. 'Tell her to stick two
fresh dock-leaves on her temples, and to drink a little weak tea made
of knot-grass, and on no account to go out in the hot sun. I should
like to go and see her, only I do not like the dogs being always about
the house. Give her my best respects. And now run home, Alma, and try
on the things, and when you are passing this way you can bring me back
the handkerchief, as I always tie my face up in it when I have the

"Alma thanked the fox very much and ran home as fast as she could, and
when the bundle was opened she found in it a beautiful white dress,
embroidered with purple flowers, a pair of scarlet shoes, silk
stockings, and a string of great golden beads. They all fitted her
very well; and next day when the white mist was on the Y she dressed
herself in her beautiful clothes and went down to the river. By and
by little Niebla came flying along, and when she saw Alma she came and
kissed her and took her by the hand. All the morning they played and
talked together, gathering flowers and running races over the green
sward: and at last Niebla bade her good-bye and flew away, for all the
white mist was floating off down the river. But every day after that
Alma found her little companion by the Y, and was very happy, for now
she had someone to talk to and to play with."

After I had finished the story Anita continued gazing into my face
with an absorbed expression in her large, wistful eyes. She seemed
half scared, half delighted at what she had heard; but presently,
before the little thing had said a word, Monica, who had been directing
shy and wondering glances towards us for some time, came, and, taking
her by the hand, led her away to bed. I was getting sleepy then, and,
as the clatter of talk and warlike preparation showed no signs of
abating, I was glad to be shown into another room, where some
sheep-skins, rugs, and a couple of _ponchos_ were given to me for
a bed.

During the night all the men took their departure, for in the morning,
when I went into the kitchen, I only found the old woman and Alday's
wife sipping bitter _mat_. The child, they informed me, had
disappeared from the house an hour before, and Monica had gone out to
look for her. Alday's wife was highly indignant at the little one's
escapade, for it was high time for Anita to go out with the flock.
After taking _mat_ I went out, and, looking towards the Y, veiled in a
silvery mist, I spied Monica leading the culprit home by
the hand, and went to meet them. Poor little Anita! her face stained
with tears, her little legs and feet covered with clay and scratched
by sharp reeds in fifty places, her dress soaking wet with the heavy
mist, looked a most pitiful object.

"Where did you find her?" I asked the girl, beginning to fear that I
had been the indirect cause of the poor child's misfortunes.

"Down by the river looking for little Niebla. I knew she would be there
when I missed her this morning."

"How did you know that?" I asked. "You did not hear the story I told

"I made her repeat it all to me last night," said Monica.

After that little Anita was scolded, shaken, washed and dried, then
fed, and finally lifted on to the back of her pony and sent to take
care of the sheep. While undergoing this treatment she maintained a
profound silence, her little face puckered up into an expression that
boded tears. They were not for the public, however, and only after she
was on the pony, with the reins in her little mites of hands and her
back towards us, did she give way to her grief and disappointment at
having failed to find the beautiful child of the mist.

I was astonished to find that she had taken the fantastic little tale
invented to amuse her as truth; but the poor babe had never read books
or heard stories, and the fairy tale had been too much for her starved
little imagination. I remember that once on another occasion I told
a pathetic story of a little child, lost in a great wilderness, to a
girl about Anita's age, and just as unaccustomed to this kind of mental
fare. Next morning her mother informed me that my little listener had
spent half the night sobbing and begging to be allowed to go and look
for that lost child I had told her about.

Hearing that Alday would not return till evening or till the following
day, I asked his wife to lend or give me a horse to proceed on my
journey. This, however, she could not do; then she added, very
graciously, that while all the men were away my presence in the house
would be a comfort to her, a man always being a great protection. The
arrangement did not strike me as one very advantageous to myself, but,
as I could not journey very well to Montevideo on foot, I was compelled
to sit still and wait for Alday's return.

It was dull work talking to those two women in the kitchen. They were
both great talkers, and had evidently come to a tacit agreement to
share their one listener fairly between them, for first one, then the
other would speak with a maddening monotony. Alday's wife had six
favourite, fine-sounding words--_elements, superior, division,
prolongation, justification,_ and _disproportion_. One of these
she somehow managed to drag into every sentence, and sometimes she
succeeded in getting in two. Whenever this happened the achievement
made her so proud that she would in the most deliberate cold-blooded
way repeat the sentence again, word for word. The strength of the old
woman lay in dates. Not an occurrence did she mention, whether it
referred to some great public event or to some trivial domestic incident
in her own _rancho_, without giving the year, the month, and the
day. The duet between these two confounded barrel-organs, one grinding
out rhetoric, the other chronology, went on all the morning, and often
I turned to Monica, sitting over her sewing, in hopes of a different
tune from her more melodious instrument, but in vain, for never a word
dropped from those silent lips. Occasionally her dark, luminous eyes
were raised for a moment, only to sink abashed again when they
encountered mine. After breakfast I went for a walk along the river,
where I spent several hours hunting for flowers and fossils, and amusing
myself as best I could. There were legions of duck, coot, rosy
spoonbills, and black-necked swans disporting themselves in the water,
and I was very thankful that I had no gun with me, and so was not
tempted to startle them with rude noises, and send any of them away
to languish wounded amongst the reeds. At length, after having indulged
in a good swim, I set out to walk back to the _estancia_.

When still about a mile from the house as I walked on, swinging my
stick and singing aloud in lightness of heart, I passed a clump of
willow-trees, and, looking up, saw Monica under them watching my
approach. She was standing perfectly motionless, and, when I caught
sight of her, cast her eyes demurely down, apparently to contemplate
her bare feet, which looked very white on the deep green turf. In one
hand she held a cluster of stalks of the large, crimson, autumnal
lilies which had just begun to blossom. My singing ceased suddenly,
and I stood for some moments gazing admiringly at the shy, rustic

"What a distance you have walked to gather lilies, Monica!" I said,
approaching her. "Will you give me one of your stalks?"

"They were gathered for the Virgin, so I cannot give away any of these,"
she replied. "If you will wait here under the trees I will find one
to give you."

I agreed to wait for her; then, placing the cluster she had gathered
on the grass, she left me. Before long she returned with a stalk,
round, polished, slender, like a pipe-stem, and crowned with its cluster
of three splendid crimson flowers.

When I had sufficiently thanked her and admired it, I said, "What boon
are you going to ask from the Virgin, Monica, when you offer her these
flowers--safety for your lover in the wars?"

"No, seor; I have no offering to make, and no boon to ask. They are
for my aunt; I offered to gather them for her, because--I wished to
meet you here."

"To meet me, Monica--what for?"

"To ask for a story, seor," she replied, colouring and with a shy
glance at my face.

"Ah, we have had stories enough," I said. "Remember poor Anita running
away this morning to look for a playmate in the wet mist."

"She is a child; I am a woman."

"Then, Monica, you must have a lover who will be jealous if you listen
to stories from a stranger's lips in this lonely spot."

"No person will ever know that I met you here," she returned--so
bashful, yet so persistent.

"I have forgotten all my stories," I said.

"Then, seor, I will go and find you another _ramo_ of lilies
while you think of one to tell me."

"No," I said, "you must get no more lilies for me. Look, I will give
you back these you gave me." And, saying that, I fastened them in her
black hair, where by contrast they looked very splendid, and gave the
girl a new grace. "Ah, Monica, they make you look too pretty--let me
take them out again."

But she would not have them taken. "I will leave you now to think of
a story for me," she said, blushing and turning away.

Then I took her hands and made her face me. "Listen, Monica," I said.
"Do you know that these lilies are full of strange magic? See how
crimson they are; that is the colour of passion, for they have been
steeped in passion, and turn my heart to fire. If you bring me any
more of them, Monica, I shall tell you a story that will make you
tremble with fear--tremble like the willow-leaves and turn pale as the
mist over the Y."

She smiled at my words; it was like a ray of sunlight falling through
the foliage on her face. Then, in a voice that was almost a whisper,
she said, "What will the story be about, seor? Tell me, then I shall
know whether to gather lilies for you or not."

"It will be about a stranger meeting a sweet, pale girl standing under
the trees, her dark eyes cast down, and red lilies in her hand; and
how she asked him for a story, but he could speak to her of nothing
but love, love, love."

When I finished speaking she gently withdrew her hands from mine and
turned away amongst the trees, doubtless to fly from me, trembling at
my words, like a frightened young fawn from the hunter.

So for a moment I thought. But no, there lay the lilies gathered for
a religious purpose at my feet, and there was nothing reproachful in
the shy, dark eyes when they glanced back for a moment at me; for, in
spite of those warning words, she had only gone to find more of those
perilous crimson flowers to give me.

Not then, while I waited for her return with palpitating heart, but
afterwards in calmer moments, and when Monica had become a pretty
picture in the past, did I compose the following lines. I am not so
vain as to believe that they possess any great poetical merit, and
introduce them principally to let the reader know how to pronounce the
pretty name of that Oriental river, which it still keeps in remembrance
of a vanished race.

Standing silent, pale her face was,
Pale and sweet to see:
'Neath the willows waiting for me,
Willow-like was she,
Smiling, blushing, trembling, bashful
Maid of Y.

Willow-like she trembled, yet she
Never fled from me;
But her dove-like eyes were downcast,
On the grass to see
White feet standing: white thy feet were,
Maid of Y.

Stalks of lilies in her hands were:
Crimson lilies three,
Placed I in her braids of black hair--
They were bright to see!
Lift thy dark eyes, for I love thee,
Maid of Y!


In the evening Alday returned with a couple of his friends, and, as
soon as an opportunity offered, I took him aside and begged him to let
me have a horse to continue my journey to Montevideo. He answered
evasively that the horse I had lost in the neighbouring forest would
probably be recovered in the course of two or three days. I replied
that if he would let me have a horse, the one I had lost, together
with saddle, _poncho_, etc., could be claimed by him whenever
they turned up. He then said that he could not very well give me ahorse,
"with saddle and bridle also." It looked as if he wanted to
keep me in his house for some purpose of his own, and this made me all
the more determined to leave it immediately, in spite of the tender,
reproachful glances which Monica flashed on me from under her long,
drooping eyelashes. I told him that if I could not have a horse I would
leave his _estancia_ on foot. That rather put him in a corner;
for in this country, where horse-stealing and cheating at cards are
looked on as venial offenses, to let a man leave your _estancia_
on foot is considered a very dishonourable thing. He pondered over my
declaration for some minutes, then, after conferring with his friends,
he promised to provide me with all I required next day. I had heard
nothing more about the revolution, but after supper Alday suddenly
became very confidential, and said that the whole country would be up
in arms in the course of a very few days, and that it would be highly
dangerous for me to attempt travelling by myself to the capital. He
expatiated on the immense prestige of General Santa Coloma, who had
just taken up arms against the Colorado party then in power, and
concluded by saying that my safest plan would be to join the rebels,
and accompany them on their march to Montevideo which would begin
almost immediately. I replied that I took no interest in the dissensions

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