Part 5 out of 5
for a wife? You have been everywhere, and have seen many women, and
perhaps in some distant place you have met one more beautiful than my
mistress. But consider the life she has led! Grief has made her pale
and thin, staining her face with purple under the eyes. Can laughter
and song come out of a heart where fear is? Another life would change
all; she would be a flower amongst women."
Poor old simple-minded Santos, he had done himself great injustice;
his love for his mistress had inspired him with an eloquence that went
to my heart. And poor Demetria, driven by her weary, desolate life and
torturing fears to make in vain this unwomanly proposal to a stranger!
And, after all, it was not unwomanly; for in all countries where they
are not abject slaves it is permissible for women in some circumstances
to propose marriage. Even in England it is so, where society is like
a huge Clapham Junction, with human creatures moving like trucks and
carriages on cast-iron, conventional rails, which they can only leave
at the risk of a destructive collision. And a proposal of the kind was
never more justifiable than in this case. Shut away from the sight of
men in her dreary seclusion, haunted by nameless fears, her offer was
to bestow her hand along with a large property on a penniless
adventurer. Nor had she done this before she had learnt to love me,
and to think, perhaps, that the feeling was returned. She had waited,
too, till the very last moment, only making her offer when she had
despaired of its coming from me. This explained the reception of the
previous evening; the ancient, splendid attire which she had worn to
win favour in my sight; the shy, wistful expression of her eyes, the
hesitation she could not overcome. When I had recovered from the first
shock of surprise I could only feel the greatest respect and compassion
for her, bitterly regretting that I had not told her all my past
history, so that she might have been spared the shame and grief she
would now be compelled to endure. These sad thoughts passed through
my mind while Santos expatiated on the advantages of the proposed
alliance until I stopped him.
"Say no more," I said; "for I swear to you, Santos, that were it
possible I would gladly take Demetria for a wife, so greatly do I
admire and esteem her. But I am married. Look at this; it is my wife's
portrait"; and, taking from my bosom the miniature which I always wore
round my neck, I handed it to him.
He stared at me in silent astonishment for a few moments, then took
the portrait into his hand; and while he gazed admiringly at it I
pondered over what I had heard. I could not now think of leaving this
poor woman, who had offered herself with all her inheritance to me,
without some attempt to rescue her from her sad position. She had given
me a refuge when I was in trouble and danger, and the appeal she had
just made to me, accompanied by so convincing a proof of her trust and
affection, would have gone to the heart of the most cold-blooded man
in existence, to make him, in spite of his nature, her devoted champion.
At length Santos handed back the miniature, with a sigh. "Such a face
as that my eyes have never seen," he remarked. "There is nothing more
to be said."
"There is a great deal more to be said," I returned. "I have thought
of an easy plan to help your mistress. When you have reported this
conversation, tell her to remember the offer of assistance made to her
last night. I said I would be a brother to her, and I shall keep my
promise. You three cannot think of any better scheme to save Demetria
than this one you have told me, but it is after all a very poor scheme,
full of difficulty and danger to her. My plan is a simpler and safer
one. Tell her to come out to-night at midnight, after the moon has
set, to meet me under the trees behind the house. I shall be there
waiting with a horse for her, and will take her away to some safe place
of concealment where Don Hilario will never find her. When she is once
out of his power it will be time enough to think of some way to turn
him out of the _estancia_ and to arrange matters. See that she
does not fail to meet me, and let her take a few clothes and some
money, if she has any; also her jewels, for it would not be safe to
leave them in the house with Don Hilario."
Santos was delighted with my scheme, which was so much more practical,
though less romantic, than the one hatched by those three simple-minded
conspirators. With heart full of hope, he was about to leave me when
he suddenly exclaimed, "But, señor, how will you get a horse and
side-saddle for Doña Demetria?"
"Leave it all to me," I said; then we separated, he to return to his
mistress, who was no doubt anxiously waiting to know the result of our
conversation, I to get through the next fifteen hours in the best way
After leaving Santos I rode on to a belt of wood about two miles east
of the road, and, passing through it, surveyed the country lying beyond.
The only habitation near it was a shepherd's lonely _rancho_,
standing on an open plain of yellow grass, over which a scattered flock
of sheep and a few horses were grazing. I determined to remain in the
wood till near noon, then proceed to the _rancho_ to get breakfast,
and commence my search for a horse and side-saddle in the neighbourhood.
After unsaddling my horse and tying him to a tree, where there were
some pickings of grass and herbage about the roots, I lit a cigar and
made myself comfortable on my rugs in the shade. Presently I had some
visitors in a flock of _urracas_, or magpies, as they are called
in the vernacular, or Guira cuckoos; a graceful, loquacious bird
resembling a magpie, only with a longer tail and a bold, red beak.
These ill-mannered birds skulked about in the branches over me all the
time I remained in the wood, scolding me so incessantly in their
intolerably loud, angry, rattling notes, varied occasionally with
shrill whistlings and groans, that I could scarcely even hear myself
think. They soon succeeded in bringing all the other birds within
hearing distance to the spot to take part in the demonstration. It was
unreasonable of the cuckoos, to say the least of it, for it was now
long past their breeding season, so that parental solicitude could not
be pleaded as an excuse for their churlish behaviour. The
others--tanagers, finches, tyrant-birds; red, white, blue, grey, yellow,
and mixed--were, I must own, less troublesome, for, after hopping about
for a while, screaming, chirping, and twittering, they very sensibly
flew away, no doubt thinking their friends the cuckoos were making a
great deal too much fuss. My sole mammalian visitor was an armadillo,
that came hurrying towards me, looking curiously like a little old
bent-backed gentleman in a rusty black coat trotting briskly about on
some very important business. It came to within three yards of my feet,
then stopped, and seemed astonished beyond measure at my presence,
staring at me with its little, bleary, blinking eyes, and looking more
like the shabby old gentleman than ever. Then it trotted away through
the trees, but presently returned for a second inspection; and after
that it kept coming and going, till I inadvertently burst out laughing,
whereupon it scuttled away in great alarm, and returned no more. I was
sorry I had frightened the amusing little beggar, for I felt in that
exceedingly light-hearted mood when one's merriment is ready to brim
over at the slightest provocation. Yet that very morning poor Demetria's
appeal had deeply stirred my heart, and I was now embarked on a most
Quixotic and perhaps perilous adventure! Possibly the very fact of
that adventure being before me had produced an exhilarating effect on
my mind, and made it impossible for me to be sad, or even decently
After spending a couple of hours in the pleasant shade, the blue smoke
ascending from the _rancho_ before me gave notice of the
approaching breakfast hour; so, saddling my horse, I went to make my
morning call, the cuckoos hailing my departure with loud mocking shouts
and whistling calls, meant to inform all their feathered friends that
they had at last succeeded in making their haunt too hot for me.
At the _rancho_ I was received by a somewhat surly-looking young
man, with long, intensely black hair and moustache, and who wore in
place of a hat a purple cotton handkerchief tied about his head. He
did not seem to be over-pleased at my visit, and invited me rather
ungraciously to alight if I thought proper. I followed him into the
kitchen, where his little brown-skinned wife was preparing breakfast,
and I fancied, after seeing her, that her prettiness was the cause of
his inhospitable manner towards a stranger. She was singularly pretty,
with a seductive, soft brown skin, ripe, pouting lips of a rich
purple-red, and when she laughed, which happened very frequently, her
teeth glistened like pearls. Her crisp, black hair hung down unbound
and disordered, for she looked like a very careless little beauty; but
when she saw me enter, she blushed and tossed her tresses away from
her shoulders, then carefully felt the pendants dropping from her ears
to assure herself that they were safe, or possibly to attract my
attention to them. The frequent glances her laughing, dark eyes shot
at me soon convinced me that she was one of those charming little
wives--charming, that is, when they are the wives of other people--who
are not satisfied with a husband's admiration.
I had timed my arrival well, for the roast lamb over the coals was
just assuming a deep golden brown colour, and sending out a most
delicious fragrance. During the repast which followed I amused my
auditors, and myself, by telling a few innocent lies, and began by
saying that I was on my return to Rocha from Montevideo.
The shepherd remarked suspiciously that I was not on the right road.
I answered that I knew it; then proceeded to say that I had met with
a misfortune on the previous evening, which in the end had led me out
of the right road. I had only been married a few days, I continued,
and at this declaration my host looked relieved, while little gipsy
suddenly seemed to lose all interest in me.
"My wife," I said, "set her heart on having a side-saddle, as she is
very fond of riding; so, having business which took me to town, I there
purchased one for her, and was returning with it on a led horse--my
wife's horse, unfortunately--when I stopped last evening to get some
refreshment at a _pulperia_ on the road. While eating some bread
and sausage a tipsy person, who happened to be there, imprudently began
to explode some fire-crackers, which so terrified the horses tied at
the gate that several of them broke loose and escaped. My wife's horse
with the side-saddle on him escaped with them; then, mounting my own
horse, I started in pursuit, but failed to overtake the runaway. Finally
it joined a herd of mares, and these, becoming terrified, fled from
me, leading me a chase of several leagues, till I lost sight of them
in the darkness."
"If your wife resembles mine in disposition, friend," said he, with
a somewhat sorrowful smile, "you would have continued following that
runaway animal with the side-saddle to the end of the world."
"I can say this," I returned gravely, "without a side-saddle, good or
bad, I am not going to present myself before her. I intend inquiring
at every house on my way to the Lomas de Rocha till I can hear of one
"What will you give for one?" said he, becoming interested.
"That will depend on its condition. If it is as good as new I will
give the amount it cost and two dollars profit besides."
"I know of a side-saddle that cost ten dollars a year ago, but it has
never been used. It belongs to a neighbour three leagues from here,
and she would sell it, I believe."
"Show me the house," I said, "and I will go directly and offer twelve
dollars for it."
"You speak of Doña Petrona's side-saddle, Antonio?" said the little
wife. "She would sell it for what it cost--perhaps for eight dollars.
Ah, pumpkin-head, why did you not think to make all that profit? Then
I could have bought slippers and a thousand things."
"You are never satisfied, Cleta," he returned. "Have you not got
slippers to your feet?"
She tossed up a pretty foot and displayed it cased in rather a shabby
little slipper. Then, with a laugh, she kicked it off towards him.
"There," she exclaimed, "put it in your bosom and keep it--something
precious! And some day when you go to Montevideo, and wish to appear
very grand before all the town, wear it on your great toe."
"Who expects reason from a woman?" said Antonio, shrugging his
"Reason! you have no more brains than a Muscovy duck, Antonio. You
might have made this profit, but you never can make money like other
men, and therefore you will always be poorer than the spiders. I have
said this before very often, and only hope you will not forget it, for
in future I intend to speak of other things."
"Where would I have got the ten dollars to pay Petrona for the saddle?"
he retorted, losing his temper.
"My friend," I said, "if the saddle can be had, it is only just that
you should have the profit. Take ten dollars, and if you buy it for
me I will pay you two more."
This proposal pleased him greatly, while Cleta, the volatile, clapped
her hands with delight. While Antonio prepared to go to his neighbour's
after the saddle I went out to a solitary thorn-tree about fifty yards
from the _rancho_, and, spreading my _poncho_ in the shade,
lay down to sleep the siesta.
Before the shepherd had been long gone I heard a great noise in the
house, like banging on doors and on copper vessels, but took no notice,
supposing it to proceed from Cleta engaged in some unusually noisy
domestic operation. At length I heard a voice calling to me, "Señor!
Getting up, I went to the kitchen, but no person was there. Suddenly
a loud knock was given on the door communicating with the second room.
"Oh, my friend," cried Cleta's voice behind it, "my ruffian of a husband
has locked me in--can you let me out, do you think?"
"Why has he locked you in?" I asked.
"The question! Because he is a brute, of course. He always does it
when he goes out. Is it not horrible?"
"It only shows how fond he is of you," I returned.
"Are you so atrocious as to defend him? And I thought you had a
heart--so handsome, too! When I saw you I said, Ah, had I married this
man, what a happy life!"
"Thank you for your good opinion," I said. "I am very sorry you are
locked in, because it prevents me from seeing your pretty face."
"Oh, you think it pretty? Then you _must_ let me out. I have put
up my hair now, and look prettier than when you saw me."
"You look prettier with it down," I answered.
"Ah, down it goes again then!" she exclaimed.--"Yes, you are right,
it does look best that way. Is it not like silk? You shall feel it
when you liberate me."
"That I cannot do, Cleta mine. Your Antonio has taken away the key."
"Oh, cruel man! He left me no water, and I am perishing with thirst.
What shall I do? Look, I will put my hand under the door for you to
feel how hot it is; I am consumed with fever and thirst in this oven."
Presently her little brown hand came out at my feet, there being
sufficient space between the floor and wood to pass it through. I
stooped and took it in mine, and found it a hot, moist little hand,
with a pulse beating very fast.
"Poor child!" I said, "I will pour some water in a plate and pass it
to you under the door."
"Oh, you are bad to insult me!" she cried. "What, am I a cat to drink
water from a plate? I could cry my eyes out"; here followed sob-like
sounds. "Besides," she suddenly resumed, "it is fresh air, not water,
I require. I am suffocated, I cannot breathe. Oh, dear friend, save
me from fainting. Force back the door till the bolt slips out."
"No, no, Cleta, it cannot be done."
"What, with your strength! I could almost do it myself with my poor
little hands. Open, open, open, before I faint."
She had evidently sunk down on the floor sobbing, after making that
practical suggestion; and, casting about for burglarious implements
to aid me, I found the spit and a wedge-shaped piece of hard wood.
These I inserted just above and below the lock, and, forcing back the
door on its frame, I soon had the satisfaction of seeing the bolt slip
from the catch.
Out sprang Cleta, flushed, tearful, her hair all in disorder, but
laughing gleefully at having regained her liberty.
"Oh, dear friend, I thought you were going to leave me!" she cried.
"How agitated I am--feel how my heart beats. Never mind, I can now pay
that wretch out. Is not revenge sweet, sweet, sweet?"
"Now, Cleta," I said, "take three mouthfuls of fresh air and a drink
of water, then let me lock you in again."
She laughed mockingly, and shook her hair like a wild young colt.
"Ah, you are not serious--do you not think I know?" she cried. "Your
eyes tell me everything. Besides, you could not shut me up again if
you tried." Here she made a sudden dash at the door, but I caught her
and held her a close prisoner.
"Let me go, monster--oh, no, not monster, dear, sweet friend, beautiful
as the--moon, sun, stars. I am dying for fresh air. I will come back
to the oven before he returns. If he caught me out, what blows! Come,
let us sit under the tree together."
"That would be disobeying your husband," I said, trying to look stern.
"Never mind, I will confess it all to the priest some day, then it
will be as if it had never happened. Such a husband--poof! If you were
not a married man--_are_ you married? What a pity! Say again, am
"Say first, Cleta, have you a horse a woman can ride on, and if you
have one, will you sell it to me?"
"Oh, yes, the best horse in the Banda Orientál. They say it is worth
six dollars--will you buy it for six dollars? No, I shall not sell
it--I shall not tell you that I have a horse till you answer me. Am
I pretty, sir stranger?"
"Tell me first about the horse, then ask me what you like."
"Nothing more will I tell you--not a word. Yes, everything. Listen.
When Antonio comes back, ask him to sell you a horse for your wife to
ride. He will try to sell you one of his own, a demon full of faults
like his master; false-footed, lame in the shoulder, a roarer, old as
the south wind. A black piebald--remember. Offer to buy a roan with
a cream nose. That is my horse. Offer him six dollars. Now say, am I
"Oh, beautiful, Cleta; your eyes are stars, your mouth is a rosebud,
sweeter than honey a thousand times."
"Now you talk like a wise man," she laughed; then, holding my hand,
she led me to the tree and sat down by my side on the _poncho_.
"And how old are you, little one?" I asked.
"Fourteen--is that very old? Ah, fool, to tell my age truly--no woman
does that. Why did I not say thirteen? And I have been married six
months, such a long time! I am sure I have green, blue, yellow, grey
hairs coming out all over my head by this time. And what about my hair,
sir, you never spoke of that? Did I not let it down for you? Is it not
soft and beautiful? Tell me, sir, what about my hair?"
"In truth it is soft and beautiful, Cleta, and covers you like a dark
"Does it not! Look, I will cover my face with it. Now I am hidden like
the moon in a cloud, and now, look, out comes the moon again! I have
a great respect for the moon. Say, holy friar, am I like the moon?"
"Say, little sweet lips, why do you call me holy friar?"
"Say first, holy friar, am I like the moon?"
"No, Cleta, you are not like the moon, though you are both married
women; you are married to Antonio--"
"And the moon is married to the sun."
"Happy moon, to be so far from him!"
"The moon is a quiet wife, but you chatter like a paroquet."
"And am I not able to be quiet also, monk? Look, I will be quiet as
the moon--not a word, not a breath." Then she threw herself back on
the poncho, feigning sleep, her arms above her head, her hair scattered
everywhere, only a tress or two half shading her flushed face and
round, heaving bosom that would not be quiet. There was just a little
mocking smile on her lips, just a little gleam of laughing eyes under
her drooping lashes, for she could not help watching my face for
admiration. In such an attitude the tempting little witch might have
made the tepid blood of an ascetic boil.
Two or three hours thus flew swiftly by while I listened to her lively
prattle, which, like the lark's singing, had scarcely a pause in it,
her attempt at being still and moonlight having ended in a perfect
fiasco. At length, pouting her pretty lips and complaining of her hard
lot, she said it was time to go back to her prison; but all the time
I was engaged in forcing back the bolt into its place she chattered
without ceasing. "Adieu, Sun, husband of the moon," she said. "Adieu,
sweet, sweet friend, buyer of side-saddles! They were all lies you
told--I know, I know. You want a horse and sidesaddle to carry off
some girl to-night. Happy she! Now I must sit in the dark alone, alone,
alone, till Antonio, the atrocious, comes to liberate me with his iron
Before I had been long back under my tree, Antonio appeared, bringing
the side-saddle in triumph on his horse before him. After going in to
release his wife he came out and invited me to take _maté_. I
then mentioned my wish to buy a good horse; he was only too willing
to sell, and in a few minutes his horses were driven up for inspection.
The black piebald was first offered, a very handsome, quiet-looking
animal, apparently quite sound. The cream-nose, I noticed, was a bony,
long-bodied brute, with sleepy eyes and a ewe neck. Could it be that
the little double-dealing witch had intended to deceive me? But in a
moment I dismissed such a suspicion with the scorn it merited. Let a
woman be as false as she can, and able to fool her husband to the top
of her bent, she is, compared with the man who wishes to sell you a
horse, openness and truth itself. I examined the piebald critically,
walking and trotting him round; looked into his mouth, then at hoofs
and fetlocks, beloved of windgalls; gazed with fixed attention into
his eyes and dealt him a sudden brisk blow on the shoulder.
"No weak spot will you find, señor," said Antonio the mendacious, who
was certainly the greatest of the three sinners met together in that
place. "He is my best horse, only four years old, gentle as a lamb,
sound as a bell. Sure-footed, señor, like no other horse; and with
such an easy pace you can ride him at a gallop with a tumbler of water
in your hand and not spill a drop. I will give him away to you for ten
dollars, because you have been generous about the side-saddle, and I
am anxious to serve you well."
"Thank you, my friend," I said. "Your piebald is fifteen years old,
lame in the shoulders, broken in his wind, and has more vices than any
seven horses in the Banda Orientál. I would not allow my wife to ride
such a dangerous brute, for, as I told you, I have not been long
Antonio framed his face to express astonishment and virtue indignant;
then with the point of his knife he scratched the figure of a cross
on the ground, and was about to swear solemnly on it that I was
egregiously mistaken, that his beast was a kind of equine angel, ora
Pegasus, at least, when I interfered to stop him. "Tell as many lies
as you like," I said, "and I will listen to them with the greatest
interest; but do not swear on the figure of the cross to what is false,
for then the four or five or six dollars profit you have made on the
side-saddle will scarcely be sufficient to buy you absolution for such
He shrugged his shoulders and restored the sacrilegious knife to its
sheath. "There are my horses," he said in an injured tone. "They are
a kind of animal you seem to know a great deal about; select one and
deceive yourself. I have endeavoured to serve you; but there are some
people who do not know a friend when they see one."
I then minutely examined all the other horses, and finally finished
the farce by leading out the roan cream-nose, and was pleased to notice
the crestfallen expression of my good shepherd.
"Your horses do not suit me," I said, "so I cannot buy one. I will,
however, purchase this old cow; for it is the only animal here I could
trust my wife on. You can have seven dollars for it--not one copper
more, for, like the Emperor of China, I speak once only."
He plucked off his purple headgear and scratched his raven head, then
led me back to the kitchen to consult his wife, "For, señor," he said,
"you have, by some fatality, selected her horse." When Cleta heard
that seven dollars had been offered for the roan, she laughed with
joy. "Oh, Antonio, he is only worth six dollars! Yes, señor, you shall
have him, and pay the seven dollars to me. Not to my husband. Who will
say now that I cannot make money? And now, Antonio, I have no horse
to ride on, you can give me the bay with white forefeet."
"Do not imagine such a thing!" exclaimed her husband.
After taking _maté_ I left them to settle their affairs, not
doubting which would come out best from a trial of skill. When I arrived
in sight of Peralta's trees I unsaddled and picketed my horses, then
stretched myself out on my rugs. After the excitements and pleasures
of that day, which had robbed me of my siesta, I quickly fell into a
very sound sleep.
When I woke I did not remember for some moments where I was. Feeling
about me, my hand came in contact with the grass wet with dew. It was
very dark, only low down in the sky a pale gleam of light gave promise,
as I imagined, of coming day. Then recollection flashed upon me, and
I sprang up alarmed to my feet, only to discover with inexpressible
relief that the light I had remarked was in the west, not the east,
and proceeded from the young moon just sinking beneath the horizon.
Saddling my two animals expeditiously, I rode to Peralta's _estancia,
and on arriving there carefully drew the horses into the shadow of a
clump of trees growing on the borders of the ancient, wellnigh
obliterated foss or ditch. I then dropped on to the ground so as to
listen better for approaching footsteps, and began waiting for Demetria.
It was past midnight: not a sound reached me except at intervals the
mournful, far-away, reedy note of the little nocturnal cicada that
always seemed to be there lamenting the lost fortunes of the house of
Peralta. For upwards of half an hour I remained lying on the ground,
growing more anxious every moment and fearing that Demetria was going
to fail me, when I caught a sound like a human whisper. Listening
intently, I found that it pronounced my name and proceeded from a clump
of tall thorn-apples some yards from me.
"Who speaks?" I replied.
The tall, gaunt form of Ramona drew itself up out of the weeds and
cautiously approached me. She was shaking with nervous excitement, and
had not ventured to come near without speaking for fear of being
mistaken for an enemy and fired at.
"Mother of Heaven!" she exclaimed, as well as her chattering teeth
would allow her to speak. "I have been so agitated all the evening!
Oh, señor, what are we to do now? Your plan was such a good one; when
I heard it I knew an angel had flown down and whispered it in your
ear. And now my mistress will not stir! All her things are
ready--clothes, money, jewels; and for the last hour we have been
urging her to come out, but nothing will serve. She will not see you,
"Is Don Hilario in the house?"
"No, he is out--could anything have been better? But it is useless,
she has lost heart and will not come. She only sits crying in her room,
saying that she cannot look on your face again."
"Go and tell her that I am here with the horses waiting for her," I
"Señor, she knows you are here. Santos watched for you and hastened
in to inform her of your arrival. Now she has sent me out only to say
that she cannot meet you, that she thanks you for all you have done,
and begs you to go away and leave her."
I was not greatly surprised at Demetria's reluctance to meet me at the
last moment, but was determined not to leave without first seeing her
and trying to change her mind. Securing the horses to a tree, I went
with Ramona to the house. Stealing in on tiptoe, we found Demetria in
that room where she had received me the evening before in her quaint
finery, lying on the sofa, while old Santos stood by her the picture
of distress. The moment she saw me enter she covered her face with her
hands and turned from me. Yet a glance was sufficient to show that
with or without her consent everything had been got ready for her
flight. On a chair near her lay a pair of saddle-bags in which her few
belongings had been stowed; a mantilla was drawn half over her head,
and by her side was a large woollen shawl, evidently intended to protect
her against the night air.
"Santos," I said, "go out to the horses under the trees and wait there
for us; and you, Ramona, say good-bye now to your mistress, then leave
us together; for by and by she will recover courage and go with me."
Santos, looking immensely relieved and grateful, though a little
surprised at my confident tone, was hurrying out when I pointed to the
saddle-bags. He nodded, grinned, and, snatching them up, left the room.
Poor old Ramona threw herself on to her knees, sobbing and pouring out
farewell blessings on her mistress, kissing her hands and hair with
When she left us I sat down by Demetria's side, but she would not takeher
hands from her face or speak to me, and only wept hysterically
when I addressed her. I succeeded at last in getting one of her hands
in mine, and then drew her head gently down till it rested on my
shoulder. When her sobs began to subside I said:
"Tell me, dear Demetria, have you lost faith in me that you fear to
trust yourself with me now?"
"No, no, Richard, it is not that," she faltered. "But I can never look
into your face again. If you have any compassion for me you will leave
"What, leave you, Demetria, my sister, to that man--how can you imagine
such a thing? Tell me, where is Don Hilario--is he coming back
"I know nothing. He may come back at any moment. Leave me, Richard;
every minute you remain here increases your danger." Then she attempted
to draw away from me, but I would not release her.
"If you fear his returning to-night, then it is time for you to come
with me," I answered.
"No, no, no, I cannot. All is changed now. It would kill me with shame
to look on your face again."
"You shall look on it again many times, Demetria. Do you think that
after coming here to rescue you out of the coils of that serpent I am
going to leave you because you are a little timid? Listen, Demetria,
I shall save you from that devil to-night, even if I have to carry you
out in my arms. Afterwards we can consider all there is to be done
about your father and your property. Perhaps when the poor Colonel is
taken out of this sad atmosphere, his health, his reason even, may
"Oh, Richard, are you deceiving me?" she exclaimed, suddenly dropping
her hands and gazing full into my face.
"No, I am not deceiving you. And now you will lose all fear, Demetria,
for you have looked into my face again and have not been changed to
She turned crimson in a moment; but did not attempt to cover her face
again, for just then a clatter of hoofs was heard approaching the
"Mother of Heaven, save us!" she exclaimed in terror. "It is Don
I quickly blew out the one candle burning dimly in the room. "Fear
nothing," I said. "When all is quiet, after he has gone to his room,
we will make our escape."
She was trembling with apprehension and nestled close to me; while we
both listened intently and heard Don Hilario unsaddle his horse, then
going softly, whistling to himself, to his room.
"Now he has shut himself up," I said, "and in a few minutes will be
asleep. When you think of that man whose persecutions have made your
life a burden, so that you tremble when he approaches you, do you not
feel glad that I have come to take you away?"
"Richard, I could go willingly with you to-night but for one thing.
Do you think after what has passed that I could ever face your wife?"
"She will know nothing of what has passed, Demetria. It would be
dishonourable in me and a cruel injustice to you to speak to her of
it. She will welcome you as a dear sister and love you as much as I
love you. All these doubts and fears troubling you are very
unsubstantial and can be blown away like thistle-down. And now that
you have confessed so much to me, Demetria, I wish to confess also the
one thing that troubles my heart."
"What is it, Richard, tell me?" she said very gently.
"Believe me, Demetria, I never had a suspicion that you loved me. Your
manner did not show it, otherwise I should have told you long ago all
about my past. I only knew you regarded me as a friend and one you
could trust. If I have been mistaken all along, Demetria, if you have
really felt a passion in your heart, then I shall have to lament
bitterly that I have been the cause of a lasting sorrow to you. Will
you not open your heart more to me and tell me frankly how it is with
She caressed my hand in silence for a little while, and then answered,
"I think you were right, Richard. Perhaps I am not capable of passion
like some women. I felt--I knew that you were my friend. To be near
you was like sitting in the shade of a green tree in some hot, desolate
place. I thought it would be pleasant to sit there always and forget
the bitter years. But, Richard, if you will always be my friend--my
brother, I shall be more than content, and my life will seem different."
"Demetria, how happy you have made me! Come, the serpent is sleeping
now, let us steal away and leave him to his evil dreams. God grant
that I may return some day to bruise his head with my heel."
Then, wrapping the shawl about her, I led her out, treading softly,
and in a few moments we were with Santos, patiently keeping watch
beside the horses.
I gladly let him assist Demetria to her seat on the side-saddle, for
that was perhaps the last personal service he would be able to render
her. The poor old fellow was crying, I believe, his utterance was so
husky. Before leaving I gave him on a scrap of paper my address in
Montevideo, and bade him take it to Don Florentino Blanco with a request
to write me a letter in the course of the next two or three days to
inform me of Don Hilario's movements. We then trotted softly away over
the sward, and in about half an hour struck the road leading from Rocha
to Montevideo. This we followed till daylight, scarcely pausing once
from our swift gallop, and a hundred times during that dark ride over
a country utterly unknown to me I blessed the little witch Cleta; for
never was there a more steady, sure-footed beast than the ugly roan
that carried my companion, and when we drew rein in the pale morning
light he seemed fresh as when we started. We then left the highway and
rode across country in a north-westerly direction for a distance of
eight or nine miles, for I was anxious to be far away from public roads
and from the prying, prating people that use them. About eleven o'clock
that morning we had breakfast at a _rancho,_ then rode on again
till we came to a forest of scattered thorn-trees growing on the slopes
of a range of hills. It was a wild, secluded spot, with water and good
pasturage for the horses and pleasant shade for ourselves; so, after
unsaddling and turning loose our horses to feed, we sat down to rest
under a large tree with our backs against its portly trunk. From our
shady retreat we commanded a splendid view of the country over which
we had been riding all the morning, extending for many leagues behind
us, and while I smoked my cigar I talked to my companion, calling her
attention to the beauty of that wide, sunlit prospect.
"Do you know, Demetria," I said, "when the long winter evenings come,
and I have plenty of leisure, I intend writing a history of my
wanderings in the Banda Oriental, and I will call my book _The Purple
Land;_ for what more suitable name can one find for a country so
stained with the blood of her children? You will never read it, of
course, for I shall write it in English, and only for the pleasure it
will give to my own children--if I ever have any--at some distant date,
when their little moral and intellectual stomachs are prepared for
other food than milk. But you will have a very important place in my
narrative, Demetria, for during these last days we have been very much
to each other. And perhaps the very last chapter will recount this
wild ride of ours together, flying from that evil genius Hilario to
some blessed refuge far away beyond the hills and woods and the blue
line of the horizon. For when we reach the capital I believe--I think--I
know, in fact--"
I hesitated to tell her that it would probably be necessary for me to
leave the country immediately, but she did not encourage me to go on,
and, glancing round, I discovered that she was fast asleep.
Poor Demetria, she had been dreadfully nervous all night and almost
afraid to stop to rest anywhere, but now her fatigue had quite overcome
her. Her position against the tree was uncomfortable and insecure, so,
drawing her head very gently down until it rested on my shoulder, and
shading her eyes with her mantilla, I let her sleep on. Her face looked
strangely worn and pallid in that keen noonday light, and, gazing on
it while she slumbered, and remembering all the dark years of grief
and anxiety she had endured down to that last pain of which I had been
the innocent cause, I felt my eyes grow dim with compassion.
After sleeping for about two hours she woke with a start, and was
greatly distressed to learn that I had been supporting her all that
time. But after that refreshing slumber a change seemed to come over
her. Not only her great fatigue, but the tormenting apprehensions had
very nearly vanished. Out of the nettle Danger she had plucked the
flower Safety, and now she could rejoice in its possession and was
filled with new life and spirits. The unaccustomed freedom and exercise,
with constant change of scene, also had an exhilarating effect on mind
and body. A new colour came into her pale cheeks; the purple stains
telling of anxious days and sleepless nights faded away; she smiled
brightly and was full of animation, so that on that long journey,
whether resting in the noonday shade or swiftly cantering over the
green turf, I could not have had a more agreeable companion than
Demetria. This change in her often made me remember Santos' pathetic
words when he told of the ravages of grief, and said that another life
would make his mistress a "flower amongst women." It was a comfort
that her affection for me had been, indeed, nothing but affection. But
what was I to do with her in the end? for I knew that my wife was most
anxious to return without further delay to her own country; and yet
it seemed to me that it would be a hard thing to leave poor Demetria
behind amongst strangers. Finding her so improved in spirits, I at
length ventured to speak to her on the subject. At first she was
depressed, but presently, recovering courage, she begged to be allowed
to go with us to Buenos Ayres. The prospect of being left alone was
unendurable to her, for in Montevideo she had no personal friends,
while the political friends of her family were all out of the country,
or living in very close retirement. Across the water she would be with
friends and safe for a season from her dreaded enemy. This proposal
seemed a very sensible one, and relieved my mind very much, although
it only served to remove my difficulty for a time.
In the department of Camelones, about six leagues from Montevideo, I
found the house of a fellow-countryman named Barker, who had lived for
many years in the country and had a wife and children. We arrived in
the afternoon at his estancia, and, seeing that Demetria was very much
knocked up with our long journey, I asked Mr. Barker to give us shelter
for the night. Our host was very kind and pleasant with us, asking no
disagreeable questions, and after a few hours' acquaintance, which
made us quite intimate, I took him aside and told him Demetria's
history, whereupon, like the good-hearted fellow he was, he at once
offered to shelter her in his house until matters could be arranged
in Montevideo, an offer which was joyfully accepted.
I was soon back in Montevideo after that. When I bade Demetria good-bye
she appeared reluctant to part with me, retaining my hand in hers for
an unusual time. For the first time in her life, probably, she was
about to be left in the company of entire strangers, and for many days
past we had been much to each other, so that it was only natural she
should cling to me a little at parting. Once more I pressed her hand
and exhorted her to be of good courage, reminding her that in a very
few days all trouble and danger would be over; still, however, she did
not release my hand. This tender reluctance to lose me was affecting
and also flattering, but slightly inopportune, for I was anxious to
be in the saddle and away. Presently she said, glancing down at her
rusty habiliments, "Richard, if I am to remain concealed here till I
go to join you on board, then I must meet your wife in these poor
"Oh, _that_ is what you are thinking about, Demetria!" I exclaimed.
At once I called in our kind hostess, and when this serious matter was
explained to her she immediately offered to go to Montevideo to procure
the necessary outfit, a thing I had thought nothing about, but which
had evidently been preying on Demetria's mind.
When I at length reached the little suburban retreat of my aunt (by
marriage), Paquíta and I acted for some time like two demented persons,
so overjoyed were we at meeting after our long separation. I had
received no letters from her, and only two or three of the score I had
written had reached their destination, so that we had ten thousand
questions to ask and answers to make. She could never gaze enough at
me or finish admiring my bronzed skin and the respectable moustache
I had grown; while she, poor darling! looked unusually pale, yet withal
so beautiful that I marvelled at myself for having, after possessing
her, considered any other woman even passably good-looking. I gave her
a circumstantial account of my adventures, omitting only a few matters
I was in honour bound not to disclose.
Thus, when I told her the story of my sojourn at the _estancia_
Peralta, I said nothing to betray Demetria's confidence; nor did I
think it necessary to mention the episode of that wicked little sprite,
Cleta; with the result that she was pleased at the chivalrous conduct
I had displayed throughout the whole of that affair, and was ready to
take Demetria to her heart.
I had not been back twenty-four hours in Montevideo before a letter
from the Lomas de Rocha storekeeper came to justify my caution in
having left Demetria at some distance from the town. The letter informed
me that Don Hilario had quickly guessed that I had carried off his
unhappy master's daughter, and that no doubt was left in his mind when
he discovered that, on the day I left the _estancia_, a person
answering to my description in every particular had purchased a horse
and side-saddle and had ridden off towards the _estancia_ in the
evening. My correspondent warned me that Don Hilario would be in
Montevideo even before his letter, also that he had discovered something
about my connection with the late rebellion, and would be sure to place
the matter in the hands of the government, so as to have me arrested,
after which he would have little difficulty in compelling Demetria to
return to the _estancia_.
For a moment this intelligence dismayed me. Luckily, Paquíta was out
of the house when it came, and fearing that she might return and
surprise me while I was in that troubled state, I rushed out; then,
skulking through back streets and narrow lanes, peering cautiously
about in fear of encountering the minions of the law, I made my escape
out of the town. My only desire just then was to get away into some
place of safety where I would be able to think over the position
quietly, and if possible devise some plan to defeat Don Hilario, who
had been a little too quick for me. Of many schemes that suggested
themselves to my mind, while I sat in the shade of a cactus hedge about
a mile from town, I finally determined, in accordance with my old and
well-tried rule, to adopt the boldest one, which was to go straight
back to Montevideo and claim the protection of my country. The only
trouble was that on my way thither I might be caught, and then Paquíta
would be in terrible distress about me, and perhaps Demetria's escape
would be prevented. While I was occupied with these thoughts I saw a
closed carriage pass by, driven towards the town by a tipsy-looking
coachman. Coming out of my hiding-place, I managed to stop him and
offered him two dollars to drive me to the British Consulate. The
carriage was a private one, but the two dollars tempted the man, so
after securing the fare in advance, he allowed me to get in, and then
I closed the windows, leant back on the cushion, and was driven rapidly
and comfortably to the house of refuge. I introduced myself to the
Consul, and told him a story concocted for the occasion, a judicious
mixture of truth and lies, to the effect that I had been unlawfully
and forcibly seized and compelled to serve in the Blanco army, and
that, having escaped from the rebels and made my way to Montevideo,
I was amazed to hear that the government proposed arresting me. He
asked me a few questions, looked at the passport which he had sent me
a few days before, then, laughing good-humouredly, put on his hat and
invited me to accompany him to the War Office close by. The secretary,
Colonel Arocena, he informed me, was a personal friend of his, and if
we could see him it would be all right. Walking by his side I felt
quite safe and bold again, for I was, in a sense, walking with my hand
resting on the superb mane of the British Lion, whose roar was not to
be provoked with impunity. At the War Office I was introduced by the
Consul to his friend, Colonel Arocena, a genial old gentleman with a
bald head and a cigarette between his lips. He listened with some
interest and a smile, slightly incredulous I thought, to the sad story
of the ill-treatment I had been subjected to at the hands of Santa
Coloma's rebellious rascals. When I had finished he pushed over a sheet
of paper on which he had scrawled a few words to me, with the remark,
"Here, my young friend, take this, and you will be safe in Montevideo.
We have heard about your doings in Florida, also in Rocha, but we do
not propose going to war with England on your account."
At this speech we all laughed; then when I had pocketed the paper,
which bore the sacred seal of the War Office on the margin and requested
all persons to refrain from molesting the bearer in his lawful outgoings
and incomings, we thanked the pleasant old Colonel and retired. I spent
half an hour strolling about with the Consul, then we separated. I had
noticed two men in military uniform at some distance from us when we
were together, and now, returning homewards, I found that they were
following me. By and by they overtook me, and politely intimated their
intention of making me their prisoner. I smiled, and, drawing forth
my protection from the War Office, handed it to them. They looked
surprised, and gave it back, with an apology for having molested me,
then left me to pursue my way in peace.
I had, of course, been very lucky throughout all this adventure; still,
I did not wish to attribute my easy escape entirely to luck, for I
had, I thought, contributed a good deal towards it by my promptness
in acting and in inventing a plausible story on the spur of the moment.
Feeling very much elated, I strolled along the sunny streets, gaily
swinging my cane, when, turning a corner near Doña Isidora's house,
I suddenly came face to face with Don Hilario. This unexpected encounter
threw us both off our guard, he recoiling two or three paces backwardand
turning as pale as the nature of his complexion would allow. I
recovered first from the shock. So far I had been able to baffle him,
and knew, moreover, many things of which he was ignorant; still, he
was there in the town with me and had to be reckoned with, and I quickly
resolved to meet him as a friend, affecting entire ignorance of his
object in coming to Montevideo.
"Don Hilario--you here! Happy the eyes that behold you," I exclaimed,
seizing and shaking his hand, pretending to be overjoyed at the meeting.
In a moment he recovered his usual self-possessed manner, and when I
asked after Doña Demetria he answered after a moments hesitation that
she was in very good health.
"Come, Don Hilario," I said, "we are close to my aunt Isidora's house,
where I am staying, and it will give me great pleasure to present you
to my wife, who will be glad to thank you for your kindness to me at
"Your wife, Don Ricardo! Do you tell me that you are married?" he
exclaimed in amazement, thinking probably that I was already the husband
"What, did I not tell you before!" I said. "Ah, I remember speaking
to Doña Demetria about it. Strange that she has not mentioned it to
you. Yes, I was married before coming to this country--my wife is an
Argentine. Come with me and you shall see a beautiful woman, if that
is an inducement."
He was without doubt astonished and mystified, but he had recovered
his mask, and was now polite, collected, watchful.
When we entered the house I presented him to Doña Isidora, who happened
to be in the way, and left her to entertain him. I was very glad to
do so, knowing that he would seize the opportunity to try and discover
something from the garrulous old lady, and that he would discover
nothing, since she had not been let into our secrets.
I found Paquíta lying down in her room having a siesta; and while she
arrayed herself at my express desire in her best dress--a black velvet
which set off her matchless beauty better than anything else, I told
her how I wished her to treat Don Hilario. She knew all about him, of
course, and hated him with all her heart, looking on him as a kind of
evil genius from whose castle I had carried off the unhappy Demetria;
but I made her understand that our wisest plan was to treat him
graciously. She readily consented, for Argentine women can be more
charmingly gracious than any other women on the globe, and what people
do well they like to be called on to do.
The subtle caution of our snaky guest did not serve to hide from my
watchful eyes that he was very much surprised when he beheld her. She
placed herself near him and spoke in her sweetest, artless manner of
the pleasure my return had given her, and of the gratitude she had
felt towards him and all the people at the _estancia_ Peralta for
the hospitable treatment I had received there. He was, as I had
foreseen, completely carried away by her exquisite beauty and the charm
of her manner towards him. He was flattered, and exerted himself to
be agreeable, but at the same time he was very much puzzled. The baffled
expression was more apparent on his face every moment, while his
restless glances darted here and there about the room, yet ever
returned, like the doomed moth to the candle, to those lustrous violet
eyes overflowing with hypocritical kindness. Paquíta's acting delighted
me, and I only hoped that he would long suffer from the effect of the
subtle poison she was introducing into his system. When he rose to go
I was sure that Demetria's disappearance was a greater mystery to him
than ever; and as a parting shot I warmly invited him to come and see
us frequently while he remained in the capital, even offering him a
bed in the house; while Paquíta, not to be behindhand, for she had
thoroughly entered into the fun of the thing, entrusted him with a
prettily worded, affectionate message to Demetria, a person whom she
already loved and hoped some day to meet.
Two days after this adventure I heard that Don Hilario had left
Montevideo. That he had discovered nothing I was positive; it was
possible, however, that he had left some person to watch the house,
and, as Paquíta was now anxious to get back to her own country, I
determined to delay our departure no longer.
Going down to the harbour, I found the captain of a small schooner
trading between Montevideo and Buenos Ayres, and, learning that he
intended leaving for the last port in three days' time, I bargained
with him to take us, and got him also to consent to receive Demetria
on board at once. I then sent a message to Mr. Barker, asking him to
bring his guest up to town and put her on board the schooner without
coming near me. Two days later, early in the morning, I heard that she
was safe on board; and, having thus baffled the scoundrel Hilario, on
whose ophidian skull I should have been very pleased to set my heel,
and having still an idle day before me, I went once more to visit the
mountain, to take from its summit my last view of the Purple Land where
I had spent so many eventful days.
When I approached the crest of the great, solitary hill I did not gaze
admiringly on the magnificent view that opened before me, nor did the
wind, blowing fresh from the beloved Atlantic, seem to exhilarate me.
My eyes were cast down and I dragged my feet like one that was weary.
Yet I was not weary, but now I began to remember that on a former
occasion I had on this mountain spoken many vain and foolish things
concerning a people about whose character and history I was then
ignorant. I also remembered with exceeding bitterness that my visit
to this land had been the cause of great and perhaps lasting sorrow
to one noble heart.
How often, said I to myself, have I repented of those cruel, scornful
words I addressed to Dolores at our last interview; and now once more
"I come to pluck the berries harsh and crude" of repentance and of
expiation, to humble my insular pride in the dust and unsay all the
unjust things I formerly spoke in my haste.
It is not an exclusively British characteristic to regard the people
of other nationalities with a certain amount of contempt, but with us,
perhaps, the feeling is stronger than with others, or else expressed
with less reserve. Let me now at last rid myself of this error, which
is harmless and perhaps even commendable in those who stay at home,
and also very natural, since it is a part of our unreasonable nature
to distrust and dislike the things that are far removed and unfamiliar.
Let me at last divest myself of these old English spectacles, framed
in oak and with lenses of horn, to bury them for ever in this mountain,
which for half a century and upwards has looked down on the struggles
of a young and feeble people against foreign aggression and domestic
foes, and where a few months ago I sang the praises of British
civilisation, lamenting that it had been planted here and abundantly
watered with blood, only to be plucked up again and cast into the sea.
After my rambles in the interior, where I carried about in me only a
fading remnant of that old time-honoured superstition to prevent the
most perfect sympathy between me and the natives I mixed with, I cannot
say that I am of that opinion now. I cannot believe that if this country
had been conquered and re-colonised by England, and all that is crooked
in it made straight according to our notions, my intercourse with the
people would have had the wild, delightful flavour I have found in it.
And if that distinctive flavour cannot be had along with the material
prosperity resulting from Anglo-Saxon energy, I must breathe the wish
that this land may never know such prosperity. I do not wish to be
murdered; no man does; yet rather than see the ostrich and deer chased
beyond the horizon, the flamingo and black-necked swan slain on the
blue lakes, and the herdsman sent to twang his romantic guitar in Hades
as a preliminary to security of person, I would prefer to go about
prepared at any moment to defend my life against the sudden assaults
of the assassin.
We do not live by bread alone, and British occupation does not give
to the heart all the things for which it craves. Blessings may even
become curses when the gigantic power that bestows them on us scares
from our midst the shy spirits of Beauty and of Poesy. Nor is it solely
because it appeals to the poetic feelings in us that this country
endears itself to my heart. It is the perfect republic: the sense of
emancipation experienced in it by the wanderer from the Old World is
indescribably sweet and novel. Even in our ultra-civilised condition
at home we do periodically escape back to nature; and, breathing the
fresh mountain air and gazing over vast expanses of ocean and land,
we find that she is still very much to us. It is something more than
these bodily sensations we experience when first mingling with our
fellow-creatures, where all men are absolutely free and equal as here.
I fancy I hear some wise person exclaiming, "No, no, no! In name only
is your Purple Land a republic; its constitution is a piece of waste
paper, its government an oligarchy tempered by assassination and
revolution." True; but the knot of ambitious rulers all striving to
pluck each other down have no power to make the people miserable.
Theunwritten constitution, mightier than the written one, is in the heart
of every man to make him still a republican and free with a freedom
it would be hard to match anywhere else on the globe. The Bedouin
himself is not so free, since he accords an almost superstitious
reverence and implicit obedience to his sheikh. Here the lord of many
leagues of land and of herds unnumbered sits down to talk with the
hired shepherd, a poor, bare-footed fellow in his smoky _rancho_,
and no class or caste difference divides them, no consciousness of
their widely different positions chills the warm current of sympathy
between two human hearts. How refreshing it is to meet with this perfect
freedom of intercourse, tempered only by that innate courtesy and
native grace of manner peculiar to Spanish Americans! What a change
to a person coming from lands with higher and lower classes, each with
its innumerable hateful subdivisions--to one who aspires not to mingle
with the class above him, yet who shudders at the slouching carriage
and abject demeanour of the class beneath him! If this absolute equality
is inconsistent with perfect political order, I for one should grieve
to see such order established. Moreover, it is by no means true that
the communities which oftenest startle us with crimes of disorder and
violence are morally worse than others. A community in which there are
not many crimes cannot be morally healthy. There were practically
_no_ crimes in Peru under the Inca dynasty; it was a marvellous
thing for a person to commit an offence in that empire. And the reason
for this most unnatural state of things was this--the Inca system of
government was founded on that most iniquitous and disastrous doctrine
that the individual bears the same relation to the State as a child
to its parents, that its life from the cradle to the grave must be
regulated for it by a power it is taught to regard as omniscient--a
power practically omnipresent and almighty. In such a state there could
be no individual will, no healthy play of passions, and consequently
no crime. What wonder that a system so unspeakably repugnant to a being
who feels that his will is a divinity working within him fell to pieces
at the first touch of foreign invasion, or that it left no vestige of
its pernicious existence on the continent it had ruled! For the whole
state was, so to speak, putrid even before dissolution, and when it
fell it mingled with the dust and was forgotten. Poland, before its
conquest by Russia, a country ill-governed and disorderly as the Banda
Orientál, did not mingle with dust like that when it fell--the
implacable despotism of the Czar was unable to crush its fierce spirit;
its _Will_ still survived to gild dreary oppression with hallowed
dreams, to make it clutch with a fearful joy the dagger concealed in
its bosom. But I had no need to go away from this Green Continent to
illustrate the truth of what I have said. People who talk and write
about the disorderly South American republics are fond of pointing to
Brazil, that great, peaceful, progressive empire, as setting an example
to be followed. An orderly country, yes, and the people in it steeped
to their lips in every abominable vice! Compared with these emasculated
children of the equator, the Orientals are Nature's noblemen.
I can very well imagine some over-righteous person saying, "Alas, poor
deluded soul, how little importance can we attach to your specious
apologies of a people's lawlessness, when your own personal narrative
shows that the moral atmosphere you have been breathing has quite
corrupted you! Go back over your own record, and you will find that
you have, according to _our_ notions, offended in various ways
and on divers occasions, and that you are even without the grace to
repent of all the evil things you have thought, said, and done."
I have not read many books of philosophy, because when I tried to be
a philosopher "happiness was always breaking in," as someone says;
also because I have loved to study men rather than books; but in the
little I have read there occurs a passage I remember well, and this
I shall quote as my answer to anyone who may call me an immoral person
because my passions have not always remained in a quiescent state,
like hounds--to quote the simile of a South American poet--slumbering
at the feet of the huntsman resting against a rock at noon. "We should
regard the perturbations of the mind," says Spinoza, "not in the light
of vices of human nature, but as properties just as pertinent to it
as are heat, storms, thunder, and the like, to the nature of the
atmosphere, which phenomena, though inconvenient, are yet necessary,
and have fixed causes by means of which we endeavour to understand
their nature, and the mind has just as much pleasure in seeing them
aright as in knowing such things as flatter the senses." Let me have
the phenomena which are inconvenient as well as the things which flatter
the senses, and the chances are that my life will be a healthier and
happier one than that of the person who spends his time on a cloud
blushing at Nature's naughtiness.
It is often said that an ideal state--a Utopia where there is no folly,
crime, or sorrow--has a singular fascination for the mind. Now, when
I meet with a falsehood, I care not who the great persons who proclaim
it may be, I do not try to like it or believe it or mimic the
fashionable prattle of the world about it. I hate all dreams of
perpetual peace, all wonderful cities of the sun, where people consume
their joyful, monotonous years in mystic contemplations, or find their
delight, like Buddhist monks, in gazing on the ashes of dead generations
of devotees. The state is one unnatural, unspeakably repugnant: the
dreamless sleep of the grave is more tolerable to the active, healthy
mind than such an existence. If Signor Gaudentio di Lucca, still keeping
himself alive by means of his marvellous knowledge of the secrets of
Nature, were to appear before me now on this mountain to inform me
that the sacred community he resided with in Central Africa was no
mere dream, and should offer to conduct me to it, I should decline to
go with him. I should prefer to remain in the Banda Orientál, even
though by so doing I should grow at last to be as bad as any person
in it, and ready to "wade through slaughter" to the Presidential Chair.
For even in my own country of England, which is not so perfect as old
Peru or the Pophar's country in Central Africa, I have been long divided
from Nature, and now in this Oriental country, whose political misdeeds
are a scandal alike to pure England and impure Brazil, I have been
reunited to her. For this reason I love her with all her faults. Here,
like Santa Coloma, I will kneel down and kiss this stone, as an infant
might kiss the breast that feeds it; here, fearless of dirt, like John
Carrickfergus, I will thrust my hands into the loose brown soil to
clasp the hands, as it were, of dear mother Nature after our long
Farewell, beautiful land of sunshine and storm, of virtue and of crime;
may the invaders of the future fare on your soil like those of the
past and leave you in the end to your own devices; may the chivalrous
instinct of Santa Coloma, the passion of Dolores, the loving-kindness
of Candelaria still live in your children to brighten their lives with
romance and beauty; may the blight of our superior civilisation never
fall on your wild flowers, or the yoke of our progress be laid on your
herdsman--careless, graceful, music-loving as the birds--to make him
like the sullen, abject peasant of the Old World!
The meeting of my fellow-travellers took place next day on board the
ship, where we three were the only cabin passengers. On going down
into the little saloon I found Demetria waiting for us, considerably
improved in appearance by her new dress, but looking pale and anxious,
for she probably found this meeting a trying one. The two women looked
earnestly at each other, but Demetria, to hide her nervousness, I
suppose, had framed her face in the old, impassive, almost cold
expression it had worn when I first knew her, and Paquíta was repelled
by it; so after a somewhat lukewarm greeting they sat down and made
commonplace remarks. Two women more unlike each other in appearance,
character, education, and disposition it would have been difficult to
find; still, I had hoped they might be friends, and felt keenly
disappointed at the result of their first meeting. After an
uncomfortable interval we all rose. I was about to proceed to the deck,
they to their respective cabins, when Paquíta, without any warning of
what was coming, suddenly burst into tears and threw her arms about
"Oh, dear Demetria, what a sad life yours has been!" she exclaimed.
That was like her, so impulsive, and with such a true instinct to make
her do the right thing always! The other gladly responded to the
embrace, and I hastily retreated, leaving them kissing and mingling
When I got out on deck I found that we were already on our way, sails
up, and a fresh wind sending us swiftly through the dull green water.
There were five steerage passengers, disreputable-looking fellows in
_ponchos_ and slouch hats, lounging about the deck smoking; but
when we got outside the harbour and the ship began to toss a little,
they very soon dropped their cigars and began ignominiously creeping
away out of sight of the grinning sailors. Only one remained, a
grizzly-bearded, rough-looking old gaucho, who firmly kept his seat
at the stern, as if determined to see the last of "The Mount," as the
pretty city near the foot of Magellan's Hill is called by the English
people in this region.
To satisfy myself that none of these fellows were sent in pursuit of
Demetria, I asked our Italian captain who they were and how long they
had been on board, and was much relieved to hear that they were
fugitives--rebels probably--and had all been concealed for the past
three or four days in the ship, waiting to get away from Montevideo.
Towards evening it came on very rough, the wind veering to the south
and blowing half a gale, a very favourable wind, as it happened, to
take us across this unlovely "Silver Sea," as the poets of the Plata
insist on calling it, with its villainous, brick-red, chopping waves,
so disagreeable to bad sailors. Paquíta and Demetria suffered agonies,
so that I was obliged to keep with them a good deal. I very imprudently
told them not to be alarmed, that it was nothing--_only
sea-sickness_--and I verily believe they both hated me with all
their hearts for a little while in consequence. Fortunately I had
anticipated these harrowing scenes, and had provided a bottle of
champagne for the occasion; and after I had consumed two or three
glassfuls to encourage them, showing how easy this kind of medicine
is to take, I prevailed on them to drink the remainder. At length,
about ten o'clock in the evening, they began to suspect that their
malady was not going to prove fatal, and, seeing them so much better,
I went up to get some fresh air. There at the stern still sat the
stoical old gaucho, looking extremely miserable.
"Good evening, old comrade," said I; "will you smoke a cigar?"
"Young master, you seem to have a good heart," he returned, shaking
his head at the proffered cigar, "do, for God's sake, get me a little
rum. I am dying for something to warm my inside and stop my head from
going round like a top, but nothing can I get from these jabbering
foreign brutes on board."
"Yes, why not, my old friend," said I, and, going to the master of the
boat, I succeeded in getting a pint of rum in a bottle.
The old fellow clutched it with eager delight and took a long draught.
"Ah!" he said, patting first the bottle, then his stomach, "this puts
new life into a man! Will this voyage never end, master? When I am on
horseback I can forget that I am old, but these cursed waves remind
me that I have lived many years."
I lit my cigar and sat down to have a talk with him.
"Ah, with you foreigners it is just the same--land or water," he
continued. "You can even smoke--what a calm head and quiet stomach you
must have! But what puzzles me is this, señor; how you, a foreigner,
come to be travelling with native women. Now, there is that beautiful
young señora with the violet eyes, who can she be?"
"She is my wife, old man," said I, laughing, a little amused at his
"Ah, you are married then--so young? She is beautiful, graceful, well
educated, the daughter of wealthy parents, no doubt, but frail, frail,
señor; and some day, not a very distant day--but why should I predict
sorrow to a gay heart? Only her face, señor, is strange to me; it does
not recall the features of any Oriental family I know."
"That is easily explained," I said, surprised at his shrewdness, "she
is an Argentine, not an Oriental."
"Ah, that explains it," he said, taking another long pull at the bottle.
"As for the other señora with you, I need not ask you who _she_
"Why, who is she?" I returned.
"A Peralta, if there ever was one," he returned confidently.
His reply disturbed me not a little, for, after all my precautions,
this old man had perhaps been sent to follow Demetria.
"Yes," he continued, with an evident pride in his knowledge of families
and faces which tended to allay my suspicions; "a Peralta and not a
Madariaga, nor a Sanchez, nor a Zelaya, nor an Ibarra. Do I not know
a Peralta when I see one?" And here he laughed scornfully at the
absurdity of such an idea.
"Tell me," I said, "how do you know a Peralta?"
"The question!" he exclaimed. "You are a Frenchman or a German from
over the sea, and do not understand these things. Have I borne arms
forty years in my country's service not to know a Peralta! On earth
they are with me; if I go to Heaven I meet them there, and in Hell I
see them; for when have I charged into the hottest of the fight and
have not found a Peralta there before me? But I am speaking of the
past, señor; for now I am also like one that has been left on the field
forgotten--left for the vultures and foxes. You will no longer find
them walking on the earth; only where men have rushed together sword
in hand you will find their bones. Ah, friend!" And here, overcome
with sad memories, the ancient warrior took another drink from his
"They cannot all be dead," said I, "if, as you imagine, the señora
travelling with me is a Peralta."
"As I imagine!" he repeated scornfully. "Do I not know what I am talking
about, young sir? They are dead, I tell you--dead as the past, dead
as Oriental independence and honour. Did I not ride into the fight at
Gil de los Medanos with the last of the Peraltas, Calixto, when he
received his baptism of blood? Fifteen years old, señor, only fifteen,
when he galloped into the fight, for he had the light heart, the brave
spirit, and the hand swift to strike of a Peralta. And after the fight
our colonel, Santa Coloma, who was killed the other day at San Paulo,
embraced the boy before all the troops. He is dead, señor, and with
Calixto died the house of Peralta."
"You knew Santa Coloma, then?" I said. "But you are mistaken, he was
not killed at San Paulo, he made his escape."
"So they say--the ignorant ones," he returned. "But he is dead, for
he loved his country, and all who are of that mind are slain. How
should he escape?"
"I tell you he is not dead," I repeated, vexed at his stubborn
persistence. "I also knew him, old man, and was with him at San Paulo."
He looked at me for a long time, and then took another swig from his
"Señor, this is not a thing I love joking about," said he. "Let us
talk of other things. What I want to know is, what is Calixto's sister
doing here? Why has she left her country?"
Receiving no reply to this question, he went on: "Has she not got
property? Yes, a large _estancia_, impoverished, ruined, if you
like, but still a very large tract of land. When your enemies do not
fear you, then they cease to persecute. A broken old man, bereft of
reason--surely they would not trouble him! No, no, she is leaving her
country for other reasons. Yes, there is some private plot against
her; some design, perhaps, to carry her off, or even to destroy her
and get possession of her property. Naturally, in such a case, she
would fly for protection to Buenos Ayres, where there is one with some
of her blood in his veins able to protect her person and her property."
I was astonished to hear him, but his last words were a mystery to me.
"There is no one in Buenos Ayres to protect her," I said; "I only will
be there as I am here to shield her, and if, as you think, she has an
enemy, he must reckon with me--one who, like that Calixto you speak
of, has a hand quick to strike."
"There spoke the heart of a Blanco!" he exclaimed, clutching my arm,
and then, the boat giving a lurch at that moment, almost dragging me
down in his efforts to steady himself. After another sip of rum he
went on: "But who are you, young sir, if that is not an impertinent
question? Do you possess money, influence, powerful friends, that you
take upon yourself the care of this woman? Is it in your power to
baffle and crush her enemy or enemies, to protect not only her person,
but her property, which, in her absence, will become the prey of
"And who are you, old man?" I returned, unable to give a satisfactory
answer to one of his searching questions, "and why do you ask me these
things? And who is this powerful person you speak of in Buenos Ayres
with some of her blood in his veins, but of whose existence she is
He shook his head silently, then deliberately proceeded to take out
and light a cigarette. He smoked with a placid enjoyment which made
me think that his refusal of my cigar and his bitter complaints about
the effects of the ship's tossing on him had merely been to get the
bottle of rum out of me. He was evidently a veteran in more senses
than one, and now, finding that I would tell him no more secrets, he
refused to answer any questions. Fearing that I had imprudently told
him too much already, I finally left him and retired to my bunk.
Next morning we arrived at Buenos Ayres, and cast anchor about two
miles from shore, for that was as near the land as we could get.
Presently we were boarded by a Custom House officer, and for some time
longer I was engaged in getting out our luggage and in bargaining with
the captain to put us on shore. When I had completed these arrangements
I was very much surprised to see the cunning old soldier I had talked
with the evening before sitting in the Custom House boat, which was
just putting off from the side. Demetria had been looking on when the
old fellow had left the ship, and she now came to me looking very
"Richard," she said, "did you notice that man who was a passenger with
us and who has just gone off in the boat? It is Santa Coloma."
"Oh, absurd!" I exclaimed. "I talked with that old man last night for
an hour--an old grey-bearded gaucho, and no more like Santa Coloma
than that sailor."
"I know I am right," she returned. "The General has visited my father
at the _estancia_ and I know him well. He is disguised now and
has made himself look like a peasant, but when he went over the side
into the boat he looked full into my face; I knew him and started,
then he smiled, for he saw that I had recognised him."
The very fact that this common-looking old man had gone on shore in
the Custom House boat proved that he was a person of consequence in
disguise, and I could not doubt that Demetria was right. I felt
excessively annoyed at myself for having failed to penetrate his
disguise; for something of the old Marcos Marcó style of speaking might
very well have revealed his identity if I had only had my wits about
me. I was also very much concerned on Demetria's account, for it seemed
that I had missed finding out something for her which would have been
to her advantage to know. I was ashamed to tell her of that conversation
about a relation in Buenos Ayres, but secretly determined to try and
find Santa Coloma to get him to tell me what he knew.
After landing we put our small luggage into a fly and were driven to
an hotel in Calle Lima, an out-of-the-way place kept by a German; but
I knew the house to be a quiet, respectable one and very moderate in
About five o'clock in the afternoon we were together in the sitting-room
on the first floor, looking down on the street from the window, when
a well-appointed carriage with a gentleman and two young ladies in it
drew up before the door.
"Oh, Richard," exclaimed Paquíta in the greatest excitement, "it is
Don Pantaleon Villaverde with his daughters, and they are getting out!"
"Who is Villaverde?" I asked.
"What, do you not know? He is a Judge of First Instance, and his
daughters are my dearest friends. Is it not strange to meet them like
this? Oh, I must see them to ask for _papa_ and _mamita!_" and here she
began to cry.
The waiter came up with a card from the Señor Villaverde requesting
an interview with the Señorita Peralta.
Demetria, who had been trying to soothe Paquíta's intense excitement
and infuse a little courage into her, was too much amazed to speak;
and in another moment our visitors were in the room. Paquíta started
up tearful and trembling; then her two young friends, after staring
at her for a few moments, delivered a screech of astonishment and
rushed into her arms, and all three were locked together for some time
in a triangular embrace.
When the excitement of this tempestuous meeting had spent itself, Señor
Villaverde, who stood looking on with grave, impressive face, spoke
to Demetria, telling her that his old friend, General Santa Coloma,
had just informed him of her arrival in Buenos Ayres and of the hotel
where she was staying. Probably she did not even know who he was, he
said; he was her relation; his mother was a Peralta, a first cousin
of her unhappy father, Colonel Peralta. He had come to see her with
his daughters to invite her to make his house her home during her stay
in Buenos Ayres. He also wished to help her with her affairs, which,
his friend the General had informed him, were in some confusion. He
had, he concluded, many influential friends in the sister city, who
would be ready to assist him in arranging matters for her.
Demetria, recovering from the nervousness she had experienced on finding
that Paquíta's great friends were her visitors, thanked him warmly and
accepted his offer of a home and assistance; then, with a quiet dignity
and self-possession one would hardly expect from a girl coming amongst
fashionable people for the first time in her life, she greeted her
new-found relations and thanked them for their visit.
As they insisted on taking Demetria away with them at once, she left
us to make her preparations, while Paquíta remained conversing with
her friends, having many questions to ask them. She was consumed with
anxiety to know how her family, and especially her father, who made
the domestic laws, now, after so many months, regarded her elopement
and marriage with me. Her friends, however, either knew nothing or
would not tell her what they knew.
Poor Demetria! she had, with no time given her for reflection, taken
the wise course of at once accepting the offer of her influential and
extremely dignified kinsman; but it was hard for her to leave her
friends at such short notice, and when she came back prepared for her
departure the separation tried her severely. With tears in her eyes
she bade Paquíta farewell, but when she took my hand in hers, for some
time her trembling lips refused to speak. Overcoming her emotions by
a great effort, she at length said, addressing her visitors, "For my
escape from a sad and perilous position and for the pleasure of finding
myself here amongst relations, I am indebted to this young friend who
has been a brother to me."
Señor Villaverde listened and bowed towards me, but with no softening
in his stern, calm face, while his cold grey eyes seemed to look
straight through me at something beyond. His manner towards me made
me feel a kind of despair, for how strong must have been his disapproval
of my conduct in running off with his friend's daughter--how great his
indignation against me, when it prevented him from bestowing one smile
or one kind word on me to thank me for all I had done for his kinswoman!
Yet this was only the reflected indignation of my father-in-law.
We went down to the carriage to see them off, and then, finding myself
for a moment by the side of one of the young ladies, I tried to find
out something for myself. "Pray tell me, señorita," I said, "what you
know about my father-in-law. If it is very bad, I promise you my wife
shall not hear a word of it; but it is best that I should know the
truth before meeting him."
A cloud came over her bright, expressive face, while she glanced
anxiously at Paquíta; then, bending towards me, she whispered, "Ah,
my friend, he is implacable! I am so sorry, for Paquíta's sake." And
then, with a smile of irrepressible coquetry, she added, "And for
The carriage drove away, and Demetria's eyes, looking back at me, were
filled with tears, but in Señor Villaverde's eyes, also glancing back,
there was an expression that boded ill for my future. His feeling was
natural, perhaps, for he was the father of two very pretty girls.
Implacable, and I was now divided from him by no silver or
brick-coloured sea! By returning I had made myself amenable to the
laws I had broken by marrying a girl under age without her father's
consent. The person in England who runs away with a ward in Chancery
is not a greater offender against the law than I was. It was now in
his power to have me punished, to cast me into prison for an indefinite
time, and if not to crush my spirit, he would at least be able to break
the heart of his unhappy daughter. Those wild, troubled days in the
Purple Land now seemed to my mind peaceful, happy days, and the bitter
days with no pleasure in them were only now about to begin. Implacable!
Suddenly looking up, I found Paquíta's violet eyes, full of sad
questioning, fixed on my face.
"Tell me truly, Richard, what have you heard?" she asked.
I forced a smile, and, taking her hand, assured her that I had heard
nothing to cause her any uneasiness. "Come," I said, "let us go in and
prepare to leave town to-morrow. We will go back to the point we started
from--your father's _estancia_, for the sooner this meeting you
are thinking about so anxiously is over the better will it be for all
HISTORY OF THE BANDA ORIENTÁL
The country, called in this work the Purple Land, was discovered by
Magellan in the year 1500, and he called the hill, or mountain, which
gives its name to the capital, Monte Vidi. He described it as a
hat-shaped mountain; and it is probable that, four centuries ago, the
tall, conical hat, which is worn to this day by women in South Wales,
was a common form in Spain and Portugal.
In due time settlements were made; but the colonists of those days
loved gold and adventure above everything, and, finding neither in the
Banda, they little esteemed it. For two centuries it was neglected by
its white possessors, while the cattle they had imported continued to
multiply, and, returning to a feral life, overran the country in amazing
The heroic period in South American history then passed away. El Dorado,
the Spaniard's New Jerusalem, has changed into a bank of malarious
mist and a cloud of mosquitoes, Amazons, giants, pigmies.
"The Anthropophagi, and men whose heads
Do grow beneath their shoulders,"
when closely looked for, turned out to be Red Indians of a type which
varied but little throughout the entire vast continent. Wanderers from
the Old World grew weary of seeking the tropics only to sink into
flowery graves. They turned away sick at heart from the great desolation
where the splendid empire of the Children of the Sun had so lately
flourished. The accumulated treasures had been squandered. The cruel
crusades of the Paulists against the Jesuit missions had ceased for
the inhuman slave-hunters had utterly destroyed the smiling gardens
in the wilderness. A remnant of the escaped converts had gone back to
a wild life in the woods, and the Fathers, who had done their Master's
work so well, drifted away to mingle in other scenes or die of broken
hearts. Then, in the sober eighteenth century, when the disillusion
was complete, Spain woke up to the fact that in the temperate part of
the continent, shared by her with Portugal, she possessed a new bright
little Spain worth cultivating. About the same time, Portugal discovered
that the acquisition of this pretty country, with its lovely Lusitanian
climate, would nicely round off her vast possessions on the south side.
Forthwith these two great colonising powers fell to fighting over the
Banda, where there were no temples of beaten gold, or mythical races
of men, or fountains of everlasting youth. The quarrel might have
continued to the end of time, so languidly was it conducted by both
parties, had not great events come to swallow up the little ones.
At the beginning of the nineteenth century the English invasion burst
like a sudden terrible thunderstorm on the country. Montevideo on the
east and Buenos Ayres on the west side of the sea-like river were
captured and lost again. The storm was soon over, but it had the effect
of precipitating the revolution of 1810, which presently ended in the
loss to Spain of all her American possessions. These changes brought
only fresh wars and calamities to the long-suffering Banda. The ancient
feud between Spain and Portugal descended to the new Brazilian Empire
and the new Argentine Confederation, and these claimants contended for
the country until 1828, when they finally agreed to let it govern
itself in its own fashion. After thus acquiring its independence, the
little Belgium of the New World cast off its pretty but hated
appellation of Cisplatina and resumed its old joyous name of Banda
Orientál. With light hearts the people then proceeded to divide
themselves into two political parties--Whites and Reds. Endless
struggles for mastery ensued, in which the Argentines and Brazilians,
forgetting their solemn compact, were for ever taking sides. But of
these wars of crows and pies it would be idle to say more, since, after
going on for three-quarters of a century, they are not wholly ended
yet. The rambles and adventures described in the book take us back to
the late 'sixties or early 'seventies of the last century, when the
country was still in the condition in which it had remained since the
colonial days, when the ten years' siege of Montevideo was not yet a
remote event, and many of the people one met had had a part in it.