On the Pampas by G. A. Henty
Chapter I. Mrs. Hardy's Resolution.
"What are you thinking of, Frank?" Mrs. Hardy asked her husband one evening, after an unusually long silence on his part.
"Well, my dear, I was thinking of a good many things. In the first place, I think, I began with wondering what I should make of the boys; and that led to such a train of thoughts about ourselves and our circumstances that I hardly knew where I was when you spoke to me."
Mr. Hardy spoke cheerfully, but his wife saw at once that it was with an effort that he did so. She put down the work upon which she was engaged, and moved her chair nearer to his by the fire. "It is a serious question, Frank, about the boys. Charley is fifteen now, and Hubert fourteen. I wonder myself sometimes what we shall do with them."
"There seems no opening here in England for young fellows. The professions are crowded, even if they were not altogether beyond our means; and as to a clerkship, they had better have a trade, and stick to it: they would be far happier, and nearly as well paid. The fact is, Clara," and here Mr. Hardy paused a little, as if to gain courage to say what he feared would be very disagreeable to his wife--"the fact is, we are altogether too crowded here. The best thing for the children, by far, and I think the best thing for ourselves, would be to emigrate."
Mrs. Hardy gave a little sigh, but said nothing, and sat looking quietly into the fire, as her husband went on: "You see, my dear, I am just, and only just, earning enough for us to live upon. Nor is there any strong probability of an increase of business. The boys, as you say, are growing up, and I see no prospect of giving them a fair start in life. Abroad it is altogether different: we can buy land and stock it for next to nothing. We should live roughly, certainly; but at least there is no fear for the future, and we should start our boys in life with a fair certainty of success. Still, Clara, I do not of course mean that I have made up my mind upon the subject. It is far too serious a matter to decide upon hastily. I only threw out the suggestion; and if you, after thinking it over, are against it, there is an end of the matter."
Mrs. Hardy was silent for a little, and a tear sparkled on her cheek in the firelight; then she said, "I am not surprised, Frank, at what you have said. In fact I have expected it for some time. I have observed you looking over books upon foreign countries, and have seen that you often sat thoughtful and quiet. I guessed, therefore, what you had in your mind. Of course, dear, as a woman, I shrink from the thought of leaving all our friends and going to quite a strange country, but I don't think that I am afraid of the hardships or discomfort. Thousands of other women have gone through them, and there is no reason why I should not do the same. I do think with you that it would be a good thing for the boys, perhaps for the girls too; and that, when we have got over the first hardships, we too should be happier and more free from care than we are now. So you see, Frank, you will meet with no opposition from me; and if, after deliberation, you really determine that it is the best thing to do, I shall be ready to agree with you. But it is a hard thought just at first, so please do not say any more about it to-night."
Mr. Hardy was an architect, as his father had been before him. He had not, however, entered the office at the usual age, but when eighteen had gone out to the United States, to visit an uncle who had settled there. After spending some time with him, the love of adventure had taken him to the far West, and there he had hunted and shot for nearly three years, till a letter, long delayed on the way, entreated him to return to England, as his father's health was failing. He at once started for England, and found that his father was in a feeble state of health, but was still able to carry on the business. Frank saw, however, that he was unequal to the work, and so entered the office, working hard to make up for lost time. He was a good draughtsman, and was shortly able to take a great burden off his father's shoulders.
He had not been long at home, however, before he fell in love with Clara Aintree, the daughter of a clergyman; and his father making over to him a share in the business, they were married just as Frank attained his twenty-fourth year, his wife being about nineteen. Two years after the marriage Mr. Hardy senior died, and from that time Frank had carried on the business alone.
B--- was a large provincial town, but it scarcely afforded remunerative employment for an architect; and although Mr. Hardy had no competitor in his business, the income which he derived from it was by no means a large one, and the increasing expenses of his family rendered the struggle to make ends meet yearly more severe. His father had been possessed of a small private fortune, but had rashly entered into the mania of railway speculation, and at his death had left about fifteen thousand dollars to his son. This sum Frank Hardy had carefully preserved intact, as he had foreseen that the time might come when it would, for his children's sake, be advisable to emigrate. He had long looked forward to this, but had abstained from taking any step until his sons were of an age to be able to make themselves useful in a life in the bush or upon the prairies.
Frank Hardy, at the time our story begins, was about forty. He was a tall, active man, and the life he had led in America when young had hardened his muscles, and given him the full use of every faculty.
Mrs. Hardy was five years younger than her husband, and scarcely looked thirty years old. She was a high-spirited woman, well fitted to be her husband's companion in the dangers and hardships of a settler's life.
The subject of emigration once started, was frequently continued, and presently books and maps began to be consulted, and the advantages and disadvantages of the various countries and colonies to be debated. Finally, Mr. and Mrs. Hardy agreed that the Argentine Republic, in its magnificent rivers, its boundless extent of fertile land, in its splendid climate, its cheap labor, and its probable prospects, offered the greatest advantages.
The decision once arrived at, it was determined to announce it to the children, who had up to this time no idea of the great change decided upon. Breakfast was over, and the boys, whose holidays had just begun, were about to leave the table, when their father said: "Wait a moment, boys; there is something we want to talk to you about."
The boys resumed their seats. "Your mamma and I have been wondering what you boys are to become, and we do not see any openings likely to occur here. Now, what should you say to us all emigrating?"
"What, going abroad, papa!" they both exclaimed joyously.
"Yes, boys, settling in the backwoods or in the prairies."
"Oh, that would be jolly," Charley said, "I know, I papa, having fights with Indians, and all that sort of thing. Oh, it would be glorious!"
"Well, Charley," his father said, smiling, "I do not know that we shall have fights with Indians, nor do think it would be very jolly if we did. But we should have to rough it, you know; you boys would have to work hard, to help me in everything, and to look after the cattle and sheep."
"What fun! what fun!" the boys both shouted; "we should like it of all things in the world."
"And what do you think of it, Maud and Ethel?" their mamma asked the two little girls, who were looking very surprised, but rather doubtful as to the pleasure of the fights with Indians which their brothers had spoken so delightedly about. "You will have to be two very useful little women, and will have to help me just as the boys will have to help your papa. Very likely we may not be able to get a servant there, and then we shall have to do everything."
"That will be fine, mamma," said Maud, who was rather over twelve, while her sister was just eleven. "I don't think I could cook, but you should cook, and I could scrub and do all the hard work, and Ethel could wash up, and lay the table, and that sort of thing. That would be fine, mamma."
Ethel, who almost always agreed with her elder sister, did so now, and the four young ones became quite uproarious in their plans for making themselves useful. At last Mr. Hardy called for order.
"Now silence all, and listen to me. This affair is a serious business; and although I hope and believe that we shall all enjoy our life very much, still we must prepare for it, and look upon it in earnest, and not as a sort of game. I have business here which I cannot finish before another eight or nine months. Let us all make the most of our time before we start. In the first place, the language of the people among whom we are going is Spanish, and we must all learn to speak it well before we leave. For the next three months we will work together at grammar and exercises, and then I will try and get some Spanish teacher to live in the house, and speak the language with us until we go. In the next place, it will be well that you should all four learn to ride. I have hired the paddock next to our garden, and have bought a pony, which will be here to-day, for the girls. You boys have already ridden a little, and I shall now have you taught in the riding school. I went yesterday to Mr. Saris, and asked him if he would allow me to make an arrangement with his head gardener for you to go there to learn gardening. He at once agreed; and I have arranged with the gardener that you are both to be there every morning at six o'clock, and are to work until nine. At nine you will come in to breakfast. From breakfast to dinner you will have to yourselves, except upon the days you take riding lessons; and I should wish you to spend this time at your usual studies, except Latin, which will be of no use to you. From two till half-past four you are to learn carpentering. I have made an agreement with Mr. Jones to pay him so much to take you as a sort of apprentices for the next nine months. In the evening we will all work together at Spanish. It will be hard work; but if you want to be of any real use to me, it is absolutely necessary that you should be able to use a spade and to do rough carpentering. As the time draws on, too, I shall ask one of the farmers near to let you go out with his men and get some notion of plowing. Well, what do you say to all that?"
Hubert looked a little downcast at this recital of the preparatory work to be gone through, but Charley said at once, "It sounds rather hard, papa, but, as you say, we shall have to work hard out there, and it is much better to accustom one's self to it at once; besides, of course, we should be of no use at all to you unless we knew something about work."
"And what are we to learn, mamma?" Maud asked.
"Not a very great deal, my dear," Mrs. Hardy said. "Spanish to begin with, then cooking. I shall teach you at any rate, to make simple dishes and puddings, and to boil vegetables properly. I shall myself practice until I am perfect, and then I shall teach you. Besides that, it will be as well for you to learn to attend to poultry; and that is all I know of at present, except that you must both take pains to improve yourselves at sewing. We shall have to make everything for ourselves out there."
"I suppose we shan't do any more regular lessons, mamma?"
"Indeed you will, Maud. You do not imagine that your education is finished, do you? and you cannot wish to grow almost as ignorant as the poor Indians of the country. You will give up the piano, and learn Spanish instead of French, but that will be all the difference; and I shall expect you both to make as much progress as possible, because, although I shall take you both out there, and shall teach you whenever I find time, your lessons must of necessity be short and irregular. And now you can all go out into the garden and talk the matter over."
"But you have not told us yet where we are going to, papa," Charley said.
"We are going to farm upon the bunks of one of the great South American rivers--probably the Parana, in the Argentine Republic."
Mr. and Mrs. Hardy watched their children from the window. They went out in a group to the summer-house in the corner of the garden, all talking excitedly. Then Maud ran back again to the house, and in a minute or two returned with the schoolroom atlas, and opening it upon the table, they all clustered over it in eager consultation.
Mrs. Hardy turned to her husband with a smile. "You will have to get up the subject, Frank, so as to be able to answer the innumerable questions you will be asked."
"I shall always refer them to you."
There was quite a talk in B--- when it was known that Mr. Hardy was going to emigrate with his wife and family. He, and his father before him, had been so long established in the town that there were few people who did not know him, more or less.
Emigration in the year 1851 was far less common than it is now, and the interest was proportionately greater. Charley and Hubert became quite popular characters among their late schoolfellows, who, whenever they met them, would always stop to have a talk about the distant country to which they were going. The boys, however, had now but little time for talking; for upon the week after their father had first told them of his intention, they had set-to regularly at the work he had laid down for them. They rose every morning at five, had a slice of bread and a cup of milk, and were off to the gardener's, where they worked hard until half-past eight. Mr. Hardy had requested that they should be specially instructed in the raising of vegetables, and in the planting and pruning of fruit-trees. The culture of flowers could be of no utility. The digging made the boys' backs ache at first, and blistered their hands, but they stuck to it manfully, and soon became accustomed to the work, returning to breakfast with glowing cheeks and tremendous appetites.
In the afternoon they might be seen in the carpenter's shop with their coats and waistcoats off, working away with saw or plane.
Although both made good progress in both pursuits, yet their tastes differed; Charley preferring the carpentering, while Hubert was the gardener's most promising pupil. The former was therefore christened the head carpenter by his sisters, while the latter was promoted to the post of chief gardener.
Four or five months of this work made a visible difference in the boys' appearance. They both widened out across the shoulders, their arms became strong and muscular, and they looked altogether more healthy and robust. Nor did their appearance belie them; for once when spending a holiday in the cricket-field with their former schoolfellows, wrestling matches being proposed after the game was over, they found that they were able to overcome with ease boys whom they had formerly considered their superiors in strength.
In the meantime Mr. Hardy had succeeded in obtaining the services of a young Spanish lady, who had come to England to learn the language, as governess; and of an evening the whole family worked at Spanish, and made such progress that they were soon able to establish the rule that no other language should be spoken at mealtimes. The girls here soon surpassed their brothers, as they had the advantage of morning lessons in the language, besides which young children can always pick up a language sooner than their elders; and they had many a hearty laugh at the ridiculous mistakes Charley and Hubert made in their efforts to get through a long sentence. In six months, however, all could speak with tolerable fluency.
Maud and Ethel were as amused and as diligent at learning household work as their brothers were in their departments, and might have been seen every afternoon in the kitchen, in their little white pinafores, engaged in learning the mysteries of cooking.
One day, after they had been so engaged for about four months, Mrs. Hardy said at breakfast: "I am going to try an experiment. I have given the cook leave to go out for the day. Mr. and Mrs. Partridge are coming to dinner, and I intend handing over the kitchen to the girls, and letting them make their first essay. We are going to have soup, a leg of mutton with potatoes and spinach, a dish of fried cutlets, and a cabinet pudding. I shall tell Sarah to lift any saucepan you may want on or off the fire, but all the rest I shall leave in your hands. The boys will dine with us. The hour will be half-past five, punctually."
The little girls' eyes flashed with pleasure, and they quite colored up at the thought of the importance and difficulty of the task before them. At lunch the boys pretended to eat an extra quantity, saying that they felt very doubtful about their dinner. In the afternoon Mrs. Hardy felt strongly tempted to go into the kitchen to see how things were getting on; but she restrained herself, resolving to let Maud and Ethel have entirely their own way.
The dinner was a great success, although the soup was rather hot, from Ethel, in her anxiety, having let too much pepper slip in; and the cabinet pudding came up all over the dish, instead of preserving its shape, it having stuck to the mold, and Maud having shaken it so violently that it had come out with a burst and broken up into pieces, which had caused a flood of tears on the part of the little cook. It did not taste any the worse, however. And when the little girls came in to dessert in their white frocks, looking rather shy, and very scorched in the face, from their anxious peeping into pots to see that all was going on well, they were received with a cheer by the boys; and their friends were not a little astonished to hear that the dinner they had partaken of had been entirely prepared and cooked by these little women.
After four months' gardening, Mr. Hardy placed the boys with a farmer who lived a mile distant, and made an arrangement for them to breakfast there, so that they now remained at work from six in the morning until twelve. Here they obtained some idea of harnessing and driving horses, of plowing, and of the other farming operations.
They now only went four days a week to the carpenter's, for their papa had one day said to them when they were alone with him before dinner: "Do not put on your working clothes this afternoon, boys; I am going to take you out with me, but do not say anything about it at dinner. I will tell you why afterward."
Rather surprised, they did as he told them, wondering where they could be going. Their father said nothing on the subject until they reached the town, which was a quarter of a mile distant from their house. Then he said: "Now, boys, you know we are going out to a country of which a great portion is still unsettled; and as land is a good deal cheaper at a short distance from the inhabited parts, we shall perhaps have no one within many miles of us. Now it is just possible that at first the Indians may be disposed to be troublesome. I do not suppose that they will, but it is just as well to be prepared for everything. There is no reason why you boys should not be able to shoot as straightly as a man, and I have therefore bought two carbines. They are the invention of an American named Colt, and have a revolving breech, so that they fire six shots each. There is a spare chamber to each, which is very quickly shifted in place of the one discharged; so that each of you could fire twelve shots in a very short time. They will carry up to five hundred yards. They are a new invention, but all accounts agree that they are an excellent one. I have obtained leave from Mr. Harcourt, who lives three miles from here, to put up a target at the foot of some bare hills on his property, and we will walk over there twice a week to practice. I used to be considered a first-rate shot with a rifle when I was a young man in America, and I have got down a rifle for my own use. I do not want you to speak about what we are doing to your mamma, or indeed to any one. We shall keep our rifles at a cottage near where we shoot, and no one need know anything about it. It is not likely that we shall have any trouble with the Indians, and it is of no use making your mamma uncomfortable by the thought of the probability of such a thing."
As Mr. Hardy spoke the boys were ready to dance with delight, and this was increased when they turned into the gunsmith's shop, and were shown the arms which their father had bought for this expedition.
Mr. Hardy had already an excellent double-barreled gun, and he had now purchased a long and heavy rifle carrying a conical ball. In addition to the boys' carbines, he had bought them each a light double-barreled gun. Besides these were two brace of Colt's revolving pistols. These were all new; but there were in addition two or three second-hand double-barreled guns for the use of his servants, in case of necessity, and three light rifles of the sort used for rook-shooting. Altogether, it was quite an armory. The carbines were in neat cases; and the boys carried these and a box of cartridges, while Mr. Hardy took his rifle; and so they started off to their shooting ground.
Here their father instructed them in the use of their revolving carbines, and then, after some practice with caps only, allowed them to fire a few shots each. The firing was certainly rather wild, owing to the difficulty they felt at first of firing without shutting their eyes; but after a few weeks' practice they became very steady, and in three or four months could make pretty certain of a bull's-eye at three hundred yards. Of all this Mrs. Hardy and the girls knew nothing; but there was not the same secrecy observed with reference to their shotguns. These they took home with them, and Mr. Hardy said that he understood that the plains of South America swarmed with game, and that, therefore, it was well that the boys should learn how to shoot. He insisted, however, that only one gun should be taken out at a time, to diminish the danger of accidents. After that the boys took out their guns by turns when they went to work of a morning, and many a dead blackbird soon attested to their improving skill.