On the Pampas by G. A. Henty
Chapter XI. Quiet Times.
"After a storm comes a calm:" a saying true in the case of the Hardys, as in that of most others. All their neighbors agreed that after the very severe loss of the Indians, and the capture of the whole of their horses, there was no chance whatever of another attack, at any rate for many months. After that it was possible, and indeed probable, that they would endeavor to take vengeance for their disastrous defeat; but that at present they would be too crippled and disheartened to think of it.
The settlers were now, therefore, able to give their whole attention to the farm. The first operation was the sheep-shearing. Four men had been hired to do the shearing at Canterbury, and then to come over to Mount Pleasant. Charley rode over to their neighbors' with Mrs. Hardy and his sisters, Mr. Hardy and Hubert remaining at home--the latter laid up with the wound in his leg.
It was an amusing sight to see three or four hundred sheep driven into an enclosure, and then dragged out by the shearers. These men were paid according to the number shorn, and were very expert, a good hand getting through a hundred a day. They were rather rough, though, in their work, and the girls soon went away from the shearing-place with a feeling of pity and disgust, for the shearers often cut the sheep badly. Each man had a pot of tar by his side, with which he smeared over any wound. A certain sum was stopped from their pay for each sheep upon which they made a cut of over a certain length; but although this made them careful to a certain extent, they still wounded a great many of the poor creatures.
A much more exciting amusement was seeing the branding of the cattle, which took place after the shearing was over. The animals were let out, one by one, from their enclosure, and, as they passed along a sort of lane formed of hurdles, they were lassoed and thrown on to the ground. The hot branding-iron was then clapped against their shoulder, and was received by a roar of rage and pain. The lasso was then loosened, and the animal went off at a gallop to join his companions on the plain. Some caution was required in this process, for sometimes the animals, upon being released, would charge their tormenters, who then had to make a hasty leap over the hurdles; Terence, who stood behind them, being in readiness to thrust a goad against the animals' rear, and this always had the effect of turning them. For a few days after this the cattle were rather wild, but they soon forgot their fright and pain, and returned to their usual ways.
Mr. Hardy had by this time been long enough in the country to feel sure of his position. He therefore determined to embark the rest of his capital in agricultural operations. He engaged ten native peons, and set-to to extend the land under tillage. The watercourses from the dam were deepened and lengthened, and side channels cut, so that the work of irrigation could be effectually carried on over the whole of the low-lying land, the water being sufficient for the purpose for nearly ten months in the year. Four plows were kept steadily at work, and the ground was sown with alfalfa or lucern as fast as it was got into condition. Patches of Indian corn, pumpkins, and other vegetables were also planted. Mr. Hardy resolved that until the country beyond him became so settled that there could be little danger from Indian incursions, he would not increase his stock of sheep and cattle, but would each year sell off the increase.
He also decided upon entering extensively upon dairy operations. He had already ascertained that a ready sale could be obtained, among the European residents of Rosario and Buenos Ayres, of any amount of butter and fresh cheese that he could produce, and that European prices would be readily given for them. Up to the present time the butter made had been obtained from the milk of two cows only, but he now determined to try the experiment upon a large scale.
A dairy was first to be made. This was partially cut out of the side of the slope, and lined with sun-baked bricks. Against the walls, which projected above the ground, earth was piled, to make them of a very considerable thickness. Strong beams were placed across the roof; over these rafters was nailed felt, whitewashed upon both sides to keep out insects. Upon this was placed a considerable thickness of rushes, and, over all, puddled clay was spread a foot deep. Ventilation was given by a wide chimney rising behind it, and light entered by two windows in front. The whole of the interior was whitewashed.
In this way a dairy was obtained which, from the thickness of its walls, was cool enough for the purpose during the hottest weather. Preparations were now made for breaking in the cows to be milked. A sort of lane was made of two strong fences of iron wire. This lane was of the shape of a funnel, narrowing at one end to little more than the width of a cow. At the end of this was a gate, and attached to the gate a light trough filled with fresh alfalfa.
Half a dozen cows which had recently calved were now separated from the herd, and driven into the wide end of the enclosure. One by one they approached the narrow end, and when one had reached the extremity, and had begun to devour the alfalfa, of which they are very fond, a bar was let down behind her, so that she could now neither advance, retreat, nor turn round.
One of the boys now began cautiously and quietly to milk her, and the cows in few cases offered any resistance. One or two animals were, however, very obstreperous, but were speedily subdued by having their legs firmly fastened to the posts behind. In a few days all were reconciled to the process, and ere long would come in night and morning to be milked, with as much regularity as English cows would have done.
The wives of the peons were now taught to milk; and more and more cows were gradually added to the number, until in six months there were fifty cows in full milk. Maud and Ethel had now no longer anything to do with the house, Mrs. Hardy undertaking the entire management of that department, while the girls had charge of the fowl-house and dairy.
The milk was made partly into butter, partly into fresh cheese. These were sent off once a week to catch the steamer for Buenos Ayres. Mr. Hardy had a light cart made for one horse, and by this conveyance the butter--starting as soon as the sun went down--arrived in Rosario in time for the early boat to the capital. It was sent in large baskets made of rushes, and packed in many layers of cool, fresh leaves; so that it arrived at Buenos Ayres, forty hours after leaving Mount Pleasant, perfectly fresh and good. The skim milk was given to the pigs, who had already increased to quite a numerous colony.
Although they had been planted less than a year, the fruit trees round the house had thriven in a surprising manner, and already bore a crop of fruit more than sufficient for the utmost wants of the household. Peaches and nectarines, apricots and plums, appeared at every meal, either fresh, stewed, or in puddings, and afforded a very pleasant change and addition to their diet. As Maud said one day, they would have been perfectly happy had it not been for the frogs.
These animals were a very great nuisance. They literally swarmed. Do what they would, the Hardys could not get rid of them. If they would but have kept out of the house, no one would have minded them; indeed, as they destroyed a good many insects, they would have been welcome visitors in the garden; but this was just what they would not do. The door always stood open, and they evidently considered that as an invitation to walk in. There they would hide behind boxes, or get under beds, and into water-jugs and baths, and, in fact, into every possible corner, They would even get into boots; and these had always to be shaken before being put on, in case frogs or insects should have taken up their abode there.
It used at first to be quite a matter of difficulty to know what to do with the frogs after they were caught; but after a time a covered basket was kept outside the door, and into this the frogs were popped, and taken once a day and emptied into the stream. At first they had got into the well, and had proved a great nuisance; and they were only got rid of by nearly emptying the well out with buckets, and by then building a wall round its mouth, with a tightly-fitting lid.
Insects of all kinds were indeed a great pest, scorpions being by no means uncommon, while large centipedes occasionally intruded into the house. These creatures were a great trouble to the girls in their dairy, for the frogs and toads would climb up the walls, and fall squash into the milk-pans. The only way that they could be at all kept out was by having the door sawn asunder three feet from the ground, so that the lower half could be shut while the girls were engaged inside. However, in spite of the utmost pains, the little ones would crawl in through crevices, or leap in at the window; and at last the girls had to get wicker-work covers made for all the pans; and as the natives are very skillful at this work, they were thus enabled to keep the milk clean. Almost as great a trouble as the frogs were the brocachas, who committed terrible havoc in the garden and among the crops. They are about the size, and have somewhat the appearance of hares, and burrow in immense quantities in the pampas. The only way to get rid of them was by puffing the fumes of burning sulphur down into their holes; and it was quite a part of the boys' regular work to go out with the machine for the purpose, and to suffocate these troublesome creatures. Their holes, however, are not so dangerous to horsemen as are those of the armadillos, as the ground is always bare in their neighborhood.
The armadillos are of three or four species, all of them small. The peludo is about a foot in length, and has hair sticking out between his scales. The muletas are smaller. Both are excellent eating; but the girls were some time before they could bring themselves to touch them. The matajo, in addition to the protection of his I scales, is able to roll himself into a ball at the approach of danger, and, clothed in his impervious armor, is proof against any attacks except those of man. These animals are so common that the plain is in many cases quite honeycombed with them.
The girls had a great scare the first time they came upon an iguana, thinking that it was a crocodile. These great lizards are about five feet long, and are ferocious-looking, but very harmless unless attacked. Then they will defend themselves, and can inflict a sharp blow with their tails, or a severe bite with their teeth. They are very common, and the Indians eat them, and say that the meat is excellent; but the young Hardys could never be persuaded to taste it. Thus matters proceeded for some time without any noteworthy incident. Their circle of acquaintances grew little by little. Several neighboring plots had been taken up; and although the new settlers had little time for making visits, still the very fact of their presence near gave a feeling of companionship and security. Very frequently young men would arrive with letters of introduction, and would stay a few days with them while they inspected the country.
Their household, too, had received an increase. A young Englishman named Fitzgerald, the son of some very old friend of the Hardys, had written expressing a very strong desire to come out, and asking their advice in the matter. Several letters had been exchanged, and at length, at Mr. Fitzgerald's earnest request, Mr. Hardy agreed to receive his son for a year, to learn the business of a pampas farmer, before he embarked upon his own account. A small room was accordingly cleared out for him, and Mr. Hardy never had any reason to regret having received him. He was a pleasant, light-hearted young fellow of about twenty years of age.
One change, however, had taken place which deserves mention. Sarah one day came to her mistress, and with much blushing and hesitation said that Terence Kelly had asked her to marry him.
Mrs. Hardy had long suspected that an attachment had sprung up between the Irishman and her servant, so she only smiled and said, "Well, Sarah, and what did you say to Terence? The year you agreed to stop with us is over, so you are at liberty to do as you like, you know."
"Oh, ma'am, but I don't want to leave you. That is just what I told Terence. 'If master and mistress are willing that I shall marry you and stay on with them as before, I won't say no, Terence; but if they say that they would not take a married servant, then Terence, we must stay as we are.'"
"I have no objection at all, Sarah, and I think I can answer for Mr. Hardy having none. Terence is a very good, steady fellow, and I know that Mr. Hardy has a high opinion of him; so you could not make a marriage which would please us more. We should be very sorry to Jose you, but we could not in any case have opposed you marrying whom you liked, and now we shall have the satisfaction of keeping you here with us."
And so it was settled, and a fortnight afterward Terence and Sarah had two days' holiday, and went down to Buenos Ayres, where there was an English church, and came back again man and wife. After that each went back to work as usual, and the only change was, that Terence now took his meals and lived in the house instead of down in the men's huts. By this time they had begun to find out which of the crops peculiar to warm countries would pay, and which would not, or rather--for they all paid more or less--which was the most suitable.
The cotton crop had proved a success; the field had in time been covered with cotton plants, which had burst first into a bright yellow blossom, and had then been covered with many balls of white fluff. The picking the cotton had been looked upon at first as great fun, although it had proved hard work before it was finished.
Its weight had rather exceeded Mr. Hardy's anticipation. The process of cleaning the cotton from the pods and seeds had proved a long and troublesome operation, and had taken an immense time. Judging by the progress that they at first made with it, they really began to despair of ever finishing it, but with practice they became more adroit. Still it was found to be too great a labor during the heat of the day, although carried on within doors. It had been a dirty work too; the light particles of fluff had got everywhere, and at the end of a couple of hours' work the party had looked like a family of bakers. Indeed, before more than a quarter of the quantity raised was cleaned they were heartily sick of the job, and the remainder was sold in the pod to an Englishman who had brought out machinery, and was attempting to raise cotton near Buenos Ayres. Although the profits had been considerable, it was unanimously determined that the experiment should not be repeated, at any rate for the present.
Mr. Hardy had not at first carried out his idea of planting a couple of acres with tobacco and sugar-cane, the ground having been required for other purposes. He had not, however abandoned the idea; and about two months before the marriage of Terence and Sarah he had planted some tobacco, which was, upon their return from Buenos Ayres, ready to be picked.
The culture of tobacco requires considerable care. The ground is first prepared with great care, and is well and thoroughly manured; but this was not required in the present case, as the rich virgin soil needed no artificial aid. It is then dug in beds something like asparagus beds, about two feet wide, with a deep trench between each. The seeds are raised in a seed-bed, and when nine or ten inches high they are taken up and carefully transplanted into the beds, two rows being placed in each, and the plants being a foot apart.
There are various methods of cultivation, but this was the one adopted by Mr. Hardy. The plants grew rapidly, the ground between them being occasionally hoed, and kept free from weeds. When they were four feet high the tops were nipped off, and any leaves which showed signs of disease were removed. Each stem had from eight to ten leaves. When the leaves began to turn rather yellow, Mr. Hardy announced that the time for cutting had arrived, and one morning all hands were mustered to the work. It consisted merely in cutting the stems at a level with the earth, and laying the plants down gently upon the ground. By breakfast-time the two acres were cleared. They were left all day to dry in the sun, and a little before sunset they were taken up, and carried up to one of the store-sheds, which had been cleared and prepared for the purpose. Here they were placed in a heap on the ground, covered over with raw hides and mats, and left for three days to heat. After this they were uncovered, and hung up on laths from the roof, close to each other, and yet sufficiently far apart to allow the air to circulate between them. Here they remained until they were quite dry, and were then taken down, a damp covering being chosen for the operation, as otherwise the dry leaves would have crumbled to dust. They were again laid in a heap, and covered up to allow them to heat once more, This second heating required some days to accomplish, and this operation required great attention, as the tobacco would have been worthless if the plants had heated too much.
In ten days the operation was complete. The leaves were then stripped off, the upper leaves were placed by themselves, as also the middle and the lower leaves; the higher ones being of the finest quality. They were then tied in bundles of twelve leaves each, and were packed in layers in barrels, a great pressure being applied with a weighted lever, to press them down into an almost solid mass. In all they filled three barrels, the smallest of which, containing sixty pounds of the finest tobacco, Mr. Hardy kept for his own use and that of his friends; the rest he sold at Buenos Ayres at a profitable rate. The venture, like that of the cotton, had proved a success, but the trouble and care required had been very great, and Mr. Hardy determined in future to plant only sufficient for his own use and that of the men employed upon the estate.
The next experiment which was perfected was that with the sugar-cane. In this, far more than in the others, Mrs. Hardy and the girls took a lively interest. Sugar had been one of the few articles of consumption which had cost money, and it had been used in considerable quantities for converting the fruit into fine puddings and preserves. It was not contemplated to make sugar for sale, but only for the supply of the house: two acres, therefore, was the extent of the plantation. Mr. Hardy procured the cuttings from a friend who had a small sugar plantation near Buenos Ayres.
The cultivation of sugar is simple. The land having been got in perfect order, deep furrows were plowed at a distance of five feet apart. In these the cuttings, which are pieces of the upper part of the cane, containing two or three knots, were laid at a distance of three feet apart. The plow was then taken along by the side of the furrow, so as to fill it up again and cover the cuttings. In sugar plantations the rows of canes are close together, but Mr. Hardy had chosen this distance, as it enabled his horse-hoe to work between them, and thus keep the ground turned up and free from weeds, without the expense of hard labor. In a short time the shoots appeared above the soil. In four months they had gained the height of fourteen feet, and their glossy stems showed that they were ready to cut.
"Now, Clara," Mr. Hardy said, "this is your manufacture, you know, and we are only to work under your superintendence. The canes are ready to cut: how do you intend to crush the juice out? because that is really an important question."
The young Hardys looked aghast at each other, for in the pressure of other matters the question of apparatus for the sugar manufacture had been quite forgotten.
"Have you really no idea how to do it, Frank?"
"No, really I have not, my dear. We have certainly no wood on the place which would make the rollers; besides, it would be rather a difficult business."
Mrs. Hardy thought for a minute, and then said, "I should think that the mangle would do it."
There was a general exclamation of "Capital, mamma!" and then a burst of laughter at the idea of making sugar with a mangle. The mangle in question was part of a patent washing apparatus which Mr. Hardy had brought with him from England, and consisted of two strong iron rollers, kept together by strong springs, and turning with a handle.
"I do think that the mangle would do, Clara," Mr. Hardy said, "and we are all much obliged to you for the idea. I had thought of the great washing copper for boiling the sugar, but the mangle altogether escaped me. We will begin to-morrow. Please get all the tubs scrubbed out and scalded, and put out in the sun to dry."
"How long will it take, papa?"
"Some days, Ethel; we must only cut the canes as fast as the boiler can boil the juice down."
The next day the work began. The canes were cut at a level with the ground, the tops were taken off, and the canes cut into lengths of three feet. They were then packed on a bullock cart and taken up to the house. They were next passed through the mangle, which succeeded admirably, the juice flowing out in streams into the tub placed below to receive it. When all the canes had been passed through the mangle, the screws were tightened to increase the pressure, and they were again passed through; by which time, although the juice was not so thoroughly extracted as it would have been by a more powerful machine, the quantity that remained was not important. As the tub was filled the contents were taken to the great copper, under which a fire was then lighted. The crushing of the canes was continued until the copper was nearly full, when Mr. Hardy ordered the cutting of the canes to be discontinued for the day. The fire under the copper was fed with the crushed canes, which burned very freely. Mr. Hardy now added a small quantity of lime and some sheep's blood, which last ingredient caused many exclamations of horror from Mrs. Hardy and the young ones. The blood, however, Mr. Hardy informed them, was necessary to clarify the sugar, as the albumen contained in the blood would rise to the surface, bringing the impurities with it. The fire was continued until the thermometer showed that the syrup was within a few degrees of boiling, and the surface was covered with a thick, dark-colored scum. The fire was then removed, and the liquor allowed to cool, the family now going about other work, as so large a quantity of liquor would not be really cold until the next day.
The following morning the tap at the bottom of the boiler was turned, and the syrup came out bright and clear--about the color of sherry wine. The scum descended unbroken on the surface of the liquor; and when the copper was nearly empty the tap was closed, and the scum and what little liquor remained was taken out. The bright syrup was now again poured into the boiler, the fire re-lighted, and the syrup was kept boiling, to evaporate the water and condense the syrup down to the point at which it would crystallize. It required many hours' boiling to effect this, any scum which rose to the surface being carefully taken off with a skimmer. At last it was found that the syrup on the skimmer began to crystallize, and Mr. Hardy pronounced it to be fit to draw off into the large washing tubs to crystallize. A fresh batch of canes was now crushed, and so the process was repeated until all the canes were cut. It took a fortnight altogether, but only five days of this were actually occupied in cutting and crushing the canes. As the sugar crystallized it was taken out-a dark, pulpy-looking mass, at which the young Hardys looked very doubtfully-and was placed in a large sugar hogshead, which had been procured for the purpose. In the bottom of this eight large holes were bored, and these were stopped up with pieces of plantain stalk. Through the porous substance of these stalks the molasses or treacle slowly drained off. As the wet sugar was placed in the cask, layers of slices of plantain stems were laid upon it, as the spongy substance draws the dark coloring matter out from the sugar. The plantain grows freely in South America, and Mr. Hardy had planted a number of this graceful tree near his house; but these had not been advanced enough to cut, and he had therefore procured a sufficient quantity from a friend at Rosario. It was three months before the drainage of the molasses quite ceased; and the Hardys were greatly pleased, on emptying the hogshead and removing the plantain stems, to find that their sugar was dry, and of a very fairly light color. The sugar-canes did not require planting again, as they will grow for many years from the same roots; and although the canes from old stools, as they are called, produce less sugar than those of the first year's planting, the juice is clearer, and requires far less trouble to prepare and refine. Before another year came round the boys made a pair of wooden rollers of eighteen inches in diameter. These were covered with strips of hoop iron, nailed lengthways upon them at short intervals from each other, thereby obtaining a better grip upon the canes, and preventing the wood from being bruised and grooved. These rollers were worked by a horse mill, which Mr. Hardy had ordered from England. It was made for five horses, and did a great deal of useful work, grinding the Indian corn into fine flour for home consumption and for sale to neighboring settlers, and into coarse meal, and pulping the pumpkins and roots for the pigs and other animals.
Mr. Hardy also tried many other experiments, as the climate is suited to almost every kind of plant and vegetable. Among them was the cultivation of ginger, of the vanilla bean, of flax, hemp, and coffee. In all of them he obtained more or less success; but the difficulty of obtaining labor, and the necessity of devoting more and more attention to the increasing flocks, herds, and irrigated land, prevented him from carrying them out on a large scale. However, they served the purpose for which he principally undertook them--of giving objects of interest and amusement to his children.