On the Pampas by G. A. Henty
Chapter II. The Start.
It was nearly a year after he had made up his mind to emigrate before Mr. Hardy was able to conclude all his arrangements. Then came the great business of packing up. This is no trifling matter when a family of six persons are going to make a move to a new country. Mr. Hardy had at first thought of taking portable furniture with him, but had been told by a friend who knew the country that every requisite could be obtained at Buenos Ayres, the capital of the Argentine Republic, at a far less price than he could convey such heavy articles from England. Still the bulk of luggage was very large; and the boys, who had now left off their farming and carpentering lessons, worked at home at packing-cases, and had the satisfaction of turning their new acquirements to a useful purpose. In addition to the personal baggage, Mr. Hardy was taking with him plows and agricultural implements of English make, besides a good stock of seeds of various kinds. These had been sent on direct by a sailing ship, starting a fortnight before themselves. When their heavy baggage was packed up it too was sent off, so as to be put on board the steamer by which they were to sail; and then came a long round of visits to bid farewell to all their friends. This was a sad business; for although the boys and their sisters were alike excited and delighted at the thought of the life before them, still they could not but feel sorrowful when the time came to leave all the friends they had known so long, and the house they had lived in ever since they could remember.
This over Mrs. Hardy and the children went to Liverpool, where they were to embark; while Mr. Hardy remained behind for a day or two, to see to the sale of the furniture of the house. The day after he joined the family they embarked on board the Barbadoes, for Rio and Buenos Ayres. Greatly were the girls amused at the tiny little cabin allotted to them and their mother--a similar little den being taken possession of by Mr. Hardy and the boys. The smartness of the vessel, and the style of her fittings, alike impressed and delighted them. It has not been mentioned that Sarah, their housemaid, accompanied the party. She had been left early an orphan, and had been taken as a nursemaid by Mrs. Hardy. As time went on, and the little girls no longer required a nurse, she had remained as housemaid, and having no friends, now willingly accompanied them. Mr. Hardy had, to her great amusement, insisted upon her signing a paper, agreeing, upon her master's paying her passage, to remain with him for a year; at the end of which time she was to be at liberty to marry or to leave them, should she choose.
Knowing the scarcity of young Englishwomen in the country that they were going to, and the number of Englishmen doing well in the towns or as farmers, Mr. Hardy had considered this precaution to be absolutely necessary; as otherwise Sarah might have married and left them within a month of her arrival. At the end of a year her so doing would not matter so much, as by that time the party would-be comfortably settled in their new home; whereas during the necessary hardship at first, it would be a great comfort having a faithful and reliable servant.
The last looks which the party cast toward England, as the Welsh coast sank in the distance, were less melancholy than those of most emigrants. The young people were all full of hope and excitement; while even Mrs. Hardy felt but little disposed to give way to sorrow, as it had been arranged that in three or four years, if all went well, she should bring her daughters over to England to finish their education.
Very lovely was that first evening, and as they sat in a group together upon deck the little girls remarked that they did not think that the sea was anything like as terrible as they had expected, and that they did not feel the least seasick. Their father smiled: "Wait a little, my dears; there is an old proverb, 'Don't halloo until you are out of the wood.'"
The next day was still perfectly calm; and when, toward evening, the children were told that they were now fairly getting into the Bay of Biscay, they could scarcely believe the intelligence.
"Why, one would think, Maud," her father said, "that you were disappointed at its being calm, and that you really wanted a storm."
"Oh, papa, I do think it would be great fun; it would be so curious not to be able to walk about, and to see everything rolling and tumbling. Don't you think so, boys?"
"Yes, I think so, Maud; great fun," Charley said.
"Well, young people," the captain, who had been standing by watching the sun, now fast nearing the horizon, and who had overheard their remarks, said, "if it is any satisfaction to you, I can tell you that you are very likely to have your wish gratified. But I question if you will like it as much as you expect."
"Ah, you expect wind, Captain Trevor?" Mr. Hardy said. "I have been thinking myself that the almost oppressive stillness of to-day, and the look of the sunset, and these black clouds banking up in the southwest, meant a change. What does the glass say?"
"It is falling very rapidly," the captain answered. "We are in for a sou'wester, and a stiff one too, or I am mistaken."
Now that it appeared likely that their wishes were about to be gratified, the young Hardys did not seem so pleased as they had expected, although Charley still declared manfully that he was quite in earnest, and that he did wish to see a real storm at sea.
As the sun set the party still leaned against the bulwarks watching it, and the great bank of clouds, which seemed every moment to be rising higher and higher. There was still nearly a dead calm around them, and the heavy beat of the paddles, as they lashed the water into foam, and the dull thud of the engine, were the only sounds that broke the stillness. Now and then, however, a short puff of wind ruffled the water, and then died away again.
"Look at that great cloud, papa," Hubert said; "it almost looks as if it were alive."
"Yes, Hubert, it is very grand; and there is no doubt about there being wind there."
The great cloud bank appeared to be in constant motion. Its shape was incessantly shifting and changing; now a great mass would roll upward, now sink down again; now the whole body would seem to roll over and over upon itself; then small portions would break off from the mass, and sail off by themselves, getting thinner and thinner, and disappearing at last in the shape of fine streamers. Momentarily the whole of the heaving, swelling mass rose higher and higher. It was very grand, but it was a terrible grandeur; and the others were quite inclined to agree with Ethel, who shrank close to her father, and put her hand in his, saying, "I don't like that cloud, papa; it frightens me."
At this moment Mrs. Hardy, who had been down below arranging her cabin, came up to the group. "What a dark cloud, Frank; and how it moves. Are we going to have a storm, do you think?"
"Well, Clara, I think that we are in for a gale; and if you will take my advice, you will go down at once while it is calm, and see that the trunks, and everything that can roll about, are securely fastened up. I will come down and help you. Boys, you had better go down and see that everything is snug in our cabin."
In a quarter of an hour the necessary arrangements were completed, but even in that short time they could feel that a change was taking place. There was now a steady but decided rolling motion, and the young ones laughed as they found it difficult to walk steadily along the cabin.
Upon reaching the deck they saw that the smooth surface of the sea was broken up by a long swell, that the wind now came in short but sharp puffs, that the bank of clouds covered nearly half the sky, and that the detached scud was now flying overhead. The previous stillness was gone; and between the sudden gusts, the roar of the wind in the upper region could be heard. The sun had set now, and a pall of deep blackness seemed to hang from the cloud down to the sea; but at the line where cloud and water touched, a gleam of dim white light appeared.
In preparation for the coming storm, the sailors had put on thick waterproof coats. Many of the passengers had gone below, and those who remained had followed the sailors' example, and had wrapped themselves up in mackintoshes.
Every moment the gusts increased in frequency and power, and the regular line of swell became broken up into confused white-headed waves. The white gleam under the dark cloud grew wider and broader, and at last, with a roar like that of a thousand wild beasts, the gale broke upon them. Just before this Mr. Hardy had taken Mrs. Hardy and the girls below, promising the latter that they should come up later for a peep out, if they still wished it. Charley and Hubert were leaning against the bulwark when the gale struck them.
For a moment they were blinded and half-choked by the force and fury of the spray and wind, and crouched down behind their shelter to recover themselves. Then, with a hearty laugh at their drenched appearance, they made their way to the mainmast, and then, holding on by the belaying pins, they were able to look fairly out on the gale. It was dark--so dark that they could scarcely see as far as the foremast. Around, the sea was white with foam; the wind blew so fiercely that they could scarcely hear each other's voices, even when they shouted, and the steamer labored heavily against the fast rising sea. Here Mr. Hardy joined them, and for some little time clung there, watching the increasing fury of the gale; then, drenched and almost confused by the strife of winds and water that they had been watching, they made their way, with great difficulty, down into the cabin.
Here the feeling of seasickness, which the excitement of the scene had kept off, increased rapidly; and they were glad to slip off their upper clothes, and to throw themselves upon their berths before the paroxysm of sickness came on.
When questioned afterward as to the events of the next thirty-six hours, the young Hardys were all obliged to confess that that time was a sort of blank in their memory--a sort of horrible nightmare, when one moment they seemed to be on their heads, and the next upon their feet, but never lying down in a comfortable position, when sometimes the top of the cabin seemed under their feet, sometimes the floor over their head. Then, for a change, everything would go round and round; the noise, too, the groaning and the thumping and the cracking, the thud of the waves and the thump of the paddles, and the general quivering, and shaking, and creaking, and bewilderment--altogether it was a most unpleasant nightmare. They had all dim visions of Mr. Hardy coming in several times to see after them, and to give them a cup of tea, and to say something cheering to them; and all four had a distinct idea that they had many times wished themselves dead.
Upon the second morning after the storm began it showed some signs of abating, and Mr. Hardy said to his sons, "Now, boys, make an effort and come upon deck; it's no use lying there; the fresh air will do you good." Two dismal groans were the only response to this appeal.
"Yes, I know that you both feel very bad, and that it is difficult to turn out; still it is worth making the effort, and you will be very glad of it afterward. Come, jump up, else I shall empty the water-jug over you. There, you need not take much trouble with your dressing," he went on, as the boys, seeing that he was in earnest, turned out of their berths with a grievous moan. "Just hold on by something, and get your heads over the basin; I will empty the jugs on them. There now you will feel better; slip on your clothes and come up."
It was hard work for Charley and Hubert to obey orders, for the ship rolled so tremendously that they could only proceed with their dressing by fits and starts, and were more than once interrupted by attacks of their weary seasickness. However, their father stayed with them, helping and joking with them until they were ready to go up. Then, taking them by the arm, he assisted them up the stairs to the deck.
Miserable as the boys felt, they could not suppress an exclamation of admiration at the magnificent scene before them. The sea was tossed up in great masses of water, which, as they neared the ship, threatened to overwhelm them, but which, as she rose on their summits, passed harmlessly under her, hurling, however, tons of water upon her deck. The wind was still blowing fiercely, but a rift in the clouds above, through, which the sun threw down a bright ray of light upon the tossing water, showed that the gale was breaking.
The excitement of the scene, the difficulty of keeping their feet, and the influence of the rushing wind, soon had the effect which their father predicted. The boys' looks brightened, their courage returned; and although they still had an occasional relapse of sickness, they felt quite different beings, and would not have returned to the blank misery of their cabins upon any consideration. They were soon able to eat a piece of dry toast, which Mr. Hardy brought them up with a cup of tea at breakfast-time, and to enjoy a basin of soup at twelve o'clock, after which they pronounced themselves as cured.
By the afternoon the force of the wind had greatly abated, and although a heavy sea still ran, the motion of the vessel was perceptibly easier. The sun, too, shone out brightly and cheeringly, and Mr. Hardy was able to bring the little girls, who had not suffered so severely as their brothers, upon deck. Two more days of fine weather quite recruited all the party; and great was their enjoyment as the Barbadoes entered the Tagus, and, steaming between its picturesque banks and past Cintra, dropped her anchor off Lisbon.
As our object, however, is to relate the adventures of our young settlers upon the Pampas of La Plata, we must not delay to describe the pleasure they enjoyed in this their first experience in foreign lands, nor to give an account of their subsequent voyage across the Atlantic, or their admiration at the superb harbor of Rio. A few days' further steaming and they arrived at the harbor of Buenos Ayres, where the two great rivers, the Uruguay and the Parana, unite to form the wide sheet of water called the river La Plata. It was night when the Barbadoes dropped her anchor, and it was not until the morning that they obtained their first view of their future home.
Very early were they astir, and as soon as it was broad daylight all four of the young ones were up on deck. Their first exclamation was one of disappointment. The shores were perfectly flat, and, seen from the distance at which they were anchored, little except the spires of the churches and the roofs of a few of the more lofty houses could be seen. After the magnificent harbor of Rio, this flat, uninteresting coast was most disappointing.
"What a distance we are anchored from the shore!" Hubert said, when they had recovered a little from their first feeling. "It must be three or four miles off."
"Not so much as that, Hubert," Maud, who was just a little fond of contradicting, said; "not more than two miles, I should think."
Hubert stuck to his opinion; and as the captain came on deck they referred the matter to him.
"The distance of objects across water is very deceiving," he said. "It is from eight to nine miles to those buildings you see."
Maud looked rather crestfallen, and Charley asked, "Why do we anchor such a long way off, captain?"
"Because the shore is so flat that there is no water for us to get in any closer. In a couple of hours you will see boats coming out to fetch you in; and unless it happens to be high tide, even these cannot get to the beach, and you will have to land in carts."
"In carts, Captain Trevor?" they all repeated; "that will be a strange way of landing."
"Yes, it is," the captain answered. "I think that we can safely say that the Argentine Republic is the only country in the world where the only way to land at its chief city is in a cart."
The captain's boat was by this time lowered, and he at once started for shore with his papers. Soon after ten o'clock he returned, followed by a number of boats. He brought also a letter to Mr. Hardy from an old friend who had been settled for some years near Buenos Ayres, and whose advice had decided him to fix upon that country as the scene of his labors. It contained a warm welcome, and a hearty congratulation upon their safe arrival. This letter had been written two or three days previously, and had been left at the office of the steamship company. It said, however, that the writer would hear of the arrival of the steamer, and would have everything in readiness to take them out to his place upon their landing.
Mr. Hardy had been in frequent communication with his friend from the time that he had determined to emigrate, and Mr. Thompson's letters had contained the warmest assurance of a welcome, and an invitation to make his house their home until they had one of their own to go into; and now this kind letter, coming off so instantly after their arrival, cheered them all much, and made them feel less strange and to some extent at home in the new country at once.