On the Pampas by G. A. Henty
Chapter III. A New Life.
Tide was fortunately high, and the boat containing the Hardys and the lighter portion of their luggage was able to get up to the landing place without the carts being called into use. As they approached the land they were hailed in a hearty voice, and greetings were exchanged between Mr. Hardy and his friend Mr. Thompson--a sunburnt-looking man with a great beard--in a Panama hat and in a suit of spotless white.
"Why, Mrs. Hardy," he said as they landed, "you hardly look a day older than you did when I last saw you--let me see--fourteen years ago, just as this big fellow was beginning to walk. And now, if you please, we will be off as soon as we can, for my estancia is fifteen miles away. I have made the best arrangements I could for getting out; but roads are not a strong point in this country, and we seldom trust ourselves in wheeled vehicles far out of the town. You told me in your letters, Hardy, that the young people could all ride. I have horses in any number, and have got in two very quiet ones, with side-saddles, which I borrowed from some neighbors for your girls; but if they prefer it, they can ride in the trap with Mrs. Hardy."
"Oh, no, please," Maud said; "I had much rather ride."
Ethel said nothing, and her mamma saw that she would rather go with her. Accordingly, Mrs. Hardy, Ethel. Sarah, and some of the lighter bags were packed into a light carriage, Mr. Thompson himself taking the reins, as he said he could not trust them to any one but himself. Mr. Hardy, the boys, and Maud mounted the horses prepared for them, and two of Mr. Thompson's men stowed the heavier trunks into a bullock cart, which was to start at once, but which would not reach the estancia until late at night.
As the party rode through the town they were struck with the narrowness and straightness of the streets, and at the generally European look of everything; and Mr. Thompson told them that nearly half the population of Buenos Ayres are European. The number of people upon horseback also surprised our young travelers; but horses cost only thirty shillings or two pounds, and grass is so abundant that the expense of their food is next to nothing; consequently every one rides--even shepherds look after their sheep on horseback. The horses seemed very quiet, for in front of most of the offices the horses of the merchants could be seen fastened by a head rope to a ring, grooms not being considered a necessity.
Once out of the town, the riding horses broke into a canter; for the road was so good that the horses in the light carriage were able to go along at full speed. As they proceeded they passed many houses of the rich merchants of the place, and all were charmed with the luxuriance and beauty of the gardens. Orange and lemon trees scented the air with their delicious perfumes; bananas, tree ferns, and palms towered above them; lovely butterflies of immense size, and bright little humming-birds, flitted about among a countless variety of flowers. The delight of the young ones was unbounded.
Presently they left the mansions and gardens behind and drove out fairly into the country. Upon either side the plains stretched away as far as the eye could reach, in some parts under the plow, but far more generally carpeted with bright green grass and many-colored wild flowers. Everywhere could be seen droves of horses and cattle, while dotted here and there over the plain were the estancias of the proprietors.
It was a most delightful ride. The horses went very quietly, but the boys found, to their surprise, that they would not trot, their pace being a loose, easy canter. The last five miles of the distance were not so enjoyable to the party in the carriage, for the road had now become a mere track, broken in many places into ruts, into which the most careful driving of Mr. Thompson could not prevent the wheels going with jolts that threatened to shake its occupants from their places, and they felt as if every bone in their bodies were broken by the time they drew up at their host's estancia.
Here Mrs. Thompson came out to greet them. She had been a great friend of Mrs. Hardy in their young days, and great was their pleasure at again meeting after so long a separation. Mr. Thompson had already, explained that his wife would have come over to meet them, but that at the time he had left home it was not known that the Barbadoes had arrived. She was due, and, as a measure of precaution, the horses and cart had for the last two days been in readiness, but the exact date of her arrival was of course uncertain.
Mr. Thompson's estancia was a large and picturesque building. It was entirely surrounded by a wide veranda, so that at all hours of the day relief could be obtained from the glare of the sun. In front was an extensive garden; and as Mr. Thompson had made it one of his first objects when he built his house to plant a large number of tropical trees and shrubs, these had now attained a considerable size, and afforded a delicious shade. At a short distance behind the house were the houses of the men, and the corrals, or enclosures, for the cattle.
The interior was handsomely furnished in the European style, except that the floors were uncarpeted, and were composed of polished boards. Everywhere were signs that the proprietor was a prosperous and wealthy man. Mr. Thompson had only one son, a lad of about the same age as Charles Hardy. To his care Mrs. Thompson now assigned the boys, while she conducted Mrs. Hardy and her daughters to their rooms.
In half an hour the party reassembled at dinner, to which they all did ample justice, for their long row and ride had given them the keenest of appetites. They were waited upon by an Italian man-servant; and Mrs. Thompson said that there were a good many of this nation in Buenos Ayres, and that, although they were not considered good hands for rough work, they made excellent servants many of them having been waiters in hotels or stewards on board ship before coming out.
During dinner the conversation turned chiefly upon English friends and affairs, and upon the events of the voyage. After it was over George Thompson proposed to the boys to take a stroll round the place before it became dark. The gentlemen lit their cigars and took their seats under the veranda; and the two ladies, with Maud and Ethel, went out into the garden. The conversation of Mr. Hardy and his friend turned, of course, upon the country, its position and prospects, and upon the advantage which the various districts offered to newcomers. Presently the dusk came on, followed rapidly by darkness, and in half an hour Ethel came to summon them to tea. The boys had already come in, and were full of delight at the immense herds of cattle they had seen. As they sat down to the tea-table, covered with delicate English china, with a kettle over a spirit-lamp in the center, and lit with the subdued light of two shaded moderator lamps, Maud said, "It is not one bit like what I expected, papa, after all you have told us about hardships and working; it seems just like England, except the trees and flowers and butterflies."
"Do not be afraid, Maud," her father said, laughing--for her voice had a tinge of disappointment in it--"you won't be cheated out of your hardship and your work, I promise you. Mrs. Thompson will tell you that it was a very different sort of place when she first came here."
"Yes, indeed," Mrs. Thompson said, smiling; "this was considered a very lonely place when we first settled here. We had a little hut with two rooms, and it was more than six months before I could get a woman servant to come out, and then it was only one of our shepherds' wives, who knew nothing of cooking, and who was only useful in drawing the water and sweeping the floors. In time the country became more settled, and there are stations now sixty or seventy miles beyond us."
The next week was spent in riding over the estate, which consisted of four square leagues--that is to say, was six miles each way--and in examining the arrangements of the enclosures for the cattle. At the end of that time Mr. Hardy started on a tour of inspection through the provinces most likely to suit, provided with numerous letters of introduction from his host. While he was away the boys were to assist upon the estate, and to accustom themselves to the work and duties of the life they were to lead. Into this they entered with the greatest zest, and were in the saddle from morning till night, getting more and more sunburnt from constant exposure, until, as Mr. Thompson told them, they looked like two young gauchos. The gauchos are the natives of the country. They are fine-looking men, with Spanish faces. Their dress is very picturesque. They wear loose calzoncillas or drawers, worked and fringed round the bottom. Above this is a sort of shawl, so arranged that it has the effect of very loose trousers. These shawls are generally of bright colors, woven in stripes, and sometimes of black cloth edged with scarlet. The white calzoncillas show below this garment, and above a colored flannel shirt is worn. The boots are long and are made of undressed leather. They wear a broad leathern belt, with pockets in it; in this a knife, too, is always stuck. Upon fete days they come out with gay silver ornaments upon themselves and their horse-trappings. Their saddles are very clumsy and heavy, and are seldom used by Europeans, who, as Mr. Hardy had done, generally bring English saddles from home. After an absence of a month Mr. Hardy returned with the welcome news that he had made his choice, and had bought at the public auction a tract of four square leagues, upon a river some twenty miles to the south of the town of Rosario, and consequently only a few days' journey from Buenos Ayres. Mr. Thompson looked a little grave when he heard the location of the property, but he only said that he was very glad that his friend had fixed upon a spot which would make it easy for the families to see something of each other. After the first greetings were over Mr. Hardy proceeded to satisfy the curiosity of his hearers as to the new property.
"It is six miles square," he said, "that is, about twenty-five thousand acres, and I bought it for about sixpence an acre. There is a good-sized stream runs through it; there are a good many trees, considering that it is out on the Pampas; there are several elevations which give a fine view over the plain, and upon one of these our future home will stand. A small stream falls into the larger one, and will, I think, be useful. There is an abundance of game; ducks, geese, and swans swarm upon the river. I saw a good many ostriches out on the plains. And, lastly, the soil appears to be excellent. A great point is, that it is only distant twenty miles from Rosario, a most rising town; so that the value of the land is sure to increase yearly, as new settlers come around us."
"That is a most important point," Mr. Thompson said. "Rosario is the most rising town in the country, and the land around it is certain to be very much sought after in a few years."
"Are there any settlements near, Frank?" Mrs. Hardy asked.
"The next plot to ours belongs to three young Englishmen, and the ground between us and Rosario is also principally occupied by English; so that we shall have neighbors near, and I do not suppose that it will be long before we have them all round us."
"If the advantages of the place are so great, Frank, how is it that you have got it so very cheaply? I understood from Mr. Thompson that land in a rising neighborhood, and that was likely to increase in value, was worth two or three shillings, or even more, an acre."
Mr. Hardy hesitated. "Well, Clara, the land is at present upon the extreme verge of the settlements, and the Indians are apt sometimes to be a little troublesome, and to drive off a few horses or cattle. No doubt the thing has been exaggerated; still there is something in it, and the consequence is, people are rather afraid to bid, and I have got this splendid tract of land for about twenty-five hundred dollars; and, not improbably, in ten years it may be worth ten times as much."
"A great proportion of these Indian tales are built up upon very small foundations," Mr. Thompson said cheeringly; and Mrs. Hardy's face, which had been a little serious, cleared up again, and in listening to her husband's account of his travels, she forgot all about the Indians. The boys, however, by no means did so; and as they were going to bed Charley said: "I think there is some chance of a row with the Indians, Hubert, for I noticed that Mr. Thompson looked grave when papa first said where he had bought the land. Depend upon it, we shall have some fun with them after all." They would have thought it still more likely had they heard the conversation between their father and Mr. Thompson after the ladies had gone to bed.
"Why, my dear Hardy, how came you, with a wife and family, to think of buying land so exposed to the Indian attacks? Every season, when they come down, they sweep off the horses and cattle from the outlying settlements, and murder the people if they get a chance. I look upon it as madness."
"There is a good deal in what you say, Thompson, and I thought the whole matter over before I bought it, There is a risk--a great risk, if you like; but I hear the Indians seldom attack the houses of the settlers if they are well prepared and armed. They do occasionally, but very seldom. I shall be well prepared and well armed, and have therefore no fear at all for our personal safety. As to our animals, we must protect them as well as we can, and take our chance. It is only for two or three years at most. After that we shall have settlements beyond and around us; and if emigration keeps on, as I anticipate, and if, as I believe, Rosario is to become a very large and important place, our land will eventually be worth five dollars an acre, at the very lowest. I shall take care not to invest my whole capital in animals, so that I cannot be ruined in one blow. I think that at the end of five years you will agree with me that I have done wisely."
"I have no doubt that your property will increase very much in value, as you say, Hardy, and that in the long run your speculation will be a very successful one; but it is a terrible risk, I think."
"I do not think so, Thompson. We shall be a pretty strong party: we shall have certainly two men besides ourselves. The boys could bring down their man at three hundred yards, and I should do considerable execution among a body of Indians at six or seven; so I have no fear--not the least in the world."
In another two days Mr. Hardy and the boys, accompanied by Mr. Thompson, went down to Buenos Ayres, and took up their quarters at the hotel for a night. At parting, Mr. Thompson presented them with a couple of fine dogs, which he had bred from English mastiffs: Mr. Hardy had brought a brace of fine retrievers with him. Then, with a hearty adieu and much hand-shaking, they said "Good-by" as the steamer moved off from the shore. The heavy luggage was to follow in a sailing vessel upon the following day.