Chapter V. The Settler's Home.
 

Just before commencing the house Mr. Hardy heard that a sale of stock was to take place at an estancia about twenty miles to the west of Rosario, in consequence of the death of its owner. He therefore took Lopez and the newly hired peons, and started. He was likely to be away five days. The boys were to do what work they judged best in his absence. They determined to set about brick-making. Fortunately, Hans was accustomed to the work and knew the way that the natives of the country set about it; the American, Seth, knew nothing about it, but he was always willing to turn his hand to anything. First, a piece of ground was cleared of grass, and was leveled for the reception of the bricks when made; then some planks were knocked together so as to form a rough table. Two brick molds were made, these being larger than those used in England. A piece of ground was chosen near. The turf was taken off, the soil was dug up, and the peons drove the bullocks round and round upon it, trampling it into a thick mud, some water being thrown in when necessary.

As it was sufficiently trampled Terence carried it in a trough and emptied it on to the table close by, where Hans and Seth fashioned it in the molds, turning the bricks out on to a plank a foot wide and six feet long. When this was full the boys took each an end and carried it off to the prepared ground, where they carefully removed the bricks with two little slabs of wood, and placed them on the ground to dry, returning with the empty plank to find, another one filled for them. It was hard work for all, and from eleven until three the heat was too great to allow them to work at it; but they began with daylight, and taking a nap during the heat of the day, were ready to work on again as long as it was light.

The bricks were, of course, to be dried by the sun, as fuel was too scarce for them to think of burning them; but this was of little consequence, especially as they were to be used indoors, the heat of the sun being quite sufficient to make very fair bricks without the use of fire.

By the afternoon of the fifth day they had made a quantity of bricks which would, they calculated, be ample for the construction of the partition walls of their house.

The boys had just deposited the last brick upon the drying ground, and were moving away, when Hubert cried, "Stop, Charley, don't move a step."

Startled by the suddenness and sharpness of the cry, Charley stood without moving, and was surprised to see his brother pick up one of the wet bricks in both hands, and dash it upon the ground immediately in front of where they were walking.

"I've killed him!" Hubert cried triumphantly; and Charley, looking down, saw a snake of about three feet long writhing in the grass, his head being completely driven into the ground under the force of the lump of wet clay. Two or three stamps of their heavy boots completed the work. And the men coming up to see what was the matter, Hans said that Charley, who would have trodden upon the reptile in another instant had not his brother called out, had had a very narrow escape, for that the snake was the vivora de la crux, so called from a mark like a cross upon his head, and that his bite was almost always mortal.

It was a pretty snake, with bands of red, white, and black upon his body. Charley grew very pale at the thought of the narrow escape he had had, and wrung his brother very hard by the hand; while Hubert was half-inclined to cry at the thoughts of what might have happened.

The sun was just setting when they saw a crowd of objects in the distance; and the boys at once saddled their horses and rode off, to meet their father and to assist to drive in the animals. They found, upon reaching him, that he had bought a thousand sheep, fifty cattle, and twenty horses; three of these last being remarkably well bred, and fast, and bought specially for their own riding. Upon their arrival at the house the sheep were turned into the enclosure, the horses were picketed, and the cattle left to roam at their will, as it was not thought probable that they would attempt to return to their distant homes, especially after two days' fatiguing march.

Mr. Hardy was very much pleased at the sight of the long rows of bricks lying in front of the house, and gave great credit to all for the amount of work which had been done during his few days' absence. The next morning he assigned to every one their share of the future work. Lopez and one of the peons went out with the horses, cattle, and sheep. After a time it would not be necessary to have two men employed for this work, as the cattle and horses, when they once became accustomed to their new home, would never wander very far. Charley, Hubert, and Terence were to take three yoke of oxen and the three plows, and to commence to get the land in order for cultivation; the ground selected as a beginning being that lying below the house near the river. Mr. Hardy, Hans, and the two peons were to work at the house, and Seth was to finish the well, which, although begun, had been stopped during the press of more urgent work, and the water required had been fetched from the stream in a barrel placed in a bullock cart. The way in which adobe or mud houses are constructed is as follows: The mud is prepared as for brick-making; but instead of being made into bricks, it is made at once into the wall. The foundation having been dug out and leveled, two boards are placed on edge eighteen inches or two feet apart. These are kept in their places by two pieces of wood nailed across them. The space between these boards is filled with mud. in which chopped hay and rushes have been mixed to bind it together. The boards are left for a day or two, while the builders proceed with the other part of the wall. They are then taken off, and the heat of the sun soon dries the wall into a mass almost as hard as a brick. The boards are then put on again higher up, and the process repeated until the walls have gained the desired height.

In a fortnight's time the walls were finished, and the bullock carts were dispatched to Rosario to fetch lime, as Mr. Hardy had determined to plaster the inside walls to keep in the dust, which is otherwise continually coming off mud walls. By this time a considerable extent of land was plowed up, and this was now planted with maize, yam or sweet potato, and pumpkins: a small portion, as an experiment, was also planted with potato seeds, but the climate is almost too warm for the potato to thrive.

Upon the return of the carts with the lime the partition walls were built with the bricks. The walls finished, all hands went to work at the roof. This Mr. Hardy had intended to have had regularly thatched; but during his last visit to Rosario he had heard that the Indians frequently endeavored in their attacks to set fire to the roofs, and he therefore determined to use tiles. The carts had to make two journeys to Rosario to get sufficient tiles and lath. But at last all was finished; the walls were plastered inside and whitewashed out; the floor was leveled, beaten down hard, and covered with a mixture of clay and lime, which hardened into a firm, level floor.

It was exactly two months from the date of their arrival at the farm that the doors were hung and the finishing touch put to the house, and very pleased were they all as they gave three cheers for their new abode. The tower, they all agreed, was an especial feature. It was built of adobe up to the height of the other walls, but the upper story had been built of bricks two thick and laid in mortar. The top had been embattled; and the boys laughed, and said the house looked exactly like a little dissenting chapel at home.

It was a joyful day when a fire was first lighted in the kitchen chimney, which, with that in the sitting-room, was lined with bricks; and the whole party sat down to a dinner of mutton and wild fowl of three or four sorts.

The same evening Mr. Hardy told the boys that he should start the next day to bring up their mamma and the girls, who were all getting very impatient indeed to be out upon the pampas. He explained to them that he should bring up iron bedsteads with bedding, but that he relied upon them to increase their stock of tables and benches, and to put up shelves, which would do until regular cupboards and closets could be made. Mr. Hardy thought that he should not be away much more than a week, as, by making a long ride to Rosario the next day he should catch the boat, which left the following morning for Buenos Ayres; and as he had already written to Mr. Thompson saying when he should probably arrive, there would be no time lost. The next morning he started before daylight, the last words of the boys being: "Be sure, papa, to bring the mosquito curtains for us all; they are getting worse and worse. We hardly closed an eye all last night."

Hot as the weather now was, the boys worked incessantly at their carpentering for the next week, and at the end had the satisfaction of seeing a large table for dining at in the sitting-room, and a small one to act as a sideboard, two long benches, and two short ones. In their mother and sisters' rooms there were a table and two benches, and a table and a long flap to serve as a dresser in the kitchen. They had also put up two long shelves in each of the bedrooms, and some nails on the doors for dresses. They were very tired at the end of the week, but they looked round with a satisfied look, for they knew they had done their best. The next morning they were to ride to Rosario to meet the party. The carts had gone off under the charge of Terence that day.

It was indeed a joyful meeting when Mr. and Mrs. Hardy and the girls stepped off the steamer; but the first embrace was scarcely over when the boys exclaimed simultaneously, "Why, girls, what is the matter with your faces? I should not have known you."

"Oh, it's those dreadful mosquitoes; there were millions on board the steamer last night. I really thought we should have been eaten up. Didn't you, mamma?"

"Well, my dear, I thought that they would perhaps leave something of us till morning, but I felt almost inclined to go mad and jump overboard. It was a dreadful night. I do hope they are not so bad here, Frank."

"No, Clara, they are nothing like so bad as they were last night; but still, as we are so close to the river, they will, no doubt, be troublesome, and I question whether the beds at the hotel have mosquito curtains; but if you take my advice, and all sleep with the sheet over your heads, you will manage to do pretty well. It is better to be hot than to be bitten all over."

In spite, however, of the expedient of the sheets, all the party passed a bad night, and were quite ready to get up before daylight to start for their ride to Mr. Percy's estancia. They were all to ride, with the exception of Sarah, who took her place in one of the bullock carts; and they would therefore reach the estancia before the heat of the day fairly set in. Terence having been told that Sarah was going to ride, had cut some boughs, with which he made a sort of arbor over the cart to shade her from the sun--a general method of the country, and at which Sarah was much gratified. She had at first felt rather anxious at the thought of going without her mistress; but Terence assured her: "Sure, miss, and it's meself, Terence Kelly, that will take care of ye; and no danger shall come near your pretty face at all, at all; ye'll be quite as safe as if ye were in the auld country. And as for the bastes, sure and it's the quietest bastes they are, and niver thought of running away since the day they were born."

So Sarah took her place without uneasiness, and the others started at a hand canter for Mr. Percy's estancia.

While at Mr. Thompson's both Mrs. Hardy and the girls had ridden regularly every day, so that all were quite at their ease on their horses, and were able to talk away without ceasing of all that had happened since they parted. The only caution Mr. Hardy had to give, with a side look at Charley, was, "Look out for armadillo holes; because I have known fellows who were wonderful at sticking on their horses come to grief at them."

At which Hubert laughed; and Charley said, "Oh, papa!" and colored up and laughed, as was his way when his father joked him about his little weaknesses.

They had not gone more than halfway before they met Mr. Percy, who had ridden thus far to welcome his guests, for English ladies are very scarce out on the pampas, and are honored accordingly. One of the first questions the girls asked after the first greetings were over was, "Have you many mosquitoes at your estancia, Mr. Percy?"

"Not many," Mr. Percy said; "I have no stream near, and it is only near water that they are so very bad."

After waiting during the heat of the day at Mr. Percy's, the boys rode on home, as six guests were altogether beyond Mr. Percy's power of accommodating.

The next morning the boys were up long before daylight, and went down to the stream, where, as day broke, they managed to shoot a swan and five wild ducks, and with these they returned to the house. Then they swept the place with the greatest care, spread the table, arranged the benches, set everything off to the best advantage, and then devoted their whole energies to cooking a very excellent breakfast, which they were sure the travelers would be ready for upon their arrival. This was just ready, when, from the lookout on the tower, they saw the party approaching. The breakfast was too important to be left, and they were therefore unable to ride out to meet them. They were at the gate, however, as they rode up.

"Hurrah, hurrah!" they shouted, and the girls set up a cheer in return.

The men ran up to take the horses, and in another minute the whole party were in their new home. The girls raced everywhere wild with delight, ascended to the lookout, clapped their hands at the sight of the sheep and cattle, and could hardly be persuaded to take their things off and sit down to breakfast.

Mrs. Hardy was less loud in her commendation of everything, but she was greatly pleased with her new home, which was very much more finished and comfortable than she had expected.

"This is fun, mamma, isn't it?" Maud said. "It is just like a picnic. How we shall enjoy it, to be sure! May we set-to at once after breakfast, and wash up?"

"Certainly, Maud; Sarah will not be here for another two hours, and it is as well that you should begin to make yourselves useful at once. We shall all have to be upon our mettle, too. See how nicely the boys have cooked the breakfast. These snatch-cock ducks are excellent, and the mutton chops done to a turn. They will have a great laugh at us, if we, the professed cooks, do not do at least as well."

"Ah, but look at the practice they have been having, mamma."

"Yes, Maud," Hubert said; "and I can tell you it is only two or three things we can do well. Ducks and geese done like this, and chops and steaks, are about the limits. If we tried anything else, we made an awful mess of it: as to puddings, we never attempted them; and shall be very glad of something in the way of bread, for we are heartily sick of these flat, flabby cakes."

"Why have you only whitewashed this high middle wall halfway up, Frank?"

"In the first place, my dear, we fell short of whitewash; and, in the next place, we are going to set to work at once to put a few light rafters across, and to nail felt below them, and whitewash it so as to make a ceiling. It will make the rooms look less bare, and, what is much more important, it will make them a great deal cooler."

"You get milk, I hope?"

"Yes," Charley said; "two of the cows of the last lot papa bought are accustomed to be milked, and Hubert and I have done it up till now; but we shall hand them over to you, and you girls will have to learn."

Maud and Ethel looked at each other triumphantly. "Perhaps we know more than you think," Ethel said.

"Yes," Mrs. Hardy said; "the girls are going to be two very useful little women. I will tell you a secret. While you boys were at work of a morning, the girls, as you know, often walked over to Mr. Williams the farmer's, to learn as much as they could about poultry, of which he kept a great many. Mrs. Williams saw how anxious they were to learn to be useful, so she offered to teach them to milk, and to manage a dairy, and make butter and cheese. And they worked regularly, till Mrs. Williams told me she thought that they could make butter as well as she could. It has been a great secret, for the girls did not wish even their papa to know, so that it might be a surprise."

"Very well done, little girls," Mr. Hardy said; "it is a surprise indeed, and a most pleasant one. Mamma kept your secret capitally, and never as much as whispered a word to me about it."

The boys too were delighted, for they had not tasted butter since they arrived, and they promised readily enough to make a rough churn with the least possible delay.

By ten o'clock the carts arrived with Sarah and the luggage, and then there was work for the afternoon, putting up the bedsteads, and getting everything into order. The mosquito curtains were fitted to the beds, and all felt gratified at the thought that they should be able to set the little bloodsuckers at defiance. The next day was Sunday, upon which, as usual, no work was to be done. After breakfast the benches were brought in from the bedrooms, and the men assembling, Mr. Hardy read prayers, offering up a special prayer for the blessing and protection of God upon their household. Afterward Mrs. Hardy and the girls were taken over the place, and shown the storehouse, and the men's tent, and the river, and the newly planted field.

"The ground is getting very much burned up, papa," Charley said. "It was damp enough when we put in the crops, and they are getting on capitally; but I fear that they were sown too late, and will be burned up."

"Ah, but I have a plan to prevent that," Mr. Hardy said. "See if you can think what it is."

Neither of the boys could imagine.

"When I first described the place to you, I told you that there was a main stream with a smaller one running into it, and that I thought that this last would be very useful. I examined the ground very carefully, and I found that the small stream runs for some distance between two slight swells, which narrow in sharply to each other just below the house. Now I find that a dam of not more than fifty feet wide and eight feet high will make a sort of lake a quarter of a mile long, and averaging fifty yards wide. From this the water will flow over the whole flat by the river in front of the house and away to the left, and we shall be able to irrigate at least three or four hundred acres of land. Upon these we shall be able to raise four or five crops a year; and one crop in particular, the alfalfa, a sort of lucern for fattening the cattle in time of drought, when the grass is all parched up. At that time cattle ordinarily worth only fifteen dollars can be sold, if fat, for forty-five or fifty dollars. So you see, boys, there is a grand prospect before us."

The boys entered enthusiastically into the scheme, and the party went at once to inspect the spot which Mr. Hardy had fixed upon for the dam. This, it was agreed, should be commenced the very next day; and Mr. Hardy said that he had no doubt, if the earth was properly puddled, or stamped when wet, that it would keep the water from coming through.

In the afternoon Mrs. Hardy, Maud, and Ethel were taken a ride round the property, and were fortunate enough to see some ostriches, to the great delight of the girls.

At tea Mr. Hardy said: "There is one very important point connected with our place which has hitherto been unaccountably neglected. Do any of you know what it is?"

The boys and their sisters looked at each other in great perplexity, and in vain endeavored to think of any important omission.

"I mean," their father said at last, "the place has no name. I suggest that we fix upon one at once. It is only marked in the government plan as Lot 473. Now, what name shall it be?"

Innumerable were the suggestions made, but none met with universal approbation. At last Mrs. Hardy said: "I have heard in England of a place called Mount Pleasant, though I confess I do not know where it is. Now, what do you say to Mount Pleasant? It is a mount, and we mean it to be a very pleasant place before we have done with it."

The approval of the suggestion was general, and amid great applause it was settled that the house and estate should hereafter go by the name of "Mount Pleasant."

In the morning the boys were at work at two wheelbarrows, for which Mr. Hardy had brought out wheels and ironwork; and Mr. Hardy and the men went down to the stream, and began to strip off the turf and to dig out a strip of land twenty-five feet wide along the line where the dam was to come. The earth was then wetted and puddled. When the barrows were completed they were brought into work; and in ten days a dam was raised eight feet high, three feet wide at the top, and twenty-five feet wide at the bottom. In the middle a space of two feet wide was left, through which the little stream at present ran. Two posts, with grooves in them, were driven in, one upon either side of this; and thus the work was left for a few days, for the sun to bake its surface, while the men were cutting a trench for the water to run down to the ground to be irrigated.

A small sluice was put at the entrance to this, to regulate the quantity of water to be allowed to flow, and all was now in readiness to complete the final operation of closing up the dam. A quantity of earth was first collected and puddled, and piled on the top of the dam and on the slopes by its side, so as to be in readiness, and Mrs. Hardy and the girls came down to watch the operation.

First a number of boards two feet long, and cut to fit the grooves, were slipped down into them, forming a solid wall, and then upon the upper side of these the puddled earth was thrown down into the water, Terence standing below in the stream and pounding down the earth with a rammer. The success was complete: in a couple of hours' time the gap in the dam was filled up, and they had the satisfaction of seeing the little stream overflowing its banks and widening out above, while not a drop of water made its escape by the old channel.

While this work had been going on the boys had been engaged up at the house. The first thing was to make a churn, then to put up some large closets and some more shelves, and the bullock carts had to be sent to Rosario for a fresh supply of planks. This occupied them until the dam was finished. The girls had tried their first experiment at butter, and the result had been most satisfactory. The dinners, too, were pronounced to be an immense improvement upon the old state of things.

Soon after the dam was finished Hans, who had been too long a rover to settle down, expressed his desire to leave; and as Mr. Hardy had determined to lessen his establishment--as, now that the heavy work was over, if was no longer necessary to keep so many hands--he offered no objection to his leaving without the notice he had agreed to give. Wages were high, and Mr. Hardy was desirous of keeping his remaining capital in hand, in case of his sheep and cattle being driven off by the Indians. One of the peons was also discharged, and there remained only Lopez, Seth, Terence, and two peons.