A Wayside Drinking Place
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
His Excellency went away early in his big automobile, inspecting the irrigating canals, and we returned later to Trelew. On the way down we passed a wayside inn, where travelers to the Cordilleras tarry for food and drink, obtain final repairs for their wagons and have their animals shod. Near the inn was a curious sign. To understand it please know that a "caballo" is a horse and "caballero" is a gentleman or horseman. There by a little pasture field was a sign, which, literally translated, read, "Here mules and gentlemen pasture itself." I assume that the sign writer meant to say "mules and horses," but it was most apt as he got it, for beside the road lay two or three drunken men; they were "pasturing" themselves with a vengeance.
Señor Errecoborde was astonished to find among the mass of wagons one of his own, a great wagon, laden with supplies for his estancia far away. It had left his farm days before and should have been at the estancia where the fencing wire was urgently needed. One of the peons was found, a sullen, drunken brute. Questioned, he replied: "The wheel was not strong. We will go on `mañana' (tomorrow)." The capitaz also was drunk. We passed that way the next day and to my astonishment and the senor's disgust they had not yet sobered sufficiently to enable them to proceed. 1 mention these things in passing to comfort North American farmers who sometimes think they have cause for dissatisfaction with their employes. The North American hired man is an angel of light compared with—but hold, I must not make comparisons.
All the workmen at the estancia were waiting idly the coming of this wagon to proceed with their fencing. We dashed madly down the valley, twenty miles in two hours, with fresh, strong horses.
At the inn the senora received me with joy, the old cocinero smiled extensively over his broad, good-humored face; the tiny señorita was glad to see me; the parrot had learned a few new words; there was a new dog in the patio and, best of news, there was a ship in the harbor and letters from home might reach me the next day. That night I slept and dreamed of home. Many is the time when I have been thankful for the gift of dreaming.
A FRESH START
Next day Senor Errecoborde appeared with a fresh team, this time with three wheelers and one horse in the lead, hitched with very long traces so that he was far ahead. This leader was unused to his new position and liked better to turn about and come back with his comrades, so it took a deal of generalship to get out of town with him. Before we had accomplished that feat I think half the men-folk of the place were assembled, helping us, and never one of them with a derisive smile. Fancy the guff that one would get in a North American village if he were in such a predicament. The South Americans beat us a mile when it comes to kindly courtesy. Well, we got out of town at last and then the horses went along better. With a long whip the señor kept the leader flying, and with a shorter one kept the wheelers following. We went down to the sea, visiting an estancia where there was a garden with high, white walls, over which peeped sprays of lovely yellow broom and in which we ate delicious figs and grapes. Then we crossed the river and dashed up to the house of an English family. I must here present a picture of this place. The house is a plain brick, laid up with mud mortar (which is commonly used, since lime is dear), the house set down in the desert plain and, as yet, with no planting about it. Near by is the river and in the middle of its channel a little mound or island of bricks and debris—the place where once stood their house, with a delightful garden surrounding it. On the opposite side of the river were great towering Lombardy poplar trees sheltering a neighbor's fine irrigated farm. All of the farm belonging to the English family had been devoured by the river; they had moved back a part of the house, and were now clearing new fields of their brush in order again to make a start in alfalfa growing. They had in-stalled a pump with a gasoline engine attached and now only the ditches and the clearing remained to be done. An English sailor was working at the brush, which was not heavy or difficult to clear away. In the brush there were many wild guinea pigs. They will come out fearlessly if the intruder. will only remain motionless, for a brief space of time, as I soon demonstrated.
A WELSH HOME
Within the home we found the father, a shrewd, cultured Welshman, who had been long a business man in Buenos Aires. The mother was a kindly, intelligent, warm-hearted English woman born in Buenos Aires. The son was in his young manhood, and the daughter was pretty, dimpled, demure yet determined. There also were an Indian tad who got up our horses for us, and a half-blood Indian maid who milked the cows and helped with the housework. She was handsome and could speak fairly good English. At any rate, I experienced no difficulty in understanding it.
The house inside was all neatness, order and beauty—one of those little paradises that English people carry with them to all parts of the world, for their home traditions amount to a religion. If one sat within the house and did not look out up-on the wild and desert surroundings, one might al-most believe one's self in Kent. There we had the piano played, Señor Errecoborde proving to be a pianist and great lover of music. We had elaborate and exceedingly good meals, and I observed with amused interest the courtship of Senor Errecoborde, who had already confessed to me that he dearly loved the pretty English girl. I hope he won her; surely such devotion as his ought not to go unrewarded, and I must record that in all my journeys I have found no kinder or more courteous man than he. Grave, serious, with ambitions and ideals, he yet in many ways strongly reminded me of that greatest character in fiction, "Don Quixote," whose unconscious nobility lay in his gentle kindness and chivalry. I hope that the ravening river relented; that the fields are today intact and covered over with alfalfa meadows; that Senor Errecoborde has his very pretty señora, and that peace and content reign in the home of my English friends on Rio Chubut.
MAIL AT LAST!
That evening came the little train from Madryn, bringing mail. None had come for three weeks, so there was a considerable package of it. I watched the mail bags, a great stack of them, being piled in-to a cart, and hoped that they contained letters from home. It seemed impossible that the letters could be distributed that night, so I went to my hotel and dined with friends. Judge, then, of my astonishment when at about nine o'clock a man came bearing to me an armful of letters, several of which were from home. These letters recalled me to earth; I had been living in a fool's paradise, without care or realization of my ties and duties in the North, so soon does one forget. Why, I was almost on the point of contracting for two leagues of land and setting up my longest boy in the sheep business. Instead here came stern orders from my govern-ment, telling me what I must and what I must not do and giving me only half enough time in which to do it. It was, then, with mixed emotions that I came rudely down to earth and began again seriously to plan my future steps. Soon, now, a ship would come to bear me away northward, away from Chubut.
Here is the last entry in my journal from Chubut: "The school is a large building surrounded with glass-covered verandas, large enough to shelter the niños when. they play. The wind is fierce at times. The school is said to be very good. All teaching is in Spanish, and the principal of the school is a señorita, a granddaughter of one of the early Welsh colonists. Well, Spanish is a beautiful language, which Welsh is not. My tiny six-year-old señorita read with me in my primer ; she has a delicious little voice and from her I get the sounds of the words perfectly. Some one sent me a yellow apple. After all the world is 'mu bueno.'
"Having finished my letter writing and government reports, I walked to a lonely farm where be-side the canal were green trees; then I climbed to the mesa and sat down in the desert, where the air was delicious ; the sun had set. There I read again my letters from home and a chapter in the gospel of San Mateo in Spanish; then I found some pebbles almost as bright as garnets for my wee senorita and came back to my hotel. Tomorrow early I go to Madryn."