An Argentine School Teacher
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
In Ayacucho on Sarmiento day the little plaza was finely decorated with flags and streamers; the old church was decorated. After the midday break-fast I strolled out into the town, which is common-place and poor in most of its features, but I stumbled on to a double file of children, perhaps a hundred of them, ready to march somewhere, and their teacher, a fine, stalwart señorita in black velvet and a big picture hat. It was interesting to watch the señorita arrange the children, curbing the turbulent ones and petting the timid ones. As they began their march, the teacher bringing up the rear, I went ahead and posted myself at the plaza where I could see the children enter. Soon they appeared from several directions, all passing me. Each little company was composed of children of one size, ranging from the smallest up to those ten or twelve years old. Each little troop had its teacher, a señorita, more often handsome than not; each señorita was well dressed and wearing a hat from Paris. I was struck, and amused, to see each teacher's facial expression; one could tell that look anywhere, and yet there was a difference; the teachers here had not the worn, anxious look that too often characterizes American teachers; they were all of them strong and comely ; all had color in their cheeks and with ruby lips and fine Spanish eyes; and good humor, mixed with a sense of responsibility, dominated their features. They say that women in this land believe a bit of color in the face is a necessary part of the toilette, and if nature leaves it off they buy it.
I studied carefully the little ones as they passed by me. Some were strikingly beautiful children; these children were Spanish or Italian, the probability being that they were Italian. Some were just plain and some were very uncomely; the latter represented the gaucho peons, of mixed Indian and Spanish blood. Take them as a whole they were probably a stronger, healthier lot than one would see in a North American town; the reason is worth seeking. Is it that there are no fires in the homes? Is it because the food is plain and breakfasts are served at noon?
The little ones marched around an elevated platform, finely decorated with flags and flowers ; on the stand were some of the great men of the place, the Alcalde no doubt. Then the children sang the wild, strong, passionate music of the national song of Argentina—surely enough to stir one's blood. It was amusing to witness how like a lot of North American school children they were. Human nature is the same the world over. I observed that while there were many races represented in this multitude • of children, there were none of negro blood. Negroes are rarely seen in Argentina; agriculture is .a recent art. In days of slavery there was little profitable use of the negro slave and he seems now to have been absorbed or to have migrated to a warmer climate.
When the song was ended there were fine speeches from the platform. Spanish men excel in oratory. Surely their speeches are carefully prepared, the sentences rounded and polished before-hand; then they are delivered with superb manner dignified, forceful, and at times impassioned. Their gestures are graceful and telling. I know of no North American orator who has so fine a delivery as any one of several men whom I heard. Added to this the fact that their speeches are admirably short, on this occasion of no more than five minutes' duration, and we have the perfect oration. After the speeches were over, the children and the rest of us went to the Government house for a short time, where more things were said, then to the old church for a short time. The rest of the afternoon was de-voted to holiday, and that night I saw marvelous fire-works, bringing to a climax a successful diesta.
From San Augustine we went by diligencia to estancia Los Inglesitos. I had long wished to see this place, for here had lived fine, sturdy, skilled Englishmen for nearly 100 years. There is some sameness about Argentina, but near the sea it is not like other parts. Here one finds little streams that they call rivers and that truly do have in them running water. A little way to the east begin wide stretches of marshland. We were fortunate in finding Herbert Gibson at home. His family own many vast estates in South America, and he now only visits each in turn, counseling with the managers. We were greeted with a hearty English welcome. One could not ask for more. Always I will recall Los Inglesitos for three things : the truly beautiful and exquisitely bred Lincoln sheep, with fleeces of extraordinary length and finer than the typical Lincoln; the homestead with its coziness, and the gar-den back of it. In several ways this estancia is the most notable one that we saw in Argentina. It is a small place, as Argentine estancias go, of only 10,100 acres. The soil is not unusually good, though it is good black Argentine earth with tosca under most of it. It carries nearly 1,800 cattle and horses, and about 8,500 sheep. A study of the place was interesting as revealing the possibilities of sheep-farming in Argentina, but not as revealing things now being done by many estancieros. It is doubtful whether there are ten places in Argentina as profitable as this one.
IN AN ARGENTINE GARDEN
I quote from my notebook: "It is May 27th be-low the Equator; that is November 27th in North America. I sit in the sun, out in a pretty little gar-den, trying to set down some things that will be worth remembering some day. I am in the south of the province of Buenos Aires, not far from the sea. What is it all like'?
"At my back is a sung little white-walled English-built house with tiled roof ; though seemingly tiny place, it is capable of storing away in comfort a great many guests. Against the white walls clamber geraniums and honeysuckle vines. Over my head a palm lifts its protesting head. A formal garden stretches away with close-clipped hedges, its beds of brave chrysanthemums in bloom, and millions of narcissi making strong growth (for the rains came a few weeks ago and it is as though spring had come, though in truth it is the beginning of their mild winter instead). In the garden are arbors of wistara and grape, roses in profusion, cabbage, cauliflower, gooseberries in hedgerows, raspberries, now ripe, maize as high as my waist and enormous squashes. Marvel of this climate, the squash vines are yet unkilled by frost, though I have worn a fur overcoat for weeks, and killing frosts occur in mid-summer. Flanking the garden on either hand are noble trees, eucalypts that rise half to the skies, tossing their glittering leaves in the sunlight, pines too, and great weeping willows. The garden slopes right down to a little river that ripples and splashes over a stony bed. It is rare in an Argentine camp to find a stream of running water and a marvel to find one that splashes over the stones.
"About this garden, which charmed me, there was a strange air of sadness and loneliness that I could not fathom; I thought it due possibly to the fact that winter was coming, and the sadness of that change was felt in the air. That evening by the fire-side Mr. Runnacles explained it to me. `You like the garden, I see, Mr. Wing. Well, I keep it as nearly as I can just as my wife planted it.' I gave a start. He was not, then, a bachelor, as I had supposed. I made inquiry and he replied. `We lived here for some years. She loved the garden and planned it all and planted it, and its keeping was always under lier supervision. Then it became necessary for me to take her to England. She died on the ship and I buried her at sea. I have changed nothing in the garden since then.'
"That told the story, the plants, free from that loving but restraining hand, had gone wild and ram-pant, although no weeds were in the borders and the paths well kept, yet the place was haunted by the memory of the vanished hand.
"The trees are musical with birds; one at least seems distinctly a mocking bird, singing away as though his heart were bursting with joy. The wind sighs and soughs in the pines and eucalypts and the sun is bright and warm when one is out of the wind. I go outdoors to get warm.
AN ESTANCIA BUTCHER
"In the yard a man is busily dressing fine fat ewes that are to make mutton for the house of the manager, and the table of the peons as well. Very deftly the brown man removes the skins from the plump fat bodies. Seated expectantly in a circle around him are thirty cats of various sizes and col-ors, awaiting their chance at bits of meat. The cats are the police force that keeps rats away from the place.
"Out in the pastures, cool, dewy and green, graze the Lincoln sheep. The rains came, after the weary months of drouth, and at once the good black earth responded, shooting up a wealth of grasses and clovers. Already the sheep are nearly all fat, everything is rejoicing and the past is no more. Plant, animal and man put serene faith in the morrow, because of the happiness of today. Out in the field, down in that square pit, the size of a large room, the people are taking out a curious brown substance which looks for all the world like American plug tobacco. It is silage, made from green oats and alfalfa. It is simply put into these pits green, tramped in with horses, then covered with earth. Thus treated, it keeps perfectly. When feed is wanted, the earth is removed, the silage cut with an axe, taken out and fed to bulls in the paddock.
"Our host is E. O. Runnacles, until recently manager of Los Inglesitos. Senor Runnacles is of English birth. He is a successful stockman; he has Los Inglesitos in capital order. The place is one of the Gibson estancias. The Gibsons came to Argentina eighty-five years ago and established them-selves near the sea. Here, as elsewhere, they have been notable breeders of Short-horn cattle and Lincoln sheep for many years. The Short-horns are bred not for showing, on this estancia at least, but for the market. The bulls are many of them as good as we send to shows. They believe in good bulls and the results justify the belief.