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Title: Across Patagonia
Author: Dixie, Lady Florence
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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ACROSS PATAGONIA.


  [Illustration: CROSSING THE CABEZA DEL MARE.]


ACROSS PATAGONIA

by

LADY FLORENCE DIXIE

With Illustrations from Sketches by Julius Beerbohm
Engraved by Whymper and Pearson

[Illustration: 'PUCHO.']



London:
Richard Bentley and Son
Publishers in Ordinary to Her Majesty the Queen
1880

The rights of Translation and Reproduction are reserved.

Printed by R. & R. Clark, Edinburgh.



     TO
     HIS ROYAL HIGHNESS,
     ALBERT EDWARD, PRINCE OF WALES,

     THIS WORK
     DESCRIPTIVE OF
     SIX MONTHS' WANDERINGS OVER UNEXPLORED
     AND UNTRODDEN GROUND,
     IS BY KIND PERMISSION RESPECTFULLY DEDICATED
     BY HIS ROYAL HIGHNESS'S
     OBLIGED AND OBEDIENT SERVANT,

     THE AUTHOR.



CONTENTS.


    CHAPTER I.

    WHY PATAGONIA?--GOOD-BYE--THE START--DIRTY WEATHER--
    LISBON--THE ISLAND OF PALMA--PERNAMBUCO                Pages 1-11


    CHAPTER II.

    BAHIA--RIO DE JANEIRO--RIO HARBOUR--THE TOWN--AN
    UPSET--TIJUCA--A TROPICAL NIGHT--MORE UPSETS--SAFETY
    AT LAST                                                     12-25


    CHAPTER III.

    BEAUTIES OF RIO--MONTE VIDEO--STRAITS OF MAGELLAN--
    TIERRA DEL FUEGO--ARRIVAL AT SANDY POINT--PREPARATIONS
    FOR THE START--OUR OUTFIT--OUR GUIDES                       26-39


    CHAPTER IV.

    THE START FOR CAPE NEGRO--RIDING ALONG THE STRAITS--CAPE
    NEGRO--THE FIRST NIGHT UNDER CANVAS--UNEXPECTED
    ARRIVALS--OUR GUESTS--A NOVEL PICNIC--ROUGH RIDING--
    THERE WAS A SOUND OF REVELRY BY NIGHT Pages                 40-51


    CHAPTER V.

    DEPARTURE OF OUR GUESTS--THE START FOR THE PAMPAS--AN
    UNTOWARD ACCIDENT--A DAY'S SPORT--UNPLEASANT EFFECTS OF
    THE WIND--OFF CAPE GREGORIO.                                52-61


    CHAPTER VI.

    VISIT TO THE INDIAN CAMP--A PATAGONIAN--INDIAN CURIOSITY
    --PHYSIQUE--COSTUME--WOMEN--PROMINENT CHARACTERISTICS
    --AN INDIAN INCROYABLE--SUPERSTITIOUSNESS                   62-73


    CHAPTER VII.

    THE PRAIRIE FIRE                                            74-80


    CHAPTER VIII.

    UNPLEASANT VISITORS--"SPEED THE PARTING GUEST"--OFF
    AGAIN--AN OSTRICH EGG--I'ARIA MISLEADS US--STRIKING
    OIL--PREPARATIONS FOR THE CHASE--WIND AND HAIL--A
    GUANACO AT LAST--AN EXCITING RUN--THE DEATH--HOME--
    HUNGRY AS HUNTERS--"FAT-BEHIND-THE-EYE."                    81-99


    CHAPTER IX.

    ELASTIC LEAGUES--THE LAGUNA BLANCA--AN EARTHQUAKE--
    OSTRICH-HUNTING                                           100-115


    CHAPTER X.

    DEPARTURE FROM LAGUNA BLANCA--A WILD-CAT--IBIS SOUP--A
    FERTILE CAÑADON--INDIAN LAW AND EQUITY--OUR FIRST PUMA
    --COWARDICE OF THE PUMA--DISCOMFORTS OF A WET NIGHT--A
    MYSTERIOUS DISH--A GOOD RUN Pages                         116-127


    CHAPTER XI.

    A NUMEROUS GUANACO HERD--A PAMPA HERMIT--I'ARIA AGAIN
    LOSES THE WAY--CHORLITOS--A NEW EMOTION--A MOON
    RAINBOW--WEATHER WISDOM--OPTIMIST AND PESSIMIST--WILD
    FOWL ABUNDANT                                             128-137


    CHAPTER XII.

    A MONOTONOUS RIDE--A DREARY LANDSCAPE--SHORT FUEL
    RATIONS--THE CORDILLERAS--FEATURES OF PATAGONIAN SCENERY
    --HEAT AND GNATS--A PUMA AGAIN--"THE RAIN IS NEVER
    WEARY"--DAMPNESS, HUNGER, GLOOM--I'ARIA TO THE RESCUE--
    HIS INGENUITY                                             138-150


    CHAPTER XIII.

    A SURPRISE--A STRANGE SCENE--CALIFATÉ BERRIES--GUANACO
    STALKING--A DILEMMA--MOSQUITOES--A GOOD SHOT--
    MOSQUITOES                                                151-161


    CHAPTER XIV.

    AN UNKNOWN COUNTRY--PASSING THE BARRIER--CLEOPATRA'S
    NEEDLES--FOXES--A GOOD RUN--OUR FOREST SANCTUARY--
    ROUGHING IT--A BATH--A VARIED MENU                        162-173


    CHAPTER XV.

    EXCURSIONS INTO THE MOUNTAINS--MYSTERIES OF THE
    CORDILLERAS--WILD HORSE TRACKS--DEER--MAN THE
    DESTROYER                                                 174-183


    CHAPTER XVI.

    AN ALARM--THE WILD-HORSES--AN EQUINE COMBAT--THE WILD
    STALLION VICTORIOUS--THE STRUGGLE RENEWED--RETREAT OF
    THE WILD HORSES                                           184-189


    CHAPTER XVII.

    EXCURSION TO THE CLEOPATRA NEEDLES--A BOG--A WINDING
    RIVER--DIFFICULT TRAVELLING--A STRANGE PHENOMENON--A
    FAIRY HAUNT--WILD HORSES AGAIN--THEIR AGILITY--THE
    BLUE LAKE--THE CLEOPATRA PEAKS--THE PROMISED LAND         190-200


    CHAPTER XVIII.

    WE THINK OF RETURNING--GOOD-BYE TO THE CORDILLERAS--THE
    LAST OF THE WILD HORSES--MOSQUITOES--A STORMY NIGHT--A
    CALAMITY--THE LAST OF OUR BISCUIT--UTILITY OF
    FIRE-SIGNALS                                              201-212


    CHAPTER XIX.

    ISIDORO--AN UNSAVOURY MEAL--EXPENSIVE LOAVES--GUANACO
    SCARCE--DISAPPOINTMENT--NIGHT SURPRISES US--SUPPERLESS
    --CONTINUED FASTING--NO MEAT IN THE CAMP                  213-223


    CHAPTER XX.

    THE HORSES LOST!--UNPLEASANT PROSPECTS--FOUND--SHORT
    RATIONS--A STRANGE HUNT--A STERN CHASE--THE MYSTERY
    SOLVED--THE CABEZA DEL MAR--SAFELY ACROSS--A DAMP
    NIGHT--CABO NEGRO AGAIN                                   224-238


    CHAPTER XXI.

    CABO NEGRO--HOME NEWS--CIVILISATION AGAIN--OUR
    DISREPUTABLE APPEARANCE--PUCHO MISSING--THE COMING OF
    PUCHO--PUCHO'S CHARACTERISTICS                            239-251



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS.


     PUCHO                                                     _Title_

     CROSSING THE CABEZA DEL MAR                        _Frontispiece_

     A GUANACO ON THE LOOK-OUT                                _Page_ 1

     THE STRAITS OF MAGELLAN                         _To face page_ 40

     "COLLECTING THE 'TROPILLA'--SADDLING UP"                    "  56

     INDIAN CAMP                                                 "  64

     GUANACOS                                                    "  96

     THE LAST DOUBLE                                            "  112

     THE PUMA'S DEATH-SPRING                                    "  146

     RAVINE ENTRANCE TO THE CORDILLERAS                         "  162

     THE "CLEOPATRA NEEDLES"                                    "  166

     ENCAMPMENT IN THE CORDILLERAS                              "  168

     "THE WILD-HORSE GLEN"                                      "  178

     "WE WERE THE FIRST WHO EVER BURST ON TO THAT SILENT SEA"   "  198



  [Illustration: A GUANACO ON THE LOOK-OUT.]



CHAPTER I.

     WHY PATAGONIA?--GOOD-BY--THE START--DIRTY WEATHER--
     LISBON--THE ISLAND OF PALMA--PERNAMBUCO.


"Patagonia! who would ever think of going to such a place?" "Why, you
will be eaten up by cannibals!" "What on earth makes you choose such
an outlandish part of the world to go to?" "What can be the
attraction?" "Why, it is thousands of miles away, and no one has ever
been there before, except Captain Musters, and one or two other
adventurous madmen!"

These, and similar questions and exclamations I heard from the lips of
my friends and acquaintances, when I told them of my intended trip to
Patagonia, the land of the Giants, the land of the fabled Golden City
of Manoa. What was the attraction in going to an outlandish place so
many miles away? The answer to the question was contained in its own
words. Precisely because it was an outlandish place and so far away, I
chose it. Palled for the moment with civilisation and its
surroundings, I wanted to escape somewhere, where I might be as far
removed from them as possible. Many of my readers have doubtless felt
the dissatisfaction with oneself, and everybody else, that comes over
one at times in the midst of the pleasures of life; when one wearies
of the shallow artificiality of modern existence; when what was once
excitement has become so no longer, and a longing grows up within one
to taste a more vigorous emotion than that afforded by the monotonous
round of society's so-called "pleasures."

Well, it was in this state of mind that I cast round for some country
which should possess the qualities necessary to satisfy my
requirements, and finally I decided upon Patagonia as the most
suitable. Without doubt there are wild countries more favoured by
Nature in many ways. But nowhere else are you so completely alone.
Nowhere else is there an area of 100,000 square miles which you may
gallop over, and where, whilst enjoying a healthy, bracing climate,
you are safe from the persecutions of fevers, friends, savage tribes,
obnoxious animals, telegrams, letters, and every other nuisance you
are elsewhere liable to be exposed to. To these attractions was added
the thought, always alluring to an active mind, that there too I
should be able to penetrate into vast wilds, virgin as yet to the foot
of man. Scenes of infinite beauty and grandeur might be lying hidden
in the silent solitude of the mountains which bound the barren plains
of the Pampas, into whose mysterious recesses no one as yet had ever
ventured. And I was to be the first to behold them!--an egotistical
pleasure, it is true; but the idea had a great charm for me, as it has
had for many others. Thus, under the combined influence of the above
considerations, it was decided that Patagonia was to be the chosen
field of my new experiences.

My party consisted of Lord Queensberry and Lord James Douglas, my two
brothers, my husband, and myself, and a friend, Mr. J. Beerbohm, whose
book, _Wanderings in Patagonia_, had just been published when we left
England. We only took one servant with us, knowing that English
servants inevitably prove a nuisance and hindrance in expeditions of
the kind, when a great deal of "roughing it" has to be gone through,
as they have an unpleasant knack of falling ill at inopportune
moments.

Our outfit was soon completed, and shipped, together with our other
luggage, on board the good ship "Britannia," which sailed from
Liverpool on the 11th December 1878. We ourselves were going overland
to join her at Bordeaux, as we thereby had a day longer in England.
Then came an unpleasant duty, taking leave of our friends. I hate
saying good-bye. On the eve of a long journey one cannot help thinking
of the uncertainty of everything in this world. The voice that bids
you God-speed may, before you return, perhaps be silent for ever. The
face of each friend who grasps your hand vividly recalls some scene of
pleasant memory. Now it reminds you of some hot August day among the
purple hills of Scotland, when a good bag, before an excellent lunch,
had been followed by some more than usually exciting sport. The
Highlands had never looked so beautiful, so merry a party had never
clambered down the moors homeward, so successful a day had never been
followed by so jolly an evening; and then, with a sigh, as your
friend leaves you, you ask yourself, "Shall I ever climb the moors
again?" Now it is to Leicestershire that your memory reverts. The
merry blast of the huntsman's horn resounds, the view-halloa rings out
cheerily on the bright crisp air of a fine hunting morning; the fox is
"gone away," you have got a good start, and your friend has too. "Come
on," he shouts, "let us see this run together!" Side by side you fly
the first fence, take your horse in hand, and settle down to ride over
the broad grass country. How distinctly you remember that run, how
easily you recall each fence you flew together, each timber-rail you
topped, and that untempting bottom you both got so luckily and safely
over, and above all, the old farm-yard, where the gallant fox yielded
up his life. Meanwhile, with a forced smile and a common-place remark,
you part; and together, perhaps, you may never hear the huntsman's
horn, never charge the ox-fence, never strive to be foremost in the
chase again!

With these thoughts passing through my mind I began to wonder why I
wanted to leave England. I remembered for the moment only the pleasant
features of the past, and remembering them, forgot the feelings and
circumstances which had prompted me to embark on my present
enterprise. The stern sex will possibly reprehend this exhibition of
female fickleness of purpose. May I urge in its palliation that my
weakness scarcely lasted longer than it has taken me to write this?

_14th December._--On a cold, rainy afternoon we steamed down from
Bordeaux in a little tender to join the "Britannia," which was
anchored off Pauillac. We were soon alongside, and were welcomed on
board by Captain Brough, under whose guidance we inspected, with a
good deal of interest, the fine ship which was to be our home for some
time. It would be superfluous for me to describe the excellent
internal arrangements on board; few of my readers, I imagine, but are
acquainted, either from experience or description, with the sumptuous
and comfortable fittings-up of an Ocean passenger-steamer.

Soon the anchor was up--the propeller was in motion, and our nerves
had hardly recovered from the shock inflicted by the report of the gun
which fired the parting salute, ere Pauillac was scarcely
distinguishable in the mist and rain astern. By the time dinner was
over we were altogether out of sight of land, the rain was still
falling heavily, and prognostications of dirty weather were being
indulged in by the sailors. Giving a last look at the night, I turned
into the captain's cosy deck-house, where I found my companions deep
in the intricacies and wranglings of a rubber at whist, in which I,
too, presently took a hand. As time went on, indications that it was
getting rather rough were not wanting, in the swaying of the ship and
the noise of the wind; but so comfortable were we in our little cabin,
with the curtains drawn and lamps lit, that we were quite astonished
when the captain paid us a visit at about nine o'clock, and told us
that it was blowing a regular gale.

The words were hardly out of his mouth when the ship heeled suddenly
over under a tremendous shock, which was followed by a mighty rush of
water along the decks. We ran out, thinking we must have struck a
rock. The night was as black as pitch, and the roaring of the wind,
the shouts of the sailors, and the wash of the water along the decks,
heightened with their deafening noise, the anxiety of the moment.
Fortunately the shock we had experienced had no worse cause than an
enormous sea, which had struck the ship forward, and swept right aft,
smashing whatever opposed its destructive course, and bending thick
iron stanchions as if they had been mere wires.

As soon as the hubbub attendant on this incident had somewhat
subsided, thankful that it had been no worse, we returned to our game
at whist, which occupied us till eleven o'clock, at which hour, "all
lights out" being the order of the ship, we turned into our cabins to
sleep the first night of many on board the "Britannia."

The next day was fine and sunny, and so the weather continued till we
reached Lisbon, three days after leaving Bordeaux, when it grew rather
rough again. At Lisbon we remained a day, taking in coal and fresh
provisions--and then once more weighed anchor, not to drop it again
till the shores of the New World should have been reached.

Just as it was beginning to dawn on the morning of the second day
after leaving Lisbon, I was awakened by the speed of the vessel being
reduced to half its usual ratio, for so accustomed does one become in
a short time to the vibration of the screw, that any change from its
ordinary force immediately disturbs one's sleep. Looking out of my
cabin-window I could see that we were close to land, so, dressing
hurriedly, I went on deck. We seemed to be but a stone's-throw from an
island, whose bold rugged heights rose up darkly against the pale
light that shone in the morning sky. At one point of the shore the
revolving light of a beacon flashed redly at intervals, growing
fainter and fainter each time, as day slowly broke, and a golden haze
began to flood the eastern horizon. In the darkness the island looked
like a huge bare rock, but daylight showed it clothed in tolerably
luxuriant vegetation. The presence of man was indicated by the little
white houses, which could be distinguished nestling in crannies of its
apparently steep green slopes. This was the island of Palma, one of
the Canary group, and small though it looked, it numbers a good many
inhabitants, and furnishes a fair contingent of emigrants to the River
Plate, where "Canarios," as they are called, are favourably looked
upon, being a skilful, industrious race.

The days slipped quickly by, and soon, as we neared the equator, it
began to grow intensely hot. Christmas Day spent in the tropics did
not rightly appear as such, though we kept it in the orthodox manner,
the head-steward preparing quite a banquet, at which much merriment
reigned, and many speeches were spoken.

We arrived at Pernambuco on the 28th December, but did not go on
shore, as we were only stopping in the port a couple of hours, and
were told, moreover, that there is nothing to be seen when one is
there. We amused ourselves watching the arrival of some fresh
Brazilian passengers, who were going with us to Rio. The extensiveness
of their get-up might have vied with that of Solomon "in all his
glory"--but tall hats, white trousers, and frock-coats seemed
ludicrously out of place on board ship. Not less funny was the
effusiveness of their affectionate leave-takings. At parting they
clasped their friends to their breasts, interchanging kisses in the
most pathetic manner, and evincing an absence of _mauvaise honte_ in
the presence of us bystanders, which was at once edifying and
refreshing. _Autres pays, autres moeurs._

Some boatmen came alongside, bringing baskets of the celebrated
Pernambuco white pineapples. We bought some of this fruit, which we
thought delicious: it is the only tropical fruit which, in my opinion,
can vie with European kinds. "Luscious tropical fruit" sounds very well,
as does "the flashing Southern Cross;" but nearer acquaintance with
both proves very disappointing, and dispels any of the illusions one
may have acquired respecting them, from the over-enthusiastic
descriptions of imaginative travellers. Very soon the captain came off
shore again, with the mails, etc. A bell was rung, the fruit-vendors
were bundled over the side of the ship, chattering and vociferating,--last
kisses were interchanged by the Brazilian passengers and their
friends, up went the anchor, round went the screw, bang! went our
parting salute, and, thank God, we are off again, with a slight breeze
stealing coolingly over us, doubly grateful after the stifling heat
which oppressed us while at anchor.



CHAPTER II.

     BAHIA--RIO DE JANEIRO--RIO HARBOUR--THE TOWN--AN
     UPSET--TIJUCA--A TROPICAL NIGHT--MORE UPSETS--
     SAFETY AT LAST.


A day after leaving Pernambuco we dropped anchor again; this time in
the magnificent "Bahia de todos los Santos," the ample dimensions of
which make its name a not inapposite one. Bahia itself is built on a
high ridge of land, which runs out into the sea, and forms a point at
the entrance of the harbour. The town is half hidden among huge banana
trees and cocoanut palms, and seen from on board looks picturesque
enough. After breakfast our party went on shore, accompanied by the
captain, and for an hour or so we walked about the streets and markets
of the lower town, which stands at the base of the ridge above
mentioned. We found it as dirty and ugly as could well be, and our
sense of smell had no little violence done to it by the disagreeable
odours which pervaded the air. There was a great deal of movement
going on everywhere, and the streets swarmed with black slaves, male
and female, carrying heavy loads of salt meat, sacks of rice, and
other merchandise to and from the warehouses which lined the quays.
They all seemed to be very happy, to judge by their incessant chatter
and laughter, and not overworked either, I should think, for they were
most of them plump enough, the women especially being many of them
almost inconveniently fat. Finding little to detain us in the lower
town, we had ourselves transported to the upper in an hydraulic lift,
which makes journeys up and down every five minutes.

Then we got into a mule-tramway, which bowled us along the narrow
streets at a famous pace. Soon getting clear of the dirty town, we
drove along a pleasant high-road, on either side of which stood pretty
little villas, shaded by palms and banana-trees, and encircled by trim
well-kept gardens, bright with a profusion of tropical flowers. Now
and then we could catch a glimpse of the sea too, and as we went along
we found the tram was taking us out to the extreme point of the ridge
mentioned above. Before we reached it we had to change our conveyance
once or twice, as occasionally we came to a descent so steep that
carriages worked up and down by hydraulic machinery had been
established to ply in conjunction with the ordinary mule-trams. At
last we were set down close to the seashore, near a lighthouse which
stands in a commanding position on the point. The view which was now
before us was a splendid one; the immense bay lay at our feet, and
beyond spread the ocean, dotted with the tiny white sails of
numberless catamarans, as the queer native fishing-boats are called,
which looked like white gulls resting on its blue waters. But the heat
in the open was so overpowering that we soon had to take refuge in a
little _café_ close by, where we had some luncheon, after which we
went back to Bahia the way we had come, by no means sorry to get on
board the cool, clean ship again. Half an hour after our arrival the
anchor was weighed, and we steamed off, _en route_ for Rio de Janeiro.

New Year's Day, like Christmas Day, was passed at sea, and we
celebrated it with much festivity. Altogether our life on board was a
most agreeable one, thanks to the kindness and attentions of the
captain and his officers, and the days flew by with surprising
rapidity. Four days after leaving Bahia we sighted land off Rio, at
an early hour of the morning. Anxious to lose nothing of the scenery,
I had risen at about four o'clock, and certainly I had no reason to
repent of my eagerness. We had passed Cape Frio, and were steaming
along a line of coast which runs from the cape up to the opening of
the bay. Thick mists hung over the high peaks and hills, shrouding
their outlines, and along the shore the surf broke with a sullen roar
against the base of the cliffs which fell abruptly down to the sea. As
yet all was grey and indistinct. But presently the sun, which for a
long time had been struggling with the mists, shone victoriously
forth; the fog disappeared as if by magic, disclosing, bathed in the
glow of sunrise, a grand scene of palm-covered cliffs and mountains,
which rose, range beyond range, as far as the eye could reach. In
front of us lay Rio Harbour, with the huge Paõ de Agucar, or Sugar
Loaf Mountain, standing like a gigantic sentry at its entrance. In
shape it is exactly like the article of grocery from which it takes
its name, and rises abruptly, a solid mass of smooth rock, to a height
of 1270 feet. Its summit, long considered inaccessible, was reached by
some English middies a few years ago. Much to the anger and disgust of
the inhabitants of Rio, these adventurous youngsters planted the Union
Jack on the highest point of the Loaf, and there it floated, no one
daring to go up to take it down, till a patriotic breeze swept it
away. Directly opposite is the Fort Santa Cruz, which, with its 120
guns, forms the principal defence of the harbour. Soon we were gliding
past it, and threading our way through the numerous craft which
studded the bay, we presently dropped anchor in front of Rio, and
found ourselves at leisure to examine the harbour, one of the finest
and largest in the world. Covering a space of sixteen miles in a north
and south direction, it gradually widens from about three-quarters of
a mile at its entrance to fifteen miles at its head. The town stands
on the western side of the bay, at about two miles from its entrance.
It is backed by a high range of mountains, and, as seen from the bay,
nestling amidst oceans of green, presents a most pleasing appearance.
The harbour is dotted with little islands, and all along its shores
are scattered villages, country seats, and plantations.

As soon as the captain had got through his duties we took our places
in his boat, and started off for the shore. On landing at a slippery,
dirty, stone causeway, we were surrounded by a crowd of negroes, who
jabbered and grinned and gesticulated like so many monkeys. Making our
way through their midst, we passed by the market-place, and then,
threading a number of hot, dirty, little streets, we at last got into
the main street of the town, which was rather broad, and shaded on
either side by a row of trees.

The public buildings at Rio are all distinguished by their peculiar
ugliness. They are mostly painted yellow, a hue which seems to prevail
everywhere here, possibly in order to harmonise with the complexion of
the inhabitants. The cathedral forms no exception to the general rule.
We entered it for a moment, thinking that we might possibly see some
good pictures from the time of the Portuguese dominion. But we found
everything covered up in brown holland. Nossa Senhora da Francisca, or
whatever virgin saint the church is dedicated to, was evidently in
curl-papers, and we could see nothing, though we could smell a great
deal more than was agreeable. Truly I did not envy the saints their
odour of sanctity. To my mundane nostrils this same odour smacked
strongly of garlic and other abominations. We soon got tired of
wandering aimlessly about, and feeling little desire to stop in the
town any longer, we hired a carriage and started off for a little
place called Tijuca, which lies high up among the hills behind Rio.

Our coach was drawn by four fine mules, who galloped along the streets
at a rattling and--inasmuch as the driver was evidently an unskilful
one--an undesirable pace. We remonstrated with him, but were told that
it was the custom of the country to drive at that rate. So, in
deference to the "custom of the country," on we went at full gallop,
shaving lamp-posts, twisting round sharp corners, frightening
foot-passengers, and narrowly missing upsetting, or being upset by,
other vehicles which came in the way.

I was quite thankful when we at last got safely clear of the town. The
road lay amongst the most beautiful scenery, and the heat, though
considerable, was not oppressive enough to interfere with my enjoyment
of it. After a couple of hours' driving we halted to give the mules a
rest near a little brook, which came rippling out from the shady mass
of vegetation which lined the road. I sat down under a banana tree,
letting my eyes wander in lazy admiration over the scene at our feet.
We had gradually got to a good height above Rio, and through a frame
of leaves and flowers I could see the town, the blue bay studded with
tiny green islands, and beyond, the rugged mountains, with a light
mist hanging like a silver veil over their purple slopes.

When the mules were sufficiently rested we got into the carriage, and
starting at a brisk trot, it was not long before we got to the summit
of a hill, at the foot of which, in a little valley, lies Tijuca.
Before reaching it a rather stiff incline had to be descended, and one
of the wheelers, either blown or obstinate, refused to hold the
carriage back. The driver insisted that the animal was only showing
temper, and commenced to flog it. Foreseeing the result, we all got
out of the carriage, and left the man to his own devices. He persisted
in whipping the recalcitrant mule, and, as might have been expected,
he presently started the other animals off at full gallop, leaving
their comrade the option of following suit or falling. It chose the
latter course, and after a good deal of slipping and sliding, went
down with a tremendous crash. The other three, taking fright,
immediately bolted, and we soon lost sight of carriage and driver in a
cloud of dust. We followed on down the hill as fast as we could,
rather anxious for the safety of the driver. Here and there, as we
hurried along, we came across a piece of broken harness, and
presently, on turning a sharp corner, we suddenly came upon the
overturned carriage, the mules struggling and kicking in a confused
heap, and the driver, unhurt but frightened, sitting in the grass by
the side of the road. Assistance having been procured from Tijuca,
which was close at hand, the mules were freed, and the carriage raised
off the dragged mule, which we expected to find killed. To our
surprise, however, no sooner were its limbs at liberty than it sprang
up and began to crop the grass in utter unconcern as to the numerous
wounds all over its body. A horse in such a state would have been
completely cowed, and would probably never have been of any use again.

Leaving the driver to make the best of his position, we walked down to
the Hotel Whyte, which lies snugly ensconced among palms and
orange-groves at Tijuca. The building, with its clean cool rooms,
shaded by verandahs, looked particularly inviting after the
establishments we had been in at Rio, and it was pleasant too, to be
waited on by Englishmen--the proprietor and his staff being of that
nationality. A little stream runs past the hotel, feeding a basin
which has been hewn out of the rock, where visitors can refresh
themselves with a plunge, a privilege of which the gentlemen of our
party were not slow to profit.

After I had rested a little I strolled away among the woods, feasting
my eyes on the beauty and novelty of the vegetation, and on the
delightful glimpses of scenery I occasionally stumbled across, to
attempt to describe which would only be doing them an injustice. But
that even this paradise had its drawbacks I was not long in
discovering. I was about to throw myself on a soft green bank, fringed
with gold and silver ferns and scarlet begonias, that stretched along
a sparkling rivulet, when suddenly my little terrier darted at
something that was lying on the bank, and pursued it for a second,
till my call brought her back. The "something" was a snake of the
Cross, whose bite is almost instantaneously fatal, and as I quickly
retraced my steps to safer ground I thanked my stars that I had been
spared a closer acquaintance with this deadly reptile. When I got back
I had a swim in the rocky basin above mentioned, which refreshed me
wonderfully. Soon afterwards we sat down to dinner, winding up the day
by a cheery musical evening.

Before going to bed, enticed by the beauty of the night, I strolled
for an hour or more among the woods at the back of the hotel, and
gradually, attracted by the noise of falling waters, I made my way to
a little cataract, which, coming from some rocky heights above, dashed
foaming into a broad basin, and swirling and bubbling over a stony
bed, disappeared below in the shadows of a lonely glen. The moon,
which was now shining brightly, cast a pale gleam over its waters, and
myriads of fireflies flashed around like showers of sparks. Not a
sound was heard save the roar of the water, and hardly a breath of
wind stirred the giant foliage of the sleeping forests. For a long
time I sat giving myself up to the softening influences of my
surroundings, and thinking, amidst the splendour of that warm tropical
night, of the dear old country far away, now, no doubt, covered with
ice and snow.

As we had to be on board the steamer by twelve o'clock the next
morning, the carriages were ordered for eight o'clock, by which time
we were up and had breakfasted. The captain, my husband, brother, and
myself, took our seats in a carriage drawn by two mules, Queensberry
and Mr. B. following in a Victoria. Having said good-bye to Mr. Whyte,
we told our driver to start, cautioning him, as he was the same Jehu
who had driven us so recklessly the day before, to be more careful.
But again, for some unaccountable reason, he cracked his whip and
started off at full gallop. Again the mules bolted, and like lightning
we went down a little incline which leads from the hotel to the road.
Then a sharp turn had to be made, seeing which we held on like grim
death to the carriage, an upset being now palpably inevitable. On we
went--the carriage heeled over, balanced itself for a moment on its
two left wheels, and then, catching the corner of a stone bridge, over
it went with a crash, burying us four luckless occupants beneath it,
and hurling the driver into the brook below. Happily the shock had
thrown the mules as well, for had they galloped on, huddled as we were
pell-mell among the wheels of the carriage, the accident must have
ended in some disaster. As it was, we had a most miraculous escape.
The driver, who meanwhile had picked himself, drenched and
crestfallen, out of the brook, came in for a shower of imprecations,
which his stupidity and recklessness had well earned for him. He made
some feeble attempts at an explanation, but no one understood him, and
he only aggravated the virulence of our righteous wrath.

However, something had to be done, and quickly, if we were to reach
the steamer by twelve o'clock. The Victoria was now the only
conveyance left, and we could not all get into it. As luck would have
it, whilst we were debating, a diligence was seen coming along the
road, and, as it proved, there were sufficient vacant seats to
accommodate all our party,--Queensberry, Mr. B. and myself going in
the Victoria. The driver having assured us that the mules were
perfectly quiet, and he himself appearing a steadier sort of man than
the other unfortunate creature, we felt more at ease, and certainly at
first start all went smoothly enough. But, strange to say, we were
doomed to incur a third upset. When we came to a steep descent,
instead of driving slowly, our coachman, for some inexplicable reason,
actually urged his animals into a gallop. We called to him to stop,
but that was already beyond his power, the mules having again bolted,
and, to make matters still more desperate, one of the reins broke,
leaving us completely at the mercy of accidents. The road wound down
the side of a steep hill, and each time the swaying carriage swung
round one of the sharp curves we were in imminent danger of being
dashed over the roadside, down a precipice three hundred feet in
depth. The peril of this eventuality increased with our momentum, and,
as the lesser of two evils, we had to choose jumping out of the
carriage. This we did at a convenient spot, and fortunately, though we
were all severely cut and bruised, no bones were broken. In another
second the coach and driver would have disappeared over the precipice
had not one of the mules suddenly fallen, and, acting as a drag on the
coach, enabled the driver to check the other mule just in the nick of
time.

To meet with three accidents in twenty-four hours was rather too much
of a good thing, and vowing that we had had enough of Brazilian
coachmanship to last us all our lives, we completed the rest of the
way on foot, arriving two hours after the appointed time, on board the
old "Britannia." We presented a very strange appearance, our clothes
torn and dust-stained, and our faces covered with cuts and bruises;
but a bath and a little court-plaster soon put us all right, and we
were on deck again in time to have a last look at Rio as we steamed
away.



CHAPTER III.

     BEAUTIES OF RIO--MONTE VIDEO--STRAITS OF MAGELLAN--
     TIERRA DEL FUEGO--ARRIVAL AT SANDY POINT--PREPARATIONS
     FOR THE START--OUR OUTFIT--OUR GUIDES.


I could not repress a pang of regret as we steamed slowly out of Rio
Harbour. There may be scenes more impressively sublime; there are,
without doubt, landscapes fashioned on a more gigantic scale; by the
side of the Himalayas or the Alps, the mountains around Rio are
insignificant enough, and one need not go out of England in search for
charming and romantic scenery. But nowhere have the rugged and the
tender, the wild and the soft, been blended into such exquisite
_union_ as at Rio, and it is this quality of unrivalled contrasts,
that, to my mind, gives to that scenery its charm of unsurpassed
loveliness. Nowhere else is there such audacity, such fierceness even
of outline, coupled with such multiform splendour of colour, such
fairy-like delicacy of detail. As a precious jewel is encrusted by the
coarse rock, the smiling bay lies encircled by frowning mountains of
colossal proportions and the most capricious shapes. In the production
of this work the most opposite powers of nature have been laid under
contribution. The awful work of the volcano; the immense boulders of
rock which lie piled up to the clouds in irregular masses, have been
clothed in a brilliant web of tropical vegetation, spun from sunshine
and mist. Here nature revels in manifold creation, life multiplies
itself a million fold, the soil bursts with exuberance of fertility,
and the profusion of vegetable and animal life beggars description.
Every tree is clothed with a thousand luxuriant creepers, purple and
scarlet-blossomed; they in their turn support myriads of lichens and
other verdant parasites. The plants shoot up with marvellous rapidity,
and glitter with flowers of the rarest hues and shapes, or bear
quantities of luscious fruit, pleasant to the eye and sweet to the
taste. The air resounds with the hum of insect-life; through the
bright green leaves of the banana skim the sparkling humming-birds,
and gorgeous butterflies of enormous size float, glowing with every
colour of the rainbow on the flower-scented breezes. But over all this
beauty, over the luxuriance of vegetation, over the softness of the
tropical air, over the splendour of the sunshine, over the perfume of
the flowers, Pestilence has cast her fatal miasmas, and, like the
sword of Damocles, the yellow fever hangs threateningly over the head
of those who dwell among these lovely scenes. Nature, however, is not
to be blamed for this drawback to one of her most charming creations.
With better drainage and cleanlier habits amongst its population,
there is no reason why Rio should not be a perfectly healthy place. To
exorcise the demon who annually scourges its people, no acquaintance
with the black art is necessary. The scrubbing-brush and Windsor
soap--"this only is the witchcraft need be used." Four days after
leaving Rio we arrived at Monte Video, but as we came from an infected
port we were put into quarantine, much to our disgust, and were of
course unable to go on shore. After we had discharged what cargo we
carried for Monte Video, we proceeded to a little island, where we
were to land the quarantine passengers, amongst whom was my brother
Queensberry, who wanted to stop in Monte Video for a fortnight,
following us by the next steamer. The quarantine island, which was a
bare rocky little place, did not look at all inviting, and I certainly
did not envy my brother his three-days' stay on it. He told me
afterwards that he had never passed such a miserable time in all his
life, the internal domestic arrangements being most primitive.

The days after leaving Monte Video passed swiftly enough, as it had
got comparatively cool, and we were able to have all kinds of games on
deck. After seven days at sea, early one morning we sighted Cape
Virgins, which commands the north-eastern entrance to the Straits of
Magellan. The south-eastern point is called Cape Espiritu Santo; the
distance between the two capes being about twenty-two miles. Whilst we
were threading the intricate passage of the First Narrows, which are
not more than two miles broad, I scanned with interest the land I had
come so many thousand miles to see--Patagonia at last! Desolate and
dreary enough it looked, a succession of bare plateaus, not a tree nor
a shrub visible anywhere; a grey, shadowy country, which seemed hardly
of this world; such a landscape, in fact, as one might expect to find
on reaching some other planet. Much as I had been astonished by the
glow and exuberance of tropical life at Rio, the impression it had
made on my mind had to yield in intensity to the vague feelings of awe
and wonder produced by the sight of the huge barren solitudes now
before me.

After passing the Second Narrows, Elizabeth Island, so named by Sir
Francis Drake, came in sight. Its shores were covered with wild fowl
and sea-birds, chiefly shag. Flocks of these birds kept flying round
the ship, and the water itself, through which we passed, literally
teemed with gulls and every imaginable kind of sea-fowl. We were soon
abreast of Cape Negro, about fourteen miles from Sandy Point. Here the
character of the country suddenly changes, for Cape Negro is the point
of the last southerly spur of the Cordilleras, which runs along the
coast, joining the main ridge beyond Sandy Point. All these spurs,
like the Cordilleras themselves, are clothed with beech forests and
thick underwood of the magnolia species, a vegetation, however, which
ends as abruptly as the spurs, from the thickly-wooded sides of which,
to the completely bare plains, there is no graduation whatever.

As we went along we passed a couple of canoes containing Fuegians, the
inhabitants of the Tierra del Fuego, but they were too far off to
enable me to judge of their appearance, though I should have liked to
have had a good look at them. They are reputed to be cannibals, and no
doubt justly so. I have even been told that in winter, when other food
is scarce, they kill off their own old men and women, though of
course they prefer a white man if obtainable.

At one o'clock we cast anchor off Sandy Point. This settlement is
called officially by the Chileans, to whom it belongs, "La Colonia de
Magellanes." It was formerly only a penal colony, but in consequence
of the great increase of traffic through the Straits, the attention of
the Chilian Government was drawn to the importance the place might
ultimately assume, and, accordingly, grants of land and other
inducements were offered to emigrants. But the colony up to the
present has never flourished as was expected, and during a mutiny
which took place there in 1877, many of the houses were burned down,
and a great deal of property destroyed. As the steamer was to leave in
two hours, we began preparations for landing, but meantime the breeze,
which had sprung up shortly after our arrival, freshened into a gale,
and the sea grew so rough that it was impossible to lower a boat, and
the lighters that had come off shore to fetch away cargo dared not go
back. The gale lasted all day and the greater part of the night,
calming down a little towards three o'clock in the morning. Every
effort was accordingly made to get us on shore, the alternative being
that we should have to go on with the steamer to Valparaiso, the
Company's regulations not allowing more than a certain length of time
to be spent at Sandy Point. As may be imagined, we by no means liked
the idea of such a possible consummation, and the weather was eagerly
scanned, whilst our luggage and traps were being hurried over the
sides, as a fresh increase in the strength of the wind would have been
fatal.

At last all was ready; we said good-bye to the captain and officers,
to whose kindness during the voyage we were so much indebted for our
enjoyment of our trip on board the "Britannia"--and climbing down the
gangway took our seats in the boat which was to carry us ashore. I
felt quite sad as we rowed away, leaving behind us the good ship which
we had come to look upon as a home, and for which I at least felt
almost a personal affection.

After a long pull, during which the contrary wind and tide bade fair
to set at nought the efforts of the four strong sailors who rowed us
ashore, we at last came alongside the old tumble-down wooden pier,
which forms the landing stage at Sandy Point. We succeeded in reaching
its end without incurring any mishap, though we ran considerable risk
from the many dangers with which it bristled, in the shape of sudden
yawning holes, and treacherously shifting planks. This pier, however,
had the merit--a questionable one it is true--of being in keeping with
the appearance and condition of the whole colony to which it served as
a warning introduction. I suppose there possibly may be drearier
looking places than the town of Sandy Point, but I do not think it is
probable; and as we walked over the sand-covered beach in front of the
settlement, and surveyed the gloomy rows of miserable wooden huts, the
silent, solitary streets, where, at that moment, not a single living
being was to be seen, save some hungry-looking ostrich-hound, we all
agreed that the epithet of "God-forsaken hole" was the only
description that did justice to the merits of this desolate
place,--nor did subsequent and fuller acquaintance with it by any
means induce us to alter this unfavourable opinion.

Proceeding under the guidance of Mr. Dunsmuir, the English Consul, we
halted about two hundred yards from the pier, at a house which, we
were informed, was the principal shop and inn in the place. It was not
an ambitious establishment. Its interior consisted of a ground-floor
containing two rooms, of which one served as a shop, and the other as
a sitting room. This last apartment we secured as a storeroom for our
luggage and equipments, and there also we ate our meals during our
sojourn in Sandy Point. The upper portion of this magnificent dwelling
was a kind of loft, in one corner of which was a small compartment,
which my brother and Mr. B. used as a bedroom. Through the kindness of
Mr. Dunsmuir my husband and myself were lodged very comfortably in his
own house.

Our first experience of "roughing it," in the shape of the breakfast
with which Pedro the innkeeper supplied us, being over, we sauntered
up through the grass-grown streets of the colony to the house of Mr.
Dunsmuir, from which, as it stands on high ground, we obtained a good
view of the Straits and the opposite shores of the Tierra del Fuego.
The "Britannia" had already weighed anchor, and for a long time we
watched her steaming away through the Straits, till, growing gradually
smaller and smaller, she at last disappeared in the haze of the
distant horizon. And now that the last link, as it were, of the chain
which bound me to old England was gone, for the first time I began to
fully _realise_ the fact that we were ten thousand miles away from our
home and our friends, alone amidst strange faces and wild scenes; and
it required almost an effort to banish the impression that the whole
thing was a dream, from which I was presently to awaken and find
myself back in England again.

Our anxiety to leave Sandy Point as soon as possible hastened
preparations we had to make before starting; but even with every wish
to get away, there was so much to be done that we calculated we should
not be ready to start for at least four days. There were guides to be
found, good dogs to be bought, and, above all, suitable horses to be
hired or purchased. Numbers of these latter animals were brought for
our inspection, from among which we selected about fifty, of whose
merits and failings I shall have to speak at a later occasion. We
found the charges for everything ridiculously high, and though no
doubt we were cheated on all sides, there was nothing to be done but
to accept the prices and conditions demanded, as guides were not
plentiful, and the other necessities procurable nowhere else.

A whole day was spent in unpacking the provisions and equipments we
had brought from England, and in putting them into canvas bags, so as
to be conveniently portable on horseback. For the benefit of those who
may contemplate an expedition similar to ours, I give the following
list of the articles and provisions we took with us. We limited
ourselves, I may say _en passant_, to such things as were absolutely
indispensable, the disadvantages arising from being burdened with
unnecessary luggage on such a trip being self-evident:--Two small
tents (_tentes d'abri_), 2 hatchets, 1 pail, 1 iron pot for cooking, 1
frying-pan, 1 saucepan, biscuits, coffee, tea, sugar, flour, oatmeal,
preserved milk, and a few tins of butter, 2 kegs of whisky.

To the above we added a sack of yerba maté, of which herb we all grew
so fond that we ultimately used it to the complete exclusion of tea
and coffee, although at first we by no means agreed with the
enthusiastic description of its merits given by Mr. B., at whose
recommendation we had taken it.

Our personal outfit consisted, in addition to a few changes of woollen
underclothing, in a guanaco-fur mantle, a rug or two, a sheath-knife
and revolver; besides, of course, the guns and rifles we had brought
for sporting purposes. The cartridges for the latter, of which
we had a great number, formed the heaviest item of weight; but
notwithstanding the care we had used in our calculations, so as not to
take more provisions than we wanted, the goodly pile which was formed
when all our luggage was heaped together was rather alarming, and we
found that twelve horses at least would be required to carry it.
Fortunately we were able to procure three mules, who, between them,
carried more than six horses could have done, without, moreover,
suffering half as much as the latter in condition from fatigue, or the
severe heat which we occasionally encountered.

We selected our guides from among a number who offered their services.
We chose four; two Frenchmen, an Argentine gaucho, and a nondescript
creature, an inhabitant of Sandy Point, I'Aria by name, who had
accompanied Captain Musters on his expedition. This I'Aria was a
dried-up-looking being of over sixty, but he proved a useful servant,
notwithstanding his age. He was a beautiful rider; and, considering
his years, wonderfully active and enduring. As long as we remained in
Sandy Point, however, he was of little use to us, as he was never by
any chance sober, though, strange to say, when once we left the
settlement, he became a total abstainer, and stoutly refused, during
the whole of the trip, to take any liquor that was offered to him. His
face, the skin of which, from long exposure to wind and weather, had
acquired the consistency of parchment, was one mass of wrinkles, and
burnt almost black by the sun, while the watchful, cunning expression
of his twinkling bead-like eyes added to his wild appearance, the
Mephistophelian character of which earned for him the sobriquet of
"The devil's agent for Patagonia." He had passed more than forty years
of his life on the pampa, and was, therefore, well qualified to act as
guide. Of the others, Gregorio gave us most satisfaction, and served
us all through the trip with untiring zeal and fidelity. He was a
good-looking man, of about forty, and added to the other
accomplishments of his craft as gaucho, a slight knowledge of English.
His ordinary occupation was that of an Indian trader, and at one time
of his career he had owned a small schooner, with which he used to go
seal-hunting in the season. One of the Frenchmen, François, whose
original profession had been that of a cook, proved most useful to us
in that capacity, and played the changes on what would otherwise have
been a slightly monotonous diet of guanaco and ostrich meat, in a
marvellous manner. His career, like Gregorio's, had been a chequered
one. After having served during the Franco-Prussian war as a Chasseur
d'Afrique, he left his country with three companions to start some
business in South America, on the failure of which he turned his
attention to ostrich-hunting. He was a cheery, handsome little fellow,
and was possessed, moreover, of an excellent voice, and whether at
work by the camp-fire, or riding on the march, was always to be heard
singing merrily. He owned two very good ostrich-dogs; one, a handsome
Scotch deer hound called "Leona," the other a black wiry dog called
"Loca," a cross between an African greyhound and an English lurcher.
Gregorio had only one dog, but it was the best of the lot, often
managing to run down an ostrich singly, a feat which requires immense
stamina and gameness, and which none of the other dogs were able to
perform.

As to Guillaume I need say nothing, except that all our party disliked
him very much.

After four days' hard work our preparations for departure were nearly
completed, though a little yet remained to be done. Anxious, however,
to get out of Sandy Point, we resolved to start off with the greater
part of the packs and horses, and to await the coming of the remainder
in the beech-wood at Cabo Negro, some fifteen miles away from the
colony.



CHAPTER IV.

     THE START FOR CAPE NEGRO--RIDING ALONG THE STRAITS--
     CAPE NEGRO--THE FIRST NIGHT UNDER CANVAS--UNEXPECTED
     ARRIVALS--OUR GUESTS--A NOVEL PICNIC--ROUGH-RIDING--
     THERE WAS A SOUND OF REVELRY BY NIGHT.


Early in the morning the horses were driven up and saddled, some
trouble being experienced with the pack-mules, who were slightly
restive, taking rather unkindly to their loads at first.

As our guides were busy hunting up the requisite number of horses, and
finishing their preparations for the journey, we took another man with
us for the time that we should have to remain at Cabo Negro, as well
as a little boy, a son of Gregorio's, to help to drive the horses
along. After a hurried breakfast we got into the saddle; the
pack-horses were driven together, not without a great deal of trouble,
for they were as yet strangers to each other, and every now and then
one or two would bolt off, a signal to the whole troop to disperse all
over the place, so that nearly an hour had elapsed before we had
got well clear of the colony, and found ourselves riding over an
undulating grassy stretch, _en route_ for the pampas.

  [Illustration: THE STRAITS OF MAGELLAN.]

Our way lay over this plain for about an hour, and then, having forded
a small stream, we entered the outskirts of the beechwood forests that
line the Straits. The foliage of the trees was fresh and green, the
sky clear and blue, the air sun-lit and buoyant, and everything
seeming to augur favourably for the success of our trip, we were all
in the best of spirits.

Our road presently brought us down to the Straits of Magellan, along
whose narrow strip of beach, in some places barely three yards broad,
we had now to ride in single file. Along the coast the land terminates
abruptly, and the trees and bushes form an impenetrable thicket, which
comes down almost to the water's edge. Point after point shoots out
into the sea, each bearing a monotonous resemblance to the other,
though, as we advanced, the vegetation that covered them grew more and
more stunted and scanty, till at last the trees and bushes disappeared
altogether, and after a three hours' ride we found ourselves
journeying along under the shadow of some steep bluffs, on which the
only vegetation was a profusion of long coarse grass. Innumerable
species of gulls and albatrosses were disporting themselves on the
blue water, and seemed little alarmed at our approach, lazily rising
from the water a moment as we went past them, to resume almost
immediately their fishing operations. All along the beach, carried
there by the sea from the opposite side, I noticed great quantities of
the cooked shells of crayfish, the remains of many a Fuegian-Indian
meal. The Tierra del Fuego itself was distinctly visible opposite, and
at different points we could see tall columns of smoke rising up into
the still air, denoting the presence of native encampments, just as
Magellan had seen them four hundred years before, giving to the
island, on that account, the name it still bears.

At Cabo Negro we stopped for a moment at a little farmhouse, and
partook of some maté, which was hospitably offered us by the farmer's
wife, and then mounting again, we galloped over a broad grassy plain
where some sheep and cattle were grazing, till we came to a steep,
wooded hill. On its crest, under some spreading beeches, we resolved
to pitch our camp, water being near at hand, and the position
otherwise favourable. In a short time the pack-horses were relieved of
their loads, and neighing joyfully, they galloped away to graze in the
plain we had just crossed. Our tents were pitched, and having made up
our beds in them, so as to have everything ready by night-time, we
began to set about preparing dinner. Wood being abundant, a roaring
fire was soon blazing away cheerily, some meat we had brought from
Sandy Point was put into the iron pot, together with some rice,
onions, etc., and then we lay down round the fire, not a little
fatigued by our day's exertions; but inhaling the grateful odours
arising from the pot, with the expectant avidity of appetites which
the keen Patagonian air had stimulated to an unusual extent.

By the time dinner was over night had set in. The moon had risen, and
the clear star-lit sky gave assuring promises of a continuance of fine
weather. A slight breeze stirred the branches overhead, and in the
distance we could hear the lowing of the cattle on the plains, and the
faint tinkling of the bells of the brood-mares. The strange novelty of
the scene seemed to influence us all, and the men smoked their pipes
in silence. Before going to bed I went for a short stroll to the
shores of a broad lagoon which lay at the foot of the hill on which
our camp was pitched. Its waters glittered brightly in the moonlight,
but the woods which surrounded it were sombre and dark. Occasionally
the sad plaintive cry of a grebe broke the silence, startling me not
a little the first time I heard it, for it sounds exactly like the
wail of a human being in pain. Going back to the camp I found my
companions preparing to go to bed, an example I was not slow to
follow, and soon, wrapt up in our guanaco-fur robes, with our saddles
for pillows, we were all fast asleep.

It had been agreed that the next morning one of our party should go
back to Sandy Point, to see how the guides were getting on, and Mr. B.
having volunteered to perform that task, I rose at an early hour to
get him his breakfast and see him off on his journey. Then, whilst my
brother and husband went out with their guns to shoot wild-duck, I
busied myself writing a few last letters to friends at home. This
done, I rode down to the Straits, and had a plunge into the water, but
it was so cold that I got quite numbed, and with difficulty managed to
dry and dress myself. Late in the afternoon the sportsmen returned,
bringing an excellent bag with them, and we speedily set about
plucking a few birds, and making other preparations for dinner. Just
as, that meal being over, we had settled ourselves comfortably round
the fire, prepared lazily to enjoy the lovely evening, our
camp-servant, who had been on the look-out for the return of Mr. B.,
reported that a troop of about ten horsemen were coming our way. As
Indian traders do not go out to the pampas in such large parties, he
was quite at a loss to imagine who the people could be who were riding
out so late at night, especially as they had no pack-horses with them.
We all got up and went to have a look at these mysterious horsemen. As
they approached the foot of our hill we could see that they were all
armed with guns and rifles, a circumstance which began to suggest
unpleasant recollections of the last Sandy Point mutiny. Could it be
that another outbreak had occurred, and that these men were escaping
to the pampas? If so, they might possibly make a descent on us in
passing, and supply any deficiencies in their own outfit from ours.
This was a rather startling state of affairs, and we were hurriedly
holding counsel as to what was the best course to take under the
circumstances, when our dogs suddenly started up, and began barking
furiously. Then came the sound of horses' hoofs, and brushing through
the tall furze, two horsemen galloped straight towards our camp,
followed, as the sound of voices told us, by the rest of the party. In
another second the two foremost ones reined up in front of us, turning
out to be, not bloodthirsty mutineers, but Mr. Dunsmuir and Mr.
Beerbohm. A few words explained all. The party was composed of some
officers of the "Prinz Adalbert," a German man-of-war, which had
anchored at Sandy Point that morning, Mr. B. having gone on board and
invited them out to our camp for a day's shooting. Delighted at this
solution of the situation, we hurried to welcome our new guests, who
now arrived tired and hungry after their long ride. Among their number
were H.I.H. Prince Henry of Prussia, who was on a cruise in the "Prinz
Adalbert," and her commander, Captain Maclean.

Fresh logs were added to the blazing fire, meat was set to roast, soup
put on to cook, and every preparation made for a good supper--an easy
task, as the officers had brought plentiful supplies of all kinds of
provisions with them. We then lay round the fire, the new-comers
evidently quite charmed by our cosy sylvan quarters, and by the
novelty of the strange picnic, which they had little anticipated
making in Patagonia, of all places in the world.

I was much amused at Mr. B.'s account of how the expedition had been
initiated. He had got into Sandy Point at about nine o'clock, and at
ten the "Prinz Adalbert" was signalled in the offing.

As soon as she had cast anchor he went on board, having been
previously acquainted with the captain, and at breakfast explained his
presence in such an out-of-the-way part of the world as Sandy Point,
by an account of our intended trip, and finally asked the captain and
the officers to come out to our camp and try for themselves what
open-air life in Patagonia was like. He had little difficulty in
persuading them to accept his offer, and whilst the officers made
their preparations, he went on shore to hunt up ten horses, the number
required. This was an easy matter; but it was another thing to find as
many saddles, for, though many people in Sandy Point own numbers of
horses, few have more than one saddle, and such being the case, they
are loth to lend what at any moment may be of pressing necessity for
themselves. However, by dint of ingenious combinations, some kind of
an apology for a saddle was fitted to each horse, and the whole party
at last set off on their trip in high spirits, and very well pleased
with everything. Each officer carried a blanket or rug with him, and,
as some shooting was expected, a gun and some ammunition. For the
first two hours all went well, the air was warm and sunny, the scenery
novel and interesting, and a zest was given to the expedition by its
unconventional character and the suddenness with which it had been
improvised.

But after a time the hard action of the horses and the roughness of
some of the saddles began to have their effect, especially as many of
the officers were little accustomed to riding. Occasionally Mr. B.
would be asked, at first in tones of implied cheerful unconcern, "How
far is it to the camp?" To this question he would reply by a wave of
the hand in the direction of one of the many points which shoot out
along the Straits, saying, "A little beyond that point." Then, as
point after point was passed, and the answer to inquiries still
continued, as before, "A little beyond that point," gradually the
laughter and chat which had enlivened the outset of the trip grew more
constrained, occasional lapses of complete silence intervening. Now
and then one of the riders would move uneasily in the saddle and
sigh--and on the faces of many (especially of those who rode
stirrupless saddles) fell in time an expression of fixed resignation
to suffering, which was not unheroic. Mr. B. observed all this, and
his conscience began to smite him. At starting, in an amiable
endeavour to put everything in a rosy light, he had slightly
understated the distance to our camp, and now the terrible
consequences of his rashness were already visiting him. The
quasi-martyrs whom he was leading, it was but too evident, were only
bearing up against suffering by the comforting consciousness that they
_must_ be close to the camp. He could not undeceive them; he felt
himself woefully wanting in courage enough to break the truth; and yet
the only alternative was to go on repeating the now to him, as to
everybody else, hateful formula, "A little beyond that point." His
victims could only imagine one thing--that he had lost the way, though
in fact he knew the road and its length only too well. Never, as he
said, had it been so palpably brought before him that the way to hell
is paved with good intentions; and his intentions, when mystifying the
party as to the length of the road, had been of the best.

However, all things come to an end, and at last, with a feeling of
deep relief, he was able to point out our hill to the weary
saddle-worn band, whose advent, as possible mutineers, had thrown us
into such a panic.

By the time Mr. B. had finished his story supper was ready, and that
important fact having been duly announced, our hungry guests fell to,
and made a hearty meal. The strain which their number put on the
capabilities of our _batterie de cuisine_ was fortunately relieved by
a profusion of tinned provisions of all kinds which they had wisely
brought with them, and under those Patagonian beeches, together with
the native mutton, were discussed _asperges en jus_, which had
attained their delicate flavour under the mild fostering of a Dutch
summer, _patés_ elaborated far away among the blue Alsatian mountains,
and substantial, though withal subtly flavoured, sausages from the
fatherland itself. After supper pipes were lit, and the wine-cup went
round freely, the woods resounding with laughter and song till nearly
midnight, by which time most of the party were beginning to feel the
effects of their day's exertions, and to long for bed. In one of our
tents we managed to make up four couches, on which the Prince, the
Captain, Count Seckendorff, and another officer respectively laid
their weary limbs, and went to sleep as best they might. The Captain,
a strong stout man, had suffered more than any one from the ride, and
it must have been a moot question in his secret heart whether the
day's enjoyment had not been somewhat dearly purchased.

The others kept up the ball still later, and it must have been quite
two o'clock before the last _convive_ rolled himself up in his
blanket by the fire, and silence fell over our camp. At about that
hour I peered out of my tent at the scene. Round a huge heap of
smouldering logs, in various attitudes, suggestive of deep repose, lay
the forms of the sleepers whom chance had thus strangely thrown
together for one night. Our dogs had risen from their sleep, and in
their turn were making merry over whatever bones or other fragments of
the feast they managed to ferret out. A few moonbeams struggled
through the canopy of leaves and branches overhead, throwing strange
lights and shadows over the camp, and the weird effect of the whole
scene was heightened by the mysterious wail of the grebe, which at
intervals came floating up in the air from the lake below, like the
voice of an unquiet spirit.



CHAPTER V.

     DEPARTURE OF OUR GUESTS--THE START FOR THE PAMPAS--AN
     UNTOWARD ACCIDENT--A DAY'S SPORT--UNPLEASANT EFFECTS OF
     THE WIND--OFF CAPE GREGORIO.


The sun had hardly risen the next morning ere our little camp was
again astir. Making a hasty toilet I stepped out and found that our
guests had all risen, and were busy in getting their guns and shooting
accoutrements ready for the coming sport. As soon as they had partaken
of some coffee, the whole party started off to the plains below, and
for an hour or so, till their return, the repeated reports of their
guns seemed to indicate that they were having good sport. Towards
breakfast-time they came back, fairly satisfied with their morning's
work, though I am inclined to attribute this satisfaction to their
evident desire to look at everything connected with their picnic from
an optimist point of view, as their bag was in reality a very small
one, consisting only of a few brace of snipe and wild-duck. We then
set to work to get a good breakfast ready, at which employment Prince
Henry lent an intelligent hand, turning out some poached eggs in
excellent style. We had a very pleasant meal, the officers expressing
great regret that they were unable to prolong their stay in our
beechwood quarters, the steamer being obliged to continue her journey
that evening. Whilst they smoked a last pipe, the horses were driven
up and saddled, and at about eight o'clock, Mr. B. and myself
accompanying them as guides, they mounted and set out on the road
homeward.

The stiffness consequent on their exertions of the previous day must
have made the sensations they experienced on returning to the saddle
anything but pleasant ones, and at the start a decidedly uncheerful
spirit seemed to prevail among them; but as we cantered along, and
they warmed to their work, this uneasiness disappeared, and soon all
were as merry as possible. The day was lovely, and the scenery looked
to the best advantage, the only drawback to our enjoyment of the ride
being that the sun was rather too hot.

After we had gone several miles we got off our horses to rest under
the shade of some trees, by the side of a little stream which came
bubbling out of the cool depths of the forest, emptying itself into
the adjacent Straits. Here an incident occurred which might have been
attended with inconvenient consequences. One of the officer's horses
suddenly took it into its head to trot off, and, before any one could
stop it, disappeared round a point in the direction of Sandy Point.
Mr. B. got on his horse and started in pursuit, and in the meanwhile a
time of some suspense ensued, for, in the event of his being
unsuccessful, some unfortunate would have had to make the best of his
way on foot. However, this unpleasant contingency was happily avoided;
Mr. B. soon reappeared, having managed to catch the runaway, not
indeed without a great deal of trouble.

We reached Sandy Point late in the afternoon, and very glad the whole
party must have been to get there, for they were most of them
completely done up, and, considering the length of the ride, their
rough horses and rougher saddles, this was no wonder.

After having said good-bye to the officers, with many expressions of
thanks on their part for the unexpected diversion our presence in that
outlandish part of the world had afforded them, Mr. B. and I
immediately set out to return to the camp, which we managed to reach
just as it was getting dark.

Everything was now ready for our journey, and it was resolved that we
should make a start the next morning. We were therefore up early, in
order to help the guides as much as possible with the packing, which
was quite a formidable undertaking. It took fully three hours to get
our miscellaneous goods and chattels stowed away on the pack-horses,
whose number was thirteen. At last, however, all was ready; we got
into the saddle, and with a last glance at the beechwood camp, which
had grown quite familiar and home-like to us, we rode off, now fairly
started on our journey into the unknown land that lay before us. We
soon had our hands full to help the guides to keep the horses
together, a rather difficult task. The mules in particular gave great
trouble, and were continually leading the horses into mischief. At one
time, as if by preconcerted signal, the whole troop dispersed in
different directions into the wood, and there, brushing through the
thick underwood, many of the pack-horses upset their packs, and
trampled on the contents, whilst some of the others turned tail, and
coolly trotted back to the pasture-ground they had just left at Cabo
Negro.

All this was very provoking, but, with a little patience and a good
deal of swearing on the part of the guides, the refractory
pack-horses were re-saddled, the troop was got together again, and by
dint of careful driving we at last got safely out of the wooded
country, and emerged on the rolling pampa, where there was for some
distance a beaten Indian track, along which the horses travelled with
greater ease, till, gradually understanding what was required of them,
they jogged on in front of us with tolerable steadiness and sobriety,
which was only occasionally disturbed by such slight ebullitions as a
free fight between two of the stallions, or an abortive attempt on the
part of some hungry animal to make a dash for some particularly
inviting-looking knoll of green grass at a distance off the line of
our march.

  [Illustration: "COLLECTING THE 'TROPILLA'--SADDLING UP."]

The country we were now crossing was of a totally different character
to that we had left behind us. Not a tree or a shrub was to be seen
anywhere, and while to the left of us lay the rugged range of the
Cordilleras, in front and to the right an immense plain stretched away
to the horizon, rising and falling occasionally in slight undulations,
but otherwise completely and monotonously level. The ground, which was
rather swampy, was covered with an abundance of coarse green grass,
amongst which we could see flocks of wild geese grazing in great
numbers. We passed several freshwater lakes, covered with
wild-fowl, who flew up very wild at our approach. A hawk or two would
occasionally hover over our heads, and once the dogs started off in
pursuit of a little grey fox that had incautiously shown itself; but
except these, there was no sign of animal life on the silent,
seemingly interminable plain before us.

After we had ridden for several hours, we turned off to the left,
facing the Cordilleras again, and soon the plain came to a sudden end,
a broken country now appearing, over which we rode till nightfall,
when we came in sight of the "Despuntadero," the extremity of
Peckett's Harbour, an arm of the sea which runs for some distance
inland. Here we were to camp for the night, and as we were all rather
tired and hungry after our long ride, we urged on our horses to cover
the distance that still lay between us and our camping-place as
quickly as possible. But to "hasten slowly" would have been a wiser
course in this case, as in most others. The rapid trot at which we now
advanced disturbed the equilibrium of one of the packs, the cords
holding which had already become slack, and down came the whole pack,
iron pot, tin plates, and all, with an awful clatter, whilst the mare
who carried it, terrified out of her wits, dashed off at a gallop,
spurring with her heels her late encumbrances, and followed by the
whole troop of her equally frightened companions.

The pampa was strewn with broken bags; and rice, biscuits, and other
precious stores lay scattered in all directions. When we had picked up
what we could, and replaced the pack on the mare, who in the meantime
had been caught again, we were further agreeably surprised by the
sight of another packless animal galloping over the brow of a distant
hill, followed at some distance by Gregorio, who was trying to lasso
it, whilst I'Aria was descried in another direction, endeavouring to
collect together another scattered section of our troop. Off we
scampered to aid him, turning on the way to drive up one of the mares,
whom we accidentally found grazing with her foal in a secluded valley,
"the guides forgetting, by the guides forgot."

By the time we got up to I'Aria, the obstinacy and speed of the
refractory animals had evidently proved too much for him, inasmuch as
we found him sitting under a bush philosophically smoking a pipe. In
answer to our query as to what had become of the horses, he waved his
hand vaguely in the direction of a distant line of hills, and we were
just setting off on what we feared would prove a rather arduous quest
when a welcome tinkle suddenly struck our ears, and the troop
reappeared from the depths of a ravine, driven up by Francisco, who
had providentially come across them in time to intercept their further
flight.

It was quite dark as we rode down and pitched our camp by the shore of
the inlet above mentioned, under the lee of a tall bluff, not far from
a little pool of fresh water. After the tents had been set up some of
the men went to look for firewood, but there was a scarcity of that
necessary in the region we were now in, and the little they could
collect was half green. However, we managed to make a very fair fire
with it, and our dinner was soon cooked and eaten, whereupon we
retired to rest.

The next morning was fine, and we resolved to stop a day at our
present encampment and have some shooting,--game, as Gregorio informed
us, being plentiful in that region. After a light breakfast we took
our guns and started off in the direction of a group of freshwater
lakes which lay beyond a range of hills behind our camp. We were
rewarded for our arduous climb by some excellent sport, wild geese,
duck, etc., being very plentiful, and on our way back we crossed some
marshy ground where there were some snipe, several brace of which we
bagged. In the afternoon, it being rather hot and sultry, we refreshed
ourselves with a bath in the sea, and then came dinner-time, and by
half-past seven we were in bed and asleep.

The following day we continued our journey northward. A long day's
ride brought us to some springs, called "Pozos de la Reina," where we
camped for the night. After we had rested for a short time round the
fire, and had leisure to look at one another, we became aware of a
most disagreeable metamorphosis that had taken place in our faces.
They were swollen to an almost unrecognisable extent, and had assumed
a deep purple hue, the phenomenon being accompanied by a sharp
itching. The boisterous wind which we had encountered during the day,
and which is the standing drawback to the otherwise agreeable climate
of Patagonia, was no doubt the cause of this annoyance, combined
possibly with our salt-water bath of the day previous.

After a few days the skin of our faces peeled off completely, but the
swelling did not go down for some time. I would advise any person who
may make the same journey to provide themselves with masks; by taking
this precaution they will save themselves a great deal of the
discomfort we suffered from the winds.

The following day we left "Pozos de la Reina," and pushed forward as
quickly as possible, as we had no meat left, and had not yet arrived
in the country of the guanacos and ostriches. The Indians had very
recently passed over all the ground we were now crossing, and, as
usual, had swept away any game there might have been there.

The range where guanaco really become plentiful is about eighty miles
away from Sandy Point. Still we kept a good look-out, and any ostrich
or guanaco that might have had the misfortune to show itself would
have stood a poor chance of escape with some eight or nine hungry dogs
and a number of not less keen horsemen at its heels.

But the day wore on, and we arrived at our destination empty-handed.
The spot we camped at lay directly in front of Cape Gregorio, which
was hazily visible in the distance. There was an abundance of wood in
the locality, and the Indian camp being not far off, we were
conveniently situated in every respect, as we intended paying these
interesting people a visit before continuing our journey.



CHAPTER VI.

     VISIT TO THE INDIAN CAMP--A PATAGONIAN--INDIAN
     CURIOSITY--PHYSIQUE--COSTUME--WOMEN--PROMINENT
     CHARACTERISTICS--AN INDIAN INCROYABLE--
     SUPERSTITIOUSNESS.


Since we left Sandy Point our dogs had had no regular meal, and had
subsisted chiefly on rice and biscuits, a kind of food which, being
accustomed to meat only, was most uncongenial to their tastes and
unprofitable to their bodies. For their sakes, therefore, as well as
for our own, we looked forward to our visit to the Indian camp, apart
from other motives of interest, in the hopes of obtaining a sufficient
supply of meat to last for all of us, until we should arrive in the
promised land of game.

After breakfast the horses were saddled, and taking some sugar,
tobacco, and other articles for bartering purposes, we set out for the
Indian camp, accompanied by Gregorio and Guillaume. I'Aria and Storer
were left in charge of our camp, and Francisco went off with the dogs
towards Cape Gregorio, in the hope of falling in with some stray
ostrich or guanaco. The weather was fine, and for once we were able to
rejoice in the absence of the rough winds which were our daily
annoyance. We had not gone far when we saw a rider coming slowly
towards us, and in a few minutes we found ourselves in the presence of
a real Patagonian Indian. We reined in our horses when he got close to
us, to have a good look at him, and he doing the same, for a few
minutes we stared at him to our hearts' content, receiving in return
as minute and careful a scrutiny from him. Whatever he may have
thought of us, we thought him a singularly unprepossessing object,
and, for the sake of his race, we hoped an unfavourable specimen of
it. His dirty brown face, of which the principal feature was a pair of
sharp black eyes, was half-hidden by tangled masses of unkempt hair,
held together by a handkerchief tied over his forehead, and his burly
body was enveloped in a greasy guanaco-capa, considerably the worse
for wear. His feet were bare, but one of his heels was armed with a
little wooden spur, of curious and ingenious handiwork. Having
completed his survey of our persons, and exchanged a few guttural
grunts with Gregorio, of which the purport was that he had lost some
horses and was on their search, he galloped away, and, glad to find
some virtue in him, we were able to admire the easy grace with which
he sat his well-bred looking little horse, which, though considerably
below his weight, was doubtless able to do its master good service.

Continuing our way we presently observed several mounted Indians,
sitting motionless on their horses, like sentries, on the summit of a
tall ridge ahead of us, evidently watching our movements. At our
approach they disappeared over the ridge, on the other side of which
lay their camping-ground. Cantering forward we soon came in sight of
the entire Indian camp, which was pitched in a broad valley-plain,
flanked on either side by steep bluffs, and with a little stream
flowing down its centre. There were about a dozen big hide tents, in
front of which stood crowds of men and women, watching our approach
with lazy curiosity. Numbers of little children were disporting
themselves in the stream, which we had to ford in order to get to the
tents. Two Indians, more inquisitive than their brethren, came out to
meet us, both mounted on the same horse, and saluted us with much
grinning and jabbering. On our arrival in the camp we were soon
encircled by a curious crowd, some of whose number gazed at us with
stolid gravity, whilst others laughed and gesticulated as they
discussed our appearance in their harsh guttural language, with a
vivacious manner which was quite at variance with the received
traditions of the solemn bent of the Indian mind. Our accoutrements
and clothes seemed to excite great interest, my riding-boots in
particular being objects of attentive examination, and apparently of
much serious speculation. At first they were content to observe them
from a distance, but presently a little boy was delegated by the
elders, to advance and give them a closer inspection. This he
proceeded to do, coming towards me with great caution, and when near
enough, he stretched out his hand and touched the boots gently with
the tips of his fingers. This exploit was greeted with roars of
laughter and ejaculations, and emboldened by its success, many now
ventured to follow his example, some enterprising spirits extending
their researches to the texture of my ulster, and one even going so
far as to take my hand in his, whilst subjecting a little bracelet I
wore to a profound and exhaustive scrutiny.

  [Illustration: INDIAN CAMP.]

Whilst they were thus occupied I had leisure to observe their general
appearance. I was not struck so much by their height as by their
extraordinary development of chest and muscle. As regards their
stature, I do not think the average height of the men exceeded six
feet, and as my husband stands six feet two inches I had a favourable
opportunity for forming an accurate estimate. One or two there were,
certainly, who towered far above him, but these were exceptions. The
women were mostly of the ordinary height, though I noticed one who
must have been quite six feet, if not more. The features of the
pure-bred Tehuelche are extremely regular, and by no means unpleasant
to look at. The nose is generally aquiline, the mouth well shaped and
beautified by the whitest of teeth, the expression of the eye is
intelligent, and the form of the whole head affords a favourable index
to their mental capabilities. These remarks do not apply to the
Tehuelches in whose veins there is a mixture of Araucanian or Fuegian
blood. The flat noses, oblique eyes, and badly proportioned figures of
the latter make them most repulsive objects, and they are as different
from a pure-bred Tehuelche in every respect as "Wheel-of-Fortune" from
an ordinary carthorse. Their hair is long and coarse, and is worn
parted in the middle, being prevented from falling over their faces by
means of a handkerchief, or fillet of some kind, tied round the
forehead. They have naturally little hair on the face, and such
growth as may appear is carefully eradicated, a painful operation,
which many extend even to their eyebrows. Their dress is simple, and
consists of a "chiripá," a piece of cloth round the loins, and the
indispensable guanaco capa, which is hung loosely over the shoulders
and held round the body by the hand, though it would obviously seem
more convenient to have it secured round the waist with a belt of some
kind. Their horse-hide boots are only worn, for reasons of economy,
when hunting. The women dress like the men except as regards the
chiripá, instead of which they wear a loose kind of gown beneath the
capa, which they fasten at the neck with a silver brooch or pin. The
children are allowed to run about naked till they are five or six
years old, and are then dressed like their elders. Partly for
ornament, partly also as a means of protection against the wind, a
great many Indians paint their faces, their favourite colour, as far
as I could see, being red, though one or two I observed had given the
preference to a mixture of that colour with black, a very diabolical
appearance being the result of this combination.

The Tehuelches are a race that is fast approaching extinction, and
even at present it scarcely numbers eight hundred souls. They lead a
rambling nomadic existence, shifting their camping places from one
region to another, whenever the game in their vicinity gets shy or
scarce. It is fortunate for them that the immense numbers of guanaco
and ostriches makes it an easy matter for them to find subsistence, as
they are extremely lazy, and, plentiful as game is around them, often
pass two or three days without food rather than incur the very slight
exertion attendant on a day's hunting.

But it is only the men who are cursed or blessed with this indolent
spirit. The women are indefatigably industrious. All the work of
Tehuelche existence is done by them except hunting. When not employed
in ordinary household work they busy themselves in making guanaco
capas, weaving gay-coloured garters and fillets for the hair, working
silver ornaments, and so forth. Not one of their least arduous tasks
is that of collecting firewood, which, always a scarce article,
becomes doubly hard to find, except by going great distances, when
they camp long in one place.

But though treated thus unfairly as regards the division of labour,
the women can by no means complain of want of devotion to them on the
part of the men. Marriages are matters of great solemnity with them,
and the tie is strictly kept. Husband and wife show great affection
for one another, and both agree in extravagant love of their
offspring, which they pet and spoil to their hearts' content.

The most prominent characteristic of the Tehuelche is his easy-going
good humour, for whereas most aboriginal races incline to silence and
saturnine gravity, he is all smiles and chatter. The other good
qualities of the race are fast disappearing under the influence of
"aquadiente," to the use of which they are getting more and more
addicted, and soon, it is to be feared, they will become nothing more
than a pack of impoverished, dirty, thieving ragamuffins.

After having sat for some time on horseback, in the centre of the
numerous circle above referred to, we dismounted, the act causing
fresh animation and merriment in our interviewers, whose interest in
us, after a thorough examination, had begun to flag somewhat. An
object which greatly excited their feelings was a rifle belonging to
my brother, and their delight knew no bounds when he dismounted and
fired it off for their edification once or twice at a distant mark. At
each discharge they set up a lusty howl of satisfaction, and nothing
would do for them but for each to be allowed to handle the weapon and
inspect its mechanism. There was a trader in the camp who had arrived
about the same time as we did, and amongst other wares he had brought
a rusty carbine with him for sale. He was called upon by the Indians
to produce it and fire it off to compare its qualities with those of
my brother's rifle. This he proceeded to do, but seven times in
succession the cartridges missed fire. Each time this happened he was
greeted with shouts of derisive laughter, and it was evident that both
he and his weapon were the objects of most disparaging remarks on the
part of the Tehuelches. One of them, a man of some humour, brought out
a small piece of ostrich meat and offered it to the trader in exchange
for his carbine, saying in broken Spanish, "Your gun never kill piece
of meat as big as this. Your gun good to kill dead guanaco." At which
witticism there was renewed and prolonged applause, as the newspapers
say.

But excitement reached its height when I produced the bag of sugar we
had brought, and began to distribute small handfuls of its contents
among the children. Everybody pressed round me--men and women,
hustling and pushing in their eagerness to get some of the coveted
dainty. I was obliged to be careful in my bounty, however, or we
should not have enough left to obtain any meat in exchange, and a
great many sweet-toothed Tehuelches had to remain disappointed in
consequence. As it was, we found considerable difficulty in obtaining
any meat. The Indians had not been out hunting for three days, and
there was hardly anything but pemmican in the camp,--a greasy
concoction, with which we by no means cared to experiment on our
stomachs. With difficulty we at last succeeded in obtaining the leg
and breast of an ostrich, and a small piece of half sun-dried guanaco
meat, which looked extremely untempting. This transaction having been
accomplished, we wandered leisurely about the camp, glancing at the
different objects of interest that came in our way, pestered not a
little as we moved along by swarms of yelping curs, which barked and
snapped viciously at us, and could only be kept at a respectful
distance by a free use of stones and whips. At one of the tents we saw
two remarkably clean and pretty girls, who were engaged on some kind
of sewing work; and beside them--probably making love to one (or
both)--stood an equally good-looking youth, who struck me by the
peculiar neatness of his dress, and his general "_tiré à quatre
epingles_" appearance. His hair was brushed and combed, and carefully
parted,--a bright red silk handkerchief keeping its glossy locks in
due subjection. His handsome guanaco capa was new, and brilliantly
painted on the outside, and being half opened, displayed a clean white
chiripá, fastened at the waist by a silver belt of curious
workmanship. A pair of neatly fitting horse-hide boots encased his
feet, reaching up to the knees, where they were secured by a pair of
gay-coloured garters, possibly the gift of one of the fair maidens at
his side.

Struck by his graceful bearing and well-bred looking face, I begged
Mr. B., who had brought a sketch-book with him, to make a sketch of
this handsome son of the pampa. During the process the young Indian
never moved, and preserved a perfectly indifferent demeanour; but when
the picture was finished, and given to him for inspection, his
forehead contracted with anger, an expression of fear came in his
eyes; he gave vent to some angry sounding gutturals, and finally, much
to our annoyance, tore the portrait to pieces. He was under the
impression that the object of making the sketch was to throw some evil
spell over him, and that a misfortune would happen if it were not
destroyed. Being relieved of this danger, his feelings regained their
natural calm, and he grinned contentedly at our evident wrath at his
high-handed proceeding.

The Indians were about to make their annual visit to Sandy Point,
where they go to obtain the rations of sugar, tobacco, etc., allowed
to them by the Chilian Government, and to barter with the inhabitants
for the luxuries of civilisation, in exchange for furs and ostrich
feathers, at which transactions, as they are seldom sober during their
stay outside the colony, they generally get worsted by the cunning
white man. Our curiosity regarding the Indians being satisfied, and
having obtained all the meat we could from them, we now turned
homewards.



CHAPTER VII.

     THE PRAIRIE FIRE.


As we rode along, our attention was attracted by a faint smell of
burning, and presently thick clouds of smoke came rolling towards us.
We pressed wonderingly on, anxious to discover the whereabouts of the
fire, which we trusted lay somewhere far from our camp. Reaching a
slight eminence, we were able to command a view of the country ahead.
A cry of dismay escaped our lips as we looked around, and drawing
rein, we stared blankly at one another. A fearful sight lay before us.
To our left, right in front, and gradually wreathing the hills to our
right, a huge prairie fire came rushing rapidly along. Dense masses of
smoke curled aloft, and entirely obscured the sky; the flames, which
shot fiercely up, cast a strange yellow glare over everything. Even
whilst we watched, a strong gust of wind swept the fire with
incredible swiftness towards us, and in a second we were enveloped in
such a dense cloud of smoke that we were unable to see one another.
The situation had now become critical, and not a moment was to be
lost. Half choked, and bewildered by the suddenness with which the
danger had come upon us, we scarcely knew what course to take. Already
our horses were snorting with fear, as the crackling of the burning
grass and bushes came nearer and nearer. To run away from the coming
fire was useless; the alternative was to face it at a gallop, and get
through it if possible. To throw our guanaco mantles over our heads,
and draw them as tightly round us as we could, was the work of a
second, and then digging our spurs into our horses, we dashed forward,
every one for himself. The moments that followed seemed an eternity.
As I urged my unwilling horse forward, the sense of suffocation grew
terrible, I could scarcely draw breath, and the panting animal seemed
to stagger beneath me. The horrible crackling came nearer and nearer;
I became conscious of the most intolerable heat, and my head began to
swim round. My horse gave two or three furious plunges, and then burst
madly forward. Almost choked, come what might, I could bear the mantle
over my head no longer, and tore it off me. The sudden sense of
relief that came over me as I did so, I shall never forget. I looked
up, the air was comparatively clear, and the fire _behind_ me. By some
miracle I had passed through it unhurt! I looked for my companions,
and, to my inexpressible joy, saw them emerge one by one from the
black mass of smoke, which was now rapidly receding into the distance.
Congratulations and exclamations over, we retraced our steps to try
and discover how we had managed to escape so luckily. The reason was
soon apparent. By a piece of fortune we had happened to ride over a
narrow pebbly tract of ground, where the grass was extremely sparse,
and where there were but few bushes; had chance led us over any other
track, where the grass was thick and tall, we could scarcely ever have
got through the danger. Our poor horses had suffered a good deal as it
was, their feet and legs being scorched and singed severely.

Our thoughts now flew to our camp, and to Storer and I'Aria, whom we
had left behind there. That they had escaped we had little doubt, but
for our tents and chattels we felt there was no hope. The landscape
seemed completely changed by the fire, all around, as far as we could
see, stretched black smoking plains, and the outlines of the hills
had become quite unfamiliar to us.

With rather heavy hearts we pushed forward, eagerly scanning the
country for some indication which might guide us to the quarter where
our camp had stood. If, as we had every reason to believe, our things
were burnt, our Patagonian trip was at an end, for the present, at all
events. Fortunately things did not turn out so badly. Presently my
husband, who was riding in advance of the others, gave a shout, and
made signals for us to come on. I need hardly say that we did not lose
a moment in joining him, and a welcome sight, as we got up to him, met
our eyes. Some two or three hundred yards below the hill on which we
were, we perceived our little white tents standing safe and unharmed
on a narrow green tract of land, which looked like a smiling island in
the midst of the vast black plain. Storer and I'Aria, too, we could
see moving about, and, overjoyed, we galloped down towards them, they
running out to meet us, having suffered no little anxiety, on their
parts, as to what might have happened to us. We pressed question after
question to I'Aria and Storer as to how they had managed to save the
camp. Storer was unable to give any intelligible account, so entirely
upset was he by fright, but I'Aria's natural philosophical calm had
not deserted him, even on this occasion, and from him we heard all
particulars. The fire, he informed us, had been caused by the Indian
we had met in the morning on the look-out for strayed horses. This man
had amused himself by setting fire to the long dry grass in various
places, and, fanned by a strong wind, the flames spread, and soon
assumed enormous proportions.

Quick to perceive the possible danger our camp was in, the Indian at
once galloped up, and with the assistance of I'Aria and Storer, set
about making a "contra-fuego" or counter fire, that is to say, they
gradually set fire to the grass all round the camp, letting it burn a
considerable tract, but always keeping it well in subjection, beating
it out with bushes and trampling it under foot, so that it could not
get beyond their control. This precautionary measure was fortunately
completed by the time the big fire came on, and although, for a minute
or two, they were half suffocated by the smoke, the fire passed
harmlessly by the camp itself, the burnt belt around it proving an
effectual safeguard.

Our horses were all safe, as they had been grazing on the far side of
a stream in an adjacent valley. The camp was in great disorder; the
tents were blackened by the smoke, the provision-bags and other
chattels lay scattered in confusion. Our furs and rugs had been used
to cover the cartridges with, for, whilst the fire raged around it,
the camp was deluged with showers of sparks, and an explosion might
easily have occurred, had this precaution not been taken. For some
time we were busy putting things straight, and in the meanwhile
François arrived from his hunting excursion. It had proved
unsuccessful; and as we had obtained but very little meat from the
Indians, for the sake of our dogs, who had been on very short rations
for some time, it became a matter of great urgency that we should get
as soon as possible into regions where guanaco and ostrich were
plentiful, and accordingly we decided to start on the following day.
Dinner over, my companions were not long before they went to sleep,
but feeling little inclination to follow their example, I strolled
out, and wandered round the camp, watching with interest the strange
changes that came over the landscape as day waned and night came
slowly on. The black hills behind the camp loomed like shadowy
phantoms against the sky; far and wide slept the silent pampa, its
undulating surface illumined by the rays of a lovely moon. The faint
glow which tinged the horizon, and the strange noises which a puff of
wind occasionally brought to my ears, showed that the mighty fire was
still burning in the distance with unbated fury, perhaps not to stop
in its devastating course till it reached the sea-coast.

For a long time I stood immersed in the contemplation of this weird
desolate scene, giving myself up to the mysterious feelings and the
many vague and fanciful thoughts it suggested, till, overcome with the
excitement and exertions of the day, I had at last to give way to
drowsiness and seek my couch.



CHAPTER VIII.

     UNPLEASANT VISITORS--"SPEED THE PARTING GUEST"--OFF
     AGAIN--AN OSTRICH EGG--I'ARIA MISLEADS US--STRIKING
     OIL--PREPARATIONS FOR THE CHASE--WIND AND HAIL--A
     GUANACO AT LAST--AN EXCITING RUN--THE DEATH--HOME--
     HUNGRY AS HUNTERS--"FAT-BEHIND-THE-EYE."


The next morning we were up betimes, as we were going to continue our
journey. Whilst we were engaged in the tedious operation of packing
up, an Indian woman walked suddenly into the ring of bushes which
surrounded our encampment, and seated herself silently by the fire.
Gregorio elicited from her that on the previous night the Indians had
been drinking heavily, and that she had had a quarrel with her husband
whilst both were inebriated, in consequence of which she had left his
tent, and was now on her way to Sandy Point. She had walked the whole
distance from the Indian camp barefoot, but did not seem in the least
tired. I suppose she counted on her husband's regretting his
behaviour, and coming after her to fetch her back, for she could
hardly have seriously entertained the idea of walking all the way to
Sandy Point. I offered her some biscuits and a stick of chocolate,
which she accepted readily enough, but without even so much as a grunt
by way of thanks. Presently she told Gregorio that the Indians were
breaking up their camp, and that some were going to march on to Sandy
Point. This piece of information made us hurry on with our work, as we
dreaded being surprised by a party of Indians, with all our effects
scattered about, offering tempting facilities for abstraction, which
the Tehuelche heart was sure not to be able to resist. To such a visit
we were moreover extremely liable, as our camp was unfortunately close
to the trail to Sandy Point.

Our fears were realised only too soon, for about a quarter of an hour
after the arrival of the squaw two Indians came crashing
unceremoniously through the bushes; and wheeling their horses about
the camp, careless of our crockery, after a short examination they
dismounted, and coolly sat down by our fire, answering our angry looks
with imperturbed stares of stolid indifference. Five minutes later
another party arrived, followed shortly by a further batch, and
presently we were quite inundated by a swarm of these unbidden
guests. Of course our work was stopped, all our attention being
required to look after our goods and chattels. Over these we kept
guard in no very good humour, breathing fervent prayers the while for
speedy relief from our friends, who on their part evinced no
particular hurry to go away. They had made themselves comfortable at
our fire, and were passing round the social pipe in evident good
humour with themselves and their present quarters. To complete the
irony of the situation, one of their number who could speak Spanish
came and asked me for a little coffee, which he purposed to cook in
our kettle, which was still simmering conveniently on the fire. As may
be imagined, he met with an indignant refusal; however, it only
appeared to amuse him and his friends, and by no means influenced them
in hastening their departure.

Meanwhile time went on, and some expedient for getting rid of them had
to be devised unless we wished to lose a whole day. It occurred to us
that they might possibly be bribed to go away by means of a small
offering of whisky; and through Gregorio we accordingly intimated to
them that if they would leave us they should be rewarded for their
kindness with a glass of that spirit. To our relief they accepted this
offer, and we presently had the satisfaction of seeing them ride
leisurely away. To do them justice, I must say that, contrary to our
fears, they did not steal any of our effects, though possibly the
strict watch we kept over them may have had something to do with this
unusual display of honesty.

The moment they had gone we redoubled our efforts, and succeeded in
getting all our horses saddled and packed without further molestation.
The three mules still remained to be packed, but these we left to the
care of Gregorio and Guillaume who were to follow us, we, meanwhile,
starting off under the guidance of old I'Aria. Francisco went off
alone, by another route, in order to forage for meat, be it ostrich or
guanaco, of which both ourselves and the dogs stood very much in need,
the small supply we had got from the Indians being quite exhausted.

Just as we were leaving an Indian galloped up, who turned out to be
the husband of the pedestrian squaw, who, after the departure of the
other Indians, still remained in our camp. The reconciliation scene
was a very short one, and did not go beyond a few inexpressive grunts
on either side, after which the squaw got up on horseback behind her
husband, and off they rode towards Sandy Point.

We now struck northwards, leaving Cape Gregorio, which lay directly
opposite our late encampment, at our backs. I'Aria having to keep the
troop together singlehanded we had plenty to do to help him, and in
galloping after refractory horses, urging on the lazy ones, and
occasionally stopping to adjust packs, the time passed quickly enough.
We occasionally crossed tracts of land covered with a plant bearing a
profusion of red berries of the cranberry species. They were quite
ripe now, and we found them pleasant and refreshing. The weather was,
as usual, sunny and bracing; and except that as yet we had not seen a
guanaco or given chase to a single ostrich, we had nothing to grumble
about. I'Aria told us that we were certain to meet with guanaco on
that day's march, so, with this assurance, we comforted ourselves and
kept a sharp look-out, eagerly scanning the horizon of each successive
plain, and woe betide the unfortunate animal that might appear within
our ken. The day passed, however, and a dark patch of beeches, which
stood near the spot where we were to camp that night, appeared in view
without our having seen either an ostrich or a guanaco. Somebody found
an ostrich egg though, and it was carefully kept against dinner-time,
for although it must have been laid two or perhaps three months,
there was still a possibility of its being tolerably good, as these
eggs occasionally keep till the month of April, six months after
laying time.

Towards sunset we arrived at a broad valley scattered over with
picturesque clumps of beeches, and bordered on its far side by a thick
wood of the same tree. I'Aria pointed out a spot to us where he said
there were some springs, by the side of which we were to camp, and
thither we accordingly rode. But when we got there no springs were to
be seen, and I'Aria said he must have mistaken the place. He suddenly
remembered, however, that a conspicuous clump of beeches, some way up
the valley, marked the right spot, so we turned in that direction. But
again was I'Aria mistaken, and when--following various of his sudden
inspirations--we had wandered about the valley in all directions for a
considerable time without coming across these problematic springs, we
began to think ourselves justified in presuming that I'Aria had lost
his way, and in charging him with the same. He denied the accusation,
however, with a calm and steady assurance, which, considering that all
the time he was leading us about in aimless helplessness, would have
had something rather humorous about it had our situation been a less
serious one. If we did not succeed in finding the springs, besides
having to endure the torture of thirst ourselves we should have to
stop up all night to look after the horses, who would be certain to go
off in search of water and get lost. It was rapidly getting dark too,
and there were no signs of the arrival of any of the other guides,
whose absence was a further confirmation that we could not be on the
right track. As a last resource we resolved to separate, and each go
in a different direction in search of water, though I must say we had
little hopes of success, it being known to us that beyond the springs
in question there was no other water in that part of the country for a
considerable distance. Hurling bitter but useless anathemas at I'Aria,
who was now confidently pointing out a new spot as the "really" right
one, we accordingly broke up, and having arranged to fire a shot as a
signal, should any one of us find water, dispersed over the valley in
all directions.

I had hardly skirted the beechwood for more than a minute or so when
my horse suddenly neighed joyfully, and in an opening among the trees
I saw two or three small pools of spring water. Overjoyed, I lost no
time in firing off my gun, the report of which soon brought up all
the others, who had not gone far. In justice to I'Aria it must be
said that for the last hour he had been wandering about close to where
the springs lay, and his persistent denial of having lost his way was
so far justified. Besides, as there was no trail of any description
across the pampa over which we had that day ridden, it was really no
easy matter to hit on the right spot immediately.

We had just set up the tents and made the fire when Gregorio and
Guillaume, at whose prolonged absence, now that we were at the springs
ourselves, we had become rather uneasy, appeared with the mules. They
had been delayed on the road by the packs getting undone. Francisco
too soon came up, and though he had been unsuccessful in the chase, he
arrived in time to cook an excellent omelette for our dinners with the
ostrich egg, which turned out to be perfectly sound and palatable.

The next day was to be devoted to guanaco-hunting, the want of meat
having become quite a serious matter; our dogs were getting weak, and
our stores, on which we had to rely solely for food, were disappearing
in an alarmingly quick manner.

It is marvellous how the ordinary excitement of hunting is increased
when, as in our case, one's dinner depends on one's success; and it
was with feelings almost of solemnity, that early in the morning we
selected and saddled our best horses, sharpened our hunting-knives,
slung our rifles, and, followed by the dogs, who knew perfectly well
that real earnest sport was meant, threaded the beechwood and rode up
on to the plateau, where, according to the unanimous assurance of the
guides, we could not fail to meet with guanaco.

I'Aria and Storer having been left behind to look after the camp, our
hunting-party numbered seven. In order to cover as much ground as
possible we spread out in a line, extending over about two miles, and
in this order we cantered northward from the valley, carefully
scanning the plain, which stretched flat away for a good distance, but
apparently as bare of guanaco as it was of grass. The weather, unlike
that of the preceding day, was very cold, and a bitterly sharp wind
blew right into our faces, making those of our number who had
neglected to bring their greatcoats or furs very uncomfortable. This,
however, was a trifling matter, if only those good guanacos would
obligingly make their appearance! But evidently nothing was farther
from their minds, and we rode over the plain, mile after mile, with
hopes which, like the thermometer, were gradually sinking towards
zero. As time went on, the haze which bound the plateau at our
approach solidified itself into an escarpment. In due time this was
reached, and I rode up it, expecting to find another plain on its
summit as usual. Instead, however, a broken, hilly country appeared in
view, crossed in all directions by ravines. I looked eagerly about,
but still no guanaco. Our line of advance, meantime, lost its order,
owing to the changed nature of the ground, and frequently I lost sight
of all my companions, as I descended into a ravine, or rode round the
base of some tall hillock; but it was never long before I caught a
glimpse of one or other of them again.

The wind got colder and colder, a white cloud crept up on the horizon,
and grew and grew, sweeping swiftly towards me, till I suddenly found
myself enveloped in a furious hail-storm. I came to a stand-still, and
covered up my head to protect myself from the hailstones, which were
very large. The squall did not last long, but when I looked up again I
found the whole country was whitened over, an atmospheric freak having
created a dreary winter landscape in the middle of summer. Suddenly I
started; close to me stood, perfectly motionless, and staring me full
in the face, a tall guanaco. I was so startled and surprised that for
the space of a minute I sat quietly returning his stare. A movement of
my horse broke the spell. The guanaco darted up the side of a hill
like lightning, and pausing a moment on its summit, disappeared. I
meanwhile had unslung my rifle, and was off in pursuit of him. Instead
of climbing the hill, I rode quickly round its base, and on the other
side, as I had expected, I discovered my friend looking upward, no
doubt thinking I should appear by the same road he had come. I had the
selfishness, though I am sure sportsmen will excuse it, to wish to
kill the first guanaco myself, and I was therefore by no means
displeased to find that my companions had not as yet perceived us.
With a beating heart I dismounted and walked slowly towards the
guanaco, who, though he saw me coming, still remained quietly
standing. My weapon was a light rook-rifle, but though an excellent
arm, it did not carry more than 150 yards with precision, and I was
now something over 180 yards from my prey. He allowed me to advance
till within the required distance, but then, to my disgust, just as I
was preparing to fire, leisurely walked on another thirty or forty
yards before he stopped again, watching me the while, as it seemed
with an amused look of impertinence, which aggravated me
considerably. I slowly followed him, vowing to fire the moment I was
within range, whether he moved or not. This time I was more
successful. The guanaco allowed me to come within about the necessary
150 yards. "Poor fellow!" I murmured generously, as I brought my rifle
up to my shoulder and took aim just behind his. Only one step forward
to make quite certain. Alas! I took it, and down I went into a hole,
which in my eagerness I had not noticed, falling rather heavily on my
face. In a second I was up again, just in time to see the guanaco
bounding up a far escarpment, taking with him my chance of becoming
the heroine of the day. There was nothing for it but to walk back to
where I had left my horse, and see what had become of my companions.

I took the same road the guanaco had taken, on the remote possibility
of falling in with him again. Riding up the escarpment above referred
to, I came on to a broad plain, and there an exciting chase was going
on, in which, as it appeared, I was condemned to take the part of a
spectator only. At some distance, and going across my line of sight,
was a guanaco running at full speed, closely followed by a pack of
dogs, in whose track, but some way behind, galloped three horsemen,
whom I made out to be my husband, and brother, and Gregorio. The
guanaco at first seemed to be losing ground, but it was only for an
instant; in another he bounded away with ease, and it was apparent
that as yet he was only playing with his pursuers. The pace soon began
to tell on the dogs; the less speedy were already beginning to tail
off, one of them, probably Gregorio's swift Pié-de-Plata, being far in
advance of its comrades, and by no means to be shaken off by the
guanaco, who had now given up any playful demonstrations of
superiority, and had settled down to run in good earnest.

On, on they go--quarry, dogs, horsemen, will soon be out of sight. But
what's this? The guanaco has stopped! Only for a moment, though. But
he has swerved to the left, and behind him a new dog and horseman have
appeared on the scene, emerging, as if by magic, from the bowels of
the earth. The chase is now better under my view. If some lucky chance
would only bring the guanaco my way! The fresh dog is evidently
discomforting him, and his having had to swerve has brought all the
other dogs a good bit nearer to his heels. But on he goes, running
bravely, and making for the escarpment, for in the hilly country below
he knows he is at an advantage The dogs seem to be aware of this too,
for they redouble their efforts, a splendid race ensuing. Suddenly
another horseman appears on the plateau, and the unfortunate guanaco
must again swerve to the left, a movement which, hurrah! brings him
almost facing towards where I am standing. That is to say, he must
cross the escarpment at some point on a line between myself and the
new-comer, the other horsemen, from the manner the race had been run,
forming a circle in his rear, which debarred his escape in any other
direction. Seeing this, wild with excitement, I dug my spurs into my
horse, and flew along the edge of the escarpment, the horseman on the
other side doing the same, in order to shut out the guanaco and throw
him back on his foes behind. Seeing his last chance about to be cut
off, he redoubled his efforts to get through between us. On, on we
strain. Nearer and nearer he gets to the edge of the plain, and
already, with despair, I see that I shall be too late. But faster even
than the swift guanaco, a gallant blackhound has crept up, and in
another instant, though the former dashes past me within a yard of my
horse's nose and disappears over the side of the escarpment, the good
dog has already made its spring, and, clinging like grim death to the
guanaco's haunch, vanishes with him.

After them, in another instant, swept the whole quarry of dogs, and by
the time I reined in, and got my horse down the steep ravine-side,
they had thrown the guanaco, which Pié-de-Plata had brought to a
standstill below; and Francisco, the horseman who had last appeared on
the plateau, and at so opportune a moment, had already given the
_coup-de-grace_ with his knife.

One after another the other hunters gradually arrived, their horses
more or less blown; and whilst pipes were lit and flasks produced, we
had leisure to examine this, our first guanaco. Looking at his frame,
his long, powerful legs, his deep chest, and body as fine-drawn almost
as a greyhound's, we no longer wondered that guanacos run as swiftly
as they do. Indeed, this one would have laughed at us, had he not been
closed in as he was. The fur of the full-grown guanaco is of a woolly
texture, and in colour of a reddish brown on the back, the neck, and
the quarters; being whitish on the belly and the inner sides of the
legs. The head closely resembles that of a camel; the eyes, which have
a strange look on account of the peculiar shape of the eye bones, are
very large and beautiful. A fair-sized guanaco weighs from 180 to 200
pounds.

Meantime, Gregorio having begun to cut up the guanaco, to our chagrin
it was discovered to be mangy--a disease very common among these
animals, probably on account of the brackishness of the water; and the
meat being consequently unfit for food, we abandoned it to the dogs,
who now made the first good meal they had had since we left Sandy
Point. They were soon gorged to such an extent that they became
useless for hunting purposes, and we had therefore to ride on, now
relying solely on our rifles.

Gregorio had seen a herd of guanacos at the far end of the plain over
which the chase had taken place, and thither we accordingly rode.
After half an hour's galloping, we reached its limit, finding below a
broad valley broken up into various depressions and hillocks. At the
base of one of the latter we saw a small herd of guanaco, within range
of which, by dint of careful stalking, we presently managed to come.
Two fortunate shots brought a couple of their number down, and luckily
both turned out to be quite healthy. Under the skilful manipulation of
Gregorio and Francisco, in a marvellously short space of time they
were cut up, and the meat having been distributed among our various
saddles, heavily laden, we turned homewards.

  [Illustration: GUANACOS.]

The way back seemed terribly long, now that we had no longer the
excitement of hunting to shorten the time; and it seemed quite
incredible that we had gone the distance we had been, when, towards
sunset, after a cold and weary ride, we at last stood on the edge of
the plain which overlooked the valley where lay our home for the
nonce.

The evening had turned out fine, the boisterous wind which had annoyed
us so much in the daytime had died away, and the sky was now bright
and clear. Through the branches of the beech trees I could catch a
glimpse of our camp, with its white tents just peeping over the green
bushes, and a thin column of blue smoke rising up into the air,
pleasantly suggestive of warm tea and other comforts awaiting us.
Farther on, in the long green grass of the valley, which was now
glowing under the last rays of the sun, were our horses, some grazing,
others lying stretched out, lazily enjoying their day's respite from
work, whilst the colts and fillies, as is their wont at sundown, were
frisking about and kicking up their heels in all the exuberance of
youth, unconscious as yet of heavy packs and sharp spurs. Whatever
special character the peaceful scene might otherwise want was fully
supplied by the picturesquely wild appearance of my companions, as,
eschewing contemplation, and anticipating dinner, they rode quickly
ahead towards the camp on their shaggy, sturdy horses, their bodies
muffled in the graceful guanaco robe, and huge pieces of red raw meat
dangling on either side of their saddles, followed by the
blood-stained hounds, who seemed thoroughly tired after their hard
day's work.

But whatever country one is in, whatever scenes one may be among--in
one's own cosy snuggery in England, or in the bleak steppes of
Patagonia--there is a peculiar sameness in the feeling that comes over
one towards the hours of evening, and which inevitably calls up the
thought, It must be getting near dinner-time. Yielding to this
admonition, which to-day was by no means less plain than usual, I
quitted my eyrie and rode down to the camp.

When I got there I found preparations for an ample meal in full swing.
Ingeniously spitted on a wooden stave, the whole side of a guanaco was
roasting before a blazing fire, and in the pot a head of the same
animal was yielding its substance towards the production of what I was
assured would turn out an excellent soup. At dinner-time I was able
practically to confirm this assurance; a better broth cannot be
concocted than that obtained from such a guanaco head, with the
addition of rice, dried vegetables, chilis, etc. But, at the risk of
incurring the charge of digressing too much on the subject of eating,
I must pay a tribute to the delicacy of a peculiar morsel in the
guanaco, which we called "Fat-behind-the-Eye," and which is, in fact,
a piece of fat situated as indicated by its name. The tongue and the
brain are rare tit-bits, but they must yield in subtle savouriness to
the aforesaid _bonne-bouche_. Having once tasted it, till the end of
our trip guanaco head formed a standing item in our daily messes, and
whatever other culinary novelties we discussed, and they were as
numerous as strange, "Fat-behind-the-eye" always retained its
supremacy in our affections as the _ne plus ultra_ of pampa
delicacies.



CHAPTER IX.

     ELASTIC LEAGUES--THE LAGUNA BLANCA--AN EARTHQUAKE--
     OSTRICH-HUNTING.


We should like to have lingered on in the beechwood valley, but the
necessity of pushing forward as quickly as possible was too urgent to
allow of our indulging in our lazy desires, and daybreak saw our party
once more in the saddle.

The country over which we rode this day was more rugged and hilly than
any we had crossed previously; the sun shone down upon us in all the
intensity of its summer heat, and the glare of the hot dry ground
affected our eyes painfully as we rode along.

"How far have we still to go?" was a question which was often on our
lips, though, from experience, we might have known that, whatever
answer we got from the guides, we should be no wiser than before. They
would reply glibly enough, four or five leagues, as the case might be,
but we had found that their ideas of a league were most elastic,
appearing to vary daily, and to an extent which made it impossible for
us to form any mean average even, to guide us to an approximate
estimation of the value of their assertions. Thus, a league might mean
ten miles to-day, and to-morrow possibly only one.

At length, as the sun was beginning to sink, a shout from one of the
guides made us glance wearily up. We found ourselves on the brow of an
escarpment, at the foot of which extended a far-stretching plain, in
the midst of which, shimmering like a sheet of silver, lay a broad
lake, called "Laguna Blanca," or the White Lake.

This welcome sight at once revived our drooping spirits, and for the
next hour we rode merrily forward, following Gregorio, who was seeking
for a little ravine, where there was a small freshwater stream which
flowed down towards the lake. We soon came upon it, and lost no time
in jumping out of the saddle and setting to work with a will, at the
erection of our tents and the preparation of our evening meal. The
latter having been discussed, we went to bed.

The sun was rather high in the heavens when I opened my eyes the next
morning, and, pulling aside the flap of the tent, looked out upon the
scene. All our camp was still wrapt in sleep save I'Aria, who was
sitting over the fire smoking his pipe, whilst he watched the kettle
boiling, in placid expectation of his morning coffee. The plains below
were silent; but the air was noisy with the cries of the flocks of
geese and wild-duck, who were winging their flight from the lake
towards the rich fields of cranberries farther inland. The sharp quack
of the ibis would occasionally startle me, as a bevy of these birds
passed seemingly just over my head, but, in reality, far up in the
air.

From the contemplation of this scene I was suddenly and rudely
awakened. A loud rumbling sound rose on the air; and, before I had
time to wonder what it could mean, a heaving of the ground, resembling
a sea-swell, sent me flying on my back, and, as by magic, the silent
camp became alive with shouts of fear and wonder, as everybody rushed
out of the tents in dismay. The shocks occurred again and again, but
each time weaker, and in about five minutes they had ceased
altogether, but it was some time before we recovered our equanimity.
This was the first time I had ever experienced an earthquake, and such
a sickly sensation of helplessness as comes over one during the
heaving up and down of the earth would, I should think, be hard to
equal. Our guides told us that none of them had ever felt an
earthquake in Patagonia before, nor had they ever heard of one having
taken place.

Later on, on our return to Sandy Point, we learnt that the earthquake
had caused a good deal of disaster in the colony. All the bottles and
stores in Pedro's shop were thrown from their shelves and broken, and
there were few inhabitants in the colony who did not sustain some
similar loss.

As may be imagined, the earthquake provided us with matter for
conversation for some time, and in that respect, at least, was a not
unwelcome occurrence.

Breakfast over, it was agreed that we should separate into two
parties, one for the purpose of ostrich-hunting, whilst the other
should devote its energies to the pursuit of the guanaco. My husband
and Mr. B. preferring the latter chase, rode off with their rifles,
together with Gregorio and Guillaume, towards the hilly country we had
crossed the day before.

As soon as they were gone my brother and I, with François, started off
along a ridge of hills which exactly faced our camp, and which sloped
down into the plains below. We were followed by four ostrich hounds,
and were mounted on the best and fleetest horses we could select out
of our tropilla. The little animal that I bestrode could not have
exceeded fifteen hands. He was a high-spirited little bay with a white
blaze down his face, and three white legs. He would clamber up
precipitous places where the stones and rocks crumbled and gave way
beneath his feet, or canter down a steep decline, and jump the wide
gullies with the greatest ease. As we galloped along the smoother
ground which intervened between the hills, and which was deeply
undermined by hundreds of holes of the "tuca-tuca" (prairie rat), his
activity in avoiding a fall astonished me. My brother was equally well
mounted on a long, low, clever black, who had the reputation of great
speed; while François rode a well-shaped brown, with handsome arching
neck and tiny head.

As we rode silently along, with our eyes well about us, in the hopes
of sighting an ostrich, my horse suddenly shied at something white
lying on the ground at a few paces distant. Throwing the reins over
his head, I dismounted and walked towards the spot. Amongst some long
grass I discovered a deserted nest of an ostrich containing ten or
eleven eggs, and calling François to examine them, was greatly
chagrined to find that none of them were fresh. With the superstition
of an ostrich-hunter François picked up a feather lying close at hand,
and sticking it in his cap, assured us that this was a good sign, and
that it would not be long before we came across one of these birds.

His prediction was speedily verified, for on reaching the summit of a
little hill, up which we had slowly and stealthily proceeded, two
small gray objects suddenly struck my eye. I signed to François and my
brother, who where riding some twenty yards behind me, and putting
spurs to my horse, galloped down the hill towards the two gray objects
I had perceived in the distance. "Choo! choo!" shouted François, a cry
by which the ostrich-hunters cheer their dogs on, and intimate to them
the proximity of game. Past me like lightning the four eager animals
rushed, bent on securing the prey which their quick sight had already
detected.

The ostriches turned one look on their pursuers, and the next moment
they wheeled round, and making for the plain, scudded over the ground
at a tremendous pace.

And now, for the first time, I began to experience all the glorious
excitement of an ostrich-hunt. My little horse, keen as his rider,
took the bit between his teeth, and away we went up and down the
hills at a terrific pace. On and on flew the ostriches, closer and
closer crept up "Leona," a small, red, half-bred Scotch deerhound,
with "Loca," a wiry black lurcher at her heels, who in turn was
closely followed by "Apiscuña" and "Sultan." In another moment the
little red dog would be alongside the ostriches. Suddenly, however,
they twisted right and left respectively, scudding away in opposite
directions over the plain, a feint which of course gave them a great
advantage, as the dogs in their eagerness shot forward a long way
before they were able to stop themselves. By the time they had done so
the ostriches had got such a start that, seeing pursuit was useless,
we called the dogs back. We were very much disappointed at our
failure, and in no very pleasant frame of mind turned our horses'
heads in the direction of our camp.

As we rode along we were surprised by the sudden appearance of a man
on horseback, galloping towards us. He was dressed in a guanaco robe,
and his long black hair floating on the wind, gave him a very wild
look. "An Indian!" I exclaimed. But François shook his head, and we
rode up to meet the stranger. When he got up to us he shook hands with
François, whom he seemed to know, and, without evincing any sign of
curiosity as regarded ourselves, turned his horse round, and prepared
to accompany us. I observed that although his face, legs, and hands
were almost as copper-coloured as those of an Indian, his features
were those of a white man. François presently told me that he was a
Chilian convict, who had deserted from Sandy Point a good many years
ago, and that since then he had lived among the Indians, adopting
their dress and customs, till he had now become quite one of them. In
reply to my questions it appeared that he was camping with some
Indians on the other side of the lake. They had been out hunting, and
he was just returning home when he saw us, and having nothing better
to do, thought he might as well pay a visit to our camp.

We were a good deal chaffed when we got home on the score of our
non-success, my husband and Mr. B. having had a good day's sport,
bringing plenty of guanaco meat back with them. Over pipes and coffee
that night a serious council of war was held by the whole of our
party, as regards ostrich-hunting for the morrow.

The Chilian suggested the forming of a circle, and professed himself
willing, in return for our hospitality, to remain another day and join
in the affair. Forming a circle is the method by which the Indians
nearly always obtain game. It is formed by lighting fires round a
large area of ground into which the different hunters ride from all
sides. A complete circle of blazing fires is thus obtained, and any
game found therein is pretty sure to become the prey of the dogs, as
no ostrich or guanaco will face a fire. Wherever they turn they see
before them a column of smoke, or are met by dogs and horsemen. Escape
becomes almost impossible, and it is not long before they grow
bewildered and are captured. In anticipation of a hard day's work on
the morrow, we hereupon broke up our council of war, and turned in at
an earlier hour than usual.

Next morning, the horses being all ready, we lost no time in springing
into the saddle, leaving Storer to take charge of the camp, much to
his alarm, and in spite of his earnest remonstrance. The poor man
vainly protested that, were the Indians to discover our retreat, he
would be perfectly powerless to prevent their pillaging the whole
camp, especially as his ignorance of their "jargon," as he scornfully
termed the Tehuelche language, would place him in a most helpless
position. Regardless of his arguments and imploring looks we rode
away, determining to risk the improbable intrusion of the Indians,
whose camp lay at least twenty miles distant from our own. For about
half an hour we followed Gregorio and the Chilian along a line of
broken hillocks, after which, calling a halt, we sent forward
Guillaume and I'Aria to commence the first and most distant
proceedings of the circle. They departed at a brisk canter, and it was
not long before several rising columns of smoke testified that they
were already busily engaged. The next to compose the centre circle
were my husband, François, and Mr. B., shortly after supported on the
right by the Chilian and my brother. Immediately on their left
Gregorio and myself commenced operations, and soon a distinct circle
of fires might be seen springing quickly up from all points. I could
not help being greatly impressed with the novel sight now before me.
From the high plain we were on I could look over miles and miles of
untrodden desert land, where countless herds of guanaco were roaming
in peaceful lazy ease. In the distance towered the peaks of the Andes,
wrapped in their cloak of mystery, lonely and unexplored. The huge
columns of smoke and the lurid flames of the circle-fires lent a wild
appearance to the thrilling scene, to which the frightened knots of
guanacos, which were hurrying to escape from the circle and the eager
galloping horsemen, lent additional active animation.

For some time Gregorio and I rode slowly and silently on our way, when
a sudden unexpected bound which my horse gave all but unseated me.
"Avestruz! Avestruz!" shouted Gregorio, and turned his horse with a
quick movement. "Choo! choo! Plata!" I cry to the dog who followed at
my horse's heels, as a fine male ostrich scudded away towards the
hills we had just left with the speed of lightning. Plata has sighted
him, and is straining every limb to reach the terrified bird. He is a
plucky dog and a fleet one, but it will take him all his time to come
alongside that great raking ostrich as he strides away in all the
conscious pride of his strength and speed. "We shall lose him!" I cry,
half mad with excitement, spurring my horse, who is beginning to gasp
and falter as the hill up which we are struggling grows steeper and
steeper. But the ostrich suddenly doubles to the left, and commences a
hurried descent. The cause is soon explained, for in the direction
towards which he has been making a great cloud of smoke rises
menacingly in his path, and, baulked of the refuge he had hoped to
find amidst the hills, the great bird is forced to alter his course,
and make swiftly for the plains below. But swiftly as he flies along,
so does Plata, who finds a down-hill race much more suited to his
splendid shoulders and rare stride. Foot by foot he lessens the
distance that separates him from his prey, and gets nearer and nearer
to the fast sinking, fast tiring bird. Away we go, helter-skelter down
the hill, unchecked and undefeated by the numerous obstacles that
obstruct the way. Plata is alongside the ostrich, and gathers himself
for a spring at the bird's throat. "He has him, he has him!" I shout
to Gregorio, who does not reply, but urges his horse on with whip and
spur. "Has he got him, though?" Yes--no--the ostrich with a rapid
twist has shot some thirty yards ahead of his enemy, and whirling
round, makes for the hills once more. And now begins the struggle for
victory. The ostrich has decidedly the best of it, for Plata, though
he struggles gamely, does not like the uphill work, and at every
stride loses ground. There is another fire on the hill above, but it
lies too much to the left to attract the bird's attention, who has
evidently a safe line of escape in view in that direction. On, on we
press; on, on flies the ostrich; bravely and gamely struggles in its
wake poor Plata. "Can he stay?" I cry to Gregorio, who smiles and nods
his head. He is right, the dog can stay, for hardly have the words
left my lips when, with a tremendous effort, he puts on a spurt, and
races up alongside the ostrich. Once more the bird points for the
plain; he is beginning to falter, but he is great and strong, and is
not beaten yet. It will take all Plata's time and cunning to pull that
magnificent bird to the ground, and it will be a long fierce struggle
ere the gallant creature yields up his life. Unconscious of anything
but the exciting chase before me, I am suddenly disagreeably reminded
that there _is_ such a thing as caution, and necessity to look where
you are going to, for, putting his foot in an unusually deep tuca-tuca
hole, my little horse comes with a crash upon his head, and turns
completely over on his back, burying me beneath him in a hopeless
muddle. Fortunately, beyond a shaking, I am unhurt, and remounting,
endeavour to rejoin the now somewhat distant chase. The ostrich,
Gregorio, and the dog have reached the plain, and as I gallop quickly
down the hill I can see that the bird has begun doubling. This is a
sure sign of fatigue, and shows that the ostrich's strength is
beginning to fail him. Nevertheless it is a matter of no small
difficulty for one dog to secure his prey, even at this juncture,
as he cannot turn and twist about as rapidly as the ostrich. At each
double the bird shoots far ahead of his pursuer, and gains a
considerable advantage. Away across the plain the two animals fly,
whilst I and Gregorio press eagerly in their wake. The excitement
grows every moment more intense, and I watch the close struggle going
on with the keenest interest. Suddenly the stride of the bird grows
slower, his doubles become more frequent, showers of feathers fly in
every direction as Plata seizes him by the tail, which comes away in
his mouth. In another moment the dog has him by the throat, and for a
few minutes nothing can be distinguished but a gray struggling heap.
Then Gregorio dashes forward and throws himself off his horse, breaks
the bird's neck, and when I arrive upon the scene the struggle is
over. The run had lasted for twenty-five minutes.

  [Illustration: THE LAST DOUBLE].

Our dogs and horses were in a most pitiable state. Poor Plata lay
stretched on the ground with his tongue, hot and fiery, lolling out of
his mouth, and his sides going at a hundred miles an hour. The horses,
with their heads drooped till they almost touched the ground, and
their bodies streaming with perspiration, presented a most pitiable
sight, and while Gregorio disembowelled and fastened the ostrich
together, I loosened their girths, and led them to a pool hard by to
drink. At length they became more comfortable, and as soon as they
seemed in a fit state to go on, Gregorio and I lifted the huge bird on
to his horse, and tied it across the animal's withers. Encumbered
thus, Gregorio turned to depart in the direction of the camp, followed
by Plata, while I went in an opposite direction in search of my
companions down in the plain. It was not long before I distinguished
in the far distance an ostrich coming straight towards me, closely
followed by a dog and two horsemen. Galloping to meet them, I was the
means of turning the bird into "Peaché's" jaws, for such was the name
of I'Aria's dog. The two horsemen turned out to be the old fellow in
question and my brother, who arrived, hot and full of excitement, on
the scene just as I was throwing myself from my horse to prevent
Peaché from tearing the bird to pieces. Leaving I'Aria to complete the
hunter's work, my brother and I rode slowly back towards our camp,
discussing the merits of our horses, dogs, and the stamina of the two
ostriches we had slain. So engrossed were we that we could hardly
believe our eyes when we came suddenly in full view of our snug
little retreat, but, nevertheless, we were very glad to dismount and
refresh ourselves with the hot coffee which we found old Storer had
ready waiting.

One by one the other hunters dropped in. They had all been successful,
with the exception of Guillaume; and as we stood grouped round the
five large ostriches lying on the ground, we congratulated ourselves
on our good fortune, and on the excellent sport we had had. At dinner
we passed judgment on ostrich-meat, which we now really tasted for the
first time, for what we had obtained from the Indian camp had been dry
and unpalatable. We thought it excellent; the breast and wings are
particularly good; the latter much resemble pheasant.



CHAPTER X.

     DEPARTURE FROM LAGUNA BLANCA--A WILD-CAT--IBIS SOUP--
     A FERTILE CAÑADON--INDIAN LAW AND EQUITY--OUR FIRST
     PUMA--COWARDICE OF THE PUMA--DISCOMFORTS OF A WET NIGHT
     --A MYSTERIOUS DISH--A GOOD RUN.


After a four days' stay at Laguna Blanca, our horses being
sufficiently rested, we resolved to continue our journey. I had got to
feel quite at home in the little ravine where our camp had been
pitched, and notwithstanding my anxiety to push forward and get over
the monotony of the plains as soon as possible, in leaving it felt
just a slight touch of regret. Each bush I passed recalled some
trivial incident of our stay, and came in for a share of the good-bye
I inwardly vouchsafed to all my late surroundings.

Whilst we were trotting along I noticed that one of the brood-mares
was continually looking anxiously back, and on counting the foals I
found that one was missing. I'Aria, whose attention I drew to this
fact, immediately returned to our camp to look for the lost animal,
which he thought had probably been left behind in a ravine where the
horses had been in the habit of grazing. In the meantime we rode on,
presently passing the site of the camp of the Indians, the smoke of
whose fires we had noticed from the Laguna Blanca. They themselves had
left it the day before, and were now on the march southwards, as
indicated by several columns of smoke which we could see on the
distant skyline, it being their habit, when on the march, to light
fires at intervals.

Shortly after passing the Indian camp we were startled by a series of
howls, given vent to by Guillaume's dog, "Negro," whom we descried
struggling with some animal in the long grass. In a second he was
joined by the other dogs, and by the time we got up we found them all
engaged in mortal combat with a huge wild-cat, which had already
punished Negro most severely, and was defending itself fiercely
against the united onslaught of its enemies. Two revolver shots were
fired at it without effect, but presently Gregorio managed to kill it
with a blow from the "bolas." Up to its last gasp it spat and clawed
with undaunted fury, and nearly all the dogs were more or less badly
wounded; poor "Negro" in particular, being severely gashed and torn.
Whilst we washed the dogs in a pool of water hard by, Gregorio
skinned the wild-cat, and then made a search for its companion, which
during the fray some one had observed making good its retreat.
However, his search was fruitless, and we rode forward again, the
incident just related furnishing us with a topic for conversation
wherewith to beguile the next hour or so. I'Aria meanwhile rejoined
us, but although he had thoroughly searched all the country in the
vicinity of our late camp, he had been unable to find any traces of
the missing foal, which had doubtless fallen a prey to some puma.

Towards evening we arrived at a large freshwater lake called Laguna
Larga, by the shores of which we set up our tents. My husband, going
out with his gun, managed to kill an ibis, the first any of us had
shot, although we had often tried to do so whilst at Laguna Blanca,
being aware that this bird makes excellent soup. This one was put in
the pot, and though its meat proved rather tough, the broth it gave
was all that could be desired. Laguna Larga, like nearly all the lakes
we saw in Patagonia, swarmed with wild-fowl, and amongst other birds
we observed two flamingoes, whose gorgeous red plumage excited our
covetousness, and an elaborate stalking-party was organised with the
object of securing one of them. However, they never gave us a chance,
and sailed majestically away at the first approach of danger.

Our road the next day lay for the most part along a fertile valley,
down the middle of which flowed a narrow but exceedingly deep stream.
The breadth of this "cañadon" was about five miles, and we followed
its windings for about twenty miles. Its whole length, for it
doubtless stretched down to the sea-coast, must have been about 150
miles. The grass was tall and green, in many places reaching up to our
horses' bellies. As equally fertile valleys are to be found
intersecting the barren plains in all directions, an enormous number
of cattle and sheep might be reared in this country were it not for
the heavy snows in winter and the floods in spring, which latter
immerse all these valleys for a considerable period, during which the
animals would have to seek sustenance on the plains, where, it is
needless to say, they would not find it.

As we emerged from the valley on to the plains, an animal was descried
on the sky-line, which at first we took for a gigantic guanaco, but
which presently resolved itself into a horse. Gregorio having seen it
first had become _ipso facto_, in accordance with the unwritten law of
the pampas, its owner, that is to say, should it be caught; so,
taking I'Aria with him, he rode off to the left, with the intention of
getting behind his prospective property and driving it towards our
troop. This he accomplished without difficulty. The horse stood
staring at our advancing cavalcade for some time, and then came
galloping towards us with loud neighs of greeting, spreading
consternation among our troop, who neighed and snorted in return,
apparently by no means pleased at the sight of the new-comer. Matters
were peaceably arranged, however, and after some further slight
demonstrations, he was admitted into the troop, evidently much pleased
to find himself among his own kind again. According to Gregorio, he
had belonged to some Indian, who had probably lost him on the march. I
asked Gregorio whether the owner might claim the horse again, and he
told me that the law among Indians is that the finder receives about
one-third of the value of the object found from the owner. Some
difficulty generally arises in these cases as to the value of the
find, as the parties naturally over-estimate and depreciate it as
suits their respective interests; this being especially the case when
the bargain is debated between an Indian and a white man. Amongst
themselves the Indians are remarkably fair in their dealings, but as
they know that the traders cheat them whenever they can, they
recognise quite another standard of morality in their dealings with
the latter.

As we were approaching the spot where we intended camping, one of the
mules, which was heading the troop, suddenly turned and dashed away,
and in another instant the whole troop broke up and dispersed,
galloping in all directions. What was the cause of this stampede? We
pressed quickly forward, but nothing stirred in the long grass, though
we scoured everywhere. We were baffled for a minute. "It's a puma
somewhere," said Gregorio. The words were hardly out of his mouth when
a loud view-holloa rent the air. "There he goes--there he goes!"
shouted two or three of our party in chorus, and sure enough, there he
was going--a mighty yellow puma--slouching swiftly away at some
distance to our left, with my brother following close on his track.
For us all to gallop after and come up within ten yards of the puma
was the work of a moment, but to get nearer than ten yards or so was
quite another matter, as our horses were quivering with fright, and
with difficulty were kept from turning tail and bolting from the dread
presence of their mortal enemy. Meanwhile the puma, finding himself
surrounded, lay sullenly down, eyeing us with dogged hate, and
scarcely seeming to heed the presence of the dogs, who were growling
furiously at him at a respectful distance from his claws. Finding it
useless to try to approach on horseback, my brother dismounted, and a
rifle being at hand, took steady aim at the crouching animal and
fired. Simultaneous with the report, with outstretched paws and a deep
growl, the puma sprang forward, and then fell heavily to the ground,
whilst our horses, becoming wholly unmanageable, reared up and fairly
bolted. When we again got control of them, nothing would induce them
to return to the spot where the now lifeless body of the puma lay, and
we had to dismount and walk there. Very fierce and dangerous it
looked; and at the sight of its ponderous paws with their sharp talons
and its cruel white teeth, we wondered whether, if it knew its own
powers, the puma would be such a cowardly animal as it is. They
scarcely ever attack man, even when brought to bay, but lie down and
doggedly meet their fate, though they can kill a full-grown guanaco
with one blow of the paw, and pull down a horse with similar ease. The
Indians affirm that the puma only bears young ones in two years, but
whether this be true or not I do not know. They certainly seem very
scarce, comparatively, a circumstance which may be due to this
peculiarity, coupled with the fact that the Indians and traders
destroy a good number annually.

The excitement attendant on the puma's demise being over, and our
horses having been driven together again, we made for our intended
camping place. We lodged that night in the valley I have described
above, and here, for the first time since we reached the plains, the
night was wet. It is by no means agreeable to hear rain pattering down
on the canvas of one's tent, especially when one has doubts as to the
waterproof capabilities of the canvas, and as yet we had had no
opportunity of testing ours. Fortunately, on this occasion the rain
did not last long, and, excepting a general sense of dampness, we
experienced no further inconvenience. Continuing our journey, on the
following day we reached the River Gallegos, which we forded at a spot
called "Paso de los Morros;" these Morros being two conically shaped
hills of equal height, which form a striking landmark, being
conspicuous at a considerable distance. The river at the time was very
low; but owing to the inequality of its bed and the rapidity of the
current, some care had to be taken in crossing the ford for fear any
of the packhorses should come to grief. We passed without any
accident, however, and pitched our camp near the bank, under shelter
of a snug little clump of beech trees. We liked the place so much that
we resolved to pass a couple of days there, especially as the
packhorses required a rest after the long march from Laguna Blanca.

The first day we dawdled pleasantly away in all kinds of useful
occupations, such as cleaning guns, writing up journals, etc., though
I am bound to say that the best part of the time was given up to
cooking experiments, my brother and Mr. B. both being anxious to prove
their respective superiority in the culinary department. Much
amusement was afforded us by a mysterious dish which my brother passed
the whole afternoon in elaborating, and which, if his own glowing
anticipations had been verified, would certainly have proved a triumph
of skill. The care he devoted to the preparation of his dish, and the
impressive secrecy with which he conducted his operations, led us into
the firm belief that a most agreeable surprise was in store for us.
But when dinner-time came, and soup and joint had been hurriedly got
through in order to enable us to do all the more justice to his
effort, the surprise--for surprise it was--turned out to be a very
unpleasant one; the "plat" on which so much care had been bestowed
proving to be a homely though curious concoction of rice, preserved
milk, and brown sugar, with a decided taste of burn; and after
swallowing a few spoonfuls, even its concoctor had to avow, with a
grimace, that his exertions had resulted in a failure. My brother
having thus signally proved his incapacity for occupying the high
office of cook, we for the future left the kitchen department to
Francisco's supervision, and very well we fared at his hands.

The next day was spent in ostrich-hunting. We made two or three
circles, but game seemed very scarce, and we were unable to entrap a
single ostrich. We were going home towards evening, rather
disconsolately, when some one observed an ostrich running straight
towards us, apparently with the express intention of obliging us, by
allowing himself to be killed. But as we started into a gallop to meet
him half-way, he changed his mind, and darted off sideways, our whole
party following. The dogs unfortunately, as often happens when they
are wanted, had fallen behind, and a depression in the plain hid us
from their view. It seemed rather a forlorn chase, therefore, as our
tired horses were no match for the ostrich, who drew away at every
stride. To our surprise, however, he suddenly began to "double," and
we saw that he was being hard pressed by one of Guillaume's dogs,
from which he had evidently been escaping when he met us. With fresh
zest we pushed forward, spreading out in a semicircle, so as to be
able to turn the ostrich back to the dog should he double round our
way. An exciting chase ensued. The dog, a clever brute, did its utmost
to make the ostrich double towards us, but without success, and the
speed at which they were both going prevented us from getting any
nearer. The dog was tiring, but he held out stoutly, double after
double slowly exhausting him. At last, overshooting himself in an
attempt to stop short, he turned a complete somersault, and the
ostrich, profiting by the moment's respite, literally set all sail and
skimmed away, with a strong wind in his favour. "He is lost!" shouted
Francisco, reining in. "No, no--the river, the river!" cried Gregorio,
spurring the harder, and away we went after him, and right enough,
there was the river glittering before us, with the ostrich not fifty
yards from the bank, and, hurrah! our whole pack of dogs close on his
heels. He must take the water, or he is ours. In another second he
reaches the bank, and pauses. He is in! No--his heart has failed him,
and with an ominous droop of his wings, but with a tremendous spurt
he has darted off again, with not five yards between him and the
straining dogs. On, on we go. The ostrich gains ground; ah, that
treacherous bend of the river! It forces him to swerve round, and in a
second he is met by Gregorio. A dexterous double rids him of his new
enemy, and with a last effort he shoots forward again. But the circle
closes, the shouts of the horsemen on all sides bewilder him, he
hesitates a second, but in that second the dogs are upon him, and the
next he lies a struggling, quivering mass of feathers. Horses, dogs,
and men--we are all panting and breathless. The dogs, so hot had been
the pace, were too blown to move; and even when Francisco began to cut
up the bird, this proceeding, usually of such interest to them on
account of the savoury perquisites which fell to their share, scarcely
excited their languid attention.

We were rather tired when we got home, and after dinner, the run
having been most minutely discussed in all its bearings, we were all
glad to get to bed.



CHAPTER XI.

     A NUMEROUS GUANACO HERD--A PAMPA HERMIT--I'ARIA AGAIN
     LOSES THE WAY--CHORLITOS--A NEW EMOTION--A MOON
     RAINBOW--WEATHER WISDOM--OPTIMIST AND PESSIMIST--
     WILD-FOWL ABUNDANT--BAD LUCK.


The next day found us once more in the saddle, jogging along over the
plains with the hopes of a speedy arrival at the Cordilleras to cheer
us, under the depression of spirits which the dreary monotony of the
country could not fail to produce. The character of the landscape was
what we had been accustomed to since leaving Cabo Negro, being in this
region, if anything, possibly more barren than usual.

This day's ride was memorable for the immense number of guanacos which
covered the plains in all directions. On arriving at a broad
depression we were surprised by the sight of a herd of these animals,
which could not have numbered less than five thousand. This enormous
living mass defiled past us up the side and over the brow of an
escarpment which bound the depression referred to, occupying a space
of time of about ten minutes--although they were going at a very quick
pace--and once or twice before the day was over we met an equally
numerous herd. How such an extraordinary number of animals can find
subsistence on the barren plains, which they even seem to prefer to
the grassy ravines, is a matter difficult of explanation. Certain it
is that the withered pampa grass must contain great nourishing
properties, as the guanacos thrive and grow very fat on it. Although
they are generally rather shy, we passed one herd composed of some
unusually tame animals. As we approached them, instead of running
away, the whole herd came slowly trotting towards us, staring at us
with naïve unconcern, which showed that they were innocent of the
chase. As it chanced, we had plenty of meat, so we left them
unmolested. It was not often that we found them so tame, especially
when we happened to be short of meat; in such cases, with the usual
perverseness of things, they would scarcely allow one to approach
within rifle-range.

As we went on we observed a column of smoke to the westward, which
Gregorio judged to proceed from some fire near the Cordilleras; and
from his account it marked the camp of an eccentric Englishman, named
Greenwood, who, it appears, particularly affects that region, and who
scrupulously avoids contact with his fellow-creatures, scarcely ever
coming down to Sandy Point. In fact, according to Gregorio, he seemed
to live the life of a hermit. He had renounced the world and its
vanities, even to the extent of disdaining the ordinary rough comforts
of the other inhabitants of the pampa. Clothed in the most primitive
fashion, he roams along the slopes of the Cordilleras, and rather than
make a trip to the colony to lay in a store of provisions, passes a
whole year on a diet of ostrich and guanaco meat, pure and simple.

I was rather interested in this species of Wild Man of the Woods, and
kept a sharp look out as we journeyed through that region in the hopes
of seeing him. But, if near us at any time--and of course our fires,
had he chosen to come, gave sufficient indication of our
whereabouts--he did not relax his rule of exclusiveness in our favour,
and I, consequently, never had an opportunity of making his
acquaintance.

During the march we started up a male ostrich, which had about forty
young ones under its care. Though we called our dogs back, nothing
could restrain them, and they gave chase, killing one of the small
ostriches before we could get up to them; the male bird and the others
escaped. The flesh of the young ostrich is not very palatable, so we
left the bird, taking only its legs, which make very nice handles for
umbrellas and whips. On this day I'Aria again distinguished himself by
losing the way, he having been entrusted by the other guides with the
leadership on this occasion, as he was supposed to be better
acquainted than any one with this particular region.

For quite two hours we followed him in all directions through an
extensive beechwood thicket, in search of the springs we were to camp
by that night; and when they were at last found, it was by Gregorio,
and in quite another direction than the one in which I'Aria, with his
usual pertinacious confidence, was taking us. He came in for a good
deal of abuse from his colleagues, and a fair share of black looks
from us, all of which he bore with the cheerful indifference which
characterised him under all circumstances.

The present was to be our last camp among beeches, as we had now to
strike across a perfectly woodless region, on our way to the point at
which we intended entering the Cordilleras. These occasional patches
of beeches are only to be found in the vicinity of the mountains; in
the plains that stretch down to the coast nothing is to be met with in
the way of fuel but "berberis" and a few other scrubby kinds of
bushes. We therefore made the most of our present abundance of wood,
and revelled in huge fires, in order to lay in a store of warm
memories at least to carry with us into the bleak region we were about
to enter. At dinner this day we tasted a novelty in the way of fowl,
of such excellence that I cannot let the occasion pass without
expatiating for a moment on its merits. In the daytime we had met with
large flights of a bird which the natives call "chorlito," or
"batatu," in species something between a golden plover and a woodcock.
These birds come down to Patagonia in incredible numbers at this
season, to feast on the ripe cranberries which grow everywhere in
profusion, and on which the ostriches, ibis, and wild geese all feed
and thrive. We had shot some of these "chorlitos," and they had been
roasted for dinner on the spit, along with some snipe and wild duck we
had brought with us from Gallegos. At dinner, however, they were at
first rather neglected, as we had got rather tired of birds, having
had so much of them at Laguna Blanca. Presently, however, dinner being
finished, some one of our party, in a spirit of careless curiosity
rather than from any desire to satisfy an already satiated appetite,
pulled one of these chorlitos off the spit, and with a half-deprecating
air took a bite of it. But when he had done so, the sudden alteration
in his bearing from apathy to activity was a sight to see. The
expression on his face, till then one of weary indifference, gave way
to a look of intense astonishment, which finally became one of placid
delight, as bit by bit the chorlito disappeared down his throat.
Though he did not speak, his silent action spoke volumes of eloquent
recommendation, and, as may be imagined, we were soon all engaged in
eating chorlitos; for a time no sound being heard but the smacking of
lips, the crunching of bones, and occasionally such exclamations as
"Stunning!" "By Jove!" "Delicious!" etc. etc. The fact is, we had
discovered what some Persian king offered half his kingdom for--a new
emotion--for so seductively succulent, so exquisitely flavoured, so
far beyond anything the gourmet might dream of in the sublimest flight
of his imagination, is the flesh of the cranberry-fed chorlito, that
the sensation it produces on the palate when tasted for the first time
may, without hyperbole, be described as rising to the dignity of an
emotion.

Unfortunately, as we travelled northward we seemed to leave the region
of these birds, and only on this and two other occasions were we able
to feast upon them.

We witnessed a phenomenon that night in the shape of a moon rainbow,
and many were the conjectures as to whether it presaged good or bad
weather. Rain is the one thing above all others calculated to make an
open-air life unpleasant, and a fear of it being constantly present to
our minds, nearly every evening meteorological speculations formed a
staple topic of conversation for the whole camp. A great amount of
weather wisdom was developed among us, and very soon a party spirit
was imported into the question, our camp splitting into two
sections--Optimists and Pessimists. Just before bedtime the sky would
be conned, and the various weather indications eagerly discussed,
often with some heat; and it was amusing to see how frequently the
optimists would enlist as arguments in favour of their prophecies of
fine weather, the very same phenomena of cloud or temperature on
which, on the other hand, the pessimists grounded their equally
confident prognostications of rain. On occasions when these
discussions had been carried on with more than usual earnestness,
should the rain suddenly begin to patter down on the tents in the
middle of the night, one might often hear conversations like the
following:--

_Pessimist_ (in tone of triumph, evidently pleased that it was
raining, as his antagonist was thereby confounded). "Well! who was
right about the rain? I told you it was sure to come!"

_Optimist_ (cheerily, and half implying that he believes it isn't
raining at all). "It is not raining. Well, a drop or two, perhaps, but
that's nothing; it will soon be over."

_Pessimist_ (fervently praying that it may rain cats and dogs for the
next twelve hours). "You will think it's something though, when you
are swamped. (Confidently) It's bound to rain till morning."

_Optimist_ (scornfully). "Rain till morning! Stuff! Why, it never
rains long with a full moon" (or no moon, as may suit the case).

_Pessimist_ (derisively). "That's exactly when it does rain. Didn't
you know that?"

_Optimist_ (pertinaciously). "Why, only yesterday you said yourself
that one might be certain it would not rain long with a full moon, so
there!"

_Pessimist_ (conveniently forgetful). "I'm sure I never said anything
of the kind."

_Optimist_ gives vent to a sleepy but uncomplimentary ejaculation
against people generally who don't know what they are talking about.

_Pessimist_ retorts with drowsy ditto, whereupon follows silence, or
silence broken by snores.

On this particular evening the halo was naturally a strong feature in
the discussion, and much ingenious special pleading was employed on
both sides to prove that its presence was an infallible indication of
rain or no rain. This time the optimists gained a signal victory, as
the night was fine throughout.

The next day was spent in shooting wild-fowl down by a big lake which
lay about a couple of miles distant from the camp. I shot a great many
lovely specimens of water-fowl, the like of which I had never seen
before, and loaded my horse with a great quantity of geese, duck, and
plover. Riding home quietly after my day's sport I started up a big
ostrich, who rose from the ground not more than a couple of yards
distant. How I longed for one of the greyhounds, and shouted loudly to
François, whom I could descry in camp idly doing nothing, but he could
not or would not hear. Galloping towards him, I hastily explained in
which direction the ostrich had disappeared, and mounting his horse he
went off in pursuit. An hour later he returned empty-handed. He had
come across the ostrich and given chase, but the bird, taking to the
beech woods, had disappeared therein, closely followed by the dogs.
After a long and fruitless search for both, he had been obliged to
return without his dogs to the camp. Doubtless, as he observed, they
had managed to kill their prey, and were even then indulging in a
heavy feed. His words were verified when, later on, the animals
returned, presenting an undeniable appearance of having partaken of a
large repast. Gregorio had been absent all day in search of guanaco,
but as he had gone on foot and taken no dogs with him, he had been
unable to secure the one or two which he had managed to wound. So,
altogether, our attempts in the chase did not on this occasion
flourish.



CHAPTER XII.

     A MONOTONOUS RIDE--A DREARY LANDSCAPE--SHORT FUEL
     RATIONS--THE CORDILLERAS--FEATURES OF PATAGONIAN
     SCENERY--HEAT AND GNATS--A PUMA AGAIN--"THE RAIN IS
     NEVER WEARY"--DAMPNESS, HUNGER, GLOOM--I'ARIA TO THE
     RESCUE--HIS INGENUITY.


After another day's sojourn at this encampment we resumed our journey.
We took a good supply of fuel with us, as we were now entering on the
barren, woodless region, during our transit over which we should have
to rely solely on the provision we now made.

Leaving the beechwood behind us we rode up on to a plain, on whose
edge we could distinguish what appeared to be a little black cloud. In
reality it was a peak, or rather clump of peaks of the Cordilleras, at
the foot of which we were one day to camp, and towards which for the
next few days we directed our horses' heads.

This day's ride, and it was a long one, was by far more monotonous and
dreary than any of the preceding ones. The immense plateau over which
we rode for six or seven hours was remarkable for its gloom and
barrenness, even in a region where all is sterility and dreariness.
There was no sun, and the sky, lowering and dark, formed a fit
counterpart to the plain, which stretched flatly away to the
indistinct horizon, gray, mournful, and silent.

We could not help being affected by the aspect of the scenery around
us, and I do not remember ever to have felt anything to equal the
depression of spirits to which I, in common with all our party, fell a
prey, and to whose influence even the guides succumbed.

For once they drove the troop along without enlivening their work with
the customary cheery cries of "Iegua! Iegua! Mula! Mula!" etc., and
the very bells of the Madrinas seemed to have a muffled, solemn sound,
very unlike their usual lively jingle.

A single incident occurred during that day's march. A little guanaco,
which had lost its mother somehow, seeing us coming, instead of
running away, trotted trustingly towards us. Unfortunately our
bloodthirsty dogs dashed out and threw it before we could get up to
stop them. The poor thing got up again, however, and at first did not
seem much hurt. It was the sweetest little creature imaginable, with
soft silky fur, and bright, gentle eyes, and it thrust its nose
against my cheek in a caressing manner, without the least sign of
fear. I determined to carry it with me, in hopes that as it got bigger
it would learn to keep with our troop, especially as the mare who had
lost her filly at Laguna Blanca would have made an excellent
foster-mother for it. But I hardly formed the idea when the little
guanaco began to stagger about, and it became evident that it must
have received some bite from the dogs which we had not noticed. On
examining it this proved to be the case; indeed, in a few minutes its
eyes glazed, and to my grief in a very short time it died, apparently
without suffering. I would have given anything that it could have
lived, as I am sure it would have become attached to me, and finally
have found its way to England with us. Tame guanacos are often kept at
Sandy Point, and their gentle ways and amiable dispositions make them
charming pets.

We were thoroughly tired of our dull march when we at last arrived at
a ravine where there were a few pools of water, and where we camped
for the night. As we were on short fuel rations, the fire was allowed
to go out directly after dinner, and we went to bed, now the only warm
place.

Off again the next day, the clump of peaks mentioned above growing
more distinct, but still terribly far, and no wood to be got till we
reached them. Plains as usual studded with guanacos, but having no
time to go out with our rifles, we had to confine ourselves to ostrich
meat. Of these birds there was an abundance, and many an exciting run
we had pursuing them. Wild-fowl were numerous too, but having eaten
every imaginable species--geese, duck, teal, widgeon, snipe, Barbary
duck, we were quite tired of them.

After another long march we camped in an open shelterless ravine, and
then again pushed hurriedly on, our stock of fuel getting ominously
low, towards the tantalising clump of peaks, which at the end of a
long day's ride scarcely seemed to come any nearer. They were now
beginning to disappear, as we descended into an immense basin which
lay between us and them, and whose farther end was bound by a
succession of plateaus, rising abruptly one over the other as it
appeared to us, though, when we ultimately came up to them, we found
the graduating ascent almost imperceptible.

After camping one night in a most disagreeable sandy region, where our
food and clothes and furs all got impregnated with grit and dust, and
where we burned our last stick, we again pushed on, with the
unpleasant knowledge that that night we should possibly have to camp
without a fire to warm ourselves and cook our food. The basin we were
now crossing seemed interminable. We were to camp that night at the
foot of the escarpment which bound its farther end, whence to the
mountains was only one day's march. We were now out of sight of the
latter again, but we were cheered by the comforting consciousness that
each step was bringing us nearer to them.

Just as it was getting dark, after a weary day's ride, we reached a
brawling mountain-stream, which swept along the base of an escarpment,
and which we hailed as the first sign that we were at last approaching
the Cordilleras. Fording it we pitched our camp in the long green
grass, just under shelter of the escarpment. But before unsaddling,
eager to see how near we had come to the clump of peaks which had so
long been before our eyes, we rode up the escarpment, from the top of
which we hoped to get a good view of the country westward.

Our expectations were not disappointed. There, seemingly not a mile
away, rose up, compact and dark, not the huddled clump of peaks we had
seen two days ago, but a mighty mountain chain, which lost itself
westward in the gathering dusk of evening--standing like a mysterious
barrier between the strange country we had just crossed and a possibly
still stranger country beyond. The sun had long set, and the base of
the mountains was wrapped in darkness, but their jagged
fantastically-shaped crests stood clearly defined against the light
which still glimmered in the sky, and here and there a snow-covered
peak, higher than its comrades, still retained a faint roseate glow,
which contrasted strangely with the gray gloom of all below.

For a long time after complete darkness had fallen over everything, I
stood alone, giving myself up to the influence of the emotions the
scene described awoke in me, and endeavouring, though vainly, to
analyse the feeling which the majestic loneliness of Patagonian
scenery always produced in my mind--a feeling which I can only
compare--for it would be impossible for me to seize on any definite
feature of the many vague sensations which compose it--to those called
up by one of Beethoven's grand, severe, yet mysteriously soft sonatas.

I was awakened from my reverie by Francisco, who was wandering about
trying to gather a few dry sticks for the fire. Fortunately he managed
to collect enough to enable us to cook a tolerable dinner with;
having eaten which, as usual, when we were fireless, we sought our
couches as speedily as possible.

The morning broke with every sign of bad weather. The air was heavy
and sultry, a hot dry wind blew over the plains, whirling up clouds of
fine dust, and the mountain-chain was half-hidden by dark masses of
clouds of threatening aspect. We saddled and packed up as hurriedly as
possible, fervently hoping that the rain, which sooner or later we saw
must come, would kindly hold over till we had reached our destination.

As we journeyed on, the sultriness grew more and more oppressive, and
we were vexed by innumerable swarms of minute gnats, which got into
our eyes and mouths, buzzed about us in a hopelessly persistent
manner, and by no means allayed the state of irritation the combined
influence of dust and heat had brought us into. A slight diversion
presently occurred by the appearance of an animal whose claims to our
polite and immediate attention were not to be denied. This was an
enormous puma, who suddenly sprang up from the midst of our cavalcade,
sending the mules and luggage horses stampeding away in all
directions. True to its cowardly nature, the animal slouched hurriedly
off, and disappeared down the side of a ravine. Quick as thought we
pursued it, but fast as we galloped, not a trace of it was to be seen.
At a short distance from where we stood eagerly searching for the
vanished animal, I perceived a small bush growing, the only one for
miles round, and to this I pointed as the probable place where the
brute had sought a hiding-place. We lost no time in galloping towards
the spot, and the terrified snorting of our horses when we drew near,
assured us of the correctness of my surmise, and put us on our guard.

We caught sight of him, as he crouched with angry glowing eyes and an
expression on his face which, on discovering that none of us carried a
rifle, was the reverse of reassuring, especially as we knew from our
guides that, for some reason or other, these Cordillera pumas are
fiercer than their kindred of the plains, and often attack their
assailants,--a piece of temerity the latter have never been known to
be capable of.

Fortunately, at this moment, my husband came up with a gun, though
indeed it was only loaded with small shot. Dismounting hastily he
approached within eight or nine yards of the growling animal. Bang!
bang! went his gun, and through the cloud of smoke we saw the puma
jump up in the air and fall backwards on the bush. For a moment or
two it rolled about in the throes of death, and then, with a last
growl stretched itself slowly out, and lay still. Gregorio, who
arrived at this moment, set to work at once, to remove its skin. The
guides all declared it to be the biggest puma they had ever seen. The
skin, which adorns the floor of the room where I am at present
writing, measures exactly nine feet from the tip of the tail to the
point of the nose. We then hurried on again, anxiously scanning the
weather, which meanwhile had grown more and more threatening. The
sultriness had increased so as to have become almost unbearable, and
the swarms of gnats above alluded to had grown numerous in proportion.
Before long a fearful thunderstorm burst over our heads, and for a
short time the rain came down in sheets. Then a shift of the wind
changed the temperature again. It became quite chilly, and the heavy
rain resolved itself into a thick drizzling mist, which soon wetted us
to the skin. For hours we rode in this comfortless plight,--wet, cold,
and tired, and by no means cheered by the aspect of the country, the
little we could see of which--most of it being hidden by the mist
aforesaid--looking blacker and sadder than ever.

  [Illustration: THE PUMA'S DEATH-SPRING.]

We were in hopes that at least before evening it would clear up, as
the prospect of having to pitch our camp in the drizzling sleet was
far from pleasant, but as it grew darker the fog increased in
thickness, and soon we could hardly see fifty paces ahead of our
horses' noses. How Gregorio managed to find the way, I don't know. At
last it being, as near as I could judge, about sunset, we descended a
very steep declivity, and came on to what appeared to be a ravine of
the ordinary kind, where grass and underwood were apparently abundant.
We halted at a semicircle of tall bushes, and set disconsolately to
work to get up the tents. This by no means easy task being
accomplished, we collected the provisions and cartridges together, and
got them under shelter into the smaller of the two tents. Our rugs,
furs, and coverings were wet through, so we carried them into the
other tent and proceeded to wring them and lay them out to dry. This
being done, we turned our attention towards making a fire, but the
guides and everybody declared the attempt impossible, and indeed so it
seemed, for there was not a dry twig or blade of grass to be found
anywhere. Back we all crept into our damp tents, and prepared to dine
as genially as we could off sardines and dry biscuit. But though we
might choose to resign ourselves thus supinely to discomfort, old
I'Aria, for his part, was by no means inclined to do so. Whilst the
discussion as to the possibility of making a fire had been carried on,
after listening a minute or two to the arguments which were being
urged proving conclusively that nothing could be done towards it, he
silently withdrew, and busied himself in setting up his own little
tent,--a rather dilapidated one by the way, as, whenever he required
something wherewith to patch up a rent in his curious garments, he was
in the habit of supplying his want by cutting out a piece of the
canvas of his "casa" (_house_) as he called it--an ingenious method of
robbing Peter to pay Paul.

Meanwhile we had retired to our tents, and were beginning to arrange
our furs preparatory to going to bed, when I heard some conversation
going on between I'Aria, my husband, and Mr. B., the latter an
inveterate maté drinker, and who, I must say, had been the only one at
the council who had expressed himself hopefully as regarded the
possibility of making a fire. Looking out of the tent I saw them all
crouched under a bush, dripping wet, but earnestly engaged in some
elaborate preparations for conquering damp and getting soaked wood to
burn.

Finding they disregarded my friendly advice to save themselves the
trouble of doing what could only be termed useless, I withdrew into my
tent again. Half an hour later I could still hear them bravely
battling against the inevitable, but presently Mr. B. went past my
tent with a kettle in his hand. "The fire is burning, is it?" I called
out ironically to him. "No, but it will very soon," he replied.
"Meanwhile I am going to fill the kettle; would you like tea or
coffee?" I answered something sarcastic, but sighed. I certainly would
have given anything for a cup of hot tea. The hopeful expression of
Mr. B.'s face had struck me, so, covering myself up in a cloak, I went
up to where I'Aria was busy at work, to see if really there was any
hope of his succeeding. I found he had stuck four little stakes in the
ground, over which a cloth was drawn, under whose shelter he had built
an elaborate structure of wooden matches, laid crosswise one over the
other, so as to be handy when required; over these lay a small heap of
fine twigs, as dry as could be procured, as well as some stout sticks,
and finally several logs, which he informed me would soon be merrily
blazing. Everything being ready, he applied a light to the matches,
and as soon as they began to blaze, added the twigs, which in their
turn, after a little doubtful spluttering, took fire, and
presently--this was the critical moment--the sticks were laid on. For
a time my worst fears seemed about to be realised, the sticks only
smoked viciously, the matches had long burned away, and the twigs now
began to glow doubtfully. But old I'Aria did not give in without a
struggle. Kneeling down he tried gently to fan the fading glow with
his breath. At times, as we anxiously watched it, it seemed to gain
strength, at others it became reduced to a single spark. But patience
conquered at last; the glow spread, the sticks began to blaze, and
before long there was a good blazing fire, which brought every one
from his tent, especially as, meantime, the rain had ceased, though a
thick mist still hung over everything, making the darkness of the
night still more intense. Kettles were put on to boil, maté, tea,
coffee, imbibed, and Francisco prepared an excellent ostrich-fry, _à
la minute_, discussing which, blessings were invoked on I'Aria's
head,--to his perseverance these comforts being due. Supper over, we
groped our way back to our tents, and, enveloped in a dense damp mist,
went to sleep, not at all satisfied with the inhospitable greeting the
Cordilleras had vouchsafed us.



CHAPTER XIII.

     A SURPRISE--A STRANGE SCENE--AN IDLE DAY--CALIFATÉ
     BERRIES--GUANACO-STALKING--A DILEMMA--MOSQUITOES--A
     GOOD SHOT.


The next morning I was pleasantly awakened by a bright ray of
sunshine, which forced its way through the opening in my tent, leaving
me little inclination to sleep any longer. I lost no time in getting
up, and stepped out, anxious to see what kind of country we had got
into under cover of the fog of the previous day.

For a moment I was quite bewildered by the contrast of the scene now
before me and the dreary impression the unfavourable weather
conditions had lent to the country on our arrival. I found we were
camped in a broad valley, which looked bright and smiling beneath a
clear blue sky and a warm sun. A slight breeze swept over the long
green grass, which was studded here and there with clumps of califaté
bushes, and an enlivening colour variety was given to the verdant
carpet by occasional tracts of white and yellow flowers. One end of
the valley was bound by some tall hills, covered with dark patches of
beech trees, and beyond these again, ridge above ridge, range above
range, the snow and glacier covered Cordilleras of the Andes towered
majestically to the sky. The air was marvellously clear; looking long
westward, I could gradually distinguish, in the haze of the distance,
over the mountains which first met my gaze, white snowy ranges, of
such height that they seemed to float in mid-air, and only after my
vision had acquired sharpness from long concentration, could I trace
their outlines basewards. But it was the sight at the near end of the
valley which most claimed my attention. From behind the green hills
that bound it rose a tall chain of heights, whose jagged peaks were
cleft in the most fantastic fashion, and fretted and worn by the
action of the air and moisture into forms, some bearing the semblance
of delicate Gothic spires, others imitating with surprising closeness
the bolder outlines of battlemented buttresses and lofty towers. The
bare rock which formed them was red porphyry, and the morning sun
glittering on it, lent it a variety of bright tints, purple and
golden, which were thrown into striking relief by the blue background
of the sky and the white masses of snow, which, in parts, clung to the
peaks. The abrupt flanks of these tall heights were scored with deep
gullies and ravines, and strewn with detached boulders of rock; but
nowhere was there any trace of vegetation, either bush or grass.

The suddenness with which this novel scenery burst upon me
considerably heightened its effect. But yesterday we had stood on the
plains, with their eternal monotony of colour and outline; last night
we had gone to bed, as we thought, in a similar dreary waste; and now,
as if by magic, from the bowels of the earth, a grand and glorious
landscape had sprung up around us, as totally different, in its
diversity of outline and colour, from that which only a few hours ago
had depressed and wearied us, as could well be imagined.

It was amusing to hear the exclamations of surprise with which my
companions greeted the scene, as one by one they came out of their
tents and gazed on the pleasant metamorphosis which had taken place
during our slumbers. We had grumbled a good deal the day before about
the country, and had anathematised it with many ill-tempered
expletives; but all that was now forgotten, and as we looked around us
we felt that our trouble had not been unrewarded.

Taking advantage of the fine weather, we spread our damp furs on the
bushes, and, thanks to the wind and sun, they were soon dry. Breakfast
over, my brother started off with his rifle to explore the peaks at
the end of the valley, whilst we others stretched ourselves on our
furs under the shade of some tall bushes, and with the help of books
and pipes, a little desultory conversation, and the lazy contemplation
of the fair scenery before us, we managed to pass away the hot hours
of noon pleasantly enough.

When it got cooler, and we had drank our fill of idleness, we found
plenty to occupy ourselves with. There were guns to be cleaned. I had
my journal to write up; and, although I am no good hand with the
needle, the rough usage my apparel had lately received made some
attempts at sewing and patching imperative. The guides busied
themselves in repairing saddle-gear, making reins or lassos from
guanaco hide, and similar work. Our English servant Storer, who had
somehow created for himself the reputation of one expert in the
stuffing of birds and the curing of skins, was busy with several
unsavoury smelling specimens of the latter, which he had been carrying
about him for some days, having to-day, for the first time, leisure to
operate upon them. Mr. B. went off to make a sketch of our camp and
its picturesque surroundings, and in searching for a suitable site
came across a califaté bush, the blue berries on which were almost
ripe. He brought back a capful, and though we found them rather acid,
mashed up with plenty of sugar they made a very nice refreshing dish,
which was especially welcome to us after our late uniform diet. In the
long grass near the stream that flowed down the valley we found some
wild celery, which, put in the soup, was a decided improvement on the
dried "Julienne" we had brought with us, and of which by this time we
had but little left. Just as we were getting rather anxious about him,
as it was already near sunset, my brother came back from his excursion
to the Porphyry Peaks. Arriving at their base much later than he
expected, having been deceived in the distance, he had only had time
to climb about half-way up them, but even at that height had got a
splendid view of the country beyond, his accounts of which made us
eager to penetrate into it as soon as possible. But as our packhorses
required rest, this had to be deferred for a couple of days yet.

The next day a hunting-party was organised. Neither our guides nor
ourselves knowing whether any game was to be found in the country we
were about to enter, it was necessary that we should take a good
supply of meat with us. We made a circle in the usual manner, and were
successful, as far as ostriches were concerned, inasmuch as, after
some good runs, we managed to kill three.

Having observed a herd of guanaco grazing in a valley at some
distance, those of us whose horses were still tolerably fresh then set
out to try and get one, the meat of three ostriches not being
sufficient to last ourselves and dogs for more than two days. The dogs
were all too tired with their previous exertions to be of any use to
us, so we had to rely solely on our rifles. This being the case, it
was necessary to stalk the herd with great precautions, and this we
proceeded to do, choosing our ground carefully, so as to keep out of
their sight. But we had not gone far when we heard a shrill neigh
close by, and looking round, we saw a guanaco standing on the crest of
a hill overlooking the valley. He had scarcely uttered his cry when it
was repeated at a little distance off by another watchful sentinel,
and then they both slowly cantered off, looking back at us as they
went along, and neighing loudly at intervals. The herd, meanwhile,
warned of the approach of danger, leisurely trotted up the escarpment
on the other side of the valley, and as leisurely disappeared over the
plain. My husband took a vindictive pot-shot at one of the retreating
sentinels, but missed him; and we had to make the best of our
disappointment, and search for some less watchful herd. In this we had
considerable difficulty, the guanacos on this particular day appearing
to be shyer than we had ever known them. At last, after a great deal
of fruitless stalking, my husband got a shot at a little knot of four
or five, who were standing together, almost out of range. One fell,
and the others took to their heels. With a cry of triumph we galloped
up to the wounded one, but to our dismay, at our approach, he sprang
to his feet and started off full speed after his companions, to all
appearance unhurt. Spurring our horses, we followed closely in his
wake, down steep ravines, up hills, over the plains, at times losing
him altogether, but always catching sight of him again, going as fresh
as ever, till at last we began to despair of ever running him down.
One by one my companions dropped off, till presently only my husband,
Mr. B., and myself, were left in the chase. Had he not been so
palpably hit, we should have desisted too; but it seemed a pity,
having gone so far, to give in, so we kept on, hoping to tire out our
prey by sheer persistence. But gradually, and no wonder, our jaded
horses began to show signs of exhaustion; we had run them almost to a
standstill, and, reflecting on the distance we had to ride back to the
camp, we were just going to rein in, when the guanaco suddenly stopped
and lay down. Sure now of getting him, we pushed on towards him. But
when we had got to within about six yards of him, up he got, and
galloped off again, distancing us at every stride. Hesitating what to
do, we kept in his wake, though all the time we were wishing we had
never started after him. Slower and slower our panting horses
struggled towards a ravine, down the side of which the guanaco had
disappeared. We came to its edge and looked down. The guanaco was
nowhere to be seen. We were at a loss to imagine what could have
become of him. He had not climbed the other side, or we should have
seen him emerge on the plain, nor could he have gone along the ravine,
either to the right or the left, as we commanded a view of it in both
directions for a long distance. In this dilemma we were staring
open-mouthed with astonishment about us, when something moved in the
long grass below, and directing our steps thither we came upon our
guanaco lying stretched out in a pool of blood. The movement that had
drawn our attention to him had evidently been his last effort, for he
was now quite dead. Examining him, we found the bullet had entered his
side, and passing through the lungs and lights, had lodged near the
spine; and yet, thus severely wounded, he had gone quite ten miles at
a cracking pace! Later on we experienced still more extraordinary
instances of the toughness and tenacity of life of these animals, in
comparison with whom the cat with its nine lives is absolutely
nowhere. Having cut up the guanaco, and distributed its meat on the
saddles of our horses, we turned back towards our camp; and a long
ride we had before we got there. I'Aria, we found, had also killed a
guanaco, and we had therefore plenty of meat to last us, should we
have difficulty in getting game in the Cordilleras.

The next day was passed in idleness. It was extremely hot, scarcely a
breath of wind stirring, and in the evening we were rather bothered by
mosquitoes, this being the first acquaintance we made with them in
Patagonia. During the day a bird was seen hovering over the camp at an
immense height, which we were told was a condor. It was so high up
that it looked scarcely bigger than an ordinary hawk. Taking advantage
of a moment when it hung perfectly motionless, my husband had a shot
at it, and, by a marvellous fluke, the ball took effect, and down the
creature came, growing bigger and bigger as it fell, till at last,
reaching the earth with a loud thud, there it was, the most gigantic
bird I had ever seen. We found it measured twelve feet from wing to
wing. The most distinctive feature of the condor is the white down
ruff which encircles the neck two or three inches below the head,
which latter is completely bare of feathers and repulsively ugly. In
the female bird the colour of this ruff is black.

This night the mosquitoes became a positive nuisance. I tried all
kinds of stratagems to protect myself from them--such as tying my
handkerchief over my face, or burying myself under my furs, but
between being smothered and bitten, I preferred the latter evil.
Similarly, the plan we adopted of lighting some damp grass in the
tent, so as to smoke our trying enemies out, had ultimately to be
abandoned in favour of passive endurance of the inevitable. I quite
envied old I'Aria. Throughout the night, whilst from all sides
exclamations and expletives of varying irritability and force were
continually to be heard, the placid snore which floated from his tent
showed that, thanks to his parchment skin, he was enabled to bear the
sting of the outrageous mosquito with serene indifference.



CHAPTER XIV.

     AN UNKNOWN COUNTRY--PASSING THE BARRIER--CLEOPATRA'S
     NEEDLES--FOXES--A GOOD RUN--OUR FOREST SANCTUARY--
     ROUGHING IT--A BATH--A VARIED MENU.


We were up early the next morning, for we had perhaps a long journey
before us, the country we were about to penetrate being as unknown to
our guides as to ourselves; and no one could say when and where we
might find a suitable place for camping that night. All helped to
drive up and saddle the horses; their long rest and the rich grass in
the valley had done them good, and they were in very fair condition,
which was fortunate, as we might have some arduous climbs to face, and
pasture lands might be scarce among the mountains.

  [Illustration: RAVINE ENTRANCE TO THE CORDILLERAS.]

The day before, the guides had been on a reconnoitring expedition,
with the object of finding the most practicable route towards the
interior, and having discovered a ravine, which appeared to wind in
the direction of the mountains, and which, at the same time, afforded
easy going for our horses, we resolved to make it our highway.
Accordingly, all being ready, we said good-bye to the plains, and,
fording the stream which flowed down the valley, we entered on the
winding ravine, full of curiosity as to what kind of country we were
now to break in upon.

The ravine was in itself a fit preparation for something strange and
grand. Its steep slopes towered up on either side of us to an immense
height; and the sunlight being thus partially excluded, a mysterious
gloom reigned below, which, combined with the intense, almost painful
silence of the spot, made the scene inexpressibly strange and
impressive. Its effect was intensified by the knowledge that since
these gigantic solitudes had been fashioned by nature, no human eye
had ever beheld them, nor had any human voice ever raised the echoes,
which, awakening now for the first time, repeated in sonorous chorus
the profane shouts of "Iegua! Iegua!" with which our guides drove the
horses along.

We hurried on, anxious to reach the mouth of the ravine, and behold
the promised land as soon as possible, but several hours elapsed
before we at last reached its farther end, and emerged from its
comparative gloom into the sunshine of the open. A glance showed us
that we were in a new country. Before us stretched a picturesque
plain, covered with soft green turf, and dotted here and there with
clumps of beeches, and crossed in all directions by rippling streams.
The background was formed by thickly-wooded hills, behind which again
towered the Cordilleras,--three tall peaks of a reddish hue, and in
shape exact facsimiles of Cleopatra's Needle, being a conspicuous
feature in the landscape. The califaté bushes here were of a size we
had never met on the plains, and were covered with ripe berries, on
which hosts of small birds were greedily feasting. The very air seemed
balmier and softer than that we had been accustomed to, and instead of
the rough winds we had hitherto encountered there was a gentle breeze
of just sufficient strength agreeably to temper the heat of the sun.
Here and there guanaco were grazing under the shade of a spreading
beech tree, and by the indolent manner in which they walked away as we
approached, it was easy to see that they had never known what it was
to have a dozen fierce dogs and shouting horsemen at their heels. But
soon we all dismounted round a huge califaté bush, and there we ate
our fill of its sweet juicy berries, taking a supply with us to be
eaten after dinner, mashed up with sugar, as dessert. Then we gaily
cantered on towards the hills, passing many a pleasant-looking nook,
and enjoying many a charming glimpse of landscape, doubly delightful
after the ugliness of the plains.

Numerous small lagoons, covered with wild-fowl of strange and novel
appearance, frequently came in our way, and by their shores basked
hundreds of the lovely white swans whose species I have already
mentioned. Unlike their comrades of the plains they appeared perfectly
tame, merely waddling into the water when we approached close up
alongside them, and never once attempting to fly away. I was greatly
struck by the thousands of ducks and geese that covered these lakes.

Crossing a broad mountain-stream which ran down from the hills on our
left, and disappeared into a mighty gorge stretching away into those
on our right, we still directed our march along the grassy plain which
led direct towards the three huge Cleopatra peaks rising from out of
the snow glaciers far ahead of us. The thickly-wooded slopes which we
could perceive in the distance filled us with eager longing to reach
them, as it was many a day since we had last seen trees of any kind.
In the vast forests which lay before us we promised ourselves a goodly
supply of fuel and many a roaring fire around the camp. On the way we
occasionally gave chase to the foxes which started up at our approach.
There are a great many of these animals in Patagonia, and one has to
be careful to put all leather articles in some safe place at night, or
else in the morning one is apt to find them gnawed to pieces by these
sly marauders. Their fur is very soft, and silver gray in colour. I
resolved to make a collection of their skins, and carry them back to
England to be made up into rugs and other useful articles. It is very
rarely that a dog can catch one of these foxes by himself: our best
ostrich hound, "La Plata," after an exciting chase of half an hour,
found himself outpaced and outstayed. So quickly can they twist, turn,
and double, that it is out of the power of one dog to equal them.

  [Illustration: THE "CLEOPATRA NEEDLES."]

Whilst we were slowly jogging along, my horse, with a snort of terror
suddenly swerved violently on one side. Close to him there rose up a
magnificent ostrich, who, after one astonished gaze at our party,
turned and fled in the direction by which we had just come. With a
merry shout François was after him, followed by my brother and
myself. Loca and Leona, who had caught sight of the ostrich in a
moment, lost no time in straining every limb to come alongside the
fast-fleeting bird, who scudded away at a tremendous pace over the
rough uneven ground. Our progress on horseback was also by no means an
easy task, as the line taken by the ostrich presented many obstacles,
such as high thick bushes, sharp-pointed, half-hidden rocks, and
broad, deep chasms. These latter obstacles could only be negotiated at
certain places, as their sides were jagged and rotten; and woe betide
the horse who should fall into one of these deep, untempting-looking
bottoms. But when his blood is up, and the excitement of the chase at
its highest pitch, what keen sportsman cares to crane or wonder what
danger lies on the other side of the obstacle that confronts him? His
only thought is to get forward and keep a front rank in the merry
chase that goes gaily sweeping along. And so on we pressed as fast as
we could, and urged our horses to do their utmost. Fully entering into
the excitement of the moment, the game little beasts answered
willingly to our call, and in spite of the rough, difficult going, we
managed to keep the dogs and ostrich in sight.

"They'll soon have him now," calls out my brother to me, as a cloud of
feathers float away in the still air, torn from the bird's tail by La
Leona, who shakes her head to get rid of those that cling round her
mouth and clog her tongue and throat. The bird has begun to double,
but finds his match in the two clever little ladies at his side, and
before long succumbs an easy prey to them both.

This little incident lent a pleasant variety to the winding up of a
long tiring day; and full of triumph in the success of our hunt, we
trotted towards the camping-place our companions had chosen.

  [Illustration: ENCAMPMENT IN THE CORDILLERAS.]

On our arrival we found active preparations going on in the culinary
department, and every one very busily engaged. Three huge fires blazed
merrily in front of my tent, and a little farther off a succession of
smaller ones indicated the spot where the cooks were employed in
preparing dinner. Over one of these hung a pot of soup, carefully
superintended by my husband; at another Storer was watching and
turning the roasting ribs of a guanaco, while at a third Gregorio
occupied himself in frying a rich steak of ostrich, and roasting three
or four of their wings as a _bonne bouche_, which was to succeed the
roast. Nor were Guillaume or I'Aria idle, as the goodly pile of
firewood that lay stacked up near each fire spoke volumes for their
activity and energy. After we had unsaddled our horses and turned them
loose to join their companions hard by, we refreshed ourselves with
maté, and then proceeded to take part in the general work and
arrangement of the camp. Mysteriously promising us something extra
good in the shape of a new dish, François retired into his tent,
dragging after him the ostrich which we had just killed. The result of
his efforts, he assured us, would produce a pleasant surprise, and an
agreeable change in the monotony of our daily diet. Though full of
curiosity as to what that result might prove, we judged it best to
leave him alone, remembering the proverb that "Too many cooks spoil a
dish." Collecting the rows of pack-saddles and articles of riding
gear, I proceeded to arrange them tidily, together with the numerous
sacks and baggage, in a corner of Storer's tent, and then gathering up
a roll of guanaco furs, turned my attention to the making up of our
beds. On the pampa it had always been a matter of some difficulty to
discover ground smooth enough whereon to lay out the beds, on account
of the rough, uneven nature of the plains; but on this occasion I had
no cause to grumble, for beneath the lofty spreading beech trees the
smooth, velvety, mossy turf afforded the softest and most luxurious of
feather beds in the world. Our couches were simple enough, as
doubtless the reader imagines. The ground supplied the want of a
bedstead or mattress, a single blanket occupied the place of a sheet,
and our guanaco capas served as covering, being remarkable for their
great warmth. With our saddles for our pillows, a complete and final
touch was given to the whole arrangement, and on these hard beds,
tired with our day's exertions, we would sleep as soundly and
comfortably as though they were the most luxurious spring mattresses
imaginable.

The beds arranged to my satisfaction, I next proceeded to go the round
of the camp to see if everything was in order, on finding which to be
the case, with a sigh of relief I felt that my work was over for the
day, and the time for rest arrived.

Roughing it may be all very well in theory, but it is not so easy in
practice. After a long tiring march, when you have been in the saddle
twelve or thirteen hours under a hot sun, it is by no means a light
task, on the arrival at your journey's end, to have to unload your
horses, pitch your tents, cook your dinner, clean your saddles and
bridles, unpack and remove the baggage, and place everything in order
and neatness, while it occupies a long and weary time. In England, on
your return every day from hunting, you come home tired and weary, no
doubt, but it is to a cosy hunting-box, where a warm room, a blazing
fire, an easy arm-chair await you, with servants in plenty to attend
to your wants, a refreshing hot bath, and the luxury of a clean change
of clothes. But all this is not forthcoming on the pampa, and before
you can rest, the whole business I have mentioned has to be gone
through, everybody, no matter who it is, taking his or her share of
work, while the thought of fatigue must be banished, and every one
must put his shoulder to the wheel, and undertake and accomplish his
separate task cheerfully and willingly. Only by so doing can things be
kept going in the brisk orderly manner they should.

Our camp had been pitched close to the bank of a lovely little
mountain stream, which made its appearance from out the thick woods
that rose to a great height behind us. The sound of its splashing
waters filled me with an irresistible longing for a plunge.
Accordingly, armed with a rough towel, I proceeded to follow its
winding course upwards, and through the dense foliage of the beech
trees I could make out its silver stream descending like a white
streak from an immense height. Presently I arrived at a spot where,
fed by a small cascade, a clear cool pool of water presented a most
convenient and inviting appearance for a bath. I lost no time in
undressing and indulging in the luxury of a plunge, which greatly
refreshed and invigorated me after the long tiring day I had
undergone.

On my return to the camp I found that dinner was quite ready. Nine
hungry human beings, and nine still hungrier dogs, require a good
substantial meal. Our _menu_ that night was neither mean nor small. As
it may interest my readers, I append it:--

Soup.--Guanaco Head, slices of Ostrich, and rice.--Roast ribs of
Guanaco.

Fried Ostrich Picane. (Back of the ostrich, resembling a very rich
Rumpsteak).

Roast Goose and Ducks.

Ostrich Wings.

Ostrich Liver and fat (consisting of square pieces of ostrich liver
and fat, toasted on a stick).

Blood Pudding.

Dessert.--Califatés, Coffee, Maté, Tea, Biscuits.

The blood-pudding proved to be the dish about which François had
observed so much secrecy and mystery. It was certainly exceedingly
good, and we were loud in praise of its merits. The ostrich liver and
fat, a new dish also, was most acceptable, and that night we drank the
health of François in a glass of whisky and water all round. Dinner
over, we replenished the numerous fires that burned in a semicircle in
front of our camp; and then, tired and weary, we sought our couches,
and, canopied o'erhead by the rustling trees, with the bright
moonlight shining down upon us, slept as sound and contented a sleep
as the fatigues we had undergone entitled us to.



CHAPTER XV.

     EXCURSIONS INTO THE MOUNTAINS--MYSTERIES OF THE
     CORDILLERAS--WILD-HORSE TRACKS--DEER--MAN THE
     DESTROYER.


The first few days of our sojourn in the mountains were spent in
making short excursions into the different gorges that stretched away
inwards for miles and miles--far as the eye could reach. We were full
of curiosity to penetrate and fathom their hidden mysteries; but this
was out of the question, owing to the limited supply of provisions
which we were able to carry with us. In these solitary wanderings we
came across no sign or vestige of the haunts of human beings, and few
and far between were the animals that crossed our path. Occasionally,
from some jagged plateau or rugged height, we would catch a glimpse of
small deer or guanaco, and now and again a wild horse would peer at us
suspiciously from behind a huge rock, and then, with a neigh of
astonishment rather than fright, dash hurriedly off, its beautiful
mane and tail flowing in the breeze, giving it a grand, wild, and
picturesque appearance.

Musters tells us in his _Narrative of Patagonia_, that the Indians
fully believe in the existence of an unknown tribe, or of an enchanted
or hidden city, which, they superstitiously aver, lies concealed
somewhere in the recesses of these mountains.

Farther north the Araucanian Indians profess to having discovered in
their vicinity a settlement of white people who spoke an unknown
tongue. Numerous legends and stories are current amongst the
Patagonians, who all behold with awe and superstition the distant
wooded slopes and far-stretching glaciers of the Cordilleras, into
whose shades they never attempt to penetrate.

The Chilotes declare that in the western forests of the Cordillera, an
animal exists bearing the form of a wild man covered all over with
coarse shaggy hair. Tranco is the appellation by which it goes. It is
difficult to bring oneself to believe that amidst these immense
solitudes a species of human being does not exist. Imaginative minds
may conjure up all sorts of extraordinary fancies, and people unknown
regions with strange and fantastic figures; and it is hard to prevent
oneself from giving a kind of credence to these vague stories which
are told with so much confidence and belief by the inhabitants of the
country.

The hilly, undulating country which stretched away in the direction of
the three Cleopatra peaks filled us with an eager desire to explore
its unknown territory; and accordingly, accompanied by Gregorio and
François, we all set off on horseback early one morning, soon after
daybreak. The air was keen and invigorating, and we trotted along for
some time, following and skirting the line of forest which extended on
our right and in front of us as far as we could distinguish. Away on
our left stretched a bright green valley, gay with many-coloured
flowers, and watered by innumerable streams and water-courses, whilst
beyond rose high hills, covered with vegetation, and crowned in the
distance by thick impenetrable woods. Califaté bushes, loaded with
ripe berries of a great and unusual size, frequently brought us to a
halt, as it was impossible to resist their tempting and refreshing
aspect.

About midday, when the sun was at its height, and we began to feel the
effects of its hot, scorching rays, the valley through which we had
been pursuing our way suddenly came to an abrupt termination.
Breasting the hill which confined its limits, we halted on the summit
to give the horses a few moments' rest, and to contemplate in silence
and delight the lovely scene that lay stretched at our feet.

Of a totally different aspect was this new country on which we were
entering from that we had just quitted, for the woods closed in on all
sides, and huge masses of rocks rose from out their leafy tops, giving
the appearance of ruined strongholds to those who beheld them for the
first time. Sunny glades, carpeted by rich green grass, opened out
here and there, as though they had been cleared and fashioned by the
hand of man, while a lovely little stream, which made its appearance
from out of the woods on our right, continued its course towards a
deep ravine, which we could distinguish in the distance. Away to our
left, and surrounded by thick woods, glittered the clear sparkling
waters of an immense lake, which we judged to be about two miles
distant, and beyond all rose up like a huge frowning barrier, the
lofty snow-clad peaks of the Cordillera. Not a sound disturbed the
deathlike stillness which reigned over everything; no animal life was
stirring, and the impression conveyed to an eye-witness who beheld
this scene for the first time was a sense of utter loneliness and
desolation.

Descending the hill on which we had halted to breathe the horses, we
entered upon the woodland scene I have just described, and following
the course of the little brook that flowed towards the great ravine,
were not long in arriving at the edge of its steep perpendicular
descent. It proved to be a ravine of no ordinary size, for many
hundreds of feet below, its base was formed by what appeared to be a
tiny winding stream, but which a later expedition, of which I have yet
to speak, proved in reality to be a broad though shallow river. Far
away below us, to our right, roared an enormous cataract, which, half
hidden in the trees, left scarcely any part of itself visible, and
were it not for the clouds of spray that rose to a great height, an
eye-witness could not have distinguished its real position amidst its
leafy hiding-place.

  [Illustration: "THE WILD-HORSE GLEN."]

We were not long in ascertaining that it would be impossible to get
horses down the steep precipitous sides of this great ravine, and
therefore reluctantly abandoned any hope of being able that day to
make any farther progress towards the three great peaks which still
towered in front of us. Directing our horses to the left, we
entered a long stretch of narrow woodland, which appeared to lead
in the direction of the lake we had distinguished a little time back.
It was not long before we struck upon a wild horse track, and
concluding that it was formed by these animals on their way to drink
at the lake, we followed its tortuous and many winding ways for some
time.

Frequently the brushwood became so dense, the trees so close together,
that we had to dismount and creep through the openings made by our
horses, having previously driven them through. Now and then the path
we were following would suddenly cease, and it would be some time
before we came upon its track again. At last we emerged from some
thick underwood into a broad clearing, and eagerly pushed forward.

Proceeding at a quicker rate than my companions, I was soon far ahead
of them; and in fear of being lost, and anxious to avoid such an
unpleasant _contretemps_, I drew rein, and dismounting, sat down to
await their arrival. Presently a cracking sound as of sticks breaking
close to me attracted my attention. Looking in the direction whence
the sound proceeded, I espied a species of deer, of a dark golden
colour, eyeing me with extreme astonishment. He was a fine buck, with
beautiful branching antlers, and large dark languishing eyes. Close
behind him cautiously peered two does, and a little farther off I
could make out several other animals of the same kind.

How I longed for a rifle, but of this firearm I knew we had not
brought one with us, and though I had a gun, it was not at hand, and
was being carried by Storer. Crawling away from the spot as quietly as
I could, I placed a good hundred yards between myself and the place
from which I had first caught sight of these animals, and then
springing to my feet, ran as hard as I could in the direction I judged
my companions were coming. As soon as they came in sight I endeavoured
by signs to get them to halt. They quickly perceived me, and guessing
what I wanted, immediately drew rein and waited for me to come up. I
lost no time in informing them of the discovery I had made, and taking
my gun, proceeded to regain as quietly and stealthily as possible the
spot I had lately quitted. The rest of my companions remained
stationary, waiting for the report of my gun, which was to bring them
all up.

Yes, there he was, a beautiful animal, still in the same attitude of
inquiring curiosity in which I had left him. Anxious to avoid spoiling
the head, I took aim behind the shoulder, and fired. The report was
followed by a crashing sound in the direction in which I had fired.
Into the glade some half-dozen deer bounded, and like lightning
disappeared into the opposite wood. When the smoke cleared away I
perceived the one at which I had fired on his knees, evidently unable
to proceed. Full of anxiety to place the poor beast out of his agony I
fired a second barrel at him, which had the effect of knocking him
over. Springing up immediately, however, he walked slowly away,
seemingly unconcerned and unhurt. I could not make out what was the
matter with myself and my gun. He had evidently been hit both times,
and yet seemed to be perfectly unconcerned at the whole thing. I could
not bring myself to fire again, but Gregorio did with his revolver,
and broke the unfortunate animals leg. Limping away on three, he went
and lay down under an overhanging rock, appearing more stupefied than
in pain. Disgusted at such butchery, I begged one of my companions,
all of whom had come up, to despatch the unfortunate beast, and my
husband, going close up to him, placed his revolver within a foot of
the deer's forehead and fired. Slowly it sank forward, stunned and
apparently lifeless, but when we came alongside it, it was still
breathing, and there was no mark to show that the bullet had
penetrated the skull. Here François came to our aid, and with the help
of his hunting-knife, the poor creature was put out of his misery.

As I wished to keep the skin, the coat of which was very thick and
long, Gregorio set to work to remove it. The process occupied some
time, and proved most difficult and tedious to accomplish. During our
stay in the Cordilleras we frequently came across these deer; but our
experience of their tameness, the great difficulty of killing them,
and the utter absence of sport which lay therein, prevented us from
ever again attempting to bring another down. The flesh was decidedly
good, and much to be appreciated after the monotonous diet of ostrich
and guanaco meat; but even with this inducement at hand, the golden
deer of the Cordilleras remained unmolested and sacred in our eyes for
the rest of the time we remained in their hitherto undisturbed and
peaceful solitudes. If regret could atone for that death, of which I
unfortunately was the cause, then it has long ago been forgiven; for,
for many a day I was haunted by a sad remorse for the loss of that
innocent and trusting life, which had hitherto remained in ignorance
of the annihilating propensities of man--that man who, directly he
sees something beautiful and rare, becomes filled with the desire to
destroy.

The shoulders, ribs, and head were packed on to the horses of Storer,
François, and Gregorio, the remainder being left as food for the dogs
and condors. Some dozen of the latter, having scented blood, were
already hovering high above our heads, and as soon as we were out of
sight would doubtless swoop down and make greedy feast on the remains
left by the dogs. Five minutes' riding brought us to the shores of the
great lagoon towards which we had been directing our steps. Here we
dismounted, and tethering our horses, left them to browse on the long
rich grass which grew luxuriantly and thickly all round. A couple of
hours were quickly and happily whiled away duck shooting. It was not
till late that night that we reached our camp in safety, tired and
hungry, but having thoroughly enjoyed our day.



CHAPTER XVI.

     AN ALARM--THE WILD-HORSES--AN EQUINE COMBAT--THE WILD
     STALLION VICTORIOUS--THE STRUGGLE RENEWED--RETREAT OF
     THE WILD HORSES.


One evening, after dinner, we were all sitting round the camp-fire,
discussing coffee, when I'Aria, who had gone to have a last look at
the horses before turning in, came running back, and announced that he
could see the Indians coming down the valley in great numbers. We
immediately jumped up and hurried out to inspect the new arrivals, not
a little annoyed at the prospect of our privacy being intruded upon by
these unwelcome guests.

Looking up the valley, we saw a dark mass moving slowly towards us.
Presently it came nearer, and Gregorio, looking at it closely for a
moment, said excitedly, "That's not the Indians, but a herd of wild
horses; we had better look out for our own!" An extraordinary
commotion was indeed visible among our animals. They were running to
and fro, evidently in a state of great perturbation, now collecting
together in a knot, now dispersing at a gallop over the valley,
neighing and whinnying shrilly.

As Gregorio spoke, one of the wild horses detached itself from the
main troop and galloped at full speed towards our horses. "Quick!
quick! your rifles, or we shall lose our tropilla," shouted Gregorio,
in evident alarm; and though we did not quite understand the full
extent of our danger, we ran for our rifles, and started off as quick
as we could, to get between the wild horses and our own, Gregorio
explaining as we ran along, that the wild stallion, if we did not stop
him, would drive off our troop, and leave us in the most perilous
plight. Of course nothing more was needed to urge us on to our utmost
speed, to avert the threatening danger. But the stallion flew like the
wind towards our horses, who were now all huddled together in a corner
of the valley, and we could scarcely hope to be in time to save them.
Suddenly he staggered and fell; he had got into a bog. In the few
seconds he lost in extricating himself we had time to get within
range. Bang! bang! bang! went our rifles, but unscathed he sped on,
and was soon within twenty yards of our terrified animals, and far in
front of us. "We are lost!" cried the guides simultaneously; and
filled with dismay, we all stood still, perfectly paralysed at the
thought of the position we should be in without horses, three hundred
miles away from Sandy Point.

But at this moment Gregorio's big bay stallion, the master of the
troop, rushed out to meet the enemy, both halting when they met, and
fronting one another. Thankful for this diversion in our favour, we
again ran forward, in hopes of being able to get up before Gregorio's
stallion should have been compelled to fly, as the superior size of
his adversary left no doubt he would ultimately have to do. In the
meantime the two animals, after pawing the air for a second or two,
made a dash at one another, and engaged in a fierce combat, carried on
chiefly with their teeth, though occasionally they would rise on their
hind legs and fight with their fore feet. Our horses, not daring to
stir, watched them on one side, and the wild herd, which had meanwhile
trotted up close to the field of battle, looked on from the other
side, apparently deeply interested in the issue of the struggle.

We hurried along as quick as we could, though, unfortunately, we could
make but slow progress, encumbered as we were with our rifles, and
retarded by the long grass. Meanwhile--another misfortune--we
discovered that beyond three bullets my husband happened to have had
in his pocket when we started, and which we had fired off in the first
volley, no one had brought any ammunition, this essential having been
overlooked in the hurry and excitement of the moment. Hoping we should
be able to cope with the stallion, should we get up in time, with our
revolvers, we pressed on, our eyes fixed on the two combatants, the
endurance of our champion being now our only chance. He was evidently
already worsted, and any second might turn tail and fly. Still he
fought on, and still we drew nearer and nearer.

Suddenly my brother, who was a little in front of us, seemed to fall.
Running to him we found him up to the waist in a bog, which stretched
up the valley between us and the horses. It was impossible to cross
it; indeed, we had some difficulty in pulling him out. We had to run a
good distance before we could get on to firmer ground; and in the
meantime the battle went against our stallion, who suddenly turned
tail and fled. After giving him a parting kick, the wild horse rushed
at our troop, and began to drive them at a gallop towards his own,
punishing with vicious bites and kicks any animal that showed signs
of becoming refractory, or that did not go quick enough. The moment
was critical. We strained every nerve to get between the two troops,
as, if they once joined, our chances were hopeless. But for another
unexpected diversion in our favour, our efforts would have been
defeated. This diversion was the sudden reappearance on the scene of
our stallion, who, at the sight of his retreating wives, had evidently
once more screwed up his courage to the fighting point.

The combat that now ensued was fiercer even than the last one.
Profiting by it, we got up to our horses, who had stood still again,
and hurriedly drove them in front of us towards our camp. We had gone
some distance when the wild stallion, having again proved victor, came
swooping after us, neighing proudly, and evidently meaning mischief.
We began to shout and wave our hands as he approached, in the hopes of
driving him off. When within forty yards of us, he stopped, but
continued to circle round us, stamping and pawing, and neighing
angrily. Our object was to drive the horses up to the camp and get to
our rifle ammunition, it being evident that the only way to relieve
ourselves of this troublesome Don Juan was by despatching him
altogether. We soon got near to the camp, and shouted to I'Aria to
bring us some bullets. At the report of the first shot the stallion
fled in dismay, and with such rapidity that the two or three bangs we
had at him missed their mark. He made straight for his own troop, who,
during the whole performance, had stood in watchful expectation. The
moment he reached them they all started off at a gallop, and, in the
twinkling of an eye, swept up the steep escarpment on the far side of
the valley and disappeared. Our horses were so frightened and
bewildered by the day's events, that they seemed to have little desire
to graze, but stood quite quiet together for upwards of an hour near
the camp. We were in some apprehension lest the stallion should return
in the night, but Gregorio said that he thought there was no danger of
such an occurrence taking place, and we accordingly turned in and went
to sleep, and were glad to see our troop grazing tranquilly next
morning as usual.



CHAPTER XVII.

     EXCURSION TO THE CLEOPATRA NEEDLES--A BOG--A WINDING
     RIVER--DIFFICULT TRAVELLING--A STRANGE PHENOMENON--A
     FAIRY HAUNT--WILD HORSES AGAIN--THEIR AGILITY--THE
     BLUE LAKE--THE CLEOPATRA PEAKS--THE PROMISED LAND.


It was arranged that night that Mr. B. and my brother and myself
should make an expedition with Gregorio, towards the three strange
peaks already mentioned. In order to spare our horses, no cumbersome
articles were to be taken, a kettle, some biscuits, coffee, and meat,
being all we contemplated carrying with us, except, of course, our
guanaco furs and guns.

Thus equipped, we started the next morning shortly after sunrise. Our
trip began badly. We had not gone far before my brother got into a
morass, out of which he had no little difficulty in extricating
himself; and as for his horse, at one time we thought the poor brute
would never get out again, so deep had it sunk into the trembling,
boggy ground. However, we managed to get it out at last, and, though
both well plastered with mud, neither its rider nor itself were any
the worse for this little _contretemps_. Proceeding on our journey, we
followed Gregorio at a merry trot towards the great ravine, through
which flowed that broad and rapid mountain stream, which it was
necessary for us to ford.

The ravine side was so steep that we had to dismount and lead our
horses down by a narrow track made by the wild horses. This pathway
seemed to fall almost perpendicularly down to the river, which roared
along, two or three hundred feet below us, and a slip or stumble might
have sent us pell mell, one over the other, into it. No such mishap
occurred, however, and, safely reaching the bottom, we proceeded to
ford the river. It was not so deep as we had expected, but it ran with
great force, and its bed being composed of shifting pebbles and large
boulders of rock, our horses floundered and splashed about in a
distressing way, and we all got more or less drenched by the time we
got through it. This being the summer season the water was
comparatively low, and we were able to follow the windings of the
ravine, riding over the dry strip of river-bed for a good distance.
But then the river began to dart about capriciously from one side of
the ravine to the other, the consequence being that we were
continually finding ourselves obliged to ford it again; and the ravine
sides were now so steep and thickly wooded that we had no option but
to follow the river. After two hours of splashing, and many a narrow
escape from complete duckings, the river made a sudden turn southward,
and in order to keep on our road towards the peaks we had to say
farewell to our convenient ravine, and make our way as best we could
through the beechwood forest. This was an arduous task. At times we
would get into a thicket which made progress impossible, forcing us to
retrace our steps, and try some other route, often to meet only the
same difficulty as before. Then a good broad clearing would turn out
to be equally impracticable, on account of a belt of bog stretching
across it, or a little ravine, which favoured our journey for a time,
would resolve itself into an _impasse_, and again we would have to
turn back. Fortunately the weather was fine and sunny, and we made
light of our difficulties, occasionally resting for a while to admire
some of the many lovely bits of landscape chance presented to our
eyes, or to feast on some bush, heavy laden with wild red currants,
which were now ripe and sweet. A peculiar phenomenon, suggestive of
some great fire in bygone ages, struck me in these forests.
Everywhere, among the younger trees, stood huge dead giants, gray and
leafless, and partially charred, as if a sudden sea of fire had swept
over them, drying up their sap and destroying their vital powers,
being quenched, however, by some sudden agency before it had time to
destroy their branches and trunks completely. These gray skeletons of
a bygone age looked weird and ghastly, standing amid the fresh green
trees around them, and the wind, sweeping through their branches,
produced a dry harsh rattle, which contrasted strangely with the
melodious rustle of the leafy crests of their comrades.

For three or four hours we worked our way through the forest, and I
never was more astonished at the marvellous powers of endurance of our
horses than on this occasion, to say nothing of their extraordinary
cleverness in scrambling over the trunks of fallen trees, and in
picking their way through boggy ground, where a wrong step to the
right or left would have been disastrous. At last we reached the
outskirts of the wood, all more or less scratched and bruised, and
thoroughly tired with our exertions.

But the peaks were still far off, and the sun was getting low, and
soon another strip of forest loomed ominously in front of us. We
resolved, therefore, to go no farther that day, and accordingly cast
about for some suitable camping-place.

We were not long in finding a little nook which was admirably adapted
to our purpose. Sheltered by a cluster of moss and grass-covered
boulders, and well fenced in by a circle of shrubs and trees, we found
a fairy circle of soft, velvety greensward, jewelled here and there
with knots of scarlet verbenas and wild violets. Bubbling from out
among the rocks a silver clear little stream flowed down its centre,
giving just the slight touch of life and movement required to make
this sylvan retreat as cheerful as it was cosy, not to speak of its
convenience as regards the kettle.

We soon had our horses unsaddled, and then Gregorio and Mr. B. set to
work to light a fire, whilst my brother went out with his gun, and I
gathered a capful of red currants, which I mashed up with sugar, with
a view to dessert. By the time my brother came back, bringing with him
a brace of wood-pigeons and parrots, which were soon plucked and
spitted, the rib of guanaco Gregorio had set to roast was done to a
nicety, and we all fell to and made a hearty meal, finishing with the
red currants aforesaid.

Then the men lit their pipes, and the social maté-bowl went round,
whilst we lay watching the sun setting over the mountains, gilding
their peaks with ever varying tints, and making their snowy glaciers
glow warm and golden under its magic touch. Far below, at our feet,
lay the ravine, with the river we had so often crossed that day,
looking like a winding silver thread in the distance. Around us
reigned perfect peace; the chattering flocks of parrots, which had
made the woods noisy during day-time, had gone to their leafy roosts,
and not a breath of wind stirred the silent trees. A few little birds,
who no doubt had their homes in the chinks of the boulders which
formed the background of our camp, hovered around us anxiously for
some time, till, finding they had nothing to fear from their strange
visitors, they took heart, and hopped from stone to stone into their
respective lodgings, and, after chirping a note or two, were silent
for the night.

We were not long in following their example, and rolling myself up in
my guanaco robe, with my head on my saddle, I slept as sound and sweet
a sleep "under the greenwood tree" as ever blessed a weary mortal.
Neither Puck nor Ariel played any pranks with me; though, for ought I
know, Titania and Oberon, and their fairy following, flying from the
sceptical modern spirit which ignores them, may well have made these
secluded sylvan haunts their own.

We were in the saddle early the next morning, and, plunging into the
woods, pursued our way through the same difficulties which had
hampered our progress the day before. After a time, however, we came
to a region evidently much frequented by wild horses, and eventually
we hit on a path worn by them right through the woods, and following
this, we jogged along at a very fair pace. Soon our horses began to
neigh and prick up their ears as we advanced towards a clearing. Their
cries were answered from somewhere beyond us, and pushing forward into
the open, we came upon a herd of wild horses, who, hearing our
advance, had stopped grazing, and now they stood collected in a knot
together, snorting and stamping, and staring at us in evident
amazement. One of their number came boldly trotting out to meet us,
and evidently with no pacific intentions; his wicked eye, and his
white teeth, which he had bared fiercely, looked by no means
reassuring. But suddenly he stopped short, looked at us for a moment,
and then, with a wild snort, dashed madly away, followed by the whole
herd. They disappeared like lightning over the brow of a deep ravine,
to emerge again on our view after a couple of seconds, scampering like
goats up its opposite side, which rose almost perpendicular to a
height of six or seven hundred feet. They reached its crest at full
gallop in the twinkling of an eye, and without pausing an instant
disappeared again, leaving us wondering and amazed at their marvellous
agility. I had often seen their paths leading up hill-sides which a
man could scarcely climb, but till now that I had witnessed a specimen
of their powers with my own eyes, I had scarcely been able to believe
them possessed of a nimbleness and cleverness of foot which would not
discredit a chamois.

From the open space on which we were now standing we could see a broad
lake lying at the base of some very high hills, behind which lay the
mighty mountain which culminated in the three peaks we were desirous
of reaching, and as a ravine appeared to wind in that direction from
the head of the lake, we now pushed forward towards the latter,
occasionally profiting by numerous wild horse paths to expedite our
advance. After a weary scramble of several hours' duration, we
threaded a last belt of forest, blundered and floundered through a
last bog, and after a short ride over a grassy plain studded with
bushes, which were literally blue with a profusion of califaté-berries,
found ourselves on the shores of a splendid sheet of water. The sight
well repaid us for our trouble. The lake, which was two or three miles
broad, lay encircled by tall hills, covered with thick vegetation,
which grew close down to the water's edge. Beyond the hills rose the
three red peaks and the Cordilleras. Their white glaciers, with the
white clouds resting on them, were all mirrored to marvellous
perfection in the motionless lake, whose crystal waters were of the
most extraordinarily brilliant blue I have ever beheld. Round the lake
ran a narrow strip of white sand, and exactly in its centre stood a
little green island with a clump of beeches growing on it. Each
colour--the white, the green, the blue--was so brilliant; the
scene--the wooded hills, the glaciers rising into the blue above, and
sinking mirrored into the blue below--was so unique, the spirit of
silence and solitude which lay over all so impressive, that for a long
time we stood as if spellbound, none of us uttering a word. Suddenly
we were startled by a rushing sound behind us, and in another instant,
making the air shake as it went, and almost touching me with the tip
of its mighty wing, a condor swept past us, rising with rapid flight
up, up, up into the air, we following him with our eyes, till he
became a mere speck on the sky, and finally disappeared, thousands of
feet up in the air. This incident seemed to break the charm that held
us silent, and we broke into a chorus of exclamations of praise and
wonder as every second some new beauty in the scene before us struck
our admiring gaze. Resuming our journey, we rode along the narrow
strip of beach towards the head of the lake. Occasionally we were
forced into the water, as at some spots there was no beach at all; but
at any rate we got on much quicker here than we had up to the present,
and in a comparatively short space of time found ourselves at the head
of the lake. We were close to the three peaks, which we could now see
were parts of the crater of an extinct volcano--the other portions of
which had fallen in, a prey to the action of the weather. We camped by
the side of a little stream which flowed into the lake. All night long
we could hear the thunder of avalanches, or what, perhaps, might have
been the rumbling of some distant volcano; and I found myself
nervously expecting a repetition of the earthquake which had surprised
us so disagreeably at the Laguna Blanca.

  [Illustration: "WE WERE THE FIRST WHO EVER BURST ON TO THAT SILENT
   SEA"]

In the morning we rode up a tall hill, from which we could get a good
view of the interior. At the same time we were able to assure
ourselves that it would be useless, slightly provisioned as we were,
to attempt to penetrate any farther, the country before us being still
more thickly wooded than that we had already traversed.

For some distance we could catch glimpses among the hills of bright
green valleys, with whose excellent pastures our nimble friends the
wild horses were doubtless well acquainted; and farther on rose a
forest of white peaks, one towering above the other, till the tallest
faded, hazy and indistinct, into the skies. I would fain have dived
into their farthest mystery, but it was not to be; so, with a sigh of
regret, we turned our horses' heads in a homeward direction. We got
back to the camp late in the evening, having taxed our horses' powers
to the utmost to accomplish our return trip in one day. Our account of
the wonderful blue lake and the strange country beyond excited the
envy of those who had remained behind, and led to a discussion as to
the practicability of our entering the mountains, bag and baggage. But
the difficulties in our way were too many and formidable, and
reluctantly we were compelled to abandon this seductive plan.



CHAPTER XVIII.

     WE THINK OF RETURNING--GOOD-BYE TO THE CORDILLERAS--THE
     LAST OF THE WILD HORSES--MOSQUITOES--A STORMY NIGHT--
     A CALAMITY--THE LAST OF OUR BISCUIT--THE UTILITY OF
     FIRE-SIGNALS.


A few more days spent in the Cordilleras brought us near the time when
it was necessary to begin to think of returning to Sandy Point. Our
provisions were beginning to sink rapidly; tea and coffee and sugar we
still had plenty of, but the biscuit bags were getting ominously low,
and all our other dainties had already been consumed; and many of our
camps were painfully remembered in connection with this or that
article of food, which had been partaken of there for the last time.
Thus, near "Los Bargnales" we had finished our last tin of butter;
"Los Morros" witnessed the broaching of our last tin of preserved
milk; and here, in the Cordilleras, we ruefully swallowed our last
dish of porridge. Guanaco meat is good, so is ostrich meat; good, too,
is an open-air, gipsy life in a bright climate, with lots of sport
and pleasant companionship; but the goodness of all these things is
materially enhanced by the accompaniment of good cheer, and materially
depreciated by the lack of it. Thus, when our daily _menu_ began to
consist of a series of ingenious changes on the monotonous theme of
ostrich and guanaco meat, varied only by baked biscuits, our thoughts
somehow began to run in the groove of home; and we often found
ourselves talking of "dear old England" and its roast beef in a strain
of affectionate longing. Somehow the air of Patagonia did not seem so
bracing and inspiriting as at first; we began to grow sceptical on the
subject of guanaco and ostrich hunting; we discovered that the wild
duck were too tame to give real good sport, and that snipe-shooting in
a country where these birds get up in flocks, is simply a matter of
loading and pulling the trigger. Discomforts and hardships, of which
we once made light, we now began to take as serious matters, and our
tempers, once so sweet and accommodating, had begun to grow acrid and
touchy. We all felt more inclined to dwell on the weight of our
individual opinions, and less disposed to value those of our
companions. Once we had avoided discussions, as liable to disturb the
harmony which reigned among us; now we welcomed them as pleasant
irritants, and even went out of our way to provoke them. The result
was that one day, on somebody's suggesting that perhaps we had better
think of returning; after a little opposition, as a matter of course
(for in our then mood it was quite sufficient for anybody to propose a
plan for everybody else to immediately gainsay it), we unanimously
agreed that, considering that we had seen a good deal of Patagonia,
considering, too, that our provisions were nearly exhausted, and that
our horses were very stale, it was better to start at once.

So one morning the packhorses were driven up, and the familiar
occupation of loading them gone through. It had now become a much
simpler matter than formerly, and we were enabled to comfort ourselves
with the reflection that the loss in our larder was a gain as regards
the time economised every day in packing up.

Before leaving our pretty camp we carved our names on one of the
trees, and erected a cairn, on the top of which we left a bottle--the
only emblem of civilisation we could spare. Then, mounting, we turned
our backs on the Cordilleras, and set out towards the ravine we had
entered by, whose name, among the traders, is "The Wild Horse Ravine."
As we were riding along, a solitary horse suddenly appeared on the
crest of a hill, and, after eyeing us for a moment, came tearing down
towards us at a frantic gallop, with a loud neigh, and perhaps
dangerous intentions. Our troop of horses scattered in all directions;
Gregorio and I'Aria got out their "bolas," prepared for emergencies,
and we curiously awaited the sequel of the incident. Nearer and nearer
came the untamed steed, without abating his speed one jot, and
evidently determined to charge right at us. We began to feel
uncomfortable, but put our trust in Gregorio's deftness, though it was
perhaps well it was not put to the test. When within about ten yards
of us the wild horse suddenly stopped, stood still for one second, and
then turned, and, with two sets of "bolas" whizzing harmlessly round
his ears, went bounding away as fast as he had come, never stopping
till he reached the top of the hill he had first appeared on. This was
the last we saw of the "Bagnales."

Late in the afternoon we crossed the ravine where we had camped before
entering the Cordilleras. Here we were assailed by a thick cloud of
mosquitoes, who annoyed us and our poor horses horribly, buzzing round
us, and biting viciously wherever they could settle. For a time
nothing was to be heard but angry exclamations and objurgations,
mingled with occasional cries of fiendish joy as one of us succeeded
in destroying half a dozen of our thirsty tormentors with one slap of
the hand. But from the fury of their numbers there was no refuge,
opposition only increased their virulence, and those who were fiercest
and most energetic in driving them off were always surrounded by the
thickest cloud. Relief only came when we got out of the ravine into
the plain, and there one puff of wind swept our enemy clean away in a
second, not one mosquito remaining to curse at or to kill.

Thankful for our release from this annoyance, we were not disposed to
grumble very much at the oppressive heat to which we were exposed
during the whole of the day, though the sun beat down on us from a
cloudless sky with overpowering force, and our burnt and blistered
faces smarted painfully under its fiery rays. We camped that night
near a broad lagoon, and for the next few days continued our journey
over the plains, without anything of note occurring. Hitherto we had
been pretty fortunate as regards the weather, and the nights
especially, with hardly an exception, had been calm and fine. But one
march before reaching Coy-Inlet River we camped in a broad valley,
where our experience of Patagonian nights was unpleasantly varied.
Shortly after we had gone to bed, the misgivings which the threatening
aspect of the sky had called up, as we took a last glance at the
weather before turning in, were more than realised. The wind began to
pipe ominously through the grass, and before long it was blowing a
regular gale. A sudden squall carried our tents clean out of their
pickets, and sent them whirling through the air. A scene of the most
uncomfortable confusion ensued. It was pouring with rain, pitch dark,
and the wind was blowing with such force that it was hard to keep
one's legs. Rugs, and clothes, and smouldering embers were being blown
in all directions; everybody was blundering about in the darkness,
tripping up over something, or falling against some one else; and the
howling of the wind, the rush of the river, the chorus of loud
imprecations in various languages, and the unearthly moaning and
whimpering of the dogs, made up as wild a scene of noisy confusion as
could possibly be imagined.

Several vain attempts were made to set up the tents, but the wind was
too strong; and at last, perfectly drenched through, we had to give up
the attempt, and crawl into whatever furs first came to hand, to wait
till the storm should pass over. This it did not do till about four
o'clock in the morning, just as it was getting light. It was too late
or early to go to bed again then, so we crept out, sleepy, and damp,
and miserable, and drank hot coffee round a smoking fire, till the sun
got up and warmed us thoroughly.

We were to camp that evening by the Coy-Inlet River, and as it was a
good way off we set out soon after breakfast. We passed several herds
of guanaco, and also a herd of about eighty or a hundred ostriches. I
had never seen so many together before. We gave chase to them, but the
dogs got so excited, running first after one ostrich and then after
another, that at last they all got away. A calamity happened to us
that afternoon. The mare who carried the two little bags with all that
remained of our greatest treasure--our biscuits, suddenly took fright
at something, and galloped wildly away. We followed her course with
anxious eyes and beating hearts, not daring to go after her, lest it
should aggravate her fears. For a time the pack sat firmly, and we
began to breathe, but even while we watched, oh, horror! it began to
incline towards one side, and then gradually slid over. The moment the
mare felt it underneath her she began to kick out, and galloping
quicker and quicker, in a very few seconds she was packless and
pacified. Then only did we gallop forward to know the worst, and the
worst was bad indeed. A long trail of broken biscuits, sown in the
grass, marked the course the unfortunate mare had taken, and when we
got to the bags only a few small handfuls remained. We tried to gather
together what we could, but the biscuit, by long travel, had broken
into fine dust, and it was quite impossible to pick much out of the
long grass it had fallen into. Our last kettle had also severely
suffered in the fracâs, a big hole appearing in its side when, after a
long search, it was at last found. Guillaume talked hopefully of being
able to mend it, but failing this desirable consummation, farewell the
cheering cup of maté; farewell the morning bowl of grateful coffee;
farewell content--the camp-life's chiefest comfort gone! Slowly and
mournfully we tied up what was left of the biscuits in a small canvas
bag, which Gregorio secured to his saddle, and then, after having
devoted a quarter of an hour to grazing on all fours on such fragments
as could be found among the grass, we continued our journey,
reflecting on the vanity of all things.

We arrived at Coy-Inlet River that evening, and fording it, camped
near the bank. It rained again during the night, but as there was
little or no wind, it did not matter much, and excepting a pervading
sense of dampness, we suffered no great discomfort. Continuing our
march that day over the plains that lay between Coy-Inlet River and
the Gallegos, we saw the smoke of numerous fires in the distance; but
there was no response to the fires we lit in answer, and so we
concluded that they were only old fires, which were still smouldering.
The next day one of our party had an opportunity of practically
testing the value of fires as a means of signalling one's whereabouts
in the pampa. He had got up early in the morning, and had gone out on
foot at about five o'clock with his rifle, to try and stalk a guanaco.
At ten o'clock he had not returned. As we had only a short march to
make that day, it did not matter if we started a little later than
usual, so we lay about, waiting for his return. Eleven, twelve o'clock
came, but still no signs of him. He had now been away more than seven
hours, and I began to think that something must have happened to him.
We therefore rode up on the plains to look for him, lighting fires at
intervals, to show the position of the camp, and anxiously scanning
the horizon to see whether he had also made a fire. But though we
rode about for a long time nothing was to be seen, and we went back to
the camp, wondering what could have happened. Just as we were in the
middle of a perplexed discussion as to what steps to take in the
matter, to our relief he suddenly came into the camp, blood-stained
and tired, and carrying the head and ribs of a guanaco on his back.
Shortly after leaving the camp he had wounded a guanaco, which went
off, however, and led him a long dance for two or three hours, without
his being able to come within range of it again. In despair, he at
last fired a couple of shots at it from a long range, but, as it
seemed, without reaching his mark. These shots exhausted his
ammunition, our supply of ball-cartridges being very low, and he
having only allowed himself three rounds. Loath to abandon the wounded
animal, he had followed it pertinaciously over ravines and hills,
always vowing to himself that beyond a certain point he would follow
no farther, but always being lured on by the signs of exhaustion the
guanaco was showing, to go just a little farther. At last he had the
satisfaction of seeing it lie down, and with a shout of triumph ran
forward to despatch it with his hunting-knife. But at his approach
the guanaco jumped up again, and slowly as it ran, it was enabled to
outdistance its relentless pursuer, who was already thoroughly done up
with his exertions; but feeling that with patience he must conquer at
last, he felt less inclined than ever to abandon his prey. Already
numerous hawks and condors were circling over the doomed guanaco, and
the thought that the fruit of his labours would only go to provide a
feast for these hateful marauders was an additional incentive to
persevere. At last success rewarded his efforts. Waiting till the
guanaco lay down once more, he approached it by degrees, and then,
when within twenty yards or so of it, made a dash towards it. It
stumbled in trying to get up, and he had just time to rush up and
catch it by the ear, and with a happy stroke of his long hunting-knife
end its sufferings. It was only when he had cut it up, and laden
himself with the best parts, that he began to reflect that in the
excitement of the chase he had quite forgotten in which direction the
camp lay. He had followed the guanaco now to the right, now to the
left, often having to run to keep it in view, and all he knew was that
several hours must have elapsed since he started in its pursuit. He
lit several fires, but he only had a few matches, and the fires
unfortunately soon went out, so that he had no means of showing us his
own whereabouts. However, he struck out in a direction in which he
imagined the camp must lie, and kept wearily trudging on under his
load, which, tired as he was, he was naturally loath to part from.
After he had gone a good distance he looked around, and then the
skyline behind him appeared to be singularly like that he remembered
having seen on leaving the camp. But then the skyline to the left,
somehow, had the same look too. Which was the right one? He was just
revolving this puzzling question in his mind, in no very pleasant
humour, when he caught a glimpse of the smoke of the fires we had lit,
and happily not far off, in the direction he had instinctively chosen
from the first as the right one. The sight gave him new vigour, and
though he had still a good distance to go, he managed to reach the
camp at last, without having to throw away the meat which had cost him
such a hard day's work.



CHAPTER XIX.

     ISIDORO--AN UNSAVOURY MEAL--EXPENSIVE LOAVES--GUANACO
     SCARCE--DISAPPOINTMENT--NIGHT SURPRISES US--
     SUPPERLESS--CONTINUED FASTING--NO MEAT IN THE CAMP.


We rode down a broad valley, which led to the Gallegos River, where we
were to camp for the night. On reaching its farther end we were
suddenly surprised by the sight of an Indian camp, composed of three
tents, which were pitched on the other side of the river. Having
little curiosity to make the acquaintance of their inmates, we
continued our journey along the river towards our intended camp, but
Gregorio and Mr. B. rode over to see them. They rejoined us an hour
afterwards; Mr. B. had found an old friend, an Argentine Gaucho, named
Isidoro, who had accompanied him on a former trip, and whom, curiously
enough, he had parted from a year before, on exactly the same spot
where he now met him. I was glad to hear that Isidoro was going to pay
us a visit the next day, as I had heard a great deal about him, and
was anxious to make his acquaintance. We camped near the river, seven
or eight miles away from the Indian camp, and consequently, we hoped,
rather too far to attract a call from these people, the disagreeable
experience of their visit whilst we were at Cape Gregorio being still
fresh in my mind.

Early in the morning we saw a man riding in the direction of the camp,
who, I was told, was Isidoro. He presently appeared among us, and,
except for his moustache and beard, and the superior cleanliness of
his dress, he might have been taken for an Indian. He was warmly
welcomed by the guides, amongst whom his unequalled proficiency in all
that pertains to the pampa craft, and his personal character, had
gained him great prestige. Isidoro did not stop long, as he was going
to hunt with the Indians that day; so, after having taken a few cups
of maté, and smoked a pipe or two in silence, he said good-bye, and
took his departure.

As he rode away, I could not help admiring his manly bearing and his
perfect seat on a splendid, well-bred looking horse, which seemed not
unworthy of its master. He wore his guanaco capa with a certain
foppish grace that one might have looked in vain for in Gregorio or
any of the others, and every article of his accoutrements, from his
carefully coiled lasso to the bright-coloured garters round his new
potro-boots, was perfectly finished and natty.

After he had gone, my husband and myself started off guanaco-hunting.
We soon killed a guanaco, and were busily engaged in the laborious
operation of cutting it up, when we heard a grunt, and looking up, saw
an Indian behind us on horseback. He watched our clumsy efforts for
some time in silence, occasionally breaking out into loud laughter,
and then dismounting, took out his own knife, and with a few adroit
and easy cuts, did the whole trick in no time. He rewarded himself for
his labours by cutting out the kidneys and the heart, and eating them
raw and bloody, there and then! This disgusting repast over, he
smacked his lips, mounted his horse, and rode away, grinning
eloquently, and leaving us wondering and horrified.

The evening after our halt at Gallegos we camped in a stony, rocky
region, where there was very little grass, but plenty of quail,
several of which we shot, though we found them to be very dry and
unpalatable. It poured all the next day, so we were compelled to
remain where we were, much against our will. To have to lie all day
in a little tent, with a dreary bit of gray landscape to look out
upon, while the rain patters on the canvas in a remorseless,
dispiriting monotone, is one of the most severe trials one's patience
can be put to, and ours came very badly out of the ordeal, Patagonia
being by no means complimentarily alluded to in the course of these
weary hours. However, towards sundown, it cleared up, and we were able
to have a turn and stretch our limbs in the open air before it got
dark.

Two days after leaving this camp we struck the Indian trail to Sandy
Point, and on the third we camped opposite Cape Gregorio, not far from
the place whence we had made our visit to the Indians. Here we
intended halting for a couple of days to take in a good supply of meat
before starting for Sandy Point, as neither guanaco nor ostriches were
to be met with, except by a mere chance, any farther south, and all
our other provisions being exhausted, we had now to rely solely upon
the product of the chase for our food.

In the morning two traders passed through our camp, and we were
delighted to find that they had a small bag of bread, which they were
taking to the Indians. They sold us twenty small loaves, each about
the size of a penny roll, for five pounds; and I think they got the
best of the bargain, for the bread was half mildewed and scarcely
eatable, and so heavy, that even the stomach of an ostrich could
scarcely have compassed its digestion with impunity. Famished as we
were, we preferred to give it to the dogs, who showed their good sense
by turning up their noses at it; and unless the foxes rashly
experimented upon it after our departure, for aught I know these
expensive loaves may still be lying in a fossil state on the
Patagonian pampas!

We all went out guanaco-hunting that day, but were not very
successful. I'Aria managed to run down a young one with his dog, and
Mr. B. shot one; but as he killed it some twenty miles away from our
camp he could only bring the head and the two sides, not daring to
load his dead-beat horse with more.

But meat had to be procured somehow, so next day, whilst the others
went on along the trail with the packhorses, my husband, Mr. B.,
myself, and Gregorio, went out hunting again, intending to catch up
the others before the evening. We rode for several hours towards Cape
Gregorio, but although we saw several ostriches, they got up very
wild, and pursuit of them was always out of the question. Guanaco,
there were none to be seen. This was very dispiriting; if we did not
manage to kill anything here it was still more unlikely that we should
be able to do so farther on. Our companions were relying on our
efforts, and to have to join them empty-handed would have been in
itself vexatious enough from a sportsman's point of view, apart from
the serious and practical consideration that we could scarcely go on
to Sandy Point, which was quite three days' march away, without food.
So we kept riding on towards Cape Gregorio, in the hopes of still
being able to find something. We presently sighted some guanacos
grazing at the base of a ridge of hills, and whilst Gregorio went
after an ostrich, which sprang up at that moment, we three spurred our
horses, and separating, so as to attract as little attention as
possible, rode towards them.

I soon lost sight of my companions, who disappeared down some of the
many gulches that led to the valley where the guanaco were grazing.
Fervently praying that one of us might be successful, I hurried on.
When I got into the valley, to my chagrin I saw that the guanaco,
already aware of danger, were moving slowly up the valley, not at a
great distance from where I was, but still a good way beyond
rifle-range. Mr. B., who was a long way to the left, was much nearer
to them, and my husband was in a similar position to the right. As we
approached, the guanaco trotted up among the hills and disappeared. We
had no option but to follow them, entering on the range of hills at
different points, as the herd would probably scatter as soon as we
came close upon them.

I came upon them of a sudden, and, as I had surmised, they all broke
into different directions. I took a flying shot at one, but missed,
and presently a report on each side of me showed that the others had
had a shot too. I was soon joined by my husband, who had also been
unsuccessful, but Mr. B. did not turn up, and we began to hope that he
might have killed something. We presently saw him galloping full speed
up a distant hill after a guanaco, which was no doubt wounded, but
which seemed to be going too gamely to admit of our being very
sanguine as to his chance of ultimately getting at it. We waited for
some time, but he did not reappear, and so we went down into the
valley to look for Gregorio. He soon came in sight, and,
unfortunately, as empty-handed as we ourselves were. Matters were now
getting serious. The day was far gone, and to catch up our companions
on our jaded horses would have been a hard task, unless we started at
once. We were therefore obliged to relinquish all hope of getting any
guanaco ourselves that day, our only consolation being that Mr. B.'s
prolonged absence boded that he at least had been successful.

We waited for him a little, but as he did not come, knowing that he
could find the way to the place where the others were to camp, we rode
on, lighting fires at intervals, to show our whereabouts. Our horses
were so tired that we could scarcely get them into a trot, and to our
dismay we suddenly found it was getting dark. The sky had been clouded
all day, and we had had no sun to judge the time by, the result being
that we were two or three hours out in our calculations. It is very
easy to guess the time within half an hour or so, under ordinary
circumstances, but the excitement of our various runs after guanacos
and ostriches had so absorbed us that the hours had slipped by
unperceived. We thus found ourselves face to face with the
uncomfortable knowledge that, it being quite impossible to catch up
the others, we should have to go to bed in the open, and unless Mr. B.
had killed his guanaco, supperless. The unpleasantness of this at any
time disagreeable contingency was increased on this occasion by the
prospect of our getting wet through into the bargain, for the aspect
of the sky was very threatening, and it was only in keeping with our
day's luck that there should be a downpour of rain during the night.
But there was absolutely nothing to be done but give in to the
inevitable as cheerfully as we could, so we dismounted and unsaddled
our horses, carefully tethering them to some bushes, lest they should
stray away in the night, and then we sat down to await Mr. B's coming,
the numerous fires we had lit on the way making us quite sure he would
be able to find us. But it grew darker and darker, the tooth of hunger
got fiercer and fiercer, and still he did not come. What could have
happened? Surely he must have run down the guanaco, or given up the
chase hours ago. Perhaps he has met with some accident! That's
impossible! With these and other reflections we beguiled the anxious
moments, hoping against hope that before long a goodly rib of guanaco
would be roasting at the blazing fire we had prepared in rash
anticipation of its advent. But time went on; already we could
scarcely distinguish the bushes in the distance, the hills faded away
altogether into the darkness, and our missing companion did not come.
Having strained our eyes blind, peering into the gloom, we now sat
silently, straining our ears to catch the slightest sign of an
approaching footstep; but our hopes grew gradually fainter and
fainter, and at last we were obliged to give them up altogether.
Gregorio fortunately found a small piece of guanaco meat in one of his
saddle-bags, which we cooked and ate, a small mouthful being all each
of us got. Mingled with our regrets for our enforced fast were
speculations as to what Mr. B. was doing at that moment. Had he killed
his guanaco, and (horrible thought!) was he at that very moment
perhaps roasting its head in the ashes? or was he in a worse plight
than ourselves,--supperless as well as companionless? Our thoughts
reverted to the other party too, who no doubt were in some anxiety as
to what could have become of us. I did not sleep very sound that
night, nor did my companions, as may be imagined. Just as day broke
the dogs gave tongue; there was a crashing among the bushes, and Mr.
B. rode up, with an eager, hungry look on his face, which boded no
good. "Have you got anything to eat?" were his first words, to which
our despairing answer was, "Good gracious! haven't you?" And our faces
grew longer and more disconsolate than ever, as the hopes of a good
breakfast, which had hitherto sustained us, were remorselessly
shattered on both sides.

There was nothing to be done but immediately saddle and ride off to
join our companions. On the way Mr. B. told us how he had followed the
wounded guanaco till he had run his horse to a complete standstill,
and like us, having been overtaken by darkness, had been obliged to
stop where he was till morning.

After several hours' ride we got to the place where the others were
camped, and found them very much alarmed at our protracted absence,
though they had naturally supposed that we had been taken a long
distance out of our way by the chase. We lost no time in making a
hearty meal on what remained of the guanaco meat, which being
finished, there was no food of any kind in the camp.



CHAPTER XX.

     THE HORSES LOST--UNPLEASANT PROSPECTS--FOUND--SHORT
     RATIONS--A STRANGE HUNT--A STERN CHASE--THE MYSTERY
     SOLVED--THE CABEZA DEL MAR--SAFELY ACROSS--A DAMP
     NIGHT--CABO NEGRO AGAIN.


We had a short march to make next day, and it was nearly noon,
therefore, when I'Aria started off on his usual morning task of
driving up the horses.

In the evening, as one may rely on their not straying very far, the
horses are turned loose, after being unsaddled. In fact, no other
method would be practicable, for if they were kept picketed during the
night they would not be able to graze, and would soon become useless.
As they all follow the bell-mare, one is always sure of finding them
together, even should they stray three or four miles in the night,
which, although it does occasionally occur, is quite exceptional.
That, however, this necessity of leaving the horses at liberty may
give rise to considerable inconvenience, and possibly bring one into
the most serious dilemmas, we had an opportunity of discovering at the
cost of some anxiety and a day's hard labour.

After I'Aria had been gone about an hour we began to wonder at his
prolonged absence; but as there had been a strong breeze during the
night, it was very probable, as Gregorio suggested, that the horses
had wandered some distance in search of a sheltered valley. But
another hour elapsed, and still I'Aria did not appear. Guillaume and
François then went off in different directions to continue the search,
agreeing to light a fire should either of them sight the horses.

We in the meantime were left a prey to very disagreeable reflections,
though as yet we had no strong grounds for fearing the worst. We kept
an anxious watch for the first signs of smoke, especially in the
direction I'Aria had taken, as he must have covered five or six miles
by the time he had been gone. To our dismay he presently turned up,
however, very tired and footsore, without having seen a trace of the
horses anywhere. Matters now began to look really serious, but we
still comforted ourselves with the hope that François or Guillaume
would be more successful. But they too, after a time, came back,
bringing the same dismal story. The situation looked gloomy; a
hundred suppositions were hazarded as to what could have become of the
horses. I'Aria said he had "cut the trail" on the side he had taken
without success, and Guillaume and François having done the same, it
was clear that the only direction in which the horses could have gone
was over the plain at the back of our camp, though what could have
induced them to leave the pasturage of the valley for the barren
upland it was hard to understand. Meanwhile there was nothing to be
done but immediately make search for them in that direction, though
our prospects of finding them seemed small indeed. Should we not do so
we should have to accomplish the rest of our journey to Sandy Point on
foot. We had eaten our last round of guanaco meat that morning, so
that a four days' walk on empty stomachs, apart from being an
unpleasant undertaking, was one which it was a question whether our
powers were equal to compassing. We might, it is true, opportunely
meet some trader on the way, from whom we might obtain provisions;
but, on the other hand, we might not be so fortunate; and, on the
principle that it never rains but it pours, we were justified in
considering the latter contingency as the probable one. We commenced
our task, therefore, with feelings the reverse of cheerful. Leaving
Storer in the camp, we all went on to the plain, and started off in
different directions towards the distant hills that bound it. A fire,
should any of us be successful, was to immediately communicate the
news to the others.

With my eyes bent on the ground, eagerly scanning it for any trace of
a hoof mark, I walked slowly along, occasionally giving a glance over
the plain, in the hopes of seeing the welcome column of smoke rise up
into the air. But time went on, and my hopes of success grew fainter
and fainter. Gregorio had expressed a fear that the horses had got on
to the Indian trail to Sandy Point; and taking to it, had gone off at
a trot towards Cabo Negro, on whose pastures they were "at home," or
"aquerenciado," as the natives say. The possibility of their having
done so assumed more and more the feature of a probability, as hour
after hour passed, and I was still only half-way across the plain, and
no traces of the objects of my search as yet forthcoming. In fact, it
seemed useless to continue plodding on farther, and instinctively I
broke off, and turned to the left, observing that there the plain
ended in a hilly country, where, although I'Aria had assured us he
had searched in that direction, it certainly seemed more likely that
the horses would be, supposing they had not gone to Sandy Point. It
was a happy inspiration of mine; I had not gone half a dozen yards
down a grassy ravine before, turning a sharp bend, I suddenly came
upon the whole troop, quietly grazing at their ease, in supreme
indifference as to the trouble and anxiety they had caused half a
dozen human beings for the last five or six hours. My first step was
to throw a few lighted matches into the long dry grass, which I left
to do their work, and then, by dint of some patience and cunning, I
managed to persuade one of the tamest horses to allow me to get my arm
round its neck and effect its capture. Improvising a kind of bridle
from my scarf, I mounted, and driving the horses together, conveyed
them towards the camp, not a little proud and elated at my
achievement, which was due rather to good fortune than judgment, for,
had I followed out the plan of search we had agreed upon, who knows
what the upshot would have been? Meanwhile, the matches had had due
effect; fanned by the breeze, the fire spread quickly, and soon the
ravine was ablaze across its whole breadth, a mighty column of smoke
being whirled high into the air, carrying, doubtless, intense relief
into the hearts of my companions, who were still toiling over the
plains.

I soon got to the camp with my charges, and was thankful to be able to
lie down and rest after my exertions. One by one the others dropped
in, and, as may be imagined, we were all equally elated at so
fortunate an issue of a _contretemps_, which might have had the most
serious consequences,--just on the eve too, of the conclusion of a
trip otherwise particularly free from dangerous mishaps.

It was too late to set out that afternoon, so we passed the remainder
of the day in trying to shoot some duck for supper. In the pleasure of
finding our horses again, we were not disposed to grumble at minor
hardships, and cheerfully, therefore, we endeavoured to make as good a
supper off a brace of small duck, which was all we could kill, as
eight hungry people might be expected to do.

After a cup of coffee next morning we drew our belts a little tighter,
and set out, keeping a sharp look-out, on the forlorn chance of an
ostrich coming within coursing distance. But during the whole of that
day's march neither beast nor fowl, save a fox or two, showed itself,
and as our appetites, which we had kept in tolerable subjection during
daytime, began loudly to assert themselves towards sundown, the spirit
which reigned among us was by no means a cheerful one. We were just
discussing the faint probability that existed of our meeting an Indian
trader before reaching the Colony, when suddenly we descried a man
riding along the trail towards us, and driving two horses before him.
With a unanimous shout of delight we all galloped forward to meet this
welcome stranger, on whose provisions we meant to make a friendly but
extensive raid. But, to our astonishment, on perceiving us, he
suddenly drew up his horse, hesitated for a moment, and then dashed
away over the pampa. Without stopping to inquire what could be the
motive of such extraordinary behaviour, and seeing only that our
chance of supper was vanishing as fast as four legs could carry it, we
all clapped spurs to our steeds, and galloped after him with as much
alacrity as he had shown. The harder we went, the more he urged his
horse along, occasionally looking back in a state of evident terror.
For five minutes or so this strange man-chase continued, neither
pursued nor pursuers gaining any ground on one another, but then we
gradually drew nearer to our quarry, whose horse was already beginning
to show signs of distress. We were soon within earshot, and called
loudly on him to stop, saying that we were friends. Whether he heard
us or not I don't know, but the effect of our shouting was that he
redoubled his efforts, and for a time the chase again became doubtful.

But we were not to be beat; curiosity to know this man's motives for
running away from us as if we were wild beasts, combined with an
equally strong desire to obtain some provisions from the amply filled
saddle-bags which were gliding along in front of us, kept us to our
work, and we felt that till our horses dropped this queer quarry must
be followed. The spurt he had put on soon died away, and then we crept
up to him again, wild with excitement, and giving vent to some
sounding "view-holloas," which, now I come to think of it, may have
possibly increased the terrors of the poor man's situation. But
everything comes to an end, even a stern chase, and soon Gregorio was
within ten or twelve yards of the unknown. "Párase amigo, soy
Gregorio," he called out several times, and at last, feeling G.'s hand
on his shoulder, the man did stop. In a second or two we were all up,
more or less breathless with the run. The man, with whom Gregorio was
now rapidly conversing in Spanish, looked very pale and frightened at
first, but gradually the expression on his face brightened as he
listened to Gregorio's explanations, and eventually he even began to
smile. We, meanwhile, eager to know the solution of the mystery,
pressed Gregorio to solve it. It appeared that this man was a convict,
who had escaped from Sandy Point two days before, and having
"requisitioned" two Government horses, was now on his way to the Santa
Cruz river, on the other side of which he would be free from pursuit.
When he saw us coming towards him at a gallop, he had been seized with
a sudden panic, thinking we might want to capture him, and had
galloped off, with the results known.

Of course we could not ask for any of his provisions as he would
require them much more than we should; so, after exchanging a few
words with him, we left him, and proceeded to rejoin Storer, who had
remained behind with the horses whilst we had been engaged on our
novel hunt.

The incident furnished us with matter for conversation for a time, but
it was not long before we came back to the more important topic of
food, for we were now all of us really faint with hunger, and our
prospects of getting anything for the next thirty-six hours were faint
indeed.

Our goal that evening was the "Cabeza del Mar," an arm of the sea
which runs for some distance inland, and which, at a certain point,
is fordable at low water if the wind is not blowing strongly from an
unfavourable direction. As we rode along we caught a glimpse of the
sea itself--a welcome sight, and forgetting our hunger for a moment we
gave a loud cheer.

At about seven o'clock, just as it was getting dark, we arrived at the
"Cabeza del Mar." We found that we should not be able to ford it for
four or five hours; and as we were anxious to get to Cabo Negro as
soon as possible, in order to break our prolonged fast, we decided on
passing that night, rather than wait till next morning. Having
relieved the packhorses of their loads we sat down by the fire and
brewed some coffee with the last spoonfuls that remained to us of that
comfort, and having drunk it, nothing remained for us but to wait and
dream of the meal we meant to devour on the first opportunity.

We tried to snatch a nap, but few of us succeeded in doing so, as
hunger kept us awake, and so the hours dragged their slow length
wearily along, whilst we sat and waited for the tide to serve. To add
to the discomforts of our plight, the sky covered over and the rain
began to fall, and the night got so dark that we almost thought we
should not be able to cross over. However, the time came when we
thought the tide ought to serve, and we rode down to the water to
inspect matters. Occasionally a moonbeam breaking through the thick
rain-clouds allowed us to get a glimpse of the rocks in the middle of
the water; and our guides were thus able to judge the right moment for
making the attempt. There was, as they said, just the possibility of
the water not being quite low enough to enable us to cross without
more or less of a ducking, and besides, in the darkness, the leader
might mistake the way, and a false step would land us into a rocky
bottom, where we might flounder hopelessly about, and in all
probability get unhorsed, and God knows what besides.

These considerations served to make us feel rather uncomfortable when
the moment arrived for us to commit ourselves to the chances that
might be awaiting us in the dark mass of water which swept eddying
swiftly past us, and but for the acute pangs of hunger we should
certainly have deferred the experiment until daytime. But no time was
to be lost, so, ranging in single file behind I'Aria, who was acting
as guide, we started--the other horses, with Guillaume and Gregorio
driving them, following. For a few seconds there was a great deal of
splashing and shouting, incidental on the objections shown by the
packhorses to take the water; but soon they were all in and fairly on
their way. Then came a few seconds' silence, as we drew into deep
water, every one cautiously following his leader, so as to be able to
rein in in time should the latter come to grief. Suddenly I'Aria gave
a cry, and through the darkness we could dimly see him floundering
about, his horse having evidently lost footing. After splashing about
for some seconds, however, he got all right again, and calling out to
us to keep more to the left, he moved on. The water was now up to our
knees, and at each step it got deeper, but fortunately our horses
still kept their footing, and soon the worst was over, and the bank
was reached without any mishap having occurred.

All the dogs had remained on the other side, crying and yelling in a
gloomy concert, as they saw us leaving them behind; but as soon as
they saw us ride up on to the plain, they plunged into the water, and
swam over in no time.

After having counted the horses and examined their packs, which had
all got well drenched, as we ourselves had, we continued our ride,
with the intention of marching the whole night, so as to arrive at
Cabo Negro in the morning, for we were now positively frantic with
hunger. For a time, notwithstanding the intense darkness, we managed
to get along pretty well, but presently we found that we had got off
the trail somehow, and we had to stop, whilst the guides blundered
about in the darkness, searching for it. Then, after we had got on to
it once more, the horses shied at a big white stone lying on the road,
and bolted in all directions, and of course had to be got together
again--a task which involved nearly an hour's delay.

Apart from these mishaps, our progress was necessarily so slow, owing
to the darkness, that we at last came to the conclusion that after all
it would be better to halt where we were, and proceed at daybreak.
Acting on this determination, we immediately unsaddled, and, too tired
to put up the tents, rolled ourselves up in our furs, and slept, or
tried to sleep, till morning. I think this was the unpleasantest night
of the whole trip. Faint with hunger, drenched and cold, I could not
get repose, although I felt as tired and jaded as could possibly be.
The ground too, where we were camped, was stony and hillocky; and
when, at the first sign of dawn, I crept out of my furs, my bones were
so stiff that I could with difficulty move, my companions being all in
an equally bad plight. But we were in good spirits for all that. Four
hours' riding would bring us to the wood of Cabo Negro, and there we
should get food in abundance. Never had the horses been so quickly
saddled and packed as on that morning; within half an hour from
commencing operations we were already cantering along the trail.

Scaling the brow of a steep hill we came in view of the familiar
landscape--the Straits and the Cordilleras, and not far off the black
patches of beechwood round Cabo Negro; and, nestling amid them, the
little farm-house on whose stores we projected a determined raid.

My brother and Mr. B. now rode ahead in order to have something ready
against our arrival. After two or three hours' sharp riding they
reached the farm-house, and without speaking a word rushed off to the
kitchen, and laid their hands on and utterly devoured what was to have
been the breakfast of the farmer and his family. The farmer appeared
on the scene just as they had swallowed the last mouthful, and it
appears being no doubt used to such strange visits, seemed less
surprised than one would have imagined to see two dirty wild-looking
men sitting uninvited in his kitchen, who between them had calmly
demolished the morning meal of a whole household.

Having thus satisfied their own immediate wants they applied
themselves to catering for ours; and to such good purpose that, by the
time we reached our old camp under the beeches of Cabo Negro, we found
a good fire already blazing, half a sheep hanging on a tree, ready for
roasting, and such stores of bread, eggs, and other provisions as made
our eyes glisten and our mouths water. How we feasted need not be
told. I think very little of that half sheep remained to be warmed up
for supper, and most of the other provisions shared a similar speedy
fate.



CHAPTER XXI.

     CABO NEGRO--HOME NEWS--CIVILISATION AGAIN--OUR
     DISREPUTABLE APPEARANCE--PUCHO MISSING--THE COMING OF
     PUCHO--PUCHO'S CHARACTERISTICS.


We had still three days to wait till the date for the arrival of the
steamer, and as we by no means liked the idea of having to pass them
in Sandy Point, we resolved to remain at Cabo Negro for a couple of
days more, and only get into the colony in time to settle with our
guides, and make ourselves look a little civilised against going on
board.

But as we were naturally most anxious to get our correspondence, my
brother rode into Sandy Point to fetch it. He returned, bringing a
bagful of letters and newspapers, and we devoted a whole afternoon to
their perusal, and to discussing their contents. These letters seemed
to bring us back to the world again, to the world and its almost
forgotten responsibilities, pains, and pleasures, which but the day
before had seemed as remote to us as if we had quitted the earth
altogether, and were living in some other planet. How many things
seemed to have happened since we had been away, and how the interest
in these events was magnified, hearing of them as we did, thousands of
miles away from home, after so long an absence! Occurrences which, in
the bustle and noise of ordinary existence, would hardly have excited
more than few exclamations of surprise, or scarcely a passing thought,
now seemed to assume the most important proportions, and were
discussed at inordinate length, and with the keenest interest. There
was a letter from the gamekeeper, telling with interminable prosiness
how cleverly he had surprised, in flagrante delicto, the man whom he
had long and so wisely suspected of poaching; how, notwithstanding
every care on his part, the severe winter had proved too much for a
favourite old setter; and, thanks to his efforts, how extraordinary a
number of pheasants there was in the copses, etc. Another from the
head stable-man, with intelligence of a similar nature from his
department; lengthy documents from the agent, telling how one tenant
couldn't pay his rent, how another wouldn't though he could, how one
lot of cottages required repairing, and how advantageous to the
property, if a fresh lot were built; the peculiarity of all these
epistles being the predominance of the bad over the good news. Then
were letters telling how A. had married, and "the very last woman one
would have thought, too;" how B. had got a divorce, "and no wonder,
one might have seen that all along;" how C. had gone off to shoot big
game in the Rocky Mountains; and how D. had merely gone and shot
himself--and so forth, and so forth; every trivial item affording us a
goodly space for lengthy gossip, a luxury which, since our departure
for the plains, had so signally failed us. It is only when unable to
indulge in it that we find what an important factor the tittle-tattle
and small talk of ordinary life is, in general conversation.

There were several papers too in our budget, and we devoured their
three-months' old intelligence with no less avidity and eagerness than
that with which we had perused our letters.

That day passed, and the next, and then the hour came for us to saddle
up once more, and ride in to Sandy Point. As may be imagined, this
time we did not jog along behind the pack-horses. Leaving these to the
care of the guides, to come on at their leisure, we cantered merrily
on alone--along the familiar path by the shore of the Straits. As the
huts of Sandy Point came in sight, we began to realise that at last we
were getting back to civilisation, and prospectively to England, and
already plans of what we were to do on arriving home were formed and
discussed. There was only one night more to pass before setting foot
on board the steamer which was to take us back to the world; but so
impatient were we, that even that short time seemed all too long, and
we wondered if it ever would pass.

Soon we were trotting along the streets of Sandy Point; and, reaching
Pedro's house, dismounted, and found ourselves under a roof once more!
Pedro, advised of our coming, had prepared breakfast for us, and,
without more ado, we sat down to it. We handled our knives and forks
very awkwardly at first; it required almost an effort to eat in a
civilised manner, and, accustomed of late to take our meals in a
recumbent position, we by no means felt very comfortable in our
chairs. And now, for the first time, the scales fell from our eyes,
and the sight of the clean table-cloth and neat room caused us to
become aware of our own personal appearance, and the enviable "giftie"
was ours, of seeing ourselves as others saw us. The sight was certainly
not a delectable one. Our looks and garments were not out of keeping
with our late life in the pampas, but, surrounded by cleanliness and
civilisation, they were decidedly out of place. We had performed our
ablutions as often and as thoroughly as circumstances would permit,
but they had not permitted much. The men of our party, particularly,
were unpleasant to look at. Their hair had grown long and elfin; their
faces were tanned to a dark red-brown, which the dust, and the smoke
from the camp-fires had deepened into--well--black; and their unshaven
chins were disfigured by a profuse growth of coarse stubble. Our
clothes did not bear close inspection, the blood of many a guanaco,
the grease of many an ostrich-dinner, the thorn of many a califaté
bush, had left their marks; and, altogether, a more ruffianly,
disreputable lot than we looked it would be hard to imagine. But hot
water, soap, and razors, and a change of raiment, did wonders; and
when, after several hours' hard work, we met again we were scarcely
able to recognise one another.

We passed the day in settling with the guides, and in packing up our
few traps in anticipation of the arrival of the steamer early next
morning.

Feeling tired, I went to sleep early, but the comfort I expected from
lying between sheets again was by no means vouchsafed me, and the
soft mattress and cool sheets, instead of inviting slumber, seemed to
frighten it away. I felt half inclined to get up and go to sleep on
the floor. However, my eyes closed at last; and from a dream, in which
I was once more chasing the ostrich in sight of the memorable
Cleopatra Peaks, I was awakened by Mr. Dunsmuir banging at my door,
telling me that the steamer had arrived and that it was time to be
off. I jumped up and dressed hurriedly, and found all the others ready
to go on board. The luggage had already been put into a boat, and
there was nothing further to be done but to say good-bye to our guides
and walk down to the jetty to embark.

I had only one regret on leaving Sandy Point. The day we arrived at
Cabo Negro one of our dogs, called "Pucho," who was rather a favourite
of mine, and whom I wished to take with me to England, was suddenly
missing. Pucho, a peculiar dog, had joined us under peculiar
circumstances at our camp at Laguna Larga. We were quietly sitting
round the camp-fire after dinner, when suddenly the dogs jumped up and
began to bark furiously at some unseen enemy. We got up and peered out
into the dusk, but could see nothing, though it was evident that
something there was, for the growls of our dogs increased in
earnestness and fury every instant. "A puma!" suggested somebody, but
our horses were grazing quietly, so it could not be a puma. "An
Indian, or some trader, perhaps!" was another equally unfounded
surmise. What could it be? Here, as if to settle the mystery at once,
the dogs all rushed out of one accord, and for a few moments we could
hear a terrible snarling and growling going on in the distance. It
came nearer and nearer, and then the cause of the commotion was
explained. Surrounded by our dogs, who were giving it a by no means
friendly welcome, a strange dog walked slowly towards the camp-fire.
It bore its tail between its legs, seeming half-humbly,
half-defiantly, to crave admission into our circle. Its humble
demeanour, however, only bore reference to _us_, for the defiant
manner in which it occasionally bared its white teeth, and turned on
our dogs whenever they came too near, showed that it cared little for
them. We called out in friendly tones, and this settled its bearing
for once and for all. It turned round, made one savage dash at one or
two of its tormentors, and then calmly made its way towards the fire,
looked out for the most comfortable spot, stretched itself leisurely,
and lay down with its head resting on its crossed paws, seemingly as
much at home as if it had known us all its life. I ventured to stroke
it, but my advances were received in a most unfriendly, and,
considering its position of alien outcast, audaciously impertinent
manner, for it snapped viciously at me. But from the first "Pucho," as
we called him, made it a point of distinctly refusing to be
patronised. He joined us, he gave us to understand, not on sufferance,
not as a suppliant for our favours, not as a guest even, but as an
equal; and this status he claimed as regards us only, for as to our
dogs, he ignored them completely, though willing, as subsequently
appeared, to make use of their good services. He looked sleek and fat,
a circumstance which led us to think highly of his powers of speed, as
it is by no means easy for a dog to run down a guanaco singly, and
most dogs who lose their master, as this dog had evidently done, soon
die of starvation. We therefore congratulated ourselves on his
arrival, as we hoped he would be able to afford our own dogs help in
the chase. But we had grievously reckoned without our host. The next
day, on the march, a guanaco was sighted close to us. Now was the
time. "Choo! choo! Pucho!" we shouted, expecting to see him speed out
like an arrow after the guanaco. But nothing could have been further
from his thoughts. He looked first at us and then at the guanaco for
a moment, not without interest, perhaps, but certainly without showing
the slightest inclination to hostile demonstration. Then, with another
look at us, which said as plainly as words could, "Well, that's a
guanaco, no doubt, but what then?" he quietly trotted on. We were very
angry at seeing our hopes deceived, besides being surprised at his
extraordinary demeanour; but Gregorio, giving the dog the benefit of
the doubt, said that perhaps it had only been trained to run
ostriches, as Indians frequently teach their dogs to do. This seemed
plausible enough, and our confidence in Pucho was momentarily
restored. Presently an ostrich started up. Now then: "Choo! choo!
Pucho!" was the excited cry again. All the other dogs flew out like
the wind after the bird, and Pucho followed them. But only at a trot,
and apparently merely to judge how the other dogs behaved, for he soon
stopped, and contented himself with watching the chase till it
disappeared from view, and then he leisurely came back to his usual
post at my horse's heels. Everybody was enraged with him; Francisco
suggested that being a "bouche inutile," Pucho should be knocked on
the head with the bolas; but I could not hear of this, and Pucho's
life was spared. And so he remained with us, and I had ample
opportunities for studying his peculiar character. As on the first
day, so he continued. Although generally there or thereabouts when a
distribution of the spoils took place, he never once helped the dogs
in the chase. That this did not arise from inability or want of speed,
but rather from a sense of his own superior dignity, was shown by the
fact of his once having been seen to pursue and catch a fox, a feat
none of our other dogs were capable of. Amongst other peculiarities he
had a way of mysteriously disappearing if the day's march was too
long. "Where is Pucho?" was a frequent cry, and "Thank God, he's gone
at last!" was an ejaculation often heard on these occasions. But so
sure as the guanaco-rib for dinner was done to a turn, the soup ready,
and the fire blazing comfortably, so sure would Pucho suddenly appear
on the scene, look out for the most cosy spot near the fire, and
cheerfully await his supper, as if nothing had happened.

When, therefore, he was missing at Cabo Negro, I took little notice,
thinking he would be sure to turn up. But dinner-time came, and no
Pucho; nor did he appear again, even when we went on to Sandy Point.

This was the thought that was troubling me as I walked down to the
pier, for I had taken a liking to this dog, or I had better say I
held him in reverential awe; for I think he would object himself to
the term "like," as savouring of patronage. Half absently, therefore,
before going down the ladder into the boat, I turned round to take a
last look for Pucho. Surely that is a dog coming down the street, I
thought, as I looked up; and right enough it was a dog, and what is
more, Pucho himself! There was no mistaking the calm mien, the
leisurely trot. He picked his way along the battered pier, half wagged
his tail as he saw me--a great condescension, and then, without a
moment's hesitation, led the way down the ladder into the boat, much
to the surprise of my companions, who had thought and hoped that they
had really seen the last of him.

I took him, or rather he came to England _with_ me, and as I write
this he is sitting in the cosiest corner by my fire, a privilege he
allows my pet terrier to share with him, an act very foreign to his
usual nature, and one for which I have never been able to account.

So here we are on board at last. We say good-bye to Mr. Dunsmuir, the
anchor is weighed, the screw goes round, and we are off. Sandy Point
disappears from view; one by one Cape Negro and Cape Gregorio are
passed, and before I know it--so engrossed am I in the thoughts that
crowd into my mind at the sight of these well-known points--we are
abreast of Cape Virgins. It fades again astern, there is no land on
either side, and Patagonia, bleak and silent and solemn, with the days
we spent on its mysterious shores, is behind us.

As I write, these days come vividly to my mind again, and in fancy I
once more behold that distant desert land,--the land of the lonely
plains, where the guanaco and the ostrich and the Red Indians roam far
from the ken of mankind, and where I spent a careless, happy time,
which I can never forget. I remember the days when, after a long and
weary ride, I slept, pillowed on my saddle, the open sky above me, a
sounder and sweeter sleep than I had ever slept before; I remember
those grand mountain-scenes, where we traced the wild horse to his
home, through beechwood glens, by lonely lakes, by mountain torrents,
where no mortal foot had ever trod before me. I remember many an
exciting chase and many a pleasant evening spent round the cheery
camp-fire. I remember, too, many a discomfort--the earthquake, the
drenching rains, the scorching sun, the pitiless mosquitoes, and the
terrible blasting winds. But from the pleasure with which I look back
on my wild life in Patagonia, these unpleasant memories can detract
but little. Taking it all in all, it was a very happy time, and a time
on whose like I would gladly look again.


THE END.


_Printed by_ R. & R. CLARK, _Edinburgh_.



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Transcriber's note:

  Inconsistent hyphenation and spelling in the original document have
  been preserved. Obvious typographical errors have been corrected.

  On page 15, Paõ de Agucar possibly should be Paõ de Azucar.





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