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Patagonia Bookshelf



[Four photographs accompanying this text can be found here.]

OWING to Darwin, ninety-nine persons in a hundred believe the Patagonian part of the world to be a desolate, depressing, dreary and down-hearted region, decorated with cheery names such as Port Famine, Last Hope, Useless Bay, Desolate Harbour and so forth.

When they hear of Tierra del Fuego, the Land of Fire, they associate this prosperous island with nothing better than rancid savages, whose nightly fires gave it its mysterious and romantic name.

The only time I saw and smelt this degraded type of humanity occurred some years ago when I was in Glacier Bay, passing through the Straits of Magellan.

Our mail steamer slowly threaded its way through the hundreds of blue and sparkling icebergs, broken off from the glaciers by the rays of the sun in quaint and fantastic forms, imitating cathedrals and Gothic castles, swans, men-of-war, public-houses, et cetera.

It was a charming sight, for the morning was cold and bracing, bright and sunny, and with a warm fur coat one was glad to be alive. After watching the majestic albatross circling over our ship but not moving an eyelid or a feather of its fourteen-feet wings, we descried an Indian canoe putting off from shore ; when it came alongside we found its occupants were two young women and a man, all shivering round a fire in the boat and absolutely stark-naked. By the sign-language our skipper gave them permission to climb on board to trade their sea-otter skins for square-face gin and tobacco, but their effluvia was so overpowering that we had to fly to the smoking-room for shelter and liqueur brandy, while the quarter-master hustled them over the side, into their canoe, whence they jabbered away at us in monkey-like ejaculations impossible to under- stand, except the words tabac ! tabac !

These filthy savages are copper-coloured beasts with black matted hair, whose nits and generally active insect life give them, in their bored moments, plenty of industrious amusement. They live on fish-offal, hence their marine aroma ; unless you had a very bad cold in your head, you could not miss them in the dark at fifty or sixty yards' distance. The women were disgusting objects and absolutely no class ; their breasts seemed to have no interest in life and hung flaccidly below their knees, for the poor things knew not how to improve their figures with a straight-fronted corset.

In exchange for a bottle of gin, a sailor with- drew for me from a smelly neck a valuable necklace made of small shells and lobster-claws strung on a bit of dried fish-gut. After being fumigated in the engine-room, this precious adornment was filched from me by a lady passenger who wished to treasure it as a curio. She wore it proudly and smelt fishy for days.

Some thirty-five or forty-five years ago, a highly respected pioneer of Patagonia, Mr. Henry L. Reynard, placed a few hundred sheep from the Falklands on Tierra del Fuego and the adjacent mainland as an experiment, for the purpose of ascertaining whether the natural grasses of those unknown regions were suitable to sheep. So far as the nutrition was concerned the result was satisfactory, and other men soon followed the footsteps of the bold pioneer, for the Falklands were already fully stocked and overflowing with surplus animals. In those days there was no method of dealing with mutton except by eating it. Sheep were grown for their wool and only grease was utilised as a by-product.

Although the grasses provided good feed, these farmers had to struggle with the frequent raids of the sporting Patagones Indian — the man with the big feet (Patagon means " big-foot ") whose stature corresponded with his feet. These fine hunters soon discovered that the white man's mutton was less stringy — more toothsome and more easily caught than the guanaco (a long-necked deer). What with the depredations of these Indians and those of the packs of hungry dogs of all sorts, colours and sizes — mastiffs big Danes — and French poodles, all having escaped from sailing-ships and wrecks and then living the simple life of free love, mixing the breed à discretion, the pioneers had a rough time; for in addition to these troubles they had to contend with severe winters, which in those days meant a barometer marking 50 or 60 below zero.

The reader may now remark sotto voce : " What on earth is the merry banker doing in Patagonia amongst the sheep and the guanacos ? " So I will explain that as inspector of the bank it was my pleasant duty to visit our branches at Punta Arenas and Gallegos. The former is now an important Chilian town and the head-quarters of the sheep-farming industry — Gallegos is a small town in Argentine territory, situated about 160 miles from Punta Arenas ; it also lives on sheep. The easiest method of travelling between these branches was by way of a horse, so I with my secretary rode many times from one place to the other. Never have I spent so happy a time as when cantering over the plains of Patagonia, which are not unlike our Yorkshire Moors. For two days I have ridden across these vast Pampas without meeting a soul except perhaps a solitary shepherd and his dog, trotting beside the pony. Can you, my dear friends from the East, or poor chaps in stuffy London, imagine a freer or more glorious and manly life than that of a Patagonian sheep farmer ?

Shut your eyes, and think of yourself with a good nag between your knees going at an easy canter over the soft and grassy Pampa with a cheery pal and a big flask ; or better still, with a good-looking farmer's daughter riding man- fashion at your side — the secretary at a discreet distance in the rear. A cool breeze blows her pretty curls about and flutters your gaily-coloured poncho behind you as you sit lightly on the big sheep-skins of your Falkland Islands saddle, listening carelessly to all the news about the latest engagement and the prospects of a good lambing season for the engaged couple. Above you a turquoise sky and a brilliant sun, below you blue lakes, soft turf and sparkling streams — on the lakes and rivers black-headed swans and pinky-winged flamingoes, geese and ducks galore and now and then a jacksnipe.

Small foxes play about you like kittens, and ostriches leg it away a hundred yards ahead of you, their long necks stretched out and their wings lightly lifted to help them out of the danger zone. One day we chased a brood of young 'uns which were about the size of turkeys, and, as we potted at them with our revolvers, the beggars doubled and turned like hares while we screamed with laughter. It was great fun, but we had to desist for the sake of our horses, as they had to travel a hundred miles that day and there was no chance of changing our mounts.

The life I have feebly tried to sketch so enchanted me that a year or two later I became the noble owner of many sheep and much camp.

When I state that it required a long day's ride to get across my little patch of grass its size may be guessed ; to be precise, there were sixteen leagues of it. In the middle of what was my camp, there is beautiful Lake Walter, named after the writer by Charlie Henstock, a farmer, who one lovely Sunday morning performed the baptismal ceremony with due solemnity and a bottle of champagne. The lake is a bit bigger than the Serpentine, for it is nearly five miles long and two across. In official Argentine maps relating to land in that district the lake is duly inscribed in my Christian name, so that is all right. Henstock and I and our party after drinking a bottle to our noble selves rode gaily back to almuerzo (twelve o'clock breakfast), as fit as fiddles and laughing about " Lake Walter," and no baby at the baptism !

I am sorry to confess that, for the sake of filthy lucre, I afterwards foolishly transferred my interests in the farm to a limited liability company, and have regretted it ever since. The only excuse I can find for myself is that from the very start I was handicapped by incompetent managers, who did their best to ruin me and a fine property. I am glad to add, however, that the right manager has turned up at last and the farm, which is now in the hands of a very smart syndicate with no sentiment, is earning 50 per cent dividends. I have already said that all the Southern Patagonian camp has in recent years been taken up, and what was worth fifteen or twenty years ago three or four hundred pounds a league, cannot now be bought for ten times that money. With greasy cross-bred wool fetching fifteen, sixteen or eighteen pence a pound, a league to-day could not be purchased for £5000. Some years ago the Chilian Government, in the interest of a certain gang of Scotch and Chilian land-grabbers, stupidly sacrificed at a public auction, which was packed to the roof by the gang I refer to, most valuable grazing grounds in Ultima Esperanza for less than a twentieth part of their value. To speak of a more savoury subject than land-grabbers, of whom, by the way, I could say a great deal, all those hearty red-faced Scotch and Berkshire chaps in fishermen's jerseys whom I used to meet in those happy days are now rich men, and well they deserve it. For in the old days of hard winters, with wool at sixpence or sevenpence a pound, and money owing at ruinous interest to the rascally storekeepers in Punta Arenas, they had a tough time and had to stick it out through the dreary winter, when the days became dark at three o'clock and the barometer fell to 50 below zero, and you could not get out of your shanty because of the snow.

Now they are able to take a trip home every year, and, while enjoying our English summer, chuck away in motor-cars and riotous living the thousands of pounds they know not what to do with. A large proportion of these good chaps started as gentle shepherds on £5 a month, but a great many of them had hard luck when a few years ago they were turned out of their farms in Ultima Esperanza by the clever machinations of the land-grabbers I have already referred to.

In Punta Arenas there are to-day many very wealthy men — if I were to mention figures I should not be believed. Perhaps it is as well not to go into the dingy past, or enquire too closely into the nature of the occupations they followed when they first arrived in the Colony. Nor would it be wise to ask them how they managed to get possession of all those leagues of land ; so for the sake of the young generation, I will let sleeping dogs lie. The men I refer to are not Englishmen, I am thankful to say; although I know one or two Scotchmen who run them pretty closely. They have by fair means or foul grabbed the land and mean to stick to it, to " found a family," and so purge the past. They breed like rabbits with their procreative habits and their annual output almost equals the lambing increase; but owing to father's cleverness there is plenty of camp for all the kids, swarm as they may. So let 'em all come, and may papa and mamma continue the good work con amore !

My inspectorial trips were not all couleur de rose, for on one occasion I had a very painful experience in travelling from Gallegos to Sandy Point.

Having finished off both branches, I decided to return to my head-quarters in Valparaiso by the Orita, and travel with my old friend, Captain William Hayes. His steamer was due to leave Punta Arenas on the Saturday, and on the previous Monday I was waiting in Gallegos for a small passenger and cargo boat to put me into Sandy Point on the Thursday. However, I waited in vain, for the little hooker was nosing about picking up here and there a few bales of wool from the farms on the Rio Gallegos. On the Wednesday I determined to wait no longer but get on overland to Punta Arenas, some 160 or 170 miles away. No horses were available, and the only means of conveyance was the pony and cart which I had given the young Spaniard who was then managing the branch. So with a peon I drove off about two o'clock, intending to stay that night at a farm some twelve leagues away. Gaily we trotted over the rolling plains of grass, the pony going easily and well, and arrived at my friend's house at seven o'clock, in nice time for supper and a whisky peg. Mr. Allen, a giant of six feet six and eighteen stone of solid muscle, offered to lend me a fresh horse in the morning and also his light two-wheeled buggy, and a peon to show me the track. After sleeping like a top and getting a good breakfast inside my forty- inch waist, we started at nine o'clock to make by seven Posada de la Reina, twenty leagues away. At twelve o'clock we pulled up (the peon was riding a white pony) to take a drink at my flask and eat the sandwiches the charming Mrs. Allen had kindly prepared for us.

It was a lovely day and we had everything to ourselves, for we had not met a soul on the road since leaving Gallegos. Sweet it was to lie on the grass and bask in the sun listening lazily to the two ponies cropping the turf. Well, we had to get on, so, knocking the ashes out of my pipe, I climbed into my cart, which, by the way, had two very high wheels, while my peon stuck an unlighted cigarette behind his ear, Pampa fashion, ready for the next smoke, and again we started. All went well until about three o'clock, and I saw no reason why we should not reach Posada de la Reina by six ; but hang it ! a fox jumped up under my horse's feet and scared him to death — the pony dashed to the left up a little hill — the cart hung for a moment at an angle of 45 and then turned turtle; throwing me clean over the right wheel, and landing me on my tummy a few feet away, still desperately clutching the reins. The pony was frightened to death and tore the reins out of my hands, then bolted for his life, kicking the trap to pieces as he bumped and bounded over the Pampa. My peon did not know what to do — whether to look after me or follow the buggy, for all the wind had been knocked out of my riding weight of fourteen stone. When my breath came back I urged him to go after the trap and bring what was left of it to me — and I would remain there and await his return. So off he galloped and soon disappeared over the hill. Out came the soothing pipe and down I sat. There was the most lovely sunset and the most beautiful " arco-iris " (rainbow) I have ever seen — the bow reached right across the horizon and seemed so near that one could easily walk up it one side, then over the top and down the other side. As there was nothing to obstruct the view except the distant horizon, the glorious Pampa with its pure atmosphere is peculiarly well suited for rainbow displays — at any rate I shall never forget that one.

An hour passed and no Pedro and no trap. I began to feel dubious about getting any supper, when at last Pedro came over the hill leading the pony in the buggy. It was a tremendous relief to see him safely back — I was once lost in the Pampa and had a rotten time. The poor buggy was in a lamentable condition, the pony had nearly kicked it to pieces, but the wheels, although cracked, were still serviceable ; two or three planks had been driven out of the floor of the cart, the seat smashed to bits, but still the trap could get along gingerly. So Pedro cut me a stick out of a califate bush as a seat and I clambered into it. It was impossible to travel at a decent pace and we could not manage much more than a walk, and as it gradually became dark the difficulties increased. Pedro's white pony was of great assistance, because of his colour, and as the peon led the way I could just see enough of him to follow on. It soon became absolutely pitch dark — no moon, no stars, and I just had to follow Pedro's voice. My seat was most insecure, and every moment I thought we should fall to pieces — it was damnably uncomfortable, but worse was to come. As Pedro suddenly pulled up his horse and mine bumped into him, I peered in front and saw what looked like the Atlantic Ocean — or the Black Sea — for it was as black as your hat. I said : " What is it, Pedro ? where are we ? ' " Don't know, Señor," said Peter ; " never seen it before we must have got off the track ! '' " Well, what are you going to do about it, Pedro ? " " Cross it, Señor ! " replied the peon. " Not me, Peter, I shall camp out where we are." But Peter was a bold pioneer and wanted to see his girl that night, so he dashed into the inky water to try the depth and disappeared in the darkness, while I vainly struck matches to get a better view of things. His voice came echoing over the wash of black waters : " It's all right, Señor, I think you can do it — lam your pony like hell, and drive him into the lake — it's not very deep." I didn't like the job any better than my nag, but I obeyed orders (Peter had become the boss) and got the buggy into the water; a few yards' progress, and then down went the trap into a hole and the water came swirling into and over the trap, and I could not see much more than the pony's ears, it was so dark.

The poor beast plunged about and I hung shivering to the bit of stick I was seated on. He would not go ahead, so Peter came to see what was the matter. " Give me hold of the reins," he said. He got them short and tugged at the pony's head while I whacked him in the rear. I saw horrid visions of myself chucked out into that inky water — my head and body buried in the mud at the bottom of the lake — my next appearance being in the shape of a lump of coal a million years hence. All these things flashed through my mind as I was nervously lamming the pony.

But at last, thank God ! he got a move on and a few minutes later we were across the water and on terra firma. My ! what a relief ! I could have kissed Peter and the pony for getting me out of that hole. It was then darker than ever, and we had to keep striking matches to see each other; the worst was the inequality of the ground — a dip of two or three feet made one think you were over a precipice, and had there been any about we certainly should have been. Hours passed, and it was not till one o'clock in the morning we reached the Posada — all shut up and black. We hammered and hammered at the door — at last a head was stuck out of a window, and the little Italian proprietor came down to open the door for us. The ponies were looked after, and very soon Macaroni had warmed up the Irish stew, got a bright fire going, and drinks and slippers out. It was real jolly, for it seemed to me I had barely escaped death ; so we all sat together for an hour or so, having a real good time. I felt a bit of a hero, and in my gratitude to Peter forked out fifty dollars as a present ; he would not take the money at first, until I said : " Pedro, my boy, in the middle of that lake I would have given you all the money in the world to get me out; take the fifty now, or in my cooler moments they may diminish to ten to-morrow."

I will finish this little incident here. I caught my steamer all right, for it was a day late, but I shall never, never forget those awful moments in the lake.

I came then to the conclusion (which I have never seen any reason to change) that I am no hero.

On my next visit to Punta Arenas, West, the local manager, and I were invited by Mr. A. A. Cameron to spend a few days with him in Tierra del Fuego. He was the able general manager of a very large sheep-farming company — probably to-day the largest in the world — controlling by lease or purchase about six million acres of land and owning some 1½ million sheep. In Tierra del Fuego the company held on lease, upon the usual generous terms granted by the Chilian Government to their friends who know how to work the oracle, one million hectares of camp — roughly, two and a quarter million acres. This land was and is divided into two sections, Useless Bay on the Pacific and San Sebastian on the Atlantic, the former under the direct control of Mr. Cameron, the latter managed then by Mr. Norman Wood. My colleague and I had an excellent time at Useless Bay, where there were snipe and duck and geese galore to shoot, and mushrooms by the million to gather, for the ground was literally white with them. Guanaco were getting scarce, but we managed to shoot a few, and altogether we had a ripping time in the hospitable hands of our host and his charming wife and her charming sister-in-law, Mrs. Daly. To give us the taste of an adventure, Cameron, who is, by the way, a New Zealander, like so many of the men in Patagonia, suggested that he should drive us in his four-in-hand from one station to the other, and take lunch with Mr. and Mrs. Wood at San Sebastian. " Mind you," he said, " it has never been done, but if we succeed, you will be able to say you were one of the first to drive in a four-in-hand from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean." It sounded fine, and West and I jumped at the offer — I have forgotten to mention that a real good sportsman named Musgrave, a New Zealander and a great friend of Cameron's, made one of the party of four. The coach was driven up to the house by Cameron, and, as the horses were very impatient to get away, in we all hopped and off we went, waving our hands to the lovely ladies who stood at the porch amiably wafting kisses. It was a lovely bright morning, and in the highest of spirits we trotted and cantered gaily along. When we got to the cururu ground, the going was a bit bumpy, but we did not mind that.

To quote from a famous prospectus drawn up in Valparaiso by the writer in reference to his farm. 'The ' cururu ' is a species of mole and a splendid fertilizer, hence cururu ground is very desirable. A large part of this farm is of this class. Cururu is the Indian word for the little animal, the Spanish name is ' topo.' " Oh my ! how I used to get my leg pulled about this moley beast. " How are the topos this morning, old chap ? " — made me tired when repeated a thousand times. But the topos did the trick and made my prospectus so popular that I easily floated the company. I take off my hat to the topo !

In about four or five hours we reached our destination as hungry as hunters, and quite ready to get our teeth into the delicious lamb Mrs. Wood had ready for us — in those days the ladies, the wives and sisters and daughters of the farmers did practically all the housework and did it very well too, and were all the better for having something to do. After lunch we had a look at the woolsheds, and, at five o'clock, a cup of tea. It was about Christmas-time in the middle of the Patagonian summer when it is light nearly all night, so we were in no hurry to start back. About five o'clock we bade our kind hosts an affectionate farewell and off we went again. All would have gone well on the return journey had not Cameron tried a shorter way — to " cut " camp ; the new way being still more ' cururud, ' the bumping was most trying and the pace became a painful crawl. The worst was yet to come, however, for right across our path was a dark, deep stream about twenty yards wide and swampy-looking on the far side. Cameron pulled the horses smartly back and said : " Now, Musgrave, mount one of the leaders and see how deep it is." The horse was taken out and Musgrave put it into the stream. He promptly went up to his shoulders in the water and I thought the game was up ; but Cameron said : " Put him back again, Musgrave, that's all right." I gasped, " You surely are not going to drive into that, Cameron ? ' No reply from him, for he had already got the horses on to a good take-off place, and in we went, legs held up in the air to avoid the water, which was streaming through the coach, the horses straining and struggling, while Cameron cheered them on with the most picturesque swear words in the Maori language — at least I presume so, for I had never heard anything so vivid in English. As I thought we had got safely over, something seemed to snap and we came to a dead stop. We had reached the swampy part and Cameron ordered us all to jump out to see what had happened. Up to our knees in mud, West and I watched the two New Zealanders making an examination, while the horses trembled with fear and excitement. Nothing seemed to be wrong with the coach, although our united efforts failed to move it an inch. Suddenly came an exclamation from Cameron : " Damn it, Musgrave, where's the pole ? " He looked and we all looked but could not see it. " Where's the bally pole, Tarapacá ? " shouted Cameron to me. He turned purple with rage when I replied, after feeling in all my pockets, that I hadn't it about me. It was a mystery how a twelve-foot pole could vanish into thin air ; but Musgrave solved the problem by saying : " the swingle bar is broken, the point of the pole has been forced into the mud, and the harder the leaders pulled the further in went the pole. It is buried up to the socket and that's why we can't see it ! " It was hopeless for us to try and extract it — the next day it took two men ten hours to withdraw it broken in two — so we held a council of war arid decided to ride home barebacked, there being a horse for each of us. Well, I am not too good a rider, even with the help of a saddle, but as a Mazeppa I am absolutely no class.

Time after time I slid off and really I never knew before what a sharp backbone some horses have — mine had one like a razor and wounded me sorely. We had twelve miles of this work, and West and I were pretty sick men when we reached home at eleven o'clock, the ladies wondering what had happened to us. They chaffed us frightfully, of course, about our adventure, which I would not have missed for worlds ; for, painful as was its latter part and my latter part too, it was most exciting. When able to walk, we bade our kind friends a tender farewell — and so back to work in Valparaiso.

The delights of camping out are often exaggerated — at any rate they are much overrated when sleeping under the stars is an unrehearsed and impromptu episode, such as the incident which occurred to the Gallegos manager and myself on my second visit to his branch.

I had already made up my mind to buy a bit of camp for myself as a little reserve fund, in case the directors should at some time turn nasty. I could then put on my hat, retire to my spot in the wilderness and politely tell them to go to Halifax. You never know your luck with directors, for a touch of liver in London may lose you your comfortable job in South America. By this time you will have noticed that I had learned a bit.

So my colleague and I took two or three days off duty to spy out the land in the region of the Rio Coyle, which excellent camp has, by the way, since become placarded with the euphonious name of Braun. In a few years' time you will not be able to throw a stick without hitting a Braun or a Blanchard, a Menendez or a Campos. Don Pancho and I made an early start and reached the farm of the genial humourist, McGeorge, in time for the midday meal. A sense of humour is a divine gift and Mac has it strong, but butting you off your horse is not the form of humour I prefer. Mac did us very well, and we continued our journey, our object being to reach Jamieson's farm about six or seven, spying out the land on our way. Mac showed us the track to Jamieson's, and as my colleague was a bit of a vaqueano, and prided himself on being able to find his way home in the dark, I anticipated no difficulty.

However, the best-laid plans gang aft agley, and we went wrong somewhere. Don Pancho said I was not to worry, we only had to keep on the right side of the river and all would be well ; but a heavy fog enveloped us and it was impossible to know our bearings. But he got anxious as the hours passed, and we and the horses began to get tired. My friend was alarmed at losing himself, and more particularly at losing me, his boss — thought I should sack him, I suppose. At last I said : " Pancho, old man, let's chuck it ; it's past ten o'clock and we can't see our noses in front of us — we're travelling in a circle, so let's camp under a califate bush, for we'll never find Jamieson's house to-night." So we hobbled the horses — took off their saddles — unluckily English ones, not the Falkland Island sort with comfortable sheep-skins -- and made pillows of them. We had no rugs and no ponchos, so just had to lie down in our riding clothes and boots on the stony ground at the side of the califate. We had a dog certainly, a mangy greyhound, which we dragged on top of us to keep us warm, but the wretched animal kept trying to snuggle between us and was a dashed nuisance. As I had a touch of rheumatism in my right shoulder, and Pancho was troubled in the same way in his left shoulder, we cuddled up together in each other's arms shivering with cold. There was no material to make a fire with because the fog had made everything drip with moisture, so we had to stick it out with frozen feet. Every ten minutes we would get up and stamp our feet and throw our arms about like a cabman. Luckily we had our pipes, which were our only consolation — not even a flask had we. It was a wretched night and when the horses got away, that was the climax ! As the long-expected dawn broke about four o'clock, and as the mist cleared, we saw the horses grazing not far off, and 200 yards away the house and buildings of Jamieson !

Pancho said he knew he wasn't wrong as we made for the cook-house and its smoky and comforting interior. My ! wasn't that coffee good and didn't we make the mutton fly !

The cook, good man, asked no questions, but told us that Jamieson was away, but the Missis was in and would be up about six o'clock. When we saw signs of life in her house we went in and had a nice breakfast with her. ' Why did you not come in last night ? " she enquired. " Oh," I said, " we were a bit late, and as we bank chaps are very hardy we preferred to camp out rather than disturb you." That was swank on my part — well, we made tracks for home and Pancho begged me not to tell anyone we had lost our way and passed the night under a bush. I swore myself to secrecy as my soi-disant guide informed me the chaps in Gallegos would chaff the life out of him for losing his inspector.

When we rode up to McGeorge's he was in the yard, and with a merry twinkle in his eye he looked us up and down and said : " Well, I hope you found a nice big califate bush last night ? ' I was amazed, for how could he know ? Then I thought that some peon from Jamieson's must have got ahead of us and told him ; so I said to Pancho : " It's no good, old chap, Mac knows ; we can't keep our adventure quiet." " How on earth did you know, Mac?' I asked. "Know! why, one has only to look at you, you seem more dead than alive. Come into the house and let me pour some whisky down your throats to put a little colour into your haggard features. But was the califate a big one ?

We damned the califate, and that was the only time I have slept under the starry canopy of heaven in a fog.

I have always been quite content since then to read of these adventures when seated in a comfortable arm-chair. They are much more enjoyable that way.

Before bringing to an end my experiences in Patagonia, there is one incident which sticks to my memory like a burr, and will never be forgotten even if I live to be a hundred.

Dan Sutherland, a great friend of mine, originally a shepherd, told me the following story, which he seemed to think was not worthy of much attention, being nothing out of the way.

While shepherding some years previously in the " Ultima Esperanza " region, he and a carter and three or four camp pals, shearers and shepherds, were boozing at a small pub in the wilderness — they had been a-goin' of it for several hours and the landlord had gone to bed after placing three more bottles of whisky on the table. So the men had the house all to themselves and the booze continued. All were very, very drunk when Joe the carter collapsed under the table ; there he remained unnoticed until a shearer toppled over him. Cursing and lurching to his feet and taking half a tumbler of whisky, he said : " Mateys, Joe's deid ! " They hiccoughed and said with deefeculty : "If Joe's deid (hic), Joe must be buried."

They all stumbled out into the moonlight to the sandy Pampa, then got " palas " and spades from a shed and dug a hole a couple of feet deep. Joe was dragged out by the legs and dumped into the hole, then they all stamped the sand well down and bade him farewell. The little job over, they returned to finish the whisky.

When Dan Sutherland told me this horrible story so casually and carelessly I stared at him in blank astonishment, " Get away, man ! " I said, " don't tell me that yarn ! Was he really dead ? '.' Dan replied cheerfully, " Weel, I hae ma doots man, but we thocht he was deid. Maybe he was only deid droonk."

He continued : "On the afternoon of the same day Joe's boss came along and met us on the track. ' Seen Joe, my carter ? ' he enquired. We answered that we'd seen him and buried him ! ' Buried him ! What did he die of ? ' ' Booze' we answered. ' Serve him right,' said the farmer, ' who'll have his job ? '

And that was the last of poor Joe — no flowers were sent nor enquiries made. The men who planted him were not in the slightest degree uncomfortable, for they argued : "he micht ha' bin deid !"

A more amusing incident occurred to me when at ten o'clock one night I sought a bed at one of these wayside pubs in Patagonia kept generally by Austrians, " Sons of Vitches," or Italianos. I was very, very weary, having ridden over eighty miles that day. The Italiano proprietor showed me my room, and as he tugged away at my riding-boots and I wearily unbuttoned my breeches, I said : " Is the bed clean ? ' " Tip top," he answered ; " prime condition — it's only five weeks since I washed the sheets myself." " Good ! " said I. " Who slept in it last night ? " " Antonio, the butcher's man from the Colony." " And the night before ? " " Oh ! old Padre Fagnano," he replied as he left the room.

Well, I said to myself, my old friend Monseñor Fagnano looks clean, but I'm a bit off Antonio -- let's have a look at the sheets.

I turned down the dark brown coverlet, squinted at the sheets, shuddered and put on most of my clothes. I slept on top of the dark brown coverlet with the hearthrug over me.

The latter, although full of fleas, seemed cleaner than the sheets.

Happy nights in Patagonia !

Source: "A Merry Banker in the Far East (and South America)" (1916), Chapter 10, Walter H. Young (Tarapacá), London 1916
Clipped: 16-I-2014
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