MADARIAGA, THE CENTAUR
When the fourteen-year-old boy had to choose a trade, he learned wood carving. This craft was an art related to the tastes awakened in Marcelo by his abandoned studies. His mother retired to the country, living with some relatives while the lad advanced rapidly in the shops, aiding his master in all the important orders which he received from the provinces. The first news of the war with Prussia surprised him in Marseilles, working on the decorations of a theatre.
Marcelo was opposed to the Empire like all the youths of his generation. He was also much influenced by the older workmen who had taken part in the Republic of '48, and who still retained vivid recollections of the Coup d'Etat of the second of December.
One day he saw in the streets of Marseilles a popular manifestation in favor of peace which was practically a protest against the government. The old republicans in their implacable struggle with the Emperor, the companies of the International which had just been organized, and a great number of Italians and Spaniards who had fled their countries on account of recent insurrections, composed the procession. A long-haired, consumptive student was carrying the flag. "It is peace that we want--a peace which may unite all mankind," chanted the paraders. But on this earth, the noblest propositions are seldom heard, since Destiny amuses herself in perverting them and turning them aside.
Scarcely had the friends of peace entered the rue Cannebiere with their hymn and standard, when war came to meet them, obliging them to resort to fist and club. The day before, some battalions of Zouaves from Algiers had disembarked in order to reinforce the army on the frontier, and these veterans, accustomed to colonial existence and undiscriminating as to the cause of disturbances, seized the opportunity to intervene in this manifestation, some with bayonets and others with ungirded belts. "Hurrah for War!" and a rain of lashes and blows fell upon the unarmed singers. Marcelo saw the innocent student, the standard-bearer of peace, knocked down wrapped in his flag, by the merry kicks of the Zouaves. Then he knew no more, since he had received various blows with a leather strap, and a knife thrust in his shoulder; he had to run the same as the others.
That day developed for the first time, his fiery, stubborn character, irritable before contradiction, even to the point of adopting the most extreme resolution. "Down with War!" Since it was not possible for him to protest in any other way, he would leave the country. The Emperor might arrange his affairs as best he could. The struggle was going to be long and disastrous, according to the enemies of the Empire. If he stayed, he would in a few months be drawn for the soldiery. Desnoyers renounced the honor of serving the Emperor. He hesitated a little when he thought of his mother. But his country relatives would not turn her out, and he planned to work very hard and send her money. Who knew what riches might be waiting for him, on the other side of the sea! . . . Good- bye, France!
Thanks to his savings, a harbor official found it to his interest to offer him the choice of three boats. One was sailing to Egypt, another to Australia, another to Montevideo and Buenos Aires, which made the strongest appeal to him? . . . Desnoyers, remembering his readings, wished to consult the wind and follow the course that it indicated, as he had seen various heroes of novels do. But that day the wind blew from the sea toward France. He also wished to toss up a coin in order to test his fate. Finally he decided upon the vessel sailing first. Not until, with his scanty baggage, he was actually on the deck of the next boat to anchor, did he take any interest in its course--"For the Rio de la Plata." . . . And he accepted these words with a fatalistic shrug. "Very well, let it be South America!" The country was not distasteful to him, since he knew it by certain travel publications whose illustrations represented herds of cattle at liberty, half-naked, plumed Indians, and hairy cowboys whirling over their heads serpentine lassos tipped with balls.
The millionaire Desnoyers never forgot that trip to America--forty- three days navigating in a little worn-out steamer that rattled like a heap of old iron, groaned in all its joints at the slightest roughness of the sea, and had to stop four times for repairs, at the mercy of the winds and waves.
In Montevideo, he learned of the reverses suffered by his country and that the French Empire no longer existed. He felt a little ashamed when he heard that the nation was now self-governing, defending itself gallantly behind the walls of Paris. And he had fled! . . . Months afterwards, the events of the Commune consoled him for his flight. If he had remained, wrath at the national downfall, his relations with his co-laborers, the air in which he lived--everything would surely have dragged him along to revolt. In that case, he would have been shot or consigned to a colonial prison like so many of his former comrades.
So his determination crystallized, and he stopped thinking about the affairs of his mother-country. The necessities of existence in a foreign land whose language he was beginning to pick up made him think only of himself. The turbulent and adventurous life of these new nations compelled him to most absurd expedients and varied occupations. Yet he felt himself strong with an audacity and self- reliance which he never had in the old world. "I am equal to everything," he said, "if they only give me time to prove it!" Although he had fled from his country in order not to take up arms, he even led a soldier's life for a brief period in his adopted land, receiving a wound in one of the many hostilities between the whites and reds in the unsettled districts.
In Buenos Aires, he again worked as a woodcarver. The city was beginning to expand, breaking its shell as a large village. Desnoyers spent many years ornamenting salons and facades. It was a laborious existence, sedentary and remunerative. But one day he became tired of this slow saving which could only bring him a mediocre fortune after a long time. He had gone to the new world to become rich like so many others. And at twenty-seven, he started forth again, a full-fledged adventurer, avoiding the cities, wishing to snatch money from untapped, natural sources. He worked farms in the forests of the North, but the locusts obliterated his crops in a few hours. He was a cattle-driver, with the aid of only two peons, driving a herd of oxen and mules over the snowy solitudes of the Andes to Bolivia and Chile. In this life, making journeys of many months' duration, across interminable plains, he lost exact account of time and space. Just as he thought himself on the verge of winning a fortune, he lost it all by an unfortunate speculation. And in a moment of failure and despair, being now thirty years old, he became an employee of Julio Madariaga.
He knew of this rustic millionaire through his purchases of flocks-- a Spaniard who had come to the country when very young, adapting himself very easily to its customs, and living like a cowboy after he had acquired enormous properties. The country folk, wishing to put a title of respect before his name, called him Don Madariaga.
"Comrade," he said to Desnoyers one day when he happened to be in a good humor--a very rare thing for him--"you must have passed through many ups and downs. Your lack of silver may be smelled a long ways off. Why lead such a dog's life? Trust in me, Frenchy, and remain here! I am growing old, and I need a man."
After the Frenchman had arranged to stay with Madariaga, every landed proprietor living within fifteen or twenty leagues of the ranch, stopped the new employee on the road to prophesy all sorts of misfortune.
"You will not stay long. Nobody can get along with Don Madariaga. We have lost count of his overseers. He is a man who must be killed or deserted. Soon you will go, too!"
Desnoyers did not doubt but that there was some truth in all this. Madariaga was an impossible character, but feeling a certain sympathy with the Frenchman, had tried not to annoy him with his irritability.
"He's a regular pearl, this Frenchy," said the plainsman as though trying to excuse himself for his considerate treatment of his latest acquisition. "I like him because he is very serious. . . . That is the way I like a man."
Desnoyers did not know exactly what this much-admired seriousness could be, but he felt a secret pride in seeing him aggressive with everybody else, even his family, whilst he took with him a tone of paternal bluffness.
The family consisted of his wife Misia Petrona (whom he always called the China) and two grown daughters who had gone to school in Buenos Aires, but on returning to the ranch had reverted somewhat to their original rusticity.
Madariaga's fortune was enormous. He had lived in the field since his arrival in America, when the white race had not dared to settle outside the towns for fear of the Indians. He had gained his first money as a fearless trader, taking merchandise in a cart from fort to fort. He had killed Indians, was twice wounded by them, and for a while had lived as a captive with an Indian chief whom he finally succeeded in making his staunch friend. With his earnings, he had bought land, much land, almost worthless because of its insecurity, devoting it to the raising of cattle that he had to defend, gun in hand, from the pirates of the plains.
Then he had married his China, a young half-breed who was running around barefoot, but owned many of her forefathers' fields. They had lived in an almost savage poverty on their property which would have taken many a day's journey to go around. Afterwards, when the government was pushing the Indians towards the frontiers, and offering the abandoned lands for sale, considering it a patriotic sacrifice on the part of any one wishing to acquire them, Madariaga bought and bought at the lowest figure and longest terms. To get possession of vast tracts and populate it with blooded stock became the mission of his life. At times, galloping with Desnoyers through his boundless fields, he was not able to repress his pride.
"Tell me something, Frenchy! They say that further up the country, there are some nations about the size of my ranches. Is that so?" . . .
The Frenchman agreed. . . . The lands of Madariaga were indeed greater than many principalities. This put the old plainsman in rare good humor and he exclaimed in the cowboy vernacular which had become second nature to him--"Then it wouldn't be absurd to proclaim myself king some day? Just imagine it, Frenchy;--Don Madariaga, the First. . . . The worst of it all is that I would also be the last, for the China will not give me a son. . . . She is a weak cow!"
The fame of his vast territories and his wealth in stock reached even to Buenos Aires. Every one knew of Madariaga by name, although very few had seen him. When he went to the Capital, he passed unnoticed because of his country aspect--the same leggings that he was used to wearing in the fields, his poncho wrapped around him like a muffler above which rose the aggressive points of a necktie, a tormenting ornament imposed by his daughters, who in vain arranged it with loving hands that he might look a little more respectable.
One day he entered the office of the richest merchant of the capital.
"Sir, I know that you need some young bulls for the European market, and I have come to sell you a few."
The man of affairs looked haughtily at the poor cowboy. He might explain his errand to one of the employees, he could not waste his time on such small matters. But the malicious grin on the rustic's face awoke his curiosity.
"And how many are you able to sell, my good man?"
"About thirty thousand, sir."
It was not necessary to hear more. The supercilious merchant sprang from his desk, and obsequiously offered him a seat.
"You can be no other than Don Madariaga."
"At the service of God and yourself, sir," he responded in the manner of a Spanish countryman.
That was the most glorious moment of his existence.
In the outer office of the Directors of the Bank, the clerks offered him a seat until the personage the other side of the door should deign to receive him. But scarcely was his name announced than that same director ran to admit him, and the employee was stupefied to hear the ranchman say, by way of greeting, "I have come to draw out three hundred thousand dollars. I have abundant pasturage, and I wish to buy a ranch or two in order to stock them."
His arbitrary and contradictory character weighed upon the inhabitants of his lands with both cruel and good-natured tyranny. No vagabond ever passed by the ranch without being rudely assailed by its owner from the outset.
"Don't tell me any of your hard-luck stories, friend," he would yell as if he were going to beat him. "Under the shed is a skinned beast; cut and eat as much as you wish and so help yourself to continue your journey. . . . But no more of your yarns!"
And he would turn his back upon the tramp, after giving him a few dollars.
One day he became infuriated because a peon was nailing the wire fencing too deliberately on the posts. Everybody was robbing him! The following day he spoke of a large sum of money that he would have to pay for having endorsed the note of an acquaintance, completely bankrupt. "Poor fellow! His luck is worse than mine!"
Upon finding in the road the skeleton of a recently killed sheep, he was beside himself with indignation. It was not because of the loss of the meat. "Hunger knows no law, and God has made meat for mankind to eat. But they might at least have left the skin!" . . . And he would rage against such wickedness, always repeating, "Lack of religion and good habits!" The next time, the bandits stripped the flesh off of three cows, leaving the skins in full view, and the ranchman said, smiling, "That is the way I like people, honorable and doing no wrong."
His vigor as a tireless centaur had helped him powerfully in his task of populating his lands. He was capricious, despotic and with the same paternal instincts as his compatriots who, centuries before when conquering the new world, had clarified its native blood. Like the Castilian conquistadors, he had a fancy for copper-colored beauty with oblique eyes and straight hair. When Desnoyers saw him going off on some sudden pretext, putting his horse at full gallop toward a neighboring ranch, he would say to himself, smilingly, "He is going in search of a new peon who will help work his land fifteen years from now."
The personnel of the ranch often used to comment on the resemblance of certain youths laboring here the same as the others, galloping from the first streak of dawn over the fields, attending to the various duties of pasturing. The overseer, Celedonio, a half-breed thirty years old, generally detested for his hard and avaricious character, also bore a distant resemblance to the patron.
Almost every year, some woman from a great distance, dirty and bad- faced, presented herself at the ranch, leading by the hand a little mongrel with eyes like live coals. She would ask to speak with the proprietor alone, and upon being confronted with her, he usually recalled a trip made ten or twelve years before in order to buy a herd of cattle.
"You remember, Patron, that you passed the night on my ranch because the river had risen?"
The Patron did not remember anything about it. But a vague instinct warned him that the woman was probably telling the truth. "Well, what of it?"
"Patron, here he is. . . . It is better for him to grow to manhood by your side than in any other place."
And she presented him with the little hybrid. One more, and offered with such simplicity! . . . "Lack of religion and good habits!" Then with sudden modesty, he doubted the woman's veracity. Why must it necessarily be his? . . . But his wavering was generally short- lived.
"If it's mine, put it with the others."
The mother went away tranquilly, seeing the youngster's future assured, because this man so lavish in violence was equally so in generosity. In time there would be a bit of land and a good flock of sheep for the urchin.
These adoptions at first aroused in Misia Petrona a little rebellion--the only ones of her life; but the centaur soon reduced her to terrified silence.
"And you dare to complain of me, you weak cow! . . . A woman who has only given me daughters. You ought to be ashamed of yourself."
The same hand that negligently extracted from his pocket a wad of bills rolled into a ball, giving them away capriciously without knowing just how much, also wore a lash hanging from the wrist. It was supposed to be for his horse, but it was used with equal facility when any of his peons incurred his wrath.
"I strike because I can," he would say to pacify himself.
One day, the man receiving the blow, took a step backward, hunting for the knife in his belt.
"You are not going to beat me, Patron. I was not born in these parts. . . . I come from Corrientes."
The Patron remained with upraised thong. "Is it true that you were not born here? . . . Then you are right; I cannot beat you. Here are five dollars for you."
When Desnoyers came on the place, Madariaga was beginning to lose count of those who were under his dominion in the old Latin sense, and could take his blows. There were so many that confusion often reigned.
The Frenchman admired the Patron's expert eye for his business. It was enough for him to contemplate for a few moments a herd of cattle, to know its exact number. He would go galloping along with an indifferent air, around an immense group of horned and stamping beasts, and then would suddenly begin to separate the different animals. He had discovered that they were sick. With a buyer like Madariaga, all the tricks and sharp practice of the drovers came to naught.
His serenity before trouble was also admirable. A drought suddenly strewed his plains with dead cattle, making the land seem like an abandoned battlefield. Everywhere great black hulks. In the air, great spirals of crows coming from leagues away. At other times, it was the cold; an unexpected drop in the thermometer would cover the ground with dead bodies. Ten thousand animals, fifteen thousand, perhaps more, all perished!
"WHAT a knock-out!" Madariaga would exclaim with resignation. "Without such troubles, this earth would be a paradise. . . . Now, the thing to do is to save the skins!"
And he would rail against the false pride of the emigrants, against the new customs among the poor which prevented his securing enough hands to strip the victims quickly, so that thousands of hides had to be lost. Their bones whitened the earth like heaps of snow. The peoncitos (little peons) went around putting the skulls of cows with crumpled horns on the posts of the wire fences--a rustic decoration which suggested a procession of Grecian lyres.
"It is lucky that the land is left, anyway!" added the ranchman.
He loved to race around his immense fields when they were beginning to turn green in the late rains. He had been among the first to convert these virgin wastes into rich meadow-lands, supplementing the natural pasturage with alfalfa. Where one beast had found sustenance before, he now had three. "The table is set," he would chuckle, "we must now go in search of the guests." And he kept on buying, at ridiculous prices, herds dying of hunger in others' uncultivated fields, constantly increasing his opulent lands and stock.
One morning Desnoyers saved his life. The old ranchman had raised his lash against a recently arrived peon who returned the attack, knife in hand. Madariaga was defending himself as best he could, convinced from one minute to another that he was going to receive the deadly knife-thrust--when Desnoyers arrived and, drawing his revolver, overcame and disarmed the adversary.
"Thanks, Frenchy," said the ranchman, much touched. "You are an all-round man, and I am going to reward you. From this day I shall speak to you as I do to my family."
Desnoyers did not know just what this familiar talk might amount to, for his employer was so peculiar. Certain personal favors, nevertheless, immediately began to improve his position. He was no longer allowed to eat in the administration building, the proprietor insisting imperiously that henceforth Desnoyers should sit at his own table, and thus he was admitted into the intimate life of the Madariaga family.
The wife was always silent when her husband was present. She was used to rising in the middle of the night in order to oversee the breakfasts of the peons, the distribution of biscuit, and the boiling of the great black kettles of coffee or shrub tea. She looked after the chattering and lazy maids who so easily managed to get lost in the nearby groves. In the kitchen, too, she made her authority felt like a regular house-mistress, but the minute that she heard her husband's voice she shrank into a respectful and timorous silence. Upon sitting down at table, the China would look at him with devoted submission, her great, round eyes fixed on him, like an owl's. Desnoyers felt that in this mute admiration was mingled great astonishment at the energy with which the ranchman, already over seventy, was continuing to bring new occupants to live on his demesne.
The two daughters, Luisa and Elena, accepted with enthusiasm the new arrival who came to enliven the monotonous conversations in the dining room, so often cut short by their father's wrathful outbursts. Besides, he was from Paris. "Paris!" sighed Elena, the younger one, rolling her eyes. And Desnoyers was henceforth consulted in all matters of style every time they ordered any "confections" from the shops of Buenos Aires.
The interior of the house reflected the different tastes of the two generations. The girls had a parlor with a few handsome pieces of furniture placed against the cracked walls, and some showy lamps that were never lighted. The father, with his boorishness, often invaded this room so cherished and admired by the two sisters, making the carpets look shabby and faded under his muddy boot- tracks. Upon the gilt centre-table, he loved to lay his lash. Samples of maize scattered its grains over a silk sofa which the young ladies tried to keep very choice, as though they feared it might break.
Near the entrance to the dining room was a weighing machine, and Madariaga became furious when his daughters asked him to remove it to the offices. He was not going to trouble himself to go outside every time that he wanted to know the weight of a leather skin! . . . A piano came into the ranch, and Elena passed the hours practising exercises with desperate good will. "Heavens and earth! She might at least play the Jota or the Perican, or some other lively Spanish dance!" And the irate father, at the hour of siesta, betook himself to the nearby eucalyptus trees, to sleep upon his poncho.
This younger daughter whom he dubbed La Romantica, was the special victim of his wrath and ridicule. Where had she picked up so many tastes which he and his good China never had had? Music books were piled on the piano. In a corner of the absurd parlor were some wooden boxes that had held preserves, which the ranch carpenter had been made to press into service as a bookcase.
"Look here, Frenchy," scoffed Madariaga. "All these are novels and poems! Pure lies! . . . Hot air!"
He had his private library, vastly more important and glorious, and occupying less space. In his desk, adorned with guns, thongs, and chaps studded with silver, was a little compartment containing deeds and various legal documents which the ranchman surveyed with great pride.
"Pay attention, now and hear marvellous things," announced the master to Desnoyers, as he took out one of his memorandum books.
This volume contained the pedigree of the famous animals which had improved his breeds of stock, the genealogical trees, the patents of nobility of his aristocratic beasts. He would have to read its contents to him since he did not permit even his family to touch these records. And with his spectacles on the end of his nose, he would spell out the credentials of each animal celebrity. "Diamond III, grandson of Diamond I, owned by the King of England, son of Diamond II, winner in the races." His Diamond had cost him many thousands, but the finest horses on the ranch, those which brought the most marvellous prices, were his descendants.
"That horse had more sense than most people. He only lacked the power to talk. He's the one that's stuffed, near the door of the parlor. The girls wanted him thrown out. . . . Just let them dare to touch him! I'd chuck them out first!"
Then he would continue reading the history of a dynasty of bulls with distinctive names and a succession of Roman numbers, the same as kings--animals acquired by the stubborn ranchman in the great cattle fairs of England. He had never been there, but he had used the cable in order to compete in pounds sterling with the British owners who wished to keep such valuable stock in their own country. Thanks to these blue-blooded sires that had crossed the ocean with all the luxury of millionaire passengers, he had been able to exhibit in the concourses of Buenos Aires animals which were veritable towers of meat, edible elephants with their sides as fit and sleek as a table.
"That book amounts to something! Don't you think so, Frenchy? It is worth more than all those pictures of moons, lakes, lovers and other gewgaws that my Romantica puts on the walls to catch the dust."
And he would point out, in contrast, the precious diplomas which were adorning his desk, the metal vases and other trophies won in the fairs by the descendants of his blooded stock.
Luisa, the elder daughter, called Chicha, in the South American fashion, was much more respected by her father. "She is my poor China right over again," he said, "the same good nature, and the same faculty for work, but more of a lady." Desnoyers entirely agreed with him, and yet the father's description seemed to him weak and incomplete. He could not admit that the pale, modest girl with the great black eyes and smile of childish mischief bore the slightest resemblance to the respectable matron who had brought her into existence.
The great fiesta for Chicha was the Sunday mass. It represented a journey of three leagues to the nearest village, a weekly contact with people unlike those of the ranch. A carriage drawn by four horses took the senora and the two senoritas in the latest suits and hats arrived, via Buenos Aires, from Europe. At the suggestion of Chicha, Desnoyers accompanied them in the capacity of driver.
The father remained at home, taking advantage of this opportunity to survey his fields in their Sunday solitude, thus keeping a closer oversight on the shiftlessness of his hands. He was very religious-- "Religion and good manners, you know." But had he not given thousands of dollars toward building the neighboring church? A man of his fortune should not be submitted to the same obligations as ragamuffins!
During the Sunday lunch the young ladies were apt to make comments upon the persons and merits of the young men of the village and neighboring ranches, who had lingered at the church door in order to chat with them.
"Don't fool yourselves, girls!" observed the father shrewdly. "You believe that they want you for your elegance, don't you? . . . What those shameless fellows really want are the dollars of old Madariaga, and once they had them, they would probably give you a daily beating."
For a while the ranch received numerous visitors. Some were young men of the neighborhood who arrived on spirited steeds, performing all kinds of tricks of fancy horsemanship. They wanted to see Don Julio on the most absurd pretexts, and at the same time improved the opportunity to chat with Chicha and Luisa. At other times they were youths from Buenos Aires asking for a lodging at the ranch, as they were just passing by. Don Madariaga would growl--
"Another good-for-nothing scamp who comes in search of the Spanish ranchman! If he doesn't move on soon . . . I'll kick him out!"
But the suitor did not stand long on the order of his going, intimidated by the ominous silence of the Patron. This silence, of late, had persisted in an alarming manner, in spite of the fact that the ranch was no longer receiving visitors. Madariaga appeared abstracted, and all the family, including Desnoyers, respected and feared this taciturnity. He ate, scowling, with lowered head. Suddenly he would raise his eyes, looking at Chicha, then at Desnoyers, finally fixing them upon his wife as though asking her to give an account of things.
His Romantica simply did not exist for him. The only notice that he ever took of her was to give an ironical snort when he happened to see her leaning at sunset against the doorway, looking at the reddening glow--one elbow on the door frame and her cheek in her hand, in imitation of the posture of a certain white lady that she had seen in a chromo, awaiting the knight of her dreams.
Desnoyers had been five years in the house when one day he entered his master's private office with the brusque air of a timid person who has suddenly reached a decision.
"Don Julio, I am going to leave and I would like our accounts settled."
Madariaga looked at him slyly. "Going to leave, eh? . . . What for?" But in vain he repeated his questions. The Frenchman was floundering through a series of incoherent explanations--"I'm going; I've got to go."
"Ah, you thief, you false prophet!" shouted the ranchman in stentorian tones.
But Desnoyers did not quail before the insults. He had often heard his Patron use these same words when holding somebody up to ridicule, or haggling with certain cattle drovers.
"Ah, you thief, you false prophet! Do you suppose that I do not know why you are going? Do you suppose old Madariaga has not seen your languishing looks and those of my dead fly of a daughter, clasping each others' hands in the presence of poor China who is blinded in her judgment? . . . It's not such a bad stroke, Frenchy. By it, you would be able to get possession of half of the old Spaniard's dollars, and then say that you had made it in America.
And while he was storming, or rather howling, all this, he had grasped his lash and with the butt end kept poking his manager in the stomach with such insistence that it might be construed in an affectionate or hostile way.
"For this reason I have come to bid you good-bye," said Desnoyers haughtily. "I know that my love is absurd, and I wish to leave."
"The gentleman would go away," the ranchman continued spluttering. "The gentleman believes that here one can do what one pleases! No, siree! Here nobody commands but old Madariaga, and I order you to stay. . . . Ah, these women! They only serve to antagonize men. And yet we can't live without them!" . . .
He took several turns up and down the room, as though his last words were making him think of something very different from what he had just been saying. Desnoyers looked uneasily at the thong which was still hanging from his wrist. Suppose he should attempt to whip him as he did the peons? . . . He was still undecided whether to hold his own against a man who had always treated him with benevolence or, while his back was turned, to take refuge in discreet flight, when the ranchman planted himself before him.
"You really love her, really?" he asked. "Are you sure that she loves you? Be careful what you say, for love is blind and deceitful. I, too, when I married my China was crazy about her. Do you love her, honestly and truly? . . . Well then, take her, you devilish Frenchy. Somebody has to take her, and may she not turn out a weak cow like her mother! . . . Let us have the ranch full of grandchildren!"
In voicing this stock-raiser's wish, again appeared the great breeder of beasts and men. And as though he considered it necessary to explain his concession, he added--"I do all this because I like you; and I like you because you are serious."
Again the Frenchman was plunged in doubt, not knowing in just what this greatly appreciated seriousness consisted.
At his wedding, Desnoyers thought much of his mother. If only the poor old woman could witness this extraordinary stroke of good fortune! But she had died the year before, believing her son enormously rich because he had been sending her sixty dollars every month, taken from the wages that he had earned on the ranch.
Desnoyers' entrance into the family made his father-in-law pay less attention to business.
City life, with all its untried enchantments and snares, now attracted Madariaga, and he began to speak with contempt of country women, poorly groomed and inspiring him with disgust. He had given up his cowboy attire, and was displaying with childish satisfaction, the new suits in which a tailor of the Capital was trying to disguise him. When Elena wished to accompany him to Buenos Aires, he would wriggle out of it, trumping up some absorbing business. "No; you go with your mother."
The fate of his fields and flocks gave him no uneasiness. His fortune, managed by Desnoyers, was in good hands.
"He is very serious," again affirmed the old Spaniard to his family assembled in the dining roam--"as serious as I am. . . . Nobody can make a fool of him!"
And finally the Frenchman concluded that when his father-in-law spoke of seriousness he was referring to his strength of character. According to the spontaneous declaration of Madariaga, he had, from the very first day that he had dealings with Desnoyers, perceived in him a nature like his own, more hard and firm perhaps, but without splurges of eccentricities. On this account he had treated him with such extraordinary circumspection, foreseeing that a clash between the two could never be adjusted. Their only disagreements were about the expenses established by Madariaga during his regime. Since the son-in-law was managing the ranches, the work was costing less, and the people working more diligently;--and that, too, without yells, and without strong words and deeds, with only his presence and brief orders.
The old man was the only one defending the capricious system of a blow followed by a gift. He revolted against a minute and mechanical administration, always the same, without any arbitrary extravagance or good-natured tyranny. Very frequently some of the half-breed peons whom a malicious public supposed to be closely related to the ranchman, would present themselves before Desnoyers with, "Senor Manager, the old Patron say that you are to give me five dollars." The Senor Manager would refuse, and soon after Madariaga would rush in in a furious temper, but measuring his words, nevertheless, remembering that his son-in-law's disposition was as serious as his own.
"I like you very much, my son, but here no one overrules me. . . . Ah, Frenchy, you are like all the rest of your countrymen! Once you get your claws on a penny, it goes into your stocking, and nevermore sees the light of day, even though they crucify you. . . ! Did I say five dollars? Give him ten. I command it and that is enough."
The Frenchman paid, shrugging his shoulders, whilst his father-in- law, satisfied with his triumph, fled to Buenos Aires. It was a good thing to have it well understood that the ranch still belonged to Madariaga, the Spaniard.
From one of these trips, he returned with a companion, a young German who, according to him, knew everything and could do everything. His son-in-law was working too hard. This Karl Hartrott would assist him in the bookkeeping. Desnoyers accepted the situation, and in a few days felt increasing esteem for the new incumbent.
Although they belonged to two unfriendly nations, it didn't matter. There are good people everywhere, and this Karl was a subordinate worth considering. He kept his distance from his equals, and was hard and inflexible toward his inferiors. All his faculties seemed concentrated in service and admiration for those above him. Scarcely would Madariaga open his lips before the German's head began nodding in agreement, anticipating his words. If he said anything funny, his clerk's laugh would break forth in scandalous roars. With Desnoyers he appeared more taciturn, working without stopping for hours at a time. As soon as he saw the manager entering the office he would leap from his seat, holding himself erect with military precision. He was always ready to do anything whatever. Unasked, he spied on the workmen, reporting their carelessness and mistakes. This last service did not especially please his superior officer, but he appreciated it as a sign of interest in the establishment.
The old man bragged triumphantly of the new acquisition, urging his son-in-law also to rejoice.
"A very useful fellow, isn't he? . . . These gringoes from Germany work well, know a good many things and cost little. Then, too, so disciplined! so servile! . . . I am sorry to praise him so to you because you are a Frenchy, and your nation has in them a very powerful enemy. His people are a hard-shelled race."
Desnoyers replied with a shrug of indifference. His country was far away, and so was Germany. Who knew if they would ever return! . . . They were both Argentinians now, and ought to interest themselves in present affairs and not bother about the past.
"And how little pride they have!" sneered Madariaga in an ironical tone. "Every one of these gringoes when he is a clerk at the Capital sweeps the shop, prepares the meals, keeps the books, sells to the customers, works the typewriter, translates four or five languages, and dances attendance on the proprietor's lady friend, as though she were a grand senora . . . all for twenty-five dollars a month. Who can compete with such people! You, Frenchy, you are like me, very serious, and would die of hunger before passing through certain things. But, mark my words, on this very account they are going to become a terrible people!"
After brief reflection, the ranchman added:
"Perhaps they are not so good as they seem. Just see how they treat those under them! It may be that they affect this simplicity without having it, and when they grin at receiving a kick, they are saying inside, "Just wait till my turn comes, and I'll give you three!"
Then he suddenly seemed to repent of his suspicions.
"At any rate, this Karl is a poor fellow, a mealy-mouthed simpleton who the minute I say anything opens his jaws like a fly-catcher. He insists that he comes of a great family, but who knows anything about these gringoes? . . . All of us, dead with hunger when we reach America, claim to be sons of princes."
Madariaga had placed himself on a familiar footing with his Teutonic treasure, not through gratitude as with Desnoyers, but in order to make him feel his inferiority. He had also introduced him on an equal footing in his home, but only that he might give piano lessons to his younger daughter. The Romantica was no longer framing herself in the doorway--in the gloaming watching the sunset reflections. When Karl had finished his work in the office, he was now coming to the house and seating himself beside Elena, who was tinkling away with a persistence worthy of a better fate. At the end of the hour the German, accompanying himself on the piano, would sing fragments from Wagner in such a way that it put Madariaga to sleep in his armchair with his great Paraguay cigar sticking out of his mouth.
Elena meanwhile was contemplating with increasing interest the singing gringo. He was not the knight of her dreams awaited by the fair lady. He was almost a servant, a blond immigrant with reddish hair, fat, heavy, and with bovine eyes that reflected an eternal fear of disagreeing with his chiefs. But day by day, she was finding in him something which rather modified these impressions-- his feminine fairness, except where he was burned by the sun, the increasingly martial aspect of his moustachios, the agility with which he mounted his horse, his air of a troubadour, intoning with a rather weak tenor voluptuous romances whose words she did not understand.
One night, just before supper, the impressionable girl announced with a feverish excitement which she could no longer repress that she had made a grand discovery.
"Papa, Karl is of noble birth! He belongs to a great family."
The plainsman made a gesture of indifference. Other things were vexing him in those days. But during the evening, feeling the necessity of venting on somebody the wrath which had been gnawing at his vitals since his last trip to Buenos Aires, he interrupted the singer.
"See here, gringo, what is all this nonsense about nobility which you have been telling my girl?"
Karl left the piano that he might draw himself up to the approved military position before responding. Under the influence of his recent song, his pose suggested Lohengrin about to reveal the secret of his life. His father had been General von Hartrott, one of the commanders in the war of '70. The Emperor had rewarded his services by giving him a title. One of his uncles was an intimate councillor of the King of Prussia. His older brothers were conspicuous in the most select regiments. He had carried a sword as a lieutenant.
Bored with all this grandeur, Madariaga interrupted him. "Lies . . . nonsense . . . hot air!" The very idea of a gringo talking to him about nobility! . . . He had left Europe when very young in order to cast in his lot with the revolting democracies of America, and although nobility now seemed to him something out-of-date and incomprehensible, still he stoutly maintained that the only true nobility was that of his own country. He would yield first place to the gringoes for the invention of machinery and ships, and for breeding priceless animals, but all the Counts and Marquises of Gringo-land appeared to him to be fictitious characters.
"All tomfoolery!" he blustered. "There isn't any nobility in your country, nor have you five dollars all told to rub against each other. If you had, you wouldn't come over here to play the gallant to women who are . . . you know what they are as well as I do."
To the astonishment of Desnoyers, the German received this onslaught with much humility, nodding his head in agreement with the Patron's last words.
"If there's any truth in all this twaddle about titles," continued Madariaga implacably, "swords and uniforms, what did you come here for? What in the devil did you do in your own country that you had to leave it?"
Now Karl hung his head, confused and stuttering.
"Papa, papa," pleaded Elena. "The poor little fellow! How can you humiliate him so just because he is poor?"
And she felt a deep gratitude toward her brother-in-law when he broke through his usual reserve in order to come to the rescue of the German.
"Oh, yes, of course, he's a good-enough fellow," said Madariaga, excusing himself. "But he comes from a land that I detest."
When Desnoyers made a trip to Buenos Aires a few days afterward, the cause of the old man's wrath was explained. It appeared that for some months past Madariaga had been the financial guarantor and devoted swain of a German prima donna stranded in South America with an Italian opera company. It was she who had recommended Karl--an unfortunate countryman, who after wandering through many parts of the continent, was now living with her as a sort of gentlemanly singer. Madariaga had joyously expended upon this courtesan many thousands of dollars. A childish enthusiasm had accompanied him in this novel existence midst urban dissipations until he happened to discover that his Fraulein was leading another life during his absence, laughing at him with the parasites of her retinue; whereupon he arose in his wrath and bade her farewell to the accompaniment of blows and broken furniture.
The last adventure of his life! . . . Desnoyers suspected his abdication upon hearing him admit his age, for the first time. He did not intend to return to the capital. It was all false glitter. Existence in the country, surrounded by all his family and doing good to the poor was the only sure thing. And the terrible centaur expressed himself with the idyllic tenderness and firm virtue of seventy-five years, already insensible to temptation.
After his scene with Karl, he had increased the German's salary, trying as usual, to counteract the effects of his violent outbreaks with generosity. That which he could not forget was his dependent's nobility, constantly making it the subject of new jests. That glorious boast had brought to his mind the genealogical trees of the illustrious ancestry of his prize cattle. The German was a pedigreed fellow, and thenceforth he called him by that nickname.
Seated on summer nights under the awning, he surveyed his family around him with a sort of patriarchal ecstasy. In the evening hush could be heard the buzzing of insects and the croaking of the frogs. From the distant ranches floated the songs of the peons as they prepared their suppers. It was harvest time, and great bands of immigrants were encamped in the fields for the extra work.
Madariaga had known many of the hard old days of wars and violence. Upon his arrival in South America, he had witnessed the last years of the tyranny of Rosas. He loved to enumerate the different provincial and national revolutions in which he had taken part. But all this had disappeared and would never return. These were the times of peace, work and abundance.
"Just think of it, Frenchy," he said, driving away the mosquitoes with the puffs of his cigar. "I am Spanish, you French, Karl German, my daughters Argentinians, the cook Russian, his assistant Greek, the stable boy English, the kitchen servants Chinas (natives), Galicians or Italians, and among the peons there are many castes and laws. . . . And yet we all live in peace. In Europe, we would have probably been in a grand fight by this time, but here we are all friends."
He took much pleasure in listening to the music of the laborers-- laments from Italian songs to the accompaniment of the accordion, Spanish guitars and Creole choruses, wild voices chanting of love and death.
"This is a regular Noah's ark," exulted the vainglorious patriarch.
"He means the tower of Babel," thought Desnoyers to himself, "but it's all the same thing to the old man."
"I believe," he rambled on, "that we live thus because in this part of the world there are no kings and a very small army--and mankind is thinking only of enjoying itself as much as possible, thanks to its work. But I also believe that we live so peacefully because there is such abundance that everyone gets his share. . . . How quickly we would spring to arms if the rations were less than the people!"
Again he fell into reflective silence, shortly after announcing the result of his meditations.
"Be that as it may be, we must recognize that here life is more tranquil than in the other world. Men are taken for what they are worth, and mingle together without thinking whether they came from one country or another. Over here, fellows do not come in droves to kill other fellows whom they do not know and whose only crime is that they were born in an unfriendly country. . . . Man is a bad beast everywhere, I know that; but here he eats, owns more land than he needs so that he can stretch himself, and he is good with the goodness of a well-fed dog. Over there, there are too many; they live in heaps getting in each other's way, and easily run amuck. Hurrah for Peace, Frenchy, and the simple life! Where a man can live comfortably and runs no danger of being killed for things he doesn't understand--there is his real homeland!"
And as though an echo of the rustic's reflections, Karl seated at the piano, began chanting in a low voice one of Beethoven's hymns--
We'll ne'er betray our fellow-man,
Peace! . . . A few days afterward Desnoyers recalled bitterly the old man's illusion, for war--domestic war--broke loose in this idyllic stage-setting of ranch life.
"Run, Senor Manager, the old Patron has unsheathed his knife and is going to kill the German!" And Desnoyers had hurried from his office, warned by the peon's summons. Madariaga was chasing Karl, knife in hand, stumbling over everything that blocked his way. Only his son-in-law dared to stop him and disarm him.
"That shameless pedigreed fellow!" bellowed the livid old man as he writhed in Desnoyers' firm clutch. "Half famished, all he thinks he has to do is to come to my house and take away my daughters and dollars. . . . Let me go, I tell you! Let me loose that I may kill him."
And in order to free himself from Desnoyers, he tried further to explain the difficulty. He had accepted the Frenchman as a husband for his daughter because he was to his liking, modest, honest . . . and serious. But this singing Pedigreed Fellow, with all his airs! . . . He was a man that he had gotten from . . . well, he didn't wish to say just where! And the Frenchman, though knowing perfectly well what his introduction to Karl had been, pretended not to understand him.
As the German had, by this time, made good his escape, the ranchman consented to being pushed toward his house, talking all the time about giving a beating to the Romantica and another to the China for not having informed him of the courtship. He had surprised his daughter and the Gringo holding hands and exchanging kisses in a grove near the house.
"He's after my dollars," howled the irate father. "He wants America to enrich him quickly at the expense of the old Spaniard, and that is the reason for so much truckling, so much psalm-singing and so much nobility! Imposter! . . . Musician!"
And he repeated the word "musician" with contempt, as though it were the sum and substance of everything vile.
Very firmly and with few words, Desnoyers brought the wrangling to an end. While her brother-in-law protected her retreat, the Romantica, clinging to her mother, had taken refuge in the top of the house, sobbing and moaning, "Oh, the poor little fellow! Everybody against him!" Her sister meanwhile was exerting all the powers of a discreet daughter with the rampageous old man in the office, and Desnoyers had gone in search of Karl. Finding that he had not yet recovered from the shock of his terrible surprise, he gave him a horse, advising him to betake himself as quickly as possible to the nearest railway station.
Although the German was soon far from the ranch, he did not long remain alone. In a few days, the Romantica followed him. . . . Iseult of the white hands went in search of Tristan, the knight.
This event did not cause Madariaga's desperation to break out as violently as his son-in-law had expected. For the first time, he saw him weep. His gay and robust old age had suddenly fallen from him, the news having clapped ten years on to his four score. Like a child, whimpering and tremulous, he threw his arms around Desnoyers, moistening his neck with tears.
"He has taken her away! That son of a great flea . . . has taken her away!"
This time he did not lay all the blame on his China. He wept with her, and as if trying to console her by a public confession, kept saying over and over:
"It is my fault. . . . It has all been because of my very, very great sins."
Now began for Desnoyers a period of difficulties and conflicts. The fugitives, on one of his visits to the Capital, threw themselves on his mercy, imploring his protection. The Romantica wept, declaring that only her brother-in-law, "the most knightly man in the world," could save her. Karl gazed at him like a faithful hound trusting in his master. These trying interviews were repeated on all his trips. Then, on returning to the ranch, he would find the old man ill- humored, moody, looking fixedly ahead of him as though seeing invisible power and wailing, "It is my punishment--the punishment for my sins."
The memory of the discreditable circumstances under which he had made Karl's acquaintance, before bringing him into his home, tormented the old centaur with remorse. Some afternoons, he would have a horse saddled, going full gallop toward the neighboring village. But he was no longer hunting hospitable ranches. He needed to pass some time in the church, speaking alone with the images that were there only for him--since he had footed the bills for them. . . . "Through my sin, through my very great sin!"
But in spite of his self-reproach, Desnoyers had to work very hard to get any kind of a settlement out of the old penitent. Whenever he suggested legalizing the situation and making the necessary arrangements for their marriage, the old tyrant would not let him go on. "Do what you think best, but don't say anything to me about it."
Several months passed by. One day the Frenchman approached him with a certain air of mystery. "Elena has a son and has named him 'Julio' after you."
"And you, you great useless hulk," stormed the ranchman, "and that weak cow of a wife of yours, you dare to live tranquilly on without giving me a grandson! . . . Ah, Frenchy, that is why the Germans will finally overwhelm you. You see it, right here. That bandit has a son, while you, after four years of marriage . . . nothing. I want a grandson!--do you understand THAT?"
And in order to console himself for this lack of little ones around his own hearth, he betook himself to the ranch of his overseer, Celedonio, where a band of little half-breeds gathered tremblingly and hopefully about him.
Suddenly China died. The poor Misia Petrona passed away as discreetly as she had lived, trying even in her last hours to avoid all annoyance for her husband, asking his pardon with an imploring look for any trouble which her death might cause him. Elena came to the ranch in order to see her mother's body for the last time, and Desnoyers who for more than a year had been supporting them behind his father-in-law's back, took advantage of this occasion to overcome the old man's resentment.
"Well, I'll forgive her," said the ranchman finally. "I'll do it for the sake of my poor wife and for you. She may remain on the ranch, and that shameless gringo may come with her."
But he would have nothing to do with him. The German was to be an employee under Desnoyers, and they could live in the office building as though they did not belong to the family. He would never say a word to Karl.
But scarcely had the German returned before he began giving him orders rudely as though he were a perfect stranger. At other times he would pass by him as though he did not know him. Upon finding Elena in the house with his older daughter, he would go on without speaking to her.
In vain his Romantica transfigured by maternity, improved all opportunities for putting her child in his way, calling him loudly by name: "Julio . . . Julio!"
"They want that brat of a singing gringo, that carrot top with a face like a skinned kid to be my grandson? . . . I prefer Celedonio's."
And by way of emphasizing his protest, he entered the dwelling of his overseer, scattering among his dusky brood handfuls of dollars.
After seven years of marriage, the wife of Desnoyers found that she, too, was going to become a mother. Her sister already had three sons. But what were they worth to Madariaga compared to the grandson that was going to come? "It will be a boy," he announced positively, "because I need one so. It shall be named Julio, and I hope that it will look like my poor dead wife."
Since the death of his wife he no longer called her the China, feeling something of a posthumous love for the poor woman who in her lifetime had endured so much, so timidly and silently. Now "my poor dead wife" cropped out every other instant in the conversation of the remorseful ranchman.
His desires were fulfilled. Luisa gave birth to a boy who bore the name of Julio, and although he did not show in his somewhat sketchy features any striking resemblance to his grandmother, still he had the black hair and eyes and olive skin of a brunette. Welcome! . . . This WAS a grandson!
In the generosity of his joy, he even permitted the German to enter the house for the baptismal ceremony.
When Julio Desnoyers was two years old, his grandfather made the rounds of his estates, holding him on the saddle in front of him. He went from ranch to ranch in order to show him to the copper- colored populace, like an ancient monarch presenting his heir. Later on, when the child was able to say a few words, he entertained himself for hours at a time talking with the tot under the shade of the eucalyptus tree. A certain mental failing was beginning to be noticed in the old man. Although not exactly in his dotage, his aggressiveness was becoming very childish. Even in his most affectionate moments, he used to contradict everybody, and hunt up ways of annoying his relatives.
"Come here, you false prophet," he would say to Julio. "You are a Frenchy."
The grandchild protested as though he had been insulted. His mother had taught him that he was an Argentinian, and his father had suggested that she also add Spanish, in order to please the grandfather.
"Very well, then; if you are not a Frenchy, shout, 'Down with Napoleon!'"
And he looked around him to see if Desnoyers might be near, believing that this would displease him greatly. But his son-in-law pursued the even tenor of his way, shrugging his shoulders.
"Down with Napoleon!" repeated Julio.
And he instantly held out his hand while his grandfather went through his pockets.
Karl's sons, now four in number, used to circle around their grandparent like a humble chorus kept at a distance, and stare enviously at these gifts. In order to win his favor, they one day when they saw him alone, came boldly up to him, shouting in unison, "Down with Napoleon!"
"You insolent gringoes!" ranted the old man. "That's what that shameless father has taught you! If you say that again, I'll chase you with a cat-o-nine-tails. . . . The very idea of insulting a great man in that way!"
While he tolerated this blond brood, he never would permit the slightest intimacy. Desnoyers and his wife often had to come to their rescue, accusing the grandfather of injustice. And in order to pour the vials of his wrath out on someone, the old plainsman would hunt up Celedonio, the best of his listeners, who invariably replied, "Yes, Patron. That's so, Patron."
"They're not to blame," agreed the old man, "but I can't abide them! Besides, they are so like their father, so fair, with hair like a shredded carrot, and the two oldest wearing specs as if they were court clerks! . . . They don't seem like folks with those glasses; they look like sharks."
Madariaga had never seen any sharks, but he imagined them, without knowing why, with round, glassy eyes, like the bottoms of bottles.
By the time he was eight years old, Julio was a famous little equestrian. "To horse, peoncito," his grandfather would cry, and away they would race, streaking like lightning across the fields, midst thousands and thousands of horned herds. The "peoncito," proud of his title, obeyed the master in everything, and so learned to whirl the lasso over the steers, leaving them bound and conquered. Upon making his pony take a deep ditch or creep along the edge of the cliffs, he sometimes fell under his mount, but clambered up gamely.
"Ah, fine cowboy!" exclaimed the grandfather bursting with pride in his exploits. "Here are five dollars for you to give a handkerchief to some china."
The old man, in his increasing mental confusion, did not gauge his gifts exactly with the lad's years; and the infantile horseman, while keeping the money, was wondering what china was referred to, and why he should make her a present.
Desnoyers finally had to drag his son away from the baleful teachings of his grandfather. It was simply useless to have masters come to the house, or to send Julio to the country school. Madariaga would always steal his grandson away, and then they would scour the plains together. So when the boy was eleven years old, his father placed him in a big school in the Capital.
The grandfather then turned his attention to Julio's three-year-old sister, exhibiting her before him as he had her brother, as he took her from ranch to ranch. Everybody called Chicha's little girl Chichi, but the grandfather bestowed on her the same nickname that he had given her brother, the "peoncito." And Chichi, who was growing up wild, vigorous and wilful, breakfasting on meat and talking in her sleep of roast beef, readily fell in with the old man's tastes. She was dressed like a boy, rode astride like a man, and in order to win her grandfather's praises as "fine cowboy," carried a knife in the back of her belt. The two raced the fields from sun to sun, Madariaga following the flying pigtail of the little Amazon as though it were a flag. When nine years old she, too, could lasso the cattle with much dexterity.
What most irritated the ranchman was that his family would remember his age. He received as insults his son-in-law's counsels to remain quietly at home, becoming more aggressive and reckless as he advanced in years, exaggerating his activity, as if he wished to drive Death away. He accepted no help except from his harum-scarum "Peoncito." When Karl's children, great hulking youngsters, hastened to his assistance and offered to hold his stirrup, he would repel them with snorts of indignation.
"So you think I am no longer able to help myself, eh! . . . There's still enough life in me to make those who are waiting for me to die, so as to grab my dollars, chew their disappointment a long while yet!"
Since the German and his wife were kept pointedly apart from the family life, they had to put up with these allusions in silence. Karl, needing protection, constantly shadowed the Frenchman, improving every opportunity to overwhelm him with his eulogies. He never could thank him enough for all that he had done for him. He was his only champion. He longed for a chance to prove his gratitude, to die for him if necessary. His wife admired him with enthusiasm as "the most gifted knight in the world." And Desnoyers received their devotion in gratified silence, accepting the German as an excellent comrade. As he controlled absolutely the family fortune, he aided Karl very generously without arousing the resentment of the old man. He also took the initiative in bringing about the realization of Karl's pet ambition--a visit to the Fatherland. So many years in America! . . . For the very reason that Desnoyers himself had no desire to return to Europe, he wished to facilitate Karl's trip, and gave him the means to make the journey with his entire family. The father-in-law had no curiosity as to who paid the expenses. "Let them go!" he said gleefully, "and may they never return!"
Their absence was not a very long one, for they spent their year's allowance in three months. Karl, who had apprised his parents of the great fortune which his marriage had brought him, wished to make an impression as a millionaire, in full enjoyment of his riches. Elena returned radiant, speaking with pride of her relatives--of the baron, Colonel of Hussars, of the Captain of the Guard, of the Councillor at Court--asserting that all countries were most insignificant when compared with her husband's. She even affected a certain condescension toward Desnoyers, praising him as "a very worthy man, but without ancient lineage or distinguished family--and French, besides."
Karl, on the other hand, showed the same devotion as before, keeping himself submissively in the background when with his brother-in-law who had the keys of the cash box and was his only defense against the browbeating old Patron. . . . He had left his two older sons in a school in Germany. Years afterwards they reached an equal footing with the other grandchildren of the Spaniard who always begrudged them their existence, "perfect frights, with carroty hair, and eyes like a shark."
Suddenly the old man became very lonely, for they had also carried off his second "Peoncito." The good Chicha could not tolerate her daughter's growing up like a boy, parading 'round on horseback all the time, and glibly repeating her grandfather's vulgarities. So she was now in a convent in the Capital, where the Sisters had to battle valiantly in order to tame the mischievous rebellion of their wild little pupil.
When Julio and Chichi returned to the ranch for their vacations, the grandfather again concentrated his fondness on the first, as though the girl had merely been a substitute. Desnoyers was becoming indignant at his son's dissipated life. He was no longer at college, and his existence was that of a student in a rich family who makes up for parental parsimony with all sorts of imprudent borrowings.
But Madariaga came to the defense of his grandson. "Ah, the fine cowboy!" . . . Seeing him again on the ranch, he admired the dash of the good looking youth, testing his muscles in order to convince himself of their strength, and making him to recount his nightly escapades as ringleader of a band of toughs in the Capital. He longed to go to Buenos Aires himself, just to see the youngster in the midst of this gay, wild life. But alas! he was not seventeen like his grandson; he had already passed eighty.
"Come here, you false prophet! Tell me how many children you have. . . . You must have a great many children, you know!"
"Father!" protested Chicha who was always hanging around, fearing her parent's bad teachings.
"Stop nagging at me!" yelled the irate old fellow in a towering temper. "I know what I'm saying."
Paternity figured largely in all his amorous fancies. He was almost blind, and the loss of his sight was accompanied by an increasing mental upset. His crazy senility took on a lewd character, expressing itself in language which scandalized or amused the community.
"Oh, you rascal, what a pretty fellow you are!" he said, leering at Julio with eyes which could no longer distinguish things except in a shadowy way. "You are the living image of my poor dead wife. . . . Have a good time, for Grandpa is always here with his money! If you could only count on what your father gives you, you would live like a hermit. These Frenchies are a close-fisted lot! But I am looking out for you. Peoncito! Spend and enjoy yourself--that's what your Granddaddy has piled up the silver for!"
When the Desnoyers children returned to the Capital, he spent his lonesome hours in going from ranch to ranch. A young half-breed would set the water for his shrub-tea to boiling on the hearth, and the old man would wonder confusedly if she were his daughter. Another, fifteen years old, would offer him a gourd filled with the bitter liquid and a silver pipe with which to sip it. . . . A grandchild, perhaps--he wasn't sure. And so he passed the afternoons, silent and sluggish, drinking gourd after gourd of shrub tea, surrounded by families who stared at him with admiration and fear.
Every time he mounted his horse for these excursions, his older daughter would protest. "At eighty-four years! Would it not be better for him to remain quietly at home. . . . Some day something terrible would happen. . . . And the terrible thing did happen. One evening the Patron's horse came slowly home without its rider. The old man had fallen on the sloping highway, and when they found him, he was dead. Thus died the centaur as he had lived, with the lash hanging from his wrist, with his legs bowed by the saddle.
A Spanish notary, almost as old as he, produced the will. The family was somewhat alarmed at seeing what a voluminous document it was. What terrible bequests had Madariaga dictated? The reading of the first part tranquilized Karl and Elena. The old father had left considerable more to the wife of Desnoyers, but there still remained an enormous share for the Romantica and her children. "I do this," he said, "in memory of my poor dead wife, and so that people won't talk."
After this, came eighty-six legacies. Eighty-five dark-hued individuals (women and men), who had lived on the ranch for many years as tenants and retainers, were to receive the last paternal munificence of the old patriarch. At the head of these was Celedonio whom Madariaga had greatly enriched in his lifetime for no heavier work than listening to him and repeating, "That's so, Patron, that's true!" More than a million dollars were represented by these bequests in lands and herds. The one who completed the list of beneficiaries was Julio Desnoyers. The grandfather had made special mention of this namesake, leaving him a plantation "to meet his private expenses, making up for that which his father would not give him."
"But that represents hundreds of thousands of dollars!" protested Karl, who had been making himself almost obnoxious in his efforts to assure himself that his wife had not been overlooked in the will.
The days following the reading of this will were very trying ones for the family. Elena and her children kept looking at the other group as though they had just waked up, contemplating them in an entirely new light. They seemed to forget what they were going to receive in their envy of the much larger share of their relatives.
Desnoyers, benevolent and conciliatory, had a plan. An expert in administrative affairs, he realized that the distribution among the heirs was going to double the expenses without increasing the income. He was calculating, besides, the complications and disbursements necessary for a judicial division of nine immense ranches, hundreds of thousands of cattle, deposits in the banks, houses in the city, and debts to collect. Would it not be better for them all to continue living as before? . . . Had they not lived most peaceably as a united family? . . .
The German received this suggestion by drawing himself up haughtily. No; to each one should be given what was his. Let each live in his own sphere. He wished to establish himself in Europe, spending his wealth freely there. It was necessary for him to return to "his world."
As they looked squarely at each other, Desnoyers saw an unknown Karl, a Karl whose existence he had never suspected when he was under his protection, timid and servile. The Frenchman, too, was beginning to see things in a new light.
"Very well," he assented. "Let each take his own. That seems fair to me."