The exile and other stories (2023)

Texas Pan American Series


and other stories
Horace Quiroga

Selected, translated,
and with an introduction
J. David Danielson

With his help
Elsa K. Gabarini


Publisher information

The Texas Pan American Series is issued with the assistance of a revolving issue fund established by the Pan American Sulfur Company.

"The Orange-Distillers" was first published in a slightly different form in the South Dakota Review (1983) and is reprinted here with permission.

1987 af University of Texas Press
Printed in the USA

First edition, 1987

Requests for permission to reproduce material from this work should be sent to:

University of Texas Press
Boks 7819
Austin, TX 78713-7819

Data Cataloging-in-Publication Library of Congress

Quiroga, Horacio, 1878-1937.
The exile and other stories.
(The Texas Pan American Series)
1. Chiroga, Horace, 1878–1937 — Translations, English. I. Danielson, J. David (John David), 1926- . II. Gambarini, Elsa K. III. Title. IV. Series.
PQ8519.Q5A23 1987 863 86-30722
ISBN 978-0-292-72050-3
ISBN 978-0-292-72051-0 (s.s.)
ISBN 978-0-292-75352-5 (library e-book)
ISBN 978-0-292-75353-2 (individual e-book)


At the turn of the century, the subtropical area of ​​Misiones in northeastern Argentina was a border region, not only because of its position between Brazil to the east and north and Paraguay to the west, but also, and especially, because it was a land of pioneers, like Alaska and the Yukon at the same time in North American history. It was inhabited by indigenous natives, mestizos, blacks and whites. from Argentines, Brazilians, Paraguayans and foreigners from abroad. by speakers of Guaranã, Spanish and Portuguese and some later immigrant languages ​​from Europe. The zone was – and still is – important for its forest products, and above all yerba mate or yerba mate plantations, the green tea favored in Uruguay, Argentina, Paraguay and southern Brazil. Such plantations were first established by the Jesuits at the beginning of the seventeenth century, as an important economic enterprise for the indigenous Guaranãs reducciones (collective settlements), which flourished until the company was expelled from Spanish rule in 1767. It is of course the missions they founded, which gave its name to Misiones.

This is the setting for almost all of Horacio Quiroga's most famous stories, including those selected for this volume—except for the main story, "Beasts in Collusion," set in Brazil's Mato Grosso in the north. They are stories of risk and danger, suffering, disease, horror and death. but also of courage and dignity, hard work and human endurance in the face of hostile nature and the frequent brutality of man. In most of the stories translated here (all but two appearing in English for the first time) there are also spicy touches of humor and wry irony.

Our title, The Exiles and Other Stories, echoes the title of one of Quiroga's volumes, Los desterrados (1926), often said to be his best book. Here are five stories from this collection, seven written earlier (1908-1923) and one later (1929). This final tale, "The Forerunners", takes up a theme introduced in the title story, "The Exiles", and is one of five characters to appear in more than one story. All thirteen are similar in inspiration and may be said to constitute a kind of loosely structured, episodic novel—along with some of those published in The Decapitated Chicken and Other Stories (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1976), notably "Drifting" , "A punch in the face", "Midnight", "The dead" and "The son". These stories are held together by common themes, situations and conflicts - and of course their common setting in Misiones - but above all by their view of the man (men and women) in this environment, including Quiroga himself, who appears in different guises, and according to A. H. Rodrãguez "made himself the best character in his work" (El mundo ideal de Horacio Quiroga, 3a ed. [Posadas: Montoya, 1985], p. 47).

Quiroga has been compared to our own Jack London, his contemporary and colleague in a characteristic New World fiction. But he was much less ideological and political than London, more bourgeois by birth, more educated and more literary as a youth, having published before his twenties and edited the Revista de Salto before his trip to Paris at 21 (1900). . His formative years coincided with the height of the aesthetic modernist movement in Spanish-American literature (Ruben Darío arrived in Buenos Aires in 1893 and stayed until 1898), and his first two books (1901, 1904) betray his influence, as well as that from the example of Charles Baudelaire, Mr. Edgar Allan Poe. At that time, his interest in the dark side of life was still largely literary, although he had already suffered the death of his father, stepfather and a close friend (see "A Quiroga Chronology" at the end of this volume).

When he discovered Misiones, Quiroga apparently found a world free from the constraints of city life where he could create a life of his own designs. He was, of course, not a primitive, but a sophisticated contemporary who brought civilization and technology to the wilderness. He had books, all kinds of tools and even a Model T, the latter a definite rarity in Misiones at the time. From 1903 he spent about half of his time in the north (including Chaco, Corrientes and Paraguay as well as Misiones) and half in Buenos Aires, where he constantly yearned for the house he had built with his own hands, overlooking the Paraná, near San Ignacio (seeMap). He had become a successful writer in the city and didn't have to struggle in Misiones, but that was where he wanted to be, where he felt he belonged. Undoubtedly, it was his destiny to confront life in its most basic forms and exploit the opening of borders, both directly, in his manual work and literary, in his fiction. Although the urbane Quiroga will always be remembered for such compelling stories as "The Beheaded Chicken," it is in Misiones that he finds his truest and most authentic voice. And his strong feeling for the country and its people is undeniable. Even a quasi-mystical communication with nature is sometimes traceable.

Quiroga's characters are very different. In this book we find parents and children, maids, prostitutes, laborers, foremen and overseers, artisans, merchants, landowners and lumber barons, rivermen, scientists, derelicts and drunkards, even union organizers. Some characters are mestizos or creoles of European descent. Many others are immigrants: from Sweden, Holland, Belgium and England. France, Spain and Italy, Germany, Poland, Hungary and Turkey. Like the United States, the River Plate region was a land of opportunity in those days, and the influx of immigrants was very large, especially compared to the number of native-born. (By 1914, about a million Italians—not to mention other immigrants—were living in Uruguay and Argentina, out of a combined population of about nine million.) Although some of Quiroga's expatriates eventually crack under her strained lives in their harsh new environment . , nearly all are hard workers, as are most of the Creoles and natives who live next to them.

Work is indeed a central concern in these stories. There are indentured laborers (mensualeros or mensús) who toil for months under heavy supervision, only to squander their progress in the week-long orgy at Posadas and return to the dangers of tropical fever, brutality and death in the logging camps. There are peons and domestic servants who work for short-term wages and are likely to leave and disappear as quickly and unexpectedly as they first entered the field. A number of workers are fiercely independent, who will commit to a single task at a time to maintain their freedom from bosses. Others are small entrepreneurs who gather logs from the river, try to grow crops, or set up cottage industries such as cooking charcoal or distilling liquor from oranges. And finally, in "The Forerunners", we have the tragicomic story of the yerba plantation workers and their first frustrated attempts to build their union.

Quiroga is not a socialist, but his stories clearly reveal his sympathy for the mensús victims and plantation workers and other peasants subjected to the brutality of cruel bosses. He does not lecture, but simply describes the conditions as he finds them. He shows little interest in class struggle, but, as befits a fiction writer, great interest in individuals. Their skills impress him and he admires their strength and endurance in the face of adversity. (Many of his characters are based on people he actually knew in Misiones.) His work ethic can be seen as a kind of metaphor for human dignity.

Our author's material is regional and local, and in this sense he is a criollista or nativist. But it is rarely only graphic. While his characters and their circumstances are authentic, and he sometimes presents their activities in great detail, he is far less interested in documentation than in basic human problems: survival, taming nature, dealing with injustice, raising and protecting children, handling difficult tasks, rising to creativity—and shows compassion for those who fail and suffer through their weaknesses or the malice of others. The focus is characteristically Spanish, as the psychological is far less important than the existential. In some of his urban stories, Quiroga shows an interest - at least partially inherited from Poe - in abnormal mental states, but here, in Misiones, his interest is man among men, especially man in conflict - and sometimes in harmony - with nature. (A marginal exception is alcoholism, notably in the case of Dr. Else in "The Orange-Distillers".)

Quiroga is perhaps the most important forerunner of the so-called "Boom" in Latin American fiction, which ca. coincided with the third quarter of the twentieth century. In recent years, the names of Borges, Carpentier, Cortázar, Sábato, Bioy Casares, Onetti, Donoso, Fuentes, Rulfo, Vargas Llosa, Cabrera Infante, Nobel laureates Miguel Angel Asturias and Gabriel García Márquez and many others have become international. well known and rightly so. But they didn't come out of nowhere. The groundwork had been prepared by Quiroga and some of his contemporaries, who were able to discard much of the artifice, the inflated rhetoric and contentiousness, as well as many of the normative conventions (mainly derived from European literature). Early Twentieth Century Fiction in Latin America. Their work became less superficial, less programmatic, less extra-literary. In particular, Quiroga began to address the deepest, most central aspects of the human experience—and to do so in concrete, strictly American terms. That he succeeded is most evident from the fact that he is still widely read and appreciated, not only within but also outside the Spanish-speaking world - yes, that his reputation has grown, his work now receives increased attention from critics and historians.literature.

But as a transitional figure, he could hardly reach the typical mastery of a Borges, a Cortázar or a García Márquez. He is not a great prose writer, though his means seem on the whole to be sufficient for his purpose. Some of his weaknesses are evident in the melodramatic and somewhat heavy (but still powerful) 'Beasts in Collusion', which he did not feature in any of his books. Some of his stories lack a clear center and share two or more prominent themes, such as "The Coal Miners" and "The Exiles". Others wander from one incident to another as "A Worker". There are occasional minor discrepancies in detail, syntactic inaccuracies, and more often gaps in semantic stringency. But there are just as many stylistic delights — like the control of rudimentary dialect in "The Precursors" — and it's all vivid, compelling and strangely profound. In addition, the stories of Misiones present a coherent worldview, a kind of Creole tragic sense of life, ranging from the pure horror to the anthropological irony of "The Contract Workers", "The Loggers", "A Workingman", "The Exiles", "The Forerunners" and others . Quiroga remains unique, seemingly incomparable.

He wrote about two hundred short stories, and at least a third of them remain memorable. He understood the genre well and exploited almost all of its potential, including the fantastic, a mode generally limited to his urban stories and represented only tangentially here (most clearly in "The Yaciyateré"). For quite complex reasons, including the decline of Spanish prestige in Europe after 1588, he is less well known than some of his peers (and freely recognized masters), such as Poe, Maupassant and Chekhov. But he is in the same class with them, even in his unevenness, and his best work belongs not only to Latin America, but to the whole world.

We have mentioned his association with Misiones. But perhaps only a visit to this country can convince one of its enormous appeal: its rich red soil, its forests and girbals, its magnificent waterfalls in Iguazú, its remote towns and villages, its magnificent jacarandás in the streets of its magnificent capital, Posadas — and above all the enchanting river, Olivera's "devil of Paraná" ("A worker"), which defines its long border with Paraguay. These stories, regardless of their incidents and conflicts, regardless of their characters, are essentially stories of Misiones, their narratives offset by Misiones, its trees and waters, its climate, its agriculture, its people. The ruins of the Jesuits in San Ignacio and Quiroga's house outside the city are now cleared of tourists, but readers of his stories can still imagine them as they were more than sixty years ago, when Dr. Else mistook her daughter for a giant rat. Because a sense of place is so important to Quiroga, and because most readers in our distant skies will never see Misiones, I thought it important to giveMap, and alist over toponymer, which follows the text. (But if you can, take a flight to Rio and continue to Foz-do-Iguaçu. Cross the new bridge into Argentina and take a long bus ride south, disembarking via Misiones in Quiroga country.)

In these translations I have not attempted to improve Quiroga, nor to pull him out of his context and into English literature. I tried to stay close to his Spanish to avoid diving too far below the surface in search of his underlying meaning. Along the way, I undoubtedly stretch my English skills a bit, but consciously, with the conviction that a translation should not hide its origin, not read as if it were written directly in the host language, but instead take advantage of the rich possibilities, the bilingual encounter, while at the same time that the rules for this second language are respected. In doing so, I hope to have conveyed something of the particular flavor of Quiroga's prose, which, like Quiroga himself, is sui generis.


and other stories

Translator's note

Below are the Spanish titles of the stories translated for this book, sorted by their dates of publication in Quiroga's collections (as reprinted by Losada) and the order in which they appear in each. This series differs somewhat from their first appearance, indicated by the dates in parentheses. The first story and the last were never collected by the author.

1. The Savage Accomplices [1908]
2. The Menus [1914] Stories of Love, Madness and Death (1917)
3. The Beam Fishermen [1913] Stories of Love, Madness and Death (1917)
4. Yaciyateré [1917] Anaconda (1921)
5. The Coal Miners [1918] Anaconda (1921)
6. The Desert [1923] The Desert (1924)
7. A Peasant [1918] The Desert (1924)
8. The Banished [1925] The Banished (1926)
9. Van Houten [1919] The Banished (1926)
10. Tacuara-Pale The Banished (1926)
11. Camera Obscura [1920] The Banished (1926)
12. The Orange Distillers [1923] The Banished (1926)
13. The Forerunners [1929]

Animals in interaction

On a stormy night in June, a man walked stealthily along a path deep in the jungle of Mato Grosso. The night was dark. The lightning thundered one after the other, and to the mighty stirring of the sky the jungle answered with its deep murmur from its trees shaken by the strong wind. From time to time bright lightning crossed the sky. black and eerie, the forest appeared, only to immediately disappear into impenetrable darkness.

The jungle (always terrible even by day with its ambushes and treachery) then, in its gloomy solitude, irresistibly filled the most intrepid soul with anxiety. A person in the city – even in the most desperate alleys – never feels alone. human life swarms around him; their nearness sustains him. But in the jungle it's different. There, everything conspires against him: the still heavy air, the hostile silence, the deadly emissions from the plants that let death seep in their sickeningly seductive, voluptuous aromas, the beasts crouching behind logs that seem indifferent to our walk , snakes that turn hell into this earthly paradise. in the jungle everything conspires against man.

Yet our traveller, in spite of the dark horror that lies in a stormy forest night, with no protection but his own courage, seemed unafraid. His cautious pace showed concern, yes, even foresight, but not fear. To a familiar eye, something about him revealed a person accustomed to the jungle. That something was the way he walked. He lifted his legs higher, much higher than seemed necessary, like one walking on stilts, and this with a natural elasticity that recognized from afar the son of the forest—whether native or adoptive.

Littered with logs and branches, the jungle floor actually requires you to lift your feet to avoid tripping, and this maneuver, which is extremely tiring at first, ends up being unconscious and therefore quite easy. In this way one can unmistakably discover the more or less wise character of the wanderer's jungle.

So our man was a man who was used to the forest. And the lightnings, which with their glittering brilliance have enabled us to follow the progress of the cat, will enable us to learn something more.

Thus, in a flash of lightning followed by a terrifying flash of lightning, one could see that the traveler was wearing a helmet of pith, a torn blouse and torn blue trousers and heavy boots. The helmet immediately revealed that its wearer was not a worker. but on the other hand, his apparent indifference to the forest, rare in a boss, seemed to confirm that he was.

So what was it? Training camp shrimp? And what could he be doing that night, in the depths of the forest, walking like someone watching something, and all without a shotgun? We'll find out soon enough.

Like reactions from the fire itself, which had been going on since the evening, the lightning had subsided. But now the rain fell in torrents, and the whole jungle, lashed without respite by the monstrous drops, uttered a muffled hum.

"Dime!" muttered the traveler as he stopped. "Only paca rats are fit to go out in this weather."

He said it in Spanish, but with a distinct Italian accent, and raised his head with the unconscious curiosity one must look at the sky when it is raining furiously. At that moment, a bright bolt of lightning tore through the air in front of him. The traveler closed his eyes in a daze. For a moment he held them like that, to dispel his temporary blindness. When he opened them, he already had normal vision and threw her into the darkness in front of him.

"And that dimwit isn't here yet!" he muttered a second time.

What strange date could that be? The traveler remained motionless and got even wetter - if that was possible, for the water ran from his helmet in peasants, as from an umbrella.

Despite his silence, however, he couldn't hear a soft hiss that rose behind him. At that moment there was a flash of lightning, and when the noise ceased, the rustling stopped.

The slightly swaying branches remained completely still. But a strange feeling made our traveler think that something had just happened. Was it an accidental consolation? The intuition of danger common to borderline people accustomed to a life of constant vigilance? Whatever the case may be, we saw that the man with whom we are concerned did not seem at all affected by the gloomy spectacle of the jungle on such an evening. But this time was different. He quickly turned his head, cast his hawk's eye on the deep candle which he felt on his back, and held for a while, giving that cautious ear which suppresses and contracts all the other senses of the body, and which the bush-hunter puts on. . use it with all his heart and soul, to hang on to it, as by a thread, is his life.

Hearing nothing, he turned and explored the darkness again. and uttering an emphatic curse, he continued. Then, on the edge of the sofa, two fierce green dots appeared with their gaze. They moved with deadly slowness up the path, following the traveler's progress. After a while, the green dots started moving in his direction.

Meanwhile our strange traveler continued on his cautious advance, when suddenly a cry of lamentation — long, throbbing, and painful — drowned the din of the storm. It came from deep in the far reaches of the jungle. Hearing this, the traveler stopped short. but instead of an expression of terror, an expression of sparkling joy broke over his face.

"Finally!" he shouted almost running. A moment later he stopped again, overcome with intense anxiety.

"It seemed to be close to the ground," he muttered in the grip of pain.

A moment passed. At last he made up his mind, opened his mouth with the thumb and forefinger of his left hand, and uttered a long scream into the terrible night, the same desolate wail that had come to him. A moment later, but much nearer, the melancholy signal sounded again, and the traveler heaved a deep sigh of relief.

"I'll have to tell him not to imitate so well," she muttered, smiling and moving on.

The scream of pain they both had just let out was a perfect imitation of what you might hear from the anteater on cold winter nights, and it sounds like a-hu! ah-hoo! ah-hoo! oh! oh! ahhh!

A moment later, a shadow stood in front of the man we met. The newcomer wore, from what could be seen under the lightning, a large straw hat with a red ribbon. Above the waist a striped work shirt, which until now couldn't have had many buttons, judging by the wide opening it left on the chest. Around his waist, over his drawers and down to his knees was a burlap held by a narrow string.

"Why are you so late?" our traveler told him hastily. "I've been soaked to the bone for an hour now."

"Not much," said the newcomer. "The manager called me to look at the ledgers. He says he's tired of fixing everything on Saturday."

The traveler smiled.

"Cauldron, what?"

"Yeah, he says that since you're not the boss, everything's been better."

The traveler smiled again without saying anything. But after a while he murmured:

"Poor Caldeira! I think she wants to see him too."

When he heard her, the Indian trembled (for the man who had arrived was an Indian).

"I haven't seen her in days," he murmured.



"Oh! are good."

The Indian gave the traveler a look of horror and respect.

"Careful, boss!"

The traveler smiled again.

“Boss, I think this is going too far. . . ” insisted the Indian in a low voice.

His talking companion laid her hand on his shoulder and gave him a deep look of irony and compassion in her eyes.

"Evil Guaikuru!" he said slowly. "Poor Indian!"

Surely these simple words caused terrible things, for the latter lowered his head as if under the weight of an oppressive memory.

"Everything is over;" said the traveler fondly.

"Yes," replied the other softly. He added, muttering:

"When it's hot, I burn. I have poison in my blood."

"Nevertheless, your face is better now," said his companion. "Let's see . . ."

He brought his face closer to the Indian's, and at that moment lightning shot across the sky in a bright slash.

The traveler immediately fell back.

"Dime!" pale murmured. "He is no longer human . . ."

And in reality this presence was not a face, but something distorted, swollen, out of proportion, cut into ill-healed wounds. The forehead, the neck, the chest, everything that could be seen presented the same monstrous appearance.

The traveler looked at him for a moment, his gaze constantly burning with ominous vengeance.

"Has Alves seen you like that?" asked.

"Yes," murmured the Indian.

"What did he tell you;"

"He laughed. Yesterday morning, when I went to the store to get cooking grease, he shouted at me laughing . . ."

His words broke and a scream escaped from the depths of his chest. The traveler shivered.

"What did he tell you;" he insisted.

“That he was very satisfied with the little lesson he had given me and that he wanted to start over. . . ", he finished, lowering his voice little by little.

Just in that trace of his voice, there was a world of suffering, horrible nightmarish memories and unbearable pain.

"And your feet?" continued the traveler. "Can you walk well?"

“Yes, they didn't bite much there. . ."

"I once heard it said in Africa," murmured the traveler, as if to himself, "but I never believed it to be true. . . . Well," he added, after a moment's silence, "an eye for an eye and a tooth for tooth, Guaikuru. I suppose he will remember something about you to-morrow.'

"And for you, boss."

"About me? ... All I have is this!" he replied smiling, holding out his left hand, three fingers missing and the stubs still red.

"But didn't you get it in your chest too?" added the Indian.

"Yeah a little? a broken rib. But are they talking about me?"

“Juan heard the blasts from your shotgun the other day, but Chief Alves doesn't think it was yours. He says some jaguar must have eaten you. Last week a dog brought a bloody cloth from the bush. The manager thinks it's your shirt."

"Is that all they know?"

"That's it."

"And for her?"

The Indian shivered again.

"No," he murmured softly.

The traveler was ready to answer, and something was sure to come upon her, this being so terrible that her mere plea would cause voices to fall—he was about to answer, we say, when Guaikuru sullenly caught him. quickly out of hand. His partner took a step back.

"Listen, boss!" said the Indian hastily.

"What's your news?" replied the traveler as he whirled nimbly like a cat.

"Listen, boss!" replied the Indian.

They both kept quiet. Then, above the rustle of leaves and rain, a distant murmur reached their ears, as deep as if it came from the cellar. The men looked at each other briefly, face to face.

"It's a jaguar," said the traveler simply. He had not the slightest tremor in his voice, since the fear of the unknown was followed by a real danger, terrible no doubt, but whose effect in men of true sensibility is to calm the spirit, prepare all its powers. for the game.

The Indian still had his ear tuned to the terrible warning sound.

"Listen, boss! It's not a jaguar," he said.

Once more they were silent, and their grim roars returned.

“That's right, it's a mountain lion. He comes running,” said the traveler.

A moment later he added:

"He must be a man-eater."

"He's got our scent. He's going down the trail," Guaikuru murmured.

And yes, this time the roar had sounded much closer.

A moment later it sounded again, then again, and our men realized, with the quick judgment of those accustomed to know the exact limit of their powers, without wavering, that they were no match for this beast and were doomed to Death.

"And what's worse, not even a revolver," muttered the traveler in a tone of annoyance, but not of fear. "Do you have your knife?"

"Yeah, it's no use . . . He's a man-eater. Hurry up, boss!" she suddenly shouted, grabbing him by the arm.

"He's coming running. Let's climb this hill."

The jungle had just shaken with a deep roar, this time nearby. The animal, driven by hunger and pleasure in human flesh, came charging at its prey and let out a snarl of anguish.

In a moment our men climbed up into the first branches of the green tree—which was not much of a shelter, for the puma climbs with even greater force than the jaguar.

But thus at least a defense was possible, whereas on earth they would have been instantly torn between the beast's terrible jaws.

One after another the roars grew louder and louder, and the animal was now above them.

"He's coming running," murmured the Indian, tightening the grip of his knife in his practiced hand. In fact, they could now hear a muffled rustling of branches shaking violently. and—so near at this moment as to cause violent palpitations in these two who were apparently destined to a terrible death—a roar announced the immediate presence of the beast, and our men had already made a last appeal to all their self-control, when the traveler , who for a minute had listened in astonishment to the roar, muttered as he turned pale:

"I know this ... Guaicuru! In this way ...." And before the Indian could answer, the traveler gave a shout of joy and struck his forehead: "We are two fools. Guaicuru! We did not recognize her!"

And they fell to the ground.


The Indian, more agile, sprang from his perch into the empty space. It was five meters high and it is a dangerous jump anywhere. But it was his incredible natural agility that saved him as he only came out with a sprained ankle.

As soon as he was on the ground, the traveler brought his hands to his mouth in the form of a horn with astonishing swiftness, and uttered in the night a hoarse and long-drawn cry, which mournfully echoed through the jungle, thus sending: into the depths of the territory of the wild beasts, the challenge with a strong human voice. The cry was immediately answered by a terrific roar, so close that the men shuddered, in spite of their bravery.

A moment later the branches shook, two eyes glowed in the darkness, and a huge shadow flew over them with a single leap – but it was a leap of joy.

"Down, Divina, down!" shouted the traveler, holding back his lioness' thrusts with his commanding voice. The animal continued to let out raucous howls of pleasure and tried to rub its owner as best it could.

It is no secret that a cougar's caress is as terrifying as his fury, and that the paw he stretches out to his master with the intention of caressing him has five claws, five perfect Arab daggers that cut deep into the flesh, not so small as though it is affection that prompts them. So the traveler, pleased with the affection shown him by his lioness, took great care to avoid her approach.

"Why is that, boss?" asked the astonished Indian, approaching. But the animal turned its head towards him and let out a sharp and uncomfortable snarl.

"Cautious!" called the traveler to him. "Don't come any closer! When he sees me again after several hours, he's terribly jealous. Down, Divina!"

In the dim light he had seen the lioness's tail take a stiff, horizontal position. As this is an unmistakable sign of attack, he barely found the means to control her with his voice. He immediately had to caress her lavishly, as the animal, its first excitement now over, rubbed merrily between its master's legs. She even let Guaycurú gently scratch her head. As soon as she succeeded, and the joy she felt far outweighed her passing jealousy, she renewed her friendship with the Indian. Five minutes later the three walked down the path in brotherly companionship.

The rain, wind and lightning had stopped. The silence of the jungle seemed even deeper, as if it were underwater. Only the lightning continued to silently light up the sky.

"What about that?" asked Guaikuru again. "How did he get away?"

At this moment the traveler examined the stout collar of the animal walking beside him, and rose after a fruitless search.

"I don't know," he replied. "The collar is in perfect condition. The chain came off but I can't figure out how it managed to get the hook off. If we were dealing with a dog I'd be prepared to believe someone removed the chain. but I don't think there's anyone so despondent in life as to think of setting that cat free," he concluded, slapping the lioness hard on the side, which purred at the caress. This slap, the product of the traveler's nervous energy, was far from a caress. But the lioness certainly took it that way, for she raised her head to her master with lazy affection, and sought another sweet token of love.

"Do you think he was hungry?" asked Guaikuru.

"No? this morning she ate half the deer she caught yesterday, and tonight, not knowing how long I would be away, I let her go to the woods, but she quickly came back bored.. . All the best." he murmured. The traveler concluded.

The lioness, as if she perceived that she was spoken to, looked from one to the other with glowing eyes, as she advanced with the long and fierce speed of wild beasts.

The two strange travelers and their still stranger companion had been at it for an hour, and it seemed that the restless night would end without further disturbance, when suddenly the lioness stopped dead in her tracks.

The warning of an animal that stops looking straight in the forest is worth heeding. And especially in the present case, when the lioness, along with her animal nature, enjoyed the advantage of being born in the very jungle which had just informed her of something unusual.

The men stopped.

"What's your news?" asked the traveler in a low voice.

"I don't know," replied the Indian in the same tone. "He heard something."

They listened carefully, held their breath, but heard nothing.

However, the lioness remained motionless with her ears pulled back. He looked to one side and then to the other side of the path, with that keen attention of eye and ear peculiar to lurking animals, to whom the faint rustle of a leaf may be a decisive sign of life or death.

This continued for a while. Suddenly the animal's gaze stopped at a point at the edge of the forest. She stretched her head out even further, as if to get a better look at what she saw, and then she slowly lowered it to the surface of the ground, with her snout in the ground, she let out a muffled, mournful and deathly roar that made one shudder. fear in the hearts of men.

"I see nothing," murmured the traveler. "It must be a scent."

"Of the people?"

"No? He wouldn't roar like that… Still…."

"She's scared, boss. . ."

"Good, and in the case of a perfume it wouldn't be—especially if it smelled of people," he concluded with a slight smile, which we have already noticed when speaking of her on other occasions.

Meanwhile, the lioness had begun to move cautiously forward, without lifting her snout from the ground and howling incessantly.

"Now I know what it is!" cried the traveler suddenly. “Divina, come here, Divina! He's going to bite her!'

The Indian shivered.

"Yes, it is a snake. A month ago I heard her same complaint in the distance, and she came in with her muzzle terribly raised. . . Divina!"

The two men sprang forward and with a push pushed the traveling lioness aside. They were already halfway through the forest, and there, in the red earth, they saw a black viper—a ñacaniná—with its neck erect and ready to pounce on the first creature that approached.

These ñacaninás, snakes two or three meters long, are terribly aggressive and fear nothing. As soon as they feel attacked, they pounce on the attacker, be it a human, a dog or a wild animal. And not only that: they pursue and rush with incredible speed after whatever has disturbed them. and as they hide in secret, these black snakes are the most fearsome inhabitants of the jungle.

Nevertheless, the lioness had no desire to give up the fight. Her owner could barely contain her, worried to death, as one more step his Divina would make the snake lash out at her, and there is no antidote in the world to ñacaniná's venom.

"Guaikuru, the machete! I can't hold her any longer!"

The Indian understood. With the speed of lightning he drew his knife and found himself with a leap between the pair and ñacaniná. Then he took a step forward and the snake's neck twitched. The lioness, in the arms of her master who held her by the neck, roared as she struggled to break free.

"Quick! He's leaving!" he had time to cry out in despair. A second later the lioness jumped on the snake. But the Indian had taken another step forward with fearful composure, and as the ñacaniná approached him, outstretched as straight as a spear, he made a quick movement of his wrist which was almost imperceptible. When the lioness fell on the snake, all you could see was a black body shaking with terrible convulsions between the animal's legs. But now it had no head. the knife had sliced ​​it without a jerk, without any roughness, only as a wonderful presence of mind and hand.

After all! The men gave a sigh, now freed from the second trial of their grim night's mission. With two silent bites, the lioness had torn the still convulsed body from her enemy. Now she was quiet, she joined her master and the three set out on their journey again.

The storm was over, but the sky, still overcast, remained pitch black. In this dark darkness the dark travelers had no guide but the barely visible line of the path and above all their keen intuition of the backwoods.

They walked in single file without faltering. and in the distance, anyone who saw them, in the painful desert of the jungle, would see two greenish lights, the jungle's two awful glittering dots, guiding the nocturnal progress of the gloomy trio.

In the meantime, and while their strange adventures continue, let us say a few words about our characters, so that we may understand the terrifying drama that was about to end.


One particular summer afternoon, at three o'clock, at the height of an oppressively hot siesta hour, two sweaty men waited on the riverbank for the steamer coming upstream against its racing current. The two were Jucas Alves, owner of a logging camp four leagues from the coast, and his foreman.

When the steamer stopped, a rope was removed from its side, and a passenger dressed in white boarded.

When the boat landed, Alves went over to meet the passenger.

"Are you Longi?" she asked him - in Spanish, but with a very thick Portuguese accent.

"I am," replied the other simply, looking calmly into the hideous face of the owner of the logging camp.

"I have been highly recommended," added the latter. "Do you know your job well?"

"Yes, I have been a lumber inspector for fourteen years in Misiones."

"If you're not too picky, I think you'll be satisfied here."

"I hope so."

Four hours later they were on their way into the camp. The work of inspecting the timber cut and felled by the axe, of dipping day after day in the bush, of moving incessantly from one place to another, of wasting away from heat and mosquitoes, is terribly difficult. However, the newly hired inspector had plenty of energy for each test, and within his thin frame lay extraordinary physical strength.

Things went well at first. But little by little he began to notice the terrible atrocities that prevailed in the camp. Those who know what goes on in almost any logging camp will fully understand what has not been revealed here. and those who are ignorant are better off staying that way forever.

Alves was the original despot, angry, cowardly, cheap, cruel to perfection and possessed of an iron will.

At the end of the first month, Longhi realized that he would not last long there. By the end of the second, he was sure that Alves did not like him and that something serious was about to happen. And the collision actually happened, in the form of some logs that were poorly measured, according to Alves.

"It seems to me that you showed more promise in the beginning," the owner told him dryly.

"It is possible," replied the other, keeping his cool.

"It is your duty to make things right," Alves said gruffly.

Longi looked him straight in the eyes and answered him palely:

"It is my duty to do what I can." His voice was even calmer.

"It is your duty to keep your mouth shut!" Alves shouted, seething with anger.

The enraged inspector slowly put his hands in his pockets, with a composure far more formidable than his pent-up anger, and said to him, saying clearly:

"It seems to me that you are mistaken, Mr. Alves."


"I am not an ordinary worker."


"And no tenants like these others . . ."

Alves made a move, but immediately Longhi added, looking at him:

"... and I swear to you that the first step you take to draw your revolver, by my mother's ghost, I swear to you that I will blow the lid off your brain."

The inspector did not even hold out his own gun to back up his threat. his appearance was enough. Alves realized he had made a mistake and when he turned green he mumbled something and left. But Longhi, on the other hand, understood that the match had only just begun and that Alves would not leave it at that.

And indeed six days later the expected disaster fell upon the heads of Guaikurus and the inspector—our night travelers, that is, as everyone now understood.

The climax came one morning near noon, and its accidental cause was this: Among the innumerable laborers in the camp was an Indian named Guaycurú, who as a child had been abandoned by his parents in the forest near death, and whom an old woodcutter from Corrientes had taken and grown. At first the Indian—an excellent woodcutter, by the way—had regarded the new inspector with distrust, which was quite understandable. Surveyors usually measure wood in such a way that they always find a way to record a smaller amount: instead of four meters, two and a half. instead of eighty square feet, fifty — and so on with the same tendency. It is of no use to the humble woodcutter to defend the inches which cost him hours of pain, heat, mosquitoes and snakes in the backcountry. the inspector starts laughing or warns him that if he continues to cause trouble he will have to blow his brains out. The woodcutter lowers his head, hands over his timber without a word, and so on to the next log. What can he do? Sometimes tragic attempts are made to decide the outcome, but the terror which the boss inspires is usually too great.

Longi was, as might be expected, too much of a man to lend himself to such thefts, all the more heinous as his victim was a poor abandoned laborer, whose want and hard work to earn a sack of fat or beans also was . aware of. Thus, by the end of the second week, he had won the affection of the peons—but in spite of themselves, for, accustomed as they were to the endless plundering and bad faith of the timber inspectors, they believed that his righteousness was merely apparent, concealing a form of trick. Longhi recognized the reasonable suspicion of these unfortunate creatures, for whom he grieved from the bottom of his heart.

The Indian in particular has always been the constant victim of the inspectors. In the great weakness of his race and his humble condition, he could never get credit for even half of his timber. His beams always turned out to be badly square, or had wooden burrs, or had been cut in a rainy season—always a bad thing for him. Dumb, the Indian would return to his work, which hardly brought in enough to keep him from starving, and now his intense misery had lasted twenty years.

So when the new surveyor measured his timber without stealing an inch from him, his astonishment was infinite. Like the other peonies, he inevitably thought it was nothing more than some kind of trick, but when he gave another log, and another and another, and saw them all counted, in the wild dark soul, the divine light of blind trust another man it slowly began to light.

And that wasn't all. One afternoon, when Longi had finished measuring his trunk, and while the Indian was looking at him, the inspector looked up and saw that he was shaking, his head sunk between his shoulders.

"What's happening?" he asked him. "Fever?"

"Yes," the other replied laconically, looking away. There was a cold, bitter sadness in his eyes, a sick man as despondent and lonely as a stray dog.

"Why don't you take quinine?"

The Indian did not answer.

"Don't they have them in the store?"

"Yes," murmured the Indian, "but it costs a fortune."

"How much?"

The Indian said something in a low voice.

The inspector let out a cry of indignation.

"What a crime!" he exclaimed, looking at the human being doomed to consume him in his fever, and feeling a tenderness for the poor pariah who rose from the depths of his manly strength. At last he left, and Guaikuru watched him go with a look of painful irony.

"Like all the others," he muttered.

But the next day he got the surprise you'd think when he saw the inspector arrive at his thatched cottage deep in the forest.

"Here you are," she told him, holding a large box. "Take two, an hour before the attack. There are forty of them. If it doesn't go away, let me know."

The Indian took the box without looking at him and without saying a word.

"I'll see you tomorrow," the inspector said simply as he left.

When he had already gone about a hundred yards, he heard the sound of footsteps and saw the Indian coming towards him. His forehead twitched as if in pain.

"I want to know how much this costs," he said in a choked voice.

"It costs nothing," replied the inspector.

The Indian frowned even more and examined his nails one by one.

"Isn't it married?" he muttered, looking at him out of the corner of his eye.

The inspector understood the sum of sufferings, injustices and suspicions that had wounded the woodcutter's soul to the point that he doubted the simplest act of kindness.

"No, it's not poison," he replied gravely.

Seeing that the Indian had his head down, he turned away again, but after a few steps he felt his hand pressed hard against a mouth, and heard a sobbing voice say:

"You're a good man, boss, a good man."

Longi took his hand and laughed to hide the deep emotions he felt.

From that time no faith and belief was greater than that of the Indians. The inspector was only a god to him, the object of this absolute loyalty could only be found in the savage when he surrendered his elusive soul.

And this affection for the inspector, added to the sympathies he inspired in the other peons, was why Alves found revenge on the waste for the bitter bile which Longhi had forced him to swallow. His enmity towards the inspector, which had begun with jealousy of the respect his workers had for him, flared up completely when he discovered how much Guaikuru loved him, and especially when he learned that Longi did not steal his woodcutters. Of course, the natural thing seems to be that he summarily fired an employee who kept his earnings. but apart from the fact that what he paid Longhi was far less than usual, Alves just wanted revenge.

So it happened that one afternoon the most trifling pretext fueled this venomous revenge.

Alves was returning from the port on horseback when he ran into Guaicuru. The boss reined in his support.

"What are you doing while walking along the path?" she scolded him.

"Nothing. I'm going to the store to get some flour," replied the Indian as he stopped, trembling with fear.

"Mel? Didn't you get anything on Saturday?"

"Yes, but it got wet on me."

"You got wet! Damn you hide! Have you delivered wood?'


"How much?"

"Se her."

"How much was it?"

"Twelve feet."

Alves brought his fist down in a violent thump on the saddle.

"Of course," he whispered, "twelve feet. Don't get caught on the trail again, bandido!"

With his head even lower than before, the Indian muttered:

"I also gave wood on Saturday. . ."

"What do I care about your Sabbath and your forest? What I want is for you to work. Do you hear that? Come with me! Let's look at your stupid diary.''

They started. Alves didn't speak, but his dishonored face remained tight. When he arrived he dismounted and threw the reins violently to the ground, certain that there were a score of men there who would rush to fetch Boss Alve's reins, and they went down to the wharf with the Indian.

He looked over the log that Guaikuru was preparing, and at last he raised his head and looked at him with a look lit by smoldering fire that heralded a storm of fury.

"And this is the tree you have with you?" He said with a light kick to the beam.

The horrified Indian did not open his lips.

"Who accepted this tree?"

"Boss Longi."

"There is no master but me, bandido!" Alves shouted blushing. "Do you hear that? The only boss here is me, me! All the others are a bunch of bandits, all of them! Do you understand? All of them!"

The last was addressed to the workers and other workers who were listening at a short distance. Such was the tyrannical control that Alves had over his men that none of them raised their eyebrows. The workers looked furtively at each other. the others acted as if the words had nothing to do with them. But his thunder was too loud for the lightning to be near.

"Boss Longi. . . Alves continued, now unable to hold back. "I don't know if he is a boss in his oppressed country! But he who accepted the swollen tree is a shoemaker! Longhi or who whatever! Someone who . . ."

He was about to continue, but when he noticed that they were all looking towards the main path that lay behind him, he turned to see Longi returning from the forest at a leisurely pace. Even though he was still far away, there was no way he hadn't heard it because of the silence of the countryside. The employees exchanged a quick glance with each other. But Alves had already become white-hot. When he saw Longhi, he held back, and for a few seconds you could see the battle between his fear and his hatred for Longhi depicted on his face. The latter won.

"Who accepted this tree?" he asked, addressing the clerks as if he didn't know.

"I did," replied Longi, certain that this occasion was decisive, and he was already putting his hands in his pockets to better compose himself.

"You?" Alves asked, turning his head towards him mockingly. "You don't know what wood is!"

"I think so," Longhi replied calmly. "What's up with that?" he added, approaching the beam.

"Absolutely nothing! Just eaten from the inside!"

Longi squatted and hit the stump with his knuckles in several places.

"I don't think so," he said.

"You don't think so! What I think is that you're stealing my wages. That's what I think."

Remembering the earlier clash between Alves and Longhi, the officials shuddered and narrowed their eyes so as not to miss a bit of what was happening.

But Longhi squatted down again, as if to examine the beam more closely than before. When he stood up, he was still pale.

"Besides," continued the Brazilian, "there is no way to overcome this. Where you come from perhaps, but not among respectable people.'

This time he seemed to have transgressed the limits of Longhi's deep-seated self-control. but once more the inspector bent over the edge of the beam, put his eye to the height of one edge, and checked the angles for a while. Again he stood up. And now he was angry.

"I beg your pardon," he said with alarming calm, "this beam is quite square."

"Ah! do you think it is square?' he exclaimed—forgetting the Spanish used in his rage, and reverting to the Portuguese vosé. "You are such a thief. . ."

But he couldn't finish. Longhi, with a hoarse cry that gave vent to all his indignation - until then held by a violent act of will - had thrown his thin and nervous hand into Alves's face. The blow was loud and echoed like a rifle. Alves staggered and raised his hand to his bloody mouth, and a second later he jumped back, revolver in hand. He aimed at Longi's chest and let out a sharp, sarcastic tone.

"AHA! Looks like it's all over, huh? Thief! Thief!"

Longi, hands back in his pockets, stood still, white as a sheet, looking down at his accuser.

"Vose is a coward!" shouted Alves, whose fury was inflamed even more by this new test of temper. "I will kill you like a dog! Thief!"

Hearing this insult for the third time, Longhi's hands twitched, and Alves immediately responded with the arm with which he swung the revolver. You could clearly see by the contortion of his face that he pulled the trigger. The shot was about to leave the gun, when Guaicuru fell upon Alves with a tiger's leap, and with a blow to his wrist sent the revolver off.

But now things have changed. it wasn't about Longhi anymore.

"Catch this bandit!" roared Alves.

The peons, who would have wavered if he had been the inspector, rushed in maddened haste upon the Indian. In an instant he was down and bound.

"Now the other! Get me the other!" he roared again, pointing at Longi, who still had his hands in his pockets. No one moved.

"Pig!" he cried, his eyes glistening with tears of impotent rage, and dashed headlong for his revolver, which had fallen a step away from Longi.

But just as he was about to catch it, the inspector calmly stepped on the gun and, grabbing Alves by the shoulder, threw him violently aside. Alves let out a scream and fell on his back.

There is no way to describe the look on the Brazilian's face when he stood up. Tears of furious indignation flowed from his eyes.

Longi stooped calmly and picked up the revolver and threw it at the feet of Alves, who leapt over him with a hoarse shout of triumph, and aiming at the group of workers, shouted:

"Get that man! Whoever doesn't move, I'll blow his head off."

The peons, the cows, headed for Longhi. but shrugged his shoulders and drew his revolver, calmly saying to them:

"Act your age, hang on. no need. . ."

A gunshot interrupted his words, followed by a scream of pain from Longhi. His revolver fell as a stream of blood began to flow from his hand. Alves, whose marksmanship had not failed him at the time, just cut off three of Longhi's fingers with a single round and disarmed him.

"Quick, tie this man up!" he roared, pointing his gun at the workers.

Before Longhi could bend, he found himself surrounded, choked by many hands and tightly bound.

"Take these two robbers to the old well!"

The terrified workers took charge of the two prisoners and started on their way.

"Now we'll see, seu Longhi!" Alves called after him sarcastically. "Don't be afraid, vosé. there is no water in the well . . . but there are other, better things. As for the other one . . . Is the great anthill still there?' asked the peons.

Hearing this, an expression of extreme disappointment formed on all their faces.

What torture did Alves have in store for his two victims, such as giving workers accustomed to his vengeance a break? That's what we're going to see. The group of men, with their prisoners, proceeded along the main trail to its first fork, four hundred yards from the logging camp.

"Break!" Alves ordered. "Leave these two on the ground!"

The peons laid Longi and the Indian on the red dirt of the path and awaited further orders from their master. It should be noted that since Alves' revolver had been turned on their chests for the second time, every waver, every trace of consciousness or humanity had vanished from their souls. Alves's threats and his familiar angry voice had enslaved them, and now there were ten brutal-faced automatons, lifeless, meek, blindly obeying the familiar voice.

Now all sympathy for Longhi had left them. there was nothing in the world now but their master's orders, and so they were on their way to becoming accomplices and executors of the terrible tortures to come.

"See if there is water in the well!" ordered the Brazilian. "If there is, get rid of it and dry the place with sand. I don't want Seu Longhi to catch a cold."

The workers headed for the well, a well that had been abandoned four meters down because no water had appeared. Of course, when it rained, they could collect a couple of liters or so. They leaned over his mouth and found it dry.

"Good," Alves said. "Less work." And he gave orders to the peons in a low voice. Four of them went to camp and soon returned with picks, shovels and a rectangular box. Alves opened it and took out two dark scrolls and addressed the inspector who was stretched out on his back.

“Seu Longhi!” she said, kicking him in the head. "Can't Vose recognize this?"

Longi, eyes closed in the sun, did not move.

"That's no way, seu Longhi! This isn't right! If you opened your eyes, you'd see that this is dynamite . . . Dynamite, seu Longhi," he confirmed politely. "Okay? we'll open your eyes later...and is the anthill full?"

"Yes, boss," a worker replied.

"Great? Now it's my turn."

And as he said this, he went down to the bottom of the well.

"Cut a fat taco!" he called from below. "Ten inches is enough!"

A moment later the piece of bamboo was coming down. Alves made some movements on the bottom and after a while he came sweating.

"Good! Now drop all these rocks...the big ones first. Careful! Excellent."

When all this was over, Alves climbed back down alone, put the sticks of dynamite in the taquara, planted the fuse and climbed back up. Under his supervision, the workers went back to turning stones, carefully covering the length of the bamboo, and half an hour later the charge was ready.

"Now the other one!" Alves said. "Undress him!"

And in a little while the Indian was naked.

"Stir up the anthill!"

Two peasants went to the hill, but just as they were about to act, Alves stopped them.

"Just a minute! Go get the big bottle in the storage room, the one with the green label."

When the worker returned with the bottle, Alves turned to Longhi again with a smile of triumph.

"Look, Vose! What we have here is turpentine . . . And the ants," he added, gently tapping the bottle, "are very fond of turpentine . . . only they are wrong and very angry, seu Longhi. Your very honored friend Guaycurú will remember this a little.'

The two peonies then each threw a stick into the anthill and stirred violently in all directions. The gray appearance of the hill immediately transformed into deep black. millions of ants appeared furiously looking for the enemy attacking them. Alves sprinkled this formidable host with turpentine, and the workers strengthened the bonds of the Indians.

Suddenly, Longi, who for a moment had not caught the sound of any voice, heard a terrible scream of pain and shook violently. Another scream echoed even louder, a scream where all the suffering a human could endure came from the victim's soul.

"Good, seu Guaycurú! Nice!" he heard Alves say. "This is very good for learning to respect bosses...

Despite his indomitable energy, a cold sweat drenched Longi's forehead.

The torture had begun. The Indian, thrown naked among trillions of furious ants, writhed in agony. His body was a monstrous black mass of ants that looked like a lump of coal. The turpentine, which killed many of the ants, had roused the rest, and their terrible pincers swallowed the Indian alive.

When a minute had passed - and a minute is an awfully long time under such circumstances - Longhi heard Alves say:

"A moment's rest now! Pull him out!"

The Indian drew away, and his cries gradually subsided until they came to muffled sobs, the sobs of helplessness and superhuman suffering, such as are felt by men whose strength is at last broken.

Longi kept his eyes closed and still hadn't touched the finger. But in his heart, like a raging sea, threw up all the indignation and noble anger that a man's breast can contain. But his turn had come.

“Nu seu Longhi,” Alves said, turning to him again, “now I'm going to teach you something you don't know. You don't know how to fly do you?'

Longhi did not answer.

“Sue Longyi, please don't be rude!” Alves scolded him with another kick to the head. "I am talking to you!"

The inspector's face remained impassive. nothing but his pallor, the terrible pallor that Alves already knew, had changed his stoic countenance. Noticing this, the Brazilian smiled with delight.

"Okay? that proves you at least hear me. Now, seu Longhi, it's a matter of flying. Within half an hour, your protective self will be on the move, which was not seen in your magnanimous calculations. That will fly so well that it may never come back, do you hear? So as it is not proper for old acquaintances to part like this, without saying good-bye, let us say good-bye, seu Longhi."

And he snapped his whip and gave the inspector a terrible lash in the face.

"That's my goodbye, channel!" he screamed violently, forgetting his politeness as a streak of blood appeared on Longhi's face. "Take this memory with you! Them!" he shouted to the workers. "Put that character over the well."

The peons picked up Longi and placed him on top of the dynamite mine. When they had filled the well with stones, they had left a hollow so that the inspector could not roll in, a kind of coffin in which he was now laid. A living grave, so to speak, where Longhi counted the seconds in his last moments of life , before he was blown to pieces on high.

When all was ready, Alves approached the well and lit the fuse, which flickered for a moment and then disappeared, slowly, silently, and fatally.

“After a quarter of an hour,” said Alves, taking out his watch, “when there are only five minutes left, put the other one back in the anthill. Is that fair Sr. Longhi to have some music.'

One by one, slow and inexorable, Longhi felt the last pendulum swing of his life gradually end.

Suddenly the clear air was torn by the same terrible scream that signaled the Indian's agony.

"Five minutes left," Longhi muttered.

The screams continued, each more desperate than the last.

Then he heard the sound of footsteps moving away.

"They're going," he said to himself. "In a minute I will no longer be alive."

And for the first time he felt a knot of anxiety in his throat as he thought of his mother.

"Poor mom!" he murmured. "She had no idea what her son was in for. If . . ."

A powerful explosion ripped through the air. A furious volley of stones erupted from the well, and the Inspector's body, flung to one side, crashed into a nearby net of vines, tearing them apart and falling heavily to the ground.


It was eleven o'clock at night. A fresh breeze blew along the path, and the gloomy woods came alive with the cries of wildcats, the flight of deer, and the snarl of boars. When he unexpectedly heard it, a man's moan brought the concert to an abrupt end. Then a broken voice called softly:

"Boss Longhi!"

Nobody answered.

“Boss Longhi!” repeated the same voice, broken by suffering, what was left of a man's strong voice. Slowly, almost invisible in the darkness of the night, a shadow crept up to the well. He stopped there for half an hour and then proceeded to the edge of the forest. There is no way to convey an idea of ​​the torture and terrible pain involved in the sight of a man crawling like that. Suddenly he slapped an arm and shook violently. The hand was cold, stiff, frozen.

“Boss, Boss Longhi!” sobbed the Indian, letting his chest release all his love for the only person who had ever cared for him. She touched the inspector's face and his noble, rigid body, and she gave way to despair and wept into the desolate night.

The next day, at dawn, a worker went to tell Alves that neither the Indian nor the inspector was dead. Alves went with him and found them lying next to each other. Despite his vicious spirit, a shudder ran through his body as he fixed his gaze on the Indian. What he saw was a deformed, swollen, bloody lump of a man, consumed by fever and babbling horribly in a low voice. Alves walked over and looked over Longhi's lithe body.

"This man is dead," he said.

"No, he's not dead," replied the worker. "His heart is beating."

"How can he have survived?" Alves muttered to himself. "What's wrong with him?"

"Looks like he has broken ribs."

Alves pondered for a moment and then returned to camp.

"Go get those two characters!" ordered.

As he saw the two dying before him—two powerful men whose tyrannical cruelty had in two hours been transformed into two wretched slabs of humanity—a ray of triumph, of total will, lit up his gaze. The violent shaking of the wagon, which aggravated the Indian's delirium, had brought Longi to his senses. he looked at Alves for a moment and then closed his eyes.

"Okay!" Alves said calmly. "Now you have done your lesson, seu Longhi. I hope you take advantage of this and learn to show some respect to men who have done you no wrong. Something must have happened to you when the stones threw you, and that you may die. But at any rate I do not wish to live under the same roof with a check of thieves. so it is, seu Longhi. I will soon take you to the harbor and leave you on the bluff, and if the steamer comes in a week, so much the better for you.

A moment later Longhi mounted the carriage unconscious, and was set down not at the dock, but at the coachman's cabin, who took pity on him and risked Alve's wrath. But when he told him what he had done, Alves shrugged.

"He won't live for two hours anyway."

But Longhi lived and six months later, as the days ticked away, it was Alves' destiny to meet Longhi again, but perhaps under circumstances less favorable to him.

How? Very soon we will see.

Miraculously saved from the blast, Longhi emerged with a broken rib and horrific bruising on his back, in addition to three fingers severed by the Brazilian's bullet. The old woodcutter cared for him like a father, and Longi spent three weeks hovering between life and death. But his sturdy body prevailed, and finally one beautiful morning he was able to go outside, where he sat on a log. He was still very weak, but the warmth of the air and the sun gilding the forest soothed him like a life-renewing balm. and for the first time after two months of fever, delirium and lethargy he could think clearly.

In the nightmares he had during those two months, the sinister figure of Alves had figured prominently.

He saw himself tied to the explosion and the Brazilian laughing and kicking him in the head. And then the cowardly crack of the whip and the scream of the Indian being eaten alive. All this torture, in a man who spent two months reliving extreme violations, had deeply embittered his spirit. He tried in vain to forget. an inexorable thirst for revenge gripped his whole being. Oh, to make him suffer for a minute, even a second, what he suffered for two months! He dreamed of something monstrous for Alves, far crazier than the infernal anthill, something that would draw animalistic moans from his tortured flesh and soul. . .

Here he stopped in his train of thought.

"Yes," he murmured. "Why not? Outrageous ... Oh, now we'll see! Juan!" called the woodcutter, who that morning shivered and shivered from the fire.


"Tell me: have you ever seen a tame jaguar?"

"Never? It can't be. A cougar, yes."

"Yes I know. But have you seen a tamed cougar?"

"I have. And not just one, many of them. What do you want to know?"

"Nothing? Just curious."

The woodcutter looked at him carefully.

"My colleague Cipriano has one," he added.

Longhi made a quick move and the terrible pallor of the past when he was the man who made Alves lower his eyes swept across his face.

But this time Longhi's pallor was due to physical weakness. He lowered his head and asked briefly nonchalantly:

"It is big?"

"No? still a kitten."


Another break. Suddenly the former timber inspector stood up, and laboriously walked towards the woodcutter and put his hand on his shoulder.

"Listen, Juan. I have to get your partner to sell me the lion.' His voice was still broken, but his steady and calm gaze was the same as before. “I have nothing to give him now. you can't dispute it. But I give you my word that I will pay him for it.'

"I know, boss," Juan murmured with deep respect. "You don't have to tell me that."

"Never mind. I'd better say so. Will you see your partner and ask him to sell it to me?'

The woodcutter raised his trusting and sternly devoted eyes to him.

"We're not selling you anything, neither me nor my partner. With us, you were different from the rest. The lion is yours."

"Thank you," Longhi replied gravely. "When can he be here?"

"Next week. He should be the one to do it."

The following Monday the lion arrived. She was a lioness, but she had already grown to the size of a mane. Longi had prepared a strong cage in which he placed the animal, which roared when it saw that it had been separated from its master.

This was in February. In June, the wonderful cat, now fully grown, would not be separated from its new owner for a moment.

It is amazing what miracles of patience, willpower and self-control Longhi had to do to get this domestic relationship. Under the rule of his devotion and steadfast disposition, the lioness had been transformed into a great dog full of obedience and tenderness towards her master. Longi had accomplished what almost all trainers do: he had taught the beast to be quiet. A stern whistle would silence her. but it must be said that in this terrible struggle for control - the cat had to resist - Longhi was twice on the verge of losing his life. He had five deep scars from her claws on his shoulder. In the end, however, he had succeeded in subduing her.

What was Longi's purpose in using his terrible will to teach a lioness something unnecessary and certainly very dangerous?

One night in August—which means: six months after the day Alves made Longhi pay, as we have seen, for his kind justice to the workers—Longhi was standing on the main path, no doubt waiting for someone. After a while, a pitiful cry of pain was heard in the distance and was immediately answered by a muffled roar to his left. Longi quickly turned to the forest and whistled. The noise subsided.

A moment later, Guaycurú appeared on the trail. The Indian, saved by the panic caused by the explosion in the ants, had taken much longer than Longi to recover. There were four months of endless pain, wounds that kept reopening, blisters that ate him alive, a terrible recovery - only to return once he recovered to the same stupid job as before , and with Alves threatening to start the ants' relationship. again, at his slightest mistake.

Longi wisely did not want to go to see him. But now that he had a mature plan, it was necessary to see him, so he made the woodcutter take the message for him.

As soon as they were together, those who had been subjected to the most hideous tortures, a flood of emotion burst forth in both their breasts. They looked at each other intently and a moment later Longi again felt the Indian's lips on his hands. Between them there was now a common bond, impossible to dissolve: the pain together and the inner fire of the same dark longing for revenge.

They had not begun to speak when a hideous roar very close to them made Guaycurú jump.

"Before hell!" Longi shouted angrily, turning towards the forest. "What is wrong with you?"

"What's up boss?"

“Nothing, a lion I own. That idiot. . ."

And he went into the trees. Immediately, Guaikuru Longi's evil voice was heard arguing. A moment later he came out with the lioness.

And now we return to the first part of this story, to the stormy night when Longi, Guaikuru and the lioness went towards the woodcutter's cabin.

The former inspector had asked Guaicuru to send him news, via the logger, of the first port call Alves had to make. In the afternoon, the woodcutter made contact with Longhi, and the purpose of their night meeting was to complete his plan.

When they reached the hut they talked for some time, and when dawn came Guaikuru returned to the camp. The next night he returned to the path, where Longi was already waiting for him. Alves had to walk from that point on his way to the port.

The cold, clear weather favored Longhi's plans. The moon shone down on the path, painting a silent white streak through the dark forest.

"Are you really sure he said one in the morning?" Longi asked.

"Yes, one o'clock. The steamer went up the river yesterday afternoon and will come this morning at dawn. He also said he wouldn't lose the steamer for anything.'

"What peonies is he bringing?"

"With Raimundo, no one else. He carries his suitcase. . ."

"Quiet!" Longi interrupted him in a low voice. "There is noise."

They both held their breath to hear better.

"It's nothing," he muttered after a while. "Besides, there is still half an hour to three. He won't be here until three.'

The lioness, stunned by the cold, struggled to go wild, which her master restrained.

"You'll be hot soon," he murmured.

Slowly, one after another, the minutes passed and the end of the drama came upon them.

Far, far away, a horse's footsteps had sounded on the stones.

"Rush!" cried Longi, listening attentively, 'and hide in the wood. If the horse does not throw him, get out immediately. I will be here."

The Indian ran like an eerie shadow along the trail and disappeared into the jungle. Longi, after speaking a little to the lioness, took her muzzle in his hands, as he always did when he wanted her to understand something, and disappeared in his turn into the forest with him by his side.

On the track, his horse at a trot, he led Alves, wrapped up to his ears in his heavy poncho. Behind him came a workman carrying a stout case on the bow of his saddle.

"Very cold!" Alves muttered, feeling needles of icy air pierce his ears. "Only for the steamer to come soon . . . Come! Let's turn it up!" he shouted to the worker, and the duo trotted on.

Suddenly, a great, terrifying roar thundered through the jungle beside them. Alves and the worker let out a scream. The horses, maddened with terror, reared up, their forelegs striking the air furiously.

"Raimundo!" Alves screamed, his voice hoarse with fear as he tried to control his horse.

"I can't, boss! THAT . . ."

The jungle shook with another terrifying roar, filling the human soul with all the pain that went through the flesh as it was being consumed.

"Boss! There he is! Right there! He's going to jump!" cried the worker.

And soon Alves heard the wild clatter of Raimundo's horse as he reined and charged up the path, maddened by the beast's impending attack. Alves cursed and tried desperately to draw his revolver. But at that moment another roar shook the earth, immediately after the second, and another, and Alves's horse, with his eyes out of their tracks, and drenched with sweat from fear, made a mighty bolt, which broke into a run. The Brazilian, upset by the move, fell.

"Coward!" roared Alves, standing up.

"He's not a coward, he did the right thing," he heard a calm voice answer him. Alves felt his hair rise:

"That voice!"

"It's mine, that's all," said the voice again.

And suddenly the Brazilian saw standing before him, with his hands in his trouser pockets, the motionless figure of his former inspector.

Alves' forehead broke out in heavy sweat.

"Hey, the dead don't talk!" he muttered, fumbling for his revolver. But once more he heard the still voice:

"You better not paint it."

Alves looked and saw two greenish lights shining next to Longi, from the dreary green jungle light. A scream escaped from the Brazilian's chest and he was paralyzed with terror.

"Drop the revolver, Mr. Alves," he heard again.

Alves caught it unconscious to bring it down. But when he released it, his mouth twisted horribly and his hand stretched out.

"Throw it away Mr. Alves. it's better that way."

From the unacceptable tone of his voice, Alves realized that all was lost. He was now absolutely certain that his time had come, inevitably and irrevocably, and a barrage of insults burst from his mouth.

"Robber! Thief! It's my fault we didn't throw you out alive! Thief! Thief!"

“Guaikuru!” cried Longi, as if he had not heard him.

The Indian ran up the middle of the path and stood behind Longhi.

"Sr. Alves," Longhi spoke to the Brazilian in a calm voice, to which the surroundings, the moon, and the circumstances gave a sombre solemnity. Alves, listen to me. Five years ago, a strong, healthy man arrived at your logging camp, a man who asked for nothing but to work in peace and live as quietly as possible. You, Mr. Alves, prevented him from doing the little good an honest man can do in your camp. You insulted him, chased him, tortured him, and if this man is still alive, it's probably because he has a mission other than stealing from you, as you claim. This man was incapable of revenge. But there are some things that sting very deeply. Thus, if, after half an hour's terrible agony, enforced with utter cowardice and two months' suffering, this man wishes forever to prevent the daily torture of two hundred peons, this man is only doing his duty. You have about a minute, Mr. Alves."

The Brazilian fell to his knees in terror.

"Sorry Sorry!" cried.

"That was just what Guaikuru asked of you."

"I won't do it again!"

Longi smiled weakly.

"Guaikuru," said he to the Indian, "come near, that he may see your face well."

But Alves jumped up.

"Robbers!" cried. "I'm not dead yet! I don't care about the Indian! And this is for my lumberjack!'

And he quickly seized his revolver, which had unconsciously returned to its holster, and fired it at Longhi. His target, thrown away by his rush, did not score.

"Sr. Alves," said Longi in a trembling voice, "come to the middle of the path."

There was such indignation and strangely unwavering will in Longhi's voice that Alves obeyed like an automaton.

And in a second he was thrown to the ground. The lioness, at a signal from Longhi, sprang and fell upon him, holding him down with her strong claws. Longi came with his hands in his pockets and stood beside him.

"It's killing me, it's killing me!" Alves shouted.

"Not yet," Longi replied calmly. "In a quarter of an hour."

In that quarter, under the claws of the motionless animal whose fierce eyes, mere centimeters away, drove him mad, Alves lived an eternity of terror.

“One minute left,” Longhi said.

Alves, hoarse, could no longer shout.

"Ten seconds left," said the same unyielding voice.

In each of his last seconds, Alves paid everything he owed for his thirty years of plunder. Suddenly Longi gave the lioness an imperceptible blow on the back, and breaking the silence there spread out on the path, cold and white with moonlight, the tragic noise from Alve's head, which had just been split between the lioness's teeth.

With another palm, the animal dropped its prey, still growling. Longi, motionless, looked at Alves' corpse for a moment, then left with a sigh. Guaikuru and the lioness went with him.

On the bluff above the river, Longhi and Guaycurú waited for the steamer to arrive. When the smoke from one of his stacks was visible in the distance, Longi entered the forest and bound his lioness. What did he tell her? Was there some uneasy tenderness which he had not felt when he let go of his animal, whose life, closely bound to his own for five months, he had just sealed with blood?

When he came out of the forest, his face was drawn. The steamer was coming up now and Longhi beckoned it to stop. The spectacle entered and Longhi prepared to ascend.

“Farewell, Chief. . . Guaikuru said in a hoarse voice, lowering his eyes.

But Longi, deeply moved, embraced him warmly. From now on, they would never see each other again. The table. A little later he reached the steamer and continued down the stream.

Longi kept his gaze fixed on the shore, where the Indian stood mute and forlorn, until distance obliterated his image. Then, as the steamer went down the river, leaning on the rail and looking out over the dreary jungle, he relived all the agony of the last months, when he had abandoned so many hopes that now he would never recover: a dark and faithful friend and a cougar who now hoarsely roared desperately for the master who was about to leave her.

The contract workers

Training camp workers Cayetano Maidana and Esteban Podeley were returning to Posadas with fifteen companions on the Sílex riverboat. Podeley, a woodcutter, returned after nine months, his contract fulfilled, and therefore with his passage free. Caillet, a laborer, arrived under the same conditions, but after a year and a half there was time to pay his debts.

Skinny, disheveled, in short pants, their shirts torn in long pants, barefoot like most and dirty like everyone else, the two mensú swallowed with their eyes the capital of the forest, the Jerusalem and Calvary of their lives. Nine months up there! A year and a half! But they came back at last, and the still-painful ax of life in the logging camp was but the grazing of a splintered forest, considering the magnificent delights that could be smelled in the city.

Out of a hundred peons, only two reach Posadas with money. For the one week of bliss drifting down the river, they count on the payout on a new contract. On the beach, as collaborators and intermediaries, a group of girls, happy in mood and occupation, at the sight of whom the thirsty workers leave their ¡ahijú! of urgent madness.

Cayé and Podeley disembarked, wrapped in the foretaste of the orgy, and surrounded by three or four girls, they stood in a moment before more than enough rum to satisfy a workman's craving for the strong drink.

A little later they were drunk and signed new contracts. For what kind of work? Where? They didn't know, nor did they care. They knew that each had forty pesos in his pocket and the right to spend much more than that. Meek and awkward, drooling with relief and alcoholic bliss, they both followed the girls shopping for clothes. The smart girls took them to a place where they had a special arrangement for a certain percentage or maybe to the store of the company that had awarded them a contract. But at one point or another the girls renewed their extravagance of rags, stuffed their heads full of combs, strangled themselves with ribbons—all stolen as coolly as possible from their royally drunken companions, for the only thing mensú can actually call it his own is a drastic departure from his money.

For his part, Cayé bought far more extracts and lotions and oils than he needed to perfume his new clothes ad nauseam, while Podeley, more judiciously, opted for a flannel suit. They probably paid an inflated bill, only half understood, and with a handful of cards thrown on the counter. But still, an hour later they threw their brand new selves into an open wagon, wearing boots, ponchos over their shoulders (and .44 revolvers in their belts, of course), their clothes littered with cigarettes, clumsily tearing their teeth apart and the edge of a colored handkerchief hanging from each pocket. With them went two maidens, proud of such opulence, the extent of which showed in the rather dull expressions of the workmen, as their carriage spread morning and afternoon over the hot streets a noxious odor of extracts of wood and black paint. Smoke.

Last night came and with it the usual party, where the same clever young ladies encouraged the workers to drink. And their royal wealth in advance made them spend ten pesos on a bottle of beer, and got only forty change, which they pocketed without batting an eye.

So, after repeated wastes of new progress—from an irresistible need to make up for the misery of the logging camp with a week's living as gentlemen—the workers went up the river again at Silex. Caillet took a friend with him, and the three, drunk like the rest of the peons, settled down on the deck, where ten mules were already packed together in close contact with trunks, bundles, dogs, women, and men.

The next day, their heads now clear, Cayé and Podeley inspected their account books—the first time they had done so since signing their contracts. Cayé had received 120 pesos in cash and 35 in expenses, and Podeley 130 and 75 respectively.

The two looked at each other with an expression of panic if they weren't completely cured of this disorder every mensú. They did not remember using a fifth of what was recorded.

"Hard!..." ." (devil!), muttered Caillet in Guarani. "I'll never get over this ...." ."

And from that moment, of course, he took up - as a just punishment for his excesses - the idea of ​​escaping from the labor camp. However, the legitimacy of his life in Posadas was so clear to him that he felt jealous of the greater advances Podeley was getting.

"You're lucky…," he said. "It's amazing, your progress . . ."

"You're bringing a girl," Podley replied. "It costs you in your pocket."

Cayet looked at his wife and was satisfied, although beauty and other gifts of a more moral nature weigh very little in the choice of a mensú. In fact, the girl was dazzling in her green skirt and matching yellow satin blouse. showing Louis XV shoes, a triple necklace of pearls round her dirty neck, her cheeks painted with insolence, and under her half-closed lids a contemptible cigarette.

Cayé looked at the girl and his .44 revolver: both were really all that was of value in what he brought with him. And even the .44 ran the risk of retreat as its advance, no matter how small the temptation to play.

A few steps further, yes, on a trunk standing at one end, the workers dutifully bet all they had on a game of Monte. Cayé saw a moment of laughter, as peonies always laugh when they are together, for whatever reason. and approached the trunk and left five cigarettes on a card.

A modest start that might give him enough money to pay the down payment on the logging camp and return on the same steamer to Posada, only to squander another down payment.

He lost. He lost the rest of his cigarettes, five pesos, his poncho, his lady's necklace, his own boots, and his .44. The next day he won back the boots, but nothing else, while the girl filled her bare neck with endless mocking cigarettes.

After countless changes of hands, Podeley won the necklace in question and a box of toilet soap, which he found a way to bet against a knife and a dozen socks, which he won and was satisfied with.

A week later they finally reached their destination. The peonies climbed merrily up the endless strip of red earth that topped the slope, from the top of which the Sílex seemed miniature and half submerged in the gloomy river. And with reprimands and terrible abuses in Guarani, they left the steamer and its crew, who had to swamp, in a three-hour bucket bath, the sickening stench of dirt, patchouli, and sick mules, which she was carried for four days. up the river.


For Podeley, the woodcutter, whose daily wages could reach seven pesos, life in the camps was not so difficult. He adapted himself to the hope of strict justice in counting the timber he had cut, and dispensed with the habitual fraud of certain privileges granted to reliable workmen. His new hitch started the next day after they marked his forest zone. With palm leaves he built himself a lean-to (roof and south wall, nothing more), contented himself with eight crossed poles for a bed, and hung his weekly rations from a fork. Automatically he resumed his camp routine: silent companions when he got up before dawn, quickly got drunk one after another without leaving the kettle. the scouting mission for timber. breakfast at eight (flour, veal and drippings) after chopping, stripped to the waist, his sweat attracts horseflies, barigüís,[1]and the mosquitoes; and later lunch (this time beans and corn floating in the inevitable drips); to end the night, after another thirty-eight wooden match,[2]with the same bread he ate for breakfast.

Apart from an occasional incident with other loggers encroaching on his territory, and from the fatigue of the rainy days that left him hunched over his teapot, work continued until Saturday afternoon. Then he washed his clothes and on Sunday he went to the store to get supplies.

This was the true moment of relaxation for the workers, when they could forget all about the difficulties of their mother tongue and face with innate fatalism the ever-increasing rise in the prices of supplies, which had then reached eighty centavos a kilo. hardtack and seven pesos for a pair of jean shorts. The same fatalism that accepted it - with an ¡añá! and a laughing look at his comrades - imposed on mensu, as a basic retribution, the task of escaping from the logging camp as quickly as possible. And if this aspiration was not in the hearts of all, all the workers understood the laboring impulse to retributive justice, which, if it came, would set its teeth in the vitals of the master. The latter, on his part, carried the fight to the extreme, watching day and night over his people, especially the indentured servants.

At this time the workmen were busy on the wharf unloading timber amid endless shouting, which culminated when the mules, unable to hold the cart as it sped down the towering slope, fell over another and tripped—with beams , animals, wagons, everything seems mixed together. The mules were seldom hurt, but the commotion was always the same.

Caillet, between one laugh and another, continued to plan his flight. Already tired of revirados[3]and yoparás, rendered still more indigestible by the foretaste of flight, was nevertheless restrained by want of a swivel, and certainly also by the foreman's Winchester. But if it had 0.44! . . .

In this case, fortune favored him in a rather roundabout way.

One day, Caillet's lover - now stripped of her luxurious finish and serving her by washing clothes for the peonies - changed residence. For two nights Caillet waited for her, and on the third he went to his temporary cabin, where he gave the girl a colossal beating. The two workers ended up alone in a friendly conversation and as a result agreed to live together, resulting in the seducer moving in with the original couple. This was economical and reasonable enough. But as the other worker seemed to like the lady very much—a rare thing in that fraternity—Caillet offered to sell her to him for a revolver with ammunition, which he himself would get from the store. Despite this directness, the deal came close to falling through because Caillet asked at the last minute for an extra meter of rope smoke, which seemed excessive to the other mints. The outlet eventually closed, and as the fresh new couple settled into their cabin, Cayé dutifully loaded his .44, then set off to finish the rainy afternoon companionship in their home.


Autumn was drawing to a close, and the sky, until now in a steady drizzle broken by five-minute showers, was finally mixing into persistent bad weather, wet enough to stiffen the workers' backs. One day Podeley, who had hitherto been free from this trouble, felt so lethargic, when he reached the beam he was working on, that he just stood there and looked about him, not knowing what to do. He had no appetite for anything. He returned to his reclined position, and along the way he felt a slight tingle on his back.

Podeley knew well what to do with this lethargy and this feeling crawling on the surface of his skin. Philosophically he sat down to drink mate, and half an hour later a long and penetrating chill ran down his spine.

He couldn't do anything. He lay on his bedposts, shivering with cold, doubled up under his poncho, his teeth, uncontrollably, chattering as fast as they could.

Next day the attack, which did not wait till dusk, returned again at noon, and he went to the commissary to ask for quinine. So clearly did the fever show in his appearance that the clerk took down the quinine packets almost without looking at the sick mensú. Pontele calmly released this terrible bitterness on his tongue and ran into the overseer on his way back to the forest.

"And you!" she said looking at him. "That makes you four. It doesn't matter to others. . . there aren't many. You're reliable. . . . How's your account?'

"Little by little. . . . But I won't be able to stop. . ."

"Nah! Take care of yourself and it's nothing . . . I'll see you tomorrow."

"I'll see you tomorrow." And Podeley sped up, for he had just felt a little tingling in his heels.

An hour later the third attack began, and Podeley collapsed with severe weakness, his gaze fixed and dim, as if he could reach no further than a yard or two.

The total rest to which he succumbed for three days—a special balm for a mensú, because of his unexpectedness—did nothing but turn him into a chattering coot piled up on a log. Podeley, whose earlier fevers had a reliable and periodic rhythm, could almost without pause find something to hope for in this wild series of attacks. There is fever and then there is fever. Since the quinine hadn't stopped the second attack, there was no point in him staying up there, only to die crouched on some bend in a path. So he went down to the shop once more.

"You again!" he was received by the foreman. "This doesn't look good . . . Didn't you take quinine?'

"I did . . . I'm out of class with this fever . . . I can't handle my axe. If you give me enough for my passage, I'll make up as soon as I'm better . . ."

The bishop studied this ruin of a man, and did not set much value on the life left to his labors.

"How's your account?" she asked him again.

"I still owe twenty pesos. . . . I got some work done on Saturday. . . . I'm really sick. . ."

“You know that until your bill is paid, you must stay. Down there . . . you could die. Get over this and you'll have your account liquidated in no time."

Get rid of a devastating fever right where it caught him? No, of course not? but a laborer who passes away must not return, and the bishop preferred a death to a distant debtor.

Podeley had never failed to do anything—the only boldness against his boss that a strong mensu allows himself—and he told him so.

"I don't care if you failed or not!" replied the foreman. "Pay your bill first and we'll talk!"

This injustice to him naturally - and very quickly - awakened a desire for revenge. He went to stay with Caillet, whom he knew well, and they both decided to escape the following Sunday.

"There it is!" the overseer called to Podeley that afternoon as he crossed his street. "Three back last night . . . That's what you want, isn't it? And these guys were reliable! Just like you! But you'll die here before you leave the dock. And be very careful, you and everyone listening. You know, what's coming to you!"

The decision to flee and its dangers – for which a mensú needs all his strength – are enough to keep even more than a creeping fever under control. Besides, Sunday had come. and by feigned movements resembling laundry, and by pretended strumming of the guitar in one or the other's cabin, the workmen succeeded in misleading the guards, and Caillet and Pontele were soon a thousand yards from the commissary.

As long as they didn't feel like they were being followed, they wouldn't leave the trail as Pontelli had trouble walking. And even so. . .

The characteristic reverberation of the forest brought them a hoarse voice from afar:

"Foran! De to!"

And a moment later, from a bend in the path, the caretaker and three peons came running out. The hunt was on.

Caillet cocked his revolver without delaying his flight.

"Surrender, ¡añá!" called the foreman behind them.

"Let's go into the woods," said Podeley. "I'm not strong enough to swing my knife. . ."

"Get back or I'll shoot!" cried another voice.

"As they approach . . . Caillet began. A slug from a Winchester came whistling along the trail.

"Go inside!" Caillet called out to his partner.

And taking cover behind a tree, he fired five shots from his revolver at the pursuers.

They were answered with shuddering shouts as another Winchester slug removed the bark from the tree hiding Caillet.

"Surrender or I'll blow your head off!" . . ."

"Move on!" Caillet urged Podeley. "About to . . ."

And after firing another volley, he followed his companion into the woods.

The pursuers, momentarily detained by the burst of gunfire, now made a mad charge, firing shot after shot with their rifles along the probable route of the fugitives.

A hundred yards from the path, and following his direction, Cayé and Podeley continued to walk away, crouching low to the ground to get under the vines. The pursuers expected this maneuver. but as an assailant in the woods has a hundred chances of being stopped by a slug in the middle of the forehead, the warden contented himself with Winchester volleys and menacing shouts. Also, the shots that missed today had hit their target nicely on Thursday night. . .

The danger was over, and the refugees sat down exhausted. Wrapping himself in his poncho, and leaning on his companion's back, Pontele endured, for two terrible hours of shivering, the opposite of this whole effort.

Then they continued their flight, still watching the trail, and when night finally came they made camp. Caillet had brought cassava cakes, and Pontele lighted a fire, in spite of the thousand disadvantages of this in a country where, besides butterflies, there are other creatures with a weakness for light, to say nothing of men.

The sun was already quite high the next morning when they found the stream – the refugees' first and last hope. Not being too fastidious, Cayé cut a dozen tacuara bamboo shafts, and Podeley, whose remaining strength was used to cut the isipó vines, barely finished the job before he crumpled and shivered again.

So Caillet built the raft himself - ten taquoras tied in parallel with vines and attached to a crosspiece at each end.

Ten seconds after that was done, they left. And the little fleet, carried by the current, drifted to Paraná.

The nights at that time are unreasonably cool, and the two workers spent the night half-frozen, huddled with their feet in the water. The current of the Paraná, descending laden with enormous downpours, twisted the raft in the foam of its eddies and slowly loosened the knots of the isipó.

During the whole of the next day they ate only two cassava cakes, the last of their supplies, which Podeley hardly tasted. Full of holes drilled by taboos, worms, the tacuaras sank, and by afternoon the raft had sunk nearly a foot below the surface of the water.

In the wild river, its current confined between the vast dark walls of the forest, without the remotest human cry, the two men sank to their knees, drifted down in circles, stood still for a moment before an eddy, and then moved. again, just balancing on the almost loose tacuaras that slipped from their feet - in the middle of a pitch-black night that their desperate eyes could not penetrate.

The water was already up to their chest when they hit the ground. Where? they didn't know. . . A stand of reeds. But there they fell motionless, stretched out on their stomachs.

The sun was already shining when they woke up. The reeds extended twenty meters inland and served as the edge of both the river and the forest. Not far to the south was a tributary, the Paranáí, which they decided to cross when they had recovered their strength. But this strength did not return as quickly as we would have liked, as the grasshoppers and worms found in the takwara are not very nutritious. So for twenty hours the heavy rain turned Paraná into whitish oil and Paranáí into a violent flood. Impossible situation. Pontele suddenly sat up, dripping water, leaned on the revolver to get to his feet, and took aim at Caillet. He was mad with fever.

"It's over, Anya! . . ." (Get going, dammit!)

Caillet, seeing that he could not hope for much from this delirium, stooped craftily to reach his companion with a staff. But Podeley insisted:

"Get in the water! You brought me here! Cross the river!"

His healthy fingers trembled on the trigger.

Caillet obeyed. he let himself go into the current and lost himself behind the reeds, where, after a terrible struggle, he managed to get ashore again.

From that point, and from behind, he spied on his partner. but Pontelli again lay on his side, his knees drawn up to his chest, under the incessant rain. As Caillet approached, he raised his head, and as soon as he opened his eyes, which had been blinded by the water, he murmured:

"Kaye. . . , damn it . . . I'm freezing. . ."

It still rained all night on the dying man—the dull white rain of the autumn floods—until at dawn Pondeli lay still forever in his watery grave.

In the same place of reeds, enveloped for a week by forest, river, and rain, the survivor passed through all the available roots and worms, and slowly lost his strength, until he sat still and died of cold and hunger. , with eyes fixed on Parana.

The riverboat Sílex, which passed the scene as night fell, picked up the almost dying mensú. But his joy turned to horror when he realized the next day that the steamer was heading down the stream again.

"Please!" he whined to the captain. “Don't put me in Puerto X! They want to kill me! . . . Really please! . . ."

Sílex returned to Posadas with the mensú on board, still stuck in nightmares.

But after ten minutes on the shore, he was already drunk, signed a new contract and went the amazing way to buy perfume.

To note

The beam fishermen

The incentive was a special dining room suite that Mr. Hall did not yet own, and he used his phonograph as a lure.

Candiyú saw it at the temporary office of the Yerba Company, where Mr. Hall operated the machine with the door open.

Candiyú, who was a good native, did not show the least surprise, contenting himself with raising his horse a little beyond the stream of light and looking the other way. But as an Englishman in the evening, shirtless for the heat, and with a bottle of whiskey by his side, is a hundred times more cautious than any half-breed, Mr. Hall did not raise his eyes from the hill. So Candiyú, amused and misled, at last brought his horse to the door, where he rested his elbow on the threshold.

"Good evening, boss. It's good music!"

"Yes, she is nice," replied Mr. Hall.

"Beautiful!" repeated the other. "Such noise!"

"Yes, a lot of noise!" agreed Mr. Hall, who found his visitor's remarks not lacking in depth.

Candiyú admired the new records:

"Did it cost you much, boss?" (Candiyú's Spanish showed traces of Guaraní, as did Mr. Hall's English.)

"Brooms . . . what?"

"This talking machine . . . , sing the boys."

The cloudy and expressionless appearance of Mr. Hall became cleaner. The commercial accountant came to the fore.

"Oh, it costs a lot! . . . Will you buy it?'

"If you want to sell me . . . " Candiyú replied just to say something, convinced in advance of the impossibility of such a purchase. But Mr. Hall continued to glare at him, while scrapes escaped the disk from the needle's metal cutouts.

"I'll sell you cheap . . . fifty pesos!"

Candiyú shook his head and smiled alternately at the machine and its operator.

"A lot of money! I haven't got it."

"So what do you have?"

The man smiled again without answering.

"Where do you live?" Mr. Hall continued, evidently determined to unload his gramophone.

"At the harbor".

"Ah! I know you . . . Your name Candiyú?'


"And you fish for logs?"

"Now and then, a little log that nobody owns."

"I sell for logs! . . . Three logs sawn into boards. I'll send a wagon. Okay?"

Candiyú laughed.

"I have none now. Also that . . . machines, is it too hard to work?'

"No? a button here and a button there . . . I'll show you that. When you have lumber?"

"Partial rise of the river . . . One should be coming soon. And what kind of wood do you want?'

"Rosewood. Okay?"

"Buzz! . . . That kind hardly ever comes down . . . Only when the river really swells. It's nice wood! You like thin wood, I see."

“And you get a good gramophone. Okay?"

The transaction proceeded to the sound of British tunes, the native avoiding the direct course and the accountant blocking him in the little circle of precision. At the bottom, and to provide the heat and the whisky, it was not the crown's business to make a bad deal by exchanging a sad gramophone for dozens of nice boards, while the log fisherman on his side put a few days' alm. working towards a great little noise machine. The agreement thus entered into force with an agreed deadline.

Candiyú has lived on the banks of the Paraná for thirty years. and if, after his last fit of fever last December, his liver can pass all you want, he should live some months longer. Now he spends his days sitting in his framed cot, wearing his hat. Only his hands—lively paws streaked with green, hanging huge from his wrists as if they were in the foreground of a photograph—continue to move endlessly, monotonously, quivering like a featherless parrot.

But in those days, Candiyú was a different man. Then he had the respectable job of looking after someone else's banana grove and - not so legitimately - fishing from logs. Usually, and especially when the river is up, there are loose logs drifting from the log camps, either floating from a bridge being built, or because some clown worker cuts a retaining rope with a piece of his knife. Candiyú had a telescope and spent his mornings watching the water until the whitish outline of a log standing out on the promontory of Itacurubí sent him out to meet the prey in his boat. The work is nothing special, if the beam is seen in time, for an eager man's oar - pushes or pulls a beam ten times forty[1]- fits any trailer.

Over at the Castelhum lumber camp, above Puerto Felicidad, the rains had begun, after sixty-five days of absolute drought that destroyed the tires of the transport wagons. At this time the company's marketable property consisted of seven thousand logs - a fortune and then some. But because a two-ton log does not weigh two hesitate[2]in a treasury office, as it is not in port, Castelhum and Company were far from satisfied.

Orders for immediate mobilization came from Buenos Aires. the camp director asked for mules and wagons. they replied that with the money from the first pontoon that came down they could send him the mules, and the manager replied that he would send them the first pontoon if he would get the mules in advance.

There was no way we could get along. Castelhum went up to the logging site and saw the log depot by the camp, on the slope above Ñacaguazú, to the north.

"How much?" Castelhum asked his manager.

"Thirty-five thousand pesos," he replied.

That was the amount needed to move the logs to Paraná. And without allowing the untimely season.

Under the rain, which pooled his rubber cloak with his horse in a single stream of water, Kastelhum stared at the swirling river. Then, with a flick of his hooded cloak towards the stream, he asked his companion:

"Will the water rise enough to cover the falls?"

"Yes, if it rains a lot."

"Have all your men in camp?"

"I do for now. I was waiting for orders from you."

"Good," said Castelhum. "I think we'll come out all right. Listen, Fernandez. this afternoon, without delay, I want you to secure the boom at the mouth of the river and start bringing all the logs up here on the bluff. The stream is ready if you told me well. To-morrow morning I'll go down to Posada, and then, at the first storm that comes, throw the wood into the stream. Do they understand? Good rain."

The manager looked at him, his eyes as far as he could.

"The rope will give before a hundred logs fall."

"I know it's okay. And it's going to cost us a lot of pesos. Let's go back and talk about it some more."

Fernandez shrugged and whistled at the caretakers.

The rest of the day, without rain, but bathed in watery calm, the peons stretched the chain of logs from one bank to the other at the mouth of the stream, and the wood-tasting began in the camp. Castelhum went down to Posadas in seven-knot floods, which had risen seven meters the night before, after leaving Guayra.

After great drought, great rain. At noon the deluge began, and for fifty-two hours straight the bush roared with rain. The stream, rising in torrents, continued to become a howling avalanche of reddish water. The peons, soaked to the bone, their thin frames exposed by the clothes clinging to their bodies, continued to log the bluff. Each attempt elicited a unanimous shout of encouragement, and as a monstrous log fell and fell with a cannon-shot into the water, each of them let loose his ¡a. . . Hi! of triumph. And then the lost run in the wet mud, the pike slipping loose, the falls and bruises in the torrential rain. And the fever.

At last the deluge stopped abruptly. In the roundabout of sudden silence, you could hear the rain falling in the forest nearby. More muffled and deeper was the hum from Ñacaguazú. Only a few drops of light, and between them, still fell from the exhausted sky. But the weather continued to be stormy, without the slightest gust of wind. It was an hour to breathe, and the laborers had hardly rested an hour or two, when the rain began again—the white, steady, and vertical rain that led to swollen rivers. The work was urgent—wages had risen admirably—and as the storm advanced the peons kept shouting, falling and falling under the icy water.

At the mouth of the Ñacanguazú, the floating dam held back the first logs that fell, and bowing and groaning held out for many more, until the line gave way under the irresistible thrust of the logs that hit the boom like catapult missiles. .


Candiyú watched the river through his telescope and judged that today's flood—which at San Ignacio was two meters higher than the day before, and he had rowed his boat out to the bazaar—was probably a massive flood below Posadas. The timber had begun to fall, cedars or the like, and wisely the fisherman conserved his strength.

That night the water rose another meter, and the next afternoon Candiyú was surprised to see from the end of his telescope a flock, a veritable crowd of loose logs, coming around Cape Itacurubí. Wood that was completely dry and appeared whitish above the water.

It was his place. He jumped into his canoe and paddled out to hunt his game.

Now on a swell of Upper Paraná, a fisherman finds many things before he reaches his chosen log. Whole trees, of course, uprooted from the ground and with their black roots billowing in the air, like an octopus. Dead cows and mules, along with many wild animals - drowned, shot or with an arrow still stuck in their stomachs. Tall ant cones piled on a huge root. Maybe a jaguar; all the foam and floating lilies you like - to say nothing of snakes, of course.

Candiyú dodged, dodged, punched and flipped as many times as necessary until he reached his prize. He finally won it. a stroke of the knife revealed the red veins of the rosewood, and lying on the beam he managed to drift it sideways for a while. But the branches, the trees constantly passed and pulled him along. He changed tactics: he roped his prey, then began the silent and ceaseless struggle, silently pouring out his heart with each stroke.

A log drifting down a large inflatable boat has enough momentum to make three men hesitate before putting it on. But combined with his great spirit, Candiyú had the experience of twenty years of piracy on low and high rivers, and besides, he wanted to own a gramophone.

Nightfall presented him with situations he likes. The river, almost at eye level, flowed swiftly with a smooth oil. On both sides dense shadows passed incessantly. The body of a drowned man fell into the canoe. Candiyú bent down and saw that his throat had been cut. Then there were troublesome visitors who attacked snakes of the same kind that climb the wheels of steamers and the cabins of passengers when the river swells.

The labors of Hercules continued. his oars quivered under the water, but nevertheless he drifted. He finally relented. he narrowed the angle of landing and mustered the last strength to reach the edge of the channel, which grazed the towering cliffs of Teyucuaré. For ten minutes the log fisherman, with stiff neck tendons and chest like stone, did what no one will ever do again to get bloated out of the canal with a log. The canoe finally hit the rocks and caved in, just as Candiyú still had enough strength – but no more – to secure the rope and fall face first onto the shore.

It was a month before Mr. Hall got his three dozen records, but twenty seconds later he handed the gramophone to Candiyú along with twenty records.

Castelhum and Company, in spite of their flotilla of steamers—and for much more than thirty days—sent to recover the logs, and lost many of them. And if one day Castelhum comes to San Ignacio and visits Mr. Hall, will sincerely admire said accountant's dining-room, made of rosewood planks.

To note


When at two o'clock in the morning you see a little boy with a raging fever laughing like a madman, while a yaciyatere is going about outside, you suddenly get ideas of superstition that reach to the very core of your nerves.

Down here it is superstition and nothing more. The people of the south say that the yaciyateré is a big crazy bird that sings at night. I've never seen him, but I've heard him a thousand times. His singing is very clean and melancholic, and as repetitive and obsessive as anything you will ever hear. But in the north, yaciyateré is a different story.

One afternoon, in Misiones, we went out with a friend to test a new sail in Paraná, our own design. The canoe was also a creation of ours, built in the odd scale of one to eight. Not very stable as you can see, but able to dodge like a torpedo boat.

We left at five o'clock in the afternoon, in the summer. There has been no wind since morning. A heavy storm threatened and the heat was unbearable. The river flowed like oil under a white sky. We couldn't take off our sunglasses for a moment as the dual glare from sky and water dazzled. On top of that, a migraine started bothering my partner. And not the slightest breath.

An afternoon like this in Misiones, with the wind as it is after five days of northerly winds, does not bode well for someone drifting in Paraná in a racing canoe. On the other hand, there is nothing more demanding than paddling in these conditions.

We continued drifting, fixated on the southern horizon, until we reached Teyucuaré. The storm was coming.

The heights of this peninsula called Teyucuaré, divided directly above the river into huge cliffs of pink sandstone, over which vines hang from the forest, extend far into Paraná, forming towards San Ignacio a deep bay completely sheltered from the south wind. Huge boulders broken from the cliff sides litter the shoreline, and against it the entire Paraná crashes, whirls and finally escapes downstream in rapidly channelized eddies. But from the last headland inwards, and along the coast itself, the water rises and gently beats over Teyucuaré to the end of the bay.

On that promontory, and under the shelter of a huge boulder, to avoid being surprised by the wind, we entered the canoe and sat down to wait. But the polished stones really did burn, even though there was no sun, and we went down to crouch at the water's edge.

But the south had changed its face. A white tail of wind rose above the distant forest, trailing behind it a blue canopy of rain. The river, suddenly opaque, had broken into waves.

All this happened quickly: we raised the sail, pushed off the canoe, and suddenly behind the dark boulder the wind drove and grazed the water. It was only a five second shot and there were already waves. We paddled to the head of the pack, for not a blade still moved behind the rock breastwork. Suddenly we crossed the borders – imaginary, if you will, but absolutely defined – and the air took us.

Now consider this: our sail size was three square meters, which is far from large, and we were going into the wind at an angle of thirty-five degrees. Well, the sail burst, torn like a clean handkerchief, and without time for the canoe to feel the shock. Then the wind immediately blew us away. It only gripped our bodies, but it was enough to handle the oars, the rudder, whatever we were trying to do. And we didn't even move backwards. he swept us over the side, guns down, like an overturned wreck.

Wind and water now. Above the crests of the waves the whole river was white with a mantle of rain, carried by the wind from one wave to another, divided, and reunited in sharp, convulsive gusts. And add to this the explosive rapidity with which the waves rise against the current, in a river which is still bottomless in this quarter at a depth of sixty fathoms. In a single minute, Paraná had been turned into a storm-tossed sea and we into a pair of shipwrecks. We were still blown sideways, capsized, taking two or three buckets of water with each wave, blinded by the rain, our faces aching from the lash of the storm and shivering from the cold.

In Misiones, during a summer storm, the temperature can easily drop from forty to fifteen degrees and in just fifteen minutes. Nobody gets sick, because it's such a country, but you freeze to death.

Open sea, in short. Our only hope was the beach in Blosset – fortunately a clay beach – which we were now approaching at great speed. Whether the canoe could have taken another stroke of water and kept afloat, I do not know. but when a wave threw us five meters above the shore, we thought we were very lucky. Still we had to save the canoe, which drifted back and looked into the reeds like a cork, while we sank in rotten clay, and the rain fell upon us like a shower of stones.

We got out of there. but after about a quarter of a mile we were tired—this time from the heat, not from the cold. Walk to the beach? Impossibility. And cut the brush in a night of black ink, even with a Collins machete[1]in your hand, it is only for fools.

However, that's what we did. Suddenly something barked – or rather howled, as dogs only howl in nature – and we fell into a hut. Inside, but not easily seen in the fire of the hearth, were a laborer, his wife, and three small children. And also a pane spread out like a hammock where a child was dying of fever.

"What is wrong with him;" we asked.

"It hurts," the parents replied after briefly turning their heads toward the gun.

They sat down, seemingly unconcerned. The guys on the other hand were all looks, outdoor cuts. Immediately afterwards, from afar, yaciyateré began to sing. The youths immediately covered their heads and faces with their hands.

"Ah, the yaciya theater," we thought. "He came to get the kid. Or at least put him out of his mind."

The wind and rain had gone, but the air was very cold. A little later, but much closer, yaciyateré sang again. The sick boy shook in the hammock. His parents continued to stare at the fire, embarrassed. We told them about cold water cloths on the head. They didn't understand us and it wasn't worth it anyway. What good is this against yaciyateré?

Like me, I think my partner had noticed the little boy's agitation as the bird approached. Just from the waist up we continued to drink mate while our shirts steamed as they dried in the fire. He didn't speak now, but in a dark corner we could clearly see the children's frightened eyes.

Outside, the forest was still dripping. Suddenly, only half a block away, the yaciya theater sang again. The sick child responded with a burst of laughter.

So it was. The boy had a high fever because he had meningitis and answered Yaciyateré's call with a burst of laughter.

We drank man and our shirts were dry. The child was not moving now. He just snored now and then, with a rough jerk of his head back into the bag.

Outside, this time in the banana grove, the yaciya theater sang once more. The boy instantly responded with another laugh. The children uttered a scream, and the flames of the hearth went out.

As for us, a chill ran up and down our spines. There was someone singing outside and approaching, no doubt about it. Okay, a bird, and we knew it. And this bird, coming to kidnap the child or drive him mad, the child himself answered with a burst of laughter from the fever, which was now even higher.

The wet firewood now burned again, and the children's huge eyes shone again. We went outside for a moment. The night was over and we could find the trail. Our shirts were still a little smoky - but anything was better than that meningitis laugh. . .

We got home at three in the morning. A few days later the father came and told me that the boy was fine, that he had already gotten out of bed. Healthy, in a word.

Four years after that, while I was up there again, I had to help with the 1914 census in the Yabebirí-Teyucuaré sector. I left the river in the same canoe, but this time I just paddled. Again it was afternoon.

I passed the cabin in question and didn't find a soul. On the way back, in the twilight, I saw no one. But twenty meters up on the bank of the stream in front of the dark banana grove stood a naked boy of about seven or eight years. His legs were extremely thin - his thighs even more so than his calves - and his stomach was huge. In his right hand he held a pole and in his left hand he held a half-eaten banana. He looked at me without moving, and without deciding whether to eat or let his hand fall to the end.

I talked to him, to no avail. But I went on and asked him about those who had lived in the hut. Finally he burst out laughing as thick saliva ran up his stomach. It was the boy with meningitis.

I rowed out of the entrance. The boy had secretly followed me to the beach and admired my canoe with wide eyes. I pulled the oars and drifted out into the backwater, still ahead of the twilight idiot who couldn't decide to finish his banana, out of admiration for my white canoe.


The coal producers

The two men laid the sheet on the ground and sat on it. From where he was to the trench was still thirty meters, and the big box was heavy. This was their fourth stop - and the last, as near the trench he picked up the red dirt.

But the midday sun also lay heavily on the bare heads of the two men. The harsh light bathed the landscape in a vivid yellow like an eclipse, without shadows or contours. Light from a midday sun, a Misiones sun, in which the two men's shirts glistened.

From time to time they looked back towards the path they had walked and immediately lowered their heads, blinded by the light. One of them also showed spots from the tropical sun in his premature wrinkles and the intricate crow's feet around his eyes. After a while, they both got up, took hold of the quadruped again, and finally reached step by step. Then they collapsed on their backs in the full sunlight and covered their faces with their hands.

The engineering was very heavy, the weight of four galvanized sheets fourteen feet long, held together by fifty-six feet of inch and a half thick L and T iron. The product of a difficult craft, but one which was engraved in the core of our men's minds, for the ingenuity involved was a charcoal-making furnace of their own making, and the trench was nothing but the circular furnace . also a result of their work alone. And by the way, although both men were dressed like workers and talked like engineers, they were neither engineers nor workers.

One was called Duncan Drever and the other Marco Rienzi—of English and Italian descent respectively, though neither had the slightest sentimental preference for the stock from which he came. So they impersonated a South American guy who scared the Whore,[1]along with so many others: the son of Europeans who mock his inherited homeland as boldly as his own.

But Rienzi and Drever, lying on their backs with their hands over their eyes, did not laugh on this occasion, for they were tired from working for a month from five in the morning, and most of the time with a cold that had set in. freezing point.

And it was in Misiones. At eight and until four in the afternoon the tropical sun had its way. but as soon as the sun set, the temperature began to fall with it, so rapidly that one could see the mercury fall with the eyes. At that point, the area would begin to freeze, and literally. so the noon thirty degrees celsius dropped to four at eight in the evening, and then at four in the morning came the galloping descent to one down, two down, three down. The night before he had dropped to four under, with the resulting disarray in Rienzi's geographical knowledge, because he could not manage to get a handle on this carnival climatology - which had little to do with weather forecasts.

"This is a subtropical country with incredible heat," Rienzi would say as he threw away the cold-burnt cans and went for a walk. Because before the sun rises, in the glacial twilight of the frozen landscape, working with bare steel tears the skin from your hands very easily.

Nevertheless, Drever and Rienzi did not leave their furnace once during the entire month, except on rainy days when they studied changes to the design and froze to death. When they decided on the pot still, they already knew what to expect in terms of the various direct-fire systems – including Schwartz's.[2]Once attached to their furnace, the only thing that never changed was its cubic centimeter capacity. But its shape and fit, the caps and the condenser, the diameter of the smoke pipe - all this had been studied and re-studied a hundred times. In the evening, when they retired, the same scene was played over and over again. They talked in bed for a while about one thing or another, anything that had nothing to do with their current mission. Then the conversation stopped, for they were sleepy. At least they thought they were. After an hour of deep silence, one of them raised his voice:

"I think seventeen should be enough."

"I think so too," replied the other immediately.

seventeen what? Centimeters, rivets, days, spaces, whatever. But they knew very well that the subject was their oven and what it was they were referring to.


One day, three months earlier, Rienzi had written to Drever from Buenos Aires and told him he wanted to go to Misiones. What could they be doing up there? It was his idea – despite public variations on industrializing the country – that a small industry, properly planned, could work well, at least during the war of 1914, which was then in progress. What did he think of it?

Drever replied, "Come up, and we will look into the matter of coal and tar."

To which Rienzi responded by entering the boat for the missions.

Now the distillation of wood by firing is an interesting problem to solve, but one that requires much more capital than Drever could have. To tell the truth, his capital consisted of the firewood on his land and what he could do with his tools. With that, plus four sheets of metal left over from when he set up his shed, and Rienzi's help, it was possible to test it.

So they tried. Since when you distill wood the gases don't work under pressure, the stuff they had was pretty good. With T-iron for the frame and L-iron for the openings, they assembled the rectangular furnace, about fourteen feet long and two and a quarter feet wide. It was tiresome and persistent work, since, in addition to the technical difficulties, they had to face those arising from the lack of materials and some of the appropriate tools. The first application, for example, was a disaster: There was no way it would match the crisp, jagged edges. So they had to put it together with rivets, one per centimeter, which equals 1,680 just for the longitudinal joining of the plates. And because they didn't have rivets, they cut 1,680 nails - and a few hundred more for the frame.

Rienzi was stuck on the outside. Drever, huddled in the oven with his knees to his chest, backed up the blows. It's no secret that straightening nails requires a lot of patience - and there in the box, Drever finished his with amazing speed. Every hour they changed positions, and when Drever came out crouched and bent, convulsing to his feet, Rienzi stepped in to test his patience against the slip of the receding hammer.

That was the way they worked. Both men were so determined to do what they wanted that they never let a day go by without filing their nails. With the usual rainy day tweaks and the inevitable midnight commentary.

In that month they had no recreation—civilly speaking—but walking in the woods on Sunday mornings with their knives. Drever, used to this life, had a tight wrist to cut only what he wanted. but as it was Rienzi who broke the trail, his companion took great care to remain four or five yards behind. Not that Rienzi's grip was bad. but it takes a long time to learn how to use a knife. Then again, they had the daily distraction provided by their assistant, Drever's daughter. She was a five-year-old blonde and motherless, because after three years in the area, Drever had lost his wife. He himself had brought her up with infinitely more patience than the oven nits required. Drever was not a mild mannered person and was difficult to get along with. Where this harsh man had acquired the tenderness and patience he needed to raise his daughter alone and be adored by her, I do not know. but the truth is that when they walked together in the twilight, dialogues like this could be heard:



"Will your oven be ready soon?"

"Yes my dear."

"And will you distill all the firewood in our forests?"

"No? We'll just see what we can do."

"And you need to make some money?"

"I don't think so, honey."

"Poor dear father! You can never make much money."

"That's the way it is . . ."

"But you'll have a good test, father. Nice of you, dear father!'

"Yes my dear."

"I love you very, very much, father!"

"Yes my dear . . ."

And Drever's hand went down on his daughter's shoulder, and the child kissed her father's rough and broken hand, so large that it covered her whole breast.

Rienchi wasn't one to mince words either, and the two could easily be considered unapproachable. But Drever's little girl was quite comfortable with such people and burst out laughing at Rienci's terrible sulk every time he frowned and tried to put an end to his assistant's daily requirement: somersaults on the grass. piggyback rides; swings, trampolines, see-saws, cable cars—not to mention the occasional pitcher of water in her friend's face as they stretched out on the grass in the midday sun.

Drever heard a curse and asked what caused it.

"It's the damned little rascal!" Rienchi wanted to shout. "All he can think about is . . ."

But faced with the prospect—however remote—of wrongdoing on his or her father's part, Rienji would hasten to make peace with the child, who, in a fit, would mock Rienji's face—as clean as a bottle.

Her father played less with her. but with his eyes he followed his friend's leisurely gallop around the meseta and carried the little girl on his shoulders.


They were a very strange trio – the two long-suffering men and their blonde, five-year-old assistant, who went out and turned and went out again, from the mesetta to the oven. For the girl, brought up and taught without leaving her father's side, knew all the tools one by one and more or less how much pressure to crack ten coconuts at once and what smell you could properly call it of pyrolignic acid. He could read and everything he wrote was in capital letters.

The two hundred meters from the bungalow to the forest were crossed again and again while the furnace was being built. With leisurely steps at dawn or lazily at noon, they came and went like ants on the same path, with the same winding course and the same turn to avoid the blast of black sandstone just above the grass.

If the choice of the heating system was difficult, its execution was far beyond what they had imagined.

"It's one thing on paper and another in the field," Rienzi said with his hands in his pockets, every time a careful calculation - of gas volume, air intake, grill area or combustion chambers - proved useless due to their poor materials.

What they decided on was, of course, the most dangerous course in this series of things: spiral heating in a horizontal oven. Why; They had their reasons and we leave them alone. But the truth is that when they lit the stove for the first time, and immediately the smoke came out of the chimney, after they had fallen under the stove four times - seeing this, the two men sat down to smoke in silence, watching that with a rather dissolute air, the air of men of character who see the success of hard work to which they have put all their efforts.

It's finally done! The accessories - the gas burner and the tar concentrator - were child's play. The condensation was entrusted to eight wine barrels, as they had no water. and the gases were transported directly to the hearth. Thus Drever's little girl had occasion to admire this thick stream of fire, which flowed from the stove where there was no fire.

"How beautiful, father!" she exclaimed, standing still in surprise. And plant kisses on her father's hand, as she always did:

"You know how to do so many things, my dear father!"

Then they went to the forest to eat oranges.

Of the few things Drever had in this world—besides his daughter, of course—the most precious was his orange grove, which brought him no income at all, but was a joy to behold. Originally planted by the Jesuits two hundred years ago, the grove had been invaded and overwhelmed by the forest, and beneath it the orange trees continued to sweeten the air with the fragrance of their blossoms, which the twilight spread to the paths of the open country.. Misione's orange trees have never been exposed to any disease. it would be difficult to find an orange with a single blemish. Both for beauty and delicious taste, this fruit is unsurpassed.

Of the three visitors to the grove, Rienzi had the biggest appetite. He could easily eat ten or twelve oranges, and when he came home he always carried a loaded sack on his shoulder. Up there they say that frost favors the fruit, and just then, at the end of June, they were already sweet as syrup, which somewhat reconciled Rienzi to the cold.

This Misiones cold – which Rienzi had not expected and had never heard of in Buenos Aires – prevented the firing of the first batches of coal, causing an extremely large fuel consumption.

For the sake of good organization, they lit the oven at four or five in the afternoon. And as the time required for the complete charring of the wood is usually not less than eight hours, they had to feed the fire until twelve o'clock or one in the morning, down deep in the pit in front of the hearth's red mouth, while behind them a mild Although the heating was reduced, the condensation proceeded excellently in the freezing air, and this made it possible for them to achieve 2 per cent on the first attempt. tar yield, which under the circumstances was very satisfactory.

Either one or the other had to constantly supervise the process, since the casual laborer chopping his firewood remained ignorant of this method of making charcoal. He watched the various parts of the apparatus intently, but shook his head at the slightest hint that he was being put in charge of the fire.

He was a mestizo, a thin fellow with a sparse moustache, who had seven children, and who would never answer a question, however simple, without first consulting the sky for a while and whistling aimlessly. Then he replied, "He could." In vain he was told to add fuel without concern until the opposite lid of the stove sputtered when he touched it with a wet finger. He laughed heartily, but did not want to take the job. So back and forth from the meseta to the forest continued in the night, while Drever's little girl, alone in the bungalow, amused herself behind the windows, trying to distinguish by the glint of the fire whether it was Rienci or she. fire-sucking father.

At one time a tourist who was staying overnight at the port to board the steamer that was to take him to Iguazú must have been more or less surprised by this glow coming from underground, among the smoke and steam from the pipe exhaust: a mass solfatara and a little hell which would soon disturb the imagination of the native labourer.

The latter's attention strongly attracted the choice of fuel. When he discovered a "precious wood for burning" in a certain area, he carried it to the furnace in his cart, as dispassionately as if he were unaware of the treasure he was carrying. And faced with the stalker's joy, he indifferently turned his head to the side - to smile contentedly, as Rienzi liked to say.

Then came a day when the two men found themselves with such a supply of highly flammable wood that they had to reduce the air intake into the hearth, air that now hissed and vibrated under the grate.

Meanwhile, tar production increased. They recorded the percentages of carbon, tar and pyroligneic acid obtained from the most suitable woods, although all were done grosso modo. On the other hand, what they brought down very carefully - one by one - were the disadvantages of circular heating for a horizontal furnace. in this they could admit to being experts. Fuel consumption was of little interest to them, and besides, with the temperature at freezing most of the time, no calculation was possible at all.


That winter was extremely hard, and not only in Misiones. But from late June onwards, things started to look really strange, and the region suffered to the very roots of its subtropical existence.

In fact, the weather calmed down after four days of riots and threats of a huge storm that broke through in a downpour in the south. Then the cold began, a quiet and piercing cold, barely noticeable at noon, but already by four o'clock the ears were sweating. Without a transition, the land went from the whiteness of dawn to the almost dizzying splendor of a winter afternoon in Misiones, to freezing in the darkness of the early hours of the night.

On the first of these mornings, Rienchi, half-frozen with cold, went out for an early morning walk, and shortly returned as frozen as before. He looked at the thermometer and spoke to Drever, who was getting out of bed.

"Do you know what temperature we have? Six degrees below zero."

"This is the first time this has happened," Drever replied.

"That's right," Rienzi agreed. "Everything I see here is happening for the first time."

He referred to his midwinter encounter with a viper, and where he least expected it.

The next morning it was seven below zero. Drever became suspicious of his thermometer and mounted his horse to check the temperature at the homes of two friends, one of whom operated a small official weather station. There was no doubt about it: it was indeed nine below zero. the difference from the temperature recorded at his home was because Drever's meseta, high above the river and open to the wind, was always two degrees warmer in winter—and two degrees cooler in summer, of course.

"We've never seen anything like it," said Drever as he returned and harnessed his horse.

"That is correct," Rienzi confirmed.

The next day, as dawn broke, a boy arrived at the bungalow with a letter from the friend who ran the weather station. It read as follows:

"Please record the temperature on your thermometer today when the sun comes out. Yesterday I sent the number we recorded here, and last night I received a request from Buenos Aires to correct the temperature I sent. It is nine below zero down there. What are you reading now?'

Drever waited for sunrise and wrote in his reply: "June 27: nine degrees below zero."

The friend then telegraphed to headquarters in Buenos Aires the photo taken at his station: "June 27: eleven degrees below zero."

Rienzi saw some of the effect such cold can have on quasi-tropical vegetation. but fully confirms that he was detained until later. In the meantime, his and his friend's attention was hard drawn by Drever's daughter's illness.


Since a week earlier, the girl was not feeling well. (This, of course, was noticed by Drever in retrospect and became one of the distractions during his long periods of silence.) She was somewhat lethargic, very thirsty, and her eyes were smart when she ran.

One afternoon, when Drever went out after his lunch, he found his daughter lying on the ground, exhausted. He had a fever well above normal. A moment later, Rienchi arrived to find her on the bed, her cheeks burning and her mouth hanging open.

"What's wrong with her?" Drever asked in surprise.

"I don't know ... fever of 39+."[3]

Rienchi leaned over the bed.

"Hey little lady! Looks like we're not playing any cable cars today."

The little girl did not answer. It was characteristic of the child, when she had a fever, to shut out all meaningless questions and barely answer in sharp monosyllables, in which one could trace her father's character for miles.

That afternoon Rienchi looked after the stove, but returned every now and then to see his assistant, then resident in a little blonde nook by his father's bed.

At three o'clock the girl's temperature was 39.5 and at six 40. Drever had done what you should do in such cases, even giving her a bath.

Now it is no easy task for two hardy men to bathe, nurse and look after a five-year-old child in a house made of boards and put together, worse than a furnace, in the freezing weather. There are questions about small shirts and other tiny clothes, drinks at fixed times, details beyond a man's powers. Nevertheless, the two men bathed the child with rolled up sleeves and calloused hands and dried him. Of course they had to warm up the room with alcohol and later change the cold water compresses on her head.

The little girl had smiled as Rienchi wiped her feet, and it seemed like a good omen. But Drever feared a deadly fever - the end of which is never known in lively temperaments like hers.

At seven o'clock her temperature rose to 40.8,[4]drops to 39 the rest of the night and climbs back to 40.3 the next morning.

"Nah!" Rienchi said with a carefree air. "The little lady is cool and it won't be this fever that's going to slow her down."

And he went whistling to the stove, because it was not time to start thinking nonsense.

Drever said nothing. He paced the dining room, stopping only to go in and see his daughter. The girl, consumed by fever, persisted in her short, monosyllabic answers.

"How are you little girl?"


"Aren't you hot? Do you want me to lower the cover a little?'


"Would you like some water?"


And this without being willing to turn her eyes in his direction.

For six days, Drever slept a few hours in the morning, while Rienzi did the same at night. But as the fever remained menacingly high, Rienchi could see his father's silhouette standing motionless by the bed, and at the same time he realized that he was not sleepy. Then he got up and made coffee, which the two men drank in the dining room. They urged each other to rest, but a mute shrug was their common response. After this, one began to look at the titles of the books for the hundredth time, while the other stubbornly rolled the cigars to a corner of the table.

And always the baths, the heating, the cold compresses, the quinine. The girl sometimes fell asleep with one of her father's hands in hers, and as soon as he tried to withdraw it, the child felt his movement and squeezed her fingers. So Drever would remain motionless in bed for some time and – having nothing to do – constantly look at his daughter's poor useless face.

Then from time to time a delirium where the child suddenly rests on the lap. Drever reassured her, but the girl rejected his touch and turned away. After that her father kept walking and went to drink some of Rienzi's ever present coffee.

"How is it?" asked the latter.

"About the same," Drever replied.

Sometimes, when she was awake, Rienchi would come in and try to cheer everyone up with jokes about the little carambola playing sick, and there was nothing wrong with her. But even as she recognized him, the girl looked at him gravely, with the sour firmness of a high fever.

The fifth afternoon Rienchi spent in the oven working - which served as a good distraction. Drever called him briefly and went to take his turn feeding the fire, automatically throwing stick after stick of wood into the hearth.

At dawn the fever fell more than usual, fell still more at noon, and at two o'clock in the afternoon, with her eyes closed, the child lay motionless, except for an intermittent twitching of the lips and a slight tremor that sprinkled her face with ticks. She was cold, her temperature below normal now at 35 degrees.[5]

"Anemic crisis, almost certainly," Drever replied to a questioning look from his friend. "I have some luck . . ."

For three hours the girl on her back continued her feverish grimaces, surrounded and singed by eight bottles of boiling water. For those three hours, Rienchi walked around the room very quietly, frowning at the picture of his father sitting at the foot of the bed. And in the course of those three hours, Drever fully realized how big a place in his heart this poor little thing had left over from his marriage, and who she would probably put out the next day to lie by her mother's side.

At five o'clock Rienzi in the dining room heard Drever rise. and with an even frown he went into the bedroom. But through the door he could see the glistening forehead of the girl, who was sweaty - and out of danger.

"Finally…," Rienchi said as his neck jerked stupidly.

"Yes finally!" murmured Drever.

The girl was still literally drenched in sweat. When she opened her eyes after a moment, she looked for her father, and when she saw him, she put her fingers to his mouth. Then Rienzi addressed himself:

"So? ... How are we, little lady?"

The girl turned her gaze to her friend.

"Do you know me now? I bet you don't."


"Who am I?"

The child smiled.


"Fine! that's what I like . . . No, no. I'm going to bed now . . ."

At last they came out to the meseta.

"What a little lady!" Rienchi said, making long lines in the sand with a stick. Drever (six days of nervousness covered in the last three hours is too much for a father alone) sat on the gurney and put his head in his lap. And Rienchi retreated to the other side of the bungalow, for he saw that his friend's shoulders were shaking.


Her recovery has been very rapid since then. Sipping a cup of coffee on those long nights, Rienzi had come to the conclusion that if they didn't replace the first two condensing chambers, they would always get more voltage than they needed. So he decided to use two large casks in which Drever had prepared his orange wine, and with the help of their workers he had everything ready for the evening. He lighted the fire and left it to the care of the native, and returned to the meseta, where the two men behind the dining-room windows watched with rare pleasure the red smoke rising again.

They were talking, about midnight, when the half-blood came to tell them that the fire was coming from another side, that the furnace was bent. The same idea struck them both at once.

"Did you open the air intake?" Drever asked him.

"I did," replied the native.

"What kind of firewood did you put in?"

"Last, there was . . ."



Rienchi and Drever exchanged a glance and then left with the worker.

It was all very clear: the top of the furnace was covered with two layers of metal sheets on iron supports, and as insulation two inches of sand was spread on top. In the first baking department, which was licked by the flames, they had shielded the metal with a layer of clay over wire mesh. reinforced clay, let's call it.

All had gone well as long as Rienci or Drever had tended the hearth. But the worker, in order to hasten the heating for the benefit of his bosses, had opened the door of the pot all the way, just as he was feeding the fire with lapacha. And since the lapacho must be ignited like gasoline in a match, the extremely high temperature reached had blown away the clay, the wire mesh, and the metal top itself—leaving a hole from which the flame emerged, compressed and roaring.

This is what the two men saw when they got there. They removed the wood from the hearth and the flame stopped. but the crack still vibrated, white, and the sand falling into the furnace was blind when touched.

There was nothing else to do. Without speaking they went back towards the meseta, and on the way Drever said:

"To think that with fifty pesos more we could make a very good oven. . ."

"Nah!" Rienchi signed after a moment. "We did the right thing. With a perfect installation, we wouldn't have discovered many things."

And after a pause:

“And maybe we would have done something a little pour la galerie. . ."

"It could," agreed Drever.

The night was very mild, and they sat for a long time smoking by the dining-room door.


The temperature was very mild. The weather broke, and for three days and three nights it rained from a gale from the south, which kept the two men inside the floating bungalow. Drever used the time to complete an essay on creolin - which as an ant and vermin killer was at least as potent as its coal tar namesake. Rienchi, apathetic, spent the day going from door to door to look at the sky.

Until the third night, while they were in the dining room and Drever was playing with his daughter as she sat on his knee, Rienzi stood up with his hands in his pockets and said:

"I'm leaving. We've already done everything we can do here. If you can raise a few pesos to work on the project, let me know and I can get you what you need in Buenos Aires. Down there at the spring you could set up three ovens... Without water you can't do anything. Write to me when you succeed and I'll come to help you. At least'' - he finished after a while - 'may we have the pleasure of being sure that there are not many fellows in the country who know what we do with coal.'

"I think so too," Drever confirmed, still playing with his daughter.

Five days later, under a bright midday sun, and with the spectacle ready at the gate, the two men and their assistant went to take a last look at their work, which they had not approached since the accident. The worker removed the top of the kiln and like a burnt cocoon the kiln emerged, dented and twisted in its case of wire mesh and gray clay. After the oxidation of the fire, the removed sheets were thick enough around the bulkhead for the flames to open, and at the slightest contact their surface flaked into blue scales, with which Drever's little girl stuffed her apron pocket.

Right from where he stood, along the entire border of the adjacent and surrounding forests and in the distance, Rienzi could appreciate the effect of the nine under the cold on the tropical vegetation with warm and glossy foliage. He saw the banana plants rotting into chocolate mass and collapsing inside themselves like inside a pillow case. He saw twelve-year-old yerba plants—in short, thick trees—burned down to the roots forever by the cold white fire of frost. And in the orange-grove, into which they entered for a last gathering of fruit, Rienzi looked up in vain for the usual glimmer of gold, for the ground was all yellow with oranges. On the great frost day they had all fallen as the sun rose with a muffled thud that pierced the forest.

Thus Rienchi was able to fill his sack and as time ran out they headed for the harbor. The girl made the journey in Rienzi's arms and held a very long dialogue with her friend.

The little steamer was already on its way. Face to face, the two men exchanged smiles.

"See you soon," said one.

"Hello," replied the other.

But the separation of Rienzi and the girl was much more expressive.

When the steamer was already running down, she called out to him again:

"Renji! Rienci!"

"Which little lady?" they could now hear.

"Be back soon!"

Drever and the girl remained on the beach until the little steamer was hidden behind two huge mouths of the Teyucuaré. And as they slowly climbed the slope, silent Drever, his daughter stretched out her arms to lift her up.

"Your furnace burned down, poor father! . . . Don't be sad, though. . . . You will invent many more things, my dear engineer!" -one

To note

The wilderness

The canoe slid along the edge of the forest, or what might have looked like wood in all this darkness. More by instinct than by any indication, Subercazo felt its nearness, for the darkness was a single impenetrable square, beginning at the rower's hands and extending to the zenith. The man knew his river well enough not to be unaware of where he was, but on such a night and under the threat of rain it was very different to land his boat among pierced tacuara pipes and patches of rotten reeds. on land in own port. And Subercasaux was not alone in his canoe.

The atmosphere was suffocating to the point of suffocation. In no direction could his face be turned, could he find some air to breathe. And at that moment, plain and distinct, a few drops of rain hit the canoe.

Subercazo raised his eyes and searched the sky in vain for a flash of brightness or lightning. All afternoon, and even now, not a single thunder could be heard.

Rain all night, he thought. And turned to his companions, who were silent in the stern:

"Put on the robes," he said curtly. "And hold tight."

In fact the canoe now bent branches as it went, and two or three times the port oar had slipped on a submerged limb. But even at the cost of breaking an oar, the Subercasaux kept in touch with the lee, for if she came within five yards of the sea, she might come and go all night before her port, without having time to see it.

Clearing the water at the edge of the forest, the rower went a little further. The drops were falling more heavily now, but also at longer intervals. They would stop abruptly, as if they had fallen from who-knows-where, and then start again, large and warm and separate, only to break again into the same dark and atmospheric depression.

"Hold fast," repeated Sumbercazo to his two companions. "We built a house."

For he had just caught a glimpse of the mouth of his harbor. With two powerful strokes of the oar he pushed the canoe up onto the clay bank, and as he fastened the boat to the pole, his two silent companions sprang to the ground, which, despite the darkness, was easily seen, covered with myriads of shining worms, that they made the surface ripple with their red and green fire.

To the top of the slope—which the three travelers climbed in the rain, solid and level—the soaked clay glowed phosphorescent. But then the darkness closed in upon them again, and in the midst of it they had to search for the darkness which they had left resting on its shafts.

The saying "You can't even see your hands in front of your eyes" is made to order. And on nights like this, the momentary glimpse of a fight only serves to deepen the dizzying darkness immediately afterward, throwing you off balance.

However, they found the sulky, but not the horse. And leaving his two companions on guard at one of the wheels—where they stood motionless under their fallen cloaks, clamorous with rain—Subercasso rode away among the painful thorns to the end of the path, where he found his horse entangled in the reins of Route.

He had not spent more than twenty minutes in searching for the animal and bringing it in, but when he looked for his bearings near the sulky—he said, "Are you there, boys?" and he heard: "Yes, father" - Suberkazo fully realized, for the first time that night, that the two companions he had left behind in the night and the rain were his two children, five and six years old, who had not gotten up . until the hub of the grim wheel, and huddled together, dripping water from their cloaks, as they calmly awaited their father's return.

Finally they went home, talking and happy. When they were in times of worry or danger, Subercasaux's voice was very different from the one he used to speak to his children when he had to speak to them as adults. Now he had lowered two notes, and no one would have believed, when he heard the tenderness of their voices, that the man who was then laughing with the children was none other than the one with half an hour's sharp and harsh accent. Before. . And now the real speakers were Suberkazo and his daughter, since the little boy – the baby of the family – had fallen asleep on his father's lap.


Suberkazo usually got up at dawn. and though he did it quietly, he well knew that his boy in the next room, early as he was, lay with his eyes open for some time, waiting to hear his father before he went out. of the bed. And then he began the unchanging ritual of morning greetings, going from one bedroom to the other:

"Good morning dad!"

"Good morning, my dear little boy!"

"Good morning, dear father!"

"Good morning, spotless lamb!"

"Good morning, little mouse without a tail!"

"My little raccoon!"

"Little Papa Armadillo!"

"Little Cat Face!"

"Little Snake Tail!"

And in this colorful style it would go on for some time - until, as soon as they were dressed, they went to coffee under the palms, while the little one continued to sleep like a stone until the sun in the face woke up. her up.

With his two young children – with their temperaments and his own educational work – Suberkazo considered himself the happiest father on earth. But this he had achieved at the cost of more grief than married men usually experience.

Suddenly, while things happen that are unimaginable in their terrible injustice, Suberkaso had lost his wife. He was suddenly alone, with two small children who hardly knew him, and in the same house, built by him and made by her, where every nail and mark on the wall was a stark reminder of shared happiness.

The next day, when he happened to open the wardrobe, he discovered what it is to suddenly see the things that are already buried under your wife. and on a hanger the dress she never got to try on.

He went through the imperative and fatal necessity, if he would continue to live, of destroying every vestige of the past, when, with eyes closed and dry, he burned the letters he had written to his wife, and she had since saved one more devoted courtship from her grandiose clothes. And that afternoon he finally found out what it's like to finally be worn out from sobbing and to hold a small child struggling to relax to play with the chef's little boy.

Hard, it was terribly hard. . . But now he laughed at his two children, who together with him were one person, given the unusual way Suberkazo raised his children.

The little children, for example, were not afraid of the dark, or being alone, or anything that contributes to the terror of babies growing up in their mother's skirts. More than once night fell when Subercazo had not yet returned from the river, and the children lighted the wind lantern to wait for him without alarm. Or they would wake up alone in the middle of a raging storm that kept them blind behind the windows, only to fall back asleep, safe and certain of their father's return.

They feared nothing except what their father warned them to fear. and at the top of the list, of course, were snakes. Free as they were, radiating health and stopping to look at everything with eyes as wide as happy puppies, they wouldn't know what to do for a moment without their father's company. But if, when he left, he told them he would be gone for such an hour, the children were content to stay and play together. Likewise, if, in their long journeys together in the woods or on the river Souberkazo, they should be absent for a few minutes or hours, they would quickly improvise a game, and wait for him incessantly in the same place, thus reciprocating, with blind and cheerful obedience, the trust their father gave them.

They rode alone, and since the boy was four years old. Like all free creatures, they were fully aware of their limits and never overstepped them. Sometimes they went alone as far as Yabebirí, the pink sandstone cliff above the river.

"Take care of the earth and then sit down," their father had told them.

The cliff rises straight to a height of twenty meters from deep and shadowy water that cools the fissures at its base. Up there, small as they were, the youths from Subercazo approached the edge and tested the stones with their feet. and as soon as they are secured, sit back and let their sandals fasten over the abyss.

Naturally, Subercasaux had achieved all this in successive stages, each fraught with its own concerns.

"One day a child will be killed on me," he said to himself. "And for the rest of my days I will wonder if I was right to report it that way."

Yes, he was right. And among the few consolations of a father who is alone with motherless children, the greatest is to be able to raise them according to a single behavior.

So Subercasaux was happy, and the children felt warmly attached to this great man who played with them for hours, taught them to read on the floor in great heavy letters of red lead, and sewed the tears in their trousers with his huge calloused hands. .

From sewing knapsacks in the Chaco when he was a cotton man there, Subercazo had retained both the custom of sewing and his enjoyment of it. He sewed his own clothes, his children's, his armories, and the sails of his canoe—all with cobbler's thread and tying every stitch. Thus his shirts could be torn everywhere except where he had tied his wax thread.

When it came to toys, both children recognized their father as the master, especially the way he ran on all fours - so strange that it immediately made them squeal with laughter.

Since Subercasaux, in addition to his ordinary activities, was a restless experimenter whose interests took a new turn every three months, his children, constantly by his side, knew many things that children of that age usually did not know. They had watched—and sometimes helped—dissect animals, make creolin, extract latex from trees to seal their raincoats. they had seen their father's shirts dyed in all colors, the construction of eight-ton laboratories for the study of cement, the production of superphosphates, orange wine, yerba dryers in the Mayfarth style, and the suspension of a car cable from the forest to the bungalow, suspended ten meters above the ground, after which the young people then flew home in small cable cars.

At that time Subercazo was attracted to a vein or deposit of white clay exposed by the last great retreat of the Yabebirí. From the study of this clay he had progressed to the others in the region, which he fired in his kilns - of course built by himself. And if he had to obtain data on cooking, glazing, and the like by means of specimens of no particular form, he preferred to experiment with pots, masks, and imaginary animals, in which his children assisted him with great success.

At night, and the stormy afternoons when it was really dark, the factory worked in high gear. Subercasaux fired the kiln early, and the experimenters, shrinking from the cold and rubbing their hands, sat in its warmth to model the clay.

But the smallest of his ovens easily built up 1,000°C in two hours, and at this time, every time they opened the door to feed him, a veritable eyelash-burning fire shot out of the white hearth. So the potters retreated to the far end of the workshop until the icy wind that whistled in between the shafts of the taquara on the walls would drive them back, workbench and all, to be baked with their backs to the kiln.

Apart from the young people's bare feet, which were now suffering from heatstroke, everything went well. Subercasaux had a weakness for prehistoric pots. the little girl preferred to model fancy hats. and the boy made snakes without fail.

Sometimes, however, the monotonous snoring of the stove did not cheer them up, and so they turned to the gramophone and the same old records they had used since Souberkazo's wedding, which the children had abused with all manner of needles, nails, thorns, and pieces of taquara , which they themselves want to sharpen. In return, each of them would take over the monitoring of the machine, which was equivalent to automatically changing the files without even looking up from the clay, and immediately start their work. When all the records had been played, it was someone else's turn to repeat the exact same action. They didn't even listen to the music anymore as they knew it perfectly by heart. but the noise amused them.

At ten o'clock the potters considered their work finished, and rose to proceed for the first time to the critical inspection of their works of art, for until all was finished not the least comment was permitted. And so it was very nice to see the joy of the little lady's decorative fancies and the excitement caused by the boy's relentless collection of snakes. Then Subercazo put out the fire in the stove, and they all ran hand in hand through the freezing night to their house.


Three days after the nocturnal canoe journey of which we have spoken, Subercazo was left without a maid. and this incident, insignificant and unimportant anywhere else, changed the lives of the three exiles to the extreme.

In the first moments of his grief, Subercazo was able to count on the help of a good woman to raise his children, the same cook who wept and found the house very lonely at the death of his lover.

The next month she was gone, and Suberkaso made every effort to replace her with three or four sullen girls from the hinterland, who would only stay a few days because they found their boss's character too harsh.

Subercasaux was actually partially guilty and admitted it. He spoke to the girls barely enough to be understood, and what he said had an overly masculine logic and precision. For example, when they swept the dining room, he warned them to also sweep each leg of the table. And this, so sparingly expressed, infuriated and tired the girls.

For three months, not a single girl could wash his dishes. And in those three months, Subercasaux learned more than bathing her children.

He didn't learn how to cook, because he already knew that, but how to clean pots and pans with the very sand in his yard while squatting in the icy wind that turned his hands blue. He learned to interrupt his work occasionally to run and remove the milk from the fire or open the smoker. and he also learned to fetch three buckets of water (not one less) from the well at night to wash his cooking utensils.

This problem with the three inevitable buckets was the stuff of one of his nightmares, and it took him a month to realize that he couldn't do without them. Naturally, for the first few days she had put off cleaning pots and plates, which she piled side by side on the floor to wash them all at once. But after wasting an entire morning in his moorings scraping up burnt cookware (they were all burnt), he chose to cook-eat and scrub, a three-step process whose pleasures are unknown even to husbands.

He really didn't have time for anything, especially in the short winter days. Subercazo had entrusted the children with keeping order in the two bedrooms, a job they did quite well. But he himself did not feel that he had spirit enough to sweep the court: a scientific, radial, circular, and female-only task which—though he knew it was essential to the prosperity of the desert huts—exceeded his patience.

In the loose, undisturbed sand, transformed into a plant laboratory by the climate of alternating rain and hot sun, the sand fleas spread so far that you could see them crawling over the children's bare feet. Although Subercasaux always wore power boots, he paid great tribute to the fleas. Almost always lame, he had to spend a whole hour after lunch with the boy's feet in his arms, dazzled by the sun on the terrace or terrace and splashed by the rain. When he was done with the young man, it was his turn. and when at last he stood up with his back bent, the boy called him again, because three new fleas had burrowed deep into the skin of his feet.

Fortunately, the girl seemed to be immune. There was no way her tiny toenails could tempt the fleas, seven out of ten of which landed directly on the boy and only three on his father. But the three were too many for a man whose feet were the key to the rustic life he led.

Sand fleas are generally more harmless than snakes, flies and even small barigüís. They walk high on their legs in the skin, and suddenly they quickly pierce it and fall down to the raw meat, where they make a small pouch, which they fill with eggs. Neither the extraction of the flea nor its nest is usually difficult, nor is its bite worse than expected. But for every hundred clean fleas, there is one that carries an infection and you have to be careful with that.

Suberkazo had such an infection in one of his toes—the tiny little toe on his right foot—and he couldn't get it under control. A small pink hole had turned into a swollen and excruciatingly painful gash along the tip of the nail. Iodine, dichloride, hydrogen peroxide, formaldehyde - he had tried nothing. However, he put on his shoes but did not leave the house. and his endless toils in the woods were now reduced, in the rainy afternoons, to slow and silent walks round the farm, when, as the sun set, the sky cleared, and the woods, outlined in the light like a pantomime of shadow, drew nearer and nearer the extremely clean air until it touched your eyes.

Subercasaux realized that under different living conditions he could have beaten the infection, which only required a little rest. The affected man slept badly, disturbed by chills and severe pains late at night. Dawn would eventually fall into a very heavy sleep, at which point she would have given anything to stay in bed until eight in the morning. But the little boy was as early in winter as in summer, and Subercazo got up shivering with fever to light the Primus stove and make the coffee. Then it was lunch and scrubbing the pots. And for diversion, at noon, the never-ending saga of his little one's fleas.

"Things can't go like this," Sumberkazo finally said to himself. "I must get a maid at all costs."

But how? During his married years, this terrible concern for the maids was one of his regular concerns. The girls came and went, as we said, without saying why, and that when there was a lady in the house. Subercazo would give up all his work and stay on his horse for three days, galloping along the paths from Apariciocue to San Ignacio after every useless girl who would wash diapers. Finally, one day at noon, he would emerge from the woods with a halo of horseflies around his head and the horse's neck ragged and bloody—but triumphant. The girl would arrive the next day, huddled behind her father, with a package. and exactly one month later he would leave with the same package, on foot. And Souberkaso again laid aside his hoe or his knife to fetch his horse, while he was already waiting and sweating motionless in the sun.

These were bad experiences that had left him with a bitter taste, and now he had to start all over again. But which way would he go?

In his sleepless nights, Subercazo had already heard the distant hum of the rain-heavy forest. Spring is usually dry in Misiones and winter very rainy. But when the pattern reverses - which is always expected given the climate in Misiones, the clouds drop a meter of rain in three months, from the meter and a half that is supposed to fall all year.

They were already almost squeezed. The Horqueta, which crosses the road to the coast of Paraná, had no bridges at the time and was only passable on the wagon road, where the water fell in foaming rapids and changed. stones, trodden by horses trembling with fear. And this under normal conditions; for when the stream had to receive the rain of a seven days' storm, the Ford sank under two storms of flowing water, spread out in deep courses, which suddenly broke up and curled into eddies. And settlers from Yabebirí, holding their horses in front of the flooded meadow, watched dead deer pass by and spin as they floated. It was like that for ten to fifteen days.

Horqueta could still cross when Subercasaux decided to go outside. but in his condition he dared not travel so far on horseback. And finally, what was he likely to find in the direction of Cazador Creek?

Then he thought of a young man he had once employed, clever and industrious as few, who had laughingly told him—the very day he came, while he was scrubbing a pan on the ground—that he would stay for a month , because his master needed him, but not one more day, for this was no man's work. The companion lived at the mouth of the Yabebirí, opposite the island of Toro, and this meant a difficult journey. for if the Yabebirí plays its game of falling and rising again, the eight-hour stretch of paddling will crush the fingers of anyone not already used to it.

However, Suberkazo made up his mind. And in spite of the threatening weather he went down to the river with his children, with the happy air of one who at last sees the open sky. The youths repeatedly kissed their father's hand, as they used to do when they were full of joy. Despite his legs and all, Subercasaux kept all his courage for his children - but for them it was quite another thing to take a hike with their father through the forest full of surprises and then run barefoot along the shore, over the mud of the hot spring . of Yabebirí.

There they found what they expected: the canoe full of water, which had to be saved with the usual ladle, and the gourds to catch insects, which the children always carried on their shoulders when they went into the woods.

Subercazo was so optimistic that he was not bothered enough by the dubious appearance of the muddy water - a river where you can usually see the bottom up to two meters below.

"The rain," he thought, "is not falling hard yet with the southeast. . . . It will be a day or two before it clears up."

They continued to work. Standing in the water on either side of the canoe, they chased each other as best they could. At first Subercazo had not dared to take off his boots, which kept getting stuck in the deep mud, so much so that it caused him great pain to get his foot out. At last he got them out, and with his feet free and sunk like wedges in the foul mud, he completed the rescue of the canoe, overturned it, and cleared the bottom, all in two hours of feverish activity.

Ready at last, they left. For an hour the canoe slipped faster than the rower would have liked. He rowed awkwardly with only one leg, and his bare heel was scarred by the edge of the outrigger. And yet he moved quickly, for the Yabebirí was now driving. Finally, the sticks swelled with the bubbles that began to cut the water, and the straw mustache caught in a large tangle made Suberkazo realize what would happen if he waited another second to turn the bow to port.

Maid, young man. . . , rest at last! . . . , and more hopes were lost. So he rowed without missing a beat. The four hours he spent, tormented by restlessness and fatigue, climbing back up a river he had descended in an hour, in air so rare that his lungs gasped in vain—only he could fully understand. By the time he reached his port, the hot and foaming water had already risen two meters above the beach. And down the canal came dead branches, half submerged, their ends bouncing and sinking in the swing.

The travelers reached the bungalow when it was already nearly dark, though only four o'clock, and just as the sky, with a single glimpse from its zenith to the river, was at last emptying its vast store of water. They ate immediately and went to bed exhausted, under the noise of the metal roof, hammered all night by the deluge with ceaseless violence.


At dawn, a bone-chilling chill woke the master of the house. Until then he had slept like a block of lead. Unlike what had been usual since his infected toe, his foot barely hurt at all, despite the exertions of the previous day. He took the raincoat thrown on the bed and pulled it over him and tried to go back to sleep.

Impossibility. The cold went right through him. The frost within him spread outward through all his pores and now became needles of hairy ice, a sensation he felt from the slightest rub against his clothing. Curled up in a ball, lashed up and down his spine by intense and rhythmic waves of cold, the sick man watched the hours go by without success in gaining warmth. Fortunately the children were still asleep.

"In the situation I'm in, don't do stupid things like yesterday," he kept telling himself. "These are the consequences. . ."

Like a distant dream, a priceless rare bliss he once possessed, he thought he could spend the whole day in bed, warm and rested at last, while at the table he heard the clinking of coffee cups, while the waiter—this first great maid - stood in front of the children. . .

Stay in bed until ten o'clock at least! . . . In four hours the fever would pass, and even his lower back would not hurt so much. . . After all, what would it take to get well? A little rest, nothing more. He had said it himself ten times. . .

The day wore on, and the sick man thought he heard the happy tinkling of the cups, amid the loud pulsations of his leaden temples. What a pleasure to hear that noise! . . . He would finally get some rest. . .


"My dear boy . . ."

"Good morning, sweet father! Aren't you up yet? It's late, father."

"Yes, my love, I was just getting up. . ."

And Subercazo dressed hastily, blaming himself for his laziness which had made him forget his children's coffee.

The rain had finally stopped, but without the slightest breath of wind left to carry away the prevailing humidity. And at noon it began again—a warm, calm, monotonous rain, which dissolved the valley of Horquetas, the sown fields and meadows, into a cloudy and exceedingly dreary membrane of water.

After lunch, the children had fun rebuilding the paper boats they had used up the previous afternoon. They made hundreds of them, nestling them inside each other like ice balls, ready to be thrown in the wake of the canoe when they re-entered the river. Subercazo took the opportunity to go to bed for a while, where he immediately resumed his curled-up position, lying motionless with his knees resting on his chest.

Again, at the temple, he could feel the enormous weight holding him to the pillow, so tightly that the pillow seemed to be an integral part of his head. How good it felt! Oh, to stay one, ten, a hundred days without moving! The monotonous drumming of the water on the metal roof lulled him to sleep, and in its murmur he could distinctly hear, as well as elicit a smile, while the clinking of cutlery was quickly dealt with by the waiter in the kitchen. What a servant he had! . . . And he heard the clatter of plates, scores of plates and cups and pots, while the servants—there were ten of them now! – scraped and scrubbed with dizzying speed. What a pleasure to finally be nice and warm in bed without a single worry! . . . When, what previous time had he dreamed that he was sick with a terrible problem? . . . How stupid he was! . . . And how lovely it is to listen to the noise of hundreds of immaculate mugs like this. . .


"Dear girl . . ."

"I'm hungry, father!"

"Yes, honey, right away . . ."

And the sick man went out into the rain to make coffee for his children.

Unsure of what he had done that afternoon, Suberkazo watched the night unfold with intense joy. He remembered that the messenger had not brought milk that afternoon, and that he had looked at his wound for a long time and noticed something peculiar about it.

He fell into bed without undressing himself, and soon the fever subsided again. The boy who hadn't brought the milk. . . Crazy! . . . Now she was fine, fine, she was resting.

With just a few days rest, even a few more hours, he would be fine. Correct! Correct! . . . However, there is justice. . . And also a small compensation. . . for one who had loved his children as he had. . . But he comes up healthy. A man can sometimes get sick. . . and you must rest. And what a rest he now rested in the torpor of the rain on the metal roof! . . . But hadn't a month passed? . . . He should stand up.

The sick man opened his eyes. He saw nothing but darkness, punctuated by flickering spots that contracted and expanded from the bends, closing in on his eyes and moving rapidly back and forth.

"I must have a very high fever," said the sick man to himself.

And lit the lantern in the dead of night. The wet wick sputtered for some time as Suberkazo kept his eyes on the ceiling. Far, far away came the memory of such a night when he was very, very ill. . . How stupid can you get? . . . He was well, for when a man, who is only tired, is fortunate enough to hear from his bed the furious clatter of the kitchen maid, it is because the mother is looking after her children. . .

He woke up again. Out of the corner of his eye he saw the lighted lantern, and after a hard effort to focus his attention he regained his self-awareness.

In his right arm, from the elbow to the fingertips, he now felt intense pain. He tried to raise his hand but couldn't. He pushed the raincoat away and saw his vibrant, violet-streaked hand. frozen, dead. Without closing his eyes, he thought for a moment about what that meant, along with his shaking and rubbing his open vessels

His wounds on the foul mud of Yambibiri, and then he came to the clear, absolute and final understanding that his whole being was also dying, that he was passing into death.

A great stillness fell upon him, as if the rain, the noise, and the very pace of things had suddenly fallen back into infinity. And as if he were already cut off from himself, he saw far away in a landscape a bungalow completely cut off from all human help, where two little children without milk and all alone were abandoned by God and man. unjust and terrible state of impotence.

His little children. . .

With a supreme effort he tried to get out of this torment, which made him struggle hour by hour and day by day with the fate of his beloved children. In vain he would think: Life has higher forces that escape us. . . God provides. . .

"But they don't want anything to eat!" his heart cried out tumultuously. And he would be dead, lying where he was, witnessing this unprecedented horror. . .

But despite the bright daylight reflecting off the wall, the darkness began to overwhelm him again, its dizzying white dots retreating and returning again to pulse in his own eyes. . . Yes! Of course! He had a dream! They must not be allowed to dream such things. . . Now he was getting up, he was resting.

"Father! . . . Father . . . My dear papa! . . ."

"My son . . ."

"Aren't you going to get up today, Dad? It's too late. We're very hungry, Dad!"

“My little boy.

"Can we come in now, Dad?"

"No honey. . . I'll make the coffee later. . . I'll call you."

He could still hear the laughter and chatter of his children as they rose, and saw a reverberating crescendo, a dizzying ringing that radiated from the core of his brain and continued to pulse in rhythmic waves in his terribly aching skull. And that was all he heard.

He opened his eyes again, and as he did so he felt his head drop to the left, so freely it startled him. He no longer felt any resonance at all. Just a growing but painless problem of judging the distance to objects. . . And his mouth was left wide open to breathe.

"Boys… get here at once…."

In a little while the children appeared at the half-open door, but when they saw the lighted lantern and their father's face, they stepped forward quietly, their eyes wide open.

The sick man was still brave enough to smile, and when he made that horrible face, the children's eyes opened even wider.

"Boys," Suberkazo said as he had them by his side. “Pay attention, my dears, for now you have grown up and can understand everything. . . I'm going to die guys. . . Don't be sad though. . . Soon you will grow up to be good and honest. . . And then you will remember your father. . . Make sure you understand, my dear children. . . Soon I will die and you will have no father. . . You will be home alone. . . But don't worry or fear. . . And now farewell, my children. . . You want to give me a kiss now. . . A kiss each. . . But hurry guys. . . A kiss . . . for your father. . ."

The children left without touching the half-open door and went to stay in their room and watch the drizzle on the terrace. They did not interfere from there. The girl alone, seeing the meaning of what had just happened, pouted from time to time with her hand over her face, while the boy scratched the window frame to pieces without understanding.

None of them dared to make noise.

But at the same time not the slightest noise was heard from the next room, where their father lay dead in the light of the lantern for three hours with shoes and clothes under his raincoat.

A worker

One afternoon in Misiones, I had just finished my lunch when the bell rang at the main gate. I went outside and saw a young man standing there with a hat in one hand and a suitcase in the other. The temperature was easily forty degrees Celsius, and on my visitor's curly head it looked more like sixty. He didn't seem worried in the least though. I let him in, and the man walked forward, smiling and looking curiously at the five-foot-wide crowns of my tangerines, which, by the way, are the pride of the area - and mine.

I asked him what he wanted and he replied that he was looking for a job. Then I looked at him more closely.

For a working man he was absurdly dressed. The suitcase was of course made of tanned leather and with lots of straps. After his suit, of brown lambskin without a single spot. Finally his boots; and not lumberjack boots, but products of excellent craftsmanship. And above all, the elegant, smiling and confident manner of my visitor. Was he working?

"For all the work," he replied cheerfully. “I know how to swing the ax and the hoe. . . I worked before that in Foz-do-Iguaçu planting a potato field.'

The guy was Brazilian and spoke a border language, a mixture of Portuguese, Spanish and Guarani, and very spicy.

"Potatoes? And the sun?" I remarked, "How did you do that?"

"Oh!" he replied with a shrug. "The sun is not a problem . . . Be sure to turn the soil a lot with the hoe . . . And come down hard on the weeds! Weeds are the potato's worst enemy."

Thus I learned how to grow potatoes in a country where the sun—in addition to killing the vegetables by simply burning them like the pressure of a butterfly—crushes red ants in three seconds and coral snakes in twenty.

The man looked at me and everything around him, clearly pleased with me and my surroundings.

"Okay…," I told him. "Let's try for a few days . . . I don't have much work at the moment."

"It doesn't matter," he replied. "I like this house. It's a very nice place."

And turning to Paraná, who rolled drowsily at the foot of the valley, he added with satisfaction:

"Oh, the devil of Parana! . . . If the boss likes to fish, I'll go. . . . I had a great time at Foz with the catfish."

I could agree with that. because he was having fun, the man seemed as skilled as few. But the fact is that it also amused me and I burdened my conscience with the pesos it would eventually cost me.

As a result, he left his suitcase on the table on the terrace and said to me:

"I'm not working today . . . I'm going to look at the city. I'll start tomorrow."

Out of ten peons who go to Misiones in search of work, only one starts at once—he who is really satisfied with the conditions provided. Those who put off work until the next day never come back, no matter how big their promises.

But my husband was made of stuff too rare to be on the usual mercenary list, so I had my hopes up. Sure enough, he appeared the next day—while it was still dawn—and rubbed his hands all the way to the gate.

"Now I'm ready to work . . . What's to be done?'

I gave him the job to continue with a well through sandstone that I had started and it was only three meters deep. He went down the hole, well satisfied with the work, and for some time I heard the muffled pressure of the handle and the whistle of the well.

At noon it rained, and the water carried some soil to the bottom. A little later I heard my husband whistle again, but the option was not active enough. I went to see what was going on and saw Olivera – that was his name – dutifully studying the pitch for every splash, so as not to get the mud on his trousers.

"What is it, Olivera?" I told him. "We won't get far that way. . ."

The guy raised his head and looked at me cautiously for a moment, as if he wanted to be sure of my appearance. And immediately afterwards he began to laugh and bent over the committee again.

"It is OK!" he murmured. "Fuck good!"

I went to avoid falling out with this senseless worker like no other I had ever seen. but when I was only ten paces away, I heard his voice coming up from below:

"Haha! ... It's okay, boss! ... So I'm gonna get my clothes dirty digging it damn well?"

And the subject continued to please his sense of humor. A few hours later, Olivera was on his way home - and without even coughing at the door to make his presence known, something unheard of for a worker from the area. He seemed more cheerful than ever.

"There's the well," he pointed so I wouldn't doubt its existence. "Damn it! I'm not working there anymore. That well you're making. . . You don't know what to do with your well, you don't know! . . . Not wide enough. What do we do now, boss?' And he put his elbow on the table, better look at me.

But I persisted in my weakness for the man and sent him into town to buy a machete.

"A Collins," I advised. "I don't want Toro."

The colleague then stood up, braced to the bone.

"This is really good! Nice, Colin! Now I'm going to get myself a very good machete!"

And he went away happy, as if the knife really meant something to him.

It was half past three in the afternoon, prime apoplexy time when you can't touch a piece of wood that has been in the sun for ten minutes. Forests, fields, basalt and red sandstone - everything vibrated, washed in the same shade of yellow. The landscape lay dead, in a stillness pierced by a uniform hum, as from a single drum, which seemed to follow one's gaze wherever it turned.

In the hot street, hat in hand, looking from side to side at the treetops, lips pursed as if he were whistling—though he wasn't—my husband went to fetch the machete. From home to town is half a league. Before an hour passed, I saw Olivera in the distance. he returned slowly, engrossed in making lines in the street with his blade. Something about his gait, however, seemed to indicate a specific task and not just that of imitating lizard tracks in the sand. I went out to the gate by the side of the road, and then I saw what Olivera was doing: he was chasing along a snake and forcing it to go right in front of him by hitting it with the tip of a knife - one of those snakes that chase chickens.

That morning he had seen me working with snakes - idea for una boa, according to him (perhaps Portuguese pun on boa "good" and boa "snake").

Having found the snake a kilometer from the house, he had found it very useful to bring it alive "so that the chief could study it". And nothing was more natural than pushing it in front of him while leading a sheep.

"ugly creature!" he exclaimed in satisfaction, wiping his sweat. "I wouldn't go directly . . ."

But the most amazing thing about my worker is that he worked and worked like I have never seen anyone do.

For some time before I had cherished the hope of one day replacing the five bocagi[1]which was missing in the ring of palm trees around the house. In that part of the farm the iron ore is cultivated to the surface of the earth in manganese stone, streaked with burnt sandstone, and hard enough to repel a crowbar with a sharp and sudden blow. The worker who dug the original pits had gone no deeper than fifty centimeters and needed at least a meter to reach the thick subsoil.

I gave the job to Olivera. Since there was no mud here to splash his pants on, I expected him to find the work to his liking.

And indeed it was. He looked at the pits for a long time, shaking his head at their incomplete circular shape, then took off his jacket and hung it from the thorns of the nearest bocaya. For a moment he looked at the Paraná, and after greeting it with an "Oh, wild Paraná!", he drew the mouth of the pit.

It started at eight in the morning. At eleven o'clock my husband's beating continued unabated. Whether it stemmed from anger at the poorly executed original work or a desire to conquer the blue-black slabs that spewed shards as sharp as bottle chips, the truth is that I've never seen such an insistence on throwing your heart into every stroke. The whole mesette resounded with muffled blows, since the rod hit at a depth of one meter.

From time to time I went up to see his work, but the man no longer spoke. Every now and then he looked at Paraná, but now seriously, and then went back into the hole.

At siesta time I thought she wouldn't go on in the infernal sun. No such thing: at two o'clock he reached his pit, hung his jacket and hat on the palm thorn, and went back to work.

I didn't feel well after lunch that day. At that time, apart from the sudden buzz of the wasp on the terrace and the monotonous, quivering landscape drowning in light, it is not normal to hear anything at all. But now the mesette resounded faintly, blow after blow. Because of the obvious depression I was in, this reverberation made me sick. Every line on the bar seemed stronger to me. I even thought I heard the man poop! as he bent down. The beats were very intense. but from one to the other an era passed. And each new blow was stronger than the last.

"Here he comes," I said to myself. "Now now… This will flare up stronger than the others…."

And the blow would indeed sound terrible, as if it were the last of a mighty workman casting his tools into hell.

But the anxiety would return immediately:

"This is getting even stronger. . . It will land right now. . ."

And of course it did.

Maybe I had a bit of a fever. At four o'clock I couldn't take it anymore and went into the pit.

"Why don't you take a break for a while, Olivera?" I told him. "You're going to go crazy with this. . ."

The man raised his head and looked at me with a long, ironic look.'

So? . . . Don't you want me to do something in your pits?'

And he continued to look at me, the crowbar resting between his hands like a rifle.

I came from there and, as always, when I felt weak, I took my knife and went into the forest.

After an hour I was back, fit again. I walked back through the brush behind the house while Olivera finished cleaning her hole with a metal putty knife. A minute later he came looking for me in the dining room.

I did not know what my husband would say to me after the work he had done that terrible day. But he took a firm stand towards me, and all he said, showing his palms with somewhat disparaging pride, was:

"Here's to your boogers. . . . That's how a job gets done! . . ."

And wiping his sweat as he sat across from me and stretched his legs over a chair, he concluded:

"Damn stone! . . . It ended up like soft wood . . ."


This was the first phase of my relationship with the strangest worker I ever had in Misiones. He was with me for three months. Regarding pay, he was very strict. he always wanted his accounts settled at the end of the week. On Sundays he went to town, dressed in a way that I could envy - it didn't take much. He made the rounding of all the bowls,[2]but he never drank anything. He stayed in a bolisi for two hours, listening to the talk of the other workers, and went from group to group for changes in vitality. he listened to everything with a quiet smile, but never spoke. Then go to another boliche, later to another, and so on until the evening. On Mondays he always came home at dawn and rubbed his hands from the moment he saw me.

We also did some work together. For example, the clearing of the large banana grove, which took us a full six days, when it should have only taken three. It was the hardest work I ever did in my life – and maybe he did too – because of the heat that summer. The air at siesta time in a banana grove almost as dirty as a henhouse, in a sandy cave where the earth burns your feet through your boots, is a great test of a man's resistance to the heat. Above, by the house, palm fronds were torn, driven mad by the north wind—a furnace wind, if you will, but one that cools by making sweat evaporate. But working down in the cave where we were, among the grass six feet high, in an atmosphere oppressively closed and glossy with nitrates, bent double to swing our knives close to the ground—that you must have good will, I bear .

Olivera stood every now and then with his hands on his hips—shirt and pants completely soaked—and dried the handle of his machete, pleased with himself for the promise the river gave him down in the valley:

"Oh, what a bath I shall have! . . . Ah, Parana!"


Once that cleaning job was done, my husband and I had the only problem he gave me.

For the last four months we have had a very good maid at home. Anyone who has lived in Misiones or Chubut, or anywhere else in the forest or open country, will understand how happy we were to have a girl like this.

Her name was Cirila. He was the thirteenth child of a laborer from Paraguay, a devout Catholic from his youth, who by the age of sixty had learned to read and write. He never missed a funeral procession and always led the prayers along the way.

The girl enjoyed our complete trust. Beyond that, we've never seen her show weakness towards Olivera, as if Sunday was a very handsome young man. She slept in the shed, half of which was her room. in the other half I had my laboratory.

One day, however, I had seen Olivera leaning on her hoe and following the girl with her eyes as she went to the well to fetch water, and I happened to pass by.

"You have a good peon there. . . " he said to me, parting his lips. "Nice girl! And the girl isn't ugly either. . ."

And with these words he continued to cut, satisfied.

One evening we had to get Cirila up at eleven o'clock. She immediately came out of her room, in her clothes – as all these girls are asleep of course – but also with a lot of powder on her face.

What did the powder devil need to make the girl sleep? We couldn't find the reason, except to assume an overnight fling.

But very late one night I got up to chase away one of the many hungry dogs that in those days tore through the wire fence with their teeth to get inside. As I passed the laboratory I heard a noise and at the same time a shadow came running out of the shed towards the gate.

I had many tools, a constant temptation for peonies. And what was worse, that night I had my revolver in my hand, for I confess that seeing three or four holes in the fence every morning had at last put me out of sorts.

I ran to the gate, but the man was already rushing down the slope to the road, dragged by the stones he kicked as he fled. I could not see his form. I fired all five shots, the first perhaps with not very good intention, but the rest in the air. That's what I remember very clearly: the desperate acceleration of his run every time I shot.

That was the end. But something had caught my attention: the fact that the night thief was wearing shoes, judging by the rolling stones he was dragging with him. And there are few workers up there who wear boots or high boots, except on Sundays.

The next morning, at dawn, our maid had a completely guilty look on her face. I was on the terrace when Olivera arrived. He opened the gate and came whistling alternately at the Paranas and the Mandarins as if he had never noticed them before.

I gave him the satisfaction of letting me speak first.

"Look, Olivera," I told him. “If you are so interested in my tools, you can ask me for them during the day, instead of coming to collect them at night. . ."

The battle hit its mark. My husband looked at me with wide eyes and one hand grasped the pearl case.

"Oh no!" he snapped, shaking his head in denial. "You know I don't steal from you. Oh no! You can't say that!"

"But the fact is," I insisted, "that you were inside the shed last night."

"Good! ... And if you see me anywhere ... you, there's quite a man ... you know for sure I'm not thinking of robbing you!"

And shook the gazebo and murmured:


"Okay, let's leave it at that," I concluded. “But I don't want any kind of visit at night. Do what you want at home, but not here.'

Olivera stood there a moment longer, shaking her head. Then he shrugged his shoulders and went to get the cart, since we were doing earthworks then.

Not five minutes had passed when he called me. He was sitting on the arms of the loaded wagon, and as I approached him he struck the ground with a heavy fist, half gravely:

"And how will you prove that I came to see the girl? Let's see!"

"I have nothing to prove," I told him. "What I do know is if you hadn't run so fast last night you wouldn't be laughing so much right now instead of falling asleep in the pram."

I'm gone; but Olivera had already regained her good spirits.

"Ah, that's for sure!" he exclaimed with a burst of laughter and got up to work. "To hell with the boss! . . . Pim! Pam! Pam! . . . ¡Barbaridade de rólver! . . ."

And walked away with the loaded cart, he added:

"You're such a guy!"

To finish this story: that afternoon, Olivera stopped by me on her way out.

"And then you . . . ", he winked at me: "For you, I tell you, who is Olivera's good boss . . . With Cyrilla . . . Go straight out! . . . She is really beautiful!"

The guy wasn't selfish, as you can see.

But Cirila was not safe at home until now. Also, there is no case of a maid ever being trusted. On some whim, for no reason at all, they want to leave one fine day. It is a great and irresistible desire. As one old lady said, "They took it as a need to pee. It's impossible to wait."

Our girl is gone too. but the next day she did not plan it as she would have liked - because that very night she was bitten by a snake.

The snake had been born from a reptile whose shell I had found between two trunks in the banana grove right by the house when I arrived there four years earlier. This yarará, or viper, must have just passed through, for I have never run into it. but more often than I cared to see specimens of the progeny it left nearby, in the form of seven small snakes, which I killed at home, all under circumstances not reassuring.

The killing continued for three consecutive summers. The first year they were thirty-five centimeters long. the third reached the seventy. Judging by her skin, the mother must have been a fine specimen.

The maid who often went to San Ignacio had one day seen the snake lying on the path. Very fat, he said with a tiny nod.

Two days later, my fox terrier, who was hunting a wild partridge in the same locality, was bitten in the mouth. In seventeen minutes she was dead.

The night of Cirila's accident, I was in San Ignacio, where I used to go from time to time. Olivera quickly came forward to tell me that a snake had bitten Cirila. We rode home and I found the girl sitting on the dining-room steps, wailing and clutching her injured leg.

At home they had tied her ankle and tried to inject permanganate right after. But it is not easy to estimate the resistance to the penetration of a needle, which is offered by a heel turned into stone by edema. I examined the bite, at the base of the Achilles tendon, expecting to see the two classic small canines very close together. But the two punctures, from which two thin streams of blood still flowed, were four centimeters apart – two fingers apart. So the snake must have been huge.

Cyrilla ran her hands from her leg to her head and said she felt very sick. I did everything I could: enlargement of the wound, pressure, thorough stroking with permanganate and strong doses of alcohol.

At that time I had no serum. but in two cases of snake-bite I had treated the patient with excessive doses of rum, and had great faith in its effect.

We put the girl to bed and Olivera took over the alcohol. In half an hour the leg was already a misshapen sob, and Cirila—I like to think she was not displeased with the treatment—was beside herself with pain and drunkenness. He continued to scream incessantly:

"Bite me! . . . Black snake! Cursed snake! . . . Hello! . . . I'm not well . . . Snake bite me! . . . I'm out of my mind with this bite!"

Olivera, on her feet with her hands in her pockets, watched the sick girl and nodded her approval to everything. Now and then he turned to me and murmured:

"And brutality! . . ."

The next day, at five in the morning, Cirila was out of danger, although the swelling remained. From dawn Olivera stood before the gate, eager to report our victory to any and all who passed by:

"The boss ... has something to see! He's a man all right! ... Plenty of rum and pirganato! Teach yourself a lesson."

What worried me now was the snake as my children often crossed the same road.

After lunch I went to look for it. His nest - so to speak - consisted of a cavity surrounded by stones, in which grew spartan grass of medium height. It was never burned.

If it was easy to find the snake by looking closely, it was even easier to step on it. And two centimeter long fangs are no fun, even if you're wearing power boots.

In terms of the heat and the north wind, that siesta time was as bad as it gets. I got to the right place, and picking the esparto clumps one by one with my machete, I began to look for the creature. All you can see below, between one clump of esparto and another, is some dark and dry land. Nothing else. Another step, another inspection with the knife and another piece of very hard ground. And then slowly.

But the state of a person's nerves, when he is sure that he will find the prey at any moment, should not be taken seriously. Every step brought me closer to that moment, for I had no doubt that the creature lived there. and in this sun no yararci was ready to come out and appear.

Suddenly, as I parted the Spartan grass, and right at the tip of my boots, I saw it. Against a dark background, no bigger than a plate, I watched it pass just as it touched me.

Now there is nothing more, forever longer in life, than a farm of eighty snakes passing by—in pieces, we shall say, since all I could see was what the space opened by the knife allowed.

But in terms of pleasure, a nice experience. It was a yararacusú, the most impressive specimen I have ever seen - and this variety is undoubtedly the most beautiful of the yararás, which in turn is the most beautiful of all snakes, except corals. Its body, jet black but a velvety black, is surrounded by broad diamond stripes of gold. black and gold; of course. And also the most poisonous of all yaarras.

My snake passed, passed and more. When he stopped, I could still see the tip of his tail. I looked in the likely direction of his head and found it at my side, raised and calmly looking at me. He had hunched over and was now motionless, watching for any change in my posture.

Of course the snake didn't want to fight, because they never do to humans. But I did, and very strongly. So I went down with the knife, intending only to dislocate his spine, to save the specimen.

The stroke was level with the blade, and not easy at all. The result? As if nothing had happened. The creature convulsed violently in a kind of terror that sent it half a meter away and resumed its motionless and awake position, though now with its head higher. Looking at me, how hard you can probably guess.

In open country this duel amused me for a while longer. but deep in that background, by no means. So I hit the machete a second time, this time downward, and went for the cervical vertebrae. With the speed of lightning, the yararacusú twisted around its head, stood up with a corkscrew, flashed its pearly white belly, and fell back again, slowly unrolled, dead.

I took it home. it was four feet eighty-five centimeters long, and all that. Olivera recognized the species immediately, although it is rare south of Misiones.

"Ah ah! . . . Yararacusu! . . . that's what I thought . . . In Foz-do-Iguaçu I killed a bunch of them! . . . A beautiful devil! . . . For my collection, something you want like, boss!"

As for the patient, she went more or less after four days. I am inclined to attribute the happy outcome of the case to her being bitten in a spot not very rich in blood-vessels, and by a snake which, two days before, had partly emptied its glands in the fox-terrier. Still, I was a bit surprised when I got the venom out of the creature: from each fang it secreted 21 more drops, almost two grams of venom.

Olivera did not show the slightest displeasure at the girl's departure. He just watched her walk across the meadow with her little bundle of clothes, still limping.

"She's a good girl," he said, pointing at her with his chin. "One day I want to marry her."

"Good for you," I told him.

"What if I do? . . . You don't have to go through the pim! pam! with your revolver now."

Despite the help Olivera gave to some of her penniless companions, my worker was not in great favor with them. One day I sent him into town to get a barrel, a job that requires at least a horse, if not a cart. When this was pointed out to him, Olivera just shrugged and walked away. The shop I sent him to was a league from home, and he had to pass through the ruins of the Jesuits. Before he left the town, they saw Olivera pass by on his way back with the barrel: in the sides he had driven two nails, and to them he had added a double wire, which was to serve as a cart-axle. He dragged the barrel along the ground and pulled it without a care in the world.

Such a design, and walking when you have a horse, brings disgrace to a worker.


At the end of February, I gave Olivera the task of completely clearing the forest where I had planted yerba mate. A few days after it began, I visited a stonecutter, a German citizen from Frankfurt, with a cancerous complexion and as slow to speak as to take his eyes off something. He asked me for mercury to discover buried treasure.

The operation was very simple: in the supposed place, a hole was dug in the ground and the mercury was placed at the bottom, wrapped in a handkerchief. Then you filled the hole. On top, on the surface of the earth, you placed a piece of gold – in this case, the mason's watch chain.

If there really was a treasure buried there, the power of the treasure attracted the gold, which was then consumed by the mercury. Without mercury you couldn't do anything.

I handed him the mercury and the man left, though it took an effort to tear his gaze from mine.

In Misiones and throughout the northern region previously occupied by the Jesuits, it is plausible to believe that the fathers, before their flight, buried coins and other things of value. Rare is the resident of the area who has not at least once tried to dig a treasure, a burial, as they say up there. Often there are specific clues: a pile of stones in a place where the ground is not rocky. an old bundle of lapacho, in an unusual attitude. a sandstone column abandoned in the forest and so on.

Olivera, coming from the clearing to get a folder for his knife, witnessed the incident. He listened with his little smile and said nothing. Just as he was returning to the yerba field, he turned his head to say to me:

"The mad German . . . The treasure is here! Here with the pulse!' And he squeezed his wrist.

Because of this, few people were more surprised than I was the night Olivera burst into the lab to invite me out into the woods.

"Tonight," he said in a low voice, "I'm going to dig myself a burial. . . . I found one of them."

I was busy with it, I can't remember. However, I was very interested to know what mysterious twist of fortune had turned a skeptic of this stature into a believer in funerals. But I didn't really know my Olivera. He looked at me smiling, wide-eyed, with the almost seductive light of a visionary, showing me in his own way the affection he felt for me:

"Shh! . . . For both of us. . . It's a white rock over there in the yerba field. . . We share it."

What could I do with a guy like that? The treasure didn't attract me, but what did was the pottery he could find, a fairly common occurrence. So I wished him luck and only asked that if he found a nice vase, he would bring it back to me unbroken. He asked for my Collins and I gave it to him. And on that note he went.

However, the opportunity to go for a walk was very attractive to me, as a moon at Misiones piercing the darkness of the forest is the most beautiful sight to be seen. I was also tired of my task so I decided to join him for a while.

Olivera's construction site was about a kilometer from the house, in the southern corner of the forest. We walked side by side, I whistling, he silent - though with his lips pressed against the treetops as he used to.

When we reached his work area, Olivera stopped and gave an ear.

The Yerba field—as we passed suddenly from the darkness of the forest into the glade flooded with galvanic light—gave the feeling of a gloomy plateau. Freshly felled logs turned black above the ground from the harsh slanted light. The small yerba plants, darkly shadowed in the foreground, and velvety ash on the open plain, stood still and glistened with dew.

"Now. . . ", Olivera told me, "I will continue alone".

The only thing that seemed to worry him was the possibility of some noise. For the rest, he obviously wanted to be alone. With a "See you tomorrow, boss" he stomped into the yerba field, so for a long time I watched him jump over the felled trees.

I returned and lowered the trail. After a sultry summer day, when only six hours earlier you had photophobia from the blinding light and felt the pillow warmer in your sides than under your head - at ten o'clock that day, all glories are small compared to the coolness of a night in Misiones.

And that night was especially wonderful, on a path through very tall, almost virgin forest. All along the path, and as far as the eye could see, the ground was sloped with beams of frozen whiteness, so light that where it was dark the ground seemed to fall into a black abyss. Above, on the sides of the path, above the gloomy architecture of the forest, long triangles of light descended, clashing with tree trunks and rolling down in silver drops. The tall and mysterious forest had a wonderful depth as it was plagued by the slanting light, like a Gothic cathedral. In this deep environment broke forth from time to time, like the chimes, the convulsive howl of the night.

I continued walking for a while longer and slowly decided to go home. Meanwhile, Olivera must have been scratching the rocks. "Let him be happy," I told myself.

Well, that's the last I've seen of Olivera. He didn't show up the next morning, or the next, or ever again. I have heard no more of him. I asked the city. No one had seen him and no one knew what had happened to my worker. I wrote to Foz-do-Iguaçu with the same result.

And even more: As I said, Olivera was as strict as she could be about money. I owed him his week's wages. If he had been seized with a sudden desire to change his abode that night, he would never have done so without first settling his account.

But what happened to him? What treasure could he have found? Why did he leave no trace in Puerto Viejo, Itacurubi, La Balsa or anywhere else where he could have taken a boat?

I don't know yet, and I don't think I ever will. But three years ago I had a very unpleasant experience, in the same yerba field that Olivera never finished clearing.

The surprise is this: Since I had left the property for a full year, for reasons not related here, the brush growth had smothered the young yerba plants. A workman I sent there came back to tell me that for the agreed price he was not willing to do anything, much less what they usually do: it was almost as if the boss himself knew nothing about a machete.

I raised the price as justice demanded, and my workers left. It was a group of two; one cut the trees and the other cut the branches. For three days the south wind wearied me with the incessant and melancholy blows of the axe, redoubled by the echo of the forest. There was no respite, not even at noon. Maybe they changed. If not, the ax wielder's hands and kidneys were extremely strong.

But when the third day was over, the knife worker, the one I had traded with earlier, came to ask me to evaluate the clearing they had done, because he didn't want to work with his partner anymore.

"Why?" I asked him confused.

I couldn't get a clear answer. but in the end he told me that his partner did not work alone.

Then I understood, and remembered a legend about it: he was yoked to the devil. That's why he never got tired.

I made no objection and went to assess the project. As soon as I had seen his infernal partner, I recognized him. He often came by the house on horseback, and I always admired the elegance of his uniforms—and his horse—considering he was just a worker. He was also very handsome, with the greasy, straight hair of a Southerner. He always rode his horse on a ride and would never look at me as he passed.

But now I saw him up close. Since he was working in his shirt, I had no trouble realizing that wonders could be done with the body of an athlete like this, with the strength of a fellow athlete who was sober, serious and well-trained. The long hair and shaved neck, the defiant pace of the horse and the rest - all disappeared there in the forest, in the presence of the sweaty youth with the childish smile.

Such was man - in his natural environment - who worked with the devil.

He put on his shirt and I looked at the job with him. Since he then single-handedly wanted to complete the clearing of the yerba field, we covered it in its entirety. The sun had just set and it was very cold: the thermometer drops with the afternoon in Misiones. At the southwestern edge of the forest adjacent to the open country, we lingered a bit, as I wasn't sure how much trouble it was worth to clear the acre or so where almost all the yerba plants had died.

I looked at the bulk of the tree trunks and higher up their branches. Then up there, on the last fork of a censer, I saw something very strange: two long, black objects. Kind of like an oriole's nest. They stood out very well against the sky.

"Also that? . . ." I pointed out to the young man.

He looked up for a moment, then ran his eyes down the trunk.

"Boots," he told me.

I felt a shock and immediately remembered Olivera. Boots? . . . Yes. They were hanging upside down, feet up and caught with their feet in the fork of the tree. At the lower end, where the boot legs were open, the man was missing. that is all.

I don't know what color they might have been in daylight. but at that time, seen from the depths of the forest, and standing motionless against the lively sky, they were black.

We spent quite some time looking at the tree, top to bottom and bottom to top.

"Can he climb?" I asked my husband again.

It was a long time ago.

"Impossible..." replied the worker.

However, there was a moment when it was possible, and that was when the man stepped up. Because it cannot be accepted that the boots were up there for no reason. The logical—well, the only logical—explanation is that a man wearing boots went up to look around, to get a beehive or whatever. Without realizing it, he put his feet very well on the fork. and suddenly, for some unknown reason, he fell backwards and hit his neck on the trunk of the tree. The man either died instantly or recovered later, but without the strength to pull himself up onto the fork and free his boots. Eventually - after longer than you might imagine - he ended up hanging, completely dead. Then the man rotted and slowly the boots deflated until they were completely hollow.

And there they still hung, close, frozen, as I was in the winter twilight.

We did not find the slightest trace of the man at the foot of the tree. this is obvious.

But if we had, I don't think it could have been part of my old craftsman. He was no climber, and especially at night. So who was it that went up?

I do not know. But sometimes here in Buenos Aires, when at the beginning of a day with the north wind I feel my fingers itching for the machete, I think that one day, unexpectedly, I will meet Olivera. that I will meet him, here in the city, and that he will put his hand on my shoulder smiling:

"Hey old boss! . . . We did a good job, you and I, up there in Misiones!'

To note

also in minuses

Like any border region, the province of Misiones - located between Brazil to the east and Paraguay to the west - is rich in characters that are very picturesque. And those born with spins on them, like billiard balls, tend to be impressive. They usually hit the cushions and take off in the most unexpected directions. To say: Juan Brown, who, having gone there only a few hours to see the ruins of the Jesuits, remained twenty-five years. Dr. Else, who led the distillation of oranges, mistaking her daughter for a rat. I nail the chemist who went out like a light, too full of soda. and so many others who, thanks to their spin, reacted in the most unpredictable ways.

In the heroic days of logging and yerba mate, Upper Paraná served as the setting for several colorful characters, two or three of whom were still around to meet thirty years later.

At their head is a bandit so indifferent to human life that he would test his Winchesters on any passerby. He was from Corrientes in the south, and the speech and customs of his province were part of his flesh. His name was Sidney Fitz-Patrick, and he was more learned than an Oxford graduate.

To the same period belongs Pedrito, the crew chief, whose gangs of gentle Indians bought their first trousers in the lumber camps. No one had ever heard a word of the Christian language from this leader with the not-so-Indian face, until the day when the leader, standing beside a man whistling an aria from La Traviata, paid attention for a moment, and then said in perfect Castilian:

"La Traviata. . . I attended its premiere in Montevideo in 1859. . ."

Of course, not even in the gold or rubber regions are there too many of these romantically colorful types. But in the first outposts of civilization north of Iguazu, some not so sad actors played their part - when the camps of loggers and comrades in Guaira were fed by huge barges, towed for months and months against an infernal current, crashing into arms under the weight of damaged goods, broken oxen, mules, and men who, on their part, pulled like galley slaves and sometimes returned alone on ten bamboo poles, leaving the vessel in the vast silence of The Wilderness.

Among these first contract workers was the black João Pedro, one of the characters of the time who lives to this day.

João Pedro had come out of the forest at noon one day with his trousers rolled up to his knees and the rank of general, leading eight or ten Brazilians in the same ragged condition as their commander.

In those days—as now—Brazil, with every revolution, poured into Misiones escaped hordes, whose blades were not always completely obliterated on foreign soil. João Pedro, a humble soldier, owed his rise to generalship to his vast knowledge of the desert. Under these circumstances, and after weeks in the primeval forest, where the fugitives had stung like little mice, the Brazilians blinked their blinded eyes before the Paraná, in whose waters, shining so white that they stung the eyes, the forest finally came to an end.

With no reason to stay together now, the men split up. Joao Pedro came up the Paraná to the logging camps, where he worked for a short time, without much trouble - at least for him. And we emphasize this last detail, because a little later, when João Pedro accompanied a surveyor deep into the jungle, he ended his account of the trip in this way, and in this borderline mixture of Spanish and Portuguese:

“Then we had a conflict. . . And of the two of us only one returned." (After we had had an abomination... From both of them a solo returned.)

For several years afterward, he tended a stranger's cattle in the Sierra pastures for the sole purpose of obtaining free salt to bait traps and attract jaguars. The owner finally noticed that his heifers were dying of disease by design in locations strategically suitable for jaguar hunting, and he had harsh words for his caretaker. João Pedro did not respond at that time. but the next day the settlers found the stranger on the trail, terribly wounded with knives, as if he had been beaten like a yerba with the stick.

And this time our man's comment was short:

"Forget that I was a man like him . . . And I equaled the Frenchman."

The breeder was Italian. but it made no difference, since the nationality which João Pedro conferred on him was at that time general for all foreigners.

Years later, and without the remotest motive to explain his change of location, we find the ex-general on his way to a ranch from Iberá, whose owner was famous for his strange way of paying peons who demanded their wages.

João Pedro offered his services, which the rancher accepted on these terms:

"You, nigger, for your kinky hair, I'll pay two pesos and cake sugar for a mate. Don't forget to pick up at the end of the month."

Joao Pedro went and looked at him over his shoulder. and when he went to collect his wages at the end of the month, the owner of the farm said to him;

"Stretch out your hand, old woman, and hold fast."

And opened the drawer on the table, threw him his revolver.

João Pedro started running with his boss behind him and shooting until he managed to sink into a pool of rotten water, where he slipped under the weeds and the floating islands, managed to reach a hill of clay that rose as a cone at its center.

In cover behind him, the Brazilian waited, watching his boss with one eye.

"Don't move, dark one," shouted the other, who was out of ammo.

João Pedro did not move, because behind him Iberá gushed into infinity. And when he poked his nose out again, he saw his master galloping back, holding his Winchester just above his sight.

Then began a tedious task for the Brazilian: his assailant went back and forth to get a good shot at the black man, who at the same time circled the embankment and avoided the fire.

"Here's your pay, monkey," shouted the rancher at a gallop. And the top of the hill was blown to pieces.

The moment came when João Pedro could stay no longer, and in time he threw himself back into the infested water, spreading his lips to the surface full of mosquitoes and floating islands, so that he could breathe. The farm, his horse now walking, circled the lake looking for the black man. Then he finally pulled back, whistling softly with the reins loose over the horse's mane.

In the middle of the night the Brazilian reached the lake shore, swollen and trembling, and left the ranch, apparently not very satisfied with his master's payment, having stopped in the woods to talk with other fugitive peons, as he was. owed two pesos and sugar for the attendant. These workers led an almost independent life, in the forest by day and on the street by night.

But not being able to forget their former boss, they decided to cast lots among themselves for the collection of their wages, and this mission fell to João Pedro, who again set out for the ranch, riding a mule.

Providentially - as neither of them avoided the meeting - the worker and his master came together, the rancher with a revolver at his hip, João Pedro with a pistol at his waist.

They both stopped their bases at twenty yards.

"Alright, darkness," the boss said. "Are you coming to get your pay? I'll pay you right away."

"I'm here to get rid of you," replied João Pedro. "Shoot first and don't miss."

"Okay, monkey. So keep your swings . . ."



"Ready," said the black man, drawing his gun.

The farm took aim, but the shot missed. And this time only one of the two men returned.


Another colorful fellow who lived to this day was also Brazilian, as were almost all the early settlers of Misiones. He was always known as Tirafogo, and no other name he might have had was ever known to anyone, not even the police—on whose threshold, by the way, he never had the good fortune to step.

This detail is worth mentioning because even after consuming more alcohol than three young toughs can handle, Tirafogo, drunk or sober, always managed to avoid the hands of the law.

The parties caused by caña – the local rum – with foodies in Upper Paraná are no laughing matter. A woodcutter's knife, given life with a flick of the wrist of a sealed worker, can split a boar's skull to the bud of its spinal cord. and once, facing a counter, we saw such a knife, with such a stroke left, crush a man's forearm like a stick, having cut cleanly, in its flight, through the steel of a rat-trap hanging from the ceiling.

If Tirafogo was sometimes a player in such pranks, or in other more trivial ones, the police were unaware of it. In his old age, this fact made him laugh when he remembered it for some reason:

"I've never been to the police station!"

The most important of all his activities was the mullet tamer. In the early days it was common for mules to be deliberately led to the logging camps and Tirafogo went with them. At that time there were no open places to break them, but the clear areas on the banks of the river, and the Tirafogo mules would soon seek the trees and fall into them, or fall into ravines with their rider below. His ribs had been broken and mended countless times, but for this reason the tamer did not bear the slightest grudge against the mules.

"Nevertheless," he said, "I like fighting with them!" (¡Eu gosto mesmo de lidiar con elas!)

His characteristic trait was optimism. He always found opportunities to show his satisfaction at having lived so long. One of his vanities, which we recalled with amusement, was his position among the veteran settlers of the region.

"I'm old!" he exclaimed, laughing, stretching his neck out uncontrollably. "An old time!"

During the planting season, he could be recognized from a distance by his habits when it came to cassava. In the heat of summer, and sometimes down in depressions where not a breath of wind can come, this work is usually done in the early morning and late afternoon hours. From eleven to two, the lonely landscape is scorched in a fiery vapor.

Those were the times a barefoot Tirafogo chose for cassava. He took off his shirt, rolled up his trousers above his knees and—with no protection but his hat, with its shadow and cigarette stub—bent and dutifully chopped his cassava, his back glistening with sweat and reflecting the sunlight.

By the time the peons went back to work, taking advantage of the now breathable atmosphere, Tirafogo had already finished his. He picked up his pickaxe, took a cigarette out of his hat, and went out to smoke and indulge himself.

"I love turning weeds in the sun!" he would say. (¡Eu gosto de goner os yuyos pes arriba ao sol!)


When I arrived, we met a very old and thin black man who had difficulty walking and always greeted people with a shaky "Good morning, boss" and humbly took off his hat to everyone.

It was João Pedro.

He lived in a cabin—the smallest and most miserable of the kind you could see, even in a logging area—on the edge of some land below the flood line and owned by someone else. Every spring he planted some rice—which he lost every summer—and planted the few mangroves he needed to survive, which he needed all year to tend while he dragged his old legs.

That would give him his power.

At that moment, Tirafogo was no longer looking for the neighbors. And while he still took the occasional order for leather straps, which took him months to deliver, he no longer boasted of being an old-timer in an area now completely transformed.

The customs, the population and the appearance of the country itself were so far from the reality of a dream than the first virgin days, when there was no limit to the size of the clearings, and these were created by and for everyone. , within the framework of the cooperative system. Unknown in those days were money, the Agricultural Act and gates with padlocks and breeches instead of the usual baggy bomas. From Pequirí to Paraná, it was all Brazil and the mother tongue, used even with the "French" in Posadas.

Now the country was different. new, strange and difficult. Both antiguos, Tirafogo and João Pedro, were now too old to feel part of him.

The former had reached eighty and João Pedro was even older.

João's stiff joints and the chill of Tirafogo – whose first cloudy day would cause him to burn his hands and knees from the fire – finally, in the hostile environment, made them remember the sweet warmth of the homeland.

"Look," said João Pedro to his countryman, both shielding themselves from the smoke with their hands: "We are far from our homeland, seu Tirá . . . And one of these days we shall die."

"That's right," Tirafogo agreed, nodding in turn. "We will die, seu João . . . and away from home."

Now they often called to each other and drank the mate in silence, speechless with this late thirst for the fatherland. Some memory, usually insignificant, rose now and then to the lips of one or the other, awakened by the warmth of the hearth.

“We had two cows at home. . . Joao said very slowly. “And I even played with my father's puppies. . ."

"Of course, seu João . . . Tirah confirmed, keeping her eyes - where an almost childlike tenderness smiled - on the fire.

"And I remember everything. . . And mother. . . My mother when she was little. . ."

Thus passed the afternoons, the two hopelessly estranged in shiny new Misiones.

To make matters even stranger, the labor movement began in those days in a region that retains only two doctrines from the Jesuit past: the enslavement of labor for the natives; and the inviolability of the boss. There were peon strikes waiting for the boycott as if he were a Posada figure, and demonstrations led by a Bolihero[1]on horseback with the red flag, while the illiterates sang the "Internationale," and crowded round one of their numbers, that they might read the text, which he held up for them to see. There were arrests for reasons other than rum, even for the death of a sahib.

As one of the natives, João Pedro understood even less of all this than the bolichero in the red cloth. and numbed by the cold of an autumn already set in, he strolled to the banks of the Parana.

Tirafogo had also nodded his head at the new events. And influenced by these, and by the cold air, which drove away the smoke of their fire, the two exiles felt at last the memories of their home assume a clearer form—memories that came to their minds with the ease and transparency of children.

Yes, their distant homeland, forgotten for eighty years. And how never, never. . .

“Seu Tira!” said Joao Pedro suddenly, the tears flowing freely down his old cheeks. "I will not die without seeing my native land! . . . It is a long time since I have lived. . ."

To which Tirafogo replied:

"Just now I was planning to propose to you . . . Just now, seu João Pedro . . . I saw our house in ashes . . . and I took care of myself from the spotted chicken . . ."

And with a pout as wet as his countryman's tears he stammered:

"I want to go there! ... Our homeland is there, seu João Pedro! ... Old Tirafogo's mother ...."

That way the trip became a certainty. And never in any crusade was there greater faith and enthusiasm than the two almost senile exiles, on their way home.

Preparations were scanty, for meager was both what they left behind and what they could take with them.

They really had no plan but to go on tenaciously, a little blind and radiant from within, like sleepwalkers and thus day by day moved closer and closer to the motherland they longed for. Their childhood memories occupied their minds to the exclusion of the dangers of the moment. And as they went, and especially when they encamped at night, they produced recollections which seemed to be sweet new facts, judging by the tremor in their voices.

"I never told you, seu Tirdá . . . Once my little brother was very ill!'

Or also by the fire and with a smile that had already come to his lips a long time ago:

"I once left my father's partner . . . And beat me, seu João!"

They went thus, overcome with soreness and weariness—for the central row of the Misiones does not favor the passage of the banished elders. Their instinct and knowledge of the forest gave them sustenance and the route to follow through the less rugged paths.

Soon, however, they were forced into the great bush, a season of rain had set in—by ​​the heavy downpours that mist the forest between showers and turn the paths into rushing red mossy water.

Though under the virgin foliage, however severe the deluge, the water never overflows the bed of humus, the wretchedness and dampness which prevails in no way promotes the well-being of those who walk it. Then came a morning when the two old exiles, weakened by consumption and fever, could not stand on their feet.

From the summit where they were, and with the first ray of sunlight breaking through the fog very late that day, Tirafogo, who had a little more life than his companion, raised his eyes and recognized their pine home lands. Far down in the valley, through the tall conifers, he saw an old clearing, the green of which was bathed in light among the dark pea trees.

“Seu João!” he muttered, barely supporting himself on his fists. "That is our homeland, you can see there! We have arrived, seu João Pedro!"

Hearing this, João Pedro opened his eyes and fixed them in space for a long time.

"I am already there, my countryman. . . ," he said.

Tirafogo never took his eyes off the clearing.

"I saw our homeland . . . there it is," he murmured.

"I have arrived," insisted the dying man. "You have seen our homeland . . . And I am already there."

"The truth is ... seu João Pedro," said Tirafogo, "the truth is that you are going to die ... You never arrived!"

João Pedro did not answer this time. He had finally come.

For a long time Tirafogo lay face down on the wet ground, now and then moving his lips. At last he opened his eyes, and his features suddenly widened into an expression of childlike joy:

"I'm here, mother! . . . João Pedro was right . . . I'm going with him! . . ." (I have arrived, mother! . . . João Pedro was right . . . I am coming with him! . . .)


Van Houten

One hot day at siesta time, a hundred yards from his cabin, I found him close to a guabirobe he had just finished.

"You see," he said to me, running his wet forearm across his still wetter face, "that I made the canoe. The wood is aged timmbó and can carry a hundred arrobas—more than a metric ton. Not like this one of yours, which barely hold up under you. Now I want to enjoy myself."

"When Don Luis wants to have fun," added Paolo, changing his choice of spade, "you must let him. Stop working for me? but I get paid for what I do and I do well alone."

And he continued to shovel the rubble from the quarry, naked from the waist up, like his comrade Van-Houten.

Paolo was a man with arms and shoulders like a monkey, whose only concern was never to work under anyone's orders, not even during the day. He delivered so many per meter paving slabs and that was where his duties and privileges ended. He bragged about it at every opportunity, to the point where he seemed to have adapted his moral code of life to this independence in his work. And he had a strange habit—when he returned from town on Saturday evenings, alone and on foot as usual—of counting aloud his earnings on the road.

Van-Houten, his companion, was a Belgian of Flemish descent, sometimes called What's-left-of-Van-Houten, as he lacked an eye, an ear, and three fingers on his right hand. His entire empty eye socket was burned blue by explosion dust. Otherwise he was a short and very strong man, with a red beard. His burning hair fell in perpetually sweaty tufts over a very narrow forehead. His shoulders drooped alternately as he walked, and above all he was very ugly, in the manner of Verlaine, whose native land he almost shared, for Van Houten was born in Charleroi.[1]

His Flemish parentage showed in his phlegmatic ability to tolerate misfortune. All he wanted to do was shrug and spit. He was also the most unselfish man in the world, not worrying at all about paying back the money he had borrowed or that a sudden swelling of the Paraná might sweep away his few cows. He wanted to spit and that was it. He had only one close friend, and they only saw him on Saturday evenings, when they rode together in town. For twenty-four hours straight they made the rounds of the bowls, one by one, drunk and inseparable. On Sunday evening, their respective horses drove them home as usual - and there the friendship ended. The rest of the week they never saw each other.

I was always curious to know what had happened to Van-Houten's eye and fingers. That day at siesta time, after sneaking him into his own territory with questions about quarrying, blasting, and explosives, I got what I craved and it is as follows:

"The one to blame for everything was a Brazilian who made me lose my head from his powder. My brother didn't believe in this dust, but I did and it cost me an eye. I didn't think it would cost me something, because I had already escaped alive twice before.

"The first time was at Posadas. I had just arrived and my brother had been there for five years. We had a partner, a heavy smoker from Milan, with a cap and a cane that he never parted with. When he went down on work, he put the cane into his coat. When he wasn't drunk, he was a tough man in the pit.

“We agreed to dig a well, not so much one meter as now, but for the whole well until it gives water. We had to dig until we hit it.

"We were the first to use dynamite on the job. In Posadas there is nothing but hard shale. wherever you scratch, a meter appears under the slab. There's plenty here, too, once you get through the ruins. It's harder than iron and causes the handle to jump up to the nose.

"We were eight meters down that well when, one afternoon, after placing a load on the bottom, my brother lit the fuse and crawled out of the well. My brother had been working alone that afternoon, because the guy from Milan was running around drunk with his hat and cane, and I was sitting in my cot shaking.

"At sunset, freezing to death, I went to see how the work was going, and then my brother started shouting at the guy from Milan who had climbed the stone fence and cut himself on the shards of glass embedded in the top. As I approached me well, I slipped on the pile of rubble there, and just managed to catch myself on the edge of the hole. but one of my leather work shoes, which I wore without socks or laces, slipped from my foot and fell in the well. My brother didn't see me and I went down to get the shoe. You know how, don't you? With your feet apart on two walls of the shaft and your hands holding them. If it had been easier I would have seen it punched out blast hole and the stone dust next to it. But I could see nothing but a bright circle above and below some sparks of light on the edges of the stones. You can find many things at the bottom of a well, including crickets falling from the top and all that moisture you like, but air to breathe that you never find.

"Well, if I hadn't had my nose blocked by a fever, I would have smelled the security immediately. And when I got to the bottom and smelled it—the rotten smell of dust—I knew for sure that between my legs I had a loaded and ignited charge of dynamite.

"Above appeared my brother's head, calling to me. And the more he cried, the more his head shrank, and the well stretched and stretched, till his entrance was a dot in the sky—for I had chills and fever.

“Whenever the load should blow, I would sit on top of it, clinging to the stone wall, and just as likely I would fly to pieces as far as the mouth of the shaft. My brother kept shouting louder and louder until he sounded like a woman. But I wasn't strong enough to crawl out in a hurry, and I fell to the floor, flattened like a crow's head. My brother realized what was happening after he stopped yelling.

“Well, the five seconds I waited for the charge to finally detonate felt like five or six years with their months, weeks, days and minutes one after the other.

"Brew? Nah, I had too much to do with my mind on the fuse burning to the last... Afraid, no. It was a matter of waiting, that was all. waiting every moment. now . . ." now... now.... With this I had enough to keep me busy.

"At last the charge disappeared. Dynamite works downwards. even the hired hands know this. But the broken stone flies up, and after I had sailed into the wall and fell on my face, with a train whistle in both ears, I heard the stones fall back to the bottom. Only a rather large one hit me—here on the calf, in a soft spot. And besides, the jolt in my ribs, the putrid gases from the charge, and above all my head, swollen with bangs and whistles, prevented me from feeling very shower of stones. I never saw a miracle, much less next to a charge of dynamite. But I got out alive. My brother immediately got off, I managed to crawl on trembling knees, and we immediately set off for to get drunk for two days straight.

“It was the first time I escaped. The other was also in a well I had made an agreement to dig. I was at the bottom clearing the debris from a charge that had gone down the previous evening. From above, my assistant was collecting and dropping the crushed rock. He was a guayno – a young Paraguayan – thin and yellow as a skeleton. The whites of his eyes were almost blue and he hardly ever spoke. Every third day he had chills.

"After cleaning, I attached the hoe and spade to the line above the bucket, and the young man pulled up the tool—which, I think, I said, was held by a hitch, not a real knot. That's how you always do it, and there's no worry about them slipping out, as long as the trigger isn't a bully like my worker.

"What happened is that when the bucket reached the top, instead of grabbing the line over the tools to pull them clean, the poor devil grabbed the bucket. The pull came loose and the boy only had time to grab the shovel.

"Fine. Listen to the size of the well: back then it was fourteen meters deep and only a meter or twenty wide. There's no fun in this hard shale when it comes to spending extra time making wide depressions, and moreover, as the narrower the well, the easier it is to climb up and down the walls.

“So the well was like the barrel of a shotgun and I was under one end looking up when I saw the handle coming from the other.

"Nah! Once the guy from Milan lost his legs and sent me a stone of twenty kilos. But the well was still shallow and I saw it go straight down. I saw the choice too, but it fell in a twisting, wall-to-wall - crashed, and it was easier to see yourself already inside, with twelve centimeters of steel in the skull, than to guess where it would fall.

“At first I began to avoid it, my open face fixed on the choice. Then I saw at once that it was useless, and I clung to the wall, as if dead, very still and stretched, as if I were already a corpse, while the handle fell like a madman doing somersaults, and the stones fell like rain. .

"Well, it hit one last time an inch from my head, and bounced off the other wall. and there he landed in a corner, on the floor of the well. Then I climbed out, without a grudge against the guaino, who, yellower than ever, had gone backwards with my hand on my stomach. I was not angry with the worm, as I felt very lucky to come out of the well alive, like a worm, with my head full of sand. That afternoon and the next morning I did not work, as I spent a full hour with the guy from Milan.

"It was the second time I escaped death, both in a well. The third time was out in the open, in a quarry like this, and the sun was so hot it cracked the earth.

"This time I wasn't so lucky. . . Nah! I'm hard to kill. The Brazilian—I told you to begin with his fault—had never tried his powder. This is what I saw after the experiment. But he was a hell talk, and in the grocery store he told me his stories without pause, while I tried the new rum. He never drank. He knew a lot of chemistry and a lot of other things. but he was a quack who became fully conscious. He had invented himself this new powder - he named it after a letter of the alphabet - and ended up making my head swim with his speeches.

"My brother told me, 'These are all just words. What he wants to do is make money off you.' And I replied, "He won't get a penny from me." Then," added my brother, "you two will fly into the air if you use this powder."

“That's what he told me because he believed it, and he even repeated it as he watched us load the blast hole.

"As I told you, there was a burning sun, and the quarry burned our feet. My brother and another strange company were spread out under a tree, awaiting the event. but the Brazilian and I paid no attention, as we were both convinced, that we would succeed. When we finished loading the charge, I began to reduce it. Here we use earth from clay mounds to that, earth that is very dry. So on my knees I began to beat the tambourine while the Brazilian who was standing next to me, mopping the forehead, and the others waited.

“Well, on the third or fourth blow my hand felt the shock of the charge, but I felt nothing else because I fell unconscious two meters away.

“When I arrived, I couldn't touch a finger, but I could hear. And from what they told me, I realized that I was still next to the blast hole and my face was nothing but blood and torn flesh. And I heard one of them say, "As for this guy, he's gone to the other side."

"Nah! . . . I'm tough. For two months I was between losing and not losing my eye, and at last they took it out. And I came out fine, as you see. I never saw the Brazilian again, for he crossed the river that night. He was not hurt at all. The whole boom was mine, and he was the one who had invented the powder.

"Well, you see," he finally concluded, standing up and wiping his brow, "it's no old way they're going to finish Van Houten. But oh well. . . !" (with a final shrug): “Anyway, not much is lost if you go to the grave. . ."

And spat.


One dark autumn night, in my canoe, I went down a Paraná so exhausted that even in the channel the clear and weak water seemed held back to make it still clearer. The banks extended downstream to the river, and the shores, normally formed by water-cooling forests, now consisted of two broad parallel beaches of sunken and muddy clay, on which it was scarcely possible to walk. The bottom of the shoals, revealed by the darker color of the water there, marked the Paraná with long shadow cones whose tops run steeply into the channel. Sandbanks and small black islands of basalt had appeared where the keels had crossed the deep water without danger a month earlier. The heels and canoes going up the river, which faithfully clung to the shore, scraped their oars on the rocky bottom of the shoals, a full mile into the river.

For a canoe, the exposed reefs pose no danger, even at night. On the other hand, the shallow water hidden in the channel itself can be dangerous, since it is usually the top of steep hills, around which the deep water abyss still descends after seventy meters. If your canoe has run aground on one of these sunken pinnacles, there is no way to get it free. it will spin for hours on its bow or stern or more commonly in the middle.

Owing to the extreme lightness of my canoe, I was hardly liable to such an accident. So I calmly walked down the black water, when my attention was drawn by an unusual flicker of the wind lights, towards Itahú beach.

At such a time in a dark night, the Upper Paraná, its forests and waters, are a single blob of ink where nothing can be seen. The rower takes his bearing from the pulse of the current in the oars. from the greater density of darkness as one approaches the shores. from the changing temperature of the atmosphere, from the eddies and backwaters; in short, from a series of almost indefinite signs.

I therefore went ashore on the beach of Itahú, and headed as far as VanHouten's beach, but by the lights leading there I saw the man himself, stretched out on his back in his cradle, his eye more open and glassy from being. expected.

He was dead. His still dripping shirt and pants and his bulging pants very clearly revealed the cause of his death.

Paolo took credit for the accident and told all the neighbors when they came in. He never changed expression or gesture in his account and constantly faced the dead man as if using him as a witness.

"Oh, you see," he addressed me as he saw me enter. "What did I always tell him? That he should drown in his canoe. There you have him, as tough as he can be. He had been stiff since this morning and still wanted a bottle of rum with him. I told him;

"What I think, Don Luis, is that if you take the rum, you will capsize and go down the river first."

"He answered me:

"Hint, that's something nobody's seen Van-Houten do. . . And if I turn, well, what's the difference?'

“And he spat – you know he always talked like that – and he went to the beach. But I had nothing to do with him, because I work with work. So I said to him:

"I'll see you tomorrow, and leave the rum here."


"As for the rum, I won't leave it behind."

"And giddy he climbed into his canoe.

"Now he's there, harder than this morning. Josesinho and crooked Romualdo brought him a while ago and left him on the beach bloated than a barrel. They found him on the rocks opposite Puerto Chuño. The canoe was at the islet there, and Don Luis fished with their line in ten pools of water'.

"But the accident," I interrupted, "how did it happen?"

"I did not see it. Josesinho did not see it, but he heard Don Luis because he crossed with Romualdo to throw the line to the other side. Don Luis shouted and sang and fought at the same time, and Josesinho realized that he had offended aground and shouted to him not to row in the stern because as soon as he cleared the canoe he would fall back into the water Later Josesinho and Romualdo heard the splash in the river and Don Luis's voice which sounded like he was swallowing water .

"As for swallowing water . . . Look at him, he's got a belt on his groin and now it's empty. But when we laid him down on the beach, he took water like an alligator. I stepped on his stomach and with every step on my foot a loud stream came out of his mouth.

"A brave man of stone, and too hard to die in the holes, he was. It's true he drank too much. I can vouch for that. But I never told him anything, for I worked with him on the work, you know."

I continued my journey. For a long time, from the river shrouded in darkness, I could still see the lighted window shining, so low that it seemed to flash right on the water. Then the distance closed it. But it was a while before I stopped watching Van Houten sprawl out on the beach and turn into a faucet as his partner's foot stepped on him.



In front of the shrine of Don Juan Brown in Misiones rises a tree with a thick trunk and twisted branches that protect the house with its rich foliage. Under this tree, while waiting for daylight to return home, the chemist, Santiago Rivet, died under circumstances strange enough to be worth recounting.

Located on the southern edge of a rainforest that runs from there to the Amazon basin, Misiones provides a refuge for a variety of human types who could reasonably be accused of anything - except being boring. North of Posadas, the most indifferent life comprises two or three little epics of work, or of strong character, if not of blood. Because it's easy to see that the guys who have gone and stranded up there - after their first bleed or in the last flush of their lives - are far from the cowards of civilization.

Although he never achieved the picturesque outlines of a João Pedro, for times had changed and he was a man of different things, Don Juan Brown deserves special mention among the characters who belonged to this world.

Brown was Argentinian and wholly native, despite his great British reserve. He had spent two or three excellent years studying engineering at La Plata. One day – none of us know why – he interrupted his studies and went to Misiones. I think I heard him say that he came to Iviraromí for a few hours just to see the ruins. Later he ordered his bags to be sent to him from Posada to stay two more days. I met him there fifteen years after, and he had not left the place in all that time for an hour. He wasn't that interested in the country. he just stayed there because it clearly wasn't worth doing anything else.

He was still a young man, heavy and very tall, for he weighed 100 kg - about 220 kg. When he galloped his horse - a rare occurrence - it was notorious that you could see the horse sink its spine and don Juan hold him up with his feet on the ground.

In keeping with the seriousness of his demeanor, Don Juan was a man of few words. His broad, clean-shaven face, under the long and sweeping hair, looked more like a revolutionary tribune of 1793. Owing to his corpulence, he had some difficulty in breathing. He always ate dinner at four o'clock in the afternoon, and in the evening he invariably arrived at the bar—regardless of the weather—in step with his heroic pony, being the last of all, again invariably, to leave. We simply called him Don Juan, and he inspired as much respect from the bulk as from his character. Here we have two illustrations of this strange character:

One evening, while playing truco with the then Justice of the Peace, the Justice found himself in a difficult position and attempted to cheat. Don Juan looked at his opponent without saying a word and continued to play. This encouraged the mestizo, and after fortune continued to favor Don Juan, he tried to deceive again. Juan Brown looked at the cards and calmly said to the judge:

"That's the second time you've cheated. deal the cards again."

Excuse me from the half-blood and then another relapse. In the same calm manner, don Juan warned him:

"You keep cheating. deal the cards again."

Another night, during a game of chess, Don Juan's revolver fell to the floor and a shot was fired. Brown raised the revolver without a word, and continued to play, to the noisy remarks of his companions, the last of whom thought he had been struck by the bullet. At the end of the play, it is learned that the one who got the snail on his leg was Don Juan himself.

Brown lived alone in the Tacuara-Mansión (so called because it was actually made of tacuara bamboo, and for another despicable reason). His cook was a Hungarian with a very hard and open look, who seemed to blurt out his words through his teeth. He respected don Juan, who in turn almost never spoke to him.

To complete his character: only many years later, when there was finally a piano in Iviraromí, did we understand that Don Juan was an excellent performer.


The most remarkable thing about Don Juan Brown, however, was the relationship he cultivated with Monsieur Rivet, formally known as Santiago-Guido-Luciano-María Rivet.

Rivet was a perfect ex-husband that Iviraromi had been attracted to since the last great wave of her life. After arriving in the country twenty years ago and later performing brilliantly as technical director of a distillery in Tucuman, he slowly narrowed the scope of his spiritual pursuits until he finally washed up in Iviraromí as a piece of human waste.

Nothing is known of his arrival there. One day in the twilight, as we sat at the door of the bar, we saw him coming out of the woods by the Jesuit ruins in the company of Luisser—a one-armed engineer, poor as well as cheerful, who always said he lacked nothing, though he lacked a arm.

At that time, the optimistic guy was engaged in the distillation of orange leaves, in the most original way you can imagine. Later we will return to this phase of his life.[1]For now, it's safe to say that in these moments of distillation fever, the arrival of an industrial chemist of Rivet's stature really sparked the imagination of the poor one-hander. It was he who told us of Monsieur Rivet, and then one Saturday night introduced him to the bar which the chemist has since graced with his presence.

Sir. Rivet was a very thin little man who, as if on Sunday, combed his hair in two greasy waves, one on either side of his forehead. Amid the beard, always unshaven but never long, his lips were constantly forward in deep contempt for all, and especially for the doctors - the "learned" - of Iviraromi. A closer test of the yerba mate dryers to be discussed at the bar would hardly yield anything of the chemical but despicable spittle and broken sentence fragments:

"Gosh! . . . Doctor. . . They don't know anything. . . Shh! . . . Pig. . ."

In all or almost all respects our man was the exact opposite of the impassable Juan Brown. To say nothing of their relative physicality: for never in any Upper Paraná bolis was a narrower-shouldered person or a more frail slender than Mosiú Rivet. Although we only really appreciated it on Sunday night, when the chemist walked into the bar dressed in a brand new little black suit, suitable for a teenager, which was tight in the back and legs even for him. But Rivet seemed to be proud of it and only wore it on Saturday and Sunday evenings.


The bar we referred to was a small hotel to cool off the tourists who came to Iviraromí in winter to visit the famous Jesuit ruins and who after lunch continued to Iguazú or returned to Posadas. For the rest of the year, the bar belonged to us. It served as the inevitable meeting place for the settlers with some small culture in Iviraromí: seventeen in all. And in this mixture of frontiersmen by the forest, one of the greatest curiosities was the fact that all seventeen of them played good chess. So sometimes their meetings passed in silence between shoulders bent over five or six chessmen, between pairs of characters, half of whom could not finish their names without wiping their hands two or three times.

By midnight the bar was deserted, except for the days when Don Juan had spent all morning and all afternoon leaning on the counters of all the boli in Ibiraromi. Then he was steadfast. Those were bad nights for the bartender because Brown had the soundest head in the area. Stuck at the drinks counter, he watched the hours pass one after the other, without moving or listening to the bartender, as if to make Don Juan go out every few minutes to predict the rain.

With Mr Rivet proving he could also hold his drink, the former chemist and the former engineer soon began meeting for frequent drinking sessions. Let it not be thought, however, that this common purpose and the common purpose of their lives had created the least trace of friendship between them. Don Juan completely ignored his companion after a "good evening" that was more suggested than spoken. And Rivet, on the other hand, did not hold back, for Juan Brown's sake, the contempt he felt for the doctors of Iviraromi, among whom he naturally included Don Juan. They spent the night together and alone, and sometimes continued all morning until the first police opened the doors. but without even looking at each other.

These strange sessions became more common around midwinter when Rivet's partner began making orange alcohol under the guidance of the chemist. As soon as this business was over with the disaster we describe in another story, Rivet went to the bar every night in his fine little black suit. And since Don Juan was at one of his worst at the time, both had opportunities to stage fantastic encounters until they reached the last of them, which was also decisive.


For the above reasons, and for the obvious profit he made from it, the bar owner stayed up all night doing nothing but tending the glasses of the two drinkers and refilling the spirit lamp. And you can be sure it was cold on those raw June nights. As a result, the bolichero gave up one night, and, entrusting the remaining demijohn rum to Juan Brown's integrity, went to bed. Needless to say, it was only Brown who took responsibility for the double spend.

So Don Juan and Monsieur Rivet were left alone at one o'clock in the morning, Brown in his usual place, stony and passive as ever, and the chemist walking excitedly with sweat on his brow—while there was freezing frost outside. tide over.

For two hours there were no surprises. but when he hit three, the damizuni dried up. They both noticed, and for a long time don Juan's bulging and lifeless eyes were fixed on the space before him. Finally, half-turning, he looked at the empty damijun, then resumed his position behind him. Another hour passed and again he turned to look at the pot. He finally grabbed it and held it upside down over the metal counter. Nothing: not a drop.

A bipolar attack can be reversed in any way you want, except by stopping the drug abruptly. From time to time, and at the very doors of the bar, the raucous crowing of a rooster split the air, causing Brown to hiss and Rivet to break the rhythm of his pace. Finally, the rooster led the chemist into a series of woolly grins at the doctor. At first don Juan did not notice his rambling talk. but confronted with the constant "Hogwash . . . they don't know anything . . ." of the former chemist, turned his heavy eyes upon him and said:

"And what do you know;"

Rivet, on a spit and drooling, then started the same kind of aggression against Don Juan, who stubbornly followed him with his eyes. Finally he looked away and snorted:

"Damn Frenchman . . ."

But their situation was becoming unbearable. Juan Brown's gaze, which had been fixed on the lamp for a while, finally fell sideways on his companion:

"You who know everything, industrialist . . . Can carbonated alcohol be drunk?'

Alcohol! The simple word smothered Rivet's annoyance like a breath of fire. He looked at the lamp and stammered:

"Charred? . . . Shh! . . . Pigs. . . Gasolines. . . Pyridines. . . Shh! . . . You can drink it."

That was enough. The drinkers lit a candle, poured the alcohol into the damizuni through its own stinking funnel, and both came back to life.

Carbonated alcohol is not a drink for humans. When the damijun had been drained to its last drop, Don Juan for the first time in his life lost his unacceptable temper and fell - fell like an elephant in his chair. Rivet was sweating to the tips of his hair and could not tear himself free from the rail of the pool table.

"Let's go," Don Juan said, pulling on the resistant rivet. Brown managed to buck his horse and lift the apothecary onto the crossing, and at four o'clock in the morning they left the bar, in step with Brown's colt, who was able to trot with 100 pounds in the saddle, and therefore could easily walk with a load of 140.

The night, here very cold and clear, must have already been shrouded in mist in the basin of the mountain streams. Yes, as soon as they saw the Yabebirí Valley, they could see the mist – which had been along the river since earlier that day – rising over the edge of the mountain range and unraveling into pieces. Farther down, the warm woods must have already been white with steaming mist.

What happened was this: the travelers suddenly fell over the bottom when they should have already been at Tacuara-Mansión. The tired horse resisted leaving the place. Don Juan changed direction, and a little later they had the forest in front of them again.

"We are lost," thought Don Juan, his teeth chattering in spite of himself, for though the closing mist prevented freezing, the cold was no less bitter. He took a different direction, this time trusting his horse. Underneath his astrakhan jacket, Brown could see he was in a freezing sweat. The chemist, most seriously injured, jumped behind him, completely unconscious.

The brush made them stop again. With this, Don Juan decided that he had done everything to reach his home. So where he was, he tied his horse to the first tree and lay down at its foot, stretching the nineteen beside him. Visibly shriveled, the apothecary had drawn his knees to his chest and was shaking incessantly. It filled no more than a child, and a thin one at that. Don Juan looked at him for a moment and with a slight shrug took out the saddle blanket that had been thrown over him and used it to cover Rivet. What happened, he stretched out on his back on the frozen grass.

When he arrived, the sun was already very high. And there was his house, only ten meters away.

What had happened was very simple: they had not lost their way for a single moment the night before. The horse had stopped the first time – and every time – at the large tree in front of Tacuara-Mansión, which the lamp's fog and alcohol had prevented its owner from seeing. The seemingly endless marches and counterattacks had been reduced to mere rings around the familiar tree.

Anyway, they had just been discovered by Don Juan's Hungarian. Between the two they carried Mr. Rivet to the cabin, in the same cool attitude as the child in which he had died. As for Juan Brown, he lay sleepless for a long time—and in spite of the warm water levels—obstinately calculating, looking at his cedar partition, the number of boards that would be needed for his partner's coffin.

And the next morning the neighboring ladies on the stone road at Yabebirí heard far off and then saw the old little cart with stout wheels go by—quickly followed by the one-armed man—in which the dead apothecary bore his remains.


Unfortunately, despite his enormous endurance, Don Juan did not leave Tacuara-Mansión for ten days. However, he did not spare a visitor who went to find out what had happened, under the pretense of comforting Don Juan and singing hallelujah to the distinguished chemist who had died.

Don Juan let him speak without interrupting him. Finally, in the face of the renewed praise of the intellectual who had just died in exile in the wild regions, Don Juan shrugged:

"Unfortunate gringo. . . ," he muttered, looking the other way.

And that was all there was to the tribute of Monsieur Rivet.


The darkroom

One rainy night in the bar by the ruins we learned that our justice of the peace on a trip to Buenos Aires had fallen victim to a confidence game and returned very ill.

Both news surprised us, for no one more skeptical than our reviewer had ever set foot in Misiones, and we had never taken his asthma seriously, nor his frequent toothache, which he treated with brandy mouthwash, which he never spat out. Should I cheat on him? we should see it.

In the story of the pint of sparkling wine drunk by Don Juan Brown and his companion Rivet, I have already mentioned the incident at the table, and the part of the justice of the peace in it.

The name of this minister was Malaquias Sotelo. He was a stiff Indian with a very short neck, whose neck seemed to resist straightening his head. He had a strong jaw and a forehead so low that his hair, short and stiff as thread, grew in a blue line two fingers' width above his bushy eyebrows. Underneath were two sunken little eyes that peered out with eternal suspicion, especially when his asthma choked them with anxiety. Then his eyes darted from side to side with the suffocating grip of a trapped animal, and it was a pleasure to avoid looking at him on such occasions.

In addition to this manifestation of his inherent soul, he was a companion who was unable to waste a dime on anything, and very powerful.

Since he was a boy, he has been a policeman in Corrientes province. The wave of anxiety blowing like a north wind over the fortunes of those living in the border areas made him abruptly quit that job to take the post of doorman at the superior court in Posada. There he sat at the entrance and taught himself to read from La Nación and La Prensa. Not everyone was able to guess the ambitions of this quiet little Indian, and a decade later we find him at the head of the Justice of the Peace in Iviraromí.

He had a lot of shrewdly acquired erudition, much more than he showed, and recently bought Cesare Cantú's multivolume World History. But we only learned that later, because of the secrecy with which he hid his ambition to become a "doctor" from the scorn it would surely bring.

On horseback (no one ever saw him walk two streets) he was the best-dressed fellow in town. But in his but he always walked around barefoot and read into the evening by the side of the road in a rocking chair, wearing leather moccasins of his own making, without socks. He had some leather tools and dreamed of getting a cobbler sewing machine.

My acquaintance with the judge dates from when I had just arrived in the district, and he came to my shop one afternoon to ask me—at the end of the ceremonial visit—if I knew of a process more rapid than tannin, and less burning than bichromate, for tanning carpincho leather (his moccasins).

Deep down, the man didn't really like me, or at least didn't trust me. And this, I suppose, came from a banquet at which the aristocrats of the district—yerba planters, public officials, and policheros—celebrated a national festival, soon after my arrival, in the square among the ruins of the Jesuits, which they attended and surrounded by thousands of poor devils and excited children—a banquet which I did not attend, but observed very closely, in the company of a one-eyed carpenter, who had put out his eye one black night by sneezing on a barbed-wire fence, with much drink he and a Brazilian hunter, a old and withdrawn animal of the forest, who, after looking askance at my bicycle for three months straight, had ended up muttering in Portuguese:

"A horse made of wood . . ."

My indiscreet company, and the business clothes which I used to wear and did not take off on holidays—especially this last fact—were doubtless the cause of suspicion which the justice of the peace could never throw upon me.

He had recently married Elena Pilsudski, a young Pole who had been his partner for eight years and who sewed their children's clothes with her husband's dermatologist's thread. She worked like a farmer from dawn to dusk (the judge had a good eye), distrusting all visitors whom she saw with a wild and open eye, not unlike her heifers, who hardly ran faster than their owner when the dawn flew after them, her skirt at the waist and thighs exposed, through the tall and water-soaked esparto grass.

There was one more person in the family, though only here and there, who graced Iviraromy with his presence: Don Estanislao Pilsudski, Sotelo's father-in-law.

This man was a Pole whose stringy beard clung to the corners of his thin face, who always wore new boots and was dressed in a long black caftan-like coat. He smiled constantly and quickly captured the meaning of the humblest who could speak to him. so you could say she was an old fox. During his stay with us he never missed a night at the bar, always arriving with another cane if the weather was good and his umbrella if it rained. He walked around the gaming tables, stopping at each table long enough to please everyone. or standing at the pool table with his hands under his coat behind him, rocking back and forth, approving every shot, whether it was wrong or not. We called him Fine-Heart because that was his usual way of referring to a person's good character.

Of course, the justice of the peace was the first to receive this designation - when Sotelo, a landowner and judge, finally married Elena for the love of their children. But we were all included in the raccoon spills.


Such are the characters involved in the photographic affair which is the subject of this story.

As I said at the beginning, the news of the fraud that befell the judge had not met with the slightest acceptance among us. Sotelo personified suspicion and mistrust. and however provincial he might feel on the Paseo de Julio in Buenos Aires, none of us could see in him the nature susceptible of any kind of deception. Furthermore, we did not know the source of the rumor. it had certainly come out of Posada, as had the news of his return and illness, which was unfortunately true.

I was the first one of us to find out when I came home one morning with the hoe over my shoulder. As I crossed the highway to the new port, a boy bridled his galloping white horse on the bridge to tell me that the justice of the peace had arrived the night before, in one of the steamers that ply Iguazú, and that he had been turned away , because he was very ill. And that he should notify the family to get a carriage to take him home.

"But what about him?" I asked the boy.

"I don't know," he replied. "He can't speak . . . there's something wrong with his breathing . . ."

As sure as I was of Sotelo's minimal benevolence towards me, and that his famous illness was only an ordinary attack of asthma, I decided to go and see him. So I mounted my horse, and in ten minutes I was there.

In the new port of Iviraromí, there is a large new hangar that serves as a yerba warehouse and a dilapidated, disused shack that was once a grocery store and boarding house. It is empty now, and there is nothing in its dark room, but perhaps a musty cart and an old telephone on the floor.

In one of these rooms I found our judge lying on a cot, clothed but without a jacket. He was sitting almost upright, his shirt open and his fake collar unfurled, although he was still bound in the back. He was breathing as an asthmatic breathes during a violent attack, which is not pleasant to see. Seeing me with my head tilted on the pillow, he raised one arm that was shaking awkwardly, then the other, which he brought to his mouth in a jerking gesture. But he didn't have time to say anything to me.

Apart from his features, from his inscrutable delayed eyes and his thin nose, there was something special that caught my attention: his hands, half emerging from the cuffs of his shirt, bruised and without flesh. lively, sticky fingers begin to curl over the sheets.

I looked more closely at him and saw as I clearly realized that the referee's moments were numbered. that he was dying, that at that very moment he was dying of life. Moving at the foot of the crib, I saw him rooting for something in the sheet and, as if he couldn't find it, lower his claws slowly. I saw him open his mouth, gently move his head, and in some astonishment fix his eyes on one side of the ceiling and hold his gaze, now fixed on the metal plate for all eternity.

Death! In the short ten minutes I had left the house whistling to console the mean judge, who was rinsing his mouth with rum between toothaches and asthmatic attacks, and returned with my eyes stoned at the image of a man just waiting for me came to confide to myself the sight of his death.

I suffer intensely from such scenes. Whenever possible, I avoided looking at dead bodies. A dead person to me is something much different than a simple body that just died. It's a foreign thing, a substance that's terribly old, yellow, and inactive, that reminds us terribly of someone we used to know. So you will understand my displeasure at the crude and unjustified still life with which the infidel judge had honored me.

The rest of the morning I stayed at home and listened to galloping horses come and go. As noon approached, I saw a flat wagon drawn by three mules at a good trot, and in it Elena and her father were standing upright and jumping, clinging to the rail.

I still don't know why little Poland didn't come down to see her dead husband sooner. Maybe her father arranged things that way to get it right: the ride down with the widow in the carriage and return in the same vehicle with the dead man rocking back. So it didn't cost that much.

I could say that with certainty, when on the way back Fine-Heart stopped the carriage by me, so that he could come down and speak to me with waving arms:

"Ah, senior! What an accident! We never had a judge like him in Misiones. And he was really a good man! What a lovely heart he had! (¡Lindito corazón tenía!) And they cleaned him. Here at the port. . . . He has no money, nothing."

As his shifting glances avoided looking directly into my eyes, I understood the terrible suspicion of Polak, who declined while we were doing the story of the fraud in Buenos Aires, and believed that it was in the port, before or after his death, that his son-in-law had been stolen

"Ah, senior!" he shook his head. "He had five hundred pesos on him. And what did he spend? Nothing, senior! He had a nice heart! And brings back twenty pesos. How is that possible?"

And now he set his eyes on my boots, lest he should lift them to my trouser pockets, where his son-in-law's money might be. As best I could, I made him see that it was impossible for me to be the thief—simply because there was no time—and the old rascal went off to talk to himself.

The rest of this story is a ten hour long nightmare. The funeral was to take place the same evening as the sun went down. Shortly before, Elena's daughter – her eldest – came to the house to ask me in her mother's name if I would go and photograph the judge. I couldn't shake the image of the man dropping his jaw and staring unceasingly at one side of the ceiling, so I wouldn't doubt that he couldn't move anymore because he was dead. And now I had to see him again, think about him again, focus on him and develop his image in my darkroom.

But how could I deny Elena the portrait of her husband, the only thing she ever wanted from him?

I loaded the camera with two plates and started towards the dead man's house. My one-eyed carpenter had made a coffin, just a straight, untapered box, and the judge lay in it, not half an inch apart at head or feet, with his green arms folded forcibly across his chest.

The casket had to be carried out of the very dark hall of the courthouse and tilted to an almost vertical position in the crowded corridor, where two peons held it aloft. So under the black cloth I had to plunge my over-excited nerves into the gaping mouth, far behind death itself. in the jaw it is pulled back until it leaves a finger-wide space between the upper and lower teeth. in the eyes of the cloudy glass under the eyelashes they look sticky and puffy. in all the distortions of the cruel caricature of a man.

The afternoon was now falling, and the casket was quickly closed. But not without first seeing Elena coming by forcing her children to climb the tapa to kiss their father. The little boy fought back with terrible screams as he was dragged to the floor. The girl kissed her father—though she was pushed and shoved from behind—but with such terror before this terrible thing they wanted her to think of him as her father, that today, if she is still alive, she must remember it with as much fear.

I wasn't going to go to the cemetery, but I did for Elena. The poor little girl walked right behind the carriage with her children, with one hand pulling her boy, who cried all the way, and in the other arm carrying her eight-month-old baby. When it was far away, and the oxen almost ran, she often moved the child from one dog-weary hand to the other, each time immediately rushing courage. On her back, Fairheart ran about among the retinue, complaining to everyone about the robbery she thought had taken place.

The coffin was lowered into the newly dug grave, full of huge ants running up and down the walls. With handfuls of wet earth, the townspeople joined in the digging team's shoveling, and there was even someone charitable enough to place a pile of earth in the hands of the half-orphaned girl. But Elena, shaking her baby in a state of disarray, ran desperately to prevent what might follow:

"No, Elena! Don't throw dirt at your father!"

The sad ceremony ended, but not for me. I let the hours pass without deciding to enter the darkroom. I finally did, around midnight I think. There was nothing out of the ordinary to disturb a normal state when one had calm nerves. I just had to revive the already buried person I could see everywhere. I had to shut myself in with him, the two of us alone in deep concentrated darkness. I felt him slowly come forward before my eyes and half open his black mouth under my wet fingers. I had to flip him back and forth on the counter so he would wake up from the ground and be etched in front of me on this other sensitized plate of my horror.

Still, I'm done. When I went outside, the boundless night gave me the impression of a dawn full of reasons for life and hopes I had forgotten. A few steps away, banana plants were filled with flowers and drops falling to the ground from their huge leaves, heavy with moisture. Farther away, over the bridge, the sunburned cassava finally stood tall, now pearly with dew. Farther still, in the valley that descended to the river, a faint mist enveloped the yerba plantation and rose above the forest to mingle below with the thick vapors rising from the hot Paraná.

All of this was very familiar to me because it was my real life. And I walked here and there calmly, waiting for the light of day, to start this life again.

Orange Distillers

The man appeared at noon one day, no one knew how or from where. He was seen at all the Iviraromi parties, drinking like we'd never seen anyone drink - except Rivet and Juan Brown. He wore baggy Paraguayan army pants, sandals without socks, and a dirty white beret pulled over his eye. Besides drinking, the man did nothing but sing his cane – a gnarled stick without bark – which he held out to all the peonies to make them try to break it. One by one, the workers tried the miracle stick on the stone tiles, and it really took all the hits. Its owner, leaning back on the counter with his legs crossed, smiled contentedly.

The next day, the man was seen at the same time and place with his famous cane. Then he disappeared, until a month later, from the bar, we saw him moving in the twilight among the ruins of the Jesuits in the company of Rivet, the chemist. But this time we found out who it was.

Around 1900, the Paraguayan government employed a fair number of scientists from Europe – among them a few university professors, but far more specialists in business and industry. To organize its hospitals, Paraguay requested the services of Dr. Else, a brilliant young Swedish doctor and biologist, who in this new country found a wide field for his great powers. In five years he gave hospitals and their laboratories a level of organization that so many other professionals could not have achieved in twenty years.

Then his soul becomes numb. The distinguished scholar pays the tropical country the heavy tribute that - like alcohol - consumes the active lives of so many foreigners. and now the collapse is no longer lasting. Fifteen or twenty years nothing is heard of him. Until we finally find him in Misiones, in his baggy military trousers and cocked beret, showing as the sole purpose of his life that one and another has confirmed the endurance of his cane.

This is the man whose presence convinced the manco (the one-armed, Luisser) to realize the dream he had been nurturing for the past months: distilling alcohol from oranges.

manco, whom we have already met - together with Rivet - in another story, had three projects in mind at once to get rich, and one or two for his amusement. He had never had a crown or any personal property, to say nothing of the hand he had lost in Buenos Aires while driving. But with his one good hand, two boiled cassava roots and the soldering iron under the stump, he considered himself the happiest man in the world.

"What do I need?" he said happily, waving his only hand.

His pride, to tell the truth, consisted in a more or less profound knowledge of all arts and crafts, his ascetic sobriety, and two volumes of the Encyclopedia. Apart from this, from his eternal optimism and his soldering iron, he possessed nothing. But, on the contrary, his poor head was a boiling pot of illusions, where industrial inventions found more madness than the cassava roots in his cauldron. As his means did not allow him to aspire to great things, he was always designing small industries for local consumption, otherwise fantastic tricks for raising water, by filtration, from the marsh at Horqueta to his house.

During a period of three years, the one-handed man successively attempted the production of cracked corn, which had always been rare in that place. of tar and iron sand tiles. mandolato made from peanuts and honey from bees. from dry distilled incense resin. of polished rinds of the apepo orange, specimens of which had driven the indentured laborers mad with sweet greed. dye from the lapacho tree, precipitated by potassium chloride. and of essential oil of oranges, a work we found him occupied in his study, when Else appeared on his horizon.

It should be noted that none of the previous industries had made their inventor rich, for the simple reason that they were never created in the right form.

"What do I need?" he repeated contentedly, shaking his tree trunk. "Two hundred pesos. But where shall I get them?"

Of course, due to lack of the meager pesos, his inventions failed to thrive. And everyone knows that it is easier to find an extra hand than a loan of ten pesos in Iviraromí. But man never lost his optimism, and from his difficulties grew new illusions, even crazier, about new industrial projects.

However, the substance orange operation became a reality. It was established in a way as unexpected as Else's appearance, and without having seen the manco running around, yerba mate works more than usual for this purpose. The one-handed man had no mechanical equipment other than five or six basic tools, apart from his soldering iron. Every last part of his machinery came from someone else's house or shed – like the Pelton wheel blades, for which he used all the old ladles and serving spoons in town. He had to run around without pause for a piece of pipe or a rusty sheet of galvanized metal, which he then cut, twisted, twisted and welded together with his one good arm, using his stump and his energetic, self-confident optimism. we that the boiler pump came from the piston of an old toy locomotive, which she managed to win over from the owner of her child by telling him a hundred times how he lost his arm, and that the stagnant plates (of his constant We have not an ordinary refrigerator with a coil, but a large-style one with plates) was born from sheets of pure zinc, from which a naturalist made drums to hold snakes.

But the most ingenious thing about his new plant was the press for extracting orange juice. It consisted of a barrel pierced with three-inch nails that rotated around a horizontal wooden shaft. Into this hedgehog the oranges fell, hit the nails, and disintegrated as they bounced, until at last, turned into a yellow pulp with oil floating on top, they entered the cauldron.

Manco's one good arm was worth half a horse-power to the drum—even in Misione's vertical sun and under the heavy black sailor's breeches that the one-armed man never left, even in summer. But when the ludicrous toy pump required near-constant attention, the distiller enlisted the help of an enthusiast who, from the early days, had whiled away the hours watching the business from a distance, half hidden behind a tree.

The name of this enthusiast was Malaquías Ruvidarte. He was a young man of twenty—a Brazilian and all black—whom we supposed to be a virgin (and he was), and who, having ridden his horse to Corpus one morning to be married, returned three days later in the dead of night , drunk and with two women climbing behind him.

He lived with his grandmother in a very strange building, a complex of apartments made of kerosene boxes, which the black porter kept expanding and changing according to the architectural innovations he noticed in the three or four huts that were built at the time. With each new fashion, Malaquías erected or added a wing to his edifice, but on a much smaller scale—so much so that the corridors of his hut had an opening of fifty centimeters, and through the doors a dog could hardly fit. But in this way the black man fulfilled his artistic ambitions, deaf to the usual jokes.

An artist like him was not the helper for two cassava a day that the manco needed. Malaquias beat the drum for a whole morning without saying a word, but in the afternoon he did not return. And the next morning he sat down again behind the tree and watched.

Let's summarize this phase: Manco took samples of essential oil from sweet and bitter oranges, which he managed to send to Buenos Aires. From here he was informed that his essence could not compete with the equivalent imported product due to the high temperature at which it had been extracted. that it was only after fresh samples obtained under pressure that they could trade with him, considering the defects of the distillation, &c.

manco did not lose heart over this.

"But that's what I said!" he told us happily, grabbing his stump behind his back. "You can't get anything with a direct shot. And what am I going to do without cash?”

Someone else, with more money and less intellectual reach than the one-armed man, would have put out the fires in his still. But as he gazed longingly at his patched-up machine, every working part having been replaced by another, replacement, it suddenly occurred to him that this caustic yellowish sludge flowing from the drum could be used to make orange. liquid. He was not strong in fermentation, but he had overcome greater difficulties in his life. Besides, Rivet wanted to help him.

It was precisely at this moment that Dr. Els appeared in Iviraromí.


As in Rivet's case, the manco was the only person in the area who respected the newcomer. Despite the abyss into which they had both fallen, the devotee of the great Encyclopedia could not forget what the two former men were one day. The many jokes (and how crude they were among the predatory illiterates!) directed at the one-handed man about his two ex-husbands always found him on his feet.

"Rome was their downfall," he answered gravely, shaking his head. "But they know a lot. . ."

Here we must mention an incident that did not promote local respect for the famous doctor.

Shortly after arriving in Iviraromí, a custom had come to the boliche counter to ask him for a cure for his wife who was suffering from something. Listening to him more attentively, the Other turned to the small notebook of brown paper on the counter and began to write a prescription with a terribly rough hand - until the pen broke. Even more heavily, Els burst into laughter and crumpled the sheet, and there was no way to get a word out of him. He just kept repeating:

"I know nothing about it!"

Manco was a little luckier the same day at siesta time, when he went with the doctor to the Horqueta under a white warm sky, when he consulted him about the possibilities of adapting rum yeast to orange puree, how long it might take to acclimatize, and in which minimum share.

"The Rivet is more familiar with this than I am," muttered Else.

"Still," insisted the manco, "I remember well that the original Saccharomyces . . ."

And the good man spoke from his heart.

The Other, with his beret over his nose to block the glare of the sun, answered with short remarks and as if reluctantly. Mancoen concluded from them that he should lose no time in acclimatizing any rum yeast, for he would get nothing but rum, even in one to a hundred thousand. That he must sterilize his mash, add plenty of phosphate and start working with Burgundy yeast, ordered from Buenos Aires. He could acclimatize the yeast if he wanted to take his time, but it wasn't necessary. . .

Mankoen ran beside him, stretching the neck of his underwear in excitement and heat.

"Oh, but I'm happy!" he kept saying. "Now I don't miss anything!"

Poor lack! He lacked just what was necessary to ferment his oranges: eight or ten empty wine barrels, which in those war days were worth more pesos than he could earn in six months of hanging day and night.

But he began spending entire rainy days in the warehouses of the yerba plantations, turning empty gasoline cans into containers for rancid or burnt fat to feed the workers, and running around all the boli looking for the oldest barrels, the ones he no longer serves. in nothing. Later, Rivet and Else - since it was 180-proof alcohol - would definitely help him.

Rivet helped him, all right, as best he could - but the chemist never got around to it. Alone the manco opened, broke open, scraped, and burned one after the other the old wine casks, with half a finger of violet lees in each stave—a trifling task, however, compared with putting the casks back together, which he accomplished with an arm and a quarter at the cost of endless hours of sweat.

The Other had already contributed to the project everything we know these days about fermenters. but when the manco asked him to direct the fermentation process, the former scholar stood up and burst into laughter.

"I know nothing about it!" he said, tucking his cane under his arm. And he wandered aimlessly, fairer, more smug, and dirtier than ever before.

Such walks made up the doctor's life. He was found everywhere on the trails, wearing his sandals without socks and his euphoria. Apart from drinking all the bottles every day, from eleven to four in the afternoon, he did nothing else. He did not even visit the bar and in that respect differed from his colleague Rivet. On the other hand, he was seen on horseback late at night, while he pinched the animal's ears and called it his father and mother with thick bursts of laughter. They bore like this for hours, until at last the rider fell, to laugh without restraint.

Despite this frivolous life, there was still one thing that could pull the ex-husband out of his alcoholic void. We learned that the day Else appeared in town walking hurriedly – ​​to everyone's surprise – and without looking at anyone. That afternoon he waited for his daughter, a teacher in Santo Pipo, who visited her father two or three times a year.

She was a thin little girl dressed in black, with a sickly appearance and a sour look. At least that was our impression as she walked through town with her father on her way to Horqueta. But considering what we have gathered from the reports of the one-armed, this expression on the face of the little teacher was only for us, caused by the degradation into which her father had fallen, and which we were witnessing day by day.

What was later known confirms this hypothesis. The girl was very dark and looked nothing like the Scandinavian doctor. Maybe she wasn't his daughter. At least he never thought so. The way he treats the girl confirms this, and God only knows how the abused and neglected child could manage to get her teacher's degree and still love her father.

Unable to keep him by her side, she traveled to see him wherever he was. And that money, Dr. Ells spent on drink, came from the small teacher's salary.

However, the ex-husband retained a last sense of decency: he did not drink in his daughter's presence. And this sacrifice, on behalf of a little native girl he didn't think was his daughter, reveals more hidden ferments than the poor manco's hyper-scientific reactions.

For four days the doctor on this occasion was nowhere to be seen. But even though he was more drunk than ever when he reappeared in the cabins, we could appreciate his daughter's work in mending all his clothes.

From then on, every time we saw Else fresh and serious going quickly for fat and flour, we all said:

"His daughter should be here very soon."


Meanwhile, the manco, astradel, continued to prey on the well-to-do and on his spare days to scrape and burn barrel staves.

And that was not all: the oranges that ripened very early that year, due to unusually heavy frost, the manco also had to think about the temperature in his still, so that the night cold, still intense that October, did not disturb the fermentation. So he had to line its interior with bundles of unkempt straw, in such a way that the effect resembled a rough and unfriendly brush. He was to install a heater, which had a hearth consisting of a drum of acarid resin and bamboo tubes that wound like thick yellow snakes between the straw bundles along the walls. And he had to hire—shipper and all, for a fee to be paid out of the return of the alcohol to come—the stout cart of the black Malaquias, who thus went to work for the manco again, picking oranges from the forest with his usual weakness and melancholy memory of his two wives.

A normal person would have given up halfway through. But the manco never for a moment lost his gay and sweaty faith.

"We lack nothing more!" he repeated, making his whole arm dance and finally his hopeful trunk. "We're going to make a fortune out of it!"

Once the Bourgogne yeast had acclimatized, the manco and Malaquías continued to fill the barrels. The black man cut the oranges in two with a piece of his knife, and the manco pinched them between his iron fingers, both moving at the same speed and pace, as if hand and knife were attached to the same pole.

Rivet sometimes helped them, though all he did was go frantically from the strainer to the barrels under the guise of a manager. As for the doctor, he had watched these many operations very closely with his hands in his pockets and his cane under his arm. But faced with the call to lend a hand, he had burst into laughter and repeated as always:

"I know a little about these things!"

And he walked up and down the side of the road, stopping at each end of his route to see if anyone was watching.

In those hard days, the distillers did nothing but cut and cut and squeeze and squeeze oranges, under a burning sun and covered in syrupy juice from head to toe. But when the first casks began to become alcoholic, in a fermentation so vigorous that it threw a topaz-colored spray two fingerbreadths above the surface, Dr. Ells against it burned quietly as the manco spread his shirt collar in excitement.

"Now it works!" he said. "What do we need now? A few more pesos and we'll be really rich!"

One by one he removed the cotton stoppers from the casks and inhaled with his nose at each hole the delicious aroma of the growing orange wine, an aroma with a penetrating freshness not found in any other fruit pulp. Then the doctor looked up at the walls—at the yellow hedgehog insulation, at the pipes that ran into the straw and shaded the fumes from the vibrating air—and smiled drowsily for a moment. But since then he has never left the distillery area.

Besides, he stayed there to sleep. Else lived on a farm belonging to a single hand, on the banks of the Orquesta. The national government designates as farms twenty-five hectares of forest or scrubland, which it sells at a price of seventy-five pesos per acre. reason to be paid in six years - so until now we have not mentioned this abundance on the part of the manco .

His farm consisted of a lonely swamp where there was nothing but a small hut separated in a ring of ash and foxes in the bush. Nothing else. Not even door leaves at the entrance to the cabin.

As we said, the doctor moved to the quiet among the ruins, there held the budding bouquet of orange wine. And although his help until then was what we know it to be, he always found Else tending the fire the following nights when the manco woke up to check the heating. The doctor slept little and badly, and spent the night crouched before the box of acacia resin, drinking mate and eating oranges warmed in the embers of the hearth.

The alcoholic transformation of a hundred thousand oranges finally came to an end, and the distillers found themselves with eight bordelaises[1]of a wine that was no doubt very weak, but still strong enough to secure them a hundred liters of alcohol 100, the minimum strength acceptable to the local palate.

manco's ambitions were also local. but a speculative fellow like him, who was already concerned about the location of transformers in the future electric cable line from Iguazú to Buenos Aires, could not forget the purely scientific aspect of his product. So he ran around for a few days getting a few hundred gram vials to send samples to Buenos Aires, then he prepared some samples and lined them up on his work table to be sent that afternoon. When he returned to get them, he did not find them, but found Dr. Ells, sitting by the side of the road with his stick between his hands, extremely pleased with himself and unable to make a single movement.

The adventure was repeated again and again, so often that the poor manco gave up his alcohol analysis forever: the doctor, red-faced, tearful and beaming with euphoria, was all he discovered.

However, this did not make the manco lose his admiration for the former scholar.

"But he drinks it all!" he told us that evening in the bar. "What a man! He leaves me not a single sample!"

Mancoen did not have time to distill as slowly as necessary, but also to get rid of the mud in his product. So his alcohol suffered from the same ailments as his essential oil, the same sickly smell and a similar caustic aftertaste. With Rivet's advice, he turned this weak rum into bitter, using only apepú - and licorice as a foaming agent.

In this final form, the orange alcohol entered the market. As for the chemist and his colleague, they drank it incessantly as it dripped from the stills' casks with all its brain poisons.


One of these scorching afternoons the doctor found himself sprawled on the deserted road to the old port, laughing as the sun beat down directly on him.

"If the little teacher does not come here one of these days," said those of us who knew him, "she will have a hard time finding the place where her father died."

Exactly one week later we heard from the manco that Els' daughter was on the way, recovering from the flu.

"With the rain coming," we continued, "the girl won't fare much better in Horqueta Swamp."

For the first time since he was among us, no Dr. Ells passed quickly and steadily before his daughter's imminent arrival. An hour before the launch he went to the port through the ruins, in the carriage of the porter Malaquías, whose mare, despite his slow pace, panted with exhaustion, her ears bathed in sweat.

The dense and lively sky, as if stood still by gravity, could not bode well after a month and a half of drought. When the launch actually came, it started to rain. The little teacher shivered and stepped out onto the bank of the dripping river in a downpour. she got into the carriage in a downpour, and in a downpour she made the whole journey with her father—so that when they reached Horqueta in the evening, when they could not hear so much as a fox howling in the desert bush, they could actually hear the dull clap from the rain on the cottage's farmyard.

This time the little teacher did not have to go down to the swamp to wash her father's clothes: it rained all night and all the next day, with no relief, but the watery calm of twilight, which came just as the doctor began to saw. strange vermin clinging to the back of his hands.

A man who has already had a dialogue with fate, lying on his back in the sun, may see unexpected creatures when the sustenance of his life is suddenly taken away. Rivet, before he died a year later from his liter of airy lamp spirit, certainly had horrors of this order in his sights. But Rivet had no children. and Els' mistake consisted precisely in the fact that instead of his daughter he saw a monstrous rat.

The first thing he saw was a large - a huge - centipede crawling around the walls. Els sat and stared at the spot, and the centipede disappeared. But when the man looked down, he saw it rising between his knees, its body arched, its belly and deep legs facing him—moving up and up, unstoppable. The doctor held out his hands in front of him and his fingers gripped the hole.

He smiled heavily: illusion. . . nothing but illusion. . .

But there is more logic in the fauna of the delirious tremens than in the smile of an ex-scientist, and they have a habit of persistently crawling up their trouser legs or darting out of the corners of the room.

For many hours, in front of the fire with pumpkin idle in his hands, the doctor knew his condition. Calmly then, he tore and untied more snakes than you can dream of stepping on. And he managed to hear a sweet voice saying:

"Dad, I'm feeling a little sick . . . I'm going out for a minute."

Else still tried to smile - at a beast that had suddenly burst into the middle of the hut and uttered a terrible scream - and then he rose, at last terrified and gasping: he was drunk with the power of the beast.

Out of the darkness countless monsters had now begun to poke their snouts. Things he didn't want to see also fell from the roof. All his sweaty terror was now concentrated on the door, the pointed mouths appearing and disappearing with dizzying speed.

Something like the murderous eyes and teeth of a giant rat lingered for a moment on the door frame, and the doctor, without looking away, seized a heavy log of firewood. the beast, guessing the danger, had already hid.

From the ex-scientist's sides and from behind, climbing things dug into his pants. But the man—his eyes out of their sockets—could see nothing but the door and the deadly muzzles.

For a moment he thought he could hear a fainter but clearer sound among the splashing rain. Then suddenly the monstrous rat appeared at the door, stopped for a moment to look at him, and finally moved towards him. Otherwise, horrified with terror, he hurled the log at the creature with all his might.

With the scream that followed, the doctor snapped to his senses, as if the dizzying tapestry of monsters had been destroyed by the blow and replaced by a more horrific silence. But what lay destroyed at his feet was not the killer rat, but his daughter.

A plunge into icy water, a shudder at the core of his being - none of this is enough to convey the impression of such a spectacle. The father still had some strength to take the child in his arms and put him in the cradle. And sensing, by a single glance at her waist, the irrevocably fatal effect of the blow he had received, the wretched man sank on his knees before his daughter.

His little daughter! Who had been neglected, abused, denied by him! From the depths of his twenties, the love and gratitude he had never expressed to her rose into a burst of shame. Little native girl, his little daughter!

The doctor had now raised his face to the wounded child: there was nothing, nothing at all to hope for in the stricken face.

However, the girl had just opened her eyes and her gaze, empty and already dazed by death, finally spotted her father. Then, forcing a pained smile—with a reproach that only the merciful father could appreciate under the circumstances—he murmured softly:

"What have you done, father! . . ."

The doctor sank his head into the cradle, and the little teacher murmured again, her hand reaching for her father's beret:

"Poor father . . . It's nothing . . . I'm much better now . . . Tomorrow I'll get up and finish everything . . . I'm much better, father . . ."

The rain had stopped and peace now reigned outside. After a moment the doctor felt the sick girl trying in vain to sit up, and when he raised his face he saw his daughter looking at him with wide eyes in sudden revelation;

"I'm going to die, father! . . ."

"My little girl..." he murmured, and nothing more.

The child tried to take deep breaths, again in vain.

"Daddy, I'm dying! Daddy, listen to me . . . for once in your life. Don't drink anymore, Daddy . . . Your little girl . . ."

After a while - almost an eternity - the doctor rose and staggered over to the bench to sit down again - but not without first sweeping a hideous creature from the seat with the back of his hand, for already the monster was spinning in a daze. again.

He still heard a voice from the other world:

"Drink no more, father! . . ."

The former man still had time to drop his hands into his lap, in a breakdown and resignation more depressing than the most frustrated sob he was no longer capable of. And there, next to his daughter's body, Dr. Els saw the muscle beasts reappear at the door and return for one last attack.


The forerunners

"Now, master, I am somewhat learned, and from laughing so much with the great and humble fellows, I know many words about the matter, and can be understood in the conversation of Castile. But those of us who made our little Guaraní, none of the ​​us can ever forget the language completely that you are learning.

“It was back in Guaviró-mi that we started the trade union movement in the yerba mate plantations. That was many years ago, and some of us who were the old guard – that's right, boss! – is gone today. Then none of us knew what it meant – the misery of the wage slave, the demand for rights, the peasant proletariat and so many other things that young people today can recite by heart. It was, as I said, at Guaviró-mi at the gringo Vansuite's (Van Swieten) boliche, which lay on the new road from Puerto Remanso to the city.

“When I think of all this, it seems to me that without the gringo Vansuite we would have done nothing, even though he was a gringo and not a mensú.

“What about you, boss, you want to meddle with the hardships of the peons and give us credit for no good reason? That's what I say.

"Oh, gringo Vansuite he wasn't, but he sure could swing an ax and a machete. He was from Holland, from the Way-Off-Yonder, and in his ten years as a criollo he'd tried ten different trades without have succeeded in any of them. It even looked as if he crumpled them on purpose. He would sweat like the devil at work and then immediately look for something else. He was never employed. He worked hard, but alone and without a boss.

“When he set up the house, the boys we thought he was going after went to pieces, because on the new path you would be lucky to see a cat pass by. He never sold a single piece of cookie-sugar, day or night. It wasn't until the boys started the movement that we got the credit, and within three weeks he didn't have a can of sardines left on his shelves.

"How did it all happen, you say? Relax, boss, I'll tell you right away.

“It started with gringo Vansuite, One-eyed Malaria, Taruch the Turk, Gracian the Spaniard. . . y opama — and that's all. No more, I'm telling you the truth.

"Malaria was called One-Eyed because he had a wonderfully large and somewhat bulging eye that looked straight out. But he was not a true one-eyed man, for he could see with both eyes. He was quiet and hard-working, as only he in week, and a hellraiser like no other when he ran loose on Sundays. He always walked around with a ferret or two in his pocket—irarás, we say in Guaraní—and more than once they had ended up in the custody of the police station.

"Taruch was a dark-skinned Turk, tall and curly as the black lapaço tree. He went about naked and barefoot all the time, although he had two brothers with a bolisi in Guaviro-mi. He was a good-natured gringo and tough as a viper, when he talked about the bosses.

“And then there was the stone man. Old Gracian was a little bearded fellow who wore his white hair all brushed, like a monkey. He also had a face like a monkey. He used to be the best stoner in town, but in those days all he did was walk around the stone with rum, wearing the same white underwear and the same baggy black ripped pants that stuck out his knees. In Vansuite's boliche he listened to everyone without opening his mouth. and then he just said "You win" if he thought the guy talking was right and "You lose" if he thought he was wrong.

“So from these four men, between one rum and the next after dark, the movement came clear as a whistle.

"By and by the word got out among the boys, and first one, then the other, we began to go into the bolice at night, where Mallaria and the Turk shouted at the bosses, and the stone just said 'You win' and 'You lose.'

"I already understood half of it. But the wild characters from Upper Paraná all nodded as if they knew what was going on, and their hands were sweating because they were so terribly rough.

“In this way we boys were excited, and between one who wanted to earn a lot and another who wanted to work a little, we raised about two hundred hands of plantations to celebrate the 1st of May.

"Oh, the wonderful things we did! Now it seems strange to you, chief, that a polichero was the leader of the movement, and that the voices of a half-drunk one-eyed man roused us to our condition. But in those days we were boys full of the first slide of justice - wow, what a frenzy, boss!

"As I said, we celebrated the 1st of May. Since two weeks ago we met every night at the boliche to sing "Internationale".

"Oh, not all of them. Some guys just laughed because they were too shy to sing. And some others even grosser didn't even open their mouths and kept looking to the side.

"Still, we learned the song. And on May 1st, in an in-your-face rain, we left the vansuite's bollard on a march to town.

"Words, you say, boss? Few of us knew them, and we like to pull teeth. The blacksmith Taruch and Malaria had copied them into the artisans' accounts, and those of me who could read pressed three and four against another fellow who kept the accounts.The rest, the true country boys, would scream who knows what.

"That show was a ball, I tell you, like we'll never see another as good. Today we know more about what we want, we've learned to mock the bosses royally and not be cheated. Now we have our demonstrations with secretaries, discipline and guards at the front But that day, crude and stupid as we were, we had the faith and enthusiasm that we will never see again in the hinterland, añamembuí![1]

"That's how it was at the first workers' demonstration in Guaviró-mi. And the rain fell to beat the band. Singing and dripping water, we all followed the gringo Vansuite who advanced on horseback with the red flag.

"The face of the chiefs was something we saw as our first course passed, and the eyes of the bolics watching their fellow Vansuite, stern as a general before us! We went through the town singing all the time, and when we came back to the bolic we were wet and muddy up to the ears from the spill we had taken.

“That night we really sucked the bottle and there we decided to ask a representative from Posadas to organize the movement.

"The next morning we sent Malaria to the yerba plantation where he worked to get our list of demands. A scoundrel like us, we sent him alone. He went with a red scarf around his neck and a ferret in his pocket to beg his managers about an immediate improvement of the entire workforce.

“When One-Eye came back, he told us that the bosses had confronted him on the charge that he was trying to step on them.

"Madonna!" he shouted in Italian. "Ma che foot or what! It's about ideas, not about men!'

"The same evening we announced a boycott against the company.

"Yes, now I have something to learn, although the Guaraní always get in my way. But then, almost none of us knew the terms of filing claims, and several believed that Don Boycott was the representative we expected from Posadas.

“The representative finally came just as the parties had thrown the boys out, and we ate fat and flour from the bowl.

“Surely you would have liked to see the first meetings led by the representative! None of the boys understood almost anything of the most incredible caipira[2]know by heart these days. The coarser thought that what they got through the movement was always getting things on credit from the rich.

“We all listened to the representative's speech with our mouths open. but we didn't say anything. Some brave children came up behind the table and said in a low voice to the sweet one: “Well . . . my brother asked me to ask you. . . to apologize profusely to him why he could not be here. . .'

"Another, when the representative had just called a meeting on the Sabbath, called the man aside and whispered to him in a sweat, 'So . . . shall I come too?'

"Oh, those were good times, boss! The rep was only with us a short time, leaving the gringo Vansuite to handle the traffic. The gringo ordered some more goods from Posada, and we descended like locusts with our wives and children to fill up.

"Things were going great: a walkout on the plantations, the boys living high off the hog through the Vansuite, and joy on everyone's faces because of the workers' rights program introduced by Don Boycott.

"A long time? No boss. Even that took a while. A big plantation owner was blown off his horse by a rifle bullet, and no one ever found out who killed him.

“And with that, my friend, you see the rain fall on the boys' enthusiasm. The city was filled with judges, police inspectors and soldiers. A dozen workers were arrested, another dozen received a horse, and the rest of the boys scattered like a flock of birds in the bush. None of them went to the gringo's bolice anymore. As excited as they were for the May Day demonstration, no one showed up anymore, no matter how bad they were. The companies took advantage of the situation and would not take back any workers who were in the union.

“Little by little, one day, later the other, one of us started going back to the yerba farms. The proletariat, the consciousness of the workers, the claims and the requests - all the work went to the devil Añá together with the first dead boss. Without even looking at the notices on all the doors, we accepted the harsh list of conditions. . . y opama, that was it.

"And how long have we been in this pickle, you say? A while. Although the representative from Posada had returned to fetch us again, and the Federation had its own office in town, we boys felt hunted and ashamed of the move . We worked hard and in even worse condition than before in the yerba fields. Mallaria and Taruch the Turk were in prison in Posada. Of the early regulars, only the old stonecutter went every night to the Federation Hall to say as if he always had "You win" and "You lose."

"Ah! Gringo Vansuite. Now that I remember him: he's the only one of us who built the movement who didn't see it come back to life. During the uproar about the boss being shot, the gringo closed his bolice. No one went there anymore . Besides, he didn't have enough stock to half deliver a hammer. And I'll tell you something else: Lock the cabin doors and windows. All day he was locked in, standing in the middle of the room with a gun in his hand, ready to kill it first person to knock on the door It is said that this is how the gloomy Josecito saw him when he spied him from a crack.

“But it is true that the youths had no desire to go down the new path for anything, and in the sunlight the gringo's bolt looked like a dead man's house.

"And it was true, Chief. One day the children spread the word that they had noticed a bad smell passing Vansuite's cabin.

"The talk has come to town. people thought this, that and the other. and what happened was that the chief of police and the troopers opened the window of the residence, and through it they saw the body of Vanswit in the bed, and it stank very much.

“They said it was at least a week ago that the gringo killed himself with the gun. So instead of killing the caipiras who were going to knock on his door, he killed himself.

"And now, boss, what do you say? I think Vansuite has always been a sort of loco-tabuí, so to speak. He always seemed to be looking for a bargain, and at last thought that the only for him was to fight for men's rights.And that time he made a big mistake.

"And there's something else, I think, boss: Neither Vansuite, Mallaria, nor the Turk ever understood that their union work could lead to the death of a boss. The boys around here didn't kill him, I swear. But the shot came from the movement , and the gringo had set the stage for this madness when he came to our side.

"We boys never even thought we'd find dead bodies where we looked for rights. And when we turned in fear, we fell under the yoke again.

“But gringo Vansuite was no mensú. On the jump, the shock of the movement went to his head, which was something taboo as I told you. He thought he was being chased. . . upama.

"But he was a good gringo and generous. Without him—who was the first to carry the red flag in front of the mensus—we wouldn't have learned what we know today, and your people really wouldn't be able to tell you your story, boss."

To note


The exile and other stories (1)

List of website names

apariciocué. By i region in San Ignacio.

Blosset (strand). I Paraná, dress for San Ignacio.

Buenos Aires. The capital of Argentina, located about 850 kilometers south-southwest of Posadas.

Hunter (oh). It joins the Horqueta southeast of San Ignacio.

Chuck. Argentina province, 300 km west of Posadas.

Chubut. Argentine province in Patagonia, 1,100 kilometers southwest of Buenos Aires.

Body. Town near Paraná, 15 kilometers north of San Ignacio.

Corrientes. Argentine province of Paraná, bordering Misiones to the southwest.

Foz of Iguacu. The Brazilian city of Misiones is located 150 miles (240 km) northeast of Posadas.

Guaraní. Language of the native inhabitants of Ano Parana. it is still widespread in the region and has been written since the time of the Jesuits (1600-1767). The name also refers to the Indians themselves, and to the areas where they live (especially in Paraguay).

In Guaviro. Maybe a great place, but see Iviraromí.

Guaira. Regionen i Brasilien nord for Foz-do-Iguaçu.

Horqueta (current). It flows into Yabebirí a few kilometers south of San Ignacio.

For free. Zone in northeastern Corrientes, southwest of Posadas.

Iguazu (river). It flows into Paraná from the east, just south of Foz-do-Iguaçu. famous for its waterfalls, Iguazu Falls.

Itacurubí (cape and city). In Paraná near San Ignacio.

Itahú (strand). In Paraná near San Ignacio.

Ibirarom. Guaraní name for St. Ignatius.

They plan. By in Paraná near San Ignacio.

La Plata. The capital of the province of Buenos Aires, 100 kilometers southeast of the federal capital.

Mato Grosso. State of Brazil west of Paraná. Its southern border is about 175 kilometers north of Foz-do-Iguaçu.

Missions. The most northeastern province of Argentina, between Brazil and Paraguay.

Montevideo. The capital of Uruguay, on the southern Atlantic Ocean, 200 kilometers east of Buenos Aires.

Ñacaguazú (river). It flows into Paraná from the east, a few kilometers upstream from Corpus.

Paraná (river). Second only to the Amazon in South America, it flows 3,200 kilometers from southeastern Brazil to the mouth of the river bed in Buenos Aires.

Paranáí (river). It enters Paraná from the east, about halfway between Posadas and Foz-do-Iguaçu.

July walk. A street in the center of Buenos Aires.

Pequirí or Piguirí (river). Large river in Brazil, in the state of Paraná. enters Paraná at the southern end of Mato Grosso.

Inns. The capital of the province of Misiones. Population 1980 approx. 110.0

Jägerhavnen. The port is about 10 kilometers north of San Ignacio.

Port Chunio. Port in Paraná near San Ignacio.

Harbor luck. The port is located on the Paraná River, near the mouth of the Ñacaguazú River.

Puerto Remanso. Port of Paraná, probably imaginary.

Old Port. The harbor is northwest of San Ignacio.

Saint Ignatius. Also called Iviraromí. Site of Jesuit ruins, 38 km east-northeast of Posadas. Quiroga's mission home is in its suburbs.

Santo Pipo. Town about 17 kilometers northeast of San Ignacio.

Teyucuare. A cerro (low mountain) with rocky cliffs, in Paraná just southwest of San Ignacio.

Toro (island). In Paraná near the mouth of the Yabebirí.

Tucuman. Argentine province at the foot of the Andes Mountains, 1,000 kilometers west of Posadas.

Yabebirí (river). It flows west-northwest from the interior of Misiones and enters Paraná just southwest of San Ignacio. Quiroga's property was on this stream.

A Quiroga chronology

1878. 31. December. Horacio Quirogas fødsel i Salto, Uruguay, Argentina.

1879. The father's death in a hunting accident.

1879–1893. Residence in Cordoba, Argentina. return to Salto (1883); remarried his mother and moved to Montevideo (1891). Return to Salto (1893);

1896. Suicide of HQ's stepfather, in despair over his ill health.

1897. First publications from HQ, in Salto journals. He later edited the short-lived Revista de Salto (1899-1900).

1900. March–July. A trip to Paris resulted in a travel journal, Diario de viaje a París, first published in 1949. Unlike many Latin American writers, he does not become an ardent literary Francophile. Back in Salto, he establishes a literary society with several friends. In November he wins second prize in a short story competition and has since published regularly in Montevideo.

1901. Publication in Montevideo of his first book, Los arrecifes de coral (Coral reefs), containing poems as well as stories.

1902. Accidentally kills a close friend with a firearm. Acquitted, he decides to travel to Buenos Aires.

1903. Supports himself by teaching as well as by writing. First trip to Misiones, where he discovers the subtropical forest.

1904. Cotton is grown in the Argentine Chaco. Publication in Buenos Aires of his second book, El crimen del otro (The Crime of the Other), short stories.

1905. Visits Corrientes. Later he closes his cotton and returns to Buenos Aires. He writes the important nouvelle "Los persegidos" (The Persecuted), which marks the beginning of his best work. His reputation is growing.

1906. New teaching position. One of his students, Ana María Cires, would later become his first wife. Trip to Misiones in December looking for property to buy. A month later he visits Paraguay.

1908. Publishes a novel, A Troubled Love Story.

1908-1909. November – March. Spring-summer in Misiones, where he now owns land overlooking Paraná.

1909. Married to Anna Maria Cires in December. They settle in San Ignacio, Mission, but return to Buenos Aires for another year.

1911. Birth of daughter, Eglé. Gains government control of San Ignacio and retires as professor. He begins growing yerba mate on a large plot of land he bought near the Yabebirí River.

1912. Birth of a son, Dario.

1914. Experiments with charcoal production and later orange distillation in collaboration with friends.

1915. Ana María commits suicide by taking poison. A week passes before she finally dies, in her twenties.

1916. Back to Buenos Aires.

1917. Publication of HQ's fourth book, Cuentos de amor de locura y de muerte (Tales of Love, Madness and Death); Its success results in another edition next year. His stories become models for a great "native" Latin American fiction to come. He assumes the first of many secondary posts in the Uruguayan diplomatic service.

1918. Publication of Cuentos de la selva para los niños (Jungle Tales for Children), which adults also enjoy and has since been translated into many languages, including English (1922).

1919. Another book of stories, El salvaje (the savage).

1920. Publishes a play Las sacrificadas (Sacrificed Women), based on an early love affair of his own (1898), which he had already described in a story (1912).

1921. His eighth book, Anaconda, short stories.

1924. El desierto (The Wilderness), Tales and Other Writings in Prose.

1925. Passionate love during a stay in Misiones. the girl's family is against it and the romance unfortunately ends. A selection of his stories are published in Spain, and one of the most famous is entitled La gallina degollada (The Headless Chicken).

1926. Los desterrados (The exiles). Many consider this book to be Quiroga's best. Of his eight stories, five are included in this selection.

1927. Marriage to María Elena Bravo, whom he had met as a friend of Eglé's daughter. She was almost thirty years younger than the headquarters.

1928. Birth of a daughter, named Pitoca.

1929. Publishes a novel, Past Love, based on his Missions case

1931. Back to San Ignacio.

1935. Más allá (Gone), his last book of stories.

1936. Returns to Buenos Aires in poor health, and later discovers he has cancer.

1937. February. He kills himself in the hospital by taking cyanide. Ceremonies in honor of the headquarters are held in Salto, Montevideo and Buenos Aires. The long process of collecting his works has begun. Although most of these have been collected and published, no final complete work has yet appeared.

1968. Edition of The Banished: The Life and Work of Horatio Quiroga (Buenos Aires: Losada), by Emir Rodriguez Monegal. This chronology is an adaptation and abridgement of his "Chronological Index" which appears on pages 293-299 of The Banished.

1976. University of Texas Press edition of The Decapitated Chicken and Other Stories, selected and translated by Margaret Sayers Peden. Most of these stories, like those in this collection, take place in the border region where Argentina meets Paraguay and Brazil.

[1]Literally "son of the devil", in Guarani.

[1]Literally "son of the devil", in Guarani.

[1]Literally "son of the devil", in Guarani.

[1]Literally "son of the devil", in Guarani.

[1]Literally "son of the devil", in Guarani.

[1]Literally "son of the devil", in Guarani.

[1]Literally "son of the devil", in Guarani.

[1]Literally "son of the devil", in Guarani.

[1]Literally "son of the devil", in Guarani.

[1]Literally "son of the devil", in Guarani.

[2]"Yokel" in Brazilian Portuguese.

[2]"Yokel" in Brazilian Portuguese.

[2]"Yokel" in Brazilian Portuguese.

[2]"Yokel" in Brazilian Portuguese.

[2]"Yokel" in Brazilian Portuguese.

[3]Over 102°F.

[3]Over 102°F.

[4]About 105.4°F.

[5]Equivalent to 95° F.


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