CHAPTER VI. LIFE ON THE PAMPAS.
There's tempest in yon horned moon,
And lightning in yon cloud;
But hark the music, mariners!
The wind is piping loud.
Saturday, September 16th. - Waking at half-past five, we busied ourselves until nine o'clock, when we again started in a special train for Carcarana. After a short stop at Roldan, it was reached two hours later, and breakfast was followed by a long ride through the Land Company's colony, and from thence to Candelaria, a purely Spanish settlement.
I freely confess that I had hardly believed all the stories they told me last night about the terrible doings of the locusts, and thought they must have been slightly exaggerated. It all seemed too dreadful to be true - as if one of the plagues of Egypt had been revived by the wand of an evil magician. In this somewhat incredulous mood I rashly said that, although I was very sorry to hear of the visit of these destructive creatures, as they were unfortunately here, I should like to see them. My wish was shortly to be gratified; for, in the course of our ride, we saw in the distant sky what looked very much like a heavy purple thunder-cloud, but which the experienced pronounced to be a swarm of locusts. It seemed impossible; but as we proceeded they met us, first singly, and then in gradually increasing numbers, until each step became positively painful, owing to the smart blows we received from them on our heads, faces, and hands. We stopped for a time at Mr. Holt's large estancia, where, notwithstanding the general appearance of prosperity, the traces of the ravages of the locusts were only too visible. On remounting, to proceed on our journey, we found that the cloud had approached much nearer, the effect produced by its varying position being most extraordinary. As the locusts passed between us and the sun they completely obscured the light; a little later, with the sun's rays shining directly on their wings, they looked like a golden cloud, such as one sometimes sees in the transformation scene of a pantomime; and, at a greater distance, when viewed from the top of a slight eminence, they looked like a snow-storm, or a field of snow-white marguerites, which had suddenly taken to themselves wings. When on the ground, with their wings closed, they formed a close mass of little brown specks, completely hiding the ground and crops, both grass and grain. In riding over them, though not a quarter of their number could rise, for want of space in which to spread their wings, they formed such a dense cloud that we could see nothing else, and the horses strongly objected to face them. They got into one's hair and clothes, and gave one the creeps all over. I am sure I shall often dream of them for some time to come, and I have quite made up my mind that I never wish to see another locust as long as I live. I have, however, secured some fine specimens for any one who is curious about them.
The land we passed through appeared to be well farmed. We spoke to several of the colonists, especially to one Italian family, living in a little mud rancho with a tile roof. They were all gathered together to witness the dying agonies of one of their best cows, perishing from the effects of the drought. The rest of the animals in the corral looked, I am sorry to say, thin and miserable, and as if they intended soon to follow their companion's example. The poor people, nevertheless, seemed very cheery and contented, and hospitably gave us each a drink of some remarkably muddy water.
After a thirty-mile ride under a hot sun, fortunately on the easiest of horses, we were none of us sorry to stop for a short time at Carcarana, and obtain some refreshment, before proceeding - horses, carriage, and all - by train to Rosario, another colony on the line. Arrived at the latter place, I thought I had had enough riding for the first day, and therefore visited the various farms and houses in the carriage, the rest of the party going, as before, on horseback. After a round of about fifteen miles, we returned to the station, where we were kindly received by the sister of the station-master. An excellent dinner was provided for us in the refreshment-room, before we entered our special train, and Rosario was reached at about ten o'clock.