A Tropical Island, Part 3
Amongst the men with whom I had intimate business relations on the principal island, was an old fellow named Bruno. Like Arrendondo, he had been a whaler, and relinquished his calling for a similar reason. Bruno was brought up in the Argentine, and there learnt to throw the lasso with the dexterity that is only found among the natives and Gauchos. The latter are a most singular race. They consider it almost degrading to set foot on the ground. Hence their lower limbs are very ill-developed, and inclined to bandyness. Gauchos live in the saddle. They will scour the rolling plains from morn to eve, without showing any signs of fatigue. Out of the saddle, they may be numbered amongst the most indolent of men. They don’t trouble to raise any vegetables or grain crops, and rarely think of milking their cows. Beef is their staple food. Between them and the Indians of the Pampas, a deadly hostility existed in former days. Weird and terrible tales are still told of the merciless deeds enacted. To-day a better feeling is manifest, but even so there is not much love lost on either side.
Undoubtedly the most skilled amateur lasso thrower of my acquaintance is Mr. Cunninghame Graham. Only the top-of-the-ladder men can take down his number. In a duel with the plainsman’s weapon, the average cowboy would stand a poor chance with him. He sits his horse like a centaur, and that is a great asset in lasso-throwing.
Bruno used to charge £2 apiece for lassoing the island horses, and half that amount for catching donkeys. I got him to capture all the animals I wanted, including Fisher’s moke. I shall never forget what occurred when poor Waldimar essayed to ride this bundle of mischief. Up went his heels as high as a kite! He was jolly glad when I decided to relegate the jackass to cargo work! I found my two donkeys very useful in that capacity.
Goats afforded most excellent sport. There were, I should say, 3000 or 4000 of them. Every person over sixteen years of age was entitled to one per week, free. Those under sixteen had to make half a carcass suffice. The goats had all to be shot. No one was allowed to run them down with dogs, and only the Billies were shootable. Arrendondo and his boys did very well out of these pretty animals. Twice a week, on Tuesdays and Fridays, they used to stalk them, charging 2s. for each carcass they obtained. I usually accompanied them on these expeditions, and enjoyed myself immensely.
One way and another I had plenty of gunning. When I wasn’t after goats I took a turn with the blue Rocks. My big Ulm dog, Czar, always looked forward to these jaunts, and took his place in my ﬂat-bottomed boat with an air of importance that was most amusing.
Czar was a fine old boy. He retrieved beautifully. Harry Crangle, in his day the fastest sprinter in England, gave him to me, under circumstances that are worth relating. His uncle, John Madden, owned a big estate midway between Valparaiso and Santiago. To replenish his stock, obtain bulls, rams, and so forth, he periodically visited the Old Country. Frequently these visits coincided with Harry’s appearance on the running track, and then, if his nephew felt fit and well, the old man used to put the stuff down to some order. When, however, Harry didn’t seem up to the mark, then Uncle John let him run loose. Altogether, Madden made a pot of money out of Crangle. But, unlike some avunculars, he was not ungrateful. For after awhile he sent for Harry, and told him he would see him right if he would join him in the New World. He was, moreover, as good as his word, for when the Pacific Steam Navigation Co. fixed up their quinquennial contract for live and dead meat, the old boy used his influence to secure it for his nephew. The backing he gave him—2000 cattle worth £10 apiece—doubtless affected the result. No better fellow could have got the job; for Harry was a white man all through, and a first-class sport.
Czar was originally his yard dog. He gave £50 for him. No watchman was required on the premises, as the following incident will show. One morning Crangle’s head butcher went to the yard to see about twenty-two carcasses that had been deposited there against the departure of the home boat. When he entered the store-house, he saw a sight that made his eyes bulge. On the floor lay a man, dreadfully mauled about the arm and wrist. Alongside him was faithful Czar. The dog was absolutely quiet, but kept one paw on the man’s chest, as if to intimate that he was standing no nonsense. A rope depended from one of the carcasses, so the tableau explained itself.
Crangle’s butcher soon communicated with his master and the police. The thief’s arm was found to be in so bad a way as to necessitate his removal to the hospital. While there, the man confessed to Harry, telling him, in the presence of Col. Sarratea (Chief of Police at Vina del Mar) and the doctor, just what had occurred.
“There were three of us in it,” he said. “We got a ladder and climbed the 20-foot wall that encircles the yard. Then I was let down on a rope. My job was to fix up one of the quarters hanging in the open shed so that my mates could haul it up, and me afterwards. I got down all right, and then I became aware of the dog. He looked a very good-tempered, kind sort, but, to make matters doubly sure, I offered him a mutton bone that we had ‘readied.’ He wasn’t having any, however; so I got on with my job. The dog watched my proceedings in a kind of uninterested manner, and even let me handle the meat, without showing any sign of excitement. But directly I fastened the rope round one of the legs, he sprang on me, and bore me to the floor. Life is sweet, so I drew my long sheath knife to defend myself. But I didn’t have an earthly chance of using it, for the dog seized my arm, and crushed it between his powerful teeth, until the weapon dropped from my grasp. Then he lay down beside me, with his paw on my chest, till the butcher found me next morning.”
From data supplied by the man, we calculated the faithful animal had kept him prisoner 6½ hours!
A fortnight in hospital put the man in fairly straight condition, and then he was placed in the dock. The judge who tried him insisted that Czar should be brought into court. He made much of him, and said if it had been possible he would certainly have awarded him a gold medal, and a handsome douceur. The injured man gave the names of his two accomplices, in consideration of which he got let off with three years’ hard labour, whereas they each had to do five.
This experience quite put the wind up Mrs. Crangle and her mother, Mrs. Baynham. They couldn’t bear to be reminded of how near Czar had come to killing a man. So Harry passed him on to me, and I found him most valuable.