Adventures in Peru, Chapter 10

An Outer Ringer

Tales of the Turf, Part 2

Previous to being engaged on construction work on the railway, where I was boss over 200 men and responsible for 56 kilos of permanent way, I served as a broker on the Stock Exchange. One has to remain in the Outer Ring a couple of years, to qualify for admittance to the Inner Ring. If, at the end of that period, there is no black mark against you, a place in the Inner Ring is yours, providing you can produce two sureties in £2000, or one in £4000.

I served the best part of twelve months in the Outer Ring. My first two weeks were extraordinarily lucky ones, for I made 1500 dollars (gold, not paper), in commission; but during the next six months I only made sixty! Then a very big job came my way. A Mr. M. H. commissioned me to report on a large farm, six leagues in extent, which he owned in Paraguay, on the banks of the Itapicuru River (called Tippicure by the natives). He wished to sell it, and required a sketch and plan to show to prospective buyers. “Do this,” he said, “and I will give you anything that it realizes over 2500 dollars a league.” As luck would have it, a friend of mine named E. had lived on a farm belonging to his father and the Consul, which ran alongside M.’s; he was therefore able to describe its various features so accurately to me, that I didn’t need to leave my office!

E., by the way, was a bit of a “lad.” How he came to leave Paraguay, is worth relating, if only to throw light on one of the native customs. The women of this interesting country are famed for their great beauty—up to the age of thirty years, anyhow. In 1862, through the covetousness of Francisco Lopez, who wanted to filch from the Argentine 500 miles of Brazilian territory—nearly as far as La Plata—Paraguay became involved in a most terrible war. During its progress she lost so many men, that when, at last, peace was proclaimed, the women outnumbered the males by eleven to one. (The population was reduced from 340,000 to 200,000.) To remedy this preponderance, it was enacted that a man should be free to marry as many women as he liked, so long as he could afford to keep them. He was not, however, allowed to take them out of the country on any pretext whatever. Now E. married a very pretty Paraguayan, about ten years younger than himself. After a while he thought he would like to visit his parents, and take his wife with him. Accordingly they put their traps on a steamer, and in due course arrived at Villarica, situate on the Parana River. Here E. went ashore to watch some women loading up oranges. When he returned to the boat, after an absence of two hours, he couldn’t find his wife anywhere. She had left a note for him, in which she stated that her parents had sent her two brothers, and three friends, to compel her to return to Paraguay. They had arrived at Villarica before the steamer, had watched E. go ashore, and then abducted the girl. “It would not be wise,” she wrote, “for you to seek me out, for a year or so; after then, if you come back and apologize to my people, and to the Chief, promising not to offend again, all will be well.”

This communication put E. in a blue funk. He feared all sorts of things would happen to him; so he took good care to give the girl and her home a very wide berth. Ultimately, I believe, he married another woman at Buenos Ayres.

Banking on E.’s information, I didn’t trouble to visit M.’s farm, but stayed in my office, waiting for clients who never came, busying myself meantime in making a sketch-plan of the Itapicuru estate from the material E. had supplied. It was about four feet square, and didn’t look so bad when I had finished it. M. was very pleased. Two months later, a Mr. T. came along, saw the sketch and was so taken with it that he decided to view the farm it was supposed to represent. His wealthy father had given him £10,000 with which to buy an estate in the Argentine.

T. visited M.’s place, and found it very much to his liking. On his return, he praised my sketch, and said he would like to buy the place. “What was the figure?” Taking my courage in both hands, I quoted 4500 dollars a league. T. thought this was dirt cheap, and wrote a letter to M. to that effect.

So soon as M. received T.’s communication, he came to me and said,

“What! 4500 dollars a league, and you to get a cool 2000 a league out of it! No, no, my young sir, I have under-estimated its worth. My price is now 5500 dollars a league. When I get that, I’ll see you receive your rightful commission.”

T. wouldn’t go to that figure, so the deal fell through. But he bought another farm at 4500 dollars a league, and was instrumental in obtaining 500 dollars for me from the owner. He told him that but for me, he would have bought a place in the Bragado district of the Argentine Republic. Subsequently, M. sold his estate, and sold it well, too, for he received 7000 dollars a league for it. That was fifteen or so years ago, but from that day to this I have never fingered even one of the 12,000 dollars that I was entitled to. I quote this incident, just to show the great pull an Inner Ring broker has over his Outer brother. The Committee of the Stock Exchange protect the Inner Ring man, and see that he gets his rights. The poor Outer Ringer, they leave to his own devices. After such an experience can it be wondered at, that I chucked the Stock Exchange, and turned my attention to another sphere of enterprises, viz. railway construction work?