Adventures in Peru, Chapter 10

Gambling Man

Tales of the Turf, Part 6

Piccione, the Italian I have referred to in connection with Huacachina, owned a famous racehorse in the Argentine, named Pippermint. Pippermint was sired at Saturnino Unsue’s haras Indesis by St. Mirin. When put up at the usual yearly auction, he failed to fetch the reserve placed upon him, so George Attucha took him over on racing terms, i.e. if the horse, within a year, won an amount in stakes and other prizes equal to his reserve price, he then became Attucha’s property. Pippermint paid for himself many times over, his winnings amounting, I believe, to something like 140,000 dollars. At the finish of his racing career Attucha parted with him for £10,000 to Piccione, who wanted a stallion for his place in South Africa.

Some folk seem extraordinarily lucky. Attucha, for instance. I met him once at Mar-del-Plata, where I had taken Simpleton, hoping the sea-water would strengthen his leg. He had broken a small bone just below the joint, and it had not long been set. Attucha was enjoying himself among the bathers; varying this pleasant pastime with an occasional visit to the roulette tables. I accompanied him one night to the rooms. We each took with us about £10. Attucha staked his money on number 32. I placed mine on number 33. We had agreed that whoever of us won, should return the other his original stake capital. Round and round went the little ball, darting hither and thither, until it finally came to rest in number 32. Attucha raked in his winnings, and gave me back my £10. Once bit, twice shy, I didn’t risk it again, for I never loved gambling, not even on the Turf, and rarely backed a horse outside my own stable.

Don Jorge, however, decided to see his run of luck out. By the end of the week he had increased his gains to 56,000 dollars!

Attucha owned the famous French mare Siberie. I last saw him at Newmarket July meeting, about 1912. He had brought over a flier from the Argentine, but failed to capture anything with him.* Attucha also purchased Perrier, one of the late King Edward’s horses, giving £2100 for him, if I remember aright.

At Mar-del-Plata on another occasion I was accosted by one of Argentine’s biggest racing men. He was hard up, having mortgaged his house and shares. “I want to have a flutter,” said he. “Lend me five dollars, old pal.” I complied with his request, and he vanished into the roulette room, to reappear an hour later with 1000 dollars. Some years later I ran up against him in London. He was very pleased to see me, and said the little loan I made him brought him luck. He had played his winnings up, and eventually turned the original five dollars into 40,000. With this sum he paid off his mortgages, and then, like a sensible fellow, chucked roulette for ever and ever, Amen.

Although, as I have said before, I seldom chanced my luck at the tables, yet I must admit that the fickle goddess was once not too unkind to me. During my stay at Mar-del-Plata with Simpleton, I took a prominent English Church official to the roulette room. He wouldn’t play, he simply wished to look on and gather material for a speech he had to make at Buenos Ayres.

I for my part bought £1 worth of chips, and started backing Attucha’s lucky number. It was good enough to turn up, so I went on, and couldn’t do wrong. Within about an hour I won £300. I then left the tables, and took good care not to trouble them again.

With my winnings I paid all my expenses at Mar-del-Plata, including all Simpleton and my hacks had cost me, and even then landed back in Buenos Ayres with £200 in my pocket. So I considered I had a very cheap holiday!

*In my racing reminiscences I shall advance my theory for the failure of Argentine horses to show their proper form in England.

Adventures in Peru, Chapter 10

An Oasis

Tales of the Turf, Part 5

Some twelve miles after leaving Pisco we came across a lovely little oasis, in which there grew the biggest and most delightful heliotrope bush I have ever seen. It quite recompensed me for all the monotonous stretch of desert which we had traversed.

Ica is a charming little town, with houses built mostly of adobe brick, painted blue and white. I put up at a nice little hotel, where I secured, for a very reasonable sum, a room for myself and a shed for Caro and the horses. In the neighbouring district cotton is grown on a pretty extensive scale. Piccione and Co. have a spinning mill here which employs a large number of hands. Piccione himself was a great racing man, and a notable rider “over the sticks” in Italy. I met his good lady and child at Pisco, staying there for the sea bathing. Mrs. Piccione took a great fancy to Golondrina, who was in foal to Springtide, and offered me £100 for her. I said, “You can have the mare if you like; but I want the foal. You can have the mare six months after the foal is born.” This arrangement didn’t suit her. She wished to take over the mare directly I returned from visiting Huacachina. But though we failed to agree, that circumstance didn’t affect our friendship, and when I moved off for the lake I took with me a letter to the caretaker of several little houses P. owned in the vicinity. Piccione had had these built for the benefit of people who go to Huacachina to take the waters, in token of his gratitude for having been cured of a very serious malady.

It was the day after we arrived at Ica, that I rode Golondrina over to the lake. The going was fine until we neared the end of our journey. Then we had to negotiate a hill 3000 ft. high, composed of hard sand. When we had surmounted this obstacle, we had to clamber down another steep path for 1000 ft., and at the foot of this declivity lay Huacachina.

Near Lake Huacachina. Illustration from Adventures in Peru.

The lake is bordered by a tiny beach, some fifteen yards wide. Green trees surrounded it, and a flat-bottomed boat is kept for the use of visitors. Many people of my acquaintance, besides Piccione, have been greatly benefited by a visit to this famous lake.*

I bathed in the lake every day, not that there was anything the matter with me, but just that I might say I had tried the waters. Sulphur, potash, magnesium, and calcium, were, I found, the principal ingredients. One can’t sink, and I could never get farther down than my armpits.

On the surface the water was quite warm, but underneath it struck very cold to one’s feet. That peculiarity, of course, is attributable to the potash.

The country round about Huacachina is noted for its cotton, and alfalfa. Sugar cane is also grown, but it doesn’t succeed so well there as it does along the coast of Peru. The soil is not so rich. Most people picture the desert as a never-changing waste of sand. But when I passed through the Peruvian wilderness, it was all asmother with bulbous flowers of great beauty. The blooms resembled petunias, and they were all the colours of the rainbow. This phenomenon occurs every winter, and continues for a period of six or eight weeks, till the sun regains its full power. Then the exquisite picture vanishes, almost as swiftly as a soap bubble passes away. The desert extends all along the coast. This is Peru’s chief detriment. But even so, it is barred, like the staves of a piece of music, with lovely, fertile valleys, every twenty or thirty leagues or so. In these almost anything that grows can be cultivated with the expenditure of little energy, except cotton and sugar, for these two things require to be constantly irrigated. Nevertheless the sugar mills in these parts can crush sugar every week-day for forty-nine weeks of every year, the remaining three weeks being devoted to the annual overhaul. An admirable system of irrigation has now been adopted, consequently the mills are not dependent on the rain. Saline deposits abound. There are several salt lakes within easy distance of Ica. Borax is to be found farther north, at Chimbote and Pacasmayo.

*Vide Adventures in Bolivia.

Adventures in Peru, Chapter 10

Two Dependable Horses

Tales of the Turf, Part 4

On one occasion I travelled from Chile to Lima with a mare and a stallion for A. B. Leguia. I had to deliver them at his beautiful estate, ten miles beyond a place called Pisco, where Leguia’s breeding establishment—a model, up-to-date affair—was situated, vast breadths of the adjoining land being devoted to the raising of sugar and cotton. Springtide, the lord of the harem, was a remarkably fine horse, as was only to be expected when one considers that he numbered among his distinguished progenitors game old See Saw. Springtide was bred by Mr. A. C. Barclay out of his mare Noyau, and was disposed of to a rich Frenchman, named Dreyfus, for £5000 as a three-year-old and subsequently presented by him to Admiral Lynch, who was often in the public eye during the Chilian and Peruvian war. Finally the horse became Leguia’s property.

Well, after I had accomplished my mission, I found I had a fortnight to wait before I could get a steamer from Pisco to Chile; so I put in a week with Mr. Leguia’s father, a dear old gentleman who was never happier than when riding round his son’s estate, to keep an eye on the various workmen, wagons, and trucks. Leguia’s brother Robert was manager of the estate. He was fond of cock-fighting, and told me that the great cock-fight of the year would be held at Ica, forty-four miles the other side of Pisco, across the desert. Within sixteen miles or so of Ica there is a famous lake, called Huacachina, which I had often desired to see, so I determined to miss the next boat, and board one due at Pisco a week later. Thus I purposed to kill two birds with one stone. This programme I adhered to. On the occasion of my visit to Huacachina, I took with me my two hacks, Tony and Golondrina.

Just a word about these horses. The latter, a well-known steeplechase mare by St. Blaise II. out of a Cleveland coaching mare, H. had bred at Madame Cousino’s Macul estate in Chile. During the Chilian and Peruvian war, St. Blaise II.’s predecessor at the stud was turned loose with a number of thoroughbred mares, in the great Aconcagua valley, in order that he should not fall into the hands of the Peruvians, if they won. In this same valley was a batch of Cleveland mares, belonging to the same estate, under the guardianship of a very fine Cleveland stallion. Three Cleveland mares strayed away, and got mixed up with the thoroughbred queens. Two were in foal, but one was not. The progeny of this mare became Golondrina’s mother. Don Emilio Brunel, Madame Cousino’s master of horse and head coachman, gave me these particulars. Subsequently, several Cleveland mares were put to St. Blaise II., in order to get high-class cavalry remounts. Every year it was the custom of the Cousino people to sell by auction a number of blood horses sired by St. Blaise II., together with several Cleveland bays and high-class hackneys. At one of these sales my friend Schmidt, the head of a big wholesale and retail firm, bought Golondrina for 130 gs., the mare being then four years old. Schmidt kept her two years, during which period she gave him every satisfaction. But ill-luck overtook him, and his firm went smash. So he came to me and said, “Prodgers, will you do me a great favour?” I said I would if I could. “Well, it’s like this. When the judge orders delivery of our assets, I shall be very short of ‘ready.’ Now there’s Golondrina, my trotting hackney, named after the Minister of the Interior’s famous trotting stallion Spofford, a dog-cart I gave £60 for in England, and a good set of harness. You can have the lot for £200.” It is perhaps needless to say I closed with him without one moment’s hesitation. Golondrina thus became my property. She was a very big jumper, was very safe, and could stay for ever at her own pace. Tony was by Nobility, and cost, as a yearling, the equivalent of £500. He developed a savage temper, and nearly killed a man; so his owner was glad to sell him to me for £50, on the understanding that if I ever got him steady enough to trust in a race, I would let his old master know when I thought he had a winning chance. In my hands Tony became as obedient and as docile as a child. He won for me twice on the flat, and seven times over hurdles, before I retired him as my hack.

With these two dependable horses then and Francisco Caro, one of my stable-lads, acting as second horseman, I embarked for Pisco. We arrived there at noon, and next day continued our journey to Ica.

Adventures in Peru, Chapter 10

The Black Galloway

Tales of the Turf, Part 3

Seven pounds a month was my remuneration when I commenced as foreman, but three months later I was drawing £25 a month as assistant engineer. I soon realized, however, that I should not make my fortune at this work, and Mr. Boggs, General Manager of the Entre Rios line, told me there was not the least chance of promotion, unless one had a big backer. Even then things were not all honey, for contractors were heavily penalized if they failed to complete their sections within the specified time.

Young H., for example, with whom I worked as assistant, invested £5000 of the money his father left him with a Brazilian firm of contractors. These people took on a stretch of line, and had to stake £20,000 that it would be constructed by a certain date. Indian labour was all they had to depend upon, and the dusky gentlemen served them as their fellow-countrymen served me at Sicasica and elsewhere. They worked only as long as they cared to work, and then they went off. So the contractors were unable to complete their contract to time, and consequently lost their £20,000.

This kind of thing didn’t appeal to me, so I decided to apprentice myself to a trainer of race-horses at Buenos Ayres, and see if I could make money on the Turf. Brett was considered a pastmaster of his craft. He had had a more than passing acquaintance with some of the most famous racing establishments in England, and was exceptionally clever at treating foundered horses. He taught me all he knew of this important subject, during the time I officiated as his secretary and assistant trainer. Subsequently I picked up many useful wrinkles from the Medicine Men of various tribes of Indians with whom I came in contact on my exploring trips.

A few months after I started with Brett, the black galloway before mentioned became mine, to dispose of as I thought fit. About this time I received news of my sister’s impending marriage to H. G. Ley (who has since succeeded to the baronetcy), so I decided I couldn’t give her a better wedding present. I had broken the galloway to harness, and he was a really smart trapper.

I shipped him aboard the Nile, and everything went well until the boat arrived two days off the English coast. Then, as Captain Spooner subsequently told me, she ran into a bad storm. The sea raged mountains high, and the horse-box broke loose from one of its moorings, and was washed about hither and thither. When the storm abated, and the sailors were able to restore the box to its original position, they found the galloway still standing up, but showing signs of the terrible experience he had been through. At Southampton he was carefully examined, and found to have sustained very serious injury across his loins. My father had him conveyed by easy stages to his place, and called in the best vet. in Wiltshire. Much to everybody’s regret that gentleman decided the horse must be shot.

Before this order was put into execution, the late Duke of Beaufort drove over and had a look at the poor animal. There was no better judge of horseflesh in the whole wide world. As his Grace turned away, he said to my father, “Prodgers, next time you write to your son, tell him this is the finest galloway I have ever seen.”

When I began training on my own, my stables were located not far from the racecourse near Belgrano. One day there arrived a gaucho, or native cattle-man, bringing with him a half-bred percheron, about six years old. He wanted £2 for it, and produced the official papers which have to be procured when one wishes to pass a horse on to some one else. He said he had bought it al corte, with twenty-nine others out of a herd, or troupillo, which consisted of 500 animals, tamed and untamed. The lot cost him £60. I was curious to learn why he was willing to part with the percheron at the same price he gave for it. It seemed a great strong horse, if somewhat clumsy. The gaucho explained that it was because “the rotten swine,” as he called it in his picturesque lingo, wouldn’t stand for anybody. Several times when he had been riding around, and had had occasion to dismount for a minute or two, the animal had cleared off and left his luckless master stranded many miles from camp! Well, I agreed to take the percheron at the price named. Six months later I sold him to the Belgrano Tramway Company for £20.

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?

Adventures in Peru, Chapter 10

A Stolen Dog

Tales of the Turf, Part 1

I have pleasant recollections of Buenos Ayres, because when engaged in training race-horses there, I cured an Edward the Confessor horse, named Egbert, whose tendons had been badly sprung. I got him all right for his owner, who won a big classic race with him subsequently. This gentleman was ever so delighted, and to mark his appreciation, gave me over and above my fee (the odds to 50 dollars) a pup by Shropshire Joe out of Lancashire Witch. He had paid £100 for the sire, a second prize winner at the Crystal Palace, and £60 for the dam, also a successful competitor.

The Witch had a litter of beautiful puppies, all of which were easily disposed of—the dogs at £20 apiece and the bitches at £15—all, that is to say, except the one I received, and another which was given to Brett. I named the dog Sloper after the immortal Ally. Those readers who may feel curious as to what became of him, will find mention of him in my Racing reminiscences in connection with Never Mind, one of the gamest bits of horseflesh that ever looked through a bridle.

Talking of dogs recalls to mind a curious incident. Several Peruvian families claim to be lineal descendants of the Incas. A member of one of these, Señora Hernandez, lived in an old quinta about three miles outside Lima, on the road leading to Pisco. We became acquainted as follows. My horses had been doing fast work, and were being rubbed down, preparatory to having their white sheets put on them, when a half-breed came up to me. He had a beautiful dog with him, the size of a poodle. It was “cobby” made, and covered with lovely long, curly, cream-coloured hair, fine as silk. It had large black eyes. Its muzzle, and the edges of its ears, were also of dusky hue.

The Indian addressed me.

“You are a lover of horses, sir?”

“Yes,” I replied.

“You love dogs, too?”

Again I answered in the affirmative.

“I have a dog to sell. Will you buy it? I want 40 sols for him.”

I recognized the animal, at once, as being an Inca poodle, a breed that was almost extinct. A specimen figures in the painting of Atahualpa and his wives on their way to Caxamarca, which hung in Zervallo’s picture gallery. The dog the Indian offered me I knew must be worth £40 at least, so I came to the conclusion that he had stolen it. I told him as much, and added, “I will give you 15 sols—no more, no less. You can take that and walk off; or I’ll blow my whistle to summon the police, and have you detained until the ownership of the dog is cleared up.” The man asked me to make it £2, but I said, “Not me, not a cent more than 15 sols.” Finding me obdurate, he gave in, handed over the dog, and scuttled off.

I took my purchase home, and later on that day consulted my friend the Chief of Police. He told me that by the laws of Peru I was entitled to keep the dog until it was claimed. If, at the end of six months, no one had lodged a valid claim, then the animal belonged to me absolutely. In the event of the rightful owner’s turning up, he would have to pay me such out-of-pocket expenses as the Chief of Police considered reasonable, plus the sum I had given the Indian. This law also holds good in regard to stolen horses and cattle, practically all over South America.

Once when engaged on construction work on the Bassavilvaso and Gualeguaychu line, I was offered a black four-year-old galloway, standing about fifteen hands, for the sum of £4. As there was a lot of Arab blood about the animal, I jumped at the chance. To protect myself, in case it had been stolen, I rode into Gualeguaychu, a distance of eighteen miles, and notified the Chief of Police. Subsequently, when I took up my residence in Buenos Ayres, I followed the same course. The galloway came in very useful as a hack.