Auguste Guinnard.

Three years' slavery among the Patagonians: an account of his captivity online

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stew of meat and vegetables — and over which
were roasting some schurascos, strips of dried
meat, or kind of beef-steak in use amongst
the Argentines. During dinner the youngest
of the troop, by turns, watched the mules
scattered about on the crests of the surround-
ing heights, the only places where they can
find anything green. The evening was passed
very gaily by us, and everyone showed me all
sorts of delicate attentions ; each was eager
to lend me wherewithal to make up a bed, on
which I passed a comfortable night, which,
joined with the copious meal I had made,
gave me the strength I so much required to
continue my journey.

It was not without difficulty that I left
these excellent people, who were still further
kind enough to make me accept some pro-

As we were going in opposite directions,


I took my way alone, thinking of my poor
Chilene, whose sufferings had at last com-
pletely disabled him from following me, and
whom I had been unhappily compelled to
leave in a dying state some leagues behind.

To cross the Cambre, at the foot of which
I arrived in the afternoon, I had to crawl —
that is the word — for more than an hour and
a half along a winding narrow path, formed
in the side of the mountain at an angle
of forty-five degrees ; struggling against a
violent wind that frequently forced me to go
on my hands and knees, to prevent myself
being hurled from the top to the bottom.

When I had reached the summit of the
Andes, the nipping cold forbade my making
so long a halt as I could have desired at the
foot of a wooden cross erected at that spot,
to mark the separation between Chili and
the Argentine Republic. I descended, not
without great difficulty, about the space of
half a league along a steep path bordered by


the eternal snows, which led me to a narrow
shallow stream running noisily amid gigantic
masses of rocks, fallen from the peaks of the
Andes, and strangely heaped together.

After having followed for more than two
hours descents so steep that it appeared
impossible for either men or animals to make
their way down them, I at length found
myself out of the icy region. The mountains
then appeared to me to wear a less sombre
aspect. In different places I came upon
some very green algarrobas, under the shade
of which I rested pleasantly. The tran-
sition of climate seemed to me so wonderful,
that I could have believed myself to be

Going further on, I thought myself
really transported into an enchanted country.
Nature was green and smiling about me.
Some fields, and most of the hill-sides, were
sown with corn and planted with fruit-trees,
while a well-kept road announced the neigh-


bourliood of a considerable population. The
delight and admiration of these marvels made
me forget my fatigue and the weariness of
the road. But I was completely exhausted
when I reached the guardia, a house of the
same kind as that at Uspaillate,. where I
could rest myself and refresh nryself with a
little roasted meat and wine ; the latter, of
which I had been so long deprived, produced
on me the effect of an opiate, and threw me
into a profound sleep. It was the first time
I had slept in a bed since my departure from
Rio Quinto ; and, very far as it was from
deserving its name, I passed in it a most
delicious night.

On awaking next day, I continued my
journey, excusably impatient to reach as
quickly as I could Aconcagua, the first
Chilian town, which all my fatigues and
horrible sufferings made me regard as a
veritable safety-plank — as the road to my
dear country.



It was still a long way from the guardia
to Aconcagua, but the road, long as it was,
was very different to that which had preceded
it : the country was infinitely more animated ;
magnificent flocks scattered here and there,
were cropping a juicy clover that reminded me
of the fields of our fair France. Along the
sides of the road stood a large number of
ranchos of mean appearance but surrounded
with charming little gardens, the sight of
which cheered my spirit. In many of these
slightly-built residences which I had occasion
to enter, either to seek food or shelter for a
few hours from the burning heat of the sun, I
was agreeably surprised to see what order and
cleanliness everywhere reigned. In each of
these poor houses I saw beautiful children,
who appeared to be objects of the most tender
solicitude ; the sole luxury of their parents
seemed to be the dress of these delightful
little creatures, whose bright open faces so
strongly contrasted with the hideous features


of the young Indians I had so long had
under my eyes.

All these worthy people, on seeing my
state of thinness and poverty, could not help
exhibiting surprise, which increased as I an-
swered their good-natured questions. They
were particularly astonished on learning that
I had dared to effect alone the passage of
the Andes, without a guide, and, so to speak,
without food; above all, after having pre-
viously endured the privations to which my
journey in the same manner, from Rio Quinto
to Mendoza, had exposed me. During my
first journey, however, it had been possible
for me to hunt, though with a thousand pre-
cautions against discovery by the Indians.
When I described to them my horrible
slavery, and the frightful tyranny of which I
had been the object for several years, they
showed the deepest sympathy with my trials,
and questioned me as to my projects, gene-
rously offering me an asylum among them-


selves, or to procure me the means of fur-
nishing my wants, Some believing me to be
an artisan, suggested my finding employment
on a farm, or in one of the numerous copper
foundries in the neighbourhood. But I was
in haste to reach Aconcagua. I expressed my
warm gratitude to them, at the same time
excusing myself on the ground of the impa-
tience I felt concerning my family, for news
of whom I had so long been pining.

They, nevertheless, wished me to spend a
few days with them, with the view of resting
myself before proceeding on my journey ; but
my eagerness to reach the end I proposed to
myself forbad my accepting their pressing
invitation. Seeing that my mind was made
up to depart, they loaded me with excellent
provisions, which, I confess, rather flattered
my taste, so loug unused to good things.

During the whole course of this journey
I met with nothing but kind consideration
and attention, for I had hardly left one house


before the not less friendly inhabitants of
another compelled me afresh to accept their
warm invitations which, though they mate-
rially retarded my progress, could not be
otherwise than agreeable to me, and were
morally invigorating.

At last, after many of these refreshing
halts, I arrived at Aconcagua ; I was in Chili.

While taking rest, I formed a thousand
projects which circumstances alone could help
me to realize. I hesitated between Santiago
and Valparaiso. Providence, which had so
much favoured me during my flight and my
two dreary and perilous journeys, inspired
me with the choice of Valparaiso. I employed
the chief part of my five piastres in paying
my expenses, and the remainder in procuring
provisions. Unfortunately, I was not able to
buy enough to last me to the end of the
journey, for everything was very dear ; so
that when I reached Quillotte I was exhausted
by fatigue and want.


Happily, the first person I met was a
Frenchman occupied in giving orders on the
railway works of Santiago. I went up to
him, and addressing him in French, begged
him instantly to be good enough to give me
employment, but, I must add, that I besought
him first of all to give me some food, as I
was dying of hunger. This excellent man,
affected by my wretchedness and sickly con-
dition, hastened to satisfy my wishes. He
took me with him to his hotel, and made me
share his repast.

My answers to his questions led him to
guess that I had not been used to manual
labour. He judged also by the raggedness
of my dress that I must have suffered great
reverses to have been reduced to the sad
state in which he saw me. He employed all
means to stimulate my confidence ; his frank-
ness aud air of perfect kindness won upon
me to open my heart. I, therefore, related
to him, in all its details, my sad story, from


my departure from France to the moment of
my meeting with him.

His emotion was great during my recital,
and often tears, stealing furtively from his
eyelids, betrayed the tenderness of his heart.
Sometimes, at the most moving passages of
my story, his hand sought mine, and I could
not decline to accept these marks of sym-
pathy, for I felt that I had found in him a
friend capable of consoling and aiding me
to struggle victoriously with the frightful
destiny by which I was pursued.

Monsieur Barthes — such was the name of
my protector — had promised to employ me,
and when we left the hotel I insisted on
immediately entering upon my functions.
He tried to oppose this, on account of my state
of extreme fatigue and weakness ; but I per-
sisted and obtained my wish, for I desired at
least to earn the excellent dinner of which I
had partaken. He presented me to his peons
as a new companion. In this way I became


a mason, much against the wishes of dear
Monsieur Barthes, who, being convinced that
I had never followed such a trade, felt a
decided repugnance to my decision.

For several days I found this hard work
very fatiguing, but, with courage, I succeeded
sufficiently well to satisfy my conscience that
I had earned my wages. At times, however,
when I had to do as the others did, move
large blocks of granite, my strength seemed
to desert me, and the result of the efforts I
made was that I fainted, which always drew
from my kind fellow-countryman expressions
of the greatest solicitude, and friendly re-
proaches for what he called my obstinate
persistence and unreasonableness.

This worthy man was untiring in his
endeavours to get me more fitting employ-
ment elsewhere. He made incessant appli-
cations in my behalf, taking the greatest care
to hide them from me, so as not to buoy me
up with false hopes. He alleviated my fate


by all imaginable means ; he made me take
my meals with him, and shared his bed-room
with me. Out of working hours, he would
not allow me to leave him any more than his
own shadow ; he presented me to his friends,
by whom, owing to the high esteem in which
he was held, I was generally very well re-
ceived, The delicate goodness of this gentle-
man went so far as to make him anticipate
the least want I could have, and inspired
him with all imaginable means for affording 1
me entertainment and distraction. Dread-
ing to leave me alone on Sundays when
he went to Valparaiso, where he had a
house, he never went away without giving
orders to the hotel-keeper to treat me well
during his absence, and to give me the
pleasure of his company — for this man was
almost a copy of my friend in the interest
he took in me.

On Sunday evening or Monday morning,
when my friend returned to his occupations,


he always brought with him some provisions,
in the shape of dainties of all kinds, and some
books, the reading of which gave me great
pleasure. As modest as he was good, my pro-
tector, having observed that I possessed some
education, took pleasure in carrying on long
conversations with me on agreeable subjects,
which amused our leisure moments.

Under the influence of so many attentions
and so much kindness, my mind recovered
itself, the veil of my dreary thoughts was
each day raised a little more, and the sun of
hope threw a beneficent ray upon my sick
brain. My charitable friend, knowing what
pleasure it was to me to speak of my family
or to hear it spoken of, conversed with
me frequently on the subject. In order to
make sure of their reaching their destination,
he took charge of some letters which I
addressed to France.

A month had passed since I had gained
the friendship of this estimable man, when he


suddenly raised me from a common labourer
to a foreman, and increased my wages, which
he considered too small for the services I was

I was thus enabled to think a little of my
clothing, and, when the works at the station
of Quillotte were finished, I had the good
fortune to be able to purchase some linen, a
good poncho, and a pair of trousers. To
describe the pleasure I felt at seeing myself
so dressed would be impossible. It seemed
to me that I must appear a tolerably good-
locking person. I gradually encouraged my-
self to take pleasure in walking about the
streets of the town, which I did not yet
know, though I had lived in it for more than
three months.

However, in spite of this wonderful change
in my existence, my health was very much
shattered, my nights were mostly restless and
agitated by nightmares, which often disturbed
the sleep of Monsieur, and made him



very anxious on my account. When I was
awake even, I could not shake off the dis-
tressing effects which any kind of surprise
had upon me. The sudden appearance of any
one, or the unexpected sound of voices, shook
my nerves and brought on a sort of con-
vulsive trembling. My sudden change of
food, instead of mitigating my liability to
these attacks, seemed rather to augment it,
which greatly distressed Monsieur Barthes,
whom circumstances were about to separate
from me, for some time at least ; for having
nothing more to do at Quillotte, he was
about to return to the bosom of his family.
He proposed to take me with him ; but
understanding, from the manner of my re-
fusal, that delicacy alone compelled me to
decline his obliging offer, he did not venture
to insist ; but he made applications in my
favour which, thank God, were successful even
beyond his hopes. He came, deeply moved
and joyful, to announce to me the good news.


He liad obtained for me the situation of
machinist in the establishment of one of the
richest men in the country, who was in want
of somebody to oversee and direct the gather-
ing of his immense crops, which he intended
to reap entirely by machinery.

I was obliged to submit to a change of
residence, and to leave Quillotte, where I had
already made several pleasant acquaintances,
with whom I spent my leisure hours ; the effect
of society had been to soothe in some measure
my agitated mind, and had consequently pro-
duced some amelioration of the state of my

I set off in company with my new patron
for one of his farms, called Las Massas,
distant about a dozen leagues from Quillotte.
I thus found myself going back towards the
road I had followed on my arrival, but by a
different and more picturesque route.

On reaching our destination, Don Cesario,
my patron, after presenting me to his family,


conducted me to the immense field of labour
he was about to entrust to me. He left me
the duty of pointing out the most convenient
spots for the placing of the machines, as well
as the site on which I should wish to have a
rancJw built, as I was to live here, in order
to exercise continual watchfulness.

I had eno^ed to direct the work, but not
to set up the machines, which task I found
myself expected to perform, however, to my
great regret, fearing I should not be able to
manage this difficult operation ; but being
unable to find anybody in the country capable
of doing the work, I was obliged to make
up my mind to attempt it myself. I was
fortunate enough to succeed beyond my
hopes. Besides this labour, which was not
at all in my department, I had to break
in horses and oxen to work the threshing
and winnowing machines, which in these
countries can only be moved by the help of


Several days passed in this difficult as well
as disagreeable occuoation, the first result of
which was to occasion several damages which
I myself had to repair.

At length I entered upon the functions
for which I had been eno;ag;ed — functions
still more difficult. I found myself sur-
rounded by some sixty very rough peasants,
most of them highly insubordinate. At the
first orders I gave, or the first remark I
made to them, they broke into open rebel-
lion and threatened me. Very fortunately
for myself, I had long been used to danger,
and my firmness abashed most of them ; as
to the others, I sent them about their busi-
ness, after having reported their conduct to
Don Cesario. As a measure of precaution,
and thoroughly knowing the treacherous and
vindictive character of these beings of pure
Indian race, I borrowed pistols of my patron.
It was well I did this ; for the expelled
mutineers had the effrontery to return and


endeavour to induce the others to rise against
me, against the gavacJio — the stranger, the
nobody. Judging from the bearing of my
workmen that they would very quickly allow
themselves to be drawn on if I showed anv
weakness, I confronted the mutineers, and
commanded them instantly to take them-
selves off. One of them, more daring than
his companions, having raised his hand to
strike me, I at once let them see my pistols,
declaring I would fire on the first who
advanced a step further. The sight of my
weapons, which they had not suspected to
be in my possession, though they were not
loaded, made them as cowardly as they had
been arrogant. They went away crest-fallen,
convinced that the gavacho was not a man to let
himself be intimidated by people of their sort.
However, this kind of triumph, though it
gained me thenceforth the consideration of
the most reasonable, disgusted and annoyed
me extremely, I therefore wrote to Don


Cesario, who was a magistrate, that if he
did not find means to prevent these out-
breaks, I should abandon the works he had
put under my charge, at the risk, to him, of
losing his harvest. He hastened to consult
with me on the measures to be taken. We
collected the peons, to whom he himself
handed their pay. Those whom I pointed
out as having taken part in the cabal, he
instantly sent away, and threatened them
with imprisonment, in the event of their
repeating their misconduct. To the others
he announced that he gave me full powers
of command over them, to turn them away,
or to have them incarcerated in case of need.
From that moment none of them gave me
cause for complaint.

But, in the end, I owed little to Don
Cesario, who, after having promised me a
fitting salary, thought proper to reduce it
considerably. Being a foreigner, and having
nobody to see that justice was done me, I


was obliged to resign myself to the loss of
a sum well earned, and which, would have
been a great help to me. I remained, how-
ever, some time still at the farm of Las
Massas, being without the means of reaching
Quillotte, for Don Cesario, nettled at my
having reproached him for his bad faith,
refused me the means of returning. How-
ever, after a few days, he saw that his obsti-
nacy would cost him at least my board and
lodging, and lent me a horse.

I departed, not knowing what was to
become of me, without asylum, and almost
without money, but with a heart rendered
light by the breaking off of all intercourse
with Don Cesario, against whom I had great
cause of complaint. I should not have re-
mained so long as I did, but out of con-
sideration for his brother, Don Matys-Ovaillo,
who had shown me the greatest kindness,
and to whom I felt deeply grateful.

On returning to Quillotte, I revisited most


of the acquaintances I had made there ; they
received me with open arms, and wished me
to stay with them for a few days. Monsieur
Barthes, having been informed of my troubles,
wrote to urge me to go as quickly as possible
to Valparaiso, where he hoped, he said, to
find me some settled employment. I was,
therefore, compelled to decline all the invi-
tations so pressingly made to me. For-
tunately I had one piastre left, which served
to pay for my journey of twenty-five leagues
by railway. Two hours sufficed to carry
me from Quillotte to Valparaiso, where I
arrived, after having coasted the sea for more
than a league.

At the station I soon saw Monsieur
Barthes, from whom I had been separated
for more than three months. Great was my
joy at again meeting this worthy and respect-
able friend, who received me with open arms.
His wife, his son Paul, who was nearly of my
own age, and his daughter, who were also


very anxious to make my acquaintance, had
taken the trouble to come with him, and gave
me a most affecting welcome. We all went
together to their house, situated on the
heights overlooking the port, which we
reached by mounting the Quebrada de l'Al-
mendral (Almond- tree Hollow).

My friend sent me up at once with his son
Paul, who conducted me to his room, and
there, in spite of all objection, made me dress
myself in some of his clothes. I was deeply
affected at this evidence of friendliness and
consideration, but truly uncomfortable in the
elegant costume I had put on ; for, since my
departure from Buenos Ayres, I had lost the
habit of dress. When I went down again,
and saw by one of the glasses in the drawing-
room my sudden transformation, instead of
being satisfied with it, I felt almost shocked,
for, in spite of myself, a world of sad remem-
brances rushed back upon my mind.

The kind attentions and solicitude of the


Barthes' family happily triumphed over my
melancholy, which, however, sometimes re-
turned upon me when we were at table.
Surrounded by these worthy persons, who so
strongly recalled my own parents — fre-
quently hearing them pronounce the name of
Paul, which was that of my beloved brother —
I could not turn my thoughts from my dear
country, and the dear beings I had left there.
Towards the end of the repast, however, I
made a better figure, for the efforts of my
indefatigable friend at last induced me to
join in the general gaiety.

The delicacy of my entertainers was
pushed to such an extreme, that, in spite of
their warm desire to hear from my lips the
narrative of my unfortunate adventures, many
days passed without their putting the least
question to me, for fear of reviving my
distress. As these ladies often conversed
with me on the subject of my family, I
showed them their portraits, and explained


to them the manner in which I had been able
to preserve them up to that time. This
awakened their curiosity to the highest
degree, and afforded me an opportunity to
relate to them the story of my captivity.

Happy as I was to find myself made as
much of as in my own family, it nevertheless
cost me a good deal to remain inactive during
the three days I had to wait for the employ-
ment which Monsieur Barthes had led me to
hope for, but which he had still to seek, for I
perceived that this had been part of a delicate
scheme to. make me accept an asylum in his
house. Being unwilling to abuse the extreme
kindness of this family, I sought actively for
employment. For several days my attempts
were fruitless, which considerably increased
my lowness of spirits.

Monsieur Barthes and his son, to whom
I took care not to communicate the cause of
my new anxiety, did everything in the world
to entertain me. After much pressing, they


persuaded me to go with them to the theatre ;
it was the first time I had been there since my
departure from France ; but though the house
was snlenclid, and the " Diamants de la Cou-
ronne " was being performed, my thoughts
were elsewhere. When the first act was
over, my friends took me into the saloon of
the theatre, where an aristocratic crowd of all
nations was assembled, their elegant dresses
adding to the effect of the gorgeous decora-
* tion of the room. After having enjoyed the
magnificent sigrht for a few moments, we
returned to our seats for the rising of the

The second act had commenced about a
quarter of an hour, when a very animated
conversation arose behind us, but having

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Online LibraryAuguste GuinnardThree years' slavery among the Patagonians: an account of his captivity → online text (page 14 of 15)