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- On the Pampas - 10/47 -
In spite, however, of the expedient of the sheets, all the party passed a bad night, and were quite ready to get up before daylight to start for their ride to Mr. Percy's estancia. They were all to ride, with the exception of Sarah, who took her place in one of the bullock carts; and they would therefore reach the estancia before the heat of the day fairly set in. Terence having been told that Sarah was going to ride, had cut some boughs, with which he made a sort of arbor over the cart to shade her from the sun--a general method of the country, and at which Sarah was much gratified. She had at first felt rather anxious at the thought of going without her mistress; but Terence assured her: "Sure, miss, and it's meself, Terence Kelly, that will take care of ye; and no danger shall come near your pretty face at all, at all; ye'll be quite as safe as if ye were in the auld country. And as for the bastes, sure and it's the quietest bastes they are, and niver thought of running away since the day they were born."
So Sarah took her place without uneasiness, and the others started at a hand canter for Mr. Percy's estancia.
While at Mr. Thompson's both Mrs. Hardy and the girls had ridden regularly every day, so that all were quite at their ease on their horses, and were able to talk away without ceasing of all that had happened since they parted. The only caution Mr. Hardy had to give, with a side look at Charley, was, "Look out for armadillo holes; because I have known fellows who were wonderful at sticking on their horses come to grief at them."
At which Hubert laughed; and Charley said, "Oh, papa!" and colored up and laughed, as was his way when his father joked him about his little weaknesses.
They had not gone more than halfway before they met Mr. Percy, who had ridden thus far to welcome his guests, for English ladies are very scarce out on the pampas, and are honored accordingly. One of the first questions the girls asked after the first greetings were over was, "Have you many mosquitoes at your estancia, Mr. Percy?"
"Not many," Mr. Percy said; "I have no stream near, and it is only near water that they are so very bad."
After waiting during the heat of the day at Mr. Percy's, the boys rode on home, as six guests were altogether beyond Mr. Percy's power of accommodating.
The next morning the boys were up long before daylight, and went down to the stream, where, as day broke, they managed to shoot a swan and five wild ducks, and with these they returned to the house. Then they swept the place with the greatest care, spread the table, arranged the benches, set everything off to the best advantage, and then devoted their whole energies to cooking a very excellent breakfast, which they were sure the travelers would be ready for upon their arrival. This was just ready, when, from the lookout on the tower, they saw the party approaching. The breakfast was too important to be left, and they were therefore unable to ride out to meet them. They were at the gate, however, as they rode up.
"Hurrah, hurrah!" they shouted, and the girls set up a cheer in return.
The men ran up to take the horses, and in another minute the whole party were in their new home. The girls raced everywhere wild with delight, ascended to the lookout, clapped their hands at the sight of the sheep and cattle, and could hardly be persuaded to take their things off and sit down to breakfast.
Mrs. Hardy was less loud in her commendation of everything, but she was greatly pleased with her new home, which was very much more finished and comfortable than she had expected.
"This is fun, mamma, isn't it?" Maud said. "It is just like a picnic. How we shall enjoy it, to be sure! May we set-to at once after breakfast, and wash up?"
"Certainly, Maud; Sarah will not be here for another two hours, and it is as well that you should begin to make yourselves useful at once. We shall all have to be upon our mettle, too. See how nicely the boys have cooked the breakfast. These snatch-cock ducks are excellent, and the mutton chops done to a turn. They will have a great laugh at us, if we, the professed cooks, do not do at least as well."
"Ah, but look at the practice they have been having, mamma."
"Yes, Maud," Hubert said; "and I can tell you it is only two or three things we can do well. Ducks and geese done like this, and chops and steaks, are about the limits. If we tried anything else, we made an awful mess of it: as to puddings, we never attempted them; and shall be very glad of something in the way of bread, for we are heartily sick of these flat, flabby cakes."
"Why have you only whitewashed this high middle wall halfway up, Frank?"
"In the first place, my dear, we fell short of whitewash; and, in the next place, we are going to set to work at once to put a few light rafters across, and to nail felt below them, and whitewash it so as to make a ceiling. It will make the rooms look less bare, and, what is much more important, it will make them a great deal cooler."
"You get milk, I hope?"
"Yes," Charley said; "two of the cows of the last lot papa bought are accustomed to be milked, and Hubert and I have done it up till now; but we shall hand them over to you, and you girls will have to learn."
Maud and Ethel looked at each other triumphantly. "Perhaps we know more than you think," Ethel said.
"Yes," Mrs. Hardy said; "the girls are going to be two very useful little women. I will tell you a secret. While you boys were at work of a morning, the girls, as you know, often walked over to Mr. Williams the farmer's, to learn as much as they could about poultry, of which he kept a great many. Mrs. Williams saw how anxious they were to learn to be useful, so she offered to teach them to milk, and to manage a dairy, and make butter and cheese. And they worked regularly, till Mrs. Williams told me she thought that they could make butter as well as she could. It has been a great secret, for the girls did not wish even their papa to know, so that it might be a surprise."
"Very well done, little girls," Mr. Hardy said; "it is a surprise indeed, and a most pleasant one. Mamma kept your secret capitally, and never as much as whispered a word to me about it."
The boys too were delighted, for they had not tasted butter since they arrived, and they promised readily enough to make a rough churn with the least possible delay.
By ten o'clock the carts arrived with Sarah and the luggage, and then there was work for the afternoon, putting up the bedsteads, and getting everything into order. The mosquito curtains were fitted to the beds, and all felt gratified at the thought that they should be able to set the little bloodsuckers at defiance. The next day was Sunday, upon which, as usual, no work was to be done. After breakfast the benches were brought in from the bedrooms, and the men assembling, Mr. Hardy read prayers, offering up a special prayer for the blessing and protection of God upon their household. Afterward Mrs. Hardy and the girls were taken over the place, and shown the storehouse, and the men's tent, and the river, and the newly planted field.
"The ground is getting very much burned up, papa," Charley said. "It was damp enough when we put in the crops, and they are getting on capitally; but I fear that they were sown too late, and will be burned up."
"Ah, but I have a plan to prevent that," Mr. Hardy said. "See if you can think what it is."
Neither of the boys could imagine.
"When I first described the place to you, I told you that there was a main stream with a smaller one running into it, and that I thought that this last would be very useful. I examined the ground very carefully, and I found that the small stream runs for some distance between two slight swells, which narrow in sharply to each other just below the house. Now I find that a dam of not more than fifty feet wide and eight feet high will make a sort of lake a quarter of a mile long, and averaging fifty yards wide. From this the water will flow over the whole flat by the river in front of the house and away to the left, and we shall be able to irrigate at least three or four hundred acres of land. Upon these we shall be able to raise four or five crops a year; and one crop in particular, the alfalfa, a sort of lucern for fattening the cattle in time of drought, when the grass is all parched up. At that time cattle ordinarily worth only fifteen dollars can be sold, if fat, for forty-five or fifty dollars. So you see, boys, there is a grand prospect before us."
The boys entered enthusiastically into the scheme, and the party went at once to inspect the spot which Mr. Hardy had fixed upon for the dam. This, it was agreed, should be commenced the very next day; and Mr. Hardy said that he had no doubt, if the earth was properly puddled, or stamped when wet, that it would keep the water from coming through.
In the afternoon Mrs. Hardy, Maud, and Ethel were taken a ride round the property, and were fortunate enough to see some ostriches, to the great delight of the girls.
At tea Mr. Hardy said: "There is one very important point connected with our place which has hitherto been unaccountably neglected. Do any of you know what it is?"
The boys and their sisters looked at each other in great perplexity, and in vain endeavored to think of any important omission.
"I mean," their father said at last, "the place has no name. I suggest that we fix upon one at once. It is only marked in the government plan as Lot 473. Now, what name shall it be?"
Innumerable were the suggestions made, but none met with universal approbation. At last Mrs. Hardy said: "I have heard in England of a place called Mount Pleasant, though I confess I do not know where it is. Now, what do you say to Mount Pleasant? It is a mount, and we mean it to be a very pleasant place before we have done with it."
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