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On the first night out from Maldonado we slept at a l'etired little country-house, and there I soon found out that I owned two or three articles, especially a pocket compass, which created unbounded astonishment. In every house I was asked to show the compass, and by its aid, together with a map, to point out the direction of various places. It ex. cited the liveliest admiration that I, a perfect stranger, should know the road (for direction and road mean the same thing in this open country) to places where I had never been. At one house a young woman, who was ill in bed, sent to beg me to come and show her the compass. If their surprise was great, mine was greater to find such ignorance among people owning thousands of cattle, and estancias of great extent. It can only be explained by the circumstance that this retired part of the country is seldom visited by foreign
I was asked whether the earth or sun moved; whether it was hotter or colder to the north; where Spain was, and many other such questions. The greater number of the inhabitants had an indistinct idea that England, London, and North America were different names for the same place; but the better informed well knew that London and North America were separate countries, close together, and that England was a large town in London! I carried with me some pro. methean matches, which I lighted by biting; it was thought so wonderful that a man should strike fire with his teeth that it was usual to collect the whole family to see it. I was once offered a dollar for a single one! Washing my face in
the morning caused much speculation at the village of Las Minas. A superior tradesman closely cross. questioned me about so singular a practice, and likewise why, on board ship, we wore our beards (for he had heard from my guide that we did so). He eyed me with much suspicion. It is the general custom in this country to ask for a night's lodging at the first convenient house. The astonishment at the compass and my other feats in jugglery was a certain advantage to me, as with that, and the long stories my guides told of my breaking stones, knowing venomous from harmless snakes, collecting insects, etc., I repaid them for their hospitality. I am writing as if I had been among the inhabitants of Central Africa. Banda Oriental would not be flattered by the comparison, but such were my feelings at the time.
On the road toward Mercedes, on the Rio Negro, we asked leave to sleep at an estancia at which we happened to arrive. It was a very large estate, being ten leagues square; and the owner is one of the greatest land-owners in the country. His nephew had charge of it, and with him there was a captain in the army, who the other day ran away from Buenos Ayres. Considering their station, their conversation was rather amusing. They expressed, as was usual, unbounded astonishment at the globe being round, and could scarcely believe that a hole would, if deep enough, come out on the other side. They had, however, heard of a country where there were six months of light and six of darkness, and where the inhabitants were very tall and thin! They were curious about the price and condition of horses and cattle in England. Upon finding that we did not catch our animals with the
lazo, they cried out: “Ah, then, you use nothing but the bolas!" The idea of an enclosed country was quite new to them. The captain at last said he had one question to ask me, which he should be very much obliged if I would answer with all truth: it was, “Whether the ladies of Buenos Ayres were not the handsomest in the world." I replied, “ Charm
ingly so.” He added, “I have one other question : Do ladies in
any other part of the world wear such large combs?" I solemnly assured him that they did not. They were abso. lutely delighted. The captain exclaimed, “Look there! a man who has seen half the world says it is the case; we al. ways thought so, but now we know it.” My excellent judg. ment in combs and beauty procured me a most hospitable
reception. The captain forced me to take his bed, and would sleep on his recado.
At Mercedes I asked two men why they did not work. One gravely said the days were too long; the other, that he was too poor. The number of horses and the abundance of food are the destruction of all industry. Moreover, there are so many feast-days: and again, nothing can succeed unless it be begun when the moon is on the increase; so that half the month is lost from these two causes.
Both at Colonia and in other places I noticed a very general interest in the approaching election for President. The inbabitants do not require much education in their representatives. I heard some men discussing the merits of those for Colonia, and it was said that, “ although they were not men of business, they could all sign their names.” With this they seemed to think every reasonable man ought to be satisfied.
I must express my admiration at the natural politeness of almost every Chileno. I may mention an incident with which I was at the time much pleased: We met near Mendoza a little and very fat negress riding astride on a mule. She had a goitre so enormous that it was scarcely possible to avoid gazing at her for a moment; but my two companions (Chilians) almost instantly, by way of apology, made the common salute of the country by taking off their hats. Where would one of the lower or higher classes in Europe
have shown such feeling politeness to a poor and miserable object of a degraded race ?
My geological examination of the country generally caused a good deal of surprise among the Chilenos: it was long before they could be convinced that I was not hunting for mines. This was sometimes troublesome. I found the l'eadiest way of explaining my employment was to ask them how it was that they themselves were not curious concerning earthquakes and volcanoes ? — why some springs were hot and others cold ?—why there were mountains in Chile and not a hill in La Plata ? These bare questions at once satisfied and silenced the greater number; some, however (like a few in England who are a century behind), thought that all such inquiries were useless and impious, and that it was quite sufficient that God had thus made the mountains.
The Chilian miners are a peculiar race of men in their habits. Living for weeks together in the most desolate spots, when they descend to the villages on feast-days there is no excess or extravagance into which they do not run. They sometimes gain a considerable sum, and then, like sailors with prize-money, they try how soon they can contrive to squander it. They drink excessively, buy quantities of clothes, and in a few days return penniless to their miserable abodes, there to work harder than beasts of burden. This thoughtlessness, as with sailors, is evidently the result of a similar mode of life. Their daily food is found for them, and they acquire no habits of carefulness; moreover, temptation and the means of yielding to it are placed in their power at the same time. On the other hand, in Cornwall, and some other parts of