Richard Lamb travels through 'Banda Oriental' (Uruguay) to find himself a perfect job and a perfect girl while his wife back home is totally oblivious to his colourful and often comic misadventures. Richard finds himself in various tricky spots, amongst natives and eventually comes to an important realisation-English imperialism is bad for this place!Jorge Luis Borges dedicated an essay to The Purple Land in his book Other Inquisitions. He compared Hudson's novel to the Odyssey and described it as perhaps the 'best work of gaucho literature.' Ernest Hemingway also famously referred to Hudson's book in his novel The Sun Also Rises. Excerpt: 'Three chapters in the story of my life-three periods, distinct and well defined, yet consecutive-beginning when I had not completed twenty-five years and finishing before thirty, will probably prove the most eventful of all. To the very end they will come back oftenest to memory and seem more vivid than all the other years of existence-the four-and-twenty I had already lived, and the, say, forty or forty-five-I hope it may be fifty or even sixty-which are to follow. For what soul in this wonderful, various world would wish to depart before ninety! The dark as well as the light, its sweet and its bitter, make me love it...'
William Henry Hudson (1841-1922) was an author, naturalist, and ornithologist.
CHAPTER XI Table of Contents
I walked thoughtfully back, because, after rendering that unimportant service to Marcos, I began to experience sundry qualms of conscience and inward questionings concerning the strict morality of the whole proceeding. Allowing that I had done something very kind, charitable, and altogether praiseworthy in getting the poor fellow's unfortunate feet out of the stocks, did all that justify the cajolery I had practised to attain my object? Or, to put it briefly in the old familiar way: Does the end sanctify the means? Assuredly it does in some cases, very easy to be imagined. Let us suppose that I have a beloved friend, an ailing person of a nervous, delicate organisation, who has taken it into his poor cracked brains that he is going to expire at the stroke of twelve on a given night. Without consulting the authorities on ethical questions, I should, in such a case, flit about his room secretly manipulating his timepieces, till I had advanced them a whole hour, and then, just before the stroke of midnight, triumphantly produce my watch and inform him that death had failed to keep the appointment. Such an acted lie as that would weigh nothing on the conscience of any man. The fact of the matter is, the circumstances must always be considered and every case judged on its own particular merits. Now, this affair of getting the key was not one for me to judge, since Ihad been a chief actor in it, but rather for some acute and learned casuist. I therefore made a mental note of it, with the intention of putting it impartially before the first person of that description I should meet. Having thus disposed of a troublesome matter, I felt greatly relieved in mind, and turned into the kitchen once more. I had scarcely sat down, however, before I round that one disagreeable consequence of my performance-the fat señora's claim on my undying devotion and gratitude-had yet to be faced. She greeted my entrance with an effusive smile; and the sweetest smiles of some people one meets are less endurable than their black looks. In self-defence I assumed as drowsy and vacant an expression as I could summon on the instant to a countenance by nature almost too ingenuous. I pretended not to hear, or to misunderstand, everything that was said to me; finally I grew so sleepy that I was several times on the point of falling off my chair, then, after each extravagant nod, I would start up and stare vacantly around me. My grim little host could scarcely conceal a quiet smile, for never had he seen a person so outrageously sleepy before. At length he mercifully remarked that I seemed fatigued, and advised me to retire. Very gladly I made my exit, followed in my retreat from the kitchen by a pair of sad, reproachful eyes.
I slept soundly enough in the comfortable bed, which my obese Gulnare had provided for me, until the numerous cocks of the establishment woke me shortly after daybreak with their crowing. Remembering that I had to secure Marcos in the stocks before the irascible little magistrate should appear on the scene, I rose and hastily dressed myself. I found the greasy man of the brass buttons already in the kitchen sipping his matutinal maté-amargo, and asked him to lend me the key of the prisoner's room; for this was what I had been instructed to do by the señora. He got up and went with me to open the door himself, not caring, I suppose, to trust me with the key. When he threw the door open we stood silently gazing for some time into the empty apartment. The prisoner had vanished and a large hole cut in the thatch of the roof showed how and where he had made his exit. I felt very much exasperated at the shabby trick the fellow had played on us, on me especially, for I was in a measure responsible for him. Fortunately the man who opened the door never suspected me of being an accomplice, but merely remarked that the stocks had evidently been left unlocked by the soldiers the evening before, so that it was not strange the prisoner had made his escape.
When the other members of the household got up, the matter was discussed with little excitement or even interest, and I soon concluded that the secret of the escape would remain between the lady of the house and myself. She watched for an opportunity to speak to me alone, then, shaking her fat forefinger at me in playful anger, whispered, "Ah, deceiver, you planned it all with him last evening and only made me your instrument!"
"Señora," I protested, with dignity, "I assure you on the word of honour of an Englishman, I never suspected the man had any intention of escaping. I am very angry it has happened."
"What do you suppose I care about his escaping?" she replied laughingly. "For your sake, sweet friend, I would gladly open the doors of every prison in the Banda if I had the power."
"Ah, how you flatter! But I must now go to your husband to learn from him what he intends doing with the prisoner who has not attempted to escape."
With this excuse I got away from her.
The wretched little Juez, when I spoke to him, put me off with a number of vague, meaningless phrases about his responsible position, the peculiar nature of his functions, and the unsettled state of the republic-as if it had ever known or was ever likely to know any other state! He then mounted his horse and rode away to Las Cuevas, leaving me with that dreadful woman; and I verily believe that in doing so he was only carrying out her private instructions. The only comfort he gave me was the promise he made before going that a communication respecting me would be forwarded to the Commandante of the district in the course of the day, which would probably result in my being passed on to that functionary. In the meanwhile he begged me to make free use of his house and everything in it. Of course, the misguided little wretch had no intention of throwing his fat wife at my head; still, I had no doubt that it was she who inspired these complimentary phrases, telling him, perhaps, that he would lose nothing by a courteous treatment of the "English millionaire."
When he rode away he left me sitting on the gate, feeling very much disgusted, and almost wishing that, like Marcos Marcó, I had run away during the night. Never had I taken so sudden and violent a dislike to anything as I then and there did to that estancia, where I was an honoured, albeit a compulsory guest. The hot, brilliant morning sunshone down on the discoloured thatch and mud-plastered walls of the sordid-looking building, while all about wherever I cast my eyes they rested on weeds, old bones, broken bottles, and other rubbish-eloquent witnesses of the dirty, idle, thriftless character of the inmates. Meanwhile my sweet, angelic child-wife, with her violet eyes dim with tears, was waiting for me far away in Montevideo, wondering at my long absence, and even now perhaps shading her face with her lily hand and looking out on the white dusty road watching for my arrival! And here I was compelled to sit, idly swinging my legs on the gate, because that abominable fat woman had taken a fancy to keep me by her! Feeling mad with indignation, I suddenly jumped down from the gate with an exclamation not intended for ears polite, causing my hostess to jump also and utter a scream; for there she was (confound her!) standing just behind me.
"The Saints defend me!" she exclaimed, recovering herself and laughing; "what made you startle me so?"
I apologised for the strong expression I had used; then added, "Señora, I am a young man full of energy and accustomed to take a great deal of exercise every day, and I am getting very impatient sitting here basking in the sunshine, like a turtle on a bank of mud."
"Why, then, do you not take a walk?" she said, with kind concern.
I said I would gladly do so, and thanked her for the permission; then she immediately offered to accompany me. I protested very ungallantly that I was a fast walker, and reminded her that the sun was excessively hot, and I should also have liked to add that she was excessively fat. She replied that it did not matter; so polite a person as myself would know how to accommodate his pace to that of his companion. Unable to shake her off, I started for my walk in a somewhat unamiable mood, the stout lady resolutely trudging on at my side, perspiring abundantly. Our path led us down to a little cañada, or valley, where the ground was moist and abounding with numerous pretty flowers and feathery grasses, very refreshing to look at after leaving the parched yellow ground about the estancia house.
"You seem to be very fond of flowers," observed my companion. "Let me help you gather them. To whom will you give your nosegay when it is made?"
"Señora," I replied, vexed at her trivial chatter, "I will give it to the-" I had almost said to the devil, when a piercing scream she uttered suddenly arrested the rude speech on my lips.
Her fright had been caused by a pretty little snake, about eighteen inches long, which she had seen gliding away at her feet. And no wonder it glided away from her with all the speed it was capable of, for how gigantic and deformed a monster that fat woman must have seemed to it! The terror of a timid little child at the sight of a hippopotamus, robed in flowing bed-curtains and walking erect on its hind legs, would perhaps be comparable to the panic possessing the shallow brain of the poor speckled thing when that huge woman came striding over it.
First I laughed, and then, seeing that she was about to throw herself for protection like a mountain of flesh upon me, I turned and ran after the snake-for I had observed that it belonged to a harmless species, one of the innocuous...