WHEN WE WERE BOYS.
[By an Ex-M.P.]
The English and Australian Copper Company had imported from South America some hundreds of mules with a number of muleteers. To the boys these formed a wonderful sight when they first trooped through the Burra. How we did admire those Spaniards as they rode along in their graceful gaily coloured ponchos and great sombreros, with immense spurs jingling and lassos fastened to queer-shaped, silver-decorated saddles. At the head of the troop was a Spaniard leading a piebald Chilian mare, with a small bell round her neck. No sweet vesper-bell ever had more charm for nuns devout than that little tinkle had for those—at that time—wild unbroken mules. Wherever the mare went there went they a la Mary’s little lamb. The Spaniards were passionately fond of watermelons. At that time these were so plentiful in the neighbourhood of the Burra that heaped-up bullock-dray loads would be brought in and sold for a song. As Don Pedro Ramirez was riding by one day I gave him a beauty, for which he treated me to a delightful canter on his mule. Ever after he was my friend. The mule camp was at Apoinga, about twenty miles away. One Saturday afternoon Pedro yielded to my earnest entreaties and took me home with him. He was the only Spaniard who was accompanied by his wife, and there was a daughter of about eleven or twelve years. The Senora Carlota was a merry, handsome woman, with great blue-black, velvety eyes, the sort that ruin more men than are killed by whisky—and the little Senorita Inez was the image of her mother. The mules were my delight; but how earnestly did the Senora and Inez, more by pantomime than speech, caution me about the danger that lurked in their hind legs! Not long ago I read of a little fellow who first saw the word ‘fool’ in print.
‘What’s a foul, dad?’ said he.
‘Well, my son, well—a fool is a man that
strokes the hind-leg of a mule.’
‘And does he find out that he’s a fool,
‘Not in this world, my son.’
The next day was Sunday, and what a glorious day it was—one which should have lasted for ever. In the morning Pedro saddled a couple of mules, and with the sweet little Senorita I went for a ride. In the afternoon Carlota and Inez rolled dainty cigarettes, and we all lazily smoked. In the evening Pedro went off to gamble, the Senora played her guitarra, and Inez danced—danced in a manner which her namesake in the Ben Gaultier ballads might have been envied.
Swifter than the Tartar’s arrow,
lighter than the lark in flight—
On the left foot now she bounded,
Now she stood upon the right.
The reluctant parting next morning was somewhat sweetened by Inez’s promise to send me a billete o caria amorosa by Pedro every week, a promiso which was faithfully kept. Many were the subsequent visits which I enjoyed at the mule camp, where I learnt to throw both Pedro’s lasso and Carlota’s beautiful little ivory-handled punal. But these Spanish-Americans longed for their Santiago home, and all too soon the time arrived for their departure. I begged to be taken with them, and Inez sobbingly seconded her balanteador’s entreaties. The Senora showed signs of yielding, but Don Pedro was adamant, so Inez and I arranged that as soon as I grew a moustache like her father’s I was to go to Santiago and marry her. Then we parted. Inez consoling me by promising to pray her patron saint every night to hasten on the moustache.
WHEN WE WERE BOYS.