Don Nicola is an immigrant landowner who works hard on his farm and expects his laborers to do the same. Privately, his workmen and less ambitious neighbors criticize him because he makes his wife and children get up at two o’clock in the morning to begin their daily chores.
One of his neighbors is Don Cantalicio, an easygoing creole farmer deeply in Nicola’s debt. Próspero, his son, works for Nicola and casts many lingering glances in the direction of Victoria, his employer’s pretty daughter. Early one morning, coming to breakfast with the other laborers, Próspero finds Victoria at her work and seizes the chance to kiss her. She offers little resistance to his embrace. Later, one of the boys reports that he saw the Italian’s white ox in old Cantalicio’s pasture. Próspero is forced to defend his father against a charge of thievery.
With a payment of a loan of forty-five hundred pesos about to fall due, Cantalicio begs his neighbor for a year’s extension of credit. Nicola says that he intends to foreclose on Cantalicio’s property because his son Horacio, studying in Buenos Aires, wants the land for a farm. Cantalicio is unable to pay the debt, but he refuses to give up the property. When Próspero comments that his father should have planted wheat instead of trying to pasture cattle, Cantalicio turns on his son and accuses him of becoming a gringo—a despised foreigner.
Not long afterward María, Nicola’s wife, discovers Próspero hugging her daughter. When she tells her husband, he discharges the young man. It does no good for Próspero to ask for Victoria’s hand. Nicola tells him that he is not making money for a creole son-in-law to squander.
A few days later, the customers in a nearby tavern are drinking and teasing the waitress when a call comes for the doctor to attend a sick but penniless peon. The doctor refuses to leave until some of the loiterers offer to pay his fee. Into the tavern to gossip with the manager’s wife come María and Victoria, who are shopping in town while Nicola is with his lawyer discussing the confiscation of Cantalicio’s property. Próspero also arrives, about to leave Santa Fe. He will not listen when Victoria pleads with him to stay. He quarrels again with his father, who again accuses him of taking the side of foreigners against those of good Argentineans.
Once Cantalicio loses the lawsuit he brought in an attempt to keep his property, he, too, prepares to leave the district. He complains bitterly that the immigrants are taking over all the land. When Nicola appears at the tavern to pay him the cash difference between the amount of the debt and the value of the farm,...
(The entire section is 1098 words.)