One foggy April morning, a weary gaucho stopped at the house of Dona Silvestre and her husband, Froilan Palacios, an overseer on a ranch owned by old Pedro Pablo Ontiveros. The traveler’s pallid face showed that he had recently been in prison. After receiving meat and bread, he betrayed his familiarity with the region around Real de San Eloy by starting out for the town of Canteros over a trail unknown to most of the natives.
Early the next morning, near the main ranch house on the Ontiveros estate, he found a girl’s bare footprints in the sand by the river. A short time later, a boy appeared. He was Aquiles, a grandnephew of old Pepablo as everyone called Don Pedro. The boy said that the tracks had been made by his sister, Marcela. The traveler introduced himself as Juan-without-a-Country, but when he stopped at the tavern in Canteros, old Pepablo recognized him as Roque Carpio, a gaucho exiled to the Argentine penal colony at Ushuaia for killing his unfaithful wife twenty-five years before.
With old Pepablo was his nephew Midas. A failure in Buenos Aires, Midas had brought his daughter, Marcela, his sons, Aquiles and Hector, and his mother-in-law, Dona Claudia, to live on Pepablo’s run-down ranch. Marcela wished to restore the property with the help of Leopolda, the mannish wife of Overseer Difunto. Pepablo scoffed at her plan. Hard work was for gringos like his Spanish neighbor, Isidro Puentes, ambitious owner of a farm which had once belonged to Roque Carpio.
The old man did admire Marcela, however, and gradually turned the ranch over to her management. While searching for missing cattle, she had left the footprints seen by Roque. She found her cows in Puentes’ barley field. The gringo, hoping to arrange a match between her and his son Alfonso, had let the starving animals graze. Marcela scorned Alfonso, partly because the neatness of Puentes’ farm, in contrast with Pepablo’s establishment, hurt her pride. Once, however, she asked his help when she ran a thorn into her arm.
Increasing drought brought death to Pepablo’s cattle. Aquiles and Hector tried to bring rain by staking out a toad in the patio. A storm came, washing out Puentes’ barley fields. Pepablo was delighted. When the gringo took...
(The entire section is 926 words.)