Don Segundo Sombra

by Ricardo Güiraldes

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1209

Fabio is a young lad who lives with his two maiden aunts in a small Argentine village. He dislikes his aunts, who feel, in their turn, that he is simply a bother. He is not sure that the two women are truly his relatives, for they pay him little attention as long as he gives them no trouble. Don Fabio Caceres, a rancher, occasionally comes to see the boy and take him into the country for a day, but the man ceases coming when Fabio is about eleven years old.

Fabio grows up to be a mischievous youngster who shows off for the worst element of the town. He knows all the gossip and spends most of his time hanging around the saloons; no one seems to care that he never went to school. The village loafers hint that he is an illegitimate, unwanted child. At best, he seems destined to be a ne’er-do-well who carries a chip on his shoulder in defiance of the rest of the world.

One night, a gaucho rides into the town as Fabio is going home from fishing. The man impresses the boy instantly, and, a little later, Fabio earns the gaucho’s interest by warning him of an ambush laid by a knife-wielding bully. The kind words spoken by the gaucho, Don Segundo, go to the boy’s heart, and Fabio immediately decides to follow the man when he leaves town. Gathering together his meager possessions, which fortunately include a saddle and two ponies, Fabio goes quietly away without telling anyone where he is going in order to escape his hated aunts. He rides to the ranch belonging to Don Leandro Galván, where he knows Don Segundo is going to spend a few days breaking wild horses.

When he arrives, the boy applies for work and is accepted. By the time Don Segundo is ready to leave the ranch on a cattle drive, Fabio has convinced Don Leandro and Don Segundo that he is a willing worker, and they let Fabio go with the other gauchos on half pay. At the end of the drive, Fabio is doing well in his apprenticeship as a gaucho.

For five years, Fabio continues under the tutelage of Don Segundo. Traveling from ranch to ranch, they work for a number of landowners. From the older man, Fabio learns to care for himself and his horses, to work cattle under various conditions, to live courageously, to get along with all kinds of people, and to have a good time singing songs, dancing, and telling stories. It is more than a way of making a living that the man passes on to the boy; it is an entire culture, a culture as old as the cattle industry and in some respects even older, going back as it does to the culture of Spain.

There are many incidents in their wanderings, including a time when Fabio wins a large amount of money by picking the winning bird in a cockfight when everyone else bets against the bird. That happens in the town of Navarro, a town that remains a lucky place in young Fabio’s mind. A long cattle drive to a ranch on the seashore is also an important experience for Fabio. There he finds that he detests the countryside, and he experiences much bad luck; but he falls in love with a young woman there. He picks up quite a respectable string of horses, the tools of the gaucho’s trade, and he is very proud of them. In working the cattle at the seashore ranch, however, two of the horses are...

(This entire section contains 1209 words.)

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injured, much to the young gaucho’s dismay. One of them is badly gored by a bull, and when Fabio comes across the bull one evening while exploring with another young man, he vows to break its neck. He lassoes the beast and snaps its neck with the shock, but in doing so, he injures himself severely, breaking several bones.

While Fabio remains at the ranch convalescing from his injuries, he falls in love, he thinks, with Paula, a pretty young woman who lives on the place. Unfortunately, she leads him on while she also leads on the rather stupid son of the rancher. The other lad takes advantage of Fabio’s crippled arm and attacks him with a knife. Fabio, not wanting to injure the owner’s son, to fight over a woman, or to violate the father’s hospitality, avoids the other fellow’s thrusts until they become deadly. Then with a quick thrust, Fabio slashes the boy’s forehead slightly, quickly taking the will to fight out of him. Paula, over whom the fight began, rebukes the crippled Fabio. Disgusted at her and at himself, Fabio, crippled as he is, mounts his horse and rides away to rejoin Don Segundo, who is working at a nearby ranch until Fabio is ready to travel.

Don Segundo and Fabio happen into a small village on a day when people have gathered from miles around to race horses. Fabio bets and loses a hundred pesos, then another hundred, and finally the third and last hundred he possesses. Still not believing that the situation is hopeless, he gambles five of his horses and loses them as well. He comes out of the afternoon’s activity a sad young man.

He and Don Segundo are hired to trail a herd of cattle from a ranch near the village to the city to be butchered. It is a long, hard drive, even for experienced gauchos. It is made even more difficult for Fabio by the fact that he has only three horses, for the animals soon become fatigued from the work of carrying him and working the cattle on the road. When the herd stops to rest one afternoon, Fabio decides to see if he can somehow get another horse or two.

While looking about, he finds Pedro Barrales, a gaucho who traveled with him and Don Segundo several times. Pedro Barrales has a letter addressed to Señor Fabio Caceres, which he gives to Fabio. The lad looks blankly at the letter, not believing it is addressed to him, for he thinks he has no surname. Don Segundo opens the letter to find that the maiden aunts are truly Fabio’s relatives and that Don Fabio Caceres, who visited him at his aunt’s home, is really his father, from whom he inherited a fortune and a large, well-stocked ranch. The news saddens Fabio because he sees that it will take him away from the life he loves. He is angered, too, because he was left so long under the impression that he should be ashamed of his parentage.

Acting upon the good advice of Don Segundo, Fabio returns to his native town, however, and from there to the ranch where he began work under Don Leandro Galván, who now becomes his guardian. When Don Segundo agrees to remain with him for three years on his own ranch, Fabio is willing to settle down. Yet, the three years pass all too swiftly, and at the end of that time, Fabio is exceedingly sad when Don Segundo leaves, answering the gaucho’s call to wander.