Alfonso Pereira is an Ecuadoran landowner plagued by domestic and financial troubles. His wife, Blanca, nags him, and he is worried about his seventeen-year-old daughter, Lolita, who wants to marry a man who is part Indian. Don Julio, his uncle, adds to his difficulties by demanding repayment of a loan of ten thousand sucre, a debt already three months overdue.
When Pereira confesses that he is unable to pay the loan, Don Julio suggests that his nephew try to interest Mr. Chapy, a North American promoter, in a timber concession on Pereira’s mountain estate. Privately, the old man suspects that Mr. Chapy and his associates are on the lookout for oil and use their lumber-cutting activities in the region as a cover. To interest the North Americans, however, it will be necessary to build fifteen miles of road and to get possession of two forest tracts. Also, the Indians have to be driven off their huasipungos, the lands supplied to them in return for working on the estate.
Pereira assures his uncle that such a course will be difficult. The Indians, having a deep affection for their lands along both sides of the river, will never willingly relinquish them. Old Julio ridicules Pereira’s sentimentality and tells him to return to the estate at Tomachi and build the road. Back home, Pereira discusses his problem with Padre Lomas, the village priest. The padre agrees to persuade the Indians to work on the road: He will tell them that the labor is the will of God. They also try to determine how many mingas, parties in which Indians are plied with drinks to make them willing to work, will be necessary before the road can be completed. Jacinto Quintana, proprietor of the village store and saloon, promises that he and his wife, Juana, will make the home brew for the first of the mingas.
Andres Chiliquinga, an Indian worker, is unhappy because Pereira has returned. Andres had gone against his master’s and the priest’s wishes by marrying Cunshi. Andres is one of thirty Indians sent to start cutting wood and clearing the roadbed.
To find a wet nurse for her baby, Blanca Pereira examines some of the Indian mothers. Their undernourished babies are diseased, some with malaria or dysentery; others are epileptic or mentally disabled. Policarpio, the overseer, finally chooses Cunshi, mother of the healthiest child in the village, and takes her to the Pereira house. The master, seeing the young Indian woman, forces her to bed with him and then rapes her.
One night, Andres makes the long trip home to see his wife. Finding no one in their hillside shack, he becomes suspicious and angry. The next day, he deliberately lets his ax fall on his foot. The Indians treat the cut with spider webs and mud, but when the bandage is removed, three days later, the foot is so badly infected that Andres is sent home. A medicine man who poulticed the sore saved Andres’s life, but the wound leaves Andres disabled.
(The entire section is 1217 words.)