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A Second Story of Two Brothers

Shortly after writing the story of two brothers in the last part but
one I was reminded of another strange story of two brothers in that
same distant land, which I heard years ago and had forgotten. It now
came back to me in a newspaper from Miami, of all places in the world,
sent me by a correspondent in that town. He--Mr. J. L. Rodger--some
time ago when reading an autobiographical book of mine made the
discovery that we were natives of the same place in the Argentine
pampas--that the homes where we respectively first saw the light stood
but a couple of hours' ride on horseback apart. But we were not born on
the same day and so missed meeting in our youth; then left our homes,
and he, after wide wanderings, found an earthly paradise in Florida to
dwell in. So that now that we have in a sense met we have the Atlantic
between us. He has been contributing some recollections of the pampas
to the Miami paper, and told this story of two brothers among other
strange happenings. I tell it in my own way more briefly.

* * * * *

It begins in the early fifties and ends thirty years later in the early
eighties of last century. It then found its way into the Buenos Ayres
newspapers, and I heard it at the time but had utterly forgotten it
until this Florida paper came into my hand.

In the fifties a Mr. Gilmour, a Scotch settler, had a sheep and cattle
ranch on the pampas far south of Buenos Ayres, near the Atlantic coast.
He lived there with his family, and one of the children, aged five, was
a bright active little fellow and was regarded with affection by one of
the hired native cattlemen, who taught the child to ride on a pony, and
taught him so well that even at that tender age the boy could follow
his teacher and guide at a fast gallop over the plain. One day Mr.
Gilmour fell out with the man on account of some dereliction of duty,
and after some hot words between them discharged him there and then.
The young fellow mounted his horse and rode off vowing vengeance, and
on that very day the child disappeared. The pony on which he had gone
out riding came home, and as it was supposed that the little boy had
been thrown or fallen off, a search was made all over the estate and
continued for days without result. Eventually some of the child's
clothing was found on the beach, and it was conjectured that the young
native had taken the child there and drowned him and left the clothes
to let the Gilmours know that he had had his revenge. But there was
room for doubt, as the body was never found, and they finally came to
think that the clothes had been left there to deceive them, and that as
the man had been so fond of the child he had carried him off. This
belief started them on a wider and longer quest; they invoked the aid
of the authorities all over the province; the loss of the child was
advertised and a large reward offered for his recovery and agents were
employed to look for him. In this search, which continued for years,
Mr. Gilmour spent a large part of his fortune, and eventually it had to
be dropped; and of all the family Mrs. Gilmour alone still believed
that her lost son was living, and still dreamed and hoped that she
would see him again before her life ended.

One day the Gilmours entertained a traveller, a native gentleman, who,
as the custom was in my time on those great vacant plains where houses
were far apart, had ridden up to the gate at noon and asked for
hospitality. He was a man of education, a great traveller in the land,
and at table entertained them with an account of some of the strange
out-of-the-world places he had visited.

Presently one of the sons of the house, a tall slim good-looking young
man of about thirty, came in, and saluting the stranger took his seat
at the table. Their guest started and seemed to be astonished at the
sight of him, and after the conversation was resumed he continued from
time to time to look with a puzzled questioning air at the young man.
Mrs. Gilmour had observed this in him and, with the thought of her lost
son ever in her mind, she became more and more agitated until, unable
longer to contain her excitement, she burst out: "O, Seņor, why do you
look at my son in that way?--tell me if by chance you have not met
someone in your wanderings that was like him."

Yes, he replied, he had met someone so like the young man before him
that it had almost produced the illusion of his being the same person;
that was why he had looked so searchingly at him.

Then in reply to their eager questions he told them that it was an old
incident, that he had never spoken a word to the young man he had seen,
and that he had only seen him once for a few minutes. The reason of his
remembering him so well was that he had been struck by his appearance,
so strangely incongruous in the circumstances, and that had made him
look very sharply at him. Over two years had passed since, but it was
still distinct in his memory. He had come to a small frontier
settlement, a military outpost, on the extreme north-eastern border of
the Republic, and had seen the garrison turn out for exercise from the
fort. It was composed of the class of men one usually saw in these
border forts, men of the lowest type, miztiros and mulattos most of
them, criminals from the gaols condemned to serve in the frontier army
for their crimes. And in the midst of the low-browed, swarthy-faced,
ruffianly crew appeared the tall distinguished-looking young man with a
white skin, blue eyes and light hair--an amazing contrast!

That was all he could tell them, but it was a clue, the first they had
had in thirty years, and when they told the story of the lost child to
their guest he was convinced that it was their son he had seen--there
could be no other explanation of the extraordinary resemblance between
the two young men. At the same time he warned them that the search
would be a difficult and probably a disappointing one, as these
frontier garrisons were frequently changed: also that many of the men
deserted whenever they got the chance, and that many of them got
killed, either in fight with the Indians, or among themselves over
their cards, as gambling was their only recreation.

But the old hope, long dead in all of them except in the mother's
heart, was alive again, and the son, whose appearance had so strongly
attracted their guest's attention, at once made ready to go out on that
long journey. He went by way of Buenos Ayres where he was given a
passport by the War Office and a letter to the Commanding Officer to
discharge the blue-eyed soldier in the event of his being found and
proved to be a brother to the person in quest of him. But when he got
to the end of his journey on the confines of that vast country, after
travelling many weeks on horseback, it was only to hear that the men
who had formed the garrison two years before, had been long ordered
away to another province where they had probably been called to aid in
or suppress a revolutionary outbreak, and no certain news could be had
of them. He had to return alone but not to drop the search; it was but
the first of three great attempts he made, and the second was the most
disastrous, when in a remote Province and a lonely district he met with
a serious accident which kept him confined in some poor hovel for many
months, his money all spent, and with no means of communicating with
his people. He got back at last; and after recruiting his health and
providing himself with funds, and obtaining fresh help from the War
Office, he set out on his third venture; and at the end of three years
from the date of his first start, he succeeded in finding the object of
his search, still serving as a common soldier in the army. That they
were brothers there was no doubt in either of their minds, and together
they travelled home.

And now the old father and mother had got their son back, and they told
him the story of the thirty years during which they had lamented his
loss, and of how at last they had succeeded in recovering him:--what
had he to tell them in return? It was a disappointing story. For, to
begin with, he had no recollection of his child life at home--no
faintest memory of mother or father or of the day when the sudden
violent change came and he was forcibly taken away. His earliest
recollection was of being taken about by someone--a man who owned him,
who was always at the cattle-estates where he worked, and how this man
treated him kindly until he was big enough to be set to work
shepherding sheep and driving cattle, and doing anything a boy could do
at any place they lived in, and that his owner and master then began to
be exacting and tyrannical, and treated him so badly that he eventually
ran away and never saw the man again. And from that time onward he
lived much the same kind of life as when with his master, constantly
going about from place to place, from province to province, and finally
he had for some unexplained reason been taken into the army.

That was all--the story of his thirty years of wild horseback life told
in a few dry sentences! Could more have been expected! The mother had
expected more and would not cease to expect it. He was her lost one
found again, the child of her body who in his long absence had gotten a
second nature; but it was nothing but a colour, a garment, which would
wear thinner and thinner, and by-and-by reveal the old deeper
ineradicable nature beneath. So she imagined, and would take him out to
walk to be with him, to have him all to herself, to caress him, and
they would walk, she with an arm round his neck or waist; and when she
released him or whenever he could make his escape from the house, he
would go off to the quarters of the hired cattlemen and converse with
them. They were his people, and he was one of them in soul in spite of
his blue eyes, and like one of them he could lasso or break a horse and
throw a bull and put a brand on him, and kill a cow and skin it, or
roast it in its hide if it was wanted so; and he could do a hundred
other things, though he couldn't read a book, and I daresay he found it
a very misery to sit on a chair in the company of those who read in
books and spoke a language that was strange to him--the tongue he had
himself spoken as a child!

W. H. Hudson