The Romance of Lady Isabel Burton, by Isabel Burton

Chapter VIII

My Lonely Ride to Rio

(1867)

The day of my delight is the day when you draw near,

And the day of mine affright is the day you turn away.

Alf Laylah wa Laylah (Burton’s “Arabian Nights”).

On Sunday, August 25, we had a sad dinner at the Casa Grande at midday, on account of the breaking up our little party, which had been so pleasant off and on for the past two months. We should probably never meet again. I bade Mrs. Gordon farewell, and at 3.30 a considerable cavalcade set out from Mr. Gordon’s hospitable door. I had to pass through the village of Morro Velho. There appeared many a waving handkerchief, and I received many a warm handshake and “God-speed.”

At the top of the village hill I turned to take a last grateful farewell of valley, church, and village — the little colony, with its white settlements and pretty bungalows, where I had passed so many pleasant days. We rode along one of the beautiful roads, which I have before described, for about six miles, often silent or trying to make cheerful remarks. Mr. Gordon accompanied me. A little before five o'clock the sun's rays were beginning to fade away into the pleasant, illuminated coolness of late afternoon, and we stopped at a house agreed upon as the parting-place, the house of the same Donna Floris Vella before mentioned, an old widow lady with a delicate son. Though already grey and aged, she was very buxom and clever, though deprived by circumstances of cultivation. She was what we would call “a good fellow.” Here we stayed half an hour, and looked at her flowers. Then we remounted, and rode on for a few hundred yards. My host, Mr. Gordon, who commanded our party, here anticipated a little mutiny, as all in their kindness of heart wanted to accompany the lone woman, and some begged to go with me for one day and some even for one stage. So we suddenly stopped in a tract of low brushwood, and he gently but firmly said, “It was here that I parted with my daughter when her husband took her to England, and it is here that I will part with you.” I shook hands silently with him, and then with the others all round, and as the sun’s last rays faded into evening I turned the head of my “gallant grey” towards my long ride; but I turned myself in the saddle, and watched them all retreating across the tract homewards until the last waving handkerchief had disappeared.

It was one of those beautiful South American evenings, cool and fresh after the day’s heat; and twilight was succeeded by a brilliant starlight such as England’s denizens have never dreamt of. There was perfect stillness, save the hum of late insects and a noise like distant rain; sweet smells from the forest were wafted across my path; and dark, brown birds of magpie shape flitted along the ground like big bats or moths, sometimes perching for an instant, and disappearing without noise in a ghostlike fashion. I felt very sad. I was sorry to leave my friends. Two months even “off and on” is like twelve months to a wanderer and an Englishwoman in exile, and above all in the wilds. She is glad to meet her country people when they are kind; and they had been so very kind. Moreover, I was returning after a taste of bush life, not to my eyrie in São Paulo, but to the cab shafts of semi-civilization in Rio de Janeiro.

My retinue consisted of the Captain of the Gold Troop, a kind, attentive man. He rode down with the Gold Troop from the mines, and protected it with an old two-barrelled horse-pistol, which would never go off when we wanted to shoot anything (and by way of parenthesis I may remark that, with the assistance of a small boy to look after the mules, I would undertake for a bet to rob the troop myself). My capitão, whom for the future I shall call Senhor Jorge, spoke but little, and that in Brazilian. I should call him a very silent youth, which was an advantage in passing beautiful scenery, or when taking notes, or feeling inclined for thought; but there were moments when I wanted to glean information about the country, and then I used to draw him out with success. Besides this stalwart there was my faithful Chico, two slaves to take care of the animals, six mules for baggage and riding, and my grey horse.

We arrived at the ranch of Sant' Antonio d'Acima at about eight o’clock. Here I got a comfortable straw bed and some milk. Some of the inhabitants, about fifteen in number, came over to our ranch, which consisted of four bare, whitewashed walls, a ceiling of plaited bamboo, a mud floor, a wooden shutter for a window, two wooden benches and table, and three tallow dips. These good people sang songs and glees, and danced Minas dances for me to the native wire guitar, snapping their fingers, and beating time with their feet. They sing and dance at the same time. They were all very merry. At ten I retired to try and sleep, leaving them to continue their festivities; but what with the excitement of the day, and the still twanging guitars at the other side of the partition, I did not succeed.

At 2 a.m. I rose, and, calling to Senhor Jorge, asked him to send for the animals. The two slaves were sent to the pasture to look for them, drive them in, and feed them. While this operation was going on, I paid the master for my night’s entertainment the sum of seven milreis, or fourteen shillings. When I mounted, it was 4 a.m. It was quite dark and foggy, but this I did not mind. I had heard from all quarters that the country was execrable. My mule, like Byron’s corsair, possessed one virtue to a thousand crimes, and that was surefootedness, and had an objection to deep holes; and were the whole journey to have been performed on a single plank, I would have ridden him in the dark without a bridle. I threw it on his neck, and tried to keep my hands warm. Soon the fog lifted, and the moon’s last crescent showed us the way, aided by starlight. The dawn grew upon us at 5.30, and at 6.30 the sun gilded the mountain-tops. At eight we arrived at Rio das Pedras, our old station, breakfasted from our basket, and changed animals. I had arranged to ride my mule in the dark, but my good grey horse in the daylight, for he trotted well, and this would relieve the journey greatly. We had now ridden twelve miles. My mule was lazy, I had no spur, and besides the country was difficult. I had still twelve miles to go. So I changed for the grey. I passed over several bits of prairie ground, where I gave my grey “spirits.” I arrived at twelve o’clock, two hours later than I had intended, at Casa Branca, the station where we had stopped five weeks previously. The sun had already been fierce for two hours. It is an excellent plan in Brazil to start early and ride your twenty-four or thirty miles before ten or eleven, and rest during the great heat of the day under shelter. It saves both man and beast, and enables them to last longer; and on a moonlight or starlight morning in the tropics you lose nothing of scenery, it is so bright. Casa Branca was an old broken-down house in a valley near a river. The only available room was occupied by an invalid. The woman of the house, be it remarked, had twenty-four children, and a cat for each child; so we had scanty room, but decent food — canjica (a rice mess), fowl roast and stewed, farinha (flour), coves (cabbage), with tocinho (bacon fat), and feijão (black beans). My sleeping-place was a room with four narrow mud walls, a rush ceiling, mud floor, a door which only kept shut by planting a stake against it, and a bit of sacking covered the hole representing a window. Every day, on arriving at my ranch, I first looked after the animals and their comforts, for on this all depends; then settled my own, wrote up this journal, saw that the men had all they wanted, dined, and then inspected the place, and read till falling asleep, always rising at 1 or 2 a.m. This evening I took a stroll down the partially dried-up bed of the river by twilight, and met herds of cattle being driven home. The picture would have made a good Turner. On my return Chico brought me a caxassi bath; this is, literally, a grog of native rum and hot water, without sugar, which gives a refreshing sleep. In these countries there is a minute tick, which covers you by millions, burrowing into your flesh; you cannot extract it, and it maddens you. At night you derive an inexpressible relief from having the grog bath.

Next morning we rose at 2.20, but did not get off till 4 a.m. It was pitch dark, raining, with high wind, and altogether a decidedly suicidal kind of morning. Instead of going down the bed of the river, we struck away to the right (N.W.), on a new road to any I had been formerly. We groped our way through rain and biting wind. At 7 a.m. we took a last view of the cross of Morro Velho from a height forty-six miles off, having passed through Cachoeira do Campo, a long, straggling village which climbed a hill and possessed a church and one or two respectable houses. It should be remarked that in Minas Geraes there are a great number of large black crosses, with all the instruments of the Passion, erected either before the parish church or on heights; they were introduced by the Jesuit missionaries. An Englishman having any great enterprise on hand will say as an incentive to the blacks, “When such a work is completed, I will plant a cross in your village”; and the hope of this makes them anxious and hard-working. We passed a deserted house and ranch. The country all about was ugly, wild, and desolate, and composed chiefly of barren campos. At 9 a.m. we arrived at Chiquero, a little village and ranch on a hill. We picnicked in the open ranch with the mules, not liking to go into a hot shelter and come out again in the wind. Meantime the sun came out and scorched us up. We changed animals, and left Chiquero at ten. My mule “Camondongo” trotted after us like a dog. Our road was bad, but a little less ugly than hitherto. We saw a fox in the wood, and Senhor Jorge tried to shoot it with the old horse-pistol, but failed. Later on we passed through some woods, and finally saw Ouro Branco quite close to us from a height on the other side of the serra. I was quite delighted, and exclaimed, “Oh, we shall get in early to-day.” “Patience,” said my capitão; “wait a little.” We had to make an enormous détour of at least two leagues to get to Ouro Branco, which seemed close to us, because we could not cut straight across the serra, which was impassable. It was very irritating always seeing the town near us, and yet always unable to reach it. I wanted to ride straight down the serra, but Senhor Jorge wouldn’t let me, and so we eventually passed round under the rocks beneath it. I saw that he was right, though it seemed such a waste of time. Still, the delay was not to be regretted, as the only curious feature of this part is in this turn, which is full of curious hills covered with stones of a wonderful and natural formation, starting out of the earth in a slanting position. The only idea it conveys to the mind is that of a hilly churchyard, overstocked with tombstones all blown on one side by the wind. They are intersected with a curious stunted tree of shrub, with a tuft at the end of each branch; and every here and there was a small patch or forest of them, and they presented a very weird look in the surrounding desolation. I did not know, nor could Senhor Jorge inform me, what these stones were made of, nor why this curious formation. Though he had travelled the road for seven years, and been in the country since his birth, he had never remarked them before. Coming in we saw a peasant with a stick and a pistol fighting a cobra. It appeared a long day, as we had had five hours of darkness, biting wind, and rain, followed by four hours of scorching sun.

We arrived at Ouro Branco at one o’clock. It is a long, straggling village, with a church and a few nice, respectable, white houses. A wall of green serra faces the village, which runs round on the top of a semicircular eminence under the serra. It had several old houses, one marked 1759, a Minas cross, and an old stone fountain. The ranch was respectable, but very dirty behind the scenes. I went into the inner part to prepare food myself, and was thankful that I did so. The women were unwashed, dirtily clad, covered with snuff, and with hair streaming down their backs; and the kitchen utensils cannot be described. It is almost impossible for an Englishwoman in any part of the world, no matter how rough she may become, even in bushranging, to view dirt with calm and indifference.

I left Ouro Branco at 4.30 a.m. It was then pitch dark, but finally the heavy clouds and small rain cleared away, and we enjoyed starlight, then a delicious dawn and bright morning. We first rode through a long, straggling village, called Carreiras, and afterwards passed a small fazenda, where there were evidences of a refined mind; it was radiant with flowers, and trellised with creepers. Our road to-day was prettier. We passed through well-wooded lanes with pretty foliage — the umbrella tree and feathery mimosa. The next feature worth remarking was a small river, which had overhanging trees of a white-and-pink feathery flower which yields an edible bean. I sent one of our men to pick some. They have a branch of green buds in the middle, and the external ones sprout forth in feather, which is magenta pink at its base and snow white at the ends, terminating in a yellow knob. We then met some men hunting peccary; the master with a horse and gun, and the beaters with dogs in couples and hatchets. At 8 a.m. we arrived at a small ranch, in a forest called Holaria, kept by an Italian and a Portuguese. The former keeps his original grind-organ, which attracted all the birds in the neighbourhood, who perched and sang loudly in the tree-tops surrounding it. He had, however, forgotten his native tongue. We picketed the animals, and breakfasted in the open.

The gigantic earth-slips in this part of the world present a very remarkable appearance. They appeared like yawning gulfs, as if some awful convulsion of Nature had just taken place; and one can hardly believe the hubbub that is effected by little streams of water wearing away and causing the earth to fall. Some appeared as if a vast plain had sunk, leaving gigantic walls, fanciful castles, and pyramids of earth standing alone in the middle. They are of a bright red clay, which the sun variegates like a kaleidoscope.

We left Holaria at nine, and came to Quelsez, a long village with shops and a few decent houses. I stopped at the shop of a Portuguese Jew to look at violas. We then rode along a rather pretty and level road, where we met mules and tropeiros, which indicated that we were joining the civilized world again, and suggested more of highway and traffic than we had as yet seen. We stopped at Bandeirinho, a few huts and farm, and had a glass of water and witnessed great excitement amongst the juvenile population because a cobra was killing all their chickens. All along the road to-day our way was lined with a beautiful sort of lilac laburnum. We had plenty of level ground for galloping.

We arrived at 12.30 at a village called Ribeirão do Inferno, a few straggling houses and ranch, poor but clean. In the ranch and its surroundings lay a sick girl, an old woman, two young married women, and a man. As I was known to be European, they came to ask me if I had any remedies; sickness was rare here, and doctor or medicines unknown. I produced a little medicine chest, with which they were quite surprised and delighted. First I went to the old woman. She was seventy; she had been travelling along on a mule, when she was suddenly seized with spasms, was unable to proceed, and was carried into the first house. She was shut up in the dark, and would not allow any light in the room, where about a dozen sympathizers were collected, till I absolutely refused to prescribe for her in the dark. She then consented to a candle being brought. She then, after some beating about the bush, confessed to me that she had eaten too much cabbage, upon which I prescribed for her to take a cup of “English” tea which I had with me with milk and sugar, and left her quite happy. The girl had a serious chill. I made her some hot punch of caxassi water and sugar, with a large lump of hog’s lard in it, in default of butter, and covered her up with six blankets and rugs to produce perspiration. The family fought very hard about it, and declared that she should not and would not drink it; but I insisted that she must, and she helped me by taking to it very kindly. She was quite well, but weak, after a few hours. The two young women had headaches from other causes, and I gave them carbonate of soda, which they insisted was sea-salt, and imagination made them sea-sick. But the worst of all was the man, who was seriously ill, and I found out at last it resulted from decayed teeth, upon which I told him that only a dentist could cure him. His wife told me with tears that it was death to have a tooth out, and I must give him some medicine that would make the decayed teeth drop out without pain; but I told her that was beyond my, or any one’s, power. I wonder what a London doctor would have given for my reputation that night!

It is worth noticing that to-day the carapatos (ticks) were on the decrease. This seems to be the border or barrier of their country; but I do believe this place to be unhealthy, for we were all slightly ailing that night. A young Portuguese engineer who has been educated in France arrived at the ranch in the evening en route for Ouro Preto. He told me he had been in Ouro Preto when we had passed through it on our way out, and had much wished to make our acquaintance.

We were rather lazy the next morning, and did not leave Ribeirão until a few minutes to six. My invalids were all well; but I only saw the master. My four men and myself were all suffering from headache, so the place must have been unhealthy. We had nothing to regret in starting so late, for it was darker, colder, and more mizzly than ever. We rode two and a half leagues, or ten miles, before breakfast. Neither our road nor any events were worthy of remark. The scenery would have been very beautiful for England, but it was tame for South America. We passed at intervals a few cottages or a solitary fazenda. We breakfasted in the open ground of a pretty ranch, called Floresta, surrounded by wooded mountains. There we found several men lassoing a struggling bull, who would not consent to leave his birthplace and little friends, and gave them about twenty minutes’ trouble over every hundred yards, tearing men and trees down with his lasso. Senhor Jorge would go inside the ranch, but I persisted in seeing the sport. We then passed a few straggling houses; then an old fazenda; then we came to a stream with one plank, which we made our animals cross.

We reached Gama at 1.10 p.m., having been out for seven hours. I felt a little tired, and declined to ride any farther, as there was no necessity. Gama is a ranch, and a poor, dirty one, in a desolate spot. It was fortunate for me that I arrived when I did, for half an hour later arrived en route for some distant fazenda Senhor Nicolão Netto Carneiro Seão, a polished and travelled man who spoke excellent English. He was travelling with his wife, children, and servants, numbering sixteen persons, some splendid animals, and a liteira. We had a long conversation over a gypsy fire which his servant made on the ranch floor, during which he told me he had served for five years in the British navy. He appeared to be anxious to import everything European, and to civilize his country. He was kind enough to say that he longed to meet Richard, and gave us a general invitation to visit his fazenda, and we exchanged cards.

The next morning we got up at 1.30 a.m., but did not start till 3.30. The morning was starlight, with a biting wind, but it soon grew dark and cloudy. We had no end of petty misfortunes. My change horse, being allowed to run loose, that we might go faster, instead of following us, ran back to his pasturage of last night. The mule I was riding insisted on following him, and heeded neither bit nor whip, but nearly left me in a ditch. Our cargo mule took advantage of the scrimmage to bolt in an opposite direction. And it was at this crisis especially dark and cloudy. We lost nearly an hour in collecting again, as we could not see each other nor any path. It seemed a very long two leagues (eight miles) before breakfast. As soon as it was light we could see a church tower of Barbacena on a neighbouring hill, apparently about three miles from us, but in reality fifteen miles distant.

At 7.10 we encamped in a clearing. My grey horse (the change) was tied up to a tree preparatory to being saddled, and got the staggers, threw himself down, and rolled and kicked so that, when we left again at eight o’clock, I had to remount my mule “Camondongo.” We passed a village outside Barbacena, and met a very large Brazilian family travelling somewhere with horses, mules, and liteiras. There were so many girls that it looked like a school. We stopped at the ranch of Boa Vista that I might change saddles. The grey seemed all right again. The mule was done up. I sent the cargo mules, servants, and animals on to Registro, a league farther than Barbacena, and rode to Hermlano’s Hotel, where we had originally put up at Barbacena when we started. Here I found Godfrey, our former German coach-driver, and arranged my passage, and found that Hermlano or some other scoundrel had changed my cão de féla pup for a white mongrel, which I presented to Godfrey. I paid a visit of twenty minutes to a former hospitable acquaintance, Dr. Regnault, and then rode on five miles farther to Registro, and arrived at 1.15 very tired, having been out ten hours.

Registro, which I have cursorily noticed before, is a picturesque fazenda on the roadside, all constructed in a rude wooden style, and is a mule station. It is a fine, large building, and the coach, after leaving Barbacena, stops here first to pick up passengers and baggage. There is also a celebrated cigarette manufactory, which contains two rooms full of workers, one for men and the other for women slaves. I went to visit them, and bought a packet for half a milreis, or thirteenpence (then). The cigarettes are hard and strong, and do not draw well. I did not like them. The master makes about 1,600 milreis, or about £160, a month by them; so some people evidently find them good.

I rose at 3.30 the next morning, Whilst dressing I heard what I supposed was threshing grain or beating sacks; it went on for about thirty minutes, and I did not pay attention to it till at last I heard a sob issue from the beaten mass at the other side of a thin partition wall. I then knew what was taking place, and turned so sick I could hardly reach the door. I roused the whole house, and called out to the man to cease. I begged the girl slave off, and besought the master to stop, for I felt quite ill; but it was fully ten minutes before I could awaken any one’s pity or sympathy; they seemed to be so used to it they would hardly take the trouble to get up, and the man who was beating only laughed and beat on. I nearly fainted, though I could only hear and not see the operation. I thought the poor wretch must have been pounded to a jelly before he left off; but she turned out to be a fine, strapping black girl, with marvellous recuperative powers, for when the man ceased she just gave herself a shake and walked away.

I left Registro at 7 a.m. Here I was to lose my escort. Senhor Jorge and the slaves accompanied me to see me off, and appeared very sorry that our pleasant ride was over. They were to start at the same time to ride back home to Morro Velho. It was quite a curious sensation, after three months’ absence, to find myself once more on a road, and a road with a coach going to civilized haunts. I found the motion of the coach as unpleasant as a steamer in a gale of wind after a long stay on land.

We descended the Serra de Mantiqueira so quickly that I did not recognize our former laborious ascent. I noticed the trees and ferns were very beautiful in the forests as we dashed along — all festoons and arches. We had a most beautiful and extensive view of the Serra de Mantiqueira and the surrounding mountains. We then came to our last station, just outside Juiz de Fóra. The country is very much the same during all this journey, perpetual mountain, valley, forest, and river, and the only great feature is the serra.

We drove up to the hotel of Juiz de Fóra at 3.30, having done our sixty-four miles in eight hours and twenty-three minutes. I asked Godfrey how it was that we had come back so much faster than we made the journey out. It transpired that he had got married in the interval, and now had somebody waiting for him at home.

Some of my coach companions came to the hotel, one a very much esteemed old man; a French engineer, with a pretty, delicate wife and child; and three Southerners — General Hawthorne, of the Southern army, an intelligent and very remarkable man, with two companions. We had rather a pleasant dinner.

Next day was Sunday, and I called on the padre and went to church. After this I spent a pleasant afternoon under the Commendador’s orange trees with the tangerines. I collected plants and roots to send back to Mrs. Gordon at Morro Velho, and was escorted by the padre, the chief manager of the company, and the head gardener, who cut them for me. Here we found the three Southerners, who joined us, and we had a violent political discussion.

The coach left Juiz de Fóra the next morning at 6.30. To-day as well as yesterday I was compelled, much against the grain, to go inside by Richard’s express wish at parting. At the station I met Captain Treloar on his way home, much better in spirits. He wished me very much to return with him, which I declined with thanks.

We soon came upon the winding river Parahybuna. We took up three Brazilian ladies, who were dreadfully frightened of the wild mules and speed, and also of the dust, and wanted to close the windows in spite of the sickening heat; but I persuaded them otherwise. They wanted my place because it faced the mules, and also wished that I should make them a present of my aromatic vinegar. They consisted of a young married woman, whose husband, a mere boy, was on the top of the coach, and she was chaperoning two raw young girl cousins on a visit to her fazenda at some distance. By-and-by the boy husband got too hot outside, and was crammed in with us, five persons when three were more than enough, especially young people, who sprawl about.

Once more we arrived under the great granite mountain which overshadows the station of Parahybuna. At 2.30 we put down the Brazilian ladies, who mounted horses and rode somewhere into the interior, and I was thankful for the space and coolness.

Then we reached Posse, where we took in a strapping German girl with big, flat feet, who trod all the way upon mine. The German Protestant parson had started with me from Juiz de Fóra, but he had to give up his place to the Brazilian ladies, and gladly resumed it when they left, as the heat outside was considerable, and besides which he practised his little English upon me. Soon after Posse arose the second wall of granite, and the scenery became doubly beautiful and the air cooler. We saw the sun set behind the mountains, and the scenery was fairyland and the air delicious; it was an evening one could not forget for many weeks.

I arrived at Petropolis at 7 p.m., where I got a hearty welcome and a good dinner, went to bed, and slept as soundly as a person would who had been out in the sun for twelve hours and had driven one hundred miles. This did not prevent my starting for Rio the next morning at 6 a.m.

The morning was clear, and we had a pleasant drive down the mountains. When I got on board the little steamer to cross the Bay of Rio, I hid in the ladies’ cabin, for I was ashamed of the state of my clothes. I could not explain to people why I was so remarkable, and I was well stared at. My boots were in shreds, my only dress had about forty slits in it, my hat was in ribbons, while my face was of a reddish mahogany hue and much swollen with exposure. I was harassed by an old Brazilian lady in the cabin, who asked me every possible question on earth about England; and at last, when she asked me if we had got any bacalhão (dried cod), to get rid of her I said “No!” Then she said she could not think much of a country that had no bacalhão, to which I returned no reply.

On arriving at Rio, I was told that the Estrangeiros Hotel, where I had left my maid and my luggage before starting for the interior three months previously, was full. As I did not want to be seen about Rio in such a plight, I waited till dusk, and then went to the next best hotel in the town. The landlord, seeing a ragged woman, did not recognize me, and he pointed to a little tavern across the road where sailors’ wives were wont to lodge, and said, “I think that will be about your place, my good woman, not here.” “Well,” I said, “I think I am coming in here all the same.” Wondering, he took me upstairs and showed me a garret; but I would have none of it, and insisted on seeing his best rooms. There I stopped and said, “This will do. Be kind enough to send this letter for me to the Estrangeiros."

Presently down came my maid, who was a great swell, with my luggage and letters. After a bath and change of garments I rang the bell and ordered supper. The landlord came up himself, as I was so strange a being. When he saw me, he said, “Did that woman come to take apartments for you, madam? I beg your pardon, I am afraid I was rather rude to her.” “Well,” I said, “I am ‘that woman’ myself; but you need not apologize, because I saw myself in the glass, and I don’t wonder at it.” He nearly tumbled down; and when I explained how I came to be in such a plight, he begged my pardon till I was quite tired of hearing him.

I spent the next few days resting my still weak foot, and reading and answering a sackful of welcome letters from home, which had accumulated during my three months’ absence. Then I went down to Santos.

Portrait
Frontispiece to Volume II

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/b/burton/isabel/romance/chapter18.html

Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:33