Roy Glashan's Library
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First published in The Children's Newspaper, 7 and 14 October 1939

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BIG John Sterndale smiled. "Yes," he said, "there's gold in some of these Patagonian streams, but it wasn't gold that gave me my start. It was wool."

"Wool!" repeated young Alan Sterndale, gazing at his uncle in amazement. "You can't get wool without sheep, and you told us you had to buy your sheep before you started ranching here."

"I'm not talking of sheep's wool," replied his uncle. "This was guanaco wool."

Eric, Alan's younger brother, burst out laughing. "You roped them, Uncle John, I suppose, and sheared them."

A great gust of wind roared over the lonely farmhouse. John Sterndale waited till it passed.

"I did not rope them, Eric, but I did shear them."

The two boys sat silent. They realised their uncle was serious. But how anyone could shear a guanaco, which is a wild llama and as hard to approach as a wild goat, was more than they could fathom. Their uncle went on.

"They were dead already, boys. Yes, five hundred or more, lying along the shore of Lake Argentino. Killed by a pampero. There they lay, with their long necks stretched out and hoar frost glistening on their wool. The carcasses were still fresh, and Simon and I set to work at once. We got nearly a ton of wool. Luckily we had plenty of pack-horses, and we took the stuff to Santa Cruz and sold it for nearly £200. That gave me my start. Then I went back alone to look for more wool, and that time I nearly didn't come back at all." He looked at the boys. "Ever hear of the Wild Man of Santa Ana?"

"Rather," said both brothers at once.

"I woke one morning," said their uncle, "and saw a man riding towards me, his hair down his back; his beard was a foot long, and he was dressed in skins. He looked like Robinson Crusoe. I sat up and reached for my gun, and the fellow pulled up just out of range. Then I saw that all my four horses were gone. He had driven them off. I shouted at him. He did not answer, but remained where he was.

"To make a long story short, I stayed and he stayed, until at last I realised that my only chance was to get away afoot to Chandler's place, which was 70 miles distant. So I packed as much grub as I could carry on my back and started, and as I reached the top of the next rise there was the Wild Man gathering up all the stuff I'd had to leave behind me. He got my saddle too, and that was a beauty."

"He didn't chase you?" said Alan.

"Why should he? It was the grub he wanted, especially tea and matches. He robbed lots of people like that, but I never heard that he hurt any. All the same, he nearly finished me, for it came on to snow, and I was all in when I got to Chandler's."

"What became of the Wild Man?" Eric asked.

"I don't know, boy. I should think he's dead by this time. I've been here 14 years now."

"And Lake Argentino—have you ever been there again, Uncle?" Alan inquired.

"Never. It's a weird sheet of water. The Andes rise at the far end. Miles and miles of mountain and forest, great gorges and glaciers. The Indians call it the Haunted Country and won't go there. No one else goes. There's nothing to go for except fossils."

"And gold?" put in Eric.

His uncle shrugged. "A little, perhaps."

"There's game," said Alan.

"Plenty," agreed Mr Sterndale. "Guanaco, deer, ostriches, red wolves, and any amount of duck." He got up. "I'm for bed. Good- night, lads."

The boys sat in the big living-room and talked for a long time. Outside a great gale thundered over the ranch house. Patagonia is the windiest place on earth.

"I'm going," said Eric at last. "I'm going to see this queer lake if it's the last thing I do."

"You can't go unless Uncle John says you can," Alan remarked.

"Don't you want to go?" Eric burst out.

Alan refused to get excited. "I'm as keen as you, Eric, and you know it. I want to see the place, and I'd like to dig some gold. We need money for our trip to England next year. But it will all depend on Uncle John. If he says no we can't get horses or grub."

"He won't say no," Eric declared. "You'll see."

Alan knew more of the risks of travel in Patagonia than his younger brother and did not believe for a moment that his uncle would let them go. To his surprise, Eric got permission at once. "But on one condition," said Uncle John. "Simon must go with you, and you can take Orthez as well. And Simon is boss. You understand that."

The boys agreed gratefully, and within two days all was ready for their long ride. They took a dozen horses. Horses are plentiful in Patagonia, and extra animals are always taken in case of accident. It doesn't do to get stranded on the pampas a couple of hundred miles from anywhere.

Old Simon, who was half Spaniard and half Tehuelche Indian, knew the country like a book, and kept the party on the right trail, and young Orthez was a splendid horseman and a good cook. The boys of course took their full share in all the work. Though they did not know it, their uncle had told Simon to put them through it. He meant to leave them his property if they proved fit to handle it.

On the eighth evening the party topped a rise, and Simon reined up and pointed to the west. Beneath a huge red sun an irregular line of white seemed to be pasted against the sky.

Eric gave a shout. "Mountains, Alan. The Andes."

"Sí, señores, it is the Cordillera," said Simon. He held up two fingers. "Two days, we reach Lago Argentino."

He was exactly right. Two days' steady riding and suddenly they were on top of a long bare ridge, looking down on a great lonely lake. There was not a boat on its surface, not a house on its hundred miles of shore. A strong wind from the west tumbled the grey waters into long lines of foam-capped waves, and brought the chill of snow from the great mass of mountains which lay between the lake and the Pacific Ocean. Simon pointed to a river which came out of the mountains and, foaming down the bottom of a deep ravine, fell into the lake.

"El Rio Spero," he said. "It was there the Señor and I found the dead herd."

They camped that night in the gorge. The boys were so thrilled that it was a long time before they could sleep. Alan was the first to doze off, and at last Eric slept. But not for long. The sound that roused him was the strangest groaning and crashing. He rolled out of his blankets and scrambled to his feet.

"An earthquake!" he shouted. "The mountain is falling down."


SIMON roused. "It is no earthquake. It is the bad spirits that cry in the hills."

Eric spoke to his brother. "You heard it. What is it, Alan?"

"Sounded like a landslide. But it was a long way off. And if Simon says it's all right we needn't worry." He went to sleep soundly again, but Eric got up quietly and went down to the river. To his amazement hardly any water was coming down. He stood and stared at the shrunken stream. Then all of a sudden he saw a great wall of water rushing upon him, and sprang back just in time to escape being swept away by a thundering wave which was capped with masses of crashing ice.

He drew a long breath. The mystery was solved. What he had heard was a glacier breaking high in the hills. A mass of ice had fallen into the river and dammed it. Then the weight of water pounding behind it had broken the dam and let loose this flood. He went back, rolled up warmly, and slept till morning.

As soon as Alan was awake he told him what he had seen, and said he wanted to go up and see the glacier.

"I thought we were going to dig gold," replied Alan.

"Plenty of time for that," Eric said quickly. "Do come up and have a look at this glacier. I've never seen one."

Simon was not too keen about their going up the mountain. He still believed in the bad spirits. However, they persuaded him, and presently he gave his consent.

"But listen!" he said. "If you get into trouble make two smokes. You know the way I have shown you. I come quick."

Alan knew all about the smoke signals. He promised. Then he and Eric took some food and a gun and after breakfast started up the wild gorge through which the river came down out of the mountains. Cliffs towered on either side and rocks littered the floor of the gorge. It was all very well for long-legged Alan, but Eric found it hard travelling.

Up and up they went, but there was not a sign of the glacier. They were out of the wind, and the sun blazed down. At last Eric dropped on a rock.

"Tired?" Alan asked.

"A bit. Give me five minutes and I'll be all right."

Alan pointed to a dark hole in the cliff face to the left. "There's a cave. It will be cool and shady inside. Let's go over and rest there."

Eric agreed, and they clambered among the boulders to the cave mouth. It was bigger than they had thought and a short passage led into a large, dim chamber. The floor was flat and was of earth, not rock.

"Looks to me as if someone had lived here," remarked Alan, and struck a match. The light shone on a long white ridge sticking up out of the clay floor, and Eric sprang forward to examine it.

"It's a bone!" he cried. "A whacking great bone."

"A bone," repeated Alan sharply, and quickly lighted a stub of candle which he took from his haversack. "Yes, it's a bone," he allowed; "but it's as big as an elephant's. And they certainly never had elephants in this country."

"It's the spine of some beast," said Eric, "and the rest is all buried." He kicked at the ground but it was too hard to move. "I say, let's go back to camp and get a spade. We must find out what this is."

"I thought you were tired," grinned Alan.

"Half an hour's rest and I'll be all right," Eric declared. "Suppose we eat our lunch while we wait."

Alan agreed and they got out their bread and cold meat. The food freshened them and they started back. It was much easier going downhill than up, and they were back at camp in little more than an hour, when they told Simon of their discovery.

Simon was not interested in bones. All he said was that they must be back by dark. So they took the shovel and pick which they had brought for their gold-digging and returned to the cave.

Once they had loosened the top layer of earth they found softer ground below, and within an hour had got out a bone rather more than ten feet long. It was part of the spine of some very big animal, and the strange thing was that it looked so fresh.

"It can't have been dead very long," said Alan thoughtfully.

"You mean there might be some alive still," said Eric, looking round sharply.

"I didn't mean that. I meant it might have died a few hundred years ago, but not a few thousand. The bone isn't fossilised."

Eric looked into the hole. "There are more bones down there. If we could find its head or even a leg we could tell more about it."

They began to dig again, and got out two great curved ribs. Eric gazed at them in awe.

"The beast must have weighed tons," he declared. "It's going to take days to get it all out." He looked at his watch. "We've an hour yet before we need start." He took up the pick, stepped down again into the hole, and began to enlarge the opening. At the second stroke his pick stuck, and when he tried to wrench it out a great sheet of something hard and heavy fell into the pit. He hauled it out.

"It's skin," he cried. Alan lifted it.

"It's skin," he repeated in a voice that was not quite steady. "And and it's got hair on it. And look! You can even see the veins on the inner side." Eric ran his fingers through the hair, which was long and coarse and of a dull brownish colour.

"Then it wasn't a reptile," he said, "but a warm-blooded creature. Alan, isn't this hair rather like a sloth's?"

"A sloth. That's it, of course. Eric, you touched the button that time. There's a book by a chap called Hesketh Prichard. I read it long ago and had forgotten all about it, but now I remember. He came out here to look for the Giant Sloth. He says the natives used to keep them in caves, but what they did with them he didn't know. Perhaps they ate them."

Eric drew a long breath.

"The Giant Sloth. Jolly good name for it. Then we've found something worth while, old chap." He picked up the slab of skin. "We'll take this back to camp, but we'll have to bring a wagon to fetch the bones back."

Alan caught him by the arm with a grip that hurt. "Shut up and look over there," he hissed. He pointed out of the mouth of the cave.

On the far side of the river a man walked up the valley with long springy steps. His hair hung down his back, his face was covered with a matted beard. He was dressed in skins. Eric looked at his brother.

"A white man," he whispered. Alan nodded.

"A wild man," he added. "Just like the one Uncle told us about."


CASTING quick glances from side to side, but evidently without any idea he was being watched, the mystery man went swiftly up the valley.

"Eric," said Alan, "that was the Wild Man of Santa Ana Uncle told of."

"It couldn't be. That was 14 years ago."

"What's 14 years? If he was 30 then he'd only be 44 now."

Eric grunted. "Nice business for us if he comes and robs our camp."

"Don't worry. Probably he won't come near us."

The two got back to camp just before dark, but were disappointed to find that Simon did not think much of their find. It was different when they told him of the Wild Man.

", it is the Wild Man," he growled. "The horses must be watched by night. And if he comes—" Simon's hand fell to the big pistol he always carried at his belt.

That night they took turns to watch, but nothing happened. In any case the horses were not likely to stray far. They could not climb the valley cliffs and there was plenty of grass around the camp. The boys would have liked to have gone back to the cave, but Simon would not have it. So they took pick, shovel, and pan, and set to washing the gravel at the edge of the river.

Simon showed them the trick of it, how to spin the pan so that the coarse gravel was flung out first, then the finer, until nothing but sediment was left. They tried three places, and at the third a tiny yellow streak showed in the bottom of the pan. It was "colour," fine gold dust. Simon scraped it out and put it in a bag. There was nearly half a thimbleful.

"This right place," he told them. "You work here but watch for flood."

The boys worked like beavers. Some pans held gold, some didn't, but by night they had nearly an ounce, and were triumphant.

"Six pounds for a day's work. What do you think of that?" said Eric to Simon.

"I think you not always so lucky," Simon answered dryly; and he was right. Next day they got hardly anything, the third day less than half an ounce; but on the fourth they found a little nugget which weighed nearly two ounces, and were jubilant.

They were so keen about their gold they forgot everything else, including the Wild Man. Then came two days of storm, wind with heavy rain. The river rose, they were forced to stay in the tent, and got very bored. For another thing, they ran out of fresh meat and had to live on bread and beans with a little bacon. When at last it cleared up Simon told them that he and Orthez were going out after meat. He gave the boys strict orders to stay by the camp and left them a loaded gun.

The sky was cloudless, the sun hot, and the river was going down fast. The boys longed to get to their digging, but had to wait till Simon returned.

"It seems stupid," said Eric at last. "We haven't seen a soul here except that Wild Man, and for all we know he may be a hundred miles away by now. Alan, I've got to have some exercise. Stay here while I walk to the top of the bluff."

Alan could not see any objection to this, so Eric strolled off. The camp lay to the right, that is to the north of the river and quite near its mouth. Alan lay on his back on the warm turf, watching the horses grazing peacefully closer to the water.

He was roused by aloud shout from Eric, and, looking round, saw him standing at the top of the bluff waving frantically. Springing up, he ran towards him.

"Smoke, Alan! Simon's in trouble."

He pointed, and in the far distance Alan saw two columns of smoke rising straight into the calm air. The spot from which they rose was on the opposite side of the river, several miles away up the mountain.

Two columns. It was the urgent signal, the call for help, and Alan's first impulse was to race off. But he realised that they must first pack up some food.

"And we'll take the gun," he told Eric.

So they ran back to the camp, got food, matches, the gun, cartridges, and the little flask of aguardiente which Simon kept as medicine. Then they started up the gorge. The river was too deep and swift to cross.

"But what are they doing up that side?" Alan asked presently. "How did they cross?"

"Must be a ford," Eric answered. "And we have to find it."

Soon they were opposite the cave, but there was no sign of a ford. Alan was worried. He kept on wondering what sort of trouble Simon could have got into. Even if he had had a fall and broken a leg surely Orthez could have helped him, or left him and come for a horse.

They were nearly three miles up the river before they came to a place where it looked as if they could cross. Here the stream was split in two by an island. It seemed to be shallow and was full of rocks. But it was running very fast.

"I'll go first," Alan told Eric, and stepped in.

The wafer was icy cold. It was in fact melted ice from the glacier above, and it was clouded by glacier mud. Alan wished he had a stick, but there was no timber near. He had to make the best of it. He got halfway across the first stream, then put his foot in a hole. Instantly he was off his feet and being whirled downstream.

With a thud that left him breathless he was banged against a rock. He grasped it, and found his feet in the slack water behind.

"All right, Eric," he shouted. "Look out for the hole. I can manage."

It was shallower now, and presently they were both on the island. The other branch was easier, and the climb up the opposite bluff warmed them. Above was a great slope of rough ground seamed with gullies, stretching up to the forest, but there was no smoke now, nothing to tell them which way to go. For more than an hour they tramped, and suddenly two men came up out of a gully, both loaded with venison.

They were Simon and Orthez.


SIMON looked angry. "What you do here?"

Quickly Alan told him of the smoke signals, and Simon's brown face went grim.

"It was the pretence the hoax," he snapped. "Now he has our horses."

"The Wild Man," gasped Eric, and Alan nodded. Simon had already started back. With his help they crossed the ford easily, and all four went at a great pace down the far bank. They reached the bend half a mile above the camp, and their worst suspicions were realised. The horses were gone.

The tent still stood, but when they reached it they found that the stores had been gutted. Tea, sugar, condensed milk, salt, baking powder, flour, matches all were gone. Even the Giant Sloth skin had been taken. Nothing was left but the cooking pots.

Simon examined the ground, still moist with the recent rain. He pointed to large, shapeless tracks.

"It is the Wild Man," he said in a low, harsh voice.

Alan's heart sank. He was old enough to understand their terrible plight. Without horses and food they were utterly stranded. They could never hope to get home afoot. Simon glanced at the low sun.

"It is too late to follow tonight. We eat, we sleep, at dawn we go after."

Roast venison isn't so good without salt or bread, but it was food. They ate and slept, and the sun was not yet up when they were afoot. Luckily it was fine and the trail was easy to follow, for the horses' hooves had bitten deep into the soft ground. The tracks went straight up the north side of the river. Clearly the thief had passed after the boys had climbed the south bank. At midday they stopped and ate cold meat. Eric spoke to Alan.

"But the Wild Man may be 50 miles away by now."

"He may," said Alan.

"And we are getting farther from home all the time," said Eric.

Simon raised his head.

"He not think we chase him. Maybe we find him camped."

They went on. After two hours' marching they came to a place where the gorge curved sharply to the right. Simon signed to them to stand still and went on alone to the bend. Nearing the corner he went down on hands and knees and crept. For a full minute Simon lay flat at the corner. When he came back his expression was startling.

"The Wild Man, he there," he told them.

"And the horses?" asked Alan in a strained whisper.

"The horses, they there too. But he watch them. And the ground, it all open. If he see us he jump on horse and ride away. We never see him again."

The boys gazed, wide-eyed, at Simon.

"What's the lay-out?" Alan asked. "The ground, I mean."

"Big, wide grass slope. Good grass. Wild Man, he sit on rock, watching."

"Is there no cover at all?" Alan asked. Simon shook his head.

Alan glanced at the cliff to the right. "If we climbed up there we might get ahead of him and cut him off."

Simon looked at the cliff. "It possible," he agreed slowly. "But one must stay here. You, Orthez. And take the gun."

"It's the best plan," said Alan, and off they went.

The bluff was steep but not high. Reaching the top, they ran for nearly half a mile, then Simon stopped and pointed to a gully leading down into the ravine.

"Go quiet!" he ordered. And that wasn't too easy for the steep gully was full of loose stones.

Arrived at the bottom, Simon went forward and peered round the corner. He beckoned them forward. The Wild Man was no longer on his rock. He was girthing the saddle on the back of one of the horses. Alan looked at Simon with horrified eyes.

"What do we do wait till he comes?"

Simon shook his head. "No good. He ride over us. Best thing, we go now. Go quiet; then he not see us till we near."

All three ran hard across the green turf. One of the horses saw them and threw up its head. Instantly the Wild Man turned. Swiftly as an Indian, he flung himself into the saddle and galloped down the gorge, hazing the horses before him. Orthez sprang up from behind a rock and blazed off both barrels of the shot-gun. In a flash the Wild Man turned and went straight towards the river.

Alan groaned. Horses could ford the stream and be away before men afoot could cross it. Simon saw it too. He was running furiously. He outstripped the boys, but could not run as fast as a galloping horse. Alan, panting behind, saw the Wild Man force his horse into the edge of the river. He was driving two horses in front of him.

Simon suddenly levelled his rifle. Clearly he meant to shoot the Wild Man. Alan caught his arm.

"You can't do that," he cried.

Simon lowered the weapon. "No. I cannot shoot him in the back. Yet if I do not we starve."

"We don't." The shout came from Eric. "The wave! Look!"

Another of those flood waves was sweeping down the river at frightful speed. The Wild Man saw it and turned his horse. He was too late. Before he could regain the bank the wave caught his horse and swept it off its feet. The horse and its rider disappeared in a yeast of foam.

Orthez came running. He had a rope, and was uncoiling it as he came. He reached the bank some fifty yards below the others, and at that moment the head of the horse rose out of the flood. The rope flew out and settled around its neck, and the others, running up, got hold of it and between them hauled the creature ashore. With it came the Wild Man, whose right foot had caught in the stirrup. Simon released the foot and they laid the man on the bank.

"He dead," said Simon briefly, and turned to look for the pack-horses. One had gained the bank before the wave caught it; the other was struggling ashore downstream.

Alan spoke to Eric. "He's not dead. His heart is beating. Help me to turn him over and get the water out of him."

They didn't know much about first aid, but by the time Simon came back the Wild Man's eyes were open. He gazed at them all with a puzzled expression.

"Who are you?" he asked in English.

Simon stared. "But he speaks sensibly," he exclaimed.

Alan looked up sharply. "He's got his senses back," he told Simon.

"A miracle," said Orthez, crossing himself.

"It was the shock," Alan explained. He spoke to the Wild Man and told him all that had happened, so far as he knew. The poor fellow seemed dazed. He told them that his name was Daniel Carthew and that he was English. But the last thing he remembered was being thrown from his horse in a snowstorm. And that, it seemed, must have been nearly 20 years ago.

They camped where they were and next day got their patient down to the main camp. When Simon had shaved him, cut his hair, and found some clothes for him, he was a good-looking man. Also he turned out to be quite well educated. On the following day Alan found him examining the piece of hide from the Giant Sloth. He knew what it was and told them all about it.

"I expect Uncle will be interested in it," Alan said.

The once Wild Man smiled. "Others, besides him. Half the museums in the world will be clamouring for this. You ought to get a couple of hundred pounds for it."

Eric had just come up. "Hurray!" he shouted. "Then we can have our trip to England."

The price paid for the mylodon hide was £300, and next summer the boys left for their trip to England. But the once Wild Man had settled down happily on the ranch and declared he would never leave it.


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
Go to Home Page
This work is out of copyright in countries with a copyright
period of 70 years or less, after the year of the author's death.
If it is under copyright in your country of residence,
do not download or redistribute this file.
Original content added by RGL (e.g., introductions, notes,
RGL covers) is proprietary and protected by copyright.