Born in Buenos Aires
in 1886, in his father's country estate, La Porteña, in the
province of Buenos Aires, Güiraldes had known and loved a
typical man of our country whose character inspired him to
write his inmortal book Don Segundo Sombra. He tells
us here the story of a boy who learns to become a man by
taking life humbly and bravely.
Some ten blocks away from the
central square, in the
outskirts of the
little village, the old bridge extends its arch over the river and
joins the "quintas" to the quiet fields beyond.
That day I had come, as I often did,
to hide in the cool
shade of our rock and catch a few fish
barter at "La
Blanqueada" for sweets, cigarettes or some nickels.
I was not in my best
mood; I felt
ill-humoured; I had
not called for the friends with whom I usually
loafed and bathed in
the river because I did not feel like joining in
pranks or even smile at anyone.
Even fishing appeared too much for me that day and I allowed the
cork in my line to
drift with the current.
I was thoughtful. I thought of my fourteen years as a fatherless
child, as a "guacho" -the name under which I was probably known in
With half closed eyes, not to see the things that might
lead me away from my thoughts, I pictured the forty blocks
of the village, the flat low houses, the streets monotonously
parallel or cutting each other at right angles.
In one of those blocks, neither richer nor poorer than the others,
was the house of my 'aunts', my prison.
My home? My aunts? My protector, Don Fabián Cáceres? For the
hundredth time the same questions came to my mind and for the
hundredth time I only could go over my brief life as the only
possible answer to them, but I knew it was no use.
Six years? Seven...? Eight...? How old was I exactly when I was
taken away from the woman I always called "mamma" to shut me up in
this village pretending that I had to go to school. I only know
that I cried very much during the first week and that two unknown
women and a man whom I remembered very vaguely showed me great
tenderness. The women
called me "dear" and said I was to call them Aunt Asunción and
Aunt Mercedes. The man said nothing about the way I had to call
him but I liked his tenderness better.
I went to school. I had already learnt
to swallow my tears
and not to believe in sweet words. My aunts soon got tired of
grumbled at me all day
long; they only agreed to say that I was a dirty, good-for-nothing,
lazy boy and
to blame me for
anything that went wrong in the house.
Don Fabio Cáceres once called for me and asked me if I'd like to
go round his "estancia" with him. He showed me his grand house, no
other house in the village was like it. I was so impressed that
the sight forced me into respectful silence as when I went to
church with my aunts who made me sit between them
to prompt me with my
beads and keep an eye
behaviour, as if every
rebuke they addressed
me would bring them nearer to God.
Don Fabio showed me the
poultry yard, then he
gave me a cake, and a peach and he took me around in his sulky to
show me the cows and the
Back in the village I always kept the memory of that visit as a
bright day in my
recollections of the past and when I recalled it I could not help
crying as I remembered the place where I was born and "mamma's"
figure, forever busy in some
household chore while
hung around the
splashed in a
Don Fabio repeated his visit two or three times and then the first
year was over.
My aunts no longer paid any attention to me except to take me to
church on Sunday or in the evening when they made me tell my beads.
I now lived as a prisoner between two policemen whose reprimands
gradually decreased in number and intensity and finally turned
into an occasional
I went to school for three years; I can't remember what set me
free. One day my aunts simply said it not worth while that I
should continue my education and there and then they began to send
me on a thousand
errands which kept me
on the street most of the day.
the distant districts of the town (afueras)
to hide: to keep from the eyes; to keep secret (ocultarse)
to barter: to exchange one article for another (trocar)
mood: temper, disposition (humor, carácter)
sullen: not feeling like speaking to anyone (huraño)
ill-humoured: in a disagreeable mood (malhumorado)
to loaf: to spend the time without working (vagar)
prank: boyish jokes or amusements (bromas pesadas)
bobfloat, a small float usually made of cork and
attached to a fishing line (corcho)
tenderness: affection, kindness (afecto, ternura)
to swallow: to keep my unhappiness to myself (guardar)
toy: objects with which children play (juguete)
to grumble: to express dissatisfaction angrily (protestar)
to blame: to put the responsibility for some error on
someone (echar la culpa)
to prompt: to help someone who is
speaking by suggesting a word (apuntar,
ayudar con palabras)
to pray by means of the rosary (rosario)
behaviour: conduct (conducta, comportamiento)
rebuke: a reprimand (reprimenda, castigo)
poultry yard: the place where poultry (hens,
chickens) is kept (gallinero)
mare: female horse (yegua)
bright: brilliant, happy (brillante, feliz)
household chores: everyday works done in a house (quehaceres
to hang around: to be about or around a place for
some time (dar vueltas por)
to splash: play with water (salpicar)
puddle: a small pool of dirty water (charco)
slap: a blow in the face (cachetada)
errand: short journey to take something, a mesage,
etc. (mandado, trámite simple)
READ THE SHORT STORY ABOVE AND THINK ABOUT THESE QUESTIONS
(THERE ARE NO SAMPLE ANSWERS FOR THESE ACTIVITY)
(1) What do you know about Don
(2) What does the book deal
(3) Where did the boy often go
in the afternoon?
(4) Why didn't he go with his
friends that day?
(5) How did they usually spend
their time by the river?
(6) Did he fish a lot that day?
(7) What was he thinking about?
(8) What did he see in his
(9) Who was he living with?
(10) What does he tell us about
the time when he came to the village?
(11) Did he go to school for a
(12) How did his "aunts" treat
him after a time?
(13) What did Don Fabián once
invite him to?
(14) Did he remember that day
very often? Why?
(15) What impression did he
receive when he visited the house?
(16) What did he compare that
(17) When did he stop going to
(18) What did his aunts send
him to after the day he left school?