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Ricardo Güiraldes

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 which I should then barter at "La Blanqueada" for sweets, cigarettes or some nickels.
I was not in my best mood; I felt sullen and 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 the customary 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 the village.
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 their new toy and 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 on my 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 mares.
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 I hung around the kitchen or splashed in a puddle.
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 slap.
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



outskirts: 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)
temper, disposition (humor, carácter)
not feeling like speaking to anyone (huraño)
ill-humoured: in a disagreeable mood (malhumorado)
to loaf: to spend the time without working (vaga
prank: boyish jokes or amusements (bromas pesadas)
cork: 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)
conduct (conducta, comportamiento)
rebuke: a reprimand (reprimenda, castigo)
poultry yard: the place where poultry (hens, chickens) is kept (gallinero)
female horse (yegua)
brilliant, happy (brillante, feliz)
household chores: everyday works done in a house (quehaceres domésticos)
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)



(1)  What do you know about Don Segundo Sombra?

(2)  What does the book deal with?

(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 imagination?

(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 long time?

(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 impression to?

(17)  When did he stop going to school?

(18)  What did his aunts send him to after the day he left school?