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The Plough Boy Journals

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19th Century American Whaling

Bonin Islands

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Ashley's Glossary of
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Dana's Dictionary of
Sea Terms


W. H. Macy

Ballou's Monthly Magazine
Vol. XXX, No. 4 (Oct 1869)
pp. 354-358

354 My First "Liberty Day" in Valparaiso.



      "Get ready, the starboard watch, to go ashore!" was the order from the mate the next morning after our anchor went down in the port of Valparaiso, Chili. An order which required no repetition to make it understood, no exercise of official authority to enforce obedience.

      Only he who has endured the monotony of a six months' cruise at sea can understand the exhilaration of feeling with which a "liberty day" is welcomed. The best ship that floats must necessarily be, to all intents and purposes, a prison. To escape from thraldom for the space of four-and-twenty hours seems like a foretaste of heaven.

      Jack's freedom is perfect so long as it lasts, that is, so far as his duty to the ship is concerned. He can sit at ease in the boat, and put on the airs of a monarch, while his shipmates of the other watch ferry him ashore. And the boat will be at his service to bring him off in like manner at the expiration of his furlough, unless he prefer to hire other conveyance, which he can do if he choose – and have money enough left.

      With our best suits "bent" – though "best" is in this case strictly a comparative term – we passed aft, into the cabin, and out again (in Indian file, like voters at the polls), and over the side into the waiting boat. Each man had received his share of money, and a rough word of admonition, to which the mate, looking over the rail, added an injunction "not to bring any money on board, when we came off." He must have felt in an ironical humor that morning.

      "Why, you aint a bad-looking set of boys," he added," when you get everything set up taut and tarred down. There'll be no touchin' ye with an eighteen-foot pole after you've taken an extra sway-up at the first 'pull-poree' here. (A pulperia is a Chilian grogshop, or, as modern refinement has it, "saloon.")

      "O, we are going to keep away from the pull-porees, sir," said two or three voices.

      "Of course you are," returned the mate. "Sailors always do. Well," he continued, with a laugh, "you wont look so fine tomorrow morning at this time; the starch'll be all out of you by that time."

      We exercised our lungs in vocal concert all the way to the shore, and trod on air as we charged up the mole or wharf into the streets, or rather street, for there was but one properly so called. The rest might have been termed rude mountain-paths, better adapted to goats than to seamen "on liberty."

      We invited our shipmates of the other watch to come up and take a drink, according to established precedent in such cases, and dismissed them with an air of patronage, and our blessing, as they took their way back to the boat to return on board.

      "Every dog has his day," said one of them, looking back wistfully at us.

      "Boast not thyself of to-morrow," was the retort, and we broke up into couples or trios, scattering in pursuit of a day's pleasure.

      My companion and crony was Will Pringle, an ardent, impulsive youth, who knew as little of this particular place as myself, and much less of the world in general. We allowed ourselves to drift, as it were, wherever wind and current might carry us. We had soon seen enough of the more wealthy and aristocratic part of the town, "El Almendral," as it is called, where no one seemed to know or care for a couple of sailor boys. We turned up one of the mountain paths, made an eccentric track or orbit, neither of us could have told how or where, and were naturally sucked by an eddy into the barroom of the "Shamrock, Rose and Thistle."

My First "Liberty Day" in Valparaiso. 355

      This establishment was not a pulperia, but a veritable "public 'ouse," kept, as may well be supposed, by an Irishman, who had arranged the emblems on his trinitarian signboard, so as to give the Shamrock the precedence of the other two. Here was "life and jollity, with a warm welcome for the mariner who had a real to spend; still warmer if he had a peso, and so on upward.

      Two or three of our own shipmates, in an enviable state of exhilaration, had already cast anchor in this haven, and were "hail fellows well met" with a dozen or more gallant man-o'-war's-men from her majesty's ship Daedalus, with the ship's name in full on the front of their jaunty little hats and trowsers, the circumference of which at the waistband was rather less than that of each leg at the bottom.

      Music was not wanting, for a fiddle was pouring forth the heel-inspiring strains of "Jack's the lad," and a break-down was being executed in the most orthodox style. The star of the troupe was a tall, handsome specimen of the animal celebrated in song and story as the British tar, who appeared to have no joints in his limbs, but to undulate quite uniformly all the way up and down his perspiring form, to the great delight of admiring lookers-on.

      As the dance ended with a grand flourish of the violin, a new-comer appeared, in the person of a dapper little Chileno, neatly dressed, and wearing a delicate little mustache. "The monte-player!" said some one, who had seen him before. Old Boyd, the landlord, addressed him civilly, though not cordially, as "Rafael."

      With a polite "Buenos dias!" to all the company assembled, the little fellow produced three cards, and began to manipulate them on a stool in front of him. Showing one, and then another, he kept them moving, now and then calling upon some one to bet where the ace was.

      For some little time no one ventured to do so, but I saw that my chum was deeply interested, and was watching, with heightened color and parted lips, the movements of the dealer. He changed the places of the cards more slowly and carelessly. The landlord risked a quarter – and won.

      "There!" said Will. "I was going to bet on that same card. I wish I had."

      "You'd better not try, Will," said I. I had heard of three-card monte before, though I had never seen it played.

      Rafael's eyes twinkled as he saw the eagerness of my companion. He dealt again, and invited a bet. Will threw down a quarter, and pointed out the card. He was right. The dealer paid without a word. Will was more eager than ever.

      "Don't try again," I said to him. "He let you win that, just to lead you on,"

      "O, let me alone, John!" said the fascinated youth, shaking me off impatiently. "I can tell that card every time. Do you suppose that fellow's hands are quicker than my eyes?" And down went a dollar in response to Rafael's invitation to bet again. "That one," said Will, touching a card.

      But it wasn't that one. His dollar was gone.

      "Come away now, Will," I entreated. I might as well have talked to the portraits of Lord Nelson and the Iron Duke which ornamented the wall. His eyes were upon the cards, as if there were no other object in the world.

      "Dos pesos!" said Rafael, bantering him.


      The two dollars were thrown on the bench. Will turned the card himself. He had lost again, as I was quite sure he would. I took him by the arm and dragged him out of the house, a derisive laugh following us.

      I was obliged to use force as well as argument to break the spell that had seized upon him. He had lost three dollars – more than half his capital, as he had but five when he left the ship. He felt ashamed as soon as he was himself again.

      "But," said he, "I thought I knew which was the ace. I would as soon have bet twenty dollars as two, if I had had it – yes, two hundred. But it's all over, John," said he, as he looked at the little he had left. "Don't fear for me. I shall not try monte again."

      Drifting on, as before, we now passed into the western quarter of the town, or sailor's paradise, and were no longer at a loss for amusement or excitement We were not long in finding the hills known as the Fore, Main and Mizzen Tops, and took a look in at the dance-halls, where a few seamen were idly walking the floor, or lounging on the benches round the sides of the room. But these places were not to be seen in their glory until after nightfall.

      "Let go o'me! I can walk, don't I tell ye, without any of yer help!" roared a voice husky and thick with liquor. "Just hit me,

356 My First "Liberty Day" in Valparaiso.

      now, with that cheese-knife, if yer think it's best, and I'll knock spots out o' both o' ye!"

      We hurried to the door in time to see old Haley, our shipkeeper, in the grasp of two wiry little vigilantes, who were pulling him along towards the lock-up. He could walk, as he declared; but there was an unfortunate difference of opinion as to direction. His steps invariably turned one way, while the guardians of the peace as stoutly insisted he should go the other.

      "What's the row, Haley?" we asked.

      "No row at all," said he, sitting down resolutely on the ground, and being dragged along in that position, not at all to the benefit of his go-ashore toggery. "Come and lend me a hand. Two upon one is no fair play."

      Several "Daedali," as well as some of his own shipmates, were fired with sympathy at this appeal, and for a moment there were indications of a rescue. But more policemen, well armed, appeared in the nick of time, the majesty of the law prevailed, and Haley, struggling and swearing, was carried off "to chokey," as he expressed it.

      We learned from the bystanders that the shipkeeper, who was an old stager on this coast, had imagined himself cheated in the count of his change by an elderly lady, the patrona of a little drinking-shop, whereupon he had sworn that he would clean out her old casa, and smash up the tambos, as she called her decanters and fixtures. He had proceeded to put his threat in execution; but the first crash of broken glass was the signal for interference by "two upon one," in defiance of forecastle law.

      Before sundown four more of our watch were furnished with prison lodgings, for conduct of a similar character, or for fighting among themselves, being impelled thereto by the chemical action of ardent upon animal spirits. It is very hard for the seaman on liberty to submit to the local authorities, and demean himself like a law-abiding citizen. He seems to think that obedience to the strict discipline of a ship for months gives him the right to do precisely as he pleases for twenty-four hours, and is astonished to find that policemen and magistrates hold a different opinion.

      The house known as the "Mizzen Top" was at that time the most popular dancehall in Valparaiso. By early candlelight it was well filled with dancers of both sexes, and continued so until the hour of closing for the night. The Chilian girls, many of them sparkling brunettes of rare grace and beauty, illustrated the poetry of motion as they whirled in the giddy waltz, or flourished the handkerchief in time to the step of the zamacueca, or "Sambo Quaker," as our boys generally Anglicised it – a dance peculiar to the country.

      At about nine o'clock the fun became fast and furious. Seamen of almost every nation were congregated, and the most attractive Chilenitas might take their choice of partners, from the mercurial Frenchman, insanely tearing through space like a whirling dervish, to the heavy, phlegmatic Dutchman, who waltzed as if in the performance of a solemn duty, buttoned to the throat in a pea-jacket. Doubtless, the latter enjoyed it, in his way, as much as any of the rest. The English seamen patronized the bar liberally, but seldom waltzed, preferring to extemporize a "main-decker" in one corner, or in the little back room beyond.

      Boasting no skill in the Tespsichorean art, I was fain to content myself with being a looker-on, and listening to the music, which was really very fine. The orchestra numbered four performers, the leading violinist being a bottle-green African.

      The establishment was kept by an Englishman, and the walls of the large hall were thickly hung with marine pieces, done in water-colors, representing the various noted ships of the Royal Navy – the great masterpiece of the gallery being the battle between the fleets of Rodney and De Grasse.

      The best of order was preserved here. Vigilantes mounted guard at the entrance door, and if, as, of course, sometimes happened, two men became too pugnacious to control themselves, they were instantly seized and marched out, while the dance went on without interruption.

      After a while, I missed my chum, Will Pringle, and, concluding he had gone, with some of the other boys, up to the "Main Top," I took my way in that direction, alone.

      "Main Top Hill" was, as its name implies, higher than the others, and the road winding up to it quite steep, horribly muddy, and leading close to the edge of a declivity or precipice, with not even a railing to protect the careless or intoxicated wayfarer. The night was intensely dark, and there were no street lights except a little lantern hanging outside of each house, which was barely sufficient to make darkness visible. But, for a considerable distance on the rise of this hill,

My First "Liberty Day" in Valparaiso. 357

      the houses were few, and thickly scattered, so that even this little light was wanting.

      On the most solitary part of the ascent, where the darkness was almost tangible, and the mud in the highest degree tenacious, I halted to get breath, and stood near the verge of the declivity, looking downward. It was so dark that I could form no idea of the depth of the abyss, though it was, as I afterwards learned by daylight, much less than I had supposed it. The little candle-lights in the house-lanterns on the lower land beneath me looked like mere sparks or June-bugs in the blackness.

      Suddenly I was startled by the sound of feet splashing in the mud. It came from above me, and was rapidly approaching. I strained my eyes to the utmost, endeavoring to peer into the gloom, while, at the same time, I backed a little away from the verge of the descent. I made out the figure of a man coming upon a run directly down upon me. As I moved a little aside he followed my movements, and it then occurred to me that I had a lighted cigar in my mouth, and, in the excitement of feeling, was vigorously puffing at it. Guided by the light, on he came. It was too late to throw it away. The man, I now perceived, was naked to the waist, and had a knife in his hand, which he flourished like a Malay "running a muck." I again drew near to the precipice, he following. I drew my cigar harder than ever, to throw a light upon him as he closed with me, and recognized the features of Rafael the little monte dealer.

      His eyes glared with drunken fury upon me as he flourished his cuchillo aloft His coarse black hair was matted with mud, as if he had fallen head-foremost into it, and blood besmeared his naked breast, seeming to flow freely from a cut on the shoulder. I can never forget – for even now I shudder as I think of it – the horrible appearance of this maniac, for such he temporarily was, in the hasty glimpse I had of him. The next moment his knife flashed before my face, so near that I barely escaped by throwing my head back. But his foot had slipped on the muddy foundation, and before he could recover his poise, I struck out heavily from the shoulder. He reeled under the blow, dropped his knife as he clawed the air blindly in the effort to regain his balance, another slip of his foot, and he had vanished into outer darkness. I had knocked him down the steep!

      Of course I was terribly frightened at what I had done. If the fall was a high one, I might have killed him, I thought. My first impulse was to throw away the cigar, my next to lean over the verge and listen. I presently heard a drunken groan, which seemed to be only a few feet below me.

      Relieved to find that he was still alive, I looked and listened in every direction to assure myself that no one was within sight or hearing. The distant strains of music floated down from the dance-hall above, but I had no desire further to investigate the mysteries of life on "Main Top Hill," for that night, at least. Groping in the mud at my feet, I secured Rafael's knife, and retraced my steps down the hill.

      My reflections were none of the pleasantest, as I took my way at a quick pace down to the Mole. To be sure, my conscience was clear, for, even had I killed him, I had acted only in self-defence; though this might have been a most difficult thing to prove, had I been arrested at that moment, especially as the knife would have been found upon me. It is not a pleasant thing, under any circumstances, to feel that we have caused the death of a fellow-being, and I hardly think that, even in self-defence, I could have struck him as I did, had I realized how near he was to the verge.

      Hailing a boatman, I soon secured a passage off to the ship, and climbed on board with a feeling of relief.

      "What made ye come off to-night?" queried the mate, who happened to be on deck. "Money all gone, eh?"

      "No sir," said I; "I got tired of the shore. Got enough of it for once;" which was quite true, though unsatisfactory to the questioner. And thus ended my first day's liberty in Valparaiso.

      It was not my last, however, though I kept clear of the shore for two or three days, pleading indisposition. I said nothing about the affair to any of my shipmates, but the boys who came off next morning told of having seen the little monte-player on Main Top Hill, raving drunk. He and another Chileno had quarrelled and drawn knives upon each other. Both had received slight cuts, but their friends had parted them without the interference of the police. The little fellow broke away, and was last seen running down the hill.

      But having heard, subsequently, from the other watch, that he had been seen at his old haunts, I felt a load taken off my mind, and ventured to go on shore again. Dropping in

358 Ballou's Monthly Magazine.

      at the "Witch of the Wave," I found Rafael plying his business, with a semicircle of mariners around him. He still bore the stale marks of my fist between his eyes, and I also noticed a stiffness of the shoulder; but his dress was neat and trim as when I had first seen him, and he was fingering his three little bits of pasteboard with all his accustomed dexterity. I have no reason to think he ever recognized me; and I kept my own counsel, even from my shipmates, until after we left the port.


Author: Macy, William Hussey
Title: My First "Liberty Day" in Valparaiso.
Publication: Ballou's Monthly Magazine.
Vol/No/Date: Vol. 30, No. 4 (Oct 1869)
Pages: 354-358