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W. H. Macy

Ballou's Monthly Magazine.
Vol. XXXIII, No. 3 (Mar 1871)
pp. 235-237.

A Night's Adventure in Chili. 235



      Our liberty on shore at Talcahuana was for twenty-four hours – going ashore in the morning to report ourselves the next – and as the rules of the port required all seamen found after ten o'clock without a pass, to be incarcerated, each man of the liberty watch was furnished with one of those documents.

      I had spent the day and the early part of the evening, as foremast men usually do, drifting with the current, making a temporary harbor wherever an eddy set me in, quaffing chicha with the beauties of "Jibboom sweet," and even dipping a little into the mysteries of "The Devil s Pocket," a sort of Chilian "Five Points." Evening found me enjoying myself in a dance-hall, where a heterogeneous crowd of Chilenos and seamen of various nationalities, with their partners, sparkling brunettes, gifted with the graceful carriage and poetry of motion peculiar to females with more or less admixture of Spanish blood, whirled in the dizzy waltz, or kept time with feet and handkerchiefs to the national Zamacueca. (My shipmates always persisted in Anglicising this word as Sambo Quaker.)

      The black eyes and fine figure of one of these damsels, known as Manuela, had captivated my fancy; but, on my signifying as much, I was given to understand that she was not, as I had hoped, "fancy-free."

      Finding myself de trop in that particular quarter, I conceived a most supreme indifference for the fascinations of others, whose squire I might have been for the asking. I resolved to return on board the ship, for there was no law to hinder this, if we got tired of the shore – and had money enough left to hire a boatman. We might go off at any hour during the night, provided the inevitable passport was ready for the vigilante's inspection.

      But it was already later than I had supposed it; and, on feeling in my pockets, I found my pass missing. I had no idea where or when it had been lost, but I had made up my mind to go on board if I could get there. Mentioning my loss to Joe Russell, a townsman of. mine who belonged to another ship –

      "I'll make you all right," said he. "I've got half a dozen old passes, that I had when we were here last season." And selecting one of the least soiled among them he placed it at my disposal.

      "But," said I, "the date! It's dated a year ago."

      "That's of no consequence. There isn't one of these vigilantes in twenty that can read. It's a piece of paper, partly printed and partly written – that's the extent of their knowledge about it."

      "Well, I'll try to run the gauntlet with it."

      "At any rate," said Joe, "if the pass isn't sufficient, a couple of reals or so, for the vigilante to drink your health, will do the business. You might buy the whole police force, chief and all, with two or three gold ounces."

      The revels were getting more uproarious, as many of the seamen had passed from the jolly into the pugnacious stage, and it was time to close the dance-hall for the night. So I bid good-by to Joe Russell and started down Jibboom street towards the Mole. I had nearly reached the street that runs along the water side, and began to make sure that I should get a boat without being questioned, when two little wiry fellows darted out from their ambush at the corner. I made a start to run; but I was headed off by a third, and seeing their "cheese-knives" flash in the moonlight, had no alternative but to submit.

      "Pasa, senor?"

      "Yes," said I, "of course," forgetting that my attempt to dodge their scrutiny was, itself, a strong ground for suspicion. I boldly produced Russell's old document, and held it before the eyes of the chief spokesman, who seemed to be in command of the squad.

      He looked at it by the dim light of the moon, then drew out a lucifer and flashed it. A single glance was enough; the other two, at a sign from him, put each a hand upon my shoulders and I was marched off.

      In vain I offered a dollar – all the money that I had about me – for my liberty. My offer was spurned with contempt. I had fallen, it seemed, into the hands of a man who was not only more intelligent than the average of his craft, but as incorruptible as

236 Ballou's Monthly Magazine.

his Castilian ancestor who guarded the Peruvian Alonzo. But I still think he had his price; and that, if I had been the possessor of three dollars, I might have satisfied him and his two associates.

      But I would not have paid that sum had it been in my pockets; for, at most, it was but lodging one night in the calaboose, with perhaps a fine of a dollar or two in the morning, which the captain would pay, of course. My captors offered no violence when they found I did not attempt to escape. We halted before a low dingy building, whence sounds of noisy merriment came forth as the door was unlocked. I stepped in and the door was secured behind me.

      It was a vile filthy hole, this Chilian "Tombs." It seemed to have no floor but the ground, on which, over a part of the space was thrown loose straw and dirty wool, which furnished far more agreeable beds for fleas than for human beings. But no one seemed to care about trying to sleep. A roar of laughter saluted me as I was shut in from the outer world; and though little was to be seen by the glimmer of a single candle in a lantern, the familiar voices assured me that several of my shipmates were among the party. They were, of course, delighted to find me in the same category, to keep them in countenance; especially as I was a boatsteerer in the ship, or kind of petty officer.

      Some of them had been incarcerated within a few hours after they landed in the morning; the fire kindled by their potations having got the better of their discretion. It is very hard for Jack to submit to restraint and act like a law-abiding citizen, when temporarily ashore in a foreign port. He thinks, after having submitted for months to a despotism afloat, that he ought to do precisely as he pleases for twenty-four hours; and is astonished to find that the guardians of the peace take a different view of the matter.

      We were a merry party that night; determined to be so in spite of circumstances. Until far into the small hours of the morning we joined in making night hideous with our discordant concerts, singing, like Mr. Bob Sawyer's bachelor friends, each man the tune he knew best. Two or three times the door was opened to admit reinforcements, who at once fraternized and assimilated with the main body.

      But as everything has an end, so had the endurance of our lungs. One after another lay down in the matted straw and wool, and some, thanks to the soporific effects of liquor, fell asleep. But I was not so fortunate. The name of the fleas was legion, without a possible chance to flee from their attacks. As the young Irishman, who was grovelling next to me expressed it, "we were nearly flayed alive by the murdherin' flays."

      But matters had become so quiet at last that I heard a ship's bell in the harbor strike six strokes, indicating three o'clock, when there was a rattling at the door, and voices were heard in altercation, one of which was plainly that of a female, and a musical one, even in its anger. The light of the lantern gleamed but faintly upon her features as she was pushed in at the narrow portal; but, distorted as they were with passion, I recognized my belle of the dance-hall, Manuela.

      I did not see the policemen at all; they banged and bolted the door; leaving the girl, to my astonishment, shut up with a score of men. The situation must have been new to her, accustomed as one might have supposed her to be, to the rough side of life. For she had sufficient womanly delicacy to shrink aside, as if to escape observation. Most of my companions were by this time snoring loudly, and of the three or four who remained awake, I was the only one who recognized the girl. I approached and called her by name, as soon as I thought she was somewhat composed.

      She knew me at once, and seemed glad to meet one to whom she could speak. She asked how I came to be locked up; and having satisfied her, I put the same question to her.

      She extended her arm bared to the elbow; a beautiful arm she had, too, but it was stained with blood!" Was it her own?"

      "No!" she said, savagely. "Luis!"

      Louis was the name of the Frenchman who had been her attendant during the evening, and for whose sake she had rejected overtures from many besides myself.

      "Did you kill him?" I asked; for I spoke Spanish indifferently well, as I had picked it up, orally.

      "No," she replied, bitterly, " but I spoiled his beauty! Juana Paula will never love him with a scarred face!"

      There was no need to inquire further as to the cause of the difficulty. It was the same as in most cases of lovers' quarrels; and well I knew, by report, what she-demons these Chilian women were when smarting under the influence of jealousy. Juana Paula was,

Witchcraft. 237

of course, the rival belle who had seduced Louis from his allegiance. And the beautiful girl before me – I shrank back involuntarily as I thought of it – had taken her revenge in true Spanish style, with the cuchillo.

      "I couldn't help it," she went on, noticing my feelings on the subject, which I could not conceal. "My countrywomen cannot be satisfied with half of a man's love. We must have all or none. I loved Luis – and I love him yet. I am sorry now for what I have done, but I should do the same again in a like case."

      I left her to her own thoughts, though I still remained near her, and determined, so far as in my power, to befriend and protect her from rudeness on the part of my prison-comrades. She was quite calm when daylight returned, and talked with me upon indifferent subjects; but did not seem to feel any compunction for the deed. She did not fear any severe punishment, she said; the magistrate was her own countryman and understood how to dispose of such cases. A police officer, the same who had arrested me, came and conducted her off at an early hour, and I did not see her again until we met in court. My own deficiency of a passport was soon settled by a fine of one dollar; but the seamen who had been imprisoned for disorderly conduct were more heavily mulcted.

      Manuela looked more beautiful than ever when before the Alcalde; for she had been permitted to cleanse the stains of blood and arrange her toilet after leaving the prison. It struck me as very strange, in view of the evident sympathy for her on all sides, that she should have been locked up with a party of seamen; but it seems they had, at that time, but a single place of confinement for both sexes.

      Louis was in court, with his face dreadfully disfigured, as was plain from the network of straps and plasters. It seemed to me that the magistrate, as well as all the Chilinos present, looked upon him as more to be blamed than the girl. But beauty always carries weight in a police court there as well as here and elsewhere. Manuela, in her reaction of feeling, shed tears of pity for him; and as the poor Frenchman looked from her face to that of Juana Paula, who appeared as witness, a woman far inferior in personal attractions, he seemed to wonder at his temporary infatuation of the night before, and to look upon himself as the guilty rather than the injured party.

      The sentence was a very light one; a fine of a few dollars, and bonds, which were easily procured. The prisoner, as soon as released, laid her hand on the arm of Louis, and said something to him in a low voice. He seemed in a moment to melt under the influence of her earnest words, and they passed up the street together; Manuela still talking, as if with her whole soul, he listening. I watched their figures till I saw them both enter her house.

      At my next visit to this port, a year later, I found Manuela the wife of Louis, and both were devoted to each other. His countenance had a most sinister look from the deep cicatrices intersecting each other.

      "He would have been scarred worse but for my care and nursing," said Manuela, to me, in confidence. "It is well as it is. His beauty is gone, for other women – Juana Paula, and all the rest – but not for me, for I loved him. He is more dear to me than ever, since I have put my mark upon him, and have a right to claim him as my own."


Author: Macy, William Hussey
Title: A Night's Adventure in Chili.
Publication: Ballou's Monthly Magazine.
Vol/No/Date: Vol. 33, No. 3 (Mar 1871)
Pages: 235-237