A Passion of the Peruvian Desert
By Samuel Mathewson Scott
YES, you are right. It is a queer existence for a civilised man
to lead ; but habit subdues us to all things. Here I have
lived for two years on this barren rock, overlooking the little bay
where the desert meets the sea. A lonely life, too, for there are
only three of us, myself and the two young Peruvians, Manuel
and Francisco, who share the duties of the hacienda with me.
The estate is so vast, and needs so much attention, that there are
rarely more than two of us together at a time. They were
educated in England in the days before the Chilian War, when
all Peru was rich, and they are the best of companions for a
moody man. Like all their race, they know none of our gloomy
introspection. Life for them is pleasure and laughter : and if
they indulge more effusively in affection and more emphatically in
hatred than we do, one soon grows accustomed to demonstrations.
Had you told me, once upon a time, that I could have endured
such a life, I should have laughed at you ; now it is a delight to
me. It is free as no other life could be. We are lords of all
about us ; we make our own laws, set our own fashions, deter-
mine our own conventions; we have no one to envy, no one to
The whole of this northern coast of Peru, from Ecuador for
many a weary league south to beyond Sechura, and back to the
sun-baked outpost of Andes, is a waste of desert broken only
here and there by fertile valleys and quebrades where the scanty
waters of the western slopes of the mountains find outlets to the
sea. It is the ideal land of eternal sunshine. Rain falls but once
in seven years. It is the wild torrential rain of the tropics, and
after it is over the desert becomes a garden of green grass and
flowers. The sun turns this verduer to natural hay, which
endures through the long years of drought, and with the bean-
like fruit of the algarroba trees in the quebradas, affords pastorage
for great herds of goats and horses and cattle. The year is one
long summer. It is October already, but who would dream it?
Here in this realm of wind and sand and sunlight and sea,
it might be June or January or any other month. There
is a fascination in this monotony of climate. It provokes us
to laziness, interness, insouciance. It makes us dread the land
where seasons change, where rain and snows and storms chal-
lenge resistance, and where no to-morrow is like to-day. Here
there is Lotus in the air, even though the dreams that come are
but stupid lapses of common sense. Why should we struggle
when life can be so easy?
Better fifty years of Europe than a cycle of Cathay? You
may think so, but I doubt it. There is a beauty in the ceaseless
roaring of the wind and the beating of the surf. Habit, habit,
what slaves it makes of us! Treeless deserts and shifting sands,
blistering suns and icy midnights, even the low-browed Indians
become a part of ourselves, and change would seem like exile.
Where days glide onto days, and cares are as flies that we can
brush away, it’s hard to muster courage for seriousness. Even
the basis of those cares is simple enough—our cotton, our cattle,
and the charcoal, nothing more.
I said there were only three of us, but I must not foret the
fourth, old Juan, our major-domo, the intermediary between our-
selves and the peons, or Indian labourers. Unfortunately, fate has
made him a friend rather than a servant. He is a full-blooded
Indian, and he cannot be less than sixty. He was born on this
haciena, and was a factor in it long before we ever came here.
His whole experience of life is limited by its boundaries. Yet he
is a born ruler of men ; with iron will, fluent tongue, and a
physical energy that is marvellous, he wields an unquestioned
authority over the people. In spite of his years he never knows
fatigue. He has a grand body and Herculean shoulders, but life
on horseback has stunted and bowed his legs. The head is
massive and powerful, with a face as wrinkled, brown, and gro-
tesque as a Japanese mask. His anger would make even a Salvini
envious. The clenched fists, the blazing eyes, the trembling body
towering to its height, and the rolling voice full of a thousand
terrible modulations, make up a picture that recalls our dreams of
patriarchal grandeur. The peons cower like curs before it. Then
he has a slave-like, inborn submission and devotion to his masters,
coupled with the more modern, but still instinctive, sense that those
who would rule must learn to obey. With it all, he is a cynic
of the first water. He knows no illusions, his laugh is a master-
piece of amused contempt. In the old days of his youth he took
all that his narrow life offered. Now the oracle of the country
side, he can rival La Rochefoucald in his sneers at women, and he
could have enjoyed Voltaire. His one occational weakness is
drink, the native weakness ; and sometimes, in a maudlin mood,
after listening humbly to my reproaches, he will tell me of the
gay days that are gone, and of the joys life has for him even now,
and finish with a sigh—”O Patroncito, what a pity it is that I
I don’t suppose the world contains a happier race than the
Cholos—the Indians who form the great bulk of the coast
population of Peru. They gather in little communities or
villages, cultivate small chacras or farms along the rivers, and work
as labourers on the haciendas during the cotton season ; or else
they become the half-serflike tenantry of the large estates, live
among the quebradas of the desert, wherever water is found,
breed herds of goats, and do such work for their patron, or master,
as the needs of the hacienda require. They are a kindly,
listless, gentle people ; not exactly lazy, but slow, and without
much energy. They have no ambitions or torturing aspirations.
Their wants are easily met, the chacras and the herds supply most
of them ; the proceeds of their labour are sufficient for the
purchase of the little fineries with which they deck themselves
for a fiesta. And is life anything more than food and satisfied
But don’t from this conclude that they are dull and besotted ;
far from it. Win their confidence and you will find them full of
gay chatter, light jests and pretty sentiments, and their hospitality
is spontaneous and boundless to those whom they like and who
treat them with kindness. Naturally those who dwell together in
villages are cleverer and more civilised than those who are isolated
in the desert ; almost all of them can read and write.
The morals of the community are a study ; they are singularly
like no morals at all. Such a conclusion, however, would be
superficial. They are very punctilious in the observance or
the conventions sanctioned by their point of view. I suppose
that not five per cent, of the Cholo population are legally
married ; yet prostitution, in our sense, is unknown. Their
union is a mutual agreement, without many conditions. A
woman reaches maturity when she is between fourteen and
fifteen. During all her girlhood she has lived in a house where
privacy, as we know it, is unthought of. She has heard every
part of the human body spoken of, as the most natural thing
in the world. She cannot imagine why a moral or formal
distinction should be drawn between them. For all that she is as
innocent as a baby. It is only the awakening of her passions
through the development of her physical nature that gives her an
instinctive knowledge of the relation of the sexes. At one of the
everlasting fandangoes, she meets some man who shows a
preference for her ; later on he proves his love by making her
small presents and paying her small attentions. Wooings are brief
in this land of the sun. If her parents agree, she is his ; if they
oppose, he settles the difficulty with a coup and runs away with
her to his home. Thus she becomes his wife, and his dominion
over her is supreme. He may ill treat her and neglect her, he
may have four or five other women scattered about the country,
either at their homes or with some of his relatives, it makes no
difference ; so long as she is with him and he supports her, she
will be faithful. This is an almost invariable rule, and it is the
basis of her respectability. He may grow tired of her before a
year is over and send her back to her people perhaps with a very
lively reminder of her hard luck to keep her company ; her
father’s house will be freely open to her and no shame of any sort
will attach to her. As the months go by another lover may
appear who cares little about the past. They know nothing of
our sentimental yesterdays. As a rule though, the men are kind
and good to their compromisas and remain with them all their
When young, the women are very attractive, with gorgeous
eyes and perfect teeth, glossy raven hair and graceful voluptuous
figures. They soon grow stout and fade, however, but the
beauty of the eyes always remains.
Religion is only a name among the natives. True they call
their children after all the saints in the calendar—and they duly
celebrate all the feasts of the church, but there is more of form
than of faith in their devotion. It is fear not love that moves
them. Wherever a village is able to maintain a cura, a church
adorns one side of the principal plaza. From the belfry, bells
jangle discordantly all day long, and black robed women flock to
masses and prayers ; but superstition has more place than piety in
their hearts. The priests are ignorant and corrupt, debauched
and licentious. They think little of the value of example as a
teacher. With them, religion is a business that has its set hours ;
those over, playtime comes. So religion rests with equal lightness
on the people. Children must be baptized, confession must be
made now and then, an Ave Maria and the sign of the cross are
a sure protection in danger, a candle burned before a saint brings
the fulfilment of wishes, scapulas ward off the devil, the good
see heaven, the bad are burned ; but Mary and the church are
indulgent with human frailty ; all this they know and believe, and
feel secure. I must confess that there are occasions when they
show a marked aptitude for mendacity, and they do not always
respect the laws of property ; yet their kindly hearts keep them
out of any serious mischief. Docile and obedient, they respect
authority and endure even oppression without complaint. Were
it not for the taxes and the excisemen they would never know a
Such are my people, such is the halcyon placidity of their lives
—as level as the desert but as full of sunshine. Do you wonder
that the spirit is contagious and that I say I am content ? It is a
purely physical existence, always on horseback and out of doors,
but health such as ours amply repays all the sacrifices that seem to
bewilder you. Ennui comes of excess, not of simplicity.
Well, the night is running away. Over the reef, at the mouth
of the harbour, the waves are howling like drunken men in a
quarrel. The wind is full of ghostly suggestions. The halyards
of the flag-poles on the verandah are tapping like woodpeckers
against a tree. In the great reaches of the rushing tide the balsa
at the buoy tugs on its chain like an impatient captive. Across
the bay, the lights of the native villages twinkle like fallen stars.
A hazy moonlight makes the world mysterious. The rhythm of
the sea is quick, like the heart-beats of desire. While the world
sleeps, Nature is astir. Good-night.
I did not think when I last wrote you that my next letter
would be a confession, but it seems that it must be.
Forty miles to the south of us, across the desert, lies the valley
of the Chira, the principal river of this northern region, crowded
with little villages and towns, to one of which I had despatched
old Juan on a commission. The other morning, while I was sit-
ting at my lonely breakfast, I heard the jingle of the unmistakable
silver spurs on the verandah, and the old man entered, still wrapped
in his poncho after his long night ride—for here most journeys are
made at night with a brief bivouac for rest, to escape the merciless
He made his report and paused.
“Well, what’s the news on the river, Juan ?” I asked him.
“Patron,” he said, tentatively ; “next week there is to be a
great fandango at Amotape. Wouldn’t you like to go ?”
” O pshaw !
“O pshaw ! what’s the use, Juan ? It’s always the same old
story : nothing but a long ride, no sleep, and less fun.”
My indifference to such pleasures, which, to his mind, are all
the reward life gives us for the trouble of living, is Juan’s greatest
“But, señor, the prettiest Cholitas from all along the river are
to be there ; you can’t fail to enjoy it.”
“O well, Juan, mi amigo, we’ll see when the time comes.”
The poor old fellow sighed, for the answer, which he had heard
so often before, seemed hopeless ; and so the matter dropped.
When, however, a few days later, Manuel came in from the
cotton-fields in one of our valleys, where he had been slaving for
a week, and heard of the approaching fiesta, he would listen to
none of my objections ; go we must. So one afternoon we set
out ; he, Juan and I, and our boys, for the river.
The desert is truly trackless ; there is not a road across it, only
narrow trails, which the shifting sands are for ever obliterating ;
but the boys are unerring guides. Even on the darkest night,
some instinct keeps them to the faint silver line that to our eyes is
imperceptible. We sped along over sandy tracts and rocky
stretches, dotted with withered thorn bushes. Touches of green
relieved the glaring expanse as we crossed the little quebradas,
where the algarroba trees send down their long tap roots, some-
times fifty feet, to the retentive sub-soil, where the water still
lingers. The sun blazed fiercely, but the air was dry and elastic.
The wind blows always from the southward ; from the sea by
day, from the shore by night, heaping the sand into great crescent-
shaped, moving hills or medenas, that creep stealthily over the level
waste, growing hour by hour, and burying all things that lie in their
path. It was night when we descended the steep cliffs into the
valley, and rode along the silent chacras into the
suburbs of cane huts, a few rows of more pretentious mud-covered
houses, then the white plastered dwellings of the plaza.
The narrow, dusty streets were alight with lamps and thronged
with merrymakers wending their way to the picantes and dances.
Some of the men awkwardly sported the cheap ready-made raiment
that is beginning to invade even this country, but most of them
adhered to the more graceful old costume of stiffly starched shirts,
white trousers, and coloured sashes. The women wore gay prints
of every hue, ribbons and flowers, and trinkets ; while over the
head and shoulders was wrapped the soft black manta, or the
more festive pale blue and white scarf of Guadalupe with its deep
fringes of native lace.
Juan, who is nothing if not an epicure, readily discovered the best
picante, and soon we were at supper. A picante might be called
in English the native gala day restaurant. Throughout the fiesta
food may be had day and night ; all the world dines there, for the
women are too busy holidaying to waste the time in household
duties. Seco, or dry stew of goat’s meat with rice and sweet
potatoes, slightly flavoured ; churasco, fried steak with onions and
an egg ; Chicharones, or the small pieces of pork that separate
from the fat in rendering lard—a popular delicacy with the
Indians ; salchichones, or sausages ; and last, and best of all, the
tamales—a highly-seasoned stew of pork and chicken, steamed in
an outer paste of ground maize, wrapped in thick pudding-cloths
of maize leaves. The dust of the road that filled our throats
and the aji, or the hot red pepper, with which the dishes were
plentifully sprinkled, made very welcome the great gourdfuls of
chicha with which they served us. Chicha was the royal beverage
of the Inca long before the conquest ; the native beer, brewed
from maize. It is the favourite still, in spite of all modern
innovations. Gourds serve for everything, plates and cups, and
bowls and platters, work-baskets, water-bottles, and even bath-
tubs, and the service is apt to be a wooden spoon, although
crockery and pewter are now common enough.
While we were feasting, Juan had been scouting for the most
promising fandango. Half an hour later I found myself comfort-
ably stretched on a bench in a large bare room, puffing at my
pipe, and yielding to the pleasant languor that follows a long ride
and a hearty supper. The bancos, or seats, built around the lime-
whitened walls, were crowded with guests. Juan’s promise had
been fulfilled, for certainly the prettiest girls of the river were
around us ; a fact which had instantly impressed Manuel, for he
was passing from group to group, scattering gay nothings and
laughter everywhere. Fortunately we were too well known for
our presence to be an embarrassment to our simpler friends. The
natural abandon of such a gathering is its only charm to a civilized
man—yet, had we been the greatest strangers, old Juan’s diplomacy
would soon have set every one at ease. He has a marvellous
mastery over awkward situations.
The mirth was a little subdued, although bottles and glasses
were circulating and healths were being drunk. It is a gross
breach of etiquette to toast back to the person who has toasted
you ; that each may have his share you must pay your salutations
to another. Every one, men and women alike, were smoking the
little yellow papered cigarettes, in unconscious emulation of the
open petroleum lamps that lighted up the scene and made swaying
shadows of the corners. The dancing was only beginning, in
spite of the fact that at one side of the room the orchestra was
bravely striving to stir up some excitement. In unison with a
rather metallic guitar, a blind harpist tugged at the strings of a
strangely shaped instrument with an enormous sounding board.
On either side of him sat two men, who emphasised the broken
time of the dance by pounding on the sounding board with their
hands, while the harpist sang the familiar words of the song, or
improvised with considerable cleverness new verses for the
occasion. The whole orchestra joined in the chorus in a high
nasal key. Noise was more important than melody.
The dance is always the same, and is performed by couples as
many as the floor will accommodate ; all present mark time by
the clapping of hands. In these diversions old and young
participate ; they have known the dance from childhood. The
women far surpass the men in grace, they show less self-con-
sciousness and effort. With the most expert, the movement is
from the hips entirely, and a woman has reached perfection when
she can go through the measures with a bottle balanced on her
head. I have never seen a man who was able to perform this
feat. There are three figures ; in the first, the pair advance and
retire and turn, waving their handkerchiefs while their feet move
to the rhythm of the music. During a pause the man approaches
a large table covered with bottles, where the hostess is dispensing
Anizado, a fiery liquor distilled from aniseed and alcohol, and
purchases a large tumbler-full, which he and his companion sip
alternately. The second figure runs more quickly. The song
and the music are louder. With knees bent in an attitude of
supplication, the man hovers about the woman who spins
coquettishly before him. There is much of liberty but little of
license, still the suggestion remains. Again a pause. Amidst
bravos and handclapping, the third figure begins. Feet speed in
and out, the bodies whirl and sway to the flash of the handker-
chiefs. The song and the music wax louder and faster in half
barbaric excitement. Shouts and cries encourage and applaud the
dancers. The tumult is deafening, the dance delirious. Squibs
The Yellow Book—Vol. X. G
sputter beneath the flying feet. As if possessed they advance
and turn and retreat, until, through sheer exhaustion, they are
forced to stop.
Perhaps you think it a vulgar scene—yet I enjoyed it. After
all, physical pleasure is our real joy. To lie there indolently and
watch the lamplight gleam on dusky bosoms ; to see the dark
eyes flash in the excitement of noise and movement ; to forget to-
morrow, and to recall half forgotten yesterdays ; to think of
whiter breasts and nimbler tongues ; of the life that is over and
gone, all in a sensuous thoughtless way, is a pleasant enough
sensation. For what is the use of pondering over life and of
trying to find something in it that is really worth the trouble ?
We know it is only the drift of years, the desire of youth, the
regret of age and then the eternal silence. It is better to let our
pulses throb while they can ; to give over the wondering and the
idealising, and to take such joy of life as our senses give us.
There may be a morning of sermons and soda water somewhere,
but who cares ? So I lay there and smoked.
The crowd gathered about the door jostled and swayed, and as
it finally parted, an old woman and a young girl entered and took
seats across the room directly opposite me. The girl threw back
her scarf and revealed a face that at once brought me back to
realities. As usual, philosophy surrendered to life, and I watched
her intently. Her beauty was thrilling. She was about sixteen,
just in the prime of her womanhood, for after that age these
women grow stout. Her face was perfect in type. A flush of
rose gave life to the faint duskiness of her cheeks where two
dimples played at hide and seek with their twin brothers lurking
at the corners of her full mouth. From some forgotten strain,
she had inherited the Inca nose with its broad base, its exquisite
aquiline curve, and its fine nostrils ; to my mind, in its purity,
the most perfect of human features. Like all her race, she had
teeth of ivory. Don’t think I am raving when I tell you that I
have never seen eyes in which so many emotions seemed to lurk.
They were dark, of course, in a setting of high arched brows and
long sweeping lashes, otherwise they defy description. Her fore-
head was low, but broader than is usual, though the waves of her
black glossy hair sent out a faint ripple or two of down upon her
There was an unmistakable superiority about her which her
companions seemed to recognise, for they approached her with
deference. Even her dress displayed more taste than that of the
women about her, yet she was arrayed according to the same
There was no use trying to be indifferent before such a
picture. I crossed over to where she was sitting and bowed
“Good evening, Señorita,” and in the Spanish fashion, I told
her my name and assured her I was at her orders.
“Your servant, Gregoria Paz,” she replied with perfect com-
“Señorita Goya,” I said, using the pretty diminutive of her
name, “I am sorry to confess that I do not dance, but will you
not permit me to sit here and talk to you ?”
Most of the women would have been shy and awkward at first,
but she made way for me most courteously. A natural coquetry
gave grace to every movement she made ; yet she tempered it
with an air of dignity and reserve that put even me upon my best
behaviour. The sensation was certainly amusing. My attentions
pleased her, that was evident ; but whenever I ventured upon
even conversational liberties she had a way of tossing back her
head and looking at me out of the corners of her great flashing
eyes, as she blew the smoke of her cigarette ceilingward, that was
inscrutable. When had she learned it all? That was the question.
I wondered if one of Pizarro’s haughty dons had wooed and won
some great-great-grandmother of hers in the long ago.
Nobody dared to disturb us, and time flew along as we laughed
and chatted. She lived in the village across the river, where her
father owned some small gardens, she said. Would she let me
come to see her? Their house was too humble for such a guest
as I, but it was always at my disposal.
The dance was growing uproarious. I had noticed that Manuel,
in the midst of his own flirtations, had been keeping an amused
eye upon my occupation. I saw him walk over to the old harpist,
and soon after I became conscoius that we were the centre of
observation, for the old man was improvising verses in praise of
myself complimenting the Goya on her good fortune. This
naturally prompted a response from me, in the shape of refresh-
ments for the devoted and perspiring orchestra.
A little later, Manuel and I withdrew to snatch what sleep we
could before setting out on our ride under the morning stars.
Even old Juan discreetly joined in the chaff with which Manuel
pelted me as we galloped home.
And—would you believe it?—yesterday I sent the good old fellow
off to the Goya with a little trinket and a letter that would, in its
fervent flourishes, remind you most ludicrously of the valentines
of your youth; and I am awaiting her reply as impatiently as the
most orthodox of lovers.
To-day is like anything but your idea of the last one of
December; warm and bright, with a bustling, noisy, dusty wind
from the desert to make a field of daisies out of the deep green
stretches of the ocean; and the way in which I spent Christmas
was quite as wide a departure from your conventions.
For a week before the festival I had been busy with my men at
the far end of the hacienda. I won’t tell you about the blazing
heat of the summer desert, our little bivouacs behind the sandhills,
our haphazard meals, and all the other commonplaces of this life
of ours. Although I was anxious to conclude the work, I couldn’t
deny my good fellows their holiday; but we laboured on until
the last light had faded out of the west. A hasty dinner in a
little hut, a few stern injunctions to the peons as to prompt
return, and I found myself confronted with Christmas Eve.
However, I was not without resources. Amotape was only six
miles away, and the festivities promised there were attracting the
whole country-side. For two or threee days previous, little donkey-
borne parties of holiday-makers had passed us on the trails bound
for that centre of delight. then I felt sure the Goya would be
there. I had not been able to see her since our first meeting, but
I had given old Juan and my messengers many a long ride through
the night to carry her my hyperbolical letters, laden with sighs,
reproaches, and protestations. Juan assured me that her parents
gladly favoured my suit, while her little answers, that needed
many a re-reading before I could fathom their scrawled, mis-spelt
lines, had not left me hopeless. At first they had been stiff and
formal, condescending thanks, and nothing more; but latterly
they had taken on a more sympathetic tone. So I turned my
horse toward Amotape.
The stars twinkled here and there; far in the east a line of
clouds over the hills still hid the rising moon. Every now and
then a rocket burst and added to the splendour of the heavens.
The town was en fête when I arrived; every house was lighted
up; from every croner cam the clatter and the song of a fandango.
Through wide open doorways I caught sight of gaily illuminated
nacimientos, altar-like structures, adorned with the most fantastic
and incongruous assortment of trifles, which in a measure take the
place of our Christmas-trees. The plaza was thronged. Happy
groups squatted on the ground or sauntered about, watching the
fireworks that were being discharged from a temporary stand.
The exhibition was really very creditable. Even the blasé I found
a pleasure in the flaming wheels and constellated bombs. Would
you believe it, the poor creatures, who have little more than baked
camotes to live on, spent over a thousand soles on that display ?
Acquaintances greeted me everywhere, and I speedily learned
that the Goya was present. Soon I came across them all, a family
party, seated in a circle, gazing with the silence of a year’s
accumulated wonder at the blaze of sparks and fire. Yes, she was
there. The moon showed me a pretty picture, truly. Round
her shoulders was drawn a light scarf; flowers intensified the
blackness of her heavy hair. Her face seemed very fair ; her eyes
were as deep as the night.
After the usual round of salutations I sat down beside her.
“How finely we are dressed to-night, Goyita.”
“Una pobre, como yo ?” she replied disparagingly.
“A poor girl like you, Goyita ? That’s more your fault than
mine. What a fool you are not to care for me.”
“Fool, indeed !” she replied with a toss of her head, “You’d
never have let me come to see these fireworks.”
“And since when have I had the reputation of a tyrant,
querida ? Pshaw, you might have fireworks every day if you
wished. Why do you treat me so cruelly ? You know that I
adore you. Is it the custom of your countrywomen to reward
devotion with disdain ?”
And so we set to whispering. She was anxious to know if we
observed Christmas in my country. She readily understood when
I told her of Santa Claus and the Christmas trees and even the
mistletoe, but the story of the snow puzzled her. I could only
describe it to her as a feathery rain that fell and lingered, and
when it was over, left the world silent and white like the desert
under the moonlight.
But I knew that the wonderland of conversation would hardly
take the place of the tangible delights about us, in the Goya’s
mind. So, accompanied by the whole family, we made the round
of the dances and nacimientos. I fancy the youngster was not at
all displeased at the sensation created by her appearance under the
escort of the big Gringo, as they call us foreigners.
The nacimiento is a common form of Christmas celebration in
all Spanish American countries. Along the side of a room, a
stage is erected and covered with fancy cloth. The centre of
this is so arranged as to represent the Manger with the Babe.
Round about, on a setting of artificial rockwork interspersed
with lakes of looking-glass and waterfalls of threads, are placed
groups of plaster puppets depicting the principal Biblical scenes
from the Creation to the birth of Christ. Candles light up
every point. Among the poor, to whom puppets and rockwork
are impossible, the ornaments are a most inappropriate assortment
of dolls, toys, coloured pictures, and even playing cards.
The great street door is wide open. All are welcome to the
Christmas cheer. Music and dancing are continuous, and
servants move among the guests with trays laden with copitas of
pisco, anizado and coiiac. Whatever their faults, these people are
never lacking in the virtue of hospitality.
At about half past eleven, the Goya and many of the other
women departed to change their gay attire for more devotional
garments in order that they might attend the midnight mass. I
had promised to meet her after the mass was over, but a sense of
curiosity tempted me to join the crowds that hurried churchward
at the insistent clanging of the bells in the tower.
The bare body of the building was in darkness. Huddled on
the floor were all the women of the pueblo, hooded in their black
mantas ; men filled the side aisles and the spaces around the door.
There was scarcely a point of colour. The altar blazed with
hundreds of candles. The priest was an imposing personage in
spite of his coarse sensual face. The service was a string of
unintelligible mummeries, yet it was not without dignity although
the rustic trousers of the assistants that dangled beneath their
laced vestments, and the nasal nondescript responses of the choir
threatened momentary disillusion. There was, in a gallery,
something that pretended to be an orchestra, very reedy, very
noisy and very energetic. Near where I stood, an old man from
time to time beat drowsy and irrelevant rattles on a small drum.
Stray candles in front of special altars made heavy shadows of the
pillars. Now and then a dog wandered in, searching for a lost
master. The cloud of incense intensified the heat, without
perceptibly diminishing the pungent human odours. Yet there
was something religious in it all, if it were only the heavy
drag of time. I couldn’t distinguish the Goya among the
kneeling figures, and the novelty of the spectacle soon wore
off ; I don’t know how often I adjourned to the square for a
It must have been half past one before the mass was over.
Then began a quaint ceremony, the Pastoras. A canopy was
brought out and held above the priest who advanced towards the
body of the church. Six little girls, dressed in white, and two
boys, attired and disguised as old men, appeared before him. The
piccolo of the orchestra began to shriek a ballad-tune. The little
voices tried to follow while the little feet performed an awkward
dance. I could catch only a few of the words :
Vamos à adorar
Al recien nacido—
Shepherd sisters, let us go to worship the new born child.
Then a procession was formed which marched slowly round
the church between two lines of worshippers. The singing
children walked in front. The priest carried in his arms a figure
of the infant Christ. When the altar was regained, he again
seated himself beneath the canopy and each of the little girls
repeated the song in turn, followed by a chorus of all. The
scene was ended by the two boys, who during the whole
ceremony had performed pantomimic buffooneries while the
orchestra piped, and the little girls circled in the dance. Then the
procession reformed and left the church to repeat the performance
at each house in which was a nacimiento. The congregation
I hurried to the plaza and waited. Soon the Goya came out
and we all sat down on the stone benches, there in the moonlit
square with its soft white walls of houses. They all clamoured
for “Pascuas,” Christmas presents. I sent for a bottle of
anizado. I don’t know why, but it was pleasant to sit there at
her feet and pay her compliments which her lips pretended to
misunderstand, although her eyes responded : the stilted extrava-
gant Spanish compliments which lay tribute on all the stars and
flowers in the universe, and which sound so absurd in our reserved
English. Indian, savage, what you will, she was still a pretty
woman, and I—I asked no more.
The bottle finished they went to bed, while I roved about
among the fandangos, drinking everything from beer to bitters
with the same Christian goodwill. The moon was paling when I
took a cup of coffee at a little Chinese stall ; in the East were the
streaks of white that betokened day ; and so in the balmy morn of
the equator, under much the same sky as that which shone upon
its first birth, dawned Christmas; that Christmas which, no doubt,
you at the same moment were saluting with all the accessories of
civilisation in an atmosphere of ennui, away in the land of snows.
I awoke about ten. The heat was numbing. It seemed as if
there were nothing in life that could justify exertion. Still I
remembered that her mother had asked me to breakfast, or more
truthfully, I had invited myself, and I knew they would be mak-
ing great preparations for me. So, followed by my boy, I crossed
I found that she lives in a little addition of two rooms that
adjoins her father’s house ; a rambling structure of cane and mud,
with a low, heavily thatched-roof, bare walls, and the naked earth
for a floor. In front, faced with a half wall, which contains the
door or gate, is a large covered space, surrounded by wide benches
of board, which serve as beds for as many weary travellers as care
to ask the hospitality of the house. Next, behind, is the living-
room of the family, hung with hammocks. Upon the walls are
saddles, bridles, lassos, coils of rope and raw-hide, long sword-like
machetas for cutting cane, alforjas, or saddle bags woven of cotton,
and all the paraphernalia of the road. In the corners stood shovels
and other implements, rude tables, benches, and chairs of home
manufacture ; boxes for clothing and stores filled up the inter-
vening spaces. To the rear of the apartment opened bedrooms
and passages that led to kitchens and enclosures. To the left of
the main building, with a door of its own in front, was the
sanctuary of the Goya.
I was received with great cordiality, a spontaneous kindness
mingled with respect, such as you would never find among a
similar class in Europe. Her father is a Serrano, an Indian of
the mountains. Like many of those people, he wears his hair
closely cropped, with the exception of a wide shock in front that
hangs like a thick fringe over his forehead. Besides cultivating
his gardens, he carries on a trade with the interior, whence he
brings back dulcesand chancaca—a paste of raw sugar. The
dulces are conserves of fruits and sugar similar to Guava jelly,
and almost sickeningly sweet. The people are very fond of
If the Goya’s mother ever possessed any of her daughter’s
beauty she must have lost it long ago, for no trace of it remains.
But what she lacks in grace she makes up in virtue, for she is
the jolliest, happiest, most gossipy old dame I have met for many a
day. She has several children, all of whom, with the exception of
a young sister, are older than the Goya.
They gave me a great feast at which I sat alone, while all the
rest waited upon me. The Goya was very quiet ; she seemed to
be watching me intently, as if she were trying to penetrate the
screen of manners and compliments to discover the real effect of
their efforts to please me. All through the afternoon, even until
I left, she kept up her pondering. I wish I knew what her final
impression was. It would be interesting to know just what was
going on in that little brain, which is separated from mine by all
the forces of the universe save that of human sympathy. And,
after all, what is it that we are always seeking up and down the
world but that one quality that knows no law of intellect, race, or
Well, such was my Christmas. It might fairly be called a
merry one. I trust yours was no worse.
My Christmas visit was not thrown away, for the Goya is
mine ! Taking advantage of the festival of Los Reyes, or
Twelfth Night, which is observed here as in all Catholic
countries, I sent the Goya a present and a letter, of which the
ardour was not all insincere. She returned a quaint answer to
my prayers : “Perhaps what I asked might happen, perhaps it
might never be.” But this was foundation enough for my old
oracle Juan to declare the omens favourable. So, having des-
patched a messenger ahead to announce our coming, he and I set
out with our saddle bags stuffed with the elements of a grand
supper. It was dark when we reached the house. The Goya
came to meet us as we dismounted and, for the first time, she
shyly, but unresistingly, allowed me to kiss her. A table was
prepared for me in one corner, where I supped, attended by my
lady love. Juan, in his element, presided at the spread which
loaded the great table. Amid the general mirth we two were for-
It was a gorgeous scene that met my eyes next morning,
dreamy as my own lazy mood, as I lay smoking in the hammock
of her sitting-room, looking out through the open door. The
house has a beautiful situation on a high, sandy eminence, over-
looking the spreading, winding valley of the river, which is shut in
by steep water-scored cliffs that mark the limits of the desert.
Below, quivering in the glaring light, a thousand shades of green,
dimmed by the hazy smoke of charcoal fires, mingled with the
golden flashes of the river. Waving clumps of palm hedged in
the darker stretches of cotton plantations. Feathery algarroba
woods held in their clearings the brighter greens of gardens and
banana groves. Far away inland rose the first hills of the Andes,
so faintly seen they seemed a part of the cloudless sky itself. At
the foot of the slope the sun shone on little patches of colour,
where women were washing clothes in the water. Near by,
making its pendulum-like voyages from shore to shore, was the
long dug-out canoe of the ferry by which I had crossed the night
before. There is no ford, and horses and mules have to be towed,
swimming behind the little craft to the accompaniment of cease-
less shouts and splashing. At the landing-places bustling groups
were busy unsaddling and resaddling. The bright dresses of the
women beneath their black mantas, the ponchos and white hats of
the men, the gay saddle cloths spread on the sand, and the many
coloured alforjas thrown together in heaps, looked in the distance
like an old-fashioned nosegay. With a chorus of laughter, some
boys were swimming ; as they rested for a moment in the
shallows, the sun lit up their dark wet bodies with a glitter of
bronze. Over all the landscape hung the gauzy curtains of the
heat-waves—just like the dissolving tableaux in a pantomime.
The light grew blinding, and with a wide swing of the ham-
mock, I kicked the door half shut. She had left me after serving
my coffee, turning her head as she passed the threshold to whisper
the assurance that she would come back soon again. Certainly
she is different from the rest of them. I looked round the room.
She has managed to give an individuality even to it. The dull
walls were not to her fancy, it seemed, for she had endeavoured to
hide them under strips of coloured paper and pictures of every
sort, from the roughest woodcuts of a newspaper, to the gaudy
circulars of patent medicines. She had even secured a yard or
two of real wall-paper somewhere, and had spent much pains in
distributing it to advantage. On the floor she had spread here
and there an empty sack in the manner of a rug. Under a tiny
but most unflattering mirror at one end of the chamber, stood her
table with her sewing machine and work, an earthen water cooler,
a little clock that seemed to have forgotten that its principal pur-
pose in life was to note the flight of time ; a box and a trinket or
two, all in the daintiest order ; while in the centre rose the greatest
of all her treasures, a huge glass lamp, which she had lighted with
great ceremony on my arrival the previous evening.
Ere long she returned, radiant from her bath, and took a seat
on a small stool near me. She wore a simple gown, open at the
throat ; around the polished ebony of her hair she had tied a bright
red ribbon, which secured a single flower. In her eyes still
lingered the languor of passion. I had never before realised how
beautiful she was. She held up her seductive mouth provokingly,
but as I rose to kiss her she drew back quickly, and placing her
little tapered hand upon her lips, laughed at me roguishly with
her dark eyes. The Goyita needs no flatterer to tell her of her
charms ; she knows them only too well.
The day flew by as if the hours were minutes. I soon found
out her weakness, and I told her stories of my own country ; of
balls, and jewels, and flowers ; of pretty women and gay dresses,
and of all the pageants I could remember ; she listened as a child
to a fairy tale. At the noontide breakfast she had still another
fascination in store for me. From the depths of her clothes-chest
she brought out her four silver spoons, and from a cupboard on
the wall, her plates with the flowered border. She waited upon
me with thoughtful attentions, that might have flattered a prince.
The instinct of service resisted all my coaxings, however ; she
did not know me well enough yet to sit at the table beside me.
In the evening, hand in hand, we wandered through the cha-
cras by the river, past hedges of tangled vines and flowers, and
under the rustling fronds of the banana trees. I told her I wanted
to build her a house near that of old Juan, in a quebrada
some miles from my own habitation. She slowly shook her
“You will not come ? What nonsense ; you don’t know how
happy you will be ; I will give you everything you can think of.”
“Oh, no, no, no ; not that !”
“Why not ?”
“Oh, I know what it means. After I have given you all the
love of my heart and soul, you will go away to your own country,
and I shall never be able to love again.”
“And do you want to love again ?” I asked, coldly.
She paused, and looked at me for a moment, then threw her
arms about my neck, and kissed me in savage abandonment.
Still, I could not shake her resolution.
“Here, yes, for ever and for ever, if you will ; this has always
been my home, and if you leave me I shall still have known no
other. But there, no. If, after I had become accustomed to a
life with you, you should deceive me, how could I come back, and
ever be happy here again ?”
“But, Goyita mia,” I declared, “I have no intention of re-
turning to my home.”
“Would you think of me when the occasion came ?” she
replied, as sadly as if she had already fathomed woman’s fate.
But I must stop writing. I am sick for sleep. It was two
this morning when I started back. The long ride through the
desert, under the voluptuous moon that drew across it the light
bars of cloud, as a woman in the shame of her passion throws her
white arm over her eyes ; the long, long ride, in which my
thoughts flew back, false to my latest love, to the old, old life, and
the days that are no more. To you, the whole adventure may
appear a disgrace to my intelligence ; yet it was not all debased ;
it had much of beauty. A hundred miles for a woman ! and
that a woman three hundred years behind the world I once knew
—yet I mention it. Well, it was worth the telling, if you are
not so bound up in your century that you can see nothing human
outside of it.
Again and again I visited the Goya ; she never wearied me.
She had learned the secret many a more brilliant woman has
failed to discover, she never let me feel sure. I could not induce
her to consent to leave her father’s house—she seemed to have a
vague fear of such a change. I was beginning to despair, so I
consulted old Juan.
“Patron,” said this authority, “order the house to be built at
once ; send me the men, and I will attend to it for you. Don’t
fear, she will come as soon as it is finished. I know these
women ; their no always means yes. But I am afraid you are
spoiling her. When you are wooing a woman, it is all very well
to promise her everything ; that is part of the game. But once
she has yielded she is yours and she has to obey you—if she
doesn’t, beat her. Never beg a woman to do anything, just tell
her she must do it. Let her always see that you are in authority ;
that is the only attitude she will understand. Patron mio, you
know perfectly well that you cannot ride a mule without your
spurs, and there isn’t much difference between women and
If I did not quite share Juan’s philosophy, I nevertheless
accepted his advice—I ordered the house to be built and said
nothing to the Goya about it.
Meanwhile the carnival arrived, and Manuel, Francisco and I
went to Amotape to celebrate it. I think that of all their
festivals, the natives enjoy this one most. Indeed the enthusiasm
pervades every class, even to the aristocratic Spaniards of the large
cities. All formality is set aside and good-natured licence reigns.
The Indians inaugurate the sports several days before the carnival
really begins. With their pockets full of red, green and blue
powders, egg shells filled with coloured water, and chisguetes or
squirts charged with eau-de-cologne, the men go from house to
house and attack all the women of the family with this holiday
ammunition. With screams and laughter, the fire is vigorously
returned ; pretty faces are streaked with powder, and clothes are
drenched with the coloured waters until both sides are tired out.
We arrived on Shrove Tuesday, the last day of the feast when
the fun is at its height. I found the Goya sadly disarrayed but
glowing with enjoyment. She was so disappointed when I declined
to join in the sport that to appease her I had to submit to having
my face daintily smeared with a powder puff. I was then
permitted to become a spectator, while she and my two
companions gave themselves up to the spirit of the day. The
Goya was the leader of the girls against Manuel and Francisco.
These two enthusiasts fully armed for the fray sped down the
village street in pursuit of the first maiden who showed herself—
perhaps to be met at the next corner or doorway by an ambushed
volley that brought them to a standstill or forced them into
ignominious retreat. Showers of water were poured from
balconies and windows. The wetter and dirtier they became, the
happier they seemed to be. The Goya was breathless with
laughter. Her stratagems were masterly, and during the entire
afternoon she outwitted the enemy at every point.
At nightfall, I was host at a grand dinner at the Chinese
Fonda, to which I invited all her friends. Here new pranks
suggested themselves, and the scene became so hilarious that even
I had to yield, much to the detriment of my raiment if not of my
The Yellow Book—Vol. X. H
dignity. One cannot be Anglo-Saxon in such surroundings.
Finally, having exhausted our powders and ourselves as well, we
gave up the sport.
Some weeks later I had occasion to go to Payta, the principal
seaport of this region, a wretched dirty little town that clusters
along the base of the wrinkled cliffs like an eruption of toadstools
under an ant hill, and quite as brown and ugly. My road led
past the Goya’s house. She was seated on the floor, cutting out a
dress, but on seeing me she bundled the work into a heap and
jumped up clapping her hands.
“I am so glad you have come,” she cried, “I was just going to
send you a message to tell you of the grand fiesta that will take
place at La Huaca on Saturday, and to beg you to take me. You
will, won’t you ?”
“I am very sorry, my Goya, but it is impossible. I am going
to Payta, and I cannot return before Sunday morning.”
Her face fell, for to her gay little soul a fiesta was the breath of
life. She was silent for a moment, then she looked at me beseech-
“But everybody is going, Señor ; may not my mother take
The Goya knew as well as I did that it was impossible to con-
cede such a request. For my young bride to appear at a fandango
under any other escort than that of her lord and master would
have elevated the eyebrows of the world to an alarming height.
Her spirits rose again, however, when I spoke of presents from
I returned on the promised morning, but much to my amaze-
ment I found the house locked up. Where could the family be ?
My boy descried some people down in the chacras. I told him
to go and see who they were and ask them where the Goya was.
The boy returned. “It is her mother, Señor.”
“What does she say?”
“She says the Doña Goya went to La Huaca yesterday with
some friends and will not return till to-morrow. The mother is
coming up to speak to you.”
I could hardly believe my ears.
“What nonsense you are talking,” I said indignantly ; “such a
thing is impossible.”
“Yes, Señor,” he answered, “it is strange, but a Señora in the
house behind there told me to ask you to wait for a moment ; she
has a letter for you from the Doña Goya.”
“The devil ! Why didn’t she say so before ?”
“Who knows, Señor ?”
So I waited, but no Señora with a letter appeared.
At length the Goya’s mother came, and as she unlocked the
door, greeted me with the customary salutations that must
precede all conversation however important. I returned them
“Where is the Goya ?” I demanded.
“In La Huaca, Señor.”
“What on earth possessed you to allow her to go ?”
“Who knows, Señor ?” she replied with exasperating meekness.
“Where is the letter she left for me ?”
“She left no letter, Señor.”
“What’s the use of telling me that? Boy, go and call that
woman who spoke to you.”
“Señor,” answered the youth, “she is in this very house.”
“Where ?” I shouted, growing more angry as I grew more
perplexed at every reply.
“In that room behind, Señor. She spoke to me through the
I turned to the mother. “What trick is this ?” I cried, and
brushing past her, I rushed through the passages to the rooms
beyond. In one of these I discovered the Goya sitting serenely.
“What do you mean by this, Goya ?” I said sternly.
“Oh, I knew you were there all the time.”
“Why didn’t you let me in, then ?”
“I wanted to see what you would say.”
“When did you return from La Huaca ?”
“Of course I never went,” and she mockingly held up her lips.
She had planned the whole performance just to tease me. The
part played by her mother was no doubt one that pleased her.
These Indians can lie to your face with more innocent com-
posure and ingenuity than any race I ever met.
I thought, with a view to my own future comfort, that I might
as well draw the Goya’s attention to what might have been the
consequences of her joke.
“Supposing I had grown angry and had gone away ? ” I asked
“Do you think I should have let you go far ? I should have
“Yes ; but I might have been so angry that I would have
refused to listen,” I suggested as haughtily as I could.
” I wasn’t afraid of that,” she returned archly, and I had to give
up, although I still pretended to feel hurt.
The room in which I had found her faced upon the open patio.
She made me sit down beside her in the shadow of the wall.
Opposite to us, on a high perch out of the reach of scratching
fowls, in a composite jardinière of old boxes and broken water-jars,
grew the flowers with which she was accustomed to deck her hair.
A light roof of thatch over one corner of the enclosure formed
the kitchen, where, squatted upon the ground before a fireplace of
four stones, her mother was preparing my breakfast with an
unpretentious equipment of earthern pots, wooden spoons, and her
own dexterous fingers. A fastidious man might have found the
sight of such preparations trying to his appetite ; but I had proved
the pudding too often by the eating to quarrel with the making
of it. Hot tamales, rice stained red with powdered achote and
beef stewed in a salsa picante with aji, made a breakfast which I
was far from despising, especially as the Goya, perhaps to atone
for her cruelty, was more graceful than ever in her attentions.
After breakfast was over, I resolved to put to the proof a portion
at least of old Juan’s philosophy of femininity. During the weeks
that had passed, we had completed and furnished the house. So
in a matter-of-course way I announced to the Goya that it was
finished, and that I intended to send for her shortly. She looked
at me in amazement, seemingly more astounded by the way in
which I spoke than by the news I related. Hitherto my manner
towards her had always been beseeching. The expression of her
face amused me quite as much as the altered tone I had just
assumed had surprised her. I nearly spoiled everything by laugh-
ing and catching her in my arms to assure her that I had not
meant the dictatorial part of it at all. Fortunately I resisted the
She ventured to demur.
“No, no ; I cannot, I cannot. Who knows how soon you will
go back to your own land ? You must go some day. Do you
think it makes it easier to tell me it will not be for years and
years ? The time will come, and how could I bear it ?”
“Now, Goya,” I said, as severely as I was able, “it is both
useless and silly to talk to me in that way. I have made up my
mind, and there’s an end of the matter. You seem to have a very
strange notion of a woman’s duty.”
She sat for some time toying nervously with her dress. Sud-
denly she looked up eagerly.
“Then tell me about the house.”
I didn’t hesitate to describe it. As much for my own comfort
as for hers, I had sent to Lima for the furniture, and I knew that
to her the place would seem palatial.
I told her that it was in the quebrada, close to Juan’s house,
that she might have his daughters for companions, in addition to
the old woman who was to cook for her and wait upon her.
“There were three rooms and a kitchen ; a bedroom, a dining-
room, and a little sitting-room for herself. There was a real bed,
with a mosquito-net instead of the print curtains to which she was
accustomed ; moreover, there were rugs on the floors. The
dining-room had everything imaginable. But her own little room
was the gem of all. There were pictures on the walls, there was
a stand for her sewing-machine, and I had ordered a box full
of materials for dresses that it would take her for ever to make up.
Then, on one side, there was a little dressing-table, with brushes
and combs and everything she could wish, and over it hung a
great, big mirror, in which she could see not merely her pretty
face, but the whole of herself at once.
Her eyes were sparkling.
“When will you send for me ?”
“As soon as I go back.”
She threw her arms around me and nestled her head on my
“But it will be soon, soon, soon, won’t it ?” she implored.
I had succeeded beyond my hopes. Yet, somewhat at the
expense of my vanity, for it was clearly the house, and not I, that
had overcome her reluctance.
A few days ago, a small caravan of peons, marshalled by Juan,
escorted her to her new abode. Although he had ridden all night,
the devoted fellow came over early in the morning to tell me of
her safe arrival, and as soon as I could I galloped away to welcome
I found her alone, seated at the table in her sitting-room,
amusing herself by feeding a clamorous young blackbird, which
one of Juan’s daughters had just given her. Owing to the heat
she had thrown off her bodice, and her breast was but lightly
covered by the snowy white sleeveless chemise of her people. In
her hair-ribbon she had tucked the familiar red flower, while
around her neck she wore a little chain with a golden medallion
of her patron saint which I had given her. I shall never forget
the picture she made, as in a half-embarrassed way she turned her
head over her shoulder to look at me, as I paused for a moment
on the threshold to watch her.
She did not say very much about the house. She was quiet,
perhaps a little tired ; but I could see she was content. And
so my new domestic life has begun.
Perhaps it is the strangeness and half romance of this new life
that most delight me. There is the gallop across the desert in
the splendour of the sunset or in the moonlight to the little
suppers at which she has learned to preside with so much dignity,
while she tells me, with the greatest seriousness, all the trifles of
the day—so diffidently, so appealingly. Then the early ride,
brightened by the nameless colours of morning, while the magic
kiss of the princely sun is warming and waking the sleeping
beauty of the night ; the still valley with its little river ; the
stunted feathery trees where the white herons perch as in the
pictures on a fan ; the blue hills, the desert, and at last the
flashing sea. It’s all well worth the trouble—will it soon
begin to pall, I wonder ? But why let the demon of doubt and
distrust come to rob our sunshine of its sparkle ?
Since she became established as sole mistress of the mansion, the
Goya’s whole manner has changed. A new feeling of responsi-
bility seems to have taken hold of her, and she has abandoned her
old waywardness for a quaintly subdued and matronly air. When
from my silence she probably fancies my thoughts are far away, I
often lie in the hammock and watch her flutter through the
tiny apartments busy with endless arranging and rearranging.
Nothing pleases her so much as when I praise her housekeeping.
Even her utter ignorance is a pleasure ; it is part of her nature.
It is only the vast contrast between us that makes the illusion
Sometimes on Sunday Manuel and Francisco come over as our
guests. In the quebrada, near the water, the algarroba trees
grow into heavy woods, with clear shaded aisles among the
gnarled trunks. There we all go, accompanied by Juan’s
daughters—two jolly little companions who chatter incessantly,
sometimes with an unconscious latitude that might startle a
French novelist. All things are natural to them ; they are
like the birds that chirp above us, to which love has but one
In a quaint, high-pitched key the three girls sing us the love
songs of their race : of hard hearts and broken vows, disdainful
ladies and neglectful swains, and of kisses and longings and tears.
Then they teach me the names of the animals and flowers, or,
tired of lessons, try to guess the words that fit into the notes of
They tell us in awed voices of the animas or ghosts
the strange noises of the night—a class of spirit that seems to be
more sprite than spectre. They have many stories also of the
witches who have power to trace thieves and reveal the hiding-
place of things that have been stolen.
At noon our boys arrive with alforjas and hampers, and we
breakfast together in a circle on the ground. It is amusing to
see the deferential way in which the Goya is treated by the two
girls and the boys. Although she is of their people and kin,
her relations with me seem to have exalted her in their eyes.
This voluntary recognition of the superiority of the white race
is one of the most marked characteristics of these Indians.
The algarroba woods are full of wild pigeons. Toward even-
ing, as they fly to the river for water, my two friends and I take
our guns, and skirting along the bank enjoy an hour or two of
We made a gala day of Easter. On the southern side of Cape
Blanco, which is one of the most westerly points of the Continent,
the sea in some past age burrowed great caves and arches in the
cliff. One of these caverns, into the mouth of which the surf
still dashes when the tide is high, winds in a labyrinth for many
hundred feet to the very heart of the rock. The other cave, now
remote from the waves, is a great circular dome almost two
hundred feet in diameter. These imposing dimensions are mag-
nified by the insignificant passage that forms the entrance.
Many mysterious stories of buried treasure are told about it.
Some say that after the murder of their Emperor Atahualpa by
the Spaniards, the Inca priests used this huge natural vault as
a secret depository for the rich and sacred ornaments of their
temples. Others relate how the English pirates found it a safe
place of concealment for the superabundant wealth gained from
the Panama galleys ; and in confirmation of this story there is a
legend that on every Easter morning a great white brig sails
bravely away from the cave’s mouth, and no one ever sees her
return. It was to verify, if possible, this wild tale of the phantom
brig that we planned an expedition for Easter. It was arranged
that Juan should take the Goya and his daughters to the Cape at
daybreak, when we would ride over to meet them. Unfortu-
nately we were not so prompt in starting, and day had well begun
before we set out, so we missed the sailing of the pirate, much to
our disappointment. But such a morning was a charm against
all regrets. The cliffs were in heavy shadow as we rode along
the sand. Although the breeze was cool, the sun kept us warm.
The sky and its light clouds were of faintest tints, and the sea
had that intense blue which sets off to such advantage the dazzling
white of the breakers. As the tide was ebbing thousands of red
crabs skirmished like cavalry troops along the beach. Solitary
frigate birds hovered aloft, manœuvring lines of pelicans skimmed
the surf, and dusky groups of vultures squabbled over derelict
scraps. The sails of three or four little fishing-boats sparkled in
the still slanting light. The very soul of freedom enfolded this
sun-loved land of brown and azure.
We found them all awaiting us in their usual resigned and un-
complaining way. It is instinctive in these people to regard our
pleasure as theirs. Old Juan’s pride would have received a severe
shock had one of his daughters, or even the Goya, ventured to
reproach us for being two hours behind our tryst. Their chief
wonder, which Juan more than half shared, was that they who
had arrived in time had failed to see the phantom. I have some
doubts myself whether the old fellow really reached the place before
the sun had come to remove all uncanny suggestions.
While the old man and our boys were looking after the animals
and preparing our breakfast, we lighted our candles and took the
girls off to explore the twisting galleries of the seaward cave.
They followed us in awed silence as we went deeper and deeper
into the darkness. Something besides the damp chill air made
them shiver and clutch our hands convulsively. The noise of the
surf came faintly to us, although we could feel the great walls
pulse to its beating. More than shadows seemed to lurk in the
roof and crannies. I think we all felt a sudden shudder as
Manuel playfully uttered a scream that was answered to us again
and again as if the old pirates were rallying to the alarm. The sand
of the floor was heavy with dampness. The walls and the roof
crowded closer and closer upon us ; we went on crouching almost
to the ground. Finally only a low black tunnel confronted us—
there our courage gave out, and we hurried back to the daylight,
hearing in our own footfalls the sounds of ghostly pursuit. As
we stood under the great arch of the entrance watching the surf
about the rocks, the girls grew very brave again.
Old Juan laughed contemptuously when they told him of their
terrors, but he didn’t attempt any explorations on his own
account. As it was too early for breakfast, we three men decided
to take a bath in the sea. I was well in the lead, just as we
were making for the third line of breakers, when a frantic shout
from the shore reached me. Turning my head I saw old Juan
and the rest running up and down the beach screaming and
gesticulating. Some were beckoning us to return ; others were
pointing seaward in evident alarm. I looked ahead, and there
just beyond the great white line that was subsiding before me
moved the slowly swaying fin of a monster shark. I confess that
for a moment my heart stood still. We must all have caught
sight of the danger at the same moment, for without a word we
turned : there certainly was excitement in the breathless scurry
for the shore, where the Goya quite forgot to be dignified in her
joy at our safe return.
After breakfast we entered the cave of the great dome. Ages
must have elapsed since the sea seethed round its walls, for the
floor was dry and thickly covered with powdered saltpetre that had
crystallised on the roof above, and fallen flake by flake. In the
centre rose a great pile of rock which the waves had once
tumbled together. Signs of hurried excavation in the sand at one
side of the vault showed that the tradition of the treasure had
gained one believer at least. On examining the hole I was
surprised to find portions of human bones rapidly crumbling to
dust. This reminded Juan that many years before, some men
had come in search of the buried wealth, but they had only
unearthed a few old skeletons and a little golden ornament in the
shape of a fish. Perhaps the bones had frightened the diggers
away. The cavern must have been an ancient burial place ; the
twilight and the silence and the far off murmur of the sea were a
fitting atmosphere for a tomb.
Then the Goya remembered that all along the foot of the cliffs
in the valley of her old home, many graves of the antiguos had
been found filled with strangely formed pieces of pottery called
huacos. To these places the natives were accustomed to repair on
Good Friday to dig. From the way she spoke it was evident
that these huacoings or grave opening parties were a popular form
of amusement on the holiday in question.
“But why do they dig only on Good Friday, Goya?” I asked her.
“Señor, do you not know that the pottery is enchanted ?
During all the rest of the year it sinks deep down into the ground,
and it is impossible to find it, but on Good Friday it comes near
to the surface again. Besides the pottery, there are sometimes
little things of gold and silver, and sometimes coral beads. A man
once gave my sister a necklace of these which she wears as a
charm against chill.”
This account of the old graves excited my curiosity, and rather
than wait a year till the lucky day comes again, I have resolved to
risk the spells and do some unorthodox excavating. Often in
riding to Amotape I have noticed along the road on the desert a
long double row of mounds covered with white shells, and
regularly placed as if to line a royal avenue. This avenue which
has an artificial appearance is wide and straight for several miles,
and may have formed a portion of the lost Inca highway along
the coast. About Amotape also, the Goya says, there are many
adobe ruins of aboriginal temples or forts. At the first opportunity
I have, I shall visit these places, and unless the enchantments
prevail against me I may soon be able to tell you of something
more novel than love making.
We were all so absorbed in our antiquarian discussions that we
would have forgotten the present entirely had not Juan brought
us back to realities by telling us that the tide was rising fast, and
we would not have time to pass the rocks of one of the cliffs
unless we set off at once. As their road lay inland while ours
was along the beach, we hurriedly bade our little friends good-bye,
and so the holiday ended.
The Goya has suddenly conceived a great fondness for all her
relatives, in the hacienda and beyond it, and she is constantly
begging to be allowed to make them brief visits under the guar-
dianship of her old Dueña. I very much fear, however, that her
vanity is deeper than her affection in most cases, for she dearly
loves the wonder and envy that her little fineries evoke. Dressed
in the riding habit she has so quickly learned to wear, she is
becoming a very superior young person with her guide and her
attendant. Her joy is complete whenever I find time to ride out
to accompany her home.
These relationships of hers extend far beyond the common
confines of blood. She has sisters and cousins and aunts in
abundance, but in addition to these, almost every tenant on the
estate is in some way or other related to her spiritually. This is
the result of the ceremonies with which her religion has sur-
rounded her life. She has of course a godfather and a god-
mother. On two occasions she herself has stood sponsor and
thereby gained a pair of comadres and compadres with whom she is
spiritually co-parent of the children. Among the Indians this
relationship is in many cases accounted superior to the ties of
kindred ; moreover there are her compañeros, the men who were
godfathers when she was godmother, and so on through infinite
shadings. Occasionally my journeys in search of her ladyship
bring me into strange adventures. The dark lonely night rides !
What glories are in the depths of that star-sown sky, what sounds
rush on the breeze ! What heart-spurring shadows lurk among
the sand heaps as I gallop along the treacherous line of the
trail. Even I whose brain has little room for spectral fears can
recognise the fatherland of ghosts and goblins. Darkness,
solitude, and silence, the playground of fancies ; it was amid such
scenes that man first learned to shudder. Even in the moonlight
when drowsiness comes on, a weirdness fills the world. I’ve sat
up in the saddle with a start to see a herd of cattle rushing before
me as noiselessly as shadows—only some desert shrubs. Then a
great fantastic mottled monster has writhed across the path in
desperate fashion—a patch of sand tufted with waving grass.
The night birds sing a fiendish song that rattles down the wind
like spirit laughter. Often and often I’ve put my hand on my
revolver to find that I had jumped at a thorn bush.
Not long since, the Goya’s whims took her to a remote part of
the estate. I had promised to bring her back. As I had never
been to the place where she was visiting I asked old Juan to go
with me. Poor fellow, he isn’t much of a guide on unfamiliar
roads at night as his eyesight is failing. In the quebrada where
the trail we should have taken separates from the main road, we
missed the way and were obliged to ride up the ravine to the
house of a tenant in search of a guide. While the man was
getting ready I chatted with his wife.
“Where are you going?” she asked me. In this country no
honest traveller should resent such a question. I felt in a
mood for romancing.
“We are going to a witch’s dance at the salt marshes.”
“What!” she exclaimed.
“Yes. One night Juan and I were returning from Amotape ;
suddenly near the marshes we heard strange music ; in the distance
were fantastic lights ; on reaching the place what did we find ? a
fandango of the Brujas.”
“Ave Maria !” I could almost see the woman’s flesh creep.
“Yes, the Brujas. We joined them. They gave us strange
liquors. At dawn they all vanished, but before they left they
told us that on every dark Saturday night they held a rout. So
now we are going again. The women were very beautiful.”
Luckily the guide appeared at this moment, or the poor woman
would have fainted. She must have said many a prayer that night
to save her husband from the witches’ spell. I suppose the joke
was heartless, but then most jokes are.
Rocky stretches and sandy hollows, gallop, gallop, gallop. We
arrived about ten o’clock.
There was a long building with a great veranda that opened
upon a corral. The veranda was lighted up, and as we approached
I heard those sounds of revelry by night that betoken a fandango.
A large crowd filled the benches and listened to a wheezy strident
concertina. The Goya ran out to meet us, as I got off my horse
and looked about. Something unusual was going on certainly.
Upon a table draped with cloth at the far end of the veranda, a
small open coffin with the body of a baby stood set on end,
against a background of flaring red and white calico ; the lid
painted black with a double white cross rested at one side. In
front flickered two candles stuck in old beer bottles. The Goya
told me that I was at the funeral of her hostess’s child. As we
entered, the bereaved mother came forward and greeted me with
a smile. She received my expressions of sympathy as if they were
something foreign to the occasion. Some of the women, led by
the Dueña, gathered round the Goya and whispered to her, gig-
gling ; but they hastened away as soon as the music called for a
dance. I sat apart with the Goya to watch.
And what a scene ! There amid its gaudy trappings, glancing
back the flame of the sputtering candles, stood an enshrouded
mystery. In a little box of blackened wood was all life knows of
life ; a ghastly nothingness ; a thing of terror yet of fascination, a
question and an answer both in one ! And around it, shouting in
a drunken dance, with laughter and ribald song, moved creatures
whom it was almost flattery to call savages. The living seemed
to be carousing over the dead like cannibals about a boiling
cauldron. The Goya’s chatter was unheeded as I sat there
looking on, indifferent. Did not disgust sicken me, horror choke
me, loathing overpower me ? No ; just one feeling stirred me,
the feeblest our soul can know, the indolent supercilious curiosity
of a woman’s uplifted lorgnettes. I seemed dead to every civilised
prejudice I had ever possessed.
But when the dance ended a vague sense of annoyance took
possession of me. Hurriedly telling the Goya to prepare at once
for her return, I ordered Juan to get the animals ready. While I
waited by the gate on horseback some women and men passed in.
Suddenly the music grew weird and mournful. I heard the sound
of lamentation, and looked toward the veranda. In front of the
little coffin were collected all the women who had just arrived,
and all those who had been present before. They were rocking
their bodies to and fro, and wailing and mourning, while the men
sat calmly talking and drinking on the benches.
“What are they doing, Juan ?” I asked.
“Weeping for the dead, Señor.”
“Is it the custom of your people ?”
The old man seemed to feel, from something in my manner,
that I was not entirely in sympathy with the scene.
“Only among the people of the Campo, patron, when their
children die,” he answered.
“And the dancing and the drinking ? “
“Yes, that too ; they weep a while, then dance and drink
All night ?”
“Oh, yes ; sometimes for two or three days.”
I laughed. The girl returned. What was this thing called
death ? Bah ! Who cared ? And under its very eyes I carried
her away. It was life that I had come for.
Without a word we hurried through the night.
I have been riding all the afternoon along the edge of the
Tablaza, where a maze of fantastic quebradas runs riot to the
shore. A desert of greys and browns and dying greens below, a
silvery film over a golden bowl above. Sometimes, on crossing a
ridge, we caught sight of the busy sea, where the waves rushed
along like a hunting pack ; on its far horizon low clouds lay in
The Yellow Book—Vol. X. I
shadowless mountain—ranges the unreachable land of our dreams,
the dwelling-place of happiness, the vague valleys where grows
that sweetest of flowers, content. A typical Peruvian day framed
in a sky of golden blue, whose threads of cloud are like the wires
in a cloisonné vase.
But in Peru we never think of talking about the weather, for
it is always the same.
You may remember that, during our Easter picnic to the caves,
the Goya’s story of the ancient graves near her old home made
me anxious to explore in that neighbourhood. Recently I made
a little expedition which yielded me rare booty.
There are vast aboriginal burial grounds all along the coast, but
of course I can speak only of the small tract on the north bank of
the Chira River, between Amotape and the sea. Here great walls
of cliff, wrinkled deep by centuries of rain, ward off the desert
from the valley’s fertility. Every slope along the base of these
cliffs is the grave of thousands, perhaps millions, of a race whose
very name is forgotten. I say of a race, but there are many indica-
tions that not one, but many races are buried there. Almost all
these slopes are artificially sprinkled with small white shells ;
shreds of pottery litter the ground, ruins of old adobe temples and
pyramids rise from the plain ; remains of ancient walls and build-
ings crown every elevation. Was ever the home of the dead more
fitly placed ? In front, the rich rank greens of the river, like the
teeming years of life ; behind, the trackless waste like the mean-
ingless stretch of eternity. They rest where they fell, those
nameless dead, on the dividing line of that grim antithesis. Or,
in a simpler human sense, what pathos there is in the solicitude
that laid them, composed for their long sleep, in those little silent
valleys, which the bend of a quebrada has encircled with guardian
hills, and where loneliness and desolation and immutability warn
off the noisy restless world. There is a tragedy in a faith like
theirs that checks a cynic’s sneers. But our love of novelty, our
cruel curiosity, knows no reverence. Let’s go a-huacoing.
Though all the slopes undoubtedly contain graves, all are not
equally rich. In many places the rains have soaked the soil, con-
sumed the bones, and packed the earth until it has crushed and
broken the pottery. But suppose we have lighted upon a favour-
able site. On top, the sand is mingled with little white shells.
About two feet from the surface we are sure to come upon a
child’s grave. If the drainage of the slope kept out the water, we
will find the little skeleton complete, wrapped in clothes as good
as if they had been made yesterday. Seemingly the children
counted for little in that old time : a sleeveless shirt, a string of
coral beads, and a coarse shroud, were enough to fit the poor wee
body for its cradle in the sands. It needed no pottery, but some-
times a small stick was placed beside it, perhaps as a charm,
perhaps as a plaything. So unimportant was its burial, that its
grave was always made in some part of the field already used for
its elders ; for if we dig several feet below these small bundles of
bones—we meet with the carefully built tombs of adults. These
are cavities hollowed in the tough sand or clay, and topped with
great flat stones and adobes to support the earth above. Within
these holes the body, swathed in many shrouds, was placed upon
its back, instead of being trussed up in sitting posture, as is usual
in other parts of Peru. Arranged about the feet of the mummy
are several coarse cooking pots, still full of the provisions of corn
and beans and meat that were to nourish the departed on his long,
mysterious journey. Near the hands, in the case of men, lie
bundles of copper and stone tools, wooden weapons, shovels and
walking staves—with handles skilfully carved into human or
animal shapes. Beside the women, are all their weaving and
spinning utensils and gourd work-boxes filled with shuttles,
spindles, and balls of thread. Sometimes there are also water-
bottles, with graceful curves, and netted travelling bags con-
taining extra clothing. It is always at the head of the body that
we find the fanciful pieces of pottery known as huacos. They are
of infinite variety : I have never seen two exactly alike. Some
are round, long-necked vases, surmounted by very natural figures
of birds and animals. Every vegetable is imitated ; there are
gourds, melons, bananas, and other fruits ; there are clusters of
eggs ; there are jars shaped like fish and alligators, and there are
conventional forms, with double handles and double spouts, all of
the finest burnt clay, some black, some red. The old potters
evidently believed that shrill noises were efficacious in warning off
evil spirits, for they often made these huacos with two bodies
connected by a tube ; one body held the spout while an opening
in the other, concealed by a grotesque monkey or bird, was so
contrived as to emit a sharp whistle when the jar was being
As the mummy within the shroud is usually well preserved,
except that the eyes and nose are sunken, it is clear that some
process of embalming was employed. Unfortunately the prepara-
tions used for this purpose have destroyed the fabrics that came in
contact with them ; still enough of the inner wrappings and of the
clothing remains to enable us to form some idea of the general
attire. Evidently great pains were taken in arraying the dead
one in the richest garments possible. A turban of finely-woven
cotton or gaily-coloured tapestry was wound around the head.
The men wore white tunics embroidered with flowers and figures ;
the women had a more ample flowing dress of brown or blue or
white, usually without ornamentation of needle work, and bound
at the waist with a long fine scarf or sash. The quality of the
garments varies greatly, probably with the wealth and station of
the deceased. Men and women alike were adorned with neck-
laces and bracelets of coral beads and rings of gold—sometimes
the women have wooden earrings inlaid with coral and mother-of-
pearl ; often the arms have traces of tattooing.
I can’t tell you how many of these graves I opened ; we dug
for several days from the first light until sunset. It was hard
work for the men in the hot, dusty sand under the fierce sun.
The Goya had begged hard to be allowed to join the expedi-
tion and, as she had relatives in the village where I made my
headquarters, I had taken her with me. Every day about noon
she and some of the women came to seek us with alforjas full of
provisions for our lunch. They took a great interest in the
antique wonders I was unearthing.
Most of the women know how to weave and spin, but their
skill is inferior to that of the ancients ; for to-day they cannot
produce anything equal in fineness and beauty to the fabrics and
tapestries I found in the graves. The bundles of weaving tools,
therefore, which are identical in form with those used to-day, though
far superior in finish, aroused their envy, and I had to resist many
a prayer for presents. They clamoured especially for the orquetas,
used to hold the “copo,” or roll of carded cotton, while spinning.
The orqueta is a long crotched stick, sharpened at one end that
it may be stuck into the ground. To-day a natural fork is
taken from a tree for this purpose, but the orquetas of the
graves were cut out of solid wood, and beautifully carved and
All the Indian women are in the habit of plaiting thick skeins
of brown spun cotton into the braids of their hair to prevent the
ends from splitting, and it astonished the Goya and her friends
greatly to learn from the skeins we found packed in little gourd
toilet boxes, that the custom had come down to them from so
remote a time.
There is a certain vein of sentiment in these women that is
entirely human, and once they burst into a chorus of sympathetic
ejaculations, when, on opening a mummy, I picked from among
the wrappings a tress of hair carefully tied with a coloured string.
Some lover, they were sure, had placed it there as a pledge of un-
dying remembrance. For half an hour they discussed the incident
pityingly, and during the whole evening I heard them relate it to
each acquaintance who came. Trifles make up their lives.
One custom which the graves revealed, however, puzzled them
as much as it did me. Protruding through the lower lip of almost
every one of the female mummies we discovered a conical cylinder
of silver about an inch long. As a rule, these were badly corroded,
but by good fortune we found a perfect one stowed away in one
of the little boxes with the skeins of cotton. It is in the shape of
a thimble, though slightly larger in size, and closed at both ends.
In the crown is set a blood-stone, surrounded by small balls of
red coral. It is an excellent piece of work, and would do credit
to a modern jeweller. It may be that these ornaments were used
as a badge of marriage.
I had naturally supposed that there was but one series of graves ;
one day, however, one of my men noticed that the soil that formed
the floor of a tomb we had just opened was softer than usual ; so
he continued to dig, and a few feet below his shovel struck the
stone capping of another sepulchre. This led us to continue
work in some of the holes we had abandoned, and we soon dis-
covered that there were in some instances three or four layers of
graves. While the arrangement of these graves is similar to that
of the upper ones, the pottery is of inferior artistic quality and
appears to be of much greater antiquity. It may even be that of
a different race ; for ages may have elapsed before the sands could
cover the graves so deeply that they were forgotten and new ones
made above them.
You can have no idea how absorbedly interested I became in
my excavations among these poor old bones ; only it saddened me
to find in their trinket-filled graves another confirmation of that
awful truth—futility ! If their cast into the darkness flew so wide
the mark, what hope have we ? Their faith was as strong as ours.
Was its betrayal any greater than ours will be ? And even to a
sceptic there is something crushing in being brought face to face
with the ghastly inevitability of the future. No matter how
hateful life may be, it is beautiful compared with the crumbling
darkness of that chill, lonely cell, where even the sunlight is dead.
The thought came to me like an agony once, as I rested on a
mound, watching my men dig : “Some day I must lie thus for
ever. No more of love and life and longing ! Only that ! ” and
I kicked aside a skull and nearly drained my whisky-flask. But
in that moment I almost felt the worms crawl through my brain !
And the sunlight—how I loved it ! If we could ever for a second
realise the truth, we would never know another hour of sanity.
Not long ago, I passed through a terrible illness, which, but for
the luck that has always smiled from my natal star, might easily
have ended fatally. Fortunately, I was not informed of the deadly
nature of the attack until the danger was over, or I might pardon-
ably have died of fright.
I had been riding all day in the hot sun, and was both heated
and tired when I reached the Goya. I found her as usual playing
with the little blackbird, which has been her dearest friend ever
since the day she came to her new home. I carelessly threw off
my coat, and must have put myself in a draught, for I was suddenly
seized with a violent cramp—the common result of a chill under
such circumstances. I took a few drops of chlorodyne, and lay
down on the bed until relief should come.
The matter seemed simple enough to me, but the Goya was
panic-stricken. She clasped her hands together and looked at me
in an agony of fear.
“Oh, Señor, Señor, it may be chucaque it may be chucaque.
What shall I do ? What shall I do ? Where can I find a curadora ?
Oh you will die ; you will die ! What shall I do ; what shall
I do ?”
She was nearly hysterical ; then an idea came to her.
“Perhaps the peddlers will know,” she cried, and she flew out
of the house.
Soon she returned with a wizened old woman who carried
several small gourds in her arms. The Goya ran to a cupboard
and brought out a large cloth and a bowl, which she filled with
water. In spite of the pain, I was curious to see what would
happen. The old woman hurriedly threw into the bowl a portion
of the contents of each of the gourds. Among these I
recognised powdered mustard and tobacco flakes. When the
mixture was ready, she spread it upon the cloth ; and uncere-
moniously tearing open my clothing she placed the plaster across
my stomach. Upon this, starting from the centre she began to
inscribe a widening spiral with her forefinger ; all the while
muttering a sort of incantation of which I could distinguish only
the words “Ave Maria” reiterated from time to time. The
Goya stood anxiously near me with her hands raised as if in
prayer. After making the sign of the cross over my body, the
woman again traced the spiral and repeated the mystic formula.
Gradually the pain subsided and before long I was able to say
truthfully that I was better ; after a final sign of the cross, the
plaster was removed and I was allowed to stand up.
Naturally I was eager to know what had happened to me.
Then I learned of a disease that would sadly puzzle a Jenner. If
any one, even in jest, causes you to feel shame or humiliation or
as we would say “to feel cheap,” you are at once exposed to the
most insidious of maladies—chucaque ; you will be seized with a
severe internal cramp, and unless you take the proper precautions
you will forthwith die. And these precautions, what are they ?
You must find a curadora, an old woman who understands the
secret of the cure, and she must treat you at once just as I had
been treated. The worst of it is, you need not be present while
your neighbour is holding you up to ridicule in order to
experience this dire complaint. It will attack you unawares if
some ungentlemanly friend is taking advantage of your absence.
Think of the awful suspicions a plain old touch of colic may
arouse in the Indian mind. Of course, in my case, the chlorodyne
was science thrown away.
I offered the woman some money for her professional services,
but she seemed hurt to think that I suspected her of mercenary
motives, and she declined to accept it. I learned that she was
one of a party of peddlers who had arrived at Juan’s house most
opportunely that very afternoon. As I saw a means of rewarding
the old woman’s kindness without offence I took the Goya over
to inspect her wares. These peddlers are an interesting feature of
the native life. In companies of twos and threes and fours, with
donkeys laden with stores, they penetrate to all parts of the
wilderness in search of trade. They have a marvellous assortment
of things for sale from pins and needles and cheap jewellery to
the finest cashmere mantas and the richest Guadalupe scarfs—
which are often very costly. Their patience is inexhaustible.
They will sit down in the most unpromising abode and unpack
every bag and basket in their equipment, display to the longing
eyes of the women the ribbons and laces and stuffs and fineries
one after another, and be content if they succeed in selling
even ten centavos’ worth. If money is lacking they resort to
barter and wheedle away goat skins and other products in
exchange for the much coveted finery. Time has no place in
their calculations. They will sit all day chatting if they think
there is a chance of a bargain in the end. They are learned in
all the gossip of the region and their advent is a delight to the
lonely country people. They might be called the newspapers of
the desert, for it is through them that the dwellers in the waste
keep in touch with the outside world.
While the Goya tossed and tumbled everything about, sneering
at this necessity, going into raptures over that luxury, and
threatening me with financial ruin, I engaged my preserver in
conversation. Her mother and her grandmother had been
curadoras before her. Where they had learned the art she could
not say. Did she know any other cures, I asked.
“O yes, Señor, I can cure ojo.”
“And what is ojo, Señora ? ” I inquired ; my ignorance
not have surprised her more, had I asked her what the sun
” Ojo ” means the ” eye ” and from the rambling
gave me, I gathered that the superstition is analogous to the evil
eye of southern Europe. You are the happy father of a new born
heir or the equally elated owner of a superior horse. A friend
comes along and begins to praise either one or other of your
valued possessions, your treasure is at once ” ojeado ” and unless
you seek a curadora skilled in the lore of crosses and Ave Marias
to avert the spell, your child, or horse, or whatever it may be,
must die. What was the formula before they ever heard of Mary
and the cross, I wonder ?
On the day following a fandango, when the fumes of the
anizado are filling their brains with torments, it is common to see
half the village wandering dully about, with a circular disc or
paper stuck on each temple. This they regard as a sure remedy
or cure for headache, but why it should be so nobody can tell.
A lingering belief in witchcraft still flavours many of their ideas.
One day a woman amazed me by asking for one of my mummy
skulls. As the people usually look upon these ghastly tokens with
awe, I was curious to know why she wanted it.
“I want to put it in my clothes-box, Señor,” she said.
“In your clothes-box ? What good will it do there ?” I asked
“Señor, I will place it on the top of my clothes, and if thieves
break open the box, the sight of the skull will enchant them,
and they will not be able to move until I come and catch
Such superstition is part of the people’s life and blood, and must
have existed since the race began.
Why, just this evening I was reading Garselasso de la Vega. I
know he is rather sneered at as an authority, but I can say with
confidence that, so far as my observation goes, his accounts of the
manners and customs of the Indians are singularly appreciative and
unexaggerated. I myself have seen not only one but many of the
ceremonies and observances he describes. In the chapter I was
reading he was speaking of the balsas, or great sea-going sailing
rafts of the old Peruvians, which you must have seen mentioned in
Prescott. I suppose it must have occurred to de la Vega that
his European readers would be apt to conclude that the Conquest
had wrought great changes in these nautical contrivances and that
there was therefore an element of ancient history in his narrative,
for at the end of the chapter he adds :
“These things were in use when I left, and are no doubt in
use to-day ; for the common people, as they are a poor, miserable
lot, do not aspire to things higher than those to which they have
He wrote about fifty years after the Spanish occupation. To-
day three centuries have elapsed, and although the world has
grown to battle-ships, the Cholo is still content with his balsa.
In de la Vega I have also found the explanation of an extra-
ordinary custom which the people observe. When a child is
about two years of age its hair is cut for the first time. A fandango
is held at the house of the parents, and during the dancing the
child is passed about among the guests, each one of whom pays ten or
twenty centavos, according to his means, for the privilege of nip-
ping off a small lock of the hair, which is preserved for luck. This
ceremony has come to the modern Indians directly from the Incas.
According to the account in de la Vega, the Inca children were
not weaned until they had attained the age of two years ; then,
with feasting and rejoicing, the hair was cut for the first time.
He gives no reason for the custom, and to-day it seems to be
followed without reference to the time of weaning. So you see
these people are essentially the same as when the Spaniards found
them. Under the gloss of Christianity and Manchester prints
they are as barbaric as the oldest of my mummies.
Not long ago I witnessed a ceremony in the little village of
Vichayal which proved that among these Indians the outward
form long survives the inward spirit. Ever since I undertook my
excavations, which were carried on near this spot, the people have
sent me notice of all their fiestas. The place is a scattering of
cane huts, on the edge of an algarroba wood ; the most beautiful
scene the moonlight ever shone upon. A tangle of feathered
leaves overhead make lace-like shadows on a silver floor of sand ;
while the night birds fill the air with a cry that is like the wail
of one who seeks eternally and vainly. It is a virgin picture no
pencil has ever violated. Those piles of darkness are the desert
cliffs ; those firefly flashes are the lights of homes. There is no
order of streets and squares ; a clearing serves for a plaza. That
break among the trees is avenue enough for a simple world like
this. The tinkling notes of a guitar mean human happiness,
content with what the moment brings. I have delved in the
philosophies of three thousand years of thought, and they have
brought me no deeper wisdom.
There cannot be more than fifty huts in the village. As the
people are too poor to maintain a chapel, they decided to erect a
great cross in the centre of an open space, magnificently de-
nominated the plaza. It was to the consecration, which gave
these poor creatures an excuse for a two days’ fiesta, that the
Goya and I had been invited. I sent her on ahead one afternoon
with Juan, the Dueña, and the blackbird. I followed early the
A heavy, thatched roof and three sides of a square of cane had
been built like a niche about the cross, which was made of
plastered adobes. At one end of the plaza stood a triumphal arch,
constructed of three poles, covered and tricked out with puffed
white paper and flowers. A grand avenue of approach, improvised
of tree branches set in the ground, reached from the arch to the
cross ; while several temporary booths, called altars, lent their
colours to adorn the sides and corners of the square.
On Saturday night the plaza was a veritable blaze of glory. All
the ingenuity of the people had been expended in decorating the
tabernacle ; bed-quilts of gaudy hues formed tapestries for the
interior ; from the cross itself depended hundreds of coloured
pictures of the most heterogeneous subjects, tiny mirrors, toys,
dolls, and flowers. Above the open side or entrance of the
shelter hung festoons of fruit and branches, pictures, mirrors, dolls,
and lanterns, and most marvellous of all, a series of ginger-bread
men, an offering from the children to the village schoolmaster.
Everywhere candles fluttered in bright profusion, while the scented
clouds of incense blended the whole picture into a unity. At each
of the little altars, as if they formed a necklace for the glorious
jewel in the centre—in truth, they were only drinking-stalls in
disguise—the image of some saint was illuminated with equal
splendour. A perpetual fusilade of squibs gave an accent to the
pious and pervading joy.
Amid all this spiritual enthusiasm, however, the fleshly man
was not forgotten. Summoned by an impatient bell, excited
groups were clustered about a gambling game, in which miniature
horses, set in motion by a spring, ran races around a circular
board. Just behind the shrine of the cross, an enterprising catch-
penny had spread his wares, and was driving a great trade in little
nothings. Small peddlers, and coffee and cake vendors, strove
emulously, but with the best good humour, for what spoil there
was to gain. In half-a-dozen houses there were dances, picantes
and chicharias—the shops for the native beer.
The moon was full and glaringly, electrically bright. It
tempted one into the mood of the hour. With the Goya and a
troop of her little, laughing friends, I visited all the sights, and
stood treats to everything. My luck at a wheel of fortune filled
their pockets with ribbons and necklaces, earrings and bottles of
scent. We really enjoyed ourselves, although they did seem to
feel uneasy now and then, when I passed the cross and neglected
These wheels of fortune are their delight. A peseta a
and an arrow is spun upon a numbered dial. There are about a
hundred numbers, each one of which, according as the arrow
stops, calls for some article, usually a worthless trifle. Four or
five of the numbers, however, had prizes that seemed most valu-
able in the girls’ eyes ; and it was most of these I succeeded in
winning after a breath-taking outlay. Whether this excitement
wore me out, or I wore out the excitement, I cannot say ; per-
haps the fifty-mile ride and the two hours’ sleep of the night
before, had something to do with it ; at any rate, by ten o’clock
I was longing for bed. Juan had considerately borrowed a house,
and prepared me a couch as remote as possible from the noise ;
and I withdrew ; but don’t for a moment fancy that any of my
neighbours followed my example. Whenever I woke during the
night, the harp, and the song, and the hand-clapping were as
blithe and vigorous as ever, and when I jumped up at the first
peep of the sun, there they were at it still, though certain pros-
trate forms under the trees showed that the pace was beginning
There had been a hope that the cura of the next town
come on Sunday morning to bless the cross. Word arrived early,
however, that he could not make the journey. This chance had
been foreseen, and a small cross arranged on a stand, in such a
way that it could be carried with poles, had been provided to act
as proxy for the permanent structure. Under the hottest of
noons, about a dozen men mounted this emblem upon their
shoulders and cheerfully started on their six miles walk through
the scorching sand to receive the benediction.
During the morning the anditas began to circulate. In English
they might be called reliquaries. They are boxes, or cases of
wood, about twenty inches long, a little less in width, and a few
inches deep, with a glass front. They are variously ornamented,
often with incrustations of heavy, but crude, silver work. Under
the glass is the picture or image of a saint, belaced and bespangled ;
below the image is a small drawer. These anditas are received
from the churches (in reality they are probably hired as a specu-
lation), and carried all over the country in pursuit of alms. On this
occasion they served also as images for the altars in the square.
Of course they have been duly blessed and endowed with powers
of absolution and indulgence. Wherever one of them goes it is
received with great perfunctory veneration. Everybody bends
the knee, with head uncovered, and kisses a spot on the glass.
To gain the full benefit, however, it is necessary to give largess
to the person who carries it. These offerings are not fixed in
amount, but vary, I presume, with the eagerness of the giver to
secure a favourable answer to his prayer. Still, as a tangible
return for his charity, he receives from the little drawer a scapu-
lary—a tiny ball of raw cotton on a bit of coloured string. All
Cholodom wears one of these charms about its neck. This itine-
rant box of benisons takes one back to some of the scenes old
Chaucer laughed at, doesn’t it ?
I began to find the day a little hard to kill. A languor seemed
to have fallen over the place, as if the gaieties of the night before
had left a headache or two behind. I sought a quiet shady corner,
and stretched myself to read. The afternoon was very warm and
the world was very still. I fear I fell a-nodding.
The sun was not far from the tree tops when a great commo-
tion roused me. All the village was hastening toward the plaza,
whence the sound of a drum and fife told that the cross-bearers
were returning. They were just nearing the arch when I arrived.
A concourse of women lined the avenue of boughs ; behind the
bearers came a crowd of cheering, chattering men ; leading the
procession was the most fantastic group I ever beheld. Five men,
dressed in tight-fitting clothes of flaming red, with little aprons
hanging in front, and wearing grotesque masks that entirely
covered their heads, were dancing madly before the advancing
symbol of their faith, to the barbaric and tuneless music of a small
drum and pipe, both played by one man, who walked beside the
cross. Round and round they whirled and leaped and pranced ;
the dance evidently had a meaning. The mask of one of the
men was in the shape of a bull’s head. He was the principal
person in the figure ; the rest jumped about and teased him by
waving little flags in his face, or by trying to lasso him with a
small rope. From time to time he lowered his head and rushed
at them wildly, while they scattered or fell down before him in
sembled fright ; but through it all they never ceased to move to
the cadence of the music. Of course it is easy to see that in its
present form the dance aims at representing a bull fight ; it is even
called el toro, or the bull, but I am convinced that it had a very
different purpose in the forgotten period from which it is un-
The now sanctified cross was safely deposited in the tabernacle
beside the one for which it had laboured thus vicariously ; so, after
a few hurried adorations, the crowds scurried off to the ring that
had been erected for the cock-fighting. With patron and peon
alike this is the favourite sport of Peru. Here pandemonium
reigned until dusk, while the publicans (and presumably sinners)
reaped a harvest. The mains over, all turned homeward.
An hour or so later, with the Goya, I was sitting smoking in
the corner of a picante watching the hubbub around us, and
struggling in vain to throw off the after-dinner laziness that pre-
The Yellow Book—Vol. X. K
vented me from calling for my horse to take me over the miles
that lay between me and my morning duties, when I again heard
the summons of the drum and beheld a general exodus for the
“What on earth is up now, Goya ?” I enquired.
“The procession, Señor, the procession.”
The excitement was catching, and we followed the throng.
The moon was just clearing the desert hills ; not a breath
stirred. In two long lines, on either side of the avenue of branches,
stood the bare-headed villagers, each carrying a lighted candle.
Borne on men’s shoulders, as before, in a blazing haze of incense,
the cross was very slowly passing between these lines, while near
the tabernacle heavy rocket bombs were exploding, and squibs
snapped everywhere. Away in advance walked the major-domos,
or marshals of the procession, with bags full of candles, which
they distributed to all comers. Immediately in front, with their
faces to the cross, two of the men in red now unmasked, danced
reverentially to and fro. The musician with his drum and pipe,
puffing and pounding, strode patiently beside them. Lines and
all moved forward at a snail’s pace. At the arch the lines bent
toward one of the altars. This reached, a halt was made, and the
cross set down. Many, undoubtedly, feeling that they had ful-
filled their devotional obligations, returned their candles to the
major-domos and sought refreshment at the booth. Still the lines
were well maintained, for others came to join them. When the
march was resumed, a dozen or more women and girls, dressed in
white and decked with flowers, took the places of the men as
carriers. The two tireless dancers continued their solemn antics :
they were like the women of Israel dancing before the ark. At
the next altar the two lines knelt down in silence for a long time ;
the drum and fife, and the squibs and bombs, never ceased.
When I left about eleven, after consigning the Goya to old Juan,
they had not made half the circuit of the square. Heaven knows
how it ended.
This is certain, eliminating the element of the cross from these
scenes, I was, during those two days, looking on at customs and
ceremonies as truly relics of the Prehistoric Peruvians as the
pottery I dig out of their graves. If I could only fathom the
meaning it all had for them ! It is useless to seek explanations
from the living ; they do not understand half of it themselves.
They can only shrug their shoulders, and assure you, “It is the
custom, Señor.” Yes, but how much is custom and how much is
modern interpolation ?
I rode home in six hours that night ; not bad time when you
remember the sand. I was up again before eight. One thing
you will be able to appreciate, whatever injury my life in Peru
may have done me, it has not been in the direction of my con-
I hardly know how to tell you what must be told ; it sounds so
sudden, so coarse, so abrupt, but life from beginning to end is
brutality. The Goya is dead. It seems a confirmation of our
sneers to say so. Why should we worry through the years ; why
should we dally with love or struggle with ambition—when the
end of all is a hideous silence ? Beauty and youth with their
irresponsibility—fortune and fame with their envied power, have
but one conclusion. Is it fear that makes us continue the
After the fiesta of the cross, she and I were very happy—she
had forgotten her old restlessness, even her old vanity. She
wanted to be with me always. We lived an ideal month. With
her I had always to be the lover ; she never allowed life to become
a reality. Yet it was instinct not calculation that guided her ;
she was one of those women who appeal to our strength ; who
must always be protected and caressed ; whom we love for their
weakness and their womanhood. One day she told me she would
like to go home for a few days, she had not been feeling well, and
I concluded that the request came from nervousness ; still as
months had passed since she had seen her parents I had to yield.
She set out in the old way, with her guide and her Dueña. I
remember how I lifted her into the saddle and how she leaned
down to kiss me before they started off in the cool soft air of the
I missed her greatly during the week that followed. With old
Juan I rode away to see her. She met me with a loving gentle-
ness, that now in the after-light, must have been significant.
She begged me to let her remain at home a week or two more.
How could I refuse ?
Then a messenger came to tell me she was very ill. I laughed
at the serious note, it could only be a woman’s whim ; still, as I
was busy, I sent old Juan to her with orders to engage all the
doctors he could secure if he considered the case urgent. One
morning he came back and told me she was dead. Somehow I
didn’t care. I felt annoyance, not sorrow. Yes, she was very
ill when he arrived, but the curadoras were treating her and he
had had no fear. I upbraided him as I might have done had he
neglected to do a piece of work I had set for him among the
cotton fields. He understood me better than I understood myself
and was silent. All I could learn was that she had been very
weak, when a hæmorrhage of some sort seized her. They had
given her the usual remedios without result ; she never recovered.
I knew she must be buried, but I could not face the duty. I
hate death almost as much as I hate life. What a ghastly thing
is that final resolution into our natal clay. I could not see them
put her into the merciless grave. The thought of my mummies
came to me ; would it ever happen that she would make a vandal’s
holiday ? After the long years would someone touch her hair in
idle curiosity ? I could not endure the suggestion. It was
better to remember her as a dream that had vanished with the
dawn. I sent old Juan to do what I should have done myself
They buried her in the village pantheon on the hill that over-
looks the valley. I ordered them to set a cross to mark the spot,
a cross that was inscribed with her name and nothing more.
What did the years matter ? She had lived and she had died as
the world had done and must do for ever. The episode had ended
for her and for me.
Some days later her father and her little sister came to see me.
They brought me a huaco tied with a blue ribbon, and in a gourd
cage the little blackbird which, they said, she asked them, just
before she died, to take to me. In the doleful tones of ostentatious
grief, the old man told me of her illness. After several days of
great weakness a hæmorrhage came—it was from the throat or
lungs, he did not know exactly which. It is this feature of her
illness that puzzles me. I know she was more delicately fashioned
than these women usually are, still she seemed quite as robust and
as full of health. I remember now that there was a little cough
occasionally, but who could have dreamed that it was serious.
Then he spoke about the funeral, of the crowds, and of the
Mass. He thanked me effusively for my generosity in the matter
of the candles. The people had been greatly impressed ; I had
the sympathy of all who had attended. He dwelt especially upon
the magnificence of the coffin ; nothing so fine had ever been
seen in the village before. It was a great pity that I myself had
not been able to go.
I tried to be patient, but his voice irritated me. One grows so
tired of seeing these people fingering their hats and patroning and
señoring every three words. As kindly, but as hurriedly, as I
could I sent them away.
And now the huaco, with its incongruous blue ribbon,
my desk, while outside in its cage the blackbird is singing the
folly of regret.
More than a year has passed since she died. Sometimes I have
to cross the river ; there are the same little scenes at the ferry, the
same early clouds hang over the valley, and there is the little house
half way up the hill towards which I used to look so anxiously to
see the light in her room. Why do such visits make me feel sad
and restless, I wonder ? Did I really love her, or did she only
stir my imagination ? Who can say ?
On my desk is the huaco with its wilted ribbon still
Now and then, as I rummage among drawers and pigeon-holes, I
find one of her old letters. Always, even in the days of our
deepest intimacy, they began with the same stiff, copy-book
formula : “Esteemed Señor,—I take my pen in my hand to write
you these four words,” although there were sure to be as many
pages. Some of them coax me to come and bring her back from
one of her innumerable visits ; some of them tell me of approach-
ing fandangos in such terms that I might almost fancy that my
happiness alone was being considered ; some of them beg irresistibly
for something without which existence might become impossible ;
others thank me rapturously for a present that has made her joy
complete. Poor little Goya, how she gloried in the externals !
A new dress, a pair of earrings, a glittering ring, and she couldn’t
have loved me more.
I don’t know why the world changed after she had gone.
Manuel and Francisco dragged me into all the festivities. There
were baptisms and haircuttings and carnivals to divert me ; but
they all palled. It seemed as if it had been the Goya who
gave the enthusiasm and the happiness to those old scenes of
revelry. I dropped back into my former indifference, yet it
was not the same, for resentment lay behind it, a resentment
that never found expression ; perhaps it never knew its own
As the months vanished old Juan spoke enticingly of new
beauties that were worth a Gringo’s wooing, but they never
roused a moment’s interest. The Goya’s eyes laughed mockingly
behind the fairest face. How awkward the women seemed when
I remembered her coquetries. Juan could not understand ;
women were women—what made me so capricious ? All the
beauty in the world had not vanished with the Goya. It was
madness to allow the past to shadow the present. Why, many a
woman had died when he was young. He had been sorry—yes,
but it was better to forget. When feasts were approaching which
we had celebrated together, he has come to remind me of the
pleasures of the year before.
“Come, Patron, do you not remember how much you enjoyed
it ? Let us go again. Who knows who will be there—you will
find another much better than the Goya, never fear. Had we
not urged you, you would never have gone to the fandango at
which you met her. If she were chance, may not chance bring
something more delightful still ? She was only a Cholita, Patron ;
there are many more.”
But if I went or if I stayed, it made no difference. There
was no excitement in the noise, no spontaneity in the gladness. I
could see only creatures unworthy—uninteresting.
I grew very restless. I devoted myself to antiquities. I
worked among the ruins and the graves. I read the old
authorities. I even travelled all over Peru to visit the relics of
the ancient time ; but contentment has never come to me.
I listen while my two companions tell me how light loves
make light hearts. Often in the early dawn, they awaken me
with their jingling spurs and sit on the edge of my bed to recount
the delights of the fiesta from which they have just returned. It
all seems gay enough, but somehow it never arouses me. Better
indifference than disappointment. Those long rides had a
meaning once, but now they only bring fatigue and discontent.
The desert is not so beautiful as I once imagined.
Even the physical world seems to be betraying me. I thought
that at least I was secure of the sunlight, but it too is dimmed.
It has glittered through the seven years allotted to it, and now
the time of the great torrents is approaching. We rarely see the
sun until ten o’clock ; a chilling hurricane blows all day long.
At evening great misty hosts come out of the sea, storm the
headlands, and swarm over the plains like an invasion ; the night
shuts black and cold, often with a drizzling cheerless rain. The
brightness has gone out of the air just as comfort and peace of
mind seem to have gone out of my life.
Do you remember the little blackbird ? It became a great
pet. It woke us in the morning with its melody, came to the
table with us, ate from our plates, sat on our shoulders and sang
in our ears. It was happy and busy always. It seemed to have
lost all sense of the need of any companionship save ours. A few
weeks ago, Francisco, who had taken a great fancy to the little
fellow, bought a pair of the same breed to send to some woman in
Lima. We had them here in a cage for a week. One of them
was very young and chirped all day for food. Ours, which
proved to be a female, spent hours in feeding it. She seemed
beside herself with pleasure in the new labour. One night a boat
came and the new birds were sent away. Next day our pet was
disconsolate. She sought high and low for her nursling, and
came to us as if asking help. The morning after, she was
missing, and she has never come back again. The instinct of
home had been awakened, and she had started off across the
desert to rejoin her long forgotten kin. Somehow her departure
seemed to me to be an omen. My homing instincts, too, have
begun to stir, and I am going back to you across the desert of the
Scott, Samuel Mathewson. “La Goya: a Passion of the Peruvian Desert.” The Yellow Book, vol. 10, July 1896, pp. 97-161. Yellow Book Digital Edition, edited by Dennis Denisoff and Lorraine Janzen Kooistra, 2010-2014. Yellow Nineties 2.0, Ryerson University Centre for Digital Humanities, 2020. https://1890s.ca/YBV10_mathewsonscott_goya/