Thursday, 5 September 2019

The Curse of the Cardews

The Curse of the Cardews
After Three Hundred Years
By W. Murray Graydon
Digitized from This is part one of a twenty part series. It was never published in book form. The scans of the 111 year old newspapers do not go through OCR well so I doubt that I will be digitizing the other 20 parts. I was attracted to this story because of the references to British Guiana (Guyana). It could be a great read but time…/drf
Author of “The Blackmailers, “Reaping the Whirlwind,” “The Heir of the Loudouns,” Etc.
From Northern Argus newspaper, Clare, SA, 17 April 1908.

No peace nor joy nor quiet life
Shall male heir of Cardew know.
But bitter cup and bloody strife
Shall spirit crush and pride bring low.
Cardew, if thou the curse would spurn,
To earth Torrana’s dust return.
“Hello, Gordon! I haven’t seen you for an age. Where are you bound for in such a hurry?” and the speaker, a middle-aged individual with a complexion burned to the colour of his own coffee-berries, leaned over the gate to wave an inviting hand.
“Going to England, Jim,” the other responded.
“The deuce you are! You don’t mean it? Lucky dog, if you’re telling the truth. But stop and have a drink.”
“Not now, old man. I’ll see you to-morrow or at the Tower House to-night. So long!”
Salutations and questions similar to the abovethey were answered in much the same way—continually hailed the popular and genial planter from up-country, Gordon Ferguson, as he drove his dusty cart and span of vicious-looking mules through the suburbs and into the main thoroughfare of Georgetown, Demerara, which thriving port, at the mouth of the Demerara River, is, as every one knows, the capital of British Guiana.
Ferguson was a vigorous man of forty, with plain and honest features, and kindly blue eyes that sometimes reflected, in his lonely hours, the memory of the sorrow that had clouded his life years before. As we shall see more of him hereafter, let it suffice for the present to say that he had owned and conducted a sugar plantation in Guiana since his youth, and that he had recently decided to pay a visit to the old countrythe first since he left home—owing to economically successful crops during the past two seasons.
He was as enthusiastic as a boy over the prospect, and his heart was held with bright anticipations. It was near the end of February, and the sunset glow, flashing through the forests of the west, heralded that pleasant hour when Georgetown turns from business to idleness and troops out of doors to enjoy the evening air. The grey roofs of the town, half-buried amid palm trees and luxuriant vegetation, looked very attractive to the toil-worn planter, fresh from the wild solitudes of the interior, as he drove along broad, quiet avenues, between detached houses, standing in spacious gardens and a double row of trenches, in which blossomed the Victoria Regia lily. He entered Water-street, lined with the warehouses of English, Scotch, and European merchants, and heard the strains of the band playing in the Botanical Gardens and caught a glimpse of carriages poking to and fro on the sea wall, before he finally drew up at the hotel known as the Tower House.
“Take the team to the staples. Sambo,” he said to the black servant who came forward to relieve him. “My manager will call for it next week. Thank goodness, I’ve seen the last of it for a month or two.” he added to himself.
Ferguson followed his luggage indoors, and after a bath and a change of clothes, he emerged again as the swift, tropical twilight was falling. Stepping round to a shipping office near by, he greeted the single occupant, a clerk, who was writing at a high desk, in tones that implied old acquaintance.
“As hard at it as ever. Tom. Can you wake up long enough to tell me if you’ve got an empty berth on the Royal Mail steamer that leaves day after to-morrow?”
“Hello, Ferguson! You’re quite a stranger. You want a berth—eh? Not leaving us?”
“I’m going home on a visit—home to God’s own country, which is England.”
“Right you are. Glad of it. The trip will do you good.” and Tom Kingdom glanced wistfully at the man in whose shoes he longed to stand, “Wait a moment,” he added, “and I’ll talk to you.”
“But the berth?”
“Oh. I’ve got one; don’t worry.”
The clerk bent over his writing, and Ferguson, turning carelessly to the maps and photographs that hung on the wall, discovered something that instantly arrested his attention and brought an exclamation of astonishment to his lips. It was a placard in large print—he could read it by the light of a smoky lamp—offering a reward for a certain Juan Rivera, a Spaniard, who had escaped from the convict settlement at the Mazaruni River. A description of the missing man, meagre and unsatisfactory in its details, was appended.
“By Jove! when did Rivera get away?” gasped Ferguson.
“A fortnight ago,” replied the clerk.
“And have they caught him yet?”
“I believe not. He is supposed to have fled towards New Amsterdam. I wish he would come this way, and into my office; but there’s no such luck. Isn’t Rivera the chap who stabbed the Dutch Consul?”
“Yes; and it got him a sentence of fifteen years,” replied Ferguson, speaking in an odd voice and with a painful look of reminiscence in his eyes.
“He was a bit of a swell, wasn’t he?”
“So I’ve heard, and it was probably true. He came out here with a pot of money, squandered it all, and then started to drink, and gamble. It was said that he belonged to an ancient and respected family in Spain, and that his real name was Morrana, or Torrana, or something like that. I curse the day I ever” —Ferguson broke off abruptly. “I left home two weeks ago. I’ve been visiting friends on the way down,” he went on. “Rivera owes me a grudge, and I shouldn’t wonder if he has been hanging round my place. I testified against him at his trial.”
“Well, they’re pretty sure to catch him sooner or later,” said Tom Kingdom as he rose from the desk. “Have a drink, old man, will you?”
He led the way to a back room, and had just taken glasses and a bottle from a closet when he was called out by footsteps in the office.
“What can I do for you?” Ferguson heard him ask,  and the low-spoken reply, “I want a passage on your next steamer,” reached him as distinctly. It was a familiar voice —a voice from out of the dead past— and Ferguson started as he put down the bottle he had picked up. Looking through a crack of the door, he saw a tall, apparently middle-aged man, with an olive-tinted complexion and black beard and moustache, wearing a suit of grey flannels, spectacles, and a broad-brimmed Panama hat with a brown and scarlet band.
“Much too old,” he told himself. “No, it can’t be. The fellow is a stranger. And yet”—
The next instant he had flung the door wide and dashed into the office. “You scoundrel, you have been robbing my house!” he cried, “Those are my clothes, my hat!”
He grabbed at the visitor’s beard, and it came away in his hand. As quickly he tore off spectacles and hat, and suspicion became certainty.
“Juan Rivera!” he exclaimed.
The Spaniard, now revealed as a young and handsome man of twenty-seven or twenty-eight, muttered an oath and whipped out a knife. But his arm was promptly struck up by Kingdom, and thus foiled of his murderous purpose, he turned and took to his heels before either of the two could seize him.
“After him!” cried Ferguson.
“Help! Police!” cried the clerk. “Rivera! Rivera! Catch him!”
Though Water-street was thronged with people at this hour, and the meaning of the clamour from the shipping office ran like wildfire among them, the escaped convict got safely across, knocking down two lads who tried to stop him. A loud hue and cry rose behind him, and an excited mob of men and boys were pressing at his heels as he dived into a side thoroughfare, whence we will follow him on his desperate race for freedom.
Bitterly did Juan Rivera repent the impulse that had prompted him to steal wearing apparel from the wardrobe of his hated enemy, and still more bitterly did he regret his folly in trusting his disguise to the chances and hazards of Georgetown. His overwhelming confidence, the belief that his very daring would enable him to sail with impunity by a Royal Mail steamer, was likely to cost him dear. Straining every, nerve, he sped on, and fortunately his aimless course took him into the comparatively quiet and dark residential neighbourhood. He twisted and doubled, swerved from right to left, and finally, when he had out-distanced his foes and was at the point of exhaustion, he climbed with difficulty to the top of a six-foot wall and dropped into an extensive garden on the further side,
He lay there, breathing heavily, until his pursuers had rushed by the spot and were seeking him beyond. The night had now fallen, and to that he owed his good luck so far. He presently rose, his fertile brain scheming and planning, and having crept through dense, shrubbery and trees, he emerged close to a large two-storeyed house, where a single light was visible in an upper room. He crouched low again as a man and a woman passed quickly down the gravel walk, conversing audibly. They were evidently going to discover what the noise meant.
“We must not leave the poor fellow long.” said the woman. “He has been writing all the afternoon, and the effort has exhausted him. I am afraid the end is near.”
“I fear so,” assented The man.
“It is very sad, Charles, but it would have been more so had he been left to die in that wretched hovel. I am glad we took him in.”
The voices and footsteps faded away, and Rivera stood up.
“I won’t be taken alive,” he vowed, “Any death rather than to return to that hell on the Mazaruni. I must hide for a time. And perhaps I can obtain a fresh disguise yonder. Apparently there is no one at home but a sick man.”
He cautiously approached the house and finding the door locked, he gained admission by an open window. From the hall, where not even a cloak or hat was hanging, he mounted to the upper floor, and paused on the threshold of a rear room. He glanced within, hesitated, and then entered, with noiseless steps. His fierce passions were subdued by what he saw; for the moment he forgot his perilous plight.
A dimly-burning lamp revealed a young man—he was well under 30 stretched on a narrow bed. His eyes were closed, his shrunken features were the hue of wax, and his breathing was so faint that it could barely be detected. He was evidently at the point of death. The fingers of one lean hand clutched a pen, and on a table by his side were ink, paper, and an open envelope, the latter addressed to a London solicitor.
“I might be worse off,” thought Rivera. “At least I have a chance.”
Impelled by curiosity, he examined the envelope. The sheets within, written in a weak but legible hand, contained a confession. The dying man, it appeared, had been a clerk of the aforesaid solicitor. With a key made from a wax impression he had opened a client’s box, transcribed a copy of a valuable paper, and fled with it to British Guiana. There a fatal illness had seized him, and in his last moments he desired to atone for his sin. He had burned the paper, he declared, and his knowledge of the secret it might have guided him to—a secret that explained the theft and flight—would perish with him.
The convict read on, oblivious to everything else. The pathetic, penitent sentences burned into his brain, thrilled him as if each word was a pin-prick.
‘‘Miguel Torrana!” he muttered. “My ancestor! What can this mean?”
The revelation, dawning by degrees, burst suddenly upon him in its entirety. His mind went back to his childhood and early youth, to a family legend that had grown dim and disreputable through centuries of repetition. Spurred memory woke almost forgotten names and places, and he marvelled at the strange fate that had led him to this house— to this chamber of death.
“It is an omen,” he told himself, “It bids me hope and endeavour. By heavens, I will escape I will foil my enemies, throw them off the track and win the golden heritage that is mine by right. There are difficulties to be met, but I will conquer them. If any cross my path—and there is a likelihood of that—let them beware. To England first, and then”—
A noise downstairs—it was a key turning in a lockstartled Rivera to a sense of his danger. “You have given me something to live for.” he said, softly, with a glance at the dying man: and thrusting envelope and confession into his pocket, he swung from the window at the end of the room and dropped to the ground.
By a rear garden and a gate he came to a quiet street. He walked leisurely on, seeking his bearings while he listened to the confused clamour that he was bareheaded, that he had left the house empty-handed; until a native policeman sprang from hiding in front of him, brandishing a cudgel.
“You black dog!” yelled Rivera.
His knife flashed out. He struck at and missed the terrified negro, darted past him, and was off like a hare. One pursuer was bawling at his heels, and eager voices were catching up the clamour on all sides of him. The mischief was done and he knew the odds were desperate, but his hot Spanish blood sustained his courage.
“If I can only get out of the town!” he thought.
The hue and cry rang nearer. His foes headed him off right and left, badgered and worried him like a pack of yelping curs; and at last, having been driven along the only way that was open to him, he broke cover on the broad avenue skirting the sea, and saw the harbour and the shipping melting before him into the dusky shroud of the night.
Escape was impossible, one would rightly have said. The fugitive was hopelessly cornered, but he leaped on to the parapet, and for a moment stood defiantly at bay, knife in hand, facing the shouting mob that was closing on him from three sides. Then he turned and dived head first into the water. A splash, followed by a white swirl twenty feet out. That was all. The quarry had baffled the pursuers in the flush of their triumph, and they could only stare, helplessly into the darkness, some with angry imprecations and some with grudging meed of admiration.
Boats were hastily procured. For half the night they pulled to and fro, and at daybreak every craft in the harbour was searched. But of Juan Rivera no trace was found, and it was generally believedeven Ferguson did not doubt—that he had been devoured by the hungry sharks infesting the vicinity.
Between ten and eleven o’clock on a mild and fragrant April evening, when London streets and squares were bathed in a flood of moonlight that was a fitting accompaniment to the opening of the season, a man in a soft, hat and a long-overcoat walked slowly past a West-end mansion. Soft strains of music fell on his ear, and shadowy forms, like the figures of a biograph, moved behind the window blinds. He cursed them under his breath. A carriage drew up at the kerb, and as two belated guests entered the house, the man caught a glimpse of the brilliant luxury within. He retraced his steps, sauntered by a second and a third time.
“Shall I send her a message,” he asked himself, “or shall I trust to a letter reaching her hands unopened? No; something must be done to-night, else I dine with the Duke Humphrey to-morrow, as these Englishmen are pleased to call it. My need of money is too urgent for delay; and with that, walking rapidly away, he turned out of the square and vanished.
Mrs. Adair’s ball-room was thronged, and if the company present did not consist of the cream of society, it at least numbered some representatives of the exclusive circle, and for the rest was made up of people who were not far removed from the border-line of Mayfair and Belgravia. As the dancing was in full swing, and the hum of conversation and the frou-frou of silken skirts blended harmoniously with the notes of the orchestra, two young men stood apart at one side of the spacious apartment, where they had paused for moment’s rest. Intently, but with a different purpose, each watched the couples that whirled by them.
There was not a year’s difference between them. Brian Desmond, slender and of medium height, with fair hair and grey eyes, was a type of the popular clubman who takes life easily, forms fast friendships, and is capable of forceful action if such a need ever arises. His father, Colonel Desmond, was a retired officer and a widower, and had inherited a considerable fortune from his wife. Geoffrey Cardew—it is with him our story is chiefly concernedwas tall and well built, good-looking rather than handsome, with thoughtful brown eyes and a tawny moustache that shaded a strong mouth. Though he bore one of the oldest names in England, fate had put him at a desk, in the India Office and compelled him to exist on three hundred a year and his private income of two hundred more; which handicap, causing him to be regarded hitherto as somewhat of a nonentity in social circles, he had felt more bitterly than he had been known to confess. But those days were gone for ever, and to-night, as he stood talking to his friend, every fibre in his being thrilled with the realisation of his altered fortunes and prospects. It was of such recent date, the change, that he had scarcely had time to get accustomed to it.
“By Jove! I never saw her looking better,” said Desmond, in a low voice.
“Who?” inquired Geoffrey. “Ah, you mean Carmen.”
There was no need to ask the question. A tall and regal girl, of a bold, dark style of beauty that was clearly not English, was just then gliding past the two with languid and inimitable grace. Diamonds glittered at her throat and in the coiled masses of her raven hair; her features a perfect oval, were of a creamy olive tint. She ignored Desmond, flashed her black eyes at Cardew for an instant, and disappeared with her partner in the throng. Desmond’s face clouded. It was an open secret that he was in love, and hopelessly so, with Carmen Torrana, who for several years had been residing in London with her aunt, the wife of an Englishman of wealth and position. And it was equally well known, perhaps that the Spanish girl had months ago lost her heart to one who was indifferent to that coveted jewel.
“There is no woman in the world to compare with her.” said Desmond, sadly.
“She is beautiful, I admit’” replied Geoffrey, “but with the beauty of a young panther.”
“Dangerous, you mean?”
“I am far from suggesting it. She is not my taste, that is all. Give me a woman who”—
Geoffrey paused, and his face flushed with a tell-tale colour. At the moment Brian’s sister was passing, and it was her smile that had betrayed his feelings. As fair and sweet as an English rose, as fresh and tender as the dawn of an English summer morning, Violet Desmond was as different from Carmon Torrana as day is from night. Nor was Geoffrey the only one who thought so. He had held aloof while better men tried their chances and failed.
“It is not for me to dispute your choice.” said Desmond. “I wish you luck, old chap—at last.”
“But you would have wished me that always if I had presumed to” —
“Of course—you know that. But the pater.”
“I quite understand.” said Geoffrey, shruggling his shoulders. “I do not complain. It is the way of the world we live in”
He smiled unconsciously. Brian wished him luck, and Colonel Desmond would doubtless do the same, and Violet—how would she answer the question he meant to ask this very night?
“I believe she cares for me, and for myself alone.” he reflected. “Had I stooped to dishonour, I might have won her long ago. She is not mercenary—she refused Parkinson with his ten thousand a year. But I could never have asked her to share a life of comparative poverty, and happily, I need not,”
Yes, he was very glad that he had the right to speak at last. It still seemed too good to be true. Only a month ago he had been the insignificant civil clerk, with little or no prospect of ever having the command of more than five hundred a year. His elder brother George, who had quarrelled with him unreasonably, and made an unfortunate marriage and led an unhappy and dissipated existence abroad for years was then living in a continental city. The two—their parents were deceased —were sons of a younger and impoverished brother, and George had inherited from a bachelor uncle. And now George’s wife was dead, and George had followed her in the grave a fortnight afterwards, and he, Geoffrey Cardew, had succeeded at the age of twenty-five to six thousand pounds a year and to the ownership of Beechcombe. the stately ancestral mansion on the crest of Hedsor Hill, in Buckinghamshire, that had been the home of the Cardews since the reign of Elizabeth. Little wonder that he was dazzled by his good fortune, and that he wanted but one thing to make him the happiest man in the world.
“Wake up, dreamer, and do your duty.’’ said Brian. We are forgetting our obligations to our hostess.” and with that he moved away.
He has gone to find Carmen.” thought Geoffrey, as he looked after his friend. “I wish she would reward his devotion as it deserves, and refrain from showing such embarrassing marks of favour to myself, and from staring me out of countenance with those black eyes of hers. I have never given her the slightest encouragement, that I’ll swear; but I can’t help feeling uneasy sometimes. She is a true daughter of Spain, passionate in love and passionate in hatred. Heaven forbid that I incur her enmity!”
A true daughter of England was approaching him, and at sight of that lovely face Geoffrey forgot all else. It was his dance, and he claimed it. Relieving Violet of her escort, he rested one hand on her slender waist, and the two glided into the mazes of a waltz, to the measure of the dreamy, rapturous music that was in tune with their own hearts. On and on they swept, units among many, and yet as deliciously isolated as if they had been tripping it to Pan’s pipes over a moonlit forest glade.
The strains of the orchestra died a way in a buzz of conversation. Geoffrey led his partner to a secluded corner of the conservatory, hidden by potted ferns and feathery mimosa, and stood by her for a moment, waiting until the music struck up again. It was the propitious moment. Under the soft lights her face flushed, Violet’s beauty was more than he could resist. She raised her eyes to his, swiftly lowered them; and seating himself at her side, while he clasped her unresisting hand, he poured out the old story— the sweet, eternal story that will be ever new as long as the world lasts.
I have always loved you,” he went on. “I will live only for your happiness. Do youcan you—care for me a little. Violet?”
“More than a little, Geoffrey,” she said, looking up at him bravely and said, looking up at him bravely and blushingly. “Yes, I will be your wife.”
He kissed her lips, then started up at the sound of a light footstep and the rustle of a skirt. Carmen Torrana stood within three yards. Her bosom heaved, a fiery red spot burned in each cheek, and scorn and anger flashed from her eyes.
“Pardon,” she said; and vanished in company with Brian, who had been in the background.
“How she frightened me!” said Violet, with a little shiver. “I believe she hates you, Geoffrey.”
“Imagination. dearest,” he assured her.
Ten minutes later, when Geoffrey and his promised bride left the conservatory, they came upon Brian in the ball-room alone.
“Where is the senorita?” his sister asked.
“Gone.” Brian moodily replied. “A note was brought to her, and she went off in a hurry.”
“With her aunt?”
“With herself,” said Brian, and inclined her head towards Carmen’s elderly relative, who was passing on the arm of a Scotch baronet.
Brian was honestly and openly delightedthere was no one he liked so well as his prospective brother-in-law —and Colonel Desmond was blandly acquiescent. He patted Geoffrey’s shoulder and congratulated him“though Violet might have looked a little higher,” he said. “No offence, my dear fellow.”
“I am not worthy of her—no man is,” replied Geoffrey, “But the Cardews have refused titles in their time,” he added, proudly.
“And never a king of Ireland,” said the colonel, “but had a Desmond at his right hand.”
Life ran in pleasant lines for Geoffrey then, and he soon fitted into his place as if he had never been out of it. He had left the India Office, and occupied chambers at the Albany —partly to be near Violet, and mainly because Beechcombe, which had been shut up since George Cardew’s accession, had to be made ready for him. The legal formalities that would put him in possession of the estate were not entirely completed, but he had carte blanche to draw on the family solicitor for funds, and he found it a novel sensation to spend gold as he had formerly spent shillings. Though he regretted his brother’s death, he did not profess to more grief than he could honestly feel. George had treated him shamefully, without just cause or reason, and the two had not met or written to each other for seven years.
One sunny May morning, a fortnight after Mrs. Adair’s reception, Geoffrey drove down to Chancery-lane to keep an appointment which his solicitor had requested in writing. He arrived on the minute, for he had promised to join Violet later in the park.
“I don’t suppose it is anything more important,” he told himself, “than a document that requires my signature.’’
Archibald Menzes, a man of sixty, whose head was silvered by the family secrets that reposed therein, was waiting for him in the private office. He greeted his client with an air of professional gravity that for once was not assumed, and having carefully locked the door and put out biscuits and a bottle of port—at which Geoffrey’s modern and uncultivated taste rebelled—he opened a ponderous safe and took from it a sealed blue envelope. He seated himself opposite to Geoffrey and cleared his throat.
“I need not tell you, Mr. Cardew,” he began, “that ancient and honourable blood flows in your veins. Your fore-fathers, sir, lived in an age when gentlemen of spirit met with adventures that are unheard of and impossible in these prosaic days. And in your case, strangely enough, an echo of one such adventure has survived to the present. At intervals of greater or less extent during the past three centuries—If I am right in tracing the custom so far back— there has come a time to each successive male heir of your race when he has made cognizant of a certain family affair and was put in possession of certain papers relating to the same. Those documents I am about to deliver into your keeping, as I am bound to do by virtue of my trust, and as I did in the case of your uncle and of your brother. Have you any knowledge, may I ask, of what is known as the Curse of the Cardews?”
“Very little, if any.” Geoffrey replied, wondering what was coming next. “There was a vague family tradition, I believe, mixed up with Elizabethan swashbucklers and hidden treasure, and that sort of thing. I have an indistinct recollection of my grandfather speaking of it—or it may have been my fatherand even that was not meant for my ears.”
“And your brother George?”
“He never referred to the matter, nor did my uncle James.”
“Well, it was neither a myth nor a tradition, Mr. Cardew,” said the solicitor. “it was a fact, a chapter of actual happenings, and it is as real to-day—it has been my privilege to be convinced of thatas it was three hundred years ago. But I will give you a brief outline of the story, and afterwards you shall examine the proofs. In the year 1595 Sir Walter Raleigh, in consequence of reports that credited the northern part of the continent of South America with being a land of marvellous treasures, and hoping to surpass the discoveries of Cortez and Pizarro, equipped an expedition and set sail from England. Among those who accompanied him was your ancestor, Geoffrey Cardew the first, from whom you are descended in an unbroken line. He distinguished himself in the defeat of the Armada, and prior to that he had erected Beechcombe, of which one original wing still stands intact. In due course the expedition arrived at Orinoco, and sailed up that mighty river, when some of the adventurers sought in one direction and some in another. A party of five, braving the perils of the unknown wilderness, pushed up for a considerable distance to the south, into what is now the north-western part of British Guiana. Of these Geoffrey Cardew was one, and another was a certain Miguel Torrana, a Spanish gentleman of good birth. He and several companions had been rescued during the voyage from a sinking ship. The rest of the crew, it seems, had perished of starvation.”
“Torrana?” broke in Geoffrey. “Does the family exist at the present day?”
“I do not know, sir. It is highly improbable, Why do you ask?”
“From mere curiosity.” Geoffrey replied, truthfully enough. “Will you pardon my interruption, Mr. Menses, and continue your story?” to himself, he added, “It is an odd coincidence at least.”
“Of these five men,” resumed the Solicitor, ‘‘three died of fever in the interior. The survivors were Miguel Torrana and your ancestor, who had formed a comradely friendship which, sad to say, was destined to end in tragedy. Ultimately they found gold, amassed a large quantity of it, and then quarrelled over the spoils. Both were hot-tampered, and neither would yield. In a moment of ungovernable rage Geoffrey Cardew struck the Spaniard to the ground with a weapon. Believing his friend to be dead, and overcome with remorse and grief, he dragged the body deep into a thicket and fled in a canoe, taking the ill-gotten treasure with him. But the canoe springing a leak before he had gone far, he landed, buried the greater part of the gold, and continued his journey on foot. He reached the Orinoco barely in time to sail with Raleigh—the five men had been given up for lost—and when he returned to England in 1596 he gave his son Myles a truthful account of his adventures, with one exception. Miguel Torrana, he declared, had died of fever like the rest. His deception, we must admit, was but human nature, though it was to lead to strange consequences. As for his sin, he expiated that within a month, for he was killed in London in a brawl.
(To be Continued).

Saturday, 2 March 2019

Painting Wild Indians

Painting Wild Indians
by A. Hyatt Verrill
From The Wide World Magazine, 1928, unsure which issue
I started to study the works and life of A. Hyatt Verrill almost 20 years ago. Verrill was contracted by the originator of the Museum of the American Indian, George Heye, to produce quite a few of these paintings. There were subsequent problems between the two. It appears that only 48 were ever delivered. Possibly an equal number were sold privately. His autobiography, Never a Dull Moment, published by Stillwoods, features one of these private paintings on the cover. This is the first full description of how these paintings were created.
I have substituted colour paintings where they were available, of course they were b&w in the original article./drf.

Very few men know more about the Indians of Central and South America than the Author, who has travelled far and wide among tribes who seldom set eyes on a white man. For years past he has been building up, for museum purposes, a series of pictures, painted from life, depicting Indians in ceremonial costumes or engaged in their daily avocations. This article describes some of his experiences while at work among these little-known races.

TO secure really good photographs of wild” Indians is not by any means an easy matter; and when I say “wild” Indians, I mean Indians who have not been in close contact with civilization, and not necessarily hostile or unfriendly tribes.
Indeed, one of the ethnologist’s greatest problems is to obtain pictures which are of scientific value as permanent records. This is especially true of the Indians of Central and South America, many of whom have scarcely been visited by white men, and most of whom are still in a far more primitive and unsophisticated state than the Red men of North America.
Usually, when one attempts to photograph these Indians, the prospective subjects either hide or run away, or else—in the case of those who are more civilizedassume such artificial and obviously posed positions and expressions that the results remind one of the old-fashioned photographs in the family album.
Indians, as a rule, strongly object to being photographed, even when they have never seen a camera before and have no idea what the instrument is for. To them it savours of witchcraft or magic, and while they may not actually fear it they feel that it is a good thing to keep away from. Moreover, the Indians dread the camera’s “eye.” The staring lens that “winks” in such a mysterious manner is, to their minds, the eye of some spirit who lives within the black box and is quite capable of looking into their minds and reading their most secret thoughts.
So great is their dread of this spirit-eye that if the lens is visible they will not approach within the camera’s range of vision. This is often a great convenience, for when one desires to be left alone, or wishes to guard against the curiosity and inquisitiveness of one’s Indian hosts, it is only necessary to open a camera and leave it in plain sight.
As long as the little glass “eye” is there to see, no Indian will approach, no matter how great the temptation may be. Many a time I have left my trade goods and other possessions fully exposed in the open, shed-like hut of an Indian village, and have been absent for days, feeling perfectly confident that the camera left on guard would prevent any native from rummaging through my property.
And here let me remark that the South American Indian is, until civilized, absolutely honest. He will not steal; but he is intensely curious, and delights in examining anything and everything the stranger possesses. He may rummage through one’s belongings, and even carry off handfuls of objects to show to friends and relatives, but he will invariably return them eventually. Nevertheless, it is not always desirable to have one’s possessions pulled about and hopelessly mixed when one is not present, and on such occasions an open camera is a most useful watch-dog.


A very potent factor in the Indians’ attitude toward the camera’s eye” is their almost universal belief in what may be called “proxies,” which are widely used among nearly all Central and South American tribes. These take the form of crude wooden, terra-cotta, or even stone effigies, which travellers often erroneously look on as idols or gods, but which in reality have no religious or sacred significance whatever, merely serving to take the place of some person or creature.
Thus the medicine-men of the Kunas, Tegualas, and other tribes of Panama use wooden figures to aid them in curing illness. As the medicine-man cannot remain constantly beside his patients, he places a wooden image near the sick man or woman, the little figure taking the doctor’s place and serving as his proxy. If, on his next visit, the medicine-man finds no great improvement in his patient’s condition, another “proxy” is placed on guard, and very often a sick Indian will be surrounded by several dozen imitation doctorsof this kind.
Among other tribes, such as the Guaymís, proxiesare carried to even greater lengths.
When a man is compelled to leave his house untenanted for a few days, in order to go on a hunt or a journey with his family, he does not bother to lock or bar his doors. Instead, he places a crude wooden effigy outside and goes forth perfectly confident that no one will enter during his absence.
Not only does the “proxy” deter trespassers by its mere presence, but the Indian believes that in some mysterious manner the figure left on guard will warn him if anyone attempts to enter the house, and will actually make known the identity of the trespasser! The Indian is convinced that a proxy,” no matter how crude, is possessed with the spirit of the person or creature it purports to represent. Hence, to his mind, the camera is the “proxy” of the owner, and possessed with the white man’s spirit.
Moreover, when he learns the purpose of the camera, or has it explained to him, he is more reluctant than ever to have his picture taken. He believes that the likeness or image of a person must inevitably possess the spirit, or at least a portion of the spirit, of the subject. A photograph of himself, carried far away, must take with it some of his spirit, which he naturally does not care to part with.
Quite frequently I have found that this objection may be overcome by giving the subject himself a copy of the photograph, for then he feels he has lost nothing, andblissfully unaware of such things as negativeshe is quite content, regarding the portrait as a valuable “proxy” for his own use.
Oddly enough, most of the South American Indians have a remarkable way of looking at pictures upside down! Among the innumerable tribes I have visited I have never found an Indianexcept those who had been in close touch with civilization and had learned betterwho did not follow this strange custom.
With the pictures right-side-up the Indians would stare at them uncomprehendingly, their faces expressionless and blank; but the instant one of their number turned the photograph bottom-up they would become excited and interested, and would point, chatter, and laugh as they recognized the features of themselves or their friends,
Another factor which adds to the difficulties of securing good photographs of these South American Indians is the fact that they usually dwell in dense jungles or forests where the light is poor and there are usually heavy shadows, while, with the well-known perversity of things inanimate, it usually rains or is dull at the very moment when all other conditions are propitious for securing the desired pictures.
If the light is good, the confidence of the Indians won, and a member of the tribe has been prevailed upon to brave the magic eye of the camera, the result is usually far from satisfactory, for the subject forthwith assumes a set, martyred expression entirely unlike his natural self.
Having encountered such difficulties, as well as many others, including the development of mould on negatives and films, the ruination of cameras by water, and such minor incidents, during many years’ experience among South and Central American tribes, and having frequently failed to secure the pictures I most desired, I decided that the only practical method of obtaining satisfactory likenesses of the Indians was to paint their portraits.


This, however, did not prove as easy and simple as it sounds. In the first place, to carry canvas, colours, brushes, and drawing materials into the jungles and forests and across vast mountain ranges was a problem in itself. In penetrating the fastnesses of the South American wilderness, and visiting little-known and remote regions, every superfluous ounce of dunnage must be discarded.
For days and weeks travel is by dug-out canoes along rivers filled with cataracts and rapids, where one’s craft must be hauled through whirlpools and fierce currents by straining, tugging Indians. Portages are frequent and often long and arduous; washouts and capsizes are all in the day’s work, and provisions for the boat’s crew and oneself must be carried, together with clothing, trade goods, and other essentials.
Not infrequently it is impossible to transport a canoe round a fall or cataract, and it becomes necessary to portage the whole outfit through the jungles to the head of the falls and there construct flimsy, cranky woodskins”—fragile craft made from cylindrical sections of barkin which to continue the journey. Often, too, the rivers may be far too shallow to permit the laden craft to pass, and all cargo must be unloaded and carried piecemeal for miles up-stream.
On one trip to the Shayshan Indians of Central America more than fifty portages were made in one day; and later on, while two men pushed and lifted the canoe over the shoals, the others and myself tramped for more than sixty miles over the only possible routethe uneven, slippery, water-worn cobbles of the dried-up river-bed. Even when travel is by land the difficulties of transportation are great.
Much of the forest is impenetrable until a path has been cut with machetes; and often the way leads through apparently bottomless swamps or up the precipitous sides of jungle-covered mountains. Very frequently, too, it is necessary to cross deserts or endless grassy savannahs where there is little or no water, where the sun beats down like a furnace or else rain falls in torrents, and where the dust and the pollen from the grasses fill one’s eyes, nose, and mouth.
Under such arduous conditions, every additional ounce of weight becomes the equivalent of a hundredweight, so far as transportation problems go; and paints, canvas, stretchers, and similar things are by no means light.
Even when one has solved the difficulties of transport and reached an Indian camp, one’s troubles are not over. There is nothing mysterious or magical about drawing or painting, even to the suspicious and superstitious Indian mind, for with few exceptions the Indian is something of an artist himself. But he much prefers watching the painter to serving as a model, while the interested, chattering crowd that gathers round effectually shuts off the subject even if, after endless trouble, he or she has been induced to remain fairly quiet for the time being.
Occasionally an Indian is found who is a born model, but his or her lot is not a particularly happy one. The sitter at once becomes the butt of laughter, raillery, jokes, and good-natured chaffing from every man, woman, and child of the village. Wizened old hags warn him of the dangers of getting his spirit into the picture; and, as a rule, after one or two trials, the model gives up in despair and runs away, or else assumes a set, fixed expression, as if undergoing some ceremonial torture.


I speedily discovered that ordinary methods would not serve in painting the Indians of the tribes I visited. Instead of at once proceeding to paint the people, therefore, I made brief and hurried pencil-sketches, working surreptitiously when my subjects were not looking or were busy at their various tasks.
I would jot down a bit here, a bit there; sometimes getting a nose, an ear, or half a face before the subject was aware of what I was doing; sometimes succeeding in drawing an entire head or figure, and often having great fun when some Indian would slip quietly up behind me and shout the news of his discovery, whereupon every member of the village would gather about, examining the sketches, holding them upside down, and shouting and laughing with glee at the various bits of anatomy on my sketch-pad.
Oftentimes, too, I made great headway by making drawings of various birds and animals, which I distributed among the Indians, who, in return, would allow themselves to be sketched. To supplement these hastily-made pictures, I would make equally rapid and usually unsuspected colour-sketches of costumes, facial decorations, and so on.
Sometimes, however, this proved difficult. On one occasion I found myself without the needed colour for recording the peculiar ochre-brown shade of the Indians’ skins, a shade which would, I knew, be impossible to carry in my mind; but I solved the problem in a rather unusual way. Gathering a number of dried leaves of various shades of brown, I matched the Indians’ complexions and carefully preserved the leaves, which were of exactly the same colour.
Very often, too, photographs even when entirely unsatisfactory as scientific records, or even for reproductionproved great helps in working up the portraits of the Indians in oils. Especially was this true of postures and attitudes assumed in ceremonial dances, religious rites, occupations, and so on. Quick snapshots taken without the subjects’ knowledge would record a position or attitude, even if all details of features and costume were hazy or lacking. But I had to be most circumspect in securing such snapshots.
Once let an Indian catch sight of the camera and one or two results was sure to occur. Either they would scurry to cover, buzzing somewhat angrily at having their ceremonies interrupted. or they would all halt in their tracks and stand staring at me. To obviate this, I found it necessary to conceal the instrument under my garments or inside a hut, and trust to luck and guesswork in snapping the shutter with the lens pointed from under my coat or through a chink in a wall.
Even with my sketches, my photographs, my notes, and my colour-keys to aid me, an immense amount of material was required in order to work up an accurate painting. Frequently I have used over fifty sketches, several dozen photographs, and as many colour-records in painting a single Indian; while hundreds of sketches, colour-charts, and photographs are necessary when painting a dance or a ceremonial group.
In nearly every case I have been careful to introduce only those costumes, ornaments, and implements which I actually collected, and which are now in the Museum of the American Indian. Thus the pictures become valuable ethnological records, and when it is desired to construct life-sized groups they can be used as guides, the identical costumes and decorations depicted being used on the models.


One immense advantage that such pictures possess is that they show the gorgeous colouring of the Indians’ costumes. This is especially true of the feather headdresses, particularly those of the tribes of the interior of Brazil and Guiana. These are crown-like affairs of most brilliantly-coloured parrot and macaw feathers, fastened to a framework of basketry and topped off by several long scarlet, orange, or blue feathers from the tails of macaws.
At the rear, a long train or bobof gaudy feathershumming bird, cock-of-the-rock, parrot, and toucan skinshangs down the wearer’s back, and often a magnificent feather cape or mantle is also worn. Much of the detail and all the colour of such regalia are lost in photographs.
The same is true of the colours of the Indians’ skins. In this respect the pictures prove a revelation to many people who are accustomed to thinking of all Indians as “red men” or copper-coloured. Among the South and Central American tribes the colour varies from a rich brown to a pale yellow or olive, and many of these Indians are so fair-skinned that if dressed in conventional garb they would readily pass for white. This is also true of their features.
With few exceptions, the South American Indian bears little facial resemblance to his Northern cousins. Seldom do we see the high and prominent cheek-bones, the aquiline nose, thin lips, and strong chin which have become accepted as typical of the Indian. Instead, the South American Indians, as a whole, have rather flat, broad noses, rounded cheeks, full lips, and receding chins.
Among the Andean tribes of Peru are many with enormous beak-like nosesthe so-called Inca noseand among the Mapuches, or as they are more commonly called the Araucaniansof Southern Chile, we find regular Caucasian features, with well-developed beards and moustaches. We should never recognize these people as Indians if they were dressed in everyday clothes and met with in city streets.
Although comparatively few people realize the fact, there are many times more Indians in South America than in North America, and no one can say positively just how many tribes inhabit the jungles, forests, and mountains of the great southern continent. Of course, it would be practically impossible to paint the whole of these in a single lifetime, but much headway has already been made, and eventually it is hoped that all of the more important and characteristic types will be preserved on canvas.
A series showing the types, occupations, and dances of all the British Guiana tribes, together with several Panama tribes, was completed two years ago, and is now in the Museum of the American Indian; paintings of all the tribes of Panama, and many of Peru and Chile, were completed last year; and this year I expect to finish the series illustrating the Peruvian, Bolivian, and Chilean tribes.
I have often been asked if I am not afraid of these Indians, and if I have not been in constant jeopardy while among them. This is a most natural question, as the public has been bountifully supplied with exaggerated tales of ferocious headhunters, lurking assassins with poisoned arrows, and unprovoked attacks, so that the average man thinks of all wild” Indians as hostile. As a matter of fact, I very much doubt whether any Central or South American tribe ever wantonly attacked a white man without provocation.
Of course the innocent may have suffered for the guilty at times, and Indians who have suffered at the hands of Venezuelans, Brazilians, and others, or who have been ill-treated by prospectors, rubber-gatherers, and adventurers, have often, no doubt, evened up scores by taking reprisals on white men who were in no way responsible for the abuses. But such cases are rare.
As a rule the Indians are discriminating, take the stranger at his face value, and treat him according to his deserts. Personally, I have never been attacked or even threatened by Indians, and I have visited many remote and almost unknown tribes. Some of these were reputably savage and hostile, and not a few had every reason to make short work of any white man they met.
As a rule, I have found these tribes hospitable, friendly, and most delightful peopleas long as they are untouched by civilization and have not learned the white men’s vices. To be sure, on one or two occasions I have passed some most unpleasant hours and have had some narrow escapes from serious trouble, but in every such case the fault was my own, or was due to some act on the part of my men or to a misunderstanding.


On one occasion, while visiting a remote Carib village in the hinterland of Guiana I found the Indians engaged in a religious ceremony and wrought up to a high pitch of excitement. As I arrived, followed by my retinue of Indian boatmen and their women, who served as porters, I noticed an ugly expression on the face of the chief, who was beating a ceremonial drum with a human leg-bone.
Instead of turning and welcoming me, as I greeted him in Caribee, the old fellow only banged his drum the harder, while his eyes fairly blazed and his painted face took on a demoniacal expression. I noticed, also, that the other Caribs were drawing nearer, that each had grasped a club, bow, or spear, and that we were entirely surrounded by a cordon of armed warriors.
I was utterly at a loss to account for such behaviour, for the Caribs are usually friendly and good-natured. For a time things looked ugly. I could not get a word out of the Indians; there were no replies to my questions, no explanation of their hostile attitude.
My black camp-boy was fairly shaking in his boots; the docile Indian boatmen were evidently frightened almost out of their wits, and I have no doubt that serious consequences would have resulted within the next two minutes if it had not been for the timely appearance of a young Carib whose village I had visited a few days previously, and who chanced to arrive at the psychological moment.
In a few words he cleared up the matter, and then I no longer wondered that the Carib chief was sullen. Some time previous to my visit, it appeared, a young buck of the village had run off with the chief’s favourite wife. To add insult to injury, the rascal had joined my party as a boatman and had had the effrontery to bring his lady friend with him into her ex-husband’s camp, trusting no doubt to my presence to safeguard him from the righteous vengeance of the wronged chief.
Once the reason for the Caribs’ attitude was made clear, I lost no time in straightening matters out. Cuffing and kicking the offending Indian from the village, and driving him and his woman to the boats, I ordered him to be off. Liberal presents of knives, files, and other trade goods mollified the angry chief, and presently we were all on the friendliest of terms.


On another occasion, while travelling up a Guiana river, I found a number of the strange parasara dance costumes hanging on snags or tacubas in the stream. The Indians wear these costumes of palm and fibre in the parasara dance, and after the ceremony, which is of a most sacred and religious character, the dresses are suspended from trees in the fields and snags in the rivers in order to keep evil spirits away.
These ceremonial robes are extremely rare in collections, and as I felt confident that no Indians were near, I helped myself to several of the costumes andto guard against any possible chance of discoveryhid them from sight under the floorboards of the batteau, beneath all my dunnage.
Several days later we arrived at a Patamona village where a bimiti-running was in full swing. This ceremonial always follows the parasara, and usually ends in an orgy of drinking. Leaving two men in charge of my boat, I made my way to the village, which was at some distance from the river, and found the Indians hilarious and excited but friendly and good-natured. An hour or so later, however, the camp was like a hornets’ nest which has been poked with a stick.
Two of the men had been to the riverside, and had returned bringing news that promised to make it decidedly hot for me, for they reported that three of their sacred parasara costumes were among my belongings! How they had discovered the dresses I could not at the time understand, but later I learned that my over-zealous boatmen had decided to take advantage of my absence to clean the boat, and had unloaded everything, including the sacred costumes, which were in plain sight on the river’s bank.
Fortunately for all concerned, the Patamonas were, on the whole, still sober enough to listen to my explanations and to reason. Declaring that I had been quite ignorant of the sacredness of the dresses, and did not even know they belonged to the Patamonas, I expressed the deepest regret for the mistake on my part and offered amends in the shape of presents.
Somewhat mollified, the Patamonas considered the matter, and after a conference and much discussion the village peaiman or medicine-man announced that everything would be all right if I would go back down the river, accompanied by some of the Patamonas, and replace the costumes where I had found them. There was nothing else to be done, so, willy-nilly, I was forced to retrace my way down-stream, hang the dresses on the snags again, and travel the weary journey back to the camp.
Needless to say, when, a few days later, I left the Indians and headed downriver, I did not fail to again gather in the costumes which had caused the trouble; but I was careful not to visit those particular Patamonas again.
On one other trip I also underwent a most unpleasant experience, and one which I would scarcely care to repeat. That was when I was among the mountain Guaymis of Panama—Indians usually regarded as hostile and who certainly do not welcome the average stranger who enters their territory. But I had been most fortunate. I had rendered one of the sub-chiefs a favour, and, in return, he had vouched for me and had accompanied me to the most remote villages of his tribe, and had enabled me to meet and make friends with the high chief, Montezuma.
A great ceremonial and dance had been given in my honour; the chiefs had compelled various members of the tribe to permit me to photograph and sketch them, and, as a grand finale, I had been formally initiated as a medicine-chief of the tribe. This experience I described in The Wide World Magazine for February - March, 1927.
Everything had been favourable, and the usually suspicious and rather hostile Indians proved most friendly and hospitable, doing all they could to make my trip a huge success. Then an event transpired which, for a time, threatened to end in a tragedy. One morning a number of Indians from a remote village visited the chief’s house, and though several objected strenuously, their ruler forced them to line up to be photographed.
That evening, as I lolled in my hammock in the home of the chief, listening to the chatter of some twenty painted and feather-crowned Guaymis who had gathered within the dwelling, a young Indian quietly entered and seated himself in a shadowy spot at one side of the house.
Instantly I recognized him as one of the strangers I had photographed that morning, for his head-dress was most unusual, consisting of a huge cap or hood of sloth-skin. Presently the newcomer uttered an agonized groan, and as all eyes turned toward him he doubled up, grasped his stomach, and rolled, moaning and screaming, on the floor.


Instantly I realized that I was face to face with the gravest danger. The fellow had been photographed against his will, he had come into my presence, and almost immediately he had been taken seriously ill. To the assembled Indians this would mean but one thing: I had bewitched him!
And as many of the others present had also been photographed they would at once believe that they, too, would be taken ill.
And what if the fellow died? Each and every Indian would, I knew, attribute his death to me, and every one would be in mortal terror of a similar fate as long as I lived to “control” their spirits. To be sure, the chief, Neonandi, was a sensible fellow and my best friend, and I was, moreover, an adopted member of the tribe.
But even the chief, I felt sure, would be powerless to curb the Indians’ anger once they were convinced that I had caused a man’s death, and my honorary membership in the tribe would count for nothing. And, judging by the fierce expressions on the faces of the Indians, and the manner in which they regarded me, I felt that my own end would not be long delayed, especially as the sick man was apparently on the point of expiring.
Aided by Neonandi, I carried him into the light of the fire and feverishly administered every remedy I could think of, at the same time plying the chief with questions. Did anyone know if this man was subject to these sudden attacks? Had they ever seen him act in this manner before? Did they know if he had eaten anything which might have caused his illness? But no one could give me the slightest information.
In fact, not an Indian present even knew who the sick man was or anything about him. He was a stranger, the only member of his village present.
Despite my every effort, the poor fellow was apparently dying, and presently with a last convulsive kick and a gasping groan, he stiffened and lay still. I listened for a heart-beat, but found none; I placed a mirror before his lips, but there was no sign of breath; I turned up his eyelids and exposed glassy, fixed eyes.
Meanwhile the Indians, grim, forbidding, and silent, drew nearer in the shadows, while above me and the body of the Indian beside which I knelt stood the chief, arguing, haranguing, and trying his utmost to calm his warriors. He assured them that the “white medicine-chief” would speedily bring the cause of the trouble back to life. He was, I knew, playing for time, and at last he succeeded. One by one, the Indians drew back into the shadows, squatting on the floor or on low, wooden stools, but never once taking their eyes from me.
There was nothing more I could do. I had wrapped the apparently dead man in blankets, I had forced stimulants down his throat, I had tried artificial respiration, but with no signs of success. How much longer the superstitious Guaymís would wait for a miracle to happen I did not know, but I rather wished that they would get the business over and not prolong the suspense.
However, my play was to appear unconcerned, to act as if I felt entirely confident and at ease, and, controlling my real sensations, I calmly filled and lighted my pipe and seated myself once more in my hammock.
Slowly the minutes passed. Never in my life have I undergone a more trying ordeal, and then, when it seemed as if the suspense would never end, the miracle happened! The blanket-wrapped body moved; the dead Indian sat up. Rubbing his eyes, he glanced about, rose unsteadily to his feet, and turning, stalked from the house into the night! He had merely had a fit, but I almost fainted from relief, and the assembled Indians firmly believed I had worked mighty magic.
I had brought a dead man back to life, and they gazed upon me with a strange mingling of awe, respect, and terror. But I thanked my lucky stars that during the remainder of my stay among the Guaymís I was not called upon to repeat my magic and resurrect a really dead Indian!

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