Strongest Tide


11. The Masque Ball At Tiravaya

It was the night of the annual masque ball at Tiravaya, a summer resort a few miles from Arequipa. The hall was crowded with dancers; many gentlemen were in Cavalier costume, with swords clanking at their sides. Others were in helmets, gorglet and breastplate, to represent Pizarro's conquerors of Peru. Many of the ladies wore quaint costumes and rich attire of the court of Ferdinand and Isabella, while a few were attired in grotesque costumes. Felicita was dressed as a princess of the court of the ancient Incas, with a head dress of the rich plumage of tropic birds. I was dressed in the Highland garb of Scotland.

I soon discovered Felicita by the rosebud in her hair. We took part in the grand march and in nearly all the dances. The soft strains of the music and the gayety of the picturesque throng in the brilliantly lighted room made the hours pass quickly and it was soon time for unmasking. After the general greeting was over, we proceeded to the dining room where an elegant repast was served. The supper being finished, the music struck up again as the wine was being served. Just then I observed Rodrigo for the first time, and noticed that he was intently watching me. I called Felicita's attention to him and she seemed to be frightened. She wanted to return home, but I assured her there was no danger; we were among friends. She replied that I was not familiar with Spanish hatred, and that he would sooner or later insult me. I had known for more than three months, that he had proposed to Felicita and been refused. I also knew he was a gambler and lived on his chances at the faro table. Being an expert and without any sense of honor, even to one of that profession, he was seldom unsuccessful. I had never mentioned to Don Julian or Felicita his manner of life.

An American, who unfortunately got under the influence of wine, proposed a toast to Peru, to which we all responded by raising our glasses. Another toast was given to the United States which received a similar response. Toast followed toast in quick succession. I merely raised my glass as I had no desire to drink any more, and knowing the long distance before me, I was on the point of calling for Chico to have our horses in readiness, when I heard my name called and found that I was requested to make a speech. I arose and congratulated the company present for the pleasant time we had passed, and the happy manner in which everything had been conducted by our host. All rose and gave him three cheers.

Don Rodrigo then stepped to the center between both tables, and asked everyone present who denounced the British government for its action in the Huascar affair, to stand up. I knew the insult was meant for me. I refused to stand, as also did two of my British friends. After they were seated Felicita again pleaded with me to leave, but I could not do so with honor then, and had I done so, I would have been held in contempt afterwards. Don Rodrigo came to where I was seated and addressing himself to me said:

"I observe that you refuse to condemn the action of the British government. Of course you are a Britisher, but I must say that the action of your government was of the most cowardly nature, and anyone who upholds such actions deserves the name of coward; in fact, anyone who allows himself to be ruled by the Queen of Great Britain must be anything but a brave man."

I cannot describe the thoughts that ran through my brain. I stood like one paralyzed. I could neither move nor speak, but I was conscious that everyone was looking at me and seemed to enjoy my discomfiture. Felicita placed both hands on my right arm and looked pleadingly in my face. I could see everything quite plainly, but I was bereft of all powers. Then by a valiant effort I recovered myself. Bending down, I told Felicita to remain and not be alarmed.

I arose and went to where Don Rodrigo stood. I was calm and collected. "Don Rodrigo," I said, "I came here by invitation, and when I accepted had no thought of being insulted. Neither do I believe that our host or the gentlemen present intended that I should be. You have without provocation on my part, insulted my Queen and called her subjects cowards. The country that gave me birth never produced cowards and I want to convince you that I am not an exception." With this I dealt him a terrific blow in the face.

He fell heavily to the floor and all was confusion. Men leaped on tables and chairs. Cries of "Down with the foreigner!" were heard on every side. Then my British friends came over to where I stood, one of they saying, "Good, Jack, the coward deserved it! Let us stand side by side and show them how the Queen's subjects can defend themselves!"

I can see him now, his auburn hair disarranged and partially hanging over his forehead, his blue eyes sparkling with indignation, his right hand holding a revolver. The other said, "There are only three of us but we will show them how Britishers can fight," at the same time drawing his Colt's. I had also pulled my gun, anticipating the worst, when the American drew near and said: "Jack, I know nothing of your Queen or country; I am an American, but you did right, and what I would do under similar circumstances. I will stand by you, although we have little chance against such odds."

By this time Don Rodrigo had been assisted to his feet, blood all over his face. The uproar ceased for a few minutes, as the crowd was without a leader. The blow had told with effect--two front teeth were gone and both eyes were discolored, caused, I think, by him coming in contact with the floor. In a few moments cries of "Down with the foreigner," again commenced. We knew it threatened our lives, but when they looked down the barrels of four revolvers they knew it also threatened some of their lives.

Springing on a chair, I asked them to listen to me. I told them that the quarrel they had witnessed had been sought by Don Rodrigo against me; and I asked why others should suffer? Let him finish his quarrel with me now or at any other time he chose--I would always meet him, and surely gentlemen such as I knew them to be would not so far forget themselves as to endeavor to overcome us, who had never done them harm?

This appeal was effective. Don Rodrigo had been washed, and never did I see a face with such devilish and malignant expression. I was young and strong, with quite a knowledge of the art of self defense, and I watched him very closely lest he should draw a knife.

Presently he said that he would be the judge of time and place and manner of meeting me, and that I would yet remember Don Rodrigo Garcia. I did not answer and he walked out of the hall. I drank several glasses of wine with those who, but a few moments before, were crying for revenge. I found Chico near me, and could hardly refrain from laughing when I discovered that he had armed himself before leaving Arequipa with a great navy revolver he found in my room. I am satisfied had an attack been made on us, Chico would have done his part, provided he had found a way to use the revolver. I am satisfied he never saw one before he came to Arequipa.

I told him to get the horses ready and my friends remained near to prevent any treachery. However, we were not molested on the way home. Felicita begged me to watch Don Rodrigo. "I know," she said, "that man's nature. He will watch you always, and while he will not attack you alone, he will pay others to inflict some injury on you."

Don Julian was waiting and had hot cocoa ready for us. We both concluded that we would better tell him what had happened lest he hear a wrong version from others. They were determined that I should spend the remainder of the night in their house, but I concluded it would appear cowardly. So, I bade them good night and, with Chico following, perfectly happy over the few dollars I had given him, I reached home in safety.

I thought much about the affair at Tiravaya and determined to watch Don Rodrigo closely. A week later Don Julian informed me he was going to Aacna on business. He would be gone several days, but Felicita would stay here. Fatal mistake.