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Wednesday, November 3, 2010

A Bedside Bowie Provides Reassurance

Lady Isabel Burton accompanied her husband, the famous Victorian explorer Sir Richard Francis Burton, on a journey through the backwoods of Brazil. One night they were obliged to stay at a remote ranch, where Isabel felt not at all safe. In her memoir of the adventure, she describes that night:
The owner of the ranch, one Jose Antonio d'Azevedo, was a character, and a very bad one--original in rudeness, independence, and suspicion. There was not a basin or any kind of cooking-pot, nor a fire nor hot water. There was, however, one bed (Jose's), and no amount of entreaty to let me rest my aching limbs on it would induce him to allow me to do so. I had almost to go on my knees to be allowed to swing my hammock, lest I should spoil his mud-and-stick walls; but after a glass of cognac from our stock and much flattering and coaxing, he did permit that, and gave us some beans and flour, rice and onions, to eat. Richard slept on a wooden table, I in the hammock, and the rest of our party with the mules on the ground round a fire. It was a bitterly cold night, and we got full of vermin. 
At about one in the morning I was aroused by a loud whispering, apparently close to my head, and a low growl from my dog underneath my hammock, and I could distinctly hear the old man say, "Pode facilmente matar a todas" ("It would be very easy to kill the whole lot"). 
I felt quite cold and weak with fright; but I stretched out my hand in the dark to where I knew my weapons were, and got hold of a bowie-knife and loaded revolver. I then whispered to Richard, and we got some matches and struck a light. There was no one in the room, and the whispering and laughing still went on as if the old man and his negroes were conversing and joking behind the thin partition wall. Nothing occurred. In the morning we thought he was only alluding to his chickens; yet, as we learnt afterwards, he did bear an ugly name.

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