Francis Drake torched and sacked Valparaíso in 1578. The last to be hanged at the harbour gates was feeble-minded washerwoman Anabel Rojas. Just before swinging from the rope, she divined that merciless epidemics would befall the coast for centuries to come. Salvation would appear only when three keys were found; their proper use curing the deadly ailments.
The assembled crowd watched the swinging wretch with the peculiar silence that marks generations brought up to be blindly obedient to Divine providence. All went away with the dread of disasters burgeoning beyond the horizon.
The first epidemic hit Valparaíso shortly after Drake’s ships cleared the coast. It was wrongly diagnosed as bubonic plague brought by the sailors. The afflicted suffered sudden fits of poetic inspiration, speaking in rhyme. Before long, only measured speech was to be heard on the street. Commerce halted and mass starvation ensued. Rumours of cannibalistic orgies drifted, borne by the sonorous rhythm of Alexandrine verse.
Despairing of poetry, the populace recalled the hanged washerwoman’s prattle. The city fathers raised taxes, gathered an amount of gold, and sent a mission in search of a curative key.
The Story of the First Key,
known as the Sudden Farewell Key,
takes one to a small Norwegian village. A local blacksmith got lost in a blizzard on his way to an estate where his beloved Lisbet awaited. The wind twirled snowflakes in the deepening gloom, absorbed the directions, and quashed all hope of salvation. The blacksmith sat under a tall pine tree and thought. Fog closed around him like a white castle ready to crush him in its cruel stranglehold. My eyes will not help me, for what I see is devoid of direction, he decided and shut his eyelids firmly. He then stretched out his hands and continued on his way.
He made progress in cosy darkness. He patted the rotund body of the fog, unfolded its folds, and penetrated its innermost secrets. To put it succinctly, he walked in double blindness. Suddenly, his hands felt a tiny keyhole in the fog.
Strangely, there was no gate but only a narrow opening which swung and shuddered in the moist air. There was no way of knowing how the lock opened and whether it led anywhere, or if the fog continued beyond it. Only the moon’s picklock shone in the sky, but as we recall, the blacksmith had resolved to keep his eyes shut.