The military are always in attendance in large numbers at the theatre, as at all public gatherings in Cuba, their only perceptible use being to stare the ladies out of countenance and to obstruct the passageways. In front of the main entrance to the theatre is an open area decorated with tropical plants and trees, where a group of the crimson hibiscus was observed, presenting a gorgeous effect of color. The other places of amusement in Havana, of a dramatic character, are the Payret Theatre, very large, seating twenty-five hundred; the Albisu Theatre, and the Circo, Teatro de Jane, this latter combining a theatre with a circus.
As a place of amusement and instruction combined we should be remiss not to mention the Casino of Havana. It is carried on by an organized society formed on the basis of a club and has, we were told, over one hundred members. The Casino occupies a fine building, fronting Obispo Street, and close to the parks. It supports a free school for teaching the English and French languages and drawing. After some fifteen years of successful existence the society has become one of the institutions of the metropolis. The halls and apartments are large, lofty, and very finely furnished with all domestic conveniences except sleeping accommodations. Here dramatic entertainments are frequently given, mostly by amateurs, and generally for charitable purposes. The main ball-room of the Casino is handsomely decorated and is the scene of occasional masked balls, after the true Madrid style, where many an intrigue is consummated which does not always end without bloodshed. It is the favorite resort of all the high officials of Havana, who have within their possible reach too few social entertainments not to make the most of those presented at the Casino. During the carnival season the ball-room of the establishment is said to present, in the form of nightly masquerade balls, scenes which for gayety and picturesqueness cannot be surpassed in Europe.
Old Havana is certainly eclipsed by the really fine broad streets and the palatial buildings which have sprung up outside of her ancient limits. In point of picturesqueness the old town has precedence. Near where the Indian Paseo and the Plaza de Isabella II. join each other, a portion of the old wall which once surrounded the city is still to be seen, with its crumbling bastions and ivy-grown debris. Sufficient is left to show that the wall was a remarkably substantial one and an efficient defense against the modes of attack prevalent when it was built. The Indian Paseo commences opposite the Campo de Marte, and is so called from the large marble fountain dedicated to that aboriginal idea. This elaborate structure was executed in Italy at large expense. Its principal figure is an Indian maiden, allegorical of Havana, supporting a shield bearing the arms of the city. These paseos are admirably ornamented on either side by a continuous line of laurel trees whose thick foliage gives admirable shade. On either side of the long central promenade the well-paved streets are broad and handsome, being ornamented with high buildings of a domestic and public character and of good architectural effect. The Matanzas & Havana Railroad depot is situated just opposite one end of the Campo de Marte, its freight yard extending also along the Paseo for an entire block, detracing much from the fine effect of the broad street. The trains and noisy engines being thus brought into the midst of the dwellings and business centre of the city render it very objectionable. The guests of the Telegrafo Hotel can bear testimony as to the nuisance thus created, being awakened at all sorts of unreasonable hours by the engine bell and steam whistle.
The Botanical Garden is situated about a mile from the city proper, adjoining which are the attractive grounds of the Governor General's country-house. Both are open to the public and richly repay a visit. The Governor's grounds are shaded by a great variety of tropical trees and flowers. Here was seen what is called the water rose, pink in color and nearly double the size of our pond lily, recalling the Egyptian lotus, to which family it would seem it must belong. Altogether, the place is a wilderness of blossoms, composed of exotic and native flowers. There is also an interesting aviary to be seen here, and a small artificial lake is covered with curious web-footed birds and brilliant-feathered ducks. The gardens seem to be neglected, but they are very lovely in their native luxuriance. Dead wood and decaying leaves are always a concomitant of such gardens in the low latitudes. If the roses and heliotropes are in full bloom, some other flowering shrub alongside is taking its rest and looks rusty, so that the whole garden is never in a glow of beauty at one time, as is the case with us in June. The noble alley of palms, the great variety of trees, blossoms, and shrubs, the music of the fountains, and the tropical flavor permeating everything were all in the harmony of languid beauty. The coral tree, that lovely freak of vegetation, was in bloom, its small but graceful stem, seven or eight feet in height, being topped above the gracefully pendent leaves with a bit of vegetable coral of deepest red, and in the form of the sea growth from which it takes its name. The star cactus was in full flower, the scarlet buds starting out from the flat surface of the thick leaves after a queer and original fashion. The bread-fruit tree, with its large, melon-like product, hung heavy with the nourishing esculent. The Carolina tree, with gorgeous blossoms like military pompons, blazed here and there, overshadowing the large, pure white, and beautiful campanile, with hanging flowers, like metallic bells, after which the plant is named. Here too was a great variety of the scarlet hibiscus and the garland of night (galan de noche), which grows like a young palm to eight or nine feet, throwing out from the centre-of its drooping foliage a cluster of brown blossoms tipped with white, shaped like a mammoth bunch of grapes. It blooms at night and is fragrant only by moon and starlight. Cuba presents an inexhaustible field for the botanist, and in its wilder portions recalls the island of Ceylon in the Indian Ocean. As Ceylon is called the pearl of India so is Cuba the pearl of the Antilles.
To reach the Governor's Garden one turns west from the Campo de Marte and takes the Calzada de la Reina, which followed about a mile in a straight line becomes the Paseo de Tacon, really but a continuation of the former street, commencing at the statue of Carlos III., a colossal monument placed in the middle of the broad driveway. This Paseo forms the favorite evening drive of the citizens, where the ladies in victorias and the gentlemen either as equestrians or on foot pass and repass each other, gayly saluting, the ladies with a coquettish flourish of the fan, and the gentlemen with a peculiar wave of the hand. It is in fact the Champs Elysees of Havana, but the road is sadly out of repair and as dusty as an ash-pit.
The Alameda—every large Spanish city has a spot so designated—skirts the shore of the harbor on the city side, near the south end of Oficios Street, and is a favorite resort for promenaders at the evening hour. Here a refreshing coolness is breathed from off the sea. This Alameda de Paula might be a continuation of the Neapolitan Chiaja. With characteristics quite different, still these shores constantly remind one of the Mediterranean, Sorrento, Amalfi, and Capri, recalling the shadows which daily creep up the heights of San Elmo and disappear with the setting sun behind the orange groves. Sometimes it would seem to be the grand problem of humanity, why the loveliest regions of the earth and the softest climates should be apportioned to the share of slaves and despots.
The cathedral of Havana, on Empedrado Street, is a structure of much interest, its rude pillared front of defaced and moss-grown stone plainly telling of the wear of time. The two lofty towers are hung with many bells, which daily call with their brazen tongues to matins and vespers. Some of these bells are very ancient. The church is not elaborately ornamented,—it rather strikes one with its unusual plainness. It contains a few oil paintings of moderate merit, and also the tomb where the ashes of Columbus so long reposed. All that is visible of this tomb, which is on the right of the altar, is a marble tablet six or eight feet square, upon which, in high relief, is a bust of the great discoverer. As a work of art, the less said of this effigy the better. Beneath the image is an inscription sufficiently bombastic and Spanish in tone, but therein we observed no mention was made of the chains and imprisonment with which an ungrateful country rewarded this man whom history so delights to honor. It will be remembered that Columbus died at Valladolid in 1506. In 1513 his remains were transferred to Seville, preparatory to their being sent, as desired in his will, to St. Domingo, to which city they were removed in 1536. When that island was ceded to France, they were brought with great pomp to Havana in a national ship (January 15, 1796), and deposited in this cathedral in the presence of all the high authorities of the island. These remains have again been removed, and are now interred at Seville, in Spain. The cathedral, aside from this association, is really attractive, and one lingers with quiet thoughtfulness among its marble aisles and confessionals. The lofty dome is supported by pillars of marble and the walls are frescoed. The high altar is a remarkable composition, with pillars of porphyry mingled with a confusion of images, candlesticks, and tinsel. The stalls for the priests are handsomely carved in mahogany. It was annoying to see Gothic grandeur and modern frippery so mingled as was observable in this church. When mass is being performed women attend in goodly numbers, but one rarely sees any of the male population present, unless they be, like the author, strangers come hither from curiosity to see the interior of this Cathedral de la Virgen Maria de la Concepcion.
All persons who come to Havana visit the cathedral because it contains the tomb of Columbus, but if they have traveled in Europe they have seen so much finer structures of this class, especially in Spain, that this one challenges but little attention. Let us, gentle reader, go up into the lofty bell tower, where we shall find the most comprehensive view possible of the Cuban capital. The old bell-ringer, seated before a deal table, ekes out a scanty living by making cigars away up here in his circumscribed eyrie. What an original he would have been in the practiced hands of Victor Hugo! This hermit of the tower will call your attention to the ancient bells, which are his sole companions: one bears the date of 1664, with a half-defaced Latin legend; another is dated at London, 1698. He is a queer old enthusiast about these bells, and will tell you on what special occasions of interest he has caused them to speak with metallic tongue to the people: now as a danger signal; then uttering sounds of triumph and announcing a victory; again, tolling the notes of sorrow for the departed, or as merry marriage bells, the heralds of joy. He will tell you how many years, man and boy, he has summoned the devout to matins and to vespers with their resonant voices. If you have a fancy for such things, and some silver to spare, after leaving the bell tower the sacristan will show you the rich vestments, robes, and laces for priestly wear belonging to the church, not forgetting many saintly garments wrought in gold and studded with precious stones. Perhaps you will think, as we did, that such things are but tinsel before Him whom they are supposed to honor. Such dazzling paraphernalia may attract the ignorant or the thoughtless—may make followers, but not converts. Conviction is not the child of fancy, but of judgment.
In an anteroom at the left of the altar there are also to be seen utensils of silver and gold, with many costly ornaments for use before the altar on special church occasions. One of these is a triumph of delicate workmanship and of the silversmith's art. It is in the form of a Gothic tower of very elaborate and artistic design, composed of solid silver, ornamented with gold and precious stones. One regards this thoroughly useless disposal of money with the thought that the articles were better sold and the proceeds bestowed in worthy charity. It would then fulfill a far more Christian purpose than that of adding glitter to church pomp and ceremony.
To witness the observance of Holy Week, commencing with Palm Sunday, in Havana, one would be impressed with a conviction that the people were at heart devout Roman Catholics. The occasion is solemnly observed. On Sunday the old cathedral is crowded by people who come to obtain branches of holy palm from the priests. The old bell-ringer becomes an important agent of the ceremonies, and the solemn spirit of the occasion seems to imbue all classes of the Havanese. On Holy Thursday, just before midday, the bells of all the churches cease to ring, and every vehicle in the city disappears from the streets as if by magic. The garrison marches through the principal thoroughfares in silence, with measured tread and arms reversed. The national flags upon the shipping, and on all the forts from Moro to the Castillo del Principe, are displayed at half mast. The cathedral and the churches are draped in mourning. On Friday, the effigy of our Saviour's body is carried in solemn procession, men and priests marching with heads uncovered, and devout women of the common classes, especially colored ones, kneeling in the street as it passes. On Saturday, at ten o'clock in the morning, the old bell-ringer suddenly starts a merry peal from the cathedral tower—the bells of La Merced, San Agustin, Santa Clara, and Santa Cataline follow; the town awakens to gayety as from a lethargic sleep. Whites and negroes rush through the streets like mad; vehicles of all sorts again make their appearance, the forts and national ships are dressed in holiday flags, and the town is shaken with reiterated salutes from a hundred cannons.
Military mass, as performed within the cathedral, seemed more like a theatrical show than a solemn religious service. On the occasion referred to, the congregation as usual was sparse, and consisted almost exclusively of women, who seem to do penance for both sexes in Cuba. The military band which led the column of infantry marched in, playing a quick operatic air, deploying to one side for the soldiery to pass towards the altar. The time-keeping steps of the soldiery upon the marble floor mingled with drum, fife, and organ. Through all this, one caught now and then the monotonous voice of a shaven-headed priest, reciting his prescribed part at the altar, kneeling and reading at intervals. The busy censer boys in white gowns; the flaring candles casting long shadows athwart the high altar; the files of soldiers kneeling and rising at the tap of the drum; the atmosphere clouded with the fumes of burning incense,—all combined to make up a singularly dramatic picture. The gross mummery witnessed at the temple of Buddha in Ceylon differed only in form, scarcely in degree.
The wealth of the churches of the monks in the island was formerly proverbial, but of late the rich perquisites which the priests were so long permitted to extort from the credulous public have been diverted so as to flow into the coffers of the crown. A military depotism brooks no rival in authority. The priests at one time possessed large tracts of land in Cuba, and their revenue therefrom, especially when they were improved as sugar plantations, was very large. These lands have all been confiscated by the government, and with the loss of their property the power of the monks has declined and their numbers have also diminished. Still the liberty of public worship is denied to all save Roman Catholics. Since the suppression of monastic institutions, some of the convents have been utilized for hospitals, government storehouses, and other public offices in Havana. There are some manifest incongruities that suggest themselves as existing between Church and state upon the island. For instance, the Church recognizes the unity of all races and even permits marriage between all, but here steps in the civil law of Cuba and prohibits marriage between white persons and those having any taint of negro blood. In consequence of this,—nature always asserting herself regardless of conventionalities,—a quasi family arrangement often exists between white men and mulatto or quadroon women, whereby the children are recognized as legitimate. But should either party come under the discipline of the Church, the relationship must terminate. Again, as is perfectly well known, many of the priests, under a thin disguise, lead domestic lives, where a family of children exist under the care of a single mother, who is debarred from the honest name of wife by the laws of celibacy which are stringently held as the inexorable rule of the Church.
If the priesthood keep from cock-fighting and gambling, says a late writer on the subject, notwithstanding many other departures from propriety, they are considered respectable. Can there be any wonder that the masses of men in Cuba recognize no religious obligations, since none save Roman Catholicism is tolerated, and that, through its priesthood, is so disgraced?
Political Inquisition. — Fashionable Streets of the City. — Tradesmen's Signs. — Bankrupt Condition of Traders. — The Spanish Array. — Exiled Patriots. — Arrival of Recruits. — The Garrote. — A Military Execution. — Cuban Milk Dealers. — Exposure of Domestic Life. — Living in the Open Air. — The Campo Santo of Havana. — A Funeral Cortege. — Punishing Slaves. — Campo de Marte. — Hotel Telegrafo. — Environs of the City. — Bishop's Garden. — Consul-General Williams. — Mineral Springs.
The Inquisition, as it regards the Church of Rome, is suppressed in Cuba, but the political inquisition, as exercised by the government on the island, is even more diabolical than that of the former Jesuitical organization, because it is more secret in its murderous deeds, not one half of the horrors of which will ever be publicly known. Moro Castle is full of political prisoners, who are thinned out by executions, starvation, and hardships generally, from day to day, only to make room for fresh victims. He who enters those grim portals leaves all hope behind. Political trials there are none, but of political arrests there are endless numbers. The life of every citizen is at the disposal of the Captain-General. If a respectable person is arrested, as one suspected of animosity towards the government, he simply disappears. His friends dare not press his defense, or inquire too closely as to his case, lest they, too, should be incarcerated on suspicion, never again to regain their liberty. A maxim of Spanish law is that every accused person is guilty, until he proves himself innocent! As a large majority of the people, in their hearts, sympathize with the revolutionists, and are revolutionists in secret, they are liable to say or to do some trifling thing unwittingly, upon which the lynx-eyed officials seize as evidence of guilt, and their arrest follows. What fearful stories the dungeons of Moro could reveal had they tongue with which to speak!
Obispo and O'Riley streets are the principal shopping thoroughfares of the metropolis, containing many fine stores for the sale of dry goods, millinery, china, glassware, and jewelry. These shops are generally quite open in front. Standing at the end, and looking along either of these thoroughfares, one gets a curious perspective view. The party-colored awnings often stretch entirely across the narrow streets, reminding one of a similar effect in Canton, where straw matting takes the place of canvas, forming a sort of open marquee. The queer names adopted for the stores never fail to afford a theme of amusement; the drawling cries of the fruit-dealers and peripatetic tradesmen giving an added interest. The merchant in Havana does not designate his establishment by placing his own name upon his sign, but adopts some fancy title, such as Diana, America, The Star, Virtue, The Golden Lion, and so on, which titles are paraded in gilt letters over the door. The Spanish people are always prodigal in names, making the sun, moon and stars, gods and goddesses, all do duty in designating their stores, villas, and plantations. Nearly every town on the island is named after some apostle or saint. The tradesmen are thorough Jews in their style of dealing with the public, and no one thinks of paying them the price which they first demand for an article. It is their practice in naming a price to make allowance for reduction; they expect to be bargained with, or cheapened at least one half. The ladies commonly make their purchases late in the afternoon or evening, stopping in their victorias at the doors of the shops, from whence the articles they desire are brought by the shopmen and deftly displayed on the street. When lighted up at night the stores are really brilliant and attractive, presenting quite a holiday appearance; but customers are sadly wanting in these days of business depression. "I have been compelled to dismiss my salesmen and do their work myself," said a dry-goods merchant to us; "we dare not give credit, and few persons have cash to spare in these times."
One of the principal causes of the present bankrupt condition of the people of Cuba is the critical period of transition through which the island is passing from slave to free labor; besides which there is the exhaustion consequent upon years of civil war and a succession of bad crops. Labor is becoming dearer and sugar cheaper. The Spaniards are slow to adopt labor-saving machinery, or new ideas of any sort, and those not already supplied have neither capital nor credit with which to procure the new machinery for sugar-making. The enormous production of European beet-sugar has cut off all Continental demand for their staple, and has in some degree superseded its use in America. Brigandage is on the increase, as poverty and want of legitimate employment prevail. Money, when it can be borrowed at all, is at a ruinous interest. The army of office-holders still manage to extort considerable sums in the aggregate from the people, under the guise of necessary taxes. Financial ruin stares all in the face. It is a sad thing to say, but only too true, that among people heretofore considered above suspicion in commercial transactions great dishonesty prevails, pecuniary distress and lack of credit driving men, once in good standing, to defraud their creditors at home and abroad. Estates and plantations are not only heavily mortgaged, but the prospective crops are in the same condition, in many cases. In former prosperous years the planters have been lavish spenders of money, ever ready to use their credit to the full extent, until their interest account has consumed their principal. The expensive habits acquired under the promptings of large profits and a sure market are difficult to overcome, and people who never anticipated the present state of affairs are now forced to exercise economy and self-denial. Cuban planters and their families, in years past, came to our most fashionable watering-places decked with jewels of almost fabulous value, and they lavished gold like water; most of these individuals considered themselves to be rich beyond the chances of fortune. Their profuse style of living was a source of envy; their liberality to landlords and to servants was demoralizing, as it regarded the tariff of hotel prices for more steady-going people. Thousands of human beings were yielding their enforced labor to fill these spendthrifts' purses, and sugar was king. The picture has its reverse. Civil war has supervened, the slaves are being freed, sugar is no longer a bonanza, and the rich man of yesterday is the bankrupt of to-day. Truly riches have wings.
Spain keeps a large and effective force of soldiers upon the island,—an army out of all proportion in numbers to the territory or people she holds in subjection. The present military force must number some forty thousand, rank and file, and the civil department fully equals the army in number; and all are home Spaniards. A large portion of the military are kept in the eastern department of the island, which is and has ever been the locality where revolutionary outbreaks occur. Eighty per cent, of all the soldiers ever sent to Cuba have perished there! It is as Castelar once pronounced the island to be, in the Cortes at Madrid, namely, the Campo Santo of the Spanish army. Exposure, a miserable commissariat, the climate, and insurgent bullets combine to thin the ranks of the army like a raging pestilence. We were informed by a responsible party that twenty-five per cent, of the newly-arrived soldiers died in their first year, during what is called their acclimation. Foreigners who visit Cuba for business or pleasure do so at the most favorable season; they are not subjected to hardships nor exposed in malarial districts. The soldiers, on the contrary, are sent indiscriminately into the fever districts at the worst season, besides being called upon to endure hardships, all the time, which predispose them to fatal diseases.
There are known to be organized juntas of revolutionists at Key West, Florida, in Hayti, and also in New York city, whose designs upon the Cuban government keep the authorities on the island in a state of chronic alarm. A revolutionary spirit is felt to be all the while smouldering in the hearts of this oppressed people, and hence the tyrannous espionage, and the cruelty exercised towards suspected persons. So enormous are the expenses, military and civil, which are required to sustain the government, under these circumstances, that Cuba to-day, notwithstanding the heavy taxes extorted from her populace, is an annual expense to the throne. Formerly the snug sum of seven or eight millions of dollars was the yearly contribution which the island made to the royal treasury, after paying local army, navy, and civil expenses. This handsome sum was over and above the pickings and stealings of the venal officials. As to the Cuban sympathizers at Key West, Florida, a recent visit to that port, just opposite to the island on the hither side of the Gulf Stream, showed us that they formed a large proportion of the population of that thrifty American town. On a day which was the anniversary of some patriotic occasion relating to the island, hundreds of Cuban flags (the single star of free Cuba) were seen displayed upon the dwellings and public places. There are believed to be two thousand Creoles residing here, who have either been expelled from the island for political reasons, or who have escaped from thence as suspected patriots. These people are very generally engaged in the manufacture of the well-known Key West cigars.
The Spanish army is governed with an iron hand. Military law knows no mercy, and it is always more or less a lapse into barbarism where it takes precedence. The ranks are filled by conscription in Spain, and when the men first arrive at Havana they are the rawest recruits imaginable. Soldiers who have been doing garrison duty are sent inland to fill the decimated ranks of various stations, and room is thus made for the recruits, who are at once put to work, enduring a course of severe discipline and drill. They land from the transports, many of them, hatless, barefooted, and in a filthy condition, with scarcely a whole garment among a regiment of them. The writer could hardly believe, on witnessing the scene, that they were not a set of criminals being transported for penal servitude. Fatigue dresses no doubt awaited them at the barracks, and after a while they would be served with a cheap uniform, coarse shoes, and straw hats. They are like sheep being driven to the shambles, and are quite as helpless. Twenty-five per cent, and upwards of these recruits are usually under the sod before the close of a twelve-month!
Sometimes the hardship they have to endure breeds rebellion among them, but woe betide those who commit any overt act, or become leaders of any organized attempt to obtain justice. The service requires frequent victims as examples to enforce the rigid discipline. The punishment by the garrote is a common resort. It is a machine contrived to choke the victim to death without suspending him in the air. At the same time it is fatal in another way, namely, by severing the spinal column just below its connection with the brain. The condemned man is placed upon a chair fixed on a platform, leaning his head and neck back into a sort of iron yoke or frame prepared to receive it. Here an iron collar is clasped about the throat. At the appointed moment a screw is suddenly turned by the executioner, stationed behind the condemned, and instantaneous death follows. This would seem to be more merciful than hanging, whereby death is produced by the lingering process of suffocation, to say nothing of the many mishaps which so often occur upon the gallows. This mode of punishment is looked upon by the army as a disgrace, and they much prefer the legitimate death of a soldier, which is to fall by the bullets of his comrades when condemned to die.
The writer witnessed one of these military executions, early on a clear April morning, which took place in the rear of the barracks near La Punta. It was a trying experience, and recalled to mind the execution of the mulatto poet and patriot, Valdez, which had occurred a few years before in the Plaza at Matanzas. It was a sight to chill the blood even under a tropical sun. A soldier of the line was to be shot for some act of insubordination against the stringent rules of the army, and that the punishment might prove a forcible example to his comrades the battalion to which he belonged was drawn up on parade to witness the cruel scene. The immediate file of twelve men to which the victim had belonged were supplied with muskets by their officer, and we were told that, according to custom, one musket was left without ball, so that each one might hope that his was not the hand to slay his former comrade. A sense of mercy would still lead them all to aim faithfully, so that lingering pain might be avoided.
The order was given: the bright morning sun shone like living fire along the polished barrels of the guns, as the fatal muzzles all ranged in point at the body of the condemned. "Fire!" said the commanding officer. A quick, rattling report followed, accompanied by a thin cloud of smoke, which was at once dispersed by the sea breeze, showing the still upright form of the victim. Though wounded in many places, no vital spot had been touched, nor did he fall until the sergeant, at a sign from his officer, advanced with a reserved musket, and quickly blew out his brains! His body was removed. The troops were formed into column, the band struck up a lively air, and thus was a human being launched into eternity.
Few current matters strike the stranger as being more peculiar than the Cuban milkman's mode of supplying the required aliment to his town customers. He has no cart bearing shining cans, they in turn filled with milk, or with what purports to be milk; his mode is direct, and admits of no question as to purity. Driving his sober kine from door to door, he deliberately milks then and there just the quantity required by each customer, delivers it, and drives on to the next. The patient animal becomes as familiar with the residences of her master's customers as he is himself, and stops unbidden, at regular intervals, before the proper doors, often followed by a pretty little calf, which amuses itself by gazing enviously at the process, being prevented from interfering by a leather muzzle. Sometimes the flow of milk is checked by an effort of the animal herself, when she seems to realize that the calf is not getting its share of nourishment. The driver then promptly brings the calf to the mother's side, and removes the muzzle long enough to give the little one a brief chance. The cow freely yields her milk while the calf is close to her, and the milkman, muzzling the calf, adroitly milks into his measure. The same mode is adopted in India and the south of Spain. There are at least two good reasons for delivering milk in hot climates after this fashion. First, there can be no adulteration of the article; and second, it is sure to be fresh and sweet. This last is a special desideratum in a climate where ice is an expensive luxury, and the difficulty of keeping milk from becoming acid is very great. The effect upon the cow is by no means salutary, causing the animal to produce much less in quantity than when milked clean at regularly fixed hours, as with us. Goats are often driven about for the same purpose and used in the same manner. It was a surprise not to see more of these animals in Cuba, a country especially adapted to them. Cows thrive best upon grass, of which there is comparatively little in the tropics,—vegetation runs to larger development; but goats eat anything green, and do well nearly anywhere. It is a singular fact that sheep transported to this climate cease gradually to produce wool. After three or four generations they grow only a simple covering, more like hair than wool, and resemble goats rather than sheep.
Glass is scarcely known in Cuban windows; the glazier has yet to make his debut in Havana. The most pretentious as well as the humblest of the town-houses have the broad, high, projecting window, reaching from floor to ceiling, secured only by heavy horizontal iron bars, prison-like in effect, through which, as one passes along the narrow streets, it is nearly impossible to avoid glancing in upon domestic scenes that frequently exhibit the female portion of the family en deshabille. Sometimes a loose lace curtain intervenes, but even this is unusual, the freest circulation of fresh air being quite necessary. The eye penetrates the whole interior of domestic life, as at Yokohama or Tokio. Indeed, the manners of the female occupants seem to court this attention from without, coming freely as they do to the windows to chat with passers-by. Once inside of these dwelling-houses there are no doors, curtains alone shutting off the communication between chambers, sitting-rooms, and corridors. These curtains, when not looped up, are sufficient to keep out persons of the household or strangers, it being the custom always to speak, in place of knocking, before passing a curtain; but the little naked negro children, male and female, creep under these curtains without restraint, while parrots, pigeons, and fowls generally make common use of all nooks and corners of the house. Doors might keep these out of one's room, but curtains do not. The division walls between the apartments in private houses, like those in the hotels, often reach but two thirds of the way up to the walls, thus affording free circulation of air, but rendering privacy impossible. One reason why the Cubans all possess such broad expanded chests is doubtless owing to the fact that their lungs find free action at all times. They live, as it were, in the open air. The effect of this upon strangers is seen and felt, producing a sense of physical exhilaration, fine spirits, and a good appetite. It would be impossible to live in a dwelling-house built in our close, secure style, if it were placed in the city of Havana. The laundress takes possession of the roof of the house during the day, but it is the place of social gathering at night, when the family and their guests enjoy the sea-breeze which sweeps in from the Gulf of Mexico. On a clear, bright moonlight night the effect is very striking as one looks across the house-tops, nearly all being upon a level. Many cheerful circles are gathered here and there, some dancing to the notes of a guitar, some singing, and others engaged in quiet games. Merry peals of laughter come from one direction and another, telling of light and thoughtless hearts among the family groups. Occasionally there is borne along the range of roofs the swelling but distant strains of the military band playing in the Plaza de Isabella, while the moon looks calmly down from a sky whose intensely blue vault is only broken by stars.
The cemetery, or Campo Santo, of Havana is situated about three miles outside of the city. A high wall incloses the grounds, in which oven-like niches are prepared for the reception of the coffins containing the bodies of the wealthy residents, while the poor are thrown into shallow graves, often several bodies together in a long trench, negroes and whites, without a coffin of any sort. Upon them is thrown quicklime to promote rapid decomposition. The cremation which forms the mode of disposing of the bodies of the deceased as practiced in India is far less objectionable.
The funeral cortege is unique in Havana. The hearse, drawn by four black horses, is gilded and decked like a car of Juggernaut, and driven by a flunkey in a cocked hat covered with gold braid, a scarlet coat alive with brass buttons and gilt ornaments, and top boots which, as he sits, reach half-way to his chin. This individual flourishes a whip like a fishing-pole, and is evidently very proud of his position. Beside the hearse walk six hired mourners on either side, dressed in black, with cocked hats and swallow-tail coats. Fifteen or twenty victorias follow, containing only male mourners. The driver in scarlet, the twelve swallow-tails in black, and the occupants of the victorias each and all are smoking cigars as though their lives depended upon the successful operation. And so the cortege files into the Campo Santo.
Not far from La Punta there is a structure, protected from the public gaze by a high wall, where the slaves of either sex belonging to the citizens of Havana are brought for punishment. Within are a series of whipping-posts, to which these poor creatures are bound before applying the lash to their bare bodies. The sight of this fiendish procedure is cut off from the public, but more than one person has told us of having heard the agonizing cries of the victims. And yet there are people who will tell us these poor creatures are far better off than when in their native country. One slave-owner said it was necessary to make an example of some member of all large households of slaves each month, in order to keep them under discipline! Another said, "I never whip my slaves; it may be necessary upon a plantation, but not in domestic circles in town. When they have incurred my displeasure, they are deprived of some small creature comfort, or denied certain liberties, which punishment seems to answer every object." So it will be seen that all slave-holders are not cruel. Some seem as judicious and reasonable as is possible under the miserable system of slavery.
Opposite the Indian Paseo, General Tacon, during his governorship of the island, constructed a broad camp-ground for military parades in what is now becoming the heart of the city, though outside the limits of the old city walls. He called it the Campo de Marte, and surrounded the whole space, ten acres, more or less, with a high ornamental iron fence. It is in form a perfect square, and on each of the four sides was placed a broad, pretentious gateway, flanked by heavy square pillars. That on the west side he named Puerta de Colon; on the north, Puerta de Cortes; on the south, Puerta de Pizarro; and on the east side, facing the city, he gave the gate the name of Puerta de Tacon. His administration has been more praised and more censured than that of any of his predecessors since the days of Velasquez. This Campo de Marte, which, as stated, was originally intended for military purposes generally, is now converted into a public park, laid out with spacious walks, fountains, handsome trees, and carriage-ways. The gates have been removed, and the whole place thrown open as a thoroughfare and pleasure-ground.
Speaking of this open square brings us to the subject of hotels in Havana, and as we have so often been questioned upon this subject, doubtless a few words upon the matter will interest the general reader. We made our temporary home for nearly a month at the Hotel Telegrafo, but why it is so called we do not know. It is considered to be one of the best in the city, and is centrally situated, being opposite to the Campo de Marte. There was a chief clerk who spoke English, and another who spoke French, and two guides who possessed the same facilities. The price of board was from four to five dollars per day, including meals and service. The rooms were very small, table fair, plenty of fruits and preserves, but the meats were poor. Fish was always fresh and good in Havana. Coffee and tea were poor. If one desires to procure good coffee, as a rule, look for it anywhere rather than in countries where it is grown. Cleanliness was not considered as being an indispensable virtue in the Telegrafo. Drainage received but little attention, and the domestic offices of the house were seriously offensive. The yellow fever does not prevail in Havana except in summer, say from May to October; but according to recognized sanitary rules it should rage there every month in the year. The hotels in peninsular Spain are dirty enough to disgust any one, but those of Havana are a degree worse in this respect. Any of our readers who have chanced in their travels upon the Fonda de Rafaela, for instance, at Burgos, in Spain, will understand us fully. It was of no use to remove elsewhere; after examining the other hotels it was thought best to remain at the Telegrafo, on the principle adopted by the Irishman, who, though not inclined to believe in Purgatory, yet accepted this item of faith lest he should go further and fare worse. There is the San Carlos Hotel, near the wharves, which is more of a family than a travelers' resort; the Hotel Pasaje, in Prado Street, quite central; Hotel Europe, in La Plaza de San Francisco; and Hotels Central and Ingleterra: the last two are opposite the Plaza de Isabella, and are in the midst of noise and gayety. Arrangements can be made at any of these houses for board by the day, or on the European plan; all have restaurants.
There are some very attractive summer resorts in the environs of the city, one of the nearest and prettiest of which is El Cerro (the hill), one league from town. It has a number of remarkably pleasant country-seats, some of which have extensive gardens, rivaling that of the Captain-General in extent. But to reach Cerro one has to drive over a road which is in such want of repair as to be dangerous, gullied by the rains, and exhibiting holes two feet deep, liable to break the horses' legs and the wheels of the vehicles. Here is a road, close to Havana, with stones weighing hundreds of pounds on the surface, in the very wheel-tracks. Handsome hedges of the wild pine, the aloe, and the Spanish bayonet line the road, where an occasional royal palm, the emblem of majesty, stands alone, adding grandeur to all the surroundings. If you drive out to Cerro, put on a linen duster; otherwise you will be likely to come back looking like a miller's apprentice. Not far beyond Cerro there lies some beautiful country, reached by the same miserable road. Puentes Grandes, a small village near the falls of the Almendares River, is but two miles further north than Cerro, and adjoining this place, a couple of miles further, is a small, picturesque village called Ceiba, from the abundance of that species of tree which once flourished there. These two places have some interesting country residences, where the wealthiest citizens of Havana spend their summers. The village of Quemados is also in this immediate neighborhood, about a couple of leagues from town; here is situated the Havana Hippodrome, where horse-races take place in the winter season. We must not forget to mention Vedado, on the seashore, whither the Havanese drive oftenest on Sundays; it is also connected with the city by steam-cars and omnibus. There are some fine villas here, and it is quite a Cuban watering-place, affording excellent bathing facilities. Vedado has wide streets, and, after the city, seems to be remarkably clean and neat.
The Bishop's Garden, so called because some half century since it was the residence of the Bishop of Havana, is about four miles from the city, on the line of the Marianao railroad. It must have been a delightful place when in its prime and properly cared for; even now, in its ruins, it is extremely interesting. There are a score, more or less, of broken, moss-grown statues, stone balustrades, and stone capitals lying among the luxuriant vegetation, indicating what was once here. Its alleys of palms, over two hundred years in age, the thrifty almond-trees, and the gaudy-colored pinons, with their honeysuckle-like bloom, delight the eye. The flamboyant absolutely blazed in its gorgeous flowers, like ruddy flames, all over the grounds. The remarkable fan-palm spread out its branches like a peacock's tail, screening vistas here and there. Through these grounds flows a small swift stream, which has its rise in the mountains some miles inland, its bright and sparkling waters imparting an added beauty to the place. By simple irrigating means this stream is made to fertilize a considerable tract of land used as vegetable gardens, lying between Tulipan and Havana. The Bishop's Garden still contains large stone basins for swimming purposes, cascades, fountains, and miniature lakes, all rendered possible by means of this small, clear, deep river. The neglected place is sadly suggestive of decay, with its moss-covered paths, tangled undergrowth, and untrimmed foliage. Nothing, however, can mar the glory of the grand immemorial palms.
The town of Tulipan, in which is the Bishop's Garden, is formed of neat and pleasant residences of citizens desiring to escape the bustle and closeness of the city. The houses are half European or American in their architecture, modified to suit the climate. Here the American Consul-General has a delightfully chosen home, surrounded by pleasant shade, and characterized by lofty, cool apartments; with bright, snowy marble floors, plenty of space, and perfect ventilation. Mr. Williams is a gentleman unusually well fitted for the responsible position he fills, having been a resident of Cuba for many years, and speaking the language like a native. In his intensely patriotic sentiments he is a typical American. It is not out of place for us to acknowledge here our indebtedness to him for much important information relating to the island.
The most celebrated mineral springs in Cuba are to be found at San Diego, where there are hot sulphur waters, springs bubbling ceaselessly from the earth, and for which great virtues are claimed. The springs are situated west of Havana, between thirty and forty leagues, at the base of the southern slope of the mountains. These waters are freely drank, as well as bathed in, and are highly charged with sulphureted hydrogen, and contain sulphate of lime and carbonate of magnesia. There are some diseases of women for which the San Diego waters are considered to be a specific, and remarkable cures are authenticated. Rheumatism and skin diseases are specially treated by the local physician. There is a very fair hotel at San Diego, located near the baths, and many Americans speak warmly in praise of the place as a health resort.
Next to the springs of San Diego, those of Madruga are notable, situated between Matanzas and Havana, and which can be reached by rail. The character of these springs is very similar to those of San Diego, though of lower temperature. They are used both for bathing and for drinking. Madruga is more easily accessible from the metropolis than is San Diego. There is also a good physician resident in the village.
The Fish-Market of Havana. — The Dying Dolphin. — Tax upon the Trade. — Extraordinary Monopoly. — Harbor Boats. — A Story about Marti, the Ex-Smuggler. — King of the Isle of Pines. — The Offered Reward. — Sentinels in the Plaza de Armas. — The Governor General and the Intruder. — "I am Captain Marti!" — The Betrayal. — The Ex-Smuggler as Pilot. — The Pardon and the Reward. — Tacon's Stewardship and Official Career. — Monopoly of Theatricals. — A Negro Festival.
The fish-market of Havana doubtless affords the best variety and quality of this article to be found in any city of the world, not even excepting Madras and Bombay, where the Indian Ocean and the Bay of Bengal enter into rivalry with each other as to their products. The scientist Poey gives a list of six hundred species of fishes indigenous to the shores of Cuba. The supply of the city is not only procured from the neighboring waters, but fishermen come regularly a distance of over a hundred miles to the ports of the island, from Florida and Yucatan, with their small cutters well loaded. It was through the means afforded by these fishing crafts that communication was kept up between the Cuban patriots at Key West and their friends on the island, and no doubt smuggling was also carried on by them, until they came under the strict surveillance of the revenue officers.
The long marble counter of the Marti fish-market, at the end of Mercaderes Street, affords a display of the finny tribe which we have never seen equaled elsewhere. Every hue and combination of iris colors is represented, while the variety and oddity of shapes is ludicrous. Even fishing on the coast and the sale of the article are virtually government monopolies; indeed, everything is taxed and double taxed in Cuba; the air one breathes would be, could it be measured. Fish are brought into this market, as at many other tropical ports, alive, being preserved in wells of salt water which also act as ballast for the fishing vessels. One morning, among others brought to the Marti market a dolphin was observed, but as it is not a fish much used for the table why it came hither was not so clear to us. Being curious as to the accuracy of the poetical simile of changing colors which characterize its dying hours, the just landed dolphin was closely watched. The varying and multiform hues were clearly exhibited by the expiring fish. First its skin presented a golden shade, as if reflecting the sun, this changing gradually into a light purple. Presently the body became silvery white, followed slowly by alternating hues of pearl and yellow, and finally death left it of a dull, lustreless gray.
The market is about two hundred feet long, with one broad marble table extending from end to end. The roof is supported by a series of arches resting upon pillars. One side is entirely open to the street, thus insuring good ventilation. It is not far from the cathedral, and in the vicinity of the shore, but is in some measure superseded by the large central Mercado de Tacon in the Calzada de la Reina, one block from the Campo de Marte. In this latter market we saw shark's flesh sold for food and freely bought by the negroes and Chinese coolies.
The monopoly granted in Tacon's time to the famous smuggler whose name the fish-market on Mercaderes Street still bears has reverted to the government, which requires every fisherman, like every cab driver, to pay a heavy tax for the privilege of following his calling. The boatman who pulls an oar in the harbor for hire is obliged to pay the government for the simple privilege. A writer in a popular magazine lately compared these harbor boats of Havana to Venetian gondolas; but even poetical license will not admit of this. They do, however, almost precisely resemble the thousand and one boats which besprinkle the Pearl River at Canton, being of the same shape, and covered in the stern by a similar arched frame and canvas, the Chinese substituting for this latter the universal matting. The Havana boatmen have so long suffered from the extortion of the Spanish officials that they have learned the trick of it, and practice the same upon travelers who make no bargain with them before entering their tiny vessels.
The fish monopoly referred to was established under the governorship of Tacon, and is of peculiar origin. We cannot do better, perhaps, by way of illustrating his arbitrary rule, than to relate for the reader's benefit the story of its inauguration and enforcement.
One of the most successful rogues whose history is connected with that of modern Cuba was one Marti, who during his life was a prominent individual upon a limited stage of action. He first became known as a notorious and successful smuggler on the coast of the island, a daring and reckless leader of desperate men. At one time he bore the pretentious title of King of the Isle of Pines, where he maintained a fortified position, more secure in its inaccessibility than for any other reason. From hence Marti dispatched his small fleet of cutters to operate between Key West and the southern coast of Cuba, sometimes extending his trips to Charleston, Savannah, and even to New Orleans. With the duty at ten dollars a barrel on American flour legitimately imported into the island, it was a paying business to smuggle even that prosaic but necessary article from one country to the other, and to transport it inland for consumption. By this business Marti is said to have amassed a large amount of money. He is described as having been a tall, dark man of mixed descent, Spanish, Creole, and mulatto. His great physical strength and brute courage are supposed to have given him precedence among his associates, added to which he possessed a large share of native shrewdness, cunning, and business tact. His masquerading capacity, if we may believe the current stories told of him, was very remarkable, enabling him to assume almost any disguise and to effectually carry it out, so as to go safely among his enemies or the government officials and gain whatever intelligence he desired. Little authentic information can be had of such a man, and one depends upon common report only in making up a sketch of his career; but he is known to have been one of the last of the Caribbean rovers, finally turning his attention to smuggling as being both the safer and more profitable occupation. The southern coast of Cuba is so formed as to be peculiarly adapted to the business of the contrabandists, who even to-day carry on this adventurous game with more or less impunity, being stimulated by the excessive and unreasonable excise duties imposed upon the necessities of life.
When Tacon first arrived in the colony he found the revenue laws in a very lax condition. Smuggling was connived at by the venal authorities, and the laws, which were so stringent in the letter, were practically null and void. It is said that Marti could land a contraband cargo, at that time, on the Regla side of Havana harbor in broad daylight without fear of molestation. The internal affairs of the island were also in a most confused condition; assassinations even in the streets of Havana were frequent, and brigandage was carried on in the near environs of the city. The Governor seemed actuated by a determination to reform these outrages, and set himself seriously about the business. He found that the Spanish vessels of the navy sent hither to sustain the laws lay idly in port, the officers passing their time in search of amusement on shore, or in giving balls and dances on board their ships. Tacon saw that one of the very first moves essential to be made was to suppress the wholesale system of smuggling upon the coast. The heretofore idle navy became infused with life and was promptly detailed upon this service, coasting night and day along the shore from Cape Antonio to the Point of Maysi, but to little or no good effect. A few captures were made, but the result was only to cause a greater degree of caution on the part of the contrabandists. In vain were all the measures taken by the officials. The smuggling was as successful as ever, and the law was completely defied. At last, finding that his expeditions against the outlaws failed, partly from their adroitness and bravery and partly from want of pilots capable of guiding attacking parties among the shoals frequented by the smugglers, a large and tempting reward in gold was offered to any one of them who would desert his comrades and act as pilot to the King's ships. At the same time a double reward was offered for the person of Marti, dead or alive, as he was known to be the leader of the desperate men who so successfully defied the authorities. These offers were fully promulgated, and care was taken that those who were most interested should be made aware of their purport. But the hoped-for result did not ensue. There was either too much honor among the guilty characters to whom the bribe was offered to permit them to betray each other, or they feared the condign punishment which was the portion of all traitors among them. The government had done its best, but had failed to accomplish its object.
It was a dark, cloudy night in Havana, some three or four months subsequent to the offering of the rewards to which we have referred. Two sentinels were pacing back and forth before the main entrance of the Governor's palace which forms one side of the area inclosing the Plaza de Armas. The military band had performed as usual that evening in the Plaza and had retired. The public, after enjoying the music, had partaken of their ices and favorite drinks at La Domenica's and found their way to their homes. The square was now very quiet, the stillness only broken by the music of the fountain mingled with the tread of the two sentinels. The stars looked calmly down from between the rifts of hanging clouds which crowded one another onward as though bound to some important rendezvous, where they were to perform their part in a pending storm. A little before midnight a tall figure, wrapped in a half military cloak, might have been observed watching the two guards from behind the marble statue of Ferdinand. After observing that they paced their apportioned walk, meeting each other face to face, and then separated, leaving a brief moment when the eyes of both were turned away from the entrance they were placed to guard, the stranger seemed to calculate the chances of passing them without being discovered. It was an exceedingly delicate manoeuvre, requiring great care and dexterity. Watching for the favorable moment the purpose was, however, accomplished; the tall man in the cloak at a bound passed within the portal and quickly secreted himself in the shadows of the inner court. The sentinels paced on undisturbed.
The individual who had thus stealthily effected an entrance within the gates of the palace now sought the broad marble steps which led to the Governor's business suite of rooms, with a confidence that evinced a perfect knowledge of the place. A second sentinel was to be passed at the head of the stairs, but, assuming an air of authority, the stranger gave a formal military salute and passed quickly forward as though there was not the least question as to his right to do so. The drowsy guard promptly presented arms, doubtless mistaking him for some regular officer of the Governor's staff. The stranger boldly entered the Governor's reception-room and closed the door behind him. In a large chair sat the commander-in-chief before a broad table, engaged in writing, but he was quite alone. An expression of undisguised satisfaction passed across the weather-beaten countenance of the new-comer at this state of affairs, as he coolly cast off his cloak, tossed it carelessly over his arm, and proceeded to wipe the perspiration from his face. The Governor, looking up with surprise and fixing his keen eyes upon the intruder, asked peremptorily:—
"Who enters here unannounced and at this hour?"
"One who has important information to impart to the government," was the quiet reply.
"But why seek this manner of audience?"
"For reasons, Excellency, that will soon appear."
"How did you pass the guard unchallenged?"
"Do not mind that for the present, Excellency."
"But I do mind it very seriously."
"It can be explained by and by."
"Very well," said the Governor, "speak quickly then. What is your business here?"
"Excellency, you have publicly offered a handsome reward for any information concerning the contrabandists," continued the stranger. "Is it not so?"
"Ha!" said the Governor, "is that your errand here? What have you to say about those outlaws? Speak, speak quickly."
"Excellency, I must do so with caution," said the stranger, "otherwise I may condemn myself by what I have to communicate."
"Not so," interrupted Tacon, "the offer"—
"I know, Excellency, a free pardon is promised to him who shall turn state's evidence, but there may be circumstances"—
"The offer is unconditional, as it regards pardon."
"I say you have naught to fear," continued Tacon; "the offered reward involves unconditional pardon to the informant."
"You offer an additional reward, Excellency, for the discovery of the leader of the contrabandists, Captain Marti."
"It is a full revelation I have come hither to make."
"First, Excellency, will you give me your knightly word that you will grant a free pardon to me, a personal pardon, if I reveal all that you require?"
"I pledge you my word of honor," replied the Governor.
"No matter how heinous in the eyes of the law my offenses may have been, still you will pardon me under the King's seal?"
"Why all this reiteration?" asked Tacon impatiently.
"Excellency, it is necessary," was the reply.
"I will do so, if you reveal truly and to any good purpose," answered the Governor, weighing carefully in his mind the purpose of all this precaution.
"Even if I were a leader among these men?"
The Governor hesitated but for a single moment, while he gave the man before him a searching glance, then said:—
"Even then, be you whom you may, if you are able and willing to pilot our ships and reveal the rendezvous of Marti and his followers, you shall be rewarded and pardoned according to the published card."
"Excellency, I think that I know your character well enough to fully trust these words, else I should not have ventured here."
"Speak, then, and without further delay. My time is precious," continued the Governor with manifest impatience, and half rising from his seat.
"It is well. I will speak without further parley. The man for whom you have offered the largest reward—ay, dead or alive—is before you!"
"And you are"—
Tacon had not expected this, but supposed himself talking to some lieutenant of the famous outlaw, and though no coward he instinctively cast his eyes towards a brace of pistols that lay within reach of his right hand. This was but for a moment; yet the motion was not unobserved by his visitor, who, stepping forward, drew a couple of similar weapons from his own person and laid them quietly on the table, saying:—
"I have no further use for these; it is to be diplomacy for the future, not fighting."
"That is well," responded the Governor; and after a few moments of thought he continued: "I shall keep my promise, be assured of that, provided you faithfully perform your part, notwithstanding the law demands your immediate punishment. For good reasons, as well as to secure your faithfulness, you must remain under guard," he added.
"I have anticipated that, and am prepared," was the reply.
"We understand each other then."
Saying which he rang a small silver bell by his side, and issued a verbal order to the attendant who responded. In a few moments after, the officer of the watch entered, and Marti was placed in confinement, with directions to render him as comfortable as possible under the circumstances. His name was withheld from the officers.
Left alone, the Governor mused for a few moments thoughtfully over the scene which we have described, then, summoning the officer of the guard, demanded that the three sentinels on duty should be relieved and brought at once before him. What transpired between them was not made public, but it was known on the following day that they had been condemned to the chain-gang for a whole month. Military law is rigid.
On the subsequent day, one of the light-draught corvettes which lay under the guns of Moro Castle suddenly became the scene of the utmost activity, and before noon had weighed anchor and was standing out of the harbor. Captain Marti was on board acting as pilot, and faithfully did he guide the government ship in the discharge of her errand among the bays and shoals of the southern coast. For more than a month he was engaged in this piloting to all the secret haunts and storage places of the contrabandists, but it was observed that very few stores were found in them! On this famous expedition one or two small vessels were taken and destroyed in the bays of the Isle of Pines, but not one of the smugglers was captured. Information of the approach of the would-be captors was always mysteriously conveyed to them, and when a rendezvous was reached the occupants, it was found, had fled a few hours previously! The amount of property secured was very small, but still the organization which had so long and so successfully defied the government was broken up, and the smugglers' place of rendezvous became known. Marti returned with the ship to claim his reward. Tacon was well satisfied with the result and with the manner in which the ex-smuggler had fulfilled his agreement. The officials did not look very deeply into the business, and they believed that Marti had really betrayed his former comrades. The Governor-General summoned him to his presence and said to Marti:—
"As you have faithfully performed your part of our agreement, I am prepared to fulfill mine. In this package you will find a free and unconditional pardon for all your past offenses against the law. Mark the word past offenses," reiterated the Governor. "Any new disloyalty on your part shall be as promptly and rigorously treated as though these late services had never been rendered. And here is an order upon the treasury for the sum"—
"Excellency, excuse me," said the pardoned smuggler, stepping back, and holding up his hand in significance of declining the reward.
"What does this mean?" asked Tacon.
"Permit me to explain, Excellency."
"What, more conditions?" asked the Governor.
"The pardon, Excellency, I gladly receive," continued Marti. "As to the sum of money you propose to give me, let me make you a proposal."
"Speak out. Let us know what it is."
"The treasury is poor," said the ex-smuggler, "I am rich. Retain the money, and in place of it guarantee me alone the right to fish on the coast of Cuba, and declare the business of supplying the people with fish contraband, except to me and my agents. This will amply compensate me, and I will erect a public market at my own expense, which shall be an ornament to the city, and which at the expiration of twenty-five years shall revert to the government."
"So singular a proposition requires to be considered," said the Governor.
"In the mean time I will await your commands," said Marti, preparing to leave.
"Stay," said the Governor. "I like your proposal, and shall probably accede to it; but I will take a day to give it careful thought."
As Tacon said, he was pleased with the idea from the outset. He saw that he was dealing with a thorough man of business. He remembered that he should always have the man under his control, and so the proposal was finally accepted and confirmed.
The ci-devant smuggler at once assumed all the rights which this extraordinary grant gave to him. Seeking his former comrades, they were all employed by Marti on profitable terms as fishermen, and realized an immunity from danger not to be expected in their old business. Having in his roving life learned where to seek fish in the largest quantities, he furnished the city bountifully with the article, and reaped a large annual profit, until the period expired for which the monopoly was granted, and the market reverted to the government.
Marti, in the mean time, possessing great wealth, looked about him to see in what enterprise he could best invest it. The idea struck him that if he could obtain some such agreement relating to theatricals in Havana as he had enjoyed in connection with the fishery on the coast, he could make a profitable business of it. He was granted the privilege he sought, provided he should build one of the largest and best appointed theatres in the world on the Paseo, and name it the Tacon Theatre. This agreement he fulfilled. The detailed conditions of this monopoly were never made public.
Many romantic stories are told relating to Captain Marti, but these are the only ones bearing upon the subject of our present work which are believed to be authentic.
Of all the Governors-General who have occupied that position in Cuba, none are better known at home or abroad than Tacon, though he filled the post but four years, having been appointed in 1834, and returning to Spain in 1838. His reputation at Havana is of a somewhat doubtful character, for although he followed out with energy the various improvements suggested by Arranjo, yet his modes of procedure were often so violent that he was an object of terror to the people generally rather than one of gratitude. It must be admitted that he vastly improved the appearance of the capital and its vicinity, built a new prison, rebuilt the Governor's palace, constructed several new roads in the environs, including the Paseo bearing his name, and opened a large parade-ground just outside the old city walls, thus laying the foundation of the new city which has sprung up in the formerly desolate neighborhood of the Campo de Marte. Tacon also practically suppressed the public gaming-houses, but this radical effort to check an inherent vice only resulted in transferring the gambling-tables of the private houses devoted to the purpose into the public restaurants, which was not much of an improvement.
In one important matter he was more successful; namely, in instituting a system of police, and rendering the streets of Havana, which were formerly infested with robbers, as secure as those of most of our American cities. But his reforms were all consummated with a rude, arbitrary arm, and in a military fashion. Life or property were counted by him of little value, if either required to be sacrificed for his purpose. Many people fell before his relentless orders. There was undoubtedly much of right mingled with his wrongs, but if he left lasting monuments of energy and skill behind him, he also left many tombs filled by his victims. Notwithstanding all, there seemed to be throughout his notable career a sort of romantic spirit of justice—wild justice—prompting him. Some of the stories still current relating to him go far to show this to have been the case, while others exhibit the possibilities of arbitrary power, as exercised in the contract with Captain Marti.
On January 6th, the day of Epiphany, the negroes of Havana, as well as in the other cities of the island, make a grand public demonstration; indeed, the occasion may be said to be given up to them as a holiday for their race. They march about the principal streets in bands, each with its leader got up like a tambour major, and accompanied by rude African drum notes and songs. They are dressed in the most fantastic and barbarous disguises, some wearing cow's horns, others masks representing the heads of wild beasts, and some are seen prancing on dummy horses. All wear the most gorgeous colors, and go from point to point on the plazas and paseos, asking for donations from every one they meet. It is customary to respond to these demands in a moderate way, and the greatest reasonable latitude is given to the blacks on the occasion; reminding one of a well-manned ship at sea in a dead calm, before the days of steam, when all hands were piped to mischief. But what it all means except improving a special occasion for wholesale noise, grotesque parading, and organized begging, it will puzzle the stranger to make out. Among the colored performers there is but a small proportion of native Africans, that is, negroes actually imported into Cuba; most of them are direct descendants, however, from parents who were brought from the slave coast, but it must be remembered that none have been imported for about thirty years.
The Isle of Pines, which has been more than once alluded to in these notes, is situated less than forty miles south of Cuba, being under the jurisdiction of the Governor-General of Havana. It is forty-four miles long and nearly as wide, having an area of between twelve and thirteen hundred square miles. It is supposed that there are about two thousand inhabitants, though Spanish statistics are not to be relied upon. Like Cuba, it has a mountain range traversing the middle for its whole length, but the highest portion does not reach quite two thousand feet. The island has several rivers and is well watered by springs. The climate is pronounced to be even more salubrious than that of Cuba, while the soil is marvelously fertile. An English physician, who, with a patient, passed a winter at Nueva Gerona, which has a population of only a hundred souls, says the climate is remarkably bland and equable, especially adapted for pulmonary invalids. The coast is deeply indented by bays, some of which afford good anchorage, though the island is surrounded by innumerable rocky islets or keys. The Isle of Pines is very nearly in the same condition in which Columbus found it in 1494, containing a large amount of precious woods, and some valuable mines of silver, iron, sulphur, quicksilver, and quarries of beautifully variegated marble. It is reached by special steamers from Havana, not oftener than once a month.
The Havana Lottery. — Its Influence. — Hospitality of the Cubans. — About Bonnets. — The Creole Lady's Face. — Love of Flowers. — An Atmospheric Narcotic. — The Treacherous Indian Fig. — How the Cocoanut is propagated. — Cost of Living in Cuba. — Spurious Liquors. — A Pleasant Health Resort. — The Cock-Pit. — Game-Birds. — Their Management. — A Cuban Cock-Fight. — Garden of the World. — About Birds. — Stewed Owl! — Slaughter of the Innocents. — The Various Fruits.
There is a regularly organized lottery in Havana, to which the government lends its name, and which has semi-monthly drawings. These drawings are made in public, and great care is taken to impress the people with the idea of their entire fairness. The authorities realize over a million dollars annually by the tax which is paid into the treasury on these most questionable enterprises. The lottery is patronized by high and low, the best mercantile houses devoting a regular sum monthly to the purchase of tickets on behalf of their firms. One individual of this class told the writer that no drawing had taken place within the last ten years at Havana in which the firm of which he was a member had not been interested to the extent of at least one doubloon, that is, one whole ticket. The mode usually is, however, to purchase several fractional parts of tickets, so as to multiply the chances. On being asked what was the result of the ten years of speculation in this line, the reply was that the books of the firm would show, as it was entered therein like any other line of purchases. Curious to find an authentic instance as an example, the matter was followed up until the result was found. It seemed that this house had averaged about four hundred dollars per annum expended for lottery tickets, that is, four thousand dollars in the last ten years. On the credit side they had received in prizes about nineteen hundred dollars, making a loss of twenty-one hundred dollars. "But then," remarked our informant, "we may get a big prize one of these days,—who knows?"
The lottery here proves to be as great a curse as it does in Italy, where its demoralizing effects are more apparent. The poorer classes, even including the slaves and free negroes, are regular purchasers, and occasionally a prize is realized among them, which stimulates to increased ventures. A few years since, some slaves upon a plantation near Alquizar purchased a single ticket, clubbing together in order to raise the money. These Africans drew a prize of forty thousand dollars, which sum was honestly paid to them, and they purchased their freedom at once, dividing a very pretty amount for each as a capital to begin business on his own account.
"And pray what became of those liberated men?" we asked of our informant. "Singular to say I can tell you," he answered. "Others felt the same interest you express, and they have been followed in their subsequent career. There were sixteen of the party, who realized equal portions of the prize. They were valuable slaves, and paid an average of fifteen hundred dollars each for their free papers. This left them a thousand dollars each. Two returned to Africa. Four joined the insurgents at Santiago, in 1870, and were probably shot. The remainder drank themselves to death in Havana, or died by fevers induced through intemperate habits." "Did you ever know a man, white or black, who drew a prize of any large amount, who was not the worse for it after a short time?" we asked. "Perhaps not," was his honest reply. A miserable creature came into the vestibule of the Telegrafo Hotel one day begging. After he had departed we were told that a few years ago he was possessed of a fortune. "Why is he in this condition?" we asked. "He was engaged in a good business," said our informant, "drew a large prize in the lottery, sold out his establishment, and gave himself up to pleasure, gambling, and drink. That is all that is left of him now. He has just come out of the hospital, where he was treated for paralysis."
Honestly conducted as these lotteries are generally believed to be, their very stability and the just payment of prizes but makes them the more baleful and dangerous in their influence upon the public. As carried on in Havana, the lottery business is the most wholesale mode of gambling ever witnessed. Though some poor man may become comparatively wealthy through their means, once in twenty years, yet in the mean time thousands are impoverished in their mad zeal to purchase tickets though it cost them the last dollar they possess. The government thus fosters a taste for gambling and supplies the ready means, while any one at all acquainted with the Spanish character must know that the populace need no prompting in a vice to which they seem to take intuitively. No people, unless it be the Chinese, are so addicted to all games of chance upon which money can be staked.
Spaniards, and especially Cuban Spaniards, receive credit for being extremely hospitable, and to a certain extent this is true; but one soon learns to regard the extravagant manifestations which so often characterize their domestic etiquette as rather empty and heartless. Let a stranger enter the house of a Cuban for the first time, especially if he be a foreigner, and the host or hostess of the mansion at once places all things they possess at his service, yet no one thinks for a single moment of interpreting this offer literally. The family vehicle is at your order, or the loan of a saddle horse, and in such small kindnesses they are always generous; but when they beg you to accept a ring, a book, or a valuable toy, because you have been liberal in your praise of the article, you are by no means to do so. Another trait of character which suggests itself in this connection is the universal habit of profuse compliment common among Cuban ladies. Flattery is a base coin at best, but it is current here. The ladies listen to these compliments as a matter of course from their own countrymen or such Frenchmen as have settled among them, but if an American takes occasion to express his honest admiration to a Creole, her delight is at once manifest. Both the French and Spanish are extremely gallant to the gentler sex, but it requires no argument to show that woman under either nationality is far less esteemed and honored than she is with us in America.
The bonnet, which forms so important a part of a lady's costume in Europe and America, is rarely worn by the Creoles, and strangers who appear on the streets of Havana with the latest fashion of this ever varying article are regarded with curiosity, though so many American and English ladies visit the island annually. In place of a bonnet, when any covering is considered desirable for the head, the Cuban ladies generally wear a long black veil, richly wrought, and gathered at the back of the head upon the clustered braid of hair, which is always black and luxuriant. More frequently, however, even this appendage is not seen, and they drive in the Paseo or through the streets with their heads entirely uncovered, save by the sheltering hood of the victoria. When necessity calls them abroad in the early or middle hours of the day, there is generally a canvas screen buttoned to the dasher and extended to the top of the calash, to shut out the too ardent rays of the sun. Full dress, on all state occasions, is black, but white is universally worn by the ladies in domestic life, forming a rich contrast to the olive complexions of the women. Sometimes in the Paseo, when enjoying the evening drive, these fair creatures indulge in strange contrasts of colors in dress. They also freely make use of a cosmetic called cascarilla, made from eggshells finely powdered and mixed with the white of the egg. This forms an adhesive paste, with which they at times enamel themselves, so that faces and necks that are naturally dark resemble those of persons who are white as pearls.
There is one indispensable article, without which a Cuban lady would feel herself absolutely lost. The fan is a positive necessity to her, and she learns its coquettish and graceful use from childhood. Formed of various rich materials, it glitters in her tiny hand like a gaudy butterfly, now half, now wholly shading her radiant face, which quickly peeps out again from behind its shelter, like the moon from out a passing cloud. This little article, always costly, sometimes very expensive, in her hand seems in its eloquence of motion almost to speak. She has a witching flirt with it that expresses scorn; a graceful wave of complacence; an abrupt closing of it that indicates vexation or anger; a gradual and cautious opening of its folds that signifies reluctant forgiveness; in short, the language of the fan in the hand of a Cuban lady is a wonderfully adroit and expressive pantomime that requires no interpreter, for, like the Chinese written language, it cannot be spoken.
It may be the prodigality of nature in respect to Flora's kingdom which has retarded the development of a love for flowers among the people of the island. Doubtless if Marechal Niel roses, Jacqueminots, jonquils, and lilies of the valley were as abundant with us in every field as clover, dandelions, and buttercups, we should hardly regard them with so much delight as we do. It is not common to see flowers under cultivation as they are at the North. They spring up too readily in a wild state from the fertile soil. One cannot pass over half a league on an inland road without his senses being regaled and delighted by the natural floral fragrance, heliotrope, honeysuckle, sweet pea, and orange blossoms predominating. The jasmine and Cape rose, though less fragrant, are delightful to the eye, and cluster everywhere among the hedges, groves, and coffee estates. There is a blossoming shrub, the native name of which we do not remember, but which is remarkable for its multitudinous crimson flowers, so seductive to the humming-birds that they hover about it all day long, burying themselves in its blossoms until petal and wing seem one. At first upright, a little later the gorgeous bells droop downward and fall to the ground unwithered, being poetically called Cupid's tears. Flowers abound here which are only known to us in our hothouses, whose brilliant colors, like those of the cactus, scarlet, yellow, and blue, are quite in harmony with the surroundings, where everything is aglow. There was pointed out to us a specimen of the frangipanni, a tall and nearly leafless plant bearing a milk-white flower, and resembling the tuberose in fragrance, but in form much like our Cherokee rose. This plant, it will be remembered, was so abundant and so pleasant to the senses as to attract the attention of the early explorers who accompanied Columbus across the sea.