There seems to be at times a strange narcotic influence in the atmosphere of the island, realized more especially inland, where the visitor is partially removed from the winds which commonly blow from the Gulf in the after part of the day. So potent has the writer felt this influence that at first it was supposed to be the effect of some powerful and medicinal plant abounding in the neighborhood; but on inquiry it was found that this delightful sense of ease and indolent luxuriousness was not an unusual experience, particularly among strangers, and was solely attributable to the narcotic of the soft climate. By gently yielding to this influence one seemed to dream while awake, and though the sense of hearing is diminished, that of the olfactories appears to be increased, and pleasant odors float on every passing breeze. One feels at peace with all human nature, and a sense of voluptuous ease overspreads the body. Others have experienced and remarked upon this sensation of idle happiness. The only unpleasant realizing sense during the enjoyment of this condition is the fear that some human voice, or some chance noise, loud and abrupt, may arouse the dreamer from his trance.
Specimens of the Indian fig, as it is called here, will be sure to attract the visitor's eye on his inland excursions. It clasps, entwines, and finally, serpent-like, kills the loftiest forest monarchs, and taking their place, firmly roots itself and becomes a stately tree, fattening upon its ill-gotten possession. Its unfading leaf of vivid green is beautiful to look upon, in spite of its known and treacherous character. In many respects it typifies the Spanish discoverers of this beautiful isle, who gradually possessed themselves of its glorious heritage by the destruction of its legitimate owners.
The manner in which that prolific tree, the cocoanut palm, is propagated was a curious and interesting study for a leisure hour, the germination having been with us heretofore an unsolved riddle. Within the hard shell of the nut, among the mass of rich creamy substance, near the large end, is a small white lump like the stalk of a young mushroom, called the ovule. This little finger-like germ of the future tree gradually forces itself through one of the three eyes always to be found on the cocoanut. What giant power is concealed within that tiny ovule, apparently so soft and insignificant! Having pierced its way through the first shell, it then gradually rends the outer coat of fibrous covering and curves upward towards the light. Into the inner shell which it has vacated, it throws little fibrous threads which slowly absorb the albumen, and thus sustain its new life as it rapidly develops. First a few leaves grow upward, which from the very outset begin to assume the pinnate form of the cocoanut leaf, while, stretching earthward, a myriad of little threads of roots bury themselves in the ground. Though the tree will grow to a height of sixty feet or more, these roots will never individually exceed the size of the fingers on one's hand. In five or six years the tree will produce its first cluster of cocoanuts, and for several years will go on increasing in fruitfulness and yielding a bountiful crop for fifty or sixty years. It was a constant wonder how these cocoanut trees could sustain an upright position with such a weight of ripening fruit clustered beneath the shade of their tufted tops.
As regards the cost of living in the island, it may be said to average higher to the stranger than in the United States. At the city hotels and large boarding houses the charge is modified from four or five dollars per day; if a special bargain is made for a considerable period, it is customary to give a reduction on transient rates of ten or fifteen per cent. Among the small towns in the interior, at the houses of entertainment, which are wretchedly poor as a rule, the charges are exorbitant, and strangers are looked upon as fair game. This, however, is no more so than in continental Europe, where, though the accommodations are better, the general treatment is the same. The luscious and healthful fruits of the country form a large share of the provisions of the table in Cuba, and are always freely provided. A fair quality of claret wine, imported from Spain, is also regularly placed before the guest free of charge, it being the ordinary drink of the people; but beware of calling for other wines, and particularly champagne, unless you are prepared to be swindled by the price charged in your bill. Of course you get only imitation champagne,—that is to be expected; you do the same nearly everywhere. There is not enough pure champagne manufactured in Europe to supply the Paris and London markets alone. The mode of cooking is very similar to the French, plus the universal garlic, which, like tobacco, appears to be a prime necessity to the average Spanish appetite. One does not visit Cuba, however, with the expectation of finding all the niceties of the table which are ordinary comforts at home, and therefore he is quite content to enjoy the delightful fruits of the country, the novel scenery, the curious vegetation, and the captivating climate, which cannot fail to compensate for many small annoyances.
One of the most pleasant and healthful resorts for a temporary home on the island is probably the small but thrifty town of Guines, situated about forty-five miles from Havana, with which it is connected by rail; indeed, this was the first railroad constructed in Cuba, that between Matanzas and Havana being the second. Both were mainly the result of American enterprise and capital. There are now a little over nine hundred miles of railroad in operation, and more is urgently demanded to open internal communication with important sections. The water communication along the southern and northern coasts is mostly depended upon, and a very well organized system is sustained by three or four lines of domestic steamers. The immediate locality of Guines is thought to be one of the most salubrious and best for invalids on the western division of the island, and is largely resorted to by Americans. It has generally more of the comforts considered necessary for persons in delicate health than can readily be obtained in Havana, and one has here the quiet and retirement which it is impossible to find in the metropolis.
Here will be seen, as in all towns large or small in Cuba, a curious place of amusement of circular form, called a "pit," where the natives indulge their national passion for cock-fighting and gambling combined. It is astonishing how pugnacious and fierce these birds become by careful training; the instinct must be in them or it could not be so developed. When brought together and opposed to each other in battle, one must die, and often both do so, for they will fight as long as they can stand on their feet. The pit is always crowded, and the amount of money which changes hands daily in this cruel mode of gambling is very considerable. Women not infrequently attend these contests, but only those of the pariah class, certain back seats being reserved for them, while here and there may be seen a shovel-hatted priest, as eager in the result as the professionals themselves. The cock-pit is a circular building, thirty or forty feet in diameter, resembling on the outside a huge haystack. The size, however, is regulated according to the population of the immediate neighborhood. The seats are raised in a circle, one above another, about a central ring in which the contest takes place. The ground is covered with sawdust or tan. The birds are of a native game breed, and are subject from chickenhood to a peculiar course of treatment. The English game-cock is prized here only for crossing with the native breed. He cannot equal the Spanish bird in the necessary qualities of pluck and endurance.
The food of the game-cock when in training is regulated with great care, carefully weighed, and a certain number of ounces is given to him three times a day, so that the bird, like a race-horse, is never permitted to grow fat, but is kept in what is called fighting condition. Some days before a contest they are fed with a few ounces of raw meat once during the twenty-four hours, which, being kept always a little hungry, they devour with avidity. Greater care as to diet and exercise could not be taken by pugilists training for a conflict. The feathers of these fighting-cocks are closely cropped in a jaunty style; the neck and head, to the length of three inches, is completely plucked of all feathers, the comb being trimmed close to the crown. The flesh which is thus left bare is daily rubbed with rum until it becomes hardened and calloused. Brief encounters are permitted among them under proper restrictions, when they are young. No fear is felt that they will seriously injure each other, until they are old enough to have the sharp steel gaffs affixed upon the spurs with which nature has supplied them. Then, like men armed with sword and dagger, they attack each other with fatal earnestness, making the blood flow at every stroke. It is singular that the birds are so determined upon the fight that no amount of loud cries, or challenges between the betters, or jeers by the excited audience, disturbs them in the least.
The author witnessed one of these exhibitions at Guines. The fighting-ring of the cock-pit was some twelve feet in diameter, the seating capacity being arranged for about a hundred persons or more, and each bench was fully occupied. The two birds pitted against each other were carefully weighed, and the result was announced to the audience. They were then passed in review, held in the hands of their respective owners, and betting at once commenced as to which would win the victory. In the mean time the two birds seemed quietly awaiting their time, and by the knowing way in which both surveyed the surroundings and the assembled people, they really appeared as if they understood the business in hand. There was no struggling on their part to get out of the hands of those who held them. Presently they were passed into the care of the umpires, two of whom officiated, and who then affixed the steel gaffs to the spurs of the contestants. The two birds were then placed on the ground inside of the ring, opposite each other. No sooner did they feel themselves fairly on their feet than both crowed triumphantly, eying each other with fell intent.
Then commenced a series of bird-tactics, each partially advancing and pretending to retreat as if to draw on his antagonist, pecking the while at imaginary kernels of corn on the ground. In the mean time the audience almost held its breath in anticipation of the cunningly deferred onset. Presently the two birds, as if by one impulse, rushed towards each other, and a simultaneous attack took place. The contest, when the birds are armed with steel gaffs, rarely lasts more than eight or ten minutes before one or both are so injured as to end the fight. The money staked upon the fight is won by those backing the bird which survives, or is longest in dying. When the artificial spurs are not used, and the birds fight in their natural state, the battle sometimes lasts for an hour, but is always fatal in the end to one or the other, or both. Eyes are pecked out, wings and legs broken, necks pierced again and again; still they fight on until death ensues. During the fight the excitement is intense, and a babel of voices reigns within the structure, the betting being loud, rapid, and high. Thus in a small way the cock-fight is as cruel and as demoralizing as that other national game, the terrible bull-fight, indigenous to Spain and her colonies.
Cuba has justly been called the garden of the world, perpetual summer smiling upon its shores, and its natural wealth and possibilities baffling even the imagination. The waters which surround it, as we have seen, abound with a variety of fishes, whose bright colors, emulating the tints of precious stones and the prismatic hues of the rainbow, astonish and delight the eye of the stranger. Stately and peculiar trees enliven the picturesque landscape. Throughout the woods and groves flit a variety of birds, whose dazzling colors defy the palette of the artist. Here the loquacious parrot utters his harsh natural notes; there the red flamingo watches by the shore of the lagoon, the waters dyed by the reflection of his scarlet plumage. It would require a volume to describe the vegetable and animal kingdom of Cuba, but among the most familiar birds are the golden robin, the bluebird, the catbird, the Spanish woodpecker, the gaudy-plumed paroquet, and the pedoreva, with its red throat and breast and its pea-green head and body. There is also a great variety of wild pigeons, blue, gray, and white; the English lady-bird, with a blue head, scarlet breast, and green and white back; the indigo-bird, the golden-winged woodpecker, the ibis, and many smaller species, like the humming-bird. Of this latter family there are said to be sixty different varieties, each sufficiently individualized in size and other peculiarities to be easily identified by ornithologists. Some of these birds are actually no larger in body than butterflies, and with not so large a spread of wing. A humming-bird's nest, composed of cotton interlaced with horse-hair, was shown the author at Buena Esperanza, a plantation near Guines. It was about twice the size of a lady's thimble, and contained two eggs, no larger than common peas. The nest was a marvel of perfection, the cotton being bound cunningly and securely together by the long horse-hairs, of which there were not more than three or four. Human fingers could not have done it so deftly. Probably the bird that built the nest and laid the eggs did not weigh, all fledged, over half an ounce! Parrots settle on the sour orange trees when the fruit is ripe, and fifty may be secured by a net at a time. The Creoles stew and eat them as we do pigeons; the flesh is tough, and as there are plenty of fine water-fowl and marsh birds about the lagoons as easily procured, one is at a loss to account for the taste that leads to eating parrots. The brown pelican is seen in great numbers sailing lazily over the water and dipping for fish.
Strange is the ubiquity of the crows; one sees them in middle India, China, and Japan. They ravage our New England cornfields, and in Ceylon,—equatorial Ceylon,—they absolutely swarm. When one, therefore, finds them saucy, noisy, thieving, even in Cuba, it is not surprising that the fact should be remarked upon, though here the species differs somewhat from those referred to, being known as the Jack-crow or turkey-buzzard. In the far East, like the vulture, the crow is considered a natural scavenger or remover of carrion, and the same excuse is made for him in Cuba and Florida. But is he not more of a freebooter and feathered bandit,—in short, a prowling thief generally? Nature has few birds or animals upon her varied list with which we would find fault, but the crow,—well, having nothing to say in its favor, let us drop the subject. Parrots, paroquets, tiny indigo birds, pedorevas, and robins,—yes, these are all in harmony with mingled fragrance and sunshine, but the coal-black crow, with his bad habits and hoarse bird-profanity, bah! When these West Indian islands were first settled by Spanish emigrants, they were the home of myriads of birds of every tropical variety, but to-day the feathered beauties and merry songsters have been entirely driven away from some of the smaller islands, and decimated on others, by the demand for bird's wings with which to deck ladies' bonnets in Europe and America. Sportsmen have found it profitable to visit the tropics solely for the purpose of shooting these rainbow-colored creatures for ornaments. Aside from the loss to general interest and beauty in nature caused by this wholesale destruction of the feathered tribe, another and quite serious result has been the consequence. A plague of vermin has followed the withdrawal of these little insect-killers. It is so natural to look for them amid such luxuriant vegetation that they become conspicuous by their absence. Now and again, however, the ears are gratefully saluted by the trilling and sustained notes of some hidden songster, whose music is entirely in tune with the surrounding loveliness, but truly delightful song-birds have ever been rare in the low latitudes, where there is more of color than song.
Those agriculturists who possess sufficient means confine themselves solely to the raising of sugar, coffee, and tobacco, the former principally employing capital. Indian corn, which the first settlers found indigenous here, is quite neglected, and when raised at all it is used before ripening, almost universally, as green fodder; very little is ripened and gathered as grain. It is found that horses and cattle can be kept in good condition and strength, while performing the usual labor required of them, by feeding them on a liberal allowance of cornstalks, given in the green state, before the corn has begun to form on the cob. The Cubans will tell you that the nourishing principle which forms the grain is in the stalk and leaves, and if fed in that state before ripening further, the animals obtain all the sustaining properties which they require. The climate is particularly adapted to the raising of oranges, but there is very little attention given to propagating this universally popular fruit, more especially since the increased production which has taken place on the other side of the Gulf Stream in Florida. Three years after the seed of this fruit is deposited in suitable soil in Cuba the tree becomes ten or twelve feet in height, and in the fourth year rarely produces less than a hundred oranges, while at ten years of age it commonly bears three and four thousand, thus proving, with proper care, extremely profitable. It will be remembered that it is the longest lived of succulent fruit trees. There are specimens still extant in Cuba known to be one hundred years old. The oranges produced in Florida are of equally good quality, and bring a better price in the market, but the crop is subject to more contingencies and liability to loss than in Cuba. The frost not infrequently ruins a whole season's yield in the peninsula in one or two severe nights, while frost is never experienced upon the island.
It seems unreasonable that when the generous, fruitful soil of Cuba is capable of producing two or three crops of vegetables annually, the agricultural wealth of the island should be so poorly developed. Thousands upon thousands of acres of fertile soil are still in their virgin condition. It is capable of supporting a population of almost any density,—certainly from eight to ten millions of people might find goodly homes here, and yet the largest estimate at the present time gives only a million and a half of inhabitants. When one treads the fertile soil and beholds the clustering fruits in such abundance, the citron, the star-apple, the perfumed pineapple, the luscious banana, and other fruits for which our language has no name, not forgetting the various noble woods which caused Columbus to exclaim with pleasure, and to mention the palm and the pine growing together, characteristic types of Arctic and equatorial vegetation, we are struck with the thought of how much Providence and how little man has done for this Eden of the Gulf. We long to see it peopled by men who can appreciate the gifts of nature, men who are willing to do their part in recognition of her fruitfulness and who will second her spontaneous bounty.
Nowhere on the face of the globe would well-directed, intelligent labor meet with a richer reward, nowhere would repose from labor be so sweet. The hour of rest here sinks upon the face of nature with a peculiar charm; the night breeze, in never-failing regularity, comes with its gentle wing to fan the weary frame, and no danger lurks in its breath. It has free scope through the unglazed windows, and blowing fresh from the broad surface of the Mexican Gulf, it bears a goodly tonic to the system. Beautifully blue are the heavens and festally bright the stars of a tropical night, where familiar constellations greet us with brighter radiance and new ones charm the eye with their novelty. Preeminent in brilliancy among them is the Southern Cross, a galaxy of stars that never greets us in the North. At midnight its glittering framework stands erect. That solemn hour past the Cross declines. How glorious the nights where such a heavenly sentinel indicates the watches! "How often have we heard our guides exclaim in the savannas of Venezuela," says Humboldt, "or in the deserts extending from Lima to Truxillo, 'Midnight is past, the Cross begins to bend.'" Cuba is indeed a land of enchantment, where nature is beautiful and bountiful, and where mere existence is a luxury, but it requires the infusion of a sterner, a more self-reliant, self-denying and enterprising race to test its capabilities and to astonish the world with its productiveness.
Traveling by Volante. — Want of Inland Communication. — Americans Profitable Customers. — The Cruel National Game. — The Plaza de Toros. — Description of a Bull-Fight. — The Infection of Cruelty. — The Romans and Spaniards Compared. — Cry of the Spanish Mob: "Bread and Bulls!" — Women at the Fight. — The Nobility of the Island. —The Monteros. — Ignorance of the Common People. — Scenes in the Central Market, Havana. — Odd Ideas of Cuban Beggars. — An Original Style of Dude. — A Mendicant Prince.
The volante, the national vehicle of Cuba, and until latterly the only one in common use upon the island, has been several times spoken of. It has been superseded, especially in Havana, just as steam launches are crowding out the gondolas on the canals of Venice. Our present notes would be quite incomplete without a description of this unique vehicle. It is difficult without experience to form an idea of its extraordinary ease of motion, or its appropriateness to the peculiarities of the country roads, where only it is now in use. At first sight, with its shafts sixteen feet long, and wheels six yards in circumference, one would think that it must be very disagreeable to ride in; but the reverse is the fact, and when seated the motion is most agreeable, like being rocked in a cloud. It makes nothing of the deep ruts and inequalities upon the execrable roads, but sways gently its low-hung, chaise-like body, and dashes over and through every impediment with the utmost facility. Strange as it may seem, it is very light upon the horse, which the postilion also bestrides. When traveling any distance, a second horse is added on the left, abreast of the first, and attached to the volante by an added whiffletree and traces. When there are two horses the postilion rides the one to the left, thus leaving the shaft-horse free of other weight than the vehicle.
If the roads are very rough, which is their chronic condition, and there is more than usual weight to carry, a third horse is often added, and he is placed abreast with the others, to the right of the shaft horse, being guided by a bridle rein in the hands of the calisero, as he is called. Heretofore the wealthy people took great pride in these volantes, a purely Cuban idea, and they were ornamented for city use at great expense with silver trimmings, and sometimes even in gold. A volante equipped in this style, with the gayly-dressed negro postilion, his scarlet jacket elaborately trimmed with gold or silver braid, his high jack-boots with big silver buckles at the knees, and huge spurs upon his heels, was quite a dashing affair, more especially if a couple of black-eyed Creole ladies constituted the freight.
Were it not for the few railroads and steamboat routes which are maintained, communication between the several parts of the island would be almost impossible. During the rainy season especially, inland travel is impracticable for wheels. China or Central Africa is equally well off in this respect. Nearly all transportation, except it be on the line of the railroads, is accomplished on mule-back, or on the little Cuban horses. The fact is, road making is yet to be introduced into the island. Even the wonderful volante can only make its way in the environs of cities. Most of the so-called roads resemble the bed of a mountain torrent, and would hardly pass for a cow-path in America. Nothing more clearly shows the undeveloped condition of the island than this absence of means for internal communication. In Havana and its immediate environs the omnibus and tramway afford facilities which are liberally patronized, though when the latter was first introduced it was considered such an innovation that it was most bitterly opposed by the citizens. Like the railroads, the tramway was the result of foreign enterprise, and has doubled the value of property in any direction within a couple of leagues of the city proper.
One of the most petty and most annoying experiences to which the traveler is subjected is the arbitrary tax of time and money put upon him by the small officials, of every rank, in the employment of the government. By this system of small taxes upon travelers, a considerable revenue is realized. Where this is known, it keeps visitors away from Cuba, which is just what the Spaniards pretend to desire, though it was found that the Creoles did not indorse any such idea. Americans leave half a million dollars and more annually in Havana alone, an estimate made for us by competent authority. Passports are imperatively necessary upon landing, and if the visitor desires to travel outside of the port at which he arrives a fresh permit is necessary, for which a fee is charged. In vain do you show your passport, indorsed by the Spanish consul at the port from which you embarked in America. The official shrugs his shoulders, and says it is the law. Besides, you are watched and your movements recorded at police headquarters; though in this respect Berlin is quite as uncomfortable for strangers as is the city of Havana. Despots must hedge themselves about in every conceivable way. Be careful about the contents of your letters sent from or received in Cuba. These are sometimes delivered to their address, and sometimes they are not. Your correspondence may be considered of interest to other parties as well as to yourself, in which case an indefinite delay may occur in the receipt thereof.
Of all the games and sports of the Spaniards, that of the bull-fight is the most cruel, and without one redeeming feature to excuse its indulgence. During the winter season, weekly exhibitions are given at Havana on each recurring Sunday afternoon, the same day that is chosen for the brutal sport in Madrid and other Spanish peninsular cities. The arena devoted to this purpose will seat about ten thousand persons. The ground upon which the fight takes place occupies about an acre, and is situated on the Regla side of the harbor, in the Plaza de Toros. The seats are raised one above another, in a complete circle, at a secure height from the dangerous struggle. Sometimes, in his furious onslaughts, the bull throws himself completely over the stout boards which separate him from the spectators, when a wild stampede occurs.
On the occasion of the fight witnessed by the author, after a shrill flourish of trumpets a large bull was let loose from apartments beneath the seats, the door of which opened into the arena. The poor creature came from utter darkness, where he had been kept for many hours, into a blaze of bright sunlight, which confused him for a moment, and he pawed the ground excitedly, while he rolled his big fierce eyeballs as though he suspected some trick had been played upon him. Presently, having become accustomed to the light, he glared from one side to the other as if to take in the situation, and see who it was that dared to oppose him.
In the ring, distributed here and there, were some half a dozen professional fighters on foot, called banderilleros and chulos, besides which there were two on horseback, known as picadors. The former held scarlet flags in their hands, with which to confuse and tease the bull; the latter were armed with a long pole each, at the end of which was a sharp piece of steel capable of wounding the bull, but not deeply or dangerously. These fighters were a hardened set of villains, if the human countenance can be relied upon as showing forth the inner man. They rushed towards the animal and flaunted their flags before his eyes, striving to excite and draw him on to attack them. They seemed reckless, but very expert, agile, and wary. Every effort was made to worry and torment the bull to a state of frenzy. Barbs were thrust into his neck and back by the banderilleros, with small rockets attached. These exploded into his very flesh, which they burned and tore. Thrusts from the horsemen's spears also gave harsh, if not dangerous wounds, so that the animal bled freely at many points.
When the infuriated beast made a rush at one of his tormentors, they adroitly sprang on one side, or, if too closely pressed, these practiced athletes with a handspring leaped over the high board fence. Whichever way he turned the bull met a fresh enemy and another device of torment, until at last the poor creature was frantically mad. The fight then became more earnest, the bull rushing first at one and then another of his enemies, but the practiced fighters were too wary for him; he could not change position so quickly as they could. Finally, the bull turned his attention to the horses and made madly first at the one which was nearest, and though he received a tearing wound along his spine from the horseman's spear, he ripped the horse's bowels open with his horns and threw him upon the ground, with his rider under him. The men on foot rushed to the rescue and drew off the bull by fresh attacks and by flaunting the flags before his eyes. In the mean time, the rider was got out from beneath the horse, which lay dying. The bull, finding that he could revenge himself on the horses, transferred his attention to the other and threw him to the ground with his rider, but received another long wound upon his own back. Leaving the two horses lying nearly dead, the bull again turned upon the banderilleros, rushing with such headlong speed at them that he buried his sharp horns several inches in the timbers of the fence. It was even a struggle for him to extract them. The purpose is not to give the bull any fatal wounds, but to worry and torment him to the last degree of endurance. This struggle was kept up for twenty minutes or more, when the poor creature, bleeding from a hundred wounds, seemed nearly exhausted. Then, at a sign from the director, there was a grand flourish of trumpets, and the matador, a skillful swordsman and the hero of the occasion, entered the ring to close with the bull, singly. The other fighters withdrew and the matador advanced with a scarlet flag in one hand and his naked sword in the other. The bull stood at bay, too much worn by the fight and loss of blood to voluntarily attack this single enemy. The matador advanced and lured him to an attack by flaunting his flag. A few feeble rushes were made by the bleeding animal, until, in a last effort to drive his horns into this new enemy, he staggered heavily forward. This time the matador did not leap to one side, but received the bull upon the point of his Toledo blade, which was aimed at a spot just back of the horns, where the brain meets the spinal column. As the bull comes on with his head bent down to the charge, this spot is exposed, and forms a fair target for a practiced hand. The effect was electrical. The bull staggered, reeled from side to side for an instant, and then fell dead. Four bulls were destroyed in a like manner that afternoon, and, in their gallant fight for their lives, they killed seven horses, trampling their riders in two instances almost fatally, though they are protected by a sort of leather armor on their limbs and body. During the fight with the second bull, which was an extremely fierce and powerful creature, a young girl of eighteen dressed in male attire, who was trained to the brutal business, took an active part in the arena with the banderilleros. One remarkable feat which she performed was that of leaping by means of a pole completely over the bull when he was charging at her. At Madrid, where the author witnessed a similar exhibition, the introduction of a young girl among the fighters was omitted, but otherwise the performance was nearly identical. At the close of each act of the murderous drama, six horses gayly caparisoned with bells and plumes dashed into the arena led by attendants, and chains being attached to the bodies of the dead animals, they were drawn out at great speed through a gate opened for the purpose, amid another flourish of trumpets and the shouts of the excited multitude.
The worst of all this is that the influence of such outrageous cruelty is lasting. It infects the beholders with a like spirit. In fact, it is contagious. We all know how hard the English people became in the time of Henry VIII. and Bloody Mary.
In this struggle of the bull ring there is no gallantry or true bravery displayed on the part of the professional fighters. They run but little personal risk, practiced as they are, sheltered and protected by artificial means and armed with keen weapons, whereas the bull has only his horns to protect himself from his many tormentors. There is no possible escape for him; his fate is sealed from the moment he enters the ring. All the true bravery exhibited is on his part; he is always the attacking party, and were the exhibition to be attempted in an open field, even armed as they are, he would drive every one of his enemies out of sight. The much-lauded matador does not take his position in front of the animal until it is very nearly exhausted by loss of blood and long-continued, furious fighting. In our estimation, he encounters far less risk than does the humblest of the banderilleros or chulos, who torment the bull face to face in the fullness of his physical strength and courage. Still, instances are not wanting wherein these matadors have been seriously wounded and even killed by a frantic and dying bull, who has roused himself for a last final struggle.
Whatever colonial modification the Spanish character may have apparently undergone in Cuba, the Creole is Castilian still in his love for the cruel sports of the arena. Great is the similitude also between the modern Spaniard and the ancient Roman in this respect. As the Spanish language more closely resembles Latin than does the Italian, so do the Spanish people show more of Roman blood than the natives of Italy themselves. Panem et circenses (bread and circuses!) was the cry of the old Roman populace, and to gratify their wishes millions of sesterces were lavished, and hecatombs of human victims slain in the splendid amphitheatres erected by the masters of the world in all the cities subject to their sway. And so pan y toros (bread and bulls!) is the imperious demand of the Spaniards, to which the government is forced to respond. The parallel may be pursued still further. The proudest ladies of Rome, maids and matrons, gazed with liveliest interest upon the dying gladiators who hewed each other in pieces, or on the Christians who perished in conflict with the wild beasts, half starved to give them battle. So the senoras and senoritas of Madrid, Seville, Malaga, and Havana enjoy, with keen delight, the terrible spectacle of bulls slaughtered by picadors and matadors, and gallant horses ripped up and disemboweled by the horns of their brute adversaries. It is true that the ameliorating spirit of Christianity is evinced in the changes which the arena has undergone. Human lives are no longer designedly sacrificed wholesale in the bloody contests, yet the bull-fight is sufficiently barbarous and atrocious. It is a national institution, indicative of national character.
To look upon the serenity of Cuban ladies, driving in the Paseo or listening to the nightly music in the Plaza de Isabella, one could not possibly imagine them to be lacking in tenderness, or that there was in them sufficient hardihood to witness such exhibitions as we have described, and yet one third of the audience on the occasion spoken of was composed of the gentler sex. They are almost universally handsome, being rather below the average height of the sex with us, but possessing an erect and dignified carriage. Their form, always rounded to a delicate fullness, is quite perfection in point of model. Their dark hair and olive complexions are well matched,—the latter without a particle of natural carmine. The eyes are a match for the hair, being large and beautifully expressive, with a most irresistible dash of languor in them,—but not the languor of illness. It is really difficult to conceive of an ugly woman with such eyes as they all possess in Cuba,—the Moorish, Andalusian eye. The Cuban women have also been justly famed for their graceful carriage, and it is indeed the poetry of motion, singular as it may appear, when it is remembered that for them to walk abroad is such a rarity. It is not the simple progressive motion alone, but also the harmonious play of features, the coquettish undulation of the face, the exquisite disposition of costume, and the modulation of voice, that engage the beholder and lend a happy charm to every attitude and every step.
The gentlemen as a rule are good-looking, though they are much smaller, lighter, and more agile than the average American. The lazy life they so universally lead tends to make them less manly than a more active one would do. It seems to be a rule among them never to do for themselves that which a slave can do for them. This is demonstrated in the style of the volante, where the small horse is made not only to draw the vehicle, but also to carry a large negro on his back as driver. Now, if reins were used, there would be no occasion for the postilion at all, but a Spaniard or Creole would think it demeaning to drive his own vehicle. With abundance of leisure, and the ever present influences of their genial clime, where the heart's blood leaps more swiftly to the promptings of the imagination and where the female form earliest attains its maturity, the West Indians seem peculiarly adapted for romance and for love. The consequent adventures constantly occurring among them often culminate in startling tragedies, and afford plots in which a French feuilletonist would revel.
The nobility of Cuba, so called, is composed of rather homespun material, to say the least, of it. There may be some fifty individuals dubbed with the title of marquis, and as many more with that of count, most of whom have acquired their wealth and position by carrying on extensive sugar plantations. These are sneeringly designated by the humble classes as sugar noblemen, and not inappropriately so, as nearly all of these aristocratic gentlemen have purchased their titles outright for money. Not the least consideration is exercised by the Spanish throne as to the fitness of these ambitious individuals for honorary distinction. It is a mere question of money, and if this be forthcoming the title follows as a natural sequence. Twenty-five thousand dollars will purchase any title. Such things are done in other lands, but not quite so openly. And yet the tone of Cuban society in its higher circles is found to be rather aristocratic and exclusive. The native of Old Spain does not endeavor to conceal his contempt for foreigners of all classes, and as to the Creoles, he simply scorns to meet them on social grounds, shielding his inferiority of intelligence under a cloak of hauteur, assuming the wings of the eagle, but possessing only the eyes of the owl. Thus the Castilians and Creoles are ever at antagonism, both socially and politically. The bitterness of feeling existing between them can hardly be exaggerated. The sugar planter, the coffee planter, the merchant, and the liberal professions stand in the order in which we have named them, as regards their relative degree of social importance, but wealth, in fact, has the same charm here as elsewhere in Christendom, and the millionaire has the entree to all classes.
The Monteros or yeomanry of the island inhabit the less cultivated and cheaper portions of the soil, entering the cities only to dispose of their surplus produce, and acting as the marketmen of the populous districts. When they stir abroad, in nearly all parts of the island, they are armed with a sword, and in the eastern sections about Santiago, or even Cienfuegos, they also carry pistols in the holsters of their saddles. Formerly this was indispensable for self-protection, but at this time weapons are more rarely worn. Still the arming of the Monteros has always been encouraged by the authorities, as they form a sort of militia at all times available against negro insurrection, a calamity in fear of which such communities must always live. The Montero is rarely a slaveholder, but is frequently engaged on the sugar plantations during the busy season as an overseer, and, to his discredit be it said, he generally proves to be a hard taskmaster, entertaining an intuitive dislike to the negroes.
An evidence of the contagious character of cruelty was given in a circumstance coming under the author's observation on a certain plantation at Alquizar, where a manifest piece of severity led him to appeal to the proprietor in behalf of a female slave. The request for mercy was promptly granted, and the acting overseer, himself a mulatto, was quietly reprimanded for his cruelty. "You will find," said our host, "that colored men always make the hardest masters when placed over their own race, but they have heretofore been much employed on the island in this capacity, because a sense of pride makes them faithful to the proprietor's interest. That man is himself a slave," he added, pointing to the sub-overseer, who still stood among the negroes, whip in hand.
The Montero sometimes hires a free colored man to help him in the planting season on his little patch of vegetable garden, in such work as a Yankee would do for himself, but these small farmers trust mostly to the exuberant fertility of the soil, and spare themselves all manual labor, save that of gathering the produce and taking it to market. They form, nevertheless, a very important and interesting class of the population. They marry very young, the girls at thirteen and fifteen, the young men from sixteen to eighteen, and almost invariably rear large families. Pineapples and children are a remarkably sure crop in the tropics. The increase among them during the last half century has been very large, much more in proportion than in any other class of the community, and they seem to be approaching a degree of importance, at least numerically, which will render them eventually like the American farmers, the bone and sinew of the land. There is room enough for them and to spare, for hardly more than one tenth of the land is under actual cultivation, a vast portion being still covered by virgin forests and uncleared savannas. The great and glaring misfortune—next to that of living under a government permitting neither civil nor religious liberty, where church and state are alike debased as the tools of despotism,—is their want of educational facilities. Books and schools they have none. Barbarism itself is scarcely less cultured. We were told that the people had of late been somewhat aroused from this condition of lethargy concerning education, and some effort has recently been made among the more intelligent to afford their children opportunities for instruction. But at the present writing, the Egyptian fellah is not more ignorant than the rural population of Cuba, who as a mass possess all the indolence and few of the virtues of the aborigines.
There is one highly creditable characteristic evinced by the Monteros as a class, and that is their temperate habits in regard to indulgence in stimulating drinks. As a beverage they do not use ardent spirits, and seem to have no taste or desire for the article, though they drink the ordinary claret—rarely anything stronger. This applies to the country people, not to the residents of the cities. The latter quickly contract the habit of gin drinking, as already described. There is one prominent vice to which the Monteros are indisputably addicted; namely, that of gambling. It seems to be a natural as well as a national trait, the appliances for which are so constantly at hand in the form of lottery tickets and the cock-pits that they can hardly escape the baleful influences. There are some who possess sufficient strength of character and intelligence to avoid it altogether, but with the majority it is the regular resort for each leisure hour. One of their own statesmen, Castelar, told the Spaniards, not long since, that gambling was the tax laid upon fools.
Perhaps the best place at which to study the appearance and character of the Monteros is at the Central Market, where they come daily by hundreds from the country in the early morning to sell their produce, accompanied by long lines of mules or horses with well-laden panniers. It is a motley crowd that one meets there, where purchasers and salesmen mingle promiscuously. From six to nine o'clock, A. M., it is the busiest place in all Havana. Negroes and mulattoes, Creoles and Spaniards, Chinamen and Monteros, men and women, beggars, purchasers, and slaves, all come to the market on the Calzada de la Reina. Here the display of fruits and vegetables is something marvelous, both in variety and in picturesqueness of arrangement. This locality is the natural resort of the mendicants, who pick up a trifle in the way of provisions from one and another, as people who do not feel disposed to bestow money will often give food to the indigent. This market was the only place in the city where it was possible to purchase flowers, but here one or two humble dealers came at early morn to dispose of such buds and blossoms as they found in demand. A blind Chinese coolie was found sitting on the sidewalk every morning, at the corner of the Calzada de la Reina, just opposite the market, and he elicited a trifle from us now and again. One morning a couple of roses and a sprig of lemon verbena were added to his small gratuity. The effect upon that sightless countenance was electrical, and the poor mendicant, having only pantomime with which to express his delight, seemed half frantic. The money fell to the ground, but the flowers were pressed passionately to his breast.
Did it remind him, we thought, of perfumes which had once delighted his youthful senses in far-off Asia, before he had been decoyed to a foreign land and into semi-slavery, to be deprived of health, liberty, sight, hope, everything?
The Cuban beggars have a dash of originality in their ideas as to the successful prosecution of their calling; we mean those "native and to the manor born." Some of them possess two and even three cadaverous dogs, taught to follow closely at their heels, as they wander about, and having the same shriveled-up, half-starved aspect as their masters. One beggar, who was quite a cripple, had his daily seat in a sort of wheelbarrow, at the corner of Paseo Street, opposite the Plaza de Isabella. This man was always accompanied by a parrot of gaudy plumage, perched familiarly on his shoulder. Now and then the cripple put some favorite bird-food between his own lips, which the parrot extracted and appropriated with such promptness as to indicate a good appetite. Another solicitor of alms, quite old and bent, had an amusing companion in a little gray squirrel, with a collar and string attached, the animal being as mischievous as a monkey, now and then hiding in one of the mendicant's several pockets, sometimes coming forth to crack and eat a nut upon his owner's shoulder. A blind beggar, of Creole nationality, sat all day long in the hot sun, on the Alameda de Paula near the Hotel San Carlos, whose companion was a chimpanzee monkey. The little half-human creature held out its hand with a piteous expression to every passer-by, and deposited whatever he received in his master's pocket. These pets serve to attract attention, if not commiseration, and we observed that the men did not beg in vain.
The acme of originality, however, was certainly reached in the case of a remarkable Creole beggar whose regular post is on the west corner of the Central Market. This man is perhaps thirty-five or forty years of age, and possesses a fine head, a handsome face, and piercing black eyes. He is of small body, and his lower limbs are so withered as to be entirely useless; so he sits with them curled up in a low, broad basket, in which he is daily brought to the spot, locomotion in his case being out of the question. He wears the cleanest of linen, and his faultless cuffs and ruffled shirt-bosom are decked with solid gold studs. He is bareheaded, but his thick black hair is carefully dressed, and parted with mathematical precision in the middle. He wears neither coat nor vest, but his lower garments are neatly adapted to his deformity, and are of broadcloth. This man does not utter a word, but extends his hand pleasantly, with an appealing look from his handsome eyes, which often elicits a silver real from the passer-by. We acknowledge to having been thus influenced more than once, in our morning walks, by a sympathy which it would be difficult to analyze. We had seen a colored dude selling canes at Nassau, but a dude mendicant, and a cripple at that, was a physical anomaly.
Introduction of Sugar-Cane. — Sugar Plantations. — Mode of Manufacture. — Slaves on the Plantations. — African Amusements. — The Grinding Season. — The Coffee Plantations. — A Floral Paradise. — Refugees from St. Domingo. — Interesting Experiments with a Mimosa. — Three Staple Productions of Cuba. — Raising Coffee and Tobacco. — Best Soils for the Tobacco. — Agricultural Possibilities. — The Cuban Fire-Fly. — A Much-Dreaded Insect. — The Ceiba Tree. — About Horses and Oxen.
The first sugar plantation established in Cuba was in 1595, nearly three hundred years since. These plantations are the least attractive in external appearance, but the most profitable pecuniarily, of all agricultural investments in the tropics, though at the present writing there is a depression in prices of sugar which has brought about a serious complication of affairs. The markets of the world have become glutted with the article, owing to the enormous over-production in Europe from the beet. The plantations devoted to the raising of the sugar-cane in Cuba spread out their extensive fields, covered with the corn-like stalks, without any relief to the eye, though here and there the graceful feathery branches of the palm are seen. The fields are divided off into squares of three or four acres each, between which a roadway is left for ox-teams to pass for gathering purposes. On some of the largest estates tramways have been laid, reaching from the several sections of the plantation to the doors of the grinding-mill. A mule, by this means, is enabled to draw as large a load as a pair of oxen on plain ground, and with much more ease and promptness.
About the houses of the owner and the overseer, graceful fruit trees, such as bananas and cocoanuts, with some flowering and fragrant plants, are grouped, forming inviting shade and producing a picturesque effect. Not far away, the low cabins of the blacks are half hidden by plantain and mango trees, surrounded by cultivated patches devoted to yams, sweet potatoes, and the like. Some of the small gardens planted by these dusky Africans showed judgment and taste in their management. Chickens and pigs, which were the private property of the negroes, were cooped up just behind the cabins. Many of these plantations employ from four to five hundred blacks, and in some instances the number will reach seven hundred on extensive estates, though the tendency of the new and improved machinery is to constantly reduce the number of hands required, and to increase the degree of intelligence necessary in those employed. Added to these employees there must also be many head of cattle,—oxen, horses, and mules. The annual running expenditure of one of these large estates will reach two hundred thousand dollars, more or less, for which outlay there is realized, under favorable circumstances, a million five hundred thousand pounds of sugar, worth, in good seasons, five cents per pound at the nearest shipping point.
There are a few of the small estates which still employ ox-power for grinding the cane, but American steam-engines have almost entirely taken the place of animal power; indeed, as we have shown, it will no longer pay to produce sugar by the primitive processes. This creates a constant demand for engineers and machinists, for whom the Cubans depend upon this country. We were told that there were not less than two hundred Bostonians at the present time thus engaged on Cuban estates. A Spaniard or Creole would as soon attempt to fly like a bird as to learn how to run a steam-engine or regulate a line of shafting. It requires more intelligence and mechanical skill, as a rule, than the most faithful slaves possess. A careful calculation shows that in return for the services of this small band of employees taken from our shores, this country takes eighty per cent. of all the sugar produced upon the island! Twelve per cent. is consumed by peninsular Spain, thus leaving but eight per cent. of this product for distribution elsewhere.
During the grinding season, which begins about the first of December and ends in April, a large, well-managed sugar plantation in Cuba is a scene of the utmost activity and most unremitting labor. Time is doubly precious during the harvesting period, for when the cane is ripe there should be no delay in expressing the juice. If left too long in the field it becomes crystallized, deteriorating both in its quality and in the amount of juice which is obtained. The oxen employed often die before the season is at an end, from overwork beneath a torrid sun. The slaves are allowed but four or five hours sleep out of the twenty-four, and being worked by watches during the night, the mill does not lie idle for an hour after it is started until the grinding season is closed. If the slaves are thus driven during this period, throughout the rest of the year their task is comparatively light, and they may sleep ten hours out of the twenty-four, if they choose. According to the Spanish slave code,—always more or less of a dead letter,—the blacks can be kept at work in Cuba only from sunrise to sunset, with an interval of two hours for repose and food in the middle of the day. But this is not regarded in the sugar harvest season, which period, after all, the slaves do not seem so much to dread, for then they are granted more privileges and are better fed, given more variety of food and many other little luxuries which they are known to prize.
On Sunday afternoons and evenings on most of the plantations the slaves are given their time, and are permitted, even in the harvest season, to amuse themselves after their own chosen fashion. On such occasions the privilege is often improved by the blacks to indulge in native African dances, crude and rude enough, but very amusing to witness. The music for the dancers is supplied by a home-made drum, and by that alone, the negro who plays it being to the lookers-on quite as much of a curiosity as those who perform the grotesque dances. This humble musician writhes, wriggles, twists himself like a corkscrew, and all the while beats time, accompanying his notes with cries and howls, reminding one of the Apache Indian when engaged in a war dance. It is astonishing to witness to what a degree of excitement this negro drummer will work himself up, often fairly frothing at the mouth. A buxom wench and her mate step forward and perform a wild, sensuous combination of movements, a sort of negro can-can, like those dancing girls one sees in India, striving to express sentiments of love, jealousy, and passion by their pantomime, though these negroes are far less refined in their gestures. When these two are exhausted, others take their place, with very similar movements. The same drummer labors all the while, perspiring copiously, and seeming to get his full share of satisfaction out of the queer performance. This is almost their only amusement, though the Chinese coolies who have been distributed upon the plantations have taught the negroes some of their queer games, one, particularly, resembling dominoes. The author saw a set of dominoes made out of native ebony wood by an African slave, which were of finer finish than machinery turns out, delicately inlaid with ivory from alligators' teeth, indicating the points upon each piece. We were told that the only tool the maker had with which to execute his delicate task was a rude jack-knife. We have said that the negroes find in the singular dance referred to their one amusement, but they sometimes engage among themselves in a game of ball, after a fashion all their own, which it would drive a Yankee base-ball player frantic to attempt to analyze.
The sugar-cane yields but one crop in a year. There are several varieties, but the Otaheitan seems to be the most generally cultivated. Between the time when enough of the cane is ripe to warrant the getting-up of steam at the grinding-mill and the time when the heat and the rain spoil its qualities, all the sugar for the season must be made; hence the necessity for great industry on the large estates. In Louisiana the grinding season lasts but about eight weeks. In Cuba it continues four months. In analyzing the sugar produced on the island and comparing it with that of the mainland,—the growth of Louisiana,—chemists could find no difference as to the quality of the true saccharine principle contained in each. The Cuban sugar, compared with beet-sugar, however, is said to yield of saccharine matter one quarter more in any given quantity.
In society the sugar planter holds a higher rank than the coffee planter, as we have already intimated; merely in the scale of wealth, however, for it requires five times the capital to carry on a sugar estate that would serve for a coffee estate. Some of the large sugar plantations have been owned and carried on by Jesuit priests—we were about to write ex-Jesuit priests, but that would not be quite correct, for once a member of this order one is bound to it for all time. The priest or acknowledged member of the organization may be forced for prudential reasons to temporarily change his occupation, but he cannot sever himself from the responsibilities which he has once voluntarily assumed. There was a time when much of the landed and fertile property of the island was controlled by the Church,—in fact owned by it, though often by very questionable titles. The original owners, under cunning pressure, perhaps on a threatened death-bed, were induced to will all to the Church; or as an act of deep penance for some crime divulged at the confessional, they yielded up all. To preserve this property and possibly to cause it to produce an income for the Church, certain priests became active planters. Extreme ecclesiastic rule, as has been said, is greatly modified in Spain and her colonies, the natural reaction of the hateful days of the Inquisition.
As the sugar plantation surpasses the coffee in wealth, so the coffee estate surpasses the sugar in every natural beauty and attractiveness. A coffee plantation, well and properly laid out, is one of the most beautiful gardens that can well be conceived of, in its variety and loveliness baffling description. An estate devoted to this purpose usually covers a hundred acres, more or less, planted in regular squares of one acre or thereabouts, intersected by broad alleys lined with palms, mangoes, bananas, oranges, and other fruits; as the coffee, unlike the sugar cane, requires partial protection from the ardor of the sun. Mingled with the trees are lemons, limes, pomegranates, Cape jasmines, and a species of wild heliotrope, fragrant as the morning. Occasionally in the wide reach of the estate there is seen a solitary, broad-spreading ceiba, in hermit-like isolation from other trees, but shading a fragrant undergrowth. Conceive of this beautiful arrangement, and then of the whole when in flower; the coffee, with its milk-white blossoms, so abundant that it seems as though a pure white cloud of snow had fallen there, and left the rest of the vegetation fresh and green. Interspersed in these fragrant alleys dividing the coffee plants is the red of the Mexican rose, the flowering pomegranate, the yellow jasmine, and the large, gaudy flower of the penon, shrouding its parent stem in a cloak of scarlet. Here too are seen clusters of the graceful yellow flag, and many wild flowers, unknown by name, entwining their tender stems about the base of the fruit trees. In short, a coffee plantation is a perfect floral paradise, full of fragrance and repose.
The writer's experience was mainly gained at and about the estate of the late Dr. Finley, a Scotch physician long resident upon the island. He had named his plantation after the custom with a fancy title, and called it Buena Esperanza. Here was seen the mignonette tree twenty feet high, full of pale yellow and green blossoms, as fragrant as is its little namesake, which we put in our conservatories. There were also fuchsias, blue, red, yellow, and green, this last hue quite new to us. The night-blooming cereus was in rank abundance, together with the flor de pascua, or Easter flower, so lovely in its cream-colored, wax-like blossom. The Indian poui, with its saffron-colored flowers, was strikingly conspicuous, and there too was that pleasant little favorite, the damask rose. It seemed as if all out-doors was an exotic garden, full of marvelous beauty. What daily miracles nature is performing under our only half-observant eyes! Behold, where the paths intersect each other, a beautiful convolvulus has entwined itself about that dead and decaying tree, clothing the gray old trunk with pale but lovely flowers; just as we deck our human dead for the grave.
It was the revolution in San Domingo which gave the first great stimulus to the culture of the coffee plant in Cuba, an enterprise which has gradually faded out in the last decade, though not absolutely obliterated. The refugees from the opposite shore sought shelter wherever they could find it among the nearest islands of the Archipelago, and large numbers made their new homes in the eastern department of Cuba, near the cities of Trinidad and Santiago. Here they turned lands which had been idle for three and four centuries into smiling gardens, and the production of the favorite berry became very profitable for a series of years, many cargoes being shipped annually to this country from the two ports just named. The production of sugar, however, has always maintained precedence, dividing the honor to-day only with tobacco in the manufactured state. Coffee does not figure to any extent in the statistics of exports. Exorbitant taxation and the cruel ravages of civil war, in the coffee districts especially, are largely the cause of the loss of an important and profitable industry.
Some amusing experiments with a mimosa or sensitive plant served to fill a leisure hour at Buena Esperanza, under our host's intelligent direction. It grew wild and luxuriantly within a few feet of the broad piazza of the country-house. Close by it was a morning-glory, which was in remarkable fullness and freshness of bloom, its gay profuseness of purple, pink, and variegated white making it indeed the glory of the morning. It was a surprise to find the mimosa of such similar habits with its neighbor, the morning-glory, regularly folding its leaves and going to sleep when the shades of evening deepened, but awaking bright and early with the first breath of the morn. So sensitive is this most curious plant, so full of nerves, as our host expressed it, that it would not only shrink instantly, like unveiled modesty, at the touch of one's hand, but even at the near approach of some special organisms, ere they had extended a hand towards it. Five persons tried the experiment before the sixth illustrated the fact that touch was not absolutely necessary to cause the leaves to shrivel up or shrink through seeming fear. Our host even intimated that when the mimosa had become familiar with a congenial person its timidity would vanish, and it could be handled gently by that individual without outraging its sensibility. Of this, however, we saw no positive evidence. If Mr. Darwin had supplemented his chapters on the monkey by a paper relating to the mimosa, he might possibly have enabled us to find a mutual confirmation in them of some fine-spun theory.
The three great staple productions of Cuba are sugar, the sweetener; coffee, the tonic; and tobacco, the narcotic of half the world. The first of these, as we have shown, is the greatest source of wealth, having also the preference as to purity and excellence over any other saccharine production. Its manufacture also yields molasses, which forms an important article of export, besides which a spirituous liquor, called aguardiente, is distilled in considerable quantities from the molasses. The cane, which grows to about the size of a large walking-stick, or well-developed cornstalk, is cut off near the ground and conveyed in the green state, though it is called ripe, to the mill, where it is crushed to a complete pulp between stones or iron rollers. After the juice is thus extracted the material left is spread out in the sun to dry, and is after being thus "cured" used for fuel beneath the steam-boilers, which afford both power to the engine and the means of boiling the juice. Lime-water is employed to neutralize any free acid as well as to separate the vegetable matter. The granulation and crystallization are effected in large flat pans, or now more commonly by centrifugal machines, rotating at great speed. It is then crushed and packed either in hogsheads or in boxes for exportation; canvas bags are also being largely employed, as they are easier to pack on board ship, and also to handle generally. A plantation is renewed when deemed necessary, by laying the green canes horizontally in the ground, when new and vigorous shoots spring up from every joint, showing the great fertility of the soil.
Coffee was introduced by the French into Martinique in 1727, but it did not make its appearance in Cuba until forty years later, or, to be exact, in 1769. The decadence of this branch of agriculture is due not only to the causes we have already named, but also to the inferior mode of cultivation adopted on the island. It was predicted some years before it commenced, and when the crash came the markets of the world were also found to be greatly overstocked with the article. While some planters introduced improved methods and economy in the conduct of their estates, others abandoned the business altogether, and turned their fields either into sugar-raising, fruits or tobacco. Precisely the same trouble was experienced in the island of Ceylon, which was at one time a great coffee-raising centre, but now its planters are many of them abandoning the business, while others adopt new seed and new methods of culture. In Cuba it was found that the plants had been grown too closely together and subjected to too close pruning, while the product, which was gathered by hand, yielded a mixture of ripe and unripe berries. In the countries where coffee originated, a very different method of harvesting is adopted. The Arabs plant the coffee-shrubs much farther apart, allow them to grow to considerable height, and gather the crop by shaking the tree, a method which secures only the ripe berries. After a few weeks, or even days, the field is gone over a second time, when the green berries have become fit to gather, and readily fall to the ground.
A coffee estate well managed, that is, combined with the rearing of fruits and vegetables intermingled, thus affording the required shade for the main crop, proves fairly profitable in Cuba to-day, and were this industry not hampered and handicapped by excessive taxes, it would attract many new planters. The coffee ripens from August to December, the nuts then becoming about the size of our cherries. The coffee-berry is the seed of the fruit, two of which are contained in each kernel, having their flat surfaces together, surrounded by a soft pulp. The ripe berries are dried by exposure to the sun's rays, then bruised in a mill, by which means the seeds are separated from the berry. They are then screened to cleanse them, after which they are bagged, and the coffee is ready for market. Some planters take great care to sort their crop by hand, in which operation the negro women become very expert. By dividing the berries into first and second qualities as to size and cleanliness, a better aggregated price is realized for the entire harvest. Not only are the coffee estates much more pleasing to the eye than the sugar plantations, but they are also much more in harmony with the feelings of the philanthropist. There is here no such exigency in getting in the harvest, leading to the overwork of the slaves, as on a sugar estate in the grinding season. Indeed, we were assured that it was quite possible to carry on a coffee estate with white labor. When, heretofore, a negro has been brought to the block in Havana, or any other Cuban city, the price realized for him has always been materially affected by the question whether he had been employed on a sugar estate in the grinding season. If he had been thus employed it was considered that his life has been unduly shortened, and he sold accordingly at a lower price. At the present time few negroes are bought or sold, as their market value has become merely nominal. There is no good reason why white labor is not suited to the coffee and tobacco estates. When the field labor upon the sugar estates is almost wholly performed by machinery, that is, the cane cut by a reaper, there will be so much less exposure to the sun that white hands, under proper management, can perform it.
Tobacco, indigenous to both Cuba and the United States, is a great source of revenue upon the island. Its cultivation involves considerable labor and expense, as the soil must be carefully chosen and prepared, and the crop is an exhaustive one to the land; but the cultivation does not require machinery, like sugar-cane, nor quite so much care as does the growing coffee. It is valued in accordance with the locality from which it comes, some sections being especially adapted to its production. That of the greatest market value, and used in the manufacture of the highest-cost cigars, is grown in the most westerly division of the island, known as the Vuelta de Abajo (Lower Valley). The whole western portion of Cuba is not by any means suitable to the production of tobacco. The region of the best tobacco is comprised within a small parallelogram of very limited extent. Beyond this, up to the meridian of Havana, the tobacco is of fine color, but of inferior aroma. From Consolacion to San Christoval the tobacco is very "hot,"—to use a local phrase,—harsh, and strong, and from San Christoval to Guanajay the quality is inferior up to Holguin y Cuba, where better tobacco is produced. The fertile valley of Los Guines produces poor smoking-tobacco, but an article excellent for the manufacture of snuff. On the banks of the Rio San Sebastian, are also some estates which produce the very best quality of tobacco. Thus it will be seen that certain properties of soil operate more directly in producing a fine grade of tobacco than any slight variation of climate. Possibly a chemical analysis of the soil of the Vuelta de Abajo would enable the intelligent cultivator to supply to other lands the ingredients wanted to make them produce equally good tobacco. A fairly marketable article, however, is grown in nearly any part of the island. Its cultivation is thought to produce a full ten per cent. upon the capital invested, the annual crop of Cuba being estimated in value at about twenty-three million dollars. The number of tobacco planters is said to be about fifteen thousand, large and small. On many tobacco farms the labor is nearly all performed by white hands. Some coolies and some negroes are also employed even on small estates.
When it is remembered that so small a portion of the land is under cultivation, and yet that Cuba exports annually a hundred million dollars worth of sugar and molasses, besides coffee, tobacco, fruits, and precious woods, it will be realized what might be accomplished, under a liberal system of government, upon this gem of the Caribbean Sea. Cacao, rice, plantains, indigo, and cotton, besides Indian corn and many nutritious vegetables, might be profitably cultivated to a much larger degree than is now done. It is a curious and remarkable fact, suggesting a striking moral, that with the inexhaustible fertility of the soil, with an endless summer that gives the laborer two and even three crops a year, agriculture generally yields in Cuba a lower percentage of profit than in our stern Northern latitudes, where the farmer has to wrench, as it were, the half-reluctant crop from the ground. It must be remembered that in Cuba there are numerous fruits and vegetables not enumerated in these pages, which do not enter into commerce, and which spring spontaneously from the fertile soil. In the possession of a thrifty population the island would be made to blossom like a rose, but as it now is, it forms only a garden growing wild, cultivated here and there in patches. None of the fine natural fruits have ever been improved by careful culture and the intelligent selection of kinds, so that in many respects they will not compare in perfection with our average strawberries, plums, pears, and peaches. Their unfulfilled possibilities remain to be developed by intelligent treatment.
The plantain, which may be said to be the bread of the common people, requires to be planted but once. The stem bears freely, like the banana of the same family, at the end of eight months, and then withering to the ground renews itself again from the roots. Sweet potatoes once planted require care only to prevent their too great luxuriance, and for this purpose a plough is passed through them before the wet season, and as many of the vines as can be freely plucked up are removed from the field. The sugar-cane, on virgin soil, will last and prove productive for twenty years. The coffee shrub or tree will bear luxuriantly for forty or fifty years. The cocoanut palm is peculiar to all tropical climates, and in Cuba, as in the Malacca Straits and India, bears an important share in sustaining the life of the people, supplying milk, shade, and material for a hundred domestic uses. It grows in luxuriant thriftiness all over the island, in high and low land, in forests, and down to the very shore washed by the Gulf Stream. It is always graceful and picturesque, imparting an oriental aspect to everything which surrounds it. It is estimated that over ten million acres of native forests, covered by valuable wood, still remain untouched by the woodman's axe, especially on and about the mountain range, which extends nearly the entire length of the island, like the vertebrae of an immense whale.
About the coffee plantations, and indeed throughout the rural portions of the country, there is a curious little insect called a cocuyo, answering in its general characteristics and nature to our firefly, though it is quadruple its size, and far the most brilliant insect of its kind known to naturalists. They float in phosphorescent clouds over the vegetation, emitting a lurid halo, like fairy torch-bearers to elfin crews. One at first sight is apt to compare them to a shower of stars. They come in multitudes immediately after the wet season sets in, prevailing more or less, however, all the year round. Their advent is always hailed with delight by the slave children, as well as by children of a larger growth. They are caught by the slaves in any desired numbers and confined in tiny cages of wicker, giving them sufficient light in their cabins at night for ordinary purposes, and forming the only artificial light permitted them. We have seen a string of the little cages containing the glittering insects hung in a slave-cabin in festoons, like colored lamps in fancy-goods stores in America. The effect of the evanescent light thus produced is very peculiar, but the number of insects employed insures a sufficiently steady effect for ordinary purposes. These little creatures are brought into Havana by young Creole children and by women, for sale to the ladies, who sometimes in the evenings wear a small cage hung to the wrist containing a few of the cocuyos, and the light thus produced is nearly equal to a small candle. Some ladies wear a belt of them at night, ingeniously fastened about the waist, others a necklace, and the effect is highly amusing. In the ballroom they are worn in the flounces of ladies' dresses, where they glisten very much like diamonds and other precious stones. Strange to say, there is a natural hook near the head of the firefly, by which it can be attached to the dress without apparent injury to it. The town ladies keep little cages of these insects as pets, feeding them on sugar, of which they appear to be immoderately fond. On the plantations, when a fresh supply is desired, one has only to wait until evening, when hundreds can be secured with a thread net at the end of a pole. By holding a cocuyo up in the out-door air for a few moments, large numbers are at once attracted to the spot. In size they are about an inch long, and a little over an eighth of an inch in breadth.
There is an insidious and much dreaded insect with which the planters have to contend on the sugar and coffee plantations, but which is not met with in the cities; namely, the red ant, a much more formidable foe than any one not acquainted with its ravages would believe. These little creatures possess a power altogether out of proportion to their insignificant size, eating into the heart of the hardest wood, neither cedar, iron-wood, nor even lignum-vitae being proof against them. They are not seen at the surface, as they never touch the outer shell of the wood whose heart they are consuming. A beam or rafter which has been attacked by them looks as good as when new, to the casual observer, until it is sounded and found to be hollow, a mere shell in fact. Even in passing from one piece of timber to another, the red ant does so by covered ways, and is thus least seen when most busy. The timbers of an entire roof have been found hollowed out and deprived entirely of their supporting strength without the presence of the insect enemy being even suspected until chance betrayed the useless character of the supports. For some unknown reason, upright timbers are rarely attacked by them, but those in a reclining or horizontal position are their choice. These destructive red ants are nearly always to be found in tropical countries, as in India, Batavia, and Sumatra, where they build mounds in the jungle half the size of the natives' cabins. They may be seen marching like an invading army in columns containing myriads across the fields of southern India.
The interior landscape, more particularly of the middle district of the island, is here and there ornamented by fine specimens of the ceiba, or silk-cotton tree, which is often seen a hundred feet in height, with stout and widespread branches, giving the idea of great firmness and stability. It sends up a massive sinewy trunk for some fifty feet, when it divides into branches covered with a dense canopy of leaves, expanded like an umbrella, and forming a perfect shade against the power of the torrid sun. The ceiba is slow of growth, but attains to great age, specimens thriving when Columbus first landed here being, as we were assured, still extant. Next to the royal palm, it is the most remarkable of all the trees which loom up beneath the brilliant purple skies of Cuba. The negroes have a superstition that the ceiba is a magic tree haunted by spirits, a singular notion also shared by the colored people of Nassau, though these two islands are so many hundreds of miles apart and have never had any natural connection. There is certainly something weird in the loneliness and solitary grandeur of the tree. Next to the palm and ceiba in beauty and picturesqueness of effect is the tamarind tree, with its deep green and delicate foliage, presenting a singular and curious aspect when thickly looped on every branch with hanging chocolate-colored pods.
Under the noonday sun, sitting in the deep shade of some lofty ceiba, one may watch with curious eyes the myriads of many-hued, broad-winged butterflies, mingling orange, crimson, and steel-blue in dazzling combinations, as they flit through the ambient atmosphere with a background of shining, evergreen foliage, the hum of insects and the carol of birds forming a soft lullaby inviting sleep. Naturalists tell us that no less than three hundred distinct species of butterflies are found in Cuba, ranging in size from a common house-fly to a humming-bird. The day dies with a suddenness almost startling, so that one passes from sunshine to starlight as if by magic. Then the cocuyo takes up the activity of insect life, flashing its miniature torches over the plantations, and peeping out from among the dense foliage, while the stars sing their evening hymn of silent praise.
The Cubans have a peculiar mode of harnessing their oxen, similar to that seen in the far East and also in some parts of Europe, as at San Sebastian, on the Bay of Biscay. A stout wooden bar is placed at the root of the horns, and so securely bound to them with thongs that the animal draws, or rather pushes, by the head and frontlet, without chafing. The Cuban oxen have a hole pierced in their nostrils, through which a metallic ring is secured, and to this a rope is attached, serving as reins with which to guide the animal. This mode of harnessing certainly seems to enable the oxen to bring more strength to bear upon the purpose for which they are employed than when the yoke is placed, as is the case with us, about the throat and shoulders. The greatest power of horned animals undoubtedly lies in the head and neck, and the question arises whether in placing the yoke on the neck and breast we do not get it out of reach of the exercise of that strength, and cause the animal to draw the load behind him by the mere force of his bodily weight and impetus. The West Indian animal is small, and often of the cream-colored breed, mild-eyed and docile, of which one sees such choice specimens in Italy and especially on the plains of Lombardy.
Not quite satisfied with the conclusion first arrived at, we gave this subject of the harnessing of oxen a second consideration, and in carefully watching the operation of the frontlet-bar we detected at least one very cruel and objectionable feature in this mode of harnessing. The animals are necessarily so bound to the bar that to move their heads one way or the other is a simple impossibility, while our mode of yoking oxen leaves them very much at liberty in the use of their heads, thus enabling them to shake off flies and other biting insects which may tease them, whereas the eyes of a Cuban ox are often seen infested with flies which he cannot get rid of while in harness, however he may be beset by them. This alone, in a climate where biting insects swarm all the year round, is a most serious objection to the frontlet-bar as compared with the yoke.
The Cuban horse deserves more than a mere mention in this connection. He is a remarkably valuable animal, especially adapted to the climate and to the service required of him. Though small and delicate of limb he can carry a great weight, and his gait is not unlike that of our pacing horses, though with much less lateral motion, and is remarkably easy for the rider, certainly forming the easiest gait combined with rapidity of motion possessed by any breed. He has great power of endurance, is a small eater, requiring no grain as a general thing, but is satisfied with the green leaves and stalks of the corn, upon which he keeps in good condition and flesh. He is a docile little creature, easily taught and easily taken care of. The Cuban horse knows no shelter except the heavens above him, for there are no barns in Cuba; but he will no more wander away from his master's door, where he stands at nearly all hours of the day with the saddle on his back, than would a favorite dog. The Montero inherits all the love of his Moorish ancestors for the horse, and never stirs abroad except upon his back. He considers himself established for life when he possesses a good horse, a sharp Toledo blade, and a pair of silver spurs. Being from childhood accustomed to the saddle, it is natural for him to be a good rider, and there are none better even in Arabia. He is apt to tell big stories about his little horse, intimating its descent direct from the Kochlani, or King Solomon's breed, and to endow it with marvelous qualities of speed and endurance. The Montero is never heard to boast of his wife, his children, or any other possession, but he does "blow" for his horse.
One of this class stood beside his pony one warm afternoon opposite the Hotel Telegrafo, where a few of the guests were seated under the broad veranda. The sleek, well-formed animal elicited some complimentary remarks, which gratified the owner, who spoke English after the style of his people. He indulged in praises of the horse, especially as to the ease and steadiness of his gait, and offered a bet that he could ride round the outside of the Campo de Marte on him and return to the spot where he stood, at ordinary speed, carrying a full glass of water without spilling a tablespoonful of the liquid; such is the ease of motion of these animals trained to what is called the paso gualtrapeo. Four corners were to be turned by the Cuban, as well as half a mile of distance accomplished. The small bet suggested was readily taken, and the full tumbler of water brought out of the house. The Cuban mounted his pony and rode round the park with the speed of a bird, easily winning his bet.
The visitor, as he proceeds inland, will frequently observe on the fronts of the dwellings attempts at representations in colors of birds and various animals, resembling anything rather than what they are apparently designed to depict. The most striking characteristics are the gaudy coloring and the remarkable size. Pigeons present the colossal appearance of ostriches, and dogs are exceedingly elephantine in their proportions. Space would not be adequate to picture horses and cattle. Especially in the suburbs of the cities this fancy may be observed, where attempts at portraying domestic scenes present some original ideas as to grouping. If such ludicrous objects were to be met with anywhere else but in Cuba they would be called caricatures. Here they are regarded with the utmost complacency, and innocently considered to be artistic and ornamental. Noticing something of the same sort in Vevay, Switzerland, not long since, the author found on inquiry that it was the incipient art effort of a Spanish Creole, who had wandered thither from the island.
The policy of the home government has been to suppress, so far as possible, all knowledge of matters in general relating to Cuba; especially to prevent the making public of any statistical information regarding the internal resources, all accounts of its current growth, prosperity, or otherwise. Rigidly-enforced rules accomplished this seclusiveness for many years, until commercial relations with the "outside barbarians" rendered this no longer possible. No official chart of Havana, its harbor, or that of any other Cuban city has ever been made public. Spain has seemed to desire to draw a curtain before this tropical jewel, lest its dazzling brightness should tempt the cupidity of some other nation. Notwithstanding this, our war department at Washington contains complete drawings of every important fortification, and charts of every important harbor in Cuba. Since 1867 we have been connected with Cuba by submarine cable, and through her with Jamaica since 1870. The local government exercises, however, strict surveillance over telegraphic communications.
The political condition of Cuba is what might be expected of a Castilian colony, ruled and governed by such a policy as prevails here. Like the home government, she presents a remarkable instance of the standstill policy, and from one of the most powerful and wealthy kingdoms of Europe, Spain has sunk to the position of the humblest and poorest. Other nations have labored and succeeded in the race of progress, while her adherence to ancient institutions and her dignified contempt for "modern innovations" have become a species of retrogression, which has placed her far below all her sister governments. The true Hidalgo spirit, which wraps itself up in an antique garb and shrugs its shoulders at the advance of other nations, still rules over the realm of Ferdinand and Isabella, while its high-roads swarm with gypsies and banditti, as tokens of decaying power.