Myths & Legends of our New Possessions & Protectorate
by Charles M. Skinner
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

Among the Antilles, as in the South Seas, the tritons blow their conchs and shake their shaggy heads, while the daughters of the deep gather, at certain seasons, on the water, or about some favorite rock, and sing. Always, in Eastern versions of the myth, there is music, save in the case of Melusina, who became a half fish only on Saturdays, when her husband was supposed not to be watching, and this music follows the myth around the world. Among the vague traditions of certain Alaskan Indians is one of an immigration from Asia, under lead of "a creature resembling a man, with long, green hair and beard, whose lower part was a fish; or, rather, each leg a fish." He charmed them so with his singing that they followed him, unconsciously, and reached America. We find in Canada the tale of a dusky Undine, a soulless water sprite, who, through love of a mortal, became human. Some of the beings of the sea were of more than human power and authority,—gods, in fact; barbarian Neptunes. Such was the Pacific god, Rau Raku, who, being entangled in a fishing-net, was lugged to the surface, sputtering tremendously. Yet he had no grudge against the fisherman. That trembling unfortunate was too small for his revenge. He would devastate the whole earth to which he had been thus unceremoniously dragged, and, bidding his captor take himself away while he made trouble, he deluged the globe until all upon it had perished, except the fish, the fisherman, and a few land animals that the sole human survivor had taken to a lofty island with him.

The mermaid of story was a damsel fair to view, until she had risen from the waves so as to show her fish-like ending. It was her habit to sit on sunny beaches, comb her golden hair with a golden comb, and sing delightfully, though her wilder sisters would perch on juts of rock on lonely islands and scream in frightening ways when a gale was coming. When the sea-maidens went ashore they sometimes met sailors and fishermen, and if they liked these strangers a frank avowal of love was made; for it is always leap year in the ocean. It was a most uncomfortable position for a mortal to be placed in, especially one who had a wife waiting for him at home, because if their addresses were rejected the mermaids were liable to throw stones, and always with fatal results; or they would brew mists, and set loose awful storms; yet, if the man who inspired this affection was not coy, and yielded to one of these slippery denizens, she dragged him under the sea forthwith, unless he could persuade her to compromise on a cave or a lonely rock as a home, for it is reputed that mortals have formally wedded them and raised amphibious families. On the Isle of Man they tell of one caught in a net, who was woman to the waist and fish as to the rest of her. As she sulked in captivity, refusing to eat or speak,—perhaps they forgot to offer raw fish for her supper,—it was decided to let her escape; and as she wriggled over the beach she was heard to tell her people (in Manx?), as they arose to greet her, that the earth-men did nothing wonderful except to throw away water in which they had boiled eggs!

The home of the mermaids was at the bottom of the deep. A diver, who said he had reached it, reported a region of clear water, lighted from below by great, white stones and pyramids of crystal. These haunts contained bowers of coral, gardens of bright sea weeds and mosses, tables and chairs of amber, floors of iridescent shell and pearls, gems strewn about the jasper grottoes,—diamonds, rubies, topazes,—and the sea people had combs and ornaments of gold. Columbus was disappointed in the mermaids that he saw in the Caribbean. They were not, to his eyes, so handsome as the romancers had alleged, nor were their voices sweet. The doubters claim that he was asleep when the mermaids appeared, and that he saw nothing but the sea cow, or manatee, which is neither tuneful nor pretty.

The Aborigines

In following the southern coast of Cuba, Columbus supposed he was working toward India. He died ignorant of the fact that he had discovered a new world, and he gave up the exploration of this island when almost in sight of open water at its western end. Of the first inhabitants of Cuba (called by some Macaca, and by others Caboi, "land of the dead," for the people killed their prisoners), little is known, for they were exterminated as a distinct race, and their few relics were disregarded as worthless or destroyed as idolatrous. It is believed, however, that they had some knowledge of the arts; they worked gold into ornaments, and copper and stone into tools and weapons, and they wore helmets of feathers, like those of the Hawaiian chiefs. Near Bayamo have been found farming tools, painted pottery, and little statuettes supposed to represent gods. Their houses were hardly more than shelters, frames of bamboo or light boughs, though they were prettily environed by walks and flowers, and their clothing—sometimes of fur, oftener of leaves and coarse cloth—was of the scantiest. Heavy dresses in a tropic country, or in a temperate country in tropic weather, are manifestly absurd.

As on the other Antilles, the people of Cuba were brown, broad, straight-haired, flat-faced, and decorated with slashes and tattooing. They were singularly mild, honest, and trusting. They were frightened by the Spanish ships, believing them to be great birds that had come down from the sky, bringing the white adventurers in their brave array; but when Columbus had sent a few beads and hawks' bells to them, they expressed their confidence and delight in a hundred ways, swam and rowed about his caravel offering fish and fruit, not in trade, but as gifts, and when a crowd of hungry sailors ashore invited themselves to a feast that had been prepared for a religious ceremony the Indians made no objection, because they could prepare one like it by another night's work. Food, indeed, was free to whoso needed it, like air and water, and no stranger needed to go hungry. While the Spaniards did little to invite their confidence, were insolent to most other people and even to one another, the Indians set an example of charity in conduct and in faith. The dons were intolerant of all religions except their own, whereas the Cubans were quick to realize that the performance of the mass was of some sacred significance, and they preserved a reverent attitude throughout a ceremony whose details they did not understand. When missionary work had fairly begun it is said that some Spaniards drove Indians into the water, forcibly baptized them, then cut their throats that they might not repent their acceptance of the true faith. In their own belief there appeared to be a purgatory and a paradise, but no hell or devil; and, as beliefs reveal the character of the people who hold them, it speaks well for the Cubans that the grewsome images invoked by certain mediaeval theologians had never been created in their more generous imaginations. When a soul left the body it had two journeys before it: one to a dismal place, where the cruel and unjust awaited; the other to a fair land, like the best of earth, where all was pleasant and peaceful; for, in spite of the warlike undertakings made necessary by irruptions of the fierce Caribs, these people held to peace as the highest good.

Of these Indians hardly a dozen are remembered by their names, but the chief Hatuey was revered among them for his courage and his military skill. He had fled from Hayti to Cuba in a vain hope of escaping his white enemy, and counselled the natives to throw all their gold into the sea, that the Spanish might not linger on their coasts. He might have been the one who ordered gold to be melted and poured down the throats of his prisoners, that for one and the last time they might have enough. The Spaniards caught him and burned him to death at Baracoa. As he stood on the logs in chains, just before the flames were applied, the friars pressed about him and earnestly advised him to become a Christian, that he might not be required to roast in hell, which would be worse than the torture he was about to endure, and which would last forever. If only he would be baptized he could go direct to heaven. "The white man's heaven?" he asked. "Yes." "Are there any Spaniards in that heaven?" "Oh, yes, many." "Then light the fire."

Columbus was the more convinced that he had reached Asia because the name of one Cuban province, Mangon, he assumed to be Mangi, a rich district of China. That its people had tails, like monkeys, was nothing against this theory; that footprints of alligators should be the tracks of griffins, which had the bodies of lions and the wings and heads of eagles, was quite in order; but most convincing of all was the discovery by an archer, who had entered a wood in search of game, of thirty men with pale faces, armed with clubs and lances, and habited in white gowns, like friars. The man fled in fear. When his comrades returned with him to find this white company, not a human being appeared to them, and, except for the chatter of birds and the clicking of land-crabs as they scuttled over the stones, the place was still. The coast Indians were understood to say that among the mountains dwelt a chief whom they called a saint, who wore a flowing robe of white and never spoke aloud, ordering his subjects by signs. This was surely Prester John, the shadowy king of a shadowy kingdom, of whom much was said and written a few centuries ago. He was declared by one author to rule a part of India and was reputed to be a Nestorian priest who had made himself king of the Naymans. Other travellers placed him in China, Persia, and Timbuctoo. In a battle with the infidel Tartars Prester John mounted a number of bronze men on horseback, each figure belching clouds of smoke from a fire of punk within, and lashed the horses against the enemy, filling them with such terror, and so veiling in smoke the dash of his flesh and blood cavalry, that his victory was easy. So, it was a great satisfaction to Columbus to think that he had reached the confines of a Christian kingdom.

While working through the thousand little islands off the southern coast of Cuba, that he called the Queen's Gardens, Columbus found added reason for believing that this was the Asiatic shore, and he hoped shortly to reach Cipango, or Japan, where pearls and precious stones abounded, and where the king abode in a palace covered with plates of gold more than an inch thick. The attempts of the Mongols to overrun the Asian islands were defeated, because the Cipangalese were invulnerable, having placed between the skin and the flesh of their right arms a little stone that made them safe against swords, arrows, clubs, and slings. The people of Cuba fell too easy a prey to Spanish blades—of both sorts—to allow a belief like this to last long.

That Columbus thought he was approaching the earthly paradise, the mountain-guarded Eden where our first parents lived, when he neared these lovely shores, inhaled the fragrance of fruits and flowers, heard the cries of birds and saw the flash of bright waters, is probable. That paradise he sought. The serpent of oppression and wrong has left it, and as America comes into her own, that paradise shall be.

The Caribs

Had it not been for the Caribs the Antilleans would have led a placid existence. Those warlike and predacious Indians would not keep the peace, nor would they allow other people to do so. Though they had their capital in Guadaloupe, they extended their military enterprises in every direction, and Cuba, Porto Rico, Hayti, Jamaica, and the lesser islands suffered from their assaults. They were trained to fight from childhood, and attained to great proficiency in arms. Being active voyagers, they had some knowledge of astronomy. When operating in the waters of a hostile country it was their custom to mask their boats with palm leaves, for in this guise they stole upon the enemy the easier. Like the red men of our plains, they painted their faces, and, indeed, they retained many of the practices common to our tribes. In their traditions they came from the North, like other strong races, their old home being among the Alleghanies, and they conquered their way from Florida to Brazil. Their tribe, they say, grew up from stones that their remote ancestors had sowed in the soil. They buried their dead in a sitting posture that they might be ready to leap up when the spirit came for them, and they faced the sunrise that they might see the day of resurrection the quicker.

In their mythology the first men came down from heaven on clouds to purify the world and make it as clean as the moon; but, while they were looking about at this untidy planet, the clouds floated back and they were left in a sorry plight, for they had brought no provisions with them. Their hunger having sharpened so as to become unbearable, they scraped up clay and baked it to make it less tough and more eatable, and were grieved when it came out of the fire as hard as stone. Then the birds and beasts had pity on them, and led them to the groves and fields where they could find fruit, nuts, maize, and yams. One tree was of such size that they chopped it with stone axes for ten months before it fell, and they ate all of it. Beneath its roots, in a cave, lived the Water Mother, who, possibly because she was angered by the destruction of the tree, released a flood that would have covered the earth had not a rock fallen into the throat of the cavern and stopped the flow. This rock had life and speech. It warned the new race that when its founders should grow old they were to expect a deluge. Until that appeared they should find in the atone their best adviser and protector, and if they would pray to it, giving a deaf ear to the wood-devils, it would cure them of illness, gray hair, and age. After a time came the monkey out of the woods, beguiling and wheedling, while at every chance, with a monkey's love of mischief, he worked at the stone, trying to dislodge it from the mouth of the cave. At last he succeeded, and out poured the flood. An old woman ran to a palm that touched the sky with its vast leaves, and climbed with feverish haste, but fright and fatigue brought her to a stop when half-way up, and she hardened to stone, thus blocking the way to all behind her, who, when they touched her, became stone likewise. Some scrambled down, splashed through the rising waters, and reached another palm tree, which they climbed to its top, and so saved their lives.

As the waters were subsiding, Amalwaka came sailing across the ocean from the east, ascended the Orinoco, carved the figures found near the head of that river, without leaving his canoe, smoothed the rugged hills and invented the tides, so that men might go from place to place on the current, but, being unable to make the Orinoco flow up stream, he sailed away again into the arch of the rising sun, guided at night by the constant star and by the tapir and Serikoai,—which is another story, told by the Arawaks, to this effect: The bride of Serikoai was seduced by the tapir god, who had first aroused her curiosity and interest by his attentions, and had finally won her love by promising to put off his swinish shape and reveal himself as a finer being than her husband. If only she would follow him to the edge of the earth, where the sky comes down, she would see that he was a god. The poor husband was crippled by the wife, that he might not follow, for she chopped off his leg as he descended an avocado pear-tree, in which he had been gathering fruit for her. He nearly bled to death, but a wandering spirit revived him and called his mother, who healed the wound with gums and helped to make a wooden leg, on which he stumped over the earth in search of his runaway wife. It is known that the aborigines performed trepanning with skill, but this is probably the earliest appearance in an American legend of a wooden leg. Though he found no foot-prints, it was easy to trace the couple, because avocados were springing up from seeds that the woman spat out as she journeyed on. At the edge of the earth he caught the tapir and killed him; yet the creature's shadow arose from the body and kept on its flight with the wife. Straightforth she leaped into the blue vast, and there she hangs, only we call her the Pleiades. The brute is the Hyades. He glares and winks with his red eye: Aldebaran. The husband is Orion, who follows the others through the sky.

The Caribs were a handsome people, and one tradition narrates the madness that afflicted a governor of Antigua, because of his jealousy of a native chief. In 1640 this dusky Paris stole the English woman and her child, and carried them to Dominica. The governor pursued. Arrived where Roseau now stands, he learned that a captive woman and her child had been landed there, and had been taken to some stronghold in the forest. Drops of blood, pricked out by cactus thorns on the march, formed a trail which he was able to follow, and believing that they betokened murder, he killed all the Caribs he encountered. His wife and boy were safe, however, except for their bleeding feet, and he found them in the otherwise deserted cabin of the chief and took them back to Antigua. The affair preyed on his mind. He began to doubt his wife, thinking she had accompanied the savage willingly, and his jealousy so increased that his friends had to secrete her, to save her from his wrath. He probably recovered his senses in time.

The Spaniards chased the Caribs out of several of the islands. That of Grenada terminates on the north in a tall cliff called Le Morne des Sauteurs, over which the white men compelled the flying Indians to leap to their death. Not one Carib was left alive on this island.

Secret Enemies in the Hills

The brutalities of the Spaniards who first occupied the West Indies would seem incredible if so many of them had not continued to our own day. It is estimated that half of the natives of Porto Rico were killed, and within sixty or seventy years after the seizure of Cuba its populace of three hundred thousand had been destroyed or removed by war, murder, slavery, hunting with blood-hounds, imported vices and diseases, flight and forced emigration. These natives are said to have been a peaceful and happy race, practised in the simpler arts, observing the moralities better than their oppressors, holding a faith in one god—a god of goodness, not of hate—and in the immortality of the soul, and abstaining from useless forms and ceremonies. They held that when the soul had left the body it went into the woods and hills or abode in caves, and took its food and drink as in the flesh. When a man calls out in a solitary place among the mountains and an answering voice comes back, it is not an echo, but a wandering soul that speaks.

Even the relics of these folk—the Cubans or Siboneyes—have vanished, save in the instance of the temple remains near Cobre, and an occasional caney or mound of the dead, a truncated cone of earth and broken stones. Some fossil skeletons found in caves, and of an alleged age of fifty thousand years, denote an ancient race of large, strong people. There are other skeletons of Siboneyes, Chinese, and negroes in the caves,—victims of herding, slavery, fever, cruelty, and suicide. There is little doubt that of the aboriginal stock not a man remains. Yet there are stories of strange people who were seen by hunters and explorers among the mountains, or who peered out of the jungle at the villagers and planters and were gone again, without track or sound,—people with swarthy faces, sinewy forms, long black hair, decorations of coral shells and feathers, and bracelets, armlets, and anklets of gold. Almost from the first, the conduct of the Spaniard toward his enemies and dependents was such as to earn for him a permanent hate; so, when his cruelty had been practised, and the futility of opposing arms against his heavy weapons and his coat of steel had been proved, it was natural that those who escaped him should keep as far from reach as possible, and it is idle to suppose that he traversed the seven hundred and thirty miles of Cuba's length, whipping every forest and climbing every mountain, for no more than the pleasure of killing. Negro slavery was introduced into the New World before its existence had been known in Spain for a century, and although the black men have usually been tractable, the severities of their masters led to many revolts and to the organization of bands for retaliation. These bands often degenerated, and during this century the Spanish Antilles have been troubled by companies of beggars and outlaws, mostly blacks and half-breeds, who have robbed and murdered in the dark, run off stock from the farms, burned houses and shops, and because of their secret and cowardly methods have been feared as much as the Spaniards were hated.

The Nanigos originally formed a secret order of negroes, banded for protection against unkind slave-owners and overseers, but feeling their power, and being swayed by passion and superstition, they constituted, after a time, a body correspondent to the voodoos, or wizards, of our Gulf States. With hideous incantations, with mad dances, with obscene songs, with the slaughter of animals, with oaths on an altar and crucifix, they invoked illness, ruin, and death on their enemies. In time they gained accessions to their fraternity from Spanish residents,—thieves, vagrants, deserters from the army, the half-witted and wrong-hearted outcasts from the towns,—and the fantastic ceremonies of the jungle came to mean something more to the purpose of mischief, for the newer Nanigos had more skill and courage than the slaves, and were familiar with more sins. To enter this order it was required of the candidate that he steal a cock, kill it, and drink the warm blood. A darker tale is that they were required to drink human blood. In Havana this part of the initiation was performed on the Campo Marti. The man's right nostril was pierced, and a skull and crossbones branded on his chest. It was then expected of him that within fifteen days he would kill an official or a policeman, a white, black, or yellow marble, drawn by chance from a globe, deciding whether he was to slay a white man, negro, or mulatto. When he had, by this crime, attained to full membership, a little shield was given to him which he might wear beneath his coat, and which was decorated with the device of a skull and bones. For every murder he committed a red stitch was put in at the edge of the skull. Once a month, in the dark of the moon, the Nanigos paraded the streets of the towns, their naked forms painted fantastically, their faces ghastly with flour, tramping and leaping to the thud of drums and clash of cymbals, yelling defiance to the military, brandishing knives and firing pistols. It was a kind of thing that in an American city could have happened for one consecutive time, but no more. In Havana the Spaniards were terrorized. The police refused to make arrests, lest they should fall victims to the outlaws. One judge who refused to liberate an assassin was slain in his own house by his servant.

As a partial revenge on the Cubans for wishing liberty the Spanish captains-general have at times pardoned some hundreds of these rascals and set them free to prey on the people; while, in retaliation, the insurgents adopted some of the methods of the Nanigos and carried on a guerilla warfare that neither troops nor trochas could abate. Many are these more or less bold spirits of the hills who are celebrated in inland stories: aborigines, Frenchmen, Creoles, mulattoes, who have gathered bands of reckless fellows about them from time to time and raided the Spaniard, flouting him in his strongholds, pillaging from his farms, striking him, hip and thigh, and making off to the woods before he knew how or by whom he had been struck. Sometimes even the name of the guerilla has been forgotten, but the tradition remains of a predecessor of Lopez, Gomez, and Garcia, who aided the English before Havana in 1762. In that year Lord Albemarle took the town with two hundred ships and fourteen thousand soldiers, beating a Spanish army of almost double that size, though it was covered by heavy walls and well provided with artillery. It took two months to reduce the city.

During one of the land operations the red-coats lost themselves in a dense wood, and were in considerable peril from bodies of Spaniards who were almost within speaking distance. To advance or to retreat was an equal risk. As the column was halted, pending a debate and a reconnoissance, there was a rustle in a clump of bushes beside which the colonel was standing; then, as every sword was drawn and a row of muskets held ready, a tall man bounded into the space, laid his finger on his lip to enforce silence, and, beckoning all to follow, crept on stealthily through the chaparral. He was a man advanced in years, a long white beard flowed over his chest, yet he was lithe and quick, and his look and manner were those of one who lives in the open and in frequent danger. He spoke not a word, but after a time drew himself erect and pointed before him. He had led the English to the rear of one of the Spanish batteries. The colonel, who had at first regarded him with doubt, as a lunatic or a false guide, ordered his men to attack, and after a short fight he returned to his lines with prisoners and trophies of victory. He sought in all directions for the old man, to thank him, but the jungle had swallowed him, and he was never seen again.

Sacred Shrines

Cuba has many shrines containing evidences of divine blessing, and some of these are of wide renown. When the image of our Lady of Charity was found in Nipe Bay it was delivered to the priests of Cobre, the centre of the copper-mining industry, and they erected a church above it. The statue is fifteen inches high, and is seemingly carved from gold. A splendid shrine has been made as a setting, and for years it has been the object of pilgrimages during the Lady's festival in September. Those who ask for special favors, such as the cure of lameness and blindness, ascend the long flight of steps before the statue on their knees. The figure was found in 1627 by two Indians and a Creole boy who were crossing the bay at dawn in a search for salt. It appeared to them as a white body rising from the water, but as they approached it revealed itself as the image of the Virgin, the holy child on her left arm, a golden cross in her right hand. The board on which it stood was inscribed, "I am the Virgin of Charity." After it had been shown in the fold at Verajagua and venerated by the multitude it was placed in a chapel, a number of priests leading the march with a pomp and joy of banners, while bells and guns signalized its progress. The Virgin was dissatisfied, however, with the lack of splendor in her shrine and with the site on which the chapel had been placed. She told her displeasure to a girl named Apolonia, while she burned pale lights on a hill above the mines, to mark the place on which she wished her church to be erected. Her request was heeded so soon as the needed funds could be collected. It was generally believed that the statue was given by Ojeda to a native chief who, afraid of the enmity of his people as a result of accepting a gift from a treacherous and hated race, or, more reasonably, afraid that the Spaniards would kill him for the sake of the gold that adorned it, set it afloat in the bay. A thief despoiled it of thirty thousand dollars' worth of jewels after the American occupation.

This ambulatory practice of sacred images is not uncommon, and a similar instance is recorded in Costa Rica, where in 1643 the state had been thrown into a panic by the devil, who lives in the volcano of Turrialba, when he is at home, and who generally was at home in those days, for he seized upon every wayfarer who ventured on the peak. General joy was therefore felt at the discovery of a Madonna by a peasant woman at Cartago. She carried it to her hut, but it was dissatisfied and ran away—twice—three times. The village priest then took it and put it under lock and key in his house. Again it ran away. It was carried to church in procession, and it ran away again. Then the priest laid a heavy assessment on his flock for silk and gold and emeralds with which to deck the image, and this concession having been made to a feminine fondness for appearance, the statue has remained patiently on its pedestal ever since. One of the treasures of the Church of Mercy, Havana, is a painting of the cross, with a woman seated on one arm of it, holding a child. Spanish soldiers and proud-looking Indians are gathered about the emblem. The origin of the picture is involved in doubt, but it was installed in recognition of an appearance vouchsafed by the Virgin to Columbus at Cerro de la Vega, in presence of the Indians. The natives, alarmed at this vision in the air, and associating it—justly, as it fell out—with calamity, discharged their arrows at it, and were still more frightened when their darts passed through the apparition without causing a flow of blood. This onslaught put the Spaniards into an instant rage, and, encouraged by the Virgin's smiles, they fell upon the heathen with sword and musketoon and stamped them out of existence.

Some of these supernatural appearances had so occult a purpose that it has never been fathomed. At Daiquiri, for example, where the American troops landed in the late war, a native reported to the wondering community that while walking through the wood he met a tall, shaggy stranger, who looked as though he might have been one of the fisherman disciples, and who pointed to the earth with an imperious gesture. So soon as the Cuban had looked down the tall man melted into air. On the ground was the print of the face of Christ. A stone was placed on the spot to mark the miracle.

When the fiery Ojeda set out on his several voyages of discovery and adventure,—and no man ever had more excitement and tribulation,—he carried in his knapsack a small painting of the Virgin, the work of a Fleming of some artistic consequence. During his halts in the jungle it was his custom to affix this picture to a tree, say his prayers before it, receive spiritual assurance of protection, then, grasping sword and buckler, to undertake the slaughter of the natives with fresh alacrity and cheer. So confident was he in his heavenly guard that he exposed himself recklessly in fight, and the Indians were fain to believe him deathless, until one of their arrows pierced his leg. If this injured his confidence it did not stint his courage. He ordered his surgeon to burn the leg with hot irons, threatening to hang him if he refused, for he fancied that the arrow was poisoned. When wrecked on the south coast of Cuba with seventy varlets, who had no concern for exploration and much for booty, he struck out bravely for the east end of the island, floundering through marshes and breaking his way through tangles of vegetation, the company living for several days on a few pounds of raw roots, moldy cassava, and cheese, and at last breaking down in despair. In thirty days they had crossed ninety miles of morass, and were too feeble to go farther. Ojeda set up his picture for the last time and besought the thirty-five cut-throats who survived to pray to it also, assuring the Virgin that if she would only guide them through their peril this time he would make a chapel for her in the first village he might reach.

In answer to this prayer a path was disclosed that led them to dry ground, and they soon arrived at the hamlet of Cuebas, where the natives received them with every kindness, and went to the marsh to rescue such of the party as had been abandoned but were still alive. These rascals afterward reached Jamaica, where some were hanged for their various murders and sea-robberies, while others re-enlisted in various freebooting enterprises. Ojeda kept his promise. He explained to the chief at Cuebas the principal points in the Christian faith, built a little oratory in the village, and placed the picture above the altar, with orders that the Indians should always treat it with reverence. Though they did not comprehend the relation of the painting to the white man's religion, they saw from the demeanor of Ojeda and his friends that it was a thing of value and might avert hoodos. Therefore it was attired and cared for with as much assiduity as if it had been consigned to a Spanish cathedral, and although the Indians had not been Christianized, they decorated the oratory, overhung its walls with sacrifices, while at stated intervals they sang and danced before it. When Father Las Casas tried to get this picture away from them, afterward, it was hidden in the forest until he had passed on. Ojeda reformed, killed several of his associates who had attempted his life, turned monk, and was buried under the door-stone of his monastery, that the populace might trample on his pride.


Tobacco suggests Cuba, or Cuba more than suggests tobacco. Havana cigars are the synonym for excellence, and it was on this island that the native American was first seen with a cigar in his mouth. It was not much like the cigars of our day, for it consisted of loose leaves folded in a corn-husk, as a cigarette is wrapped in paper. It amazed the Spaniards as much to see these dusky citizens eating fire and breathing smoke as it astonished the Filipinos when the Spaniards, having learned the trick, and having landed on their islands, proceeded to swallow flame and utter smoke in the same fashion,—a proceeding which convinced the people of the Philippines that the strangers were gods. The white adventurers never found the palace of Cubanacan, whose gates were gold and whose robes were stiff with gems, but they found the soothing and mischievous plant that was eventually to create more wealth for them than the spoil of half a dozen such palaces. The Cuban word for this plant was cohiba. The word tobago, which we have turned into tobacco, was applied to a curious pipe used by the Antilleans, which had a double or Y-shaped stem for inserting into the nostrils, the single stem being held over a heap of burning leaf. The island of Tobago was so named because its explorers thought its outline to resemble that of the pipe.

In one form or another the use of the weed was prevalent throughout the Americas. Montezuma had his pipe after dinner, and rinsed his mouth with perfume. For medicinal purposes snuff was taken through a tube of bamboo, and tobacco leaves were chewed. The practice of chewing also obtained to a slight extent among the natives as a stay against hunger, and they are said to have indulged it in long and exhaustive marches against an enemy. They would chew in battle, because in a fight at close range they tried to squirt the juice into the eyes of their foemen and blind them. The herb was taken internally as a tea for medicinal reasons, was used as a plaster, and was valued as a charm. Francisco Fernandez took it to Europe; Drake and Raleigh introduced it in England, and though its use was regarded as a sin, to be checked not merely by royal "counterblasts" and by edicts like that of William the Testy, but by laws prescribing torture, exile, whipping, and even death, it was not long in reaching the uttermost parts of the earth.

Men of all races and conditions incline to the tradition of the Susquehannas, that the plant was the gift of a benevolent spirit. In their account this manitou had descended to eat meat, which they had offered to her in a time of famine. As she was about to go back to the skies she thanked them for their kindness, and bade them return to the spot in thirteen months. They did so, and found maize growing where her right hand had rested, beans at her left, and tobacco where she had been seated.

The Indians of Guiana say that tobacco was given by a sea-goddess to a man who was begging the gods to do something for him,—he didn't know exactly what; he would merely like to have somebody do something for him on general principles. As a divine gift, therefore, it was used in certain of the rites of the Indians, and the man who wished to go into a trance and see visions would starve for a couple of days, then drink tobacco water. He generally saw the visions,—if he lived. In some islands the priests inhaled the smoke of a burning powder and thereupon fell into a stupor or a frenzy in which they talked with the dead. Was this the smoke of tobacco, plus a little abandon, a little falsehood, a little enthusiasm? Its enemies in King James's time would have said that the smokers deserved not merely to talk with the dead, but to join them.

The Two Skeletons of Columbus

Following the return of the vanquished army of Spain to its home country was another solemn voyage, undertaken for the transfer of the bones of Christopher Columbus from the world he had discovered to the land that grudgingly, cautiously permitted him to discover it. Spain claimed all the benefits that arose from his knowledge, his bravery, his skill, his energy, and his enthusiasm, and rewarded his years of service with dismissal from office and confinement in chains as a prisoner, but now it repented, and wished to house his unwitting relics in state. Once before these bones had crossed the sea. After the death of the great navigator, in Valladolid, Spain, in 1506, his body remained in that city for seven years. Then it was taken to Seville and placed in Las Cuevas monastery with that of his son, Diego. In 1536 both bodies were exhumed and sent to Santo Domingo, or Hispaniola, an island that Columbus appeared to hold in a warmer liking than either of the equally picturesque, fertile, and friendly islands of Cuba, Porto Rico, or Jamaica. In the quaint old cathedral of Santo Domingo, built in 1514, the bodies of the great admiral, his son, and also his grandson, Louis, first Duke of Veragua, rested for more than a century without disturbance.

On the appearance of the English fleet, however, in 1655, the archbishop was so fearful of a raid on the church and the theft of the bodies that he ordered them to be hidden in the earth. During the years in which they remained so covered the exact burial-place of the admiral may have been forgotten, or, it may be, as several people allege, that the San Dominicans tricked the Spaniards when, in 1795, the latter gave their island to France and carried with them to Havana the supposed skeleton of Columbus. Bones of somebody they certainly did take, but it is no uncommon belief in the Antilles that the monks of Santo Domingo had hidden the precious ones and sent to the monks of Havana the bones of the son, Diego, albeit a monument was erected to the memory and virtues of the great Columbus in Havana cathedral.

In 1878 the old church in Santo Domingo was undergoing repair when the workmen came upon a leaden box containing the undoubted remains of the first Duke of Veragua. Breaking through the wall of the vault they found themselves in a larger one, and here was a box two feet long, enclosing a skull, bones, dust, jewelry, and a silver plate bearing the words "C. Colon," and on the end of the box, according to some witnesses, the letters "C. C. A.," meaning Christopher Columbus, Admiral (the English initials being the same as for the name and title in Spanish). A more circumstantial account places the time of this rediscovery in 1867, and says that a musket-ball was the only object found in the little coffin, while the silver plate on the lid was thus inscribed, "Una pt. de los restos del Primar Alm. to Du Christobal Colon." The Santo Dominicans claim their right to the relics on the ground that in his life the Spanish misused the discoverer, though his grief was not deep enough to justify the ancient rumor of his electing to be buried with the chains in which he was carried back to Spain. Meantime Seville is to build a monument, and Santo Domingo is putting up another, each city claiming to have his only real skeleton.

Obeah Witches

From the earliest days of Spanish occupancy the Antilles have been the haunt of strange creatures. Mermen have sung in their waters, witches and wizards have perplexed their villages, spirits and fiends have dwelt among their woods. Everybody fears the jumbie, or evil spirit that walks the night; and the duppy, the rolling calf, the ghost of the murdered one; all pray that they may never meet the diablesse, the beautiful negress with glittering eyes, who passes silently through fields where people are at work, and smiling on any one of them compels him to follow her,—where? He never returns. Anansi (grotesquely disguised sometimes as Aunt Nancy) is a hairy old man with claws, who outwits the lesser creatures, as Br'er Rabbit does. To him and his familiars are attributed all manner of queer tales, one of which, from Jamaica, may be quoted as an illustration:

Sarah Winyan, an orphan of ten, lived with her aunt, while her two brothers kept house by themselves a mile or two away. This aunt was an Obeah witch, the duppy, or devil ghost, that was her familiar, appearing as a great black dog that she called Tiger. Sarah stood between this old woman and a little property, and after finding that the child endured her abuse with more or less equanimity and was not likely to die, she told her that she was too poor to support her any longer, and she must go. Sarah sat on a stone before the house, wondering how she could make a living, and all the time sang mournfully. A racket as of some heavy creature plunging about in the bushes aroused her with a start and she scrambled into a tree. It was Tiger who had been making the disturbance. He told her to descend at once. If she would go with him peacefully, and would be his servant, all would be well, but if she refused he would gnaw the tree down and tear her into a thousand pieces. He showed his double row of teeth, like daggers, whereupon Sarah immediately descended. As she walked beside him to his lair she sang low, in the hope of being heard and rescued. It was well that she did so, for her brothers, who were hunting in the wood, recognized her voice and softly followed. Peering in at the cave where Tiger made his home, they saw him sleeping soundly with his head in Sarah's lap. Cautiously, slowly, she drew away, leaving a block of wood for his head to rest upon, and crept out of the cavern. Then the boys entered, and with their guns blew the head of the beast into bits, cut his body into four parts, buried them at the north, south, east and west edges of the wood; then killed the wicked aunt. And since that day dogs have been subject to men.

The evil eye is not uncommon in the Antilles. It blights the lives of children, and it is one of the worst of fates to be "overlooked" by an Obeah man possessing it. Higes, or witches, too, are seen, who take off their skins, and in that state of extra-nudity go about looking for children, whose blood they suck, like vampires. Lockjaw is caused by this loss of blood. There is a three-footed horse, also, that gallops about the country roads when it has come freshly out of hell and is looking for victims it can eat. If it halts before a house, that stop means death to somebody within, and the peculiar sound made by its three hoofs tells what has passed. It is not well to look, because the creature has an eye in the centre of its forehead that flashes fire. One who meets it is so fascinated by this blazing eye that he cannot look away. He stares and stares; presently paralysis creeps over him, and in a little while he falls dead. Sometimes a creature is seen riding on this horse,—a man with a blue face, like that of a corpse, and with that face turned toward the tail. Related, in tradition, to the horse was the king-snake of Carib myth, a frightful creature that wore a brilliant stone in its head, which it usually concealed with a lid, like that of the eye, but which it would uncover when it went to a river to drink, or played about the hills. Whoever looked on this dazzling stone would lose his sight on the instant.

The Obeah man has an hereditary power that comes to him in advanced age, and that, when at its strongest, enables him to send an evil spirit into any object he pleases. Not only do the people believe in him, but he has the fullest faith in himself. When he boils a witch broth of scorpions' blood, toads' heads, snake bellies, spider poison, and certain herbs picked by moonlight (an actual mixture used by Obeah witches),—boils it over a fire of dead men's bones, between midnight and dawn,—he has no more doubt of its power to harm than the physician doubts the power of his quinine and antipyrin for good.

A Cuban planter who suspected one of his older slaves of being an Obeah man determined to punish him if he were found guilty, and to suppress the diabolism attending the midnight meetings. Watching his chance, he followed his slaves into the wood, peeped through the crevices of the deserted hut which they had entered to perform their fantastic rites, saw their mad dance, when, stripped and decorated with beads, shells, and feathers, they leaped about with torches in their hands; then saw his suspected slave enter through a back door, his black skin painted to represent a skeleton. The old man held up a fat toad, which, he said, was his familiar, and the company began to worship it with grotesque and obscene ceremonies. Though he felt a thrill of disgust and even a dim sense of fear at the spectacle, the planter broke in at the door and confronted the Obeah man. Had he ordered the old fellow to do any given task about his house or grounds in the daytime, that order would have been obeyed. What was the planter's astonishment, therefore, when the slave calmly disregarded his command to return to quarters, and bade his master leave the place at once and cease to disturb the meeting, or prepare for a great misfortune. Enraged, and fearing lest this defiance might encourage the other slaves to mutiny, the master shot the old man dead. A few days later the planter's wife died while seated at the table. A week after his daughter died, a seeming victim of poison. All the latent superstition in his nature having been aroused, he sought out another Obeah man, to beg that he would intercede with the powers of darkness, but the wizard was stern. He told him that the slave he had killed was the most powerful master of spirits in the country, and that nothing could stay the revenges of fate. When the planter reached his home he found a letter there announcing the death of his only son in Paris.

The Matanzas Obeah Woman

On a hillock near Matanzas, with a ragged wood behind it, stood for many years an unkempt cottage. In our land we should hardly dignify it by such a name. We would call it, rather, a hovel. Some rotting timbers of it may still be left, for the black people who live thereabout keep away, especially at night, believing that the hillock is a resort of spirits. Yet not many of them remember the incident that put this unpleasant fame upon it, for—that was back in the slavery days. The brutal O'Donnell was governor-general then. He found Cuba in its usual state of sullen tranquillity, and no chance seemed to offer by which he could make a name for himself, so he magnified every village wrangle into an insurrection. It looked well in his reports when he set forth the skill and ease with which he had suppressed the uprisings, and, as he did not scruple to take life in punishment for slight offences, nor to retaliate on a community for the misconduct of a single member of it, he almost created the revolution that he described to his home government. The merest murmur, the merest shadow was enough to take him to the scene of an alleged outbreak, and he would cause slaves to be whipped until they were ready to confess anything.

A black boy in Matanzas, arrested on suspicion of inciting to rebellion, was condemned to seven hundred blows with the lash. At the end of the flogging, being still alive, he was shot, at O'Donnell's order. He would confess nothing, because he had nothing to confess. This boy had been brought up in a well-to-do Spanish family, and was the play-mate, the friend, of the son of that family, rather than his slave. The white boy begged for the life of his associate, the family implored mercy, and asked for at least a trial, but the governor-general would not listen to them, and after the shooting the white boy became insane with shock and grief. Thus much of the legend is declared to be fact.

It was the mother of the black boy who lived in this cabin outside of the town. She had also been a slave until the Spanish family, giving up its plantation, moved into the city, sold the younger and stronger of their human properties, and set free the elderly and rheumatic, taking with them only a couple of servants and the boy, who went with his mother's consent, for she knew he would be cared for, and she could see him often, the relation between slave and owner, being more commonly affectionate than otherwise. At its best, slavery is morally benumbing to the enslaved, destructive of the finer feelings, and when the old woman learned of her son's death,—and such a death—she did not go mad, as his playfellow had done. She lamented loudly, she said many prayers, she accepted condolences with seeming gratitude, but the tears had ceased to flow ere many weeks, and she was seen to smile when her old mistress, whose affliction was indeed the heavier, had called on her in her cabin, no doubt feeling as much in need of her servant's sympathy as the servant felt of the creature comforts she took to her.

Yet deep in Maumee Nina's nature a change had taken place. She did not know it herself for many months. Her loss had not affected her conduct or appearance greatly, yet her heart had hardened under it and she began to look upon the world with a different eye. She cared less for her friends, and went to church less often,—a suspicious circumstance, for when a negro failed to go to mass, and kept away from confession, it was surely because he had something mischievous to confess. The rumor got about that Maumee Nina had become an Obeah woman,—a voodoo worker, a witch. It is not unlikely that the accusation inspired her to live down to it. Not only were witches held in respect and fear, but she might be able, through evil arts, to plague the race that had worked her husband to death in the mines, and now had killed her only son. She kept still more at home, brooding, planning, yielding farther and farther to the evil suggestions that her repute as a voodoo priestess offered to her, yet keeping one place in her heart even warmer than before,—the place filled by her daughter, Juanita.

This girl of fifteen or sixteen was not black, like her mother. She was a handsome mulatto. In a country where relations are so easily established without marriage, and where marriage is so difficult and has so little force, the fatherhood of many children is in doubt. If Juanita knew her father's name she was not known to him. It mattered little. The old woman intended to bring her up as a lady,—that is, to qualify her for a place as waiting-maid in the house of some good family; so she made many sacrifices on her account, clothing her vividly, requiring less work of her than she should have done, and even, it was said, paying money to have reading taught to her, and that was an accomplishment, indeed.

Considering the pains and self-denials that the rearing of this child incurred, it was a trifle inconsistent that Maumee Nina should have opposed the friendly advances of gallants from the town. She was not of a class that is wont to consider the etiquette of such attentions, nor would she have refused to give her daughter in marriage to any Cuban. It was that her feeling toward the Spaniards was deepening into hate, and it rejoiced her to learn that a revolution was really intended. By her native shrewdness she was able to do something for her people's cause. Whenever a young negro went to her to have his fortune told,—and from this art she began to realize a steady income,—she managed to hint at his future greatness as a military leader, his gains in the loot of Spanish camps, his prowess in bush-fighting when hostilities should really have begun.

In this way she really incited a number of the ambitious, the quarrelsome, and the greedy to enlist in the schemes for Cuba's liberation. Nanigo meetings were held in and near her house; there were wild dances and uncanny ceremonies, sacrificing of animals in the moonlight, baptisms of blood, weird chants and responses, and crime increased in the town. All this being reported to the military the guard lines were extended and a squadron was posted at a house not over a mile from Maumee Nina's, with Lieutenant Fernandez in command. Fernandez was a dashing fellow, with swarthy countenance, moustachios that bristled upward, close-trimmed hair and beard, a laughing, pleasure-loving eye, and he wore a trig uniform that set off his compact shape to advantage. Old Nina heard, though it was not true, probably, that he had carried out the order of O'Donnell for the shooting of her boy. Naturally he was the last man she could wish to see, and she made no secret of her dislike when, on returning to her home from a visit to Matanzas, she found this young officer seated on a chair before her door, twirling his moustache and gayly chatting with her daughter. She instantly ordered the girl to go indoors, and bade the lieutenant pack off about his business. Being an easy-going fellow, with no dislike for the people among whom the fortunes of his calling had cast him, and with a strong fondness for pretty maids, the young man deprecated the anger of the woman, but finding, after some persiflage, that it was of small use to try to make friends with her, he marched away toward his quarters, trolling a lively air and drumming with his fingers on his sword-hilt. On the next evening he was at Maumee Nina's again, and before the very nose of that indignant dame chaffed her daughter, whom he also chucked under the chin; and he gazed long and searchingly at a couple of low-browed, shifty-looking blacks who were talking with the old woman when he entered.

"Who are these fellows?" he demanded.

"What right have you, senor lieutenant, to question me about my guests, in my own house?" replied Nina. "It is enough that they were invited, and you were not."

The lieutenant glanced sharply at Juanita. She looked at the shabby fellows for an instant, smiled contemptuously, and gave her head a saucy fling. The officer's good-nature was restored in a moment. "Give me a calabash of water from that spring of yours, your grace, and I'll take myself off," said he. "But, mind, there are to be no more dances here,—no more voodoo practice."

Old Nina left the room grumbling to herself, while Fernandez talked with Juanita, quite disregarding the sour and silent pair of black men. As he glanced through a crack in the timbers of the house he saw the old woman raise a gourd of water, wave her hand above it three times, mutter, and shake her head. Then she drew from her pocket a tiny object and dropped it in the water, stirring it around and around, as if to dissolve it. There was a quiet smile on the lieutenant's face as he received the calabash from the old woman's hand.

"In the old days, senora," he said, "it was the way to sweeten the drink of a cavalier by getting the fairest lady of the house to sip from it before he drank. Senora Juanita, you will take a little from this shell, and I will then drink to your eyes."

Juanita had taken the calabash and had lifted it to her mouth, when Nina sprang forward and struck it to the floor. The lieutenant looked steadily into the face of the old woman. Her eyes, at first expressing fear, then anger, dropped under his gaze. "I thought so," he said, calmly, and left the house without a backward look or another word.

Late that night a subaltern, who had called on Fernandez to carry a report to headquarters, set off alone in the direction of the city. When half a mile on his way a man suddenly confronted him and asked him for a light. He promptly offered his cigar. Puffing fiercely the stranger created a glow, and in the shadow behind it he eagerly scanned the face of the soldier. He then returned the stump, saying, "Pass on, sir. You are not he I seek. Your cigar has saved your life." There was a click, as of a knife thrust into its sheath, and the stranger was gone.

Fernandez heard of this and drew an inference, but it did not deter him from another visit to the Obeah woman's house next evening. The old woman was away. Juanita was there alone. Truly, the girl was fair, her eye was merry, she had white teeth and a tempting lip; moreover, she appeared by no means indifferent to the young officer. In ten minutes they were talking pleasantly, confidently, and Fernandez held the maiden's hand.

The hours went by without any one there to take account of them. It was a fair and quiet night, except for the queer and persistent call of some insects that seemed always to be drawing nearer to the house. Faint now came the sound of the clock in Matanzas striking twelve. As if it were a signal to the dead, shadows appeared about the house of the Obeah woman, creeping, nodding, motioning, moving toward the door. One stood close beside it and struck it twice, loudly, with a metal implement that rang sharply; then it waited. Steps were heard inside,—the steps of a man in military boots: Fernandez. There was a swish of steel, too, like a sword whipped out of its scabbard, but almost at the instant when this was heard the door was opened. A blow, a faint cry, a fall, a hurry of steps in the grass; then a light. Fernandez held it. A long, agonized scream quavered through the darkness, and Maumee Nina, with blood on her hands, fell prone on the body of her daughter, her Juanita, lying there on the earth with a knife in her heart.

How Havana Got its Market

Among the Spanish governors of Cuba, some of whom managed by strict economy to save a million dollars out of a salary of forty thousand dollars,—men of Weyler's stamp,—it is pleasant to know of one or two who really had the good of the island at heart. Such was the honest Blanco, and such was Tacon, to whom Havana owes much of its beauty and architectural character. He did what he could to abolish brigandage, which under preceding administrations had become common. He organized a force of night watchmen; he dealt with offenders according to their deserts, and if at times he was too severe it was because he believed that a lesson in the impartiality of justice was needed by certain favored classes. He had a Latin's love of the sensational and spectacular, though in conduct, rather than in appearance, and in these days some of his acts would be set down to a love of self-advertising. As they had their effect, those who profited by increased safety could afford to be incurious of reasons. He startled the populace on the very day he landed. Cuba had been overrun with bandits, some masquerading as insurgents, while others prowled through the towns cutting throats in the shadow of the church. Cries of "Stop thief!" and "Murder!" were common at midday. More than one hundred people had been stabbed to death before the Chapel of Our Lord of the Good Death. Police and soldiery were terrorized, and no man cheerfully went through the side streets after dark. Startling depravity was instanced. Jose Ibarra, a mulatto, had killed seventeen people before he was hanged at the age of seventeen. It was supposed that Tacon would arrive with a flourish of trumpets and would try to impress the public. The Spanish army was represented at the landing-place by generals and colonels bedizened with bullion and buttons; there were troops with silken flags and glittering sabres and bayonets; there was a copious exhibit of bunting; society was there in carriages, with liveried footmen and outriders; foreign diplomats were in uniform, as if to meet royalty, and the clergy had a place of honor. The boat touched the pier. A small man in civilian dress walked smartly to the land. He had a riding-whip in his hand,—symbol of his rule: for this was Tacon, and within a month he was to whip crime into its dens and make the capital of Cuba safe. His first order carried consternation to the advocates of fuss and feathers. It was to dismiss the parade, remove the decorations, send the police to their posts, and declare Havana in a state of siege. This was startling, but it gratified and assured those who had long begged for an honest and watchful government, and had continued not to get it. Crime recognized and feared this master. "In a little while," says a Cuban, "you could have gone about the streets at any hour of the night with diamonds in your open hands and nobody would have touched you, not even the Spanish Robert Macaire or Robin Hood, who is remembered bitterly in Andalusia,—Diego Corrientes." Merchants going to and from the bank with money had formerly been compelled to hire soldiers as guards, and when they complained of violence the magistrates had said, "Go to bed at seven, as we do, and you'll have no trouble." Thieves bought their liberty from jailers. Tacon arrested the jailers in that case.

It does not take long to erect a reputation when it has a basis of desert. An odd modern instance is told in the case of an American newspaper reporter, John C. Klein, who, after ten years of absence, was canonized by the Samoans, among whom he had lived for some years, as a hero in battle, a slayer of Germans, and a wizard who closed his own wounds by magic. The gods approved him, and the people in their trouble prayed for the return of Talaini o le Meleke (Klein, the American) to rescue them. And with Tacon it took hardly longer to become a sort of national hero. The qualities he showed in reforming, building, extending, and protecting Havana were so unusual that the people willingly credited others to him he may not have possessed. He has become legendary already.

Tacon, after gathering in two thousand of the riff-raff and putting them at work on roads, piers, and prisons, applied himself with special energy to the suppression of Marti, the most daring, yet the slyest and most cautious of all the robbers in the country. He and his band thought no more of splitting the weasand of a soldier than tossing off a glass of brandy, and the people were more than half his friends, because he joined smuggling to his other industries, and was therefore able to provide them with many necessities, such as wine and bandanas, at a price much lower than they commanded in the shops. Yet the secret agents, the constabulary, and the troops began to make it perilous for these law-breakers, and General Tacon was hopeful of their speedy capture. On a certain morning he looked up abstractedly from some letters he was writing on the case of Marti and was astonished to see a burly but well-dressed stranger standing before his desk. "How in the devil did you get in here, sir, unannounced?" he asked, in some irritation.

"I come on secret business," replied the other, in a lower tone.

"Ha! About ——"

"Exactly. About Marti."

"Speak, then. You will not be overheard. What do you know?"

"First, your Excellency, let us understand the situation. There is a large reward for this man, is there not?"

"There is. Capture him and the money is yours. Ah, I see! You wish to turn state's evidence. So much the better. You shall be protected."

"But suppose I had been associated with the worst of these men? Suppose I had committed crimes? Suppose I had been a leader?"

"Even in that case you shall be protected."

"Give me your word, as an officer and a gentleman, that, no matter what my offences have been, I shall have an official pardon when I put you on the track of the outlaws."

"You must earn the pardon. If you know the haunts of the smugglers we shall expect you to pilot us to every one of them."

"I will do it. I am tired of an evil life, tired of hiding, tired of fear, tired of hate. I wish to come back and live among men."

"Well spoken. And Marti?"

"I shall be pardoned, absolutely, when I bring him here?"

"Absolutely. When may we expect him?"




"What! To-day? This Marti ——"

"You are looking at him."

Tacon started, and his glance fell on a couple of pistols that lay on the desk before him. He always kept them there, primed and loaded. Marti smiled, drew from beneath his coat two larger ones, handsomely mounted with silver, and placed them on the desk. "I am through with them," said he.

Tacon looked at him almost with admiration. "You begin well," he admitted, "and you shall have your pardon. But until you have fulfilled your promise and helped us to break up these bands of smugglers and—ah——"

"Oh, speak out: Thieves! That is right."

"Well, thieves,—we must keep you under guard."

"I am satisfied; only, let us get to work as soon as possible, and have the business over."

"We will start to-morrow."

Marti was placed in a large room in a hotel under watch of the constabulary, but free to order any comfort or luxury he could pay for. On the very next morning he set out with a posse of soldiers and visited all the resorts of his former associates in the vicinity. The fellows had evidently suspected something, for they had made off. Their haunts being thus disclosed, however, much of their plunder was afterward recovered, and Marti's surrender having left them without a leader, they retreated to distant provinces, and safety and peace were restored to the island.

If Marti had any misgivings as to the certainty of his pardon after this exploit, he did not show them. He returned to General Tacon's office as cool and self-possessed as if he were running a boat-load of spirits under the noses of the customs officers.

"You have been true to your part of the agreement," said the general, "and I will be to mine. Here is your pardon, signed and sealed, and this is my order on the treasury for the reward for your arrest. Sly dog!"

"I accept the pardon with gratitude, your Excellency, but I do not need the money. My country is poor. Let her keep it. I am rich. Never mind how I became so. Yet, if I may claim a reward, give me a monopoly of the fisheries on this coast. Havana will not suffer if your generosity takes this form."

And it did not. He got the fisheries, but he spent his profits freely, and one of the first of his benefactions was the construction of a market that had no superior in beauty and fitness elsewhere in the world.

The Justice of Tacon

When the parades were over, or church was out, or it was near time for the play, one always found a dozen officers and gallants sauntering down the Calle de Comercio, bound for the same place: the tobacco shop of Miralda Estalez. In 1835 Miralda was known all over the town as "the pretty cigar girl," and it was quite the thing for young sprigs of family to lounge against her counter, tell her how charming she was, make her light their cigarettes and sometimes take the first puff from their cigars. All this she took with jesting good-nature, chaffing all of her customers, commiserating with them in mocking tones on their fractured hearts, and lamenting the poverty that confined their purchases to the cheaper brands of her wares. She knew how far to allow a compliment to go. If it became too free the smile faded from her lip, her black eyes flashed, and an angry rose mounted into the clear olive of her cheek.

If there was one young man who, more than any other, caused these angry symptoms to appear it was the Count Almonte. His attentions had become annoying. She had told him that his flattery was distasteful; that her betrothed was Pedro Mantanez, the boatman, and that they were waiting to be married only until their savings had reached a certain figure. After one of these dismissals of more than usual frankness, the count went to his apartments in town, arrayed himself in his uniform of honorary lieutenant of the guards, asked the commandant to let him have an escort of half a dozen men, as he expected trouble at his country-place at Cerito, and within an hour or two appeared before Miralda's little shop. He entered this time with an easy, confident air and an evil smile. "You must come with me, my beauty," he said, trying to chuck her under the chin.

"Leave my place at once, senor. I have nothing more to say to you."

"Oh, but I have much to say to you; and to begin with, I have a warrant for your arrest."


"For theft,—the theft of a heart,—my heart."

"Your jokes are always in such wretched taste. Your heart! You never had one."

"Then my duty becomes all the easier. You see this paper? It is an order for your arrest. Will you go quietly, or do you prefer to go under guard of a whole company."

Astonished, confused, afraid, yet hoping that one of those wretched pleasantries known as practical jokes would be the upshot of this seeming outrage, the girl locked her door, allowed the count to assist her into the carriage that was in waiting, and was rapidly driven, not to the jail, not to the forts, not to the police office, but out of town—to Cerito. He assisted her to alight, urged her hastily in at the door of a handsome residence, where she was received by a couple of servants, and escorted to a large, comfortably furnished apartment, with windows barred after the fashion usual in Spanish houses.

"This, my pretty one, is your home for the future," explained the count, dropping easily upon a divan and lighting a cigar.

"What place is this?"

"It is my house. Ah, but it shall be yours, if only you are kind. It is for you to say how long you will be a prisoner."

"But the arrest—the order——"

"Ha! ha! Mere sham. I was bound to have you in one way, if I could not get you in another. All's fair in love and war. You made war. I made love."

There was an explosion of wrath, of scorn, of hate; there were tears, cries, prayers, threats, promises. Count Almonte merely laughed, and left the young woman to weep herself into a state of resignation or exhaustion.

Mantanez, the boatman, learned before long that the shop was closed, and naturally fearing that Miralda had been taken ill, he hurried around to make inquiry. What he heard was disquieting enough, but he could not, would not believe it, until he had gone to Cerito to see for himself. In the gown of a monk he gained access to the grounds, and walked slowly by, singing the verse of a song that Miralda liked, meanwhile scanning the windows closely. His heart gave a leap, and then sank miserably low, for his love appeared behind the bars of an upper window. She stretched her hands to him appealingly, told him in a few half-whispered words the story of her abduction, implored him to hurry back to town, put the case before General Tacon and demand justice.

Mantanez did so. The tale was so unusual that the general made him swear to the truth of it on his knees before the crucifix. Then he sent for the count and ordered him to bring the girl with him. In two hours they were at the palace. The general looked searchingly at Almonte. "It is a strange charge that has been brought against you, count," said he, "that of stealing a woman in open day, taking her to your house and keeping her under lock and key."

"The young woman has been well treated, general."

"You arrested her?"


"In our uniform?"

"It was the only way. I loved her."

"You still love her?"

"To distraction."

"Humph! We shall see. Orderly, send a priest to me, and tell him to come prepared to perform a marriage ceremony."

Tacon was sphinx-like, and busied himself with his papers. The count was puzzled, yet smiling, and disposed to be incredulous. The girl and her lover wore looks of doubt and fear. The priest arrived.

"Father," said Tacon, "you will make the Count Almonte and Miralda Estalez man and wife."

"Impossible!" exclaimed the count.

"You have just said that you loved her."

"But, your Excellency, you seem to forget that she is but a girl of the people. I have to remind you that I am of the Spanish nobility; that my ancestors—"

"Tush, tush! What have your ancestors to do here? You have ruined the girl, and you shall make amends, here and now."

Miralda clasped her hands in a passion of entreaty, and her betrothed, the boatman, sank upon a bench, overcome with despair.

"I am sorry for you," continued Tacon, "but there is no other way. Proceed with the ceremony."

Knowing Tacon to be inflexible, and with a wholesome dread of punishment in case of refusal, the young rake finally expressed his willingness to yield to the command, and with a freckled trooper for bridesmaid, and another for groomsman, the marriage rites were said. While the priest was speaking Tacon had written a note which he gave to an orderly, instructing him to deliver it to the captain of the guard. After the nobleman, flushed and trembling with anger, and the half-fainting girl had been pronounced man and wife, the boatman meanwhile abandoning himself to a frenzy of tears, Tacon said to the count, "Your wife will remain here for the present. It is my order that you return to your country-house alone. You will depart at once."

With blazing eye, widened nostril, and hard-set jaw, Count Almonte left the room without any recognition of his bride, without the usual acknowledgment of the governor-general's presence. Tacon bade the young woman be seated, and told Mantanez also to remain, as he wished to speak with them after a time. Ten minutes passed. Some guns were heard at a distance. In ten minutes more an officer hastily entered the room. Tacon looked up from his writing. "Report, captain," he commanded.

"I have to inform your Excellency that your orders have been obeyed. The Count Almonte lies dead with nine bullets in his body."

The general arose, took the hand of the young woman and placed it in that of the boatman. "Countess," he said, "you are the widow of a rich man. You are sole heir to the estate of the late Count Almonte. As to you, sir, I presume you have no objection to wedding a lady so well provided with this world's goods. Adieu, Madame Countess, and may your second marriage be happier than your first."

The Cited

Did Alonzo Morelos begrudge liberty or happiness to Felipe Guayos? Surely the life of a Havanese artisan could have mattered little to a prosperous lawyer. Politics may have set the big man's enmity against the little one, or it may possibly have been that more advanced form of politics that is called patriotism. It was a good time for a man to refrain from airing his opinions, unless they were orthodox, for the revolution of 1829 had just been declared. If Guayos was a party to this rising he was an indifferent and inactive one, or else he kept his counsel wondrous well. His acquaintances testified that he was industrious,—that is, he practised what in Havana passed for industry,—was fond of his wife, cared little for cock-fighting or the bull-ring, was of placid demeanor, and was altogether the sort of man who could be relied on not to attend secret meetings or lose valued sleep by drilling in hot barns or chigger-infested clearings in the woods. Yet it was on Morelos's oath that this obscure citizen was arrested.

The tongues clacked up and down the by-ways: What was the rich man's interest in the poor one? the professional man's in the mechanic? the man of society in the man unknown? Then it was true, eh? that the mulatto (for Guayos was a "yellow man") had spoken to the lawyer familiarly in the street in presence of ladies and officers? Maybe. The laundress at the second house down the street had said so, but, fie! it was only on a matter of business. Tut! Business was no excuse, considering that Don Alonzo was of Spanish parentage, while the other had been nothing but a Cuban for two centuries. To forget this breach or try to bridge it, to presume on the tolerance of an occasional employer, unless one were a slave or a servant and used to indulgence—that was not to be forgiven. A rumor that travelled more quietly was that Morelos himself was a revolutionary and had caused this arrest as a blind, or in order to silence a tongue that might speak damage. A third rumor, that went in a whisper, and so went farther than the others, said that the yellow man had a pretty wife, and that the lawyer had been seen to call at the little house in the master's absence. This tale seemed to be doubted, for the wife of the butcher gave it as her opinion that the Senora Guayos was too rusty of complexion to be pleasing, and the Senor Morelos was so faultless in his appearance and his taste; the club steward's unmarried sister declared the senora's manners to be rustic and her voice loud; the woman in the carpenter's family would lend no ear to such a scandal because the subject of it was dumpy, shapeless, and dressed absurdly, even for the wife of a stonemason. Howbeit, the little woman was now in grief, for her husband lay in jail awaiting trial on the gravest charge that could be brought against a Cuban,—the charge of treason. In that day, as on many sad days that were to follow, to be charged with disaffection toward the crown was virtually to be sentenced to death.

Cuban law was at least as tardy and involved as any, but on the day when they tried Guayos it was strangely brisk. The stifling, unclean court-room was crowded, but of all the company none seemed to feel so little concern in the proceedings as the accused man himself. Through an open window he saw a couple of palms swinging softly against the sky in the warm wind. The trees appeared to pacify, to fascinate him. They were his realities, and the goggling throng, the judge, the officers, were visions. Often when his name was spoken by a witness or examiner he would look around with a start, then fall into his dreams again. His case was traversed without waste of words. Evidence was adduced to prove that he had once owned a gun, had attended a certain meeting, had carried letters to such and such persons, had spoken equivocal phrases, had been seen to lift his nose in passing certain men, had admitted a suspect to his house at night. He was declared guilty. The celerity in reaching this verdict led his friends to believe that it had been agreed upon in advance.

During the last hour of the trial Guayos had aroused from his revery, had turned from the window, and had fixed his eyes steadily on Morelos, who was seated among the lawyers in the centre of the room. Morelos returned the gaze calmly for a time; then he frowned and turned the pages of a law-book. After a little he moistened his lips with his tongue, took a studied attitude of listlessness, and showed signs of weariness and boredom. He did not look at the prisoner again until the verdict had been given.

When the chief judge put the usual question as to whether the convicted man had anything to say why death-sentence should not be passed upon him, Guayos arose, his face pale but fixed in a stony calm. Looking at neither judge nor audience, but straight at his accuser, with eyes that were no longer the eyes that had dreamed upon the palms, so great and black they were and searching, he said, in a clear, tense voice, "I go to my death. It is useless to speak, for you have condemned me. But I cite you, Don Alonzo Morelos, to appear beside me at the bar of God, one year from my death-day, and testify how I came to my end."

There was a moment of silence; then moans and murmurs in the crowd. The lawyer was white, as with wrath. The judges gestured to the officers and left the bench. The court was cleared. As he was led away, Guayos looked once more at the palms, and half smiled as a breath of freshened air came in at the window. Palms! Where had he been told of them? What did they mean? Had they not somewhere, in some far land, been waved in victory when One innocent was about to suffer? Were not palms awarded in another world to the meek and the honest who had been despitefully used in this?

Last to leave the room was Morelos. He had remained, seated at a table, biting a pen, fingering some papers, gazing abstractedly at the vacant bench. The whoop of a barefooted, black-faced urchin in the corridor roused him. With a scowl and a shrug he slowly resumed his hat and went to his home by a roundabout way.

Priests called daily at the prison. Guayos made no appeal, asked for no delay. The loyalists were clamoring for an example that should stay the revolution. In a week the condemned man was hanged. An odd thing happened at the execution: the rope had slipped a little, and the knot, working toward the front, had left an impress there after the body was cut down, as of two crossed fingers. The friends of Guayos held this to be a sign of grace.

Now, if there were any in the world to pray for the peace of a human soul, it was not the soul of Guayos that asked it. He had affirmed his innocence to the end, had been shrived, had gone to the gallows with a dauntless tread, and there were palm branches on his coffin. But the lawyer? In a month after the trial white hairs appeared among his locks, hitherto as black as coal. He grew gray and dry in his complexion, his shoulders began to stoop, his eyes lost their clearness and boldness, his mouth was no longer firm. Often he wore a harried, hunted look. Yet they said he was growing softer in his humor, that he oftener went to church, that he gave more for charity than other men of his means, and that if the widow Guayos did not know from whom the five hundred pesetas came that a messenger left at her home one night the neighbors pretended to. Don Morelos became an object of a wider interest than he knew. Even the boys in the street would point as he passed, with head bent and hands clasped behind his back, and whisper, "There goes El Citado" (the cited), and among the commoners he was known as well by that name as by the one his parents had given to him. But he appeared less and less in public. He began to neglect his practice; he resigned from his club; he avoided the company of his former associates, taking his walks at night alone, even though the sky was moonless, storms were threatening, and the cut-throat crew were abroad that made life at some hours and in some quarters of the city not of a pin's fee in value. His housekeeper told a neighbor that on some nights he paced the floor till dawn, and that now and again he would mutter to himself and appear to strike something. Was he smiting his own heart?

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6     Next Part
Home - Random Browse