Under Dewey at Manila/Chapter 9

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search

CHAPTER IX


A TALK ABOUT THE TROUBLES IN CUBA


Hong Kong is due west from Honolulu, and the distance, in round figures, is five thousand miles, so it was quite true that Larry had a long voyage before him.

Captain Ponsberry did not calculate to make the entire trip without stopping. In his almost direct course westward were to be found Wake Island and the Faralon de Pajaros, dividing the trip into fairly equal thirds, and it was calculated that the Columbia would put into both places for fresh water, and possibly a bit of fresh meat and vegetables, for the kind-hearted captain saw no need of going without these comforts when they might be had with but little trouble.

For over a week the weather proved all that could be desired. It was true that it was hot, but the stiff breeze was comforting, while it made the gallant Columbia fully represent her name so far as build was concerned, for she readily "scooned" over the long swells of the rolling Pacific.

There had been no occasion for Larry and Oleson to speak to one another, and thus far neither had uttered a word. As the days went by, Larry, naturally light-hearted, was inclined to forgive his enemy. But not so the burly Norwegian. Whenever the eyes of the two met, Oleson scowled ominously, and more than once Larry found himself shivering from some nameless dread, he could not tell what.

"I'd give half a month's salary if he wasn't on board," he said to Luke Striker, his one confidant. "If he keeps on looking at me like that, he'll give me the nightmare."

"You look out for yourself whenever you're on night watch with the furiner," answered the Yankee tar. "If you don't watch out—maybe an accident might happen, see?" and he closed one eye suggestively, and then Larry had another shiver.

The looks finally became so threatening that Striker spoke to Oleson about them. "The boy is treating you square enough," he said. "You just leave him alone, and we won't have no trouble."

"I no touch the boy—no spak to him," growled the Norwegian. "You let me alone, like captain say you should."

There the talk ended, and instead of anything being gained by it, matters were made worse, for Oleson became an enemy of Striker as well as of Larry. He no longer looked at either when their eyes were turned in his direction, yet they felt intuitively that he had them constantly in his mind.

Taken at its best, life on a sailing-vessel on an extended trip is bound to grow more or less monotonous, and were it not for a number of reasons Larry would have found time growing dull on his hands, during the hours when there was absolutely nothing to do, and when he was too wide-awake to think of going to sleep, as many of his messmates did.

But besides Striker, he had made a good friend of the Rev. Martin Wells, and the missionary was not above coming forward to chat with Larry and the others, and in addition to this he loaned the youth several books, which Larry devoured with keen relish,—histories and biographies, books which were rather dry when compared with what the boy had read when at home, but which did him far more good.

As we know, Larry had been very much interested in the blowing up of the Maine. Before leaving Honolulu he had heard a later report than the first from the United States, by which it was stated that the Spanish authorities denied any knowledge of the explosion, and that the United States naval authorities were going to take matters in hand immediately by appointing a Board of Inquiry to fix the responsibility.

"This Cuban matter is something of a mystery to me," he said to the missionary one day, after the blowing up of the battleship had been discussed. "What is the real trouble down there; can you tell me?"

"I can tell you something, Lawrence, if not everything," replied Mr. Wells; "but in order to get at a proper understanding of the case I'll have to go pretty well back into history."

"I won't mind that, sir, so long as I've got the time to listen."

The two were seated under the shadow of one of the small boats, and after a second of thought the missionary began:—

"The story of Cuba from the very start has been one of persecution and intense suffering— persecution so terrible that it can hardly be believed, and suffering in many cases beyond endurance.

"When Columbus discovered the New World, there were but two powers, Spain and Portugal, that disputed for the possession of the new territories, which embraced not only the West Indies, but also a large portion of the southern part of North America, and the northern and eastern portions of South America. The dispute was referred to the Pope, as head of the states, and he granted to Portugal that part of South America which is now Brazil and gave to Spain all the rest.

"Such a vast and valuable possession could not be left alone long, especially as it was known to be inhabited only by savages, and was suspected to be rich in minerals, and before long Spain sent out numerous colonies, commanded by her own noblemen, to conquer the whole of the West Indies, including Hayti, San Domingo, Jamaica, and Porto Rico, as well as Cuba, the largest of all the islands, and the richest.

"When the Spanish colonists arrived they found the islands settled by peaceful Indians and Caribs. Without delay they set about conquering these people, and this done, they made slaves of the Caribs and also of the Indians, when they could catch them, which was' not often, for the Indians would take to the water rather than risk capture. To the Caribs were added slaves from Africa, and all these poor people were treated so shamefully that the Caribs died off-like sheep, and even the Africans could not stand it. The one thought of the Spaniards was to make money, and they cared nothing for their slaves' bodies though professing a desire to save their souls."

"It's a wonder they didn't rebel?"

"They did rebel, but they had no arms and were unskilled in warfare, and each time they were put down with greater cruelty. Old writers have left us many accounts of those fearful times,—accounts the reading of which makes one's heart ache."

"But now Spain doesn't own all of the islands, nor any of North America?"

"She owns nothing now but Cuba and Porto Rico, and a few small places of no importance. Her cruelty and rapacity has had its reward. The gold and silver and other riches sent by noblemen from the islands to Spain lured the buccaneers of the world to that locality, and many were the ships which were taken and plundered. Then other nations heard of the wealth which was there, and of the great cruelty, and took upon themselves the task of setting matters right. The least interference enraged the Spaniards, and numerous fights followed, and in the end, as I have stated, Spain was stripped of nearly everything. And she has lost more than I spoke of before, too, for she once controlled Mexico, Texas, and what is now New Mexico, California, and Nevada."

"But what has brought about this present trouble?"

"I am coming to that. As years went by, the colonists in Cuba and other islands increased, until the home government had a new element to deal with, for slavery was now a thing of the past. These colonists became tired of paying their heavy taxes to the mother country, especially as they derived no benefits, and so other rebellions broke out, until Cuba was in a state of perpetual war. The hand of Spain was an iron one, however, and could not be shaken off. The colonists were allowed nothing, not even to run their own internal affairs, for every office was filled from Spain, and the taxes became heavier and heavier.

"At last, about three years ago, the Cubans, or a large portion of them, resolved to stand it no longer. They withdrew from Havana and some of the other large cities, and set about establishing a government of their own. They formed an army, the watchword of which was 'Cuba Libre!' meaning Free Cuba, and swore to hold no communication with the Spanish authorities until their freedom was acknowledged."

"Yes, I've heard of that, and how they have been fighting the Spanish soldiery ever since. But still I don't see where we come in," said Larry, earnestly.

"Don't be impatient, Lawrence, and you will see. Yes, the Cubans have been fighting for three years with varying success. They were poorly equipped and scarcely organized, and the most they could do was to stick to the forests and mountains, and wage a sort of guerilla warfare against the trained regiments from Spain sent over to annihilate them. As the situation now stands, the Spanish hold all of the large towns and the seacoast, while the insurgents, as they are called, hold the interior and many small villages.

"Of course such a condition of affairs so close to the United States could not help but arouse sympathy for those who had been so illy treated, and expeditions were sent out secretly to help the rebels; but this was against international law, and Spain promptly called upon the United States government to put down the practice. Then the insurgents, through their Junta, or representatives in our country, asked for recognition before the world, so that they might be free to use the ports of the United States and do many other things they otherwise could not do, but recognition has not yet been obtained, although it is being considered by Congress.

"But now comes another view of the present situation, and this is worse than the fighting that is going on. Under the guise of wishing to protect the weak and helpless in the country and in villages, the Spanish authorities in Cuba have been driving all of the women, children, and old men into the big cities and holding them there. The young and middle-aged men, of course, cannot be thus driven, for they are in the ranks of the insurgents. But when the women and children and old men get into the cities there is nothing for them to do, and, as most of them are poor, they are actually compelled to starve, unless some kind-hearted soul will feed them."

"If that's the case, we ought to help the poor people, war or no war!" cried Larry, heartily.

"That thought is exactly the thought of those who have lately taken hold, to send supplies to Cuba and to aid in every way possible the poor, sick, and dying. Up to date several hundreds of thousands of the poor people have died from exposure and the want of nourishment, and the whole Christian nation is crying out that such inhumanity must cease. But Spain wants no one to interfere, stating that to give succor to the rebels will only prolong the disturbance which she will soon end."

"Never mind; we ought to help, whether Spain likes it or not, that is my idea of it, Mr. Wells."

"The efforts of the Americans in Havana and elsewhere have stirred up much bad blood, and it was to protect those Americans that the Maine was sent into Havana harbor. Now that the Maine has met with such a sad fate I presume the feeling upon both sides is more bitter than ever. I should not be surprised to hear of a riot in Havana, in which many Americans might be slain."

"But if that court of inquiry finds that the Maine was blown up by some Spanish agents, won't that mean war?" concluded Larry, as a shrill pipe from the boatswain's whistle caused him to arise.

"It will mean another step in the direction of war," was the grave response.