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Imprisoned In Cuba

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PART I. THE MYSTERIOÜS PACKAGE. '.there is not a elass of men in the world who ix)ssess such a horror of pólice and prisons, and regard with such veneration and respect the law and its oftentimes mysterious worldngs as "those who go down to the sea in ships," and although they often find themselves "fouled" in its meshes, it is generally due to accident, or the machinations of some "land shark;" or perhaps, in dealing with unprineipled peoplo "along shore," the sailor may be unwittingly caught in the net spread to ensnaro hira. Although the mariner may be a veritable giant when upou the broad, trackless ocean, he is a mere cbild if placed among men who have received their training upon terra firma; and the simplicity of the sailor is often the cause of his being arraigned before the bar of justice. It is very seldom that one will find a seaman deliberately committing a deed which will lay himself liable to arrest, and when such a case is met with it will almost invariably be found that the act was done to assist a friend or shield a comrade from the consequences of some misdeed. A few years ago, shortly after the capture of Capt. Frye and crew of the American steamer Virginius, and the subsequent execution of a part of the same by the Cuban authorities, I became entangled with the Spanish soldiers of the beautiful tropic isle of Cuba, and my acquaintance with them came very near putting an end to my voyage of life. I was a master of a trim little bark sailing from Boston and engaged in the West India trade. One evening while the vessel was lying at a wharf in the latter port, where she was receiving cargo for Matanzas, I was sitting upon the quarter rail enjoying an after supper smoke when I observed a young man of perhaps 25 years of age coming down the doek very leisurely. As he got abreast of where I was seated he stopped and with a very affable smile bade me "good evening" and then inquired if we were not bound to the West Indies. Assuring him that we were, he stepped aboard, remarking that he belonged in Cuba and was looking for a vessel in which to take passage. I rather liked the appearance of the stranger, and seeing a chance to make a few dollars for my owners by taking a passenger, as we had plenty of room in the cabin, I offered to take him and we soon agreed upon terms, the stranger promising to give me fifty dollars in the morning for his passage to the island. The following day, while sipping coffee in company with the mate, I was surprised to see our prospectivo passenger with a small valise in hand hurrying down the wharf. There was no one about, as the hour was quite early. He stepped quickly on board, and with the utmost politeness bid me a very "Good ing." After partakiug of a cup of coffee with us I iuvited him below and showed him the room he was to occupy during the passage. He was very well satisfled with the accommodations, and taking out a well filled wallet he paid rae the priee agreed upon, then and there. "This bag," he remarked, indicating the small sachel in his hand, ".contains some articles of value, and I should be well pleased if you would take care of it for me until we reach Matanzas." Of course I was perfectly willing to accoramodate him, and took the bag; he then went ashore, promising to be on board in the evening, as we were going to sea the following morning. When left alone I turned my attention to the bag, which was still in my hand; it was small and neat, and, I judged, quite an expensive affair. Turning it over I observed an address painted in white letters upon the bottom; it read : ' 'Señor Roderiquez González, 13 Plaza di Poco. Matan:!. Cuba" The Plaza di Poco I knew quite well, as I had been ir any times to Matanzas and had roamed considerably about the city. It was a pleasant little open square, surrounded by the homes of the middle elass, most of wliom were native bom Cubans. Ho we ver, I had not not much time to spend with the bag, so I threw it into niy bunk and closed and locked the stateroom door before going ashore. A master of a vessel is always very busy on the day before sailing, as there is sure to be a great deal of business to attend to, and my passenger never entered my mind but once, and that was when I went to "clear" at the custom house. It was quite late when I returned to the vessel, and on entering my room the presence of the bag reminded me of the Cuban, socalling the mate I inquired if the stranger had yet come aboard. "No, sir, I've seen nothing of Mm," was the officer's reply. In the morning everything was bustling and active. The crew were aboard and the towboat alongside shortly after daylight, but nothing had yet been seen of our passenger. The pilot and the captain of the tug were unxious to start, but I was bound to wait until the last moment to give the young fellow a chance. Soon ourovertaxed patience was rewarded. A hack dashed down the wharf and drew up at the vessel's aide. It was not the Cuban who alighted, however, but a telegraph boy waving a dispatch in his hand and calling for "Capt. Grahain, bark Rambler." "Here, boy, here!" I cried, jumping into the inizzen channels to reaeh the message, whieh I quickly tore open and read: "Capt. Granara, bark Rambler, Coustitution wharf, Boston. "Through unforeseen circumstances it will be impossible for me to make the passage with you. Please delivr the little bag I left to the address upon it, and retain the money i paia you tor your trouble. uonzalez." Hastüy thrusting the bit of paper into my pocket, I called to the pilot, "All right, pilot, let her go" - and in a few moments we were heading down the harbor, the tow boat puffing away alongside, while the crew were rapidly spreading the white canvas to catch the strong westerly wind that was to give us a good start upon our voyage, and, as may be supposed, there was no thought of the Cuban lett behind. The passage down to the island was without event and we carne to anchor in Mantanzas af ter a r'jn of eighteen days. We were, of course, boarded by the full force of Cuban officials - revenue, military and naval - and after a close scrutiny of our papers and a rigid search of the bark I was allowed to go ashore to report to the consignees and "enter" the vessel. I had not thought it necessary to inform the customs authorities of the Cuban's trust, as I feit assured that I could any time during our stay in port deliver it to the address and no one would be the wiser. It is true that the offieers Iooked at me very queerly when I explained the absence of the passenger whosu name was on the manifest, but as he had not been found on board the vessel, they were obliged to accept my story; still I noticed that my movemeuts were more closely watclied than they had ever bef ore been ; they even went so f ar as to place, beside the regular custom house offlcer, a soldier of the army on board the vessel. This strict surveillance did not at all please me, and I was now determined to deliver the bag to No. 13 Plaza di Poco in spite of all the Spaniards on the island. I fully realized that it would be no easy matter to get the bag out of the vessel without the offlcers detecting me, although it was but a small parcel. I watched my chance, however, and one day it came. Several American captains, whose vessels were in port, had made up a party to visit the renowned Crystal cave, that lies upon the eastern side of the Bay of Matanzas. Of course each one must carry some refreshments for themselves and their boat's crew, and here I saw an opportunity to smuggle the bag ashore. Accordingly, the night before the picnic, I spoke to the officers over a glass of brandy which I put out for their special benefit, and requested permission to take some eatables ashore the next day. They gave their consent without hesitation, and I at once called the steward to pack up his "dog basket" with provisions and drinkables, and purposely had him make a display of doing this before the officials, as I wanted them to see everything that went into the basket. Af ter it was full we left it on the cabin table ready for the morning, as we were to start by daylight. Along the middle of the night, when I was sure that everything was quiet, I turned out, and, securing the basket, hurried back to my room, where I removed some of the food and put the Cuban's bag in its stead and again returned the basket to the cabin table. All the time I could hear the footsteps of the offlcer who was on watch pacing the deck overhead, but as there was no light in the cabin I had no fear of being detected. In the morning everything worked as I had expected ; I went over into the boat in which were two of my men, and the steward handed down the basket ; waving an adieu to the offlcers we pulled away across the bay. . When well over to the eastern shore I took the bag out of the basket and changed the course of the boat so as to land on the outskirts of the city. Reaching the shore I instructed my men to pull for the cave where they would meet the other captains and deliver the basket to them, and say that "business had called me to town, but I would join them some time during the day." A few minutes later I was seated in a volante (Cuban carriage) and was being driven slowly (a Cuban team will never travel fast) in the direction of the Plaza di Poco. Turning into the square, in the center of which were growing rare and beautiful plants, I observed several policemen and Spanish soldiers lounging about, but as one cannot take fifty steps in any Cuban city without meeting one or more of these servants of the crown, I paid but little attention to their presence. I, however, ordered the carriage to stop several door% f rom the house of which I was in search, and, after dismissing the driver, I proceeded on foot. Number thirteen differed little from ita neighbors save an unusual air of quiet by which it seemdt to be surrounded; it had the same large iron gateway leading into the inclosed área peculiar to all Cuban houses; the same long, barred, open Windows, but, like the majority, those were furnished with close blinds, whieh effectually precluded the passerby f rom obtaining the slightest glimpse of the interior of the dwelling. Approaching the gate I rapped loudly with the ponderous knocker and my summons was quiekly answered by an old man who took in my whole dimensions before dropping tha fastenings of the gate, and then not until I had repeated the name of Roderiquez González, 13 Plaza di Poco, several times. Pinally, appearing satisfled that I had a right to cali, he opened the gate just far enough for me to squeeze in, and then, after again securing the fastenings, he led the way across a paved court, in the center of which was playing a miniature fountain, into a large, cooi room, and trom theiiee mto another which was quite dark, but as my eyes became accustomed to the gloom I could see that it was a chamber nicely furnished, and upon a couch in the middle of the apartment was the outline of a recumbent form which started up at our approach. My guido spoke a few words in Spanish and then retired, while the person upon the couch arose and, throwing open one of the blinds, allowed a stream of light to enter the apartment, and by its aid I could see that I was in the presence of a fine looking gentleman somewhat past the meridian of life but with a tall figure still erect and with eyes that flashed out brightly from beneath a pair of gray brows. Turning he addressed me in his native tongue, only a few words of which I could understand, but by those few I know he bade me welcome and inquired the object of my visit. I repbed in English, asking if I had the pleasure of speaking to Senor Roderiquez González. "I am he," he retumed in English, which had but a slight accent. "In whatj can I serve you?" Before I could respond hls eyes feil upon the bag. Instantly his whole manuer changed. Involuntary he sprang forward and reached out his hand as if to grasp it, and then collecting himself he looked searchingly into my face. "That bag - where did you get it?" he exclaimed, impetuously, but in a low, subdued voice. "It is yours," I replied, handing hira the sachel; "at least this is the place where I was instrueted to leave it." If the bag had contained the riches of Golconda he could not have reeeived it more eagerly. "Excuse me a moment, but remain here," and with that he hurriely lef t the apartment. He might have been gone perhaps ten minutes wheu he returned, and approaching the window closed the blind, whic-h left us in total darkness, then drawing a chair close to mino, he inquired eagerly as to how the bag had come in my possession. I gave him the whole story, described the young Cuban, and showed him the messagn whieh I liad received the morning of sailing. "My boy, my boy," he murmured, and several times during the recital he broke in upon me as though he was about to teil me something, but would then quickly check himself. At the close of my narrativo I aróse to go, when the strange oíd man requested me to be seated a few minutes longer, and then again left the room. i To say that I was surprised at his manner does not oxpress it. There was certainly something very mysterious in it all, and I was half tempted to sneak out of the house like a thief, so wrought up were my feelings, when my host again entered. "Captain," he began, "you have rendered a service, the vakie of whih you may never know, and thousands yet unborn will bless you for It. It is impossible for me to repay you for all the risk you have run, but take this" - thrusting a packet into my hand - "as a slight memento of my gratitude. I should intite you to renew this cali upon me, but it would be dangerous to us both ; even this may do you injury, though I trust not," and pressing n hand he uneeranioniously pushed me before Mm through a series of hallways and rooms to a rear entrance and left me bewildered upon the street with the paokage in my hand whieh I had uot had thepresenceof mind to ref use. For a moment Í stood still, not knowing exactly which way to turn, and feeling that I had undoubtedly escaped from a cali upon a lunatic, when I was startled by the exclamation: "Bonis dios, señor!" and looking up reeognized the features of an army officer who had frequently been Ioitering around the shipchandler's, the custom house and other places about the water front where my business called me. His appearance recalled me to my senses, and awkwardly answering the salutation, I turned on my heel and hurried away nor stopped for anything until seated in a boat and being pulled off to my vessel, and did not breathe easy until I stepped over the rail to the deck, and even then a glance at the packet which I still clutched in my hand was sufflcient to cause me to tremble. Hurrying through tbe cabin I entered my own room, closed the door and broke open the package and to my surprise out feil several United States bank bilis. PART II. THE ARREST. I gathered the money up, and it counted just $250; then I sat down and pondered. Surely the eoutents of the bag must have been of great value to have called forth such a present, but the more I tried to explain the affair to myself, the more I was puzzled. The day wore slowly away; at sundown the boat returned bringing word that the other captains were disappointed at my not being with them. At an early hour I sought my bed in anything but a tranquil frame of mind, for I knew that should the authorities discover that I had carried the bag ashore and left it, no matter what the contents might be, it would go hard with me, for the Spaniard of the West Indies has little love for the American, and is only too well pleased to catch one tripping. It might have been midnight when I was awakened from a troubled sleep by the sound of a boat bumping alongside and the voices of strangers on deck. At length several men eame down the forward companion way, but they were met by the mate, who refused them admission to the cabin. They then began loudly calling for the captain. I trembled, ril admit it; but there was no alternative, I must face them. So hurrying on my clothing I came out into the eabin and met the officers. "We must take you ashore, captain," remarked one of the soldiers in English. "For whatí" I demanded. "That the captain will learn when we reach there"- was the only satisfaction that I got, and unceremoniously they hustled me out of the vessel and away- but not before I had a chance to teil my mate to inform the American consul early in the morning of what had taken place. On leaving the bark I was surprised to see that they did not take thecoursefor the city, but kept away to the westward. "Where are you taking meï" I inquired, in dismay. "See, bimeby," was the only answer, and I held my peace. Soon the dark outlines of the shore arose before me, but the formation oL the ,'outline as it broke upon my view caused a shudder to creep over me and almost froze the blood in my veins. It was the fort that we were approaching, and the sharp angles and lofty turrets stood out grim and threateniug against the star lit sky in the west. AU the tales that I had ever read of the Spanish iuquisition and the manner in which they administer justiee (Í) in Cuba rushed to ray mind, and again the fate of poor Capt. Frye was still fresh in my memory. Still I was sure that they could only punish me with a fine for smuggling the bag ashore; yet, suppose that the bag contained something of importance to the Cuban patrióte? What if I had unwittingly been the bearer of valuable messaeres to the surgeutsí The thought almost unnerved me. If it was so, and the government had found the packet, I oould expect no better fate than feil to the lot of so many of the crew of the Virginius. When the keel of the boat grated upou the coral rocks at the foot of a flight of stono steps, I was ordered to disembark, and between two soldiers with muskets, and preceded by an offleer, the ascent was began up the damp, slimy stairs. We had not taken many steps when we were haíled by a sentry, who was answered by the officer in whose charge I was - we then resumed our way ; soon a bright light shone ín our faces, and we could see an open door a little above us. Through this door we passed and as it swung to again upon its massire hinges we found ourselves between two rows of soldiers with drawn gwords; the apartment seemed to be a sort of guard room or keep. A few moments after our entrance, during which time we had remained standing without a word being spoken, a door in the further end of the room opened and an offleer, gayly bedecked with gold lace, entered and approaching our party took some papers from the soldier in charge and began to read tlicin very carefully. When he had finished he waved an adieu to those who had arrested me, and they at once turned and left the apartment by the same door through which we had eutered. Then, at the word of command, two soldiers stepped from the ranks and began to search my pocketsand clothing, takingeverything that they could find, even to my handkerchief. I was next ordered to fall into line with the guard and was marched off through long, gloomy passageways, down flight after flight of damp, moldy steps ; past strong iron doors which was easy euough for me to imagina were closed upon some poor mortals who were destined liever again to breathe tho pure air oL lieaven, but to lie entombed within this disímil pile of masoury uutil welcome death skould release them from their sufferiug, perhaps years after their very names had beeu forgotten in their own homes. Once I heard- or thought I heard- a low, distiuct moau that seemed to rise from the stone flagging beueath our feet. Narrower grew the passage as we advanced, and by the feeble rays of the single toreh oarried by one of the guard I eould see numberless lizards, scorpions and other creeping reptiles scamper away at our approach. At length, after a journey which seemed to have led me into the very bovvels of the earth, we were halted before one of thr numerous Iran doors, which the offlcer unlocked and opened, and without further ceremouy I was thrust into a small, damp, fetid teil, with bare stone walls, floor and roof. By the light of the torca, whieh streamed into the apartment before the heavy door was swsng to, I could see that it was entirely empty, sava o eountless number of those loathsome creatures which had darted across our pathway ai we carne down the corridor. Oh, what a ieeling of despair came over me when I founil myself alone in total dartness, entombed in this loathsome, subterraneau dungeon. Slowly tlie remaining hours of the night wore aivay, giving me plenty of time to think over the incideuts of the past few weeks and see if I had done auything to deserve sueh treatment. Easy it was to traco my trouble to the strange youtli wlio had formed my acquainfr ance in Boston, but I had committetl no crime in deliveriug his effects to his family, save in the act of smuggling them ashore, and that in itself was a trivial offense. The more my mind dwelt upon the matter, the more I was convineed that I had allowed myself to become a medium between the Cuban patriots and their sympathizers in the United States, and the information or whatever it was that I had delivered must have been of great importance to cali forth such a reward trom Uonzalez. Yes, there was no doubt but what I was in for it, and knowing the irascible temper of the Spaniards I feit that my deatli was well nigh certain. After what seemed an age f rom the time of my commitment to the prison, a faint streak made its appearauce upon one of the walls óf my cell; it was the first break of day. The small ajwrture through whieh the light struggled was only about flve feet from the floor, and I could easily look out. The slit was too narrow to allow a very extended range to my visión, but I eould see that I was confined on the water side of the fort, and directly fronting the shipping. But this fact afforded me little consolation, for I feit sure that I should only leave this dreary dungeon to march to my death. I was gazing wistfully out through thetiny aperture, when I heard the heavy bolt thrown back and the ponderous door swung open on its rusty hinges; and turning I was confronted by an offlcer and a file of soldiere armed wlth muskets. The offlcer, with drawn sword, stepped into the cell, and in a pompous manner ordered me to "fall in," and we took up our march through the tortuous passageway to the light of day above. Issuing from the underground labyrinth of corridors we emerged into a spacious square, across which I was conducted and placed with my back against the stone face of a wall, while the soldiers were drawn up in line a few paces in front of me. Several soldiers now appeared carrying & table and some light camp stools, which they placed quite near me, but little to one side, and then retired; two of them almost immediately returned bearing that grim symbolof death, a coflin. That my time had come I was certain, but I resolved to make a very vigorous protest against suoh summary measures, and called loudly for a hearing. But I might have sa ved my strength, for my protestations were not taken the slightest notice of. Presently a number of offlcers appeared crossing the plaza, and to my uuspeakable relief I recogiüzed the American consul in their midst. I was then to be granted the semblance of a trial at least. The officials wasted no time in f urther ceremony, but seating themselves at the table began at once by one of their number reading the indietment, which was repeated in English by au interpreter, and which aecused me of "aiding and abetting the Cuban insurgents, who were in arms against their lawful sovereign, the king of Spain, by delivering into the hands of one of the ehiefs of the insurgents incendiary papers to incite the people of Cuba to further deeds of violence against the government, and also money to enable them to carry on a desultory warfare." To havo attempted to disguise anything or withhold any part of my share in the unfortunato affair I knew would be disastrous to my cause; so I told my story straightforward from beginning to end, and the consul, I saw, was faithfully translating it. Several times, I afterward learned, the jjarty employed as interpreter construed my language so as to make me appear much more guilty than I really was. The fact that I had coneealed the presence of the bag in my cabin from tlie oftieers, and then stealthily conveyed it ashore and deliv ered it to the address upon it, was a strong, veiy strong point against me, and it required all the eloquence of tho consul to prove that I was ignorant of the contents of the bag. 'If the prisoner had been aware what was tritliin the bag, would he havo dared to hare taken it to 13 Plaza di Poco in brood daylight, wheu the plaza is full of soldiere and members of the secret service?' asked my eountryman and defender. This argument bore weight. For some ten minutes the offleers conversed apart, while the consul did bis best to cheer me up. When everything had been ttxed apparently to their satisfaction au elderly soldier, one who seemed to be ohief among my judges, arose and in a lengthy speech imposed my sentence. "The court had found that I had been bul, an unwitting agent, and therefore was not wholly responsible, but inasmuch as I had surreptitiously conveyed the bag ashore I had thereby violated the customs rule and was consequeutly found guilty and ordered to pay a fine of $500 in gold, and to remaiu imprisoned within the fort at Matanzas untü the sum was paid. " Oh, what a relief. I almost fainted on hearing the sentence, the reaction was so great! As may be imagined it required but a few moments for the consul to give his bond for the amount, and I was a freo man. I had no desire to remain longer withio the walls of the grim old fortress, after my release, and in eompany with my defender hurried out through a sally port which was opened for our egress, and as we were passing through, miicli to our surprise, the conteuts of my pocketa (which had been taken f rom mo the previous night), were returnad tome. Thus was ended my first and last tilt with tho bli d goddess, which far famed lady may be said to be doubly blind In the distant islands of the Antilles. I afternard aseertained that the Spaniards had failed to seoure the person of Senor zolez as be had lett the city the same day oí my visit, buf as I had been seen to enter his house with a bag and leave it without one, and as he was known to hold strong revolutionary principies the authorities thought it their duty to arrest me, thinking that I was at least a sympathizer, and that through fear of instant death I would reveal some secreta of the insurgt'uts.


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