I HAVE not told you how Can Grande took leave of the Isle of Rogues, as one of our party christened the fair Queen of the Antilles. I could not tell you how he loathed the goings on at Havana, how hateful he found the Spaniards, and how villanous the American hotel-keepers. His superlatives of censure were in such constant employment that they began to have a threadbare sound before he left us; and as he has it in prospective to run the gauntlet of all the innkeepers on the continent of Europe, to say nothing of further lands, where innkeepers would be a relief, there is no knowing what exhaustion his powers in this sort may undergo before he reaches us again. He may break down into weak, compliant good-nature, and never be able to abuse anybody again, as long as he lives. In that case, his past life and his future, taken together, will make a very respectable average. But the climate really did not suit him, the company did not satisfy, and there came a moment when he said, "I can bear it no longer!" and we answered, "Go in peace!"
It now becomes me to speak of Sobrina, who has long been on a temperance footing, and who forgets even to blush when the former toddy is mentioned, though she still shudders at the remembrance of sour-sop. She is the business-man of the party; and while philosophy and highest considerations occupy the others, with an occasional squabble over virtue and the rights of man, she changes lodgings, hires carts, transports luggage, and, knowing half-a-dozen words of Spanish, makes herself clearly comprehensible to everybody. "We have found a Spanish steamer for Can Grande;" but she rows thither in a boat and secures his passage and state-room. The noontide sun is hot upon the waters, but her zeal is hotter still. Now she has made a curious bargain with her boatmen, by which they are to convey the whole party to the steamer on the fourth day.
"What did you tell them?" we asked.
"I said, tres noches (three nights) and un dia, (one day,) and then took out my watch and showed them five o'clock on it, and pointed to the boat and to myself. They understood perfectly."
And so, in truth, they did; for, going to the wharf on the day and at the hour appointed, we found the boatmen in waiting, with eager faces. But here a new difficulty presented itself;—the runner of our hotel, a German whose Cuban life has sharpened his wits and blunted his conscience, insisted that the hiring of boats for the lodgers was one of his (many) perquisites, and that before his sovereign prerogative all other agreements were null and void.—N. B. There was always something experimentative about this man's wickedness. He felt that he did not know how far men might be gulled, or the point where they would be likely to resist. This was a fault of youth. With increasing years and experience he will grow bolder and more skilful, and bids fair, we should say, to become one of the most dexterous operators known in his peculiar line. On the present occasion he did not heed the piteous pleadings of the disappointed boatmen, nor Sobrina's explanations, nor Can Grande's arguments. But when the whole five of us fixed upon him our mild and scornful eyes, something within him gave way. He felt a little bit of the moral pressure of Boston, and feebly broke down, saying, "You better do as you like, then," and so the point was carried.
A pleasant row brought us to the side of the steamer. It was dusk already as we ascended her steep gangway, and from that to darkness there is, at this season, but the interval of a breath. Dusk too were our thoughts, at parting from Can Grande, the mighty, the vehement, the great fighter. How were we to miss his deep music, here and at home! With his assistance we had made a very respectable band; now we were to be only a wandering drum and fife,—the fife particularly shrill, and the drum particularly solemn. Well, we went below, and examined the little den where Can Grande was to pass the other seven days of his tropical voyaging. The berths were arranged the wrong way,—across, not along, the vessel,—and we foresaw that his head would go up and his feet down, and vice versâ, with every movement of the steamer, and our weak brains reeled at the bare thought of what he was to suffer. He, good soul, meanwhile was thinking of his supper, and wondering if he could get tea, coffee, and chocolate, a toasted roll, and the touch of cold ham which an invalid loves. And we beheld, and they were bringing up the side of the vessel trays of delicious pastry, and festoons of fowls, with more literal butcher's meat. And we said, "There will be no famine on board. Make the most of your supper, Can Grande; for it will be the last of earth to you, for some time to come." And now came silence, and tears, and last embraces; we slipped down the gangway into our little craft, and looking up, saw bending above us, between the slouched hat and the silver beard, the eyes that we can never forget, that seemed to drop back in the darkness with the solemnity of a last farewell. We went home, and the drum hung himself gloomily on his peg, and the little fife shut up for the remainder of the evening.
Has Mr. Dana described the Dominica, I wonder? Well, if he has, I cannot help it. He never can have eaten so many ices there as I have, nor passed so many patient hours amid the screeching, chattering, and devouring, which make it most like a cage of strange birds, or the monkey department in the Jardin des Plantes.—Mem. I always observed that the monkeys just mentioned seemed far more mirthful than their brethren in the London Zoological Gardens. They form themselves, so to speak, on a livelier model, and feel themselves more at home with their hosts.
But the Dominica. You know, probably, that it is the great café of Havana. All the day long it is full of people of all nations, sipping ices, chocolate, and so on; and all night long, also, up to the to me very questionable hour when its patrons go home and its garçons go to bed. We often found it a welcome refuge at noon, when the douche of sunlight on one's cervix bewilders the faculties, and confuses one's principles of gravitation, toleration, etc., etc. You enter from the Tophet of the street, and the intolerable glare is at once softened to a sort of golden shadow. The floor is of stone; in the midst trickles a tiny fountain with gilded network; all other available space is crowded with marble tables, square or round; and they in turn are scarcely visible for the swarm of black-coats that gather round them. The smoke of innumerable cigars gives a Rembrandtic tinge to the depths of the picture, and the rows and groups of nodding Panama hats are like very dull flower-beds. In the company, of course, the Spanish-Cuban element largely predominates; yet here and there the sharper English breaks upon the ear.
"Yes, I went to that plantation; but they have only one thousand boxes of sugar, and we want three thousand for our operation."
A Yankee, you say. Yes, certainly; and turning, you see the tall, strong Philadelphian from our hotel, who calls for everything by its right name, and always says, "Mas! mas!" when the waiter helps him to ice. Some one near us is speaking a fuller English, with a richer "r" and deeper intonation. See there! that is our own jolly captain, Brownless of ours, the King of the "Karnak"; and going up to the British lion, we shake the noble beast heartily by the paw.
The people about us are imbibing a variety of cooling liquids. Our turn comes at last. The garçon who says, "I speke Aingliss," brings us each a delicious orange granizada, a sort of half-frozen water-ice, familiar to Italy, but unknown in America. It is ice in the first enthusiasm of freezing,—condensed, not hardened. Promoting its liquefaction with the spoon, you enjoy it through the mediation of a straw. The unskilful make strange noises and gurglings through this tenuis avena; but to those who have not forgotten the accomplishment of suction, as acquired at an early period of existence, the modus in quo is easy and agreeable.
You will hardly weary of watching the groups that come and go, and sit and talk in this dreamy place. If you are a lady, every black eye directs its full, tiresome stare at your face, no matter how plain that face may be. But you have learned before this to consider those eyes as so many black dots, so many marks of wonder with no sentence attached; and so you coolly pursue your philosophizing in your corner, strong in the support of a companion who, though deeply humanitarian and peaceful, would not hesitate to punch any number of Spanish heads that should be necessary for the maintenance of your comfort and his dignity.
The scene is occasionally varied by the appearance of a beggar-woman, got up in great decency, and with a wonderful air of pinched and faded gentility. She wears an old shawl upon her head, but it is as nicely folded as an aristocratic mantilla; her feet are cased in the linen slippers worn by the poorer classes, but there are no unsavory rags and dirt about her. "That good walk of yours, friend," I thought, "does not look like starvation." Yet, if ever there were a moment when one's heart should soften towards an imposing fellow-creature, it is when one is in the midst of the orange granizada. The beggar circles slowly and mournfully round all the marble tables in turn, holding out her hand to each, as the plate is offered at a church collection. She is not importunate; but looking in each one's face, seems to divine whether he will give or no. A Yankee, sitting with a Spaniard, offers her his cigar. The Spaniard gravely pushes the cigar away, and gives her a medio.
More pertinacious is the seller of lottery-tickets, male or female, who has more at stake, and must run the risk of your displeasure for the chance of your custom. Even in your bed you are hardly safe from the ticket-vender. You stand at your window, and he, waiting in the street, perceives you, and with nods, winks, and showing of his wares endeavors to establish a communication with you. Or you stop and wait somewhere in your volante, and in the twinkling of an eye the wretch is at your side, to bear you company till you drive off again. At the Dominica he is especially persevering, and stands and waits with as much zeal as if he knew the saintly line of Milton. Like the beggar, however, he is discriminative in the choice of his victims, and persecutes the stony Yankee less than the oily Spaniard, whose inbred superstitions force him to believe in luck.
Very strange stories do they tell about the trade in lottery-tickets,—strange at least to us, who consider them the folly of follies. Here, as in Italy, the lotteries are under the care of the State, and their administration is as careful and important as that of any other branch of finance. They are a regular and even reputable mode of investment. The wealthy commercial houses all own tickets, sometimes keeping the same number for years, but more frequently changing after each unsuccessful experiment. A French gentleman in Havana assured me that his tickets had already cost him seven thousand dollars. "And now," said he, "I cannot withdraw, for I cannot lose what I have already paid. The number has not been up once in eight years; its turn must come soon. If I were to sell my ticket, some one would be sure to draw the great prize with it the week after." This, perhaps, is not very unlike the calculations of business risks most in vogue in our great cities. A single ticket costs an ounce (seventeen dollars); but you are constantly offered fractions, to an eighth or a sixteenth. There are ticket-brokers who accommodate the poorer classes with interests to the amount of ten cents, and so on. Thus, for them, the lottery replaces the savings-bank, with entire uncertainty of any return, and the demoralizing process of expectation thrown into the bargain. The negroes invest a good deal of money in this way, and we heard in Matanzas a curious anecdote on this head. A number of negroes, putting their means together, had commissioned a ticket-broker to purchase and hold for them a certain ticket. After long waiting and paying up, news came to Matanzas that the ticket had drawn the $100,000 prize. The owners of the negroes were in despair at this intelligence. "Now my cook will buy himself," says one; "my calesero will be free," says another; and so on. The poor slaves ran, of course, in great agitation, to get their money. But, lo! the office was shut up. The rascal broker had absconded. He had never run the risk of purchasing the ticket; but had coolly appropriated this and similar investments to his own use, preferring the bird in the hand to the whole aviary of possibilities. He was never heard of more; but should he ever turn up anywhere, I commend him as the fittest subject for Lynch-law on record.
Well, as I have told you, all these golden chances wait for you at the Dominica, and many Americans buy, and look very foolish when they acknowledge it. The Nassauese all bought largely during their short stay; and even their little children held up with exultation their fragments of tickets, all good for something, and bad for something, too.
If you visit the Dominica in the evening, you find the same crowd, only with a sprinkling of women, oftenest of your own country, in audacious bonnets, and with voices and laughter which bring the black eyes upon them for a time. If it be Sunday evening, you will see here and there groups of ladies in full ball-dress, fresh from the Paseo, the volante waiting for them outside. All is then at its gayest and busiest; but your favorite waiter, with disappointment in his eyes, will tell you that there is "no mas" of your favorite granizada, and will persuade you to take I know not what nauseous substitute in its place; for all ices are not good at the Dominica, and some are (excuse the word) nasty. People sit and sip, prolonging their pleasures with dilatory spoon and indefatigable tongue. Group follows group; but the Spaniards are what I should call heavy sitters, and tarry long over their ice or chocolate. The waiter invariably brings to every table a chafing-dish with a burning coal, which will light a cigar long after its outer glow has subsided into ashy white. Some humans retain this kindling power;—vide Ninon and the ancient Goethe;—it is the heart of fire, not the flame of beauty, that does it. When one goes home, tired, at ten or eleven, the company shows no sign of thinning, nor does one imagine how the ground is ever cleared, so as to allow an interval of sleep between the last ice at night and the first coffee in the morning. It is the universal siesta which makes the Cubans so bright and fresh in the evening. With all this, their habits are sober, and the evening refreshment always light. No suppers are eaten here; and it is even held dangerous to take fruit as late as eight o'clock, P. M.
The Dominica has still another aspect to you, when you go there in the character of a Citizen and Head of family to order West India sweetmeats for home-consumption. You utter the magic word dulces, and are shown with respect into the establishment across the way, where a neat steam-engine is in full operation, tended by blacks and whites, stripped above the waist, and with no superfluous clothing below it. Here they grind the chocolate, and make the famous preserves, of which a list is shown you, with prices affixed. As you will probably lose some minutes in perplexity as to which are best for you to order, let me tell you that the guava jelly and marmalade are first among them, and there is no second. You may throw in a little pine-apple, mamey, lime, and cocoa-plum; but the guava is the thing, and, in case of a long run on the tea-table, will give the most effectual support. The limes used to be famous in our youth; but in these days they make them hard and tough. The marmalade of bitter oranges is one of the most useful of Southern preserves; but I do not remember it on the list of the Dominica. Having given your order, let me further advise you to remain, if practicable, and see it fulfilled; as you will otherwise find divers trifling discrepancies between the bill and the goods delivered, which, though of course purely accidental, will all be, somehow, to the Dominica's advantage, and not to yours. If you are in moderate circumstances, order eight or ten dollars' worth; if affluent, twenty or thirty dollars' worth; if rash and extravagant, you may rise even to sixty dollars; but you will find in such an outlay food for repentance. One word in your ear: do not buy the syrups, for they are made with very bad sugar, and have no savor of the fruits they represent.
And this is all I can tell about the Dominica, which I recommend to all of you for refreshment and amusement. We have nothing like it in New York or Boston,—our salons of the same description having in them much more to eat, and much less to see. As I look back upon it, the place assumes a deeply Moorish aspect. I see the fountain, the golden light, the dark faces, and intense black eyes, a little softened by the comforting distance. Oh! to sit there for one hour, and help the garçon's bad English, and be pestered by the beggar, and tormented by the ticket-vender, and support the battery of the wondering looks, which make it sin for you, a woman, to be abroad by day! Is there any Purgatory which does not grow lovely as you remember it? Would not a man be hanged twice, if he could?