A Trip to Cuba

by Julia Ward Howe

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Chapter XVII - Education - Last Night in San Antonio - Farewell.

ONE of our number, visiting the public schools of San Antonio one day, found the course of studies for boys of very respectable extension,—it comprised all the usual elementary branches, including the History of Spain, such a history of that country at least as is good for Cuban boys to learn. For the education of girls, a single hour was reserved, and into this were crowded the necessary reading and writing, a little instruction in accounts, and the geography of the island. My friend remonstrated against this unequal division of the spoils of time, but those in authority insisted that it was according to the rights of Nature, as follows.

American. Do you mean to say that boys should be taught five or six hours a day, and girls only one?

Schoolmaster. Certainly.

American. Why do you make this difference?

Schoolmaster. Because women need so much less education than men.

American. Why is that?

Schoolmaster. They have less mind, in the first place, and then their mode of life demands less cultivation of what they have.

American. What knowledge do you consider necessary for a woman? only reading and writing, I suppose.

Schoolmaster. Yes, and a little arithmetic. They must fill up the rest of their time with sewing, and household matters.

American. But supposing you were required to add something to this small amount of instruction, what would it be?

Schoolmaster (after some reflection). I scarcely know, unless indeed a slight coloring of Grammar.

Our American, now excited, brings in view the good of the race. "Do you not think," he says, "that by elevating the organism of the mothers, you elevate the intellectual chances of the whole race? Stupid mothers will have stupid sons,—the results of culture are inherited."

The master replies that that is not his business, but Don Juan, who happens to be present, being appealed to, assents, and thinks it might be as well if a mother could have an idea. So far, so good, but a jealous-hearted woman to whom the conversation was reported smiled to observe how both American and Cuban made woman subservient to the interests of the race. "And if she should never be a mother," said this one, "educate her for herself, that she may give good counsel, and discern the noble and the beautiful. For women are good to inspire men, as well as to bear them, and for their own sakes, they have a right to know all that elevates and dignifies life." And this brings to mind another brief conversation overheard in one of our voyages.

Young Wife (holding up a number of the "Atlantic Monthly"). Ought women to learn the alphabet, dear? what do you think?

Young Husband. Oh! certainly—don't they have to teach it?

But the time draws nigh for us to leave San Antonio. Our return passages are engaged in the next Isabel. If this steamer prove such a Bird of Gladness as the papers and her consignees say, then our once weary voyage will become a veritable translation,—only three days of sunshine, smoothness, and turtle-soup for luncheon, and you land in Charleston in undisturbed equilibrium of manners and of dress. Well, more of this anon.

But to-night is our last night in San Antonio. We have danced our last contra-danza with Dotor Hernandez, and had our last chat with Maria Luisa and her mother. Juanito was there, that evening, and as we were all in a musical mood, he played through whole piano-forte arrangements of "Norma" and "Lucia," and we all screamed through the score, some six notes too high for the voice, Papa and Mamma applauding us, and did wonders in "Casta Diva" and "Chi mi frena." But this is all at an end, and one of us stands alone at her open window, and looks for the last time on the quiet scene,—just before her is the little pasture where the goats pick up a scanty subsistence all day, and where shadows and moonlight play such wild freaks at night. This morning, as she sat at that window and worked, two men in haste carried a coffin past it. She always sees coffins, and sometimes writes about them,—that one gives tone to her thoughts to-night. For the house opposite is now dark and still,—the parlor where Mariquilla embroiders her chemises, and Dolores pulls lint for the sick is silent and deserted. The trees stand up there in the moonlight, and the river runs among its shallows so near that one hears its voice. And Hulita thinks: fifty years from this time—that river will be running just as it is now, and those trees, or others like them, will be standing at the angle of the picture as I now see them, but where shall we, friends of to-day, be? Dead, or old enough to die. Juanito will be a man in years, then, with white hairs, scarcely remembering the American lady who praised his compositions in church-music. The Dotor, Papa, and Mamma cannot be alive, Maria Luisa will be a Grandmother, and if Hulita lives, her infirmities will make death a welcome deliverance. So she envies that moon, the trees, the river, who can all stay and be eternal. She saw the coffin to-day,—very like she will see the whole no more. Good-night, dear moon, dear shadows, dear unlearned, unsophisticated people,—I shall leave you to-morrow, forget you never.

And the next day comes the bustle of departure, and packing of trunks, for we are to take the afternoon train down to Havana. Doña Tomasita sends a parting gift of fruit, as much as one man and one stout boy can carry. The fruit is as follows: one bushel of golden, honeyed oranges,—oh! the glory of all oranges are those of this island,—the same quantity of chaimitos and mameys, and a huge fagot of sugar-cane. We hasten to share these good creatures with those immediately at hand, having lauded Doña Tomasita to the skies and paid her messengers. What could be carried away we took with us. Then came the parting with Polonia, who wrung her hands as usual, and cried out: "Know thou, girl, that I shall miss thee much." "And I thee, too, thou dear old half-mad charcoal figure,—thou art human, though black, and canst ache over the ironing-table as well as another. Let these few reals console thee, as far as may be, for the loss of my sympathy. If we ever get the Island, I will help thee to ease and good wages.

"But not so to thee, roguish Antonio. 'Art thou not free and perfidious? We intrusted a sum of money to thine hand to pay the negro baggage-carrier, and to slightly fee thyself, and we ascertain all too late, by the complaints of the injured negro, that thou didst slightly fee him, and pay thyself for services never rendered. Wherefore dread our coming, or the Day of Justice, by whomsoever administered!'"——

We have taken affectionate leave of the family of the house opposite, promising to write, with the remainder of our mortal lives as the vague term of fulfilment. A trinket or two made the younger ones happy, while the whole family solemnly united to bestow on me a little set of vignettes of Cuba, folded fan-fashion, and purchasable for the sum of five reals. Not without much explanation was it delivered to me,—this was the Cock-fight, this the Bull-fight, this the Tacon theatre. I received these instructions without any of that American asperity which led a celebrated Chief Justice to say: "There are some things, Mr. Counsel, which the Court is supposed to know," and gratefully departed. We walked to the dépôt, in the hot afternoon sun, our smaller pieces conveyed on a barrow, and the huge trunk resting, for fifty cents, on the head of a stalwart negro.—Mem. A negro could carry the round earth on his head, if he could only get it there. And here came the discovery of Antonio's vileness,—he had had an eighth of an ounce, wherewith to pay the carriers. According to the bargain, as rehearsed to us, he was to pay them a dollar and three fourths, which would leave him three reals for himself. He professed to have done this with so ingenuous an air, that we were a little ashamed of so small a fee, and added thereto the small remnant of our change. Only at the last moment, when the train was puffing and smoking alongside, did the poor blacks venture to say that one dollar was very little for carrying all those trunks. Our hearts were stirred, but the train was there, the purse empty, and Antonio out of sight. Wherefore, let him, as before said, avoid our second coming.

But there never was a departure without an omission. Something you have forgotten that you meant to take, or you have brought with you something that should have been left. Wending your way from an English mansion of splendid hospitality, a stray towel has found its way into your portmanteau. Before you have discovered this, a confidential letter from the housekeeper overtakes you informing you of the fact, and begging you to return the missing article at once, which you do for six stamps, with a slight tingle in the cheek. In the present instance we have taken nought that was not ours, but we have left an article of domestic dignity and importance.

Stranger, if you should ever sit at that tea-table in the hotel at San Antonio, with the lamp smoking under your nose, and the three tasteless dishes of preserves spread before your sight, a cup of astringent nothingness being offered to you, and a choking stale roll forming the complement of your evening service,—if there and thus you should see a white teapot, with bands of blue, that looks as if it had seen better days, oh then remember us! For we had scarcely settled ourselves in the cars, when a pensive recollection came over us. It was too late to do anything,—we only touched the shoulder of our friend, who was as usual intent upon palms and scenery, and remarked, with a look of melancholy intelligence, "The Teapot is left behind!"

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