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Full text of "San Cristobal De La Habana"

1917.291 H54 



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D.:A HABANA 



JOSE.P.H, J3ERGESHEIMER 

% ' ' 'NOVELS 
THE LAY ANTHONY [1914] 
MOUNTAIN BLOOD [1915] 
THE THREE BLACK PENNYS [1917] 
JAVA HEAD [1918] 
LINDA CONDON [1919] 

SHORTER STORIES 
GOLD AND IRON [1918] 
THE HAPPY END [1919] 

TRAVEL 
SAN CRISTOBAL DE LA HABANA 

Published in New York by 
ALFRED A. KNOPF 
and for sale at all bookshops 



SAN CRISTOBAL 
DE LA HABANA 

BY 
JOSEPH HERGESHEIMER 



"Many yeeres since I had knowledge by 

relation of that great and golden Citie 

which the Spaniards call El Dorado." 

Sir Walter Ralegh, 




NEW YORK 

ALFRED -A- KNOPF 

1920 



ALFRED A. KNOPF, 



PBIKTBD IK THE "UNITED STATES OT AMERICA 



To 
H. J. B. BAIRD 

An 

Havana 

which he is free 

to decline in every particular 

save the 

dedication 



SAN CRISTOBAL 
DE LA HABANA 



THERE are certain cities, strange to the 
first view, nearer the heart than home. 
But it might be better to acknowledge 
that, perhaps, the word home has a wider and 
deeper significance than any mere geographi- 
cal and family setting. Many men are alien 
in houses built from the traditions of their 
blood; the most inaccessible and obdurate 
parts of the earth have always been restlessly 
sought by individuals driven not so much by 
exterior pressure as by a strange necessity to 
inhabit a barren copper mountain, a fever 
coast, or follow to the end of life a river lost 
in a savage remoteness, hiding the secret of 
their unquenchable longing. 

Not this, precisely, happened to me, ap- 
proaching Havana in the early morning, noth- 
ing so tyrannical and absolute; yet, watching 
the silver greenness of Cuba rising from the 

[9] 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
blue sea, I had a premonition that what I saw 
was of peculiar importance to me. I grew at 
once impatient and sharply intent on the re- 
solving of a nebulous and verdant mass into 
the details of dense slopes, slopes that showed, 
from the sea to their crowns, no break in a 
dark foliage. The sombreness of the leaves 
immediately marked the land from an accus- 
tomed region of bright maples they were at 
once dark, glossy, and heavy, an effect I had 
often tried to describe, and their presence in 
such utter expanses filled me with pleasure. 
It was exactly as though the smooth lus- 
trous hills before me had been created out of 
an old mysterious desire to realize them in 
words. 

Undoubtedly their effect belonged to the 
sea, the sky, and the hour in which they were 
set. The plane of the sea, ruffled by a wind 
like a willful and contrarily exerted force, 
was so blue that its color was lost in the dark 
intensity of tone; while the veils of space 
were dissolved in arcs of expanding light. 
The island seemed unusually solid and iso- 

[10] 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
lated, as complete within itself as a flower 
in air, and saturated with romance. That was 
my immediate feeling about Cuba, taking 
on depth across water profounder than in- 
digo ... it was latent with the emotional 
distinction which so signally stirred me to 
write. 

At once, in imagination, I saw the ineffable 
bay of Guatanago, where buccaneers careened 
their ships and, in a town of pink stucco and 
windows with projecting wooden grilles, 
drank and took for figureheads the sacred 
images of churches painted blue. On the 
shore, under a canopy of silk, a woman, naked 
but for a twist of bishop's purple, bound her 
hair in gold cloth. From where she stood, in 
dyed shadow, a figure only less golden than 
the cloth, she heard the hollow ring of the 
caulking malls and the harsh rustle of the 
palms. Drawing rapidly nearer to what was 
evidently the entrance to the harbor of Ha- 
vana I considered the possibilities of such a 
story, such a character: 

She had her existence in the seventeenth 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
century, when Morgan marched inland to 
rape Camagiiey the daughter, without doubt, 
of a captain of the Armada de Barlevento, the 
Windward Fleet, and a native woman taken in 
violence; a shameless wench with primitive 
feelings enormously complicated by the heri- 
tage of Spain's civilization, a murderous, sul- 
len, passionate jade, wholly treacherous and in- 
stinct with ferine curiosity. The master for 
her, I decided, must come from the Court of 
Charles, the London of the Cavalier Parlia- 
ment, a gentleman in a gay foppery masking 
a steel eaten by a cruelty like a secret poison. 
It would be a story bright with the flames of 
hell and violent as a hurricane; the pages 
would reflect the glare of the sand scrawled 
with cocoanut palms, and banked with man- 
groves; and, at the end, the bishop's purple 
would be a cerecloth and the gallows chains 
sound in Xaymaca. But, above everything 
else, it would be modern in psychology and 
color treatment, written with that realism for 
which the only excuse was to provide a more 
exact verisimilitude for romance. 

[12] 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
The Cuban shore was now so close, Havana 
so imminent, that I lost my story in a new in- 
terest I could see low against the water a 
line of white buildings, at that distance purely 
classic in implication. Then it was that I 
had my first premonition about the city to- 
ward which I was smoothly progressing I 
was to find in it the classic spirit not of Greece 
but of a late period ; it was the replica of those 
imagined cities painted and engraved in a 
wealth of marble cornices and set directly 
against the tranquil sea. There was already 
perceptible about it the air of unreality that 
marked the strand which saw the Embarka- 
tion for Cytherea. 

' Nothing could have made me happier than 
this realization; an extension of the impres- 
sion of a haunting dream turned into solid 
fact. The buildings multiplied to the sight, 
bathed in a glamorous radiance; and, sud- 
denly, on the other hand, rose Morro Castle. 
That structure, small and compact and re- 
markably like its numerous pictures, gave me 
a distinct feeling of disappointment Its im- 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
portance was historic rather than visible, and 
needed, for appreciation, a different mind 
from mine. But the narrowness of the harbor 
entrance, a deep thrust of blue extending 
crookedly into the land, the sense of crowded 
shipping and massed city, the steamers of the 
world and broad shaded avenues at my elbow, 
impressed me at once with Havana's unique 
personality. 

Nothing, however, was more ingratiating 
than the long coraline limestone wall of the 
Cabanas on its sere abrupt hill at the left; 
ponderous and stained brilliantly pink by 
time, it formed a miraculous complement to 
the pseudo-classic whiteness below. A sea- 
wall built into a wide promenade followed the 
shore, there was a circular pavilion on a 
flagged plaza piled with iron chairs, the docks 
were interspersed with small public gardens 
under royal palms, and everywhere the high 
windows had ornamental balconies empty in 
the morning sun. I heard, then, the voice of 
Havana, a remarkably active staccato voice, 
never, I was to learn, sinking to quiet, but 

[14] 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
changing at night into a different yet no less 
disturbing clamor. 

What I tried to discover, rushed through 
broad avenues and streets hardly more than 
passageways, was the special characteristic 
of a city which had already possessed me. 
And, ignorant of the instantaneous process 
that formed the words, I told myself that it 
was a mid-Victorian Pompeii. This was a 
modification of my first impression, a truer 
approximation, for it expressed the totality of 
marble fagades inadmissible architecturally, 
yet together holding a surprising and pleasant 
unity. No one, I thought excitedly, had ever 
rightly appreciated Havana; it required a 
very involved understanding, a feeling not 
entirely admirable. No, it wasn't Hellenic, 
not what might be called in the first manner; 
it hadn't the simplicity of great spirit, a true 
epoch; Havana was artificial, exotic: Spain 
touched everywhere by the tropics, the tropics 
without a tradition built into a semblance 
of the baroque. 

It was rococo, and I liked it; an admission, 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
I believe, laying me open to certain charges ; 
for the rococo was universally damned; the 
Victorian period had been equally condemned 
. . . and I liked it Why, God knew! Or- 
nament without use, without reference to its 
surface and purpose, invited contempt. A 
woman in a hoop skirt was an absurdity ; black 
walnut furniture carved and gilded beyond 
recognition, nonsense. Yet they had my warm 
attachment. Havana claimed me for its own 
a city where I could sit at tables in the open 
and gaze at parterres of flowers and palms and 
statues and fountains, where, in the evening, a 
band played the light arias of La Belle 

Helene. 

# # # 

To illustrate further the perversity of my 
impulses: I was so entirely captivated by the 
Hotel Inglaterra that, for the rest of the day, 
I was indifferent to .whatever might be wait- 
ing outside. The deep entrance with its re- 
flected planes of subdued light and servants in 
cool linen; the patio with water, its white 
arches on iridescent tiles ; the dining-room laid 

[16], 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
in marble, panelled with the arms of Pontius 
Pilate, the bronze lustre of the tiling and the 
long windows on the Parque exactly as I had 
anticipated, together created the happy effect 
of a bizarre domain. The corridor on which 
my room opened was still more entrancing, its 
arches filled with green latticework, and an 
octagonal space set with chairs and long- 
bladed plants. 

Yet the room itself, perhaps one of the most 
remarkable rooms in the world, easily sur- 
passed what, until then, I had seen. There 
were slatted door screens, cream-colored with 
a sapphire-blue glass knob, topped in an elabo- 
rate Gothic scrolling; and the door beyond, 
inconceivably tall, opened on an interior that 
seemed to reach upward without any limit. 
It had, of course, a ceiling, heavily beamed in 
dark wood; and when, later, I speculated 
carefully on its height, I reached the conclu- 
sion that it was twenty-five feet above the 
grey-flowered tiling of the floor. The walls 
were bare, white; about their base was laid a 
line of green glazed tiles; and this, except for 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
the glass above the French window, was the 
only positive note. 

The window, too, towered with the dignity 
of an impressive entrance; there were two sets 
of shutters, the inner elaborately slatted ; and 
over it was a semi-circular fanlight of in- 
tensely brilliant colors carmine and orange 
and plum-purple, cobalt and yellow. It was 
extraordinarily vivid, like heaped gorgeous 
fruit: throughout the day it dominated the 
closed elusive interior; and not only from its 
place on high, for the sun, moving across that 
exposure, cast its exact replica on the floor, 
over the frigidity of the austere iron bed, 
down one wall and up another. 

It was fascinating merely to sit and watch 
that chromatic splash, the violent color, shift 
with the afternoon, to surrender the mind to 
its suggestions. . . . They, as well, were sin- 
gularly bright and illogical. Such glass, 
such colors, had been discarded from present 
decorative schemes; but I recalled hints of 
them in the houses of eighteen seventy; I 
seemed to remember them in pagoda-like con- 

[18] 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
servatories, and at once a memory of my child- 
hood returned. Not that there were, actually, 
such windows at Woodnest, sombre under the 
tulip-poplars; yet the impression of one re- 
created the feeling of the other, it brought 
back disturbingly a vanished time with its 
figures long dead. 

Havana was identified as an authentic part 
of my inheritance. I was in a purely inner 
manner to understand it, to have for it the 
affectionate recognition, the sense of familiar- 
ity, of which I have already spoken. The city 
was wholly expressed by the fanlight spark- 
ling with the shifting radiance of the blazing 
day. It was possible, without leaving the 
room, to grasp the essential spirit of a place 
50 largely unseen. Then it occurred to me 
that, indeed, I had seen Havana, and that the 
wisest thing to do was to leave at once, to go 
back with my strong feeling uncontaminated 
by trivial facts ; but a more commonplace im- 
pulse, a limiting materialism, pointed out 
that, since I had come away for a change of 
scene, I had best realize a semblance of my 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
intention. Still those colors, like a bouquet 
of translucent tulips, easily outweighed in im- 
portance all that I subsequently gained ; they 
gave the emotional pitch, the intellectual note, 
of whatever followed a mood, an entire ex- 
istence, into which I walked with the turning 
of a sapphire-blue knob. 

For the rest the furniture was scant a wal- 
nut bureau with a long mirror, necessary 
chairs, and an adequate bathroom like a shaft 
with shining silver faucets at its bottom. 
From outside, even through the heat of noon, 
the sustained activity of sound floated up 
through the shutters the incomplete blend- 
ing of harsh traffic alarms and blurred cries 
announcing newspapers. 

It was later when I went out on my bal- 
cony: across the narrow depth of San Rafael 
Street the ornamented bulk of the Gallego 
Club the Club and the opera house in one 
opposed a corner against the sweep of the 
Parque Central ; and to the right, between the 
glitter of shop windows, poured an unbroken 
procession of motors. A great pillar of the 

[20] 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
paseo below was hung with gaily covered 
magazines ; a bootblack, wrinkled and active, 
with a single chair on a high stand, was clean- 
ing a row of white shoes, obviously from the 
hotel ; and the newsboys were calling La Pol- 
itica Comica in a long-drawn minor inflec- 
tion. 

The sun, that I had seen rising on the un- 
discovered hills of Cuba, was sinking behind 
the apprehended city; it touched the carya- 
tids of the Gallego Club and enveloped, in a 
diminished gold like a fine suffusion of pre- 
cious dust, the circular avenue, the royal 
palms, the flambeau trees and Indian laurels, 
of the plaza. The whiteness of the buildings, 
practically unbroken, everywhere took on the 
tone of every moment: now they were faintly 
aureate, as though they had been lightly 
touched by a gilder's brush ; the diffused shad- 
ows were violet. The shadows slowly thick- 
ened and merged; they seemed to swell up- 
ward from the streets, the Parque; and the 
buildings, in turn, became lavender, and then, 
again, a glimmering white. Only the lifted 

[21] 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
green of the palms was changeless, positive, 
until it was lost in darkness. 

A great many people appeared below, mov- 
ing with an air of determination on definite 
ways. The faces of the men were darkened 
by the contrast of their linen; I couldn't see 
their features ; but what struck me at once was 
the fact that there were, practically, no women 
along the streets. It was a tide of men. 
This, at first, gave me an impression of mo- 
notony, of stupidity women were an abso- 
lute essential to the variety of any spectacle; 
and here, except for an occasional family 
group hurrying to a cafe, a rare stolid shape, 
they were utterly lacking. 

The reason, however, quickly followed* the 
observed truth; this was, in spirit, Spain, and 
Spain was saturated with Morocco, a land 
where women, even the poorest, were never 
publicly exhibited. Havana was a city of 
balconies, of barred windows, of houses im- 
penetrable, blank, to the streets, but open on 
the garden rooms of patios. And suddenly 
while the moment before I had been impa- 

[22] 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
tient at the bareness resulting from their ab- 
sence I was overwhelmingly conscious of the 
pervading influence of charming women. 
Here they were infinitely more appealing 
than in places where they were set out in the 
rows of a market, sometimes like flowers, but 
more often resembling turnips and squashes. 
Here, with extreme flattery, women were re- 
garded as dangerous, as always desirable, and 
capable of folly. 

It was a society where a camellia caught in 
the hair, a brilliant glance across a powdered 
cheek, lace drawn over a vivid mouth, were 
not for nothing. In the world from which I 
had come these gestures, beauties, existed; but 
they were general, and meaningless, rather 
than special the expression of a conventional 
vanity without warmth. There was an agree- 
ment that any one might look, the intensest 
gaze was invited, with the understanding that 
almost none should desire ; and a cloak of hy- 
pocrisy had been the result; either that or the 
beauty was mechanical, the gesture furtive 
and hard. 

[23] 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
For Havana a woman was, in principle, a 
flower with delicate petals easily scattered, a 
perfume not to be rudely, indiscriminately, 
spent; a rose, it was the implication, had its 
moment, its perfection of eager flushed loveli- 
ness, during which what man would not reach 
out his hand? After that ... but the seed 
pods were carefully, jealously, tended. And 
here, in addition to so much else, was another 
shared attitude drawing me toward Havana 
an enormous preference for women who had 
the courage of their emotions over those com- 
pletely circumspect except in situations mor- 
ally and financially solid. 



My dressing for dinner I delayed luxuri- 
ously, smoking the last Dimitrino cigarette 
found in a pocket, and leaving the wet prints 
of my feet on the polished tiles of the floor. 
I was glad that I had brought a trunk, vari- 
ously filled, in place of merely a bag, as I 
might have done; for it was evident that Ha- 
vana required many changes of clothes. It 

[24] 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
was a city which to enjoy demanded a metic- 
ulous attention to trifles. For one thing it 
was going to be hot, April was well advanced ; 
and the glorietas, the brightly illuminated 
open cafes, the thronged Prado and operatic 
Maleco'n, the general air of tropical expen- 
siveness, insisted on the ornamental fitness of 
its idlers. 

I debated comfortably the security of a din- 
ner coat, slightly varied, perhaps, by white 
flannels; but in the end decided in favor of a 
more informal jacket of Chinese silk with the 
flannels. A shirt, the socks and scarf, were 
objects of separate importance ; but when they 
were combined there was a prevailing shade 
of green. ... I had no inclination to apolo- 
gize for lingering over these details, but it 
might be necessary to warn the seekers after 
noble truisms that I had no part in their right- 
eous purpose. Even noble truths, in their 
popular definitions, had never been a part of 
my concern : at the beginning I was hopelessly 
removed from them, and what was an in- 
stinct had become, in an experience of life not 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
without supporting evidence, the firmest pos- 
sible attitude. A tone of candor, if my reflec- 
tions were to have the slightest interest or 
value, was my first necessity; and candor com- 
pelled me to admit that I thought seriously 
about the jacket which finally slipped 
smoothly over my shoulders. 

It was an undeniable fact that I was newly 
in a land of en'ormous interest, which, just 
then, held the most significant and valuable 
crop growing on earth. But that didn't de- 
tain my imagination for a moment. The Ha- 
vana that delighted me, into Which I found 
myself so happily projected, was a city of 
promenading and posted theatre programmes, 
of dinners and drinks and fragrant cigars. I 
was aware that from such things I might, in 
the end, profit; but I'd get nothing, nothing in 
the world, from stereotyped sentiments and 
places and solemn gabbled information. 

On top of this I had a fixed belief in the ac- 
tual importance of, say, a necktie for myself 
of course; I was not referring to the neckties 
of the novelists with a mission, lost in the di- 

[26] 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
lemma of elevating mankind. A black string, 
or none at all, served their superiority. But 
for the light-minded the claim of a Bombay 
foulard against the solider shade of an Irish 
poplin was a delicate question; for the light- 
minded the choice of one word in preference 
to another entirely beneath the plane of a 
mission was a business for blood, an overt 
act. And with me there was a correspond- 
ence between the two, a personal exterior as 
nicely selected as possible and the mental at- 
titude capable of exquisite choice in diction. 
But this was no more than a development of 
all that I first admitted, a repetition of my 
pleasure at being in Havana, a place where 
the election of a cocktail was invested with 
gravity. And, carefully finished except for 
the flower I'd get below, I was entirely in har- 
mony with the envelopment, the adventure, to 
which my persistent good luck had brought 
me. 

The elevator going down was burdened 
with expensive women, their bodies delicately 
evident under clinging fragile materials, their 

[27] 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
powdered throats hung with the clotted iri- 
descence of pearls; the cage was filled with 
soft breathing and faint provocative perfumes 
the special lure of flowers which nature had 
denied to them as women. It was, I told my- 
self, all very reprehensible and delightful : 

Here were creatures, anatomically planned 
for the sole end of maternity, who had wil- 
fully, wisely I felt, elevated the mere pre- 
liminary of their purpose to the position of its 
whole consummation. More intoxicated by 
sheer charm than by the bearing of children, 
resentful of the thickened ankles of their im- 
memorial duty, they proclaimed by every en- 
hanced and seductive curve that their inten- 
tion was magnetic rather than economic. 
They were, however, women of my own land, 
secure in that convention which permitted 
them exposure with immunity, and here, in 
Havana, they failed to interest me; their 
voices, too, were sharp, irritable; and even in 
the contracted space of the elevator their 
elaborate backs were so brutally turned on the 
men with them men correct enough except 

[28] 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
for their studs the hard feminine tyranny 
of the chivalrous United States was so starkly 
upheld, that I escaped with a sigh of relief 
into a totally different atmosphere. 

The lower hall, the patio and dining-room 
on the left, were brilliant with life, the wing- 
like flutter of fans ; and it would be necessary, 
I saw, to have my cocktail in the patio; but 
before that, following a purely instinctive 
course, I walked out to the paseo in front of 
the hotel. The white buildings beyond the 
dark foliage of the Parque were coruscant 
with electric signs, and, their utilitarian pur- 
pose masked in an unfamiliar language, they 
shared with the alabaster of the facades, the 
high fronds of the royal palms and the monu- 
ment to Marti, in the tropical, the classic, ro- 
manticism. 

Hardly had I appeared, gazing down the 
illuminated arcade, when a man approached 
me with a flat wide basket of flowers. There 
were, inevitably, roses, tea roses as pale as the 
yellow of champagne, gardenias, so smooth 
and white that they seemed unreal, heavy with 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
odor; those I had expected, but what surprised 
me were some sprigs of orange blossom with 
an indefinite sweetness that was yet percepti- 
ble above the thicker scents. I chose the 
latter immediately, and the flower vendor, 
wholly comprehensive of my mood, placed the 
boutonniere in my jacket The moment, now, 
had arrived for a Daiquiri: seated near the 
cool drip of the fountain, where a slight stir 
of air seemed to ruffle the fringed mantone of 
a bronze dancing Andalusian girl, I lingered 
over the frigid mixture of Ron Bacardi, sugar, 
and a fresh vivid green lime. 

It was a delicate compound, n*ot so good as 
I was to discover later at the Telegrafo, but 
still a revelation, and I was devoutly thankful 
to be sitting, at that hour in the Inglaterra, 
with such a drink. It elevated my content- 
ment to an even higher pitch ; and, with a de- 
tached amusement, I recalled the fact that far- 
ther north prohibition was formally in effect 
Unquestionably the cocktail on my table was 
a dangerous agent, for it held, in its shallow 
glass bowl slightly encrusted with undissolved 

[30] 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
sugar, the power of a contemptuous indiffer- 
ence to fate ; it set the mind free of responsi- 
bility; obliterating both memory and to-mor- 
row, it gave the heart an adventitious feeling 
of superiority and momentarily vanquished 
all the celebrated, the eternal, fears. 

Yes, that was the danger of skilfully pre- 
pared, intoxicating drinks. . . . The word in- 
toxicating adequately expressed their power, 
their menace to orderly monotonous resigna- 
tion. A word, I thought further, debased by 
moralists from its primary ecstatic content. 
Intoxication with Ron Bacardi, with May, 
with passion, was a state threatening to priv- 
ilege, abhorrent to authority. And, since the 
dull were so fatally in the majority, they lhad 
succeeded in attaching a heavy penalty to 
whatever lay outside their lymphatic under- 
standing. They had, as well, made the term 
gay an accusation before their Lord, con- 
founding it with loose, so that now a gay 
girl certainly the only girl worth a ribbon or 
the last devotion was one bearing upon her 
graceful figure, for she was apt to be repre- 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
hensibly .graceful, the censure of a society 
open to any charge other than that of gaiety in 
either of its meanings. A ridiculous, a tragic, 
conclusion, I told myself indifferently: but 
then, with a fresh Daiquiri and a sprig of 
orange blossoms in my buttonhole, it meant 
less than nothing. It grew cooler, and an 
augmented stir set in motion toward the din- 
ing-room, where the files* of damask-spread 
tables held polished silver water-bottles and 
sugar in crystal jars with spouts. 



The wisdom of the attention I had given 
to my appearance was at once evident in the 
table to which the head waiter conducted me. 
Small and reserved with a canted chair, it was 
directly at one of the long windows on the 
Parque Central. This, at first sight, on the 
part of its arbiter, would not have been merely 
an affair for money he had his eye on the ef- 
fect of the dining-room as a whole, as an ex- 
panse of the utmost decorative correctness, and 
there were a number of men with quite 

[32] 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
pretty women, a great asset publicly, who 
had been given places in the center of the 
room. Yes, where I was seated the ruffled 
curtains were swayed by the night breeze al- 
most against my chair, a brilliant section of 
the^plaza was directly at my shoulder, and I 
was pervaded by the essential feeling of hav- 
ing the best possible situation. 

This was not, perhaps, true of characters 
more admirable than mine : but if I had been 
seated behind one of the pillars, buried in an 
obscure angle, my spirits would have suffered 
a sharp decline. I should have thought, tem- 
porarily, less of Havana, of myself, and of the 
world. The passionate interest in living, the 
sense of aesthetic security, that resulted in my 
turning continually to the inconceivable slav- 
ery of writing, would have been absent. But 
seated in one of the most desirable spots in ex- 
istence, a dining-room .of copper glazed tiles 
open on the tropics, about to begin a dinner 
with shrimps in the pink the veritable rose 
of perfection, while a head waiter, a tri- 
umph of intelligent sympathy, conferred with 

[33] 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
me on the delicate subject of wines, I felt 
equal to prose of matchless loveliness. 

The dinner, finally, as good dinners were 
apt to be, was small, simple, with the result 
of a prolonged consideration a bottle of 
Marquis de Riscal. All the while the kaleid- 
oscope of the Parque was revolving in patterns 
of bright yellows, silver, and indigo. Pas- 
sersby were remarkably graphic and near: a 
short man with a severe expression and a thick 
grey beard suddenly appeared in the open 
window and demanded that I buy a whole 
lottery ticket; a sallow individual from with- 
out unfolded a bright glazed sheaf of unspeak- 
ably stupid American magazines; farther off, 
the crowd eddied through the lanes between 
the innumerable chairs drawn up companion- 
ably on the plaza. At a table close by, a fam- 
ily of Cubans were supplementing the courses 
of formal dining with an endless vivacious 
chatter.,, a warmth of interest charming to 
follow. 

The father, stout, with an impressive mous- 
tache of which not one hair seemed uncounted 

[34] 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
or mislaid, regarded his short fat wife, his tall 
slim son, and his two entrancing daughters 
with an impartially active and affectionate at- 
tention. The girls were young, one perhaps 
fifteen and the other not more than a year or 
so older, though they both managed lorgnons 
with an ease and impertinent frankness that 
an older woman might well have envied, 
while they talked in rushes of vivid Spanish 
with an emphasis of delectable shrugged 
shoulders, and, recognizing an acquaintance, 
exhibited smiles as dazzling as only youth 
knew. The boy, however, engaged me more 
strongly ; a tone darker than the others, in re- 
pose his face, delicate in feature, was grave, 
reflective; his smooth black hair grew into a 
peak on his brow, his gaze was considerate, 
direct, and his mouth sensitive. Cuba, I 
thought, at its best; and here that was very 
good indeed Any such degree of mingled 
dignity and the highly impressionable, of re- 
serve and flexibility, was absent from the 
cruder young of the north. 

He had, at the same time, an indefinable air 

[35] 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
of melancholy, a bearing that, while not de- 
void of pride, belonged to a minor people, 
to an island the ultimate fate of which in a 
political word of singular faithlessness was 
hidden in shadow. An affair of mere simple 
courage, of execution for an ideal by Spanish 
rifles in a Cabanas foss, he would have borne 
with brilliant success; he'd have ornamented 
charmingly the security of a great coffee es- 
tate in Pinar del Rio ; it was possible that he 
might be distinguished in finance; but there 
was not back of him the sense of sheer weight, 
of ponderous land, that gave, for example, the 
chance young Englishman his conscious secur- 
ity, the American his slightly shrill material 
confidence. 

This Cuban's particular quality, it seemed 
to me, belonged to the past, to an age when 
men wore jewelled buckles and aristocracy 
was an advantage rather than a misfortune. 
He had about him the graceful fatality now 
so bitterly attacked by the widening power of 
what was heroically referred to as the peo- 
ple. He represented, from the crown of his 

[36] 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
lustrous hair to his narrow correct dancing 
shoes, in his shapely hands and dark fine skin, 
privilege and sequestered gold. Outrages, I 
had heard, soon to be forever overthrown ! It 
was possible that both the charges and the 
threatened remedy were actualities, and that 
privilege would disappear . . . from one 
hand to another, and great lawns be cut up 
into cabbage patches and Empire ball-rooms 
converted into communal halls for village 
rancor. 

Not much, in the way of benefit, could fol- 
low that. And women in starched linen col- 
lars, with starched theories of civic conscious- 
ness, would hardly be an improvement on 
fragrant memories of satin, moments of pas- 
sion and frailty, and the beauty of tenderness. 
A maze of clipped box, old emerald sod, rep- 
resented a timeless striving for superiority, 
for, at least, the illusion of triumph over the 
littorals of slime; and their destruction in 
waves of hysteria, sentimentality, and envy 
was immeasurably disastrous. All of this I 
saw reflected in the boy with peaked hair at 

[37] 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
the next table. He took a cigarette from a 
black silk case, and I was immediately re- 
minded of my cigar. 

It had been chosen with immense care in the 
Inglaterra cafe for bonbons and souvenirs, 
liqueurs and cigars. How remarkable it was, 
I had thought, hovering above the case, which 
contained a bewildering choice of shapes and 
colors, to be in a land where all the cigars 
were, in the sense I knew, imported. I hes- 
itated for a minute or more between a Lar- 
ranaga and a banquet Corona, and finally de- 
cided on the former. It was as long as the 
cigar called Fancy Tales, but slightly thicker 
and rolled to a point at either end; and the 
first breath of its smoke, drifting in a blue 
cloud away from the window, told me that 
until then I had known but little of tobacco. 
Coffee so black that it stained the white shell 
of its cup; a diminutive glass of Grand Mar- 
nier, the distilled last saturation of oranges 
and fin champagne; and the Larranaga, the 
color of oak leaves freshly brown, combined in 
a transcending magic of contentment. 

[38] 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
The point was my special inhibition as a 
traveler that I didn't want to move; I had 
no wish to speak to anyone or see what, par- 
ticularly, I should have hurried away to view. 
That impatience I had served when I was 
twenty-one, in Naples ; a city uniquely planned 
for morbid and natural curiosity. There the 
animated frescoes of Pompeii had been posed, 
at two lire a figure, before my assumption of 
mature experience. But now, past forty, I 
was without the ambition and desire to follow 
the cabs of the American business men who, 
in the company of patient and fatigued Cu- 
bans, were, in the interest of vague appoint- 
ments, bidding their families elaborate good 
evenings. 

Later it was inevitable that I should get to 
the theatres, hear whatever music offered, and 
see all the dancing, Spanish and Cuban, in the 
city of Havana, but not to-night My present 
pleasure was not to be wasted in the bother of 
movement and a probable mistake. The ci- 
gar continued to veil me in its reflective smoke 
for another half hour, there was more coffee 

[39] 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
in the pot. The tempered heat of the day lay 
over me like a spell, like an armor against 
the chill, the gaunt winds and rain, of the 
north. The scent of the sprig of orange blos- 
soms was just perceptible, at once faint and 
laden with the potency of a magical grove. 



* * 



The weather, the temperature and special 
atmospheric envelopment of Havana, was, I 
was certain, different from any other, its heat 
modified by the winds that moved across the 
island at night, at least from this shore, and 
the days flooded with an incandescent sunlight 
like burning magnesium. Stirring slowly 
about my room before breakfast, the slatted 
shutters bowed against the already blazing 
day, a thread of cigarette smoke climbing 
hopelessly toward the far ceiling, I thought 
of the idiotic popular conviction that the 
weather was a topic for stupid minds. The 
reverse, certainly, was true, since, inbound 
with all the settings of life, all nature, the 

[40] 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
weather offered an illimitable range of sug- 
gestion. 

It had been the great discovery of imagina- 
tive prose the novel for which we care most 
had been largely the result of that gained ap- 
preciation; and its absence in older books, 
placed in a vacuum, entirely accounted for 
their dry unreality. What, for instance, were 
the novels of Thomas Hardy but splendid rec- 
ords of the countryside weather, for nature 
and weather were one. This, more than any 
other force, conditioned men, stamping them 
out with an ice age, burning them black in 
Africa . . . setting royal palms by the doors 
of the Hotel Tnglaterra and willows along my 
lower lawn. 

The difference between Havana- and West 
Chester was exactly that difference in their 
foliage, in the low April green of one and the 
harsh high fronds of the other. The quality, 
the weather, that made the trees made 
equally the men, just as it dictated their lives, 
the houses they lived in, their industries and 

[41] 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
planted grains. This was true not only of the 
country but of the city, too, of George Moore 
as well as Hardy; for though Moore belonged 
principally to salons and the discreet interiors 
of broughams, a good half of the beauty of his 
pages was due to his response to the quality 
of spring against a smoke-blackened London 
wall, the laburnum blossoming in his Dublin 
garden. 

The slightest impression of Havana must 
be founded on a sensitive recognition of the 
crystal light and printed shadows which, in 
addition to its architecture of fact, brought an- 
other of sweeping illusion. In the morning 
the plazas glittered in a complete revelation 
of every hard carving and leaf and painted 
kiosk, but later the detail merged in airy di- 
agonal structures of shade. Modified, infre- 
quently, by the gorgeous cumulous clouds 
drifting from the upward thrust, the anchor- 
age, of the Andes, the entire process of the 
hours was upset This was not simply a varia- 
tion of inanimate surface, it had an exact 
counterpart in the emotions: bowed by an in- 

[42] 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
superable blaze or upright in the veiled sun, 
the attitude of harmony was profoundly af- 
fected. The night was altogether separate, 
a time, I gathered, when it seldom rained ; and 
there was never another city that took advan- 
tage of the night like Havana. Released from 
the resplendent tyranny of the sun, everyone, 
it appeared, disdaining sleep, lingered in the 
plazas, the cafes, and along the sea-walls, until 
dawn threatened. Here the dark was not 
alone a stage for nocturnal plans and figures : 
it was without strangeness or fear for the Cu- 
bans thronging abroad, on foot and in motors, 
early and late. The whiteness of the build- 
ings, too, even where they were not illumi- 
nated, defined spaces never obscure; the city 
was never wholly lost, obliterated by the im- 
ponderable blackness of the north. All this, 
every aspect of Havana's being, was the gift 
the dangerous gift of its situation, its 
weather. The blinding day, the city folded 
in a sparkling night, like a vision in blanched 
satin with fireflies in her hair, were nothing 
more than meteorological. 

[43] 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
For myself, my entire attitude was differ- 
ent in the room I now inhabited from the in- 
herent feeling, in New York, of the Algon- 
quin. I was, in white flannels and brown 
Holland, with roses against the mirror of the 
bureau, another man; not only my mentality 
but my physical bearing was changed. Here 
I was an individual who, moving about for 
an hour or so in the morning, spent the day 
until late afternoon in some quiet and cool 
inner spaciousness. That, I appreciated at 
3nce, was one of the comfortable peculiarities 
Df Havana : it was always possible to be cool 
in a cafe with the marble floor sprinkled with 
water; at the entrance of the Inglaterra, 
where, however, the chairs were the most un- 
comfortable in the world ; or, better yet, with 
a. book, a naranjada, and pajamas, transiently 
it home. 

For the iced refrescos of Cuba I had been 
prepared; and at breakfast, though that, I 
found later, was not its hour, I chose, rather 
than a naranjada, a pina colado a glass, 
nearly as large and quite as thin as possible, of 

[44] 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
the chilled essence of pineapple. A remark- 
able, a delightful, concoction. Later I heard 
the refrescos referred to contemptuously by 
Americans whose attitude toward the Cubans 
paralleled their opinion of the local drinks. 
They elected whiskey, at times condescending 
to gin, and the effect was portentous. Some 
sat near me now, with breakfasts of bubbling 
ham and crisped eggs, lamenting the coffee. 

It was doubtless part of the hypnotism of 
my liking for Havana that reconciled me to 
the coffee, poured simultaneously with hot 
salted milk into the cup. I accepted it at once, 
together with a cut French roll ingeniously 
buttered. Other efforts were made, through a 
window, to sell a wallpaper of lottery tickets; 
the vendor of magazines now put forward the 
Havana Post, printed in English; the curtains 
hung motionless, a transparent film on the 
bright space beyond. 

There was nothing I had to do, or see, no 
duty to myself to fulfill; and, watching the 
stir of tourist departure, I was thankful for 
my total lack of uncomfortable incentive. I 

[45] 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
had, for instance, no intention of ascending the 
height of Morro Castle, which I had hardly 
needed the assurance included a fatiguing 
number of stairs; nor of becoming familiar 
with Cabanas fortress. It had been quite 
enough to see in passing that long pink wall 
and know that there were old batteries of 
cannon embossed with the sovereign names of 
Spain. There were no picture galleries; and 
in Havana the churches were rich in neither 
tradition nor beauty, and the convents of 
early days had been turned into warehouses. 
It was, on the whole, a city without obtrusive 
history; even its first site was on the other 
side of the island ; the wall, except for a frag- 
ment or two, had gone; its early aspects were 
practically absorbed by the later spirit that 
had captivated me. Here, if ever, was a place 
in which honesty of mood could be completely 
indulged. 

A state not innocent of danger to the Puri- 
tan tradition lately assaulted with useless 
vigor of suppression; for to the Latin ac- 
ceptance of the whole of life had been added 

[46] 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
the passions of the tropics. Cuba had cyni- 
cally realized this, and multiplied a natural 
frankness with a specialized attention to the 
northern masculinity I had seen leaving the 
hotel at odd hours last night. I felt even so 
soon, with prohibition a reality, that our na- 
tional prudery was a very unfortunate influ- 
ence indeed in Havana. The season was at an 
end only a few days of the racing remained 
so I had missed the obvious worst; but traces 
of the corruption of the dull, the dull them- 
selves in diminishing numbers, lingered. 

Havana, in common with other foreign 
countries, and with so many golden reasons to 
the contrary, had no general liking for Ameri- 
cans. The few who had understood Cuba, 
either living there or journeying with discre- 
tion, were most warmly appreciated; and, 
characteristically, it was they more than the 
natives who were principally disconcerted by 
the released waggishness of Maine and Ohio 
and Illinois. But the majority were merely 
exploited. There was, certainly, something 
on the other side of the fence, for the Cubans 

[47] 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
were morbidly sensitive about their land, their 
monuments and martyrs, not necessarily im- 
pressive to the Anglo-Saxon heritage and 
temperament There were fundamental ra- 
cial differences, with a preponderant ultimate 
weight in favor of continents as opposed to 
islands. The fascination Havana had for me 
wasn't inevitable ; I was only considering with 
regret, aesthetic rather than moral, the effect 
on Cuba of any prostitution. 



As, in a temporary stoppage of its circular 
traffic, I walked across the Parque Central, its 
limits seemed to extend indefinitely, as if it 
had become a Sahara of pavement exposed 
to the white core of the sun; and I passed with 
a feeling of immense relief into the shade of 
a book-shop at the head of Obispo Street, 
where the intolerable glare slowly faded from 
my vision as I fingered the heaps of volumes 
paper-bound in a variegated brightness of 
color and design. In arly book-shop I was 
entirely at home, contented ; and here specially 

[48] 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
I was prepossessed with the idea of buying a 
great number of the novels solely for their 
covers in short, making a collection of Span- 
ish pictorial bindings. But the novels, I dis- 
covered, were, even in paper, almost a peso 
each ; and since I was reluctant to invest two 
hundred or more dollars in a mere beginning, 
the idea vanished. Their imaginative quality, 
however, the drawing and color printing, were 
excellent, far better than ours; in fact, we 
owned nothing at all like them. 

They had a freedom of cruelty, a brutality 
of statement, of truth, absent in American senti- 
mentality : where women were without clothes 
they were naked, anatomically accounted 
for, as were the men; and the symbolical 
representations of labor and injustice were in- 
stinct with blood and anguish. A surprising 
number of stories by Blasco Ibaiiez were evi- 
dent; and it struck me that if I had read him 
in those casu'al bright copies, without the pon- 
derous weight of his American volumes and 
uncritical reputation, I might have found a 
degree of enjoyment There were a great 

[49] 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
many magazines, mostly Spanish, gayly 
covered but with the stupidest contents im- 
aginable the bad reproductions of contem- 
porary photographs on vile grey paper; al- 
though one, La Esefa, admirably reproduced, 
in vivid color and titles, the Iberian spirit of 
the lighter Goya. 

Though I had been on narrow streets before, 
I had never seen one with the dramatic quality 
of Obispo. Hands might almost have touched 
across its paved way, and the sidewalks, no 
more than amplified curbs, hardly allowed for 
the width of a skirt It was cooled by shadow, 
except for a narrow brilliant strip, and the 
open shops were like caverns. The windows 
were particularly notable, for they held the 
wealth, the choice, of What was offered within : 
diamonds and Panama hats, tortoise shell, 
Canary Island embroidery, and perfumery. 
There were cafes that specialized in minute 
cakes of chocolate and citron and almond paste 
set out in rows of surprisingly delicate work- 
manship, and shallow cafes whose shelves 
were banked wi-th cordials and rons, gin, 

[50] 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
whiskies, and wine. There were bottles of 
eccentric shape holding divinely colored li- 
queurs, squat battles and pinched, files of am- 
ber sauternes, miniature glass bears from Rus- 
sia filled with Kiimmel, yellow and green 
chartreuse, syrupy green and white menthes, 
the Cinziano vermouth of Italy, Spanish cider, 
and orderly companies of mineral waters. 

These stores had little zinc-topped bars, and 
there were always groups of men sipping and 
conversing in their rapid intent manner. The 
street was crowded and, invariably allowing 
the women the wall, it was necessary to step 
again and again from the sidewalk. They 
were mostly Americans: the Cuban women 
-abroad were in glittering automobiles, al- 
ready elaborate in lace and jewels and dipping 
hats, and drenched in powder. They were, 
occasionally, when young, extremely beauti- 
ful, with a dark haughtiness that I had always 
found irresistible. 

In my early impressionable years it had 
continually been my fate to be entranced by 
lovely disagreeable girls with cloudy black 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
hair and skin stained with brown rather than 
pink. Imperious girls with elevated chins 
and straight sensitive noses ! They had never, 
by any chance, paid the slightest attention to 
me; and the Cubans passing by with an air of 
supreme disdain called back my old interest 
and my old desire. I felt, for the moment, 
very young again and capable of romantic 
folly, of following a particular beauty to 
where her motor a De Dion landaulet dis- 
appeared into a courtyard with the closing 
of the great iron-bound doors. 

A marked, not to say sensational, transfor- 
mation of my own person had been a conspicu- 
ous part of that young imaginary business ; for, 
though I was fat and clumsy, I managed to see 
myself tall and engaging, and dark, too; or, 
anyhow, a figure to beguile a charming girl. 
Something of that hopeless process had taken 
place in me once more, now the vainer for the 
fact that even my youth had gone. The 
quality which called back a past illusion was 
very positive in Havana, and my feeling for 
the city was greatly enriched, further defined. 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
It was charged with hazard for what men like 
me 'had dreamed, leaving the actuality for the 
pretended; the pretended, that so easily be- 
came the false, was, in Havana, real. 

The Obispo under its striped awnings, with 
its merchandise of coral and high combs 
and pineapple cloths; the women magnetic 
with a Spain that had slept with the East, the 
South ; the bright blank walls, lemon yellow, 
blue, rose; the palms borne against the sky on 
trunks like dulled pewter; the palpable sense 
of withdrawn dark mystery, all created an 
atmosphere of a too potent seductiveness. 
The street ended in the Plaza de Armas, with 
the ultramarine sea beyond ; and as I sat, fac- 
ing the arched low buff facade of the Presi- 
dent's Palace, my brain was filled with vivid 
fragments of emotion. 

What suddenly I realized about Havana, 
the particular triumph of its miraculous vital- 
ity, was that it had never, like so much of 
Italy, degenerated into a museum of the past, 
it was not in any aspect mortuary. Its relics 
of the conquistadores were swept over by the 

[53] 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
flood of to-day. Yet I began to be vaguely 
conscious of the history of Cuba, of that Cuba 
from which Cortez had set sail, in the winter 
of fifteen hundred and nineteen, for Mexico. 
Later this would, perhaps, become clearer to 
me; not pedantically, but because the spirit 
of that early time was still alive. I made no 
effort to direct my mind into deep channels. 
What must come must come ; and if it were a 
gin rickey rather than the slavery of the re- 
partimento system, I'd be little enough dis- 
turbed. 

The gin rickey proved to be an immediate 
reality, in the patio of the Inglaterra a 
stream of silver bubbles shot into a glass where 
an emerald lime floated vivaciously. I had 
no intention of going out again until the 
shadows of the late afternoon had lengthened 
far toward the white front of the Gomez- 
Mena building across the plaza; and after 
lunch I went up to the quiet of my room. I 
should, certainly, write no letters, read idly 
none of the few books published about 
Cuba, which were on my table; and I be- 

[54] 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
gan the essays of James Huneker called Be- 
douins. His rhapsodies over Mary Garden, 
as colorful in style as the glass above the win- 
dow, I soon dropped and picked indifferently 
among the novels that remained. A poor lot 
the thin current stream of American fiction, 
doubly pale in Havana. 

The day wheeled from south to west I was 
perfectly contented to linger doing nothing, 
scarcely thinking, in the subdued and dark- 
ened heat There was a heavy passage of 
trunks through the echoing hall without, the 
melancholy calling of the evening papers rose 
on the air ; I was enveloped in the isolation of 
a strange tongue. To sit as still as possible, 
as receptive as possible, to stroll aimlessly, 
watch indiscriminately, was the secret of con- 
duct in my situation. Nothing could be 
planned or provided for. The thing was to 
get enjoyment from what I did and saw; what 
benefit I should receive, I knew from long ex- 
perience, would be largely subconscious. I 
had been in Havana scarcely more than a day, 
and already I had collected a hundred impres- 

[551 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
sions and measureless pleasure. How wise I 
had been to come . . . extravagantly, with 
as it were a flower in my coat, a gesture of 
protest, of indifference, to all that the world 

now emphasized. 

# # * 

However, the tranquillity of the afternoon 
was sharply interrupted by my going, unex- 
pectedly, to the races at Oriental Park. I had 
to dress with the utmost rapidity, leaving the 
choice of a tie to chance, for the dun car of the 
United States Military Attache was waiting 
for me. The Attache, handsomely bearing 
the brown seal of Philippine campaigns, ab- 
stracted in manner, sat forward with an imper- 
turbable military chauffeur, while the back of 
the car was flooded by the affable speech of a 
Castilian marquis whose variety of experience 
in the realms of expert and dangerous games 
had been limited only by their known forms. 
It was unquestionably the mixture of my com- 
monplace Presbyterian blood and incurable 
habit of romance that gave me a distinct satis- 
faction in my surroundings. I was glad that 

[56] 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
the Marquis was what he was and that he held 
a trans-continental motor record; it pleased 
my honest democratic instincts when other 
cars were held back for our progress; and, 
finally, the deep chairs on the veranda of the 
Jockey Club were precisely right for a loung- 
ing afternoon in an expensive sporting atmos- 
phere. 

The race track seemed to me long was it 
a mile? and, with the horses at a starting post 
across from the grandstand, I couldn't tell 
one from another. The grandstand was on 
the right, and beyond the park were low mo- 
notonous lines of stables. It had been raining, 
the track was heavy, and the race that fol- 
lowed the blowing of a bugle covered the silk 
of the jockeys with mud. My pleasure, as 
always, slowly subsided at the persistent intru- 
sion of an inner destructive questioning. In- 
contestably the racing, the horses lining fret- 
fully and scrambling through the muddy 
pools, left me cold. The sweep of the Jockey 
Club, too, was comparatively empty of inter- 
est; the spectators there, though they were 

[57] 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
more or less intent upon the results posted on 
the board opposite, were not the immemorial 
onlookers at such affairs of sweepstakes, sell- 
ing plates and furloughs. 

The Cuban women present, elaborately 
dressed for shaded lawns and salons de the, 
were largely foreign to the wide-spread open 
spectacle. I remembered English races 
where groups of dukes with ruddy features, in 
rough tweeds, sat through drizzling after- 
noons on their iron-shod seat ricks, and women 
of title, in waterproofs and harsh brogue-s, 
tramped through the sloshing turf ... an at- 
titude far removed from Havana. A group 
of royal palms, lifted in the middle distance, 
alone gave the- races an exotic air; though 
they were, of course, promoted and ridden by 
Americans, and their mechanics were quite 
those which operated in New Orleans and 
Butte and Baltimore. Now I was annoyed 
because I had, thoughtlessly, come ; I might as 
well have gone to the baseball game in what 
had formerly been the bull ring. 

Yet I could retire to my speculations for 

[58] 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
escape, and I thought how peculiarly modern 
outdoor games, sport, belong to the British 
to them and their relatives beyond the sea. I 
remembered, in this connection, the story of 
a French vicomte I knew, a man of imposing 
build, who, in yellow gloves, shot field larks 
attracted by the flashing of a mirror manipu- 
lated by his valet. Le sport! But the Span- 
iards, bred to the delicate agility of bull fight- 
ing, trained in endurance on the inconceiv- 
ably fast pelota courts, were more athletic 
than the French ; though, as a race, they were 
inclined to delegate their games to profes- 
sionals. The sporting amateur, in spite of 
the Marquis, was a rarity; rather they chose 
to be lookers-on at brilliant diversions which 
retained an appreciable amount of a mediae- 
val cruelty diversified from our own brutal 
strain. 

This, naturally, had been influenced, 
strengthened, in Cuba by the climate, the 
breath of the tropics; even the winters were 
not conducive to violent exercise, aside from 
the fact that that was the prerogative of stolid 

C59] 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
temperaments. It was the deliberate, the un- 
excitable, who most excelled at trials of per- 
sonal muscular skill; and neither of them 
were at home below certain latitudes. For 
myself, I was grateful, for I hadn't much in 
common with the exemplifications of field 
skill I had met They were very apt to pay 
for their success by the absence of the attri- 
butes I particularly admired; often they were 
snobs of a very exasperating type monuments 
of college beef with irreproachable hair, sacro- 
sanct pins, and insensate conventional mental- 
ities. 

A race at an end, the jockeys, carrying their 
saddles, trooped to the judges' stand to be 
weighed, and I was shocked by their wizened, 
preternaturally cunning faces. They were 
like pygmies of a strange breed in red and yel- 
low and blue satins; faultless for their pur- 
pose, on the ground they were extraordinary, 
leather-skinned, with puckering eyes, drawn 
mouths, and distorted bodies. They wrangled 
among themselves in shrill or foggy voices 
a very depressing specialization of humanity. 

[60] 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
But the horses were magnificent, slender and 
shining. I admired them from a distance, 
glad that it was no part of my responsibility 
to ride. Long ago, under the pressure of an 
untender emotion, I had learned to sit on a 
horse through his reasonable moments; but I 
had never become at ease, and I stopped rid- 
ing when, on the country road of a May Sun- 
day noon, a tall -sorrel ran away with me so 
fast and so far that we passed three churches 
with their scattering congregations. 

There were, on the veranda, drinks, and 
even they the Scotch highballs translated 
into Spanish, had an unfamiliar and borrowed 
sound. It was' on my return, stopping at the 
Telegrafo Cafe, that I learned the delightful 
possibility of a Daiquiri cocktail. It was 
twice as large as ordinary, what in the north 
was called a double; but no Daiquiri out of 
Cuba could be thought of in comparison. 
Only one other drink might be considered 
a Ramos gin-fizz. My extreme allegiance had 
been given to the latter. I was not willing, 
even in the Telegrafo, to depose it from first 

[61] 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
place ; but the Telegraf o was a pleasanter spot 
than the New Orleans Stag bar. I could see 
the beginninng of the Prado, with the swirl 
of cars on their afternoon round to the Male- 
con. Some arc-lights, just turned on, were 
sources of color, like great symmetrical 
lemons, rather than of illumination. After 
another rain the bare flambeau trees would 
burst into fiery bloom. 

I was alone, and, sauntering back to the In- 
glaterra, through the gallery that had once 
been the Paseo Isabel, I came on my flower 
man, who advanced with a smile and a close 
nosegay of gardenias. A curious flower, I 
thought, getting water for them in a glass. 
They didn't wilt, as was usual, but turned 
brown and faded in the manner of a lovely 
pallid woman a simile I had used in Linda 
Condon. A flower that belonged less to na- 
ture than to drawing-rooms, to rococo salons 
and the opera loges of eighteen forty, and not 
at all to the present in the United States. But 
worn low on the neck, it was entirely appropri- 
ate to the black hair of the Cuban woman. 

[62] 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
Gold hair, the fair temperament, had no busi- 
ness with gardenias: bouquets of white sweet 
peas looped with pale green and silver ribbon, 
yes; and dark bunches of moss roses; the old 
bouquets of concentric rings of buds in lace 
paper! They were the property of the girls I 
had known, the frank girls with clear grey 
eyes and the appealing girls with eyes like 
forget-me-nots. "Something more poignant, a 
heavier disturbing perfume, was necessary 
against a figure seen only from a balcony or 
with a vague fleetness behind a grille grace- 
fully wrought out of iron. 

My shutters now were opened, and I could 
make out, against the dimming sky, the lan- 
guid folds of the Spanish flag above the en- 
trance of the Centro Gallego the standard 
that had conquered the western tropics, only, 
in turn, to be subdued by a freedom of the 
wind mightier than His Most Catholic Maj- 
esty. 

* * * 

There was some question of where I'd go 
for dinner, for in Havana there were many 

[63] 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
cafes to explore the Dos Hermanos, the 
Paris, the Florida, the Hotel de Luz, the Mi- 
ramar; but, finally, I walked down to the 
Prado, to the sea and the Miramar, a little be- 
cause of its situation, directly on the Malecon, 
but principally for the reason that it had one 
of the most beautiful names possible, a name 
which called up the image of a level tide so 
smooth that it held in shining replica the forts, 
the ships, and the clouds. Tables were pre- 
pared for dinner in the restaurant, while those 
on the terrace were without cloths ; but there 
I determined to sit, and the waiter whose at- 
tention I captured, after a long delay, agreed. 

A solitary couple had their heads together 
by the window, and they, with myself, were 
the only diners. It was, evidently, not now 
the place to go to at this hour. Beyond the 
dining-room, a patio, or rather an open court, 
was set for dancing, melancholy as such spaces 
can be, deserted and half-lighted; but I saw 
that a considerable activity was expected much 
later. 

I was glad that the terrace was empty, for, 

[64] 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
with the light now faded from the sea and 
its blueness merging into black, the remote 
tranquillity of evening was happier without a 
sharp chatter of voices. The Miramar, con- 
sidering its place the most advantageous in 
all Havana and fame was surprisingly small: 
scarcely more than two stories high, the sombre 
maroon walls with their long windows hardly 
filled an angle of the Malecon. The dinner 
was slow in arriving, the silver made its ap- 
pearance, a goblet was brought separately, a 
plate of French bread was later followed by 
its butter. The minute native oysters were no 
more than shreds adhering to their shells, but 
they had a notable flavor ; a crawfish was at its 
brightest apogee ; and an omelet browned in a 
delicate perfection of powdered sugar. 

I deserted Spanish wine, the admirable 
Riscal, for champagne; for there was about 
an air of departed charm, the whisper of old 
waltzes and tarleton, that demanded com- 
memoration. The Miramar had been the gay 
center of that mid-century life which had 
folded Havana in the lasting influence of its 

[65] 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
memories. A gaiety not even at a disadvan- 
tage compared to the feverish society of to- 
day! The bodices then had been no more 
than scraps of chambery gauze and Chinese 
ribbon below shoulders to the whiteness of 
which the entire feminine age had been de- 
voted. The flounced bell skirts had swung 
airily on gracious silk clappers. 

The automobiles on the Malecon multi- 
plied, for the night was^iot; soon there was a 
solid double opposed procession on the broad 
sweeping drive. This was a triumph of 
American engineering and, I had no doubt, 
an improvement on the informality of rocks 
and debris that had existed before. Yet I 
should liked to have seen it when the prome- 
nade had not yet been laid down with mechan- 
ical precision, in, perhaps, the early seventies. 
Then there were sea baths cut in the live rock 
at the end of the Paseo Isabel, at the Campos 
Eliseos, where the water was like a cooler 
liquid green air, and where, after storms, a 
foaming surf poured over the barriers. There 
were no motors then, but volantes and the mod- 

[66] 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
era quintrins, with two horses, one outside the 
shafts, and a riding calesero in vermilion and 
gold lace ; and, latest of all, as new as possible, 
the victorias. 

Neither, then, was the Prado paved, but 
the trees were infinitely finer five rows there 
were in fifty-seven when the clamor of the 
city was, in great part, peals of bells. This 
was a familiar process with me, to leave the 
present for the past in a mood of irrational 
regret But never for the heroic, the real 
past; the years I chose to imagine lay hardly 
behind the horizon; in Italy it had been the 
Risorgimento, at farthest the villeggiatura of 
Antonio Longo or the viole d'amore of Cima- 
rosa in churches. And now, drinking my 
champagne on the empty flagged terrace of 
the Miramar, facing, across the parade of 
automobiles, the blank curtain of the night, 
starred on the right by the lights of castellated 
forts, my mind vibrated with grace notes no 
longer heard outside the faint distilled sweet- 
ness of music boxes. 

As if in derision of this, a loud unexpected 

[67] 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
music rose from the bandstand in the Plaza, 
and I saw that a flood of people, seated or 
moving along the pavements and through the 
lanes of chairs, had gathered. Nothing, I 
thought, could have delighted me more; but 
my anticipation was soon smothered by the 
absurdity of the selections : they were not from 
Balfe nor Rossini, neither military nor the 
accented rhythm of Spain ... the opening 
number was Parsifal, blown into the profound 
night with a convention of brassy emphasis. 

At the total destruction of my pleasure I 
cursed the pretentious stupidity of the band- 
master and a great deal else of modern Cuba. 
I remembered particularly some regrets, lo- 
cally expressed, that the Spanish domination 
was no more. Things, it was said, were better 
ordered then. But this was a position the 
vainness of which I couldn't join : it was no 
part of my disposition to combat, or even re- 
gret, the inevitable. My course quite other 
was to project myself into periods whose 
very loss formed most of their charm. Gone, 
they took on the tender memories of the dead, 

[68] 



San Cristobal de la Habdna 
and were invested with the dignity, the beauty, 
of a warm fragility. 

Two girls were now seated at a table by the 
entrance, and, though they were alone for the 
moment, it was evident that they had no inten- 
tion of remaining in that unprofitable state 
longer than necessary. Their fleet apprais- 
ing glances rested on me and the silver bucket 
by my chair, and one permitted the shadow 
of a discreet smile to appear on her carmined 
lips. She was pretty, lightly dressed in a 
flowery summer stuff, but she was as gold in 
coloring as corn silk; an intrusion in Havana 
I seriously deplored. The other was dark, 
but she was, at the same time, disagreeable; 
something had annoyed her excessively, and I 
made no move. Such company was occasion- 
ally entertaining, in a superficial conversa- 
tional sense; but, I was obliged to add, not 
often. 

I went over all the informal girls I could 
recall who had been worth the effort to culti- 
vate them, either charming or wise or sensitive, 
and my bag, unlike Chopin's or what George 

[69] 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
Moore reported his, was discouragingly slim. 
They had been, but perhaps of necessity, ma- 
terialists, valuers only of the expensively con- 
crete ; yes, the majority of such adventures had 
been sordid. It was due, without question, 
to certain deterrent qualities in my own per- 
sonality; but even more, I was convinced, to 
the fact that, in America, girls, or at least 
those of my youth, regarded emotion as por- 
tentously synonymous with ruin. Emotion*, 
for nice girls, was deprecated; their sense of 
modesty, of shame, was magnified at the ex- 
pense of everything else. This, together with 
the tragic difference in the age of marriage 
in nature and in society, had condemned the 
United States to very low levels of feeling. 

Unfortunately I had been born into the most 
rigid of all societies a prosperous and Pres- 
byterian middle-class; an influence that suc- 
ceeded in making religion hideous before I 
was fifteen, planting in me, too, the belief that 
man was, in his instinctive life, filthy. I out- 
grew the latter, but never the first; and now, 
looking back, I could recognize how that 

[70] 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
lauded creed had nearly damned me to a hell 
far surpassing in dreadfulness anything of its 
own bitter imagining. The cold metaphysi- 
cal fog had saturated us all alike. . . . How 
dreary my early experience was . . . what 
detestable travesties of passion! A earful of 
young men soon stopped at the curb of the 
Miramar, and the two girls, dark and gold, 
were immediately invested with the politest 
attentions. There was a chorus of laughter 
and protests and suggestions, in which a privi- 
leged waiter joined; and afterwards they 
vociferously left to dance at Carmelo. 



Walking generally in the direction of my 
room, I left the Prado for an especially dra- 
matic, no, melodramatic, street, where the bare 
walls and iron bolted doors were made start- 
ling by the white glare of electric lights. 
Fixed to the walls, infrequently, were the 
wrought-iron brackets of the earlier lanterns, 
converted, it might be, for the period before 
the present, into gas jets. In that watery il- 

[70 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
lumination such streets must have seemed less 
amazing than now, and entirely natural with 
only the oil lanterns lifting a small surface of 
masonry or an isolated angle out of the night. 
Indeed, whole districts were dark, except for 
a rare lamp privately maintained as an obli- 
gation of grace. That darkness, like the 
streets, was mediaeval; they belonged one to 
the other ways through which it was con- 
gruous to carry a flare and a sword, practical 
measures both. 

These precautions had been long discarded, 
but the passages themselves were unchanged, 
not a stone had shifted ; they were, particularly 
at night, the Middle Ages. And it was as 
though a sudden blaze had been created by 
unholy magic; a sparkling and infernal radi- 
ance, throwing into intolerable clearness the 
decent reticence of the time. The arc lights 
gave the streets an absolute air of unreality 
and tragic strangeness. Moving in them, I 
had the feeling of blundering awake into a 
dream, of being irretrievably lost in an illu- 
sion of potential horror. An open door with 

[72] 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
its glimpse into an inner room only increased 
the oppression : it, too, was brilliant with elec- 
tricity, a room of unrelieved icy pallor, except 
for a warmer blur under an Agony on the 
Cross, where a small company of men and 
women sat in a rigid blanched formality that 
might have been death. 

It was quite natural, a commonplace of 
Havana; but rather than a picture of familiar 
life, it resembled the memento mori of a 
grotto. My thoughts turned to the symbols 
and representations of the Catholic Church 
a business of blood and torment and flame, of 
Sebastian torn with arrows and a canonized 
girl, whose name I forgot, carrying her eye- 
balls in a hand. Curiously enough, the spirit 
which had given birth to this suffering had 
been popularly lost, together with any concep- 
tion of the ages in which it occurred ; and all 
that remained was a pathological horror. 
Italy and Spain were saturated by it Italy 
in the revolting wax spectacles of Easter, and 
Spain with the veritable crucifixions of to-day. 

It was, I supposed, to a certain extent un- 

[73] 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
avoidable in an establishment whose hold on 
the ponderable present depended on threats 
and promises laid in the future. But it 
seemed to me unfortunate, to say the least, that 
a church whose business was life should be so 
concerned with smoky death. Threats and 
promises! The early history of Cuba, I re- 
membered, was inbound with the administra- 
tive and protective powers of the Church: in 
fifteen hundred and sixteen the native Cube- 
nos were put in the charge of the Order of Jer- 
onimites, localized in La Espanola Santo 
Domingo. The double motive of the Spanish 
Christian kings in the western hemisphere had 
been conversion and gold, but which of these 
was uppermost it was impossible to determine. 
However, when the gold, the temporal in- 
terest, decreased in one locality, the spiritual 
concern of Seville shifted to the more produc- 
tive regions. 

That was a period, a conquest, when a vio- 
lent death was a greater blessing than living 
in a state of damnable heresy; and so, be- 
tween the saving of their -souls and the loss of 

[74] 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
their bodies in the king's mines, the natives 
were thoroughly cared for. It must be said, 
though, that de las Casas, a priest whose spirit 
was above any intimidation or venality, de- 
nounced the outrages against the Cuban In- 
dians to the shining heavens, the cerulean sea, 
the Audencia, and the Throne. But his hu- 
manitarianism was ineffectual against a sys- 
tem founded on the belief that a god had given 
the earth and its recalcitrant people for the 
profit and glory, the servants, of a single re- 
ligious dogma. 

It was, possibly, a mental imperfection 
which gave impressions, emotions, such a great 
suggestibility. Returning toward the Ingla- 
terra, I had no intention of losing myself in 
the mazes of applied theology; and I speedily 
dropped such a sombre topic from my 
thoughts. Turning back to the Prado, I found 
the walks filled with men, progressing slowly 
or seated on the flat marble benches along the 
sides. Whenever a woman did pass on foot, 
their interest and speculations were endless: 
heads turned in rows, sage remarks were ex- 

[75] 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
changed, and tentative simpaticas murmured. 
Her mother if she had the slightest preten- 
sions to youth or good looks was fervently 
blessed for so fetching a daughter. Here, of 
course, was the defect of the local attitude to- 
ward women it put the emphasis perpetually 
on a gallantry affecting the men more even 
than the women. There was a constant dan- 
ger of becoming one-sided. 

The Telegrafo and the Louvre were 
crowded, with more ref rescos and ices on the 
table than authoritative drinks; the cigarettes 
of the discursive throngs in the Parque Cen- 
tral were like a sheet of fire-flies, and the 
Marti and Pairet theatres were spreading 
abroad the audiences of their second evening 
shows. The patio of the Inglaterra was well 
filled, and I stopped there; not, however, for 
a naranjada. Some late suppers were still 
occupying the dining-room, and a drunken 
American was gravely addressing a table and 
meeting with a mechanical politeness that I 
admired for its sustained patience. He left, 
finally, and wandered unsteadily, a subject of 

[76] 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
entertainment for his fellows and a mark of 
contempt to the Cubans present. Beyond me 
were some beautifully dressed English two 
men in the final perfection of easy masculine 
garb and a girl, flushed with beauty, in pearls. 
On the other hand a young Frenchman, dec- 
orated with the most honorable of war rib- 
bons, and two women, all in mourning, were 
conversing in the difficult Parisian idiom. 

I should have liked to be at either table 
their attractions were equal ; but, forced to re- 
main alone, I thought of how rude the English 
would have been had I moved over to them. 
The English would have been boorisih, and 
the French would have met me with an im- 
penetrable polite reserve. Both would re- 
gard me as an idiot or an agent; to have spoken 
to them would have been an affront. And yet 
I was confident that we should have got on 
very well : I was not without a name in Lon- 
don, and the French were delightfully sensi- 
tive to any practising of the arts. The Eng- 
lish, I gathered from their unguarded talk, 
were cruising on a yacht now lying in Havana 

[77] 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
harbor; and I saw myself, the following morn- 
ing, going off to them in a smart tender and 
sitting under the white awning spread aft, 
with a whisky and soda, talking or not, but 
happily aware of the shining brass and mahog- 
any fittings, the immaculate paint and gay 
pennants. 

I had always liked worldly pomp and set- 
tings, marble Georgian houses with the long 
windows open directly on closed greens and 
statues of lead; and to linger, before going 
down to dinner, on a minstrel's gallery above a 
stone hall and gathered company. I'd rather 
be on a yacht than on an excursion boat; yet I 
infinitely preferred reading about the latter. 
For some hidden or half perceived reason, 
yachts were not impressive in creative prose; 
there the concerns and pleasures of aristocracy 
frequently appeared tawdry and unimportant 
Even its heroism, in the valor of battle and 
imperturbable sacrifice, was less moving to 
me than simpler affairs. Yet there was no 
doubt but that I was personally inclined to the 
extremes of luxury; and this apparent con- 

[78] 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
tradiction brought to my life, my writing, the 
problem of a devotion to words as disarmingly 
simple as the leaves of spring as simple and 
as lovely in clear color about the common ex- 
perience of life and death, together with an 
absorbing attention for Manchu women and 
exotic children and emeralds. 



The following day, hot and still, with the 
exception of capricious movements of air in 
paved shaded places, was overcast, the bril- 
liancy of Havana, of the white and green pla- 
zas, subdued. And this softening of sharp 
lines and blazing fagades seemed to influence, 
too, the noises, the calls, of the streets, so that 
it was all apparently insubstantial, like the 
ultimate romantic mirage of a city. I wan- 
dered along Neptuno Street to Belascoin, and 
then to the Parque Maceo, where I ignored the 
massed bronze and granite of its statue for the 
slightly undulating shimmering tide. In the 
distance the sea was lost in the sky a nebu- 
lous gray expanse such as might have ex- 

[79] 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
isted before the beginning of comparative so- 
lidity. I lost all sense of time, the centuries 
were jumbled together like mango.s in a basket. 
Yes, they were no greater, no more important 
or stable, than tropical fruit. 

The vivid spectacle of Cuba, for example, 
contracted to a palm's breadth, the island be- 
came nothing more than the glimmer of a 
torch in illimitable dusk. It had been discov- 
ered by Columbus, a presumptuous term used 
arrogantly in the sense of created; an Arca- 
dian shore where, because food grew without 
cultivation, without effort, and the gold was 
soft for beating into bracelets, the natives lived 
easily and ornamentally and in peace. They 
wore, rather than steel and the harsh shirts 
of the Inquisition, the feathers of birds with 
woven dyed quills and fragrant grasses. 
They sang, they danced with a notable grace, 
loved and died in the simplicity of bohios of 
palm board and thatch under nine Caciques. 

Then, in the drawing of a breath, they were 
all destroyed, gone, killed by slavery, in the 
name of God on the points of swords, by the 

[80] 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
rapacity, the corruption, the diseases, of civili- 
zation. A Spanish Cuba rose Iberian and 
yet singularly different a business of Cap- 
tain-General and Teniente Rey, of alcalde and 
alcaide, of Santiago de Cuba and San Cristo- 
bal de la Habana. The French under Jac- 
ques Sores, and the English under Drake, sailed 
over the horizon. In less than a second, the 
expiration of a sigh, Diego de Velasquez and 
Narvaez, Isabel de Bobadilla, Rojas and Guz- 
man, the merchant Diego Perez in vain lay- 
ing the guns of the Magdalena in defense of 
the past, had gone. The Cedula from Ma- 
drid, in eighteen hundred and twenty-five, be- 
gan the conspiracies, Tacon came and went, 
the fiscals beat free colored men to death and 
entertained the negro women naked at balls. 
The Lopez rebellion was followed by the ten 
years' war of eighteen hundred and sixty-eight 
and the peace of Zanjon, the great rebellion 
and Weyler. 

There remained now the indefinite sea and 
a city withdrawn, secretive, made vaguely 
beautiful by intangible voices, all its voices 

[81] 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
that had laughed and shouted, whispered and 
cried ; and by the towers and walls merged in 
a single pattern, the old and the new drawn 
together by an aspect of impermanence, freed 
from the deceptive appearance of solidity. 
Suddenly its history had been shown to me in 
a flash of emotion, a mood of feeling. I 
hadn't come to Cuba ignorant of the land, but 
I had determined to slight what was but writ- 
ten inanimate fact I had no disposition for 
instruction: books were powerless to create La 
Punta for me, it must bear its own credentials 
... it might become, to my uncertain ad- 
vantage, as important as a Daiquiri cocktail, 
as a Larranaga cigar, but hardly more. 

In any other case I should have cheated my- 
self, not only of pleasure, the relaxation possi- 
ble to honesty of mind, but of any hope of fu- 
ture material. The creative habit was the 
most tireless and frugal in existence : there was 
nothing no experience, person, disillusion- 
ment, or pain not endlessly sounded for its 
every note and meaning. No one could pre- 

[82] 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
diet what would be indispensable, just as it 
was impossible to foresee, in the projection of 
a novel, where its fine moments occurred. 
And, returning to the descriptive and histori- 
cal books on Cuba, left so largely unread at 
the Inglaterra, it was probable that they had 
omitted, in their effort for literal and conven- 
tional emphasis, what might in their subject be 
vivifying to me. 

This, 'however, was beyond spoiling a his- 
tory so picturesque, as I have intimated, that 
its very vividness, its commonest phases, had 
become the threadbare material of obvious 
romance. But, outside of all that, the other 
Havana, the mid- Victorian Pompeii, a city 
that none could have predicted or told me of, 
offered the incentive of its particular and rare 
charm. In the Parque Maceo, on the sea 
wall, my imagination stirred with the first 
beginnings of a story: it would take place in 
the period when the avaricious grip of Spain 
was loosening, a story of secret patriotism and 
the idealism of youth, set in marble salons, at 

[83] 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
the opera and the cafes. It would not concern 
itself with any love except the fidelity between 
two men, a story of friendship. 

There it would be different from The Ar- 
row of Gold and Dona Rita; no peignoirs, 
thank you, but a formality, a passionate pro- 
priety, in keeping with the social gravity and 
impersonal devotion of the very young. 
There must be crinoline would I never es- 
cape from that! and candelabra with glitter- 
ing prisms; Spanish soldiers in striped linen 
and officials with green-tasselled canes. My 
youth, he'd come from the United States, 
would have his little dinners at the Restaurant 
Frangai-se, in Cuba Street number seventy-two, 
and his refrescos at the Cafe Dominica. In 
the end he'd leave Havana, having accom- 
plished nothing but the loss of his illusions for 
the gain of a memory like a dream, but his 
friend, a Cuban I had seen him that first 
night at dinner in the Inglaterra would be 
killed. How . . . 

It was time to go back to the hotel, and the 
story receded. I walked too far on Belascoin 

[84] 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
Street, all the way to Salud; and, past the Ta- 
con Market, came out on the Parque de Colon, 
where now there was a hot dusty wind, like a 
localized sirocco, and I was glad to reach my 
room. The reflection of the colored glass 
above the window was hardly discernible on 
the tiles; the interior was permeated by a{ 
shadow which made the ceiling appear high 
beyond computation ; and my wardrobe trunk, 
standing open, exhibited a rack of limp neck- 
ties. I turned again to the novels on the table 
and again let them drop, unattended, from a 
listless hand. Tepid water! And I won- 
dered a constant subject with me when 
we should have a new vigorous American lit- 
erature, a literature absolutely native, by men 
who had not, like myself, been to school to 
Turgenev and the English lyrical poetry. 
Henry James had found the United States 
lacking in background ; the lack was evident, 
but not in the country of -his birth. 

This was not a complaint against The Vel- 
vet Glove except as it equally applied to me; 
but an intense desire for a fresh talent, an 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
ability to which we could, without reserve, 
take off our hats. The fact hit me that I was 
forty, although it was still the fashion among 
reviewers to speak of me as a promising young 
man, and that there were patches of grey hair 
on my temples. Yet I had been, everything 
considered, remarkably successful; there was 
no need for sentimental regret, a trait of men- 
tal feebleness. 

I decided to do something positive that 
evening, to go to the theatre, or, if it were 
playing, to see the Jai Alai. The latter was 
possible, and, by way of the Telegrafo, I 
reached the Hotel Florida for dinner; a res- 
taurant which, because of the windows look- 
ing down on it, had the pleasant individual 
air of a courtyard. The music played, diners 
came and went, and I gazed up at the shallow 
balconies in the hopefulness of an incorrigible 
imagination. The Fronton Jai Alai in Ha- 
vana the game, pelota, had taken the title of 
its court was a long way from Obispo Street, 
but I knew when we had reached it by the 
solid volume of shouting that escaped from 

[86] 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
the high concrete building into the dim neigh- 
borhood. 

* # # 

Inside, the court was an immense expanse 
with granite-laid walls, a long rectangle, one 
side of which was formed by the steeply 
banked rows of spectators. Regular spaces 
were marked by white lines on the playing 
floor, and at one end the score was hung 
against the names of the players, now two 
teams the Azules and the Blancos. The 
boxes were above the cement ledges packed 
with standing men, by a promenade, where the 
betting was conducted, cigars sold, and a small 
active bar maintained. It was the night of 
a gala benefit, for the Damas de Caridad, and 
I had been fortunate in getting a single box 
seat. I was late, though, and the game pro- 
gressing; still, I was the first in our railed 
space ; but the others, who proved to be Amer- 
icans, soon followed three prosperous men, 
manufacturers I thought, with wives in whom 
native good taste had been given the oppor- 
tunities of large resources. 

[87] 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
One of the women who, in the arrangement 
of the box, sat beside me smiled with a mag- 
netism that 'had easily survived the loss of her 
youth ; she was rather silent than not, but the 
rest swept into a conversation in their best 
public manner. A man accompanying them, 
it developed, knew Cuba and Jai Alai, and he 
secured for the amusement of the others a 
cesta, the basket-like racquet worn strapped to 
the arm. It was from him I discovered that 
the court was two hundred aad ten feet long 
and thirty-'six feet wide; while the service con- 
sisted in dropping the ball and, on its rebound, 
catching it in the cesta and throwing it against 
the far end wall. From there, with a s'harp 
smack audible all over the Fronton, the ball 
shot back, if not a fault, within a marked area, 
and one of the opposing side caught it, in the 
air or on the first bounce, and returned it 
against the end wall. At first I could see 
nothing but the violent activity of the players, 
frozen into statuesque attitudes of throwing; 
vigorous figures in, mostly, White, with soft 
red silk sashes. I heard the ball hit, and -saw 

[88] 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
it rolling out of play; and then, with some 
slight realization of the rapidity of its flight, 
I was able to follow the course from cesta to 
wall and floor. 

There had never been, I was certain, an- 
other game in which instantaneous judgment, 
skill, and endurance had been carried to such 
a far point. There was seldom a fault or er- 
ror; the ball, flying like a bullet, was caught 
and flung with a single gesture; again and 
again it carried from one end wall to the 
other, from which it was hurled on. Angles 
of flight were calculated and controlled, the 
long side wall was utilized. . . . Then a 
player of the Azules was hit in the ankle, and 
the abruptness with which he went down 
showed me a possibility I had ignored. 

During this the clamor of the audience was 
indescribable, made up, for the most part, of 
the difficulties of constantly shifting odds and 
betting. The odds changed practically with 
every passage of the ball: opening at, say, 
five to three against the favorites, as they drew 
steadily ahead in a game of twenty-five points 

[89] 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
it jumped to eight to four, ten to three, any- 
thing that could be placed. On the floor a 
small company of bookmakers, distinguished 
by their scarlet caps, shouted in every direc- 
tion, and betting paper was thrown adroitly 
through the air in hollow rubber balls. Those 
who had backed at favorable odds the team 
low far ahead were yelling jubilantly, and 
Dthers were trying, at the expense of their 
lungs, to cover by hedging their probable 
losses. 

There was, 'however, toward what should 
have been the end, an unlooked-for develop- 
ment the team apparently hopelessly behind 
crept up. An astounded pause followed, and 
then an uproar rose that cast the former sound 
into insignificance. Soon the score was prac- 
tically tied : there were shrill entreaties, basso 
curses, a storm of indiscriminate insults. 
Now the backers of the lesser couple scram- 
bled vocally to take advantage of the betting 
opportunities forever lost the odds were 
even, then depressed on the other side. When 
the game was over the noise died instantly: 

[90] 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
men black with passion, shaking with rage, 
crushing their 'hats or with lifted clenched 
fists, at once conversed with smiling affability. 
My eyes had been badly strained, and I was 
glad to leave the box and stroll along the 
promenade. The betting counters were 
jammed by the owners of winning tickets, the 
men behind the bar were, in their own way, 
as active as the pelota players. 

The majority of the boxes were occupied 
by Cuban families, but yet there was an ap- 
preciable number of foreigners. A slender 
girl, in a low dinner dress, was sitting on the 
railing of her box, swinging a graceful slipper 
and smoking a cigarette New York was in- 
delibly stamped on her and, among the mas- 
culine world of Spanish antecedents, she cre- 
ated a frank center of interest. For her part, 
she studied the crowd quite blocking the way 
below her with a cold indifference, the per- 
sonification of young assured arrogance. 

A quiniela followed, with six contestants, 
one against the other in successive pairs; but 
my eyes were now definitely exhausted by the 

[91] 



San Cristobal de la Habdna 
necessarily shifting gaze, and my interest fast- 
ened on the woman beside me. She was at 
once intimately attached to the people with her 
and abstracted in bearing: a woman not far 
from fifty, but graceful still and, in a flexible 
black silk crepe with a broad girdle of jet, still 
desirable. It seemed to me that, in spite of an 
admirable manner, she was a little impatient 
at the volubility around her; or it might be, 
in contradiction to this, she was exercising a 
patience based on fortitude. It was clear that 
she hadn't a great deal in common with the 
man who had evidently been married to her 
for a considerable length of years. They 
spoke little it was he who had fetched the 
cesta both immersed in individual thoughts. 
A woman, I decided, finely sensitive, superior; 
who, as she had grown older, had found no 
demand for the qualities which she knew to 
be her best. 

A painful situation, a shocking waste, 
from which, for her, there was no escape, for 
she had patently what was known as character. 
She at once was conscious of the absolute need 

[92] 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
for spiritual freedom and bound by commit- 
ments paramount to her self-esteem. But 
even if she had been more daring, less consci- 
entious, what could she have gained; what 
was there for her in a society condemned to 
express the spirit in the terms of flesh? She 
had too much charm, too great a vitality, to be 
absorbed in the superficial affairs of women, 
the substitute life of charity. And once mar- 
ried, probably to a man the model of kindly 
faith, she was caught in a desert of sterile 
monotony. Even children, I could see, if 
they existed, had not slain her questioning at- 
tractive personality. 

She smiled at me again, later, her narrow 
slightly wasting hands clasped about a knee 
a smile of sympathetic comprehension and un- 
quenchable woman. She would have been 
happier chattering in the obvious strain of 
stupidity behind her: any special beauty was 
always paid for in the imposed loneliness of a 
spoken or unspoken surrounding resentment 
To be content with a facile compliment, the 
majority of tricks at auction bridge, mechani- 

[93] 



San Cristobal d'e la Habana 
cal pleasures, was the measure of wisdom for 
women in her situation. The last quiniela 
over, plainly weary she gathered a cloak about 
her shoulders and left the box, without, as I 
had hoped, some last gesture or even a word : 
and I pictured her sitting listlessly, distraught, 
in the cafe to which they were proceeding. 



The pelota immediately vanished from my 
mind before the infinitely more fundamental 
and interesting problem of marriage; and 
remembering the ominous sign of a woman's 
club on the Malecon I wondered if the Cu- 
ban women were contented with the tradition 
as it had been handed down to them. In the 
life that I knew in the north, an infinitesimal 
grain of sand irritating in the body of the 
United States, the sacredness of matrimony 
had waned very seriously; it would, of course, 
go on, probably for ever, since no other ar- 
rangement could be thought of conciliating 
the necessities of both dreams and property; 
but, subjected to the scrutiny of intelligence 

[94] 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
rather than sentimentality, it seemed both im- 
potent and foolish. The impotence certainly, 
for whereas my grandfather had thirteen chil- 
dren and my mother four or was it five? 
I had none. There had always been individ- 
uals unrestrained by the complicated oaths of 
the wedding service a strictly legal proceed- 
ing to which the church had been permitted to 
add its furbelows dissatisfied ladies, and gen- 
tlemen of the commercial road. I wasn't re- 
ferring to them, but to the look, at once puz- 
zled, humorous, and impatient, that lately I 
had seen wives of probity turn on their hus- 
bands. 

They expressed the conviction that the 
purely masculine aphorism to the effect that 
home was the place for women meant nothing 
more than a clearing of the decks for un- 
restricted action. This was beautifully dis- 
played, confirmed, in Havana, where decks 
were without a single impediment; and I spec- 
ulated about the attitude of the Cuban women 
in houses barred with both actual and meta- 
phorical iron. Tradition weighed heavily on 

[95] 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
their outlook; but there was that club on the 
Malecon. Tradition had bound the farm 
wives of Pennsylvania, yet they were progres- 
sively rebelling against the insanity of endless 
labor and isolation. But, perversely, the mar- 
ried groups I saw in Havana were remarkably 
close, simple, and happy. They sat in rows 
at the concerts on the plazas, went off on small 
excursions, in entire harmony a thing impos- 
sible to the born American, with whom such 
parties began in exasperation and ended in 
nervous exhaustion. An American husband, 
of the class largely evident in Havana, es- 
corted his family abroad with truculence and 
an air of shame at being exposed in such a 
ridiculous situation. If there was more than 
one household implicated, the men invariably 
drew away together: there was a predomi- 
nance of cursing and the wails of irritably 
smacked children. The truth was that the cit- 
izens of the United States, in their feverish 
passage through life, had decidedly a poor 
time either restlessness or ambition or dis- 
satisfaction destroyed their peace of mind. 

[96] 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
Labor, more highly paid than at any other 
place or time, got less satisfaction for its 
money than a Cuban mestizo with a peseta. 

My thoughts returned abruptly to the point 
where they had started, to marriage, and I 
hoped that Cuba wouldn't be disorganized by 
the present ferment; that the feminine element, 
discovering their wrongs, wouldn't leave their 
balconies and patios for the dusty publicity of 
the street. Already a decline had been suf- 
fered, first in the loss of mantillas and combs, 
next in the passing of single-horse victorias for 
unrestrained tin locomotives, and then in the 
hideous flood of electric lighting. Still, a 
great deal of the charm, the empire, of Ha- 
vana women remained ; while nothing but ut- 
ter disaster approached them from the north. 

This was no new position for me, and it had 
never failed to be attacked, usually with the 
insinuation that, spiritually, I was part of 
Turkey in Asia ... a place of gardens where 
it was not inconceivable that I'd be happy: 
certainly the politics there were no worse than 
those to which I had been inured from birth, 

[97] 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
with murder on the streets at noon distin- 
guished by a white ribbon in its buttonhole. 
The Armenians were no more precariously sit- 
uated than the Albigenses under Innocent III. 
I had heard, as well, that the governments of 
Cuba had not been free from suspicion, but it 
was hoped that elections supervised from the 
United States would institute reform. Rare 
irony! Elections, I should have said, going 
back once more to the beginning, opening to 
emancipated women. 

Gathering, in imagination, all the feminine 
world of Havana into a fragrant assembly, I 
begged them not to separate themselves from 
their privileges; I implored them even 
against my personal inclination, for there, at 
least, I was no Turk not to grow slender, if 
that meant agile excursions into loud spheres 
of lesser influence. Those others, I pro- 
ceeded, would rapturously exchange a ballot 
for a seductive ankle, a graceful breast, or a 
flawless complexion. Complexion, or rather 
its absence, brought immeasurably more sup- 
porting votes to the women's party than con- 

[98] 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
victions. And I added, reprehensibly, some 
of the things I had been privately told, as a 
writer, by women newly in the professions: 
I exposed the secret of a lecturer on civic im- 
provement or it might have been better ba- 
bies; I couldn't recall which who carried a 
handbagful of apostrophies to Paolo and 
Francesca, and that illogical lot, on her trav- 
els. She permitted me to read them in a 
sunny orchard where the apples were already, 
more than ripe, on the ground; and her gaze 
had persistently strayed to the wasting fruit. 

The audience melted away I was unable to 
discover if they were flattered or annoyed 
and I found myself actually seated at one of 
the small tables on the fringe of the the dansant 
at the Sevilla. The Cascade Orchestra from 
the Biltmore, their necks hung with the imi- 
tation wreaths of Hawaii, were playing a mu- 
sical pastiche of many lands and a single pur- 
pose; and there, foxtrotting intently among 
girls from the New York Follies and girls on 
follies of their own, colliding with race track 
touts from Jefferson Park and suave predatory 

[99] 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
gentlemen of San Francisco, I found a whole 
section of young Cuba. 

They returned, in the intermissions, to chap- 
erons complacent or secretly disturbed, where 
they 'had, principally, refrescos; but their atti- 
tude was one of progress and conscious, pat- 
ronizing superiority to old-fashioned customs. 
The daughters of what, in many aspects, was 
the Spanish-Cuban aristocracy of the island, 
were dancing publicly in a hotel. Here, al- 
ready, was an example of emancipation. I 
disliked it, naturally, not on moral grounds, 
but because it foreshadowed the destruction 
of individuality, the loss, eventually, of Ha- 
vana, of Cuba, of Spain ... of everything 
distinguished that saved the world from mo- 
notony. 

They danced the Cuban youth with no- 
table facility, adding to the hesitation waltz 
something specially their own, a more intense 
rhythm, a greater potentiality; their bodies 
were at once more fluid and positive; they 
were swept up into a mood unknown to the 
adamant ornaments of Country Club veran- 
[100] 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
das in the north. A cosmopolitan waiter, 
anxious to have me finish and move on, hov- 
ered about the table, ignorant of a traditional 
courtesy as well as of the requirements of the 
climate. All the objectionable features of 
Broadway cafes, of public ostentation, min- 
gled servility and insolence, dishonesty my 
pina colado was diluted beyond taste were 
being flung, with the air of a favor, into Ha- 
vana. Although, for the best, I was even then 
a little late, I was glad that I had seen the city 
when I did, just as I was glad to have known 
Venice before the Campanile fell, and the 
Virginia Highlands when they had not been 
modernized. The change of Havana within 
itself, from palm thatch to marble, was en- 
trancing; but the arbitrary imposition of stu- 
pid habits, standards, conduct, from outside, 
damnable. 

In the end the waiter was more forceful 
than my determination to remain until my 
drink and thoughts were at an end, and I rose 
with them uncompleted, in a very ill temper. 
If Cuba hadn't enough innate taste and nation- 

[101] 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
ality to save -herself, she must go the popular 
way to obliteration. So much else had gone ! 
But later, at the Hotel de Luz, untouched yet 
by the hand of imported cupidity, my happi- 
ness in Havana returned. 



The Hotel de Luz, inimitably Cuban, with 
the shipping lying vaguely behind an orderly 
foliage at the Muelle outside, had a dining- 
room partly divided by wooden screens that 
merged informally into the surrounding halls 
and spaces, and an air that was an accumula- 
tion of tradition, like an invisible film lying 
over everything. A multiplication of unex- 
pected adventitious detail accomplished, in its 
entity, the strangeness, at once enticing and 
a little sinister, characteristic of Havana. 
There was, lurking about, in the darker cor- 
ners and passages, a feeling almost of dread, 
uncomfortable to meet. And, exploring, I 
passed a room without windows, largely the 
color of dried blood, the quintessence of a 
nightmare. The third floor, laid in a tri- 
[102] 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
angle of, perhaps, ninety degrees, raised im- 
mense corridors paved in black and white mar- 
ble blocks, down the long perspective of which 
moving figures were reduced to furtive man- 
nikins and voices were lost in an upper mur- 
mur. 

I sat, for a while, in a walnut rocking chair 
at an end of the sweep, which amazed me by 
an architecture the impressiveness of which 
approached oppression. A wall was broken by 
a file of slatted doors, and from one of these 
came the minute irritable clatter of a type- 
writer; the bell at the finish of a line sounded 
like the shiver of a tapped glass, and a child 
spoke. It was difficult to think of the Hotel 
de Luz as a place of normal residence, as 
existing at all except in the mental fantasias 
of Piranesi it resembled exactly one of his 
sere vertiginous engravings. Yet it was, I 
knew, the favorite hotel of travelers from the 
Canary Islands. 

Continuing to rock slightly and smoke, I 
pursued the extremely recondite subject of 
just such impressions as I had there received: 
[103] 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
a very important inquiry, for it had to do with 
the secret, the unintelligible heart, of my writ- 
ing. There was, obviously, in the Hotel de 
Luz nothing intrinsically terrifying, strange. 
My attitude toward it would be dismissed as 
absurd by the Canary Islanders. But the ef- 
fect it produced on me was tangible, ponder- 
able; it tyrannized over my imagination and 
drove it into corridors of thought as sombre as 
that in reality before me. I had seen the Pir- 
anesi engravings when I was very young and 
painfully susceptible to mental darkness and 
fears ; and they ,had undoubtedly left their in- 
delible mark . . . now brought out by the 
black and white marble -squares diminishing 
with the walls in parallel lines. 

The reality of what I felt, then, lay in the 
combining of the surroundings and my imagi- 
nation a condition, a result, if not unique, at 
least unlikely to be often repeated. The sum 
of another emotional experience and the Hotel 
de Luz would be totally different, but equally 
true with my own; and from that confusion 
misunderstanding arose. The actuality was 
[104] 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
neither concrete nor subjective; yet, woven of 
these double threads, it was absolute. The in- 
dividuality of places and hours absorbed me ; 
there was no word in English to express my 
meaning the perception of the inanimate 
moods of place. It belonged, rather than to 
the novel, to the painter, and possibly occu- 
pied too great a space in my pages. Certainly 
houses and night and hills were often more 
vivid to me than the people in or out of them. 
But it was no longer possible, if it had ever 
been, to disentangle one from the other, the 
personal from what seemed the impersonal; 
for, while nature was carelessly free from 
beauty and sentiment and morals, it had been 
invested with each of these qualities in turn by 
a differently developing intelligence. The 
elements of nature, partly in hand, were ar- 
bitrarily and subconsciously projected in set 
forms. I stopped to think how the mobility 
of mind perpetually solidified, like cement, 
about itself; how fluid ideas, aspirations, al- 
ways hardened into institutions, then prisons, 
then mortuary vaults. Religion 'had done this 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
signally, both profoundly and superficially 
it was impossible to picture the faith of John 
Fox under the frescoes of La Merced Church, 
a Methodist exuberance in St. Michael's at 
Richmond ; the Roman ritual was as much a 
thing of its silver altars as the Episcopal 
Church in Virginia depended on historic com- 
munion services and austere box pews. 

Not only was I specially intent on these 
values : my inability to see men as free from 
them, as spiritual conquistadores, had been a 
cause of difficulty in the popularity and sale 
of my books. I lacked both the conceptions 
of man as an Atlas, holding up the painted 
globe, or an individual mounting securely into 
perpetuity. If the latter were true, if there 
were no death, the dignity of all the great 
tragic moments of life and art, the splendor of 
sacrifice, was cheapened to nothing. I would 
have gladly surrendered these for the privi- 
lege of continued existence in a sphere not 
dominated by hymnology but, skeptical of 
the future, all I possessed, my sole ideal, was a 
passionate admiration for the courage of a hu- 
[106] 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
manity condemned to the loss of warm life. 

I had grown more serious than I intended, 
than, in Havana, was necessary; what I had 
set out to discover was simply the explanation 
of my feeling about the Hotel de Luz; but 
undoubtedly it was better for me to accept 
emotions, merely to record them, than attempt 
analysis. 

I had had very little schooling in proc- 
esses of exact thought, practically no men- 
tal gymnastics. But this was not an imposed 
hardship on which I looked back with regret 
I had been free to fill my life with scholas- 
tic routine, but balked absolutely: in class 
rooms a blankness like a fog had settled over 
me, from which, after a short half-hearted 
struggle, I emerged to follow what, name- 
lessly, interested me. That, for example, was 
precisely the manner of my stay in Havana. 
A course for which the worst was predicted, 
specially since I persisted in writing. And I 
could see how I'd be censured by the frugal- 
minded for such a book as I was more than 
likely to bring to San Cristobal de la Habana. 
[107] 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
There was, in reality, no practical reason 
to write about it at all, since it had been ad- 
mirably and thoroughly described, the sights, 
pleasures, and sounds, in reputable and lauda- 
tory paragraphs, a source of pride to the na- 
tives. Here no one could predict, in my 
search, What would seem important, to be tran- 
scribed the colored glass above a window, 
the sugar at the bottom of a cocktail and my 
moral -sense, of course, would be as impotent 
as my political position was negligible. Yet 
the qualities ignored by a more solemn intel- 
ligence than mine were precisely what formed 
the spirit of Havana; their comprehension 
was necessary to that perception of an inani- 
mate mood of place. 

I was constantly in a disagreement with the 
accepted opinion of what were, at bottom, the 
more serious facts, the determining pressures 
of existence; and it had always been at the 
back of my head to write a novel built from 
just such trivialities as, it seemed to me, enor- 
mously affected human fate. A very absorb- 
ing idea that had gone as far as an introduc- 
[108] 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
tion called A Preface of Imperishable Trifles ; 
but the realization that I had begun in that 
manner a suspicious circumstance in a novel, 
where no shadow of an explanation, a justifi- 
cation, was permissible, led me to put it away. 
It was the serious defect of the novel that it 
commonly resembled the mechanism of an in- 
genious lock in which the key turned smoothly 
for the flinging open, at the appropriate mo- 
ment, of a door upon a tableau of justice. It 
lacked almost entirely the fatalities of sheer 
chance, of inconsiderable accidents, which 
gave life its characteristic insecurity. 

I had left the Hotel de Luz for echoing 
stone galleries and streets and empty paved 
plazas when I told myself that mine would 
have simply been a story of shifted em- 
phasis, for which I should have used my 
own memories, since I recalled the wall- 
paper of a music room after thirty years 
more clearly than the details of my father's 
death, happening when I was practically 
mature. The unavoidable conclusion of this 
was that the paper, in a way I made no pre- 
[109] 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
tence to explain, bore upon me more deeply 
than my father ; and, with that in view, it was 
perhaps as well that the story had remained 

unwritten. 

# * * 

Some of these considerations returned to my 
mind the following afternoon, when my fancy 
had been captured by a woman on a balcony 
of the Malecon. The house was small, 
crushed between two imposing structures that 
had been residences but were now apartments, 
scarcely two stories and set back of the line, 
with the balcony at a lower window. The 
woman was neither young nor lovely, but, 
folded in a shawl, it might have been one of 
the lost mantillas, she was invested with a 
melancholy dignity. It was possible, in the 
briefest passage, to see not only her history 
but the story of a decade, of a vanished great- 
ness lingering through a last afternoon before 
extinction a gesture of Spain finally sub- 
merged in the western seas of skepticism. 

I was extraordinarily grateful to her for 
standing wrapped with the shawl in immobile 
[no] 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
sadness. That was all I wanted from her, the 
most indeed, she could give: apart from the 
balcony, hurrying along the street with the 
black lace drawn closely about her head, she 
would have been meaningless. The hour in 
which I saw her, too, the swiftly fading radi- 
ance, had its inevitable part in the effect she 
produced. I had, I realized, no wish to re- 
store her to either youth or happiness, I didn't 
want to improve her, or the case of Spain, in 
any way; she was perfect for my purpose, so 
eminently selfish, as she was. In begging, in 
imagination, the women of Havana to remain 
on their balconies, I hadn't given a thought to 
their welfare or desires. 

The truth was that I regarded them as a 
part of their iron grilling, figures on a canvas, 
the balconies and women inseparable from 
each other. It might well be that this was no 
more than the intolerable oppression of the 
past incongruously thrust upon the present, and 
that at any minute the women, in righteous in- 
dignation and revolt, would step down into 
life. But if they were to do that, I hoped it 

[mi 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
would be put off until I had returned to the 
land of the feminine free; I didn't want to be 
present when the balconies were definitely de- 
serted for the publicity of the Sevilla. I 
should regret their loss heavily, those points of 
vantage gracefully ranged across the brilliant 
facades of Havana. For there was no other 
city where balconies were so universal, so 
varied, and so seductive. I recalled a bal- 
cony high over the Rond Point de Plain-pal- 
ais, in Geneva, where, on the left, could be 
seen the blue line of the Jura and on the right, 
through the mounting Rue de Carouge, the 
abrupt green cliff of the Salve. Curiously, 
there were a great many balconies in Geneva 
giving on many beautiful prospects the 
Promenade des Bastions and La Treille, the 
Cite and bridged water; but they were no 
more than pleasant, they had no deep signifi- 
cance whatever. The balconies of Charleston 
were rather galleries turned privately on gar- 
dens and not upon the streets ; while those over 
the banquettes of New Orleans, of the vieux 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
carre, ! had Jong ago been emptied of their 
flowered muslins. 

The popularity of balconies, their purpose, 
had remained, until now at least, largely un- 
changed in Havana. On Sol Street, in the 
neighborhood of Oficios and where it met the 
harbor, they solidly terminated their tall win- 
dows, reached the heights of discreet tradition. 
There the way was so narrow that a head 
above must be bent forward to see what was 
passing, affording a clear view of high comb 
and bright lips, provocative in the intimacy of 
their suggestion. The balconies of the Male- 
co'n looked out, conversely, across the un- 
broken tide of the sea in the afternoon, when 
it was fair, a magical sweep of unutterable 
blue. Yet they had suffered a decline as 
though the constant noise of automobiles had 
rent an evanescent spirit. 

The women there might see, as they chose, 
either the parade of fashion or the grey walls 
and the far horizon ; but from the balconies of 
the Prado only the former was visible, the 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
whirling motor cars and the pedestrians in the 
rows of India laurels. Here the balconies 
through the early and late evening were 
crowded; the chatter, the gesticulations and 
smiles, evident on the street. The clothes, 
however, were no longer Spanish in charac- 
teristic detail, but Parisian ; while the essential 
atmosphere, the color, of the balconies re- 
mained. In carnival I had just missed it 
they were hung with serpentine and ex- 
changed bombardments of roses and compli- 
ments with the street; but now their fastness, 
except to the flutter of a hand, was absolute. 
I saw a group of girls at an impressive win- 
dow of the Prado, on the corner of either 
Trocadero or Colon Street, all in white ex- 
cept for the clear scarlet of one, like a blaz- 
ing camellia among gardenias; and, for a day 
after, their dark loveliness stayed in my mind. 
They had had tea, probably, in the corner of 
a high cool room with a marble floor, fur- 
nished in pale gilt. I had no doubt that a 
piano had been played for a brief explana- 
tory dancing, the trial of new steps neither 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
French nor Spanish, but American. Some of 
them, I knew, had been at school in New 
York probably Miss Spence's, where bal- 
conies were not cultivated and I wondered 
what they thought about the Havana to which 
they had returned. Well, if the Cuban men, 
the fathers and suitors and husbands, pre- 
ferred to keep the historic architecture of their 
society, of their climate, a convent of some 
Sacred Heart would be wiser than a cele- 
brated American finishing school. 

The New York scene, however carefully 
veiled and chaperoned, was a disquieting 
preparation for the Prado, or even Vedado. 
What the life on an estancia was, I couldn't 
imagine; I had been told that, for a woman, 
oftener than not, it was still a model of Cas- 
tilian rigidity. It had, in fact, been suggested 
to me that I write the -story of such a girl, shut 
away from everything that she had been per- 
mitted to see and desire. Unquestionably a 
splendid subject, one of the vessels that would 
hold everything an ability could pour into it. 
I realized at once which, in that individual 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
struggle, must conquer the heredity of Cuba 
would be more powerful than an isolated fem- 
inine need. The other women, the elders, 
who surrounded her, would be as relentless as 
any husband, and in the end she'd become fat 
and listless. 

Widely different balconies held my at- 
tention on, one, flooded with the morning 
sun, two women with carnation cheeks and 
elaborately dressed hair, but for the rest strik- 
ingly informal, laughed an invitation to me 
that took no account of the hour. They were, 
I suppose, tawdry, the cheap familiars of a 
cheap street; but the gay orange wall where 
they lounged like the painted actors of a zar- 
zuela, their yellow satin slippers and should- 
ers impudently bare above chemises pink and 
blue, all gave them a certain distinction. 
Again, in the section of Jesus del Monte, there 
were buildings brilliantly and impossibly 
painted, usually with cafes on the ground, 
whose balconies, exposed to an intolerable 
heat, overlooked dingy sun-baked fields. 
They were always empty. . . .1 could never 
[116] 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
imagine their use for there was not only 
nothing to see, but no one to be seen by. The 
houses of Havana, admirable in the closeness 
of the city, possible in a bougainvillia-smoth- 
ered suburb, were depressingly inappropriate 
to any contact with the country. They were 
lost, detached or strayed away from their fel- 
lows; for the happy plan of the country house 
was that of exposure to all the favorable winds 
that blew, to verandas and open halls rather 
than balconies and patios: it was merged into 
vistas and not relentlessly and jealously shut on 
every face. 

A fact that had nothing to do with the trop- 
ics or the outskirts of Havana, where wide 
dusty stone avenues dropped abruptly in soft 
roads, and the balconies were added purely 
from habit. My own balcony, at the Hotel 
Inglaterra, was ideally placed, with its com- 
mand of an angle of the Parque Central. I 
often sat there before dinner, or past the mid- 
dle of night; there was always, then, a wind 
stirring over San Rafael Street; but the bal- 
conies on either side of me, above and below, 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
were invariably empty, their purpose, it was 
plain, mistrusted. 



The patios of Havana, turned so uncompro- 
misingly from the street, were, perhaps for 
that reason, even more engaging than the bal- 
conies. I saw them, except those of the gov- 
ernment buildings and others semi-public, 
through opening or half open doors, or some- 
times I looked down into them from superior 
heights. They, too, were countless in variety, 
from the merest kitchen areas and places of 
heaped refuse to lovely garden rooms of flow- 
ers and glazed tiling and fountains. This 
sense of privacy, of enclosure, in a garden was 
their most charming feature; and the possi- 
bilities and implications of a patio created a 
whole social life with which I was necessarily 
unfamiliar. They were, usually, in the hours 
I knew them, empty but for passing servants 
. . . obviously their time was late afternoon 
or evening: fixed to the inner walls were the 
iron brackets of lamps, and it was easy to 
[118] 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
imagine them dimly lighted and flooded 
with perfume, with the scent of magnolias and 
the whisper of the fountains. 

These details, separately, were not rare, but 
shut into the masonry of Havana, their beauty 
shown in momentary glimpses on streets of 
blank walls, their fragrance drooping into un- 
expected barren places, the patios stirred my 
inherent desires. As usual, I didn't want to 
be gazing at them from without, but to be a 
part of their existence: I wanted to sleep on 
one, in a room nothing but a stone gallery, or 
watch the moonlight slip over the leaves of the 
crape myrtles and the tiles and sink into the 
water. But not to-day, for there were dis- 
cordant sounds through the arches with slen- 
der twisted Moorish pillars the subdued 
harshness of mechanical music, the echoes of 
that dissatisfaction which was everywhere now 
recognized as improvement. I demanded 
guitars. 

The masculine chords of the guitar, the least 
sentimental of instruments, as the Spaniards 
were the least sentimental of people, the deep 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
vibration of resinous stopped strings, was the 
perfect accompaniment to that color visible 
and invisible. Invisible! Always that, first 
and most potent. The perpetuity of atmos- 
phere through transmitted feeling was far 
more absorbing than the other chimera, of in- 
corruption. It was tradition, more than 
moonlight, that steeped the patios with 
kindled obscure romantic longings. Within 
their formal squares they held the spirit of a 
great history and of two great races, two con- 
tinents. They, the patios, were the East in 
the West, the Moroscos on the Peninsula. 

The dress of the present, even the floating 
films of the women, was misplaced; these 
were, in reality, the courtyards of the Orient, 
and they needed the dignity of grave robes and 
gestures, bearded serenity. In them, initially, 
women had been flowers lightly clasped with 
bands of rubies and dyed illusory veils ; there 
had been no guitars -then, but silver flutes. 
However, I had no desire to be a part of that 
time ; it was Spain that possessed me, and not 
in Grenada but Cuba, during the Captain- 
[120] 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
generalship of the Conde de Kiel a, in the sev- 
enteen sixties when the British conquests un- 
der Albemarle were returned to the island. 
That was a period of building and prosperity, 
the fortifications of San Carlos and Atares were 
established, Morro and the Cabanas refash- 
ioned, and the streets and houses of Havana 
named and numbered. The decline of Spain, 
a long imperceptible crumbling, had already 
begun, but its effect was not visible in Cuba ; 
there still was a Castilian arrogance burned 
more brown, more vivid, by the Caribbean. 

A little late for the plate ships sailing in 
cloudy companies and filling Havana with the 
swords of Mexico and Peru; but my mind and 
inclinations were not heroic; I could dispdnse 
with Pizarro's soldiers, fanciful with the orna- 
ments of the Incas, for the quiet of walled 
gardens, the hooped brocades of court dresses ; 
all the transplanted grace of the city and hour. 
Climate was greater than man, and the first 
Cubenos, dead in the mines of Cobre, were 
being revenged for the usurpation of their 
happiness and land; the negroes of the slave 

[121] 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
trade, too, were repaying their chains to the 
last link of misery. But these counter in- 
fluences were not perceptible yet in the patios, 
just as the French Revolution had still to scat- 
ter the polite pastorals only to survive in the 
canvases of Boucher and Watteau. 

It was, in Havana as well as Seville, the 
farewell of true formality, for after that it 
became only a form. No one, afterwards, 
was to bow instinctively as he left a room or 
dance to the measures of Beethoven and Mo- 
zart. A useless plant cut down by a rusty 
scythe! The elegance of Cuba, however, 
changing into later Victorianism, was, in the 
time of de Ricla, greatly enhanced by its sur- 
rounding, by the day before yesterday when 
there had been only thatched bohios where 
now were patios of marble. Those quiet 
spaces were sentient with all this, just as the 
patios of the churches -held the sibilant whis- 
per of the sandals of -the Inquisition, an order 
already malodorou-s and expelled from the is- 
land by Antonio Maria Bucarely, the follow- 
ing Captain-general. 

[122] 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
But even yet it would be possible, with the 
details carefully arranged, to find an" emo- 
tional situation in a patio undisturbed since 
the middle eighteenth century; for the re- 
venge of the Cubenos and of Africa, of the red 
and the black slaves, was that, with the faint 
or full infusion of their bloods into their con- 
querors, dwindled unintelligible desires and 
dreamlike passions entered as well. A discol- 
oration of the mind as actual as the darkening 
of the skin! And I pictured an obscure im- 
pulse buried in the personality of a sensitive 
and reserved man, such a trait as, at moments 
of extreme pressure, would betray him into a 
hateful savagery; or it might be better brought 
out by a galling secret barbarity of taste. The 
Spain of Philip, primitive Africa, and a vir- 
ginal island race constrained into one body 
and spirit must be richly dramatic. 

It was imperative to regard the patios in 
such a light, with a strong infusion of reality, 
for,half apprehended, they produced that thin 
tinkling note of sham romance; they evoked, 
for a ready susceptibility, the impressions of 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
opera bouffe . . . a danger constantly present 
in my thoughts. As it was, I should be ac- 
cused again of avoiding the actual and the dif- 
ficult for an easy unreality; but there was at 
least this to be said for what I had, in writing, 
laid back in point of time no one had 
charged me with an historical novel. 

There was another, perhaps safer, attitude 
toward the balconies and patios of Havana: to 
regard them in an unrelieved mood of realism, 
to show them livid with blue paint and echo- 
ing with shrill misery, typhoid fever, and pov- 
erty. If I did that, automatically a number of 
serious critical intellects would give me their 
withheld support, they would no longer re- 
gard me as a bright cork floating thoughtlessly 
over the opaque depths of life. Well, they 
cou ld they'd have to go to the devil; for I 
had my own honesty to serve, my own plot to 
ten( j a plot, as I have said, where, knowing 
the effort hopeless, I tried only to grow a 
flower spray. If I could put on paper an ap- 
ple tree rosy with blossom, someone else might 
discuss the economy of the apples. 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
Or, in Havana, of the oranges. In the 
meanwhile the patios gave me an inexhaustible 
pleasure. Sometimes the walls were glazed 
with tiles and the octagonal surface of the 
fountain held the reflected tracery of bamboo, 
while a royal palm towered over the balusters 
of the roof and hanging lamps were crowned 
with fretted metal. Another, with its flags 
broken and the basin dry, was deserted except 
for the soundless flame-like passage of chro- 
matic lizards; still another was bare, with 
solid deep arcades and shadows on the ground 
and a second gallery of gracefully light arches. 
There was, in one, a lawn-parasol in candy- 
colored stripes with low wicker chairs and gay 
cushions ; on a table some tall glasses elbowed 
a syphon, English gin, and a silver dish of 
limes, and a blue-and-yellow macaw was se- 
cured to a black lacquer stand. 



That, evidently, was not characteristic of 
Havana, and yet the city absorbed it, made it a 
part of a complex richness, a complexity as 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
brilliantly blended as a rainbow. At first I 
had been entranced by the sudden colorful dis- 
play, it had seemed to be in one marvellously 
high key ; but now I recognized that it was 
composed of the entire scale, and that there 
were notes profoundly dark. I should have 
known that, for I had been, when I was much" 
younger, a painter, and I had learned that 
surfaces which seemed to be in one tone were 
made up of a hundred. The city, of course, 
was an accumulation of the men who had 
made it, the women who had lived there ; and 
it was possible that Havana had as intense and 
varied a foundation as any place that had ex-, 
is ted. 

Not in the sense, the historical importance 
of, for example, Athens; I had already said 
that Havana was a city without history, which 
was true in the cumulative, inter-human mean- 
ing of that term. But it had, within its limits, 
on its island like a flower in air, an amazing 
and absorbing past In the beginning, where 
Spain was concerned, Cuba, a fabulous land, 
had promised fabulous gold ; but the empires 
[126] 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
of the Aztecs and Peru, incalculably richer, 
and the fatal dream of eternal youth in Flor- 
ida, had robbed it of royal interest, of men, 
food, and ships. It had settled back, lost to 
most concern beyond a perfunctory colonial 
administration, into a region of agriculture, 
affected only indirectly by, and affecting not 
at all, the universal upheaval elsewhere. 
Within Havana itself, then, moulded by the 
burning sun, the cooling night winds, and the 
severing water, a peculiarly essential human 
development had taken place. And its his- 
tory was, for this reason, elusive, most difficult 
to grasp; hopelessly concealed from a mere 
examination of bastions. 

One by one the colors of its fantastic design 
grew clearer to me; period by period the 
streets and people became intelligible, until 
they reached the middle-century era to which 
I was so susceptible. To arrive, with the in- 
gredients of a tropical Spain and the pirates 
of the world, at an early Victorianism was a 
mystery which demanded a close investiga- 
tion. That air enveloped all the center of the 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
city, its paseos and plazas and buildings, and 
still influenced the social life. This, I finally 
decided, came from the fact that the architec- 
tural spirit which dominated Havana was of 
the period before Eastlake; or at least I was 
not familiar with any structures erected in 
such a style, so lavishly marble, since then. 

There was no absence of modernity in the 
wharfs and streets, but that loud impetuous 
tide poured through the ways of a quieter wa- 
ter, and in the side passages the sound dimin- 
ished. Havana was a great port, but the 
steam shipping along its waterfront was in- 
congruous with the low tranquil whiteness, the 
pseudo-classicism, of the buildings that held 
along the bay. The latter particular, elabor- 
ated from my first impression, carried the city 
back to the end of the eighteenth century and 
the beginning of the nineteenth. I had no in- 
tention of examining the dates of numerous 
structures, but the stamp of their time was on 
the Ionic entablatures. Then women, as well, 
had copied in their dress the symbol of the 
Greek column, of sculpture instead of paint- 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
ing, except for the charming and illogical in- 
novation of turbans ; and they went about in 
sandals and gowns falling straight from their 
looped breasts. Such a figure, with her head 
bound in vermilion, must have been enticing 
in the great shaded bare rooms. There must 
have been, too, an extraordinary assemblage 
of negro pages and majordomos in ruby silks 
and canary and velvet. 

The feminine silhouette changed remark- 
ably in thirty years, from a column to a cone, 
from the ultimate in flowing lines to a bou- 
quet-like rigidity; and the severity of furnish- 
ings, of incidentals, expanded in queer elab- 
orations. It was, notably, a period of pru- 
dery, of all which, objectively, I disliked; 
while at the same time there had been the un- 
dercurrent of license that always accompanied 
an oppressive hypocrisy. This, I could see, 
was true of its age in Havana: men the real 
prudes had been heavily whiskered at home 
with a repressed morality, and betrayed in 
another quarter by heredity and the climate. 
Two periods that, except for some beautiful 
[129] 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
books, had been steeped in an ugliness from 
which the world had not recovered. Indeed, 
while it was now fashionable to deride them, 
the present was, in some ways, perceptibly 
worse: Literature was, perhaps, bolder in 
scope, but it showed hardly more than a sur- 
prise at the sound of its comparative liberty 
of speech. The art of painting had burst into 
frantic fragments that might or might not 
later be assembled into meaning; the architec- 
ture had degenerated into nothing more than 
skilful or stupid adaptation. 

In the large disasters that were sweeping 
the world, the mad confusion of injustice and 
revolt, of contending privilege, the serene 
primness of Havana, its starched formality -of 
appearance, offered a priceless quietude. It 
was, at once, static and mobile, a place of 
countless moods that merged at the turning of 
a corner, the shifting of a glance from La 
Punta to the circular bandstand at the foot of 
the Prado. Never pedantic, it was a city more 
for the emotions than the intellect; intellect, 
in its astigmatic conceit, had largely over- 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
looked Havana ; and Havana had missed little 
enough. Its monuments and statues, where 
they were complacently innocent of art, had 
been brought into harmony of tone by the at- 
mosphere vivid like the flambeau trees, the 
inconceivable blueness of its sea. The colors 
of the houses, glaringly or palely inappropri- 
ate, were melted and bound into inevitable 
rightness. Even the cemetery, frosted with 
tombs like a monstrous iced cake, its shafts 
that might have been the crystallized stalag- 
mites of the caves of death, resembled noth- 
ing more disturbing than the lacy pantalets 
of the time it celebrated. It was the final ac- 
complishment of mid-Victorian horror, with 
its pit of mouldering bones and solemn ritual- 
istic nonsense ; yet the thought of the ponder- 
ous gold and black catafalques rolling in pro- 
cession between the horizontal white slabs, of 
the winking candles all the ghastly appen- 
dages of religious undertaking and the 
clergy in purple and fine cambric, with ame- 
thyst rings on their fat or their thin fingers, 
gave it the feeling of a remote mummery. 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
The cemetery from which I escaped with 
relief and the cafe that I entered with pleas- 
ure again the Telegrafo flowed together in 
the city's general impression. I could see the 
statue of Marti, and, as I looked, it changed 
into the statue of Isabel; then that, too, van- 
ished. The broad paved avenue, the flagged 
walks, became a gravelled plaza about which 
the girls promenaded in one direction to pass 
constantly the youths circling in the other. 
The vision flickered and died, and I went on 
to lunch through the Havana of so many days 
smoothly packed into one. 

I felt that my first sense of instinctive fa- 
miliarity had been justified; yet, in the cor- 
ridor of the Inglaterra, asked by a traveler 
how to get to a restaurant, the Dos Hermanos, 
I was unable to reply; and a third American, 
brushing me aside, gave him voluble instruc- 
tions. It ended by his being taken out and 
seated in a hack, while the other, in angry 
execrable and fluent Spanish, told the driver 
where to proceed. Whatever I had learned, 
it seemed, was of no practical value ; my mul- 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
tiple sensations were not reducible to the sim- 
plest demand. A woman passed with a copy 
of an ultra popular novel, and this recalled the 
long struggle of my early books for the small- 
est recognition. If that dark frame of mind 
had fastened on me in the north, it would have 
burdened me for a day; but in Havana, with 
the Marquis de Riscal and a For Larranaga, 
I envied no mediocre novelist her stereotyped 
laurels. It was impossible to get anywhere a 
better wine or a cigar that changed more 
soothingly from the brown of fact to blue 
fancy. 



The Cuban cigarettes, however, were too 
strong for pleasure; for, while the preference 
for a strong cigar was admissible, cigarettes 
should be mild. All those famous were. 
Strangely enough, good cigarettes had never 
been smoked in the United States, a land with 
an overwhelming preference for the cheap 
drugged tobacco called Virginia. No one 
would pay for a pure Turkish leaf; with the 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
exception of a few hotels and clubs it was not 
procurable. There was a merchant on the 
Zulueta with a large assortment of Cuban cig- 
arettes, made in every conceivable shape and 
paper, hebra and arroz and pectoral. They 
had tips of gilt or silver paper, cork, straw, and 
colored silks, and were packed in enticing 
ways and odd numbers. But, after trying 
their apparent variety, they all seemed alike, 
as coarse and black in flavor as their tobacco. 
There were, of course, men who disagreed 
with me though women never liked a Ca- 
banas or Henry Clay cigarette and a connec- 
tion of mine, a judge, long imported from 
Cuba, through Novotny of New York, the 
Honoradez tobacco for his cigarettes. He 
had been in Havana during the Spanish oc- 
cupation, and later; and, recalling him, I 
could see that he, like myself, possessed an in- 
eradicable fondness for it In his case, even, 
his memories might have affected his exterior, 
for he had a lean darkness more appropriate 
to the Calzada del Cerro than to Chester 
County. In summer particularly, with his im- 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
maculate linens, and the brown cigarette cast- 
ing a pungent line of smoke from his long sen- 
sitive fingers, he was the image of a Spanish 
colonial gentleman. 

He had known Havana at a better time than 
now, when it was more provincial, simpler; 
the hotels then were uncompromisingly locked 
at ten in the evening, and if he returned later 
he was forced to call the negro sleeping in the 
hall. I don't remember where he stayed 
probably at the Inglaterra. I was young and 
ignorant of Cuba when I saw him, with a cer- 
tain frequency, before he died; and I heard his 
talk about the Parque Central with no greater 
interest than his discussions of salmon fishing, 
of Sun and Planet reels and rods split and 
glued. I realized sharply what I had missed, 
both in the way of detail the detail most im- 
portant to a mental picture and always missing 
and in intimate understanding of Cuban af- 
fairs. For he had a tonic mind, rare in Amer- 
ica, unsentimental and courageous, and 
touched with a satirical quality disastrous to 
sham, social, religious, or political. 

[135] 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
The cigarettes came to him in bright tin 
boxes of a hundred; and, after his death, I 
bought seven from Novotny and smoked the 
contents almost by way of memorial; for he 
was a personality of a type almost gone. 
Judges of County Courts no longer wore im- 
maculate high hats to the Bench, with the 
vivid corner of a bandanna handkerchief 
visible in the formality of their coat tails. 

The silk-tipped cigarettes were for women, 
but the silk was principally a villainous car- 
mine, a color fatal to the delicate charm of 
lips, and I hoped that I should see none so 
thoughtless as to smoke them; while the 
cigarettes all of -tobacco were, frankly, impos- 
sible. Why, I couldn't say; they simply 
wouldn't do. What women I saw smoking in 
public, in the cafes and at the races, were not 
Cubans. They, on view, neither smoked nor 
drank anything but ref rescos. But a different 
feminine world, at their doors or over the 
counters of bodegas, enjoyed long formidable 
cigars. 

An amusing convention, a prejudice really; 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
an act, in women, condemned from the associa- 
tions in men's minds, synonymous with that 
gaiety they so painstakingly kept out of their 
homes. Yet, in spite of them, women smok- 
ing had become a commonplace in the United 
States. In Havana men were still paramount 
. . . and Victorian. On the Obispo cigarette- 
cases from Toledo, of steel inlaid with gold, 
were for sale; but I'd had experience with 
Toledo work the steel rusted. For years I'd 
bought cigarette cases and holders before I 
finally learned that the former were a nuisance 
and that the latter destroyed the flavor of 
tobacco- I had owned cases in metal and 
leather and silk, patented and plain, and one 
by one they were mislaid and given away. I 
had smoked with holders of ivory and jet and 
tortoise shell, wood and amber and quills, and 
they, too, had disappeared. All that could be 
said for them was that they looked well and 
saved the fingers from nicotine stains. 

The Turkish cigarettes in Havana were un- 
remarkable, yet, for the Cuban youth, the 
sign of worldliness. They disdained the local 

1*371 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
brands, but even Cuba was powerless to depre- 
ciate her cigars, the best of all countries and 
all times. Here was an accomplishment, a 
possession, of unique importance and excel- 
lence, for tobacco belonged to the irreducible 
number of necessities. I had survived pro- 
hibition, with the assistance of a forethought 
unhappily limited in execution; but if the 
absurdity of my country abolished tobacco, I 
should be forced to move to England; that 
would be too much. I could imagine, in this 
case, what comments would appear in the 
press, reminding the virtuous and patriotic 
that my books had always been chargeable 
with immorality and a blindness to the splen- 
dor of our national ideals. 

In the past I had suffered a particularly 
wretched nervous breakdown it hit me like 
a bullet in the Piazza della Principe in Flor- 
ence; and when I had politely been sent to 
Switzerland to die, an English doctor at 
Geneva cured me, for most practical purposes, 
by impatience, black coffee, and Shepherd's 
Hotel cigarettes. I had no dorbt that smok- 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
ing was, in many ways, a very deleterious 
habit; but life itself was a bad habit con- 
demned to the worst of ends. I was, as well, 
very apt to have little in common with men 
who didn't smoke, or, I should say, with men 
who had never smoked. They were, with 
practically no exceptions, precisians, and ate, 
lived, for their health rather than for the tang 
of delicate sauces and sensations. And a 
long while ago a wise and charming woman 
had lamented to me the fact that all the gener- 
osity and attractiveness she met in men be- 
longed to what were colloquially called 
drunks. . . . Her feeling was the same as 
mine. 

I wasn't 'defending drunkenness or attack- 
ing the statistics against smokers ; what I felt, 
I think, in such men was the presence of a 
fallibility to which, at awkward or tragic mo- 
ments, they yielded and so became companions 
of sorrow and charity, the great temperers of 
humanity. At any rate, I demanded enough 
liberty, at least, to fill my system with smoke 
if I willed. The possibility that my act might 
[139] 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
hurt some one else failed to excite me why 
should I bother with him when I wasn't con- 
cerned about myself! There was too much 
officious paternalism in the air, too many ad- 
monitions and not enough lightness of heart 
of tobacco heart if necessary. 

In addition, I wasn't sure that I wanted to 
be perfectly sanitary in mind and body, any 
more than I was certain of the complete de- 
sirability of a perfected world, of heaven. 
At once, there, my lifelong occupation would 
be gone novelists never stopped to think 
what would happen to them if all the reforms 
for which they shouted should go into effect; 
and I had a disturbing idea that a great deal 
of my pleasure in life came from feelings not 
always admissible in, shall I say, magazines of 
a general character. A clean mind and a 
pure heart were not without chilling sugges- 
tions of emotional sterility. Since men had 
hopelessly and forever departed from the 
decency of simple animals, I wanted to enjoy 
'the silken and tulle husks that remained. If 
there was a sedative in cigars, an illusion in a 
[140] 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
Daiquiri cocktail, I proposed to enjoy it at the 
expense of a problematic month or year more 
of life always open to the little accidents of 
pneumonia or spoiled milk or motors. 



What might be called the minor pleasures 
of life, though in their bulk were vastly 
more important than the great moments, Ha- 
vana had carried to a high state of perfection ; 
yet with, where I was concerned, an exception 
not in favor of the theatre. I went, as I had 
determined, to whatever offered, swept along 
by the anticipation of Spanish dancing and 
music : the first was immeasurably the best in 
existence, and I liked the harsh measures of 
Spanish melody, both the native songs of the 
countryside and the sophisticated arrange- 
ments by Valverde. A great many skilful 
writers had described the dancing, and their 
accounts were well enough, but, politely, they 
all lacked the fundamental brutality of the 
jota and malaguena, just as the foreign op- 
eratic variations on Spanish themes were re- 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
minted in a smooth and debased universal 
coin. 

I purchased a ridiculously flimsy scrap of 
paper, which, I was assured, made me the pos- 
sessor of a grille principal at the Pairet 
Theatre a box, as huge as it was bare, within 
the stage. I could see, under the hood, the 
long dramatic hand of the prompter waving to 
the droning monotony of his voice through the 
stupidest performance I remembered. It was, 
by turn, a comedy, a farce, a pantomime, and a 
comic opera, and a complete illustration of the 
evils of departing from national tradition and 
genius a dreary attempt at the fusion of 
Vienna and New York, planned, obviously, 
for a cosmopolitan public superior to the rude 
familiar strains of gypsies. 

At intervals a chorus of young women, 
whose shrill excitement belied their patent 
solidity, made an incongruous appearance and 
declamation; they grouped themselves in 
feeble designs, held for a moment of scattered 
applause, and went off with a labored light- 
ness that threatened even their ankles. This 
[142] 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
was bad, but a revista I could think of noth- 
ing else to call it at the Marti was, because it 
was so much better, worse. There I had an 
ordinary palco, enclosed by a railing from the 
promenade and elevated above the body of an 
audience composed of every possible shade 
from fairest noon to unrelieved midnight 
The evening was divided into two perform- 
ances, for the second of which, Arco-Iris, a 
largely increased price was demanded. This 
was, again, Vienna and Broadway, but with, 
in addition, an elaboration of color and light- 
ing ultra-modern in intent 

I had seen the same effort ten years before 
in Paris, and the failure was as marked in 
Spanish as in French. Mr. Ziegfield, assisted 
by the glittering beauty of the girls he was 
able to secure, had made such spectacles bril- 
liantly and inimitably his own. The Latins 
knew nothing, really, about legs : they showed 
them with what was no more than a perfunc- 
tory bravado, while it was a peculiarity of 
shoulders the art of which they so daringly 
comprehended that their effect was lost in 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
mass. The display, the extravagant settings 
and costumes, of Arco-Iris, were, throughout, 
mechanical; the coryphees were painfully 
aware of their dazzlements; and an Andalu- 
sian number, looked forward to with weary 
eagerness, had been deprived of every rude 
and vigorous suggestion of its origin. 

When I returned to the Inglaterra I de- 
manded of a clerk where I could find a 
vulgar performance of, for instance, the haba- 
nera, but he shook his head doubtfully. At 
intervals, he admitted, Spanish dancers came 
to the National Theatre; but his manner 
brightened Caruso was expected in May. I 
had no intention of staying in Havana through 
May; and, had I been there, I'd have avoided 
Caruso ... a singer murdered by the Vic- 
trola. Already the seats for his concerts were 
a subject for speculation, and it was clear that 
they would reach a gigantic price, between 
forty and sixty dollars for a single place in the 
orchestra- In this depressing manner Havana 
made it evident that it was a city both fash- 
ionable and rich. 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
There had been a time, too, I was informed, 
when all the uncensored moving pictures of 
the world found a home in Cuba; pictures 
where embraces were not limited to a meagre 
number of feet, nor layettes, the entire ramifi- 
cations of procreation, prohibited. But these 
were gone from the general view. The films, 
though, had not been destroyed, and for some 
hundreds of dollars a private performance 
might be arranged. But this I declined. 
The moving picture industry had been brought 
entirely from America, the theatres plastered 
with Douglas Fairbanks' set grin, William 
Farnum's pasty heroics, and Mary Pickford's 
invaluable aspect of innocence. Never, in the 
time I was in Cuba, did I see a Spanish actor 
or film announced ; although a picture, appro- 
priate to Lent, of the Passion, hinted at a dif- 
ferent spirit. 

I became, then, discouraged by the formal 
entertainments. As usual, I was too late; the 
process of improvement had everywhere 
marched slightly ahead of me, substituting for 
the genuine note a borrowed false emphasis. 



San Cristobal de la Haband 
To-morrow I should hear the Salvation Army 
bawling in Obispo Street In a state of indif- 
ference I went to Carmelo, a dancing pavilion 
with an American cabaret, and drifted to the 
table where the singing and dancing profes- 
sion were having their inevitable sandwiches 
and beer. A metallic young person with 
brass hair, a tin voice, and a leaden mind, con- 
versed with me in the special social accent of 
her kind, ready in advance with a withering 
retort for any licentious proposals. Beside 
her sat a Mexican with an easy courtesy and 
an enigmatic past He was, I gathered, the 
son of an official ^ho, in one of the extermi- 
nating changes of government, had escaped 
over a wall in his pearl studs and dinner coat 
but little else. 

I liked everything about him but his indul- 
gence for soda blondes ; yet in the serious con- 
versation we at once opened connected with 
a projected trip of mine to the City of Mexico 
we forgot the girl until, exasperated by our 
neglect, she lost some of her manner in an in- 
ane exclamation made, she announced, for the 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
sake of Christ. Her companion immediately 
returned to his engagement, and I watched the 
Americans more or less proficient in that dance 
the name of which had been borrowed from a 
woman's undergarment. It had begun as a 
chemise, but what it would end in was prob- 
lematic. 

Was it a healthy rebellion against the pru- 
dery of repression or the adventitious excita- 
tion of imminent impotence? Whatever had 
brought it about, it was stupid, an insensate 
jiggling of the body without frankness or 
grace. I hadn't yet seen the Cuban rumba, 
with its black grotesque negrito and sensual 
mulata; but I was confident that if a rumba 
were started at Carmelo, the shimmy would 
resemble the spasmodic vibrations of a frigid 
St. Vitus dance. The men and women doing 
it, galvanized by drink and the distance from 
their responsibilities, animated by the Cuban 
air, were prodigiously abandoned. They 
were, mostly, commercial gentlemen and stiff 
brokers investigating sugar securities, or the 
genial obese presidents and managers of steam- 

[147] 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
ship companies. The presidents, the mana- 
gers and brokers, were invariably accompanied 
by their wives, who, for the most part, en- 
deavored to re-create the illusions and fervors 
of earlier days ; but heaven knew from where 
came the women for whom the representatives 
of Yankee merchandise were responsible. 

Their origins were as mysterious as their 
age strange feminine derelicts stranded by 
temperament and mischance, caught in the 
destructive web of the tropics. The dresses 
they wore were either creations or makeshifts, 
but their urbanity was as solidly enamelled as 
their hair was waved or marcelled. There 
was still another variety I had seen them be- 
fore at expensive fishing camps tightly 
skirted, permanently yellow-haired, with 
stony faces and superfine diamonds. Drunk 
or sober, their calmness was never changed by 
so much as a flicker ; they caught sail fish in the 
Gulf Stream, danced, ate, talked, and now, 
certainly, were flying, with the same hard im- 
perturbability and display, in gold mesh bags, 
of their unlimited crisp money in high de- 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
nominations the granite women on the wall 
of the Gallego Club. 



My interest, however, in the American in 
Havana had vanished, my position in life, 
avoidance rather than protest, and I surren- 
dered him to the hospitality of Cuba and the 
gambling concessions. I wanted, from then 
on, only the local scene: there were cities 
where the foreigners, the travelers, made an 
inseparable part of the whole, but this was not 
true of Havana; it remained, in spite of the 
alien clamor, singularly undisturbed, intact, in 
essence. But a few streets, a plaza or two, 
knew the sound of English, and beyond these 
the voices, the stores, the preoccupations, were 
without any recognition of other people or 
needs. I began to wander farther from the 
cafes of the Parque Central, the open famil- 
iarity of the sea, and found myself in situa- 
tions where, in my lack of Spanish, I was lim- 
ited to the simplest, most plastic, desires. 

It was in this manner that I found ear-rings 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
which I secured with a sense of treasure they 
were in the shop of a woman who sold em- 
broidered linen from Madeira and the Canary 
Islands, lying haphazard in the lid of a paste- 
board box. The patio opened directly from 
the front room, the store, an informal assem- 
blage of dull white folded cloths and frothy 
underclothes, and outside a very large family 
indeed was eating the noon breakfast while a 
pinkly naked pointer dog lay on the cool tiles 
with his feet extended stiffly upward. 

I was paying for some towels, and regret- 
ting in a singular composite of inappropriate 
words and banal smiles the interruption of 
the meal, when I saw the ear-rings; and im- 
mediately, in the face of all the warning and 
advice wasted on me, I exclaimed that I 
wanted them. At this they were laid on the 
counter, a reasonable price murmured, and 
the transaction was over. I gathered that 
they had been left for sale by some member 
of an old Cuban house, perhaps by a Baeza y 
Carvajal or Nunez: they were of pale hand- 
carved and drawn gold, aged gold as yellow 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
as a lemon one pair of open circles an 
inch in diameter, with seed pearls ; the other 
the shape of small delicate leaves, with pearls 
and topazes. 

A store unmarked in exterior but surpris- 
ing within attracted <me by some Chinese- 
Spanish shawls, mantones, in a dusty show- 
case; and I discovered a short, heavily-built 
Spaniard stringing the hair of a wig against 
a background of scintillating costumes for the 
carnivals, balls, and masques. We were unable 
to understand each other, his wife wrinkled 
her forehead in desperation over my Spanish; 
and then, gesticulating violently, she vanished 
to reappear with a neighbor, a woman who 
seemed to have suffered all the personal mis- 
fortunes reserved for school teachers, who 
made intelligible a small part of what we said. 

They had, it developed, other shawls, 
shawls worth my attention; one, in particular, 
finer even than any of Maria Marco's. This 
engaged me at once, for Maria Marco was the 
prima donna of a Madrid company which 
had sung in the United States two years before, 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
and which had given me, perhaps, as great 
pleasure as anything I had seen on the stage. 
But not so much for the singing it had been 
the dancer, Doloretes, who captivated me, a 
woman as brilliant as the orange-red shawl 
draped before me over a chair, and suddenly, 
tragically, dead in New York. 

The wig-maker had had charge of the ward- 
robe of The Land of Joy, and he assured me 
again that not Maria Marco. . . . Abruptly 
there was spread the sinuous fringed expanse 
of a blazing green shawl heavily embroidered 
in white flowers. I had never encountered a 
clearer, more intense green or a whiter white ; 
and, before I had recovered from the delight- 
ful shock of that, a second shawl of zenith blue 
was flung beside it. The body of the crepe- 
de-chine, the weight of its embroidery, the 
beautiful knotting of the short fringe long 
fringe was an error and their sheer loveli- 
ness, made them more desirable than jewels; 
and, prepared to buy them at once at the price 
of whatever fiction anyone wanted me to write 
and would pay absurdly for, I was lifting 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
their heavy folds when a third mantone was 
produced burning with all the gorgeous and 
violent colors imaginable. 

It was, I suppose, magenta a magenta of a 
depth and wickedness impossible for any but 
Eastern dye ; the magenta of a great blossom 
of hell and it was embroidered with flowers 
like peonies, four spans across, in a rose that 
was vermilion, a vermilion that was scarlet; 
and the calyxes were orange and gamboge, 
emerald and peacock blue and yellow. There 
were, too, golden roses, already heavy and 
drooping with scent in the bud, small primi- 
tive blossoms with red hearts, dark green 
leaves, and dense maroon coronals starred in 
white. The dripping fringe was tied in four 
different designs. . . . 

I asked its price at once, in order to dispose 
of what couldn't help being painful in the ex- 
treme, and he told me with an admirable ap- 
pearance of ease and inconsequence. The 
shop, that had been only half lighted by the 
door, was now tumultuous with color, with 
China and Andalusia; the shawl was the 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
Orient and Spain, brutal in its superbness and 
as exasperating, as audible, as castanets. 
However I might act, hesitate, visibly, I knew 
that I'd buy it in an instant it had become as 
imperative to me as a consuming vice. It be- 
longed, rightfully, to the mistress of a Zuluoga 
or of a Portuguese king, to someone for whom 
money was not even an incident; I couldn't 
afford it even if I wove it into a story with a 
trace, a glimmer, of its splendor; but the next 
day the shawl was in my room. 

Oppressed by a sense of monetary insanity 
not unfamiliar to me I was very apt to buy 
an Airedale terrier or a consol table with the 
sum carefully gathered for an absolute neces- 
sity i S et about turning my new possession 
into paragraphs and chapters; and it occurred 
to me that it had a justified place in the Ha- 
vana story I had already, mentally, begun. 
The polite young men of the time, the decora- 
tive youth of all times, were apt to have col- 
lectively a passion for a fascinating or cele- 
brated actress; and I saw that such a person 
Doloretes would be important to my plan. 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
Yes, my young figure and his fellows would 
go nightly to see her dance. 

Afterward, crowded about a marble-topped 
table and helados, they would discuss her 
every point with fervent admiration. Yet she 
would r be too vivid, too special, to take the 
foreground I had wanted no paramount 
women in the first place and I decided . . . 
to kill her almost at once, to have her as a 
memory. My boy, most certainly, would find 
her shawl exactly as I had; and, bringing it 
to his room, solemnly exhibit it to his circle. 
More than that, I realized, it had given me a. 
title, The Bright Shawl. I instantly deter- 
mined to cast the story in the form of a mem- 
ory told me by an old man of his youth ; and 
that time, torn by unhappiness, indecision, and 
hopeless aspirations, should be made, in re- 
membrance, brilliant and desirable, wrapped 
in the bright shawl which transformed the 
lost past. 

A remarkably good story, I thought enthu- 
siastically; and I fell to speculating if George 
Lorimer would print it. He would give it, I 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
told myself, a wide margin of chance; but, 
in writing, uncomfortable necessities often 
turned up in the course of narrative I could 
leave them out, and damn myself, or keep 
them and, maybe, damn the story in the sense 
of its making possible my writing at all.' Not 
that Mr. Lorimer personally had any regard 
for emasculated chapters, but he was ad- 
dressed primarily to another integrity than 
mine; our purposes were not invariably coin- 
cident. A fact which he, with his energetic 
candor scoring pretentiousness, had made clear 
in his generous recognition of where our paths 

met 

* * * 

What was noticeable in The Bright Shawl 
was that I hadn't gone out for material, but it 
had come to me, scene by scene, emotion by 
emotion. I had never been able deliberately 
to set about collecting the facts for a proposed 
story; I could never tell what impulse, need, 
would be strong enough to overcome the la- 
borious effort demanded for its realization in 
words. For this reason I was free to see what 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
I chose without reference to any ulterior pur- 
pose; and when, on a Sunday morning with 
the heat tempered by a breeze lingering from 
the night, I started for the cock-fighting at 
the suburb of Jesus del Monte, I was com- 
pletely at ease. I had decided in favor of the 
cock-pit both because it was essentially Cuban 
and because I had always detested chickens, 
particularly roosters. 

It was a thing of total indifference to me 
what with steel spurs or without roosters 
did to each other. Alive, they were a con- 
stant galling caricature, a crude illuminative 
projection, of men at their ridiculous worst. 
Their feathered tails, their crowing, their 
propensity to search for bits in the dung, their 
sheer roosterness, together with the sly hypoc- 
risy of hens, had always annoyed me individu- 
ally. And, rather than not, I looked forward 
to seeing them victimized by their own bellig- 
erent conceit 

I had to leave my cab for an informal way 
behind some buildings and across grass, and, 
as I approached a false stucco fagade, a deter- 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
mined ringing crowing filled the air. Be- 
yond the arched entrance there was an area 
of pavement with tables and a limited cafe 
service; and, seated near, was a grave indi- 
vidual with a shovel beard and a thoroughly 
irritated rooster upside down in his lap. He 
was cementing a natural spur over one that 
had been injured, and drinking, now and 
again, from a cup of coffee at his hand. Be- 
yond was the pit, like, as much as anything, 
a tall circular corn-crib, painted white, with 
a cupola. There was place for about three 
hundred, with box-like seats whose low hinged 
doors opened directly on the sawdust of the 
arena, more casual chairs, and as at the pe- 
lota space for standing on the middle tiers. 
There was a box above the entrance, and an- 
other opposite, and this an enormous woman 
in white embroidery and carpet slippers, and 
I occupied. 

A main had just been finished, and there 
was a temporary lull in the noise inseparable, 
in Cuba, from sport The sawdust was being 
freshly sprinkled when a negro entered the 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
ring with an animated bag; and, noting the 
elaborate polished brass scales that hung from 
the center of the roof, I gathered that the 
birds were to be weighed. The second was 
produced, tightly bagged, by a highly respec- 
table-appearing man of unimpeachable white- 
ness and side whiskers, and the roosters were 
left to dangle from the yard. It was to be a 
battle al peso, by weight and equal spurs; the 
first condition satisfied, the spurs were meas- 
ured, by a graduated set of pewter tallies ; and 
the uproar was released. 

It was deafening a solid shouting of bets 
offered in a voice of fury, together with ac- 
ceptances, repudiations, personalities, and the 
frenzied waving in air of handfuls of money. 
The two men with the roosters advanced to- 
ward each other and wooden lines laid in the 
pit, prodding and otherwise increasing the 
natural ill humor of their birds, and held the 
shorn heads close for a vicious preliminary 
peck. The roosters' legs, shaved to an inde-- 
cent crimson, were bare of hold, every super- 
ficial feather had been clipped; and when 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
they hit the sawdust there was a clash as of 
metal. The methods of their backers were 
different the negro, in one of the local coat- 
like shirts with a multiplicity of useless pock- 
ets and plaits, squatted on his heels, impassive, 
fateful, and African; but the man with the 
orthodox side-whiskers became at once the vic- 
tim of a hoarse whispering excitement. As 
the other's bird reeled drunkenly about they 
were badly matched and the main no affair 
at all his pallid face flushed and he suggested 
new atrocities to his champion. 

This, it seemed to me, was totally unneces- 
sary, for a wickeder rooster I was convinced 
never lived. He was deliberate in his tactics, 
unwilling to be robbed of his pleasure by a 
chance coup de grace, and confined himself to 
the beak. Soon his opponent leaned help- 
lessly against the wall of the pit, while the 
victor methodically pecked him to death 
in small bloody pieces. The negro's face, 
couched on a charcoal-black palm, was as im- 
mobile as green bronze; but the white was 
positively epileptic with triumph. And, 
[160] 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
when the defeated bird sank in a spoiled dead 
knot, he picked his up and, with expressions of 
endearment, sucked clear its angry eyes. The 
preliminaries were again gone through with, 
and two large handsome roosters were con- 
fronted by each other. As the surging clamor 
beat about them I saw that one was undecided 
in his opinion of what promised. He flapped 
his wings doubtfully; and then, as the other 
made a short rush forward, he turned and ran 
as fast as his shorn legs could carry him. 
This, considering the contracted round space 
of his course, was very fast indeed ; the second, 
pursuing him with the utmost energy, was 
unable to get closer than a fleet dab at the 
stripped tail. It was a flight not without a 
desperate humor; but this, it was clear, was 
appreciated by no one besides me. 

The execrations, the screams, that followed 
the retreating bird were beyond belief ; the en- 
tire banked audience was swept by a passion 
that left some individuals speechlessly lifting 
impotent fists. Unaffected by this, the rooster, 
slightly leaned toward the center of gravity, 
[161] 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
went around and around the pit with an un- 
flagging speed that should have commanded 
an independent admiration for itself. Occa- 
sionally the pursuer, in a feat of intelligence, 
cut directly across the sawdust, and a collision 
threatened . . . but it never quite arrived. I 
lost interest in the hurled curses, the hats 
twisted in excesses of rage, in everything but 
the duration of the running rooster. It was re- 
markable ; he had settled down to putting all 
he had of strength and reserve into his single 
purpose. 

He had no will to fight, and, personally un- 
derstanding and sympathizing with him com- 
pletely, I hoped his wish would be respected : 
while he had provided no main, he had faith- 
fully substituted a most unlooked-for and 
thrilling race ; making for all time and nations 
and breeds of chickens a record for a thousand 
times around a cock-pit. In some places he 
would, perhaps, have been released, returned 
to the eminence of a barn-yard; but not in 
Cuba. When it had been thoroughly demon- 
strated that he was uncatchable by his rival, 
[162] 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
he was incontinently seized and both roosters 
were carried, panting and bald-eyed, to a sub- 
sidiary ring beyond, not half the size of the 
principal pit, where running, or any discre- 
tion, was an impossibility. 

I saw him go with regret; he deserved a 
greater consideration, and I hoped that, meta- 
phorically in a corner, he would turn and be 
victorious. A new individual, a small brown 
man in soiled linen, had entered the box, and 
he at once, in a slow, painful, but intelligible 
English, opened a conversation with me. He 
had, he said, a consuming admiration for 
Americans, and as an earnest of his good will 
he proposed to let me in on what, in the 
North, was called a good thing. It was 
no less than the cautious information that 
in the next fight a dark chicken, a chicken 
carrying a betting end as long as the Prado, 
had been entered by President Menocal's 
brother. I could, with a wave of the hand, 
make a small fortune : for himself, he was un- 
fortunate he possessed but eleven dollars and 
odd pesetas. 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
I made some non-committal remark and 
turned a shoulder on his friendliness for 
Americans, conscious of a distinct annoyance 
at having been mistaken for, well a tourist. 
There was no inherent inferiority in that 
transient state of being; but it was a charac- 
teristic of the settlers of any given place set- 
tlers of at least forty-eight hours that they 
should regard with tolerant amusement the 
new and the uninformed. He did, I thought, 
my clothes, my cigar, my whole air of sophisti- 
cated comprehension, an injustice; he should 
have recognized that I was not an individual 
to accept readily public confidential informa- 
tion. 

The birds were brought in and weighed, and 
the person in the box with me and the billow- 
ing white embroidery and carpet slippers ex- 
citedly indicated a lean cream-colored rooster 
with brown points. I fancied the other more, 
and thought something of betting on him when 
the main began the brown bird of the 
brother of Menocal flashed forward, launched 
himself into the air with a clash, and drove 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
both spurs through the head before him. It 
had occupied something more than five but 
less than ten seconds. Too bad, a deferential 
voice murmured in my ear, that I hadn't taken 
advantage of such an excellent opportunity 
to get the better of all the too-wise ones. 
With but eleven dollars and some silver he 
had been cramped. . . . My interest in cock- 
fighting faded before an annoyance that drove 
me away from the Puente de Agua Dulce, cal- 
culating how much, at the odds I missed, I 
should have gained. 

Money won at sheer gambling, at games of 
chance which involved no personal skill or 
effort, always seemed hardly short of miracu- 
lous to me magical sums produced at the 
waving of a hand. Their possession gave me 
a disproportionate pleasure and glow of well 
being; they seemed to be the mark of a special 
favor; the visible gesture, the approbation, of 
fortune and chance. I had had a lucky night 
at the Kursaal in Geneva, playing baccarat, 
and the changier, a silver chain about his neck, 
had reconverted my bowl of chips into heaped 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
gold and treasury paper. But with that ex- 
ception, and for some small amounts, I was un- 
lucky. The occasion just past was an illus- 
tration I was never really disastrously over- 
taken, but equally I never reached sensational 
heights. 

There were, certainly, numerous places in 
Havana for roulette, and always the American 
Club for auction bridge and poker; but I 
found my way to none of these: there were 
men who could hear the soundless turn of a 
wheel, soundless but for the fillip of the pith 
ball on the wood and metal, through the streets 
and walls of a city; and there were others who, 
merely pausing in a hotel or club corridor, 
would immediately form about them all the 
adjuncts of poker the cards, the blue and 
yellow and white chips, the bank president, the 
shifty polite individual with pink silk sleeves 
and a rippling shuffle, the rich youth. . . . 
But, indebted, I suppose, to my spectacled 
benevolent appearance, such occasions let me 
pass unnotified. 

I made, however, some effort to find a bil- 
[166] 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
Hard academy, with the hope of seeing the pro- 
fessional games and their audiences built up 
on the four sides of the tables, common to the 
Continent; but if there were any in Havana, 
they, too, eluded me. I hoped to see bearded 
champions embrace each other after chalking 
their cues and then drive the ivory balls in red 
and white angles across the deep green or 
nurse them about the intersections of the balk 
lines. It was very different in America, 
where the billiard parlors were a part of hotel 
life great rooms with the level green of the 
tables fogged in smoke through which the 
lights resembled the diminished moons of Sat- 
urn; the audience, entirely masculine, seated 
on the high chairs about the walls. 

The types of women lingering outside, wait- 
ing patiently on convenient benches, were far 
different from the Latins. Occasionally a 
youth would put up his cue, dust the chalk 
from his fingers, assume his accurately fitted 
coat, his soft brown hat, and go out to some 
girl with whom he would plunge into a sub- 
dued council marked by a note of expostula- 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
tion. Strange youth and unpredictable girl! 
A term of endearment would escape, there'd 
be a quick clinging of hands; and, from an 
imitation gold purse, some money would be 
transferred to an engulfing pocket. 

But the men of Havana, it seemed, were 
quite contented to talk, to sit in a cafe over 
refrescos or in a parque with nothing at all 
but cigars, and discuss eternally, with a pas- 
sionate interest, the details of their politics and 
city. Their contact with life at every point 
was vivid and, in expression anyhow, force- 
ful; they argued in a positive tone to which 
compromise, agreement, appeared hopelessly 
lost; and there was in the background the pos- 
sibility of death by quarreling. That, in it- 
self, gave their whole bearing a difference 
from the conduct of a land where a drubbing 
with fists was the worst evil to be ordinarily 
expected. They looked with contempt on a 
blow, the retaliation of stevedores, and we re- 
garded with disgust a concealed weapon. But 
where we might still, in simpler places, de- 
fend what was locally called purity with pis- 
[168] 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
tols, no one, today, took his politics seriously. 

Politics, in the United States, was looked on 
with cynical indifference, where it was not a 
profession, but in Cuba it was invariably the 
cause of fiery oratory and high tempers. This 
had been true of America; even in my own 
memory, in the Virginia Highlands, shotguns 
had been out for a difference of principals; 
but patriotism of that stamp had fallen away 
before civilization, as it was optimistically 
termed the end finally brought about by pro- 
hibition. Discussion in general, that rose in 
such volume on the Cuban night, had little 
part farther north; my own friends, the men 
specially, almost never said anything except 
as a direct statement; we never met to talk. 

They had a particular, a concrete, interest in 
living, but no general. Further than that, 
there was almost no individuality of opinion; 
the subjects which made good conversation 
were definitely and arbitrarily settled, closed. 
To open them, to challenge public opinion, 
was not to invite argument, but to send men 
away to the greater safety, the solidity, of the 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
herd. A good story, the humor of the latrine, 
was a better key to respectability than an hon- 
est doubt. For those reasons I wanted to join 
the arguments, the orations really, flooding the 
circles of green-painted iron chairs on the Ha- 
vana plazas; and, solitary, I passed envying 
the ingenuous welding dissent 

I imagined myself suddenly and completely 
changed into a Cuban, slight and dark, in 
white linen, with my hat, a stiff English straw, 
carefully laid beside me on a ledge of the pav- 
ing, smoking a cigar of rough shape but ex- 
cellent tobacco. Not rich, certainly, but se- 
curely placed in life! I was, in fancy, the 
proprietor of a small yet thoroughly responsi- 
ble oculist's establishment on Neptuno Street. 
Since I was no longer young, and a member 
of organized society, with a patron or two 
from the Prado, I was conservative, but little 
heated by patriotism ; and in favor, rather than 
not, of annexation to the United States. My 
private view was that Cuba hadn't been con- 
spicuously worse off under Spain than liber- 
ated. The politics of the present, when office- 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
seekers descended to the nanigos. . . . Here 
was the substance of violent argument and re- 
criminations ; the voices, the ideals, of young 
men beat on me in a high indignant storm ; the 
names of Cuban patriots, martyred students, 
and Spanish butchers were shouted in my 
ears. Sacred blood flowed again in retro- 
spect, which should never be allowed to sink 
infertile ; but when the words Free Cuba were 
pronounced I waved my cigar with hopeless 
derision. 

How significant it was, I thought, that, in 
imagination, I had pictured myself at fifty. 
I saw the Havana oculist clearly; his name, 
by all means, was Rogelio, Rogelio Mola, and 
he had a heavy grey moustache across his lean 
brown face which gave him an air of gravity 
that largely masked the humor, the satire, in 
his quick black eyes : Spanish eyes with no per- 
ceptible trace of the soft iris of Africa. It 
was past one o'clock when his tertulia scat- 
tered, and I accompanied h^m toward his 
home walking to get rid of the stiffness of 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
long sitting over Dragones Street, in the di- 
rection of Vedado. Not yet, never now, 
would he have a house in Vedado itself ; that 
was reserved for the bankers, planters, and 
Americans; but he was nicely situated in a 
new white dwelling of the approved style, 
overlooking a common that in turn com- 
manded the sea. 

The approved style was white plaster, a 
story and a half high, with an impressive por- 
tico a portico, attached to a small private res- 
idence, that would have done honor to a capitol 
building. There was but little ground, prin- 
cipally extended in a lawn across the front, 
and banked, against the house, with the spotted 
leaves of croton plants, purple climbing 
Fausto, and Mar-Pacifico flowers deeply crim- 
son. He had, it was plain from his walk, a 
touch of rheumatism, of sciatica really, and he 
halted in the Plaza de Dragones to press his 
thin hand to a leg and curse, by the Sacred 
Lady of Caridad, the old age overtaking him. 

That, it seemed to me, would not carry his 
mind toward his dwelling, his wife grown in- 
[172] * 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
ordinately fat, and their three daughters, all 
long ago asleep ; no, it would send his thoughts 
backward, over the way he had come not 
from the Parque Central, but from youth. 
He would brush his moustache reminiscently, 
I was confident, at a train of gallant memories, 
chiefly of New York, where, on the pier of a 
fruit importing house, he had spent some tre- 
mendous months. That experience had given 
him an advantage, an authority, in everything 
that touched the great republic, and lent his 
politics an additional sagacity, his cynicism an 
edge difficult to turn. He had intended to 
stay in America, a journey to Havana was to 
have been but a temporary affair; but there he 
had attached himself to a wife, the daughter 
of a grinder of lenses, . . . And here he was 
at fifty, going back, after listening to a lot of 
nonsense in the Parque, to his family in the 
general direction, too, of the cemetery. 

It was sad, and, for a moment, there was a 

debate, a conflict, in his mind : though his age 

was beyond denial, and his hip troubled him 

but only after he spent an evening on the cold 

[178] 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
iron chair of a plaza he showed no signs of 
having passed the middle of his life. The 
grey hair was distinguished; Madame Naza- 
bal, who was a Frenchwoman, had assured 
him of that The handsome girl in El Cor- 
az<3n de Jesus, the Vedado bakery where Eng- 
lish was spoken, flushed when their hands 
accidentally met over the counter. But this 
mood, his courage, was fictitious; it sank and 
left him limping palpably, with an oppressed 
heart He was, simply, an old fool, he told 
himself, vindicating the humorous compre- 
hension of his gaze. 

If he wasn't careful, the young men of his 
establishment, over whom he kept a strict par- 
ent-like discipline, would laugh at him behind 
his back. They were inclined to be wild as it 
was, and he suspected them of going to the car- 
nival balls, the danzons, in the opera house. 
God knew that he had seen them in the com- 
pany of no better than the girls from the cigar 
factories. When he was younger young 
that dangerous company had given a dance on 
the last Thursday of every month, except when 

[*74l 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
it fell in Lent, and he had held his place there 
with the most agile among them, once even 
pressing an argument with a man who was re- 
puted to have been an espada of Castile. A 
knife had grazed his throat and slit the left 
shoulder of his coat through to the skin; the 
mark remained, a livid welt under his collar, 
but the assailant had vanished before he could 
kill him. All memory of the girl had gone; 
but she was beautiful, he was certain of that, 
or else why should he have noticed her? 

The girls of those days had a a quality, a 
manner, lacking in the present. Their hearts 
had been warmer, they were less mercenary. 
Rogelio Mola detested mercenary women. 
Now, as far as he could make out, nothing was 
possible but rounds of the expensive cafes : the 
fact was, the girls only wanted to be taken to 
the Dos Hermanos, or the Little Club, where 
the Americans could see them, and, perhaps 
. . . Then, in about eighteen eighty, there was 
some fidelity, some horior, some generosity. 
There was romance that had disappeared 
more utterly than anything else : he was more 
[175] 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
than a little vague in meaning; his romance 
was an indefinite state ; the glow, in reality, of 
his own youth. 

At that time, in such discussions as had 
passed this evening, he had been on the side 
of revolution, of expeditions to the Trocha, se- 
cret associations ; but simply because his blood 
was hot, his age appropriate to revolt. He 
had been, without doubt, difficult; his elders 
had predicted a cell in Cabanas as an ante- 
room, a sort of immediate purgatory, to hell. 
He raised expressive shoulders slightly at the 
thought of the holy legends: a business for 
women and priests. The Church, tempo- 
rarily, had had some rare pasturage; but the 
fathers were a shade too greedy; they had gob- 
bled up so much that it was necessary to drive 
them out. Women and priests, priests and 
women! The latter had suffered no diminu- 
tion of their privileges; they had too much for 
which the young men, for all their self-opin- 
ion, got nothing or next to nothing in return. 
Rogelio Mola wondered if the old houses of 
pleasure were unchanged. 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
He had not thought of them for years, and 
he was contemptuous of men of his age who 
did, still, consider them. Not that he was 
puritanical and condemned all such institu- 
tions, though he had a strong suspicion that 
they had deteriorated. For the youth of his 
day they had been very largely places of meet- 
ing and conspiracy, where traditionally the 
sentiment supported attacks on authority. 
Yet a girl from Lima had betrayed Mario 
Turafa, his friend, in hiding, to the Spanish 
Government It was said that Mario had 
been deported, perhaps to the very Peru 
from which came his Delilah, but it was 
more probable that he had been shot. 
There had been one whom he, Rogelio, had 
liked. . . . Her name came back to him, Ana, 
and the fact that she sang quite beautifully 
. . . nothing else. The words of a song 
formed from the melody for a moment audi- 
ble among his memories : 

"Clavales, clavales 
de mi Andalucia! 
Mujeres, mujeres 
de la Patria mial" 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
It was evident from this that she had come 
from Andalusia. Thirty years ago! He 
wished her the best of luck. Hadn't they 
been young together, with at least the inno- 
cence of true affection? His thoughts turned 
guiltily to his wife, to his daughters white like 
flowers of the Copa de Nieva. The twinge in 
his leg resembled a hot wire; and resolutely 
he marshalled his attention forward. How 
dark, how depressing, certain reaches of Ha- 
vana were, and he pictured the cemetery 
ghostly, icy, in the nig'ht; women, with their 
confessional, their faith in the forgiveness of 
sins, were fortunate. Yet no one must say of 
him that he was a coward, that, at the last, he 
had been borne into oblivion on the oil of the 
priests he had disregarded in life. Deep un- 
der his skepticism, however, a low inextin- 
guishable hereditary flame of hope burned, 
independent of his intelligence. 



My mind returned once more to Rogelio 
Mola as I was standing outside an impassive 

[178] 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
door, waiting for admittance, not far from the 
Arsenal. It was the entrance to what he had 
called a house of pleasure, and, long estab- 
lished in Havana, unknown to America, one 
that he might easily have frequented in the 
reprehensible period of youth. I had ade- 
quate abstract reasons for my presence, but 
Rogelio, correctly insistent on a saving gener- 
osity of emotion, had needed no ponderous ex- 
planation. Indeed, I was there in his interest, 
since, after all, I had imagined him ; I wanted 
very much to have completely the material of 
his setting, of the surrounding from which his 
friend, betrayed by the Peru that had centuries 
before despoiled Cuba, had been led out to 
be, doubtless, shot. Not that, pressingly, I 
felt the need for an excuse, or that I was es- 
sentially making a descent The very bitter- 
ness, the revilement in solemn terms, of my 
early instructions, had, reacting, defeated it- 
self. 

What was before me, in a world where the 
pure and the impure were inexplicably mixed 
in one flesh, was inevitable; its ugliness lay 
[179] 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
not with it, but in a society which, constantly 
tearing it down, as constantly projected again 
the penalty, the shadow, of a perfunctory and 
material estate. In addition, as long as the 
age of marriage, of love, was so tragically dif- 
ferent in society and in nature, an informal in- 
terlude was unavoidable. But I had no need 
to apologize for anything. I had been spared 
the dreary and impertinent duty of improving 
the world ; the whole discharge of my respon- 
sibility was contained in the imperative obli- 
gation to see with relative truth, to put down 
the colors and scents and emotions of existence. 
What, pretentiously, was called the moral 
must shift for itself; that depended on what, 
beneath consciousness, I was the justice and 
sympathy, the comprehension, of my being. 

A slide opened mysteriously on the blank 
darkness before me, a bolt was drawn ; and im- 
mediately I had left the" street for a little en- 
tresol filled with lamplight, the breath of 
scented powder, and the notes of a piano 
played by a girl whose cigarette burned furi- 
ously on the scarred ebonized top of the in- 
[180] 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
strument. She half turned, scanning me in- 
differently, and went on with her unelaborate 
music. The woman who had admitted me, 
a figure whose instant scrutiny resembled the 
unsparing accuracy of a photograph by flash- 
light, after a polite greeting, ignored me abso- 
lutely, and I was left to follow my fancy. 

This led to the patio, larger and more en- 
trancing than any I had before seen; it was 
paved in blocks of marble, and the white walls, 
warmly and fully illuminated, made a sharp 
contrast with the night, the sky and stars, 
above. There was a tree growing at one side ; 
what it was I didn't know, but it hung large 
intensely green leaves into the light before 
climbing to obscurity. A great many people, 
it seemed to me, were present; and, as I found 
a seat on an ornamental iron, bench, the for- 
mality of a civil greeting was scrupulously ob- 
served. The company was, to every outer re- 
gard, decorous to the point of stiffness. Op- 
posite, two officers of the Spanish navy, in im- 
maculate white with gilt epaulettes, were 
drinking naranjadas and conversing with two 
[181] 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
girls who nodded in appropriate sympathy. 
Farther on, a Cuban exquisite, his hands, in 
spite of the heat, cased in lavender grey gloves, 
was staring fixedly at the shining toes of his 
shoes. Others yes, Rogelio in his youth 
their hair faultlessly glossy, were more ani- 
mated; their gestures and voices rose irrepres- 
sibly and sank in confidences to ears close be- 
side them. 

A row of doors, I then saw, filled one side of 
the patio, the interiors closed by swinging 
slatted screens ; the wall at my back was blank, 
an exit at the rear, while on the right was the 
entrance. Scattered about, with the benches 
and chairs, small tables held a variety of 
glasses and drinks . . * the entire atmosphere 
was pervaded, characterized, by utter ease. 
That was, to me, the most notable of the ef- 
fects of that enclosure an amazing freedom 
from superficial obligations, from the burden- 
some conventions which, so largely a part of 
existence, had come to be accepted either sub- 
consciously or as a necessary evil. I realized 
for the first time the inanity of imposed pre- 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
tences, the thick, the suffocating armor of triv- 
iality that criminally and ludicrously muffled 
life. 

There were present, of course, all the poses 
of humanity, and a great many of its conven- 
tions ; the girls were not hippogriffs, but girls 
timid, bold, religious, skeptical, feminine, 
sentimental, happy and unhappy, hopeful and 
hopeless. Yet, in contradiction to this, the air 
offered a complete release from a thousand 
small irritating pressures. It came, partly, 
from the sense that here I was outside the or- 
der, the legality, the explicit purpose, of the 
forces organizing the world. I had stepped, 
as it were, from time, immediacy, to timeless- 
ness. The patio into which I was shut might 
have been on that earth the ancients conceived 
of as round and flat as a plate. No discov- 
ery, no wisdom accumulated by centuries and 
supreme sacrifices, had any bearing, any im- 
portance, in my circumstances now. I was 
contemporaneous with the lives precariously 
spent between the ebb and flood of the ice 
ages. The animals knew as much. But if I 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
had nothing to gain from all that was succes- 
sively admirable, nothing was lost that had 
been implicit in the beginning, nothing at the 
last end would be changed. 

The conversation fluctuated about me, the 
glasses were carried away and brought back 
refilled; the smoke of cigars and cigarettes 
floated tranquilly up and was lost above the 
illumination, and I completely dropped the 
embarrassment which came from an uncer- 
tainty in such minor customs as existed. I 
was, in fact, extremely comfortable when I un- 
derstood that I was left entirely to my own 
desires. These included the offer, in clumsy 
Spanish, of a general order of drinks; and 
there was a revival of polite phrases. Not all, 
by a half, accepted ; the others bowed, gravely 
or cheerfully ; and I retired again to my spec- 
ulations. 

These were mainly gathered about the re- 
gret that the scene before me was practically 
forbidden to American novels. It had, in re- 
ality, no place in the United States, and, there- 
fore, could claim no legitimate page in Amer- 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
ican literature. There, anyhow, it could be 
said for public morals, such things were nearly 
all that the word vice implied. What, ex- 
actly, I was lamenting, was the old fundamen- 
tal lack of candor in the American attitude. 
This, beyond question, proceeded from the 
people themselves, and not from commissions ; 
an enormous majority, except for that national 
whispered currency of obscenity, was prudish 
beyond reclamation. For them, it was prob- 
able, the innocence of the body had been 
branded eternally. And I was neither a 
martyr nor a reformer. The loss to me was 
considerable as it was, dealing with only the 
outer garments of fact, I had been accused of 
lasciviousness or something of the kind and I 
envied the French the cool logic of their men- 
tality, the cultivation of the French audience. 
My mind reverted to Jurgen, the remark- 
able narrative of James Cabell's, that had been 
suppressed ; a summary act of disturbing irony. 
For Mr. Cabell had spent a life, practically, 
reaching from the imagination of childhood to 
the performance of maturity, in a mental pre- 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
occupation with disembodied purity. He had 
set up, in his heart and in his books, the high 
altar of mediaeval Platonism an image of de- 
sire never to be clasped, reached, from earth ; 
a consolation, really, for the earth-bound. But 
that, in the mind, the characteristic mind, of 
America, had not had the weight, the value, of 
a dandelion's gossamer seed. It was, defi- 
nitely, a land that cared nothing for literature, 
the casting of transient life into the perma- 
nence of beautiful form. As the world ad- 
vanced in years, the general importance of 
literature, it seemed to me, diminished; the 
truth was that people didn't care for it 



The ladies of pleasure the merest identi- 
fying phrase, since, in the first place, they were 
practically all at the age of immaturity were 
dressed in evening satins, cut generally with 
an effective simplicity, or the lacy whiteness 
still better adapted to the young person. In 
the tropical patio with its canopy of broad 
green leaves and night, the marble pavement 
[186] 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
and alabaster walls, they were brilliantly ef- 
fective ; it was only after an extended regard, 
carefully casual, that I appreciated the amaz- 
ing diversity of their individuality, the gamut 
of bloods run. There were no Anglo-Saxons 
they were faithful to the traditions of their 
latitude and there was no positive Africa; 
but there was Africa in faint dilutions, in at- 
tenuations traced from lands remote as Tar- 
tary: 

There was, for example, a girl so blanched 
that I saw she wasn't white at all ; her face, 
even without its drenching of powder, was the 
color of the rice-paper cigarette she smoked, 
walking indolently by; and her hair was a 
blazing mass of undyed red. Her features, 
her nose, and the pinched blue corners of her 
eyes, the crinkling tendency of her piled hair 
its authenticity unmistakable in a strong 
vivid sheen showed the secret that lay back 
of her exotic appalling splendor. Her pro- 
gress across the patio was a slender undulation, 
and her gaze was fixed, her attention lost, in an 
abstraction to which there was no key. No 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
imagination could have pictured such a strik- 
ing figure nor placed her so exactly in the ulti- 
mate setting: 

Here she was artificial there were long jet 
ear-rings against her neck and savage. In 
her silk stocking, I had every reason to sus- 
pect, there was a knife's thin steel leaf; but 
who could predict the emotions, no instincts, 
to which it was servant? Who, trivial with 
the trivialities of to-day, could foretell, trifling 
with her, what incentive might drive the steel 
deep up under his arm? Hers would be a 
dreadful face to see, in its flaming corona, in 
the last agonizing wrench of consciousness. 

Seated, and talking earnestly to a Cuban with 
worried eyes, was a small round brown girl in 
candy green, whose feet in childish kid slip- 
pers and soft hands bore an expression of flaw- 
less innocence. Clasped above an elbow was 
an enamelled gold band, such as youth no 
longer wore, with a hinge and fine gold chain 
securing the lock. She touched it once, 
absent-mindedly, and I wondered what was its 
potency of association ; when, at a turn of her 
[i 88] 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
wrist, she drained a glass of brandy, an act 
of revealing incongruity. She was, I recog- 
. nized from her speech, Spanish, from the 
Peninsula ; and another, who told me that her 
city was Bilbao, dispassionately, for a little, 
occupied my bench. Bilbao, she explained, 
was not beautiful ... a place of industry and 
money. Nor was she charming, she was too 
harsh; but her personality had an unmistak- 
able national flavor, like that of Castell de 
Remey wine. I was relieved when she rose 
abruptly and disappeared into the entresol, 
where the piano was still being intermittently 
played. 

The screen door to a room swung open, and 
a large rosy creature, negligent and sleepy, 
appeared momentarily, gazing with a yawn, 
a flash of faultless teeth, over the assemblage. 
She was without a dress, but her hair was in- 
tricately up, and a froth of underclothes with 
knots of canary yellow ribbons and yellow 
clocked stockings made a surprising fore- 
ground for the painfully realistic Crucifixion 
hanging on the wall within. The cross was 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
ebony and the figure in a silver-like metal, the 
Passion portrayed by a gaunt rigidity of suf- 
fering. The screen closed on the tableau of 
contrast, and the patio resumed its appearance 
of a vaguely distorted formal occasion. 

Whatever my feelings should have been, 
there was no doubt that if for the extreme 
pictorial quality alone my interest was highly 
engaged. My interest and not my indigna- 
tions! I was not, it must be admitted, com- 
mendably outraged, or filled with the impulse 
to rescue, to save, anyone, however young. 
I seriously questioned my ability to offer sal- 
vation, since I lacked the distinctly sustaining 
conviction of superiority; I couldn't, offhand, 
guarantee anything. Suppose, for argument, 
I took one the youngest and haled her 
away from her deplorable situation : what was 
open to her, to us? Would she have pre- 
ferred, stayed for an hour in, any of the tepid 
conventional Magdalen homes, if there were 
such establishments in Havana? 

I had a vision of appearing with her 
wrapped in a frivolous cloak, before the ex- 
[190] 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
perienced wisdom of the Inglaterra manager, 
in the corridor of American salesmen, among 
the wives of the vice-presidents of steamship 
companies, and explaining that I was deliver- 
ing my companion from the wage of death. I 
should have been, and very properly, put 
under restraint and Dr. Laine hurriedly sum- 
moned. In all probability, and with the ut- 
most discretion, they'd have sent Pilar, or 
Manuelita, back to the patio with the doors, 
explaining to her that I was demented. 

There were, undoubtedly, better places for 
girls of fifteen, and they would have been the 
first to choose them if a choice had been pos- 
sible S ome would have been wives and some 
opera singers and all, with wishing so free, 
uncommonly beautiful. I had an idea that a 
number of them would have gone no further 
than the last, and, as well they might, left 
the rest to chance. But their ideas of beauty 
must have been stupid compared to what they 
actually possessed. 

There was a girl with a trace of Chinese in 
the flattened oval of her countenance, and 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
heavy black hair, as severe as a metal casing, 
redolent with fascination. She sat withdrawn 
from the others with her hands clasped in the 
lap of a fine white dress. She was delicate, 
but not thin, though her neck was so slender 
that the weight of her head seemed bent a 
little forward. I had never before seen skin 
so faintly and evenly golden; there wasn't a 
flush, a differently shaded surface, anywhere 
visible. A sultry air hung about her mouth, 
the under lip brushed with carmine. Her 
eyes, lowered and almost shut, were large, and 
their lids were as smooth as ivory. But she 
wasn't, otherwise, suggestive of that; she more 
nearly resembled the magic glow of an apple 
of Hesperides. 

If I had encountered her twenty years ear- 
lier, my experience would have been richer by 
a glimpse of her involved image-like charm. 
She was, conceivably, to the superficial West, 
dull: it was evident that she almost never 
talked the girls about were not her friends 
but she had qualities, aspects, infinitely pref- 
erable to a flow of words. I should have 
[192] 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
asked of her hardly more than, at present, she 
was, sitting quite a distance from me and fun- 
damentally unaware of my existence. I de- 
bated whether she would be more attractive 
in the sleeve coat and jade pins of China or in 
her virginal white muslin. . . . That now was 
the circumference of my duty toward her to 
put her in such colors, such surroundings, as 
would infinitely multiply her mystery. 

It was, I realized, time for me to leave I 
wasn't Rogelio Mola in his youth and I paid 
the inconsequential price of the drinks I had 
ordered. There were adieux, as civil and im- 
personal as my welcome, and the door to the 
street was opened to let me, together with a 
breath of the scented powder, out. The 
arcade before me sounded for a moment with 
the smooth falling of a latch, and then all trace 
of the near presence of so much lightness was 
obliterated. In memory it seemed slightly 
unreal, a dangerous fantasy of murmurs and 
subdued, knife-like passions the bleached 
soul of Africa with massed red hair; a fri- 
volity of yellow ribbons against a silver tor- 
[193] 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
men ted Christ; the inertia of the East in a 
heavy-eyed child; but, to balance this, I re- 
membered the girl, like a harsh native wine, 
from Balbao, an industrial city and very rich: 
she restored to the scene its ordinary normal 

reality. 

# # # 

The high empty austerity of my room en- 
veloped me in a happy tranquillity; its effect 
was exactly that of increasing age, substituting 
for the violent contrasts of life an impersonal 
spacious whiteness. I very placidly prepared 
for the cool fresh linen of my bed, my mind 
filled with fresh cool thoughts. More defi- 
nitely than ever before I was accepting and 
accommodating myself to the passage of time. 
I was not only reconciled to having left forty 
forever behind, but I welcomed a release from 
the earlier struggles of resentment and desire. 
The joys of youth, or anyhow in my case, had 
been out of proportion to their penalties: I 
had failed at school, at the academies of art, 
and, more conspicuously still, as a citizen. I 
was even incapable of supporting myself, a 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
task so easy that it was successfully performed 
by three quarters of the fools on earth. 

The failure as a painter was serious, but I 
had never had the least interest in those quali- 
ties included in the term a good citizen. I 
knew nothing about the government of the 
United States, and made no effort to find out; 
as an abstraction it had reality for me, but as 
a reality no substance. The priceless right of 
vote I neglected for whoever it was in the 
Republican machine that regularly discharged 
that responsibility for me. All that interested 
me, that I deeply cared for, was first the dis- 
posal of paint on stretched canvas and then the 
arrangement of words with a probable mean- 
ing and possible beauty. 

An extremely bad period, that, when I tried 
to write without knowledge or support, reach- 
ing from twenty until well after thirty, when 
I managed to sell a scrap of prose. From then 
until forty the time had gone in a flash, a 
scratching of the pen : it seemed incredible that 
the seven books on a shelf bearing my name 
had been the result of so brief, so immaterial, 
[195] 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
a time. Now, stranger still, I was in Cuba, 
gazing peacefully into the dim expensive space 
of a room in the Hotel Inglaterra, congratu- 
lating myself on the loss, the positive lapse, 
of what was called men's most valuable pos- 
session. 

No better place for the trying of my sin- 
cerity than Havana existed; no other city in 
the world could so perfectly create the illu- 
sion of complete irresponsibility, of happiness 
followed for its own sake, as an end, or as the 
means of forgetfulness. Its gala walls and 
plazas and promenades, its alternating sparkle 
and languor, like flags whipping in the wind or 
drooping about their staffs, always conveyed 
a spirit of holiday and of a whole absence of 
splenetic censure. At the bottom of this the 
climate, eternally sunny, with close vivid days 
and nights stirring with a breeze through the 
galleries, concentrated the mind and body on 
pleasure. 

Night had always been the time for gaiety, 
when the practical was veiled in shade; and 
Havana responded with an inimitable grace 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
to the stars. It was constructed for night, like 
a lunar park of marble and palms and open 
flooding radiance; with, against that, streets 
packed with darkness and doors of mystery to 
which clung the faint breath of patchouli. 
The air was instinct with seduction, faintly 
touched by the pungency of Ron Bacardi and 
limes, and bland with the vapors of delightful 
cigars. The clothes, too the white linens 
and flannels and silks of the men; the ruffled 
dresses on the balconies, the flowery laces, like 
white carnations, in the automobiles; the wide 
hats of Paris and the satin slippers tied about 
the ankles, with preposterous heels; the flut- 
tering fans all, all were in the key of light 
sharp emotion, of challenge and invitation and 
surrender. 

Yes, any strictness of conduct in Havana, 
any philosophy in the face of that charm, was 
unaffected beyond dispute. I had been, in a 
farther development of this, tacitly left to my 
own devices and thoughts, as if there were a 
general perception of my remoteness from the 
affair in hand. I was suffered to ccme and go 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
without notice; no one, much, spoke to me; 
even those not unaware of the possibility of a 
book, of San Cristobal de la Habana, in which 
their city would find praise, were hardly 
stirred to interest The moment to go to Ha- 
vana was youth, the moment for masked balls 
and infidelity and champagne: its potency for 
me lay in its investment of memories; I re- 
garded it as a spectacle set in the tropics. I 
was an onlooker and not a participant. But I 
had, as I have shown, no regret; I had become 
reconciled not only to the fleetness of time, but 
equally to the fact that my role was necessarily 
a spectator's. Hour after hour, year after 
year, I sat writing at the low window which 
looked out over my green terrace and clipped 
hedge, to the road, to life, beyond. 

Above everything, then, I was satisfied with 
the Havana I knew. From the standpoint of 
actuality my comprehension was limited I 
was familiar with only a certain narrow part 
of the city, for it was my habit to go back to 
what I had found rather than discover the new 
perhaps ten streets and a handful of houses, 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
parks, and cafes. Too much to get into a 
score of books. What I had lost, I thought 
further if, indeed, I had ever possessed it 
was a warm personal contact such as I should 
have had dancing with a lovely girl. I never 
danced, but remained outside, philosophically, 
gazing at the long bright whirling rectangles. 
At the Inglaterra there were many men 
older than myself who danced persistently and 
had the warmest sorts of contacts; they too, 
wore flowers in their coats, but aggressive and 
not reminiscent blooms. They formed most 
of the element of foreign gaiety; there wasn't 
much youth among them, but I didn't envy 
them in the slightest. They were, if possible, 
more absurd than the women unmindful of 
thickening waists and dulled eyes. Their 
ardor was febrile and their power money; and 
every time they escorted with a quickened step 
their charmers past young dark men, the 
charmers glanced back appealingly. It was 
different with the Cubans, who regarded such 
things more naturally, and did not, practically, 
in consequence, get drunk. 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
The noise from San Rafael Street never 
slackened, the clamor of the mule-drivers and 
the emptying cans of refuse took the place of 
the motor signals ; the slats of my lowered shut- 
ters showed streaks of dawn. I turned once, 
It appeared, and the room was filled with in- 
direct sunlight, the hands of my watch were 
at ten. It was eleven before I was dressed, 
with the morning cup of black coffee empty 
on a table ; at twelve I had breakfast, and until 
five I idly read. The evening as. well was idle 
a thoroughly wasted day, judged by obvi- 
ous and active standards. I thought, with no 
impulse to return, of the house near the 
Arsenal, which had, in effect, been open for 
centuries and which, unless life were purified, 
would never close. The purity I meant was 
not a limitation of passion, but its release from 
obscene confines. It didn't matter what I 
meant and, again, I was becoming too serious 
... or not serious about the correct things. 
There was perpetually the danger of being 
overtaken, in spite of my impetuous early 
flight, by the influences, the promptings, of 
[200] 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
my heredity and strong first associations. 
What an amazing climax to my records of 
chiffon textures and moods of chiffon that 
would be : shouting the creed of a bitter Scots 
induration from the informal pulpits of the 
streets! Or I might publish, to the dismay of 
every one intimately concerned, a denuncia- 
tory sermonizing book. But what the subject 
was wouldn't matter, as it had not mattered 
with Jeremy Taylor, if it were written with 
sufficient beauty. Disagreeable books, too, in 
spite of the accepted contrary belief, were 
always very highly esteemed. 



It was easy enough to account for Jeremy 
Taylor by the vague generalization of beauty, 
and I forced myself to a closer scrutiny of that 
term and my meaning. The words beauty 
and love, and a dozen others, like old shoes, 
had grown so shapeless through long mis- 
wear that they would stay on no foot. I tried 
to isolate some quality indisputably recogniz- 
able as beautiful and hit, to my surprise, on 
[201] 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
intellectual courage. The thought of an un- 
deviating mental integrity was as exhilarating 
as the crash of massed marching bands. 
Then, searching for another example, I re- 
called August nights at Dower House, with the 
moonlight lying like water between the black 
shadows of the trees on the lawn. There was 
a harsh interwoven shrilling of locusts and 
the echo almost the feel rather than the sound 
of thunder below the horizon. This, too, 
stirred me profoundly, brought about the glow 
transmutable into creative effort. 

Another excursion found nothing but a boy 
and a girl, any boy and any girl, fired by shy 
uncomplicated passion. ... A mental, a 
visual, and a natural incentive, each with the 
same effect, the identical pinching of the heart 
and thrust to a common hidden center. What 
had they each alike? Perhaps it was this: 
that they were the three great facts of exist- 
ence, the primary earth, the act of creation, 
and the crowning dignity, the superiority of 
men who, somehow, had transvalued the sum 
of their awarded clay. Somehow! I had no 
[202] 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
intention of examining that. The fact was, 
for me, enough. 

There was, however, another phase of 
beauty still, one peculiarly the property of 
novelists, which had to do not with life at 
all, but with death, with vain longing and 
memories and failure. All the novels which 
seemed to me of the first rank were con- 
structed from these latter qualities ; and while 
painting and music and lyrical poetry were 
affirmative, the novel was negative, built, 
where it was great, from great indignations. 
Yet, while this was obvious truth, it failed 
to include or satisfy me; for there were 
many passages not recognizable as great 
in the broadest sense, both in literature 
and life, that filled me with supreme 
pleasure there were pages of Turgenev spun 
out of the fragile melancholy of a girl, a girl 
with a soul in dusk, far more enthralling than, 
for example, Thomas Hardy. It may have 
been that there was the perception of a simili- 
tude between Turgenev's figure and myself; 
certainly I was closer to her mood, her disease 
[203] 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
of modernity, than to a sheep herder; and 
there was a possibility, for my own support, 
that the finest-drawn sensibilities, not regarded 
as emotions in the grand key 3 would turn out 
to be our most highly justified preoccupation. 

I was, at present, in Havana, submerged in 
its fascination, and when I came to write about 
it there would not be lacking those to say that 
I had been better occupied with simpler 
things. Hugh Walpole had warned me of 
the danger, to me, of parquetry and vermilion 
Chinese Chippendale; and I was certain that 
he would speak to rne again in the s-ame tone 
about idling in a mid-Victorian Pompeii, cele- 
brating drink and marble touched by the gil- 
der's brush of late afternoon. Perhaps Wal- 
pole and Henry Mencken's keen friendly 
discernment was right; but, damn it, my ex- 
perience was deficient in material essentials; I 
was dangerously ignorant of current reality, 
and I doubted if my style was a suitable in- 
strument for rugged facts. 

What remained for me, an accomplishment 
spacious enough for anyone, was the effort to 
[204] 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
realize that sharp sense of beauty which came 
from a firm delicate consciousness of certain 
high pretensions, valors, maintained in the face 
of imminent destruction. And in that cate- 
gory none was sharper than the charm of a 
woman, so soon to perish, in a vanity of array 
as momentary and iridescent as a May-fly. 
The thought of such a woman, the essence, the 
distillation, of an art of life superimposed on 
sheer economy, was more moving to me than 
the most heroic maternity. I couldn't get it 
into my head that loveliness, which had a trick 
of staying in the mind at points of death when 
all service was forgotten, was rightly con- 
sidered to be of less importance than the sweat 
of some kitchen drudge. 

The setting of a woman in a dress by 
Cheruit; a part of the bravery of fragile soft 
paste Lowestoft china and square emeralds 
that would feed a starving village, on fingers 
that had done no more than wave a fan ; the fan 
itself, on gold and ivory with tasselled silk 
the things to which the longing of men, ele- 
vated a degree above hard circumstances, 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
turned were of equal weight with the whole ; 
for it was not what the woman had in common 
with a rabbit that was important, but her dif- 
ference. On one hand that difference was 
moral, but on the other aesthetic; and I had 
been absorbed by the latter. 

This, however wide apart it may seem, was 
closely bound to my presence in Havana, to 
my delight and purpose there. It was nothing 
more than a statement, a development, if not 
a final vindication, of my instant sense of 
pleasure and familiarity a place already 
alive in my imagination. My special diffi- 
culty was the casting of it into a recogniz- 
able, adequate medium. There, in the plait- 
ing of cobwebs instead of hemp rope, I partic- 
ularly invited disaster. It wasn't necessary 
that I should sustain anyone, but only that 
I should spread the illusion of the buried asso- 
ciations and image of a brain. That, if it 
were true, I held, would be beauty. 

Here, at least, I was serious about the cor- 
rect things, direct rather than conventional; 
all that mattered was the spreading of the il- 
[206] 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
lusion, the spectacle of what part of Havana I 
did know interpreted, realized, not in the 
spirit of an architectural plan, but as sentient 
with reflected emotions. Otherwise the most 
weighty charges against me were absolutely 
justified. If I couldn't make Havana respond 
in the key of my intrinsic feelings, if I had no 
authentic feeling with which to invest it, my 
book, almost all my books, were a weariness 
and a mistake. 

Novels of indignation or of melancholy, 
of a longing for the continuity of individual 
passion confronted with the inevitable it was 
that, the perishability of all that was desirable, 
which gave to small things, a flower in the 
hair, their importance as symbols. The love 
story, once the exclusive province of fiction, 
had disappeared; it was now practically im- 
possible for the slightest talent to fill a book 
in that manner. The romantic figment, like 
a confection of spun sugar with a sprig of arti- 
ficial orange blossoms, had been discarded ; the 
beauty of love, it had been discovered, wasn't 
the possession of a particular heart, but the 
[207] 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
tenderness, the pity, that came from the reali- 
zation of its inescapable loss. No man could 
love a woman, no woman could love a man, 
who was to live forever; a thousand years 
would be an insuperable burden. The higher 
a cultivation, a delight, reached, the more 
tragic was its breaking by death ; the greater 
knowledge a mind held, the more humiliating 
was the illimitable ignorance, the profound 
night pressing in upon every feeble and tem- 
porary human lamp. 

Yes, the novels, the books I wanted to write, 
were composed, now, not so much from among 
the brasses, the tympani, as from the violins. 
The great majority, like the great books, were 
dedicated to the primary chords; but my 
reaching the former had been always hope- 
less. I didn't mind this, for I told myself 
that, while the structure of approbation I had 
gathered was comparatively modest, its stones 
and masonry were admirable; it was, if not a 
mansion, a gratifying cottage firmly set on 
earth what was in England called, I believe, 
a freehold. It was mine, and there was no 
[208] 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
lease dependent on the good will or on my 
subserviency of any landlord. 



Most of this went through my mind as I sat 
looking at my trunk, open on end in an alcove 
near the door, for I was gathering my clothes 
and thoughts in preparation for leaving Ha- 
vana. One thing only that I wished to see 
now remained the danzon at the National 
Theatre. I kept out a dark suit, one that 
would be inconspicuous in a lower spectator's 
box; for I had been told that it was desirable 
to avoid unnecessary attention. There was, 
briefly, an element of danger. This I doubted 
I had heard the same thing so often before 
without subsequent justification but I could 
believe it possible if there was any violent dis- 
charge of primitive emotion. Here the spirit 
of Africa burned remote and pale, but it was 
still a tropical incomprehensible flame. 

A strip of red carpet led from the outer 
steps, across a large promenade, to the circular 
wall of the theatre; aad though it was past 

[209] 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
eleven, the ball hadn't yet assumed an appear- 
ance of life. But just within the entrance a 
negro band began suddenly to play, and in the 
music alone I immediately found the potent 
actuality of danger. I was without the knowl- 
edge necessary to the disentangling of its ele- 
ments: there were fiddles and horns and un- 
natural kettle drums, and an instrument made 
from a long gourd, with a parallel scoring for 
the scrape of a stick. The music was first a 
shock, then an exasperation hardly to be borne, 
but finally it assumed a rhythm maddening 
beyond measure. 

It was Africa and something else notes 
taken from the Moors, splitting quavers of 
Iberian traditions, shakes and cadences that 
might have been the agonized voice of the first 
Cubenos; with an unspeakable distortion, a 
crazy adaptation, of scraps of to-day. There 
was no pause, no beginning or end, in its 
form ; it went on and on and on, rising and fall- 
ing, fluctuating, now in a harsh droning and 
then a blasting discord the savage naked ut- 
[210] 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
terance of a naked savage lust; it was a music 
not of passion, but of the frenzy of rape. 
Nothing like it would have been possible in 
writing, allowed in painting; only music was 
free to express, to sound, such depths. 
Nothing but music could have conveyed the 
inarticulate cries of the stirred mire that 
flooded the marble space of the opera house. 
It had lost the simplicity of its appropriate 
years, the spring orgies in the clearings of 
early forests; time had made it hideously 
menacing, cynical, and corrupt. 

At an aisle to the boxes within, a negro 
woman with a wheedling tainted manner tried 
to sell me a nosegay; and two others, younger 
and pale, their faces coated with rice powder, 
went past in dragging satins. They were 
chattering a rapid Spanish, and their whitened 
cheeks and dead-looking mat-like hair, their 
coffee-colored breasts and white kid gloves, 
gave them an extraordinary incongruity; 
and behind them, as sharp as the whisper of 
their skirts, a stinging perfume lingered. 

[211] 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
Leaning forward on the rail of my enclosure, 
I gazed down over the floored expanse of the 
auditorium : 

The stage was set with the backdrop and 
wings of a conventional operatic design a 
scene that would have served equally A'ida or 
La Favorita: it towered, like a faded dream 
of pseudo-classic Havana, into the theatrical 
heavens, expanses of bistre and sepias and 
charcoal grey, of loggias and peristyles and 
fountains; while in close order about its three 
sides were ranged stiff chairs in a vivid live 
border of dancers. They were of every color 
from absolute pallor, the opacity of plaster, 
to utter blackness. The men, for the most 
part, were light, some purely Spanish, the 
negritos, at least to me, conspicuous; but I 
could see rfo indisputably white women. 
There was a girl in a mantone of bright con- 
trasting colors, a high comb and a rose in her 
hair, about whom there was a question. How- 
ever, her partner was one of the few full ne- 
groes there; and, as they revolved below my 
box, it seemed that her skin had a leaden cast 
[212] 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
The danzon itself had, at first, the appear- 
ance of a sustained gravity: it was danced 
slowly, in very small space, following the 
music with arbitrary reverses, and pausing. 
There might have been, to the superficial 
view, a restraint almost approaching dignity 
had the dancers been other. The men, with- 
out exception, wore their stiff straw hats and 
smoked cigars through every evolution; and 
the dresses, the dressing, of the women were 
fantastic: a small wasted girl, dryly black, had 
copied the color and petals of a sunflower. As 
she revolved, 'her skirt flared out from legs 
like bent bones, and a hat of raw yellow 
flapped across her grotesque ebony coun- 
tenance. 

The danzon, for a moment, in spite of the 
music played continuously and alternately by 
two orchestras occupying a box on either side 
of the stage, seemed formal. Then, abruptly, 
a couple lost every restraint, and their mad- 
dened spinning and furious hips tore the illu- 
sion to shreds. And slowly I began to be con- 
scious of a poisonous air, a fetid air as palpable 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
as the odors and scents the breath, the pre- 
monition, of the danger of which I had been 
warned. It lay in an ugly hysteria of rasped 
emotions that at any illogical accident might 
burst into the shrillness of a knife. It wasn't 
dangerous so much as it was abjectly wicked 
the deliberate calling up of sooty shapes that 
had better be kept buried. It was unimpor- 
tant that the men below me were, in the day- 
time, commonplace clerks; the women could 
be anything chance had made them : here, to 
the spoiled magic of Carabalie nights, they 
were evoking a ceremonial of horror. 

Personally, since I had no hopes to save or 
plans to protect, I hadn't the desire, like Samp- 
son, to pull down the pillars of the roof on 
their debased heads. I enjoyed it remarkably ; 
the more because I saw, scattered among the 
crowd, figures of unreal and detrimental 
beauty a creamy magnificence in creamy 
satin with a silver band on her forehead ; a yel- 
low creature with oblique eyes in twenty white 
flounces and a natural garland of purple 
flowers ; a thing of ink, of basalt carved by an 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
opulent chisel, on whose body clothes were 
incidental; and corrupt graces perfect in 
youth and figure weaving the patterns, the wis- 
dom, of Sodom. 

One o'clock passed, then two and three, but 
there was no abatement in the danzon. A 
middle-aged man, with an abstracted air, 
danced without stopping for an hour and fifty 
minutes. His partner, flushing through her 
dark skin, was expensively habited: her fin- 
gers and throat glittered coldly with diamonds 
and her hat was swept with long dipping 
plumes. She had a malignant mouth and eyes 
a thick muddy brown, and it was clear that she 
hated the man in whose arms she was turning. 
I wondered about her hatred and the patience, 
the indifference, of the other: how revolting 
she would be in a few hours, livid and ghastly 
in the morning. He, probably, would then be 
standing at a high desk, counting dollars with 
integrity or adding columns of figures, precise 
and respectable in an alpaca coat. An older 
man still was dancing by himself, intent on the 
intricate stepping of his own feet His agility 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
soon won an admiring circle, and his violence 
increased with the applause: he jumped in the 
air, clapping his heels together, and his arms 
waved wildly a marionette pulled convuls- 
ively by wires in strange merciless hands. 

I imagined a fetish, a large god, on the 
stage, drooping over his swollen belly, with a 
hanging lip and hands set in his loins. His 
legs were folded, lost in flesh ... a squatting 
smeared trunk of hideous service. Around 
him were the seated rows of worshippers, on 
either hand was his jangling praise ; and before 
him revolved the dancers in his rite. The 
music throbbed in my brain like a madness 
that would have dragged me down to the floor. 
I speculated fleetly over such a surrender, the 
drop, through countless ages, of that possible 

descent. 

# # # 

It was, however, only just to add that the 
idol of Guinea suffered unduly from his sur- 
roundings and the age in which he was ex- 
posed; in his place, his time, he had been 
neither a monster nor unnatural, but nothing 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
more than the current form of worship. He, 
Bongo, had had the misfortune to be cata- 
pulted, together with his congregation, 
through twenty, forty, centuries, in a breath, 
on the magic carpet of greed, and put down 
in a day where -he was not only obsolete, but 
repudiated. Men saw him with the sense of 
horror generated by a blasting view of their 
own very much earlier selves. For the dif- 
ference between the negro, the Carabalies, or 
Macua, and the Spaniards of the sixteenth 
century in Cuba was, at heart, historical in 
time only. They were members we were all 
members of one family. The innocence of 
a bare black, torn like a creeper from the sup- 
port of his native tree, tatooed with necessary 
charms, medicines, against jungle fears and 
fevers, had more to dread from Amador de 
Lares than any later Christians owed to an 
arbitrarily imported savagery. What, in re- 
ality, occurred, was implied on the wide floor 
of the opera house, was that the negroes, un- 
able to change their simplicity as easily as 
they superficially diluted their skins, kept their 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
innocent habits, their tastes in noise and re- 
ligion and misconduct; but, in the dress of 
civilization, these took on the aspect of a gro- 
tesque defiled horror. With this, too, in an 
earnest effort to assimilate as much as possible 
of their enforced land, they caught such bright 
fragments of life as struck them the glass 
beads and bits of gay cloth and copied them 
prodigiously. The confusion which followed 
was a tragedy in the comic spirit a discor- 
dant mingling that provoked laughter, quickly 
stopped by a deeper understanding and by 
pity. The past vital still: with the entrance 
of the African slave into the West, it was ex- 
actly as though a figure in the paint and 
feathers of voodoo had been thrust into a 
polite salon. 

The spectacle had none of the comfortable 
features of a mere exhibition ; for the revulsion 
came from a spiritual shudder in the beings 
of the onlookers; while the other injured in- 
dividuals saw that, as clothes, the crude partial 
imitation of a rooster was insufficient They, 
the latter, commendably hurried into trousers 
[218] 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
and pot hats, into satin trains and pink tulle 
and white kid gloves; but the transition was 
too hurried, too optimistic, and the resulting 
incongruity ... I was not a student of eth- 
nology, I had no theory of races, but, gazing 
down from my box, it seemed to me that yester- 
day could not be instantly combined with to- 
day; it was evident that there was no short way 
by a long and painful business of evolution. 

Nothing more unfortunate could well be 
imagined ; for, in the retributive manner I had 
already mentioned, the Africa buried in the 
West, so long forgotten, took life again, and 
the danger to everyone had been acute 
through a long period of Havana's years. 
We, in temperate zones, in weathers that had 
no need of the protection of a special dark pig- 
ment, had been lucky; but we were trying our 
luck very severely by subjecting it to the old 
potencies not yet entirely lost. The danzon 
was, actually, in a way beyond legislation, a 
masked ball in black and white, where the un- 
masking was involuntary and fateful. 

One, I thought, spoiled the other, like an 
[219] 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
incomplete experiment in chemistry where 
nothing but an opaque liquid and an intoler- 
able stench was evolved. Perhaps, with 
acute necessity, a successful clear result would 
reward the future with peace; but it wouldn't 
happen in my knowledge; I hadn't a thing in 
the world to do with it What occurred to 
me then was the useful fact that the present 
scene afforded the right, the only, ending for 
my story, The Bright Shawl. It would 
have to be tragic, but only indirectly; nothing, 
I had decided, should happen to my principal 
character beyond a young moment of supreme 
romance. No, the mishap, death, must en- 
velop his friend, the patriotic Cuban. He'd 
be killed by a Spanish officer, through a 
woman a woman in the bright shawl of the 
dancer that had been preserved as a memento 
of tender regard. 

Some arrangement was necessary, perhaps a 
prostitute. Well I had seen her, in virginal 
white muslin, with the weight of her head, its 
oval flattened by the hand of China, her heavy 
hair, inclined on its slender neck: a figure, in 
[220] 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
my pages, impassively fateful, remote as I had 
seen her seated in a gay company. That 
finished the story, for the youthful American, 
after a vain public effort to secure for himself 
the dignity of a heroic end, would be ignomin- 
iously deported from Cuba. I had been often 
asked how I arrived at my plots, but more 
often accused of never reaching an intelligible 
plan, and, until now, I'd been incapable of 
giving an explanation satisfactory even to* my- 
self ; b.ut here was one accounted for to a con- 
siderable degree. It had begun by an instinc- 
tive attachment to a city, to Havana; and the 
emotions brought into being had crystallized 
into a plan, for me, unusually concise. 

There was a temptation, to be avoided, to 
tell it in the first person; a version that had 
come to be disliked almost as universally as a 
set of letters. Some celebrated stories had 
been written that way Youth but I felt that 
it was an unnecessary charge on sympathy. 
While the creation of character was no longer 
the tyrant it had been, a certain air of veracity 
was most desirable, and the limited scope of a 
[221] 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
single intelligence discussing, explaining, him- 
self was too marked. The great trouble with 
the romantic novels up to the very present had 
been that there was never a doubt of the ulti- 
mate happiness of all who should be happy 
and the overwhelming misery of those who 
should be miserable. No peril was the father 
of a thrill, because from its inception it was 
plainly impotent to harm the lovely and the 
brave. The pleasure had from witnessing a 
dexterous job was lost in an artifice that seldom 
approached an art But we'd improved that, 
an improvement expressed in the utter loss of 
the word hero; no man, or woman, was now 
entirely safe in the hands of his romantic au- 
thor; the two manners had come creditably 
together. 

I had become, subconsciously, interested in 
a girl pausing on the floor, and, in response to 
my scrutiny, she glanced up with a shadowy 
smile. I gazed with instant celerity and fix- 
edness at the ceiling, then at the upper boxes 
opposite, since below, indiscretion was laid like 
a trail of powder, of explosive rice powder. 
[222] 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
There was no cutting in at that ball. She was 
more than charming, too, with her mixed 
blood evident in her carriage, her indolence, 
rather than in feature. She wore blue, a 
wisely simple dress that showed small feet, 
like butterflies in their lightness, and the in- 
stinctive note of a narrow black velvet band on 
her throat. 

An air of -sadness rested on her, on, princi- 
pally, a superiority anyone could see. Her 
fan opened and shut in a thin pointed hand. 
A maid, I told myself, reflecting the aristoc- 
racy of the closets of delicate clothes in her 
charge, scented from the gold-stoppered bot- 
tles of her mistress. S'he was another phase 
of what had been going on at such length 
through my mind a different catastrophe, 
since she was denied the reward of the virtues 
in either of the races that had made her. In 
Boston she would have become a bluestock- 
ing, a poet singing in minor cadence to tradi- 
tional abolitionists become dilettantes, but in 
Cuba, tormented by the strains of the dan- 
zon: 

[223] 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
There, her flax burning in resentment and 
despair, she might be extinguished in the tide 
restlessly sweeping to the troubled coast of 
Birrajos: or, at Havana, carried into the se- 
crets of the Nanigos : in the black cabildo of 
that society, provision was made for a woman. 



It was significant that the first organization 
of nafiiguismo in Cuba was purely African, 
for the hatred of its members, Carabalies, for 
the white race made the admission of even 
mulattos impossible. This society tierra or 
juego was formed during the administration 
of General Tacon, in the village of Regla, and 
called Apapa Efi. It was, against the pro- 
tests of its originators at sharing the secret 
with too many, enlarged, and spread through 
the outskirts of Havana. There the mulattos 
greatly outnumbered the blacks, and they 
formed a society of their own, its oath sworn 
in Ancha del Norte Street, named Ecobio Efo 
Macarara. They, insisted on a common 
brotherhood and their right of entering the 
[224] 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
fambas, the ceremonial rooms; but there was 
a determined opposition, open battle and mur- 
der in Perserverancia and Lagunas Streets. 
After this there was a general meeting at Ma- 
rian-ao, the early bar to color, as distinguished 
from black, removed, and the infusion of the 
dark ritual of Efi into white blood began. 
When, ten years after, an indiscriminate so- 
ciety, the Ecobio Efo, was terminated by the 
authorities, Spanish nobles and professional 
men were assisting in the rites. 

What bad started upon the African river 
Oldan as a tribal religion took on, in Havana, 
a debased version of Rome, and the veneration 
of Santa Barbara was added to the supreme 
worship of Ecue, a figure vaguely parallel to 
the Holy Ghost, created in the sounding of a 
sacred drum. And what, equally, in the Car- 
abalie Bricamo was Dibo, God, became in 
Cuba an organization of criminals and finally, 
when its more obvious aspects were stamped 
out, a corrupt political influence. There, in 
the clearest possible manner, was traced the 
eventu-al effect of so much heralded superior- 
[225] 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
ity, such enormous advantages, on native be- 
lief. 

There could be no doubt, though, of the 
fact that, in any pretence of civilization, the 
nanigos were detrimental ; it was unavoidable 
that they should have degenerated into a sav- 
age menace, not only in overt acts, which were 
not lacking, but in practices of mental and 
emotional horror. Their ceremony, with its 
strange vocables and distortions of meaning; 
the obscene words that were but symbols for 
obscenities beyond imagination; the character 
of their dance, which gave them the name ar- 
rastrados, men who dragged themselves, rep- 
tilian, on the ground all combined in a poison 
like a gas sweeping from the morass of the 
past It held, beneath its refuge and defiance 
of society, the appeal of a portentous secret, 
bound in blood, the fascination, the fetishism, 
of orgiastic rituals, and, under that, stronger 
still, delirious barbarity. 

Its legend was not different from the others 
which formed the primitive bases of subse- 
quent elaborate beliefs: the miracle, with an 
[226] 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
attending baptism, was consummated by a 
woman, Sicanecua, who found a crying fish 
the fish was a sacred Christian sign in her 
jar of water. In recognition of this she was 
sacrificed and her blood put to a holy use, and 
the fish skinned for the drum, sounded by the 
fingers, used in his praise. Here Ecue, the di- 
vine, was baptized by Efo in the Oldan, who 
in turn signed his disciple. And about that 
tradition, guarded with its instrument in 
the altar, Ecue sese, the degenerate elements 
and characters of modern naniguismo gath- 
ered. There were, necessarily, changes in the 
Cuban form of worship the skin of a goat 
was substituted for the unprocurable variety 
of fish, and the timbre of the original drum 
secured by an artifice. The need, as well, of 
finding another anointment than human blood, 
difficult to procure in Havana, led to the sacri- 
fice of the rooster or a goat. This, now, had 
a crucifix, with the profession that God, Dibo, 
must be over everything, and a sacramental 
singing; but not the Te Deum or Laudes . . . 
Efore sisi llamba, and the reply Ho Isueribo 
[227] 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
engomo . . . Mocongo! while the Empego, 
the clerk of the service, shifted brightly col- 
ored curtains and enveloping handkerchiefs 
and marked with yellow chalk the head and 
body and palms of the initiates. 

A diablito had in charge the offices of the 
catechism Come with me; where did you 
leave your feet; where I left my head ! Enter 
where Bongo is and cry with your brother! 
Look at your brother because they want to 
choke him. He conducted the sacrifice of the 
goat, which, in a memorial of Guinea, was 
eaten with pointed sticks, with the drink Mu- 
cuba, made from sugar-cane rum and bitter 
broom. A strange procession followed, led 
by the Insue, with a woman in a shift, Sicane- 
cue, and the diablito skipping backward. The 
sese, a silver crucifix with four black feathers, 
was carried, and later the remains of the feast 
were thrown into a cemetery. 

The effort to end naniguismo in Havana be- 
gan in eighteen hundred and seventy-five, 
when its gatherings were forbidden; but, 
deeply traditional, it flourished in hidden 
[228] 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
places, in the jail where nanigos were con- 
fined and the cellars of Jesus Maria. Long 
before that the poet Placido had been killed ; 
within a few years the Llamba named Hand 
on the Ground was judicially executed; and 
following the assassinations during the carni- 
val of eighteen hundred and sixty-five, sweep- 
ing deportations were enforced. In Maloja 
Street a juego, Acaniran Efo Primero, with 
officers drawn from reputable quarters, was 
surprised ; the next year the Abacua Efo was 
exterminated; a public clash of diablitos re- 
sulted in apprehensions; and twenty-five nan- 
igos were taken on Vista Hermosa Street. 

It was, in reality, Africa in Havana, 
brought against its wish and to its tragic mis- 
fortune; and, planted in an alien soil, but 
among a common genus, the mysteries of re- 
ligion, it grew into an aberration of all that 
gave it birth. Aside from this, its significance, 
for me, lay in its amazing language, an idiom, 
specifically, composed of the Carabalie Bric- 
amo and a Spanish without articles or con- 
junctions, equally incapable of exact images 
[229] 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
and the expression of abstract thought. But 
taking the place of its omissions, was a con- 
gealing power of suggestion, "of creating, 
through, apparently, no more than the jumb- 
ling of common terms and sounds, sensations 
of abject dread. The four bishops of the rit- 
ual, in their order, were In-sue, Illamba, Mo- 
congo, Empego. In naniguismo man was 
momban, an idiot was sansguere, a knife icua 
rebesine, a pistol etombre, immortality em- 
bigiii, the night erufie, war ochangana, the 
sun fanson, and worms cocorico. The lan- 
guage took short rigid forms, phrases ; it had 
little if any plasticity: Amandido amanllu- 
rube, The day goes and the night comes. Efi- 
quefi que buton efique Ename onton Ellego 
Efimeremo Iboito, Eurico sangacurici eurico 
sanga quimagua sanga nampe, nampe sanga 
mariba, The owl drinks the blood of the dead 
and flies to the sea. 

The terms of the acts of worship were par- 
ticularly heavy, sultry, and held in their 
sound alone the oppressive significance of fet- 
ishes as black as the night from which they 
[230] 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
were shaped. The minister of death to Sin- 
anecua, a ceremony which became traditional, 
was named Cuanon-Araferrobre, and the act 
of sacrifice the Acua Meropo'. The singers 
before the altar, making visible the sacred 
stick, Baston Mocongo, intoned Mocongo Ma- 
chevere, Mosongo moto cumbaba eribo, and 
Erendio basi Borne, I believe in God and God 
is great; with, at the last, silencing the profes- 
sion of faith, the voice of the drum, tarini- 
bongo. 

The nanigos had been driven from the 
streets through which, at first, on 'King's Day, 
Dia Reyes, they were permitted, once a year, 
to parade with native costumes and instru- 
ments atables and marugas and ecous, a flat- 
tened bell struck by a thin stick. Their f am- 
bas were destroyed and hysteria cooled ; but I 
wondered about both the secretiveness and 
the persistence of the primitive spirit and the 
delicate melancholy that veiled the girl so 
faintly tinged with carabalie, resting below 
my box through the rasping strains of the dan- 
zon. Had her gain been greater than the loss, 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
the ruin, of her simplicity; had she, dragged 
abruptly from saurian shadows, been made 
white by an arbitrary papal sun? 



A glimmering dawn, faintly salt with the 
presence of the sea, was evident in the Parque 
Central when I walked the short distance, not 
more than a few steps, from the opera house 
to the Inglaterra, my head filled with the res- 
onant bos and bongos of naniguismo. Ha- 
vana, for a moment, seemed like a cemetery 
its own marble cemetery of Colon where a 
black spirit, buried in a secret grave, walked 
and would not be still. I speculated about 
that same spirit in another connection in its 
influence on painting and music, on Western 
literature. It had affected dancing pro- 
foundly, making it, in the United States, al- 
most wholly its own; and the Spanish, with 
whom, in the richness of a tradition and per- 
fect expression, no others could compete, 
owed a great debt to Africa. Our music, too, 
it had influenced to such a degree that it was 
[232] 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
doubtful if we had any outside the beat of 
negro strains. 

Stephen Foster, a great composer in that he 
had enclosed the whole sentiment of an age 
within his medium, was often but a paraphrase 
of a darker melody. Foster, like Havana, 
was Victorian, a period that dreamed of mar- 
ble halls, set in a pitch impossible now, and 
yet, curiously, charged for an unsympathetic 
world with significant beauty. This negro 
contribution was in a melancholy and minor 
key, the invariable tone of all primitive song; 
in poetry, as well, a lyrical poetry nearly ap- 
proaching music, there was an analogous col- 
oring between the race and its shadowed meas- 
ures. 

The reminiscent emotions that, with us, 
were mainly personal, in the negro were 
tribal; he had not been individualized, 
brought to a separate consciousness; and, in 
consequence, his song, practically lacking in 
intellect, dealt only with instinctive feelings. 
Growing shrill with passion and sinking to 
the monotonous laments of formless sorrow, it 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
belonged equally to all the men, the women, 
who heard it it was their voice and compre- 
hensible triumph or pain; without artifice it 
wasn't artificial nor ever insincere; and, as a 
means of gold, a medium for lies, it had no 
existence. The voice of all, an instrument of 
natural beauty, shared by villages, its pure 
quality, brought in slave ships that rotted with 
their dead on the sea, gave the shallow and 
vitiated West a fresh earthen tonic chord. 

The negro, naturally, hadn't grown more 
cheerful in his new imposed setting; and it 
was possible that his music had gained an 
added depth, at any rate for our perception, 
from the weight of banishment and shackles. 
He had not turned with any success to crea- 
tive accomplishment that needed mental in* 
dependence and courage, or to forms, like the 
novel, wholly modern. On the other side, the 
novel, with all its trumpeted young freedom, 
had never, with even relative truth, expressed 
the negro in the Americas. This, a subject of 
appalling splendor, had, in the United States, 
been turned over to the comic spirit and short 

[234] 



San Cristobal de la Habana 

impressions stories, superficially, falsely, pa- 
thetic. The fact was that we had enormously 
harmed the negro, and for that reason, in the 
familiar process of human self-esteem, na- 
tionally we were uneasy, resentful in his pres- 
ence. We saw him, when we escaped from 
absolute hatred, as a figure, a subject, without 
dignity: we lacked there the penetrative sym- 
pathy which was the soul of imaginative fic- 
tion. Such a novel, I thought, was perhaps 
of everything that offered the best worth writ- 
ing. 

Certainly nothing more difficult could be 
well attempted; my knowledge, in Havana 
and through the nanigos, had been perceptibly 
enlarged, and I was not unfamiliar with the 
state in which, I decided, the story must be laid 
not in Virginia, but upon a level grey reach 
of Louisiana, cut by tideless bayous and satu- 
rated with the fever of cane and cypress 
brakes. A bitter novel like the broom herb 
put in the ceremonial drink Mucuba, pages 
from which it would 'be hard to exclude a fury 
of hopelessness! And what an angry dis- 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
turbed wasplike hum it would provoke! No 
magazine, of course, would touch it it would 
be sold, for a week or ten days, from under 
counters, and then we, my novel and myself, 
metaphorically burned. A magnificent pro- 
ject: 

A huddle of cabins at the edge of a wall of 
black pines beyond a deep ruined field but 
perhaps this was South Carolina infinitesi- 
mal ragged patches of corn, a sandy trail lost 
abruptly in the close forest, and half-naked 
portentous shapes. There would be a town 
back in the country with a desolate red square 
of great sprawling water-oaks smothered in 
hanging moss, a place at once old and raw, 
and ugly with vindictive ignorance. . . . The 
negroes were infinitely happier in Havana, 
where the heat, the palms, were their own ; and 
I was surprised that they didn't desert the 
United States in a body for a suaver spirit in 
the air and man. Cuba, to a large measure, 
with what final result I wasn't concerned, had 
absorbed them in the manner that Spain had 
absorbed the Moors. Havana made some de- 
[236] 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
nial of this, and prided itself, with entire jus- 
tice where it was true, on unmixed Castilian 
blood; but the other was perceptible in the 
gait, the very whiteness, of Cuba's principal 
city the whitest walls on earth. This didn't 
bother me; I liked Havana from its farthest 
view to its most intimate fagade, and I was 
grateful to whatever had made it 

In my room the negro, with the danzon, 
faded from my mind; and I only paused to 
speculate dimly about his overwhelming pref- 
erence, where a choice existed, for the Protes- 
tant religions instead of Roman Catholicism. 
I should have thought that the color, the 
imagery and incense, of the Catholic Church 
would be irresistible. Yet there were, in the 
United States, thousands of colored Metho- 
dists and Baptists for one adherent of Rome. 
It might be that the hymns of Methodism, suf- 
ficiently melancholy and barbarous in figure, 
God knew, were the reason the character of 
the hymns and congregational singing, the 
loud pictorial shouts. The later religion of 
the negroes, in addition to what I had already 

[237] 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
considered, was a subject to be avoided; but 
running through my mind was the memory 
that in Richmond, not long ago, it was com- 
mon in the evenings of spring for bands of 
negroes to go through the streets singing spir- 
ituals and constantly gathering others who 
dropped their work, their responsibilities, to 
join the passing chorus of hope. 

That was lost now, I understood, a vanished 
custom, killed by self-consciousness; but it 
would have been a fine thing to hear ap- 
proaching and receding through the dusk, a 
stirring resinous volume or a mere vibrant 
echo, a dying whisper. Perhaps that, a dying 
whisper, would be the solving of the whole 
tragic difficulty disease and winter and re- 
lentless natural laws. The latter moved with 
great deliberation through unlimited centu- 
ries, but the impatience of men demanded in- 
stant release from trouble. They wanted 
black black and white white, with no transi- 
tion, no blurring of the edges ; this was their 
dream, but they constantly defeated it, be- 
trayed their ideal. Yes, it might be that 

[238] 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
the humility of that defeat, in the far 
future, would accomplish a universally 
white city. Only one other way offered: 
a different humanity from any which 
had yet appeared outside rare individuals 
. . . but that vision seemed, to me, as fantas- 
tic as the sentence in Carabalie Bricamo that 
gave it expression, Eruco en llenison comun- 
bairan abasi otete alleri pongo We of this 
world -are all together. The truth was, hon- 
estly at heart, that I couldn't commit myself 
to all, or even a quarter, of what this would 
have demanded. Impersonally I was able to 
see that, as an idea, it was superb, I realized 
that something of it must inform my pages; 
but it was useless to pretend that I could be- 
gin to carry it out or that I was, in practice, 
a Christian. I was tired, and my thoughts 
grew confused, but dimly in my mind was 
again the consciousness of the remote fate of 
the creative writer, an individual without even 
the desire to be a part of that for which he 

cried. . 

* # # 

[239] 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
Certainly I had no marked love of humanity 
the following morning, caught with a small 
mob in a narrow passage of the wharf where 
I was waiting to board the steamer for Key 
West. I was between the water and a wooden 
partition, the heat was savage, and a number 
of youthful marines, returning home from 
Camagiiey, were indulging in a characteristic 
humor the dealing of unsuspected blows, 
of jarring force, among themselves. They 
shoved each other, in a crowd shoulder to 
shoulder, disregarding entirely the indirect 
results of their vigor, and exchanged threats 
of fulminating violence. They were not more 
annoying than the others, but only more evi- 
dent; and, as the advertised time of departure 
was past by an hour, and then a second hour, 
and the sun found its way into our walled 
space, even the marines subsided. Every trace 
of dignity, in that heat, ran away from the 
people about me. While, on the whole, they 
were uncomplaining, even relatively consider- 
ate of others' discomforts, wondering, with 
weary smiles, when the boat would be off, I 
[240] 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
had no such kindly promptings. ... I hated 
them all, the ugliness of the women and the 
men's dull or merely sharp faces, with an in- 
tensity that wasn't normal. When I was very 
young in'deed, scarcely past two, I had been 
nearly crushed in a throng after the Sesqui- 
centennial parade in Philadelphia; long aft- 
erward I had been, to all practical pur- 
poses, asphyxiated in a train that broke down 
in an Apennine tunnel; as a result, I had an 
unreasoning fear of crowded bodies or limited 
space; and this dread, before long, on the Ha- 
vana wharf, turned into an acute aversion for 
every individual and thing about me. 

The surrounding insistent good nature de- 
veloped in flashes of exchanged homely wit, 
varied by the attitudes of restraint, and, of 
them both, I couldn't tell which I resented 
more. The present position of the waiting 
people, the long exposure to the intolerable 
sun, was the result of their patience; of that 
and their personal inefficiency reflected in 
their official management. All the bad gov- 
ernments in the world, the dishonesty and uni- 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
versal muddles, were nothing more than mon- 
uments to the immeasurable stupidity and 
greed of the people ; they were betrayed polit- 
ically not by powerful and unscrupulous par- 
ties and men, but by themselves ; perpetually 
and always by their own laziness and supersti- 
tion and jealousy. 

The Cubenos, the original inhabitants of 
Cuba, were parcelled in the bondage of enco- 
miendas, exterminated by the passion of the 
Spanish Crown for gold; when they had 
been sacrificed, Africa was raked by sla- 
vers for labor in the mines and planting; 
beneath every movement, instigated by hope 
or supported by returns, riches were the incen- 
tive and power. Men had never, within his- 
tory and their secret hearts, cared for anything 
else: an ineradicable desire. There was a 
facile public gabble about the qualities of the 
spirit, about soul; but the solid fact of 
money, both as an abstraction and what con- 
spicuously it brought, was what the people 
worshipped, wanted, what they schemed or 
[242] 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
stole for, or in the service of which they per- 
formed the most heroic toil. 

This was not, necessarily, an ignoble or neg- 
ligible pursuit, but it was corrupted by an at- 
tending hypocrisy which forced a fervent de- 
nial, the pretense of an utterly different pur- 
pose, to be worn like a cloak. It was possible 
that, admitted, the sovereignty of gold would 
be the most beneficial rule applicable to man. 
It was preeminently the symbol, the signature, 
of power; with the late sugar crops it had rev- 
olutionized Cuba. Havana was for the mo- 
ment, in a very strong sense, the capital of the 
world, and the visible mark of that was the 
stream of automobiles on the Prado and Male- 
con; individually, money was counted by the 
million the recognition, the desired reward, 
of the fact that Cuba controlled a necessity of 
life. The instinct to profit by such turns of 
fortune was deeper than any charitable im- 
pulse; there was a tendency to speculate in 
wheat more general than the impulse to give 
loaves to the starving. 

[243] 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
There was a sudden surge toward the gang 
plank of the City of Miami, and I was borne 
onto the steamer, away from Havana, in an 
exasperated and bitter spirit. I had entered 
the harbor happily, saturated by its beauty, 
but I was leaving blind to the marble walls 
on the blue water. However, it was cooler 
on an upper deck; and with my back uncom- 
promisingly turned on humanity, on my fel- 
low passengers over a sea like a tranquil il- 
lusion of respite between stubborn realities, I 
picked out from the panorama of the city 
across the harbor, diminishing in its narrow 
entrance, familiar buildings and marks. Ha- 
vana vanished, I thought, far more rapidly 
than it had come into view; soon nothing of 
Cuba could be seen but the dark green hills 
and thinly printed silhouettes of mountains. 
I had it, though, in my memory; Havana was 
now woven into the fibre of my being. 

The Inglaterra Hotel took its place with 

all the remembered spots where I had lived: 

the bare pine-sealed room in the Virginia 

mountains, the tall narrow house in Geneva, 

[244] 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
the courtyard in the Via San Gallo, the brick 
house in a suburb from which, in a rebellion 
against every circumstance of my life, I had 
escaped. I recalled days on end when I had 
tried to write without the ability to form a 
single acceptable sentence, when the floor was 
heaped and littered with pages crushed and 
flung away. Then, it had seemed, I should 
get nowhere, and see, do, nothing. . . . Ha- 
vana was a singularly lovely city. A rush of 
small mementos of its life flooded my mind 
the aroma of the cigars, the coolness of the 
Telegrafo Cafe and the savor of its Daiquiri 
cocktails, the burning strip of sunlight that, at 
noon, found its way into Obispo Street. It 
was still possible to get Ron Bacardi in the 
United States. I was carrying back a large 
provision of exceedingly fine cigars, not from 
the Larranaga factory, but a slender Corona, 
a shape specially rolled for a discrimination as 
delicate as any in Cuba. Yet, away from Ha- 
vana, they wouldn't taste the same; in the 
United States they'd deteriorate; and, where I 
lived, there were no fresh, no emerald-green 

[245] 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
limes, and without them a Daiquiri was 
robbed of its inimitable flavor. 

But what, more than those, I should miss 
was the atmosphere of Havana itself, the gay 
urbanity and festive lightness of tone. It had 
almost wholly escaped the modern passion 
for reform changing America, pretty much 
all the western world, into a desert of 
precept and correction; in many senses 
Havana was an oasis in an aridity spreading 
day by day. Any improvement wouldn't oc- 
cur during my life the habit of lies and self- 
delusion had become a fundamental part of 
society and all I could hope for was the dis- 
covery of rare individuals and cities in which 
existence was more than a penalty for having 
been born. I wanted them as a relaxation, as 
short escapes from a tyranny from which, 
really, I was powerless to turn: 

I didn't want to live in Havana, nor to be 
surrounded by exceptional people; for they 
were both enemies of what, above everything, 
I wanted to do to write into paper and ink 
some permanence of beauty. For that, Ghcs- 
[246] 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
ter County and the solid stone block of my 
house were necessary, a temperate climate in- 
dispensable. At heart, in spite of my con- 
stant fault-finding, my threats of leaving, I 
was bound by associations deeper than mere 
intelligence. No, nothing so powerful as an 
obsession had overtaken me approaching Ha- 
vana; I was not, in actuality, an adventurer, 
but only a seeker for charm, for memories, to 
carry back to the low window to which I had 
already referred. The charm of Havana was 
its strangeness, the vividness of its sudden im- 
pression on me, the temporary freedom, grace, 
it offered. It was characteristic of freedom, 
too, that, in the end, it became slavery; while 
slavery had, at times, extraordinarily the ap- 
pearance of freedom. Not a month ago I had 
dropped, with a sigh, a gasp of relief, a pen 
heavier than anything else on earth, and now 
I could scarcely restrain the eagerness the 
confidence, at last, of" success with which I 
wanted to take it up again. 
* * * 
When I turned, looking back, Cuba had 

[247] 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
vanished, sunk below the line of the sea. The 
Gulf Stream was indigo; along the side of the 
steamer, foam hissed with a sharp whiteness, 
and at the bow miniature rainbows hung shim- 
mering in the spray. The perpetual soft 
clouds of the Gulf Stream were very high and 
faint. In my imagination Havana assumed a 
magic, a mythical, state a vision that, I was 
certain, had no absolute ponderable existence. 
It.was a city created on a level bright tide, un- 
der lustrous green hills, for the reward of 
cherished and unworldly dreams. It was the 
,etherealized spectacle of the sanguine hopes of 
all the conquistadores who had set sail for the 
(rubies of Cipango; they 'had had great desires 
of white marble cities in .which the women 
were lovely and dark, and gold was worked 
into the forms of every day. 

They, different from the frugal Dutch, 
making, with no less daring, the Eastern Pas- 
sage in the interest of associated merchants 
and of commonwealths, sailed, in a more pic- 
turesque phrase, for their Catholic Majesties 
and for Spain. The Dutch names, Bonteke 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
and Sohouten and Roggeveen, had a solid bar- 
tering sound compared with Francesco de 
Cordoba and Miruelo and Angel de Villa- 
fane. Holland had its deathless tradition of 
the sea, sufficiently colored with extravagant 
adventure ; but its spirit was sober, the visions 
of its navigators would never have lingered in 
a marble city. 

Havana was, perhaps, a Saragossa of souls, 
with the acts and thoughts of its early vivid 
years, of Carenas, forever held in the atmos- 
phere, audible in the restless volume of sound 
that was never still. Its history had flashed 
through my mind with the turn of a wheel, its 
duration seeming no more than the opening 
and shutting of a hand ; but now I had an im- 
pression not of the transient, not of walls and 
names and voices, but of qualities impersonal 
and permanent, of something which, while in- 
dividual men died, resisted death. It had ex- 
istence, that was, as long as humanity drew 
a continuous thread of memory through time. 
Havana had, outwardly, changed from its first 
huddle of bohios and fortified tower; but the 
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San Cristobal de la Habana 
form it had taken, so different from the dis- 
covered reality, had beyond any question that 
odd similitude to Marco Polo's reports of 
the Grand Khanate. Its final architecture, 
pseudo-classic, was more abstract than any 
other imaginable order: all the dress that had 
ever paraded through the successive stages of t 
the city the Cacquies, girdled in feathers, the 
brocades of Maria de Toledo and her lady-in- 
waiting, Captain Godoy in steel and lace, the 
floating crinoline of the Prince of Anglona's 
year, painted black nanigos was equally pos- 
sible against a background at once fantastic 
and restrained. 

There was never a more complex spirit than 
Havana's, no stranger mingling of chance and 
climate and race had ever occurred; but, re- 
markably, a unity of effect had been the result, 
such a singleness as that possessed by an opera, 
in which, above the orchestra and the settings 
and the voices, there was perceptible a tran- 
scending emotion created from an artificial 
and illogical means. For while Havana had 
a record dignified in its sweep, it could never 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
be long dominant either as a city or in its men ; 
it had ruled an island but not the world, it 
had never been in that latitude a Captain- 
general of a hemisphere. No, it wasn't sym- 
phonic, but the lesser, more pictorial, per- 
formance; it had, I thought, very -much the 
appearance of a stage. 

This, however was not a denial of the re- 
ality of the blood it shed, nor of the sharpness 
and danger of its emotions ; it had been a pro- 
fusely bloody city with tropical passions often 
reaching ideals of sacrifice. It had, too, suf- 
fered the iron of oppression, spoken its word 
for liberty, the state which, never to be real- 
ized, by its bare conception elevated life. 
Now, in addition, it was a great port . . . 
and yet, though it might have been the fault of 
my limitations, I continued to see Havana as 
more dramatic than essential; I heard persist- 
ently the overture with the themes of Seville, 
the crying native airs, the drums of Guinea 
played with the fingers. The shining crooked 
bay was filled by the plate ships of Mexico 
and Peru, with their high-decked sterns and 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
yellow cannon. The curtain fell to rise again 
on Don Miguel Tacon! 

It was impossible to determine what I had 
seen of Havana and what was merely my re- 
flected self ; even hard to decide if I had seen 
Havana objectively at all, since my attitude 
toward it had been so purely personal. My 
memory was composed of what I'd experi- 
enced and the reflections, the thoughts, that 
had given birth to; and, of them, the latter 
were the more real, solider than the Prado, 
more tangible than the dining-room of the 
Inglaterra. Without them Havana would 
have been meaningless, sterile, simply a mu- 
seum about which nothing could be written 
but a catalogue. It was its special charm to 
be charged with sensations rather than facts; 
a place where facts not, of a kind, absent 
could be safely ignored. Further than that, 
ignoring them was, for any measure of plea- 
sure, absolutely needful : the pedantic spirit in 
Havana was fatal. 

What, almost entirely, I had been told to 
view, expected to enjoy, I had avoided ; yet not 
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San Cristobal de la Habana 
that, for it implied a deliberate will, and such a 
planning or triumph of character had been as 
far as possible from my drifting : I had seen 
what I preferred and done what I was; any- 
one, following me in Havana, could have 
judged me with exactitude. I had spent money 
lavishly as though I were rich instead of ex- 
travagant for visible returns that would have 
only provoked the other passengers on the City 
of Miami. They, where they were not driven 
to staterooms by the dipping of the steamer, 
were vociferous with knowledge about Cuba, 
their bags were heavy with souvenirs the 
Coty perfumes from France and the table- 
linen of the Canary Islands. The pervasive 
salesmen, flushed with success and Scotch 
whisky, smoking the cigars long familiar to 
them in northern hotels, hinted together of the 
Parisian girls and criollos, to whom they re- 
ferred as Creoles in the meaning and vocabu- 
lary of American burlesque. Some officials 
of transportation and sugar manipulators sat 
aside, with double Coronas, exchanging in 
short sentences their hardness of knowledge, 

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San Cristobal de la Habana 
speaking of Cuba as an estancia of which they 
were absentee owners. A flight of winged fish 
skittered over the sea, and the clouds following 
the Gulf Stream turned rose with the drop- 
ping of the sun ; the horizon bore a suggestion 
of Florida. Once Cuba, regarded as the shore 
of India, had been the center of the West, and 
Florida no more than a chimera : how ironic 
such errors and reversals were! Now it was 
Juana that was legendary, and Florida re- 
sembled the significant hooked finger of an 
imponderable power. The day slid rapidly 
into water that had lost its blueness for ex- 
panses of chalky shallow green, and the flat 
roofs of Key West and masoned arches became 
slowly visible across the sea, and a stir of de- 
parture filled the decks. 

I was, for a moment, depressed at the defi- 
nite leaving behind of Havana for the tran- 
quil passage had seemed only an extension of 
its spirit and by the imminent reshouldering 
of my burden of responsibility. I had never 
wanted that, but, without choice, it had been 
abruptly thrust on me a responsibility, im- 



San Cristobal de la Habana 
possible -of fulfilment, which I couldn't put 
down. When I was young I had looked in 
vain for a perpetual Havana, hoping for noth- 
ing more ; and now, when my youth was dead, 
I had found the perfection of my desire. - But, 
as always, the discovery was too late; I 
couldn't stay in the covered paseos, the plazas 
with flambeau trees and royal palftis or idle 
in a room of Moorish tiles with a dripping 
fountain, over a magic drink; my time for the 
actualities of charming liberty, the possession 
of uncounted days, was gone. But this mood 
was nothing more than a gesture, a sentiment, 
thrown back to romance. 



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