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Title: San Cristóbal de la Habana
Author: Hergesheimer, Joseph, 1880-1954
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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JAVA HEAD [1918]





_Published in New York by
and for sale at all bookshops_




    "_Many yeeres since I had knowledge by
    relation of that great and golden Citie
    which the Spaniards call El Dorado._"

    _Sir Walter Ralegh_

[Illustration: colophon]







     H. J. B. BAIRD

    which he is free
to decline in every particular
       save the


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 geographical 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, approaching Havana in the early
morning, nothing so tyrannical and absolute; yet, watching the silver
greenness of Cuba rising from the 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 resolving 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 accustomed 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 lustrous hills before
me had been created out of an old mysterious desire to realize them in

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 isolated, 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 indigo ... 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 Havana I considered the
possibilities of such a story, such a character:

She had her existence in the seventeenth century, when Morgan marched
inland to rape Camagüey--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 heritage of Spain's civilization, a murderous,
sullen, passionate jade, wholly treacherous and instinct with ferine
curiosity. The master for her, I decided, must come from the Court of
Charles, the London of the Cavalier Parliament, 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 mangroves; 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.

The Cuban shore was now so close, Havana so imminent, that I lost my
story in a new interest. 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 toward 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 Embarkation for

Nothing could have made me happier than this realization; an extension
of the impression of a haunting dream turned into solid fact. The
buildings multiplied to the sight, bathed in a glamorous radiance; and,
suddenly, on the other hand, rose Morro Castle. That structure, small
and compact and remarkably like its numerous pictures, gave me a
distinct feeling of disappointment. Its importance 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 Cabañas 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 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 façades
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

It was rococo, and I liked it; an admission, 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!
Ornament 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 Hélène.

       *       *       *       *       *

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 waiting outside. The deep entrance with
its reflected planes of subdued light and servants in cool linen; the
patio with water, its white arches on iridescent tiles; the dining-room
laid 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 surpassed what, until then, I had seen. There were slatted
door screens, cream-colored with a sapphire-blue glass knob, topped in
an elaborate 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 conclusion 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 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 intensely 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

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 singularly 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 conservatories, and at once a
memory of my childhood 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 familiarity, of which I have already spoken.
The city was wholly expressed by the fanlight sparkling with the
shifting radiance of the blazing day. It was possible, without leaving
the room, to grasp the essential spirit of a place so 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 impulse,
a limiting materialism, pointed out that, since I had come away for a
change of scene, I had best realize a semblance of my intention. Still
those colors, like a bouquet of translucent tulips, easily outweighed in
importance all that I subsequently gained; they gave the emotional
pitch, the intellectual note, of whatever followed--a mood, an entire
existence, into which I walked with the turning of a sapphire-blue knob.

For the rest the furniture was scant--a walnut 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 blending of harsh traffic alarms and blurred
cries announcing newspapers.

It was later when I went out on my balcony: 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 paseo below was
hung with gaily covered magazines; a bootblack, wrinkled and active,
with a single chair on a high stand, was cleaning a row of white shoes,
obviously from the hotel; and the newsboys were calling La Politica
Comica in a long-drawn minor inflection.

The sun, that I had seen rising on the undiscovered hills of Cuba, was
sinking behind the apprehended city; it touched the caryatids of the
Gallego Club and enveloped, in a diminished gold like a fine suffusion
of precious 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 shadows were violet. The shadows slowly
thickened and merged; they seemed to swell upward from the streets, the
Parque; and the buildings, in turn, became lavender, and then, again, a
glimmering white. Only the lifted green of the palms was changeless,
positive, until it was lost in darkness.

A great many people appeared below, moving 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 monotony,
of stupidity--women were an absolute essential to the variety of any
spectacle; and here, except for an occasional family group hurrying to a
café, 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 impenetrable, blank, to the
streets, but open on the garden rooms of patios. And suddenly--while the
moment before I had been impatient at the bareness resulting from their
absence--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 regarded 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 agreement that any one might look, the intensest gaze was
invited, with the understanding that almost none should desire; and a
cloak of hypocrisy had been the result; either that or the beauty was
mechanical, the gesture furtive and hard.

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 loveliness, 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 completely circumspect except in situations
morally and financially solid.

       *       *       *       *       *

My dressing for dinner I delayed luxuriously, 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,
variously filled, in place of merely a bag, as I might have done; for it
was evident that Havana required many changes of clothes. It was a city
which to enjoy demanded a meticulous attention to trifles. For one thing
it was going to be hot, April was well advanced; and the glorietas, the
brightly illuminated open cafés, the thronged Prado and operatic
Malecón, the general air of tropical expensiveness, insisted on the
ornamental fitness of its idlers.

I debated comfortably the security of a dinner 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 apologize for lingering over these details, but it might be necessary
to warn the seekers after noble truisms that I had no part in their
righteous 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 instinct had become, in an experience
of life not without supporting evidence, the firmest possible attitude.
A tone of candor, if my reflections were to have the slightest interest
or value, was my first necessity; and candor compelled 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 enormous
interest, which, just then, held the most significant and valuable crop
growing on earth. But that didn't detain my imagination for a moment.
The Havana 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

On top of this I had a fixed belief in the actual 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 dilemma 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
correspondence between the two, a personal exterior as nicely selected
as possible and the mental attitude 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 harmony
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 powdered
throats hung with the clotted iridescence 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 myself,
all very reprehensible and delightful:

Here were creatures, anatomically planned for the sole end of maternity,
who had wilfully, wisely I felt, elevated the mere preliminary 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 immemorial duty, they proclaimed by every enhanced and
seductive curve that their intention 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 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 purpose masked in
an unfamiliar language, they shared with the alabaster of the façades,
the high fronds of the royal palms and the monument to Marti, in the
tropical, the classic, romanticism.

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
odor; those I had expected, but what surprised me were some sprigs of
orange blossom with an indefinite sweetness that was yet perceptible
above the thicker scents. I chose the latter immediately, and the flower
vendor, wholly comprehensive of my mood, placed the boutonnière 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, not 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 contentment to an even higher pitch; and, with a detached amusement,
I recalled the fact that farther 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 sugar, the power of a contemptuous indifference to fate; it
set the mind free of responsibility; obliterating both memory and
to-morrow, 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 prepared intoxicating drinks....
The word intoxicating adequately expressed their power, their menace to
orderly monotonous resignation. 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 privilege,
abhorrent to authority. And, since the dull were so fatally in the
majority, they had succeeded in attaching a heavy penalty to whatever
lay outside their lymphatic understanding. They had, as well, made the
term gay an accusation before their Lord, confounding 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 reprehensibly 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 dining-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
effect of the dining-room as a whole, as an expanse of the utmost
decorative correctness, and there were a number of men with quite
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 almost against my chair, a brilliant section
of the plaza was directly at my shoulder, and I was pervaded by the
essential feeling of having 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, temporarily, less of Havana, of myself, and of the world. The
passionate interest in living, the sense of æsthetic security, that
resulted in my turning continually to the inconceivable slavery of
writing, would have been absent. But seated in one of the most desirable
spots in existence, 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 triumph of intelligent
sympathy, conferred with 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 kaleidoscope of the Parque was revolving in
patterns of bright yellows, silver, and indigo. Passersby 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 without unfolded
a bright glazed sheaf of unspeakably stupid American magazines; farther
off, the crowd eddied through the lanes between the innumerable chairs
drawn up companionably on the plaza. At a table close by, a family 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 moustache of which not one hair
seemed uncounted or mislaid, regarded his short fat wife, his tall slim
son, and his two entrancing daughters with an impartially active and
affectionate attention. 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 emphases 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
repose 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 reserve and flexibility, was absent from the
cruder young of the north.

He had, at the same time, an indefinable air of melancholy, a bearing
that, while not devoid 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 Cabañas foss, he would
have borne with brilliant success; he'd have ornamented charmingly the
security of a great coffee estate 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 security, 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 people. He represented, from the crown of
his 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 follow that. And women in
starched linen collars, with starched theories of civic consciousness,
would hardly be an improvement on fragrant memories of satin, moments of
passion and frailty, and the beauty of tenderness. A maze of clipped
box, old emerald sod, represented 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 the next table. He took a cigarette from a black silk
case, and I was immediately reminded of my cigar.

It had been chosen with immense care in the Inglaterra café 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 hesitated for a minute or more between a
Larrañaga and a banquet Corona, and finally decided 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 Marnier, the
distilled last saturation of oranges and fin champagne; and the
Larrañaga, the color of oak leaves freshly brown, combined in a
transcending magic of contentment.

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, particularly, 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 Cubans, were, in the interest of vague appointments, 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 cigar continued to
veil me in its reflective smoke for another half hour, there was more
coffee 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 blossoms 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 weather offered an illimitable range
of suggestion.

It had been the great discovery of imaginative prose--the novel for
which we care most had been largely the result of that gained
appreciation; 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 records 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 Inglaterra
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 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 another 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
diagonal structures of shade. Modified, infrequently, by the gorgeous
cumulous clouds drifting from the upward thrust, the anchorage, of the
Andes, the entire process of the hours was upset. This was not simply a
variation of inanimate surface, it had an exact counterpart in the
emotions: bowed by an insuperable blaze or upright in the veiled sun,
the attitude of harmony was profoundly affected. The night was
altogether separate, a time, I gathered, when it seldom rained; and
there was never another city that took advantage of the night like
Havana. Released from the resplendent tyranny of the sun, everyone, it
appeared, disdaining sleep, lingered in the plazas, the cafés, 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 Cubans thronging abroad, on foot and in motors, early and
late. The whiteness of the buildings, too, even where they were not
illuminated, defined spaces never obscure; the city was never wholly
lost, obliterated by the imponderable 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.

For myself, my entire attitude was different in the room I now inhabited
from the inherent feeling, in New York, of the Algonquin. 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 once, was one of the
comfortable peculiarities of Havana: it was always possible to be
cool--in a café with the marble floor sprinkled with water; at the
entrance of the Inglaterra, where, however, the chairs were the most
uncomfortable in the world; or, better yet, with a book, a naranjada,
and pajamas, transiently at 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 piña colado--a glass, nearly as large and quite as thin as
possible, of the chilled essence of pineapple. A remarkable, 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

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 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 Cabañas 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
fragment 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 Puritan tradition--lately
assaulted with useless vigor--of suppression; for to the Latin
acceptance of the whole of life had been added the passions of the
tropics. Cuba had cynically 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 national prudery was a very
unfortunate influence 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 themselves 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 Americans. The few
who had understood Cuba, either living there or journeying with
discretion, 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 were morbidly sensitive about their land,
their monuments and martyrs, not necessarily impressive to the
Anglo-Saxon heritage and temperament. There were fundamental racial
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, æsthetic 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 any book-shop I was entirely at home,
contented; and here specially I was prepossessed with the idea of
buying a great number of the novels solely for their covers--in short,
making a collection of Spanish pictorial bindings. But the novels, I
discovered, 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 sentimentality: where women were without clothes they
were naked, anatomically accounted for, as were the men; and the
symbolical representations of labor and injustice were instinct with
blood and anguish. A surprising number of stories by Blasco Ibáñez were
evident; and it struck me that if I had read him in those casual bright
copies, without the ponderous weight of his American volumes and
uncritical reputation, I might have found a degree of enjoyment. There
were a great many magazines, mostly Spanish, gayly covered but with the
stupidest contents imaginable--the bad reproductions of contemporary
photographs on vile grey paper; although one, La Esefa, admirably
reproduced, in vivid color and titles, the Iberian spirit of the lighter

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 cafés that
specialized in minute cakes of chocolate and citron and almond paste set
out in rows of surprisingly delicate workmanship, and shallow cafés
whose shelves were banked with cordials and rons, gin, whiskies, and
wine. There were bottles of eccentric shape holding divinely colored
liqueurs, squat bottles and pinched, files of amber sauternes, miniature
glass bears from Russia filled with Kümmel, 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,
already elaborate in lace and jewels and dipping hats, and drenched in
powder. They were, occasionally, when young, extremely beautiful, 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 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--disappeared into a courtyard with the closing of the great
iron-bound doors.

A marked, not to say sensational, transformation of my own person had
been a conspicuous 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. It was charged with hazard for what
men like me had dreamed, leaving the actuality for the pretended; the
pretended, that so easily became 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, facing
the arched low buff façade of the President's Palace, my brain was
filled with vivid fragments of emotion.

What suddenly I realized about Havana, the particular triumph of its
miraculous vitality, 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 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 repartimento system, I'd be little enough

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 began the essays of James Huneker called
Bedouins. His rhapsodies over Mary Garden, as colorful in style as the
glass above the window, 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 darkened 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 conduct 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
experience, would be largely subconscious. I had been in Havana scarcely
more than a day, and already I had collected a hundred impressions 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, unexpectedly, 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 Attaché was waiting for me. The
Attaché, handsomely bearing the brown seal of Philippine campaigns,
abstracted in manner, sat forward with an imperturbable 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 commonplace Presbyterian blood
and incurable habit of romance that gave me a distinct satisfaction in
my surroundings. I was glad that 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 lounging afternoon in an expensive sporting

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
monotonous lines of stables. It had been raining, the track was heavy,
and the race that followed the blowing of a bugle covered the silk of
the jockeys with mud. My pleasure, as always, slowly subsided at the
persistent intrusion of an inner destructive questioning. Incontestably
the racing, the horses lining fretfully and scrambling through the muddy
pools, left me cold. The sweep of the Jockey Club, too, was
comparatively empty of interest; the spectators there, though they were
more or less intent upon the results posted on the board opposite, were
not the immemorial onlookers at such affairs of sweepstakes, selling
plates and furloughs.

The Cuban women present, elaborately dressed for shaded lawns and salons
de thé, 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 afternoons on their iron-shod seat
ricks, and women of title, in waterproofs and harsh brogues, tramped
through the sloshing turf ... an attitude 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 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
manipulated by his valet. Le sport! But the Spaniards, bred to the
delicate agility of bull fighting, trained in endurance on the
inconceivably fast pelota courts, were more athletic than the French;
though, as a race, they were inclined to delegate their games to
professionals. 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 mediæval 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 temperaments. It was the deliberate, the unexcitable, who
most excelled at trials of personal 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
attributes I particularly admired; often they were snobs of a very
exasperating type--monuments of college beef with irreproachable hair,
sacrosanct pins, and insensate conventional mentalities.

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 yellow and blue satins; faultless for their purpose, 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.
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 riding when, on the country road of a May Sunday
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 Café, 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 place; but the Telegrafo was a pleasanter spot
than the New Orleans Stag bar. I could see the beginning of the Prado,
with the swirl of cars on their afternoon round to the Malecón. 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 Inglaterra, 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 nature 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 appropriate to
the black hair of the Cuban woman. Gold hair, the fair temperament, had
no business 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
gracefully wrought out of iron.

My shutters now were opened, and I could make out, against the dimming
sky, the languid folds of the Spanish flag above the entrance 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 Majesty.

       *       *       *       *       *

There was some question of where I'd go for dinner, for in Havana there
were many cafés to explore--the Dos Hermanos, the Paris, the Florida,
the Hotel de Luz, the Miramar; but, finally, I walked down to the Prado,
to the sea and the Miramar, a little because of its situation, directly
on the Malecón, 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 prepared for dinner in the
restaurant, while those on the terrace were without cloths; but there I
determined to sit, and the waiter whose attention 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, 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, considering 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 Malecón. The dinner was slow in arriving, the silver made
its appearance, 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 commemoration. The Miramar had been the gay
center of that mid-century life which had folded Havana in the lasting
influence of its memories. A gaiety not even at a disadvantage 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 devoted. The
flounced bell skirts had swung airily on gracious silk clappers.

The automobiles on the Malecón multiplied, for the night was hot; 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 débris that had existed
before. Yet I should liked to have seen it when the promenade had not
yet been laid down with mechanical 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
modern 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
Cimarosa 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 sweetness of music boxes.

As if in derision of this, a loud unexpected 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 Balfé 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, locally 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 regret, 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, and were invested with the dignity, the beauty, of a warm

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 intention of
remaining in that unprofitable state longer than necessary. Their fleet
appraising 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 occasionally entertaining, in a superficial
conversational 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 cultivate them, either charming or wise or sensitive, and my
bag, unlike Chopin's or what George Moore reported his, was
discouragingly slim. They had been, but perhaps of necessity,
materialists, valuers only of the expensively concrete; yes, the
majority of such adventures had been sordid. It was due, without
question, to certain deterrent qualities in my own personality; but even
more, I was convinced, to the fact that, in America, girls, or at least
those of my youth, regarded emotion as portentously synonymous with
ruin. Emotion, for nice girls, was deprecated; their sense of modesty,
of shame, was magnified at the expense 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

Unfortunately I had been born into the most rigid of all societies--a
prosperous and Presbyterian middle-class; an influence that succeeded in
making religion hideous before I was fifteen, planting in me, too, the
belief that man was, in his instinctive life, filthy. I outgrew the
latter, but never the first; and now, looking back, I could recognize
how that lauded creed had nearly damned me to a hell far surpassing in
dreadfulness anything of its own bitter imagining. The cold metaphysical
fog had saturated us all alike.... How dreary my early experience was
... what detestable travesties of passion! A carful 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 privileged
waiter joined; and afterwards they vociferously left to dance at

       *       *       *       *       *

Walking generally in the direction of my room, I left the Prado for an
especially dramatic, no, melodramatic, street, where the bare walls and
iron bolted doors were made startling 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 illumination 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 obligation of grace. That darkness, like
the streets, was mediæval; they belonged one to the other--ways through
which it was congruous to carry a flare and a sword, practical measures

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 radiance, 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 illusion of potential horror.
An open door with its glimpse into an inner room only increased the
oppression: it, too, was brilliant with electricity, 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 eyeballs in a
hand. Curiously enough, the spirit which had given birth to this
suffering had been popularly lost, together with any conception 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

It was, I supposed, to a certain extent unavoidable 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 remembered,
was inbound with the administrative and protective powers of the Church:
in fifteen hundred and sixteen the native Cubeños were put in the charge
of the Order of Jeronimites, 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 interest, decreased in one locality, the spiritual concern of
Seville shifted to the more productive regions.

That was a period, a conquest, when a violent death was a greater
blessing than living in a state of damnable heresy; and so, between the
saving of their souls and the loss of 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,
denounced the outrages against the Cuban Indians to the shining heavens,
the cerulean sea, the Audencia, and the Throne. But his humanitarianism
was ineffectual against a system 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 religious dogma.

It was, possibly, a mental imperfection which gave impressions,
emotions, such a great suggestibility. Returning toward the Inglaterra,
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 exchanged, and tentative simpaticas
murmured. Her mother--if she had the slightest pretensions to youth or
good looks--was fervently blessed for so fetching a daughter. Here, of
course, was the defect of the local attitude toward women--it put the
emphasis perpetually on a gallantry affecting the men more even than the
women. There was a constant danger of becoming one-sided.

The Telegrafo and the Louvre were crowded, with more refrescos and ices
on the table than authoritative drinks; the cigarettes of the discursive
throngs in the Parque Central 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 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, decorated with the most honorable of war ribbons, 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 remain alone, I thought of how rude the English would
have been had I moved over to them. The English would have been boorish,
and the French would have met me with an impenetrable polite reserve.
Both would regard 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 London, and the French
were delightfully sensitive to any practising of the arts. The English,
I gathered from their unguarded talk, were cruising on a yacht now lying
in Havana harbor; and I saw myself, the following morning, 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 mahogany fittings, the immaculate paint and gay pennants.

I had always liked worldly pomp and settings, 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
contradiction 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 experience 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 brilliancy of
Havana, of the white and green plazas, subdued. And this softening of
sharp lines and blazing façades 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 wandered 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 nebulous
gray expanse such as might have existed before the beginning of
comparative solidity. I lost all sense of time, the centuries were
jumbled together like mangos 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 became nothing more than the glimmer of a torch in
illimitable dusk. It had been discovered by Columbus, a presumptuous
term used arrogantly in the sense of created; an Arcadian 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

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
rapacity, the corruption, the diseases, of civilization. A Spanish Cuba
rose--Iberian and yet singularly different--a business of
Captain-General and Teniente Rey, of alcalde and alcaide, of Santiago de
Cuba and San Cristóbal de la Habana. The French under Jacques 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 Guzman, the merchant Diego Perez in vain laying the
guns of the Magdalena in defense of the past, had gone. The Cedula from
Madrid, in eighteen hundred and twenty-five, began the conspiracies,
Tacón 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 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 written 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 advantage, as important as a Daiquiri cocktail, as a Larrañaga
cigar, but hardly more.

In any other case I should have cheated myself, not only of pleasure,
the relaxation possible to honesty of mind, but of any hope of future
material. The creative habit was the most tireless and frugal in
existence: there was nothing--no experience, person, disillusionment, or
pain--not endlessly sounded for its every note and meaning. No one could
predict 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 historical books on Cuba, left so
largely unread at the Inglaterra, it was probable that they had omitted,
in their effort for literal and conventional emphasis, what might in
their subject be vivifying to me.

This, however, was beyond spoiling--a history 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 the
opera and the cafés. 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 Arrow of Gold and Doña Rita; no
peignoirs, thank you, but a formality, a passionate propriety, in
keeping with the social gravity and impersonal devotion of the very
young. There must be crinoline--would I never escape from that!--and
candelabra with glittering 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
Française, in Cuba Street number seventy-two, and his refrescos at the
Café Dominica. In the end he'd leave Havana, having accomplished 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 Street, all the way to Salud; and, past the Tacón
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 neckties. I turned again to the novels on
the table and again let them drop, unattended, from a listless hand.
Tepid water! And I wondered--a constant subject with me--when we should
have a new vigorous American literature, 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

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

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
restaurant which, because of the windows looking 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 Havana 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 the high concrete building into the dim

       *       *       *       *       *

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 progressing; still, I was the first in our railed space; but the
others, who proved to be Americans, soon followed--three prosperous men,
manufacturers I thought, with wives in whom native good taste had been
given the opportunities of large resources.

One of the women--who, in the arrangement of the box, sat beside
me--smiled with a magnetism 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 and ten feet
long and thirty-six feet wide; while the service consisted 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 sharp 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 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, another game in which instantaneous
judgment, skill, and endurance had been carried to such a far point.
There was seldom a fault or error; 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 it jumped to eight to
four, ten to three, anything that could be placed. On the floor a small
company of bookmakers, distinguished by their scarlet caps, shouted in
every direction, and betting paper was thrown adroitly through the air
in hollow rubber balls. Those who had backed at favorable odds the team
now far ahead were yelling jubilantly, and others 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 development--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 practically tied:
there were shrill entreaties, basso curses, a storm of indiscriminate
insults. Now the backers of the lesser couple scrambled 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: 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 appreciable 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 indelibly stamped on
her--and, among the masculine world of Spanish antecedents, she created
a frank center of interest. For her part, she studied the crowd quite
blocking the way below her with a cold indifference, the personification
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
necessarily shifting gaze, and my interest fastened 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 crêpe 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 for spiritual freedom and bound by
commitments paramount to her self-esteem. But even if she had been more
daring, less conscientious, 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 married, 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 attractive personality.

She smiled at me again, later, her narrow slightly wasting hands clasped
about a knee--a smile of sympathetic comprehension and unquenchable
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, mechanical 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 café 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 Malecón--I wondered if the Cuban
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 arrangement could be thought of conciliating
the necessities of both dreams and property; but, subjected to the
scrutiny of intelligence rather than sentimentality, it seemed both
impotent and foolish. The impotence certainly, for whereas my
grandfather had thirteen children and my mother four--or was it five?--I
had none. There had always been individuals unrestrained by the
complicated oaths of the wedding service--a strictly legal proceeding to
which the church had been permitted to add its furbelows--dissatisfied
ladies, and gentlemen of the commercial road. I wasn't referring to
them, but to the look, at once puzzled, humorous, and impatient, that
lately I had seen wives of probity turn on their husbands.

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 unrestricted action. This was beautifully
displayed, confirmed, in Havana, where decks were without a single
impediment; and I speculated about the attitude of the Cuban women in
houses barred with both actual and metaphorical iron. Tradition weighed
heavily on their outlook; but there was that club on the Malecón.
Tradition had bound the farm wives of Pennsylvania, yet they were
progressively rebelling against the insanity of endless labor and
isolation. But, perversely, the married 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
impossible 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, escorted 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 predominance of cursing and
the wails of irritably smacked children. The truth was that the citizens
of the United States, in their feverish passage through life, had
decidedly a poor time--either restlessness or ambition or
dissatisfaction destroyed their peace of mind. 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 suffered, 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 Havana women remained;
while nothing but utter 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, with murder on the streets at noon
distinguished by a white ribbon in its buttonhole. The Armenians were no
more precariously situated 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

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
proceeded, would rapturously exchange a ballot for a seductive ankle, a
graceful breast, or a flawless complexion. Complexion, or rather its
absence, brought immeasurably more supporting votes to the women's party
than convictions. 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 improvement--or it might have
been better babies; I couldn't recall which--who carried a handbagful of
apostrophies to Paolo and Francesca, and that illogical lot, on her
travels. 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 thé dansant at the Sevilla. The
Cascade Orchestra from the Biltmore, their necks hung with the imitation
wreaths of Hawaii, were playing a musical pastiche of many lands and a
single purpose; 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 gentlemen of San
Francisco, I found a whole section of young Cuba.

They returned, in the intermissions, to chaperons complacent or secretly
disturbed, where they had, principally, refrescos; but their attitude
was one of progress and conscious, patronizing 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, already, 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 Havana, of Cuba,
of Spain ... of everything distinguished that saved the world from

They danced--the Cuban youth--with notable 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 verandas in the north. A cosmopolitan waiter, anxious to
have me finish and move on, hovered about the table, ignorant of a
traditional courtesy as well as of the requirements of the climate. All
the objectionable features of Broadway cafés, of public ostentation,
mingled servility and insolence, dishonesty--my piña colado was diluted
beyond taste--were being flung, with the air of a favor, into Havana.
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 entrancing; but the arbitrary imposition of stupid 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 nationality 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 happiness in Havana

       *       *       *       *       *

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 accumulation of
tradition, like an invisible film lying over everything. A
multiplication of unexpected 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
corners 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
triangle of, perhaps, ninety degrees, raised immense corridors paved in
black and white marble blocks, down the long perspective of which moving
figures were reduced to furtive mannikins and voices were lost in an
upper murmur.

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 typewriter; 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: a very
important inquiry, for it had to do with the secret, the unintelligible
heart, of my writing. 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 effect it produced
on me was tangible, ponderable; it tyrannized over my imagination and
drove it into corridors of thought as sombre as that in reality before
me. I had seen the Piranesi engravings when I was very young and
painfully susceptible to mental darkness and fears; and they had
undoubtedly left their indelible 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 imagination--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 neither concrete nor subjective; yet, woven of these
double threads, it was absolute. The individuality 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 occupied 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
arbitrarily 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, always hardened into
institutions, then prisons, then mortuary vaults. Religion had done
this 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 communion 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 privilege 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 humanity 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 processes of exact thought,
practically no mental gymnastics. But this was not an imposed hardship
on which I looked back with regret--I had been free to fill my life with
scholastic 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, namelessly, 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 Cristóbal de la Habana.

There was, in reality, no practical reason to write about it at all,
since it had been admirably and thoroughly described, the sights,
pleasures, and sounds, in reputable and laudatory paragraphs, a source
of pride to the natives. Here no one could predict, in my search, what
would seem important, to be transcribed--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 intelligence than mine were
precisely what formed the spirit of Havana; their comprehension was
necessary to that perception of an inanimate 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, enormously
affected human fate. A very absorbing idea that had gone as far as an
introduction 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 justification, was
permissible, led me to put it away. It was the serious defect of the
novel that it commonly resembled the mechanism of an ingenious lock in
which the key turned smoothly for the flinging open, at the appropriate
moment, 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 emphasis, for which I should have used my own memories,
since I recalled the wallpaper 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 pretence 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 Malecón. 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 greatness
lingering through a last afternoon before extinction--a gesture of Spain
finally submerged in the western seas of skepticism.

I was extraordinarily grateful to her for standing wrapped with the
shawl in immobile 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
radiance, had its inevitable part in the effect she produced. I had, I
realized, no wish to restore 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 indignation and revolt, would step
down into life. But if they were to do that, I hoped it 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 deserted for the
publicity of the Sevilla. I should regret their loss heavily, those
points of vantage gracefully ranged across the brilliant façades of
Havana. For there was no other city where balconies were so universal,
so varied, and so seductive. I recalled a balcony high over the Rond
Point de Plain-palais, 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 Cité and bridged water; but
they were no more than pleasant, they had no deep significance whatever.
The balconies of Charleston were rather galleries turned privately on
gardens and not upon the streets; while those over the banquettes of New
Orleans, of the vieux carré, had long ago been emptied of their
flowered muslins.

The popularity of balconies, their purpose, had remained, until now at
least, largely unchanged in Havana. On Sol Street, in the neighborhood
of Oficios and where it met the harbor, they solidly terminated their
tall windows, 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
Malecón looked out, conversely, across the unbroken 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 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 characteristic detail, but Parisian; while the essential
atmosphere, the color, of the balconies remained. In carnival--I had
just missed it--they were hung with serpentine and exchanged
bombardments of roses and compliments 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 window of the Prado, on the
corner of either Trocadero or Colon Street, all in white except for the
clear scarlet of one, like a blazing 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,
furnished in pale gilt. I had no doubt that a piano had been played for
a brief explanatory dancing, the trial of new steps neither French nor
Spanish, but American. Some of them, I knew, had been at school in New
York--probably Miss Spence's, where balconies 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, preferred
to keep the historic architecture of their society, of their climate, a
convent of some Sacred Heart would be wiser than a celebrated 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 Castilian 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 permitted 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 struggle, must conquer--the heredity of Cuba would be
more powerful than an isolated feminine 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 attention--on one, flooded with the
morning sun, two women with carnation cheeks and elaborately dressed
hair, but for the rest strikingly 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 zarzuela, their yellow satin
slippers and shoulders 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 cafés on the ground, whose balconies, exposed to an intolerable
heat, overlooked dingy sun-baked fields. They were always empty.... I
could never 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-smothered suburb,
were depressingly inappropriate to any contact with the country. They
were lost, detached or strayed away from their fellows; 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 tropics 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 command of an angle of
the Parque Central. I often sat there before dinner, or past the middle
of night; there was always, then, a wind stirring over San Rafael
Street; but the balconies on either side of me, above and below, were
invariably empty, their purpose, it was plain, mistrusted.

       *       *       *       *       *

The patios of Havana, turned so uncompromisingly from the street, were,
perhaps for that reason, even more engaging than the balconies. I saw
them, except those of the government buildings and others semi-public,
through opening or half open doors, or sometimes 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 flowers and glazed tiling and fountains. This sense of privacy, of
enclosure, in a garden was their most charming feature; and the
possibilities 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 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 unexpected 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 discordant sounds
through the arches with slender 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 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 atmosphere through
transmitted feeling was far more absorbing than the other chimera, of
incorruption. 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 continents. 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-generalship of the Conde de Ricla, in the seventeen sixties
when the British conquests under 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 Cabañas refashioned,
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 dispense with Pizarro's soldiers,
fanciful with the ornaments 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
Cubeños, dead in the mines of Cobre, were being revenged for the
usurpation of their happiness and land; the negroes of the slave trade,
too, were repaying their chains to the last link of misery. But these
counter influences were not perceptible yet in the patios, just as the
French Revolution had still to scatter 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 Mozart. 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 surrounding, 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 whisper of the sandals of the
Inquisition, an order already malodorous and expelled from the island by
Antonio Maria Bucarely, the following Captain-general.

But even yet it would be possible, with the details carefully arranged,
to find an emotional situation in a patio undisturbed since the middle
eighteenth century; for the revenge of the Cubeños and of Africa, of the
red and the black slaves, was that, with the faint or full infusion of
their bloods into their conquerors, dwindled unintelligible desires and
dreamlike passions entered as well. A discoloration of the mind as
actual as the darkening of the skin! And I pictured an obscure impulse
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
virginal island race constrained into one body and spirit must be richly

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 opera bouffe ... a danger constantly present in my
thoughts. As it was, I should be accused again of avoiding the actual
and the difficult 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 echoing with shrill misery, typhoid
fever, and poverty. If I did that, automatically a number of serious
critical intellects would give me their withheld support, they would no
longer regard me as a bright cork floating thoughtlessly over the opaque
depths of life. Well, they could--they'd have to--go to the devil; for I
had my own honesty to serve, my own plot to tend--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 apple tree rosy with blossom, someone
else might discuss the economy of the apples.

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 chromatic 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 secured to a black lacquer

       *       *       *       *       *

That, evidently, was not characteristic of Havana, and yet the city
absorbed it, made it a part of a complex richness, a complexity as
brilliantly blended as a rainbow. At first I had been entranced by the
sudden colorful display, 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 existed.

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 meaning 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 of the Aztecs and
Peru, incalculably richer, and the fatal dream of eternal youth in
Florida, 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 history was, for this reason, elusive, most
difficult to grasp; hopelessly concealed from a mere examination of

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 ingredients of a tropical Spain and the pirates of the world, at an
early Victorianism was a mystery which demanded a close investigation.
That air enveloped all the center of the city, its paseos and plazas
and buildings, and still influenced the social life. This, I finally
decided, came from the fact that the architectural 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 water, and in
the side passages the sound diminished. Havana was a great port, but the
steam shipping along its waterfront was incongruous with the low
tranquil whiteness, the pseudo-classicism, of the buildings that held
along the bay. The latter particular, elaborated from my first
impression, carried the city back to the end of the eighteenth century
and the beginning of the nineteenth. I had no intention 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 painting, except
for the charming and illogical innovation 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 remarkably in thirty years, from a
column to a cone, from the ultimate in flowing lines to a bouquet-like
rigidity; and the severity of furnishings, of incidentals, expanded in
queer elaborations. It was, notably, a period of prudery, of all which,
objectively, I disliked; while at the same time there had been the
undercurrent 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 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 surprise 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 architecture 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 overlooked 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 atmosphere vivid like the flambeau trees, the inconceivable
blueness of its sea. The colors of the houses, glaringly or palely
inappropriate, 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 stalagmites of the caves of death,
resembled nothing more disturbing than the lacy pantalets of the time it
celebrated. It was the final accomplishment of mid-Victorian horror,
with its pit of mouldering bones and solemn ritualistic nonsense; yet
the thought of the ponderous gold and black catafalques rolling in
procession between the horizontal white slabs, of the winking
candles--all the ghastly appendages of religious undertaking--and the
clergy in purple and fine cambric, with amethyst rings on their fat or
their thin fingers, gave it the feeling of a remote mummery.

The cemetery from which I escaped with relief and the café that I
entered with pleasure--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, vanished.
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 familiarity had been
justified; yet, in the corridor 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 instructions. 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
multiple sensations were not reducible to the simplest demand. A woman
passed with a copy of an ultra popular novel, and this recalled the long
struggle of my early books for the smallest 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 Por
Larrañaga, 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 exception of a few hotels and clubs it was
not procurable. There was a merchant on the Zulueta with a large
assortment of Cuban cigarettes, 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 Cabañas or Henry Clay cigarette--and a connection 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 occupation, and later; and, recalling him, I could see that he,
like myself, possessed an ineradicable 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 immaculate linens, and the
brown cigarette casting a pungent line of smoke from his long sensitive
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
certain 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 important
to a mental picture and always missing--and in intimate understanding of
Cuban affairs. For he had a tonic mind, rare in America, unsentimental
and courageous, and touched with a satirical quality disastrous to sham,
social, religious, or political.

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 immaculate 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 carmine, 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, impossible. Why, I couldn't
say; they simply wouldn't do. What women I saw smoking in public, in the
cafés and at the races, were not Cubans. They, on view, neither smoked
nor drank anything but refrescos. But a different feminine world, at
their doors or over the counters of bodegas, enjoyed long formidable

An amusing convention, a prejudice really; an act, in women, condemned
from the associations in men's minds, synonymous with that gaiety they
so painstakingly kept out of their homes. Yet, in spite of them, women
smoking 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 unremarkable, yet, for the Cuban
youth, the sign of worldliness. They disdained the local brands, but
even Cuba was powerless to depreciate her cigars, the best of all
countries and all times. Here was an accomplishment, a possession, of
unique importance and excellence, for tobacco belonged to the
irreducible number of necessities. I had survived prohibition, 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 splendor 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 Florence; 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 doubt that smoking
was, in many ways, a very deleterious habit; but life itself was a bad
habit condemned 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 generosity and
attractiveness she met in men belonged to what were colloquially called
drunks.... Her feeling was the same as mine.

I wasn't defending drunkenness or attacking the statistics against
smokers; what I felt, I think, in such men was the presence of a
fallibility to which, at awkward or tragic moments, 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 hurt
someone else failed to excite me--why should I bother with him when I
wasn't concerned about myself! There was too much officious paternalism
in the air, too many admonitions 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 desirability
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 suggestions 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 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, Havana 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 arrangements 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 malagueña, just as the foreign operatic variations on Spanish
themes were reminted in a smooth and debased universal coin.

I purchased a ridiculously flimsy scrap of paper, which, I was assured,
made me the possessor 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 lightness that
threatened even their ankles. This was bad, but a revista--I could
think of nothing 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 performances, 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
lighting 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 brilliantly and inimitably his own. The Latins knew nothing,
really, about legs: they showed them with what was no more than a
perfunctory bravado, while it was a peculiarity of shoulders--the art of
which they so daringly comprehended--that their effect was lost in
mass. The display, the extravagant settings and costumes, of Arco-Iris,
were, throughout, mechanical; the coryphées were painfully aware of
their dazzlements; and an Andalusian 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 demanded of a clerk where I could
find a vulgar performance of, for instance, the habanera, 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
Victrola. 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
fashionable and rich.

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 ramifications 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, appropriate to
Lent, of the Passion, hinted at a different 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. To-morrow I should hear the Salvation Army bawling in Obispo
Street. In a state of indifference I went to Carmelo, a dancing pavilion
with an American cabaret, and drifted to the table where the singing and
dancing profession were having their inevitable sandwiches and beer. A
metallic young person with brass hair, a tin voice, and a leaden mind,
conversed 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 who, in one of the exterminating
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 indulgence for soda blondes; yet in
the serious conversation 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 inane
exclamation made, she announced, for the 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 problematic.

Was it a healthy rebellion against the prudery of repression or the
adventitious excitation 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 steamship
companies. The presidents, the managers and brokers, were invariably
accompanied by their wives, who, for the most part, endeavored 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 before 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 imperturbability and
display, in gold mesh bags, of their unlimited crisp money in high
denominations--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 surrendered 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 cafés of the Parque Central, the open
familiarity of the sea, and found myself in situations where, in my lack
of Spanish, I was limited to the simplest, most plastic, desires.

It was in this manner that I found ear-rings which I secured with a
sense of treasure--they were in the shop of a woman who sold embroidered
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 assemblage 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 regretting--in a singular composite of
inappropriate words and banal smiles--the interruption of the meal, when
I saw the ear-rings; and immediately, 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 Nuñez: they were of
pale hand-carved and drawn gold, aged gold as yellow 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 surprising 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 misfortunes 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, 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 wardrobe 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 delightful shock of
that, a second shawl of zenith blue was flung beside it. The body of the
crêpe-de-chine, the weight of its embroidery, the beautiful knotting of
the short fringe--long fringe was an error--and their sheer loveliness,
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 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 primitive 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 extreme, and he told me with an admirable
appearance 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 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 belonged, 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 necessity--I set about turning my new
possession into paragraphs and chapters; and it occurred to me that it
had a justified place in the Havana story I had already, mentally,
begun. The polite young men of the time, the decorative youth of all
times, were apt to have collectively a passion for a fascinating or
celebrated actress; and I saw that such a person--Doloretes--would be
important to my plan. 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 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 determined to cast the story in the form of a
memory told me by an old man of his youth; and that time, torn by
unhappiness, indecision, and hopeless aspirations, should be made, in
remembrance, brilliant and desirable, wrapped in the bright shawl which
transformed the lost past.

A remarkably good story, I thought enthusiastically; and I fell to
speculating if George Lorimer would print it. He would give it, I 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 addressed
primarily to another integrity than mine; our purposes were not
invariably coincident. 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 laborious effort demanded for its realization in
words. For this reason I was free to see what I chose without reference
to any ulterior purpose; 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 completely 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 constant 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
hypocrisy of hens, had always annoyed me individually. And, rather than
not, I looked forward to seeing them victimized by their own belligerent

I had to leave my cab for an informal way behind some buildings and
across grass, and, as I approached a false stucco façade, a determined
ringing crowing filled the air. Beyond the arched entrance there was an
area of pavement with tables and a limited café service; and, seated
near, was a grave individual 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. Beyond 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 pelota--space for standing on the middle tiers. There was
a box above the entrance, and another 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 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 respectable-appearing man of
unimpeachable whiteness 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 measured, 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 acceptances, repudiations, personalities, and the frenzied
waving in air of handfuls of money. The two men with the roosters
advanced toward 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 indecent crimson, were bare of hold, every
superficial feather had been clipped; and when 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 pockets and plaits, squatted on his heels,
impassive, fateful, and African; but the man with the orthodox
side-whiskers became at once the victim 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 unnecessary, 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 helplessly 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 immobile as green bronze; but the white was positively epileptic
with triumph. And, 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 confronted 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 entire 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, went
around and around the pit with an unflagging speed that should have
commanded an independent admiration for itself. Occasionally 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 remarkable;
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 understanding and sympathizing
with him completely, I hoped his wish would be respected: while he had
provided no main, he had faithfully 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 demonstrated that he was
uncatchable by his rival, he was incontinently seized and both roosters
were carried, panting and bald-eyed, to a subsidiary ring beyond, not
half the size of the principal pit, where running, or any discretion,
was an impossibility.

I saw him go with regret; he deserved a greater consideration, and I
hoped that, metaphorically 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 unfortunate--he possessed but eleven
dollars and odd pesetas.

       *       *       *       *       *

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 characteristic of the
settlers of any given place--settlers 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
sophisticated comprehension, an injustice; he should have recognized
that I was not an individual to accept readily public confidential

The birds were brought in and weighed, and the person in the box with me
and the billowing white embroidery and carpet slippers excitedly
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 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,
calculating 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 miraculous 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 gold and treasury paper. But
with that exception, and for some small amounts, I was unlucky. The
occasion just past was an illustration--I was never really disastrously
overtaken, 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 billiard academy, with the hope
of seeing the professional 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 Saturn; the audience, entirely
masculine, seated on the high chairs about the walls.

The types of women lingering outside, waiting 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 subdued council marked by a note of expostulation.
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 café over refrescos or in a parque with nothing at all but cigars,
and discuss eternally, with a passionate interest, the details of their
politics and city. Their contact with life at every point was vivid and,
in expression anyhow, forceful; they argued in a positive tone to which
compromise, agreement, appeared hopelessly lost; and there was in the
background the possibility of death by quarreling. That, in itself, 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
regarded with disgust a concealed weapon. But where we might still, in
simpler places, defend what was locally called purity with pistols, no
one, to-day, 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 prohibition. 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 herd. A good story, the humor of the latrine, was a
better key to respectability than an honest doubt. For those reasons I
wanted to join the arguments, the orations really, flooding the circles
of green-painted iron chairs on the Havana 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 paving, smoking a cigar of rough shape
but excellent tobacco. Not rich, certainly, but securely placed in life!
I was, in fancy, the proprietor of a small yet thoroughly responsible
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 conspicuously worse off under Spain than
liberated. The politics of the present, when office-seekers descended
to the ñañigos.... Here was the substance of violent argument and
recriminations; 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 retrospect, which should never be allowed to sink infertile; but when
the words Free Cuba were pronounced I waved my cigar with hopeless

       *       *       *       *       *

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 perceptible trace of the soft iris of Africa. It was past one o'clock
when his tertulia scattered, and I accompanied him toward his
home--walking to get rid of the stiffness of long sitting--over
Dragones Street, in the direction 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
commanded the sea.

The approved style was white plaster, a story and a half high, with an
impressive portico--a portico, attached to a small private residence,
that would have done honor to a capitol building. There was but little
ground, principally 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 crimson. 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 inordinately 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 tremendous 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

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 iron chair of a plaza--he
showed no signs of having passed the middle of his life. The grey hair
was distinguished; Madame Nazabal, who was a Frenchwoman, had assured
him of that. The handsome girl in El Corazón de Jesus, the Vedado bakery
where English 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 comprehension of his

If he wasn't careful, the young men of his establishment, over whom he
kept a strict parent-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 carnival balls, the danzons, in the opera house. God knew
that he had seen them in the company 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 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 reputed 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 cafés: 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 honor, some generosity. There was
romance--that had disappeared more utterly than anything else: he was
more 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, secret
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 Cabañas 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, temporarily, had had some rare pasturage; but the fathers were a
shade too greedy; they had gobbled up so much that it was necessary to
drive them out. Women and priests, priests and women! The latter had
suffered no diminution of their privileges; they had too much for which
the young men, for all their self-opinion, got nothing or next to
nothing in return. Rogelio Mola wondered if the old houses of pleasure
were unchanged.

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 institutions, though he had a strong suspicion that
they had deteriorated. For the youth of his day they had been very
largely places of meeting and conspiracy, where traditionally the
sentiment supported attacks on authority. Yet a girl from Lima had
betrayed Marío Turafa, his friend, in hiding, to the Spanish Government.
It was said that Marío 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 audible among
his memories:

    "Clavales, clavales
     de mi Andalucía!
     Mujeres, mujeres--
     de la Patria mia!"

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 innocence 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 Havana were, and he pictured the cemetery ghostly, icy, in
the night; 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 under his
skepticism, however, a low inextinguishable hereditary flame of hope
burned, independent of his intelligence.

       *       *       *       *       *

My mind returned once more to Rogelio Mola as I was standing outside an
impassive door, waiting for admittance, not far from the Arsenal. It
was the entrance to what he had called a house of pleasure, and, long
established in Havana, unknown to America, one that he might easily have
frequented in the reprehensible period of youth. I had adequate abstract
reasons for my presence, but Rogelio, correctly insistent on a saving
generosity of emotion, had needed no ponderous explanation. 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
essentially making a descent. The very bitterness, the revilement in
solemn terms, of my early instructions, had, reacting, defeated itself.

What was before me, in a world where the pure and the impure were
inexplicably mixed in one flesh, was inevitable; its ugliness lay 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 different in society and in nature, an informal
interlude 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 responsibility was contained in the
imperative obligation 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

A slide opened mysteriously on the blank darkness before me, a bolt was
drawn; and immediately I had left the street for a little entresol
filled with lamplight, the breath of scented powder, and the notes of a
piano played by a girl whose cigarette burned furiously on the scarred
ebonized top of the instrument. She half turned, scanning me
indifferently, 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 flashlight, after a polite greeting, ignored
me absolutely, and I was left to follow my fancy.

This led to the patio, larger and more entrancing 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
formality of a civil greeting was scrupulously observed. The company
was, to every outer regard, decorous to the point of stiffness.
Opposite, two officers of the Spanish navy, in immaculate white with
gilt epaulettes, were drinking naranjadas and conversing with two 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 animated; their gestures
and voices rose irrepressibly and sank in confidences to ears close
beside 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 effects of that
enclosure--an amazing freedom from superficial obligations, from the
burdensome conventions which, so largely a part of existence, had come
to be accepted either subconsciously or as a necessary evil. I realized
for the first time the inanity of imposed pretences, the thick, the
suffocating armor of triviality that criminally and ludicrously muffled

There were present, of course, all the poses of humanity, and a great
many of its conventions; 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
order, the legality, the explicit purpose, of the forces organizing the
world. I had stepped, as it were, from time, immediacy, to timelessness.
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 discovery, no
wisdom accumulated by centuries and supreme sacrifices, had any bearing,
any importance, 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 had nothing to gain from all that was
successively 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 uncertainty in such minor
customs as existed. I was, in fact, extremely comfortable when I
understood 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

These were mainly gathered about the regret that the scene before me was
practically forbidden to American novels. It had, in reality, no place
in the United States, and, therefore, could claim no legitimate page in
American literature. There, anyhow, it could be said for public morals,
such things were nearly all that the word vice implied. What, exactly, I
was lamenting, was the old fundamental 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 probable, 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 mentality, the cultivation of
the French audience.

My mind reverted to Jurgen, the remarkable 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 preoccupation
with disembodied purity. He had set up, in his heart and in his books,
the high altar of mediæval Platonism--an image of desire 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, definitely, a land that cared nothing for literature, the casting
of transient life into the permanence of beautiful form. As the world
advanced 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 identifying 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 and alabaster walls, they were brilliantly effective;
it was only after an extended regard, carefully casual, that I
appreciated the amazing 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 attenuations traced from lands
remote as Tartary:

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 progress
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
imagination could have pictured such a striking figure nor placed her so
exactly in the ultimate 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 suspect,
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 slippers and
soft hands bore an expression of flawless 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 wrist, she drained a glass of brandy, an act of
revealing incongruity. She was, I recognized 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 unmistakable
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 intricately up, and a froth of underclothes with knots of
canary yellow ribbons and yellow clocked stockings made a surprising
foreground for the painfully realistic Crucifixion hanging on the wall
within. The cross was ebony and the figure in a silver-like metal, the
Passion portrayed by a gaunt rigidity of suffering. 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 indignations! I was not, it must be admitted,
commendably outraged, or filled with the impulse to rescue, to save,
anyone, however young. I seriously questioned my ability to offer
salvation, 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
preferred, 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 experienced 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 delivering my companion
from the wage of death. I should have been, and very properly, put under
restraint and Dr. Lainé hurriedly summoned. In all probability, and with
the utmost 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
possible--some 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 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 earlier, 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 preferable to a flow of words. I should
have asked of her hardly more than, at present, she was, sitting quite
a distance from me and fundamentally unaware of my existence. I debated
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 impersonal 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 frivolity of yellow
ribbons against a silver tormented Christ; the inertia of the East in a
heavy-eyed child; but, to balance this, I remembered the girl, like a
harsh native wine, from Bilbao, an industrial city and very rich: she
restored to the scene its ordinary normal reality.

       *       *       *       *       *

The high empty austerity of my room enveloped 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 definitely 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 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 qualities 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
disposal of paint on stretched canvas and then the arrangement of words
with a probable meaning and possible beauty.

An extremely bad period, that, when I tried to write without knowledge
or support, reaching 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, a time. Now, stranger still, I was in Cuba, gazing
peacefully into the dim expensive space of a room in the Hotel
Inglaterra, congratulating myself on the loss, the positive lapse, of
what was called men's most valuable possession.

No better place for the trying of my sincerity than Havana existed; no
other city in the world could so perfectly create the illusion 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 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 fluttering
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 come and go without notice; no one, much, spoke
to me; even those not unaware of the possibility of a book, of San
Cristóbal de la Habana, in which their city would find praise, were
hardly stirred to interest. The moment to go to Havana was youth, the
moment for masked balls and infidelity and champagne: its potency for me
lay in its investment of memories; I regarded 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 rôle 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, parks, and cafés. 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.

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 shutters showed streaks of dawn. I
turned once, it appeared, and the room was filled with indirect
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 obvious 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 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 denunciatory
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
recognizable as beautiful and hit, to my surprise, on intellectual
courage. The thought of an undeviating mental integrity was as
exhilarating as the crash of massed marching bands. Then, searching for
another example, I recalled 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
existence, 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 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 constructed 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 similitude between Turgenev's figure and myself;
certainly I was closer to her mood, her disease 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,
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 me again in the same tone about
idling in a mid-Victorian Pompeii, celebrating drink and marble touched
by the gilder's brush of late afternoon. Perhaps Walpole--and Henry
Mencken's keen friendly discernment--was right; but, damn it, my
experience was deficient in material essentials; I was dangerously
ignorant of current reality, and I doubted if my style was a suitable
instrument for rugged facts.

What remained for me, an accomplishment spacious enough for anyone, was
the effort to 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 category 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 considered 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, elevated a degree above hard circumstances,
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
difference. On one hand that difference was moral, but on the other
æsthetic; 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 difficulty was the casting of it into a
recognizable, adequate medium. There, in the plaiting of cobwebs instead
of hemp rope, I particularly invited disaster. It wasn't necessary that
I should sustain anyone, but only that I should spread the illusion of
the buried associations and image of a brain. That, if it were true, I
held, would be beauty.

Here, at least, I was serious about the correct things, direct rather
than conventional; all that mattered was the spreading of the illusion,
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 impossible for the slightest talent to fill a book in that
manner. The romantic figment, like a confection of spun sugar with a
sprig of artificial orange blossoms, had been discarded; the beauty of
love, it had been discovered, wasn't the possession of a particular
heart, but the tenderness, the pity, that came from the realization 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 temporary 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 hopeless. 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 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 Havana. 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
discharge 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; and though it was past
eleven, the ball hadn't yet assumed an appearance 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 knowledge necessary to the disentangling of its elements:
there were fiddles and horns and unnatural 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

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 Cubeños; 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
falling, fluctuating, now in a harsh droning and then a blasting
discord--the savage naked utterance 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.
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 Aïda 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 no
indisputably white women. There was a girl in a mantone of bright
contrasting colors, a high comb and a rose in her hair, about whom there
was a question. However, her partner was one of the few full negroes
there; and, as they revolved below my box, it seemed that her skin had a
leaden cast.

The danzon itself had, at first, the appearance 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, without 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 countenance.

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 maddened spinning and furious hips tore the illusion to shreds.
And slowly I began to be conscious of a poisonous air, a fetid air as
palpable as the odors and scents--the breath, the premonition, 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 unimportant that the men below me were, in the daytime, commonplace
clerks; the women could be anything chance had made them: here, to the
spoiled magic of Carabalíe nights, they were evoking a ceremonial of

Personally, since I had no hopes to save or plans to protect, I hadn't
the desire, like Sampson, 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 yellow creature with oblique eyes in twenty white flounces and a
natural garland of purple flowers; a thing of ink, of basalt carved by
an opulent chisel, on whose body clothes were incidental; and corrupt
graces perfect in youth and figure weaving the patterns, the wisdom, of

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 fingers 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 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 convulsively 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 surroundings and the age in which he was exposed; in his
place, his time, he had been neither a monster nor unnatural, but
nothing more than the current form of worship. He, Bongó, had had the
misfortune to be catapulted, 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 difference between the negro, the
Carabalíes, 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 support 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 reality, occurred, was implied on the wide
floor of the opera house, was that the negroes, unable to change their
simplicity as easily as they superficially diluted their skins, kept
their innocent habits, their tastes in noise and religion and
misconduct; but, in the dress of civilization, these took on the aspect
of a grotesque 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 discordant 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 exactly 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 individuals saw that, as clothes, the
crude partial imitation of a rooster was insufficient. They, the latter,
commendably hurried into trousers 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
ethnology, I had no theory of races, but, gazing down from my box, it
seemed to me that yesterday 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 pigment,
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
unmasking was involuntary and fateful.

One, I thought, spoiled the other, like an incomplete experiment in
chemistry where nothing but an opaque liquid and an intolerable 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 envelop 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

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 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 ignominiously 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 myself; but here was one
accounted for to a considerable degree. It had begun by an instinctive
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 single
intelligence discussing, explaining, himself 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 ultimate 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 author; the two manners had come creditably

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 fixedness at the ceiling, then at the
upper boxes opposite, since below, indiscretion was laid like a trail of
powder, of explosive rice powder. 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 instinctive note of a narrow black velvet band on her

An air of sadness rested on her, on, principally, a superiority anyone
could see. Her fan opened and shut in a thin pointed hand. A maid, I
told myself, reflecting the aristocracy of the closets of delicate
clothes in her charge, scented from the gold-stoppered bottles of her
mistress. She 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 bluestocking, a poet singing in minor
cadence to traditional abolitionists become dilettantes, but in Cuba,
tormented by the strains of the danzon:

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 secrets of the Ñañigos: in the
black cabildo of that society, provision was made for a woman.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was significant that the first organization of ñañiguismo in Cuba was
purely African, for the hatred of its members, Carabalíes, for the white
race made the admission of even mulattos impossible. This
society--tierra or juego--was formed during the administration of
General Tacón, in the village of Regla, and called Apapá Efí. It was,
against the protests 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 Efó
Macarará. They insisted on a common brotherhood and their right of
entering the fambás, the ceremonial rooms; but there was a determined
opposition, open battle and murder in Perserverancia and Lagunas
Streets. After this there was a general meeting at Marianao, 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 society, the Ecobio Efó, was terminated by the
authorities, Spanish nobles and professional men were assisting in the

What had 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 Carabalíe Bricamó was Dibó, 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 eventual effect of so much
heralded superiority, such enormous advantages, on native belief.

There could be no doubt, though, of the fact that, in any pretence of
civilization, the ñañigos were detrimental; it was unavoidable that they
should have degenerated into a savage 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
arrastrados, men who dragged themselves, reptilian, 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 subsequent elaborate beliefs: the miracle, with an 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 divine, was baptized by Efó 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 ñañíguismo gathered. 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
sacrifice of the rooster or a goat. This, now, had a crucifix, with the
profession that God, Dibó, must be over everything, and a sacramental
singing; but not the Te Deum or Laudes ... Efore sisí llamba, and the
reply Ho Isueribó éngomo ... Mocongo! while the Empegó, the clerk of
the service, shifted brightly colored 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 Bongó
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 Mucuba, made
from sugar-cane rum and bitter broom. A strange procession followed, led
by the Insué, with a woman in a shift, Sicanecue, 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

The effort to end ñañiguismo in Havana began in eighteen hundred and
seventy-five, when its gatherings were forbidden; but, deeply
traditional, it flourished in hidden places, in the jail where ñañigos
were confined and the cellars of Jesús María. 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 carnival of eighteen hundred and sixty-five, sweeping deportations
were enforced. In Maloja Street a juego, Acaniran Efó Primero, with
officers drawn from reputable quarters, was surprised; the next year the
Abacuá Efó was exterminated; a public clash of diablitos resulted in
apprehensions; and twenty-five ñañigos were taken on Vista Hermosa

It was, in reality, Africa in Havana, brought against its wish and to
its tragic misfortune; and, planted in an alien soil, but among a common
genus, the mysteries of religion, 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 Carabalíe
Bricamó and a Spanish without articles or conjunctions, equally
incapable of exact images and the expression of abstract thought. But
taking the place of its omissions, was a congealing power of suggestion,
of creating, through, apparently, no more than the jumbling of common
terms and sounds, sensations of abject dread. The four bishops of the
ritual, in their order, were Insué, Illamba, Mocongo, Empegó. In
ñañiguismo man was momban, an idiot was sansgueré, a knife icuá
rebesine, a pistol etombre, immortality embigüí, the night erufie, war
ochangana, the sun fansón, and worms cocorico. The language took short
rigid forms, phrases; it had little if any plasticity: Amandido
amanllurube, The day goes and the night comes. Efiquefi que buton efique
Ename onton Ellego Efimeremo Iboito, Eurico sangacurici eurico sanga
quimagua sanga ñampé, ñampé sanga mariba, The owl drinks the blood of
the dead and flies to the sea.

The terms of the acts of worship were particularly heavy, sultry, and
held in their sound alone the oppressive significance of fetishes as
black as the night from which they were shaped. The minister of death
to Sinanecua, a ceremony which became traditional, was named
Cuañon-Araferrobré, and the act of sacrifice the Acuá Meropó. The
singers before the altar, making visible the sacred stick, Bastón
Mocongo, intoned Mocongo Machevere, Mosongo moto cumbaba eribo, and
Erendio basi Bome, I believe in God and God is great; with, at the last,
silencing the profession of faith, the voice of the drum, tarinibongó.

The ñañigos 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 instruments--atables and marugas and ecous, a
flattened bell struck by a thin stick. Their fambás 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 carabalíe, resting below my box
through the rasping strains of the danzon. Had her gain been greater
than the loss, 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 resonant bos and bongos of ñañiguismo. Havana, 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 profoundly, making it, in the United States, almost wholly its
own; and the Spanish, with whom, in the richness of a tradition and
perfect expression, no others could compete, owed a great debt to
Africa. Our music, too, it had influenced to such a degree that it was
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 marble 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
approaching music, there was an analogous coloring between the race and
its shadowed measures.

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
belonged equally to all the men, the women, who heard it--it was their
voice and comprehensible 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 creative accomplishment
that needed mental independence 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
impressions--stories, superficially, falsely, pathetic. The fact was
that we had enormously harmed the negro, and for that reason, in the
familiar process of human self-esteem, nationally we were uneasy,
resentful in his presence. We saw him, when we escaped from absolute
hatred, as a figure, a subject, without dignity: we lacked there the
penetrative sympathy which was the soul of imaginative fiction. Such a
novel, I thought, was perhaps of everything that offered the best worth

Certainly nothing more difficult could be well attempted; my knowledge,
in Havana and through the ñañigos, 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 saturated 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 disturbed 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 project:

A huddle of cabins at the edge of a wall of black pines beyond a deep
ruined field--but perhaps this was South Carolina--infinitesimal 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 denial of this, and prided itself, with entire
justice 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 façade, 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 preference, where a
choice existed, for the Protestant 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 Methodists and Baptists for
one adherent of Rome. It might be that the hymns of Methodism,
sufficiently 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 considered, was a subject to be avoided; but running
through my mind was the memory that in Richmond, not long ago, it was
common in the evenings of spring for bands of negroes to go through the
streets singing spirituals 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
approaching 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 relentless natural laws. The latter moved with great deliberation
through unlimited centuries, but the impatience of men demanded instant
release from trouble. They wanted black black and white white, with no
transition, no blurring of the edges; this was their dream, but they
constantly defeated it, betrayed their ideal. Yes, it might be that 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 fantastic as the sentence in Carabalíe Bricamó
that gave it expression, Eruco en llenison comunbairán abasí otete
alleri pongó--We of this world are all together. The truth was, honestly
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 begin 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.

       *       *       *       *       *

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 Camagüey, 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 evident; 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 considerate of others'
discomforts, wondering, with weary smiles, when the boat would be off,
I 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 intensity
that wasn't normal. When I was very young indeed, scarcely past two, I
had been nearly crushed in a throng after the Sesquicentennial parade in
Philadelphia; long afterward I had been, to all practical purposes,
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 Havana wharf, turned into an acute
aversion for every individual and thing about me.

The surrounding insistent good nature developed 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 governments in the world, the
dishonesty and universal muddles, were nothing more than monuments to
the immeasurable stupidity and greed of the people; they were betrayed
politically not by powerful and unscrupulous parties and men, but by
themselves; perpetually and always by their own laziness and
superstition and jealousy.

The Cubeños, the original inhabitants of Cuba, were parcelled in the
bondage of encomiendas, exterminated by the passion of the Spanish Crown
for gold; when they had been sacrificed, Africa was raked by slavers for
labor in the mines and planting; beneath every movement, instigated by
hope or supported by returns, riches were the incentive and power. Men
had never, within history 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 conspicuously it brought, was what the people
worshipped, wanted, what they schemed or stole for, or in the service
of which they performed the most heroic toil.

This was not, necessarily, an ignoble or negligible pursuit, but it was
corrupted by an attending hypocrisy which forced a fervent denial, the
pretense of an utterly different purpose, 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 preëminently the symbol, the
signature, of power; with the late sugar crops it had revolutionized
Cuba. Havana was for the moment, 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 Malecón; 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 impulse; there was a tendency to
speculate in wheat more general than the impulse to give loaves to the

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
uncompromisingly turned on humanity, on my fellow passengers over a sea
like a tranquil illusion 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. Havana 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, 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.... Havana 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 Café 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 Larrañaga factory, but a slender Corona, a shape specially rolled
for a discrimination as delicate as any in Cuba. Yet, away from Havana,
they wouldn't taste the same; in the United States they'd deteriorate;
and, where I lived, there were no fresh, no emerald-green 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 occur 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 discovery 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,
Chester County and the solid stone block of my house were necessary, a
temperate climate indispensable. At heart, in spite of my constant
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 Havana; 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 impression 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 appearance 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

       *       *       *       *       *

When I turned, looking back, Cuba had 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
shimmering 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,
under 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 Passage in the interest of associated merchants and of
commonwealths, sailed, in a more picturesque phrase, for their Catholic
Majesties and for Spain. The Dutch names, Bonteke and Schouten and
Roggeveen, had a solid bartering sound compared with Francesco de
Cordoba and Miruelo and Angel de Villafañe. 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 Careñas, forever held in the atmosphere,
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 impression not of the transient, not of walls and names and
voices, but of qualities impersonal and permanent, of something which,
while individual men died, resisted death. It had existence, 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 form it had taken, so different from the
discovered 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 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 ñañigos--was
equally possible 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,
remarkably, 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 transcending emotion
created from an artificial and illogical means. For while Havana had a
record dignified in its sweep, it could never 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 symphonic, but the lesser, more pictorial, performance; it
had, I thought, very much the appearance of a stage.

This, however was not a denial of the reality of the blood it shed, nor
of the sharpness and danger of its emotions; it had been a profusely
bloody city with tropical passions often reaching ideals of sacrifice.
It had, too, suffered the iron of oppression, spoken its word for
liberty, the state which, never to be realized, 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 persistently 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
yellow cannon. The curtain fell to rise again on Don Miguel Tacón!

It was impossible to determine what I had seen of Havana and what was
merely my reflected 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 experienced 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 museum 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 pleasure, 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 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; anyone,
following me in Havana, could have judged me with exactitude. I had
spent money lavishly--as though I were rich instead of extravagant--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 referred as creoles in the meaning and vocabulary of American
burlesque. Some officials of transportation and sugar manipulators sat
aside, with double Coronas, exchanging in short sentences their hardness
of knowledge, 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 dropping 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 resembled the significant hooked
finger of an imponderable power. The day slid rapidly into water that
had lost its blueness for expanses of chalky shallow green, and the flat
roofs of Key West and masoned arches became slowly visible across the
sea, and a stir of departure filled the decks.

I was, for a moment, depressed at the definite leaving behind of
Havana--for the tranquil 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, impossible of fulfilment,
which I couldn't put down. When I was young I had looked in vain for a
perpetual Havana, hoping for nothing 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 palms 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.

[Illustration: image of the book's back cover]

The following typographical errors were corrected by the etext

beginninng of the Prado=>beginning of the Prado

like a harsh native wine, from Balbao=>like a harsh native wine, from

*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "San Cristóbal de la Habana" ***

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