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A Spanish Holofernes


Source: Myths & Legends Of Our New Possessions & Protectorate

While it has been the fate of women in the Spanish islands to suffer
even more than their husbands and brothers from severity and injustice,
instances are not lacking in which they have shown an equal spirit
with the men. In the insurrections a few of them openly took the
field, and the Maid of Las Tunas is remembered,--a Cuban Joan of Arc,
who rode at the head of the rebel troops, battled as stoutly as the
veterans, and was of special service as scout and spy. Three times
she fell into the hands of the Spaniards. Twice she coaxed her way
to freedom. The third time the governor gave her to a crowd of brutal
soldiers, who afterward burned her alive.

Quite another sort of woman was Nina Diaz, whom Weyler intended to
compliment when he said she was the only loyal Cuban, and who is hated
by all other Cubans as a fiend. Her love for a Spanish captain was
cleverly played upon by Weyler, who induced her to become his spy. She
begged contributions for the insurgents. Of course, those who gave
were in sympathy with the insurrection, so that all she had to do was
to place her list of subscribers in the hands of Weyler, who promptly
shot or imprisoned them, or herded them among the reconcentrados to
die of starvation. When the Cubans caught her she said that she had
a father and a brother in their ranks,--which was true,--and was on
her way to them. Where could they be found? They told her and set
her free, and in the morning the Spanish troops were on the march to
their hiding-place.

It is pleasanter to read of Spanish women serving their own cause
than of Cuban women who betrayed their country, and the Spanish dames
have often shown as much grit and pride as the dons. Pauline Macias
is alleged to have led the soldiers back to their guns in San Juan
de Puerto Rico after they had run from Sampson's shells. She seized
a sword from an officer, beat the runaways with it, roused them by
pleas and commands, and kept them at their work until their pieces
were disabled or the ammunition had given out.

In the tradition of an earlier and slighter war the heroine is a
woman of still different type. Isabella, wife of the Doctor Diaz, was
often called "the queen" in Bayamo, not merely because of her name,
but because of her piety, her charities, her beauty, and her dignified
bearing. She was young, well reared, distinguished, and her home was a
centre for the best society of the town. Among those who felt free to
call without invitation were several of the officers of the garrison,
most of them models in deportment and dress, and of sufficient breeding
to refrain from allusion to politics; for the Diazes, though Spanish
by only one remove, were avowedly Cuban in their sympathies, and the
revolution was fast coming to a focus. It was understood, however,
that Doctor Diaz would remain a non-combatant, for the duty he owed
to suffering humanity was higher than the duty his friends tried to
persuade him he owed to his country. Hence, the physician and his
wife would be under the white flag, it was supposed, and if remarks
were made as to their share in the approaching hostilities, it was
always with a frank and laughing admission on their part and a jest
on that of the accusers.

Among all the men in the garrison but one was actually disliked by
the young practitioner and his wife. Captain Ramon Gonzales had been
quartered upon them once for a week in an emergency, and his removal
to another household had been asked for. It was not that he lacked
manners or was obviously disrespectful, but his compliments to the
lady of the house were something too frequent, his regard of her too
admiring, his air toward the doctor that of the soldier and superior,
rather than the friend. Senora Diaz never saw him alone, never invited
him to call. He disappeared one afternoon, and it was understood that
he had received a summons to return to Havana.

The rising came at last. Fires glimmered on the hills, bodies of men
assembled in the woods, the drumming and brawling of troops were heard
in hitherto quiet villages, and prayers for the success of the Cuban
arms were offered in a hundred churches. But not all the women were
content to pray. They were helping to arm their husbands, brothers,
sweethearts, sons; they worked together in assembling supplies,
hospital stores, clothing, and even in casting bullets.

One or two nights after the first blow had been struck there came
a loud summons at the door of Doctor Diaz. Thinking it a call for
his services, he stepped into the dark street, when he was seized,
handcuffed, placed between two lines of soldiers, and marched away
to prison. The despairing cry of his wife, as she peered from the
open door and saw this arrest, was the only farewell. He never heard
her voice again. He was shot a few days later as an enemy to Spain,
the specific charge against him being that of "aiding and sheltering"
a rebel, the said rebel being a feeble-minded youth, a "moon-struck,"
to whom, as a matter of charity, he had given occasional work in
weeding his garden. On the night after Doctor Diaz's arrest his
wife was requested by a messenger to go quickly to a small house
on the edge of the town to meet one who might secure his release,
but wished to consult with her as to the means. Hastily wrapping a
mantilla about her, she followed the messenger to the street; then,
as acting under sudden impulse, left him waiting for a moment, while
she returned to bolt a door. In that moment, unseen by the messenger,
she slipped a sheathed stiletto into the bosom of her dress.

The house was a ramshackle cottage, with a damp and moldy air pervading
it within and without. The negro messenger opened the door without
knocking, held it open while she passed in, then abruptly closed it
and turned a key on the outside. The woman was trapped. In a minute
voices were heard in the street; that of the messenger, and one that
she knew better,--and worse,--the voice of Captain Gonzales.

The situation flashed upon her. Her husband had been falsely
charged. She had been lured to this place, and would leave it dead or
dishonored. The walls of the cabin swam before her, and she had nearly
fallen when the sound of the key in the lock aroused her. A fierce
chill shook her frame. She held to a table for support. A tumult of
thought possessed her, but as the door swung open it quieted to a
single idea: hardly a thought: a purpose.

In the light of the single candle that stood on the table she saw
Captain Gonzales enter. He had been at the wine. His eyes were heavy,
his cheeks a dusky red, his mouth was more sensual, his jaw more
cruel than ever. He stepped inside and locked the door. "Your pardon,
senora, for these strong measures," he said, in a thick tone. "I
am a victim of love and hate. Your hus--another--has hated me. Your
husband is--is--likely to be absent for some time. You will require
a protector. I have the honor to offer myself. I throw myself at the
feet of the loveliest lady in Cuba. I tell her of the love that for
the past year has turned my life to torture. I will be her companion,
her adorer, only--ha! You smile! It is not possible you care for
me? It is joy too great. Senora! Isabella! Can it be?"

"And you never suspected it before?"

The face was white, the lips twitched, but the smile remained. The
woman cast down her eyes--what star-bright eyes they were!--then
slowly opened her arms. With a roaring laugh Gonzales strode across
the room. The laugh changed to a gurgling cry as he placed his hands
upon her waist. His hand went to his sword, but fumbled; his knees
shook; then he fell backward at full length, with his heart's blood
pulsating from a dagger-wound. The wife of Doctor Diaz picked up the
key that had fallen from his fingers, unlocked the door, and returned
to her home alone.

Next: The Courteous Battle

Previous: The Virgin's Diamond

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