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The Chase Of Taito Perico


Source: Myths & Legends Of Our New Possessions & Protectorate

In 1779 the Bishop of Havana took into his household as servants,
and into the cathedral as altar-boys, three harum-scarum Indians, then
said to have come from Florida, now believed to have been of Mexican
origin, though there were not wanting citizens who solemnly declared
that the trio had come from a warmer place than any on the surface of
this planet. The object in the bishop's mind was to Christianize the
scapegraces and turn them loose among their own people, that they, too,
might be made to see the light. The poor old clergyman little knew with
whom he had to deal. When the astonishment of the youngsters at the
glories of Havana had subsided, and even a regiment with a band could
parade without their company, the Indian in them asserted itself once
more, and they grieved the bishop by playing hookey, shirking mass,
running off to the mountains on hunting trips, and once, when he went
out in his night-cap to inquire the cause of a rumpus in his yard,
they tripped him up and circled around and around, whooping like
demons while he was trying to regain his feet and apply his cane.

At last they upset, not the clergy but the laws. Their offence was
not grave, being rather a result of high spirits than of malice, but
it brought the constabulary upon them and they were carried to the
arsenal to work out the term of their imprisonment at loading ships
and other heavy, uncongenial labor. Not many days had passed here
before a chance offered for their escape, and they seized upon it,
vanishing under the noses of the guard--at least, that was the way
the guard reported it--like shadows before the sun. In fact, from
that hour they were looked upon as a bit uncanny. The three lads
found a hiding-place in the Falaco vegas, among a vagrom populace
of brigands, runaway slaves, and wreckers, and there for several
weeks they supported themselves by hunting, fishing, gambling, even
working a little when sore pressed. Better if they had been left
alone to live out their lives there. If useless, they at least were
harmless. But, no; the majesty of the law again asserted itself. They
were caught by a company of soldiers and marched back to Havana. Their
protector and friend, the bishop, was dead. Again they were laden with
chains and returned to the arsenal to work out some months of penal
servitude. Their natures seemed to change in a day. To them Spaniards
and Cubans now stood for tyranny and injustice. They did not understand
their imprisonment as a correction: it was an act of oppression, and
how were they to know that it would not last for the remainder of their
lives? Every waking moment from the time of their second arrest they
gave to plots for liberty and vengeance. The escape came presently. It
seemed as if walls and bars were not made that could restrain them.

Two days after this last escape the country-side was stirred with
horror, for just before dawn a hamlet near Guanes was burned, and
when the neighbors, attracted by the flame and smoke seen above the
tree-tops, arrived on the ground they found the gashed bodies of the
inhabitants lying about on the gore-sodden earth. The quickness, the
secrecy of the act were terrifying. All sorts of fantastic reports
were spread about the province, especially after the massacre and
the burning had been repeated in a second village--and a third--and
a fourth. The vega was in a panic. The people went from place to
place only in armed bands. The Vuelta Abajo was completely cowed, and
sentries patrolled every settlement. It was reported that the murders
had been committed by three giants who cut down men, horses, and cattle
as they stalked across the country, and whose weapons were charmed,
so that they always struck a vital spot, no matter how carelessly
they were aimed. The three monsters were of vast strength and horrible
countenance; they climbed tall cliffs as cats climb fences, and leaped
chasms fifty feet across as other men skip over gutters.

A cave near Cape San Antonio that the aborigines had chambered for
tombs was their reputed hiding-place, where they also worshipped
their master, Satan, with fantastic ceremonies, and sacrificed in his
honor the best of the cattle, sheep, and horses they captured on their
raids. And the utter helplessness of the Spanish authorities gave a
certain color to these rumors, for the giants snapped their fingers
at their pursuers and went on killing, looting, burning, running off
stock, always appearing in unexpected places and disappearing like
mists at sunrise. Thus, two and a half years went by, and the offer of
five thousand dollars each for the heads of the devil-brigands had come
to nothing. Finally the Havana authorities were prayed and pestered
into a spell of activity. They organized a troop of one hundred and
fifty men and sixty dogs, put twenty officers at the head, and sent
along four chaplains to pray the evil charms away. The three savages
were cornered on a mountain, where two of them were killed after they
had inflicted many hurts on their pursuers. The heads of these two
were lopped, forwarded to the capital, and every one supposed that
the reign of terror was at an end.

But, as if the strength of the slain ones had passed into his arm,
the third man, Taito Perico, who had escaped during the fight, became
a greater scourge than ever. He was fury incarnate, and so sudden
were his visitations, so quick and deadly his work, so complete
his disappearances, that more than ever it was believed he was a
fiend. He resumed the work of slaughter in the Vuelta Arriba. He
had a horse now, carried a huge lance, and killed or wounded almost
every one he met,--but not all. There was in this black heart a core
of sympathy. Once he stole a little child and kept her with him for
some time, lavishing on her the affection of a barbarian big brother,
and so endearing him to her that when she was rescued from his jungle
haunt, while he was absent hunting, she wept for the kind Taito Perico,
even in her parents' arms. Then he stole a boy of eight years and
kept him for some months, allowing him at the end of that time to
return unharmed to his parents.

It was in one of these abductions that he worked his own undoing. Near
St. John of the Remedies lived the pretty Anita de Pareira, daughter
of a frugal and worthy couple and fiancee of a prosperous planter of
the district. The time for the wedding having been set, the father
and mother were in their little garden discussing ways and means,
and Anita was indoors trimming the gown in which she was to walk to
the altar. Her head was full of pretty fancies, and she hummed softly
to herself as she plied her needle or gazed into the distance, smiling
at the pictures created by her own fancy. She was rudely awakened from
these pleasing reveries. The door was burst in by a tremendous blow
with a fist and there stood glaring upon her a Caliban with mighty
neck and shoulders, great goggling eyes, a hooked nose, a bush of
coarse hair erect upon his head, and a stout lance in his hand. As
this creature advanced into the room with extended arms she swooned
and did not regain her senses until she had been carried for a mile
or more from her home. She found herself lying across the back of a
horse that was galloping furiously toward the hills with the savage
in the saddle behind her.

The father and mother ran into the road tossing their hands in despair;
a dozen belated rescuers hurried to them, each arrival adding his
screams to the hubbub; then each advising the rest what should be done,
and nobody doing anything. The young planter, Anita's betrothed, was
quickly on the ground, and he alone was resolute and cool. He gathered
the bolder men about him, saw that they were supplied with proper arms
and mounts, and with encouraging words to those who were left behind,
he rode away on the outlaw's trail. Over pastures, through ravines,
across rivers, under forest arches dim as twilight, they hurried on,
a pack of hounds yapping in advance, a broken branch, a trampled bush,
a hoof-print in the margin of a stream also giving proof that they were
on the right path; a herder, who had seen the ruffian pass, likewise
testifying to the fact, and giving his service to the company; and
so they came to a clearing, where they found the marauder's abandoned
and exhausted horse.

Putting their own horses under guard of negroes, twenty of the men
pressed on afoot through tangled vines and thorny bushes, still led
by the dogs, until they brought up at the bottom of a tall cliff,
and here the hounds seemed to be at fault, for they ran around and
around a tree, looking up into it and whining. The herder swung himself
into the branches and scrambled almost to the top. "Nobody here," he
called. Then, when he had partly descended, they heard him utter an
exclamation of surprise. He crept to the end of a long branch and swung
lightly to a shelf on the face of the crag. "Footsteps!" he exclaimed,
in a low, strained voice, and pointed to a thin turf that covered the
jut of rock. The dogs were right. Taito Perico had climbed the tree and
scaled the cliff. The dogs were hoisted by means of a lariat, the men
gained the shelf, and clambering along in single file they presently
reached the summit. A furious barking led them on; then those in the
rear heard a shout. The savage was seen, half a mile away, crossing
an opening at a run and striking at the dogs that leaped and yelped
around him. Leaving his companions to follow the Indian, the lover
devoted himself to the search for Anita, and presently found her at
the foot of a tree, bound, gagged, but safe and thankful.

For several days and nights the chase went on and on with
reinforcements, and the Indian was at last overtaken on the mountain
that, in memory of the event, bears the name of Loma del Indio,
where he was slain, to the great relief of the whole island. Even
in death his aspect was so terrific that the people along the way
were set a-shaking and a-praying as his body was carried on to Puerto
Principe. Though he could do harm no longer, the post-mortem punishment
inflicted on him gave general satisfaction; for the corpse was first
hanged, then dragged at a horse's heels, then chopped apart and buried
in several places, and the head, in a cage, was exposed on a pole in
Tanima. And if three men like Taito Perico could terrorize all Cuba,
a hundred of such would have freed it.

Next: The Voice In The Inn

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