The Ghost Of San Geronimo

The castle of San Geronimo, San Juan de Porto Rico, was founded

a century ago. It occupies a rocky point at the east end of San

Juan Island, and year by year had been strengthened until, when the

American ships appeared in the offing, it was thought important enough

to garrison. Six guns were emplaced, two other gun mounts were found by

our troops when they entered, and a hole was discovered extending from

a dungeon fifteen feet toward the breastworks. This had been freshly

dug, and, it is believed, was devised for the storage of explosives,

that the citadel might be blown up when the boys in blue entered to

take possession. That the fort was abandoned without resorting to

this revengeful and unmilitary act may be due to the ghost. He would

naturally be in evidence at such a time, and would do what he could

to thwart the schemes of his enemies. For he gave his body to the

worms fifty years or more ago. In the flesh he was a revolutionist,

and had been dreaming vain things about liberty for his beloved

island. It is not recorded that he ever harmed any one, or that

his little insurrection attained the dignity of anything more than

a rumor and an official chill, but the Spaniards caught him, threw

him into the dark prison of this castle, and after he had undergone

hunger, thirst, and illness, they went through their usual forms

of trial and condemned him to death. This among the civilized would

have meant that he would be sent to the gallows or the garrote; but

this victim was alleged to have accomplices, and quite likely he was

suspected of having a small fund; for the first thing to do when you

overthrow a government, or want to, is to pass the hat. To secure the

names of his fellow-conspirators, but more especially their money,

the revolutionist was therefore consigned to the torture chamber,

where the rack, the thumb-screw, the hot irons, the whip, and other

survivals of the Inquisition were applied. When the officers had

extorted what they wanted, or had made sure there was nothing to

extort, the poor, white wreck of a human being was delivered by the

judges to an executioner, and a merciful death was inflicted.

Shortly after this occurrence the officers of the San Geronimo garrison

began to request transfers, and the social set that had been formed in

and near the castle was broken up. Gradually the troops thinned away,

and although the works were kept in moderate repair and occasionally

enlarged, the regular force was finally withdrawn, and even the

solitary keepers who were left in charge died unaccountably. This

was because the ghost of the tortured one pervaded its damp rooms

and breathed blights and curses on the occupants. Its appearance was

always heralded by a clatter of hoofs on the stone bridge leading

into the court. The on-rush of spectre horses is variously explained,

some believing that the dead man is leading an assault on the fort,

others wondering if it may not be a conscience-smitten governor

hurrying to rescue or reprieve his victim, and arriving too late,--a

theory quite generally rejected on the ground that there never was

that kind of a Spanish governor.

An American officer, who took up his home in San Geronimo after the

occupation, was disturbed for three successive nights by the ghost,

and on learning the tradition of the place he investigated the palace

and brought to light the torture chamber with its rows of hooks and

rings and chains about the walls. The piercing of its roof, so that

the sun came in and the ghosts and malaria went out, the removal of

the grim relics of mediaevalism, the cleaning and whitewashing of the

apartments, have probably induced the spectre to take up his quarters

elsewhere, for his old haunts are hardly recognizable, and he can have

no grudge against the soldiers of a republic who carried out his plans

with a perfection and promptness of which he could not have dreamed.

The climate of the West Indies has ever been favorable to the

preservation of spirits, and this haunted castle of San Juan has

counterparts in the island, and in other islands, and the ghosts are

not always victims of the Spaniards, either. The appearance of spectres

in the New World was almost contemporary with Columbus. Indeed,

one of the most startling of supernatural appearances occurred in

the town he founded,--the town of Isabella, Hayti, the first white

man's city in America. It was created by the great navigator on his

second voyage, but it remained for only a few years on the map. The

dons whom he brought with him refused to work, even when the colony

was starving, and reported him in Spain as a tyrant for asking them

to put up their own shelters, cook their own food, and grind their

own flour. They would not even work in the mines where gold could

be seen in the river sands, because they had expected to pick up

the metal in lumps, or force it from the natives in such quantities

that each adventurer might return with a bushel. Hardship, illness,

short commons, the need of occasional labor, the heart-breaks over the

gold failure, the retaliations of the natives for the cruelties and

injustices of the invaders, led to the rapid decline of the city of

Isabella. Its foundations may still be visible; at least they were a

few years ago; but it is peopled only by ghosts. Some years after it

had been deserted, two Spaniards, who had been hunting in that part

of the island, entered its ruined streets. They had heard from the

Indians of strange, booming voices that echoed among its dead houses,

but had dismissed this tale as invention or fancy. The sun was low

and mists were gathering. As the hunters turned a corner they were

astonished to see a company of cavaliers drawn up in double rank, as

if for parade, sword on hip, plumed hats aslant, big booted, leather

jacketed, grim, and silent. The two men asked whence they had come. The

cavaliers spoke no word, but all together lifting their hats in salute,

lifted their heads off with them, then melted into air. They were

the dead of the fated town. The two spectators fainted with horror,

and did not recover their peace of mind in many days.

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