Water Caves

: Myths & Legends Of Our New Possessions & Protectorate

As in most of the Spanish American countries, so in Porto Rico, ghosts

are common,--so common that in some towns the people hardly turn to

look at them; and if on a wild night in the hurricane season they hear

them gibbering at their doors, they patter an _ave_ or throw a piece of

harness at the disturbance, and sleep again. Ponce, for instance, has

a number of these spooks, such as the man who searches for his hidden

oney, and the child with a snowy face that knocks on the panes, then

stares fixedly in, with corpse eyes, at the windows. Best known among

these supernatural citizens are two lovers who "spoon" on dark nights,

and are faintly outlined on the landscape as figures of quivering,

smoky blue. Their favorite haunt is their death-place, eight miles

from Ponce, in a hollow among limestone hills, now environed by a

coffee plantation. Here are found three basins--results of erosion,

most likely--that are described as natural bath-tubs. The middle and

largest of these pools is partly filled with silt, probably occluding

the entrance to a cavern which formerly opened into it, a fathom or

so below the water-surface. This cave was the hiding-place of a native

woman whose father had discovered her love for one of Ponce de Leon's

soldiers. He forbade her to have anything to do with the enemies of

his country, enlarged on their rapacity, cruelty, and treachery,

and tried to create in her a sense of shame that she should have

chosen a Spaniard, instead of a Boriqueno chief, for a lover. There

were no locksmiths in the Antilles for love to laugh at, but there

were spears and knives to fear, and the young couple, who seemed to

be inspired by genuine affection, met at this lonely spot to do their

courting. On the least suspicion of a hostile approach, the maid could

slip into the water, enter the cave, and wait for an hour or a day,

until the intruder had retired. However it happened nobody could

tell,--or would,--but the Spaniard was found drowned one morning in

that pool. He may have been found waiting there, by the angry parent,

thrown in, on general principles, and held to the bottom by his steel

arms and armor; or he may have been trying to find the cave in which

his charmer had secreted herself, and while so engaged may have bumped

his head against the rocky wall and stunned himself, or he may have

been a poor swimmer and lost his wits and his wind. At all events,

drowned he was, and the dusky virgin who loved him, seeing his form

at the bottom of the water, sang her sorrow chant, dived in, and,

holding to his body, perished wilfully at his side. Their love endures,

and that is why their luminous shadows sit at the brink of the pool,

with locked arms and meeting lips, to the disgust of voting women

and confirmed bachelors.

This legend, with variants, is found in many parts of the world. There

are two or three instances of it in the Hawaiian islands, and a

tradition pertaining to Hayti is worth quoting here, as it refers to

the same period and illustrates the same enmity between the white and

native races. Near the city of San Domingo is, or was, a "water cave,"

so named because the entrance to it was several feet below the lake

whose shore it undermines. When the young half-breed, Diaz, returned

from Spain to his native island of Hispaniola in 1520, his mother,

Zameaca, queen of the Ozamas, had disappeared, possibly killed outright

by the Spaniards, or more slowly killed by enslavement at the mines in

vainly trying to satisfy the rapacity of the white race for gold. Diaz,

though partly of Spanish blood, was allied in his sympathies to the

Indians. Hence, they planned to make him ruler. Their conspiracy was

quelled for the time being, with such brutality that those natives

who escaped death hated their tyrants with a deeper hatred than

ever, and fixed them the more strongly in their resolution to be

avenged. The leading chiefs and warriors of the Ozamas took refuge

in the water cave, spying on their enemies and going about to make

converts among the islanders at night. It was not long before the

watchful Spaniards discovered that mischief was afoot, and there

were reasons for believing that the chiefs had their hiding place not

many miles from town. By following various suspects into the country,

and noticing the time and way of their return, they became convinced

that the leaders of the rebellion were somewhere near the lake.

A young woman, a slave in the family of the Spanish governor, was

so often absent on mysterious errands that the authorities at last

fixed on her as the one most likely to betray her countrymen. She was

won to their purpose through her vanity. Her mistress had a comb of

elaborate and curious workmanship, and to have one like it was the

principal object in her existence. The governor told her that she

should have this priceless treasure itself if she would tell him

where the chiefs were meeting. To this act of treachery she finally

agreed on condition that her lover, who was one of the chiefs, should

be pardoned. That evening she carried bread and fruit to the lake,

and sitting on the bank sang loudly for some minutes. The Spanish

soldiers, who were watching from the shrubbery, were astonished to

see a man rise like a seal from the water, swim to the shore, take

the parcel from the girl's hands, exchange a few words with her,

and disappear again beneath the surface. The song was a signal for

one of the men to come out and receive the food, and it was heard

through a crevice in the cave roof. Next day the girl sang again,

and the whole company left the cave. They had no sooner gained the

shore than the Spaniards sprang from the shrubbery and surrounded

them. As they were led away to death, one of the chiefs levelled

his finger at the girl and said, "I am going to a land of peace. You

will never find the way to it." Her lover cast her off with bitter

reproaches. Then, as the murderous volley pealed across the fields,

and the rebellion was ended, her heart broke. She still sits at the

lakeside in the evening, weeping over her comb.