A Cuban Physician and
his Patient A Nightmare A Mystery A
Cure By the
Sad Sea Waves A Cuban
Watering-place Lobster-hunting Another
View of the Morro
‘Dios sabe’ means.
Not many days after the events recorded
in the last chapter, I am on a sick couch.
What is the nature of my infirmity?
Neither I nor my companion can tell. Don Benigno,
who comes to offer me his condolences, attributes the
cause of my complaint to confinement in the close,
vaporous dungeon of the Morro Castle, and his medical
adviser, Don Francisco, who is summoned to my bed-side,
confirms Don Benigno’s opinion, adding, that
the sudden transition from a damp atmosphere to the
heat of a tropical sun may have contributed to produce
After examining me in the usual way,
the physician inquires whether my head throbs without
aching; whether I am troubled with certain pains in
my joints and across my loins, and whether I feel altogether
as if I had been confined several weeks to my bed.
Marvelling much at the doctor’s
penetration, I reply that the symptoms he described
exactly correspond with those which I experience.
In short; Don Francisco is perfectly acquainted with
the nature of my malady. Strange to say, however,
he does not venture to give it a name, and stranger
still, he leads my partner into our studio, where with
closed doors both converse like a couple of assassins
conspiring against my life. What passes between
them is not revealed to me, but after the doctor’s
departure, my companion assures me I have only caught
a severe cold, and that if I remain ‘under cover,’
I shall be perfectly well in six days.
Why in six days? While pondering
much over this, a strange heat oppresses me; my head
throbs more than ever; my pains increase, and to add
to my discomfiture, Nicasio, together with Don Benigno
and our black attendant, suddenly begin to dance furiously
around my ‘catre,’ terminating their
wild gyrations by vanishing between the bars of the
My friends were doubtless afraid of
the commandant of the Morro and her Majesty’s
British consul; for these gentlemen have entered the
apartment and established themselves on either side
of my catre. The commandant, claiming me
for his prisoner, again attempts to carry me off to
the Morro Castle, but my consul envelopes me in an
enormous Union Jack, and declaring that I am a British
subject, dares the Spanish officer to lay a finger
on me. The commandant now draws his sword a
weapon of such monstrous length that it cannot be
conveniently unsheathed without detaching the scabbard
from the belt from which it depends. The consul
in turn exhibits a mighty scroll of parchment, which
takes as long to unroll as the officer’s sabre
takes to unsheath. Meanwhile I watch the combatants
in agonising suspense, till the chamber becomes suddenly
dark. But, after a painful pause, daylight appears,
and to my unspeakable relief I find that my formidable
visitors have vanished, and that I am alone with Nicasio.
My companion smiles and tells me that
I have been talking in my sleep. In other words,
that I have been delirious.
Now that we are alone, I press my
partner to reveal to me the true cause of my complaint;
for, in spite of his previous assertion, I am more
than ever convinced that the truth is being concealed
from me. But Nicasio cannot be persuaded, neither
does he explain why he mentioned six days as the period
for my convalescence.
On the fifth day, I am considerably
worse than I was before. A feeling of utter prostration
accompanied by an inordinate thirst comes over me.
This is followed by a sensation as of sea-sickness
and overpowering lassitude. I am parched with
thirst, but I have neither strength to express my
want in words nor to indicate it by suitable gestures.
Some refreshing draught is, however, placed to my
lips, which I swallow greedily; at the same time my
head is relieved by the application of ‘vejicatorios,’
or blisters, to the soles of my feet. More than
half my medical advisers prescribe bleeding, but Don
Francisco will not hear of it, and from first to last
this expedient is never adopted.
My deplorable condition is not improved
by a thought which suggests itself from the hue of
my hands, which I perceive for the first time are
Santo Dios! Can this be the yellow
The yellow fever it is; though for
some mysterious reason the secret is carefully kept
from me to the last.
Yes: I have the ‘fiebre
amarilla:’ but, thank God, not the ’vomito
negro,’ or black vomit, which is the worst form
of the yellow fever, and in nine cases out of ten
proves fatal. To-morrow my troubles will be over,
provided that the night is passed tranquilly; but should
there be the least indication of a relapse before
daylight well; the fact would not be recorded
To say that my beloved companion never
for an instant leaves my bed-side until the critical
moment has passed; or that good old Don Benigno provides
for my wants, and consults at least six different doctors,
who come at prescribed hours to tap me on the chest,
probe me in the ribs, and press my pulse; to say that
Dona Mercedes proves the best and kindest of nurses
and most sympathetic of friends; and that even the
loquacious Tunicu, together with a host of acquaintances,
makes kind enquiries after my daily progress, and
offers to provide a shopful of dainties is
to say that the attentions which I receive from strangers
in a foreign country are all that my dearest relatives
at home could desire.
Having passed the night of the fifth
day tranquilly, I awake on the morning of the memorable
sixth, in a perfect state of health. All my pains
have disappeared as if by magic: my head ceases
to throb; my body is delightfully cool, and I am otherwise
so convalescent that were it not for my doctor’s
strict injunctions, I should arise, dress, and betake
myself to the nearest restaurant. But my West
Indian physician administers to my wants in easy stages.
I am allowed to sit in a rocking chair near the window
with closed shutters, but I may not wash, neither
may I brush my hair, nor breathe a new atmosphere for
several days to come. From the mildest nourishment
in the way of sugar panales and water, I am gradually
introduced to more solid food, and at least a week
elapses before Don Francisco approves of Don Benigno’s
proposal to recruit his patient’s health at
Now that the crisis is over, I learn
that the greatest fears had been entertained for my
recovery; that six out of the seven doctors, who had
considered my case, had pronounced it hopeless.
I was an Englishman, they said, and my countrymen
had the reputation for indulging rather freely in
stimulants above all in malt liquors, and
these stimulants were fatal to a constitution when
attacked by yellow fever. But Don Francisco,
who had carefully interrogated me on my past, which
he found greatly belied his brother practitioners’
conjectures, was more sanguine of the cure, and now
that I am free from danger, he pronounces me ‘acclimatised,’
and as unlikely to experience another attack of the
same epidemic as the natives of Cuba themselves.
He, however, warns me of ‘tercianas’
or intermittent fevers which occasionally succeed yellow
fever, and which are consequent on intemperate habits
and undue exposure to the sun.
Accepting Don Benigno’s generous
invitation to pass a few weeks with him, his family
and a few friends at a watering place, I take leave
of Nicasio for the first time, and become Don Benigno’s
guest once more. Our destination is La Socapa,
a small fishing village three miles distant from town.
The only way to reach La Socapa (which is
situated at the narrow entrance of the Cuban Bay,
and faces the Morro Castle which stands on the opposite
bank) is by water. We therefore hire a heavy
boat, and after an hour’s sail along the sinuous
harbour, we are landed at La Socapa.
There are no ‘apartments to
let’ at this favourite watering-place. When
a Cuban gentleman proposes to rusticate with his family
at this locality, he hires an empty house and fits
it up with some furniture brought by his slaves from
his residence in town. Not more than a dozen
cottages are available as lodging-houses at La
Socapa; the village being occupied by fishermen
and their families. Don Benigno’s temporary
abode is isolated from the village and stands on an
eminence looking seawards. It is a single-storied
habitation and provides the usual accommodations of
a Cuban country-house.
There are no bathing machines at La
Socapa. Those who are inclined for a dip
in the sea betake themselves to secluded spots on the
coast, and disrobe themselves behind rocks and bushes.
‘Tiburones,’ or sharks, occasionally visit
this neighbourhood, and as these voracious creatures
have a strange partiality for human limbs, the bathers
are careful not to venture beyond certain stones which
have been placed for the purpose of keeping out the
Sometimes we indulge in a little fishing
off the banks of the harbour, or the gentlemen of
our party take their sporting guns to an adjacent
wood where wild pigeons, partridges, quails and guinea-fowl
abound. This sport may be varied by a hunt after
wild deer, small specimens of which are to be obtained
in these parts. Our favourite evening amusement
is lobster-hunting. For this sport, a big barge
is procured, and, after having been furnished with
carpets and rugs for the ladies’ accommodation,
we proceed to navigate the shores and creeks of the
harbour. Three or four black fishermen accompany
us and bear long torches of wood, by the light of
which the ground beneath the shallow water is visible.
Our prey is secured by throwing a net, in the meshes
of which the lobster becomes entangled; but should
this prove ineffectual, a long pole forked at one
end is thrust over the creature’s hard back,
and as he struggles to free himself from the pronged
embrace, a nimble negro dives into the water and captures
him alive. Great excitement prevails when a lobster
comes on board, and bounds among our crew and passengers.
Having brought provisions with us, we ’make a
night’ of this molluscular expedition, and keep
up the convivialities till two or three o’clock,
One of the liveliest of our party
is a young Spanish officer, whom everybody addresses
as Manuel. Manuel is engaged to Don Benigno’s
eldest daughter, Paquita, a young lady of fourteen
tropical summers, who, however, has the appearance
of a senorita of sweet seventeen. I am on terms
of the closest friendship with the young officer, for
it was partly through his intercession with the authorities
that Nicasio and I obtained our release from captivity.
One day, after attiring himself in
his regimentals, Don Manuel proposes a visit to the
Morro Castle, and invites me to accompany him, assuring
me that under his trusty escort there will be no danger
of arrest. We accordingly hire a small canoe,
and after rowing across the narrow harbour, land at
one of the forts of the formidable fortress.
The officer’s uniform is an
all-powerful pass wherever we go. It enables
us to land, to pass the various sentries, who touch
their caps respectfully as we approach, and finally
to reach the commandant’s private dwelling in
the very heart of the stronghold.
El senor comandante
is at home, and invites us in. He is delighted
to see his young friend the captain, and charmed to
form the acquaintance of the captain’s companion.
He does not recognise me in the least, and satisfied
of that fact, I accept his pressing invitation to lunch
with himself and officers.
After coffee and cigars, our host
offers to show us the secrets of his prison-house.
This time my eyes are not bandaged, and I follow the
commandant without military assistance.
We are shown all over the fortifications.
We inspect minutely the old-fashioned twenty-four
pounders; rest on the six bronze French guns (which,
we are told, are quite new, and the only serviceable
weapons in the fortress), and make other observations,
which, if we were enemies with an inclination to storm
the place from the sea, would greatly assist us in
our operations. Now we are in the sleeping caves,
where the hundred men who compose the garrison are
lodged. Now we are descending flights of stone
steps. We pass along hollow-sounding alleys and
under echoing archways. Presently we arrive at
the cooking department, where the atmosphere feels
oppressive, and is black with innumerable flies.
We come at last to the deepest part of the fortress,
where ’criminals of the worst description’
(so the commandant informs me) are lodged. Narrow,
intricate passages lead to the different cells.
Our guide points out some of the prisoners, and invites
us to look in at them through their little square
windows. Strange to say, he does not seem to be
at all conversant with the nature of their offences.
‘Dios sabe!’ accompanied by a shrug
of the shoulders, is invariably the commandant’s
reply to any query respecting a particular prisoner.
‘Dios sabe’ may, however, signify
a great deal more than ‘Heaven knows;’
and, perhaps, the commandant chooses not to explain
We pause before a dungeon where it
is said a Chinaman committed suicide after six days’
incarceration: self-slaughter among Celestials
being their favourite mode of killing care. An
equally suicidal Chow-chow is confined there now;
but they have bound him hand and foot, and he lies
muttering in falsetto like a maniac. He would
doubtless give something for a little soothing opium!
My friend the commandant assures me
that the vault I am now surveying with such interest
is unoccupied, and persuades me to pass on. But
I linger lovingly at the little square window, and
take a fond look at the interior. The theatre
of my woe has changed in appearance, the company having
gone. But there still remain the empty benches!
‘Whom have you had within the past twelve months?’
It is not the commandant’s business
to know where his prisoners are quartered, or what
becomes of them.
I apply afterwards for the same information
to the captain of the garrison.
The staff of officers engaged in the
Morro service is relieved once a month, and the captain
I address has only lately taken the command.
‘Dios sabe!’ In the
majority of cases, it is, indeed, Heaven alone who
knows what becomes of unfortunates in a country where
law is directed through the agency of military despotism,
and where the disposal of a man’s life and liberty
is entrusted to the mercy of a vain and capricious