I have learned here that the first quality needed to make a great filibuster is Patience, it is not courage, or resources or a knowledge of the Cuban Coast line, it is patience. Anybody can run a boat into a dark bayou and dump rifles on the beach and scurry away to sea again but only heroes can sit for a month on a hotel porch or at the end of a wharf, and wait. That is all we do and that is my life at Key West. I get up and half dress and take a plunge in the bay and then dress fully and have a greasy breakfast and then light a huge Key West cigar, price three cents and sit on the hotel porch with my feet on a rail-- Nothing happens after that except getting one's boots polished as the two industries of this place are blacking boots and driving cabs. I have two boys to black mine at the same time every morning and pay the one who does his the better of the two-- It generally ends in a fight so that affords diversion-- Then a man comes along, any man, and says, "Remmington's looking for you" and I get up and look for Remington. There is only a triangle of streets where one can find him and I call at "Josh" Curry's first and then at Pendleton's News Store and read all the back numbers of the Police Gazette for the hundredth time and then call here at the Custom House and then look in at the Cable office, where Michaelson lives sending telegrams about anything or nothing and that brings me back to the hotel porch again, where I have my boots shined once more and then go into mid-day dinner. In the meanwhile Remington is looking for me a hundred yards in the rear. He generally gets to "Josh's" as I leave the Custom House-- In the afternoon I study Spanish out of a text book and at three take a bicycle ride, at five I call at the garrison to take tea with the doctor and his wife, who is sweeter than angel's ever get to be with a miniature angel of a baby called Martha. I wait until retreat is sounded and the gun is fired at sunset and having commented unfavorably on the way the soldiers let the flag drop on the grass instead of catching it on the arms as a bluejacket does, I ride off to the bay for another bath-- Then I take the launch to the Raleigh and dine with the officers and rejoice in the clean fresh paint and brass and decks and the lights and black places of a great ship of war, than which nothing is more splendid. We sit on the quarter-deck and smoke and play the guitar and I go home again, in time for bed. I vary this programme occasionally by spending the morning on the end of a wharf watching another man fish and reading old novels and the "Lives of Captain Walker" and "Captain Fry of the Virginius," two great books from each of which I am going to write a short story like the one of the Alamo or of the Jameson Raid-- The life of Walker I found on the Raleigh and the life of Captain Fry with all the old wood cuts and the newspaper comments of the time at a book store here. I don't know when we shall get away but it is no use kicking about it, Michaelson is doing all he can and the new tug will be along in a week anyway. I shall be so glad to get to Cuba that I will dance with glee. DICK.
MATANZAS, January 15th, 1897. DEAR MOTHER:
I sent you a note by Remington which he will mail in the States-- From here I go to Sagua La Grande. It is on the northern coast. I think from there I shall cross over to Cienfuegos on the Southern coast and then if I can catch a steamer go to Santiago to see my old friends, at the Juraqua mines and MacWilliams' ore road and "the Palms"-- Everywhere I am treated well on account of Weyler's order and I am learning a great deal and talking very little, my Spanish being bad. There is war here and no mistake and all the people in the fields have been ordered in to the fortified towns where they are starving and dying of disease. Yesterday I saw the houses of these people burning on both sides of the track-- They gave shelter to the insurgents and so very soon they found their houses gone. I am so relieved at getting old Remington to go as though I had won $5000. He was a splendid fellow but a perfect kid and had to be humored and petted all the time. I shall if I have luck be through with this in a few weeks but it has had such a set back at the start that I am afraid it can never make a book and I doubt if I can write a decent article even. I am so anxious not to keep you worrying any longer than is necessary and so I am hurrying along taking only a car window view of things. Address me care of Consul General Lee, Havana and confine your remarks to what is going on at home. I know what is going on here. I don't believe half I hear but I am being slowly converted. Remington is more excitable than I am, so don't misunderstand if he starts in violently. I am getting details and verifying things. He is right on a big scale but every one has lied so about this island that I do not want to say anything I do not believe is true. This is a beautiful little city and after Jaruco, where we slept two days ago, it is Paris. There we slept off the barnyard and cows and chickens walked all over the floor and fleas all over us. It was like Honduras only filthier. Speaking of Paris, tell the Kid I expect to go over to him soon after I return to New York.
January 16th, 1897. DEAR MOTHER:
It is very funny not knowing what sort of a place you are to sleep in next and taking things out of a grab bag, as it were-- In Europe you can always guess what the well known towns will give you for you have a guide book, but here it is all luck. Matanzas was a pretty city but the people were awful, the hotel was Spanish and the proprietor insolent, though I was spending more of Willie Hearst's money than all of the officers spend in a week, the Consul could not talk English or Spanish, he said he hadn't come there "to go to school to no Spaniard" and he gloried in the fact he had been there three years without knowing a word of the language. His vice-Consul was worse and everything went wrong generally. Every one I met was an Alarmist and that is polite for liar. They asked Remington if he was the man who manufactured the rifles and gave us the Iowa Democrat to read. To night I reached here after a six hours ride through blazing fields of sugar cane and stopped on my way to the hotel to ask the Consul when the next boat went to Saqua la Grande-- I had no letter of introduction to him as I had to the Matanzas consul, but as soon as he saw my card he got out of his chair and shook hands again and was as hearty and well bred and delightful as Charley himself and unlike Chas he did not ask me 14 francs for looking on him. He is out now chasing around to get me a train for to-morrow. But I won't go to-morrow. My hotel looks on the plaza and the proprietor and the whole suite of attendants are my slaves. It is just as different as can be. My interpreter does it, he calls himself MY VALET, although I point out to him that two shirts and twelve collars do not constitute a wardrobe even with a rubber coat thrown in. But he likes to play at my being a distinguished stranger and I can't say I object. Only when you remember the way I was invited to see Cuba and expected to see it, and now the way I am seeing it from car windows with A VALET. What would the new school of yellow kid journalists say if they knew that. For the first time on this trip I have wished you were both with me, that was to night. I never see anything really beautiful but that it instantly makes me feel selfish and wish you could see it too. It has happened again and again and to night I wish you could be here with me on this balcony. The town runs down a slope to the bay and in the middle of it is the Plaza with me on the balcony which lets out of my sleeping room-- "the room" so the proprietor tells me, "reserved only for the Capitain General." It is just like the description in that remarkable novel of mine where Clay and Alice sit on the balcony of the restaurant. I have the moonlight and the Cathedral with the open doors and the bronze statue in the middle and the royal palms moving in the breeze straight from the sea and the people walking around the plaza below. If it was in any way as beautiful as this Clay and Alice would have ended the novel that night.
I got a grand lot of letters to-day which Otto, my interpreter brought back from Havana after having conducted Remington there in safety. I must say you are writing very cheerfully now, but I don't wonder you worried at first but now that I am a commercial traveller with an order from Weyler which does everything when I find it necessary, you really must not worry any more but just let me continue on my uneventful journey and then come home. I shall have been gone so long and my friends, judging from Russell and Dana and Irene's letters, will be so glad to see me, that they will have forgotten I went out to do other things than coast around in trains. As a matter of fact this is a terribly big problem and most difficult to get the truth of, I find myself growing to be the opposite of the alarmist, whatever that is, although you would think the picturesque and dramatic and exciting thing would be the one I would rather believe because I want to believe it, but I find that that is not so, I see a great deal on both sides and I do not believe half I am told. As we used to say at college, "it is against history," and it is against history for men to act as I am told they are acting here-- They show me the pueblo huddled together around the fortified towns, living in palm huts but I know that they have always lived in palm huts, the yellow kid reporters don't know that or consider it, but send off word that the condition of the people is terrible, that they have only leaves to cover them, and it sounds very badly. That is an instance of what I mean. In a big way there is no doubt that the process going on here is one of extermination and ruin. Two years ago the amount of sugar shipped from the port of Matanzas to the U. S. was valued at 11 millions a year. This last year just over shows that sugar to the amount of $800,000 was sent out. In '94, 154 vessels touched at Matanzas on their way to America. In '95 there were 80 and in '96 there are 16. I always imagined that houses were destroyed during a war because they got in the way of cannon balls or they were burned because they might offer shelter to the enemy, but here they are destroyed, with the purpose of making the war horrible and hurrying up the end. The insurgents began first by destroying the sugar mills, some of which were worth millions of dollars in machinery, and now the Spaniards are burning the homes of the people and herding them in around the towns to starve out the insurgents and to leave them without shelter or places to go for food or to hide the wounded. So all day long where ever you look you see great heavy columns of smoke rising into this beautiful sky above the magnificent palms the most noble of all palms, almost of all trees-- It is the most beautiful country I have ever visited. I had no recollection of how beautiful it was or else I had not the knowledge of other places with which to compare it. Nothing out of the imagination can approach it in its great waterfalls and mossy rocks and grand plains and forests of white pillars with plumes waving above them. Only man is vile here and it is cruel to see the walls of the houses with blind eyes, with roofs gone and gardens burned, every church but one that I have seen was a fortress with hammocks swung from the altars and rude barricades thrown up around the doorways-- If this is war I am of the opinion that it is a senseless wicked institution made for soldiers, lovers and correspondents for different reasons, and for no one else in the world and it is too expensive for the others to keep it going to entertain these few gentlemen-- I have seen very little of it yet and I probably won't see much more, but I have seen all I want. Remington had his mind satisfied even sooner--but then he is an alarmist and exaggerates things-- The men who wear the red badge of courage, I don't feel sorry for, they have their reward in their bloody bandages and the little cross on their tunic but those you meet coming back sick and dying with fever are the ones that make fighting contemptible--poor little farmers, poor little children with no interest in Cuba or Spain's right to hold it, who have been sent out to die like ants before they have learned to hold a mauser, and who are going back again with the beards that have grown in the field hospitals on their cheeks and their eyes hollow, and too weak to move or speak. Six of them died while I was in Jaroco, a town as big as Marion and that had been the average for two months, think of that, six people dying in Marion every day through July and August-- I didn't stay in that town any longer than the train did-- Well I have been writing editorials here instead of cheering you up but I guess I'm about right and when I see a little more I'll tell it over again to The Journal-- It is not as exciting reading as deeds of daring by our special correspondent and I haven't changed my name or shaved my eyebrows or done anything the other men have done but I believe I am getting near the truth. They have shut off provisions going or coming from the towns, they have huddled hundreds of people who do not know what a bath means around these towns, and this is going to happen-- As soon as the rains begin the yellow fever and smallpox will set in and all vessels leaving Cuban ports will be quarantined and the island will be one great plague spot. The insurgents who are in the open fields will live and the soldiers will die for their officers know nothing of sanitation or care nothing. The little Consul has just been here to see me and we have had a long talk and I got back at him. He told me he had seen the Franco-German war as a correspondent of The Tribune and Iasked him if he had ever met another correspondent of The Tribune at that time a German student named Hans who cabled the story of the battle of Gravellote and who Archibald Forbes says was the first correspondent to use the cable. The Consul who looks like William D. Howells wriggled around in his chair and said "I guess you mean me but I was not a German student, I was born and raised in Philadelphia and Forbes got my name wrong, it is Hance." So then I got up and shook hands with him in my turn and told him I had always wanted to meet that correspondent and did not expect to do so in Cardenas, on the coast of Cuba.
Thank you all for your letters. I am glad you liked the Jameson book. I thought you knew I was a F. R. G. S. It was George Curzon proposed me and as he is a gold medallist of the Society it was easy getting in. Lots of love.
Richard returned to New York from Cuba in February, 1897, but the following month started for Florence to pay me a long-promised visit. On his way he stopped for a few days in London and Paris.