A Daughter of Cuba Libre

by Charles Weathers Bump

When they had been at school together at Notre Dame, Catherine Franklin had been most fond of the company of Manuela Moreto, and had listened with wonder and admiration to the fluent stories of the dark-eyed, olive-skinned girl from Cuba, tales of her father's desperate adventures in the trocha in the years before American intervention had rid the "Pearl of the Antilles" of Spanish rule. Spanish-American pupils, daughters of wealthy tobacco, sugar or coffee planters, were not infrequent at this and other convent schools around Baltimore, and Catherine knew enough of them not to yield so precipitately as had many girls to the romantic glamour cast around them by their coming from a strange land. But Manuela Moreto was so winning, and her narratives of bold deeds so piquant, that Catherine had taken her to her heart in a school-girl friendship, had gloried in knowing the daughter of a Cuban patriot and had liberally bedewed her handkerchief and made vows of undying love when their June commencement brought the days of parting.

But that had been five years ago, and in five years, as everyone knows, havoc can be played with a friendship of this sort. There had been a correspondence, industrious at first, then flagging as each found new friends and new interests, and finally ceasing altogether. There was no hint of any misunderstanding, and Catherine felt that if anything serious were to happen in Manuela's life, if she were to marry, for instance, a letter would come from Cuba. Nothing came as the months added up, and she was satisfied that Manuela was living out her rather monotonous life on Senor Felipe Moreto's tobacco plantation in Pinar del Rio province.

Last August came the new revolution in Cuba, and Catherine found all her interest in Manuela reawakened as she read in daily dispatches of the uprising in Pinar del Rio, of the raids of Pino Guerra, of the feeble resistance of the Government forces, of the burning of plantations and the seizure of horses and cattle. She wondered if her one-time chum could be in any danger.

She had fully made up her mind to write to Manuela, when there came a letter from the latter. Her mother handed it to her as Catherine sat down to the supper table in her home on Caroline street, opposite St. Joseph's Hospital, her cheeks flushed from a vigorous afternoon at tennis in Clifton Park. "It's from Manuela Moreto!" she exclaimed in surprise as she saw the handwriting on the envelope. Then, with increased excitement, she added "She must be in Washington," for she had by this time noted the postmark, the home stamp and the crest of the Raleigh Hotel.

The letter said:

Dearest Girlie—After all these months of silence, you will no doubt be surprised to hear from your Cuban friend, and from Washington, too. You have probably read of the new uprising against despotism in my oft-bled country. We have suffered much, but hope for the best. I cannot tell you now, but I want to come to Baltimore to see you and the dear old school, and then we can have one of those outpourings of confidence such as used to give us joy. Let me hear from you just as soon as you can.

Yours as ever,

MANUELA MORETO.

"Write tonight and tell her to come and visit us," said Mrs. Franklin, heartily.

"I will if dad will promise to like Manuela," answered Catherine, wistfully eying her father. The Captain was master and part owner of a steamer in the Central American banana trade, and the family knew from repeated outbursts that he had no very high opinion of the Spanish-American.

"I'm not stuck on those Dagos as a rule," said the Captain, doubtfully, "but if all you say is correct this s'norita must be a fine girl, and you know I cotton all right to fine girls."

"Is she pretty?" asked Will Franklin of his sister. Will was at the age when young men think a great deal of girls.

"She's dark," explained his mother, "and she was thin when I used to see her with Catherine at Notre Dame. But if she has filled out as she should have, she ought to be a handsome girl."

Two days later the whole family was at Camden Station to welcome their foreign visitor. Will Franklin whistled as he saw the splendid-looking young woman whom his sister rushed to kiss as she came through the gate. "Gee!" he exclaimed, "she's a stunner!" For Senorita Manuela Teresa Dolores Inez Moreto de la Rivera—to give her all of her names—had not only "filled out" until she had a fine, well-rounded figure and a handsome dark, oval face, but had also engaging animation and the gift of wearing her clothes well. She looked as trim as can be imagined in her cream-colored linen suit, with a couple of touches of light blue at the wrists and neck.

They sat up late that night in the library of the Franklin home. After supper they had begun to ask questions of Manuela, and she had in response given them her own personal account of the new revolution. It was a narrative that awakened their sympathies for her and her family and all others who had suffered by the internal strife, and it made them strong partisans of the rebels. "They call it Cuba libre, free Cuba!" she exclaimed, with flashing eyes, "and yet the days of Spanish tyranny were no worse than the oppression of Palma's crowd. They have held the offices since Roosevelt gave them the government, and they lined their pockets with what you Americans call 'graft.' That made them determined to hold on at all costs, and so my father's party—the Liberals—was not only over-taxed and annoyed by extortions on every hand, but was cheated and robbed at the polls when it tried to get control by an honest election."

And then she told of a night in July when a half-drunken crowd of Government rurales, sent to arrest her father, had set fire to his tobacco houses when they found he had been forewarned and escaped them.

"I cannot repeat to you all the vile abuses they heaped upon me," she added, quietly. "One of them, a mulatto who had been discharged by my father, tried to kiss me. He is dead now." She shuddered with the recollection. The Baltimore family shuddered at her matter-of-fact recital.

"You mean—that he"——stammered placid, domestic Mrs. Franklin.

"I mean that two of my father's men singled him out and macheted him the first time they met in a skirmish."

On only one point was she reticent. Her father, she said, had come to this country on an errand for the rebels, but what that errand was she did not explain. "He is General Moreto now," she remarked; "and if ever Senor Zayas becomes President and our party comes into control at Havana, they have promised my father greater honors."

For a week Senorita Moreto continued to add to the powerful interest she had aroused in her hosts. By day they tried to entertain her—an afternoon at Notre Dame with the school Sisters, a trip through the rebuilt fire district, a ride to Bay Shore Park, an excursion to Port Deposit by steamboat and other summer opportunities. But of an evening, when the family was all collected in the library or on the front stoop, the Cuban dispatches in that day's News were carefully gone over and afforded texts upon which Manuela vivaciously and eloquently inveighed against the despotism of the "ins" and predicted the triumph of the "outs."

"Upon my soul, Miss Moreto," said the usually level-headed Captain Franklin, "your zeal stirs me so that I find myself wishing every moment I was fighting on your side."

"I'd love to have you aid us," murmured the Cuban girl. And she lifted her black eyelashes and cast her brilliant eyes at Catherine's father with such intentness that he was confused and looked away without asking her, as he had intended, just how it was possible for him to help the cause.

The next morning Will, who had become the devoted admirer of the pretty Cuban, carried two telegrams for General Moreto when he left home to go to the Hopkins-place wholesale house where he was a clerk. One was addressed to the Raleigh in Washington, the other to the Cuban junta headquarters in New York. Each read:

"You must come at once. I want you."

A reply came that afternoon. It was from Wilmington, and it said:

"Union Station, 7.33 P. M."

Manuela and Catherine met the General at the hour named. The man who alighted from the Congressional Limited and whom Manuela rushed to kiss was slender and undersized, with a swarthy, weather-beaten face, curly gray hair and a white moustache, twisted and re-twisted to the limit. He was in white flannels and was so altogether neat and immaculate that Catherine, perspiring under the sultriness of the August evening, thought him the coolest person she had ever seen. He greeted her with gallantry when introduced, and, though he spoke English with slowness, his pronunciation was good and his voice musical.

After he had made a similarly good impression at the Caroline-street dwelling it was Manuela who proposed that they should leave the two fathers "to smoke together and get acquainted."

As the girls went out of the library Moreto laid half a dozen cigars on the table. "From my own plantation," he said to Captain Franklin, with rather a pompous manner. "I hope you'll like them." The Captain found them the finest Havanas he had ever puffed.

"You go to Costa Rica for bananas, do you not?" the General asked in Spanish.

"Sometimes Port Limon; sometimes Bocas del Toro," answered Catherine's father, in the same tongue. "Bocas del Toro this trip."

"When do you sail?"

"Next Saturday."

There was another silence. Franklin studied his cigar. Moreto studied the fruit captain. Presently he leaned forward on the arm of his Morris chair, in which, truth to tell, he looked rather insignificant.

"My daughter," he said, this time in English, "tells me you are with us in our revolution."

The Captain turned his clear blue eyes on the Cuban.

"Your daughter, Senor," he replied, "is a fine girl." He saw the shadow of disappointment pass over Moreto's countenance. "I'm not much on revolutions. I've seen too many of the bloody things in the tropics, and it pays me to keep out of 'em. But your girl Manuela has a powerful strong way of putting things, and I'm bound to say, if all she tells is not beyond the mark, my sympathies are with you and your crowd."

"Beyond the mark! Why, Dios, Senor Capitan!" cried the General, his eyes gleaming with excitement. "Why, she could not tell you a tenth of the truth." And he launched into a long narrative of the oppressions in Cuba. The words came like a torrent, mostly Spanish, occasionally English; and Franklin, sitting there fascinated, his cigar forgotten, could think of nothing save that the daughter's fluency was a gift of heredity.

When Moreto had ended and had sunk back half exhausted on the cushions the Captain, usually calm and self-contained, betrayed unwonted enthusiasm.

"I'm with you through and through," he exclaimed as he rose from his chair and sought the Cuban's hand. "You haven't had a square deal, and I'd like to see you get it."

Moreto's black eyes seemed to pierce him.

"Would you help us?" he asked. His tone was so tense and low that Franklin barely caught the words.

"Help you! How can I?"

Moreto paused again. He was not quite sure of his man. Finally he uncovered his aim:

"Take rifles to Cuba."

Captain Franklin stepped back. He did not exactly like the proposal. He had always kept out of such musses, and he knew it was violating Federal law to be a filibuster.

"I'm only part owner of the Cristobal," he stammered. "I would not like to involve the others."

"They need never know. I have a perfectly safe plan."

The Captain wavered. He would like to help Moreto and his daughter if it were not for the risk.

"What is your plan?"

"If we had a thousand rifles to arm Pino Guerra," said Moreto, "we could take San Luis. If we took San Luis we could control Pinar del Rio province. My mission to your country is to get those rifles to a point in that province. I have them boxed, ready for shipment as new machinery for a sugar plantation. They are at Wilmington. I thought I had placed them on a steamer in the Delaware last week, but your confounded Secret Service agents are too vigilant, and they learned from members of the crew that something unusual was up. If you will take those boxes on the Cristobal I can get them here on Friday and will arrange for an insurgent schooner to meet you at any point you name. Will you do it?"

"It's risky business," slowly said the Captain, lighting a fresh Vuelta cigar.

"It means liberty to us. Dios, Senor Captain, where would your country be if the French had not helped Washington and his ragged rebels?"

Franklin puffed away slowly. The Cuban watched him. At last the Captain made a decision.

"You may send those rifles along," he said.

The two men grasped hands again. They were in that position when Catherine put her head in the library door. "You're as quiet as two conspirators," she laughingly said. "Perhaps we are conspiring, Senorita," called General Moreto as the girl shut herself from view again.

"That is a charming daughter of yours, Captain," said the Cuban, in his best English.

"Ah! but your girl has the head and the wit. You find her a great help, don't you?"

Moreto's smile was more frank than his reply. "Women take a bigger share in revolutions than is generally believed." he said.

In another half hour the details of their filibuster were arranged. A point in the Caribbean, near the Isle of Pines, was selected for a rendezvous. There the Cuban schooner would take aboard the contraband cargo and Franklin go on his way after bananas.

"Do you wish your family to know?" asked Moreto as they were about to leave the library. "My daughter knows all my business."

"Catherine is all right," replied Captain Franklin, "and so is Will, but his mother would worry too much."

And so for the next three days there was a great secret in the Franklin home, shared by the young people with the two gray-haired men. They made trips to the steamer, at the foot of Centre-Market space, a slender, white-painted craft, looking more like a private yacht or a revenue cutter than a tropical trader; they heard the arrangements made for prompt transfer of the boxes across the city; they stopped with General Moreto at the telegraph offices on Calvert street when he sent off cipher wires to the junta and its agents, and sometimes cabled to Cuba. And on the Friday when the boxes were due they pestered the clerks at Bolton freight yards with 'phone inquiries. "It's great fun," confided Catherine to Manuela. "I feel just like a heroine doing a great deed. And we have to be so mysterious, too." Manuela smiled indulgently. She had got past the stage of thinking conspiracies fun.

No untoward incident occurred while the boxes of rifles labeled "Sugar machinery" were being loaded into the Cristobal's hold. There was no one on the dock or steamer who could be suspected of being a Government agent. General Moreto kept away, and the presence of Miss Catherine with the Cuban girl could never have aroused the doubts of the crew. The boxes were taken on without accident, and by Friday dusk the Cristobal had a thousand weapons aboard for the rebels of Pinar del Rio.

There were tears in the eyes of both girls as Captain Franklin waved them goodbye from his bridge when he was being pulled out into the Patapsco the next morning. A shade of extra seriousness had tinged his parting from them as they went ashore from the steamer, and Catherine, no longer thinking conspiracies "great fun," began to have doubts whether she might not have her father landed in jail somewhere.

"I do hope no harm will come to dad," she said. "I never felt so queer when he went away before."

"Let us pray that all goes well," replied Manuela.

And so for eleven whole long days, in their petitions to God, in church and night and morning in their room, they invoked His blessing upon the Cristobal's filibustering mission. It was an anxious time. The period of excitement over, the interval of suspense made their spirits droop. None of the usual amusements diverted them. Even Will's now ardent attentions, which had provoked some teasing in the bosom of his family, were slighted in the strain of the long wait until, boylike, and chafing under the apparent neglect, he had impetuously sought explanations from Manuela. What she told him is not a part of the conspiracy, but from that hour there were two secrets kept in the Franklin dwelling. And when he hurried home each afternoon with The News, that they might carefully examine it for anything bearing on his father's expedition, there was a double motive in the eagerness with which Manuela met him at the door.

It was Wednesday week before the first news came. General Moreto, who had left them on the day after Captain Franklin had passed Cape Henry outward bound, telegraphed as follows:

Glorious news; San Luis taken. We must have done it.

The girls were excitedly reading the account in The News of the victory by Pino Guerra when this cable dispatch came to them from Catherine's father:

Bocas del Toro.

Costa Rica, Aug. 22.

Machinery transferred; no trouble.

FRANKLIN.

Both girls cried from happiness at the relief.

"Oh! Catherine," said Manuela as she sobbed on the latter's neck, "I'm so glad I knew you at Notre Dame!"

"And I'm glad we struck a blow for Cuba libre," rejoined Catherine.

"It may mean annexation," said Will, as he deftly slipped his arm around Manuela's waist.

The Cuban girl grew rosy red.

Catherine was quick to understand: Cuba might be freed, but one individual who had labored for it was going to be annexed.

"I'm so happy!" she cried. And she kissed both warmly and left them to tell her mother of the latest beneficent example of American assimilation.