I’m honored to post this next entry for BlogCuba, a short story, by one of my favorite bloggers, Sgt. Hook. His orders are for us to follow him back in time, to Cuba and meet Jack Rodgers, a soldier, who fell for one of Cuba’s pearls: a Cuban woman:
La Perla del Caribe
Jack Rodgers lay on his cot under a white cotton tent on the outskirts of Montauk, a small town at the eastern most end of Long Island. He laid there wondering how the son of a wealthy Scot shipping merchant, who only four years earlier was studying economics at NYU, could end up in the uniform of an American Rough Rider quarantined in Montauk.
“Who am I kidding?” he pondered, “It was damned easy getting here.”
Dressed in khaki pants, leather riding boots, a navy blue longsleeve cavalry shirt and suspenders, Jack smiled as he remembered the first lecture he attended given by Professor Mart?. He’ll never forget those first words spoken:
You take your rights, you do not beg for them; you do not buy them with tears but with blood.
That was in the fall of 1894, its now September 98′ and Jack had lived a lifetime, and nearly died, twice.
Jack attended both the lectures given by, and informal discussion groups led by, Jos? Mart? and was immediately swept up with the romance of revolution. It was romance of another kind that would eventually land him in Cuba, however. The black haired green-eyed Scottish-American fell head over heals in love with Maria Maceo, the daughter of who Jack at the time only knew as an acquaintance of Jos? Mart?, but would later find out was General Antonio Maceo. He met Maria on December 30th 1894 and spent two wondrous days and nights with the blonde haired blue-eyed attractive young woman. Subsequently, his heart ached when she left New York the first of the New Year. So much so, that when in May Jos? Mart? sent Jack’s good friend and fellow University student, Enrique Loin?s del Castillo, or “Castle” as Jack called him, to Costa Rica, Jack convinced his friend to take him along.
Together they shared a house in San Jos? with Antonio Maceo where they busily organized a revolution and made plans for an expeditionary force to invade Cuba. Jack was impressed with General Maceo’s unique leadership, his ability to unite different factions focusing them on one objective: the removal of the Spanish from their island and claiming autonomy for all Cubans.
Jack didn’t see Maria in Costa Rica presuming she was residing safely from her father’s enemies elsewhere. Though he longed to know where she was, he didn’t have the cojones to ask and truth be told, was too busy making preparations to worry. By the end of March 1895, Jack found himself on Cuban soil eagerly following Maceo into battle.
The initial engagements were light, and Maceo’s 5,000 strong army made little work of the Spaniards that they encountered. Then in October the rebels moved west where they began to experience more resistance. The battle of Iguar? was fierce and in the end Maceo’s forces were victorious but not without heavy casualties. After Iguar?, for three days and nights in early December, they fought for the Manacal Heights. Under heavy artillery bombardment, Jack watched in disbelieve as the Spaniards closed in and Maceo was forced to withdraw his troops. The Spanish pursued but the Cubans continued to fight while in retreat until the Spaniards had enough and gave up returning to their
Severely short of ammunition and other supplies, the rebels were forced to seek refuge in the Tapia Mountains to wait for refitting in the spring of 1896. While there Jack contracted malaria. Throughout the fighting, Jack Rodgers not once feared for his safety. Now that he lay sick and in pain, he fought off the anxiety of dying without seeing this fight to the finish, without seeing his lovely Maria again. It was his thoughts and memories of his time with the beautiful cubana that gave him the strength to fight the disease. For weeks he could barely move and almost succumbed to the fever time and again. Then one night Jack dreamt of kissing Maria, like they had kissed in Times Square on that New Year’s Eve. In the bitter cold of New York he had felt so hot and flushed from her kiss that he didn’t even notice the outside temperature.
The following morning Jack Rodgers was out of bed and eating beans and rice with his comrades. In another two weeks Maceo’s men, now replenished with supplies and ammunition, moved out to resume the fight for freedom, Jack with them. The rebels fought well, taking it to the Spaniards for the remainder of that year, marching from town to town and winning support from the Cubans they liberated. Then tragedy struck in December 1896. Maceo, Jack, and 15 other men moved in to surround the trocha by the sea in the port of Mariel acting on reports from intelligence sources that the Spanish garrison was weakly defended there. The reports were false and when the winds blew the smoke clear of the field, General Antonio Maceo lay dead following the battle of Punta Brava. His body was found next to a severely wounded Jack Rodgers.
Jack awoke in a makeshift hospital of a warehouse surrounded by wounded Cubans and Spaniards alike. The stench of blood and sweat was overwhelming. He was hurt, hurt bad. His head felt heavy and his legs were numb. When next he awoke, he explained to the nurse that he was an American, she ignored him, but a passing physician stopped and took note of his plea and of his bright green eyes.
Three days later Jack was transferred to a real hospital where he received much better care for his wounds though his left leg was in a bad way. Three weeks after that he was residing in a hotel in Havana under house arrest while the Spanish tried to figure out what to do with him. He was allowed to visit the lobby, the restaurant, or the bar all within the confines of the hotel. For the first month Jack stayed mostly in his room, his left leg still wasn’t healing well. Then one evening in March of 1897 after finishing his dinner, Jack heading back to his room, saw Maria Maceo in the hotel lobby. He was stunned. She was as beautiful as ever. He wanted to run to her and tell her how much he loved her and how she had unknowingly saved his life when he fought the fever of malaria but held back as he was overcome with guilt. Guilt that he survived the battle her father had not.
Finally he found the courage and walked to her relying on his cane. His heart beat nervously as he spoke her name. When she turned to his face she smiled and stared for a long moment before recognizing him.
“You are the boy from New York, the student of Sr. Mart??” she asked. Answering her own question she continued to inquire about his friend Enrique and as to why he was in Cuba.
Jack was very uncomfortable and ashamed that she had obviously not thought of him nearly as much as he had thought of, and longed for, her. Nevertheless, he explained that he and “the Castle” had been fighting for Cuba’s freedom alongside her father and Enrique, who sadly had been killed by an artillery attack. He noticed her sadness at the mention of the General and started to apologize when she suddenly explained to him why she was in Havana.
“My husband and I are being deported to Jamaica on this evening’s departure, I’m sure they could find room for you on board the ship,” she said. “That is if you are well enough to travel.”
Heartbroken and not wanting to try and make sense of his status as an American illegally in Spanish territory fighting for Cuba, he feigned pain and politely declined the offer. Jack Rodgers watched as armed guards escorted Maria and her husband out of the hotel lobby to their awaiting vessel.
By June of 1898 Jack’s wounds had mended. He was bitter and spent much of his time drinking at the hotel bar when word came to him that the Americans were coming. One night he slipped out of his hotel room and made haste for Daiquiri where he expected the Yanks to arrive. There Jack Rodgers met with Lt. Colonel Teddy Roosevelt and was immediately signed on as a Rough Rider. He fought with fury as they charged up Kettle Hill and captured San Juan Heights. Colonel Roosevelt even put him in for a citation, but as of this brisk September day in Montauk, New York, Jack has yet to receive it.