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OUR first stopping place after a two days’ trip from Manila was Dumaguete, on the southeast corner of the island of Negros. ‘We reached there at seven o’clock on Christmas morning, and found it a tropically picturesque little town, surrounded by forest-grown hills, and built mostly of nipa, with the exception of the church, convento, watchtower, and tribunal, which were of wood painted a dazzling white.
All day long men and boys, innocent of even an excuse for clothes, hovered about the ship in bancas or dugouts, chattering volubly with each other in Visayan, or begging us in broken Spanish to throw down coins that they might exhibit their natatorial accomplishments, and, when we finally yielded, diving with yells of delight for the bits of silver, seeming quite as much pleased, however, with chocolates wrapped in tinfoil as they had been with the money, and uttering shrill cries that sounded profanely like “Dam’me — dam’me,” to attract our attention.
When a coin was thrown overboard every one dived for it with becoming unanimity, and the water being very clear, we could see their frog-like motions as they swam downward after the vanishing prize, and the good-natured scuffle under water for its possession. Laughing, sputtering, coughing, they would come to the surface, shaking the water out of their bright eyes like so many cocker spaniels, the sun gleaming on their brown skins, their white teeth shining, as they pointed out the complacent victor, who would hold the money up that we might see it, before they would again begin their clamour of “Dam’me — dam’me,” and go through a pantomime of how quickly each personally would dive and bring it up, did we throw our donation in his direction.
When the supply of coins and candies had been exhausted, some one bethought him of throwing chunks of ice overboard, and as none among the natives had ever seen ice before, their amazement may well be imagined. The first boy to pick up a piece of the glittering whiteness let it drop with a howl, and when he caught his breath again warned the others in shrill staccato tones that he had been burned, that it was hot, muy caliente, wringing his hands as if, indeed, they had been scorched. Presently, finding that the burn left no mark and had stopped hurting, he shamefacedly picked up the ice again, shifting it from one hand to the other with the utmost rapidity, and occasionally crossing himself in the interim.
Meanwhile more ice had been thrown overboard, and the rest of the natives, not at all deterred by their comrade’s warning, examined the strange substance for themselves. Very excited were their comments, those in the far bancas scrambling over the intervening boats to see with their own eyes the miracle of hard water so cold that it was hot. They smelled and tasted of it, like so many monkeys, chattering excitedly the while, and they rubbed it on each other’s bare backs amid screams of genuine fright, while many tumbled overboard to escape the horrible sensation of having it touch their flesh, the superstitious being reminded, no doubt, of all the tales the padres had ever told them of hell or purgatory.
DIVING FOR ARTICLES THROWN FROM THE SHIP
Some thrifty and unimaginative souls tied up their bits of ice in cloths or packed them in small boxes, to take back to the village, while others, engrossed in their examination of the strange substance, transferred it from one hand to the other until, miracle of miracles, it had entirely disappeared. Others, emulating the laughing people on the big boat, put their pieces of ice into their mouths, but not for long at a time, as the intense cold made their teeth ache; while still others piously crossed themselves and refused to have aught to do with so manifest an invention of the Evil One.
Meanwhile, despite the fact of its being Christmas, the Signal Corps officers, men, and natives were hard at work establishing an office in the town, digging a trench for the shore end of the cable, and setting up the cable hut, packed in sections for convenience in transportation. Thirty Dumaguete natives were employed at twenty-five cents a day to help dig the trench and put up the hut, and they seemed very willing in their work and thought the remuneration princely.
So heavy was the surf in the early morning that the officers and soldiers going ashore had to be carried from the rowboats to the beach on the backs of natives, but it fortunately calmed down enough before we women went over in the afternoon to allow of our entering Dumaguete in a more conventional manner.
Being a fiesta, the town was full of natives from the provinces, all smartly dressed and all beaming with good-natured curiosity at the advent of two with good-natured curiosity at the advent of two and a half American women, — the only Americanas most of them had ever seen, — and quite an escort gathered around us as, accompanied by the officers of the post and those from the ship not otherwise engaged, we walked down the dusty streets toward the cockpits, where in honour of the day there was to be a contest of unusual interest. At every corner came new recruits to swell the ranks of our followers. “Merry Christmas,” cried everyone in Spanish or Visayan, and “Merry Christmas” we responded, though June skies bending down toward tropical palms and soft winds just rustling the tops of tall bamboos, so that they cast flickering fernlike shadows over thatched nipa roofs, but ill suggested Christmas to an American mind.
“HARD AT WORK ESTABLISHING AN OFFICE IN THE TOWN”
The cockpit reached, we found it to be a rudely built circular shack of nipa, fairly crowded with natives in gala attire, and a sprinkling of khaki-clad soldiers from the post. Native policemen, in uniforms that strongly reminded one of the insurrecto insignia, showed us to our seats, and a few moments after our arrival two fine cocks, matched as nearly as possible in strength and weight, were brought into the ring by their respective owners, while the onlookers discussed the birds’ relative points. The two cocks, still held by their masters, were then allowed to peck at each other’s combs until fully angered, when they were put into the ring a short distance apart, and while each owner held the tail feathers of his bird, the cocks made futile efforts to reach each other, giving vent the while to derisive crowing.
The audience, after watching this performance a moment or two, began making their bets, both individually and through the agency of the “farmer,” who, standing in the centre of the ring, cried out chaffingly in Visayan to faint-hearted gamesters. Then circles were drawn on the earthen floor of the pit, and the money put up on each cock deposited in one or the other of these rings. At the end of the fight some one appointed cried out the name of the victorious bird, and the winners swarmed down into the pit where they collected their money and the original stakes. There is never any cheating at such affairs, a sort of bolo morality existing among the natives, and all is as methodical and well-behaved as the proverbial Sabbath school.
It was the first cock-fight most of us cable-ship people had ever seen, and it was hard to understand the wild enthusiasm of the natives when, after unsheathing the steel gaffs on the roosters’ legs, the birds were allowed to make their preliminary dash at one another. For a moment they walked around the ring with an excessively polite air, each keeping a wary lookout on his antagonist, but frigidly impersonal and courteous. One might almost fancy them shaking hands before the combat should begin, so ceremonious was their attitude. Then there would come a simultaneous onslaught of feathered fury. Again and again they flew at one another, while the volatile audience called out excitedly in Spanish, “The black wins — No, the speckled one’s ahead. Holy Virgin, give strength to the black!” In a very few moments one cock is either dead, or perhaps turned coward before the cruel gaff of his opponent, and victor and vanquished leave the arena to new combatants, while the clink of coin changing hands is heard throughout the cockpit.
The first few fights we thought rather tame, and I, personally, had to assure myself over and over as the bloody contestants were removed from the scene of action, that such a death was no more painful and certainly far less ignominious than when chicken stewed or à la Maryland was to be the ultimate result of the fowl’s demise.
There was one little game-cock, however, who enthused even the most dispassionate among us. He was small and wiry, and his well kept white feathers testified to a devoted master. How impatient that absurd little rooster was for the fight to begin, and how he struggled to get off his gaff and go into the fray unarmed, the weight on his legs seeming an impediment to action, and how insolently he strutted and crowed before his antagonist, an equally well groomed gentleman of exceptional manners, attired in a gorgeous suit of green and gold. But handsome as the darker rooster was, the white one seemed to be the universal choice, and heavy were the stakes in his favour, so heavy that when, after a few minutes’ fighting, his wing was broken, a general groan went up throughout the cockpit, a groan which merged into sullen silence when the poor little chicken fell before the furious onslaught of his enemy.
Again and again the victorious green and gold rooster jumped upon his prostrate foe, pecking now at his crop, now at his eyes, in a perfect frenzy of triumphant rage, the little white fellow lying so still meanwhile that everyone thought him dead. But suddenly he struggled to his feet, and, despite the grievously broken wing, whipped the big bully in a way to raise a cheer even from the hitherto indifferent Americans.
As for the natives, they simply shouted themselves hoarse, and, contrary to all precedent, jumped down into the pit, throwing their sombreros on high and yelling vigorously, “Muy valiente gallo — muy valiente!” The little rascal had simply been sparring for wind, and he seemed to wink an eye at us after having chased his vanquished enemy to a corner, for, like the coward he was, the green and gold rooster turned tail and ran at the first opportunity.
It is to be hoped that the muy valiente gallo had his wing patched up and lived to tell his tale of bravery to many a barn-yard chick — a war-scarred veteran whose honourable wound entitled him to the respect of all domestic fowl. But knowing Filipino nature, I am rather inclined to think that the white rooster made a very acceptable broth for his master on the following day, the flesh of fighting-cocks being quite too tough for consumption in any other form.
On our return to the ship’s boat we were accompanied to the water’s edge by a juvenile contingent of natives, some of them being our friends of the forenoon, who returned any notice of themselves on our part by a rapturous gleam of teeth and eyes. One of them, a youngster of perhaps ten or eleven, who gloried in the euphonious name of Gogo, was particularly assidious in his attentions, and would come close up to us and say, “I-ese — i-ese — dam’me — i-ese!” going into paroxysms of mirth the while, and wrinkling up his handsome little face at the mere remembrance of the water so cold it was hard.
That night the shore officers took their Christmas dinner with us on the
and a very jolly evening we made of it. The saloon was entirely covered,
ceiling and all, by American and ship’s flags, interspersed with palms, while
over the sideboard were suspended the American flag and Union Jack intertwined,
this last in honour of our two cable experts, both of them being Britishers. We
women donned our smartest frocks, the electric piano, slightly out of tune, did
rag-time to perfection, the menu included every conventional Christmas dish,
and yet — and yet it was not Christmas, and all the roast turkey and plum
pudding in the world could not make it so. It was a very jolly dinner, to be
sure, well served and with charming company, but it was not a Christmas dinner.
Only Half-a-Woman’s presence saved it and the day from utter failure.
The next morning the presidente of the town, other officials, and some
of the leading men and women of Dumaguete made a visit to the ship, and were
voluble in their surprise at what was shown them, — the electric lights and
fans, the steam galley and ice-machine; the cold-storage room, where one could
freeze to death in a few moments; the little buttons on the wall which one had
only to touch and a servant appeared to take one’s orders; the wonderful piano
that “played itself,” — all were duly admired and exclaimed over.
But what seemed to please and astonish them most of all were the
bath-rooms with their white porcelain tubs, tiled floors, and shining silver
knobs, which one had only to turn in order to have hot or cold water, either
salt or fresh, in the tub, the basin, or the shower. Even the electric piano
failed to impress them as did this aqueous marvel, and they crossed themselves
and called on the Virgin and all her angels to testify that verily the American
nation was a mighty one.
The men were of course greatly interested in our gallant armament of
rapid-fire guns, and when the quartermaster, who is a crack shot, hit an
improvised target in the water several times in succession with a one-pounder
in the stern of the ship, the Filipinos were astounded, and stared at him in
even greater admiration than they had shown for the formidable little weapon.
Two shotguns of newest design were also brought on deck, and while the native
women were frankly bored at this display of ordnance and preferred to talk
about the way our gowns were made, the men were delighted, declaring they never
imagined a gun could be broken in pieces and put together again so easily.
Before our guests left, lemonade and cake were served on the
quarter-deck, and it was really amusing to watch their faces as they discussed
the coldness of the drink, while the pieces of ice in their glasses excited as
much perturbation as the untutored savages had shown the day before. One
travelled lady, however, who had been to Iloilo once and tasted ice there,
drank her lemonade with ostentatious indifference to its temperature, as became
one versed in the ways of the world, explaining to me with condescension a few
moments later that the Iloilo ice had been much colder than ours, — an item of
physical research which I accepted politely.
We women were asked innumerable questions as to our respective ages, the
extent of our incomes, our religious beliefs, and other inquiries of so
personal a character as to be quite embarrassing. They seemed, though, to be
very genuine in their admiration of us, and evinced great interest in our
clothes, especially those of the quartermaster’s wife, who, being a recent
arrival in the Philippines, had yet the enviable trail of the Parisian serpent
upon her apparel. One heavy cloth walking-skirt of hers, fitting smoothly over
the hips and with no visible means by which it could be got into, animated the
same inquiry from these people as good King George is said to have made anent
the mystery of getting the apple into the dumpling, a problem of no little
difficulty, as any one will agree. At more than one
stopping-place we were called upon to
solve the riddle of that skirt, and I verily believe that, being women, they
were even more awed at the thought of a garment fastening invisibly at one side
of the front under a very deceptive little pocket than at all the electrical
marvels shown them on the ship.
While in Dumaguete we were driven around the town and far out into the country surrounding it, finding everything much more tropical and luxuriant in growth than in Manila or its vicinity. There were giant cocoanut-palms, looking not unlike the royal palm so often spoken of by travellers on the Mediterranean, clusters of bamboo and groups of plantains, flowering shrubs and fields of young rice, green as a well kept lawn at home.
Picturesque natives saluted us from the roadway, or from the windows of their nipa shacks; naked brown children fled at our approach, and wakened their elders from afternoon siestas that they might see two white women and a yellow-haired child drive by; carabao, wallowing in the muddy water of a near-by stream, stared at us stolidly; fighting-cocks crowed lustily as we passed; and hens barely escaped with their cackling lives from under our very wheels.
“TWO WOMEN BEATING CLOTHES ON THE ROCKS OF A LITTLE STREAM”
A native lazily pounding rice in a mortar rested from his appearance of labour and watched the carriage until it became a mere speck in the distance. Two women beating clothes on the rocks of a little stream stopped their gossip to peep at us shyly from under their brown hands. Weavers of abaca left their looms and hung out of the windows to talk with their neighbours about the great event. Heretofore they had thought the Americans were like Chinamen, who came to the country, yes, and made money from it, but never settled down as did the Spaniards, never brought their families with them and made the islands their home. But here were two American women and a little girl — surely evidences of domesticity.
Everyone was friendly and peaceably disposed, everyone seemed glad to see us, if smiles and hearty greetings carry weight, and there was apparently no race prejudice, no half-concealed doubt or mistrust of us. Yet in a few days thereafter that very road became unsafe for an unarmed American, while the people who had greeted us with such childlike confidence and delight were preparing a warmer reception for the Americans under the able leadership of a Cebu villain, who had incited them to insurrection by playing upon their so-called religious belief, this in many instances being merely fetishism of the worst kind.
This instigator of anarchy boasted an anting-anting, a charm against bullets and a guarantee of ultimate success in battle, which consisted of a white camisa, the native shirt, on which was written in Latin a chapter from the Gospel of St. Luke. But notwithstanding his anting-anting, and the more potent factor of several hundred natives in his ranks, he was easily defeated by a mere handful of soldiers from the little fort, and when last heard of by our ship was lying in the American hospital at Dumaguete awaiting transportation to Guam. His former army was mucho amigo to the Americans, and once again the pretty drives around Dumaguete were quite safe, and once again the native, when passing an American, touched his hat and smilingly said good day in Visayan, a greeting which sounds uncommonly like “Give me a hairpin.”
On the evening of our second day in Dumaguete, the natives of the town gave a ball in honour of the cable-ship, at the house of one of the leading citizens. There, on a floor made smoother than glass with banana leaves, we danced far into the night to the frightfully quick music of the Filipino orchestra. One would hardly recognize the waltz or two-step as performed by the Visayan. He seems to take his exercise perpendicularly rather than horizontally, and after galloping through the air with my first native partner, I felt equal to hurdle jumping or a dash through paper hoops on the back of a milk-white circus charger.
Their rigadon, a square dance not unlike our lanciers, the Filipinos take very seriously, stepping through it with all the unsmiling dignity of our grandparents in the minuet. The sides not engaged in dancing always sit down between every figure and critically discuss those on the floor, but while going through the evolutions of the dance, it seems to be very bad form to either laugh or talk much, a point of etiquette I am afraid we Americans violated more than once. Another very graceful dance, the name of which I have forgotten, consists of four couples posturing to waltz time, changing from one partner to another as the dance progresses, and finally waltzing off with the original one, the motion of clinking castanets at different parts of the dance suggesting for it a Spanish origin.
At midnight a very attractive supper was served, to which the presidente
escorted us with great formality. As is customary, the women all sat down
first, the men talking together in another room and eagerly watching their chance
to fill the vacant places as the women, one by one, straggled away from the
table. The supper consisted for the most part of European edibles, but there
were several Visayan delicacies as well, all of which I was brave enough to
essay, to the great delight of the native women, who jabbered recipes for the
different dishes into my ear, and
pressed me to
take a second
helping of everything.
All of them ate with their knives and wiped their mouths on the edge of the
table-cloth, having Spanish precedent for such customs, and all were heartily
and unaffectedly hungry after their violent exercise in the waltz and two-step.
CHURCH AND CONVENTO, DUMAGUETE
It was very late when we finally left the baille, amidst much hand-shaking and many regrets that our stay in Dumaguete was so short, while great wonder was shown by all that we should be able to sail at daylight on the morrow, it seeming well-nigh incredible to the native mind that so much could have been accomplished in so short a time; for, despite the fact that we had been in Dumaguete less than two days, everything was completed — a marvel, indeed, when one considers the tremendous current which made the landing of the shore end a hazardous proceeding.
To one who has never witnessed the difficulties of propelling a rowboat through the heavy breakers of some of these Philippine coast towns, it would be hard to appreciate the struggles of the Signal Corps to land shore ends at the different cable stations. More than once men were almost drowned in its accomplisment but fortunately on the whole trip, despite many narrow escapes, not a man was seriously injured in the performance of his duty. Once landed on the beach, the shore end was laid in the trench dug for it, one end of the cable entering the cable hut through a small hole in its flooring, where after some adjustment and much shifting of plugs and coaxing of galvanometers, the ship way out in the bay was in communication with the land, through that tiny place, scarce larger than a sentry-box, in which a man has barely room enough to turn around.
Each telegraph office, when finally established, looks for all the world like a neat housekeeper’s storeroom, with its shelf after shelf of batteries, all neatly labelled like glass jars of jellies and jams. It positively made one’s mouth water to see them, and only the rows of wires on the wall, converging into the switchboard, and from thence to the operator’s desk, where the little telegraph instruments were so soon to click messages back and forth, could convince one that the jars contained only “juice,” as operators always call the electric current.
When this work on shore was completed, the ship paid out a mile and a half of cable, cut, and buoyed it, awaiting our return from the next station, where, because of the inaccurate charts already mentioned, it would be necessary to first take soundings before we could proceed to lay the cable. These buoys, so large that they were facetiously called “men” by the punster of the ship, are painted a brilliant scarlet, which makes them a conspicuous feature of the seascape. Sometimes a flagstaff and a flag are fastened to the buoy, and often it is converted for the ship’s benefit into an extemporaneous lighthouse by the addition of an oil lamp attached to its summit.
That night at Dumaguete the swift current unfortunately swung our ship’s anchor past the buoy to which the cable was attached, so that at daylight the next morning, instead of sailing for Oroquieta, Mindanao, as we had expected, the buoy was picked up and a half mile of cable cut out, a new mile being spliced on in its place. When this was completed we paid out the fresh cable, buoyed it, and started for Oroquieta, which was to have been our next cable landing, stopping every five knots for soundings and observations.
One of the officers with the sextant ascertained the angle between two points on the coast, while other men, under the generalship of one of the cable experts, took deep-sea soundings, not only that the depth of the water might be known, but also its temperature and the character of the bottom, so one could judge of its effect upon the cable when laid, every idiosyncrasy of that cable being already a study of some import to the testing department.
This deep-sea sounding is a very necessary feature of cable laying, as unexpected depths of water or unlooked for changes in submarine geography, when not taken into account, might prove disastrous to the cable being laid. The sounding apparatus is of great interest, being a compact little affair consisting of a small engine that with a self-acting brake helps regulate the wire sounding-line as it is lowered into the water, and after sounding heaves it up again. When this weight touches bottom the drum ceases to revolve, due to the automatic brake, and the depth can be read off on the scale to one side of the apparatus. A cleverly devised little attachment to the sinker brings up in its grasp a specimen of sea bottom, so that one can ascertain if it be sand or rock, and whether or not it is suitable for cable laying.
The next day lingers in my memory as a profusely illustrated story, uneventful as to incident, and bound in the blue of sea and sky, with gilt edges of sunshine. Before our five o’clock breakfast we saw the “Cross hung low to the dawn,” and at night, anchored near our last sounding, fell asleep under the same Cross. The morning of the next day was but a repetition of the morning before, even to the early rising, for at our breakfast hour the moon had not yet turned out her light, nor were the stars a whit less brilliant than when we went to bed. “It’s too early for the morning to be well aired,” one of our cable experts was wont to whimsically complain at these daybreak gatherings, but by the time we had finished breakfast the night would have whitened into dawn, and before most people were astir an incredible amount of work had been accomplished by that little band of men, seemingly inured to fatigue and the loss of sleep.
All that morning on the way to Oroquieta the shore end of the cable was paid out of the tank and coiled in the hold ready for instant use when we should reach our destination. The music of the cable on the drum, the voice of some one in authority calling “Cobra — cobra,” to the natives in the tank, and their monotonous “Sigi do — sigi do,” half-sung, half-chanted, seemed an integral part of the day’s beauty. Even the natives themselves, guiding the heavy, unwieldy, treacherous cable round and round in the water-soaked tank, that only one turn should be lifted at a time, grinned affably and perspiringly at those of us peering over the railing at them — grimy tar-stained figures that they were, the sunlight bringing their faces out in strong relief against the dark backgound.
That afternoon we anchored off Oroquieta, but the surf was so heavy that it was felt unsafe to send one of the small boats ashore, especially as no one knew the location of the landing. Strangely enough, no boats of any kind came out to the ship, not even a native banca, so that our intercourse with Oroquieta was purely telescopic. Through our good lens we saw many a soldier, field-glass in hand, looking wistfully in our direction. Other soldiers walked up and down the beach on sentry duty, still others seemed to be standing guard over a small drove of horses in a palm grove a little to the right of the principal buildings, while many more lounged lazily on the broad steps of the church, or, leaning out of the windows of the tribunal, evidently used as a barracks, stared stolidly at the strange ship in the harbour. That every man wore sidearms seemed an indication the rebels were still rampant on the northern coast of Mindanao, and the fact of numberless native boats passing by with a pharisaical lack of interest in our presence spoke insurrection even more plainly.
Through the glass we all took turns in watching retreat, the little handful of khaki-clad men standing at attention as the stars and stripes fluttered down the flagstaff. Oroquieta was a lonely looking place, built entirely of nipa, with the exception of the inevitable white church and convento, so we were not sorry when the Powers-that-Be decided it was a poor cable landing, and gave orders for the ship to proceed to Misa-mis, Mindanao, on the following day. Early next morning we weighed anchor, and, still taking soundings, arrived off Misamis about ten o’clock, after a sail which one never could forget, as the coast of Mindanao is rarely beautiful and much more tropical than anything we had seen even on the island of Negros.