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AFTER Dumaguete, Misamis, and Iligan, the harbour of Cagayan presented a truly metropolitan appearance, what with a transport, a coasting vessel, and a navy gunboat, all in at the same time. From the Burnside we could see nothing of the town save a very dingy wharf, a few white tents pitched near the water’s edge for the convenience of soldiers guarding the unloading of vessels, and a settlement of nipa shacks, in front of which were gaily coloured washings hung out to dry in the hot sun. For miles in every direction hills, with but little vegetation on their volcanic sides, rose tier above tier as far as the eye could reach, and the bay reflected on its placid surface every cloud in the heavens, every tree on the shore.
The long two and a half mile drive from the wharf of Cagayan to the town proper is lined on either side with well-built nipa dwellings, a schoolhouse, and some native shops, at that time all empty. The windows stared back at one like wide-open sightless eyes; the doors swung to and fro in the warm breeze, and occasionally gave a passing glimpse of a shrine to the Virgin or some saint, the faded flowers still in the vases, the candles burned out, and the placid face looking straight into one’s own, pathetic in its neglect.
Deserted Village was writ large on this entrance to Cagayan, but the town itself looked prosperous; the little shops were flourishing; and the natives, with ill-concealed interest, peered out furtively from under their jalousie blinds as the great swinging Dougherty wagon, with its four strapping mules, tore down the broad streets, taking us to or from the ship.
This Dougherty wagon was at our disposal all the time we were there, thanks to the courtesy of the colonel commanding, though sometimes, when there was an unusually large party from the ship, we women were put into a two-seated barouche of great antiquity, as dingy and faded as its own cerulean lining, but the only carriage in town. The officers called this delightful equipage “ the extreme unction,” as it was owned by the padres before the government bought it, and was by them used in last visits to the dying. The natives crossed themselves on passing this conveyance, and would no more have ridden in it than in a hearse, but we found “ the extreme unction “ very comfortable and heard no groans or death-bed confessions in its rusty creak, neither saw aught in its moth-eaten tapestry but that it had once been very handsome. To our frivolous minds the old carriage resembled nothing so much as Cinderella’s coach just as the clock was striking twelve, and we were constantly expecting it to turn into a pumpkin under our very eyes. But it refrained from doing anything so unconventional, and took us on many pleasant excursions around the quaint old town.
There was much to be seen in Cagayan, as for instance, the Door of the Bloody Hand, a most gruesome memento of a night attack on the place some time before, when several insurgents, fleeing from avenging Americans, tried to force their way into one of the native houses and seek protection from its inhabitants. Then there was the Amazon colonel of a native regiment, who, on the day we saw her, was spreading out washing to dry on a grass plot near her home, a truly feminine occupation, considering her martial proclivities, and one that disappointed us sadly, as we should have preferred seeing her at dress parade; and lastly, there was the old cathedral, which in its way was decidedly unique.
This cathedral was far more pretentious than any we had seen outside of Manila, and its altars, for it boasted several, were unspeakable combinations of cheap gaudiness and some little beauty. Common tinsel was cheek by jowl with handsome silver, and while a few of the many mural decorations and paintings were good, most of them were atrocious — glorified chromos of simpering saints with preternaturally large eyes, more nearly resembling advertisements for a hair dye or complexion bleach than ecclesiastical subjects. Around the main altar stood armoured soldiers of Biblical antiquity, squat, inelegant figures that had first been painted on canvas and were afterward cut out like gigantic paper dolls, being put into wooden grooves to ensure their perpendicularity.
At one side of the church was a glass case containing a coffin of regulation size, the wax figure within being covered with a black shroud so that a bare arm only was visible. Across the soft white flesh, for it was a woman’s arm, ran a hideously realistic burn, suggesting that the figure might have been that of some Christian martyr, the probable patron saint of Cagayan. Before the principal altar stood quaint prayer stools of ebony carved to resemble kneeling human figures, and in the loft was a very good organ, though somewhat high-pitched and reedy in tone.
The native women of Cagayan were rather more progressive than those in the towns we had just visited. Some of them even wore hats, and straightway copied, or rather, tried to copy, those worn by the cable-ship contingent. They also rode bicycles, looking most incongruous awheel, the long, spade shaped train to their skirts tucked out of the way, their wide camisa sleeves standing out like stiff sails on either side, their demure and modest little kerchiefs swelling with the quick throbbing of their adventurous hearts. We were told that one of these women, after seeing the quartermaster’s wife riding a bicycle in her very short and modish skirt, straightway took two deep tucks in her own long saya, train and all. Verily, the spirit of that Filipina in an American would have emboldened her to wear — bloomers? Perish the thought — knickerbockers!
At the time of our first visit to Cagayan, the principal occupation of the American troops there seemed to be chasing two bands of insurrectos under the respective leadership of one Capistrano and one Vajez, most wily game, that led them many a weary tramp over the mountainous hills surrounding the town. Shortly after our arrival Vajez was captured, and a milder-mannered man never laid traps of spears and forked bamboo in the pathway of an enemy. He was the personification of gentleness and confided to the American officer in command that he would long since have taken the oath of allegiance had not circumstances, over which he had no control, prevented. The general, greatly impressed by the cogency of these remarks from a man brought in by force, sent him to Manila by the first available transport, that he might spread the light to his brethren there, after which he was doubtless given opportunity for more proselyting work in Guam.
Capistrano was made of sterner stuff, and on our numerous visits to Cagayan still roamed the mountains with his picturesque robber band. One day, under a flag of truce, he came to town and discussed the military situation with the authorities. He made one very astonishing claim, namely, that he had no animosity against the Americans, and was not seeking a fight, meaning, doubtless, he would rather run than fight, any day, but that he felt remaining in permanent armed protest, passive though it was, sufficed to show the world his attitude toward our military occupation of the Philippines. The spectacle of a large number of well armed men who would not fight in any circumstances has the merit of novelty. It sounds like a Gilbert and Sullivan opera. But Capistrano evidently had no sense of humour, and until surrendering, he and his followers kept well out of the way of the American army, lest they be disturbed in pursuing the gentle art of peace.
Socially, we enjoyed Cagayan to the utmost, and if fault could be found with our numerous visits there, it was that we had too good a time, so good that the undoubted local interest of the place quite faded into insignificance beside its purely social side. There were luncheons and dinners given us on shore; and dinners and luncheons given by us on the ship; there was a delightful tea on the gunboat, and a concert by the infantry band in our honour; there were horseback rides for those who cared for them, though all went well armed, as the roads around Cagayan were then in hostile territory; while the shooting for the men was exceptionally good, though this was not discovered until our last visit to Cagayan, when the quartermaster, after a half day’s outing, returned with a prodigious string of ducks.
But while we aristocrats of the Burnside idled away the sunlit hours, the workers had landed the cable, put up an office in the town, and run a line on iron poles from the wharf to the cable station; the testing department, meanwhile, turning over cable on the ship, faults having developed which were not located for several days. But on the morning of January 3d all was considered ready for the return trip to Iligan.
Before leaving, two buoys were swung overboard with a block and tackle arrangement, one five miles north and the other ten or fifteen miles in the same direction, small lamps being placed on each, thus converting them into temporary lighthouses should we return to Cagayan after dark, or in the event of our return by daylight, the buoys themselves, looming up big and red, would serve as guides, observations having been made with the sextant upon them and adjacent land.
By half past one that afternoon we weighed anchor and sailed out of the harbour, our friends on the different ships waving us good-bye, and that night lay off Iligan in a very rough sea. At daybreak we drew alongside the buoy, got it and the shore end aboard, and before splicing, “spoke” Iligan, making several tests which showed that end working satisfactorily. Then the splice was completed, and by evening we were under way for Cagayan, laying cable as we went.
In less than an hour after we started there was great excitement on board, even the loungers on the quarter-deck hurrying forward to hear the details of what might have been a very serious accident, due to the cable slipping on the drum. Had the officer on watch not been very prompt and efficient the cable would have become unmanageable, “taken charge,” as it is called, resulting in great inconvenience, delay, and possible loss of life to those in the tank.
As it was, we had a delightfully uneventful sail, anchoring off Cagayan that evening a little after six o’clock. Not caring to make so important a splice after dark, the cable was cut and buoyed overnight. This was necessary, as that particular splice had to be made from a small boat, which of course precluded the use of electric lights. But by nine o’clock on the following morning our splice was completed, and communication established between Misamis, Iligan, and Cagayan, the line being most satisfactory in every respect. So it was with light hearts that we sailed for Cebu, on the island of Cebu, where we were to coal, picking up our giant buoys as we went.