Plot To Bring Cuba Into the United States to Support Slavery
Frank Yerby: A Victim’s Guilt
EPISODE FOUR: CARLOTA
News of Narciso Lopez’s invasion and defeat sweeps over the Cuba like wildfire. Yerby hoped the news would prevent the drums from sounding. The fate of the Lukumi was held by a thread. The Spanish want the Lukumi to rebel so they could cut them down like stalks of sugar cane. But the Lukumi are fortunate. The drums did not sound. The Lukumi put away their knives, machetes and dreams of freedom.
Friends of her father told Conchita Izquierdo that Ross Pary had joined Narciso Lopez’s expedition but he escaped de la Concha’s wrath.
“Where is he?” she asked, but no one knew. Conchita traveled to Havana hoping to learn of Pary’s whereabouts. I know that he has survived, she told herself. She arrives just as Havana is celebrating the capture of the americano invaders. Music plays, people dance, everyone is happy ___ everyone except Conchita. She wanders about wondering how she might learn something of Pary’s fate. Out of desperation, she even considers inquiring at the Havana Club. Going there would be risky; it could cost her life. But she is deternined to find him. Just as she decides to risk inquiring at the Havana Club, a woman’s voice accosts her from a narrow alley.
“Señorita Izquierdo!” The voice begins as a shriek, but then is stifled into a whisper. A pair of black hands reach out and grabs Conchita’s skirt. The woman pulls Conchita into the alley.
“Oma!” Conchita cries, recognizing the short, black woman with a red bandana tied about her head. Before Eduardo Izquierdo had freed her, Oma had been one of his slaves and one of Conchita’s playmates.
“Oh, señorita, you must leave Havana,” Oma pleads. “Everyone speaks of nothing but the rebellion.Your poor father was such a saint. He was killed with Aguero. Now you, too, are in danger. Your friends sent me to find you.”
“Yes, my father died bravely,” Conchita sighs. “And I know for me danger lives in Havana, but I search for a tall, blond americano. Have you seen such a one?”
“No, señorita,” the black woman replies. “But all the americanos were taken to Castillo del Morro. All will be executed within the week.”
“Is there no one to who would know where they have taken the americanos who survived?”
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“I am sorry, Señorita Izquierdo, no americanos survived who are not in Castillo del Morro.”
“But I know that he is alive,” Conchita pleads. “And he is not in del Morro’s dungeons. Possibly someone at the Havana Club?”
“No Señorita,” Oma pleads. “You can trust no one there.” The black woman looks about wildly. “Possibly the señorita should see the Babaluaye Tolomeo. He knows many things. He will tell you what you should know.” Oma hugs Conchita. “But now you must go. Leave Havana before someone recognizes you.”
“But how do I find the Babaluaye Tolomeo?”
“He is Guanabocao. Now please, señorita, you must leave now. Adios, por favor!” Oma shoves Conchita towards the gates.
Conchita knows many Lukumi. So she is introduced to the Babaluaye Tolomeo. “My nephew has hidden three americanos in Matanzas,” Tolomeo tells Conchita. “Possibly your americano is one of them.”
Pedro had darkened the Americans’ skin with burnt cork and hid them among the plantation slaves. The Lukumi promise to protect the white men from Mississippi with their own lives. Tolomeo sends Conchita to the Matanzas plantation to find her americano.
“Ross, my love!” Conchita Izquierdo screams. Flying into his arms, Conchita holds on and weeps for happiness. “My love! My love!” she cries, “I thought I would never find you.”
“I knew I would find you, mi amor,” Pary responds, kissing her passionately.“I am here. I came to find you. And now I am here.”
“But why did you come to Cuba?” Conchita asks, looking into his eyes.
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“Because I love you,” Ross replies,“and I could not bear the thought of being without you.”
Ross Pary looks pitiful. His slave garb, three quarter length trousers and ragged homespun shirt, are in tatters. He is covered with cuts and scratches. Some have scabbed over with dried blood; others ooze with pus and infection. Close by, prone on the ground still exhausted and bleeding from their ordeal, lie Henry and George Metcalf. Pedro watches the reunion between the lovers and something rises in the pit of his stomach. Something uncustomary, something strange, a sick feeling. Pedro is big and muscular and has never known fear, until now. Now he is afraid. Actually Pedro is more than afraid, he is terrified. And Carlota’s name comes rushing to his lips.
Pausing only to fill a gourd with water, Pedro plunges, through the manigua, down the hilly path to Guanabacoa. All the way he thinks of nothing but Carlota and their unborn child. He helped Pary find his Conchita but what of his own woman? She knew that I was in Mantazas, why did she not accompany the hacendada woman? he wonders. I guess she decided to obey me for a change. She is safe at home where she belongs. Soon everything will be fine between us again, just like it was. But as he races home, with Yerby at his side, Pedro’s terror increases.
De la Concha orders all the captured Americans, including Billy Crittenden, taken to a wall outside Havana’s Castillo del Morro and shot. Witnesses claim that the firing squad did not kill the Americans, but only wounded them. Then an enraged Havana mob, whipped up by Spanish propaganda, finish the execution of the americanos with knives and machetes. The following day, Narciso Lopez is led to a wooden scaffold erected high above Havana’s main public square. There de la Concha ordered a black slave to strangle Lopez using a garrote. People from all over Cuba crowd into Havana, pushing and jostling each other in the great square, to view Lopez’s execution. So courageously did the leader of the Cuban invasion endure his painful death by strangulation that de la Concha decided not to turn him over to the mob but allows the garrote to settle the
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matter. Afterwards de la Concha gives Narciso Lopez a dignified, if simple burial. “Afterall,” the Captain-General tells his staff, “we don’t want the Americans to think we are uncivilized.”
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“Carlota! Carlota!” Pedro races from bohio to bohio. “I have returned!”
Pedro is desperate. “Where is she?” he cries out loud. But his cries go unanswered. No beautiful woman, bursting with life from their unborn child, comes rushing into his arms. No nagging, no scolding as his woman ignores his commands to do exactly what she pleases. No beautiful woman drags him into their hut to make love in the afternoon. Pedro makes several fruitless passes around the village, before sinking to his knees in the white, sun-bleached sand. Great tears roll down his black cheeks.
“She is not here, my son!” Tolomeo says, placing his hand on his nephew’s quivering shoulder.
Pedro looks up to his uncle. “Where is she?” Pedro rocks back and forth; incomprehensible moans and whimpers escape his mouth.
Tolomeo looks down at his nephew. “After you left, I brought Carlota back here. She stayed one night, and then decided to sneak back to find you. I sent Lukumi after her. They found her body by the side of a road on the other side of Havana. She had been raped and mutilated. The Lukumi buried her where they found her.”
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Frank Yerby stayed in Guanabacoa with Pedro. A week passes. Whenever Yerby thinks of Carlota, he feels a terrible sadness. Such a lonely death, such an unnecessary death. Pedro reclines in ceiba tree playing melancholy chords on the three-stringed guitar Carlota had made for him. Pedro taught himself to play the guitar to please Carlota. She loved to listen to the sounds of his strumming accompanying his words of love. But now the music seems not to come from the guitar but from the wind, from the water, from the trees, from the sky. Pedro collects the sounds in his guitar and then slowly frees them as if by magic. Yerby watches Pedro without sympathy.
“Do you believe that blacks are guilty of being victims?” Yerby asks Tolomeo.
“It is easy to make judgments about what someone else should or should not do, Señor Yerby,” Tolomeo replies.
“He could have saved them,” Yerby says.
“You think that Pedro’s guilty?”
“Don’t put words in my mouth,” Yerby snaps. After a long silence, Yerby continues. “He could have done something.”
“What could he have done? The woman had a mind of her own.” Tolomeo looks at Yerby; there’s sadness in his eyes and compassion in his voice. “You,” the Babaluaye says,“have been so filled with your own pride that you have squandered the gift the gods have given you. Now you feel is remorse.”
“Remorse,”Yerby replies. “Possibly you mistake me for your nephew. He’s the one who is feeling ‘remorse’ for death of Carlota and that of her child.”
“The gods decide guilt or innocence,” Tolomeo states matter of factly.
Yerby looks over at Pedro, but Pedro continues strumming Carlota’s three-stringed guitar and staring out at the gently rolling Caribbean. “I don’t even believe in Christianity,” Yerb announces, “why would I succumb to your Voodoo?”
“You’ve already succumbed,” Tolomeo replies with a smile.
“What do you mean?”Yerby asks sharply.
“How do you think you got to Cuba?” the Babaluaye asks. “You must have believed in the Orishas to have made the journey.” The Babaluaye gives Yerby a penetrating stare and insight floods into Yerby’s mind. “How did you put it,” Tolomeo continues, “Ah, yes, you said that the only race that you believed in was the human race. You have no
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pride in your own black race, you do not even believe the black race exists. You said that you would have preferred being born a Commanche, an Iroquois, or a Sioux, because ‘they preferred death to slavery.’ Isn’t that what you said?” Yerby stares out at the Caribbean. “So what have you learned from your stay with us?” Tolomeo asks.
“I don’t know what I’ve learned since I’ve been in Cuba, but I know what I can teach you.”
“What can you teach us?” Tolomeo asks derisively.
“I can teach you how devious the white man is,” Yerby smiles. “The americanos came to Cuba to maintain slavery, not end it. The hacendados paid the americanos so that they would not end Spanish rule in Cuba. The Americans sent just enough men to get you and your Lukumi killed. Your insurrection was one of Papa Legba’s little jokes and Carlota died for no reason.”
If Yerby intended to shock the Voodoo priest, he failed. The Babaluaye Tolomeo was not
impressed. Yerby continues, “If the drums had sounded, the Spanish would have slaughtered Lukumi all over Cuba. So I have a question for you. Now that you have
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this information, how can you trust these hacendados?”
“I must tell you this senor Yerby,” the Babaluaye replies. “We knew what the Havana Club planned for us. We knew the invasion was a charade. Our people in Florida told us they heard many stories at the tobacco auctions and the trading houses about what the americano John Quitman planned.”
“You knew!” Yerby tries to keep the surprise from his voice.
“If you knew, why did you go along their plans?” Yerby asks. He is sceptical about Tolomeo’s prior knowledge. “You are telling me that you allowed your people to commit suicide.”
“Black people are enslaved on this island.They go hungry.They cannot hold land. They cannot grow food. Trading for food or tobacco is a crime; if they are caught the punishment is death. They are tormented constantly. So if they choose to die like men instead of living as slaves, what of it?”
“The great difference,”Yerby exclaims, “is that death is final.”
“There are some things more important than death!” Tolomeo smiles.“Possibly you will learn this lesson before too long. Besides, aren’t you the one that praised the Indians who fought senseless and useless battles only to die in the end?”
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Yerby fixes the Babaluaye with a look. The witch doctor has caught the author in a lie. Tolomeo continues. “The Lukumi fighters who followed Aguero died willingly. They cast off their chains and declared that they were no longer slaves, they were human beings. They behaved like men.” Tolomeo’s eyes glowed with pride. “Why should I or anyone else deprive the Lukumi of the opportunity to throw off their shackles and behave like men?” The Babaluaye pauses to give Yerby an opportunity to weigh his words. “Those men who fought and died with Aguero were freer than you ever were, playing golf in Spain with your fascist friends, pretending to be someone you were not,” he sneers. Tolomeo lets Yerby absorb his words before continuing. “We did not sound the drums for the Lukumi to join Aguero. We did everything we could to bring them back. Many returned, but some did not.”
Yerby was out of his depth.
“What should interest you,”Tolomeo continues,“is that love drove a white man to give up his comfort, his safety and possibly even his life to save Conchita Izquierdo. Is this not so, Señor Yerby?”
“Of course,” Yerby agrees.
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“Yet my poor nephew over there was so unthinking, unfeeling, unloving, that he sacrificed his Carlota chasing fame and glory. In this, I think, lies the meaning of ‘a victim’s guilt,’ no?”
Yerby could only nod, fearing to give words to his feelings.
“Ross Pary and Conchita Izquierdo are very much in love, no?”
“Yes, they are,” Yerby agrees.
“Just as you intended.”
Yerby gave an involuntary shudder.
“But …”Yerby attempts to say.
“No buts, you intended it to be that way,” Babaluaye Tolomeo says. “I know who you are. What I don’t know is what were your intentions?” [*]
[Note To Reader: Pedro, Tolomeo, Conchita and Ross are characters in Frank Yerby’s novel, Floodtide. However, Yerby did not create Carlota. He did not write her fate. So Yerby does not believe that Carlota had to die.]
“So you believe I am here because of some type of guilt?” Yerby says.
“I don’t know,” Tolomeo replies. “You Orishas live in your own worlds. But what I do know is that you are not being honest with me or yourself. Do you really believe Pedro’s indifference to Carlota’s death is a sign of guilt?”
Yerby lowers his head.
“What concerns you is that neither I nor Pedro behave the way you planned. You don’t understand us any more than we understand you!”
Now Yerby really feels anxious. This thing had gone on long enough. Yerby is tired and wants to divorce himself from all this drama and intrigue. He wants to wake up! His characters have become monsters and this nightmare has become too real.
“But Señor Yerby,” Tolomeo says softly in a voice that seems to come from within Yerby’s mind, “you are awake.” The little black man gives Yerby a jab in the side. Yerby winces.
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“You are a very strange person, señor Yerby,” Tolomeo says shaking his head.“You have created all this and yet you behave as if it does not exist.Very strange, indeed.” And with that the Babaluaye abruptly gets up and walks away. Yerby is alone. He tries everything he can to wake himself up. Nothing works. He is trapped in this world, a world of his own making.
The screams of village women pierce the stillness of the Cuban afternoon and the sounds of gunfire echo about. De la Concha had ordered every village in Cuba searched until Ross Pary, George Metcalf and Henry Metcalf are found. Now one of de la Concha’s patrols arrives at Guanabacoa.
“Quick, Señor Ross,” Pedro implores, “you and your friends must be quick.”
Pary, the Medcalf brothers as well as Conchita left the plantation in Mantazas to hide in Guanabocao.
“But Conchita!” Pary protests.
“Don’t worry, she’ll be safe,” Pedro says,“but now you must hurry ____ run!”
Conchita appears in their bohio. “You must leave now, my love!” she shouts. Then Lukumi hurry her out of the bohio. “Stay safe and I will find you!” she shouts back at Pary.
Spanish soldiers begin appearing from everywhere menacing villagers with loaded rifles and sharp bayonets. The soldiers herd the villagers, men,women and children into the clearing between the ceiba trees and Guanabacoa’s fifty or sixty huts. Then they intrude into every bohio in the village, probing, searching and firing their muskets in the air for emphasis.
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Their officer, a bored sergeant, shows little concern whether or not his soldiers harm or kill any of the villagers. He wants to complete his mission and get back to Havana as soon as possible. The Spaniards complete their search without seriously harming any of Guanabacao’s villagers and then go their way.
However nowhere in Cuba are the Americans safe. De la Concha vows to capture and kill the three fugitives. His spies are everywhere and his patrols scour the width and breadth of Cuba. Conchita rejoins Ross. Pedro tells them about a band of Lukumi, mulattoes and criollos living in the Sierra Maestra mountains. The band has vowed to continue Aguero’s fight to free Cuba from Spanish rule. Conchita and Ross as well as the Metcalf brothers decide to join the band of rebels. Pedro leads the Americans to the rebel camp. Then he “beats the drums.”. Though there are only three americanos, the Lukumi from all over, join the fight to free Cuba from Spanish rule and free themselves from slavery, as Tolomeo knew they would.
Pedro leads the insurrection. His Lukumi target and ambush Spanish patrols searching for the American fugitives and small unitd of Spanish soldiers garrisoned in isolated areas. The rebels “liberate” supplies and weapons using guerrilla tactics. The rebel fighters, who include white and brown Cubans as well as black slaves, descend from the hills, launch surprise raids and then disappear back into their mountain camp. After a time, the band grows so large, it moves to Villa Clara for greater protection. Villa Clara is a natural fortress high in the Sierra Maestra mountains.
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Over and over again, the blacks charge out from their ambuscades, screaming howling and hacking at Spanish soldiers with heavily-weighted, razor sharp machetes that can decapitate a man in a single stroke. The Americans support the Lukumi raids by laying down effective cover fire using muskets captured from the Spanish. On the battlefield, the Lukumi are merciless. Pedro orders that they leave no Spaniard alive. However, the mounting number of Spanish dead do not compensate Pedro for his loss of Carlota and their child, nor does the river of blood cleanse Pedro’s guilt-ridden soul.
The Havana Club is furious. The hacendados paid a lot of gold to prevent a Lukumi uprising. After Narciso Lopez’s execution, de la Concha had guaranteed the Havana Club that any possibility of a slave insurrection had eliminated. The Havana Club demands action. Every day the insurrection continues, more slaves escape from hacendados’ plantations. De la Concha sends spies into the mountains to join the insurrection. In no time, his spies learn all of Pedro’s plans. When Pedro attacks an outpost near the Bay of Pigs, de la Concha has a counterattack prepared with a regiment of Spanish regulars re-enforced with cavalry and artillery. The Lukumi and their allies are slaughtered. Only Pedro and a few of his Lukumi escape. Anyone who is not killed outright, including Pary, the Metcalfs and Conchita Izquierdo, are forced to surrender.
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“Señorita Izquierdo, the rumors that I have heard about you are all, untrue.” The pudgy Spanish officer in charge of de la Concha’s regiment greedily disrobes Conchita with his eyes.
“Senor?” Conchita responds.
“Rumors of your beauty do you an injustice,” the colonel says. Conchita’s buxom figure is barely covered by her fighting garb and de la Concha’s commander must force himself to exercise control over his already inflamed passions. The blood lust of human slaughter drives many men crazy with lust. Aware of the erotic effect she is having on her captor, Conchita decides that this horny little man is all that is preventing her execution ___ as well as the execution of Ross Pary.
“Such a shame that the Captain-General intends for your life to end on the garrote with your American friends,” the little colonel says. He offers Conchita a chair and his aide gives her a glass of wine.
“What does the colonel recommend?” Conchita asks. She intends to use the Spaniard’s desire. She uses a husky voice calculated to further arose his passions.
“If the señorita would consider my proposal, I would be happy to provide for her safety if she would accompany me back to Madrid,” the colonel offers.
“What of the americanos?” Conchita asks.
The colonel shrugs. “The must die in Havana.”
“Colonel, I would be happy to accept your invitation,” Conchita smiles, “if the colonel would but deliver the americanos back to their country.”
De La Concha’s commader rubs his hands together and, with a smile, says, “My aide will arrange everything.” But the Spaniard has no intention of keeping his word. Once Conchita is safely aboard a warship bound for Madrid, the colonel orders Ross Pary along with the Metcalf brothers back to Havana for execution.
“We must save them.” Pedro entreats his uncle.
“Why must we save them, Pedro?” Tolomeo asks his nephew as he fixes Yerby with a questioning stare. “Are they our responsibility?”
“Yes,”Pedro responds, emphatically. “Yes, they are our responsibility.”
“And so, Señor Yerby,” Tolomeo says, “we come to the moment of truth. Answer if you dare. Does my nephew, Pedro, who is dearer to me than life itself, have any choice not to save these white men?”
“No,” Yerby replies. He hangs his head and refuses to look Tolomeo in the eye.
“So, Señor Yerby,” the Babaluaye says accusingly,“you have guilt, no?”
Not waiting for Yerby’s response, Tolomeo says, “Come, Pedro, let’s prepare the boat. We’ll rescue these americanos and deposit them safely back in the United States as senior Yerby ordained.”
The Spanish soldiers escorting the Americans to Havana did not expect Pedro’s attack. Before the Spaniards can react, Pedro and his Lukumi overwhelm them and rescue their prisoners. Pedro brings Pary and the Medcalfs back to Guanabacoa. All three had been tortured. Pary is barely conscious. Tolomeo sets sail for Florida.They land on Key West and find refuge on the plantation of Harry Linton. Linton is the buyer for all the tobacco Tolomeo smuggles from Cuba. Despite Tolomeo’s entreaties, Pedro decides to remain in Florida with Ross Pary. “It was for these americanos that I sacrificed my Carlota,” Pedro tells his uncle, “now I must stay here and find out why.”
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