The Spanish Battle Zone

The calesa is fast approaching Paco. It is now rather late. I tell the terrified coachman who conducts me to hurry. Finally, with some encouragement —“Sigue, sigue, hombre, pronto!”— here we are. . . at the outpost before the Paco Bridge. Groups of sailors and light infrantrymen are behind straw barricades; communication men are all around and in ravines; at the junction where numerous roads cross the plains, some sentries…

At the bridge, I caught sight of a naval officer on horseback. He was wearing a white cap, white jacket, blue trousers, seaman’s boots, and had a sabre. . . It is Don Juan de la C____ himself, former captain of a vessel and now coronel of the navy. I got down and approached him.He recognized me, and we shook hands. He greeted me warmly, in a very Spanish way. It always give me pleasure to talk to this man from Aragon in his language. He is surrounded by officers from different branches –the artillery, the light infantry and the navy. This man before me is definitely the valiant Don Juan de la C_____, with the straightforward look of an honest man whose eyes are lively and happy even when he is angry. An old seasoned Mediterranean seafarer, he is a man of steel, like the remarkable sailors from Cadiz to Trebizonde who have ventured to the Indies and the Americas on unworthy open boats.

–Ha! says he. A strange sight to see a sailor on horseback!

–Yes, it is an old habit we have whenever we are on land. What is new?

–Here we are surrounded by our enemy. We are preventing their entry. They cannot pass through.

Don Juan de la C____ introduces me to the general of N_____ division who graciously welcomed me. There is hardly any doubt that the Spaniards, everything considered, prefer us French to the others. We discussed the ensuing war. The general has a high regard for our battleships, although he does not seem to be familiar with all of them.

–These Americans have certainly put us in a fix, he declares. Ah! If only we had a ship like the Bruix. . .!

Everyone agreed with him and started airing their complaints, which I listened to with some embarrassment. When people constantly express discontent, it is an indication of a sick society. These simple people will be very disappointed if all their hope rests on the indefinite arrival of the Camara squadron. They have such incredible faith! Someone insisted that this naval force is arriving with a reinforcement of 11,000 men. They have gone mad!

–If only we had some torpedoes, carajo!

It is obvious they deplore having no torpedoes.

The general allowed me to accomapnt Coronel de la C_____ up to the Santa Ana outpost. As I left, the general gave me a strong handshake. Two marine officers attracted my attention by their friendliness. One of them was identified as the son of Cadarso, the captain of the ship who died in the battle of Cavite. I told him that I had met his mother the day before, shook his hand, and offered him my condolences. He seemed deeply touched.

The coronel and I moved on to Santa Ana by car. On the way, sailors in small groups of reinforcement were everywhere.

–Well, Monsieur, you are always happy, in spite of everything, always in a good mood. That is what I like about you. . .

–How else should I react? I am prepared to die with a contented heart. That is how it should be.

–If everyone were like you, you would not be in this predicament. Permit me to tell you this without flattery.

–Yes, it is bad, really bad. The enemy line is extended. They are more numerous than we are, and these Yankee pigs feed them gold and arms. . . It is war. I know that . . . But, carajo! I am disgusted by the dispersal of my men: 20 here, 30 there, Carajo! It is useless.

Constantly, all along the way, soldiers saluted, rectified their positions, and waited for orders. He saluted and good-naturedly said:

Face the enemy, hombre! Come on, keep awake.

A small trench on the plain with 40 men guards some sort of bastion which is 10 meters long on one side and raised with sacks filled with earth. There is a small corridor which serves as an entrance. In the center is a protected tent where some cannonballs are kept. A stocky infantry captain, looking bored, requested information on the latest developments. A reinforcement of sailors arrived, headed by an ensign. Don Jan de la C____ looked at the sailors and interrogated them. He immediately commanded them to bring in the cartridges.

–Shoot sparingly. Aim well, just as you did in Cebu! Do I have any of my sailors from the Austria here? he asked.

–Yes, sir, me!, someone replied.

–Ah! You! And why are you here?

–I was wounded, sent to the hospital, and then assigned to this regiment.

–You were wounded? Where?

–Here, in my leg, and here, in the shoulder.

–What is your name?

–Ramon Romero.

–Good. And the rest of you, my sons, if they come. . .

–If they come, they cried joyfully, we will fight them.

Darkness fell rapidly and heavily. It was getting quite late. The car jolted through bumpy roads. Beyond Paco, the coronel hailed a sailor who was on kitchen duty.

–I am going to let you taste the stew. . . Eh, hombre, bring a bit of the stew. Hurry. . . We are in a hurry. . . Good, do not fill up the plate. . . Here.

The sailor extended the tin plate filled with meat and kidney beans, a rather palatable dish, which we both enjoyed.

–The men are pleased to see us enjoying their dinner, I note, like on board the ship; it always gives them pleasure.

We left hurriedly. Don J. de la C____ invited me to return soon. He promised to escort me wherever I wish.

–Thank you. I shall come back in two or three days.

–Whenever you wish.

And laughingly:

–However, I cannot promise you that I shall be alive.

–I wish you good luck. Let’s go! Good night.

–A thousand thanks. See you soon.