AT the fork of the road Wentworth halted. The trail to the left he knew, leading out of the valley and around the mountain to a spot from which one could see, over a flashing plain of silver-green sugar cane, the gorgeous, unbelievable blue of the Caribbean. Wentworth turned the pony’s head to the right. Of more arresting importance than the glory of the Caribbean was a small sign nailed to the palm tree before him. Crudely lettered on the end of a soap box it announced: AVE. BROADWAY.
‘Broadway!’ he repeated aloud, stroking the pony’s neck for lack of other companion with whom to share the incongruity of those words.
Wentworth sat back and gazed about him. The one word ‘Broadway’ made everything in the scene rise up in denial. Except for that most absurd sign, the view of the hillsides varied not a dot from the description left by the first Spanish chronicler four hundred years ago. The little thatched huts were as crude as the drawings sent to Queen Isabella to answer her questions about the natives of Porto Rico. The Indian had passed, but the children of the conqueror had slipped into his way of life. And against this background someone had written the challenge of Manhattan. Wentworth picked up the reins and clapped his heels against the flanks of the diminutive pony. ‘Hurry up, Sancho Panza! It is time for us to investigate.’
Rumors had crept down from the hills that innovations were being made in the mountain village of El Cajon. Primitivo Gomez had been there. What tales he brought back Wentworth had only guessed. Primitivo’s mother’s cousin, who washed for Wentworth, returned his laundry two days earlier than usual in order to bring the news that Primitivo had come back from a visit to the village. A rush of language with much bowing and gesticulation gave Wentworth to understand that Primitivo had a tale to tell, and close in the wake of the smiling Fortuna appeared the adventurer.
Standing first upon one bare foot and then upon the other, he slowed his Spanish politely to Wentworth’s inexpertness and explained, with a sweeping gesture which included the supervisor and his makeshift office, that El Cajon was becoming ‘muy Americano.’ This much he repeated several times, but beyond that his faith in Wentworth’s vocabulary failed. What was implied in the process of Americanization was lost amid shrugs and gestures.
In the evening, in passing Primitivo’s cottage, Wentworth saw an excited group listening to the tale. He caught the dramatic swing of Primitivo’s recital, punctuated by a chorus of exclamations, by volleys of questions, and peals of good-natured laughter. What it all might mean remained a closed book. Wentworth’s vocabulary in Spanish was limited. Between words and gestures he could buy food and eat, could have his clothes washed and his house kept in order, and could attend to the necessary tasks in the supervision of the schools of his district; but the activities of the mountain village lay beyond that vocabulary.
His first free afternoon found Wentworth on the trail to El Cajon.
Around the hillside circled ‘Ave. Broadway,’ labeled every few hundred feet, dismembered pickle-boxes competing with soap-boxes as means of imparting the information. A goattrail, leading off over the hill, was neatly marked, ‘Ave. Brooklyn Bridge.’ At this juncture Ave. Broadway proceeded under the name of ‘Ave. Jorge Washington.’
Wentworth laughed as he examined the signs.
Dotting the opposite hillside were possibly a dozen shaggy huts, each little hut in its gay setting of manycolored plants. Toward the highest cottage a woman was moving swiftly up the steep trail, balancing on her head a gasoline-can full of water. Wentworth paused to watch the swift grace of her movements. From the stream to her cottage was a rise of at least four hundred feet, but she neared the top with an unslackened pace which made the five gallons of water appear as nothing.
Before another hut played two unclad youngsters, happily throwing great red blossoms at each other. A wandering goat eyed the children with mild interest. Two gamecocks, tethered safely apart, ruffled menacingly at each other.
To all this Wentworth had grown easily accustomed in his few months on the island; but now, with ‘Jorge Washington’ lettered against the scene, his surroundings went suddenly foreign. The water-bearer was performing a stunt, the babies became obviously naked, and the little thatched huts stood out like pictures in a strange book.
Down the road and into the one street that constituted the village of El Cajon trotted Sancho Panza. At the corner of ‘Jorge Washington’ and ‘El Panama Canal’ stood the schoolhouse, a single room of frame roofed with thatch. Over the building waved a huge American flag, the clean-cut stars and stripes standing out with exaggerated sharpness against the shaggy thatch. At either side of the open door stood a great pole painted in regulation barber-pole striping of red, white, and blue. Through the open windows Wentworth could see that the schoolroom was empty, but from behind the building came the sound of children’s voices.
Tying Sancho Panza to a convenient tree, Wentworth walked around the schoolhouse. The space behind the building was divided into small plots of flowers and vegetables, each little section marked off neatly with whitewashed stones, dabbed irregularly with red and blue spots. In each patch stood a gayly clad child. Stalking down the centre was a tall lean figure, evidently that of the schoolmaster, Don Carlos Vicente. With sweeping gesticulations he criticized and commented upon the gardens. The class was absorbed. Wentworth was in the midst of the patches before a shy little voice at his elbow lisped: —
The children looked up. ‘Good-bye, good-bye,’ echoed one child after another.
Wentworth smiled. The First Book in English, which translates ‘Adios’ as ‘Good-bye,’ fails to explain that the Spanish is a word of hail and farewell while the English is only of farewell.
At the chorus of salutations, Don Carlos turned. A strange American inspecting his gardens obviously could only be the new district supervisor, and his bow was accordingly deeply respectful. ‘Mithter Oo-ent-oo-orth?’ he inquired, attacking the impossible w’s of Wentworth’s name with the precision of one who has practised the feat diligently.
‘You have late,’ exclaimed Don Carlos reproachfully. ‘The eschool are finished.’
‘I am sorry, but I shall stay for night school,’ said Wentworth, as they walked about among the patches. He noticed that the vegetables were not those in common use on the island but varieties from the North. ‘Do the people like these vegetables?’ pointing to some promising rows of beets and carrots.
‘Like them?’ repeated Don Carlos dubiously.
‘Yes — do the people like to eat them?’ insisted the supervisor.
‘They are bonita — pretty,’ said Don Carlos, ruffling the carrot-tops with his shoe and evidently trying to be polite in a situation which he did not understand; ‘but to eat—’ The eyes that met Wentworth’s were puzzled. ‘The book says to make gardens; but to eat — no.’ Again his foot stirred the fern-like carrots. ‘What is to eat?’
Wentworth stooped and jerked a carrot from the ground. ‘In Nueva York’ — he dangled the root in his fingers and repeated the magic words, ‘In Nueva York,’ as though dangling them also before the eyes of Don Carlos — ‘In Nueva York they eat many carrots.’
Don Carlos gave him a look of astonished helplessness.
‘I will send a teacher to teach the girls how to cook,’ offered Wentworth, glancing over the vegetables, many of which had already gone to seed, and making mental notes of a memorandum on the futility of issuing unadapted textbooks.
From the school Wentworth and Don Carlos walked slowly to the teacher’s house. In the shade stood a box covered with netting. At the sight, a new eagerness came into Don Carlos’s step and a new light into his eyes. He stooped and gently picked up a sleeping infant. Holding it gently against his breast, he bowed to Wentworth with a gesture of introduction. ‘A boy,’ he said in hushed tones, and Wentworth remembered the tale of the teacher’s previous misfortune in having seven daughters.
’He could — to be presidente,’ Don Carlos ventured at length. His voice rose — ‘El Presidente de los Estados Unidos!’
Wentworth bowed acquiescence. The potential president of the United States blinked his little black eyes.
‘For which,’ went on Don Carlos, ‘I make El Cajon the same to los Estados. Come,’ and laying the infant back in his improvised bed, he led Wentworth back toward the school. He pointed with pride to the street signs at the comers. ‘Equal to los Estados,’ he exclaimed, and Wentworth agreed. A red-white-and-blue rubbish-box adorned the intersection of ‘Jorge Washington’ and ‘Niagara Falls.’ ‘Better than in the States,’ commented the supervisor; and Don Carlos bowed deeply.
Curious but friendly glances followed Wentworth and Don Carlos. Americanos were not often seen in the little village, and the entire population stood in the doorways or lined up in front of the little huts. To each and every one Don Carlos bowed in conscious pride.
‘Do they help you?’ asked Wentworth, with a gesture from the inhabitants to the works of improvement.
‘Not yet.’ Don Carlos’s tone was patient. ‘They do not believe that they are truly fellow citizens to los Estados, but—’ In the unfinished sentence Wentworth realized a quality of conquering stubbornness.
The chief pride of Don Carlos evidently was the pair of barber-poles at the school. These he had shaped and painted with painstaking effort, and they stood to him as the last word in Americanism. Wentworth examined them appreciatively.
‘I have not been to los Estados — not yet,’ explained Don Carlos, ‘but my cousin Miguel Figueroa in Nueva York sent me a picture — a picture with colors. He has one,’ he pointed to the poles and the satisfaction in his voice rose, ‘but we have two!’
‘Is your cousin in Nueva York a barber?’ asked Wentworth.
’You know Miguel?’ exclaimed Don Carlos in astonishment, and he wrung Wentworth’s hand in his enthusiasm.
A flicker of a smile passed over Wentworth’s serious face. ‘I think not,’ he replied slowly, ‘but I’m sure I ‘ve seen a barber-shop in Nueva York with a pole just like that.’
In the pleasant after-dinner coolness Wentworth and Don Carlos smoked dark, native cigarettes. From within the cottage, like punctuation to their conversation, came the voice of Don Carlos’s wife. Doha Maria was trying to hurry the seven daughters in the task of clearing up after the feast that had been set before Wentworth. Hospitality is lavish in Porto Rico, but when the district supervisor climbs to the most inaccessible village in his district, of mountains he may be sure that the prize chicken and the whole grocerystore will be served to him.
Wentworth glanced at his watch and pushed back his chair suggestively. Don Carlos, listening to the sounds within, launched upon an elaborate account of the purchase of schoolsupplies. As the sounds in the house indicated the completion of the household tasks he rose, and the two men departed, Don Carlos to extend to the night school his passing acquaintance with Noah Webster, and Wentworth to enter little marks in his official supervisor’s book, rating Don Carlos by a ten-point scale in efficiency, thoroughness, initiative, patience, alertness, and a few other qualities designated by the department of education as virtues.
Night schools were rare in the mountain districts and Wentworth was curious to know why El Cajon had applied for evening instruction. With his limited Spanish he had learned to ask few questions but to see things for himself. The law of the island said that if ten persons aspired nightly to climb the heights of knowledge, education should be brought to them. The names of eleven aspirants had been sent by Don Carlos to the Department, the days of the teacher had been lengthened into nights, and additional allotments of books and supplies had been issued to the village.
By a circuitous route Don Carlos led the supervisor to the school, stopping to make inquiry as to the health of one of the inhabitants. Shooing away the dogs that followed at their heels, Don Carlos opened the schoolroom door and Wentworth, stepping within, beheld in a neat row Doña Maria and the seven daughters. Doña Maria’s plump body was wedged tightly between desk and chair, and in descending scale sat the seven girls. Each held conspicuously an English First Reader.
In one corner of the room a light shawl half concealed the basket in which slumbered the potential President.
Wentworth bowed gravely to the class and the class smiled gravely in response. School was an earnest, formal ceremonial, and not a flicker of an eyelash intimated that a few minutes before the supervisor had been their guest at a gayly informal dinner.
On Don Carlos’s desk lay the official register in which was recorded school attendance. Of the night class the name of Doña Maria headed the list, followed by those of the seven daughters. Below these eight names were written, ‘Libertad, Luz, Pax Rodriguez,’and all were credited with regular attendance up to that date.
Wentworth inquired for the three Rodriguez children.
‘The — the guardian did not let them to come to-night,’ explained Don Carlos. ‘He is—’ he pondered for a word — ‘he is to-day disturbed.’
Wentworth signed the book and turned to the class.
Don Carlos cleared his throat. ‘Fellow citizens!’ The class sat upright. ‘Lesson Ten,’ he announced. ‘Diez!’ he whispered to the little Conchita, to whom ‘ten’ seemed hopelessly unintelligible. ‘Page-a tawenty eighta. We will read. Let us go!’
The little girls bobbed up and down as they read the lesson, sentence by sentence, but Dona Maria in her turn remained firmly fixed in her seat.
‘I see the esnow.’
‘The esnow is wita.’
‘The esnow is colda.’
‘The garounda is wita.’
‘To-morrow we will play in the esnow.’
‘What is snow?’ interrupted Wentworth. Silence fell on the class.
‘The esnow is colda,’ ventured Dolores at last, looking up from the book.
‘The esnow is wita,’ added Amalia.
Complete lack of comprehension clouded their earnest faces.
‘Close your books,’ said Wentworth; and in slow, carefully chosen English, with many gestures, he explained about winter in the North. The children’s faces shone with interest. The supervisor glowed with the satisfaction of a difficult task well done.
‘Now do you understand about snow?' he asked in conclusion.
Conchita raised her hand eagerly. ‘It is,’ she said confidently, ‘it is a pretty story not true — a firy tale.’
The first full moon found Wentworth again on the trail to El Cajon, drawn by the haunting sense of an unfinished story. What, after all, did the United States and the twentieth century mean to Don Carlos? His longawaited son ‘could to be el presidente,’ but how long would Doña Maria and the seven daughters labor over the First Reader, and what did it all mean to the mountain community? Enrolling his family was not against regulations, but Wentworth was curious to know if the family was as regular in its attendance as the records showed. Day school in the mountains included only primary studies and was taught in Spanish. The night school was permitted to concentrate on English. The devotion of Don Carlos to the United States seemed to be shared by his progeny to a degree which colored Wentworth’s curiosity with deep humility.
As he entered the schoolroom, Wentworth stumbled over the dogs. At the sound, the eyes of Doña Maria and the children were lifted from the page they were struggling to read, and friendly greetings welcomed the supervisor.
The lesson was about apples and pears and other fruits wholly foreign to the tropics. The children attacked the strange words and strange ideas with stubborn perplexity, and Wentworth listened helplessly, resolving to write an English Reader some day, whose subject matter would be at least intelligible to the struggling aspirants.
At the end of the lesson Wentworth looked over the register and inquired for Libertad, Luz, and Pax.
‘There is — there are — much seekness in these town,’ explained Don Carlos. He thought for a moment. ‘Libertad, Luz, and Pax,’ — he put his hand to his throat, — ‘they cannot even to speaka.’
Wentworth signed the book and departed.
The white tropical moonlight made the trail as light as day. The orangecolored ucar trees lost little of their amazing brilliance, and the flamboyants were as unbelievably red as by day. The shadows were deepened and the outlines of the trees dimmed, but this even heightened the sense of magic and mystery which surrounds all Nature in the tropics — that blending of keen reality with no less keen unreality which makes the lure of the Southlands.
Sancho Panza plodded faithfully on. They passed a cottage from which came the click-click of ‘bones,’ the crash of castanets and the shuffle-shuffle scraping on gourds which constitutes the background of the island music. Wentworth stopped to listen. The bones and the castanets marked time in a way to make feet and hips and shoulders swing to keep time. The scraping on the gourds was different. To that Wentworth had listened at first in amazement that anyone could consider it a part of music, but now, as it floated down the hillside, it came to him not as the sound of any instrument but rather as the movement of feet themselves. With a new comprehension and a new eagerness to understand other things which might be differently conceived, he sat still. Sancho Panza grew restless at the delay and edged in the direction of his stall, gradually working his movements into a gentle trot. The music blurred to a mere vibration and vanished.
Farther along Wentworth passed a countryman on his way to market, perched above the saddlebags of his tiny pony, and holding a huge umbrella to ward off the evil effects of moonlight and night air. Wentworth greeted him gravely. Outwardly it was the same courteous greeting that he had given the first time he passed a countryman thus shielding himself, but the inward smile of superior amusement had disappeared. The certainty that he was bringing the gifts of a superior civilization had yielded to a realization that he also had much to learn.
In the valley below, the long light of a rapidly moving motor brought back his thoughts to Don Carlos and his struggling efforts to make himself and his family one with their fellow citizens of Manhattan, and a deep sense of humility came over Wentworth that he should have accepted without appreciation and realization so many things which these Porto Ricans labored so hard to obtain. The light of the motor vanished, and in the beauty and fragrance of the tropical night Sancho Panza trotted on.
Months went by. The end of a week of hot weather, hot even in the hills, found Wentworth again on Ave. Broadway. In the day schools of the valley the children had been restless and tired. The weary session of the night class at El Cajon was only partially aroused by the entrance of the supervisor.
Don Carlos sat listless at his desk. Doña Maria patiently overflowed her seat. The seven daughters read their lesson in dull monotone. Of other children there was again no sign, and Wentworth asked no questions.
Don Carlos started the class from the beginning.
‘This is a doga,’ read Conchita, dragging herself slowly to her feet and slumping at the end of her exertion.
‘The doga is balacka,’added Mercedita wearily.
‘The doga is gooda,’ read Dolores in dull accents.
Wentworth stood up before the class and tried to put some life into the recitation. If the lesson was about dogs, they might better talk about the live animals before them than some unreal dog in the reader. ‘What is this dog’s name?’ he asked, pointing to the dog at his feet.
The class sat silent. English was a thing to be read from a book. To be addressed in the language without warning was not according to precedent.
Wentworth pointed again to the nearest dog. ‘What is his name? Como se llama eso?’
‘Libertad,’ responded Mercedita promptly.
‘And this dog?’ He waited. ‘Y eso?’ pointing to the next dog.
A light dawned on Wentworth. ‘Y eso?’ he demanded quickly, his finger raised in the direction of the third dog.
The weary Don Carlos was galvanized into life. With one leap he knelt at Wentworth’s feet.
‘Pax,’ answered Mercedita, her mouth remaining open in astonishment at the strange behavior of her father.
For a moment silence reigned in the little room. Amazement shone on the placid countenance of Doña Maria. The seven daughters sat back in bewilderment and curiosity. Wentworth stood motionless, as Don Carlos grasped the supervisor’s hand in both his own and kissed it fervently. The silence was broken by a wail from the basket. Don Carlos threw back his head and poured forth a flood of Spanish, so rapid that only here and there could Wentworth catch the words. Yet through tones and gestures the whole story became clear: a story of the unambitious pleasantness of the tropics, quickened to endeavor by the arrival of the infant who might some day become president of the United States; of the efforts of Don Carlos to awaken a realization among his neighbors that their children also might become admirals and generals; of his inspiration to have a night school where they could all learn English and study the ways of their brothers of the North; of the unwillingness of the villagers to bestir themselves; of the need of the additional names in order to obtain schoolbooks and supplies, and the temptation of enrolling the faithful dogs; and of the grief of Don Carlos at betraying the kindness of the supervisor.
Wentworth stood motionless as the flood of words and gestures increased in intensity and then gradually slackened. Don Carlos’s humiliation and repentance at deceiving Wentworth were uttered in a tone barely above a whisper. Then he took a step backward, lifted his head, and waited what verdict the supervisor might pronounce.
Wentworth walked over to the teacher’s desk, hesitating for words. Absentmindedly he began to turn the pages of the register.
Don Carlos stepped slowly to his side. ‘You wish to sign the book?’ he asked, fumbling for his pen.
‘Not to-night, amigo,’ and Wentworth offered his hand. ‘To-night,’ he spoke slowly, ‘is a visit — between friends — and not official.’
Of the unofficial visits of its supervisors even the most standardized system asks for no reports.