Home > The Most Beautiful Girl in Cuba(5)

The Most Beautiful Girl in Cuba(5)
Author: Chanel Cleeton

   I’m a little shaken by how close his speech is to the one I delivered before Pulitzer. I’d always written Hearst off as a craven businessman, but the passion contained in his words appears genuine.

   His desire to remake the newspaper and its role in society is an ambitious goal, even more daunting than his aim to challenge the World for circulation supremacy. When Hearst bought the Journal last year, the difference between the two papers was vast, although he’s closing the gap.

   My gaze shifts to the other occupants of the room, to see if they are as surprised by this version of Hearst as I am. Gone is the languid pose of the man sitting beside Hearst. He’s yet to introduce himself, but he sits a bit straighter in his chair, leaning forward, his elbows propped against his knees.

   Come to think of it, he doesn’t look nearly as debauched as he did earlier, either.

   I turn my attention back to Hearst.

   “After hearing all that, do you still want to work for me?” he asks.

   I could attempt to meet his speech with one of my own, but I’m not sure anything I say could match his fervor, so I don’t bother trying.

   “I do.”

   Hearst studies me for a moment longer than is polite, as though he is attempting to take my measure.

   Can he tell by looking at me, by my mannerisms, that we unmistakably come from the same place, and yet have turned our backs on society in favor of something new and uniquely our own? Maybe Pulitzer saw those similarities as well when he thought this plan would work.

   “We don’t offer a salary,” Hearst finally replies. “But you’ll be paid on space for the articles you write.”

   My heart thuds.

   He plucks a folded newspaper from the stack in front of him and slides it across the desk to me.

   It’s a copy of Pulitzer’s paper, the New York World, dated May 1, 1896. The byline is that of Pulitzer’s star reporter Sylvester Scovel. On the front page, there is an article about the killing of Cuban civilians by Spanish soldiers in the village of Campo Florida near Havana.

   “What do you know about this situation down in Cuba?” Hearst asks me.

 

 

Two

 

 

Evangelina


“They’re going to kill my father.”

   The words pour from me, panic loosening my tongue despite the fact that if this past year of exile with my father fifty miles south of Cuba’s mainland on the Isle of Pines has taught me anything, it’s that I must be cautious around our Spanish guards.

   “Evangelina.” My fiancé, Emilio Betancourt, says my name impatiently, his tone low, urgent, filled with none of the romance I’m used to hearing from him. I asked him to meet me at my house, but even here there is no privacy to be had. Emilio glances around us, his gaze resting on the guards standing nearby, watching us, always monitoring our moments as though we are forever plotting insurrection against the Spanish crown. Spain has controlled our fortunes for over four hundred years, since Christopher Columbus first colonized Cuba in 1492, and now as we fight to liberate Cuba, they tighten their hold on us.

   “You forget yourself,” Emilio hisses, speaking to me as if I am a mere girl and not the woman he has followed around with lovesick gazes, as though eighteen years old is a child’s age. He tugs me by the arm and pulls me farther away from the soldiers.

   “The Spanish have thrown my father in the jail again,” I snap, lowering my voice. “I don’t know if he is safe or if he’s even alive. I do not forget myself. I know exactly where I am and what I must do. You forget yourself.”

   I lean in to Emilio so we merely look like the engaged couple we are, indulging in the sort of stolen embrace that would normally be frowned upon in polite society. In the distance, one of the Spanish soldiers makes a rude comment to another about my virtue—or lack thereof—but I ignore his cruel words. I might have been born a lady, but we are remade in times of war.

   Last year, a small band of revolutionaries—Mambises—under the flag of the Cuban Revolutionary Party declared an insurrection against the Spanish at the town of Baire near Santiago. When we received news of the uprising, I hoped this time would be successful. It is our third attempt to free ourselves from Spanish tyranny in almost thirty years, the first war fought before I was even born.

   I grew up dreaming of the independent Cuba my father is willing to risk his life for, listening to his stories as a soldier in the Ten Years’ War, and I gave my word that in this new battle for liberation I would fight alongside my father and countrymen. On the night we were to join the Cuban army last year, a spy told the Spanish of our plans and they imprisoned my father for being a revolutionary and sentenced him to death.

   “I was the one who visited my father in prison, who cared for him, who begged for his life and saw his sentence commuted to life imprisonment,” I add. “I was the one who met with General Weyler and begged for my father to be exiled here to the Isle of Pines rather than sent to the Spanish’s penal colony off the coast in Africa. So don’t treat me like a child. I may be eighteen, but I’ve fought for my family and for Cuba.”

   At least on the Isle of Pines, my sister Carmen and I have been able to accompany our father, to cook for him, do the cleaning, and care for him. Here we have a small store where I can buy food, there is a doctor in town, and many of the other prisoners are old family friends, revolutionaries like my father. We have a little house with a tiled roof and a big piazza. It is hardly paradise, but it could be worse, I suppose.

   If not for the new Spanish colonel who controls our fortunes.

   “What are you doing about Berriz?” I ask Emilio, glancing furtively around the room to ensure none of the soldiers have heard me. “Ever since the colonel has taken command over the Isle of Pines, he seeks me out. He’s thrown my father in the jail. If I am to be your wife, then I need to know you care about me and my family.” Disgust fills my voice. “Berriz has told me he loves me.”

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