MATANZAS is at the present day one of the most populous and important towns of the island of Cuba: second to Havannah, it goes on ever increasing in commercial activity; it has a railroad and a well-sheltered harbour, and is surrounded by an extent of sugar and coffee cultivation which promises, with a never-failing supply of exports, to maintain and constantly increase its prosperity.
Nevertheless Matanzas has an ugly name; for, though euphonious enough to our ears, its meaning is neither more nor less than "Slaughterings," and the ugly name is connected with an ugly history, and, it would seem, an inseparable association of ugliness in every detail. Its situation is flat and unpicturesque; the buildings--unlike, and indeed in strong contrast with the beautiful outlines which, imitating those prevalent in Spain at the time of her greatest colonial eminence, were spread by her all over the new world--are mean and bare, and, while too solidly built of stone to offer any hope that the venerable-making hand of time will ever clothe them with any even adventitious interest, they are yet altogether deficient in a grand or imposing character.
The following story of the circumstances of its origin may be taken to account for the absence of those softening influences of family life and home traditions, which in the other colonies reproduced many of the most beautiful features of the old country.
There once lived, in a village of Castille, a man who thought only of enjoying himself, and who spent all his money without taking any account of how much he had got left for the future; so that at last a day came when he had nothing at all left, and not a bite of any thing but his nails. When he came home without a maravedi, his wife and children dinned him so for food that they drove him distracted; and he borrowed a rope of a neighbour, and went to an olive-tree to hang himself.
He had hardly fastened the rope to the tree, when a little sprite appeared, sitting astride on one of its branches, who called out to him, "What are you going to do? You, a Christian, going to hang yourself like Judas! Give up such an idea; here, take this purse, which is never empty, and go home."
So Perrico (that was the name of our man) caught at the purse to see if such good fortune could be true, and drew out one duro  after another without stopping, like words out of a woman's mouth. When he saw that the store was so bountiful, he untied the rope and coiled it up, and made the best of his way home. But passing by the way a tavern where he had been accustomed to take refreshment, he could not resist the temptation of turning in; nor, when he was in, the temptation of ordering the best drinks and viands, till at last he took more than was good for him, and passed the night under the table, drunk, and as insensible as the dead in the churchyard.
The host, who had observed that he payed for every thing he ordered, duro after duro out of his little purse, and that there was always a duro left, determined to possess himself of the treasure, and so told his wife to make another exactly like it, and then changed it against the magic purse in Perrico's pocket.
In the morning Perrico woke, and suspecting nothing, ran home to his wife as joyous as a holiday.
"No more hunger! no more misery!" he cried; "here's money enough to last our lives--here's enough for every one; come, come all and be merry!"
Then he pulled out his purse, and flung the one duro in it on the table, but when he expected to find another, it continued empty; then he turned it inside out, and threw it up in the air, and flung it on the floor. But no more duros appeared. And his wife, thinking it all a trick, grew more provoked than before, and rated him with an angrier voice than ever.
Perrico, now quite desperate, took up his rope again, and returned to his olive-tree. No sooner had he tied the rope to the branch than the goblin appeared, and reproached him as before.
"But what am I to do?" pleaded Perrico; "I've nothing to eat."
"You ought to find work," answered the goblin; "nevertheless I'll give you another chance. Take this table-cloth, and with it you'll never want for a meal; for whenever you spread it, you'll find a meal ready cooked, upon it." So saying, he disappeared.
Perrico took the cloth, and spread it out in the shade of the olive-tree, and immediately it was covered with dishes of choice food, and wine, and fruits, and flowers; so he made the best meal he had ever eaten in his life, folded his table-cloth, and started for home.
Meantime it had got late, and as he passed the tavern, the idea of a comfortable bed seemed more inviting than a long walk, so he turned in and went to bed.
The host, who had made such a fortunate prize out of him the day before, suspected sagaciously that he might have brought some other wonderful gift along with him this time; so while he was sound asleep he turned over his things, and finding the new table-cloth, easily guessed this was what he was searching for, and so replaced it with another like it, and carried Perrico's off.
In the morning Perrico woke, and, suspecting nothing, ran home to his wife as joyous as a holiday.
"Come wife, come children!" he exclaimed, "no more hunger! no more misery! here's food to last our lives."
And with that he spread the table-cloth out on the table; to his chagrin, however, instead of eatables, it was only covered with ugly patches.
Then followed an outcry such as never had been heard before; mother and children set upon him without mercy, and glad enough he was to escape from them, his rope safely tucked under his arm.
Once more he secured the rope, and once more the goblin appeared. "Christian!" he exclaimed, "where is your patience?"
"All beaten out of me by my wife's blows," replied Perrico.
"That's no excuse," said the sprite; "nevertheless I'll help you once more. Here's a stick for you--take this, and when you're armed with it no one will venture to interfere with you."
Perrico caught at the stick, and walked home with as much importance as a beadle bearing his mace; and when the children came clamouring round him, as they had seen their mother do, he only said, "At them! good stick!" and the stick flew out of his hand, and sent them all running helter-skelter. Then his wife came to the defence of her children, and Perrico had only to say, "At her! good stick!" and the stick soon disposed of her also.
But the neighbours, hearing her cries, sent for the Alcalde and his Aguaciles, who prepared to take him; but Perrico cried once more, "At them! good stick!" and straightway the stick sent them all flying in every direction.
Then they sent an express messenger to the king, to tell him how his officers were being treated, and he sent a regiment of grenadiers. But Perrico had one remedy against all: "At them! good stick!" he cried, and in a trice the stick belaboured away, leaving one with a broken arm, another with his eye knocked out, the colonel sprawling in the dust, and every musket or side-arm rendered totally unfit for use, till the soldiers, thinking Lucifer had been let loose among them, were glad to get away as fast as their legs would carry them.
So Perrico was left alone, and was glad to rest after all the excitement, but took care when he went to sleep to hide his stick in his breast, that it might not be taken from him.
When he woke in the morning he found his hands and feet manacled, and an officer of justice standing over him, reading aloud the sentence of death which had been passed upon him. Perrico said nothing, but as soon as they loosened his bonds on the scaffold he took out his stick, and crying, "At them! good stick!" soon delivered himself of executioners, guards, gaolers, and all who stood in his way.
"Leave the fellow alone!" cried the king, "or all my subjects will be killed--only let's get rid of him." So to bribe him to go he promised him a large tract of land in America, and shipped him off to the island of Cuba. Here he founded a town; but his stick did so much execution on the inhabitants, that people gave it the name of Matanzas.