The Perils Of Evangelina

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Decker was already armed with certain valuable facts. He had a plan of the prison, which Bryson had obtained in June; he also had a list of guards and a schedule of their rounds, data on various forms of available transportation, and the name of a man who could obtain a forged passport at a reasonable price. It had also been learned that Evangelina was imprisoned with eleven other females in a section called “New Hall,” supposedly reserved for political prisoners, in the upper story—accessible from the prison roof by use of a short ladder or a length of knotted rope. Although it was exceedingly difficult, Decker finally managed to slip a message through, and to obtain an answer. It said, in part: Can go down from roof with rope. Need opium or morphine to put companions to sleep. Need acid to cut bars of windows. Stand at corner of building, in street. A lighted cigar will tell me to delay. A handkerchief will tell you it is safe. …

Decker now studied the plans of the prison and the rooftop of the house he had rented. Although it would be tricky at night, he decided that he and an accomplice could climb onto the roof and bridge the short span across to the roof of Casa de Recojidas. Accordingly, he had Carbonnell procure a short ladder and an eighteen-inch-wide plank, which he then sawed into three sections, each approximately three feet long. These were hinged so that they could be folded, but when opened out they would serve as a solid unit. He also had a short, knotted section of new rope.

On Tuesday, October 5, a friend of Carbonnell managed to obtain permission for a brief visit with Evangelina. He told her that this was the night the escape would be attempted, and gave her one of the key implements in the plot. A guard was watching closely, but it appeared to be nothing more alarming than a package of candy. This was the narcotic for drugging the inmates in New Hall. (As it turned out, Evangelina had also managed to obtain a drug, laudanum, by feigning an acute toothache.)

Shortly after midnight, when everything was quiet, Decker and two accomplices he later identified only as Hernandon and Mallory completed a major step in the plan. Using the makeshift bridge and the knotted rope, Decker reached the window ledge behind which the Cuban girl was waiting. He had decided against acid for attacking the bars, and began filing away furiously with a small hacksaw. After two hours of perspiring work, he was still only a little more than halfway through, and Evangelina was becoming frantic. Several times they had been forced to stop when the girl’s cellmates stirred restlessly and showed signs that the drug was wearing off. Finally, Decker decided that they had pushed their luck to the limit. He told Evangelina that he would return at about the same time the following night.

Wednesday evening, the sixth, was hot, oppressive, and still. For a while the night looked promising, as heavy clouds rolled across the sky. Then, around midnight, as the three men were making final preparations, the clouds vanished and a white moon bathed the rooftops in a chalky glow. That of No. 1 O’Farrill Street seemed especially bright.

About 1:30 A.M. , the three men placed the ladder in position. Across the rooftop, at Evangelina’s window, they could see a small white handkerchief tied to the bars, the signal that everything was in order. The Cuban girl had managed to put laudanum in the coffee of her fellow prisoners, and it had produced the hoped-for effect. Hernandon crept across the boards first, followed by Mallory and Decker.

Down on the street, about half a block away, was the shadowy figure of Carlos Carbonnell, casually lounging alongside a carriage. He was to keep an eye on the guard at the entrance gate to Recojidas and later, if the efforts were successful, to whisk Evangelina away in the carriage. Just as the three men reached the roof of the prison, Decker froze. Glancing down, as he did every few seconds, he saw Carbonnell hurriedly lighting a cigar—the signal that there was danger. Up on the roof the reporter and his two accomplices flattened themselves against the roof tiles and could feel their hearts pulsing. A chunk of loose cornice had been dislodged and had clattered to the courtyard below, instantly alerting the drowsy guard. But the man had merely walked back and forth a few paces and then slouched back to his post. Carbonnell ground out the cigar, and the work continued.

This time, after only fifteen or twenty minutes of sawing, Decker was able to swing his weight against the bar, snap it “like cheese,” and bend it up far enough to permit a body to pass through. He had hardly finished the job when Evangelina pushed her head out. Decker and the others grasped her arms and pulled her quickly through and into the moonlight. Within seconds, they were back across the boards to the relative safety of No. 1 O’Farrill Street. Although they purposely left the boards on the roof, they inadvertently left behind one of their revolvers.

The next step proceeded without incident. Evangelina was draped in a cloak and escorted casually to the carriage. By 3 A.M. she was in hiding in a private home on the outskirts of the city. Despite a house-tohouse search by the Spanish military administration, she remained undetected for two and a half days.