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Title: Vasco Nuñez de Balboa
Author: Ober, Frederick A. (Frederick Albion), 1849-1913
Language: English
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HEROES OF
AMERICAN HISTORY

DE BALBOA

[Illustration: VASCO NUÑEZ DE BALBOA]



VASCO NUÑEZ DE BALBOA

BY
FREDERICK A. OBER

HEROES OF AMERICAN HISTORY

ILLUSTRATED

[Illustration]

HARPER & BROTHERS PUBLISHERS
NEW YORK AND LONDON
1906

Copyright, 1906, by HARPER & BROTHERS.

_All rights reserved._

Published October, 1906.



CONTENTS


CHAP.                                                               PAGE

I. THE MAN-OF-THE-BARREL                                               1

II. LEADER OF A FORLORN HOPE                                          19

III. BALBOA ASSERTS HIS SUPREMACY                                     33

IV. BALBOA CAPTURES A PRINCESS                                        47

V. THE CACIQUES OF DARIEN                                             64

VI. FIRST TIDINGS OF THE PACIFIC                                      81

VII. A SEARCH FOR THE GOLDEN TEMPLE                                   95

VIII. CONSPIRACY OF THE CACIQUES                                     106

IX. HOW THE CONSPIRACY WAS DEFEATED                                  120

X. DISSENSIONS IN THE COLONY                                         134

XI. BALBOA STRENGTHENS HIS ARM                                       148

XII. THE QUEST FOR THE AUSTRAL OCEAN                                 162

XIII. ON THE SHORES OF THE PACIFIC                                   175

XIV. A RIVAL IN THE FIELD                                            193

XV. PEDRARIAS, THE SCOURGE OF DARIEN                                 206

XVI. IN THE DOMAIN OF THE DRAGONS                                    220

XVII. A COMPACT WITH THE ENEMY                                       234

XVIII. BUILDING THE BRIGANTINES                                      245

XIX. IMPRISONED AND IN CHAINS                                        258

XX. THE END OF VASCO NUÑEZ DE BALBOA                                 269



ILLUSTRATIONS


VASCO NUÑEZ DE BALBOA                                      _Frontispiece_
PANAMA, DARIEN, AND THE SOUTH SEA          _Facing p._                 1

BALBOA CARRIED ON SHIPBOARD                   "                       16

VILLAGE ON RIVER OF DARIEN                    "                       52

BALBOA AND THE INDIAN PRINCESS                "                       68

QUARREL FOR THE GOLD                          "                       84

DISCOVERY OF THE PACIFIC                      "                      170

EXECUTION OF BALBOA                           "                      274



SOURCES OF INFORMATION


While Vasco Nuñez de Balboa may be reckoned among the greatest of the
minor explorers, yet less has been written of him, perhaps, than of any
other in his class except Juan Ponce de Leon. Both names are familiar to
every student of history, both are well known even to the casual reader;
but both have been strangely neglected by the biographer.

The only complete biography of Balboa (it was declared by an authority
several years ago), is that of Don Manuel José de Quintana, who, between
the years 1807 and 1834, published his "Spanish Plutarch," or _Vidas de
Españoles Célebres_. This work is considered a classic, and its author
(who was born in Madrid, 1772, and died in 1857) lived to see it receive
high praise, and some of its subjects honored by translation into other
languages than his own vernacular. An English edition, of _Balboa_ and
_Pizarro_, from Quintana's _Celebrated Spaniards_, was published in
London, 1832, as translated by Mrs. Margaret Hodson, and dedicated to
Robert Southey, then England's poet-laureate.

But there is much material elsewhere to be found pertaining to Balboa,
as well as to Pizarro, and no lack of original documents, such as
letters that passed between Vasco Nuñez and the Spanish crown, in the
years 1513, 1514 and 1515. Mention is made of Balboa by all the early
Spanish writers, of course, such as Martyr, Herrera, and Oviedo, the
last named having been personally acquainted with him, as well as with
Pedrarias, Pizarro, and all those who were concerned in the exploration
and settlement of Darien, Panama, and Peru. Though Oviedo's great work,
the _Historia Natural y General de las Indias_, remained in manuscript
during three centuries, Quintana had free access to it and extracted
much that was interesting and valuable.



VASCO
NUÑEZ DE BALBOA

[Illustration: PANAMA, DARIEN, AND THE SOUTH SEA]



VASCO NUÑEZ DE BALBOA



I

THE MAN-OF-THE-BARREL

1475-1510


Sometime in the summer of the year 1501 there landed on the southern
coast of Santo Domingo one of the strangest expeditions that ever
visited its shores. It was commanded by one Rodrigo de Bastidas, a rich
notary of Seville, in Old Spain, who had become imbued with a passion
for adventure, and so set forth, with a company contained in two
caravels, over the route followed by Christopher Columbus in his third
voyage to America. As he was guided by the skilled pilot Juan de la
Cosa, who had been with Columbus in the West Indies, his voyage was in
every respect successful, save in its ending. It included the entire
length of _Terra Firma_ (as the north coast of South America was then
called), from the Gulf of Maracaibo to the Isthmus of Darien, whence,
after profitable bartering with the Indians, Bastidas set sail for
Spain.

He had sought traffic only, and not conquest, hence had been everywhere
received with open arms by the natives, who poured out their treasures
of gold and pearls most lavishly, so that he and all his comrades were
enriched. Only one other venture to this region, that of Pedro Niño, the
year previous, had yielded such rich returns, and it was with exultation
that the members of this expedition turned the prows of their caravels
homeward. When half-way across the Caribbean Sea, however, they
discovered, to their great alarm, that their vessels were leaking in
every part, and upon investigation found the hulls full of holes, made
by the destructive teredo, or ship-worm, the existence of which they had
not suspected. The nearest land was the island of Santo Domingo, then
known as Hispaniola, and, bearing up for it, they found a harbor in the
Bay of Ocoa. The caravels were hardly kept afloat until this haven was
reached, and foundered in port before their cargoes were landed. All the
arms and ammunition aboard, as well as much of the provisions, went down
with the vessels; but no lives were lost, and the most precious portion
of the cargoes was saved, to the last pearl and nugget of gold.

The governor of Santo Domingo at that time was Don Francisco de
Bobadilla, who, though but a year or so in office, had already committed
irreparable wrongs upon the natives of the island. But a few months had
elapsed since he had sent Christopher Columbus and his brothers home to
Spain in chains. Having sequestrated their effects, he was rapidly
squandering his ill-gotten wealth, and actually living in the old
admiral's castle.

One hot midsummer day, as Governor Bobadilla was enjoying his siesta, or
noonday nap, he was rudely awakened by one of his mounted scouts, who
had ridden all night and all morning, coming in from the westward.
Pushing aside the sentinel on duty in the lower court, he sprang up the
stone stairs with jangling spurs, and, making his way to the balcony
overlooking the river Ozama, where the governor's hammock was swung, he
exclaimed: "Your excellency, I have dire news to report. It calls for
immediate action, too, hence my intrusion upon your privacy."

"Ha! it must be pressing, indeed," replied the governor, testily,
rubbing his eyes and at the same time rolling out of his hammock. "Know
you not, sirrah, that I could have you swung from the battlements--yea,
dashed to the pavement of the court below? Ho, it is Enrique! Pardon me,
man, I thought it must be some varlet of the admiral's scurvy gang. No
chances lose the _Colombinos_ [partisans of Columbus] to invade my
castle and seek to press home their claims, perchance their rusty
blades! But proceed. What is it, Enrique?"

"Your excellency, three bands of lawless adventurers, under one Bastidas
and the pilot Juan de la Cosa, are marching through the country, with
intent, most probably, of attacking the capital. Each band is provided
with a coffer filled with gold and pearls, which they are bestowing upon
the Indians in exchange for provisions. They are committing no ravage,
being in the main unarmed; but I thought your excellency should be
informed, and so have come, as you see, all the way from Azua, without
rest."

"As a faithful retainer, Enrique, you have done well, and shall receive
your reward. They can do no harm, doubtless, since we are here in force;
but, laden with gold and pearls, say you?"

"Yes, your excellency, rioting in wealth, which they have obtained in
Terra Firma. Not a man among them that has not great store."

"Ha! They come most opportunely, then, for this island of Hispaniola is
wellnigh drained of its riches, what with the ravages of Roldan's men
and the license permitted by Bartolomé Colon. Their wealth is, without
doubt, ill-gotten, and we must see what can be done with it. Trading
without permission, whether on Terra Firma or in the isles, is a serious
offence."

"But, excellency, the commander of the expedition is Rodrigo Bastidas, a
lawyer of note in Seville, and he claims to have had permission from the
sovereigns. He comes not with intent to trade in this island, so he
says, but, his vessels having foundered, he desires only assistance to
proceed home to Spain."

"And he shall get it, forsooth; but not of the sort he may crave. A
lawyer, say you? Well, since I have already incarcerated an admiral, an
adelantado, and the governor of this very city of Santo Domingo, it
seems not reasonable that I shall be bearded by a bachelor! The dungeon
awaits him, and there is a place in my treasury for his store of gold
and pearls, until it shall be shown that the royal fifth is secure. Go
now and call the captain of the guard. Tell it not in the town; but I
shall have my soldiers ready to arrest these marauders the moment they
arrive."

The avaricious Bobadilla kept his word to the letter, for when, the next
night, his shipwrecked countrymen arrived within sight of the city, they
were met by an armed force and conducted, weak and famishing as they
were, to the prison-pen, where they were herded like cattle. The rank
and file were soon released, and allowed to wander at will about the
island, but Bastidas and La Cosa were kept immured for many months. In
June or July of the next year they were placed on board one of the ships
comprising the large fleet collected by the governor to accompany him to
Spain. Bobadilla embarked in another vessel, at the same time, but lost
his life in a hurricane, which sank nearly every ship in his fleet.[1]

The vessel containing Bastidas and La Cosa survived the tempest, and
they safely arrived in Spain with the greater portion of their treasure.
Both received high honors at the hands of their sovereign, and returned
to the scenes of their discoveries, on the coast of Terra Firma, where
the gallant pilot was killed by a poisoned arrow. Bastidas was appointed
governor of Santa Marta, where, because he treated the Indians justly
and took their part against his ferocious followers, he was assassinated
by some of his own men. His remains were taken to Santo Domingo, and in
its cathedral is a chapel dedicated to the memory of "the Adelantado
Rodrigo de Bastidas," who, together with his wife and child, there
sleeps his last, in a tomb elaborately carved, as attested by an
inscription on the chapel wall.

       *       *       *       *       *

While the adventures of the humane Bastidas were sufficiently
interesting to attract attention at the time of their occurrence, they
might, possibly, have escaped the historian were it not for the fact
that they were shared by a man whose subsequent fortunes were identified
with one of the greatest events in American history. This man was Vasco
Nuñez de Balboa, who enlisted under Bastidas at Seville, and accompanied
him throughout the voyage, with its consequent disasters. He was then an
obscure individual, known only as a dependant of Don Pedro
Puertocarrero, the mighty lord of Moguer. He was not a native of Moguer
(that town near Palos so closely identified with Columbus and the
discovery of America), but came from Xeres de los Caballeros, where his
family was respected, though poor and untitled.

No mention is made of Balboa in the annals of the voyage, nor for years
after the disbanding of the company at Santo Domingo do we find anything
respecting the man who possessed those transcendent qualities that later
marked him as a born leader of men. He was probably one of the
unfortunates let loose upon the island when Bastidas was imprisoned by
Bobadilla. At that time he was about twenty-six years of age, having
been born in 1475. He was tall and robust, with a handsome,
prepossessing countenance, and was one of the most expert swordsmen and
archers in the island.

"His singular vigor of frame," says his Spanish biographer, Quintana,
"rendered him capable of any degree of fatigue; his was the strongest
lance, his was the surest arrow in the company; but his habits were
loose and prodigal, though his nature was generous, his manners
extremely affable."

He was, probably, just an average "soldier of fortune," and, finding
Santo Domingo well suited to his tastes, took what came to him from his
share in the voyage with Bastidas and spent it in riotous living. This
one-time Indian Eden, or paradise, had been converted, by the passions
of depraved men, into an abode fit only for the ruffian and libertine.
With the farms and plantations assigned the new-coming settlers went
large _encomiendas_, or slave-gangs, of unfortunate Indians, who
belonged to their master utterly so long as they remained subject to his
control. At the time of Balboa's advent the system was at its worst, for
Bobadilla, knowing that his time was short, encouraged every Spaniard to
make the most of his opportunities. Thus the poor Indians were worked
beyond the limit of endurance, and died by thousands; thus the white men
took to oppression as a matter of course, and became as fiends in human
shape, with no regard for morals, for humanity, or the rights of their
fellow-men.

Yet, with all the opportunities presumably given Balboa for acquiring a
fortune, we find him, after several years in the island, deep in debt
and seeking to avoid his creditors by flight. The first authentic notice
of this former companion of Bastidas appears in a reference to him, in
general terms, in the year 1510. At that time, four years after the
death of Christopher Columbus, his only legitimate son, Don Diego, was
governor of Santo Domingo and viceroy of the Indies. He had succeeded to
the incompetent Bobadilla and the atrocious Ovando, who had left the
island in such terrible condition that all his great energies were
required to bring it under control.

Besides seeking to renovate the impoverished plantations and ameliorate
the condition of the Indians, Don Diego also undertook the investigation
of Santo Domingo's resources, and explorations in various regions of
the Caribbean. He was especially interested in the development of Terra
Firma, and encouraged expeditions thither, among them being the venture
of Alonso de Ojeda, who, on one of his voyages, was accompanied by
Francisco Pizarro, then unknown, but destined to become the conqueror of
Peru. On his third voyage to Terra Firma, Ojeda left behind him in Santo
Domingo one Martin Fernandez de Enciso, who was to follow after with a
vessel freighted with supplies and reinforcements for a colony he had
founded on the coast of Darien. It was on the occasion of Enciso's
sailing that the reference, already alluded to, was made to Balboa and
the class to which he then belonged: delinquent debtors who sought to
evade their obligations by flight. Information having reached Don Diego,
the admiral, that certain reckless men of this class meditated waylaying
Enciso's ship when she called at some of the out-ports for final
supplies, he issued a proclamation commanding them to desist from their
purpose, and also sent an armed caravel with the vessel to escort her
clear of the coast.

Vasco Nuñez de Balboa was then residing on a farm, which he nominally
owned, near the sea-coast town of Salvatierra, at which place Enciso
was to call for provisions. Indeed, some of the provisions were to come
from Balboa's farm, and his own Indians were engaged in transporting
them to the sea-shore. Late one afternoon, it is said, as Balboa and his
_mayordomo_, or chief man, were walking on the sands near the mouth of
the river that flowed through his farm, they saw Enciso's vessel and her
escort standing into the bay. The sun was then not far above the western
hills, beyond which towered the cloud-capped mountains of the interior,
where lay the rugged region known as the Goldstone Country. The craft
had scarcely furled their sails and dropped their anchors ere a puff of
smoke shot out from the larger vessel, followed by the report of a
cannon.

"Ha! that means haste!" exclaimed Balboa. "Bachelor Enciso is desirous
that we send our supplies at once, so that he may lade to-night and sail
to-morrow with the morning breeze."

"Well, master," said the mayordomo, "so far as our own provisions go, we
are ready for him. These barrels on the beach, with what the Indians are
now bearing hither on the road, make up our contribution to the cargo."

"Yes, Miguel," answered Balboa, "as thou sayest, we are ready. But,
notwithstanding, there is one more contribution I fain would make to
Bachelor Enciso's complement of soldiers, as well as add to his cargo.
Dost understand me, Miguel mio?"

"I have heard, master, that thou art pressed for funds of late, and
threatened with imprisonment provided money be not forthcoming for thy
creditors."

"That is it. And dost know, Miguel, whence I may get that money--or,
what is the same to me now, how I may evade payment for a while?"

"As to the _dinero_, master--'sooth, I know not where to find it; for if
I did, certain thou shouldst have it. As to evading the payment, there
is but one way open, and that--"

"Lies yonder," added Balboa, then continued, bitterly: "Yet it is not
open, after all, for how can I get aboard the vessel? Don Diego--and may
the devil get his soul in keeping, say I!--Don Diego has sent the
caravel to prevent the escape of poor men like me who would redeem
themselves in a far country. He would keep us here, it seems, to rot in
misery, rather than afford us a chance to get gold for the payment of
our debts."

"Don Diego is a fool!" exclaimed the mayordomo. "Yea, and so is the
Bachelor Enciso. Faith, if we cannot outwit them both, thou mayst cut
off my head and stick it on a pole! When canst thou be ready, my
master?"

"In an hour, Miguel. But what will it avail?"

"Say no more, my master, but go to the rancho, and return to the beach
within an hour or two. It were better if after dark; but not too late
for getting aboard the ship."

"Oh no, not too late for boarding the ship," rejoined Balboa,
derisively. "It hath ever been that, of late. But, what is thy scheme,
Miguel?"

"Let not that concern thee, master. Go thou, and remember these
proverbs: 'When the iron is hot, then is the time to strike'; and 'When
the fool has made up his mind, the market is over!'"

Balboa laughed lightly as he hastened away to the rancho, whence he
returned, two or three hours later, accompanied by an Indian porter with
a full suit of armor on his back, and another with a large basket
containing articles of wearing apparel.

Miguel was standing by a large cask, one end of which was open.
Directing the Indians to deposit their burdens on the sand beside the
cask, he sent them back to the rancho, thus leaving himself and Balboa
alone. Not far away, though but dimly visible in the starlit night, a
number of Indians were rolling casks of provisions into a small boat
from the ship.

"They will be ready for this in about an hour," said the mayordomo, "so
I fain must pack it quickly. What thinkst thou of thy quarters, master
mine?"

"What? Is that thy scheme--to send me aboard packed like pork in a cask?
Never, Miguel! The stigma would cling to me forever!"

"Not so closely, perhaps, as thy creditors, my master. But choose thou,
and quickly, for time is no laggard. Meanwhile thou'rt making up thy
mind, I'll pack this armor and clothing in the lower end of the cask.
See, now, I shall secure it with braces, so the armor may not rattle;
and observe thou that there are holes, which I have bored in the sides,
to give thee air. Now, when quite ready, get therein, and I will head
thee up, my master."

"But, Miguel, suppose the cask were to turn over? With the weight of my
armor upon me, I should be suffocated, methinks."

"Nay, master, turned over thou shalt not be, for I shall give
instructions to the crew to keep the top-end uppermost."

"But they may not observe them," groaned Balboa, as he clambered into
the cask and settled himself in position.

"They will, master; trust me," said the faithful Miguel. "In the lading,
they may roll thee about a bit, to be sure. Still, it will be better
than to be squeezed by thy creditors."

"Well, as thou sayest, Miguel. In I go, perchance to a living tomb. A
thousand ducats for thee, Miguel, if the venture prove successful."

"Ha! But when do I get it, master?"

"When I am lord of Terra Firma! But stay, Miguel. There is Leoncico. I
cannot, must not, leave him behind."

"Truly thou sayest," replied the mayordomo; "but for the hound I have
already provided. He goes aboard with Salvador Gonzalez, who, also, will
have an eye on this cask, to open it at the proper time, which cannot
be till to-morrow, know thou."

[Illustration: BALBOA CARRIED ON SHIPBOARD]

"Ah, well! get me aboard; and caution the men to handle me carefully.
_Adios_, Miguel, good friend. May the Lord reward thee."

Enciso's vessel was laden by midnight, and before dawn of the next
morning was well in the offing, from the shore appearing a mere speck
upon the horizon. The bachelor was now in high feather, for he had, as
he thought, completely outwitted the scheming debtors of the island, who
intended boarding his vessel, and had dismissed the armed caravel with a
message to Don Diego to this effect. What, then, was his astonishment,
about mid-forenoon of the first day out, to be confronted by a mailed
apparition, in the person of the most notorious debtor that Santo
Domingo had known--Vasco Nuñez de Balboa!

Clad in full armor, with his good Toledo blade in one hand and the
famous hound, Leoncico, by his side, the soldier-colonist strode aft to
the quarter-deck where Enciso was standing. He had been released from
his cramped quarters in the cask by his neighbor Gonzalez, guided by
Leoncico, who picked out his master's place of imprisonment from among
the freightage in the vessel's bows, and stood by solemnly until he was
freed.

"_Dios mio!_" exclaimed Balboa, after the head of the cask had been
removed and his own head took its place. "That was an experience I would
not endure again for an empire! Give me to eat, friend Salvador, and
something to drink, for of a truth I am perishing of hunger and thirst.
My limbs, too, are as stiff as a stake, so rub me down, _amigo_, and
then help me on with my armor."



II

LEADER OF A FORLORN HOPE

1510


When the Bachelor Enciso beheld Vasco Nuñez before him, even though the
stowaway removed his plumed hat and bowed obsequiously almost to the
deck, he was exceedingly disturbed. As he gazed, open-mouthed, upon the
handsome countenance of Balboa, wreathed as it was with a most provoking
smile, which seemed to say, "Aha! I have outwitted you at last," his
choler rose, so that at first he could not find words for his wrath.

Finally it was voiced, and he poured forth, upon the still smiling
vagabond in armor before him, a torrent of words which, since they were
not chosen with a view to being reproduced for posterity to peruse, will
not be repeated herewith. Suffice it that, when at last his rage and his
vocabulary were seemingly exhausted, he was somewhat mollified by
Balboa's single remark: "Well, Señor Bachelor, after all, the island, it
seemeth, has lost a bad citizen, while you have gained a good soldier.
Yea, two good soldiers, for here behold my hound, Leoncico, who will do
more than one man's work, I ween."

"Scoundrel!" sputtered the lawyer, "what bad citizen--and, faith, you
are one--ever became a good soldier? I have a mind--yea, a mind almost
made up for that--to leave you on the reefs of Roncador, there to
subsist on such as the sea may yield. And your impudence, moreover, to
force yourself upon my company, when, as you cannot truthfully deny, you
owe me, myself, two hundred ducats!"

"Nor do I deny it," answered Balboa, with a winning smile. "And the fact
that I do not--and, moreover, seek you out--and, as you say, force
myself upon your company--would not that imply that my motives are most
honorable? Why should I seek to ally with one to whom I am indeed in
debt but for a desire to liquidate that obligation? You yourself know,
Bachelor, that there are now no opportunities in Hispaniola: none for
the planter, even--which I am not; and scarce any for the
soldier--which I am. Take me with you, then, and but give me
opportunity. From the first spoils I win of the heathen, you shall
recoup yourself the two hundred ducats, and I shall not rest until all
my creditors have likewise been repaid in full."

"I do not know," remarked Enciso dubiously. "I remember the proverb,
'When the devil says his prayers, he wants to cheat you.' I never knew
you, Vasco Nuñez de Balboa, to be over-anxious to discharge your debts.
Still, since you are here, and if, before these men assembled, you will
pledge your fealty, promising support and obedience to my commands, I
will allow you to remain."

"I thank your excellency; and let me quote another proverb, which I
verily believe in, '_Quien busca, halla_--He who seeks, finds!' I have
sought, I shall seek yet more, and--I shall find!"

With these words, Balboa bowed low to the lawyer-captain, turned on his
heel, and walked forward to rejoin his friends. Enciso looked after him,
noting his stalwart, muscular figure, his independent poise, and shook
his head. He had, indeed, gained a sturdy recruit, but one of such
lofty and intrepid spirit that he might not be content with a position
in the ranks, and, perchance, might some time aspire to command. Lawyer
that he was, he was provoked to think that he had, in a sense,
compounded with felony, and allowed a man to join his company who was
under the ban of the law. But, like the lawyer that he was, he shrugged
his shoulders and hoped all would turn out for the best. Balboa had his
permission to stay, and even if he had not given it, he could not get
rid of the impudent rascal without throwing him overboard.

Balboa joined his friends in the prow of the ship, and, with something
of a swagger, told of his reception by Enciso, whom he complimented for
his good sense in securing a good recruit, even though it had gone
against his prejudices to do so. Salvador Gonzalez and a few other
soldier-settlers, who had enlisted for the voyage and a year thereafter
of service on land, then informed Balboa of the nature of the expedition
in which he had engaged. They had turned the empty cask bottom up, and,
gathered around Balboa's erstwhile domicile of the night before, regaled
themselves upon viands brought from their Dominican farms. A goat-skin
of wine hung conveniently near, and as this was frequently resorted to,
the spirits of the company rose with the progress of the meal.

"You may not understand, Vasco Nuñez _mio_," said Gonzalez, "that this
expedition we are on is for the relief of Don Alonso de Ojeda, who has
made, now, three voyages to Terra Firma, and has founded a colony on the
Gulf of Urabá. He and Don Diego de Nicuesa were given by the sovereigns
permission to settle the coast of Terra Firma, between Cape de la Vela
and Gracias á Dios, and they sailed from Santo Domingo, as you know, at
or about the same time. When Don Alonso left, he had arranged with this
our commander, the Bachelor Enciso, to prepare a vessel and follow him,
after a certain interval. That interval has elapsed, and, true to his
pledge, Don Martin Fernandez has set sail, and here we are, you see, on
the high seas between Santo Domingo and the continent of mysteries
[South America]."

"And well pleased am I," responded Balboa, "to find myself loose from
that island of plagues and poverty. Whate'er betide, meseems we cannot
do worse on the continent than in Hispaniola. Well it is that I
preserved my good sword all these years that I have played the planter
in that island, for now I see my way to carve a fortune with it in a new
land where gold abounds. Here, then, is to the success of our voyage!
May we find gold galore, and caciques as rich as was Caonabo when Don
Cristobal Columbus came first to Hispaniola!"

He filled a calabash with wine, which he quaffed at a draught, and his
companions likewise drank most heartily to the toast he proposed.

"How many are there in our company?" asked Balboa.

"One hundred and fifty men," answered Gonzalez, "plus yourself."

"Then there are one hundred and fifty-two, for Leoncico is as good as
any soldier, and shall share on equal terms with all."

This Balboa said with such determination that it was easy to see his dog
stood only second to himself in his estimation.

"Ay, he is a fine brute," assented Gonzalez. "I know him well. He is a
son of Ponce de Leon's dog, Becerrico, who performed such feats in the
island San Juan, and well worthy of his sire. And, inasmuch as
Becerrico received a soldier's full share, yielding his master more than
two thousand pesos in gold, as prize-money for those he captured, I see
not why Leoncico should not be received among us on the same terms."

"You shall never regret it!" exclaimed Balboa, eagerly, "for on
occasions he can render the service of a dozen men. He is a sentinel
that never sleeps. By day and by night, he is ever on the watch. And,
mates, his instinct is most wonderful. He can distinguish between a
peaceful and a warlike Indian merely by his smell. When we were hunting
down the Indians of the Cibao, ten Christians escorted by this dog were
in greater security than twenty were without him. Seeing an Indian at a
distance, I have loosed him, saying, 'There he is, seek him,' and he
hath so fine a scent that not one ever escaped him. Having overtaken an
Indian, he will take him by the hand or sleeve or girdle, perchance he
have anything upon him, and lead him gently towards me, without biting
or annoying him at all; but should the savage resist, he would tear him
to pieces. Look at the scars upon him," added Balboa, proudly, drawing
the blood-hound towards him and pointing out the many places where he
had been wounded. "Most of these wounds were made by Indian arrows; but
here is where a javelin struck and tore him badly, and here again where
a spear glanced from his ribs that might else have penetrated to his
heart. Ah, you are a great dog, aren't you, Leoncico?" The hound raised
his massive head and sent forth a roar that resounded through the ship.
He was an ugly brute, even for a blood-hound, and few aboard ship cared
to handle him; but with Balboa he was like a kitten.

Pursuing a course southwesterly across the Caribbean Sea, Enciso's ship
finally arrived at the harbor of Cartagena, where, as the Spaniards
attempted to land, they were set upon by a host of savages, who had been
roused to exasperation by Ojeda and were burning for revenge. Balboa and
the more fiery of the cavaliers were for attacking them forthwith; but
Enciso was of a peaceable disposition and would not consent. He withdrew
from the shore a little way, and parleyed with the Indians through an
interpreter, with the consequence that they desisted from their hostile
demonstrations and soon engaged in friendly barter with the Spaniards.
Though they had suffered severely at the hands of Ojeda, who had killed
many of their warriors, women, and children, as well as burned their
town to ashes, these so-called savages forgot their wrongs and mingled
freely with the countrymen of those who had ravaged their territory.

Enciso took occasion to point out the advantages the Spaniards might
always gain if they would treat these simple people fairly instead of
with rank injustice, as was usually the case when the two races met.
Balboa, Gonzalez, and their like, who had been schooled in the barbarous
savagery of Bobadilla and Ovando, dissented from the bachelor's opinion,
and declared he was altogether too lenient with the Indians. Then and
there, in fact, began the dissension among the soldiers which resulted
in Enciso's overthrow. But of that anon.

As they were about to leave Cartagena harbor, a sail was descried at a
distance, which proved to be a brigantine laden with soldiers who had
enlisted with Ojeda. This was proven to the satisfaction of Enciso, and
on coming to close quarters he hailed them and demanded why they had
deserted their post. He was answered by the commander of the ship, who
was no less than the subsequently renowned Francisco Pizarro, that
famine and savages had combined to drive them away. Ojeda, said Pizarro,
had departed two months before, in a pirate ship bound for Santo
Domingo, leaving him in command. He was to wait fifty days, and if at
the end of that time no supplies or reinforcements came, was at liberty
to abandon the settlement. The stipulated time passed, and the survivors
of the wretched colony embarked in two vessels. One of these was
swallowed by the sea, and the terrified crew of the other vessel sought
the harbor of Cartagena, intending to sail direct for Santo Domingo.

They had endured enough, all agreed, having lost more than a hundred
comrades by drowning, starvation, and the Indians' poisoned arrows. Even
the indomitable Pizarro was convinced that a return to the deserted
settlement was useless, for the savages had burned their fort before
they left the harbor, and everything would have to be done over anew.
But Enciso, as _alcalde mayor_ by appointment of Ojeda, was then ranking
officer of the little squadron, and Pizarro was subject to his
authority. He yielded to his superior as gracefully as might have been
expected in the circumstances; but soon after it was noticed that he and
Balboa (having previously met in Santo Domingo, where they were at one
time boon companions, in fact) had their heads together, and it was
surmised, not without reason, that a plot was hatching.

The Bachelor Enciso was not devoid of tact, however, and to divert the
malcontents led them on an expedition inland, to ravage the territory of
the cacique Zenu and ravish the sepulchres of his ancestors, which were
said to be filled with gold and gems. It was Balboa who related the
story of the golden sepulchres, which he recalled as having heard when
he was on that very coast with Bastidas.

"And, moreover," said he, "I bethink me of what was related respecting
the gold of that region. It is said to abound in such quantities that it
may be picked up by the basketful. In the season of rains, which is now,
gold, in great nuggets large as eggs, is washed down by the torrents,
and all the natives do to collect it is to stretch nets across the
streams. Going to them in the morning, as a fisherman would visit his
nets in the sea, they find the precious metal in such abundance that
they bear it away by the backload."

Thus discoursed the redoubtable Vasco Nuñez de Balboa to his commander,
Enciso; and though there were those on board ship who, knowing him of
old, declared that he was prone to "shoot with the long bow," or, in
other words, tell incredible yarns, the bachelor believed his story,
every word, and prepared to put it to the proof. As he, Enciso, was a
man of peace, more learned in the law than versed in the practice of
arms, he allowed Balboa to take charge of the expedition, though he
himself went along in an advisory capacity.

The remarkable abilities of the Bachelor Enciso shone forth in a
remarkable manner at the outset, for, meeting with two caciques in
command of a large army of naked warriors, he insisted upon expounding
to them the "why and wherefore" of the Spaniards having invaded their
territory. He had with him the old formula, drawn up by the learned
doctors of Spain, which recited that, in virtue of the world having been
given by God to the pope, and by the latter the unexplored regions of
America to the king of Spain, hence the inhabitants thereof, which
included, of course, those same Indian caciques, should submit to the
Spaniards, etc. But these two caciques were strangely stubborn, for they
could not perceive the connecting links in an argument which was
supposed to be final as to the rights of the Spaniards to territory
which they and their ancestors had held beyond the memory of any living
man. One of them, in fact, was so rude as to inform the bachelor that
while he assented to the proposition that there was but one God, who
lived in the heavens, they could not understand how it was He had given
the world to the pope, who also must have been drunk, or crazy, to
present to the king of Spain what did not belong to him. And he
furthermore added that he and his friend were rulers over that golden
province, and if Enciso persisted in his hostile action, they would be
forced to cut off his head and stick it up on a pole. Then he and his
warriors turned about and pointed to the palisaded fort behind them,
where, over the gateway, ranged in grisly rows, Enciso and his men saw
several heads that had once been carried on living shoulders.

This ghastly spectacle did not daunt Enciso, however, who said to Balboa
and Pizarro, "Well, I have given them the law; now it only remains for
you to give them what they can better understand, perhaps--that is, the
sword and the lance."

The two dauntless fighters desired nothing better than the pretty fight
that was promised with the caciques, and, with shouts to their
followers, led them against the foe. The battle was short, but fierce.
The two caciques were forced to retreat, leaving many of their men dead
on the field; but two of the Spaniards were wounded with poisoned
arrows, and died in torments. The province was ravaged, but no gold was
found, either as ornaments in the sepulchres or nuggets in nets
stretched across the roaring torrents.



III

BALBOA ASSERTS HIS SUPREMACY

1510


The barren victory at Zenu did not serve to greatly strengthen the
authority of Enciso, and it required all his arts as a solicitor to
induce Pizarro's disgusted soldiers to return to San Sebastian--as
Ojeda's settlement was called. It was situated on the east side of an
inlet from the Gulf of Darien known as Urabá, the currents of which were
so swift and strong as to force Enciso's vessel upon a shoal, where she
went to pieces, with the result that nearly all her precious freight was
lost, the men on board barely escaping with their lives. They reached
the shore nearly naked and destitute, only to find their fortress and
former dwellings in ashes, and the rapacious savages lying in wait for
them in the surrounding forest.

A party sent by Enciso to forage the country was waylaid by Indians,
who wounded several Spaniards with their poisoned arrows, and compelled
the command to retreat to the shore. There a consultation was held, at
which all present were unanimous for abandoning a region where, in their
own words, "Sea and land, the skies and the inhabitants, all unite to
repulse us." But they knew not whither to go, unless it were back to
Santo Domingo, which, under the circumstances, would not be likely to
receive them hospitably. At this juncture, the one man of that company
who had less to expect from a return to the island than from remaining
away from it, stepped forth and, by his words of encouragement, kindled
in the hearts of the despairing colonists new spirits and new hopes.

"Now I remember," said Vasco Nuñez de Balboa, "that some years ago when
passing by this coast on a voyage of discovery with Rodrigo de Bastidas,
we entered this very gulf and disembarked on its western shore. There we
found a large river, and saw on its opposite bank an Indian town, the
inhabitants of which do not poison their arrows. The country adjacent,
moreover, was open and fertile, so that, doubtless, we shall find there
great store of maize and cassava, as well as a good site for a
settlement."

This welcome information at once placed Balboa upon a pinnacle of
prominence, and he was urged to lead the starving band towards the
promised land of abundance. As many as possible crowded into the
remaining brigantine, and sailed across the gulf, where they found the
river and the town, just as Vasco Nuñez had described them. They landed
at once and took possession, for the town was abandoned of its
inhabitants, who had retreated to the forest. The place, however, was
rendered untenable at the moment by its brave cacique, named Zemaco,
who, with five hundred warriors, had intrenched himself on a near-by
hill, where he courageously awaited the invaders, determined to give
them battle. With such men as Pizarro and Balboa in his command, and the
latter already aspiring to leadership, it was not possible for Enciso to
restrain the ardor of his men, who would not heed his desire to parley
with the Indians, but immediately attacked them in their chosen
stronghold.

The Indians fought for their homes, but the Spaniards for their very
lives, and with such desperation they battled that the issue was not
long in doubt. The cacique and his warriors were driven from the hill
with slaughter, and the victorious though famishing Spaniards, unable to
pursue and overtake them in their flight, remained in possession of the
town, with its ample stores of provisions and its treasures. They found
in the huts, thrust beneath thatched roofs of palm leaves, many quaint
ornaments of gold, such as anklets and bracelets, nose and ear rings,
altogether to the value of ten thousand crowns. In the reeds and canes
along the river, also, were discovered many precious articles concealed
there by the Indians in their flight, and the cacique, having been
captured and put to the torture, revealed the hiding-place of many more.

Thus suddenly raised from poverty to affluence, with more than twelve
thousand pieces of gold in their possession, the Spaniards entertained
hopes of acquiring yet greater wealth, in a short time, by marauding
expeditions. But their ardent expectations were suddenly dashed by
Enciso, who not only claimed the right to hold in his keeping all the
gold, in conformity to royal command, but imprudently prohibited all
traffic with the Indians on individual account, under penalty of death.
As the greater part of his command was composed of men like Balboa, who
had left their country in the hope of bettering their fortunes by barter
with the natives of this golden region, dissatisfaction was wide-spread
and the murmurings loud as well as deep. It was instantly perceived that
the bachelor would prove a captious, miserly master, and the bolder
spirits of the company resolved upon resisting his authority.

All had agreed, meanwhile, that the Indian village was well situated for
a permanent settlement, and, after sending for the remainder of his
company at San Sebastian, Enciso commenced to lay the foundations of a
town which, in fulfilment of a vow he had made, he called Antigua del
Darien. He was the founder of the town of Antigua, but was not to remain
long in control of it, for, having without sufficient force to back him
attempted to restrain the passions of his followers and deprive them of
their liberties, he was soon to be swept away when those pent-up
passions burst their bounds.

The Spaniards of those days had a deep reverence for royal authority and
fear of their king; but when it was casually discovered that Enciso had
unwittingly settled upon territory which had been granted to Nicuesa,
and over which neither Ojeda nor himself had any jurisdiction, he was
promptly deposed by the soldiers, who refused him further allegiance. He
was beaten by his own weapons--those of the law--which were turned
against him by his chief opponent, Balboa, who had never forgotten
Enciso's threat to throw him into the sea, or land him on a desert
island, when he had first made his appearance on shipboard. The line of
demarcation between the territories granted to Ojeda and Nicuesa
respectively ran through the centre of the Gulf of Urabá, the eastern
shores of which pertained to the former and the western to the latter.

As Antigua had been founded on the western shore, it undoubtedly lay
within the limits of Nicuesa's grant, and hence the unfortunate Enciso
was without a legal leg to stand on. "This miser who would deprive us of
our gold," said Balboa, "and who covets for himself all the fruits of
our efforts, would use to our prejudice an authority to which he has no
just claim. Placed as we are, beyond the limits assigned to Ojeda's
jurisdiction, his command as alcalde mayor is become null, together with
our obligation to obedience."

Enciso could not refute this argument, and was set aside, in his place
being elected as alcaldes, or magistrates, Vasco Nuñez de Balboa and a
man named Zamudio. Though the majority of the company had chosen these
two as their chiefs, there were still some discontented ones, and
finally the altercations became so violent as to threaten the disruption
of the little colony. In the midst of it, one day, as the disputants
were hotly engaged in the market-place, they heard the sound of cannon
and saw signal-smokes arising from the hills across the gulf from
Antigua. They replied in like manner, with cannon and smoke-signals, and
soon two ships were seen sailing from the eastward, which, on arrival in
the river, proved to be in command of one Diego de Colmenares, who had
come from Spain in search of Nicuesa, the long absence of whom without
tidings had excited alarm.

Learning that opinion in the colony was divided as to the authority that
should rule there, Colmenares agreed to remain and share his arms and
supplies with the colonists, provided they would receive Nicuesa as
their leader. This proposition having been acceded to (for the
liberality of Colmenares had gained him universal favor), he and two
others were deputed to go in search of the lost leader, who, with seven
vessels and five hundred men, had disappeared, months before, and left
no sign by which others could follow him. It was known that he had taken
part with Ojeda in an attack upon the Indians at Cartagena, after which
he had set sail for his allotted territory to the westward of Urabá.
Since then nothing whatever had been heard from Nicuesa, but the search
of Colmenares disclosed the details of a terrible narrative of suffering
and fatal disasters, almost without a parallel in the annals of
exploration. In short, at the time Colmenares set out from Antigua, only
sixty men survived of the five hundred who had sailed from Spain with
Nicuesa, and but one brigantine was left of his fleet.

The unfortunate explorer was finally found at a port on the north coast
of the isthmus named Nombre de Dios, where he and the remnant of his
band were existing in a state of utter despondency, unable to get away,
and despairing of assistance from any quarter. This port had been
discovered and named by Nicuesa himself, who, on reaching it when worn
by fatigue and exhausted by hunger, had exclaimed: "En nombre de
Dios--in the name of God--let us rest here!" There he and his companions
gave up their battle against the elements and hostile savages, and in
the apathy of despair awaited the end. From this situation they were
rescued by the coming of Colmenares, who snatched them from the very
jaws of death.

This Nicuesa had been a man of some distinction in Spain, where he had
held the office of royal carver, and had amassed quite a fortune. He was
just such a vivacious and testy cavalier as Ojeda himself, with whom,
by-the-way, he came near fighting a duel over their respective
boundaries. His reckless and generous disposition was made manifest by
the bountiful dinner he ordered prepared from the stores brought by his
rescuer, at which he proudly exhibited his skill as a carver, by slicing
and disjointing a fowl while held in the air on a fork. His imprudence
was shown by repeated boasts that he would promptly chastise those who
had ventured to question his authority over Antigua, and would take from
them all the gold of which, without his permission, they had possessed
themselves. It belonged to the crown, he said, and to him, and those who
held it must disgorge, even to the last _centavo_, which he would force
them to do immediately on his arrival. Colmenares and his two companions
were disgusted, and their apprehensions were further excited at the
story told them by one Lope de Olano, who had formerly come to Nicuesa's
relief, and had been imprisoned by him on a technical charge of
desertion. "Take warning by my treatment," he said, privately, to the
envoys. "I brought relief to Nicuesa, and rescued him from certain death
when starving on a desert island; but behold my recompense! He repays
me, as you see, with imprisonment and with chains. And such, believe me,
is the gratitude the people of Darien may look for at his hands."

Colmenares continued loyal to his chief, but his companion envoys,
Corral and Albitez, were so impressed by the avaricious disposition
displayed by Nicuesa, that they hastened ahead of the brigantine in
which he embarked, and, arriving at Antigua before him, warned the
inhabitants against receiving the boastful ingrate into their midst. "A
blessed change we shall make," they said, "in summoning this Diego de
Nicuesa to take supreme command. We have called in King Stork with a
vengeance, and he will not rest until he has devoured us. What folly is
it, being our own masters, and in such free condition, to send for a
tyrant to rule over us!"

Their words, indeed, produced a turmoil, and the two parties of Enciso
and Balboa, though opposed to each other, quickly united in opposition
to the landing of Nicuesa. When the man without a government arrived in
the river opposite Antigua, the people sallied forth as if to receive
him, but with loud cries and menaces warned him against disembarking,
and ordered him back to Nombre de Dios. It was a desperate situation for
Nicuesa, who felt, indeed, as if "the heavens were falling on his head."
To be warned away from his own territory was humiliating, but to be sent
back to the isthmus meant death by starvation. He entreated, then, to be
allowed to land, though merely as an equal and companion; failing in
that, he begged the heartless Spaniards to take and imprison him, since,
though he should lose his liberty, his life might be saved thereby. But
the factions were obdurate, and when, in spite of Balboa's warning,
Nicuesa persisted in landing, a band of vagabonds pursued him along the
shore until, by sheer fleetness of foot, he escaped from them and
plunged into the forest.

At sight of this once respected cavalier, who had lost a fortune in his
expedition, and was now reduced to the extremity of flight before a
rabble crew, Balboa's heart misgave him. He had been foremost in
exciting the populace against Nicuesa, but he had not expected such a
tempest of disapproval as to threaten his life, and strove earnestly to
allay it, though in vain. His fellow-alcalde Zamudio was the most
demonstrative against the poor wretch, fearing to lose his position
should he be allowed to assume the government. One of his most zealous
supporters was a burly ruffian named Benitez, who was so vociferous that
Balboa, after repeatedly warning him to desist, suddenly set in motion
the machinery of the law, and, in his capacity of magistrate, ordered
him to receive one hundred lashes on the bare shoulders. This act of
lawful violence cooled the emotions of the mob somewhat, and poor
Nicuesa was allowed to emerge from the forest and seek shelter on his
brigantine. Here he received word from Balboa that his only safety lay
in keeping out of sight aboard the vessel; but the next morning, while
his friend's attention was attracted in another direction, he was lured
on shore by a deputation assuming to have been sent to treat with him,
and hastily cast into a small and unseaworthy vessel, which was set
adrift upon the waters of the gulf. Together with seventeen comrades,
who chose to accompany him on his perilous voyage, Nicuesa was thrust
into the miserable craft, which, with scant provisions and little water,
was sent forth to cross the Caribbean Sea, and was never heard of again.

Nicuesa was thus disposed of the first week in March, 1511. He was never
to return; but a few years later his avengers exacted reparation for
this barbarous deed, and Balboa lost his life partly in consequence.
After ridding themselves of Nicuesa, the Antiguans resolved upon sending
Enciso after him, and under form of the law succeeded in doing so. He
was, however, better equipped for a voyage than his lamented
predecessor, and in the caravel which conveyed him to Santo Domingo and
Spain went also the alcalde Zamudio. He had been prevailed upon by his
partner to take the voyage for the purpose of presenting their cause at
court, and thus, at a single _coup_, the wily Balboa removed an enemy
and a rival from the colony, and was left in sole and absolute command.



IV

BALBOA CAPTURES A PRINCESS

1511


Until the expulsion of Enciso, says a Spanish writer of the century in
which the actions narrated occurred, Balboa might have been considered
as a bold and factious intriguer who, aided by his popularity, aspired
to the first place among his equals, and who endeavored, artfully and
audaciously, to rid himself of all who might, with better title, have
disputed it with him; but as soon as he found himself alone and
unrivalled, he gave himself up solely to the preservation and
improvement of the colony which had fallen into his hands. He then began
to justify his ambition by his services, to raise his mind to a level
with the dignity of his office, and to place himself, in the scale of
public opinion, almost in comparison with Columbus himself.

The removal of the colony from San Sebastian to Darien had been done in
pursuance of his advice, and the wisdom of this act being apparent to
everybody, he was thereby raised above all others in the estimation of
his companions. He was not made giddy by his elevation to supreme power,
but, on the contrary, seemed sobered by it, as though he realized his
responsibilities, and also wished to justify his comrades' confidence in
him. Having been invested with the command, he became a real leader and
actual head of affairs, always first in any toil and danger, and
shrinking from no exposure, whether to the elements or the weapons of
the savages. While frank and affable in common discourse, and ever
accessible to the meanest and most humble colonist, yet he was a strict
disciplinarian with reference to his soldiers, and insisted upon being
treated with the deference due him as governor-general of the colony and
captain of its forces. He fully recognized the necessity for collecting
ample supplies of gold, to be forwarded to King Ferdinand of Spain, in
order to purchase exemption from punishment for his expulsion of Enciso,
a royal official; but he deprived no man of his portion in consequence.
Balboa was probably one of the most generous and high-minded of the
Spanish-American conquerors. While he sometimes treated the Indians with
barbarity, and his exactions bore heavily upon them, yet he was never
unfair to his comrades when it came to a division of spoils. He was
known to have relinquished his own share on more than one occasion, in
order that his followers might not lose their reward for the toils and
dangers of an arduous campaign.

Having united the warring factions among the colonists, and secured the
unswerving loyalty of his soldiers by offering them in himself an
exemplar of soldierly qualities, Balboa turned his attention to
establishing the colony on a basis of thrift and security. He built a
stockaded fort, repaired the dilapidated brigantines, ordered extensive
fields to be cleared for planting with corn, and drilled his soldiers
constantly. No tidings coming from the exiled Nicuesa as the weeks went
by, Balboa despatched vessels for the rescue of whatever survivors might
be discovered at Nombre de Dios and along the intervening coast, thereby
saving several half-starved wretches from death. Among others thus
rescued were two Spaniards who had fled from the severities of Nicuesa
more than a year before, and found refuge with the cacique of a province
called Coyba. They were nearly naked, like the Indians, and their skins
were painted, after the fashion in vogue among the savages; but they
could still speak their native language, and thenceforth served Balboa
as interpreters. They had been kindly treated by Careta, the cacique of
Coyba, who had freely given them shelter, food, and clothing; but their
first thought, when they found themselves safe at Darien, was how they
might betray him and assist their countrymen to obtain his treasures.
Shown into the presence of Captain Balboa, they eagerly offered to lead
him to Coyba, where, they said, he would find an immense booty in gold
as well as vast quantities of provisions.

"And this cacique Careta, you say, treated you well?" he asked.

"As well as he could, being a savage," answered one of the men. "He is
naught but an Indian, half the time going naked, and with manners not of
the best; but such as he had he freely gave us, and saved us both from
death by starvation, most likely."

"And yet," rejoined Balboa, with a curl of his lip, "ye would have me
attack this generous chieftain, lay his town in ashes, perchance kill
him and some of his subjects?"

"We have naught against him," answered the man, evasively; "but, being
possessed of gold, of which he knows not the use, and of provisions,
which ye certainly need in this settlement, it seemed to us our duty to
acquaint you with these things."

"And that was well," exclaimed Balboa, "for of a truth we need both gold
and supplies for our larder, which is low, even near to being exhausted.
As to gold--indeed, as you say, the savage knows not its value, while to
us it is the greatest and best thing in the world. We are already under
ban of the king, most probably, for hastening the departure of the
Bachelor Enciso, and unless I can persuade his majesty, with a golden
argument, of the justice of our doings, it may go hard with me and with
us all. So now, as I say, this news comes most opportunely, and
peradventure it turn out to be true, ye shall not suffer for the
imparting of it. I will myself lead the way, with you as guides, and if
we can accomplish our object without bloodshed, much better will I be
suited than if violence be done."

Balboa was highly elated by the tidings of a golden country not far
distant, and, selecting a hundred and thirty of his best men, embarked
them in two brigantines for the province of Coyba. They were equipped
with the best weapons the colony could supply, and also with utensils
for opening roads into the mountains, as well as with merchandise for
traffic should it seem better to barter with the Indians than attack
them openly.

The swamps and forests adjacent to the colony were occupied by Indians
of different tribes, some more warlike than others, but none of them so
barbarous as the fierce Caribs of the eastern shore of the Urabá Gulf,
who ate their prisoners, gave no quarter in battle, and made use of
poisoned arrows. These terrible weapons, as already remarked, were not
used by the Indians of the western shore, who were far less sanguinary,
though obstinate in battle and even ferocious. They spared the lives of
their captives, and, instead of eating or sacrificing them to their
gods, branded them on the forehead, or knocked out a tooth, as a sign of
servility, and kept them as slaves. Each tribe was governed by a
cacique, or supreme chief, whose title and privileges were
hereditary, and who was permitted to have numerous wives, while the
common warrior had but a single helpmeet, unless he had won unusual
distinction by great bravery in battle. Besides supporting their
caciques, the Darien Indians allowed priests, or magicians, and doctors
to exercise their arts, and they adored a supreme deity, known as
_Tuira_, to whom the milder tribes offered spices, fruits, and flowers,
while the more savage ones poured out blood upon their altars and made
human sacrifices.

[Illustration: VILLAGE ON RIVER OF DARIEN]

The houses of these people were mostly made of poles, or canes, loosely
bound together with vines, and roofed with a thatch composed of grasses
and palm leaves so thickly placed as to turn the tropical rains and
afford a perfect shelter. When these structures were built on solid
ground they were called _bohios_, as in the islands of the West Indies,
and some of them were nearly a hundred feet in length, though not over
twenty or thirty in breadth. The majority, however, were small huts, at
a distance very much resembling hay-stacks, having a single opening
only, as a doorway, and a clay or earthen floor, with a fire usually
burning in the centre, the smoke from which escaped through the roof of
thatch. There was another class of dwellings, either aerial or aquatic,
depending upon whether they were built in trees, for safety from floods
and wild beasts, or above the placid surface of some lake or gulf, and
used as dwellings by fishermen. These were known as _barbacoas_; and it
is worthy of note that we find the same name applied to certain elevated
structures of a similar sort used as corn-cribs by the Indians of
Florida in De Soto's time. Both bohios and barbacoas were subject to
removal or abandonment whenever the game of the neighborhood grew
scarce, the soil unfruitful, or a pestilence decimated the tribe,
following the dictates of danger or necessity.

During the greater part of the year, in that tropical climate, clothing
was rarely necessary for warmth, except at night, and the men and boys
were nearly always naked, though the caciques sometimes wore
breech-cloths, and cotton mantles over their shoulders as badges of
distinction. All males, and especially the warriors, painted their
bodies with ochreous earths, and stained their skin with the juice of
the annotto, while they adorned their heads with plumes of feathers.
Both sexes inserted tinted seashells in their ears and nostrils as
"ornaments," and encircled their wrists and ankles with bracelets of
native gold. The women, after reaching the marriageable age, wore cotton
skirts from waist to knee, and broad bands of gold beneath their
breasts. Their hair, which was very coarse and black, they cut off in
front, even with their eyebrows, by means of sharp flints, but allowed
the thick, luxuriant tresses to fall over their shoulders as far as the
waist.

They were fine-looking people, especially the young girls and children,
for, though their complexion was brown, or copper-colored, their forms
were models of symmetry, their countenances pleasing, and their
dispositions sweet and amiable. Their defects (for they were by no means
devoid of them) were such as might be expected to arise from their
barbarous mode of life, descended from ancestors who had never been
instructed in morals or religion, save in their most brutish forms. They
had, of course, no written language, nor even a hieroglyphic system, to
perpetuate their thoughts or the traditions of their ancestors; but
they were experts in the chant and dance known as the _areito_, which
they performed to the rude music of drums made of hollowed logs, like
the _tambouyé_, or "tom-tom," of the Africans.

Free from the cares of civilization, their occupations agricultural,
with frequent forays into the forest for game and upon the river and
gulf for fish, they passed much of their time in idleness, except when
pressed for hunger or incited by passion to war upon their neighbors.
They knew not, as has been said, the value of gold, for they were always
willing to barter great nuggets for the veriest trifles and toys; but
Careta, the cacique of Coyba, may have been instructed in its worth by
the two Spaniards who had shared his hospitality, for when, under their
guidance, Balboa appeared in his settlement and demanded his treasures,
he declared he had none to supply. Neither had he any provisions, he
said, except such as were necessary to carry his tribe over to the next
planting season, for he had been engaged in a disastrous war with Ponca,
a powerful cacique who lived in the mountains, and his people had been
unable either to sow or to reap.

Then one of the traitors took Balboa aside, and said:

"Commander, believe him not. To my certain knowledge, he hath an
abundant hoard of provisions in barbacoas concealed in the forest, and
of gold, also, vast quantities hidden in the reeds and thickets. But it
is best to dissemble, for behold, he is surrounded by two thousand
warriors, and they will fight, as I know from having seen them combat
with the tribe of Ponca. Appear to believe him, then, and pretend to
depart for Antigua; but in the night return, take him by surprise, burn
the village, and make the cacique prisoner, with all his family."

This advice seemed sound to Balboa, and he acted on it promptly, turning
about that afternoon and making as though departing for Darien, after a
cordial leave-taking, to the cacique's great delight. The unsuspecting
chieftain watched the Spaniards out of sight, heard their drums and
bugles resounding through the forest farther and farther away, and,
convinced that they had indeed left him in good faith, retired to rest
without setting scouts on their trail or posting sentinels about his
camp. But the sagacious Balboa had no sooner placed a league or so of
forest between himself and the unwary Careta than he ordered a halt. The
wood was dense and dark, for the trees of the tropical forest are not
only vast of bulk, but thickly held together by innumerable vines and
bush-ropes, called _lianas_, seemingly miles in length, and forming
impenetrable bulwarks, overtopped by canopies of foliage, through which
the sun even at mid-day can hardly send a single ray.

Having with him, however, axes and _machetes_ for cutting his way
through the forest, the prudent Balboa had commanded his men to slash a
broad path ahead of the company, and thus, when they halted for rest
shortly after sunset, behind them lay an open, easy trail leading
directly back to the cacique's village. After posting sentries
roundabout the camp, Balboa ordered a bountiful meal to be served his
hungry men, one hundred of whom were allowed to sleep for the space of
two hours, after which the command was given to march.

Without bustle or confusion, the soldiers formed in loose order and
commenced their retrograde march through the forest, thanks to the
foresight of their commander, finding the return far easier than the
advance. All was silent as they approached the village, and, as
stealthily as jaguars about to leap on their prey, crept within bow-shot
of the dwellings. Balboa had passed the order for his men to refrain
from shedding blood, unless a fierce resistance were offered, and,
whatever happened, to capture the cacique and his family alive. The
royal dwelling was conspicuous from its size and its position on a mound
raised somewhat above the general level of the town, and it was silently
surrounded by a picked company.

Suddenly the twang of a cross-bow string broke the stillness of the
night, followed by a sheet of fire from an arquebuse; for two of the
soldiers had spied some Indians moving through a thicket, and concluded
the whole village was alarmed. At once, in terrible confusion, from the
surrounded houses outpoured swarms of startled savages, naked and
weaponless, seeking security by flight, and with no intention of
resisting the unexpected attack. Several of them were cut down by the
swordsmen and halberdiers, and a few were transfixed by arrows from the
cross-bows; but the greater number were allowed to dart into outer
darkness and escape. Nearly all escaped, in fact, except the cacique's
numerous family, who, surrounded by the soldiery, with naked swords and
lighted fusees in their hands, cowered around their dwelling in
affright.

One alone attempted to escape, and would have succeeded but for
Leoncico, Balboa's faithful hound, who had effectively assisted at
"rounding up" the band, and was keeping a vigilant watch at his master's
side. With a leap and a growl, Leoncico sprang over the heads of the
group in front of him and disappeared in the darkness of the wood.
"Dios!" exclaimed Balboa, in alarm. "It was a woman--a maiden! God grant
she may not resist him! I never knew Leoncico to harm a woman, but he
has torn many a man to pieces. Gonzalez, take you command for the
moment, while I follow the hound to see that he does no harm to the
maiden." Saying this, he plunged into the wood, which grew close up to
the cacique's dwelling, and with his sword and heavy armor cut and beat
down the vines that stretched across the path his hound had taken. Soon
he was surrounded by silence, as well as by darkness, for the Indians
who had fled to the forest lay quiet, like hares in a form, and the
turmoil of the village was left far behind him.

"Leon--Leoncico!" he shouted, "where art thou?" For a while there was no
response, then a hoarse bark sounded in his ears. It came from a point
well ahead, deep in the wood, but by dint of sword and armor he forced
his way to it, and there found that of which he was in search. The
darkness was intense, for the time was then about midnight; but as he
pushed his way onward a stray gleam of moonlight thrust a lance-like
shaft through the leafy canopy above, and he saw the form of Leoncico
crouching in front of a cringing figure outlined against the trunk of a
mighty tree. Then Balboa drew breath with great relief, for, despite the
darkness, he could see that the captive was, apparently, unharmed. She
was pressed close against the tree-trunk, clinging for support to a
sturdy liana, and motionless, save for the trembling which shook her
like a leaf.

She seemed, indeed, a statue cast in golden bronze. Fear had paralyzed
her limbs so that she did not move, even when, approaching softly,
Balboa called to her to be of good cheer and touched her reassuringly.
She continued gazing at the hound with wide-staring eyes and parted
lips, as though fascinated by that terrible apparition. She had never
seen its like before, and could not but have been bereft of sense and
motion when it had sprung upon her from the darkness of the forest, like
a phantom of evil.

Realizing that his errand had been accomplished with the appearance of
his master, Leoncico rose with a growl, and would have returned to the
village had not Balboa halted him. "Lie down, brute," he cried, in a
voice hoarse with rage. "What do you mean by pursuing a defenceless
maiden? Were there not warriors enough for you to slay?"

The hound cringed before him and whined, as though to exculpate himself;
but suddenly his whole attitude changed. Springing erect, and thrusting
his nose into the air, while the hair on his neck bristled with rage, he
uttered a low, deep growl. At the same instant the whistle of an arrow
came to Balboa's ears and a missile struck him forcibly between the
shoulders. But for his armor he might have been transfixed, so
forcefully was the missile-weapon sent; but, as it was, it fell in
fragments to the ground.

Then there was the sound of a scuffle, a shriek of agony pierced the
air, followed by the ravening of Leoncico as he tore to pieces the
victim of his rage. He had sprung upon the savage who in the darkness
had approached and sped the arrow at his master, and, bearing him to the
ground, made short work of the poor wretch, who was soon a mangled
corpse. Stupefied as she was by fear, the maiden could not but have felt
the horror of that terrible scene, and sank senseless to the ground.
War's dread experiences had not so seared the heart of Balboa that he
could be insensible to pity for his helpless captive, and, sheathing his
sword, he gathered her in his arms. Preceded by Leoncico, he bore her
tenderly through the forest, shielding her from harm in the darkness,
and in due time joined his command at the village.



V

THE CACIQUES OF DARIEN

1511


As Vasco Nuñez burst into the circle of light shed by the flames of
burning bohios, the red glare from which lighted up the steel-clad
soldiers and their abject captives, he was greeted by glad exclamations
from the former and cries of distress from the latter. He strode through
the lines without a word, and, making for the group containing the
cacique's family, he sought out an elderly female, whom he supposed to
be the mother of the girl, and delivered his charge into her keeping.
The cries of distress were instantly hushed as the happy mother gathered
the girl in her arms, but as the minutes went by without any signs of
recovery from the maiden, low moans broke from the captives, and many of
them began to gash themselves and tear their hair.

The cacique had stood aloof, stoically refraining from uttering a sound;
but after a while, as his daughter did not return to consciousness, he
went to the side of Balboa, and, raising his manacled hands in the air,
exclaimed:

"What have I done to thee, O thou terrible stranger, that thou shouldst
treat me so cruelly? None of thy people ever came to my land that were
not fed and sheltered and treated with loving kindness. When thou camest
to my dwelling, did I meet thee with a javelin in my hand? Did I not set
forth meat and drink, and welcome thee as a brother? Set me free,
therefore, with my family and people, and we may yet remain as friends.
We will supply thee with provisions and reveal to thee the riches of
this land. But first restore to me my daughter, the light of my eyes,
the pearl of my household, whom thou and that dread beast of thine have
driven to the borderland of death."

During this impassioned speech by the outraged cacique, Balboa remained
gazing first at the chieftain, then at his daughter, without uttering a
word. The mother was chafing the wrists, bathing the forehead, and
whispering tender words into the ears of the maiden, but without
eliciting a response. A most pathetic spectacle mother and daughter
presented, despite the savagery of the parent, her lack of clothing, and
uncouth appearance, which but enhanced by contrast the beauty of the
maiden.

Balboa had thought her beautiful, in the brief glimpses afforded in the
moonlit forest, but now, with her form and features wrought upon
radiantly by the flickering flames, he saw that she was ravishingly
lovely. Touched by her beauty, then, and rendered compassionate by her
helplessness, he allowed his heart to go out to her, and so far as his
rough nature was susceptible to love he felt that sentiment for the
cacique's daughter. Distressed by the silence with which his appeal had
been received, the cacique added:

"Dost thou doubt my faith? Behold my daughter. I give her to thee,
provided she shall be restored, as a pledge of friendship. Thou mayst
take her for thy wife, and be thus assured of the friendship of her
family and her people."

Balboa then awoke, as from a trance, and, grasping Careta's right hand,
exclaimed: "I accept her, if she will but ratify thy offer, and
henceforth there shall be no enmity between us. Men, cast off the chains
from these people. Set them free; and bugler, order the recall,
peradventure there be any in pursuit of our former enemies, now our
friends."

With his own hands he removed the manacles from Careta's wrists, then,
noting by the flickering of the maiden's eyelids that she was
recovering, he hastened to her side. As her eyes opened, they rested in
astonishment first upon the mailed cavalier, standing erect in the
firelight, clad in shining armor from throat to foot, and with a smile
upon his handsome features.

Then in the fulness of his manly powers, with a face and figure that
would have wrought havoc among the dames of his sovereign's court, had
he been favored with a presentation there, Vasco Nuñez de Balboa carried
this untutored maiden's heart by storm. She uttered a low cry, and,
leaping from her mother's lap, darted into the cacique's dwelling, as if
for the first time realizing her lack of proper raiment and desiring to
conceal herself from the eyes of her lover. At a word from the cacique,
whose will was law with all his family, the mother went in after her
and soon reappeared, holding her daughter by one hand. During the brief
time at her disposal, she had found and arrayed herself in a flowing
robe of cotton, embroidered in gold, and gathered at the waist by a
golden girdle. This she clutched nervously, as, with dejected mien and
downcast eyes, she stood before the man in whose sight she had found
favor above all other women.

The marriage ceremony was simple and brief, consisting in the cacique's
joining the right hands of these two so strangely brought together, and
invoking his deity to bless the union, which, at a later period, Balboa
intended to have sanctioned by a priest. Whether this intention was
fulfilled, we will not at this moment inquire. Balboa was a man of many
good resolves and promises, most of which seem to have been made only to
be broken. But, in the sight of God, who sees into the souls of men, and
in the presence of more than one hundred witnesses, who looked on in
vast astonishment as the ceremony was performed, Vasco Nuñez de Balboa
was "well and truly wedded" to the cacique's beautiful daughter. She,
the simple child of nature, untaught by art, and with no moral law to
guide her, knew and cared for naught except that she loved the gallant
cavalier and sought no further.

[Illustration: BALBOA AND THE INDIAN PRINCESS]

Short and fierce had been the wooing of the fair Cacica, wild and weird
the accessories of her wedding, with the accompaniment of burning
dwellings and attendance of rude soldiers in armor bearing flaming
torches. Brief and tempestuous was to be her life on earth thereafter.
Balboa may have reckoned upon this alliance as attaching to his service
one of the most powerful caciques of Darien; but by captivating the
affections of the beautiful Cacica he had incurred the hatred and
jealousy of certain young warriors, who were to cause him trouble in the
near future. He had captured the wild beauty of the wilderness, but in
so doing he enmeshed himself in troubles of far-reaching consequence.
They reached, indeed, across the sea and ocean even to Spain, and in
their train brought retribution, none the less certain because it was
delayed for years.

Love and diplomacy went hand-in-hand, so far as Balboa could perceive,
and as few men ever succeed in reconciling these two, he affected to
believe that he had achieved a victory of great moment. Returning to
Darien with his bride, he there entertained his friend and father-in-law
with jousts and tourneys, showed him the ships, and surprised him with
the thunder of artillery. Nothing delighted, as well as alarmed, the old
chieftain so much as the war-horses, upon the back of one of which he
was mounted, only to be thrown heavily to the sands and receive a rude
awakening. He then conceived an intense admiration for the beings, like
his son-in-law, who could mount and control those wonderful animals, and
never tired of sounding their praises. As he had disclosed to Balboa the
hiding-places of his provisions and treasure, and as the latter had lost
no time in transferring them to Darien, he was instrumental in keeping
starvation from the colony until supplies arrived from Spain or Santo
Domingo, and also of enriching every man in the army. Two brigantines
had been laden with the provisions and spoils obtained in Careta's
territory, in the securing of which the lovely Cacica was largely
instrumental. She induced her father to reveal to her new master the
treasure-vaults amid the sepulchres of her ancestors; but when she
witnessed the rapacity and brutality of the conquerors in ravaging the
graves and desecrating the revered remains, she was grieved to the
heart. Perhaps she then had a foreboding of the evils she was to bring
upon her people, for she became pensive and sad, rarely smiling or
singing during several days thereafter. Upon the warriors of the tribe
the ravage had a different effect, rendering them surly and restive, so
that the cacique was hardly able to restrain them from making reprisals,
and avenging the indignities offered their ancestors by shedding the
blood of the Spaniards.

The attachment of these people to the memory of their dead caciques and
former rulers is shown by the fidelity of their wives and servants, who
immolated themselves upon their graves, in order that they might
continue to serve them in the next life as they had done in this on
earth. They fully believed, says the old chronicler, that "the souls
which omitted this act of duty either perished with their bodies or were
dispersed in air. They consigned their dead to earth, though in some
provinces, as soon as a chieftain died he was seated on a stone, and, a
fire being kindled around him, the corpse was kept till all moisture was
dried, and nothing but skin and bones remained. In this state it was
placed in a retired apartment dedicated to this use, or fastened to a
wall, adorned with plumes, jewels, and even robes, by the side of the
father or ancestor immediately preceding. Thus, with the corpse of the
warrior, was his memory preserved to his family, and if any of them
perished in battle, the fame of his prowess was consigned to posterity
in the songs of the areitos."

Shortly after the return of the cacique to his village, Balboa missed
his mistress one day, and, setting scouts on her trail, traced her to
the Indian cemetery. His emissaries had strict orders to bring her to
him at once, if they found her; but they returned empty-handed, and when
he rated them for disobedience one of the scouts replied: "Señor
Comandante, had you seen what we have seen, you yourself would not have
taken the Cacica from her people. For she and they were engaged in
paying honors to the dead, whose tombs we have, in their opinion,
desecrated by robbing them of their jewels. All the warriors of her
father, the cacique, were gathered around the cemetery, armed with
weapons and painted as if for war. Sooth, they were fierce and warlike,
and it needed but a small provocation to kindle the flames of their
resentment into a blaze that might sweep this colony into the sea. They
had gathered the bones of their deceased rulers together and reinterred
them carefully, those who were dried like mummies by heat having been
affixed against the walls whence they were wrested by our soldiers. When
we arrived--and, truly, we dared not enter the place, but hovered unseen
on the verge of the forest--they were engaged in various ways. The women
and younger folks were singing and dancing their barbarous areito,
performing steps in unison to the beat of a drum made from a hollowed
log with the skin of a jaguar stretched over one end of it. It was a
strange, unearthly sound, and reverberated through the forest like the
roll of distant thunder. The warriors, in a circle apart and enclosing
the whole, were drinking deeply of fermented liquors, produced from the
palm and the maize, which ever and anon they shared with the dancers.
This they would do, we were told, until all had drunken themselves into
a frenzy, and the dancers became exhausted from fatigue and drunkenness
combined. Judge, then, O Comandante, if we should have been justified
in attempting to bring away the cacique's daughter, thy mistress and
spouse."

"And she was there, also? Was my Cacica there, performing in those
horrid ceremonies so barbarous and so vile?"

"Truly was she, one of the foremost in ladling out the liquor and
entreating the warriors to drink. But, so far as we could observe, she
did not herself partake thereof. Nor did she allow, nor was there
offered her, any indignity; but great respect seemed accorded her, as
the daughter of the chief."

Balboa groaned in spirit, but his pride forbade him making audible
comment on the strange proceedings of his bride. Another day he waited,
expectant of her coming; but he did not remain idle meanwhile, since,
having little faith in the friendship of the cacique, he ordered out all
his men-at-arms and prepared to receive the savages with fire and sword,
provided they should rouse themselves to frenzy and attack the
settlement.

Nothing of a disturbing character occurred, however, and when, on the
evening of that day, Balboa sought his hut, worn down with fatigue and
sorely perplexed in his mind, his still beloved Cacica came forth to
greet him. How she had come he knew not, nor did he ever discover,
though the settlement was surrounded by sentinels specially charged to
watch for and detect her presence. Like a spirit, or an invisible bird
of the night, she had flitted through the cordon of sentinels and gained
her house without being detected by one of them. They declared
afterwards, one and all, that she must have been in league with the
powers of the air and, presumably, evil--endued of the devil--to have
accomplished this feat. But none durst say a word of this to their
commander, for he was still infatuated with the beautiful princess--sure
token, the soldiers affirmed among themselves, that she was a witch, for
whom burning at the stake might be too mild a punishment.

However Vasco Nuñez may have been vexed by this misadventure of his
beloved, he gave no sign of it, or, if he did, was soon soothed by her
blandishments into apparent forgetfulness. But in the minds of both had
been begotten a distrust that was destined to work havoc with the good
understanding that should ever exist between people situated as were
they. Soon after, seeming confidence was restored between the settlers
and the Indians, who came and went as formerly, bringing provisions from
their gardens, which they exchanged for knives, beads, and toys from
Spain. They gained access to the settlement as simple traffickers,
intent on adding to their store of trinkets and trifles; but Balboa
divined that they had other incentives, in fact, and came as spies.
Still, he did not allow his suspicions to become apparent to Careta,
with whom he had formed an offensive and defensive alliance for their
mutual protection.

In the mountains resided a cacique already mentioned named Ponca, a
rival and adversary of Careta, who wished the Spaniards to join with him
in an invasion of his territory. There was no immediate necessity for
the Spaniards to make war upon Cacique Ponca, as he had not offended
them in any particular, nor were they in need of a further extension of
territory, since the valley they had occupied, situated between the
sierras and the cordillera of the Andes, was extremely fertile and
capable of sustaining a great number of inhabitants. It was not only
excellent for planting, with rich soil and abundant natural resources,
which came early to perfection beneath the ardent sun of the tropics,
but abounded in game, while its rivers and the bordering gulf teemed
with fish in great variety.

But the Spaniards were less inclined to agriculture than to war, and
would rather ravage their neighbors' territory for gold than extract
from the fertile soil the products it so generously yielded to the
cultivator. Had they been less covetous and restless, less avaricious
and rapacious, they might have avoided contact with the ferocious tribes
of the interior, and perhaps have prospered. There was, however, an
unseen force at work constantly against them which they could not
successfully combat. This was the climate, which made terrible inroads
upon the health and constitutions of the Spaniards, by the great heat
and humidity of the air, and the heavy, almost incessant rains, which
came down at times as plunging torrents.

Nothing less than the most unquenchable ardor and the most marvellous
resolution, says the historian, could support the Spaniards under so
many discouragements and overcome so many difficulties. Perhaps it was
because they possessed this ardor in an excessive degree that they
continually panted for fresh conquests and desired to come into conflict
with the savages. Their great incentive, as already remarked, was the
acquisition of gold, and, learning that Cacique Ponca possessed the
precious metal in abundance, they were easily induced to join with
Careta in an attack upon him. Taking his troops by sea to the point
nearest to Ponca's capital, Balboa marched rapidly upon the village,
which, finding it deserted, he sacked and burned. He obtained
considerable booty, to which his ally, Careta, laid no claim, being
content with having humbled his adversary and driven him still farther
into the mountains, whence Ponca sent messengers imploring a cessation
of hostilities.

Having "pacified" the country, Balboa was for returning to Darien, but
was persuaded by Careta to diverge to his own province, where he was
royally entertained by the cacique. The latter had a neighbor, one
Comogre, who was yet more powerful than himself, having about ten
thousand Indians under him, three thousand of whom were warriors. His
province comprised an extensive plain and beautiful valleys, situated at
or near the foot of a very lofty mountain, which rose far above the
general altitude of the cordillera, or backbone of the isthmus.
Messengers sent by Comogre guided Balboa to this province, in the
capital of which the cacique awaited his coming. As the Spaniards
approached, Comogre came out to welcome them, attended by a train of
sub-chiefs, and followed by a vast number of his subjects. Included in
his suite were seven stalwart young men, his own sons by as many
different wives, of whom he was inordinately proud. Each son had a
habitation of his own, but that of the cacique surpassed anything of the
sort the Spaniards had seen in the land, for it was "an edifice of an
hundred and fifty paces in length and fourscore in breadth, built on
stout posts, surrounded by a lofty wall, and on the roof an attic story
of beautiful and skilfully interwoven woods. It was divided into several
compartments, and contained its markets, its shops, and a pantheon for
the dead, where the dried corpses of the cacique's ancestors were hung
in ghastly rows."

These corpses were in a retired and secret part of the structure, says
the historian, set apart for that special purpose. The bodies had been
dried by fire (as already narrated in the account of Careta's
ancestors), so as to free them from corruption, and afterwards wrapped
in mantles richly wrought and interwoven with pearls and jewels of gold,
and with certain stones considered precious by the Indians. There they
hung about the hall, suspended by cords of cotton, and were regarded not
only with reverence, but apparently with religious devotion. The
Spaniards gazed upon them in amazement, not unmingled with a burning
desire to despoil this hall of fame and secure for themselves its
wonderful treasures.



VI

FIRST TIDINGS OF THE PACIFIC

1512


Cacique Comogre's sons were young men of whom any father, savage or
civilized, might have been proud, but especially distinguished for his
intelligence and sagacity (says the Spanish biographer of Balboa, Señor
Quintana) was his eldest son, who was also his father's favorite. He
took note of the glances exchanged by Balboa and his lieutenant,
Colmenares, when they were inspecting the pantheon, and rightly
construed their meaning, which was, of course, that they would give much
for the privilege of sacking the place and depriving the sacred dead of
their rich ornaments. He had been informed of what had taken place in
his neighbor Careta's province, and knew that neither the opposition to
their rapacity of argument or force, nor any consideration for religion
or the dead, could restrain them were they to conceive the desire to
ravish the sepulchres of his ancestors.

His father had three thousand warriors, ferocious and reliable; but,
from what he had been told by Cacique Careta, who had tasted their
quality and tested their valor, they could not stand for an hour before
the two hundred Spaniards then in his province. The mailed men, Careta
said, would scatter them like chaff, and, with the fire from their
muskets and cannon, devour them as the flames consumed the grass of the
plains. Then he conceived the idea of purchasing exemption from ravage
by bribing the commanders, in the hope that by so doing they would
refrain from desecrating the tombs he held in such regard. But he did
not know, what he was later to learn, that the more the Spaniard
obtained the greater grew his appetite, and that by displaying the
wealth of the land he was but hastening its ruin. Simple son of Comogre!
He had, then, much to learn.

After consulting with his father, who was elated that a son of his
should possess such sagacity and penetration, the young cacique sent for
Balboa and Colmenares, who met him in the great square of the town.
"Great and worthy ones," he said, "here are sixty slaves, male and
female are they--all are yours, to be divided between you as may seem
desirable to both. And here, great and worthy ones, are golden
ornaments, taken from the hoard saved by our fathers. To us they are of
use only as mementos of the dead, for to the accumulation of riches we
are not given, being content with what we can eat and what we need to
protect us from the elements. We give you these things freely, because
we see that you value gold above all else, and because we would find
favor in your eyes and desire your friendship."

Balboa and Colmenares were at first overcome with astonishment, but when
they recovered speech they thanked the cacique and his son in
extravagant language--and then began to quarrel over the division of the
treasure. The slaves were of some account, but the chief treasure
consisted in the gold, which, when they had weighed and carefully
estimated its value, was found to amount to four thousand crowns. Most
of it was in the shape of animals of various sorts, and must have caused
the native artisans great labor; but of this the avaricious Spaniards
took no account, and all went into the melting-pot, greatly to the
grief of the young cacique.

Having always the fear of his sovereign in mind, and the potentiality of
gold to buy the king's favor, Balboa first set aside a fifth part for
royalty, which was to be despatched to Spain at the first opportunity.
Then he attempted to divide the remainder between himself and
companions; "but this division begat a dispute that gave rise to threats
and violence, which, being observed by the high-minded Indian, he
suddenly overthrew the scales in which they were weighing the precious
metal, exclaiming: 'Why quarrel for such a trifle? If such is your
thirst for gold that for sake of it you forsake your own country and
come to trouble us in ours, I will show you a province where you may
gather it up by the handful--yea, and carry it off by the backload!'"

When, by a blow of his fist, the spirited savage had overturned the
scales and scattered the gold on the ground, the Spaniards standing by
were greatly enraged; but when his speech was finally translated to them
they were exceedingly astonished, and desirous of learning more
respecting that golden province of which he told them.

[Illustration: QUARREL FOR THE GOLD]

"Where is it?" demanded Balboa and Colmenares, in a breath. "Show us the
way, and we will follow you at once."

"Nay, nay," answered the young man, with a shake of his head. "It lies
beyond those lofty mountains, far to the south. Beyond them, again,
extends a mighty ocean, a glimpse of which may be gained from the
mountain-peaks, but it is many days distant to the west and the south.
To succeed in getting there, you should be more numerous than you now
are, and will need at least a thousand men, even though with coats like
those you have on, which neither spears nor arrows can pierce. For you
will have to contend with powerful kings, who will defend their
dominions with vigor. You will first find a cacique who is very rich in
gold, who resides at the distance of six suns from here. Climbing the
mountains, ever climbing, climbing, you will reach their summits, and
then behold the sea, which lies in that part." And he pointed to the
south. "There you will meet with people who navigate in barks with sails
and oars, not much less than your own in size, and who are so rich that
they eat and drink from vessels made from the metal which you so much
covet."

This was the first information conveyed to the Spaniards of the Pacific
Ocean and Peru, and they were vastly excited over it, endeavoring to get
the young man to furnish them further details of the country
intervening, as well as of the great sea, its extent and situation.

"Go back to your settlement," continued the young cacique, "there to
prepare for a journey of many days. Select your stoutest and bravest
soldiers, and provide them well with food and weapons. Then return to
us, and we will furnish you guides. My father's warriors will go with
you; but of yourselves, as I said, you should be a thousand strong--no
less than that--for we shall meet hosts of warriors, some of them
cannibals, who eat the flesh of men, and all of them fierce fighters,
such as those of the cacique Tubanamá, in whose province is gold beyond
measure. Stay, I will send for one of my men who was once a captive to
Tubanamá, and he will tell you the same."

The quick-witted cacique had seen distrust lurking in Balboa's eyes,
and, indeed, the Spanish commander conceived this might be but a scheme
to get him out of Comogre's country and into the mountains, where he
might be swallowed up in the wilderness and never return to the colony,
which would be attacked by the Indians and destroyed. But the former
captive of Tubanamá, who was questioned separately from the young
cacique, confirmed the latter's story in every particular, and verified
his account of gold which might be found in all the streams, as well as
accumulated in the cacique's treasuries.

Then Balboa, says one who was near him and saw the journal he wrote with
his own hand, was transported by the prospect of glory and fortune which
opened before him. He believed himself already at the gates of the East
Indies, which was the desired object of the government and the
discoverers of that period. He resolved to return, in the first place,
to Darien, to raise the spirits of his companions there with these
brilliant hopes, and to make all possible preparations for realizing
them. He remained, nevertheless, yet a few days with the caciques, and
so warm was the friendship he contracted with them that they and their
families were baptized, Careta taking in baptism the name of Fernando,
and Comogre that of Carlos. Balboa then returned to Darien, rich in the
spoils of Ponca, rich in the presents of his friends, and still richer
in the golden hopes which the future offered him.

Darien was in sore straits when, elated with his several victories,
Balboa marched into the settlement at the head of his little army.
Notoriously improvident as they were, the Spaniards had planted,
notwithstanding, a large tract with maize, or Indian-corn, and were
looking forward to gathering a harvest, when down from the mountains
swept a torrent, accompanied by a tempest with thunder and lightning,
and in an hour their fields were totally ruined. Starvation stared them
in the face, but about this time the _regidor_, Valdivia, who had been
sent to Santo Domingo by Balboa, with gold for Diego Columbus, returned
in a small vessel well laden with provisions.

These stores were soon consumed, and Valdivia returned to the island,
bearing a rich present for Don Diego and fifteen thousand crowns in gold
for King Ferdinand. This amount of gold, it was estimated, was due the
sovereign as the royal fifth, which was exacted from all treasure
obtained in America. As there was frequent communication between Santo
Domingo and Spain, and as, moreover, Don Diego Columbus was viceroy
over the islands, and Terra Firma as well, it was proper and politic to
send the treasure by the hands of the admiral. The latter had sent
abundant promises of aid, but, though Balboa represented that it was
necessary for him to have at least a thousand men as a reinforcement, it
is not on record that he ever got them. He had in mind the invasion of
the country contiguous to the great sea, which, Comogre's son had told
him, would demand more than a thousand soldiers, fully armed and
equipped. Failing to interest Don Diego in the scheme, Valdivia was
instructed to sail from Santo Domingo for Spain and lay it before the
king, who, in view of the large amount of gold remitted, might feel
inclined to accede to his modest request.

Valdivia sailed from Antigua del Darien, bearing with him the king's
fifth, and charged with Balboa's message, which was emphasized by a
startling statement that unless the needed troops were despatched
without delay, he should be obliged, in self-defence, to exterminate all
the caciques on the isthmus. He had already, he wrote, slain thirty
caciques, mainly with his own hand, and "must in like manner destroy
every one he should capture, as the small number of his troops left him
no alternative." We may probably take this message as evidence, rather,
of Balboa's skill with the "long bow," already alluded to, than of the
slaughter he committed with more potent weapons, for he certainly
possessed a vivid imagination.

Valdivia, the regidor, sailed for the island and Spain, but was never
heard of more, and it is probable that his ship went down with all on
board. With him, also, went the fifteen thousand pieces of gold, besides
other sums, sent by Balboa and his men to satisfy their creditors in
Santo Domingo. Truly, an evil genius pursued him, he was prone to say,
for, labor as he might, he could not make head against his adverse
fortune. Greater opportunities were given him, perhaps, than to any man
then living since the days of Columbus, and it cannot be truly said that
he did not improve them to the utmost; but every great endeavor of his
came to naught. He was ardent and generous, and he was sane, save where
his passions were concerned. His command over men was a marvel to all
who knew him, and there was not a soldier in his command who would
hesitate to follow him anywhere. He never told his men to go, but always
asked them to _come_, for he was ever in the forefront of battle, and
the more desperate the enterprise, the more anxious was he to take part
in it and assume the leadership.

Life in the settlement irked him greatly, says his Spanish biographer,
and although it was essential to its peace and prosperity that he should
stay in it a certain length of time, in order to place the town in a
posture of defence and encourage the waning spirits of the settlers, his
active and enterprising disposition would allow him no rest. He had
desired to go in person to present his cause to the court, but his
fellow-settlers would not hear of it. They were already sadly distressed
by their losses, through the inimical effects of the climate and the
repeated attacks of the Indians, and there seemed to be no one but
Balboa who could hold them where they were. What they had really gained
was very little, since their harvests were washed away by the floods,
and the gold they had acquired was useless, without marts in which to
purchase the things they most required to sustain life.

In order to keep them from seizing a vessel and departing for more
attractive regions, Balboa conceived the plan of invading the dominions
of Dobaybe, which lay around the head of the gulf, and contiguous to the
cannibal country on its eastern boundary. He was obliged to await the
return of Valdivia with reinforcements, if he would invade the great and
opulent region beyond the mountains, but meanwhile there came to him
information of a character that fanned to a flame the slumbering desire
to achieve a great discovery. An Indian was brought to him one morning,
who said he was the subject of a great cacique living in a golden realm
of the interior about one hundred miles from Darien. Its capital was
situated on the bank of the very river that emptied itself, by many
mouths, into the Gulf of Urabá. Its riches were prodigious, and it
derived its name from a wondrous goddess of most ancient times, who,
according to Indian tradition, was the mother of the god who had created
the sun, the moon, and the stars. She also controlled the elements, he
said, sending great storms, with thunder and lightning, which destroyed
the habitations of those who did not worship her fervently, but
rewarding those who did with abundant crops and success in battle.
According to some, this goddess had been at one time an Indian princess,
whose capital was in the mountains of Dobaybe, and in whose memory,
after her death, a temple had been erected containing a golden idol,
which was still worshipped by the natives. Both temple and idol were
made of gold, and to the holy shrine it was the wont of Indians far and
near to make annual pilgrimages, for the purpose of making offerings of
their wealth. Thus, in the course of centuries, the golden temple had
become filled with treasure of inestimable value. Its walls were adorned
with plates of gold, and its vaults filled with the precious metal,
veins of which radiated from them to the various mines with which the
region abounded.

The idol and the temple were of themselves sufficient to arouse the
predatory instinct of the Spaniards; but not alone was their cupidity
appealed to, for Balboa was informed that his old enemy Zemaco had
retreated to the province of Dobaybe, and was engaged in arousing its
cacique to resistance. Inflamed, then, by a lust for gold and their
desire for revenge, the followers of Balboa volunteered so readily for
the desperate enterprise that he had difficulty in retaining any
able-bodied soldiers for the defence of the settlement. One hundred and
seventy were finally selected, and embarking them in two brigantines,
under command of himself and Colmenares, Balboa sailed up the gulf to
the mouth of the river draining the golden country.

While nothing more was ever heard of Balboa's friend, the regidor, yet
tidings indirectly came to the Spaniards, in the course of Cortés's
voyage to Yucatan, in the year 1519. When his fleet was off that coast,
a rumor reached him that two Spaniards were held captive by a cacique of
the interior. One of these was rescued, and proved of inestimable value
to Cortés in the conquest of Mexico, as an interpreter. His name was
Aguilar, and he informed his rescuers that he and another were the only
survivors of the shipwreck, all the rest, thirteen men and two women,
having been sacrificed, or killed by hard usage.



VII

A SEARCH FOR THE GOLDEN TEMPLE

1511


Nothing seemed impossible to the Spaniards of Balboa's time, nothing
seemed incredible, and thus it was that this small band of soldiers set
forth in full confidence that they could subdue any force they might
encounter, and trustfully accepting the wild story told them by the
Indian. They were the pick of the force at Darien, the hardiest and
stoutest-hearted, and they were armed with the best weapons known to
their age. These weapons, indeed, were not such as would satisfy a
soldier of the present day, for, besides pikes, swords, lances or
halberds, and cross-bows, they had as a fire-arm only the rude
arquebuse, or clumsy musket, which was a heavy burden to carry and
rarely did effective execution. It was so heavy as to demand a "rest,"
or support, which was usually afforded by a pronged upright of iron, or
a crotched stick; and besides being difficult to properly charge with
powder and ball, it required the musketeer to carry constantly a lighted
match, or fusee, with which to ignite the powder in the pan.

Most soldiers preferred the powerful cross-bow, with which the best of
them could drive nails almost as far as they could see them. But these
weapons were not so far superior to the bows possessed by the Indians
that they gave their owners great advantage, and besides, the savages
were generally more powerful of arm than the Spaniards, as well as
equally expert with bow and arrow. The chosen weapon of the Spaniard was
the sword, and the cavalier who possessed a good "Toledo," with blade
that could be bent double without breaking, and with an edge that
nothing could turn, considered himself more than the equal of any
warrior that might oppose him, whether armed with bow, spear, pike, or
war-club.

The vast superiority of the Spaniards over the savages consisted in
their armor, for protected as most of them were, by helmet, corselet,
gauntlets, cuishes for the thighs and greaves for the legs--arrows,
spears, and even war-clubs glanced harmlessly from their panoply of
steel. They were often wounded, some of them killed outright, in their
desperate encounters with the Indians; but the greater number of their
casualties were the result of carelessness or neglect to properly encase
themselves in defensive armor. Heavy and cumbersome as it was, few men
could support the weight of metal it was necessary for the armed soldier
to carry, and especially in the tropics was the burden found
intolerable. So it happened frequently that the soldiers were surprised
by the savages without their armor, which they may have doffed for
temporary relief, or have delivered over to a slave to carry for them.
At such times there was found to be little difference between savage and
civilized soldier, and the former fought his opponent on nearly equal
terms.

Balboa may have taken with him a few falconets, or light field-pieces,
but if so they were not used in conflict with the Indians on this
enterprise, and the prestige which the white men had derived from their
fire-arms was maintained by the arquebusiers, or musketeers, who
frightened the Indians with the loud reports of their guns and volumes
of sulphurous powder-smoke, but did little execution. The commander
himself carried as his only weapon his invincible sword, the blade of
which had been forged at Toledo, and brought to an exquisite temper in
the waters of the Tagus. For defence he relied upon the armor in which
he was encased, and the Saracenic shield, or buckler, which hung from
his shoulders or was carried on his left arm, the right wielding the
basket-hilted sword.

When Balboa reached the river, which came down from the mountains far
away, he knew not which branch of it to take, there were so many mouths,
and all navigable, so far as he could see. Taking his stand in the prow
of the brigantine, he guided his little fleet into the largest stream he
could find, and then, sending Colmenares to explore another branch, he
proceeded on his way to what he thought was Dobaybe province. After
threading his way through a perfect labyrinth of morasses, and without
getting a glimpse of a single Indian, he at last came to a deserted
village. The huts were empty, containing neither inhabitants or
provisions; but hanging from their rafters were many jewelled weapons
and golden ornaments, so that the Spaniards obtained booty from this
silent village to the estimated value of seven thousand castellanos.
This they stowed away in two large canoes, which had been picked up
along the river-bank, and then, discouraged at the gloomy outlook,
Balboa gave the order to return to the gulf. On the way a violent storm
assailed these invaders of the country ruled by Dobaybe's deity, sent,
the trembling Indians said, in revenge for this affront offered her by
the unbelieving white men. The brigantine was in such danger of sinking
that half her cargo was thrown overboard, to save her, while the two
canoes laden with the booty were overwhelmed by the waters of the gulf
and went down with all on board.

Thus far the expedition had proved worse than fruitless; but Balboa was
not the man to cry "enough" until every means had been exhausted to gain
what he was seeking. The river he had entered, and which he had the
honor of discovering, was far greater than he imagined, for it has its
source, say the geographers, nine or ten hundred miles distant from the
Gulf of Urabá, in the cordilleras of the Andes. The volume of its waters
was such as to freshen the sea for many leagues from the shore. It was
named by Balboa the St. John, but is now known as the Darien and the
Atrato. Working his way into the branch of the river ascended by
Colmenares, Balboa overtook his companion, and together they entered a
tributary of the main stream which, from the color of its waters, they
called the Rio Negro, or Black River. Its color was derived, they
ascertained, from the black mud of a submerged region through which it
ran, and where they discovered the most wonderful habitations of any
seen by the Spaniards since Vespucci and Ojeda brought to light the
lake-dwellers of Maracaibo, in 1499.

As the brigantines were slowly forced against the current of the river,
now beneath the overhanging branches of huge trees swarming with
parrots, and again crossing the placid surface of an eddied lake, the
excited soldiers caught occasional glimpses of large animals ahead
climbing the trunks of trees. At first they took them for monkeys, and
those of the band who had cross-bows got them ready to shoot; for the
flesh of the monkey was held by them in great repute, and their supply
of meat was exhausted. Suddenly one of the soldiers, who had climbed to
the mast-head for better observation, cried out: "Those are not
monkeys, but men! They are men and women and children; and behold, there
are their barbacoas, like nests, perched up in the palms above the
water!"

And it was as the soldier had said, for there was a veritable nest of
tree-dwellers, or rather a collection of nests, consisting of
wicker-work huts made of flexible reeds and vines, fifty or sixty feet
up in the air. They occupied the tops of the palm-trees, and each was
large enough to accommodate a family, being divided into compartments,
such as bedchamber, dining-room, and kitchen, or larder. They were
reached by ladders made of split reeds or bamboos, which the Indians
climbed with the agility of monkeys. Women and children, as well as men,
went up and down the fragile, shaking ladders, some of them with great
burdens on their backs, with as little inconvenience as if they were
walking on level ground.

All their provisions were kept in the aerial houses, which were well
filled, but the liquors they drank, consisting of palm-wine and beer,
were buried in earthen jars at the roots of the trees, as the rocking
of the habitations would cause them to become turbid. The trees grew in
or near the water, and the Indians kept canoes tied to their trunks, or
to the lower ends of the ladders, and thus could embark without touching
the earth. Their mode of life, in fact, was aerial and aquatic, rather
than terrestrial, for they perched in the trees like birds, and sported
in the water like fish, upon which latter they almost entirely
subsisted. They rarely hunted the big game of the forest, and their
chief reason for living up in the trees was that it afforded them
security from wild beasts, especially the jaguars, which nightly roamed
the woods in search of prey.

Balboa was greatly diverted by these barbacoas up in the air and their
agile inhabitants. He endeavored to capture some of the latter, but they
were too spry for him and his clumsy companions in armor, for, before
they succeeded in landing, every member of the community was safely
ensconced aloft. After the frightened Indians had scampered up the
ladders they drew them into the tree-tops also, and, considering
themselves secure, began to pelt the Spaniards with stones. This was
more than their leader could endure, and, sheltering himself behind his
buckler, he advanced to the tree in which, as he was told, the cacique's
hut was built, and demanded that he descend immediately. The only answer
was a shower of stones, some of which struck his shield, and one of
them, glancing, wounded a companion. Becoming then enraged, Balboa
ordered an arquebuse to be fired into the tree, and when the cacique,
whose name was Abebeiba, heard the loud report and saw the cloud of
smoke ascending, as from a volcano, he nearly fell from his lofty perch.

"Hold!" he cried, "I will descend"; but when his wives and family
entreated him not to do so, he wavered, and finally refused to budge.

"What have I done to thee?" he asked of Balboa. "In nothing have I
offended thee and thine; now leave me in peace."

The grim commander said nothing in reply, but commanded his axemen to
attack the tree. "When the old scoundrel sees the chips fly," he
remarked, "perhaps he may change his mind." Protected by the soldiers
with their shields, the axemen vigorously set their blades into the
palm-tree, and then the cacique seemed disposed to capitulate. Down
rattled the long ladder, and it had scarcely struck the ground ere the
cacique was there beside it, shaking with fear and chattering like a
parrot. After him also came his wives and their children, in a long and
rapidly descending procession, and soon they were grouped around the
palm-tree, which, by their swift compliance with Balboa's demand, they
had saved from destruction.

"We want gold," said Balboa, threateningly. "If you have any up in that
tree, go back and get it at once."

The cacique replied: "I have no gold in the tree nor in any other place.
I have no occasion for gold; but, great lord, if you will allow me to
search in yonder sierras, I will soon return with a vast quantity, for
there it exists and I know its hiding-place. Behold these wives of mine
and these sons; they will be hostages for me against my return."

"It is well," answered Balboa. "Go, but return within two days.
Meanwhile, we will hold your family as hostages, and enjoy the
provisions you have so bountifully supplied against our coming, as it
seems."

The wily Abebeiba departed for the sierras, and the Spaniards watched
him out of sight. They saw him cross the river in his canoe, then plunge
into a thicket on the opposite bank; but they saw him no more, for he
never came back.



VIII

CONSPIRACY OF THE CACIQUES

1512


Balboa waited three days for the return of the cacique, with his
brigantine, meanwhile, moored in a bend of the stream, where the dense
vegetation of the banks met in leafy arches overhead. Great trees, their
roots in the earth of opposite banks, mingled their verdant crowns
together, and over their trunks (as though formed by nature for this
purpose) climbed the natives of the region when they wished to cross the
stream. One of these arboreal giants bent above Balboa's brigantine,
with its branches screening the deck so effectually that the soldiers
were nearly always in refreshing shade, even with the sun shining
brightly at noonday.

The heat of that region was intense, and a shade was ever grateful, so
it was with feelings of disgust that the sailors and soldiers heard
Balboa, one day, give the order to proceed up the river. They had
become attached to the spot containing the palm-trees and the dwellings
in the air, for the habitations afforded them pleasant retreats when off
duty, and their occupants received them with smiles and offers of good
cheer. Balboa and his officers had taken possession of a group of huts
consisting of the cacique's and others, nestled together in a clump of
palms hung with great bunches of nuts and flowers amid their leafy
crowns. There their hammocks were hung, there they were waited on by
nut-brown boys and maidens, who took them fruits and beverages, the
latter so often that soon the big earthen jars at the roots of the trees
were drained of their contents.

It was when apprised of this fact that Balboa decided he would proceed
with the exploration. "By all the saints!" he said to Colmenares, as the
two reclined lazily in their hammocks, watching the smoke-wreaths
drifting upward, mingled with most appetizing odors from their breakfast
simmering in earthen vessels on the fires beneath the trees. "By the
saints, Rodrigo, this is a pleasurable life to lead!"

"_De veras_--Of a truth," answered Colmenares. "But, my commander, have
we not other things than pleasure to consider?"

"As thou sayest, Rodrigo, we have. And, now the _chicha_ is gone, the
jars are empty, and the temptation removed for the old cacique to
indulge in drunkenness--peradventure he ever return, which I doubt--it
seemeth to me we had best move on."

It was not often that Balboa allowed himself to relax, as he had done
here, especially when in the enemies' country, and his conscience smote
him. Then he gathered himself together and gave the order which produced
such discontent among his men. He met their sour looks blithely, giving
them no heed, and they were too well trained to oppose him, even for a
moment. Such as were by duty compelled, bent themselves to the oars,
while others cast off the moorings, and soon the brigantine was on its
way again up the stream. Just as it was slipping out from beneath the
overhanging trees, there was a sudden commotion in the vines and
branches above the deck, and through the tangled mass of vegetation
dropped a naked savage. He was evidently a warrior, for in one hand he
grasped a bow and bunch of arrows, and in the other held a shield of
jaguar-skin.

"Ha, what is this?" exclaimed Balboa, who was standing on the
castle-deck directing the departure. "Ho, there, interpreter! Come
hither. Surround him, men, and prevent him from escaping."

There seemed, however, no cause for alarm, as the warrior was alone and
showed no evidence of an intention either to attack the soldiers or leap
overboard. As Balboa approached him, drawing his sword from its sheath
the while, he stood like a statue, and faced the oncoming soldier
without flinching.

"Ask him whence he comes and what the object of his coming," said Balboa
to the interpreter, who, with others, had hurried to the spot.

The warrior did not at first reply to the question, repeated by the
interpreter, but, after gazing about defiantly, finally made answer: "I
come from the cacique Zemaco, who hath a prisoner in his possession, one
of thy kind, whom he will set free and deliver to thee provided thou
wilt send for him. But not many must thou send, only two or three, whom
I will guide to his camp."

"A prisoner? How comes he to have a prisoner?" demanded Balboa, looking
around for an answer. "We have lost no man, of late. I misdoubt the
story myself, and believe the Indian is lying."

"And I likewise," said Colmenares. "But let us find from him where the
cacique is encamped. Where is Zemaco?" he asked the warrior, through the
interpreter.

"At Dobaybe," was the answer. "He guards the great temple and its
goddess of gold."

"Aha!" exclaimed Balboa. "Then we will go to him. But not with an
embassy; in force will we go. How far is it to Dobaybe? Ask him,
interpreter?"

"Two days direct, by land; but four days by river, in the big canoe,"
answered the savage, showing his teeth with a snarl of rage, like a
jaguar glowering from a tree in the forest.

"That time he told the truth," said Colmenares.

"So far maybe as he hath told anything," replied Balboa, enigmatically.
"My faith! but I've a mind to put him to the torture. If it be but two
days to Dobaybe, then surely we can accomplish it; but if much more, we
shall be obliged to return for provisions. Where is the armorer? Here,
man, place this savage in irons!"

As the armorer approached, Balboa waved his hand towards the Indian,
who, probably divining the fate in store for him should he linger,
sprang for the rail. At one bound he reached the bulwark, at another he
leaped over it into the water of the river, where he sank like a stone
before the astonished witnesses could make a move to prevent him.
Instantly there was a commotion aboard the brigantine. A score of
soldiers hastened to the rail, and as many cross-bows were made ready
and levelled at the surface of the water. If the head of the savage had
appeared above it, surely it would have been pierced by several bolts
from the bows; but it did not emerge. The impatient bowmen waited long,
but in vain. The Indian was seen nevermore, for he probably swam under
water to the thickets on the farther shore, and, worming his way through
the vines and undergrowth of the forest, secured his safety by flight.

"Maria Santisima!" exclaimed Balboa. "Why did I not run him through with
my sword? He was a spy--naught else was he; and all that he told was a
lie!"

Downcast and disgusted were the soldiers then, for they felt that they
and their commander had been outwitted, and by a naked savage. "If,
then," they reasoned among themselves, "we can be so easily deceived by
an emissary of Zemaco, what cannot he do to us when involved in the net
he has spread for our capture?" They were ignorant and superstitious.
Having heard of the goddess that reigned in the mountains, and having
experienced her might, as shown in the tempest she had, without doubt,
visited upon them, they were prone to ascribe to her the possession of
supernatural powers, and balked at the prospect of invading her
territory. If the truth were told, Balboa himself was not without a
trace of that same superstition, and he could understand the feelings of
his men, if he did not, indeed, sympathize with them. When, therefore,
at the end of a week of fruitless quest, wandering in the forest and
seeking in vain a conflict with the fugitive Zemaco, he found himself
back at the point of departure on the Rio Negro, he for a time gave up
the hunt and abandoned his search for the golden goddess and temple.

The unsolved mystery of the idol and temple continued to vex the
Spaniards for many a year. When an indomitable soldier like Vasco Nuñez
de Balboa found himself frustrated in the search for them, few others
had the courage to take it up. It was not like Balboa to retire and
acknowledge himself defeated, and it was much against his will that he
turned his back upon the unseen Dobaybe and set his face towards Darien
again. He did not, however, abandon the project utterly, and gave a
pledge that he would sometime return, by leaving behind a body of thirty
soldiers, under command of Bartolomé Hurtado, who were to hold the
country in subjection. They took possession of a deserted village on the
Rio Negro, and, while Balboa with the main body descended the river to
Darien, ranged through the country in pursuit of fugitives.

From what afterwards transpired, it would seem that Cacique Zemaco had
been playing a game of deep duplicity with his more civilized opponent,
and, whether he held possession of the golden Dobaybe or not, had some
sort of a stronghold in the mountains to which he could retreat on
occasion, and which Balboa had not been able to reach. As soon as the
latter's back was turned, he descended from his stronghold, and spread
his warriors along the rivers, retaking the deserted villages and
collecting their inhabitants together.

When Hurtado and his little band were left alone in the wilderness,
Zemaco perceived an opportunity for revenge upon the Spaniards; but he
was cautious and had a wholesome fear of their weapons. He waited until
Hurtado had detached more than half his total force, for the purpose of
taking their prisoners to Darien, and then launched his bolts of war.
Hurtado's captives were placed in a large boat guarded by fifteen or
twenty Spaniards, most of whom were invalided through wounds or
sickness, and thus scarcely ten sound men remained behind in the Indian
country. The boat descended the Rio Negro very slowly, for it was
heavily laden with its human freightage, and late one afternoon, when
between forest-covered banks that closely approached and cast a gloom
upon the waters, it was attacked by Zemaco and his warriors. They were
in four canoes, and were armed with war-clubs and lances. Shouting their
war-cries, they surrounded the boat containing the Spaniards, and with
the assistance of the prisoners massacred all save two. These two
escaped by leaping into the river and clinging to the trunk of a great
tree which was floating with the current. They hid themselves in the
branches, and, being over-looked by the Indians, finally reached the
shore and returned to Hurtado with their tidings of disaster. The
commander was so disheartened that he at once abandoned his post on the
Rio Negro and hastened to Darien with all speed. It is surprising that
Zemaco did not attack him when on the way, as he had an overwhelming
force, and his recent victory had inspired him with confidence; but as
it afterwards was ascertained, he was then in secret conference with the
caciques of all the provinces, four in number, for the purpose of
totally exterminating the Spaniards. Hurtado carried the tidings of this
conspiracy to Darien, having received intimation of it from a captive;
but the inhabitants considered his fears of an uprising largely
imaginary, incited by his recent disaster, and made no preparations for
receiving the enemy if he should appear.

At this time there comes into view once more the beautiful Cacica, who
had been left in Darien when Balboa went on his expedition up the
Atrato. She had urged him to take her with him, saying that her place
was by her lord and master's side; but he had refused, because, as he
said, space on board the brigantine was limited, and there was room for
soldiers only. He had given his house into her charge at parting, and
when he returned she proudly showed him what she had done to improve its
condition, receiving his praises therefor with great delight. But rumors
soon reached Balboa that during his absence the Cacica had received
under her roof a young warrior, who had come and gone at night--as a spy
might have done, said the sentinels who watched outside the walls of the
town. These rumors were verified by reports from the spies whom Balboa
himself had left to watch the Cacica while he was away. He ardently
loved her--of that there could be no doubt; but, as a Spaniard, he was
naturally suspicious.

These spies were certain that the visiting Indian was a warrior of
Zemaco's band, and thought he might be a relative of the Cacica, or a
former lover whom Balboa had supplanted. They, too, sought to intercept
him; but the wary Indian escaped them every time, and they could only
report that he had been there and undoubtedly held conference with the
Cacica. When Balboa heard these reports he was deeply disturbed, for,
notwithstanding his suspicions, he wished to have confidence in his
mistress, and disliked to think evil of her. He was uncertain whether he
had better keep the information to himself, and meanwhile watch the girl
narrowly for signs of deceit, or openly accuse her of treachery to his
trust. He adopted a middle course, and one day, while they were
conversing upon the events of the expedition, artfully contrived to
involve her in the confession that hardly a day had passed in which she
had not indirectly heard from him.

"And who was the messenger, my love?" asked Balboa, calmly, but with his
heart beating furiously and his eyes flashing.

"My brother, sometimes, my cousin, and again my brother--for, you know,
I have many brothers," replied the Cacica, artlessly.

"Yes, I know," rejoined Balboa. "But why should they come to you so
frequently, and always at night?"

"Because I wanted tidings of you, my lord; and for that they could not
come too often! At night, too, because they could not get within the
town by daytime. For there were sentinels and spies, my lord. Did you
not know there were spies?" asked the Cacica, archly, her eyes dancing
mischievously.

"I--I knew there were spies," answered Balboa, hesitatingly. Then,
suddenly assuming a stern and wrathful expression, he grasped the girl's
wrists and, looking straight into her eyes, demanded: "What did your
people tell you when they came to my house in the night-time? Did they
say aught of the cacique Zemaco and of the conspiracy he is forming
against me? Tell me, and truly, girl, for if thou liest thou mayst lose
thy life!"

"I will tell you," answered the Cacica, slowly. "Not because you
threaten me, but for the love I bear you. My life is yours, to take at
any time." She returned his gaze fearlessly, and in her eyes Balboa
could detect no trace of deceit or alarm.

"I am a cacique's daughter," she continued, proudly, "though in your
eyes a savage and a slave. Your life and the lives of your friends are
in my hands--until I tell you; then my life and the lives of my people
are at your mercy. Yet I will tell you, because you are still my lord,
and I have left my people to go with you and stay within your house.

"Know, then, that my brothers came to warn me to fly with them and hide
in the mountains, for the men of my race can no longer endure the
atrocities committed by the invaders, and are resolved to fall upon them
soon by sea and by land. In the town of Tichiri are collected one
hundred canoes and five thousand warriors, and the preparations are made
for striking a blow that shall destroy your power forever!"



IX

HOW THE CONSPIRACY WAS DEFEATED

1512


The story told by the Cacica bore the stamp of truth, but Balboa was, or
pretended to be, unconvinced, and induced her to send for the brother
who had revealed the plot, that he might question him. As she hesitated,
he said, "Since he desired you to go with him, you can say you are
ready, and he will return."

"Yes, he will return. But how will he be received?" she asked,
dubiously. "I would not have harm come to him, for his warning was from
love of me, my lord."

"And for love of me I ask you to send for him," replied Balboa,
evasively. He had released the Cacica's hands, and she had fallen into a
hammock, where she lay listlessly, with a look of distress in her eyes
and a great fear at her heart.

She could not understand how one she loved would willingly cause her
pain; but she felt that Balboa was pressing home a weapon that might
pierce her heart and end her days in misery. She had entangled herself
in a net of her own weaving, however, and there was but one course to
pursue. So she sent for the brother who, in his anxiety to save her from
the massacre in which the Spaniards were about to be involved, had given
the warning. He was one of Zemaco's warriors, and employed as a scout.
Upon receiving a message from his sister he at once hastened to her
side, whence he was torn by emissaries of Balboa, who cast him into a
dungeon. There he was promptly visited by the magistrates of Darien, at
the head of whom was Balboa, and severely questioned as to what he knew
of the plot. He denied all knowledge of Zemaco's movements, and one of
the magistrates cried out: "Then put him to the torture. Bring a
bowstring hither!"

This order having been complied with by the jailer, he then said: "Bind
it about his forehead, and twist it till his eyes begin to bulge!
Perchance then he will tell what he knows."

This was done, and the cruel jailer twisted the bowstring with a stick
until the Indian's eyes seemed about to burst from their sockets. Unable
longer to endure the torture, he cried, in agony, "Oh, release me, and I
will indeed tell all!" Then he fainted, for he was but a youth, and,
though accounted as a warrior, was yet of slight physique and delicate.
Vasco Nuñez de Balboa, who was standing by, could not but have noted his
resemblance to the Cacica, whom he had often sworn he loved; yet he made
no effort to release him.

The unhappy youth related what he had told his sister, and the story was
the same that she had told, only there was something added. Gasping for
breath, and with temples throbbing from agonizing pain, the hapless boy
said that Zemaco had long before plotted the death of Balboa, and had
for this purpose posted his warriors in disguise among the Indian
laborers in the fields. They watched for weeks an opportunity to take
the commander off his guard; but, though they valued not their lives at
all, they were intimidated by the horse which he rode and the long lance
he carried, and finally gave up the attempt upon his life. This failure
had determined Zemaco to form the conspiracy with the other caciques,
and to this scheme he was devoting all his energies.

As the boy proceeded with his relation, and detailed the means by which
the plan against Balboa's life had been frustrated, it flashed upon that
worthy that his going to the fields every day fully armed and mounted on
horseback was owing to the Cacica's pleadings. Otherwise he would have
gone without armor, in his doublet and hose, and on foot. Thus he would
certainly have fallen a victim to the Indian's rage, and thus--it became
evident even to his perverted sense--he owed his life to the sister of
that frail boy before him, whom he had allowed to be tortured. Then his
heart misgave him surely, and, awaking from the trance into which his
evil thoughts had plunged him, he exclaimed: "Release that youth. Cast
off his bonds and bathe his brow where the cord hath wounded it. He hath
done nothing, and I did not mind to torture him to extremity; only to
elicit the truth--and that we have done. So set him free."

The magistrates murmured and protested: "It is not customary, nor is it
safe, to set free one who has been put to the torture, lest, in
revenge, he hold murderous plans against us. Let us now finish him, with
the sword or with the garrote, and done with it."

"Nay, nay!" exclaimed Balboa, excitedly. "I am governor, though you are,
by my grace, the magistrates. I take this youth under my protection, and
woe be to them who dare molest him!"

"As your excellency commands," retorted one of the magistrates. "He
certainly hath claims upon you, if what rumor says may be believed: to
wit, that his sister is thy--"

"That for thy insolence," exclaimed Balboa, stopping the objectionable
word with a blow on the magistrate's mouth. "Let it be known that this
youth hath my protection, and," he added, with an ominous frown, "let
what may please you be said about it--behind my back; but not in front
of me!" With that he strode out of the dungeon, leading the wondering
Indian by the hand. And thus, bruised and disfigured, the trembling
youth was taken to Balboa's house, and left there to be cared for by the
Indian maiden.

It may seem to have been the refinement of cruelty thus to force upon
the Cacica this victim of the Spaniards' barbarity; but in the eyes of
Balboa she was merely a savage whose charms had ensnared him
temporarily. Possessing neither delicacy nor keen moral perception, he
mistakenly reasoned that the Cacica would overlook this wanton outrage
upon her brother and forgive the perpetrators of it. She was his slave,
subject to his every whim; but still she had a heart and a conscience,
and she was capable of resentment. Though she had so carefully concealed
her feelings that he imagined she would always be mild and passive, no
matter what occurred, the Cacica really possessed a deep, revengeful
nature.

When Balboa and her brother appeared before her, she clutched at her
heart, as if to still its beatings, but said nothing, though a single
glance told her what had occurred. She led her brother away, to a hut
outside the palm-thatched structure which served Balboa as a dwelling,
and was about to bathe his bruised forehead, when he repulsed her with a
gesture of disgust.

She did not ask why, for she knew, and he did not waste words in telling
her that she was a traitress, and was solely responsible for what had
occurred to him. In silent dignity he gathered up his bow and arrows,
which had been left with the Cacica when he was thrust into the dungeon,
and without one word of farewell stalked off into the forest.

Then the Cacica knew that she had incurred the hatred of her tribe, as
well as lost the respect of her master, by revealing the plot of Zemaco.
She had done it for love of Balboa, as she had assured him; but now that
she realized her position, as an outcast from her people, and, despised
by the brother who had risked his life to save her own, she hated her
master, and loathed him. Thenceforth she lived only for revenge; but,
with the cunning of a savage, she concealed her real feelings from
Balboa, and appeared to him only the dutiful slave. She lived silent and
apart, but ever nursing a scheme of vengeance which in due time cost
Vasco Nuñez de Balboa his life.

Through the treachery to her people of the Cacica, and the confession
elicited by torture from her unhappy brother, Balboa came into
possession of all the facts regarding the purposed insurrection of the
caciques. He lost no time in acting upon this information, but promptly
summoned his officers in council. His chief reliance was, as may have
been divined already, the stout-hearted Colmenares, who had shared with
him the dangers of several expeditions, in all of which he had borne
himself with courage and resolution. While the magistrates were
uncertain what course should be pursued, some advising an immediate
retreat from a place so fraught with danger to themselves, both from the
savages and from the climate, which was killing off the settlers by
scores, Colmenares alone gave his commander the advice he liked. Balboa
had settled in his own mind what he should do, but he desired to be
supported by a certain show of authority, conferred by his coadjutors,
in order to have a loop-hole for escape in case the adventure should
prove disastrous.

"I can conceive of no other course than immediate pursuit," said the
gallant Colmenares. "The redskins meditated taking us unawares and
putting us to death, without a possible opportunity for escape. Hence
they must have determined upon attacking us both by sea and by land. In
sooth, the great gathering of canoes at the town of Tichiri shows that.
What, then, is the proper mode of attack for us to adopt but their own,
only in the reverse? That is, a body of our troops to proceed by water
and another by land, thus taking the savages by flank and cutting off
all chance of retreat. So far as our ability goes to combat them, you
will of course agree with me that there is no great risk. And this I say
with due regard for truth."

"Which I have always found thee to observe, and also to weigh carefully
the things that make for success as well as defeat," replied Balboa. "In
short, Rodrigo, thou'rt a careful commander, and thy scheme was the very
one I myself should propose; but thou shalt have the credit of it. Take,
then, Rodrigo, sixty of our men and embark them in canoes for Tichiri,
while I, with seventy, will make a wide circuit by land, and thus we
will fall upon the savages by front and by rear. Provision the boats for
a few days only, for we shall in all probability find enough to eat by
the way, and especially when we shall have taken the town and sacked it
of what it contains. There are, I understand, five principal caciques in
the league, four besides the arch-scoundrel Zemaco, and, assembling as
they have been from every quarter far and near, they will have brought
with them of supplies a sufficient store."

To the blare of trumpet and roll of drum, the entire garrison assembled
within the stockade, and the two commanders picked their men from the
ranks. Only the stoutest and most valiant were taken, those who had been
tried before and were accustomed to Indian warfare; but nearly all
desired to go, scenting spoils in prospective and tiring of inaction at
Darien. Some could not, through being stretched on beds of pain,
afflicted with wounds or disease; others could not, because of some
disability of which their commander was cognizant; for he knew his
little garrison to the last man, and was never at a loss to judge its
strength or weakness. This was one secret of his success, another being
his generosity; for he never withheld from any soldier his share of
plunder, and was the last to think of himself.

"Oh ho," he laughed, as the volunteers came pressing forward, some
shaking with ague, some limping on crutches, and all filled with
enthusiasm. "So ye all desire to go? I' faith, but I wish ye all could
do so. But go back to your posts, my good men, all that can manage a
cross-bow or an arquebuse, and there keep vigilant watch, for who knows
when, or in what manner, the foe may appear? Rodrigo and I will go
forth, the one by water and the other by land; but there must perforce
be a great gap of forest between us, through which the savages may come
by stealth and fall upon the town. So, I say, keep watch by night and by
day; and inasmuch as all are engaged in a common defence, and all
entitled to equal shares in the spoils, even so shall it be."

Balboa was moved thus to deliver himself, because of ten thousand pieces
of gold in the treasury, remaining undivided, which his enemies declared
he intended to seize for himself and send as a donative to the king. For
this reason he said, "We shall all share alike, from commander down to
drummer-boy and trumpeter, and no man shall be deprived of his portion."

Then he marched off at the head of his armored band of braves, followed
by the acclaim of those he left behind to guard the town. As for those
who went with him: being all of them gallant souls, and generous to a
fault, more disposed to fight for treasure than to quarrel over its
division afterwards, they acquiesced without a murmur. Colmenares had
already embarked his force of sixty men, when Balboa set off and lost
himself in the forest with his seventy, so that the settlement appeared
quite deserted.

The canoes of Colmenares were paddled by stalwart Indians taken from
Careta's tribe, who were ignorant of the intended uprising, but could
not, of course, be unaware that the expedition was proceeding against
some of their people with hostile purpose. But they asked no questions,
being reasonably certain that any such would be answered only by blows,
and exerted their strength to such good purpose that by nightfall of the
day in which they had embarked the Spaniards reached the vicinity of
Tichiri. It was probably at or near a place now indicated on the map as
"Punta Escondida," or Lost Point, and may have been thus named because
of its vague and misty appearance in the shades of evening-time.

The shore seemed formless, and the forests that came down to the water
stretched away black and forbidding, but the darkness was pierced by
numerous points of light, where blazed the Indian camp-fires, and the
"tam-tam-tam" of the drums proclaimed an assemblage for the purpose of
war or conference. Colmenares waited till the drums had ceased their
beating and the camp-fires had been swallowed up by the darkness, then
the canoes were guided stealthily to the shore and the soldiers landed.
The landing could not be made without some sound, such as the clanging
of armor against armor, or the striking of sword or lance against a
gunwale; yet the savages were so confident that no enemy was near that
they were not disturbed, and slumbered while the force formed on the
beach.

Preceded by the dogs of war, a pack of three having been brought by
Colmenares for this very purpose, the Spaniards crept towards the camp,
extending their line as they approached and perceived its great
proportions. As the scent of the quarry reached their nostrils, the dogs
could no longer be restrained, and leaped forward with deep-mouthed
howls into the midst of the slumbering foe. Instantly arose shrieks of
terror and pain as the beasts tore the inoffensive savages to pieces,
and these were followed by wild tumult when the reports of arquebuses
rose above all other sounds and the Spaniards burst from their
concealment with loud shouts.

The terrified Indians knew not which way to turn, and huddled together
in a mass, upon the outer skirts of which the hounds tore and ravened at
will, while the cross-bows and musketry played destructively. Finally,
perceiving that no opposition was offered, or likely to be, by the
terror-stricken savages, Colmenares ordered the trumpeter to sound the
recall, and the attendants to draw off the hounds; but it was a long
time before the detestable beasts could be made to quit their prey.



X

DISSENSIONS IN THE COLONY

1512


The savages surprised by Colmenares in Tichiri were under a captain, or
sub-chief, whose name has not been preserved, but who received swift
punishment at the hands of his own people for the crime of rebellion
against Balboa. As soon as the Spanish commander had ascertained in
which direction he was to look for the captain, he sent a small body of
men in search of him. One of his own followers handed Colmenares the bow
and spear that he usually carried, and, having presented this to the
most sagacious of the hounds for his inspection, the brute sniffed the
air an instant, then set off into the midst of the crowd. He and his two
companions had been dragged from their victims while yet their
blood-stained jaws held ghastly shreds and fragments of human flesh, and
it was with his ferocious instincts roused to the highest pitch that
the hound darted through the throng of Indians and leaped upon the
cowering chieftain.

He was expecting death, and had calmly prepared himself to meet his
fate; but such a terrible apparition as this he was unprepared for, and
as the hound's fangs sank into his quivering flesh he shrieked in agony
of pain and terror. It was with difficulty that the enraged animal was
induced to release his hold, and suffered repeated blows from the mailed
fists of his attendants before he would do so. Then the mangled savage
was conducted before Colmenares, who had cleared a space in the centre
of the camp and there held an impromptu court-martial upon the leaders
of the insurrection. The instigator of the rebellion, Zemaco, had
escaped, but four of the sub-caciques, including the captain of the
band, were captured, owing to the swift and secret movements of the
Spaniards.

With Colmenares acting in the capacity of judge, the proceedings of the
"court" were confined to the identification of the victims as leaders
and men of influence among the Indians. Their guilt was assumed from
the positions they held, and as soon as their identity was established
they were promptly sentenced: the captain to be shot to death with
arrows by his own followers, and the caciques to be hanged. The sentence
was carried out at break of dawn next morning. Scarcely had the sun
gilded with his first rays the topmost branches of the forest trees,
before the caciques were led out to meet their doom. A broad-based
ceiba-tree, or silk-cotton, reared its huge bulk near the centre of the
clearing, and up its buttressed trunk a pair of soldiers swarmed to its
lower-most limb, over which they swung ropes made of grass, with nooses
at their ends. These nooses were then slipped over the heads of the
caciques, and soon they were suspended in the air, gasping their lives
away, until they were naught but contorted corpses, upon which their
former subjects gazed in speechless horror.

The extent to which the Indians had been terrorized by the Spaniards was
more fully shown by what followed when the captain was brought to
execution. He was placed with his back against the ceiba-tree, his arms
and legs tightly pinioned, and compelled to face his slayers, who were
archers selected from his body-guard. He faced them dauntlessly, and,
calling upon the most skilful archer by name, directed him to shoot at
his heart and end his misery without unnecessary delay.

"I blame ye not," he said to his men, "for ye are compelled, I know.
Moreover, I shall the more gladly die, knowing that your weapons cause
my death, and not those of the foe. Shoot straight, and trouble not
thyself," he said to the foremost archer, who, as he was about to bend
the bow, craved pardon for his act. The bowstring twanged, the chief's
head drooped, and it was seen that the arrow had pierced his breast up
to the feather. As the body fell forward several Indians sprang to catch
it, and there was some confusion, during which it was perceived that the
savage who had slain his chief was placing another arrow on the string.
The quick eye of Colmenares caught him in the act, and fearing the shaft
was intended for himself--as doubtless it was--he ordered him disarmed.
One of the soldiers would have thrust him through with a lance, but the
commander prevented him from doing this, perhaps realizing that he had
committed atrocities enough, and had put upon this poor savage more
than weak human nature could endure.

In the midst of the hubbub that ensued, there sounded the roll of a
drum, followed by other noises, that proclaimed the approach of an armed
force from the direction of the hills. In fact, Balboa and his men, who
had been detained by the countless obstructions to a passage through a
virgin forest, made their appearance shortly, and soon the two
commanders met and embraced.

"Ha, Rodrigo," exclaimed Balboa, glancing at the grewsome objects
hanging from the limb of the ceiba-tree, "but you have forestalled me,
son, and saved me trouble. I had feared it might be necessary to swing
up a savage or two, and it seems you have done it with despatch. Sorry
am I that we were detained; but such is the fortune of those who seek to
penetrate these forests. All the day and the night we have struggled
against nature's impediments to our progress, and on my soul, Rodrigo,
we are worn down and famishing."

"That I can well believe," answered Colmenares. "And we are not so fresh
as we might be, nor have we had aught to eat since leaving the boats.
But, if the camp-master has attended to his duty, there should be
something, by this, awaiting us in shape of a breakfast. Let us seek him
and see."

"A fine _cavalgada_ [troop or herd] of captives you have, Rodrigo, and
they should be sufficiently impressed by the punishment of their chiefs
to behave well in the future."

"Doubtless they will," replied Colmenares, "for it was a conspiracy of
the caciques, and not of the people at large. These are spirit-less
wretches, most of them, and of themselves will be prone to keep the
peace, I trow."

"Still, I think we will build a fort here in this wood, for it is a fine
site for one, and the country at large is productive. Goldmines there
are, too, back in the hills, and while old Zemaco is at large there will
be no peace for us. Santa Maria! But I wish we could find that golden
temple and its idol. Perchance we may, with a strong fortress here, and
a garrison in command of a good man like thyself, Rodrigo."

Leaving Colmenares to erect a fortress on a commanding bluff overlooking
the gulf, and eighty soldiers to hold the Indians in check, Balboa, with
fifty of his own men, returned to Darien in the canoes. He arrived none
too soon, as it chanced, for, taking advantage of his absence, some
seditious fellows had stirred up a disturbance. He had left in command
that Bartolomé Hurtado, who had been driven from Zemaco's country after
the disastrous ending of the Dobaybe expedition. He was a favorite with
the governor, but a man of no particular force (as may appear from his
having fled the country he was left to defend), and against him rose the
most unquiet spirits of the colony, led by one Alonzo Perez de la Rua.

Hurtado may have been arrogant when he found himself invested with sole
authority in the settlement, and as Alonzo Perez was a cavalier of some
distinction when in Spain, he took offence at the upstart's assumptions
and refused to obey him. Not content with maligning Hurtado, he
proceeded to declaim against Balboa himself, denouncing him as a man of
low birth whom circumstance had invested with a brief authority, and who
was, he said, a creature of their own creation. "A soldier of fortune,"
and "absconding debtor who ought to be cooling his heels in jail," were
some of the milder things he said about the absent Balboa, who, as soon
as he arrived and learned what had been done, promptly arrested Alonzo
Perez and confined him in the calaboose.[2] As the testy cavalier had
many friends in the colony, a party was quickly formed of considerable
strength, which was opposed to Balboa, and for a time a collision seemed
imminent between the rival forces.

Balboa had his soldiers at his back, and doubtless could have restrained
the mutineers by resorting to force; but his penetrating mind looked
beyond the present, with its temporary evils, to the future and its
golden promises, so he released Alonzo Perez merely with a reprimand.
This action for a time appeased the factious followers of Perez; but for
a matter of hours only, and the next day they assembled anew. Taking
advantage of Balboa's absence in the fields, whither he had gone to
superintend the Indian laborers, they seized Hurtado, and possessed
themselves of weapons, which they threatened to turn against the
governor himself. Alonzo Perez was again in command, and being
supported in his pretensions by a lawyer, one Bachelor Corral, he
demanded that Balboa should at once deliver up for division among the
colonists the ten thousand pieces of gold then in the treasury.

In the estimation of Vasco Nuñez de Balboa, this hoard of gold was of
small account, as he expected and intended to add to it at least ten
times that amount. Whatever happened, he was not willing to risk his
life in defence of it, and learning that the mutineers intended to throw
him into prison, provided they could secure his person, he hastily
withdrew from the scene of strife, giving out that he was going hunting
in the forest.

"Friend Hurtado," he said to his lieutenant, "I foresee that when those
scoundrels get possession of that bone of contention, the ten thousand
castellanos in our treasury, they will so abuse one another in the
division of it that the sober-minded members of our community will be
only too glad to recall me to restore order. Hence, let them have it. I
had hoped to send it to our lord the king--and in truth I yet shall do
so; but let them first have the fingering of it. Meanwhile, friend
Bartholomew, we will go hunting, you and I, for it is better, methinks,
to slay the beasts of the forest, which may aid in sustaining us, than
our own countrymen--which we shall certainly have to do if we remain."

This was the purport of a conversation the shrewd Balboa held with
Hurtado and his immediate followers, and his wisdom and foresight were
soon clearly shown by the manner in which his scheme worked itself out.
Alonzo Perez and his rabble seized the treasury, which he had left
purposely unguarded, and with great hilarity proceeded to share among
themselves the ten thousand pieces of gold. The result was what the
crafty Balboa had foreseen, for a furious dispute broke out at once, and
from words the mutineers came to blows.

There were still many adherents of Balboa in the community, but they had
been awed into silence by the rabble. When the latter began quarrelling
among themselves, however, and some of them even cried out, boldly, that
their self-exiled governor had always been fair in the apportionment of
the spoils, while Perez was extremely partial to himself, the friends
of Balboa ventured to proclaim their own opinions.

"Who won this gold," they said, "but our own Vasco Nuñez by his
enterprise and valor? Knowing him as we do, we say he would have shared
it with the brave and deserving. [Probably meaning themselves.] But
these men have seized upon it by unfair and factious means, and would
squander it upon their minions. Out upon them, say we! Let us seize the
ringleaders of this foul conspiracy and cast them into prison. Then we
will send for our gallant governor and reinstate him in authority."

As most of the soldiers were absent with Balboa and Colmenares, and the
mutineers were really in the minority, the temperate members of the
community easily accomplished their purpose by seizing Perez, Corral,
and other ringleaders and placing them in irons. They were confined in
the fortress, where they had leisure to reflect upon their intemperate
behavior, while a special committee of reputable citizens, appointed
amid loud acclamations, was sent in search of the fugitive governor.

As may be supposed, they did not have great difficulty in finding him,
for he had kept in touch with the proceedings through his scouts, and
had not penetrated the forest so far that he could not be readily
recalled. He was discovered in camp, surrounded by his faithful
soldiers, and the whole company seemed in high spirits over their
success in the chase. Wigwams had been built beneath the wide-spreading
branches of umbrageous trees, and hammocks swung in which Balboa and
Hurtado were lazily reclining--the time being in the heat of the day,
when the delegates approached them with the proffer of reinstatement.

They had travelled fast and far, since early morning, and, having
provided no refreshments for the journey, were faint, thirsty, and
hungry. They looked longingly at the rude table made of palm-leaves
spread upon the ground, and supplied with every kind of food and drink
known to the colony. Indian cooks were busy at a barbecue over a
camp-fire, the savory odors from which were simply maddening to the
hungry delegates. They saw other Indians engaged in tapping the wild
palms and ladling out calabashes full of palm-wine, while others still
were preparing foaming chicha for their masters.

Now, the throat of the committee's spokesman was dry, and his tongue
also, so that when he essayed to speak his voice entirely failed him,
and he looked helplessly at his companions. Perceiving the condition of
the delegates, Balboa, who had been watching them narrowly from the
corner of his eye, hastily leaped from his hammock and exclaimed: "Not a
word, Don Pedro, not a word, until you and your friends have slaked your
thirst with draughts of our native wine. Cruel it was of me to keep you
standing there, while this _desayúno_ [breakfast] was being prepared, at
which you must sit down, though it be so humble and poor of quality.
Nay, I insist," he added, as the committee hesitated. "I know not your
mission, _caballeros_; but, certes, you are faint and hungry, perchance
thirsty also, so sit down, and answer not. Hither, mozos, with the
calabashes of chicha and wine. Give my _compañeros_ to drink, without
delay."

The delegates gratefully accepted the food and drink so liberally
profferred, and when they were refreshed the spokesman began his speech
again: "Your excellency, we have come to ask you to return. The
government goes ill without you--in truth, there is no government at
all."

"Ha? But what of Don Alonzo and the Bachelor Corral?"

"They are in the calaboose, your excellency, and in irons."

"So? But how long will they remain, if I return. And what of the gold?"

"They will remain there at your excellency's pleasure; and the gold
shall be collected and returned to the treasury."

"_Bueno_--good, very good. But how long, think ye, gentlemen, will ye
continue in this chastened frame of mind? Not a month, not a week,
before some low-born sons of Belial will provoke an outbreak against the
authority of Vasco Nuñez de Balboa, and declare he hath no authority to
govern. If I go, gentlemen, to Darien, then it must be under a pledge
that ye all will unitedly stand by me, and sustain me in every effort
for the public weal. What say ye?"

"We will, we will, your excellency. Only return!"



XI

BALBOA STRENGTHENS HIS ARM

1512


Balboa stretched himself in his hammock, and looking at the delegates
through half-closed eyes, as though he would resume his siesta,
rejoined: "Gentlemen, I do not wish to return! But here is Don
Bartolomé, who might be induced to act in my place. Let him go with you
and assume the reins of government."

The delegates looked the confusion they felt, but said nothing, though
Hurtado hastily exclaimed, "No, no; I care not to do so."

"Neither care I," said Balboa. "For what do I get by returning? Only the
semblance of a shadow of authority. All the labors, all the insults
attending the office; but never a _gracias_, _señor_--never a thank you,
sir, get I. But here--ah, here I have my liberty. I ask no man whether I
shall come or shall go. Here I can live free from restraint--I and my
merry men. What say, compañeros, shall we return?"

"Never, no never!" came in a chorus from the soldiery.

"We are content here, are we not? The forest gives us sustenance--as ye
see, gentlemen; it gives us shelter. Now that I am no longer compelled
to hunt the red savage, and only the wild beast when I choose, rest and
happiness have come to me."

The committee consulted together for the space of five or ten minutes,
then the spokesman said, with a new note in his voice and a twinkle of
triumph in his eyes: "Your excellency, we have a letter for you, which I
herewith deliver. We know not what it contains, for, as you may witness,
the seal is still unbroken; but from what tidings we have received from
some high in authority at Hispaniola, we divine it refers to the great
displeasure of his majesty, the king, as respects your doings at Darien.
Here is the letter, your excellency."

Balboa took the letter without remark, and broke the seal. As he read, a
serious expression came over his face, and he frowned severely, seeing
which the delegates nudged one another and chuckled inwardly. He had
good cause, in truth, to frown, for the letter was from his friend at
court, Zamudio, whom he had sent to Spain to plead his cause. It
informed him of the king's indignation, kindled by the charges against
him lodged at court by the lawyer Enciso, by whom he was accused of
being an intruder and usurper at Darien. He was held responsible for all
the disasters to the colony, and though in reality its founder, and
pacificator of the savages, he was to be prosecuted on criminal charges,
and might consider himself fortunate if he escaped with his life.

Such was the tenor of the letter, and such the purport of the
information the committee had received before they left the settlement.
This being so, it behooved Balboa to comport himself more in accordance
with his changed position in the eyes of the committee, and after he had
finished reading the letter he said: "This is an important
communication, gentlemen, and to answer it properly I shall be compelled
to return to Darien. If, then, it be your minds still to support me, we
will soon set forth. But only on that understanding shall I go."

"We shall support you," answered the spokesman. "But let it be
understood, however, that our support is given only as between you and
other subjects of his majesty, the king. Should there be conflict of
authority, as between you, Vasco Nuñez de Balboa, and his majesty, there
will be no question which direction we should take."

"Nor would I, as a loyal subject of his majesty, ask more of you,"
rejoined Balboa, fervently. "Soldiers, companions, we will depart.
Prepare for the march to town. Mozos, bring hither the wine and the
chicha. Gentlemen, before we start let us drink to the health of his
majesty. Long live the king!"

Then a wild scene ensued. Mingling promiscuously--cavaliers, soldiers of
the ranks, and civic functionaries--the company all joined in drinking
the health of their sovereign. They seized the brimming calabashes, and,
lifting them to their lips, drank deeply to the toast, "Long live the
king."

"Now fill again!" shouted one of the delegates. "Here's to the health of
his majesty's most loyal subject, Vasco Nuñez de Balboa. May he live
long as governor of Darien!"

"_Viva! viva!_" shouted the excited soldiery. "Long life to our
governor!"

"And to his loyal supporters, these our friends," added Balboa, grimly
smiling, and waving his right hand towards the delegates. "May they
remain loyal--for the space of a week, and may they never have to choose
between his majesty and myself, his most devoted subject and servant!"

The wine was soon gone, to the dregs, and with this as the parting toast
the company broke camp and set out for town, where a new surprise
awaited Balboa, in the arrival of two ships from Santo Domingo. They
were laden with provisions and brought a reinforcement of two hundred
soldiers and settlers, sent by the admiral, Don Diego Columbus. At the
same time arrived, by the hands of the fleet's captain, a commission for
Balboa as governor and captain-general. This had come from Miguel de
Pasamonte, the royal treasurer of Hispaniola, a favorite of the king,
sent out as a check upon the ambition of Don Diego, of whom his majesty
was extremely jealous.

In this manner did fate seem to play at cross-purposes with Vasco Nuñez
de Balboa, sending him tidings by one messenger of the king's disfavor,
and by another of his esteem; though, to tell the truth, Pasamonte had
assumed his majesty's approbation of his act, without right to do so. He
had received from Balboa a large sum of gold, by a previous remittance,
and this was the manner in which he requited the favor.

"Gold is most powerful, of a truth," whispered Balboa to himself,
smiling the while, as he thought of the title it had won from Miguel de
Pasamonte. "If, now, I could get to the king the ten thousand golden
castellanos which I have recovered from those robbers, Perez and Corral,
methinks such a donative might purchase exemption from the penalties
which his majesty seems disposed to place upon me for my presumption in
setting poor old Nicuesa adrift and sending Enciso back to Spain. Ha, I
have it! I will myself go to court with the gold in my hand, and beard
the royal lion in his den. Ten thousand pieces I have; at least ten
thousand more may be raked and scraped in the colony, and, moreover,
these shall be, to the king, but an earnest of much more to come."

Full of his new project, Balboa broached it to his counsellors without
delay, but to his surprise they would not hear of it, neither would any
person whatever in the colony. "No, no," they all exclaimed. "You shall
not leave us, Vasco Nuñez. You are not alone our governor, but our guide
and leader. You, only, are respected by the soldiers, feared by the
savages, and we cannot do without you. Stay here with us you must; but
we will send deputies to acquaint the king with the condition of the
colony, to entreat the necessary military aid, and to plead your cause
as though it were yourself in person, Vasco Nuñez."

They proved their sincerity by electing two deputies, one of them Juan
de Caicedo, who had been inspector on the unfortunate Nicuesa
expedition, and the other Rodrigo de Colmenares, "both men of weight,
expert in negotiation, and held in general esteem." It was believed that
they would satisfactorily execute their commission, and that both would
return, since Caicedo left a wife behind him at Darien, and Colmenares
had acquired much property, including a farm which he tilled with Indian
labor, when not engaged in military operations. Balboa gladly relieved
him from command of the fort at Tichiri, and rejoiced that he could send
one who would so well represent his cause at court. By him he forwarded
letters to the king, containing most extravagant accounts of the
country's riches, not forgetting to mention the famed temple of Dobaybe,
filled with gold, and the tales the Indians told respecting the
gathering of gold in nets. He showed this precious epistle to the
colonists, and they were all so greatly impressed with it that, one and
all, they contributed gold to the extent of their hoardings, which,
added to the amount sent by the government to the king, represented a
goodly sum.

Balboa's commissioners left Darien del Antigua about the end of October,
1512, and arrived in Spain, after a long and tempestuous voyage, in the
early part of 1513. Had they been the only messengers from that isolated
colony on the isthmus, all might have gone well with its governor; but,
unfortunately for him, as we know, his enemies had preceded them and
spread broadcast the most pernicious tales respecting the doings of the
gallant adventurer, Vasco Nuñez de Balboa.

Leaving them for a time, while the ferment is working that eventuated in
the downfall of Balboa, let us continue in his company until he has
accomplished that great achievement due to his heroic efforts, and with
which fame has inseparably linked his name--the discovery of the Pacific
Ocean.

By the information conveyed through his friend at court, Zamudio, he was
assured that lawyer Enciso had obtained a judgment against him in which
he was condemned for costs and damages to a large amount. This was not
all, for the king was very much incensed, and had issued a summons for
him to repair to Spain without delay, there to stand trial on criminal
charges respecting the outrageous treatment of Nicuesa, which had
probably caused his death.

It will be admitted that Vasco Nuñez was then in a terrible predicament,
and that there seemed no way out of it save by a desperate venture, by
which he might perhaps retrieve his fortunes, win fame, and recover the
lost favor of the king. Fortunately for him, the news conveyed by
Zamudio's letter had been informal, and in advance of tidings direct
from the throne, so there was still time for action. When the
authoritative summons should come, it would be too late; hence he could
not await the reinforcements so anxiously expected from Spain, and must
accomplish whatever he did before their arrival. Thus the intrepid
Balboa was thrown directly upon his own resources, and resolved to set
forth without the assistance from his sovereign which he had every right
to expect in an undertaking so vast and venturesome as his.

Desultory and apparently aimless as had been his doings hitherto, Balboa
had never for a moment lost sight of that grand scheme he had formed for
exploring beyond the mountains and revealing the existence, if possible,
of the great "southern sea." Cacique Comogre's son had assured him that
he would need at least a thousand men to assist him, and acting upon
this sage advice he had waited for reinforcements before attempting the
great adventure. But now, if he waited longer, he might forever lose the
opportunity, for with the reinforcements from Spain would also come the
order for his arrest and transportation, or at least his dismissal from
office. What he did, then, must be done quickly as well as effectually,
and he lost no time in perfecting his plans.

"While another and less intrepid spirit might have been overwhelmed by
the prospects before him, Balboa was animated to new daring, and
impelled to yet higher enterprises. Should he permit another to profit
by his toils, to discover the great South Sea, and to ravish from him
the wealth and glory which were almost within his grasp? No, a thousand
times no! He had won the information at risk of his life; he would
realize the profit of it, even at the risk of his life. At least, no
other man should avail of it, to cheat him of his dues. He did, indeed,
still want the thousand men who were necessary to the projected
expedition; but his enterprise, his experience, and his constancy
impelled him to undertake it, even without them. He would thus, by so
signal a service, blot out the original crime of his primary usurpation,
and if death should overtake him in the midst of his exertions, he would
die laboring for the prosperity and glory of his native land, and freed
from the persecutions which then threatened him."[3]

As he would be obliged to absent himself from the colony for a long
period, he made every effort to weld the various elements into a civic
body that should work harmoniously and resist the disintegrating forces
from within as well as from without. His first step was to set free the
ringleaders of the late insurrection, which done, and assured of their
co-operation, he proceeded to select his soldiers. There was no lack of
volunteers when it became noised about that Balboa was to set out on the
grand expedition to which all the others had been in a sense merely
preliminary, and he was at greater trouble to reject than to accept
those who offered for the service. Desiring none but the most dauntless
spirits, he put every man applying to the severest tests. In the first
place, they must be capable of enduring fatigue and hunger; in the
second, they must be unflinchingly courageous, for the route of march
would lie through regions occupied by hostile Indians who were said to
be cannibals and gave no quarter.

"My men," he said to them one day, when haranguing them for the last
time, assembled on parade, "I shall not attempt to conceal from you the
perils of this enterprise. In truth, they could not, in my opinion, be
greater. And, while I shall always lead, as hitherto, asking no man to
go where I would not venture in advance, yet you may not have the great
incentive that moves me. So far as spoils and captives are concerned, ye
shall share alike with me; but there is a greater motive than mere
spoils. My ambition, as ye all have known for many months, is to achieve
the discovery of that great ocean said to lie beyond the mountains. That
is--that shall be--the object of my endeavors, and to that the getting
of captives and the plundering of natives shall be subordinate. There
will be, doubtless, vast spoil, for the country we are to enter has the
reputation of being rich in gold and gems. There will be danger; there
will be fatigues, deaths, wounds--but, above all, there will be
glory--the _glory_ of accomplishing something of which men have dreamed
for many years, but have never achieved!"

"We will do it! The glory shall be ours!" shouted the men, vociferously.
"Where you lead, Vasco Nuñez, we will go!"

They were probably as daring and reckless adventurers as had ever been
gathered together since the New World was discovered, then twenty years
agone, and that is saying much. There were, after Balboa had selected
the most resolute and vigorous of the colony, one hundred and ninety in
the band, all fighting-men of the most desperate type. They were armed
with cross-bows and shields, swords, lances, and arquebuses, and there
was no person in the company, not even the trumpeter or the drummer-boy,
who had not been brought up in the profession of arms. Balboa looked
them over proudly, and he also inspected their equipment carefully, for
they were to accompany him, as he himself believed, not only on a most
desperate venture, but on a veritable forlorn hope, which, if it failed,
must end his campaigning, and perhaps his life.

The king must be placated and his favor recovered by no lesser gift than
sovereignty over a sea which no man of his race had ever seen; and that
was the impelling motive of Vasco Nuñez de Balboa in this marvellous
enterprise.



XII

THE QUEST FOR THE AUSTRAL OCEAN

1513


A brigantine and nine large canoes carried the troops up the gulf to the
shores of Chief Careta's territory, where the force was augmented by a
thousand friendly Indians, who served as guides and carriers, on the
march from the coast to the mountains. Finding his Indian father-in-law
well disposed, and no signs of disaffection, the commander left here
nearly half his men, to guard the vessels and keep open a way of
retreat, should it be necessary, and with one hundred picked soldiers
began his perilous journey through the wilderness.

He had left the settlement on September 1st, and on the 8th arrived at
the frontier of Cacique Ponca's territory, but found his village
abandoned and without a sign of life within its limits. Ponca, it will
be remembered, was the inveterate enemy of Careta, and as he knew the
latter was in league with Balboa, he had fled with all his people to the
mountain fastnesses. He was extremely reluctant to emerge from his
retreat, but was at last induced to do so by repeated offers of
friendship, conveyed by the peaceful Indians, and when he finally came
out was won by Balboa's kindness and induced to reveal to him all he
knew.

It was not politic, the governor thought, to leave behind him one so
powerful as Ponca inclined to be hostile, and, moreover, he alone could
furnish guides to the sea that lay beyond the mountains. These he freely
placed at Balboa's disposal, at the same time not only confirming the
truth of the story told by Comogre's people, as to the existence of a
great sea, or ocean, but adding that the country adjacent was rich in
gold. In the excess of his friendship, he presented Balboa with some
golden ornaments--receiving in exchange glass beads and other trifles,
precious in the sight of the Indian--and furnished the army with
provisions for the journey. The golden ornaments, Ponca assured Balboa,
came from the country bordering upon the great sea, to gain a glimpse of
which it would only be necessary to ascend a high peak rising above the
cordilleras, and visible from the village they then occupied. This peak
seemed to pierce the skies, to such an altitude it rose above the
surrounding hills, and its broad shoulders were covered with dense
forests, so that it appeared like an island in an emerald sea.

With the departure from Chief Ponca's country the real labors of the
journey began, for there was no open trail through the mountain
wilderness, white men never having been there before. The Spaniards were
compelled to hew their way with sword and axe, scale rugged precipices,
and ford the torrents of numerous rivers. Friendly Indians carried the
provisions, and the heaviest pieces of armor, but even though lightly
clad and burdened only with their weapons, many of the soldiers were
overcome by the combined effects of fatigue and climate, so that in the
end less than seventy remained with their commander, the others having
fallen by the way. Such as had strength enough returned to Coyba; but
there were some who, unable to endure the journey, sank to the ground
and never rose again.

Steadily climbing, at the rate of two or three leagues a day, about
September 20th the little band of soldiers reached a broad plateau
covered with a tangled forest through which ran deep and rapid streams.
This was the country of a warlike cacique named Quaraqua, who,
discovering this small body of strangers invading his province, and
never having had experience with Europeans, prepared to give them a warm
reception. He was at war with Ponca, and that was enough to provoke his
ire, so he took the field with a swarm of ferocious savages, and thought
to frighten the Spaniards by a display of force. He and his warriors
were armed with spears, bows and arrows, and two-handed battle-axes made
of wood, but almost as hard and as heavy as iron. They thought
themselves invincible, in their ignorance of warfare as conducted by the
Christian, and, yelling furiously, poured upon the Spaniards like a
mountain torrent.

Sturdy Balboa was leading the advance, as usual, with his inseparable
companion Leoncito by his side. This battle-scarred veteran was a hound
of scarce more than medium size, but as strong and fierce as a lion. He
was not only leonine in his majestic bearing, but in color also, for his
hue was tawny, like that of the king of beasts. As he was considered by
the soldiers the equal of any member of the force, he drew pay as one of
them, and during his various campaignings earned for his master upward
of a thousand crowns. The Indians of the coast country knew him well by
reputation, which was so terrible that merely the sight of him would put
a thousand to rout. But these Indians of the mountains knew neither the
dog nor his master--though to their sorrow they were soon to make their
acquaintance.

At sight of the warriors emerging in serried masses from the forest
depths, Leoncito growled ominously, and as they approached within
bow-shot he sprang to meet them with long leaps. A shower of arrows was
sent at him and he was struck by several; but his progress was not
stayed until he met a warrior in the oncoming ranks, whom he seized by
the throat and bore to the ground. A moment later the hapless savage was
a mangled corpse, and his fate was shared by others in swift succession,
as the furious beast tore his way through the barbarian phalanx, leaving
terror and destruction in his wake. The savages were surprised and
alarmed by the advent of this strange animal in their midst, but they
were absolutely terror-stricken when the cross-bows and arquebuses sent
forth their messengers of death. Many were slain as they stood petrified
with astonishment and terror; for this was their first experience with
fire-arms, and they could not conceive whence came the rolling thunder
of the explosions and the sheeted lightning of the flames. After the
first discharge came in ringing tones Balboa's battle-cry, "Santiago,
and at them, compañeros!" With bright sword drawn and gleaming in the
air, he sprang towards the foe, followed close by his men.

Then ensued a scene of carnage the like of which has been many times
witnessed in the encounters between Spaniards and the Indians of
America. It is not a pleasant scene to dwell upon, so let it suffice to
state that this "aboriginal Regulus," the rash though gallant Quaraqua,
together with six hundred of his warriors, lay dead upon the field after
the charge was over. Some had been pinned to the earth with lances, some
cut down by swords, and others torn to pieces by the blood-hounds.

Having thus removed the obstacles to their advance, the Spaniards
entered Quaraqua's town, which they quickly spoiled of all the gold and
other valuables it contained. This booty Balboa shared equitably among
his followers, reserving for himself no more than any other got, after
deducting one-fifth the total amount for the king of Spain. By his
eminent fairness to the soldiers, and by his courageous bearing on every
occasion, Balboa wins the admiration of all who become cognizant of his
exploits; but alas! his escutcheon is stained with the blood of many
innocents. Among the prisoners taken in the town were fifty or sixty
male Indians, dressed in robes of white cotton after the manner of
women, and these, their enemies said, were given to unnatural crimes and
followers of the devil. Whether they were or not, the Spaniards did not
pause to inquire, but let loose their blood-hounds, who tore them limb
from limb.

The village which Balboa had won at such cost of blood and suffering was
situated at the very foot of the mountain whence, the Indians told him,
the great sea could be distinctly seen. He had brought woe and
desolation to its homes, but by his harsh measures the Indians had been
thoroughly cowed, and, after sending back the subjects of Chief Ponca,
he selected guides and carriers from the surviving Quaraquanos. As his
men were exhausted by the fatigue of fighting, and in need of all their
energies for what was to come, he ordered them early to rest, after they
had partaken of a bountiful supper supplied from the provisions found in
the village. Some were disabled by their wounds, and these were to
remain behind while he, with the strong and able-bodied, pushed on over
the last stage of their eventful journey.

Having made every preparation for the morrow, after posting sentinels
about the camp, Balboa retired to his hammock, but not to sleep. The
events of the day had been so exciting that he lay awake all night,
thinking, not of what had occurred, however: not of the lives he had
taken, the crimes he had committed; but of what he was to see from that
rock-ribbed mountain-peak, with its head in the stars above the sombre
forest. It stood out black against the sky, provokingly near, yet aloof
and isolate--this peak which he had sought for many months. It had stood
there for uncounted centuries, and during the æon of its existence it
had never been visited by civilized man. He, Balboa, would be the first
to scale its sides and stand upon its summit, the first to gaze upon the
view it might reveal.

Such thoughts as these kept Vasco Nuñez de Balboa awake while his
soldiers slept. So absorbing were they that he hardly heard the groans
of the wounded, the cries of anguish from the poor wretches on the
battlefield. Wives, mothers, and children of the dead warriors were
groping in the darkness for their loved ones, and when they found the
objects of their search they rent the air with piteous lamentations.

At last the dawn dispelled the shades of night. Bounding from his bed in
the ocean, the morning sun sent his rays athwart the vast expanse of
forest and illumined the peak in the sky so that it shone like gold. It
appeared to Balboa like a beacon-flame beckoning him onward, upward, and
with feverish eagerness he spurred his men to activity. It had been his
intention to start in the gray dawn, to avail of the morning coolness
and freshness; but his soldiers were stiff and tired, and moved slowly,
so that it was within two hours of noon when they emerged from the
forest and saw the great peak standing stark before them.

[Illustration: DISCOVERY OF THE PACIFIC]

"Stay ye here," said Balboa to his men, "while I ascend yon
mountain-top." Leaving them huddled together at the dividing-line
between the rank growth of the forest and the sparse vegetation of the
higher altitude, he pushed onward alone. His heart beat high with
expectation as he clambered over rocks that had been smoothed and
polished by centuries of storm and finally reached the summit. There
before him lay the view he had so long hoped to behold: a wilderness of
forest, gemmed with sparkling streams, and bounded by the watery
horizon. There lay the sea, or ocean, widely extending along the
sky-line, vast, seemingly boundless, glittering like a diamond beneath
the sun.

Thrilled by the sight, the conqueror stood for a moment spellbound, then
sank upon his knees and, extending his arms seaward, gave thanks to the
Almighty for the great privilege which had been vouchsafed him, as the
first European to behold the southern sea. Rising to his feet, he waved
his hands, and shouted to his men, "Come hither, and gaze upon that
glorious ocean which we have so long and so much desired to see!" They
flocked tumultuously over the rocky peak, and after them the Indians,
who were extremely surprised at this outburst of joy and wonder over a
spectacle with which they and their fathers had been familiar for many,
many years.

After his excited companions had gathered around him, Balboa said: "Let
us now give thanks to God, who hath granted us this great honor and
privilege. For we behold before us, friends, the object of all our
desires and the reward of all our labors. Before you roll the waves of
the sea which was announced to us by Comogre's son, and which, no doubt,
encloses the vast riches of which we have heard. We are the first to
gaze upon it and shall be the first to reach its shores. To us belong
their treasures, and ours alone shall be the glory of reducing these
immense dominions to subjection in the name of our king, and of causing
to be shed upon them the light of the only true religion. Follow me,
then, faithful as hitherto, and, I promise you, the world shall not
behold your equals in wealth and glory!"

The companions of Balboa, then reduced to a little company of
sixty-seven, received his words with acclamation, and all embraced him,
while the chaplain of the expedition, one Andres de Vara, chanted in
solemn tones the beautiful anthem beginning: "_Te Deum laudamus_--Thee,
O God, we thank." A great tree, which had been brought from the forest
for the purpose, was shaped into a cross and raised on the spot whence
Balboa first beheld the ocean. Around this was piled a mound of stones,
to keep it in position, and then the company knelt in reverence before
the holy symbol, while the chaplain offered renewed thanks for the
inestimable privilege that had been accorded them.

Wrought upon by the sublimity of the scene, and filled with joy at the
prospect of boundless wealth and conquest opened to them by the
illimitable ocean spread out at their feet, the Spaniards rose to the
dignity of the occasion, and showed themselves capable of elevated
sentiment. Their leader had imbued them with his own enthusiasm, had
invited them to share in the honors and glory of his great discovery,
and they declared they would follow him to the shores of the great sea,
and beyond. After signing a testimonial to the effect that they took
possession of the sea and its shores in the name of the Castilian
sovereign, which was duly attested by a notary, Balboa and his
companions descended the sierras towards the south.

The date of this memorable discovery, as witnessed by the instrument the
Spaniards signed, was September 25, 1513. They had been more than three
weeks in accomplishing the journey from the north coast of the isthmus
to the mountain-top, after fighting their way through difficulties and
dangers which men of iron alone could have confronted and overcome.

Sometimes, says their chronicler, they had to penetrate through thick
and entangled woods, sometimes to cross lakes, where some were lost in
the depths; they had rugged hills and mountains to climb, precipices to
scale, and deep and yawning gulfs to cross, upon frail and trembling
hammock-bridges made of forest vines. From time to time they had to make
their way through opposing bands of Indians, who, though easily
conquered, were always to be dreaded, and upon whom they depended for
their precarious supplies of provisions. Altogether, the toils,
anxieties, and dangers of these Spaniards led by Balboa formed an
aggregate sufficient to break down the strength and depress the mind of
any, indeed, but "men of iron alone."



XIII

ON THE SHORES OF THE PACIFIC

1513


Among the _conquistadores_ of America there is no more heroic figure
than Vasco Nuñez de Balboa, who looms large in history, second only to
Columbus, perhaps, in the magnitude of his discovery. The admiral
himself had sought persistently for a passage into the ocean, which he
firmly believed existed beyond the continent by which he was confronted
in 1502; but it remained for Balboa to reveal that ocean seven years
after the great navigator had passed away. Balboa is also the most
picturesque figure in the conquest of America by the Spaniards, and
especially when, at the culmination of his efforts, he stood with sword
in hand, and armor-clad, "silent, upon a peak in Darien."[4]

He was then at the zenith of his power, as well as in possession of the
health and strength of vigorous manhood, for he was but thirty-eight
years of age at the time he made his great discovery. For a few months
only he was to retain that power undisputed; then was to ensue a period
of depression in his fortunes, followed by his early death. So long as
he remained at a distance from Antigua del Darien, devoting himself to
original research in the wilderness and the subjugation of the natives,
his success was unparalleled; but whenever he returned to the settlement
disaster seemed to welcome him.

Leading his enthusiastic soldiers down the southern slopes of the
mountain, Balboa entered the province of a cacique named Chiapes, who,
unaware of what had happened to his northern neighbor, Quaraqua, like
him offered battle to the strangers. They were few in number, wayworn
and hungry-looking, so he set upon them with his warriors--and his
experience was like that of all others who had opposed Balboa, who
poured a volley from his arquebuses into the ranks of the enemy, and
then, in the confusion that followed, let loose the dogs of war.

Stunned by the reports of the guns, confused by smoke and flames, and
overcome with astonishment, many of the Indians fell to the ground and
became easy prey to the blood-hounds, while many others were made
captive. To these latter the Quaraquano guides made such representations
of the Spaniards' power to slay by means of thunder and lightning, and
of their magnanimity to the vanquished, that Cacique Chiapes issued from
his hiding-place and appeared before Balboa with gifts of wrought gold
amounting to five hundred pounds in weight. In return he received the
proffered friendship of the commander, and trifles like hawk-bells,
beads, and looking-glasses, with which he was greatly pleased and
contented.

Their friendship having been established on a secure basis, Balboa sent
back his guides and carriers to Quaraqua with orders for all his
soldiers there, who were able, to join him without delay. While he
remained in the cacique's village, three scouting-parties of twelve men
each were sent out to explore the country between the mountains and the
southern coast. These several parties were commanded by Juan de Escary,
Alonzo Martin, and Francisco Pizarro, the last-named--then a lieutenant
or captain under Balboa--to become, in the wisdom of Providence, the
conqueror of Peru. The scouting-party under Alonzo Martin was the first
to reach the sea-side, and, finding on the beach an Indian canoe, the
captain stepped into it and was pushed by his men out into the water, so
that he could rightfully claim to be the first European to embark upon
the southern ocean.

After his scouts had returned and the men from Quaraqua had rejoined
him, Balboa himself set out for the coast, with less than thirty men,
but all well armed, and accompanied by Cacique Chiapes and some
warriors. They reached the sea-side on the last day of September, 1513,
at evening, and as the tide was out sat down to await its return. The
tides on the Caribbean coast of the isthmus rise and fall but little,
while on the Pacific coast they are swift and turbulent. Soon the flats
in front of Balboa were covered with foaming waters rushing in like
war-horses, and, leaving his shady seat beneath the forest trees above
the beach, he advanced to meet the curling waves. He was in complete
armor, with a shining helmet on his head, breast-plate, greaves, and
gauntlets. He must have seemed a brave and gallant figure indeed to
Chiapes and his warriors as, drawing his sword and taking in his left
hand a banner upon which was painted the arms of Castile and Aragon, he
waded into the tide. The fierce waves assailed him violently, dashing
first against his knees, then against waist and breast; but he withstood
them valiantly, and, waving both banner and sword, shouted in a loud
voice: "Long live the high and mighty sovereigns of Castile! Thus in
their names do I take possession of these seas and regions; and if any
other prince, whether Christian or infidel, pretends any right to them,
I am ready and resolved to oppose him, and to assert the just claims of
my sovereigns."

"Long live the sovereigns of Spain!" shouted the band on shore. "We will
defend these their new possessions, even to the death, and against all
the potentates of the world. _Viva! Viva!_" Returning to shore, Vasco
Nuñez drew a dagger and with it carved a cross on the trunk of a tree,
saying: "In this sign we shall conquer the heathen, and the blessings of
our religion will we give them, in exchange for their barbarous
practices. At the point of the sword will we compel them. Now taste ye
the waters of this sea, and by its being salt shall ye know that they
are of the ocean. They are salt, like the seas of the north; and the
waters are vast, like the seas of the north; but from them they are
separated by intervening mountains, as ye know, and can swear that they
pertain to the great Sea of the South, which has been the object of long
search, and at last is found and taken possession of for our dread
sovereigns." Saying this, he caused the notary of the expedition, Andres
de Valderrabano, to confirm all that had been done and said in writing,
to which all present subscribed their names.

The spot where these historic incidents took place was a secluded nook
in the great and tortuous bay of San Miguel, which deeply indents the
southern coast of Darien, and lies southwest from the harbor of Careta,
in a straight line about sixty miles distant. Both names still adorn
modern maps of the isthmus, and indicate approximately the terminal
points of Balboa's great journey from the north coast to the south, in
the year 1513.

Cacique Chiapes and his men looked on in wonder while their new allies
performed the strange ceremonials, remaining passive, but evidently not
approving what they did not understand. When, however, a few days later,
Balboa demanded of the cacique that he produce canoes in which he might
embark for some distant islands, the latter protested that the time was
bad for ventures on the sea. It was then the month of October, and that
month, with November and December, comprised the season of storms, in
which the winds were strong and variable, the seas at any moment liable
to rise suddenly. But Balboa was persistent. He cared not for the
storms. "My God will protect me," he said. "For am I not fighting the
good fight and converting the infidels to the true faith? Go get the
canoes."

Cacique Chiapes shook his head and said, "Perhaps your God may be
stronger than my god; but no god that the Indians serve can protect us
from the waves at this season of the year."

"That is because the god you worship is not the true God, whom we
reverently serve," answered Balboa. "He hath protected us, 'mid dangers
many, and will continue to do so."

But Chiapes was unconvinced, and as chief of an inland tribe,
unacquainted with navigation, he hesitated to embark. He compromised,
however, by guiding the Spaniards to the littoral province of one
Cuquera, whose subjects were fishermen and owned a great number of
canoes. Cuquera confirmed the statement of Chiapes, that the season was
unpropitious for a venture at sea, but at sight of some pearls the chief
displayed, which, he said, had been obtained on the islands off-shore,
Balboa was more than ever determined to make the voyage. Overcoming the
objections of the caciques, he crowded sixty of his men into nine
canoes, and, accompanied by the faithful Chiapes, embarked upon the
bosom of the gulf. Hardly, however, had the canoes reached open water,
when they were assailed by a frightful tempest. "Deafening was the
tumult of the infuriated winds, which strewed the earth with the frail
materials of the Indian huts. The rivers, swollen by the rains,
overflowed their banks, tearing away in their violent course rocks and
trees; and the tempestuous sea, roaring horribly among the rocky islands
and reefs with which the gulf is filled, broke its waves against them,
menacing with inevitable shipwreck those audacious mortals who had
invaded this watery realm."

The intrepid spirit of Balboa had caused him to mock these dangers when
on land; but soon he had good cause to repent his rash impulse, and,
yielding to the importunities of the Indians, sought shelter on an
islet. It appeared to be high and dry as the company landed there in the
evening, but during the night the rising tide gained upon them until
finally they were waist-deep in water. At or near midnight the wind went
down with the tide, and at dawn next morning the unfortunate mariners
sought their canoes, only to find them partially wrecked and all the
provisions they had contained washed away. They spent part of the day in
calking the open seams with grass and the bark of trees, and in the
afternoon embarked in the crazy craft and sought the shore.

After hours of exposure to the tropic sun, they landed near nightfall at
the upper end of the gulf, in the province of a cacique named Tumaco.
The Spaniards, like the Indians, were weak and famishing, having labored
all day without either food or drink; but no sooner had they made land
in safety than the indomitable Balboa set out in search of the Indian
town. It was at a little distance from the shore, and was not reached
until midnight. The inhabitants had been informed of their coming and
made a stout defence; but were soon routed by the Spaniards and driven
into the forest at the point of the sword.

Groping within the bohios, or Indian huts, the victors found an abundant
supply of provisions, with which they appeased their raging appetites,
and also a large number of beautiful pearls, besides a quantity of gold.
As some of the pearls were contained in shells freshly taken from the
water, Balboa concluded that the seat of the pearl fishery was not far
distant, and was very anxious to obtain possession of the cacique,
believing that he could inform him in the matter. Having captured a son
of Tumaco, he loaded him with gifts, such as a shirt made in Castile,
and other trifles valued by the savages, and sent him in search of his
father. The chief had sought refuge in a wild den among the rocks, deep
in the forest; but he was very much impressed by the beautiful presents
brought by his son, and consented to emerge from his retreat. When he
appeared before Balboa he had with him six hundred pieces of gold, and
pearls to the number of two hundred and forty. The gold was wrought into
ornaments, and the pearls, though most of them large and perfect in
shape, had been injured by fire, with which the Indians had opened the
shells.

All this treasure Tumaco presented to Balboa, and when he saw with what
joy it was received, and understood that the pearls were especially
appreciated, he sent a party of his divers to search for more. Thirty
naked Indians, accustomed all their lives to dive for pearls, went down
the coast in a canoe, accompanied by six Spaniards as witnesses; but the
sea was so rough that they dared not fish in deep water, where the large
pearl-oysters lay. The storm, however, had caused a great number of
oysters to be washed ashore, and there they collected more than ninety
ounces of small though perfect pearls, which were freely given to the
Spaniards. The best of these, with specimens of the oysters from which
they were taken, were set apart by the conscientious Balboa, as an
acceptable gift to his sovereign.

More precious than pearls, however highly they were valued by the
explorer, was certain information conveyed to Balboa by Tumaco,
confirming the rumors that had reached him in the interior, respecting a
vast country to the southward, which abounded in gold and gems. This was
Peru, subsequently to be subjugated by Francisco Pizarro, then a humble
follower of Balboa, and with him on this occasion. In order to impress
the Spaniards with the high state of that country's civilization, Tumaco
described as well as he could the beasts of burden used by the
inhabitants of the distant empire. He moulded in clay, it is said, a
figure of the animal known as the _llama_, which the Spaniards, as they
had never seen or heard of it before, supposed might be a deer or a
tapir--the latter being the largest animal they had found in South
America.

But, great and glowing as were Balboa's hopes respecting that wonderful
country to the southward, he was obliged to confess himself unable to
explore it at that season and with the small force at his command. He
made an experimental voyage along the coast for several leagues,
cautiously feeling his way through an inundated forest on the border of
the gulf, but dared not venture out at sea, where the wild winds roared
and the waves beat incessantly upon the shores of distant islands.
Pointing to one of these islands about five or six leagues distant,
Tumaco told Balboa that its waters produced the largest and finest of
pearls, such as the Spaniards had never seen, for size and beauty; but
he could not take him to it then, much as he desired to please him. The
two chiefs, the Indian and the Spaniard, were then in the former's
war-canoe, hewn from the trunk of an immense forest tree, and paddled by
a crew of sixty Indians. The paddlers themselves were stark naked, but
the heads of the oars they used were inlaid with pearls. Of this
circumstance, says a contemporary chronicler, "Balboa caused a record to
be made by the notary, for the sake, no doubt, of establishing the
credit of what he himself should write to the sovereign (no less needy
and covetous than the discoverers themselves) concerning the opulence of
the new country."

Several weeks were consumed by Balboa in exploring the country adjacent
to San Miguel, and on a day in the first week of November, Tumaco took
him and his companions in his war-canoe to the uppermost end of the
great bay. With them also was the still faithful Chiapes, who considered
himself in some sort as Balboa's sponsor, and who, when the time for
parting came, is said to have shed tears, so deeply was he affected. He
gladly assumed the care of the Spanish sick and wounded, and took them
with him to his village in the mountains, while Balboa, with his
able-bodied veterans, essayed to return by another route across the
isthmus. The territory at the head of the bay was controlled by Cacique
Techoan, who vied with the other chiefs in bestowing gold and pearls
upon the Spaniards, and who furnished them with burden-bearers and
provisions for the journey.

That Techoan was not entirely disinterested was shown conclusively by
his guiding them to the abode of a cacique whom he represented as a rich
and powerful lord, but an insufferable tyrant. This tyrant was known as
the "Croesus of the mountains" (or its equivalent in the Indian
language), and, as may be believed by those acquainted with the
character of Balboa, the latter was not unwilling to seek him out and
make his acquaintance. But Ponca (for that was his name) was not anxious
to meet the Spaniards, especially when he learned that they were coming
in company with his deadly enemy, and fled farther into the mountains,
taking with him, it was thought, the bulk of his treasure. He left
behind, however, some three thousand pieces of gold, which the Indian
allies discovered and took to Balboa, who used every exertion to entrap
him and force him to disclose the hiding-place of his vast wealth. He
caught him at last; but when questioned as to his gold, Ponca answered
that all he had the Spaniards already possessed, and that it had been
left him by his ancestors. More than this he would not disclose, even
when the cruel Spaniards put him to the torture, and, provoked by his
obstinacy, in the heat of their passion, gave him and three companions
to the dogs, who finished the revolting business by tearing them to
pieces.

In extenuation of their cruelty the Spaniards afterwards described Ponca
as a monster of depravity, with deformed limbs, a frightful countenance,
and a sanguinary nature. The guilt of his death, said one of their
countrymen, "rests more with the Indians than the Castilians; yet _they_
were not the judges of Ponca!" They assumed, however, that any Indian
who refused to reveal the hiding-place of treasures which they desired
to possess was deserving of death, believing, as they did, that there
was nothing of greater worth in the world than gold, or its equivalent
in material wealth. Thus cheaply did they hold the lives of the Indians,
reckoning their immortal souls as of less worth than perishable gold. In
this respect Balboa was no better than his comrades, and in truth set
them an example which they were not slow in following.

The senseless avarice of the Spaniards wrought its own retribution on
this journey, for they had laden their carriers with gold to a greater
extent than with provisions, and this was done notwithstanding their
route lay through a sterile wilderness yielding no supplies. The
consequence was that they soon began to feel the effects of famine,
some of them, as well as many Indian carriers, sinking by the wayside to
rise no more. Rumors preceding the Spaniards informed the natives that
they desired, above all other things, gold and like treasure, and thus
gold was invariably brought as a peace offering, to the neglect of
provisions, so that the soldiers (says the historian who perused
Balboa's journal) "yet wanted nourishment and pursued their melancholy
way, cursing the riches which burdened but could not feed them."

Still they clung desperately to those riches, stained as they were with
the blood of innocent Indians, and when Balboa learned that a short
distance off the main route he was pursuing there lived a powerful
cacique named Tubanamá, who had, according to report, vast stores of
gold, he made a forced march and by a night attack fell upon and
surprised him, with all his family. When threatened that unless he gave
up his gold he should be tortured and thrown to the dogs, or bound hand
and foot and cast into the river, he approached Balboa and, pointing to
his naked sword, exclaimed: "Who that hath not lost his senses would
think of prevailing against that weapon, which can cleave a man at a
stroke? Who would not rather caress than oppose such men as thou? Kill
me not, I implore thee, and I will bring thee all the gold I possess,
and as much more as can be procured!"



XIV

A RIVAL IN THE FIELD

1514


Cacique Tubanamá was warlike as well as wealthy, but he had been
completely cowed by Balboa's display of force and weapons, so that he
readily complied with the Spaniard's demands. Sending his men into the
forest, he remained as a hostage with his captor, while they ransacked
his storehouses for gold. So successful were they that within three days
gold was brought in to the amount of six thousand crowns; but even then
Balboa professed himself dissatisfied and declared there must be much
more concealed in the province. As Tubanamá positively declared to the
contrary, he finally gave the cacique his freedom, but when he departed
for the coast took with him, it is said, his eighty wives and eldest
son.

Great quantities of virgin gold having been discovered in the mountain
streams, he resolved to return, and found a settlement in that region,
but the condition of his command at that time forced him to resume his
homeward march without delay. Most of his men were now so exhausted
that, like Balboa himself, who was ill of a fever, they had to be borne
in hammocks on the Indians' shoulders. In this manner marching, and in
such sorry state that by a concerted effort the caciques might have
destroyed them utterly, the Spaniards approached the province of
Comogre, where they found themselves among friends and on familiar
ground. The old chief was dead, they were told, but in his place ruled
the young cacique who had first informed Balboa of the South Sea and
Peru. He received him hospitably, as before, and made him a present of
all the gold he and his subjects had collected since they parted, in
return for which Balboa gave him a shirt and a soldier's cloak. As he
had embraced Christianity, young Comogre considered himself vastly
superior to the pagans about him, and when clad in the garments of the
Christians, he assumed the airs of a king and compelled his naked
subjects to do him homage.

At this, or a point previously reached on their journey, the Spaniards
were rejoined by the wounded and invalids who had been left with
Chiapes. Though but a handful of soldiers, they had travelled in safety
through the forests and defiles of the mountains, such was the terror
with which the deeds of Balboa had inspired the natives. One of the
provinces they had passed through was governed by a minor cacique named
Bonouvama, who not only detained, but entertained them most hospitably
with everything his territory afforded. When they left his town he
placed himself at their head, and on arriving in the presence of Balboa,
said to him: "Lo, we are here! Receive, O valiant man, thy companions
safe and uninjured, even as when they entered my bohio. May He who gives
us the fruits of the earth, and who creates the thunder and the
lightning, preserve thee and them, my lord!"

Balboa was deeply affected by the cacique's speech and meritorious
actions. He graciously replied that they should arrange a perpetual
friendship and alliance, as he hoped to do with all the caciques of
Darien, and after bestowing upon him some beads, toys, and a Spanish
shirt, sent him back to his province greatly rejoicing. Although, as we
have too often seen, he acted with great cruelty towards some of the
caciques, to those who approached him in a pacific spirit he was ever
friendly and benign. That he grew to understand the nature of the
Indians is shown by his success in converting them from enemies to
friends, and by the alliances which he cemented with more than a score
of native caciques in the course of his wonderful journey. There never
was a Spaniard among his contemporaries, excepting perhaps De Soto, who
had such success with the aborigines. Columbus and Cortés, Pizarro and
Velasquez (who conquered Cuba), and all others who came in their train,
lamentably failed in their dealings with the Indians. Balboa's success
with his men was no less than with the Indians he encountered, for he
had a faculty for winning their affections and holding them, which no
other commander of his time displayed. Pizarro approached him in this
respect; but Pizarro received his initial training under Balboa himself.

Bidding Comogre farewell, Balboa led his men through the province
belonging to Ponca, where he was met by four Castilians, who informed
him that a ship and a caravel well laden with supplies had arrived at
Darien during his absence, and that he was awaited there with great
anxiety. Hastening thence to Coyba, the territory of his father-in-law,
he embarked at the port of Careta for Antigua del Darien, where he
arrived the following day, which was January 19, 1514, after an absence
of four months and twenty days. Every week, nearly every day, that had
passed since his departure had been filled with exciting incident, and,
moreover, he had returned to report to his fellow-citizens of Antigua
one of the greatest discoveries of the age. No wonder, then, that the
entire population sallied forth to greet him at the gates of the town,
and that they rent the air with shouts of joy and welcome.

Lamentations were mingled with the acclamations, for some who had gone
out with him had found, instead of gold, only a grave in the forest.
Some who returned were suffering from fevers and wounds received in
conflicts with the Indians; but notwithstanding, it was declared that
the expedition of Balboa to the shores of the great Southern Sea was the
most successful of any that had ever been made in America. And when the
plunder was displayed: gold by the thousand pieces, pearls by the
hundred, brought in by scores and scores of captives who would serve in
the future as slaves, the transports of the people knew no bounds. He
was hailed as "Conqueror of the Mountains, Pacificator of the Isthmus,
and Discoverer of the Austral Sea." Bringing with him more than forty
thousand ounces of gold, innumerable cotton robes, and eight hundred
Indians of service--possessor, in short, of all the secrets of the land,
and full of auspicious hopes for the future--he was considered by the
colonists of Darien as a being privileged by Heaven and fortune.
Congratulating themselves on possessing such a chief, the Antiguans
conceived themselves invincible and happy under his guidance and
government.

"They compared the constant prosperity the colony had enjoyed, the
splendid prospects before them, the certainty of success attending his
expeditions, with the unfortunate enterprises of Ojeda, of Nicuesa, and
even of Columbus, who could never gain a firm footing on the American
continent; and this glory was yet enhanced when the virtues and talents
of him who had obtained it were taken into consideration.... Among all
these eulogiums none were so hearty as those which were given to his
care and affection for his companions. Affecting no military discipline,
but behaving more like their equal than their chief, he visited the sick
and wounded individually, and condoled with them as a brother; when any
one sank on the road from fatigue, he was himself, instead of deserting,
the first to raise and encourage him. He would often go out with his
cross-bow in search of game to appease the hunger of those who were
unable to seek food for themselves; he himself would carry it to them,
and by this care and kindness he so gained their hearts that they would
follow him willingly whithersoever he chose. The remembrance of these
excellent qualities survived for many years; and the historian Oviedo,
who cannot be charged with lavishing his praises on the conquerors of
Terra Firma, wrote, in 1548, that in conciliating the love of the
soldier, no captain of the Indies had hitherto done better than, if any
had done so well as, Vasco Nuñez de Balboa in Darien."

The rich spoils, including the forty thousand ounces of gold and the
pearls, were fairly divided between the soldiers and the settlers, as
the latter had held possession of Antigua as a base of supplies and
operations while the former were actively engaged in the field, and had
thus contributed their share towards the success of the expedition. The
"king's fifth" was religiously set apart, in the first place, and soon
an opportunity offered for sending it to Spain, in charge of a soldier
who had accompanied him when the South Sea was discovered, Pedro de
Arbolancha. As he was an intimate friend of Balboa, who had proven
himself a trusty companion in the midst of great vicissitudes he was
despatched as an envoy to the court, not only with letters to the king
containing a full account of the great discovery, but in charge of the
sovereign's fifth and a donative of the largest and most precious
pearls.

If he could have set out immediately after the return of the expedition,
all might have gone well with Balboa's schemes of conquest and
government; but his ship was delayed until the first part of March, and
in the meanwhile events were shaping in Spain which imperilled not only
the fortunes, but the life of the great leader. Balboa's former
messengers, Caicedo and Colmenares, had arrived in Spain during his
absence from Antigua, bearing to the king the tidings communicated by
the cacique Comogre, and a request for reinforcements to the extent of a
thousand men. Their testimony as to Balboa's unswerving loyalty to the
crown, and the vast significance of the intelligence they brought
respecting the existence of an ocean beyond the mountains, turned the
tide of sentiment at court in his favor, and excited the swelling
ambition of King Ferdinand. The sovereign had already listened favorably
to the complaints of Enciso and other enemies of Balboa, and had issued
an order for his arrest, even going to the extent of threatening to
imprison his friend Zamudio on account of the zeal he displayed in his
defence. But the more recent information placed him in a new light. The
enormity of his offence was lessened by the great service he had
rendered the crown. He was no longer regarded as a fugitive from
justice, an absconding debtor, who had seized the government of Darien
by force and caused the death of its real proprietor Nicuesa. He had
made for himself a new name, and around his head already shone the halo
of the great discoverer.

But again, the sovereign was involved in a complication which arose from
the conflicting accounts from Darien. That there was dissension there,
that the colony was threatened with extinction through the quarrels of
unscrupulous men, he was well assured. The leader of those men, he had
also been assured, was none other than Vasco Nuñez de Balboa.
Accompanying the reports of dissension in the colony had come, as well,
most convincing proofs of its prospective value to the crown in the
richness of its resources. "And as the adventurers who went to America
dreamed of nothing but gold--as gold was the object of their pursuit--as
it was gold which they took forcibly from the Indians--and gold alone by
which the latter purchased their friendship--gold which resounded in
their letters and despatches to court--and gold which at court was
become the sole subject of conversation and desire--the Darien, which
appeared so rich in this coveted metal, lost its first name of New
Andalusia, and was commonly called, and even named in the despatches,
the 'Golden Castile.'"

Though it was mainly owing to Balboa's efforts that the isthmus won its
new appellation, Golden Castile, and though he had in a measure
retrieved himself, yet the king was unwilling to intrust him with its
government. Casting about for some one to represent the crown with
dignity and credit, he selected a cavalier who had served with
distinction in the wars against the Moors, Don Pedro Arias de Avila,
more commonly known as Pedrarias. He was an elderly man, who had won a
reputation in his youth as a jouster in the tournaments, and who,
beneath a chivalrous and courtly demeanor, concealed a nature narrow,
mean, and warped by prejudice. He had certainly no qualifications for
the office of governor; but he possessed the patronage of the powerful
Bishop Fonseca, who then ruled the colonial affairs of Spain, and that
sufficed to land him in the executive chair at Darien.

He sailed from Spain about the middle of April, 1514, and entering the
Gulf of Urabá the last of June, cast anchor before the town of Antigua
del Darien. His fleet was composed of five large vessels, and contained
a gallant company, with everything needed for conquest and colonization.
Balboa had asked the king for only a thousand soldiers, but Pedrarias
sailed with a company of two thousand, some of them cavaliers of
distinction, many wealthy hidalgos, and all well provided with arms,
equipment, and money. They had heard the exaggerated reports from
Darien, of gold that was caught in nets, which might be obtained almost
without effort from the waters of every mountain stream, and were eager
to join the fortunate adventurers under Balboa.

The king himself thought so well of the venture that he had expended
upon the armada more than fifty thousand ducats, and had sent out with
Pedrarias a number of friars, over whom was placed his favorite preacher
Juan de Quevedo. He was consecrated as bishop of Antigua del Darien,
which was elevated to the dignity of a metropolitan city, as capital of
the Golden Castile. While the sovereign provided for the spiritual
interests of the colony in this manner, at the same time he ordained
that no lawyers should be permitted to practise there, as experience had
shown they were detrimental to the welfare of new settlements. In spite
of this inhibition, however, one lawyer went out to Darien as alcalde
mayor, or chief judge, where he fully justified the king's apprehensions
regarding men of his profession. His name was Gaspar de Espinosa, and
though he knew little of the law, he knew enough to make a deal of
mischief in the colony, and eventually became a tool in the hands of
Pedrarias, by which he effected the downfall of his enemies, among whom
he soon reckoned Vasco Nuñez de Balboa.

The fleet swarmed with cavaliers and men of distinction, but there was
only one lady of importance aboard the flag-ship, the wife of Governor
Pedrarias, Doña Isabel de Bobadilla, a distant relative of royalty and
formerly a favorite at Queen Isabella's court. So attached was she to
the crusty old cavalier, her husband, that, notwithstanding she was
mother of several children, she chose to abandon them all and accompany
the governor to his capital in the wilderness. Needless to say, she was
a lady of grace and refinement, and deserved better of fate than to be
wedded to a sanguinary monster such as Pedrarias soon proved himself to
be. She has left no record of her sorrows; but they must have been
great, since the crimes she was compelled to witness were frequent, and
revolting even to the hardened soldiery of Darien.



XV

PEDRARIAS, THE SCOURGE OF DARIEN

1515


At the time of the fleet's arrival at Darien, the town of Antigua
consisted of about two hundred huts thatched with straw, with five
hundred white men and fifteen hundred Indians composing its population.
It was badly situated, in a deep valley between high hills which cut off
the salutary sea-breeze, but the soil was rich, and, owing to the
exertions and example of Balboa, gardens of fruits and vegetables were
already numerous and well tilled.

Since his return from the sea beyond the mountains, Balboa had devoted
himself assiduously to the improvement of the colony: erecting huts for
dwellings, extending the area of cultivated ground, and devising means
for inspiriting the lonely inhabitants of this isolated post in the
wilderness. The demands upon his time were constant and pressing, for
he was looked up to as the savior of the colony, while the simple
natives regarded him almost as a father, and came to him for advice on
all occasions. Having heard nothing from Spain since the sailing of
Arbolancha, the arrival of Pedrarias and his fleet took him by surprise;
but it did not destroy his balance. If he had but known that, at that
very time, his messenger was being received at court, and that the old
king, charmed by the story of discovery, the pearls and the gold,
already repented of the slight he had put upon him, Balboa might have
assembled his veterans and prevented the landing of Pedrarias. They were
only one-fourth the number of the new arrivals, but every man was a
seasoned soldier, and there would have been little doubt as to the
result of an encounter.

But fate played Vasco Nuñez false again, for Arbolancha had passed
Pedrarias on the ocean and arrived in Spain too late to change the
decision of the king, who then regretted that he had not rewarded Balboa
with the governorship of Darien. He was the governor, in fact, elected
to office by the votes of his adoring comrades; but Pedrarias came with
royal authority, and Balboa bowed to the decree of the king.

There was doubt in the mind of Pedrarias as to the nature of his
reception by Balboa; for he knew himself as a usurper, who had come out
to reap the rewards of another, so he sent an envoy to announce his
arrival and ascertain the sentiment ashore. This emissary, says the old
chroniclers, expected to find the governor of the Golden Castile seated,
of course, on a golden throne and lording it over a horde of captive
slaves. What, then, was his astonishment to find the redoubtable Vasco
Nuñez de Balboa, Conqueror of the Mountains, and Pacificator of the
Indians, overseeing a group of natives who were engaged in thatching his
humble hut with straw! He wore no robe of state, but merely a cotton
shirt over one of linen, cotton _pantolones_, or wide trousers, and
hempen sandals, called _alpargatas_, on his feet.

He looked up from his work as the messenger approached, and, seeing that
he was a stranger, saluted him with courtly dignity. Without manifesting
emotion of any sort, he received the message, to which he replied:
"Convey to Don Pedrarias de Avila my congratulations on his safe
arrival, of which I am rejoiced to hear, and say also that I am ready,
with my companions, to receive and to serve him who cometh in the name
of the king."

The news soon spread that a new governor had arrived, and, hastily
arming themselves, some of Balboa's comrades began to assemble around
their chieftain, imploring him not to allow his authority to be usurped,
even by an emissary from the king. Their leader seemed absorbed in his
work, to which he had returned after the departure of the envoy; but his
thoughts were busy over the problem with which he was so suddenly
confronted. Though outwardly calm, he was deeply disturbed by the action
of the sovereign he had so loyally served, upon whom he had thrust
inestimable blessings--who thus requited all he had done with insult and
rebuke. But finally, in answer to the clamors of his friends, he slowly
said: "Nay, nay, my comrades. Though doubtless we are strong enough to
repel Pedrarias and his carpet knights, who come to harvest with their
swords the crops we have planted with ours, and watered with our blood,
yet will we not oppose him, for he comes with authority from our
sovereign. And, I understand, there is with him fair Mistress Bobadilla,
erstwhile a companion of our late queen, who is now with God in glory.
So it behooves us, caballeros, to receive them gallantly, as if, indeed,
we were glad to do so, and to place at their disposal the best we
have--which, God knows, is poor enough."

Thus saying, Balboa strode within his house, and when he emerged again
he had on his complete suit of armor; but his good sword was in its
scabbard, and in his hand only the wand of office. Likewise unarmed were
his battle-scarred followers, though clad in armor which was no longer
bright and shining, but rusty, dented, and battered by blows from many a
weapon wielded by arm of savage foe. These veterans suffered in
appearance by contrast with the foppish cavaliers who landed from the
fleet, nearly two thousand in number, brave in their glistening armor
and confident from their numerical superiority. When they saw them,
however, they smiled significantly, being well assured that they could
defeat them in open encounter, and by no means afraid to essay it.

"They are our guests and our brothers, remember," remarked Balboa, as
the veterans seemed disposed to murmur at his lack of precaution. "They
come as we once came, hopeful, and expectant of wealth. Think, then, of
the disappointment in store for them, and not of their arrogance. And,
too, forget not the governor's lady. Ah, here they come! We must be at
the boats to greet them, comrades. Into line! March!" The bugle sounded,
the drum beat, and the veterans went to meet Pedrarias at the shore.

As the boat touched ground a plank was thrown out and across it walked
Pedrarias, followed by his wife, the bishop, and the alcalde, behind
them a train of cavaliers who formed a body-guard and led the way to the
town, preceded by the veterans of Darien. Balboa doffed his helmet, and
extended a hand to assist Doña Isabel ashore, as he said: "Thy servants
greet and welcome thee, lady. To serve thee we are here; but we regret
we have so little to offer one who deserves so much." And to the
governor: "Don Pedrarias de Avila, thou art welcome, coming in the
king's name, whose hand I kiss, whose orders I shall ever obey."

Doña Isabel was a tall and stately woman, scarcely past her prime, and
still retaining some of the beauty for which she was famous when at
Isabella's court. She was not insensible to the gallant bearing of the
handsome cavalier Balboa, whose straight and stalwart frame was in
decided contrast to her husband's misshapen body, and his frank
countenance grateful to her gaze, after long acquaintance with the
sinister face of Pedrarias. That she smiled graciously on Balboa at the
end of his speech, and perhaps showed pleasure at his flattery, was not
to be wondered at; but old Pedrarias noted these things with a twinge of
ignoble jealousy, and frowned at his host instead of smiling.

"Where is the palace?" he growled at Balboa, as they approached his
straw-thatched hut and halted at the door. "This is not a fit habitation
for my wife to dwell in, let alone a domicile for the executive."

"That I freely grant, your excellency, and it vexes me that it be so,"
replied his host, with a smile and deprecatory wave of the hand. "But
such as it is, I trust you and your noble lady will accept and avail of
it, until we can erect a better, which we will do without delay."

They entered without another word, and seating themselves at the table,
which Balboa caused to be spread with as great a variety as the
settlement afforded, gazed at the meagre banquet with amused disgust.
For, though there was an abundance of food, it consisted entirely of
vegetarian products, such as maize and cassava bread, wild roots and
fruits; and as for drink, there was no beverage except water from the
river.

The frown upon the governor's face deepened to a scowl, but his wife
broke into a merry laugh, in which she was joined by the bishop, who
said: "So, Señor Caballero, this is the best you can afford in this
so-called land of plenty? Faith, I had heard we were but to open our
mouths and luscious fruits would fall into them; while as for gold, we
could kick it up in the streets, as it were."

Balboa was presiding at the table with a gracious dignity that, in the
eyes of Doña Isabel, made ample amends for the lack of provand. An
amused smile crept over his face, but he answered, gravely: "Needs it be
said, your lordship, that this is the _best_ we can afford? Would that
it were not, for the sake of such distinguished guests as this day I am
honored with; but, the truth to tell, we have not been compelled to fast
on Fridays, merely, for meats of any sort have been hardly to be found.
As for gold--well, my last remittance to the king was no less than fifty
thousand ounces; but we did not by any means find it easy of
acquisition, let me assure you. It is to be found far in the forest
only, and must be won chiefly by toil, the sword, and the shedding of
blood, your lordship."

"Then, perchance, many lives have been needlessly sacrificed?" It was
the Doña Isabel who asked the question, and her host's bronzed cheeks
flushed darkly as he slowly answered, "Gracious lady, doubtless there
have been!" He said no more, either in explanation or extenuation of his
deeds, for a flood of disagreeable memories surged over him and choked
his utterance. Admiring his frankness, but pitying his evident distress,
Lady Isabel hastily added, "And pearls, brave sir--rumor hath it that
they have been also found, since we sailed from Spain."

"In sooth have they," replied Balboa. "And I have a necklace of them
that, though they have been slightly injured by the Indian mode of
piercing them, are good to behold. He then called a servant, who, in
obedience to his whispered order, went into another room and soon
returned with the pearls.

"By your leave, lady, let me show you these," said Balboa to Doña
Isabel, who, at sight of the pearls, exclaimed outright, in pure ecstasy
of delight: "Why, they are the most perfect and beautiful in all the
world! None like these have I seen, even at the court of my queen."

"But, I trust, some time these may be seen at the court of the king, my
lady, and that you may wear them there!"

"Why--how can that be?" asked Doña Isabel, in surprise.

"If his excellency will allow me, and if you, fair lady, will accept
from me, these baubles, then are they yours," rejoined Balboa, rising
from his seat and bowing, with his hand upon his heart.

"No, no," she exclaimed, hastily, but yet fondling the necklace
admiringly, "it cannot be."

"Ay, but it can," said her husband, gruffly, his small, black eyes
twinkling with avarice. "As I take it, this gift to thee, Isabel, comes
from a portion due the crown, and hence belongs to me as well as to
thee--if so be the king himself doth not lay claim to it, forsooth."

"Nay, nay; not so!" exclaimed Balboa, the hot blood rising to his brow,
his eyes sparkling with anger. "The king hath had his fifths, justly
apportioned before we took our shares, and a donative besides. These
pearls are--that is, they were--_my_ pearls, and if I chose to bestow
them upon the Doña Isabel, your excellency, as her husband, has only the
right to refuse them, and that, too, without questioning my motive or my
ownership of these pearls."

"Our host, the gallant cavalier, is right," interposed the bishop. "He
hath, in a most magnificent manner, done honor to thee, Don Pedro, and
to thy wife, by despoiling himself of treasure that must have cost him
dear, and presenting it to the Lady Isabel. It ill becomes thee, Pedro,
to receive this precious gift so sourly. Verily," he added, with a sigh,
"it is a gift worthy of acceptance by the Church!"

"I have reserved for thee and for the Church a tithe of the gold that
was apportioned me, good father," declared Balboa.

"And for me what hast thou?" demanded Pedrarias.

"My services, your excellency, which are potential gold and pearls! For
the wilderness contains much which has not yet been revealed, and which
I have not had time to seek."

"Since that be so, suppose you, to-morrow, give me an account of your
stewardship: an exact statement concerning the country and the savages,
which I may send to the king."

"It shall be forthcoming, your excellency; but not to-morrow, I fear,
since much have I to do, as well as much to write. Within the week will
I have it ready for your perusal."

"Be it so, then, and see to it that the report is comprehensive as to
the regions of gold and the great South Sea, which, I understand, you
claim to have discovered."

"Which, of a truth, I _did_ discover," answered Balboa, indignantly,
"Many had sought it, as you should know, but none had found it, or the
way thereto, until I, Vasco Nuñez de Balboa, showed the way. Mayhap I be
deprived of fortune and of life, but of the honor, the immortal glory,
of that discovery, none shall rob me!"

"There lives no man who could, perhaps none so base as to desire to,"
exclaimed Doña Isabel. Her voice trembled, not alone with indignation
but with fear; for at her side sat the one man base enough to do such a
thing, and that man was her husband. Pedrarias was possessed of a
crabbed disposition that made him envy every man who had done something
worthy of renown, and hate him who stood in the pathway of his own
ambition. Hence he hated Balboa with a bitter, unreasoning hatred, and,
as his wife had divined, was already scheming to deprive him of his
laurels.

This conversation, at the frugal repast spread by Balboa for his guests,
will show the trend of occurrences at and during the first week after
the arrival of Pedrarias. He landed at Darien already prejudiced against
its original settlers, and especially their leader, whom he was not
satisfied to have superseded, but determined to degrade, bring to ruin,
and if possible to an ignominious ending. The plot of this story will
henceforth contain five principal characters: Pedrarias, Balboa, Bishop
Quevedo, Espinosa the lawyer, and Doña Isabel. The governor and Balboa
were soon at open enmity, the former persistently seeking to circumvent
the latter, assisted by the lawyer, and sometimes opposed by the bishop,
but frequently foiled by Doña Isabel, who was at heart the persecuted
victim's only friend.



XVI

IN THE DOMAIN OF THE DRAGONS

1515


Balboa faithfully complied with his promise to render the governor an
accurate account of the land's resources, giving him, within a few days'
time, a list of the mountains, rivers, and ravines where he had found
gold in the virgin state; a statement of the colony as he had governed
it; his discovery of the South Sea and the route thither; a description
of the pearl islands and their wealth; and, finally, the names of the
caciques, more than twenty in number, with whom, through force of arms
or diplomacy, he had made treaties of peace.

Having obtained this invaluable information from his rival, Pedrarias
threw off the mask of friendship which he had assumed for the purpose,
and immediately ordered a judicial investigation into his conduct as the
self-elected governor of Darien without sanction of royal authority.
This scrutiny was conducted by Espinosa, as the only lawyer in the
colony, and as he was completely dominated by Pedrarias, his findings
were exactly in accordance with his desires. Very soon the unfortunate
Balboa was involved in a legal net from which he could not extricate
himself until he had parted with more than ten thousand ounces of
gold--the greater part of his fortune. Much of his wealth, however, was
absorbed by the wily Quevedo, who, as bishop, exerted his influence in
favor of the accused, after having received from him a share in his
enterprises, considerable gold, and a drove of Indian slaves.

The scope of the inquiry, too, did not satisfy Pedrarias, for the
inexperienced lawyer went too largely into the discoveries and
invaluable services of Balboa to the crown, instead of confining himself
to his arbitrary acts in expelling Enciso and indirectly causing the
death of Nicuesa. The result was that through the remonstrances of the
bishop and the intercession of Doña Isabel--"upon whom the discoverer
never ceased to lavish costly presents, which he mingled with all the
politeness and attentions of the most refined courtier"--the governor
was induced to cease his persecutions for a while. It had been his
intention to send his rival to Spain, loaded with chains and charged
with crimes that would compel his conviction before the highest court;
but the bishop represented to him that to do so would be the surest way
to advance Balboa's interests instead of defeating his ambitions. The
king was already aware of his great discoveries, for the world was
ringing with the fame of his achievements, so he could not but be
rewarded and received with highest honors.

Pedrarias reluctantly abandoned the prosecution openly, but in secret
gathered much information from Balboa's enemies which he later used to
his injury, and set afloat reports which destroyed his effectiveness and
impaired his popularity. He was, in reality, digging the ground from
beneath his own feet, as well as undermining Balboa's reputation, for a
condition of affairs had developed which demanded all the energies of
both leaders in its correction. It was brought about by the governor's
recklessness and inexperience, which, combined, had plunged the colony
into dreadful calamities.

In the fleet with Pedrarias a vast amount of provisions had been brought
to Darien, which with economy would have lasted many months. At first
the colonists revelled in abundance; then it was discovered that one
ship-load of supplies had been spoiled by sea-water, and soon after
another, which had been deposited in a hut on shore, was destroyed by
fire. In a short time, in fact, the colonists found themselves face to
face with famine, the ravages of which, combined with the evils of the
tropical climate, produced a pestilence. In the course of a month no
less than seven hundred persons perished, all of them cavaliers who had
come with Pedrarias from Spain. A ship-load of the survivors fled the
colony, going to Cuba, and a few broken-hearted adventurers reached
their homes in Spain, which they had mortgaged for arms and equipments
they never had occasion to use. Those who remained at Darien were soon
reduced to the last extremity of hunger and despair. They wandered
through the streets of Antigua begging for food, and once-wealthy
cavaliers of proudest lineage might have been seen bartering their rich
ornaments and vestments for a few mouthfuls of cassava bread. Some, who
had never before labored with their hands, hired themselves out as
wood-cutters or burden-bearers, merely to sustain existence, while
others, in the pangs of starvation, fed on grass and the leaves of
trees.

One day, says the historian, "a noble knight rushed into the main street
of Antigua crying aloud that he was dying of hunger, and, in sight of
the whole population, fell, and rendered up his soul. So many perished
daily that it was impossible to give them Christian burial, and carts
were used for carrying away the dead, as in times of pestilence."

Pedrarias himself was taken with a fever, and, with his wife, was
carried to a salubrious spot among the hills, where he soon recovered.
Thence he sent orders for the old soldiers to set out, under his second
in command, Juan de Ayora, to visit the caciques with whom Balboa had
negotiated treaties when on his journey to the sea. This he did with an
eye to the occupation of the territory, in order to represent at court
that, while his rival might have discovered certain provinces, with
their inhabitants, he was the first to occupy and colonize beyond the
region of the coast. But Ayora, though he had with him a greater number
of soldiers than Balboa had ever commanded in one body, conducted
himself with such a reckless disregard for the rights of the
natives--seizing the women and children, and putting many Indians to the
torture--that the caciques united against and drove him from their
territory; so the expedition ended in disaster.

Balboa, meanwhile, was kept inactive at Antigua, and his adherents--for
he still had many favorably disposed towards him, who would gladly have
followed wherever he led--were not slow in pointing out to Pedrarias the
contrast between the old times and the new. "Before you and your minions
came," said they, "Antigua del Darien was tranquil within and without.
Under the command and control of Vasco Nuñez, she reigned as queen of
the isthmus, and gave laws to twenty Indian nations. Our town was well
ordered, more than two hundred huts had been erected, the people were
cheerful and happy, amusing themselves on their feast-days by jousting
with reeds, the soil was cultivated, and all the caciques so pacific
that a single Castilian might cross from sea to sea, fearless of
violence or insult; whereas at present many Spaniards are dead, the rest
dismayed and broken-spirited, and the Indians in insurrection. All this
has been caused by the process against Vasco Nuñez. Had he been allowed
to proceed in his discoveries, the truth respecting the promised
treasures of Dobaybe would ere this have been revealed; the Indians
would still have been peaceful, the soil yielding its abundance, and the
Castilians content. Give us again Vasco Nuñez as a leader, for he alone
can pacify the Indians; he alone knows the secrets of the land."

The jealous and irritable Pedrarias was greatly incensed by the sneers
and reproaches of Balboa's friends. "So they want that rebel and that
assassin to lead them against Dobaybe? Inasmuch as there could not be
another expedition so likely to be defeated as one against that
province, thither shall he go--and may the devil catch him by the way,
say I."

This the crafty old governor said to himself, by-the-way, and not to
others; nor did he reveal his intentions until after the expedition had
departed, when it was found to be badly equipped and lacking in many
particulars which the careful Balboa, had he been unhampered, would have
supplied. He was rejoiced to be actively employed once more, and
especially in the search for that mysterious temple and its golden
treasure, which had, so far, eluded the Spaniards; but he was
disappointed in having to share the command with Luis Carillo, a friend
of the governor and a man of small capacity. His veterans also were
outnumbered by the recent arrivals, who were more enthusiastic than
prudent, and knew nothing of Indian warfare.

Having ascertained that in his former enterprise in search of Dobaybe he
had made a mistake in advancing by land, Balboa resolved to approach it
by water, and, embarking his force in canoes, entered a large and
unexplored river at the head of the gulf. It ran through a swamp
infested with vampires and alligators, and also--according to reports of
the Indians--the abode of a monstrous dragon which, with its progeny,
had been brought there by a hurricane. From what the Indians told the
Spaniards they inferred that these monsters were harpies, for they had
the faces of men or women, the claws of vultures or eagles, and huge,
leathery wings. They were so monstrous that only the largest trees could
support them when they alighted, and so fierce and powerful that
whenever they espied a man on the ground they would swoop down like a
hawk, and, seizing him in their claws, bear him off to their dens in the
mountains. Those who had been there affirmed that these dens were
littered with the bones of such unfortunates as had been torn to pieces
and devoured by the dragons, who seemed to have established themselves
as the self-constituted guardians of the golden temple and its idol.

It is doubtful if Balboa believed this tale of the dragons; but if so he
did not let it daunt him, and pushed on through the dismal morass by
means of the noisome stream that traversed it. Suddenly, on turning a
bend of the river, the Spaniards found themselves face to face with an
immense swarm of savages in canoes, who proceeded, with howls and yells,
to surround them. At the same time they let fly clouds of darts and
arrows, by which many soldiers were killed or wounded, while many more
were drowned by the vicious savages plunging into the water and
overturning the canoes. The two commanders were wounded: Balboa
slightly, and Carillo, who was pierced through the breast by a lance, so
badly that he shortly died.

The Indians forced Balboa to retreat to shore, where he beat them back,
but was compelled to return to Darien through the inundated forests
swarming with noxious reptiles, and without having obtained even a
glimpse of Dobaybe. The dangers and horrors of that retreat exceeded
anything that the brave soldier had previously experienced; and it was
his first defeat! His partisans attributed it to the fact that he had
not been given absolute command; but those of Pedrarias taunted him with
cowardice and weakness, two qualities which, as those acquainted with
his life know full well, were not a part of his nature. But he began to
fear his evil star had risen above the horizon, and he was downcast, if
not dispirited, while in proportion as he was depressed rose the spirits
of the rancorous old governor. He exulted greatly in the misfortunes of
Balboa, even at the expense of his soldiers, the loss of life being as
nothing, in his eyes, compared with the pleasure he experienced by his
enemy's downfall.

His rejoicing, however, was of short duration, for soon after Balboa's
return Pedrarias received a letter from King Ferdinand, commanding him
to consult with his "faithful servant, Vasco Nuñez de Balboa," on all
affairs of importance, for, as he would see by the enclosed credentials,
he had constituted him adelantado of the great South Sea, and governor
of the provinces of Coyba and Panama. He was, however, to be subordinate
in authority to Pedrarias, "who, on his part, was charged so to favor
and advance the pretensions and enterprises of that chief as might prove
to him the esteem in which the king held his person. The court doubtless
intended thus to reconcile the respect due to the character and
authority of the governor with the gratitude and rewards earned by
Balboa; however, that which seemed so easy at court, was impossible in
the Darien, where so many passions were constantly in collision."

Pedrarias, in fact, should never have been appointed to control the
territory of Darien, which so manifestly belonged to Balboa as supreme
executive; but, having made that appointment--unfit and ill-advised as
it was--in order to "save face," the king thought to reward the
discoverer, and at the same time placate the usurper with the honors of
a captain-generalcy. That they were empty and valueless, Pedrarias knew
full well, for the rich regions lay within the boundaries of Balboa's
territory, while his own government included only the country contiguous
to the gulf, which was devoid of intrinsic riches, unhealthy, and
impoverished.

For these reasons the choleric Pedrarias, when he received the royal
order, fumed and raved, declaring to this wife that never should that
rebel and assassin, Vasco Nuñez, be so highly honored at cost to
himself. He would withhold the letter, and if possible keep the
intelligence secret; but he found this to be impossible, for Balboa's
friends at court communicated to him what had been ordered by the king,
and he forthwith demanded his rights. In this demand he was joined by
the bishop, who denounced this interference with the evident intention
of the king as an outrage upon the rights of his friend, and the
rebellious governor was quickly brought to terms.

At a council of officials called by Pedrarias sometime in the latter
part of the year 1515, Balboa was invested with his titles and
dignities, and thenceforth was always addressed as "Adelantado." But the
wily old governor had neatly turned the tables on his rival by bestowing
upon him, in fact, the empty honors, and reserving to himself the
substantial emoluments of office, since he had forced from him a
stipulation that he would not enter upon the actual government of his
provinces without his permission!

Even the concession he was compelled to make sufficed to fan the
smouldering fires of the governor's jealousies to a flame, and he was
more than ever convinced that in the person of Balboa he had a deadly
rival and insidious foe, who should be removed from his path at whatever
cost. It was at this juncture, while the friends of the discoverer were
flocking about him with rejoicings, and he himself was openly exultant,
that there arrived in the gulf a vessel consigned to him, freighted with
arms and ammunition, and containing seventy adventurers, evidently
intended for a secret expedition. It was, in fact, commanded by one of
his former comrades, Andres Garabito, who had been sent by him to Cuba,
several months before, with orders to raise a force and procure an
armament for a projected expedition to the Pacific coast.

It may have been Balboa's intention to proceed over the mountains with
this armed band and seize upon the government of which he had been
deprived by stratagem; but this is unlikely, as the movement was made
before he had received the royal title to it. The mere fact, however,
that a mysterious ship was off the coast and holding secret
communication with the adelantado, was sufficient to rouse the old
governor's passions, and in a transport of fury he ordered him to be
seized and imprisoned in a wooden cage.



XVII

A COMPACT WITH THE ENEMY

1516


Fortunately for Balboa, his friend the bishop interposed before the
governor carried out his intention, and persuaded him, not only to
release the prisoner, but to give him the benefit of an impartial
inquiry. The inquiry was entered into, but was conducted by the lawyer
Espinosa, and so protracted that, though the accused was acquitted of
any evil intentions in importing the men and armament, yet he was
harassed to the verge of desperation and completely impoverished. Lawyer
Espinosa was enjoying a monopoly of all legal processes, owing to the
king's prohibition against others of his class, and had already involved
nearly every man in the colony in some sort of entanglement, from which
he could extricate himself only by paying to the licentiate a good fat
fee.

The good offices of the bishop did not cease with a single effort in
behalf of his friend, for he recommended him to Pedrarias as the proper
person to conduct an expedition across the mountains, to the sea he had
discovered, for the purpose of investigating the islands abounding in
pearls. This step, however, the yet jealous Pedrarias refused to take.
He intended to have the islands explored, but not by their discoverer,
as that would only add to the laurels he already wore, and increase his
popularity both at Darien and in Spain.

An expedition was formed, consisting of sixty men, commanded by one
Gaspar Morales, a relative of the governor, with the redoubtable
Francisco Pizarro as his lieutenant. The man whom the world was to know
as the conqueror of Peru had already been to the coast with Balboa, and,
knowing the way thither, led the party safely to the shores of the
Pacific. Leaving thirty men with a cacique named Tutibara, Pizarro
embarked with the others for the pearl islands, where he encountered a
fierce resistance from the islanders, whom he overcame, after great
slaughter had been inflicted, and compelled to pay him tribute. The
cacique of the island brought him a basketful of pearls as a
peace-offering, among which were several of great beauty and
extraordinary size. These he gladly exchanged for iron hatchets, beads,
and hawk-bells, sagely remarking, when the Spaniards smiled at his
simplicity, "These things I can turn to useful purpose; but of what
value are those baubles to me? The shores of this island and the deep
places of the waters around them abound in pearls without number, which
my divers can get for me whenever I wish."

Taking the Spaniards to the summit of a high hill, and showing them the
distant coast of the mainland, with its towering mountains and bluff
promontories, he remarked: "Beyond and beyond, as far as you can see,
and much farther, lies a land containing a rich kingdom called Biru
[Peru], where gold is as plentiful as stones are with us. That is a
country worthy your efforts; that is something which will richly reward
you--if you can but conquer it." It is thought that then and there,
while listening to the cacique of the pearl islands, Francisco Pizarro
formed the resolve to seek out and effect the conquest of that golden
empire which he subjugated sixteen years later.

We shall have nothing further to do with this expedition, except to
relate its results as they bear upon the fortunes of Balboa. It came
near sharing the fate of nearly all those which were sent out while
Pedrarias ruled the isthmus, for, on the way back to Darien, Pizarro and
Morales were fiercely attacked by several caciques, whom they had
outraged by their cruelties, and for seven days pursued through the
forests in disastrous retreat. Their command was nearly exterminated,
and but a remnant arrived at Darien, after enduring incredible
sufferings.

The administration of Pedrarias was replete with disaster from beginning
to end, and every enterprise he undertook ended in misfortune and
disgrace. A valiant captain, Francisco Becerra, undertook to invade the
province of Zenu, where, according to report, gold in unlimited
quantities could be drawn from the rivers in nets. He had one hundred
and eighty men and three small cannon when he entered the forest and
bade farewell to the settlement; but never a man of that gallant command
came back, nor were the cannon ever recovered. All were swallowed up in
the forest, as though the earth had opened and taken the invaders into a
subterranean tomb.

While Balboa was detained inactive at the settlement, these various
expeditions under inexperienced commanders overran the country, and
effected nothing more than had been already--and better--done by the
discredited commander who was being consumed by vexation and despair.
All the littoral Indians of Darien had been reduced to subjection by
him, and the most that was effected by Pedrarias was a reconquest, which
was worse than useless, as it roused the rage of the caciques and
provoked retaliation. Among those who, though powerful and warlike,
Balboa had overcome and compelled to sue for peace was the mountain
cacique Tubanamá. He was blunderingly attacked, by orders of Pedrarias,
and not only repulsed the Spaniards from his stronghold, but drove them,
bootless, back to Darien, where the survivors arrived breathless and
panic-stricken. Stripping the slain Spaniards as they lay in the forest,
Tubanamá displayed their bloody shirts on poles as banners, and marched
his warriors around the walls, striking terror and dismay to the hearts
of all within the settlement. The garrison was beleaguered,
foraging-parties assaulted, sorties ambuscaded, and such was the alarm,
says the good Bishop Las Casas in his history, that the people feared to
be burned within their dwellings.

"They kept a watchful eye upon the mountains, the plains, the waving
branches of the trees, for their imaginations were infected by their
fears. If they looked towards the land, the long, rustling grass
appeared to them to be moving hosts of savages; if they looked towards
the sea, they beheld fleets of canoes in the distance. Pedrarias
endeavored to hush all rumors that might increase the alarm; at the same
time he ordered the smelting-house to be closed, which was never done
except in time of war. This was done at the suggestion of the bishop,
who caused prayers to be offered and fasts proclaimed in order to avert
the impending calamities."

The one man by whom these calamities could have been obviated, Vasco
Nuñez de Balboa, was by the governor's orders restrained from action and
confined, virtually a prisoner, within the walls of Antigua. While
courageous and daring enough in the field, he yet possessed an
excessive regard for his sovereign and his representatives, hence his
servile submission to the persecutions of Pedrarias. He has remained
silent for a long while beneath the governor's opprobrium and calumnies;
now let him speak in his own behalf. While the ravage of Tubanamá was in
progress, and his warriors were raging around the settlement, he
approached the bishop one day as he emerged from the rude chapel that
served as church and cathedral. "Your lordship," he said, "I can endure
this no longer! My patience, beneath the insults and indignities which
the governor has heaped upon me, has reached its limit. Even the king,
were he to know all that has occurred in this colony since that base
usurper came here, could not but sustain me in rebelling against his
authority. He has, as you know, kept me here in durance, while others
have been intrusted with expeditions that have invariably returned in
disaster. In justice to the survivors of this once-flourishing colony,
which I alone placed on a basis of prosperity, but which Pedrarias has
reduced to lamentable ruin, I demand that I be established in power
again. If not here at Darien, then on the coast of the great sea, of
which so little has been learned since I discovered it." His eyes
flashed, his breast heaved with deep emotion, and the bishop saw that he
was at last aroused from his lethargy--that the lion within him was
crouching for a spring.

He heard him through without interruption, then said, soothingly: "My
son, it is even so as thou hast said. I have beheld these things with
grief and inward rage; but, as thou knowest, Don Pedro hath been
appointed by the king, and, though he be technically a usurper, still he
is supported by the crown. Had but Arbolancha arrived a few weeks sooner
than he did all might have been in thy favor; but now--now the king's
eyes have been opened too late to bestow upon thee thy deserts. But
patience, my son, for yet a little while. To-day, this very morning,
will I see the governor and plead thy cause."

The good bishop quickly redeemed his pledge, and within an hour was in
the presence of the governor and his lady. Without a moment's delay he
plunged into the subject of which he was so full, representing to
Pedrarias that "by keeping the finest capacity in the land in idleness
and obscurity he was injuring none more than himself, thus losing the
fruits which the friendship of Vasco Nuñez would produce for him."

"There is no doubt," he said to the surly Pedrarias, "that Vasco Nuñez
will, in some way or other, make known to the king the oppression and
contumely in which he has been held, to the defiance of royal command
and the injury of his majesty's interest. Why, then, persist in driving
a man to become your deadliest enemy whom you may grapple to your side
as your firmest friend?"

"Why, forsooth?" exclaimed Pedrarias, with a growl. "Because he has
chosen to oppose me and to oppose the royal commands. But even were we
disposed to agree--of which there is doubt--how could I, now that I have
humbled and discredited him, still regain his confidence and friendship?
It is incredible!"

"Nay, Pedro," said the bishop, bending forward and bestowing a glance
full of meaning upon his listeners. "To the contrary, it is the simplest
thing in the world. You have two marriageable daughters. Give him one of
them!"

"What? One of our daughters marry that base-born caitiff? Hearest thou
that, Isabel?"

"I hear," replied his wife, demurely. "But I do not consider Vasco Nuñez
so far beneath us that he could not aspire. He is of the hidalguia
[nobility] by birth, and not base-born, my lord."

"Aha! the rope of pearls! Hath it, then, bound thee to Balboa?"

"Shame! Thou knowest it is not so. That remark is unworthy of thee,
Pedro," exclaimed the bishop, hotly.

Doña Isabel did not respond, but her eyes flashed until their fire was
extinguished by the tears that welled up from them. She was used to
insult from her lord, but not yet calloused.

Bestowing upon her a glance of sympathy, the bishop continued: "My
friends, Vasco Nuñez would be a suitable match for your daughter. He is
a man of merit, an hidalgo by birth, and--whether thou likest or not to
hear it, Pedro--a favorite of the king. Whilst thou art advanced in
years, Pedro, he is in the prime of life, in the very vigor of his days.
Make him, then, thy son-in-law, and as thy lieutenant he can carry out
thy plans. Thus all his achievements will redound to the advancement of
thy family, and to the credit of thy administration."

"Enough!" exclaimed Pedrarias, won over, not so much by the bishop's
earnestness and eloquence as by the evident advantages to himself in
such a match. "Send for Vasco Nuñez and for a notary. He shall espouse
Maria, our eldest daughter. She is in Spain; but that matters not, so
the marriage agreement be written out and signed before witnesses. Send
for my son-in-law!"



XVIII

BUILDING THE BRIGANTINES

1516


The life led by Vasco Nuñez de Balboa in the New World, accustomed as he
had been to scenes of rapine and to the indulgence of the baser
passions, was not conducive to the upbuilding of an elevated character.
But that he had a shred of manliness remaining, was shown when, in
response to the command of Pedrarias, he presented himself before that
worthy at his official residence. When he learned of the compact that
had been proposed by the bishop and sanctioned by the governor, he at
first seemed stunned by the intelligence; but recovering himself with an
effort, he exclaimed: "And this is to be the purchase of my freedom?
Bound by pledges which cannot be broken, I am to be delivered into the
hands of mine enemy! Never! never will I consent to such a compromise.
It is disgraceful, humiliating!"

"Tut, tut," said the bishop. "You forget, my son, in whose presence thou
art speaking: the head of thy Church, the head of the government--not
only--but before a lady of a rank the equal of, if not exceeding, thine
own."

"I crave her pardon," said Balboa, now for the first time allowing his
gaze to rest upon Doña Isabel. "But do you, my lady, approve this
alliance? As the mother of your daughter, and knowing me for what I
am--what I have been in this wild land--do you consent to such a
sacrifice?"

"She is my eldest, and dear to my heart," responded the Lady Isabel;
"but I not only consent to--I approve of this arrangement."

"Then so be it," rejoined Balboa, with a sigh. "Never have I seen the
maiden; but if she be like her gracious mother, then truly shall I be
the most fortunate of men." He advanced, and bowing low before her, with
courtly dignity, pressed his lips to the hand which she extended.

"Most fortunate of men, indeed," exclaimed Pedrarias, with a sneer; "not
only in what you gain, but what escape. Dost hear, Isabel? he
_condescends_ to marry our daughter! We will make note of that; but,
inasmuch as I have decided, we will for the moment overlook it. Now the
notary, and the marriage compact. These, our signatures, you witness,
notary. Enough. It is done; it is affirmed. Maria shall be sent for, and
when she arrives the marriage shall be solemnized. Now, son-in-law, what
is it thou desirest most of all--saving, of course, to be my
son-in-law?"

"Your excellency," responded Balboa, ignoring the sneering tone and
look, "when you came hither it was my intention soon to build some
ships, and, after transporting them to the coast of the new sea, to
explore its shores and islands."

"Then proceed. It is a good intention, and should be carried out at
once. But how, son-in-law, wilt transport the ships across the
mountains? The way is long and rugged--impossible."

"Nay, not impossible. After what has been achieved, it is feasible. At
the port of Acla, in Careta's country, I would fain cut the timbers,
collect the material for fittings, and thence have them taken by
carriers to the southern sea-coast."

"Good! In the province of Careta, another father-in-law of thine, by the
way, thy relations with whom thou must sever! Thou canst not but
understand what I mean?"

"I understand," rejoined Balboa, "and your law is my will."

"Certes, thou shouldst have no other, henceforth, as thou'lt find!"

This allusion to Cacique Careta had reference, of course, to the
fact--which was well known in Darien--that his daughter, the Cacica, was
still held in regard by Balboa, and had not yet returned to her father.
Perhaps Doña Isabel had not been aware of the circumstances, for she
looked inquiringly at Balboa, who avoided her gaze, and retired in
confusion from her presence.

Then ensued scenes of activity at Antigua del Darien to which it had
long been a stranger. When it became known that Pedrarias and Balboa
were again in accord, the settlers took heart and began to improve their
condition. Establishing himself at Acla, a port in Careta's province, to
the west of Antigua, where he had already erected a fortress, Balboa
began the construction of four brigantines. Timber for two of them was
already hewn and shaped, when it was discovered that, having been cut
near the sea-coast, it was subject to the ravages of destructive worms,
and all the work had to be done over again.

During long weeks and months, troops of negroes and Indians trudged
painfully over the rugged trails of the mountains, from the north coast
to the south, bearing heavy loads comprised of rigging, anchors, and
iron-work for the brigantines, arms, ammunition, and provisions, a
distance of fifty or sixty miles. Timber for the second pair of
brigantines was felled on the banks of a river called the Balsa, which
flowed into the South Sea; but hardly had it been cut and shaped before
a flood came down from the mountains and swept it nearly all away. Then,
a third time, did the indefatigable Balboa set his men an example by
Herculean labors, and after almost incredible toil, exposure, suffering
from famine and sickness, two brigantines were finally constructed and
floated on the river. They drifted down to the sea-coast, and there,
while timber for the other two was being prepared and their fittings
brought from Acla, Balboa equipped them with sails and set forth upon
the bosom of the ocean he had discovered three years before. This, he
thought, was the consummation of his labors and the triumph of his
genius; but before him yet lay the country in which he hoped to round
out his career by a grand and startling conquest.

A trial trip was made to the islands of pearls, on one of which, called
_Isla Rica_, or the Rich Island, he established a base of supplies, and
then, with one hundred men aboard his clumsy brigantines, he set sail
for the coast of the mainland, where it stretched away to the west and
the southward. He was then, if he had but known it, on the watery
highway to Peru, but which another was to traverse, to its ending at the
gateway of the golden empire. He had found the way, however, and was
content, for, with four brigantines soon to be under his orders, and
three hundred men in his command, it seemed to him that the treasures of
Peru now lay open before him. He could exploit them at his leisure, he
thought, and when a school of whales appeared ahead of his vessel--which
he mistook for reefs--and a contrary wind assailed him, he abandoned his
cruise to the southward and returned to Isla Rica.

Balboa was a careful commander, and he had been three years dreaming of
and preparing for the invasion of Peru. He would not, then, jeopardize
his chances by starting out half equipped, with less than one-third the
number of men he desired and in all probability needed. So he returned
to Isla Rica, which, having reduced its people to subjection and
investigated its resources, he planned to make his headquarters.

With what exultation he found himself at last free from the domination
of Pedrarias! With what delight he rambled over his island realm and
thought upon the freedom that would be his, the glorious opportunities
unfolded, the treasure he would obtain, when, at last afloat, with
armament complete, he would bear down for the land that then lay dim and
shadowy upon the horizon!

But, even while indulging in these dreams of future conquest, sinister
rumors reached him from the northern shores of the isthmus. At least,
viewed in the light that Pedrarias was now his friend, they seemed so,
for they related to the arrival of a new governor, who might not look
with favor on his schemes, and indeed supplant him with favorites of his
own. After consulting with the most trusty of his officers, he resolved
to send a messenger to Acla, in order to ascertain the exact condition
of affairs in Antigua, for reports were conflicting, and he knew not
what to do. The man selected for this important mission was none other
than Andres Garabito, who had brought the contingent of armed men from
Cuba. Balboa thought he could trust him, as they had campaigned
together, passed through perils together, and existed in close
comradeship for years; but he had not taken into the account a recent
occurrence which had changed Garabito's friendship into bitter hatred.

His enmity was secret, but was none the less vindictive, and it was
occasioned by his fondness for Careta's daughter, of whom Balboa claimed
sole proprietorship. When, therefore, he one day discovered Garabito
paying her attentions--which she seemed not to receive unwillingly--he
rebuked his subordinate severely, and sent him away in anger. The
occurrence faded quickly from Balboa's mind, for his generous nature did
not harbor resentment long; but not so with Garabito, who felt he had
been unjustly treated, and meditated revenge.

Before setting out with Balboa on this very expedition, he wrote to
Pedrarias that his prospective son-in-law was so completely enamored of
the Indian girl Cacica that, rather than give her up, he would fly with
her to the wilds and abandon the settlement forever. This poisoned
missive had done its dastardly work most effectually during Balboa's
absence on the southern coast, and when, by a sinister coincidence,
Garabito was chosen to return to Darien to spy upon the Spaniards there,
he found the mind of Pedrarias ripe to receive any accusation whatever
against the man he hated yet had so highly honored. He was furious from
wounded pride and jealousy. His former suspicions revived, and were
augmented by the arrival of the malignant Garabito at Acla. This
despicable wretch allowed himself to be arrested as a spy, and when
threatened with punishment pretended to reveal what he knew and
suspected of Balboa's intentions. He declared that his chief intended,
as soon as the brigantines were ready for sea, provisioned and equipped,
to embark upon the southern ocean. As an independent commander, said
Garabito, he proposed to sever all relations with the government of
Darien, and cast off his allegiance to the king. Thus was Balboa accused
of the crime of treason by this dastard scoundrel, a crime which, as he
well knew, was punishable with death!

As the new governor had died in the very harbor of Antigua before he
could take up the burden of government, Pedrarias was not only
undisturbed, but at liberty now to proceed unrestrained with his
persecution of Balboa. In his blind fury, he cast all considerations of
justice or fairness to the winds, and listened to the accusations of
Balboa's enemies, who now rose up on all sides to condemn him. The
colony was again thrown into a ferment by the several factions, for
Balboa still had many friends besides those who were with him on the
coast; and every advantage which had been gained by the alliance between
the governor and the discoverer was thus thrown away. The interests of
the colony were subordinated by Pedrarias to the gratification of his
malice, and all enterprises halted while he pursued his enemy to the
last extremity.

Garabito had, as though unintentionally, let drop that his chief had
sent for Cacica, who was instructed to join him in his camp at Isla
Rica, he said, without delay. But this was an untruth, for Balboa had
broken with her from the day he had promised Pedrarias to do so. As an
honorable man--according to the code of honor at that time--he felt
himself constrained to abide by the letter of his marriage agreement
with the governor's daughter, and had held himself aloof from all
temptations. His deep regard for Doña Isabel constrained him also; for,
though she had condoned his past, she expected him to comport himself
like a true knight in the future. As the mother of his bride in
prospective, and as the first pure woman he had met in many years, he
regarded her with worshipful reverence. For her sake he had resolved to
crucify his lusts and purge himself of all iniquities.

But Balboa's righteous resolve had been made too late, for the Cacica,
though she had long since steeled her heart against her master, was
piqued at his coldness, and it was that which had caused her to receive
the attentions of Garabito, who failed not to tell her of the marriage
contract with the governor's daughter. Balboa had, then, at least two
enemies who, with a desire for revenge, though from different motives,
aided Pedrarias in fastening the fetters upon him.

If this were but a story of love and revenge, rather than the simple
biography of a historical character, we should find the material at hand
for a most fascinating romance; and if the reader will recall the
leading features of chapters v. and ix., in this connection, perhaps
such a story may be woven, after all! For we have all the essentials for
a plot: valiant hero, beautiful heroine, despicable villain; love,
intrigue, the deadly enmity of a base tyrant; and finally, a tragic
ending. This final tragedy we are leading up to now, and we shall
attempt to show how Vasco Nuñez de Balboa's crimes in the early part of
his career came to be visited upon him when at the height of apparent
prosperity and power, and brought him to the headsman's block!

When Pedrarias heard from Garabito that the Cacica had been ordered by
Balboa to join him on his expedition, he sent an officer to bring her
before him. She came tremblingly, having in mind the tortures to which
her brother had been subjected when summoned before a similar council by
the magistrates. She was waylaid by Garabito, who whispered in her ear:
"You have only to say that your master sent for you, but that you
refused to go. If you testify otherwise, you are lost, for the governor
will put you to the torture!"

The power of Garabito was in the ascendent, over that of Balboa, and the
girl testified as he commanded, greatly to the satisfaction of the
governor, who grimly regarded this rival of his daughter with something
like approval. Her evidence was the last link in the chain he was
forging to connect his enemy with treason towards the king. The fact
that he had sent for her proved his intention of making the southern
coast his base of operations and place of permanent abode. It also
showed, the governor argued, that Balboa had no thought of fulfilling
his obligations to his daughter, whom he thus virtually repudiated. This
thought enraged him to the verge of frenzy. That he should have
meditated an alliance with this base-born adventurer (as he styled him
then) was exasperating; but that the graceless fellow should have
spurned that alliance, and preferred an Indian female to his high-born
daughter, stirred his malignant nature to its depths.



XIX

IMPRISONED AND IN CHAINS

1517


While his enemies were plotting to take his life, Balboa was beyond
their reach at Isla Rica, where, all unconscious of the dangers that
menaced him, he was completing preparations for the voyage southward to
Peru. He had sent for and expected supplies and reinforcements, but
while they were, presumably, on the way, he did not abate his diligence
for a moment.

He relaxed, however, his strenuous exertions, for the great object of
the past months of terrible toils had been in a measure accomplished in
the building of the brigantines. While the work went on beneath his eye,
he allowed himself a little recreation, and amid the delights of Isla
Rica indulged in dreams of future conquests. One evening, while
reclining in company with some comrades on a couch of palm-leaves spread
upon the sands, he pointed to a particular star in the heavens above
them, and said: "There is the planet that holds my fate in its keeping.
See you yon star, my friends? Well, I was told by Micer Codro (the
Venetian astrologer who was with us, you remember, when we first found
these shores) that when that star appeared in this position in the
firmament my life would be in jeopardy. But should I survive this period
of peril, I would become the richest, the most renowned man in the
Indies!

"Now, what think ye, comrades? That was more than three years ago, and,
according to Micer Codro's prophecy, I should be in peril of my life;
yet here am I, almost within reach of my desires, sound in health, with
four brigantines and three hundred good men at my command, and on the
point of exploring the great Southern Ocean, which I was the first to
find! Out upon all astrologers, say I. That man is surely womanish who
gives credit to diviners, and especially to old Micer Codro. Star, I
salute thee! Continue thou to shine; but thy baleful radiance is not for
Vasco Nuñez de Balboa!"

"He was a learned man," replied one of his companions. "Of a truth, I
have heard fearsome stories of his sagacity. But what is that? See,
yonder on the sea: a canoe approaches. What can fetch a boat hither from
the main, save unwelcome tidings?"

"I cannot conceive," rejoined Balboa, "except that the new governor has
arrived and it is a summons for us to return. But we shall see as to
that, for while the isthmus intervenes between him and me, no power
shall stay us nor cause us to delay."

Propelled by the sinewy arms of naked Indians, the canoe darted over the
sea and through the surf to the strand, when a man in the garb of a
king's official leaped out and approached the group. Going up to Balboa,
who was standing expectantly, he bowed low, then said: "Señor
Adelantado, a letter I bring you from his excellency the governor."

"Which I receive as his dutiful servant," answered Balboa, taking it in
his hand, and reading it by the light of a torch held by one of his
aids. "It seems my intended father-in-law is desirous of seeing me and
consulting with respect to our projected expedition," he explained to
his comrades. "As his wishes are my desires, I shall start in the
morning. Meanwhile I am gone, Francisco Companon, you will be in
command of the ships and the soldiers. Messenger, what tidings in
Antigua del Darien? For, sooth, my father-in-law says not a word as to
happenings there. Is all well? Has the new governor arrived? Perchance
not, else Pedrarias would not have written."

"The new governor, who was to supersede his excellency, died as he
entered the harbor," answered the messenger; but he was silent, or
evasive, as to other happenings at Antigua.

On the shore of the mainland other messengers were in waiting, who,
finding that Balboa had set out unarmed and without a suspicion of the
fate that was in store for him, consulted together as to the
advisability of informing him. They did not do so, however, until the
mountains were passed and the little party drew near Acla, when, won by
Balboa's frankness and open conduct, their sympathies prevailed over
their fears of the governor's vengeance, and they informed him of the
snare into which he was hurrying. Balboa was astounded, and at first
refused to believe in the perfidy of the man to whose daughter he was
pledged in marriage.

"I am innocent of any evil intention," he finally exclaimed. "Faithfully
have I served Pedrarias, and faithfully have I served my king. No, I
will not retreat," he said, in answer to a suggestion that he should
escape while the opportunity offered. "I have done nothing worthy of
punishment, and I will go forward, for my innocence I can prove."

"To-morrow it will be too late," answered one of the messengers, "for at
Acla awaits Francisco Pizarro, with a command, to arrest you.
Adelantado, we entreat you: return while you may."

"Nay, never! My back I have never turned to an enemy yet. But I cannot
believe that Pedrarias will continue my enemy; and as for Francisco
Pizarro, have I not reared him in the profession of arms? Have we not
campaigned together, fought and starved together?"

Sorrowfully, then, the little band of unarmed Spaniards held on their
way to Acla, in the environs of which they were met by Pizarro and a
company of soldiers, who barred the way. Pizarro drew from his corselet
an order of arrest and proceeded to read it, while Balboa regarded him
with reproachful astonishment. When it was concluded, he exclaimed:
"How is this Francisco? You were not wont to come out in this fashion to
receive me!" His former comrade made no reply, for he was only obeying
the orders of his superior, and had no alternative but to choose between
the two: Pedrarias, supreme in authority, and Balboa, discredited
commander. He chose to serve the former, and, as shown in the light of
future events, he may have chosen wisely, for it was under Pedrarias,
then governor of Panama, that he made his first voyage southward,
eventually achieving the conquest of Peru, and tearing Balboa's laurels
from his brow.

At a muttered command from Pizarro, two soldiers stepped forward with
manacles, which they placed upon Balboa's wrists and ankles, and in
chains he was conducted to Acla and thrown into prison. There he was
soon visited by the wily Pedrarias, who could scarce conceal his
exultation at having in his power the man he hated because his
reputation was greater than his own. But, concealing his true feelings,
he said to Balboa: "Be thou not afflicted, my son. Thou art here through
the charges brought against thee by Alonzo de Puente, who, being the
king's treasurer, hath compelled me to this proceeding. But, doubtless,
an investigation will not merely establish thy innocency, but serve to
render thy zeal and loyalty to the crown the more conspicuous."

Balboa made no reply, for, frank and generous himself, without the power
of dissembling, he despised, detested a hypocrite. He knew that Puente's
charge was a mere pretence behind which were cloaked deeper designs than
had yet been revealed; and so it proved, for when, in the course of a
few days, Pedrarias was satisfied that the grounds of the legal process
were sufficiently strong to secure Balboa's conviction of treason and
enable him to put his unhappy prisoner to death, he threw off the mask.
Returning to the prison, he said to Balboa, with the hard and
threatening countenance which he habitually wore: "Hitherto I have
treated you as a son, because I gave you credit for fidelity to the
king, and to me, in his name. Since, however, I find myself mistaken,
you have no longer to expect from me the conduct of a father, but of a
judge and an enemy, as I shall henceforth treat you."

"As for your feelings towards me," indignantly replied the prisoner,
"it matters not to me one whit; but as to my conduct towards the king,
my sovereign, your charges are false! If what you impute to me were
true, holding as I did at my command four ships and three hundred men,
by whom I am beloved, why should I not have gone straight to sea without
permitting anything to impede my purpose? Safe in the consciousness of
my innocence, I returned at your command; and little did I dream of
being treated so rigorously and with such enormous injustice. This is my
reward for trusting you: a dungeon, with slander, indignities, and
chains."

"Yea, traitor," rejoined Pedrarias, hotly, "a dungeon is truly your
merited reward for despising the alliance I would have made with you.
Truly, I shudder to think of what my family has escaped: of the foul
blot which the marriage of my daughter with one of your stamp would have
spread upon my proud escutcheon. And all the time you had an Indian
mistress, for whom you sent to accompany you on the expedition which
would have placed you well beyond my reach. But know, traitor and
scoundrel, that she has confessed, and thus the means by which you
would have covered my daughter's name with obloquy have been those for
encompassing your own destruction!"

"Who, Cacica, the pledge of amity between me and Careta? She has
confessed? Nothing had she to confess, for I sent her no message. After
my word was given to you that I would not see her, of a truth, I saw her
no more. You are a liar, Pedro Pedrarias, and were I but free, with my
good sword in hand, fain would I render you unable to utter more false
statements against me and those who were once true to me!"

"Ha! Would you, then? Here, jailer, double this fellow's irons, and if
he protest, weight him to the floor with them! My throat you would slit,
eh? Old as I am, you will find that when it comes to the cutting of
throats, Don Pedrarias de Avila needs not rely upon his own unaided
sword. There is one in my employ who wields a more potent weapon--mark
you--and that is Gomez, the headsman. I go to tell him now to sharpen
his axe for four!"

"For four?" exclaimed Balboa, as the old man retreated from the cell.
"Who else have you enmeshed in your net, base wretch? Will not one
victim suffice you? Who are they? Tell me."

"Who?" repeated the old man, mockingly, peering at his victim through
the bars. "Why, who but Hernan de Arguello, Hernan Muños, Valderrabano,
and Botello. Were they simply your friends, it were enough; but they are
more: they are traitors to the king, and to me, Pedrarias de Avila,
governor-in-chief of Darien, whose authority you have endeavored to
usurp."

"They, my officers, condemned to die merely because they were friends,
and loyal to me," groaned Balboa as, left in the solitude of his cell,
he sank helpless to the floor. "Truly is this Pedrarias a fiend, an
intimate of the devil, and scarce human! And they will die, being my
friends, but no man's enemies."

Realizing that he had proceeded so far it was impossible to leave Balboa
alive in the same land with himself, Pedrarias left no stone unturned to
accomplish his death. Urged to activity by promise of the command of
Balboa's expedition in the event of his death, the vile lawyer,
Espinosa, found an indictment against the five which warranted his
master in proclaiming they were doomed to die for treason against the
king. The proclamation was made at Acla, and not in Antigua, where
resided most of the settlers, because, as Pedrarias knew, it would
provoke an uprising of the people.

While they were supremely loyal to the crown, and, in their timidity,
afraid to declare against its representative, Pedrarias, the people of
Darien were yet well inclined towards Vasco Nuñez de Balboa, and most of
them his friends, because of his possessing many lovable qualities which
the governor lacked.

When, affrighted at the vindictiveness of Pedrarias, Espinosa explained
to him that the verdict against Balboa was technical only, and that on
account of his great services he should be inclined to mercy, the fiend
replied: "No, if he has merited death, let him suffer it. Die he must,
and shall, and on your head be his blood!"



XX

THE END OF VASCO NUÑEZ DE BALBOA

1517


We are compelled, in this chapter, to narrate the details of a horrible
crime, to commit which the name of justice was invoked by its
perpetrator, Pedro Arias de Avila, the one-time governor of Darien. We
have followed the hero of this story, Vasco Nuñez de Balboa, through the
various stages of his career: a penniless adventurer, self-elected
governor of Darien, savior of the settlement when on the point of
dissolution, subjugator of the caciques, discoverer of the Pacific,
faithful servant of the king, builder of the first brigantines that
ploughed the waters of the great Southern Ocean. We are now to behold
him led forth from his prison cell as a criminal, a traitor to his
sovereign, and executed in the very town which was founded, through his
unwearied efforts, in chief Careta's province.

He was then scarcely forty-two years of age, in the prime of life, seven
long years of which had been passed in the wilderness of Darien. He had
labored, he had fought, he had committed crimes against humanity--all
that his sovereign might acquire a realm beyond the sea--and this was
his reward: to perish as a felon, to die as a traitor, "in the full
career of his glory, one of the most deserving of the Spanish
discoverers--a victim to the basest and most perfidious envy." He had,
indeed, deserved well of his king, for of all the Spaniards who explored
the regions of America, he was one of the greatest, the most persistent
in carrying the flag of his country into unknown lands, in compelling
the inhabitants to accept his religion and acknowledge the sovereignty
of Spain.

He was not the first of the Spanish explorers and conquistadores to
experience that king's ingratitude, nor the last to meet a violent
death. Columbus and Cortés died in their beds, but they were victims of
their sovereign's neglect. De Soto, worn out by his toils, perished on
the bank of the Mississippi, which became his grave. Ponce de Leon,
returning to Florida, the land he had discovered, received his
death-wound from an Indian arrow. Pizarro was assassinated, by men he
had reduced to poverty and exasperated by his taunts.

The reward, then, of exploration and discovery mainly inheres in the
accomplishment itself, for few of the world's great explorers have lived
to receive the fruits of their labors, as witness Magellan and Hudson
and Cook. Of them all, however, perhaps there was none who was so basely
requited as Vasco Nuñez de Balboa. Were it not for the fact that there
was in Darien, at the time Pedrarias wreaked his vengeance upon Balboa,
a veracious chronicler of events, whose name has survived as author of a
great history, we should be loath to accept as true this story of
revenge, ingratitude, and crime. But we have it from Gonzalo Fernandez
de Oviedo, a contemporary of the chief characters in this tragedy, who
was sent out by King Ferdinand as inspector of mines, and who
subsequently, as historiographer of the Indies, wrote a great work,
which first appeared in 1526. He was intimate with both Pedrarias and
Balboa, and after the death of the latter had access to his private
papers, from the perusal of which, and from his knowledge of our hero,
he drew conclusions as to his merits, which were long since sanctioned
by the voice of posterity.

The day arrived in which the sentence of death was to be carried out,
and found the little town of Acla overspread with gloom. The horrified
inhabitants moved about as in a dream, unable to wholly comprehend the
nature of their dread surroundings, hardly daring to allow their tears
to flow, much less their voices to be raised in protest. For they
realized that in Pedrarias, the governor, they had a man to deal with
not in his right mind, warped by envy, malice, jealousy, until he had
become a frenzied maniac. They dared not provoke his wrath by protest,
even in a whisper, for they were cowards all, rendered so by their
subserviency to the crown, which might commit any atrocity and yet be
accounted blameless.

Pedrarias had sentenced his prisoner to death in the name of the king,
yet he allowed him no appeal, either to the king or to the Council of
the Indies; for he knew that sentence would be reversed and the
discoverer set free should his voice reach the throne. It never reached
it, save as wafted across the sea and ocean in the indignant outcry of
the people--after the deed was done by which Balboa lost his head. Then
it did not avail to redress Balboa's wrongs nor to bring Pedrarias to
justice, for he continued in his crimes for years, and at the last died
in his bed, like many another wretch of lesser note.

But the day had arrived, Balboa's last on earth. The hot afternoon wore
away, and the sun sank towards the mountains which the prisoner had been
the first to explore, and touched with its rays the roofs of the
dwellings he himself had erected. The dungeon door was thrown open, and
forth came Balboa, preceded by his jailer and loaded with clanking
chains. But the burden of the chains was as naught to the armor he had
carried in the days of his great deeds, and he bore himself erect,
dauntless in mien as of yore.

He searched the village square with flashing eye, sweeping his glance
over the assembled crowd of cowards, held back by mailed soldiers under
the command of his former comrade and lieutenant, Francisco Pizarro. He
was no coward--that Balboa knew; but he had his own reasons for serving
Pedrarias, as already narrated. If Pizarro had but weakened, if he had
allowed his sense of justice to prevail over his lust for power and
lucre, and said one word for Balboa, all the men under him would have
joined in an effort to save the man they loved from him they loathed and
hated. But Pizarro was a clump, a stick, a stone--anything inanimate,
or, in other words, a soldier--and when Balboa's piercing glance fell on
him he looked to the ground and remained immovable.

Preceding the prisoner walked the public crier, who announced: "This is
the punishment inflicted by command of the king and his lieutenant, Don
Pedrarias de Avila, governor of this colony, upon this man, as a
traitor, and usurper of lands belonging to the crown."

"Nay, nay," exclaimed the still loyal Balboa when he heard this lie
proclaimed; "it is false! You, my former comrades, know it is false.
Never hath thought of such a crime entered my mind. I have ever served
my king with truth and loyalty, and ever sought to augment his
dominions!"

[Illustration: EXECUTION OF BALBOA]

He raised his eyes to heaven and stretched forth his manacled hands,
while a murmur of compassion went around the throng in the square of
Acla. But there was no demonstration in his favor, for there was no man
left in Darien, apparently, with a heart in his breast. The best of
Balboa's followers, the original conquerors of the territory, were
awaiting his return to Isla Rica, where lay the brigantines ready for
exploration, where were gathered the men for a voyage Balboa was never
to make, for a conquest he was never to achieve.

There was no man present capable of leading an uprising against the
tyrant, save Pizarro, and he was unready. There was no man in authority
who could resist the tyrant's authority, for Bishop Quevedo had returned
to Spain; but a priest was present, who offered Balboa the sacrament as
he ascended the scaffold, and whispered words of consolation. It is
doubtful if Balboa heeded them, for, coming from such a source, from a
man in the hire of Pedrarias, his words must have seemed meaningless and
a mockery.

The rude scaffold stood in the centre of the square, a platform erected
on posts, reached by a ladder, which, manacled as he was, Balboa climbed
with difficulty. Why he should have climbed at all, and why he so tamely
submitted to his fate, seems strange to those acquainted with his
courageous nature. But probably the spell of authority was on him, for
the magician who had enthralled him had invoked the name of a monster,
living afar, but held to be omnipotent. That monster was the king, at
mention of whose dread name the most valiant of fighters became servile
and abject.

So Vasco Nuñez de Balboa, mistakenly supposing himself bound by the will
of a dastard king, went meekly to the scaffold. With a firm step he
ascended to the platform, without a tremor viewed the block on which he
was to lose his head, and looked calmly on while the grim headsman made
it ready. "Now haste," growled the man with the axe, "for there are
others, and the sun is low in the sky." Then Balboa gave a
start--remembering the others. But it was too late now to save them,
and, with a pang at his heart for those he had involved in deadly
perils, he sank to the platform and laid his neck on the block. The
headsman raised his axe--a thrill of horror ran through the spectators;
it fell, and, as the blood spurted from the headless trunk, their groans
and lamentations rent the air.

The executioner's work was not finished with Balboa, whose head was
held aloft, and then, by orders of the implacable Pedrarias, stuck on a
pole, where all might view the gory trophy. The three officers followed,
and the head of each was taken off at a stroke. The dusk of evening
gathered as the last one was beheaded. But there yet remained another
victim, one Arguello, whose sole offence lay in the writing of a letter
to Balboa warning him of what Pedrarias intended. The people assembled
about the scaffold had witnessed--with what feelings of grief and horror
may be imagined!--the execution of four gallant soldiers whose offences
were such Pedrarias would not pardon them. But now, overcome by their
sympathies, they entreated, with sighs and with tears, that this life
might be spared, "inasmuch as God had not given daylight for the
execution of his sentence." The stony-hearted governor, resentful and
relentless, replied: "Never! Rather would I die myself than permit one
of those traitors to escape unpunished!"

Chilled with horror, the people returned to the square, where the
scaffold was but dimly visible in the gloom of approaching night, and
where the last act of the horrible drama was being performed in
darkness. They heard the clank of Arguello's chains as he fell across
the block, and then, after an interval of breathless silence, the thud
of the axe, proclaiming all was over.

Pedrarias had witnessed all, hidden behind a palisade of reeds, through
the crevices of which he watched the doings on the scaffold, less than
twenty feet away. There he crouched, a demon in human semblance,
gloating over the anguish of the people, the groans of his victims, and
counting the strokes of the headsman's axe.

Beneath a tree on the verge of the forest cowered a fearsome watcher,
the Cacica, formerly beloved of Balboa. Peering through the screen of
leaves, she witnessed the dreadful ending of him whom she had both loved
and hated. But she did not exult, like the man-fiend Pedrarias.
Believing that her testimony had sealed Balboa's fate, by the reproaches
of conscience she was driven into the forest, where (as nothing more was
ever heard of her) she probably perished, an outcast from her tribe, and
forgotten by her family.

In Antigua del Darien, a broken-hearted woman mourned the gallant Vasco
Nuñez de Balboa; for he had been betrothed to her daughter, who,
through her father's vengeful deed, was widowed ere she had been made a
bride.



INDEX


Abebeiba, Indian cacique, 103, 104.

Acla, port of, Darien, 247, 252;
  scene of Balboa's arrest, 262, and execution, 269, 276.

Aerial dwellings, 101, 107.

Albitez, one of Balboa's men, 42.

Antigua del Darien, 37;
  description of, 206;
  famine in, 223, 224;
  under Balboa and Pedrarias, compared, 225.

Arbolancha, Pedro, sent to King Ferdinand, 200, 207.

Areito, or areyto, Indian chant, 56.

Arguello, Hernan, condemned to death, 267;
  executed, 277.

Armor of Spaniards, 96.

Atrato River, 100.

Avila, Pedro Arias de, sails for Darien, 203;
  arrives, 206;
  meets Balboa, 208-211;
  his jealousy, 212;
  entertained by Balboa, 213-216;
  demands an accounting, 217;
  at open enmity with Balboa, 220-222;
  plots his destruction, 226;
  blunders and crimes of, 237;
  gives Balboa his daughter in marriage, 244;
  makes peace with Balboa, 247, and sends him to the Pacific, 248;
  frenzied by tales of Balboa's perfidy, 256, and schemes for revenge, 257;
  orders him back to Antigua, 260;
  sends Pizarro to arrest him, 262;
  visits him in prison, 263;
  consoles with and then denounces him, 264;
  places him in double irons, 266;
  causes sentence of death to be proclaimed, 268, and allows no appeal, 273;
  orders him beheaded, 277;
  exults over and witnesses his death, 278.
  [Avila may be pursued further in the "Lives" of _Pizarro_ and _De Soto_
  (of this series), with whose careers he was intimately identified.
  He died at Leon, in Nicaragua, 1531, at the age of ninety.
  His eldest daughter, Maria, to whom Balboa was affianced,
  retired to a convent; the youngest, Isabel, married De Soto,
  whom she accompanied to Cuba, where she died.]


Balboa, Vasco Nuñez de, advent of, 8, 9, 10, 11;
  farm and major-domo of, 11-14;
  packed in a cask, 15;
  appearance of before Enciso, 17-22;
  his friends, 23-26;
  advises Enciso, 29, 30;
  becomes prominent, 34;
  conspires against Enciso, 38;
  saves the colony, 47;
  fine qualities of, 48;
  in supreme command, 49;
  captures Careta, 56-60;
  rescues an Indian girl, 64, with whom he falls in love, 67-69;
  discovers treasure, 70;
  spies upon his mistress, 72;
  sacks Ponca's capital, 78;
  invades Comogre's province, 79, 80, where he finds gold, 83;
  first hears of the Pacific, 85;
  sends gold to King Ferdinand, 88;
  despatches Valdivia to Spain for reinforcements, 89;
  invades Dobaybe province, 98, 99;
  discovers tree-dwellers, 101;
  in aerial dwellings, 107;
  tortures Indians, 121;
  sends Colmenares to Tichiri, 130-140;
  retreats to forest to avoid dissensions, 143;
  entreated to return to
  Antigua, 144-146;
  in disfavor with the King, 150;
  commissioned captain-general, 152;
  sends commissioners to Spain, 155;
  his intrepidity, 157;
  projects great expedition, 159;
  sets out for Austral Ocean, 162;
  treats with Chief Ponca, 163;
  in Quaraqua's country, 165;
  massacres Indians, 168;
  on verge of discovery, 170;
  his first sight of the Pacific, 171;
  on its shores, 174;
  compared with Columbus, 175;
  takes possession of Pacific, 179, 180, and embarks on, 182-184;
  discovers pearls, 189;
  success with Indians, 196;
  returns from expedition, 197;
  popularity of, 198;
  sovereign's opinion of, 201;
  superseded by Pedrarias, 203, whom he receives at Antigua, 208-212;
  his courtesy to Doña Isabel, 211, 212;
  angers Pedrarias, 216, who demands an accounting, 217;
  seeks Dobaybe, 227, and fails, 229;
  appointed adelantado by the king, 230, 231;
  ordered confined in a cage, 233;
  protests to Bishop Quevedo, 240;
  engages to marry the governor's daughter, 242, 246;
  character of, 245;
  builds brigantines, 248,
  249, and sails them on Pacific, 250;
  freed from Pedrarias, 251;
  accused by Garabito, 253;
  suffers for his crimes, 256;
  flouts astrologer's prophecy, 259;
  returns to Acla, 261, where he is arrested, 262;
  imprisoned, 263;
  visited in prison by Pedrarias, 263, whom he defies and denounces, 265;
  his career reviewed, 269, 270;
  scenes at his execution, 272-275;
  beheaded, 276.

Balsa, river in Darien, 249.

Barbacoa, Indian structure, 54, 101.

Bastidas, Rodrigo de, explorer, 1-7.

Becerra, Francisco, lost in Zenu, 237.

Biru (Peru) described to Pizarro, 236.

Bobadilla, Francisco de, 3-7.

Bobadilla, Doña Isabel de, 205;
  entertained by Balboa, 212-216, whom she befriends, 243;
  mourns Balboa's death, 278.

Bohio, or Indian hut, 53.

Bonouvama, friendly Indian, 195.

Brigantines, building the, 248-250.


Cacica, the fair, Balboa's prisoner, 69;
  entertains spies, 116;
  betrays her people 119;
  sought by
  Garabito, 252;
  seals Balboa's fate, 257;
  witnesses his execution, 278.

Caciques of Darien, the, chap, v.;
  dead, 71.

Caicedo, Juan de, 154, 200.

Calaboose, from Spanish _calabozo_, 141.

Caribs of Urabá, 52.

Carillo, Captain Luis, 227;
  death of, 228.

Carita, Cacique, 50, 56;
  capture of, 57;
  speech of, 65;
  bestows daughter upon Balboa, 66, and becomes his ally, 78.

Cartagena, harbor of, 26, 28.

Chiapes, native chief, 176-178, 181, 182, 188.

Chicha, fermented beverage, 108.

Colmenares, Diego de, rescues colonists, 39;
  and Nicuesa, 40-42;
  assists Balboa, 81, and invades Dobaybe with him, 98;
  advises Balboa, 127;
  captures Tichiri, 131;
  kills chiefs, 132;
  builds a fortress, 139;
  sent to Spain by Balboa, 154, 155, 200.

Colombinos, followers of Columbus, 4.

Columbus, Christopher, allusion to, 1, 3, 4, 8, 10.

Columbus, Don Diego, governor of Santo Domingo, 10, 11.

Columbus, appeal to, by Balboa, 88.

Comogre, Cacique, 78, 79;
  sons of, 81, 84-86;
  baptized, 87;
  death of, 194.

Companon, Francisco, 261.

Corral, companion of Balboa, 42;
  in irons, 144.

Cortés, Hernando, never at Darien, 176.

Cosa, Juan de la, pilot, 1, 4, 7.

Coyba, province of, 50;
  invasion of, 52.


Darien, Caciques of, chap. v;
  gulf of, 33;
  Indians of, 53-56;
  river, 100.

Dobaybe, the golden, 92, 93;
  expedition to, 95 et seq.;
  second expedition to, 226-229.

Dragons of Dobaybe, 227, 228.


Enciso, Martin Fernandez De, Ojeda's partner, 11;
  encounters Balboa, 19;
  by whom he is outwitted, 20-22;
  arrives at Cartagena, 26;
  parleys with Indians, 30, 31;
  sends Balboa and Pizarro to fight them, 32;
  loses a vessel, 33;
  unable to restrain his men, 35, who depose him,
  electing Balboa and Zamudio to fill his place, 39;
  expelled and sent to Spain, 45.

Encomiendas of Indians, 9.

Escary, Juan de, with Balboa, 178.

Espinosa, Gaspar de, lawyer, 205;
  prosecutes Balboa, 221, and impoverishes him, 234;
  finds indictment against, 267, which results in his execution, 268.

Explorers, fate of, 270, 271.


Famine in the colony, 223.

Fonseca, Bishop, allusion to, 203.


Garabito, Andres, 232;
  turns against Balboa, 252, and plots his ruin, 253-257.

Gold, in nets, 29, 237;
  in abundance, 185;
  by thousand pieces, 198;
  object of all explorations, 202;
  sent to the king, 214.

Golden Castile, 202.

Golden sepulchres, 29.


Hurtado, Bartholomew, 113-115;
  commands at Darien, 140.


Indian sepulchres, 71-73.

Indians of Darien, 53-56.

Isabel, Doña. See Bobadilla, Doña Isabel de.

Isla Rica (rich island), 250;
  Balboa recreates in, 258.


Keats, the poet, mistake of, respecting Balboa and Cortés, 175.


Leoncico, Balboa's blood-hound, 16, 17, 24-26, 60-63;
  great exploits of, 166, 167.

Lianas, 58.

Llamas, first description of, 186.


Martin, Alonzo, first Spaniard on Pacific (at Darien), 178.

Micer Codro, astrologer, predicts Balboa's end, 259.

Morales, Gaspar, expedition of, 235;
  attacked and defeated, 237.

Muños, Hernan, condemned to die with Balboa, 267.


Nicuesa, Don Diego de, 23, 38;
  sufferings of, 40;
  character of, 41;
  barbarous treatment and fate of, 43-45.

Niño, Pedro, 2.

Nombre de Dios, port of, 41.


Ocoa, Bay of, 2.

Ojeda, Alonzo, 11, 23, 26-28;
  settlement founded by, 33, 38, 40, 100.

Olano, Lope de, 42.

Ovando, the atrocious, 10, 27.

Oviedo, Gonzalo Fernandez de, historian, 199;
  intimately acquainted with Balboa and Pedrarias, 271.

Ozama River, 3.


Pacific Ocean, first information of, given to Balboa, 85, 86;
  first sight
  of, by Balboa, 170;
  date of discovery, 174;
  taken possession of, 179;
  first brigantines on, at Darien, 249.

Pasamonte, Miguel de, 152, 153.

Pearl Islands, the, 187, 236.

Pearls, discovery of, 184, 185;
  by the basketful, 236.

Pedrarias. See Avila, Pedro Arias de.

Perez, Alonzo de la Rua, 140, 141, 143, 144.

Peru, first mention of, to Spaniards, 86;
  rumors regarding, 186.

Pizarro, Francisco, with Ojeda, 11, 28, 178;
  leads an expedition, 235;
  hears of Peru, 236;
  sent to arrest Balboa, 262, whom he places in irons, 263;
  commands guard at his execution, 273;
  loyal to the tyrant, 275.

Poisoned arrows, 32, 52.

Ponca, Indian chief, 56, 76, 78, 162;
  tortured and killed, 189.

Puertocarrero, Pedro, 8.


Quaraqua, Cacique, 115, 167, 177.

Quevedo, Bishop, 204;
  guest of Balboa, 213;
  absorbs his wealth, 221;
  intercedes for him, 241, 242;
  arranges marriage with daughter of Pedrarias, 243;
  returns to Spain, 275.

Quintana, Don Manuel J., author of Balboa's biography, 158.


Rio Negro, or Black River, 100.


Salvatierra, town of, 12.

San Miguel, bay of, 181.

San Sebastian, settlement of, 33;
  removal of colony to Darien, 47.

Sea of the South, or Pacific, 180.


Techoan, Cacique, 188.

_Te Deum Laudamus_, chanted, 173.

Terra Firma, 2, 5, 23.

Tichiri, Indian settlement, 119;
  captured, 131.

Toledo, swords of, 96, 98.

Tom-tom, African drum, 56.

Tubanamá, Cacique, 86, 191;
  the gold of, 193;
  defeats Spaniards, 238.

Tuira, Indian deity, 53.

Tumaco, Indian cacique, 184 et seq., 188.

Tutibara, Indian chief, 235.


Urabá, Gulf of, 23, 33, 92, 99.


Valderrabano, Andres de, notary, 180;
  condemned to death, 267.

Valdivia, regidor, sent to Spain, 88, 89;
  lost at sea, 90;
  his unhappy fate, 94.

Vara, Andres de, chaplain, 172.

Vela, Cape de la, 23.


Weapons of the Spaniards, 95, 96.


Xeres de Los Caballeros, Balboa's birthplace, 8.


Zamudio, alcalde, 39;
  mistreats Nicuesa, 44;
  sent to Spain, 46;
  Balboa's friend at court, 150, 156.

Zemaco, Cacique, 35, 93;
  defeats Spaniards, 114.

Zenu, province of, 237.


THE END


FOOTNOTES:

[1] This was the hurricane predicted by Columbus, as narrated in his
_Life_ by the author of this biography, and it occurred in 1502. For the
further adventures of La Cosa, see the _Life of Amerigo Vespucci_, in
this series.

[2] Calaboose, from Spanish _Calabózo_, a dungeon or prison.

[3] Don Manuel Josef Quintana, _Vidas de Españoles Célebres_.

[4] By a curious _lapsus_ in Keat's otherwise perfect poem, _On First
Looking into Chapman's Homer_, Cortés, conqueror of Mexico, is
substituted for Balboa, discoverer of the Pacific--

    "Then felt I like some watcher of the skies,
      When a new planet swims into his ken,
    Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes
      He star'd at the Pacific--and all his men
    Look'd at each other with a wild surmise--
      Silent, upon a peak in Darien."

Cortés was never at Darien, nor nearer to it than Honduras, or Santo
Domingo.





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