Immagini della pagina
PDF
ePub

(the 6th of January) on the coast of Veragua, and anchored in a river to which, in honour of the day, he gave the name of Belen or Bethlehem.

The natives of the neighbourhood manifested the same fierce and warlike character that generally prevailed along this coast. They were soon conciliated, however, and brought many ornaments of fine gold to traffic; but assured the admiral that the mines lay near the river Veragua, which was about two leagues distant. The Adelantado had an interview with Quibian, the cacique of Veragua, who afterwards visited the ships. He was a stern warrior, of tall and powerful frame, and taciturn and cautious character. A few days afterwards the Adelantado, attended by sixty-eight men, well armed, proceeded to explore the Veragua, and seek its reputed mines. They ascended the river about a league and a half to the village of Quibian, which was situated on a hill. The cacique descended with a numerous train of his subjects, unarmed, and took his seat on a great stone, which one of his attendants drew out of the river. He received his guests with courtesy, for the lofty, vigorous, and iron form of the Adelantado, and his resolute demeanour, were calculated to inspire awe and respect in an Indian warrior. Though his jealousy was evidently awakened by the intrusion of the Spaniards into his territories, yet he readily furnished Don Bartholomew with guides, to conduct him to the mines. These guides led the Adelantado and his men about six leagues into the interior, among thick forests of lofty and magnificent trees, where they told them the mines were situated. In fact, the whole soil appeared impregnated with gold, and the Spaniards

collected a considerable quantity from the surface of the earth, and from among the roots of the trees. From hence, the Adelantado was conducted to the summit of a high hill, which overlooked an immense extent of country, with various villages, and the guides assured him that the whole land, to the distance of twenty days' journey westward, abounded in gold.

Another expedition of Don Bartholomew along the coast, westward, was equally satisfactory; and the reports which he brought of golden tracts of country, together with the rumours of a rich and civilized kingdom in the interior, and the erroneous idea with respect to the vicinity of the Ganges, all concurred to produce a new illusion in the ardent mind of Columbus. He fancied that he had actually arrived at the Aurea Chersonesus, from whence, according to Josephus, the gold had been procured for the building of the temple of Jerusalem. Here, then, was a place at which to found a colony, and establish a mart, which should become an emporium of the wealth of a vast region of mines. His bro

ther, Don Bartholomew, concurred with him in opinion, and agreed to remain here with the greater part of the people, while the admiral should return to Spain for supplies and reinforcements.

They immediately proceeded to carry their plan into operation. Eighty men were selected to remain. Houses of wood, thatched with palm leaves, were erected on the high bank of a creek, about a bow-shot within the mouth of the river Belen. A storehouse was built to receive part of the ammunition, artillery, and stores; the rest was put on board of one of the caravals, which was to be left for the use of the colony.

The houses being sufficiently finished to be habitable, the admiral prepared for his departure, when he found to his surprise that the river, which on his arrival had been swollen by rain, had subsided to such a degree that there was not above half a fathom of water on the bar. Though his vessels were small, it was impossible to draw them over the sands at the mouth of the river, on account of a heavy surf. He was obliged, therefore, to wait until the rains should again swell the river.

In the mean time, Quibian beheld with secret indignation these strangers intruding themselves into his dominions. Columbus had sought to seeure his friendship by various presents, but in vain. The cacique, ignorant of the vast superiority of the Europeans in the art of war, thought it easy to overwhelm and destroy them. He sent messengers around, and ordered all his fighting men to assemble at his residence, under pretext of making war upon a neighbouring province. The movements of the Indians awakened the suspicions of one Diego Mendez, chief notary of the armament. He was

a man of zeal and spirit, of a shrewd and prying character, and entirely devoted to the admiral. He mingled among the Indians, and observed circumstances which satisfied him that they were meditating an attack. The admiral was loth to believe it, and was desirous of clearer information, before he took any step that might interrupt the pacific intercourse that yet prevailed. The indefatigable Mendez now undertook a service of life and death. Accompanied by a single companion, he penetrated as a spy to the very residence of Quibian, who they heard had been wounded in the leg by an arrow.

Mendez gave himself out as a surgeon come to cure the wound, and made his way to the mansion of the grim warrior, which was situated on the crest of a hill, and surrounded by three hundred heads, on stakes; dismal trophies of the enemies he had vanquished in battle. Undismayed by this sight, Mendez endeavoured to enter, but was met at the threshold by the son of the cacique, who repulsed him with a violent blow, that made him recoil several paces. He managed to pacify the furious young savage by taking out a box of ointment, and assuring him that he only came for the purpose of curing his father's wounds. He then made him presents of a comb, scissors, and mirror, taught him and his Indians the use of them in cutting and arranging their hair, and thus ingratiated himself with them by administering to their vanity. It was impossible, however, to gain admittance to the cacique; but Mendez saw enough to convince him that the attack was about to be carried into effect, and that it was merely delayed by the wound of the cacique; he hastened back, therefore, to Columbus with the intelligence.

An Indian interpreter, a native of the neighbourhood, corroborated the report of Mendez. He informed the admiral that Quibian intended to come secretly in the dead of the night, with all his warriors, to set fire to the ships and houses, and massacre the Spaniards.

When the Adelantado heard of this plot, he conceived a counterplot to defeat it, which he carried into effect with his usual promptness and resolution. Taking with him seventy-four men, well armed, among whom was Diego Mendez, and being accompanied by the Indian interpreter who had re

vealed the conspiracy, he set off in boats to the mouth of the Veragua, ascended it rapidly, and landed in the night at the village of the cacique before the Indians could have notice of his approach. Lest Quibian should take the alarm and fly, he ascended to his house, accompanied only by Diego Mendez, and four other men, ordering the rest to come on gradually and secretly, and at the discharge of an arquebus to rush up and surround the house, and suffer no one to escape.

The cacique, hearing of his approach, came forth, and seating himself in the portal, desired him to advance singly. Don Bartholomew complied, ordering Diego Mendez and his four companions to remain at a little distance, but to rush to his aid at a concerted signal. He then advanced, addressed the cacique by means of the interpreter, inquired about his wound, and pretending to examine it, took him by the arm. This was the signal, at which four of the Spaniards rushed forward, the fifth discharged the arquebus. A violent struggle ensued between Don Bartholomew and the cacique, who were both men of great muscular force; but, with the assistance of Diego Mendez and his companions, Quibian was overpowered, and bound hand and foot. In the mean time the main body of the Spaniards surrounded the house, and captured the wives and children of the cacique, and several of his principal subjects. The prisoners were sent off to the ships, while the Adelantado, with a part of his men, remained on shore to pursue the Indians who had escaped,

The cacique was conveyed to the boats by Juan Sanchez, the principal pilot of the squadron, a powerful and spirited man. The Adelantado

« IndietroContinua »