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Arrival of Diego de Escobar at the Harbour-Battle
with the Rebels.
EIGHT months had now elapsed since the departure of Mendez and Fiesco, yet no tidings had been received of their fate. The hopes of the most sanguine were nearly extinct, and many, considering themselves abandoned and forgotten by the world, grew wild and desperate in their plans. Another conspiracy, similar to that of Porras, was on the point of breaking out, when one evening, towards dusk, a sail was seen standing towards the harbour. It was a small caraval, which kept out at sea, and sent its boat on shore. In this came Diego de Escobar, one of the late confederates of Roldan, who had been condemned to death under the administration of Columbus, and pardoned by his successor, Bobadilla. There was bad omen in such a messenger.
Escobar was the bearer of a mere letter of compliment and condolence from Ovando, accompanied by a barrel of wine and a side of bacon. The governor expressed great concern at his misfortunes, and regret at not having in port a vessel of sufficient size to bring off himself and people, but promised to send one as soon as possible. Escobar drew off with
the boat, and kept at a distance from the wreck, awaiting any letters the admiral might have to send in reply, and holding no conversation with any of the Spaniards. Columbus hastened to write to Ovando, depicting the horrors of his situation, and urging the promised relief. As soon as Escobar received this letter, he returned on board of his caraval, which made all sail, and disappeared in the gathering gloom of the night.
The mysterious conduct of Escobar caused great wonder and consternation among the people. Columbus sought to dispel their uneasiness, assuring them that vessels would soon arrive to take them away. In confidence of this, he said, he had declined to depart with Escobar, because his vessel was too small to take the whole, and had despatched him in such haste, that no time might be lost in sending the requisite ships. These assurances, and the certainty that their situation was known in San Domingo, cheered the hearts of the people, and put an end to the conspiracy.
Columbus, however, was secretly indignant at the conduct of Ovando, believing that he had purposely delayed sending relief, in the hopes that he would perish on the island, being apprehensive that, should he return in safety, he would be reinstated in the government of Hispaniola. He considered Escobar merely as a spy, sent by the governor to ascertain whether he and his crew were yet in existence. Still he endeavoured to turn the event to some advantage with the rebels. He sent two of his people to inform them of the promise of Ovando to send ships for his relief, and he offered them a free pardon,
and a passage to Hispaniola, on condition of their immediate return to obedience.
On the approach of the ambassadors, Porras came forth to meet them, accompanied solely by a few of the ringleaders of his party, and prevented their holding any communication with the mass of his people. In reply to the generous offer of the admiral, they refused to return to the wreck, but agreed to conduct themselves peaceably and amicably, on receiving a solemn promise that, should two vessels arrive, they should have one to depart in; should but one arrive, the half of it should be granted to them; and that, in the mean time, the admiral should share with them the sea stores and articles of Indian traffic which remained in his possession. When it was observed that these demands were extravagant and inadmissible, they replied, that if they were not peaceably conceded, they would take them by force; and with this menace they dismissed the ambassadors.
The conference was not conducted so privately but that the rest of the rebels learned the whole purport of the mission. Porras seeing them moved by the offer of pardon and deliverance, resorted to the most desperate falsehoods to delude them. He told them that these offers of the admiral were all deceitful, and that he only sought to get them into his power, that he might wreak on them his vengeance. As to the pretended caraval which had visited the harbour, he assured them that it was a mere phantasm, conjured up by the admiral, who was deeply versed in magic. In proof of this, he adverted to its arriving in the dusk of the evening,
its holding communication with no one but the admiral, and its sudden disappearance in the night. Had it been a real caraval, said he, the crew would have sought to converse with their countrymen ; the admiral, his son, and brother, would have eagerly embarked on board; at any rate, it would have remained a little while in port, and not have vanished so suddenly and mysteriously.
By these and similar delusions Porras succeeded in working upon the feelings and credulity of his followers; and persuaded them that, if they persisted in their rebellion, they would ultimately triumph, and perhaps send home the admiral in irons, as had once before been done from Hispaniola. To involve them beyond hope of pardon, he marched them one day towards the harbour, with an intention of seizing upon the stores remaining in the wreck, and getting the admiral in his power.
Columbus heard of their approach, but being confined by his infirmities, sent Don Bartholomew to reason with them, and endeavour to win them to obedience. The Adelantado, who was generally a man rather of deeds than words, took with him fifty men well armed. Arriving near the rebels, he sent messengers to treat with them; but Porras forbade them to approach. The latter cheered his followers by pointing, with derision, to the pale countenances of their opponents, who were emaciated by recent sickness and long confinement in the wreck; whereas his men, for the most part, were hardy sailors, rendered robust by living in the open air. He assured them the followers of the Adelantado were mere household men, fair weather
troops, who could never stand before them. He did not reflect, that with such men pride and spirit often more than supply the place of bodily force, and that his adversaries had the incalculable advantage of justice and law upon their side.
Deluded by his words into a transient glow of courage, the rebels did not wait to be attacked, but rushed with shouts upon the enemy. Six of them had made a league to assault the Adelantado, but were so well received that he laid several of them dead at his feet, among whom was Juan Sanchez, the same powerful mariner who had carried off the cacique Quibian. In the midst of the affray the Adelantado was assailed by Francisco de Porras, who, with a blow of his sword, cleft his buckler, and wounded the hand which grasped it. The sword remained wedged in the shield, and before it could be withdrawn the Adelantado closed upon Porras, grappled him, and, being assisted by others, succeeded in taking him prisoner.
The rebels, seeing their leader a captive, fled in confusion, but were not pursued, through fear of an attack from the Indians, who had remained drawn up in battle array, gazing with astonishment at this fight between white men, but without offering to aid either party. The Adelantado returned in triumph to the wreck, with Porras and several other prisoners. Only two of his own men had been wounded, one of whom died. On the following
day, the rebels sent a letter to the admiral, signed with all their names, confessing their misdeeds, imploring pardon, and making a solemn oath of obedience; imprecating the most awful curses on