Imagens das páginas

had sent out Indian explorers, with careful instruc tions to search the gold regions among the mountains. Don Pedro, upon assuming the reins of government, became very jealous of the popularity of Nuñez, whom he supplanted. His enmity soon be. came so implacable that, without any cause, he accused him of treason and ordered him to be decapitated. The sentence was executed in the public square of Acla. Don Pedro himself gazed on the cruel spectacle concealed in a neighboring house. He seemed ashamed to meet the reproachful eye of his victim, as with an axe his head was cut off upon a block.

All friendly relations with the Indians were speedily terminated. They were robbed of their gold, of their provisions, and their persons were outraged in the most cruel manner. The natives, tei ror-stricken, fled from the vicinity of the colony, and suddenly the Spaniards found all their supplies of provisions cut off. More than two thousand were crowded into a narrow space on the shores of the gulf, with no possibility of obtaining food. They. were entirely unprepared for any farming operations, having neither agricultural tools nor seed. Neither if they had them could they wait for the slow advent of the harvest. Famine commenced its reign, and with famine, its invariable attendant, pestilence. In


less than six months, of all the glittering hosts, which with music and banners had landed upon the isthmus, expecting soon to return to Europe with their ships freighted with gold, but a few hundred were found alive, and they were haggard and in rags.

The Spaniards had robbed the Indians of their golden trinkets, but these trinkets could not be eaten and they would purchase no food. They were worthless as pebbles picked from the beach. Often lumps of gold, or jewels of inestimable value, were offered by one starving wretch to another for a piece of mouldy bread. The colony would have become entirely extinct, but for the opportune arrival of vessels from Spain with provisions. Don Pedro had sent out one or two expeditions of half-famished men to seize the rice, Indian corn, and other food, wherever such food could be found.

The natives had sufficient intelligence to perceive that the colonists were fast wasting away. The Indians were gentle and amiable in character, and naturally timid; with no taste for the ferocities of war. But emboldened by the miseries of the colonies, and beginning to despise their weakness, they fell upon the foraging parties with great courage and drove them back ignominiously to the coast.

The arrival of the ships to which we have referred with provis. ions and reinforcements, alone saved the colony from utter extinction.

Don Pedro, after having been in the colony five years, returned to Spain to obtain new acquisitions of strength in men and means for the prosecution of ever-enlarging plans of wealth and ambition. North and south of the narrow peninsula were the two majestic continents of North and South America. They both invited incursions, where nations could be overthrown, empires established, fame won, and where mountains of gold might yet be found.

It seems that De Soto had made the castle of Don Pedro, near Badajoz, his home during the absence of the governor.

There all his wants had been provided for through the charitable munificence of his patron. He probably had spent his term time at the university. He was now nineteeni years of age, and seemed to have attained the full maturity of his physical system, and had developed into a remarkably elegant young man.

The family of Don Pedro had apparently remain. ed at the castle. His second daughter, Isabella, was a very beautiful girl in her sixteenth year. She had already been presented at the resplendent court of Spain, where she had attracted great admiration. Rich, beautiful and of illustrious birth, many nobie men had sought her hand, and among the rest, one

of the princes of the blood royal. But Isabella and De Soto, much thrown together in the paternal cas. tle, had very naturally fallen in love with each other.

The haughty governor was one day exceedingly astounded and enraged, that De Soto had the audacity to solicit the hand of his daughter in marriage. In the most contemptuous and resentful manner, he repelled the proposition as an insult. De Soto was keenly wounded. He was himself a man of noble birth. He had no superior among all the young noblemen around him, in any chivalric accomplishment. The only thing wanting was money.

Don Pedro loved his daughter, was proud of her beauty and celebrity, and was fully aware that she had a very decided will of her own.

After the lapse of a few days, the governor was not a little alarmed by a statement, which the governess of the young lady ventured to make to him. She assured him that Isabella had given her whole heart to De Soto, and that she had declared it to be her unalterable resolve to retire to a convent, rather than to become the wife of any other person. .

Don Pedro was almost frantic with rage. As totally devoid of moral principle as he was of human feelings, he took measures to have De Soto assassinated. Such is the uncontradicted testimony of contempurary historians. But every day revealed to him more clearly the strength of Isabella's attachment for De Soto, and the inflexibility of her will. He became seriously alarmed, not only from the apprehension that f her wishes were thwarted, no earthly power could prevent her from burying herself in a convent, but he even feared that if De Soto were to be assassinated, she would, by self-sacrifice, follow him to the world of spirits. This caused him to feign partial reconciliation, and to revolve in his mind more cautious plans for his removal.

He decided to take De Soto back with him to Darien. The historians of those days represent that it was his intention to expose his young protégé to such perils in wild adventures in the New World, as would almost certainly secure his death. De Soto himself, proud though poor, was tortured by the contemptuous treatment which he received, even from the menials in the castle, who were aware of his rejection by their proud lord. He therefore eagerly availed himself of the invitation of Don Pedro to join in a new expedition which he was fitting out for Darien.

He resolved, at whatever sacrifice, to be rich The acquisition of gold, and the accumulation of fame, became the great objects of his idolatry. With these he could not only again claim the hand of Isabella, but the haughty Don Pedro would eagerly seek

« AnteriorContinuar »