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Nuñez had no effect on the prejudiced feelings
The same sentence was passed upon several of his officers who were implicated in his alleged conspiracy; among these was Hernando de Arguello, who had written the letter to Vasco Nuñez, informing him of the arrest of his messenger, and advising him to put to sea, without heeding the hostility of Pedrarias. As to the perfidious informer Garabito, he was pardoned and set at liberty.
In considering this case as far as we are enabled, from the imperfect testimony on record, we are inclined to think it one where passion and self-interest interfered with the pure administration of justice. Pedrarias had always considered Vasco Nuñez as a dangerous rival, and though his jealousy had been for some time lulled by looking on him as an intended son-inlaw, it was revived by the suggestion that he intended to evade his alliance and dispute his authority. His exasperated feelings hurried him too far to retreat, and having loaded his prisoner with chains and indignities, his death became indispensable to his own security.
For our own part, we have little doubt that it was the fixed intention of Vasco Nuñez, after he had once succeeded in the arduous undertaking of transporting his ships across the mountains, to suffer no capricious order from Pedrarias, nor any other governor, to defeat the enterprise which he had so long meditated, and for which he had so laboriously prepared. It is probable he may have expressed such general determination in the hearing of Garabito, and of others of his companions. We can find ample excuse for such a resolution in his consciousness of his own deserts; his experience of past hindrances to this expedition, arising from the jealousy of others; his feeling of some degree of authority from his office of adelantado ; and his knowledge of the favorable disposition and kind intentions of his sovereign toward him. We acquit him entirely of the senseless idea of rebelling against the Crown ; and suggest these considerations in palliation of any meditated disobedience of Pedrarias, should such a charge be supposed to have been substantiated.
[1517.] It was a day of gloom and horror at Acla when Vasco Nuñez and his companions were led forth to execution. The populace were moved to tears at the unhappy fate of a man whose gallant deeds had excited their admiration, and whose generous qualities had won their hearts. Most of them regarded him as the victim of a jealous tyrant, and even those who thought him guilty, saw something brave and brilliant in the very crime imputed to him. Such however was the general dread inspired by the severe measures of Pedrarias that no one dared to lift up his voice either in murmur Or remonstrailce. The public crier walked before Vasco Nuñez, proclaiming: “ This is the punishment inflicted by command of the King and his lieutenant, Don Pedrarias Davila, on this man, as a traitor and an usurper of the territories of the Crown.” When Vasco Nuñez heard these words he exclaimed, indignantly : “It is false ! never did such a crime enter my mind. I have ever served my King with truth and loyalty, and sought to augment his dominions.” These words were of no avail in his extremity, but they were fully believed by the populace. The execution took place in the public square of Acla; and we are assured by the historian Oviedo, who was in the colony at the time, that the cruel Pedrarias was a secret witness of the bloody spectacle, which he contemplated from between the reeds of the wall of a house about twelve paces from the scaffold | * * Oviedo, Afist. Ind., p. 2, cap. 9, MS.
Vasco Nuñez was the first to suffer death. Having confessed himself and partaken of the sacrament, he ascended the scaffold with a firm step and a calm and manly demeanor; and laying his head upon the block, it was severed in an instant from his body. Three of his officers, Valderrabano, Botello, and Herman Muños were in like manner brought one by one to the block, and the day had nearly expired before the last of them was executed. One victim still remained. It was Hernando de Arguello, who had been condemned as an accomplice, for having written the intercepted letter. The populace could no longer restrain their feelings. They had not dared to intercede for Vasco Nuñez, knowing the implacable enmity of Pedrarias; but they now sought the Governor, and throwing themselves at his feet, entreated that this man might be spared, as he had taken no active part in the alleged treason. The daylight, they said, was at an end, and it seemed as if God had hastened the night to prevent the execution. The stern heart of Pedrarias was not to be touched. “No,” said he, “I would sooner die myself than spare one of them.” The unfortunate Arguello was led to the block. The brief tropical twilight was past, and in the