Imágenes de páginas

By the time that the Governor and his lieutenant reached the island Juan Ponce had completed its subjugation. The death of the island champion, the brave Agueybana, had in fact been a death-blow to the natives, and shows how much, in savage warfare, depends upon a single chieftain. They never made head of war afterwards, but dispersing among their forests and mountains, fell gradually under the power of the Spaniards. Their subsequent fate was like that of their neighbors of Hayti. They were employed in the labor of the mines and in other rude toils, so repugnant to their nature that they sank beneath them, and in a little while almost all the aboriginals disappeared from the island.

[ocr errors]


JUAN PONCE DE LEoN resigned the command of Porto Rico with tolerable grace. The loss of one wild island and wild government was of little moment when there was a new world to be shared out, where a bold soldier like himself, with sword and buckler, might readily carve out new fortunes for himself. Besides, he had now amassed wealth to assist him in his plans, and, like many of the early discoverers, his brain was teeming with the most romantic enterprises. He had conceived the idea that there was yet a third world to be discovered, and he hoped to be the first to reach its shores and thus secure a renown equal to that of Columbus. While cogitating these things and considering which way he should strike forth in the unexplored regions around him, he met with some old Indians who gave him tidings of a country which promised not merely to satisfy the cravings of his ambition, but to realize the fondest dreams of the poets. They assured him that far to the north there existed a land abounding in gold and in all manner of delights ; but, above all, possessing a river of such wonderful virtue that whoever bathed in it would be restored to youth ! They added that in times past, before the arrival of the Spaniards, a large party of the natives of Cuba had departed northward in search of this happy land and this river of life, and having never returned, it was concluded that they were flourishing in renovated youth, detained by the pleasures of that enchanting country. Here was the dream of the alchemist realized One had but to find this gifted land and revel in the enjoyment of boundless riches and perennial youth ! Nay, some of the ancient Indians declared that it was not necessary to go so far in quest of these rejuvenating waters, for that in a certain island of the Bahama group, called Bimini, which lay far out in the ocean, there was a fountain possessing the same marvellous and inestimable qualities. Juan Ponce de Leon listened to these tales with fond credulity. He was advancing in life, and the ordinary term of existence seemed insufficient for his mighty plans. Could he but plunge into this marvellous fountain or gifted river, and come out with his battered, war-worn body restored to the strength and freshness and suppleness of youth, and his head still retaining the wisdom and knowledge of age, what enterprises might he not accomplish in the additional course of vigorous years insured to him It may seem incredible at the present day that a man of years and experience could yield any faith to a story which resembles the wild fiction of an Arabian tale; but the wonders and novelties breaking upon the world in that age of discovery almost realized the illusions of fable, and the imaginations of the Spanish voyagers had become so heated, that they were capable of any stretch of credulity. So fully persuaded was the worthy old cavalier of the existence of the region described to him, that he fitted out three ships at his own expense to prosecute the discovery, nor had he any difficulty in finding adventurers in abundance ready to cruise with him in quest of this fairy-land.*

* It was not the credulous minds of voyagers and adventurers alone that were heated by these Indian traditions and romantic fables. Men of learning and eminence were likewise beguiled by them. Witness the following extract from the second decad. of Peter Martyr, addressed to Leo X., then Bishop of Rome.

“Among the islands on the north side of Hispaniola there is one about 325 leagues distant, as they say which have searched the same, in the which is a continual spring of running water, of such marvellous virtue, that the water thereof being drunk, perhaps with some diet, maketh olde men young again. And here I must make protestation to your holiness not to think this to be said lightly or rashly, for they have so spread this rumor for a truth throughout all the court, that not only all the people, but also many of them whom wisdom or fortune hath divided from the common sort, think it to be true ; but, if you will ask my opinion herein, I will answer, that I will not attribute so great power to nature, but that God hath no lesse reserved this prerogative to himself than to search the hearts of men,” etc.—P. Martyr, decad. ii., cap. Io, Lok's translation.

[ocr errors]


[ocr errors]

It was on the 3d of March, 1512, that Juan Ponce sailed with his three ships from the port of St. Germain in the island of Porto Rico. He kept for some distance along the coast of Hispaniola, and then stretching away to the northward, made for the Bahama Islands, and soon fell in with the first of the group. He was favored with propitious weather and tranquil seas, and glided smoothly with wind and current along that verdant archipelago, visiting one island after another until, on the 14th of the month, he arrived at Guanahani, or San Salvador, where Christopher Columbus had first put his foot on the shores of the New World. His inquiries for the island of Bimini were all in vain, and as to the fountain of youth, he may have drunk of every fountain, and river, and lake in the archipelago, even to the salt pools of Turk's Island, without being a whit the younger.

Still he was not discouraged; but having repaired his ships, he again put to sea and shaped his course to the northwest. On Sunday, the 27th of March, he came in sight of what he

« AnteriorContinuar »