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Scarcely was the timber felled and shaped for use when the rains set in, and the river swelled and overflowed its banks so suddenly, that the workmen barely escaped with their lives, by clambering into trees; while the wood on which they had been working was either buried in sand or slime, or swept away by the raging torrent. Famine was soon added to their other distresses. The foraging party did not return with food ; and the swelling of the river cut them off from that part of the country whence they obtained their supplies. They were reduced, therefore, to such scarcity, as to be fain to assuage their hunger with roots gathered in the forests.
In this extremity the Indians bethought themselves of one of their rude and simple expedients. Plunging into the river, they fastened a number of logs together with withes, and connected them with the opposite bank, so as to make a floating bridge. On this a party of the Spaniards crossed with great difficulty and peril, from the violence of the current, and the flexibility of the bridge, which often sank beneath them until the water rose above their girdles. On being safely landed, they foraged the neighborhood, and procured a supply of provisions sufficient for the present emergency.
When the river subsided the workmen again resumed their labors; a number of recruits arrived from Acla bringing various supplies, and the business of the enterprise was pressed with redoubled ardor until, after a series of incredible toils and hardships, Vasco Nuñez had the satisfaction to behold two of his brigantines floating on the river Balsas. As soon as they could be equipped for sea he embarked in them with as many Spaniards as they could carry ; and issuing from the river launched triumphantly on the great ocean he had discovered. We can readily imagine the exultation of this intrepid adventurer, and how amply he was repaid for all his sufferings, when he first spread a sail on that untraversed ocean, and felt that the range of an unknown world was open to him. There are points in the history of these Spanish discoveries of the Western Hemisphere which make us pause with wonder and admiration at the daring spirit of the men who conducted them, and the appalling difficulties surmounted by their courage and perseverance. We know few instances, however, more striking than this peacemeal transportation across the mountains of Darien of the first European ships that ploughed the waves of the Pacific; and we can readily excuse the boast of the old Castilian writers when they exclaim: “That none but Spaniards could ever have conceived or persisted in such an undertaking ; and no commander in the New World but Vasco Nufiez could have conducted it to a successful
cRUISE of vasco NTSEZ IN THE souTHERN SEARUMCRS FR Y.M A CL.A.
THE first cruise of Vasco Nuñez was to the group of Pearl islands, on the principal one of which he disembarked the greater part of his crews, and despatched the brigantines to the mainland to bring of the remainder. It was his intention to construct the other two vessels of his proposed squadron at this island. During the absence of the brigantines he ranged the island with his men to collect provisions and to establish a complete sway over the natives. On the return of his vessels and while preparations were making for the building of the others he embarked with a hundred men, and departed on a reconnoitring cruise to the eastward, towards the region pointed out by the Indians as abounding in riches.
Having passed about twenty leagues be
* Herrera, decad. ii., lib. ii., cap. II.
yond the gulf of San Miguel the mariners were alarmed at beholding a great number of whales, which resembled a reef of rocks stretching far into the sea, and lashed by breakers. In an unknown ocean like this every unusual object is apt to inspire alarm. The seamen feared to approach these fancied dangers in the dark; Vasco Nuñez anchored therefore for the night under a point of land, intending to continue in the same direction on the following day. When the morning dawned, however, the wind had changed and was contrary; whereupon he altered his course, and thus abandoned a cruise, which, if persevered in, might have terminated in the discovery of Peru ! Steering for the mainland he anchored on that part of the coast governed by the cacique Chuchama, who had massacred Bernardo Morales and his companions when reposing in his village. Here, landing with his men, Vasco Nuñez came suddenly upon the dwelling of the cacique. The Indians sallied forth to defend their homes, but were routed with great loss; and ample vengeance was taken upon them for their outrage upon the laws of hospitality. Having thus avenged the death of his countrymen, Vasco Nuñez re-embarked and returned to Isla Rica. He now applied himself diligently to complete the building of his brigantines, despatching men to Acla to bring the necessary stores and rigging across the mountains. While thus occupied a rumor reached him that a new governor named Lope de Sorsa was coming out from Spain to supersede Pedrarias. Vasco Nuñez was troubled at these tidings. A new governor would be likely to adopt new measures or to have new favorites. He feared therefore that some order might come to suspend or embarrass his expedition ; or that the command of it might be given to another. In this perplexity he held a consultation with several of his confidential officers. After some debate it was agreed among them that a trusty and intelligent person should be sent as a scout to Acla under pretence of procuring munitions for the ships. Should he find Pedrarias in quiet possession of the government he was to account to him for the delay of the expedition, and request that the time allotted to it might be extended, and to request reinforcements and supplies. Should he find, however, a new governor actually arrived, he was to return immediately with the tidings. In such case it was resolved to put to sea before any contrary orders should arrive, trusting eventually to excuse themselves on the plea of zeal and good intentions.