Spanish Voyages of Discovery

By Washington Irving | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XIII. CATASTROPHE OF THE UNFORTUNATE Nicuesa.

WHILE this hostile plot was maturing at Darien, the unsuspecting Nicuesa pursued his voyage leisurely and serenely, and arrived in safety at the mouth of the river. On approaching the shore he beheld a multitude, headed by Vasco Nufiez, waiting, as he supposed to receive him with all due honour. He was about to land, when the public procurator, or attorney, called to him with a loud voice, warning him not to disembark, but advising him to return with all speed to his government at Nombre de Dios.

Nicuesa remained for a moment as if thunder-struck by so unlooked-for a salutation. When he recovered his self-possession he reminded them that he had come at their own request; he entreated, therefore, that he might be allowed to land and have an explanation, after which he would be ready to act as they thought proper. His entreaties were vain; they only provoked insolent replies, and threats of violence should he venture to put foot on shore. Night coming on, therefore, he was obliged to stand out to sea, but returned the next morning, hoping to find this capricious people in a different mood.

There did, indeed, appear to be a favourable change, for he was now invited to land. It was a mere stratagem to get him in their power, for no sooner did he set foot on shore than the multitude rushed forward to seize him. Among his many bodily endowments, Nicuesa was noted for swiftness of foot. He now trusted to it for safety, and, throwing off the dignity of governor, fled for his life along the shore, pursued by the rabble. He soon distanced his pursuers and took refuge in the woods.

Vasco Nuñez de Balboa, who was himself a man of birth, seeing this high-bred cavalier reduced to such extremity, and at the mercy of a violent rabble, repented of what he had done. He had not anticipated such popular fury, and endeavoured, though too late, to allay the tempest he had raised. He succeeded in preventing the people from pursuing Nicuesa into the forest, and then endeavoured to mollify the vindictive rage of his fellow Alcalde, Zamudio, whose hostility was quickened by the dread of losing his office, should the new governor be received; and who was supported in his boisterous conduct by

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