Spanish Voyages of Discovery

By Washington Irving | Go to book overview

abundance. Vasco Nuñez devised all kinds of means to keep up the spirits of his people. On holidays they had their favourite national sports and games, and particularly tilting matches, of which chivalrous amusement the Spaniards in those days were extravagantly fond. Sometimes he gratified. their restless and roving habits by sending them on expeditions to various parts of the country, to acquire a knowledge of its resources, and to strengthen his sway over the natives. He was so successful in securing the amity or exciting the awe of the Indian tribes, that a Spaniard might go singly about the land in perfect safety; while his own followers were zealous in their devotion to him, both from admiration of his past exploits and from hopes of soon being led by him to new discoveries and conquests. Peter Martyr, in his letter to Leo the Tenth, speaks in high terms of these "old soldiers of Darien," the remnants of those well-tried adventurers who had followed the fortunes of Ojeda, Nicuesa, and Vasco Nuñez. "They were hardened," says he, "to abide all sorrows, and were exceedingly tolerant of labour, heat, hunger, and watching, insomuch that they merrily make their boast that they have observed a longer and sharper Lent than ever your Holiness enjoined, since, for the space of four years, their food has been herbs and fruits, with now and then fish, and very seldom flesh."*

Such were the hardy and well-seasoned veterans that were under the sway of Vasco Nuñez; and the colony gave signs of rising in prosperity under his active and fostering management, when in the month of June the fleet of Don Pedrarias Davila arrived in the Gulf of Uraba.

The Spanish cavaliers who accompanied the new governor were eager to get on shore, and to behold the anticipated wonders of the land; but Pedrarias, knowing the resolute character of Vasco Nuñez, and the devotion of his followers, apprehended some difficulty in getting possession of the colony. Anchoring, therefore, about a league and a half from the settlement, he sent a messenger on shore to announce his arrival. The envoy, having heard so much in Spain of the prowess and exploits of Vasco Nuñez and the riches of Golden Castile, expected, no doubt, to find a blustering warrior, maintaining barbaric state in the government which he had usurped. Great was his astonishment, therefore, to find this redoubta-

____________________
*
P. Martyr, decad. 3, c. iii. Lok's translation.

-145-

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