| Thirty More Famous Stories Retold|
|by James Baldwin|
|This volume was written by the author in answer to the requests of hundreds of children for more stories like the ones they had enjoyed in Fifty Famous Stories Retold. This volume includes stories of historical events, scientific discoveries, and legendary heroes. The richer vocabulary and more complicated plot elements in these stories gradually accustom children to following a longer narrative. Ages 7-10 |
"UPON A PEAK IN DARIEN"
 AFTER Columbus had shown the way to America a great
many Spaniards came over. They came to Haiti and Cuba
and Porto Rico and the smaller islands near them. Like
Columbus they believed that these lands were near the
eastern coast of Asia. They believed that they were a
part of India, and therefore spoke of them as the
Indies. Afterwards, when their mistake became known,
these islands were named the West Indies and the true
islands of India were called the East Indies.
Far to the southwest of Cuba, Columbus had discovered
a long coast which he named Darien. It was the neck of
land which we call the Isthmus of Panama, but he
supposed that it was a part of the mainland of Asia. A
few years later some Spanish sailors visited Darien and
carried word back to Haiti that there was gold there.
Now at that time a Spaniard would go to the end of the
world for gold, and therefore this news caused great
excitement among the young men who had come across the
ocean for the purpose of adventure.
 "To Darien! to Darien!" was the cry; and soon a company
was formed and two ships were made ready to sail to
that land of promise.
The voyage was a delightful one from the start. The sea
was calm, the wind was fair, and the vessels sped
swiftly on their way. Soon the pleasant shores and
green mountains of Haiti were lost to view. Only little
rocky islets could be seen. The ship was heading
straight into the Caribbean Sea.
Then, what was the surprise of the crew of the larger
ship to hear strange rappings in the hold! A voice also
was heard, like that of some one calling for help. What
could it mean? The sailors could not see any one, and
yet the sounds could not be mistaken.
"Please help me out!" The voice seemed to come from
among some barrels in which provisions were stored.
"A man is in one of the barrels," said the captain.
Soon the barrel was found and opened. Out of it leaped
a young man, richly clad in a velvet cloak and a silk
doublet embroidered with gold. He was a handsome
fellow. His eyes were keen and bright, and his face had
a determined look, like that of one who is used to
having his own way about things. At his side hung a
long sword, and in his belt was a dagger.
 Several of the men knew him; and so he did not need to
say that his name was Vasco Nuñez de Balboa. They knew
that he was a dashing adventurer, always doing and
daring, and always borrowing and spending money. But
why was he in the barrel?
"The truth of the matter is this," he said; "I am in
debt to almost everybody in Haiti. The officers were
looking for me and would have taken me to prison. So I
persuaded one of my friends to put me in a barrel and
send me on board with the salt beef. And now here I am,
bound with the rest of you for the rich coast of
The captain was very angry. He threatened to put Balboa
ashore on one of the rocky islets. "Shame! shame!"
cried the rest of the party. "Let him go with us. He
will be a great help." And so the captain grew kinder
and agreed to take him.
Balboa's manners were so pleasant, and he proved to be
so able and brave, that soon nearly all on the ship
looked up to him as their leader. When they reached
Darien and began to seek for a good place to settle,
Balboa gave them much help. He had been on the coast
before, and he guided them to a safe harbor.
The captain proved to be so overbearing that
 the men at last refused to obey him. They chose Balboa
to be their commander, and the captain was glad to go
back to Haiti in one of the ships.
Balboa made a treaty with a powerful Indian chief who
lived in a grand house and ruled all the country
around. He married the chief's daughter; and at the
wedding feast the chief gave the Spaniards a great
quantity of gold and many slaves.
The Indians did not care much for gold. They did not
know that it was worth anything. When they saw the
Spaniards molding it into bars and quarreling over it,
they were astonished. "If you think so much of that
yellow stuff," they said, "why don't you go where there
is plenty of it?" And then they told Balboa that far to
the south, on the other side of the mountains, there
was a great sea, and on the shores of the sea there
lived a people who had so much gold that they used it
to make cups and bowls and even pans and kettles.
Balboa made up his mind to go at once in search of that
sea. With two hundred men and a pack of bloodhounds, to
chase unfriendly Indians, he set off toward the
mountains. The distance was not great, but the country
was very rough, the forest was almost impassable, and
the party had to move slowly. After many days they came
to the highest ridge of the mountains. Balboa climbed
to the top
 of the loftiest peak and looked around. South and west
of him he beheld a great sea. It was so near that it
seemed almost at his feet; and it stretched away and
away into the distance until it seemed to meet the blue
No white man had ever beheld that sea before;
 none had even so much as heard of it. The Spaniards
afterwards called it the South Sea, because in going to
it across the isthmus it seemed to lie south of the
land; but we know it as the largest of all the oceans,
the mighty Pacific.
From that peak in Darien, Balboa looked down with
mingled feelings of awe and exultation.
"With eagle eyes
He stared at the Pacific,—and all his men
Looked at each other with a wild surmise—
Silent, upon a peak in Darien."
Balboa had no idea that he had discovered an ocean. He
supposed that the great water was merely a gulf or bay
washing the coast, perhaps of India, perhaps of China.
He hastened to get down to the shore. He stood on the
beach, and as the waves broke about his feet he raised
his sword in the air and declared that he took
possession of the new-found sea in the name of the king
Balboa with his men soon returned to the other side of
the isthmus. He sent word to Spain of the discovery he
had made. But ships and men and a new governor were
already on their way to Darien; for word had reached
the king that plenty of gold was to be had there.
The new governor was an old man, as fierce and heartless
as a tiger. No sooner had he arrived in
 Darien than he began to oppress and kill the Indians.
Thousands of them perished through his cruelty. Balboa
was grieved to the heart; he felt pity for the poor
savages. By the first homeward-bound ship he secretly
sent complaints to the king about the governor's
doings. Then he set to work getting ready to explore
the South Sea.
Four small ships were taken apart at Darien, and Balboa
caused the pieces to be carried over the mountains. At
the shore on the farther side these pieces were again
put together, and the ships were launched upon the sea.
They were the first European vessels that ever floated
on the Pacific.
But they were not yet ready to sail. They still needed
a few bolts to strengthen them and some pitch to stop
the leaks. While Balboa was waiting for these things
the governor sent for him. The old tiger had heard of
the complaints that had been sent to the king.
Balboa was ready to obey orders. He recrossed the
mountains and was met by the officers who had been sent
to arrest him. "You have plotted against me, you have
tried to turn the king against me," said the savage
governor. "You shall die the death of a traitor."
Before the sun went down, the brave, dashing, handsome
Balboa was dead.
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