BALBOA STRENGTHENS HIS ARM
 BALBOA stretched himself in his hammock, and looking at the delegates through half-closed eyes,
as though he would resume his siesta, rejoined: "Gentlemen, I do not wish to return! But
here is Don Bartolomé, who might be induced to act in my place. Let him go with you and
assume the reins of government."
The delegates looked the confusion they felt, but said nothing, though Hurtado hastily
exclaimed, "No, no; I care not to do so."
"Neither care I," said Balboa. "For what do I get by returning? Only the semblance of a
shadow of authority. All the labors, all the insults attending the office; but never a
gracias, senor—never a thank you, sir, get I. But here—ah, here I have
my liberty. I ask no man whether I shall
 come or shall go. Here I can live free from restraint—I and my merry men. What say,
companeros, shall we return?"
"Never, no never!" came in a chorus from the soldiery.
"We are content here, are we not? The forest gives us sustenance—as ye see,
gentlemen; it gives us shelter. Now that I am no longer compelled to hunt the red savage,
and only the wild beast when I choose, rest and happiness have come to me."
The committee consulted together for the space of five or ten minutes, then the spokesman
said, with a new note in his voice and a twinkle of triumph in his eyes: "Your excellency,
we have a letter for you, which I herewith deliver. We know not what it contains, for, as
you may witness, the seal is still unbroken; but from what tidings we have received from
some high in authority at Hispaniola, we divine it refers to the great displeasure of his
majesty, the king, as respects your doings at Darien. Here is the letter, your
Balboa took the letter without remark, and broke the seal. As he read, a serious
expression came over his face, and he frowned severely, seeing which the delegates
 nudged one another and chuckled inwardly. He had good cause, in truth, to frown, for the
letter was from his friend at court, Zamudio, whom he had sent to Spain to plead his
cause. It informed him of the king's indignation, kindled by the charges against him
lodged at court by the lawyer Enciso, by whom he was accused of being an intruder and
usurper at Darien. He was held responsible for all the disasters to the colony, and though
in reality its founder, and pacificator of the savages, he was to be prosecuted on
criminal charges, and might consider himself fortunate if he escaped with his life.
Such was the tenor of the letter, and such the purport of the information the committee
had received before they left the settlement. This being so, it behooved Balboa to comport
himself more in accordance with his changed position in the eyes of the committee, and
after he had finished reading the letter he said: "This is an important communication,
gentlemen, and to answer it properly I shall be compelled to return to Darien. If, then,
it be your minds still to support me, we will soon set forth. But only on that
understanding shall I go,"
 "We shall support you," answered the spokesman. "But let it be understood, however, that
our support is given only as between you and other subjects of his majesty, the king.
Should there be conflict of authority, as between you, Vasco Nunez de Balboa, and his
majesty, there will be no question which direction we should take."
"Nor would I, as a loyal subject of his majesty, ask more of you," rejoined Balboa,
fervently. "Soldiers, companions, we will depart. Prepare for the march to town. Mozos,
bring hither the wine and the chicha. Gentlemen, before we start let us drink to the
health of his majesty. Long live the king!"
Then a wild scene ensued. Mingling promiscuously—cavaliers, soldiers of the ranks,
and civic functionaries—the company all joined in drinking the health of their
sovereign. They seized the brimming calabashes, and, lifting them to their lips, drank
deeply to the toast, "Long live the king."
"Now fill again!" shouted one of the delegates. "Here's to the health of his majesty's
most loyal subject, Vasco Nunez de Balboa. May he live long as governor of Darien!"
"Viva! viva!" shouted the excited soldiery. "Long life to our governor!"
 "And to his loyal supporters, these our friends," added Balboa, grimly smiling, and waving
his right hand towards the delegates. "May they remain loyal—for the space of a
week, and may they never have to choose between his majesty and myself, his most devoted
subject and servant!"
The wine was soon gone, to the dregs, and with this as the parting toast the company broke
camp and set out for town, where a new surprise awaited Balboa, in the arrival of two
ships from Santo Domingo. They were laden with provisions and brought a reinforcement of
two hundred soldiers and settlers, sent by the admiral, Don Diego Columbus. At the same
time arrived, by the hands of the fleet's captain, a commission for Balboa as governor and
captain-general. This had come from Miguel de Pasamonte, the royal treasurer of
Hispaniola, a favorite of the king, sent out as a check upon the ambition of Don Diego, of
whom his majesty was extremely jealous.
In this manner did fate seem to play at cross-purposes with Vasco Nunez de Balboa, sending
him tidings by one messenger of the king's disfavor, and by another of his esteem; though,
to tell the truth, Pasamonte
 had assumed his majesty's approbation of his act, without right to do so. He had received
from Balboa a large sum of gold, by a previous remittance, and this was the manner in
which he requited the favor.
"Gold is most powerful, of a truth," whispered Balboa to himself, smiling the while, as he
thought of the title it had won from Miguel de Pasamonte. "If, now, I could get to the
king the ten thousand golden castellanos which I have recovered from those robbers, Perez
and Corral, methinks such a donative might purchase exemption from the penalties which his
majesty seems disposed to place upon me for my presumption in setting poor old Nicuesa
adrift and sending Enciso back to Spain. Ha, I have it! I will myself go to court with the
gold in my hand, and beard the royal lion in his den. Ten thousand pieces I have; at least
ten thousand more may be raked and scraped in the colony, and, moreover, these shall be,
to the king, but an earnest of much more to come."
Full of his new project, Balboa broached it to his counsellors without delay, but to his
surprise they would not hear of it, neither would any person whatever in the colony.
 "No, no," they all exclaimed. "You shall not leave us, Vasco Nunez. You are not alone our
governor, but our guide and leader. You, only, are respected by the soldiers, feared by
the savages, and we cannot do without you. Stay here with us you must; but we will send
deputies to acquaint the king with the condition of the colony, to entreat the necessary
military aid, and to plead your cause as though it were yourself in person, Vasco Nunez."
They proved their sincerity by electing two deputies, one of them Juan de Caicedo, who had
been inspector on the unfortunate Nicuesa expedition, and the other Rodrigo de Colmenares,
"both men of weight, expert in negotiation, and held in general esteem." It was believed
that they would satisfactorily execute their commission, and that both would return, since
Caicedo left a wife behind him at Darien, and Colmenares had acquired much property,
including a farm which he tilled with Indian labor, when not engaged in military
operations. Balboa gladly relieved him from command of the fort at Tichiri, and rejoiced
that he could send one who would so well represent his cause at court. By him he forwarded
letters to the
 king, containing most extravagant accounts of the country's riches, not forgetting to
mention the famed temple of Dobaybe, filled with gold, and the tales the Indians told
respecting the gathering of gold in nets. He showed this precious epistle to the
colonists, and they were all so greatly impressed with it that, one and all, they
contributed gold to the extent of their hoardings, which, added to the amount sent by the
government to the king, represented a goodly sum.
Balboa's commissioners left Darien del Antigua about the end of October, 1512, and arrived
in Spain, after a long and tempestuous voyage, in the early part of 1513. Had they been
the only messengers from that isolated colony on the isthmus, all might have gone well
with its governor; but, unfortunately for him, as we know, his enemies had preceded them
and spread broadcast the most pernicious tales respecting the doings of the gallant
adventurer, Vasco Nunez de Balboa.
Leaving them for a time, while the ferment is working that eventuated in the downfall of
Balboa, let us continue in his company until he has accomplished that great achievement
due to his heroic efforts, and with
 which fame has inseparably linked his name—the discovery of the Pacific Ocean.
By the information conveyed through his friend at court, Zamudio, he was assured that
lawyer Enciso had obtained a judgment against him in which he was condemned for costs and
damages to a large amount. This was not all, for the king was very much incensed, and had
issued a summons for him to repair to Spain without delay, there to stand trial on
criminal charges respecting the outrageous treatment of Nicuesa, which had probably caused
It will be admitted that Vasco Nunez was then in a terrible predicament, and that there
seemed no way out of it save by a desperate venture, by which he might perhaps retrieve
his fortunes, win fame, and recover the lost favor of the king. Fortunately for him, the
news conveyed by Zamudio's letter had been informal, and in advance of tidings direct from
the throne, so there was still time for action. When the authoritative summons should
come, it would be too late; hence he could not await the reinforcements so anxiously
expected from Spain, and must accomplish whatever he did before their arrival. Thus the
Bal-  boa was thrown directly upon his own resources, and resolved to set forth without the
assistance from his sovereign which he had every right to expect in an undertaking so vast
and venturesome as his.
Desultory and apparently aimless as had been his doings hitherto, Balboa had never for a
moment lost sight of that grand scheme he had formed for exploring beyond the mountains
and revealing the existence, if possible, of the great "southern sea." Cacique Comogre's
son had assured him that he would need at least a thousand men to assist him, and acting
upon this sage advice he had waited for reinforcements before attempting the great
adventure. But now, if he waited longer, he might forever lose the opportunity, for with
the reinforcements from Spain would also come the order for his arrest and transportation,
or at least his dismissal from office. What he did, then, must be done quickly as well as
effectually, and he lost no time in perfecting his plans.
"While another and less intrepid spirit might have been overwhelmed by the prospects
before him, Balboa was animated to new daring, and impelled to yet higher enterprises.
Should he permit another to profit
 by his toils, to discover the great South Sea, and to ravish from him the wealth and glory
which were almost within his grasp? No, a thousand times no! He had won the information at
risk of his life; he would realize the profit of it, even at the risk of his life. At
least, no other man should avail of it, to cheat him of his dues. He did, indeed, still
want the thousand men who were necessary to the projected expedition; but his enterprise,
his experience, and his constancy impelled him to undertake it, even without them. He
would thus, by so signal a service, blot out the original crime of his primary usurpation,
and if death should overtake him in the midst of his exertions, he would die laboring for
the prosperity and glory of his native land, and freed from the persecutions which then
As he would be obliged to absent himself from the colony for a long period, he made every
effort to weld the various elements into a civic body that should work harmoniously and
resist the disintegrating forces from within as well as from without. His first step was
to set free the ringleaders of
 the late insurrection, which done, and assured of their co-operation, he proceeded to
select his soldiers. There was no lack of volunteers when it became noised about that
Balboa was to set out on the grand expedition to which all the others had been in a sense
merely preliminary, and he was at greater trouble to reject than to accept those who
offered for the service. Desiring none but the most dauntless spirits, he put every man
applying to the severest tests. In the first place, they must be capable of enduring
fatigue and hunger; in the second, they must be unflinchingly courageous, for the route of
march would lie through regions occupied by hostile Indians who were said to be cannibals
and gave no quarter.
"My men," he said to them one day, when haranguing them for the last time, assembled on
parade, "I shall not attempt to conceal from you the perils of this enterprise. In truth,
they could not, in my opinion, be greater. And, while I shall always lead, as hitherto,
asking no man to go where I would not venture in advance, yet you may not have the great
incentive that moves me. So far as spoils and captives are concerned, ye shall share alike
with me; but there is a
 greater motive than mere spoils. My ambition, as ye all have known for many months, is to
achieve the discovery of that great ocean said to lie beyond the mountains. That
is—that shall be—the object of my endeavors, and to that the getting of
captives and the plundering of natives shall be subordinate. There will be, doubtless,
vast spoil, for the country we are to enter has the reputation of being rich in gold and
gems. There will be danger; there will be fatigues, deaths, wounds—but, above all,
there will be glory—the glory of accomplishing something of which men
have dreamed for many years, but have never achieved!"
"We will do it! The glory shall be ours!" shouted the men, vociferously. "Where you lead,
Vasco Nunez, we will go!"
They were probably as daring and reckless adventurers as had ever been gathered together
since the New World was discovered, then twenty years agone, and that is saying much.
There were, after Balboa had selected the most resolute and vigorous of the colony, one
hundred and ninety in the band, all fighting-men of the most desperate type. They were
armed with cross-bows
 and shields, swords, lances, and arquebuses, and there was no person in the company, not
even the trumpeter or the drummer-boy, who had not been brought up in the profession of
arms. Balboa looked them over proudly, and he also inspected their equipment carefully,
for they were to accompany him, as he himself believed, not only on a most desperate
venture, but on a veritable forlorn hope, which, if it failed, must end his campaigning,
and perhaps his life.
The king must be placated and his favor recovered by no lesser gift than sovereignty over
a sea which no man of his race had ever seen; and that was the impelling motive of Vasco
Nunez de Balboa in this marvellous enterprise.
Hundreds of additional titles available for
online reading when you join Gateway to the Classics