ADELANTADO OF FLORIDA
 AMONG those who darted to the spot where Becerrico had fallen, his master was foremost, and
dragging him out of the shade into the sunlight, proceeded to examine his wounds. There
were several slight ones, made by darts and arrows, but the cause of his discomfiture was
found in a great gash across his forehead, evidently made by a fragment of rock hurled
with terrific force. Water was brought by willing hands, and the wound cleansed of blood
and gravel by Juan Ponce, who muttered maledictions against the Indians, while he labored
to restore the brute to consciousness. He was at last successful, and Becerrico feebly
attempted to stand up and lick his hand, though unable to walk for quite a while
thereafter. After ordering a litter to be made, in which to convey the hound
 back to the coast, Juan Ponce turned to his companions and said: "Can it be that we, the
conquerors of this island, must allow yon Indians to insult us thus? Are we, then, turned
poltroons, or is the ascent impossible?"
It was decided to be impossible to assault the savages in their stronghold from that
point, without scaling-ladders and a strong party of support; but it grieved Ponce de Leon
sorely to accept this conclusion of his comrades. He knew that he and they were helpless,
with only their swords as weapons, and without an arquebusier, or cross-bowman, in the
party. As if to emphasize their helplessness, an arrow came hurtling down from the cliffs
above and sank itself feather-deep in the body of Juan Ponce's horse, behind the
saddle-housings. The stricken brute reared, turned its eyes imploringly towards its
master, and then fell heavily to the ground. After a few convulsive struggles it lay
still, and as the cavaliers gathered about they whispered, awesomely: "Dead! Killed by a
"Strip him quickly," Juan Ponce hoarsely commanded his servants, "and let us get away, ere
other poisoned darts prevent us.
 My faith, but it irks me to retreat from a foe which I've already beaten—or thought
I had! But we will return, my comrades, and then we shall have bowmen with us, and
musketeers, as well as lombardiers—I trow—even if I divest my castle of its
It was a sorry procession that wended its way down the wooded steeps of Luquillo towards
the coast. The stout old cavalier, Juan Ponce, was on foot, limping beside the litter
containing Becerrico, and lamenting his loss, of steed as well as hound. Other mounts were
offered him, but he would have none of them, saying, remorsefully: "It is I and an old
man's foolishness that have this misfortune brought to ye, caballeros, and it is I, Juan
Ponce, who shall suffer for it; though no more than to foot it into San Juan were the
extent of my penance."
At last the coast was reached, and the castle of Casa Blanca opened its gates to the
downcast cavaliers on horseback, the foot-sore Juan Ponce, and the train of attendants
bearing the hound and the harness of the steed that was slain. Dona Inez and her children
gazed in wonder mingled with sadness through the crenelles
 of the battlements, and they all but cried aloud in their grief at sight of faithful
Becerrico stretched on a litter. When they saw the lord of the castle, however, haltingly
approaching on foot, they could contain themselves no longer, but wept in unison, for they
knew, not only that Juan Ponce was sore distressed, but that his horse, the gallant steed
all in the castle knew and loved, had been killed.
Well, this was not so happy a home-coming for Juan Ponce de Leon as that from Bimini and
Florida, nor was there any whit of satisfaction in it; and to soothe his outraged feelings
he resolved to leave the island for a while, and perform that long-contemplated voyage to
Spain. He waited only to assure himself of Becerrico's convalescence, and then, leaving
him again the warden of the castle, trimmed his sails for the nearest port in Spain. Yet
again was the faithful Dona Inez left with the children Juan Ponce was the father of,
while the galliard cavalier hied himself off across the ocean. But home, and wife, and
children (he might have said) would surely await his return, be it never so late; while
the king's favor waited no more than time or the tide
 upon the king's subjects. Months had elapsed since his return from the Bahamas, yet Juan
Ponce, who would fain be made adelantado of the lands he had discovered, found himself
idling and dallying here, with Ferdinand's court and Ferdinand's favor two thousand miles
away. He would no longer delay going to court, there to gamer the harvest he had sown,
there to bask in the sunlight of royalty, which he had denied himself so long.
The voyage to Spain was accomplished without incident, and eventually Juan Ponce reached
the royal court, where Ferdinand received him in a manner according with his expectations.
His fame had long since preceded him, his deeds had been trumpeted throughout the land,
and especially had he made himself renowned by his quest for the Fountain of Youth. Some
of the vapid courtiers affected to treat his adventure with disdain, and lost no
opportunity to rally him about it, saying that it could not have been successful, else
Juan Ponce would not then have seemed so grizzled and infirm. They had expected, they
said, to see him young and agile, with flowing locks, and beard unstreaked with silver;
 instead, behold a gray-beard and a bald-head, exceedingly stiff in the joints!
It was while awaiting reception by the king, the court being then at Burgos for the time,
that the beardless witlings assailed the veteran with their jibes and quips, having no
respect for his age nor pride in his achievements. They were stay-at-home courtiers, who
had never fleshed a sword or held lance at an enemy, and for such as they the old soldier
had nothing but contempt. He would not have vouchsafed them notice of any sort; but their
gibes touched him in a tender spot, for he certainly had hoped, perhaps expected, to
receive rejuvenation in the waters of Bimini.
"The callow striplings!" he muttered, savagely, beneath his breath. "Poco barba, Poco
verguenza (Little beard, little modesty). It is a true saying, and surely these
cubs exemplify the same." But aloud he said, grimly smiling upon the youth who thought to
tease him: "Antes de mil anos todos seremos calvos, caballeros (In less than
a thousand years we shall all be bald, gentlemen). Thus the proverb, you know, and sooth
it may be true." The shouts and laughter that went up were not at his
 expense, and the echoes had hardly ceased ringing through the hall when an attendant came
out with a command for him to appear before the king. Accompanied by his friend and former
patron, Pero Nunez de Guzman, grand knight-commander of Calatrava, Ponce de Leon went into
an audience with his sovereign.
Ferdinand was then suffering from the illness that finally terminated in his death, two
years later, and was greatly changed from the gay, light-hearted monarch whom Juan Ponce
remembered as the consort of Queen Isabella. Since he had last seen the king, Isabella had
departed, and within a year of her death Ferdinand had married the niece of Louis XII. of
France. A child was born to them the very year that Juan Ponce first set foot in Boriquen,
but lived only a short while, and thus a new grief was added to the burden borne by
Ferdinand—a burden which became greater and heavier as he neared the grave.
But though overborne by cares and greatly afflicted, the king received Juan Ponce most
graciously, and a trace of his former gayety appeared in flashes, which set the awkward
soldier at his ease when he
 came to proffer his request for a patent similar to that which had been granted Columbus.
"Aha!" said the king, with a laugh. "So my gallant conquistador would be another Colon?
But nay, Juan Ponce de Leon. When we signed that capitulation with Cristobal Colon, you
must recall, nothing was known of the world he sailed to soon thereafter. He had faith to
believe there was a world; but we were sceptical, and, owning it not, of course gave him
all he asked. But, let me say, it is one thing to grant boundless power when nothing is
expected to come of it, and quite another to do so when success is almost certain, or at
least taken for granted! My faith! Haven't those capitulations been as thorns in my side
ever since the return of Colon from his voyage? Never was such a rapacious varlet let
loose upon the world before; and never, with my concurrence, will such another be!
"But tell me, Juan Ponce, of your adventures, and describe to me the country you fain
would govern. Letters you have sent me, truly; but I have had scant time to peruse them,
having been engaged in this
 business with France and Navarre, the which is hardly settled yet. Now proceed, and you
will find me a good listener—for the space of a half-hour, but no longer."
Modestly, even diffidently, Juan Ponce related the things that had happened to him in the
years since he had left Spain with Columbus, then more than twenty in number, dwelling
especially upon the invasion of Boriquen and the voyage to Florida. He made it evident
that he would like to return and settle the newly discovered country, even though he had a
castle and estates in Boriquen, so that it was a gracious thing in the king to exclaim,
when Juan Ponce had ceased: "Enough! enough! You shall be governor over the islands you
have found, and also adelantado of Bimini and Florida!"
King Ferdinand dismissed the soldier with a smile, cutting short his expressions of
gratitude by a command to have him taken to the apartments of Queen Germaine, where she
and her ladies-in-waiting, he said, would doubtless be glad to hear his story. The bluff
old warrior was more alarmed at the prospect of an audience with the young queen than he
had ever been in the presence
 of any enemy whatever; but his sovereign's word was law, and he was led away disconsolate.
But the fair Germaine was not so terrible, he found, after he had been duly presented, and
as both the queen and her ladies were perishing of ennui (as they would have expressed it
had they told the truth), they gladly welcomed the advent of this gallant cavalier, old as
to years, perhaps, though youthful at heart. After the crust of reserve had been broken,
Juan Ponce found himself going over with enthusiasm the record of his deeds on land and
sea. He told his tale so modestly, yet with such an air of truth and honesty, that his
auditors were charmed. Again and again, as he made to retire, they exclaimed against his
leaving until another story was forthcoming. Their flattering attention might have turned
the head of a weaker man than this sturdy fighter, who was more at home in camp than in
court; but the blandishments of beauty were ever lost upon Juan Ponce de Leon.
When he had gone, one of the fair ladies said, with a sigh: "Ah me, your majesty, was he
not grand? Such an air of noble
 dignity, withal he is scarce above medium height, and the portliness of advancing age
might mar his figure were he not in armor."
"Yes, as you say, this cavalier is more than interesting," the queen is said to have
replied in effect. "I like his deep-set eyes, so black and flashing, the poise of his
sturdy shoulders, and the luxuriant beard that ripples down to his corselet. We see few
such nowadays—adventurers who have been across the world and helped to conquer it. I
almost envy those who lived at court when the great events were happening that shaped the
history of Spain."
"They tell me," said another lady, "that knights were more courtly and more venturesome,
e'en though it be but twenty years agone, when the Moslems dwelt within Granada. Each
knight served one fair mistress, and for her dared death in single combat with the Moor.
Think of the exploit of Garcilasso, who slew the giant Moor before the mosque of Granada,
now consecrated as a church! And this cavalier saw all these things, and was part of them,
Interest in the exploits of Ponce de Leon was not confined solely to the ladies of the
 court, for he was warmly welcomed everywhere as the romantic yet hard-headed cavalier who
had made a voyage expressly for the purpose of discovering the secret of eternal youth.
Had he not made it, some other would have, for the country had in it adventurers as
quixotic as Ponce de Leon. "The Spaniard" of that time says the talented author of
Ferdinand and Isabella, "was a knight-errant in its literal sense, roving over seas
on which no bark had ever ventured, among islands and continents where no civilized man
had ever trodden, and which fancy peopled with all the marvels and drear enchantments of
romance; courting danger in every form, combating everywhere, and everywhere victorious.
The very odds presented by the defenceless natives among whom he was cast, 'a thousand of
whom,' to quote the words of Columbus, 'were not equal to three Spaniards,' was in itself
typical of his profession; and the brilliant destinies to which the meanest adventurer was
often called (now carving out with, his good sword some 'El Dorado' more splendid than
fancy had ever dreamed of, and now overturning some old, barbaric dynasty), were fully as
extraordinary as the
 wildest chimeras which Ariosto ever sang or Cervantes satirized."
It is true, moreover, that "his countrymen who remained at home, feeding greedily on the
reports of his adventures, lived almost equally in the atmosphere of romance. A spirit of
chivalrous enthusiasm penetrated the very depths of the nation, swelling the humblest
individual with lofty aspirations, and a proud consciousness of the dignity of his
nature." In this spirit the countrymen of Ponce de Leon welcomed him to Spain, and sped
him forth again on his voyage, when, after several months had passed away, everything had
been arranged for another expedition. According to the terms of the "capitulation" with
the king, he was to have exclusive right to the "island" of Florida and Bimini, settle it
at his own cost, and be called, and entitled to be called, "adelantado." But the king was
to construct and garrison forts in the island, "send agents to divide the Indians among
the settlers, and receive, first a tenth, afterwards a fifth, of all gold that might be
 This capitulation, or contract, was signed on September 27, 1514, and shortly after the
king ordered the fitting out of three ships, to be well manned and well armed, at the port
of Seville. He aided Juan Ponce to that extent, and he extended the time for the conquest
and settlement of the country from three years after the time it was dated, to three years
from the day of sailing.
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