DEFEATED BY CARIBS
 "BY reason whereof [the difficulty of conquering the Caribs] Johannes Pontius, beinge greatly
discomfyted, durste not invade ye Canibales, fearynge their envenomed arrowes, which those
naked man-hunters can, direct most certenly. Thus good Pontius, fayling of his purpose,
was fayne to gyve over the Canibales, whom (beinge safe and under his owne house roof e)
he had threatened to vanquishe and destroy."
Though it might be inferred from the remarks of Eden the translator, quoted in the
preceding paragraph, that Juan Ponce was both vainglorious and cowardly, because he "durst
not" invade the cannibal island, the inhabitants of which he had threatened to "vanquish
and destroy," yet a close examination of his conduct on this occasion does not seem to
warrant this denunciation.
 He had undertaken a task which he found impossible of execution, and eventually abandoned
the conquest of the Caribs, on account of the insufficient force at his command, and lack
of incentive. In other words, while he desired to capture as many cannibals as possible,
for the purpose of enslaving them, he soon became convinced that, provided he could do
so—and the prospect was not encouraging—they would be surly, unmanageable, and
possible incitors of insurrections among the other Indians. Again, he had pretty well
settled in his mind that the islands contained no gold or precious stones, while the
immediate spoil of these naked savages, who lived in wretched huts of straw and
palm-leaves, was not worth, all told, a thousand maravedis.
Now, Juan Ponce, as we know, was mercenary; he was not over-burdened with scruples as to
the rights of the Indians; though in his old age he was not so sanguinary as in youth and
middle life. He would like to enslave and despoil the Caribs, provided the "game were
worth the candle"; but most evidently it was not. Hence his readiness to relinquish the
conquest, and his desire to return to peaceful Boriquen. But there
 were the women captured by the Caribs, whose fate might be inferred, though not certainly
known. He could not, in all honor, abandon them to the cannibals without at least the
pretence of a search and attempted rescue. Also, he was in honor, and by inclination,
bound to give his slain soldiers Christian burial, and at daylight of the morning
following the fight in the ravine he might have been seen leading a body of well-armed
veterans up the beach and over the river-bed.
He arrived at the scene of slaughter only to find (as we have said already) no trace of
soldier or warrior, living or dead. Amazed, stupefied, he removed his helmet and looked
around, as if to ask the rocks, the overhanging trees, the silver stream that rippled
through the gorge, what had become of the men who had been left there lifeless, lying, as
they had fallen, in their weighty armor. There was no reply from the insensate objects
around, nor were there any evidences of human beings in the forest; though there may have
been sharp eyes watching every movement of the Spaniards, as, dejected and discomfited,
they once again retraced to the shore of the bay.
 An exclamation of surprise broke from Juan Ponce, when, having reached the beach, he
chanced to look towards the fleet out in the bay, and saw four vessels lying there at
anchor, showing there had been a new arrival. It was a caravel, or large sloop, and flew
his colors at the mast-head, indicating thereby that it had come from Boriquen. Though not
wholly unexpected, since Juan Ponce himself had sent orders for the caravel to meet him in
this bay, it came as a surprise, and served for the moment to divert his mind from the
grievous troubles that afflicted him. Soon after reaching the deck of his flag-ship, Juan
Ponce received a visit from the captain of the caravel, who came to report that he had
brought a reinforcement of veteran soldiers from the island, together with a supply of
ammunition and provisions.
"But these are not all," he said to the commander, with the air of one who has a pleasant
surprise to communicate. "Reinforcements have I, powder as well, and food. I also bring
good tidings from the senora, your excellent lady, and your children; but still more: I
have with me the hound Becerrico, your excellency. See, there he stands, with
 his fore-feet upon the rail, awaiting only permission from you to come hither."
"And that he shall have," cried the delighted old soldier, blowing a silver whistle that
hung from a chain around his neck. On hearing the sound, overboard sprang Becerrico at
once, and swam lustily for the flag-ship, arrived at which he was assisted on board by the
sailors, and then made his way to the deck and his master.
"Ah, Becerrico!" exclaimed Juan Ponce, as the dog leaped upon him and placed his paws on
his shoulders. "Thou hast come in good time, for I need thee to trail the savages that
have stolen our women. Into the mountains thou goest, soon as rested and fed, for time is
most precious. With thee, now, we shall be invincible, for thou art a host in thyself."
Becerrico must have understood what his master told him, for he threw back his head and
emitted from his cavernous throat a roar that shook the echoes of the mountains loose from
their hiding-places. Then he obediently went to the galley, where the cook fed him
bountifully, and after his meal came back and stood at "attention," as if to signify that
he was ready for business, of whatever sort.
 Giving him in charge of his steward, Juan Ponce cautioned the man to beware lest the
Indians surprise him, but to seek out a fresh trail, and let Becerrico pursue it into the
mountains, or wherever it might take him. Once on the scent of the savages, he would never
desist from the hunt until they had been run down, captured, or killed. Accompanied by a
strong escort, the steward went ashore with the hound, whither he was followed within an
hour by Ponce de Leon and two hundred men. Most of them were musketeers, some were
cross-bowmen, some armed only with sword or lance; but all were well equipped, and burning
to revenge their comrades slain the day before.
Through the dense woods bordering the beach ran several trails, and it was Juan Ponce's
plan to station a body of men at the mouth of each trail, so that if the hound should
start any quarry he might capture it, perhaps. That is, considering the Indian trails
(through a forest so dense that one could not penetrate it without cutting his way) as
"runways," like those used by deer, he concluded that the savages, when started in the
mountains by the hound, would certainly use them in attempting to
 make their escape. And the sequel proved him to have been in the right.
A long time elapsed after Becerrico had been shown the Indian runways and given the scent
of the warriors who had kidnapped the women. At first he ranged up and down the shore, his
head high in the air, then he selected one of the trails, and, plunging into the forest,
was lost to sight. Two or three hours went by, and the patient soldiers ambushing the
runways were almost asleep when, faint and far away, boomed down from the mountains the
cry of the hound.
"Ha, listen!" exclaimed Juan Ponce, eagerly, addressing a member of his staff. "That is
Becerrico, and when he gives that cry he means to say the quarry is in sight and on the
run. Light the fusees, gentlemen, and pass the word along; have every musket ready, for
soon there will be something to do."
Never had Juan Ponce spoken truer words, for there was straightway much to do, though not
exactly of the nature he had anticipated. He had thought to make great slaughter of the
Caribs when they should appear on shore, after having been run out of their strongholds by
the blood-hound; and
 so he did; but first they placed his command in great peril by neatly turning his flank
and getting between him and the sea. How it was, he could never explain—or, what is
nearer the truth, never cared to speak of the subject, it was so mortifying to his pride.
But while the soldiers were intently watching the runways, a multitude of Caribs in canoes
suddenly swept around a promontory, darted in between his vessels and the beach—and
there they were, to all appearances masters of the situation.
Almost simultaneously the refugees came pouring out of the forest runways, and thus Juan
Ponce and his soldiers were hemmed in between two bodies of savages, the numbers of those
in the forest constantly augmenting. It needed but a glance for the outwitted commander to
perceive that the strategy of the Caribs exceeded his own—at least in this instance,
and he paled with rage and vexation. There was not an instant to lose, however, if he
would extricate his command from the trap which the savages had so cleverly sprung upon
him, and he ordered the trumpet to sound the recall.
"In phalanx, march!" he shouted, having collected the scattered soldiers. "To the
 boats!" was the next command; and the soldiers needed no urging, for the strand was now
almost alive with raging savages, seeking an opportunity for plying their weapons with
most deadly effect. They poured forth from the runways, they scampered wildly across the
sands, yelping and howling like wild beasts; but they were daunted by that shining wall of
steel which, without break or gap, moved steadily towards the boats at the water's edge.
In their haste to take part in the action, the Caribs had neglected to cut off the boats
from the vessels and kill their crews, having landed from their canoes in a curve of the
shore which hid them from their sight. They now tried to make amends for their omission by
detaching bands of skirmishers for the purpose; but were too late. Flinging out the sides
of the phalanx like wings to the main body, Commander Ponce effectually protected the line
of boats, the sturdy sailors in which had gallantly held their posts, despite the
threatened attack by the Caribs.
But how to get the soldiers aboard was a problem for the commander to solve, and solve
without delay, too, if he desired to save
 their lives and his honor. For both, of course, he was extremely solicitous, since his
soldiers were as dear to him as his children; and to the latter, he now felt, he had only
honor to leave, since all else seemed lost. His own life was as nothing to him in
comparison with the conquest he had hoped to achieve; but he could not engage the savages
single-handed. If there had been some head, or chief, visible and prominent, he would not
have hesitated to challenge him to mortal combat; but there was none. The real leader of
the Caribs, the chief, cacique, or kin —by whatever title he was known—had
remained invisible, but his intelligence was apparent in the strategy by which the Caribs
had gained such an advantage over their opponents.
The savages hovered at a little distance on the sands, in a semicircle concentric to the
Spanish line, waiting—but eagerly and hungrily watching—for the foe to embark.
As soon they realized, when that steel-faced phalanx began to back up and make for the
boats, those of the soldiers who remained on shore would be exposed to their attack, so
they waited for the opportune moment. A boat-load of soldiers went off, and another;
 there seemed to be no diminution in numbers—or, at least, no gap appeared in the
ranks; but soon after the boats arrived at the flag-ship something extraordinary happened.
That is, it seemed extraordinary to the savages, but not to Commander Juan Ponce, who was
pacing the sands within the wall of steel that stood between him and the foe. He was
anxiously expecting it, for he had sent the captain of the ship a note to this effect:
"En hombre de Dios [In the name of God] open at once with your larboard
batteries upon the savages behind us, else we cannot embark! Double-shot the lombards, and
aim high, in order to clear us. But at once, at once! Our lives are in peril.—ADELANTADO."
And this is what happened: while the savages (their eyes so blinded by passion that they
did not note the arquebusiers charging their muskets and lighting the fusees) yelled and
danced in rage over the escape of the two boats laden with soldiers, a smoke-puff from the
flag-ship was followed by a brace of iron missiles that cut a wide swath in their ranks.
As the survivors gazed in amaze at the mangled dead and wounded in their midst, another
puff, followed by another brace of
 projectiles, laid more of them low. At this moment the musketeers in the front rank of the
phalanx fired a startling volley, and the panic of the Caribs was complete. They were
literally shocked into affright, and were so terror-stricken that they fled without even
snatching up their dead, which strewed the sands by scores.
The soldiers leaped forward with shouts, and in the heat of conflict would have pursued
the savages into the forest; but a stern command from Juan Ponce halted them. He forbade
them to leave the shore, and, moreover, was so urgent in his haste to depart from "this
country accursed of the devil," as he termed it, that soon all the soldiers were afloat
and safely away for the ships. Juan Ponce was the last to leave the strand, and, as his
boat rapidly neared the flag-ship, was congratulating himself upon so easily escaping from
the snare set by his enemies, when a babel of sounds came to his ears from the forest.
Cries of distress and howls of rage were mingled with the baying of the hound, at hearing
which Juan Ponce clutched the boat's rail nervously, exclaiming: "Becerrico! Becerrico! To
think that I should have forgotten thee! Back, men, back to the
 shore!" he shouted to the rowers and the steersman. "Save the hound we must, even though
we risk our lives to do so."
As the boat's bow swung around, there burst from the forest a naked Indian warrior, who
made for the water with long strides, and Becerrico close behind him in full cry. Into the
sea plunged the Carib, instantly followed by the hound, who was equally swift in the water
as on land. The distance between the two was not great, and was being lessened so rapidly
that the watchers in the boat and on the vessels expected to see Becerrico spring upon and
throttle the savage in another moment, when the latter turned swiftly and raised himself
half out of the water. In one hand he still held his bow, in the other a clutch of arrows,
and while treading water, to keep himself erect, he placed an arrow on the string, and
shot it with tremendous force into Becerrico's throat. The brave hound gasped, his
life-blood stained the wave; but still he kept on, though with feebler and feebler
strokes, until abreast the enemy, though then too weak to do him harm. The deadly poison
with which the arrow was tipped did its work well and quickly. With a gesture of contempt,
 hardy savage turned for the shore, gaining which he sped up the sands, and with a yell of
defiance disappeared in the gloom of the forest.
Hundreds of additional titles available for
online reading when you join Gateway to the Classics