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half dead, but his companions came to his assistance and saved him. Armed with hatchets, swords, and every sort of weapon, the sailors assembled, and the tiger, covered with wounds, was forced to spring into the sea. Fearing that a similar accident might occur with the other tiger, it was killed in its cage; but Benevides believes that the third will arrive on the other ship.
There is a great number of tigers, lions, and other ferocious animals in the mountains of that region. When asked what they eat, Benevides replied deer, stags, hares, rabbits, and other gentle animals of the country. The captains in charge of these ships are two brave soldiers who distinguished themselves during the conquest, Alfonso de Avila and Antonio Quinones; it is they who are bringing the royal fifth to the King; the share of Cortes being administered by Juan Ribera, who has acted as his secretary and companion from the beginning of the expedition.
Acting on the advice of our Royal India Council, the Emperor has confirmed Cortes in command of the country he has named New Spain, while Diego Velasquez has been removed from authority in Cuba, or much the same thing; for it has been shown that he overstepped his powers in sending soldiers against Cortes in spite of the prohibition of the council of Hispaniola.
It has been recently learned that fifteen French pirate craft have been seen crossing the ocean in the hope of surprising the Spanish ships as they did last year, but a storm has driven them onto the African coast and sunk the greater number.
I HAVE now come to the last reports made by Cortes, his companions in arms, the royal magistrates, the treasurer, the intendant and distributor, called in Spanish the factor, either in writing or verbally on their return. I have omitted many details, fearing to be wearisome in rehearsing too many small facts. I must note different reports received from Darien in the correspondence of Pedro Arias, governor of the continent, and through the intermediary of his eldest son, Diego Arias, who has just returned to Europe; nor shall I forget several recent events in Hispaniola and Cuba Fernandina.
Five colonies have been founded on the supposed continent; the first, situated on the northern coast, is Santa Maria Antigua, also called Darien, because, as I have said in my first decades, it is built on the banks of the Darien River. Why the Spaniards settled in that place, why they gave it that name when it already bore the name of its cacique Zemaco, I have already sufficiently explained.
The second colony is called Acla, and is west of Darien. Forty leagues west of Acla, another settlement was founded on the coast, and called by Columbus, who first discovered that region, Nombre de Dios, after the harbour of this name. Panama and Natan on the South Sea coast are the most distant and have kept their native names.
The continent is very extensive, especially in the direction of the large Maragnon River, concerning which I have already sufficiently spoken in my first decades. When searching for the causes which collected such a volume of water in a single river bed, I included among other reasons that the extent of land from north to south was probably very great and that numerous streams took their rise there, forming later a single river and flowing into the northern ocean. It so happens, Most Holy Father, that I have not been a bad prophet. The continent extends south from the northern coasts, rendered famous by the Maragnon in the country whose sovereigns, I have said, are called chacones, to the strait situated fifty-four degrees beyond the equator. Others estimate only fifty-two degrees; I have discussed this point in my digression concerning the spice islands.
The rigorous winter held the fleet of five vessels weatherbound in the neighbourhood of that strait, during almost five months. I have already elsewhere said that this was during our summer season, when the sun recedes from them and approaches us. It is, therefore, unnecessary to marvel further at the prodigious size of the Maragnon.
How does it happen that this continent, so broad in some places, shrinks in others to narrow isthmuses? This happens especially in the colony of Nombre de Dios, where the distance from the South Sea to the port of Panama is only seventeen leagues. Mountains, over which no road leads and which are inaccessible because of their rocks and dense virgin forests, intervene. These desert regions are likewise haunted by leopards, lions, tigers, bears, every kind of monkey, and other monsters, concerning which extraordinary things are told. It appears the tigers are no more afraid of men than though they were little dogs. Once they fall upon an isolated traveller there is no escape; he is torn into a thousand bits and devoured. The tigers are especially formidable for they are more ferocious than lions. There are numerous very fertile valleys and mountain slopes in this country, which elsewhere would be well populated, but are here abandoned because of the ferocious animals.
Many amusing things might be told about the monkeys, but they are also dangerous in the mountains the governor, Pedro Arias, has crossed, and which he daily renders more accessible by breaking down the rocks and burning the dense forests. The leaders of the monkeys (for they march in troops and are not courageous when alone) call together a great multitude of different breeds when they see a band of white men approaching, and give vent to horrible cries, springing from tree to tree, following the men wherever they can and amusing them with a thousand gestures and grimaces, especially the longtailed monkeys. Sometimes they descend almost to the tree-trunks, but as soon as they see preparations made to attack them with bows or firearms, whose power they understand, they remount to the tops of the trees with the rapidity of the wind, uttering furious cries and gnashing their teeth. They are so quick that they are able to escape the arrows shot at them by seizing them on the wing, as though they were being offered to them; but they are unable to avoid the projectiles of firearms. It is consequently by means of these latter that many monkeys are killed, especially the little ones which are less careful.
Whenever they see one of their number stricken to the earth wounded and about to be captured by our men, they tremble and lament so loudly that the air is filled with their complaints. They make more noise than a thousand roaring lions or whining tigers. Here is a sufficiently curious detail. Each monkey, when he climbs a tree, takes as many stones as he can carry in his hands and mouth to throw from the top branches when the Spaniards stop to shoot at him with their bows or muskets. One day an archer aimed his arrow at an old female with a very long tail. The animal feigned not to see it, half closing her eye; but hardly had the arrow left the bow than she severely wounded him in the face with a stone, which broke his teeth. The unfortunate beast was punished for its cunning, for the moment the stone dropped the arrow killed her. She was eaten with great satisfaction, for did the men not eat toads or still worse, when driven by the pangs of hunger? But this is enough concerning four-footed animals; let us return to bipeds, for the native bipeds are of hardly more account than the quadrupeds.
On the frontier of the colony of Natan in the south, there is a powerful and magnanimous king called Uracco. As the governor, Pedro Arias, was never able to win his friendship, he therefore announced he would organise a campaign against him. Uracco, strong in his authority and power, replied haughtily to the envoys sent to discuss peace conditions with him. He disturbed the colonists of Natan by invading Christian territory. The native anns are different kinds of javelins, which they throw from a distance, and large wooden swords, hardened in the fire, with which they fight hand to hand. They also have bows and arrows, pointed with bone or wood.
The cocoa-tree, which I have above mentioned, grows luxuriantly in the country, especially along the south coast, which is washed by the sea throughout a great extent. It is alleged that on one of these beaches, two leagues in extent, which is alternately covered with water and dried up, cocoa-trees grow spontaneously. Some people believe that the germs of these trees were brought by the waves from unknown regions; doubtless those regions of India whence they take their origin. It is also said that they were carried to Cuba and Hispaniola, as I have already related was the case with cinnamon-trees, and thence from the islands to the continent, finally reaching these southern countries.
Another wonderful tree grows on the islands, which I