Images de page

took also little gifts, trinkets, mirrors, and beads of bright colors such as would delight the savages. He made so good an impression on the chief that the permission he sought was readily given. And in a few years the Land of War became the Land of the True Peace – Vera Paz – where no Spaniards dwelt save a few Dominican friars and where at morning and evening Indian voices chanted the sacred songs to the accompaniment of the Indian flutes and drums which had formerly quickened to frenzy the warriors setting out to slaughter. And for this spiritual conquest Fray Luís had received the title of Alférez de la Fé, Standard Bearer of the Faith. But Fray Luís was not content to eat the fruit of his labors in Vera Paz. The Standard Bearer would push on to another frontier. He went to the City of Mexico (1546) because there he would find the latest reports of newly discovered countries. Here Fray Luis heard the stories which had been told there by Vaca and Moscoso and resolved to bear his standard to Florida. He found willing comrades in three monks of his own order, Gregorio de Beteta, Juan García, and Diego de Tolosa. Fray Gregorio and Fray Juan had already made three or four unsuccessful attempts to reach Florida by land from Mexico, under a total misapprehension as to distance and direction. His plans consummated under the orders of Las Casas, Fray Luis went to Spain to urge the great project with the King. His petition was soon granted. When he returned to Mexico (1548) he had the royal authority to establish a mission at some point in Florida where Spaniards had not yet spilled native blood. In 1549 Fray Luis and his three companions sailed from Vera Cruz in an unarmed vessel. At Havana he took on board a converted native girl named Magdalena, who was to act as interpreter and guide. Perhaps it was almost impossible for the pilot to distinguish one inlet from another, with certainty, on that much indented coast line, where the low shore presents no variation to the eye for miles; for, instead of landing at a new point, the monks first touched Florida soil in the vicinity of Tampa Bay. And the natives about Tampa Bay were hostile with memories of De Soto.

There were empty huts nearby and a background of forest in which it seemed nothing stirred Fray Diego went ashore and climbed a tree at some distance from the beach. Immediately a score of Indians emerged from the forest. Fray Luis, despite the pilot's warnings, with Magdalena and an oblate named Fuentes, hurried after Diego, through water to their waists. "Our Lord knows what haste I made lest they should slay the monk before hearing what we were about," Fray Luis writes. He paused to fall on his knees and pray for grace and divine help, ere he climbed the bank. Then he took out of his sleeves some of the trinkets he had brought; because, he writes, "deeds are love, and gifts shatter rocks."1 After these gifts, the natives were willing that the friars and Magdalena should kneel among them reciting the litanies; and, to Fray Luis's joy, they also knelt and appeared pleased with the prayers and the rosaries. They seemed so friendly, indeed, that Fray Luis permitted Fray Diego, Fuentes, and Magdalena to remain with them and to go on a day and a half's journey by land to a good harbor of which the Indians had told them. He and Fray Gregorio returned to the ship.

It took the pilot eight days to find the new harbor and eight more to enter it. It was on the feast of Corpus Christi that the ship dropped anchor. Fray Luis and Fray Juan landed and said Mass. To their apprehension they saw no signs of Fray

1 Lowery, Spanish Settlements, p. 420.

Diego and Fuentes, nor of Indians. On the next day as they searched, an Indian came out of the woods carrying, in token of peace, a rod topped with white palm leaves; and he appeared to assure Fray Luis that Fray Diego and his companions were safe and would be brought to him. On the next day as Fray Luis, with Fray Juan and Fray Gregorio, rowed towards the shore the natives waded to meet them bringing fish and skins to trade for trinkets. One savage would take nothing but a little wooden cross which he kissed as he had seen the monks do — much to the delight of Fray Luis. If the pious monk's joy at this incident was dimmed a few moments later, when he waded inshore and discovered Magdalena naked among the tribeswomen, it kindled again at her assurance that Diego and Fuentes were safe in the cacique's house. How little truth was in her words Fray Luis learned when he returned to the ship. There he found a Spaniard, once a soldier of De Soto's army, who had been enslaved by the Indians of this tribe. This man informed him that the Indians had already slain Fray Diego and the oblate Fuentes; he had held Diego's scalp in his hands.

To pleas that he forsake his mission and sail away to safer shores, Fray Luis had but one answer. "Where his comrades in the faith, acting under his orders, had fallen, there would he remain. Though storms prevented him from landing for two days, he refused to accept the assertions of his shipmates — that the storms were sent by God to keep him from a death among savages. And, at last, through the lashing and roaring of sea and wind, he came again to shore. Armed natives painted for war could be seen grouped on the bank above the slope to the beach. "For the love of God wait a little; do not land," Fray Gregorio entreated. But Fray Luis had already leaped into the water. He turned back once, on reaching the beach, but it was to call to Gregorio or Juan to bring to him a small cross he had forgotten. When Gregorio cried, "Father, for mercy's sake, will not your reverence come for it, as there is no one here who will take it to you," Fray Luis went on towards the hill.1 At its foot he knelt in prayer for a few moments, then began the ascent. Midway the Indians closed about him, swinging their clubs. He cried out once, loudly, before their blows struck him down. Those in the boat heard his cry, and saw the savages clubbing and slashing at his body as they thrust it down the hill. Then » shower of

1 Lowery, Spanish Settlements, p. 425.

« PrécédentContinuer »