The early history of America has few romantic tales of love and devotion, but there is one woven in with the history of the settlement of Buenos Ayres, the modern Argentina, which is told by all the historians of the time, and which exists as the one striking love romance of the Spanish conquest. It has been doubted, it is true, but it will not to do to dismiss all the chivalrous tales of the past on the plea that historical critics have questioned them.
It may not be generally known to our readers that the man who explored and took possession of the great rivers of Buenos Ayres for Spain was Sebastian Cabot, he who, many years before, had with his father discovered North America in the service of England. It was in the year 1526 that he sailed up the noble river which he named the Rio do la Plata, a name suggested by the bars of silver which he obtained from the Indians on its banks. Sailing some hundred miles up the Paraguay River, he built at the mouth of the river Zarcaranna a stronghold which he named the Fort of the Holy Ghost. Some three years later Cabot set sail for Spain, leaving Nuno de Lara as commander of this fort, with a garrison of one hundred and twenty men.
These historical details are important, as a necessary setting for the love-romance which followed the founding of this fort. Lara, being left with his handful of men as the only whites in a vast territory peopled with Indians, felt strongly that in his situation prudence was the better part of valor, and strove to cultivate friendly relations with the nearest and most powerful of these tribes, the Timbuez. his success in this brought about, in an unexpected manner, his death and the loss of the fort, with other evils in their train.
The tragedy came on in this way: Sebastian Hurtado, one of Lara's principal officers, had brought with him his wife, Lucia Miranda, a Spanish lady of much beauty and purity of soul. During the frequent visits which Mangora, the cacique of the Timbuez, paid to the fort, he saw this lady and became enamoured of her charms, so deeply that he could not conceal the evidence of his love.
Miranda was not long in observing the ardent looks of the Indian chief and in understanding their significance, and the discovery filled her with dread and alarm. Knowing how important it was for the commandant to keep on good terms with this powerful chief, and fearing that she might be sacrificed to this policy, she did her utmost to keep out of his sight, and also to guard against any surprise or violence, not knowing to what extremes the passion of love might lead an Indian.
Coffee Plant in Blossom.
Mangora, on his part, laid covert plans to get the fair lady out of the fort, and with this in view pressed Hurtado to pay him a visit and bring his wife with him. This the Spaniard was loath to do, for Miranda had told him of her fears, and he suspected the Indian's design. With a policy demanded by the situation, he declined the invitations of the chief, on the plea that a Castilian soldier could not leave his post of duty without permission front his commander, and that honor forbade him to ask that permission except to fight his enemies.
The wily chief was not duped by this reply, He saw that Hurtado suspected his purpose, and the removal of the husband seemed to him a necessary step for its accomplishment. While seeking to devise a plan for this, he learned, to his great satisfaction, that Hurtado and another officer, with fifty soldiers, had left the fort on an expedition to collect provisions, of which a supply was needed.
Here was the opportunity which the treacherous chief awaited. It not only removed the husband, but weakened the garrison, the protectors of the wife in his absence. Late one day the chief placed four thousand armed men in ambush in a marsh near the fort, and then set out for it with thirty others, laden with provisions. Reaching the gates, he sent word to Lara that he had heard of his want of food, and had brought enough to serve him until the return of Hurtado and his men. This show of friendship greatly pleased Lara. He met the chief with warm demonstrations of gratitude, and insisted on entertaining him and his followers.
So far the scheme of the treacherous Indian had been successful. The men in the marsh had their instructions and patiently awaited the fixed signals, while the feast in the fort went on till the night was well advanced. When it broke up the Spaniards were given time to retire; then the food-bearing Indians set, fire to the magazines, and the ambushed savages, responding to the signal, broke into the fort and ruthlessly cut down all the Spaniards they met. Those who had gone to bed were killed in their sleep or slain as they sprang up in alarm. The governor was severely wounded, but had strength enough to revenge himself on the faithless Mangora, whom he rushed upon and ran through the body with his sword. In a moment more he was himself slain.
At the close of the attack, of all the Spaniards in the fort only the women and children remained alive—spared, no doubt, by order of the chief. These consisted of the hapless Miranda, the innocent cause of this bloody catastrophe, four other women, and as many children. The weeping captives were bound and brought before Siripa, the brother of Mangora, and his successor as cacique of the tribe.
No sooner had the new chief gazed on the woman whom his brother had loved, her beauty heightened in his eyes by her grief and woe, than a like passion was born in his savage soul, and he at once ordered his men to remove her bonds. He then told her that she must not consider herself a captive, and solicited her favor with the gentleness and address that love can implant in the breast of the savage as well as of the son of civilization. Her husband, he told her, was a forlorn fugitive in the forests of a hostile country; he was the chief of a powerful nation and could surround her with luxuries and wealth. Could she hesitate to accept his love in preference to that of a man who was lost to her.
These persuasions excited only horror and anguish in the soul of the faithful wife. Her love for her husband was proof against all that Siripa could say, and also against the fear of slavery or death, which might follow her rejection of his suit. In fact, death seemed to her a smaller evil than life as the wife of this savage suitor, and she rejected his offers with scorn and with a bitter contempt which she hoped would excite his rage and induce him to put her to instant death.
Her flashing eyes and excited words, however, had a very different effect from that she intended. They served only to heighten her charms in the eyes of the cacique, and he became more earnest than ever in his persuasions. Taking her to his village, he treated her with every mark of kindness and gentleness, and showed her the utmost respect and civility, doubtless hoping in this way to win her esteem and raise a feeling in her breast corresponding to his own.
Meanwhile, Hurtado and his men returned with the provisions they had collected, and viewed with consternation the ruins of the fort which they had so lately left. Their position was a desperate one, alone and undefended as they were, in the midst of treacherous tribes; but the fears which troubled the minds of his comrades did not affect that of Hurtado. He learned that his wife was a captive in the hands of the cacique of Timbuez, and love and indignation in his soul suppressed all other feelings. With a temerity that seemed the height of imprudence, he sought alone the village of the chief and demanded the release of his wife.
Siripa heard his request with anger at his presumption and savage joy at having at his mercy the man who stood between him and the object of his affections. Determined to remove this obstacle to his suit, he at once ordered him to be seized, bound to a tree, and pierced with arrows.
This was not unseen by Miranda, and, filled with anguish, she rushed out, cast herself at the Indian's feet and pitifully pleaded with him for her husband's life. The force of beauty in grief prevailed. Hurtado was unbound, but he was still kept in captivity.
Lover as Siripa was, he had all the undisciplined passions of a savage, and the fate of husband and wife alike was at constant risk in his hands. Now, tormented with the fury of jealousy, he seemed bent on sacrificing the husband to his rage. Again, the desire of winning the esteem of Miranda softened his soul, and he permitted the husband and wife to meet.
As the days of captivity passed the strictness of their detention was relaxed and they were permitted greater freedom of action. As a result they met each other more frequently and under less restraint. But this growing leniency in the cacique had its limits: they might converse, but they were warned against indulging in any of the fond caresses of love. Jealousy still burned in his soul, and if Miranda would not become his, he was resolved that no one else should enjoy the evidence of her affection.
The situation was a painful one. Husband and wife, as Hurtado and Miranda were, they continued lovers as well, and it was not easy to repress the feelings that moved them. Prudence bade them avoid any show of love, and they resolved to obey its dictates; but prudence is weak where love commands, and in one fatal moment Siripa surprised them clasped in each other's arms and indulging in the ardent kisses of love.
Filled with wild jealousy at the sight and carried away by ungovernable fury at their contempt of his authority and their daring disregard of his feelings, he ordered them both to instant execution. Hurtado's old sentence was renewed: he was bound to a tree and his body pierced with arrows. As for Miranda, she was sentenced by the jealous and furious savage to a more painful death, that of the flames. Yet painful as it was, the loyal wife doubtless preferred it to yielding to the passion of the chief, and as a quick means of rejoining in soul life her lover and husband.
Thus ends the most romantic and tragical story of love and faith that the early annals of America have to show, and the fate of the faithful Miranda has become a classic in the love-lore of the America of the south.