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Ponce






Category: IN THE CARIBBEAN

Source: Myths & Legends Of Our New Possessions & Protectorate

When Ponce de Leon visited and conquered Porto Rico he heard of the
elixir of life. It may not have been among the springs of that island,
but the natives had a faith in it and some of them referred it to the
Bahamas. Their possible reason for this was to persuade the white men
to go there and look for it, for they were not popular in Porto Rico,
and this was the more to be regretted in Ponce's case, because he was
far from popular at home. At the court of Ferdinand and Isabella was
a page who was handsome, spirited, and saucy. One of the daughters of
the royal pair, wearied with the forms and ceremonies of her state,
which, in the most punctilious court in Europe, were especially
trying, found means to converse with this well-appearing, quick-witted
scamp. A tattling courtier, recalling a _faux pas_ of the last queen,
and desiring no more scandals, reported that the princess had been
seen to smile on the youngster. No guilt was proven upon him, but
handsome pages were ill-chosen company for young women of blue blood.

Ponce de Leon was the page, and he was sent to the New World
to discover something to the advantage of his own modesty, and
incidentally to accumulate for shipment anything that might be useful
to the Spanish treasury. He landed in Boriquen, as Porto Rico was
then called, and began a general subjugation and slaughter of the
natives. Some were slain in battle, but thousands were carried away
and made to work in mines and on distant plantations, as slaves, until
their health was destroyed, and they, too, were no longer an obstacle
to Spanish control, though the lack of their hands was a hindrance to
Spanish enterprise. Ponce took his share of the gold and treasure he
had forced these unfortunates to supply, and went back to Spain with
it. Sea air had spoiled his complexion, fighting had roughened his
manners, slave-driving had made his voice coarse. Possibly, also,
his princess had recovered from her disappointment. Maybe she had
been married off to some nobody of Portugal, or France, or Austria,
for state reasons, and had entered on the usual loveless life of
royalty. Or she may have beguiled her maidenly solitude by drinking
much wine of Oporto, Madeira, and Xeres with her dinner, thereby
acquiring that amplitude of girth, that ruddiness of countenance, and
that polish of nose, which add so little to romance. At all events,
we hear nothing more of the affair.

In the course of years Ponce took to himself the gout, rheumatism,
dyspepsia, and a few such matters, and he scolded his dresser more than
usual because his clothes did not fit at the waist as they had done,
once. He parted his hair with a towel, and it was grizzled where
it curled about his neck and temples. Then he recalled the tales
the Boriquenos had told of the bright waters that gushed from the
earth amid banks of flowers,--waters so sweet that who drank would
drink again, and with every draught would throw off years and pain
until at last he was a youth once more,--a youth with hot blood,
sparkling eyes, lithe muscles; a youth who saw the world full of
beauty and adventure. Ah, to be once more as he was when the princess
beamed on him; to throw away his cares, his ails, his conscience,
his regrets; to sing and dance, to ruffle it with other cavaliers,
to dice, to drink, to feast, to win the smiles of ladies! It was a
joy worth trying to attain.

He sailed once more, an older, sober man. He discovered Florida,
bathed in its springs, drank from its flower-edged streams, but to no
avail. Bimini, the place of the living waters, evaded him. Boriquen,
renamed Porto Rico, could offer no more. But, though his living
presence passed, the first building on the island--the White House,
near San Juan--remains, and he left his name in the town that was
first among the Antillean cities to raise the flag of a republic
that should wave over the continent he had helped to discover and
colonize:--the city of Ponce.





Next: Water Caves

Previous: How Spaniards Were Found To Be Mortal



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