by Arthur Crew Inman
"Desperate, my men, are our straits.
Natives with vemon-pointed darts harass us.
Hunger draws taut our fevered skins.
Disaster, ever-renewed, makes us its mock.
Death bends and breaks our serried ranks.
All cause is there for grim despair:
Yet, since you be Spaniards, despair not.
I sail this very day for Hispaniola
There to hasten necessary succor.
Lest it be said that we, like cowards,
Abandoned under stress our chosen course
I shall leave, of you all, seventy here.
Nay, until I be finished, murmur not.
I appointed in my absence as Governor, Francisco Pizarro,
Knowing you believe, my men, in the courage that is his.
And more, lest you doubt of my returning,
I shall leave, under your charge, all gold.
Remain faithful unto your post;
Remain faithful unto your leader;
Then, if in fifty days I be not come again,
Take as your own the two small brigantines
And depart, with duty done, wheresoever you list.
This I say but as a last precaution,
For, -- shall I not return to you?
Trust me! forget not God! be true!"
Thus spoke to his soldiers Alonzo de Ojeda
Governor, in the King's name, of Neuva Andalusia,
Brave man, incompetent leader, ill-fated,
Thus spoke he from the parapet of San Sebastian
And with the coming of the night had sailed away,
Never, despite his promise, to return.
Pizarro, stalwart of body, steady of mind,
One who kept and kept it well his own counsel,
One cruel, severe, determined,
One who was obeyed yet shrunk from,
Commanded, as Ojeda had behested, in his stead.
No tyro's negligent office his!
Food, by hook or crook, must be obtained;
Dissatisfaction and mutiny quelled;
Attack by night and day to be repulsed.
Silence and heat, and hunger,
And all about the small stockade
The inward pressing of the circling jungle
Save where, a strip of blue, a strip of hope, the sea!
God! how they grew to fear that forest,
Heavy, and green, and menace haunted,
A dark impenetrable wall of vegetation,
Twisted trunks, twisted vines, and twisted shadows,
Wherein lurked horror and the horror of horror!
Arrows, furtive-winged and poison-pointed
Would rise as rise startled birds,
Curve up a moment in skyey flight,
Then, with long-drawn sibilant sighs,
Rush to claim the poor unwary, earthward.
Jungle, and sea, and canescent sun,
And the labored passage of the days!
"Are we fools," they cried, "still to wait?
Twenty, thirty, forty days have passed!
Still no white sail peaks the blue!
Death and starvation claim us one by one!
Let us, ere it be too late, depart!"
But wait they did, even the fifty days,
Restrained to duty by the grim Pizarro,
A man they hated, admired, feared,
Yet a man, -- they obeyed.
And when at last the time for their release --
"Now," swore they, "by Christ! we shall depart!"
And would straighway have rushed pell-mell
Upon the two small, anchored brigantines
Had not, with imperative gesture, Pizarro stayed them.
"You are," his level voice arraigned, "truly fools!
Else, long since, had you made your count
And found those tiny cockle-shells of boats
Incapable by half of carrying the whole of you!"
They hesitated; they examined; they confirmed.
With desperate eyes ablaze with fear;
With hands and feet that shook in ague;
With lips grown dryer far than dry;
They surged them back to where Pizarro stood,
Gazing, seemingly impassive, across the sea.
"It is," they moaned, "even as you say!
Who shall go and who, alas, shall stay?
Ah, Mother of God, what plight is ours!"
Looking with eyes untenanted by emotion
Upon the men gone, like a flook of sheep, afraid --
"There is a way," he said, "to make decision
Of who shall go and who shall stay.
There is a way, -- were you men!"
And the pitiful things with blood-shot eyes,
With white lips edging whiter teeth,
With bony, tremulous talon-hands,
Replied, as in a whisper, "We be men!"
And Pizarro, master of himself and them,
Seemed, in the moveless clarity of sunlight,
Some epic god directing destiny.
"So," he answered, "since you affirm yourselves as men
I shall inform you of the one and only way,
Fair to all and partial, in the end, to none,
Whereby may be chosen among us all
Those who shall go and those who shall stay!
Once more, I ask you: be you men?"
"Aye," croaked they, "we be men!"
"Then" -- and here his voice rose, dominant --
"In this place and on this spot shall we remain
Until death, impartial, has weeded us,
Those who shall go from those who shall stay!"
"Those who shall go from those who shall stay!"
Echoed, in toneless notes, the broken men:
And "Those who shall go from those who shall stay!"
Reechoed eerily the whispering jungle.
The, like an accolade of doom, fell silence
Enfolding avidly unto its inscrutable self,
Forest, and sea, and depthless sky,
And those bowed of head, stooped of shoulder,
Standing, muted and motionless,
Before one who, with hand aloft, rendered judgment.
Last updated May 08, 2023