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A Legend of the Times of the Buccaneers.

W. H. Macy

Flag of our Union.
Vol. 25, No. 6 (Feb 5, 1870)
p. 94

[Written for The Flag of our Union.]

A Legend of the Times of the Buccaneers.


      The exact position of Bendita in the Pacific Ocean is a matter involved in some mystery. It must have been somewhere near the Hawaiian group, though no one of those islands, as at present known, answers the traditional description. Its former existence, and the story of Dona Florencia de Cristoval associated with it, are not doubted by any one on the Peruvian coast, especially by those who pride themselves upon their descent from old Castilian familles.

      The island may have been engulphed at a later period, by one of those terrible volcanic changes to which that region of the world is subject. It must have been far out of the usual track of the Manilla galleons, to have been discovered by the sea-rovers who cruised to intercept these rich prizes. But there is evidence enough to satisfy any reasonable mind that Hawaii, if not others of the group, had been visited by Spaniards at a period long anterior to their rediscovery by Cook, who christened them for his patron, the Earl of Sandwich.

      The most extravagant accounts are given of the beauty and luxuriance of "Ysly Bendita," as the old chronicles and rude charts have it. It was said to have been known for many years only to the outlaws who followed the standard of Alexandre Laroche.

      This Laroche, a French adventurer, was one of those chiefs of buccaneers who figured so conspicuously in the earlier history of the Western World. He at one time had some two hundred desperate men under his order, and manned three large vessels.

      Don Rolando de Cristoval was the royal governor of Peru at the time to which the tale refers. Left a widower, with an only daughter, he had lavished the whole wealth of his heart upon the child. No pains or expense had been stinted in her education, and as she grew in stature and beauty, in a climate favorable for early development, Florencia became not only the pride of her stately father, as might naturally have been supposed, but the model of all the aristocratic maidens, and the toast of the younger cavaliers. Her richly-stored mind, added to her personal graces; carried all hearts by storm; and she was universally known among the purely Spanish the "Star of the Province."

      For once, the course of true love appeared to run smooth, when Dona Florencia was affianced, with her father's approbation, to Don Fabian Tornero, son and heir of one of Spain's proudest hidalgos, who was every way worthy of so peerless a bride. The young man was absent in the mother country, and the marriage was to be consummated in great state immediately on his return, which was shortly expected

      But the grief and despair of Don Rolando, as well as the surprise and sympathy of all his neighbors and friends, may be imagined, not related in words, when one morning the young girl was missing, and no trace of her could be found! Search was made far and near without success; she had last been seen, late the evening before, walking towards the waterside alone, as was a frequent custom with her. But if drowned, her body must have been swept away: for all the efforts of her father and his many sympathizers failed to make any discovery that would shed a single ray of light upon the mystery. A dark shadow settled upon the house of Cristoval, which was to become extinct in the person of its present representative. The more ignorant and credulous of the people, deeply imbued with the superstition of the times, were led to believe that the young lady, being adjudged too noble and pure for this work-a-day world, had been transplanted to a higher sphere.

      Meanwhile, two stout vessels, under the orders of Laroche the freebooter, were speeding before the trades across the Pacific. On board the largest of these, Dona Florencia sat in the neat and handsomely furnished cabin, a prisoner, though her captor might also be said to be her captive. While on a reconnoitreing expedition in his boat, he had seen her and been struck by her beauty. To abduct her and carry her on board his ship was an easy matter, under those circumstances. He knew very well who the lady was, when he discovered her in the moonlight. For Laroche, in his predatory cruises up and down the coast, had acquired an extensive knowledge of the various settlements in the Spanish colonies, as well as of all the officials and persons of note.

      Hie first thought was that she might be induced to bestow her love upon him, notwithstanding his mortal enmity to all her nation. For Laroche was still a young man, and of fine personal appearance. His profession, at that period, was no insuperable bar to obtaining the affection even of a highborn lady. And if he failed in this particular, she was still a prize of great value, in view of the ransom she would bring. With the "Star of the Province" at his mercy, he might dictate terms to the governor of Peru.

      But, more and more infatuated by the charms of Dona Florencia, the susceptible Frenchman had given up all thoughts of restoring her for ransom money, and determined to possess such a treasure at any cost, even if it became necessary to employ force to attain his purpose. He met only with scorn from the proud Spaniard, but this served but to inflame his passion yet more. He knew nothing of her betrothal to the Senor Tornero, nor did she condescend to enlighten him. She would not plead the fact that her heart was already bestowed, as an excuse for declining the buccaneer's alliance, even though she knew she was wholly in his power, and that he had no idea of restoring her to her father.

      So day after day she sat, in haughty majesty, listening with flashing eye and curling lip to the amorous suit of Laroche, but giving way to her womanly tenderness when alone. Her tears and sobs were all in secret; at the approach of her persecutor, she resumed the weapons of indignant defiance or contemptuous indifference. And the "Sainte-Vierge," as Laroche called his stout vessel (for he prided himself on being as devout a Catholic as the proudest Spaniard of them all) went cleaving through the bright waters, bearing her thousands of miles away from her fair home in the shadow of the Andes.

      In due time the two ships came to anchor in the beautiful bay at Isla Bendita, where Laroche had established a rendezvous or headquarters, after the manner of all outlaws and corsair chiefs, from time immemorial. He had exhausted all his eloquence to induce Florencia to become his willing bride, but in vain. She was now transferred to quarters on shore, and the buccaneers, reinforced by their third vessel, gave themselves up to revelry and enjoyment for a few days, previous to sailing for a cruise to intercept the expected galleon.

      Captain Laroche, becoming more and more importunate, and threatening to proceed to extremities, the proud Spanish maiden, to escape from confinement, now stooped to dissemble. She pretended to yield to his suit, and even set the day when they were to be united in marriage by Pere Andoche, the French priest who followed the fortunes of the adventurers as chaplain of the "Sainte Virge."

      The ardent lover, delighted at this turn of affairs, and showing no doubts of her sincerity, permitted her free range of the island. She wandered, sometimes in his company, at other times alone, among the palm groves and beneath the shade of the spreading bread-tree, inhaling the perfumes borne on the sea-breeze with seeming delight. She appeared every day more reconciled to her fate, and from at first tolerating Laroche's company, came gradually to enjoy it; at least, so he thought. He congratulated himself upon the possession of invincible fascinating powers, as well as upon the capricious nature of womankind in general; while Florencia's object was simply to throw him off his guard, and to gain time, though she could see no hope of deliverance; unless by some unforeseen accident.

      Meanwhile, discontent was rife among the motley crowd of desperadoes who manned his fleet. Even Rawdon, his prime minister and lieutenant, an English sailor of fortune, was affected. They feared that the captain was losing too much time in amorous dalliance, when they should be well at sea and on the alert for the treasure-ship. Besides, it was looked upon as a great sacrifice of the general interest, that he had made love to the Spanish lady, instead of securing an enormous ransom in gold coin and bullion, from the old governor Cristoval

      It required all his address and authority to quiet them, and to preserve discipline. The ships were made ready for sea, and everything was in order for a start on the very day of his union with Florencia. But she was not to be induced, by any amount of persuasion, to shorten the time, or consent to have the ceremony performed on the ocean. She was enchanted with the snug retreat at Isla Bendita; and no other spot should be the scene of her nuptials with her bold sea-rover.

      But on the very morning that was, by her appointment, to crown his happiness, the bride had disappeared! The shock could hardly have been greater, in the first instance, to the doting father, than in the second, to the impatient Frenchman. His many subordinates, chafing at the delay, were ordered to search every niche of the island, while he himself, excited to the verge of madness, rushed here and there, encouraging and overseeing them all.

      Through the whole day they sought her without success; but just at dusk of evening, a cry arose which turned the footsteps of the whole party in one direction. At the extreme northern verge of the island, several miles distant from the rendezvous of the buccaneer ships, a high bluff, with a precipitous face, overlooked the sea; and on its summit, looming indistinctly in the twilight, stood the proud form of Florencia de Cristoval, her drapery floating in the breeze, one arm extended towards her pursuers, the other pointing seaward. An expression of triumphant defiance illumined her beautiful features, and animated the whole matchless form.

      "Forward, men – close up!" cried Laroche. "She cannot escape us!"

      His orders were obeyed in such a manner as to cut off every chance of her escape inland; while he himself advanced directly towards her, up the sloping ascent.

      "Have you forgotten your appointment for our bridal, Florencia?" he asked.

      "I have not forgotten!" rang out the clear, musical voice. "I had hoped for deliverance, but it comes but in one form! Death is the bridegroom, and you shall see how a Spanish maiden can accept him as such, before dishonor! Father! Fabian! I come!"

      The buccaneer chief had involuntarily closed his eyes as her intention became manifest. A fainting fit had seized him for an instant; but, recovering himself to look only upon empty air where lately she whom he loved had stood, he rushed madly upward to the brow of the cliff. It was dark as he looked down upon the Pacific beneath him. A faint sound, as of human voices, came up; it might have been the ripple of the sea, at the base of the sea-wall, he thought. But, looking obliquely seaward, he saw the twinkling of lights – deck-lanterns of a great ship, whose sails, as she lay hove to, whitened up out of the surrounding gloom.

      Rawdon and several others of his followers had rallied at his side, looking down upon this unexpected sight; and the cry went up from many voices:

      "The galleon! the galleon! El San Pablo!"

      "Curses on the amorous fool!" roared the exasperated Englishman. "We have lost a prize worth millions – a prize that would have made every man of us rich – to spend our time here waiting upon the humors of a black-eyed wench!"

      "Back, men! Back to your posts, and make sail on the ships!" Laroche cried, as if just rousing from a dream. "We may be in time, yet."

      "It's too late!" said Rawdon, fiercely. "The San Pablo will be hull down in the eastern board before we can get offing enough to feel the breeze. We've all been made fools of, but we are not fools enough to hurry now!"

      "How! Do you teach my men sedition?" demanded the chief, levelling a pistol. "You know the penalty of our laws!"

      But the weapon was knocked,from the hand of Laroche ere he had time to discharge it, and he was seized by several of the mutineers and thrown to the ground. The air rang with cheers for their new Captain, Rawdon!

      Be it so, then!" said Laroche, feeling that his power was over. "Let me up. I am bound by our laws.

      He rose to his feet, and stood free and erect.

      "The voice I have heard is unanimous, and I am bound by it. I acknowledge that I have deserved this for neglecting my duty, and letting the galleon slip from us. But I can never serve under Rawdon, or any other man. I can be of no more use to you. I go to join the woman I love! Good-by, comrades!" And with a single bound, he disappeared in the darkness, over the brow of the cliff.

      "It is well!" said Rawdon, reverently. "But we must do our best to get under way to-night, in chase of the galleon.

      And under their new leadership, the buccaneers were soon at sea, in pursuit. But, as he had prophesied, the golden moment was past. The San Pablo's lights had faded into distance while yet they were, within the headlands. Owing to obscurity of weather, the three consorts became separated. Rawdon, with his own vessel caught a distant view of the great Spaniard, next morning; but it required the strength of all three of his ships,to attack one of her force successfully.

      They readezvoused again, pursuant to orders, at Isla Bendita; and the galleon in due time arrived safely at Acapulco. And among her passenger's landed, were Fabian Tornero, from Spain, by way of Manilla, and his affianced bride, Florencia de Cristoval, from Peru, by way of Isla Bendita

      It appears, in explanation, that the island was a new discovery to the commander of the San Pablo, and approaching it late in the day, on the opposite side from that where the ships of the buccaneers lay at anchor, she had not been seen by them until they mounted the cliff. The galleon had hove to, and sent a boat to try for fresh fish near the rocks; and at the time the Spanish lady threw herself into the sea, courting death, she fell within a few feet of the boat. She rose to the surface and was taken on board, where, though much shocked and injured by the fall, she recovered her senses to find herself in the arms of her lover, Don Fabian.

      Their union was celebrated with all the pomp that wealth could furnish. Joy gave to Don Rolando a new lease of life; and the house of Cristoval is in no immediate danger of becoming extinct for lack of heirs.

      I do not vouch for the truth of this legend; but give it as it is related and believed by the first families in Peru, including the descendants of the heroine of Isla Bendita.


Author: Macy, William Hussey
Title: Isla Bendita: A Legend of the Times of the Buccaneers.
Publication: Flag of our Union
Vol/No/Date: Vol. 25, No. 6 (Feb 5, 1870)
Pages: 94