Days of the Discoverers Part 13

"I am tired of the Guinea trade," the youth repeated; "Cape Breton at any rate is not Spanish."

"Not yet," said Jean Parmentier with emphasis.

Thus it came about that when Aubert, in 1508, poked the prow of his little craft into open water to the west of the great island off which men fished for cod, there stood beside him a young man who had been learning navigation under his direction, and was now called Jean Verassen. His real name was Giovanni Verrazzano, but nobody in Dieppe knew who the Florentine Verazzani might be, and during his apprenticeship there he had been known as Florin--the Florentine. In his boyhood the magnificent Medici, the merchant princes, had ruled Florence. After the fall of Constantinople he had seen the mastery of the sea pass from Venice to Lisbon. When he left Florence he followed the call of the sea-wind westward until now he had cast his lot with the seafarers of northern France, the only bit of the Continent that was outside the shadow of the mighty power of Spain. That shadow was growing bigger and darker year by year. The heir to the Spanish throne, Charles, grandson of Ferdinand and Isabella, would be emperor of Germany, ruler of the Netherlands, King of Aragon, Castile, Granada and Andalusia, and sovereign of all the Spanish discoveries in the West; and no one knew how far they might extend. France might have to fight for her life.

Meanwhile Norman and Breton fishermen went scudding across the North Atlantic every year, like so many petrels. Honfleur, Saint Malo, La Rochelle and Dieppe owed their modest prosperity to the cod. Baccalao, codfish or stockfish, all its names referred to the beating of the fish while drying, with a stick, to make it more tender; it was cheaper and more plentiful than any other fish for the Lenten tables and fast-days of Europe. The daring French captains found the fishing trade a hard life but a clean one.

From the fishermen Aubert and Verrazzano had learned something of the nature of the country. Bears would come down to steal fish from under the noses of the men. Walrus and seal and myriads of screaming sea-gulls greeted them every season. The natives were barbarous and unfriendly.

North of Newfoundland were two small islands known as the Isles of Demons, where nobody ever went. Veteran pilots told of hearing the unseen devils howling and shrieking in the air. "Saint Michael!

tintamarre terrible!" they said, crossing themselves. The young Florentine listened and kept his thoughts to himself. He had never seen any devils, but he had seen men go mad in the hot fever-mist of African swamps, thinking they saw them.

Aubert was not sure whether this was an inlet, a strait or a river behind the great barren island. When he had sailed westward for eighty leagues the water was still salt. The banks had drawn closer together and rude fortifications appeared on the heights. Canoes put forth from the wooded shores and surrounded the sailing ship. They were filled with copper-colored warriors of threatening aspect.

The French commander did not like what he saw. He was not provisioned for a voyage around the world, and if these waters were the eastern entrance to a strait he might emerge upon a vast unknown ocean. If on the other hand he was at the mouth of a river, to ascend it might result in being cut off by hostile savages, which would be most unpleasant. A third consideration was that the inhabitants were said to live on fish, game, and berries, none of which could be secured, either peaceably or by fighting, in an enemy's country. Making hostages of seven young savages who climbed his bulwarks without any invitation, he put about and sailed away. During the following year the seven wild men were exhibited at Rouen and elsewhere.

Aubert had made sure of one thing at least; the land to the west was not in the least like the rich islands which the Spanish held in the tropics. Except in the brief season when the swarming cod filled the seines of the fishermen, it yielded no wealth, not even in slaves, for the fierce and shy natives would be almost uncatchable and quite impossible to tame.

Francis of Angouleme, the brilliant, reckless and extravagant young French King, was hard pushed to get money for his own Court, and was not interested in expeditions whose only result might be glory. He jested over the threatening Spanish dominion as he did over everything else. Italian dukedoms were overrun by troops from France, Spain, Austria and Switzerland, and Francis welcomed Italian artists, architects and poets to his capital. When the plague attacked Paris he removed to one of the royal chateaux in the country or paid visits to great noblemen like his cousin Charles de Bourbon. It was in 1522 at Moulins, the splendid country estate of the Duc de Bourbon, that the monarch met a captain of whom he had heard a great deal--all of it gratifying. He had in mind a new enterprise for this Verrazzano.

During the last seven or eight years Verrazzano, like many other captains, had been engaged in the peculiar kind of expedition dubbed piracy or privateering according to the person speaking. France and Spain were neither exactly at peace nor openly at war. The Florentine had gone out upon the high seas in command of a ship fitted out and armed at his own risk, and fought Spanish galleons wherever he met them.

This helped to embarrass the King of Spain in his wars abroad. Galleons eastward bound were usually treasure-ships. The colonial governors, planters, captains and common soldiers took all the gold they could get for themselves, and the gold, silver and pearls that went as tribute to the royal master in Spain had to run the gauntlet of these fierce and fearless sea-wolves. The wealth of the Indies was really a possession of doubtful value. It attracted pirates as honey draws flies. When these pirates turned a part of their spoils over to kings who were not friendly to Spain, it was particularly exasperating.

Francis had asked Verrazzano to come to Moulins because, from what he had heard, it seemed to him that here was a man who could take care of himself and hold his tongue, and he liked such men. The experience reminded the Florentine of the great days of the Medici. Charles de Bourbon's palace at Moulins was fit for a king. Unlike most French chateaux, which were built on low lands among the hunting forests, it stood on a hill in a great park, and was surrounded with terraces, fountains, and gardens in the Italian style. Moreover its furniture was permanent, not brought in for royal guests and then taken away. The richness and beauty of its tapestries, state beds, decorations, and other belongings was beyond anything in any royal palace of that time.

The duke's household included five hundred gentlemen in rich suits of Genoese velvet, each wearing a massive gold chain passing three times round the neck and hanging low in front; they attended the guests in divisions, one hundred at a time.

The feasting was luxurious, and many of its choice dishes were supplied by the estate. There were rare fruits and herbs in the gardens, and a great variety of game-birds and animals in the park and the forest. But there were also imported delicacies--Windsor beans, Genoa artichokes, Barbary cucumbers and Milan parsley. The first course consisted of Medoc oysters, followed by a light soup. The fish course included the royal sturgeon, the dorado or sword-fish, the turbot. Then came heron, cooked in the fashion of the day, with sugar, spice and orange-juice; olives, capers and sour fruits; pheasants, red-legged partridges, and the favorite roast, sucking-pig parboiled and then roasted with a stuffing of chopped meats, herbs, raisins and damson plums. There were salads of fruit,--such as the King's favorite of oranges, lemons and sugar with sweet herbs,--or of herbs, such as parsley and mint with pepper, cinnamon and vinegar. For dessert there were Italian ices and confectionery, and the Queen's favorite plum, Reine Claude, imported from Italy; the white wine called Clairette-au-miel, hypocras, gooseberry and plum wines, lemonade, champagne. There was never a King who could appreciate such artistic luxury more deeply than Francis I.

This may be one reason for his warm welcome of Verrazzano, who seemed to be able to increase the wealth of his country and his King.

"I have had a very indignant visit from the Spanish ambassador," said Francis when they were seated together in a private room. "He says that there has been piracy on the high seas, my Verrazzano."

The Italian met the laughing glance of the King with a somber gleam in his own dark eyes. "Does one steal from a robber?" he asked. "Not a quill of gold-dust nor an ingot of silver nor a seed-pearl comes honestly to Spain. It is all cruelty, bribery, slavery. Savonarola threatened Lorenzo de' Medici with eternal fires, prince as he was, for sins that were peccadilloes beside those of Spanish governors."

"There is something in what you say," assented Francis lightly. "If we get the treasure of the Indies without owning the Indies we are certainly rid of much trouble. I never heard of Father Adam making any will dividing the earth between our brother of Spain and our brother of Portugal. Unless they can find such a document--" the laughing face hardened suddenly into keen attention, "we may as well take what we can get where we can find it. And now about this road to India; what have you to suggest?"

Verrazzano outlined his plans in brief speech and clear. The proposed voyage might have two objects; one, the finding of a route to Asia if it existed; the other, the discovery of other countries from which wealth might be gained, in territory not yet explored. Verrazzano pointed out the fact that, as the earth was round, the shortest way to India ought to be near the pole rather than near the equator, yet far enough to the south to escape the danger of icebergs.

"Very well then,"--the King pondered with finger on cheek. "Say as little as possible of your preparations, use your own discretion, and if any Spaniards try to interfere with you--" the monarch grinned,--"tell them that it is my good pleasure that my subjects go where they like."

The Spanish agents in France presently informed their employer that the Florentine Verrazzano was again making ready to sail for regions unknown. Perhaps he did not himself know where he should go; at any rate the spies had not been able to find out.

Two months later news came that before Verrazzano had gone far enough to be caught by the squadron lying in wait for him, he had pounced on the great carrack which had been sent home by Cortes loaded with Aztec gold.

In convoying this prize to France he had caught another galleon coming from Hispaniola with a cargo of gold and pearls, and the two rich trophies were now in the harbor of La Rochelle, where the audacious captain was doubtless making ready for another piratical voyage.

Verrazzano made a second start a little later, but was driven back by a Biscay storm. Finally, toward the end of the year 1523, he set out once more with only one ship, the _Dauphine_, out of his original fleet of four, and neither friend nor foe caught a glimpse of him during the voyage. In March, 1524, having sailed midway between the usual course of the West Indian galleons and the path of the fishers going to and from the Banks of Newfoundland, he saw land which he felt sure had not been discovered either by ancient or modern explorers.

It was a low shore on which the fine sand, some fifteen feet deep, lay drifted into hillocks or dunes. Small creeks and inlets ran inland, but there seemed to be no good harbor. Beyond the sand-dunes were forests of cypress, palm, bay and other trees, and the wind bore the scent of blossoming trees and vines far out to sea. For fifty leagues the _Dauphine_ followed the coast southward, looking for a harbor, for Verrazzano knew that pearl fisheries and spices were far more likely to be found in southern than in northern waters. No harbor appeared. The daring navigator knew that if he went too far south he ran some risk of encountering a Spanish fleet, and that after his getting two of the most valuable cargoes ever sent over seas, they would be patroling all the tropical waters in the hope of catching him. He turned north again.

On the shore from time to time little groups of savages appeared moving about great bonfires, and watching the ship. They wore hardly any clothing except the skin of some small animal like a marten, attached to a belt of woven grass; their skins were russet-brown and their thick straight black hair was tied in a knot rather like a tail.

"One thing is certain," said young Francois Parmentier cheerfully, "these folk have never seen Spaniards--or Portuguese. Even on the Labrador the people ran from us, after Cortereale went slave-stealing there."

Verrazzano smiled. Young Parmentier was always full of hope and faith. A little later the youth volunteered to be one of a boat's crew sent ashore for water, and provided himself with a bagful of the usual trinkets for gifts. The surf ran so high that the boat could not land, and Francois leaped overboard and swam ashore. Here he scattered his wares among the watching Indians, and then, leaping into the waves again, struck out for the boat. But the surf dashed him back upon the sand into the very midst of the natives, who seized him by the arms and legs and carried him toward the fire, while he yelled with astonishment and terror.

Verrazzano was if anything more horrified than Francois himself; this was the son of his oldest friend. The Indians were removing his clothing as if they were about to roast him alive. But it appeared presently that they only wished to dry his clothes and comfort him, for they soon allowed him to return to the boat, seeing this was his earnest desire, and watched him with the greatest friendliness as he swam back.

No strait appeared, but at one point Verrazzano, landing and marching into the interior with an exploring party, found a vast expanse of water on the other side of what seemed a neck of land between the two seas, about six miles in width. If this were the South Sea, the same which Balboa had seen from the Isthmus of Darien, so narrow a strip of land was at least as good or better than anything possessed by Spain.

Verrazzano continued northward, and found a coast rich in grapes, the vines often covering large trees around which the natives kept the ground clear of shrubs that might interfere with this natural vineyard.

Wild roses, violets, lilies, iris and many other plants and flowers, some quite unknown to Europe, greeted the admiring gaze of the commander. His quick mind pictured a royal garden adorned with these foreign shrubs and herbs, the wainscoting and furniture to be made by French and Italian joiners from these endless leagues of timber, the stately churches and castles which might be built by skilful masons from the abundant stone along these shores. Here was a province which, if it had not gold, had the material for many luxuries which must otherwise be bought with gold, and his clear Italian brain perceived that ingots of gold and silver are not the only treasure of kings.

At last the _Dauphine_ came into a harbor or lake three leagues in circumference, where more than thirty canoes were assembled, filled with people. Suddenly Francois Parmentier leaped to his feet and waved his cap with a shout.

"Now what madness has taken you?" queried Verrazzano.

"I know where we are, that's all. This is Wampum Town,--L'Anorme Berge--the Grand Scarp. This is one of their great trading places, Captain. Father heard about it at Cape Breton from some south-country savages."

"And what may wampum be?" asked Verrazzano coolly.

"'T is the stuff they use for money--bits of shell made into beads and strung into a belt. There is an island in this bay where they make it out of their shell-fish middens--two kinds--purple and white. On my word, this big chief has on a wampum belt now!"

This was interesting information indeed, and the natives seemed prepared to traffic in all peace and friendliness. Verrazzano found upon investigation that on the north of this bay a very large river, deep at the mouth, came down between steep hills. Afterward, following the shore to the east, he discovered a fine harbor beyond a three-cornered island.

Here he met two chiefs of that country, a man of about forty, and a young fellow of twenty-four, dressed in quaintly decorated deerskin mantles, with chains set with colored stones about their necks. He stayed two weeks, refitting the ship with provisions and other necessaries, and observing the place. The crew got by trading and as gifts the beans and corn cultivated by the people, wild fruits and nuts, and furs. Further north they found the tribes less friendly, and at last came so near the end of their provision that Verrazzano decided to return to France. He reached home July 8, 1524, after having sailed along seven hundred leagues of the Atlantic coast.

[Illustration: "The natives seemed prepared to traffic in all peace and friendliness"--_Page_ 132]

Francis I. was in the thick of a disastrous war with Spain, and had not time just then to consider further explorations. The war was not fairly over when a Cadiz warship, in 1527, caught Verrazzano and hanged him as a pirate.


The not unnatural conclusion of Verrazzano that what he saw was an ocean or a great inland sea led to extraordinary misconceptions in the maps and charts of the time. It was not until the early part of the seventeenth century that the region was actually explored, by Newport and Smith, and found to be only Chesapeake Bay.


I wake the gods with my sullen boom-- I am the Drum!

They wait for the blood-red flowers that bloom In the heart of the sacrifice, there in the gloom With terror dumb-- I sound the call to his dreadful doom-- I am the Drum!

I was the Serpent, the Sacred Snake-- Wolf, bear and fox By the silent shores of river and lake Tread softly, listening lest they wake My voice that mocks The rattle that falling bones will make On barren rocks.

My banded skin is the voice of the Priest-- I am the Drum!

I sound the call to the War-God's feast Till Tezcatlipoca's power hath ceased And the White Gods come Out of the fire of the burning East-- Hear me, the Drum!

Chapter end

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