Days of the Discoverers Part 5

"But," cried Beatriz wonderingly, "a ship could sail around the world!"

Colombo nodded and smiled. "So it was written in the 'Travels of Sir John Maundeville' more than a hundred years ago. But no ship has done so."

"Why not?" asked Fernao.

"Chiefly, perhaps, because of tales like that of the Sea of Darkness and Satan's hand. And it is true that a ship venturing very far westward is drawn out of its course, as if the earth were not a perfect round, but sloped upward to the south. My own belief is,"--he seemed for a moment to forget that he was talking to children, "that it is not perfectly round, but somewhat like this pear,--" he selected a short chubby pear from the basket, "and that on this mountain may be a cool and lovely region which was once Paradise."

"Oh!" cried Beatriz, her face alight with the glory of the thought. The geographer smiled at her and went on.

"Also you see that the ocean is on this side of the earth very much greater than the Mediterranean. We do not know how long it would take to cross it. I have lately received a map from the famous Florentine Toscanelli which--ah!" he interrupted himself, "here comes our good friend Master Serrao."

It had taken the pilot longer than he expected to hunt over his relics of old voyages, and there was nothing, after all, like the piece of wood cast ashore by the Atlantic waves. Old Sancho turned it over, examined the edges of the carving, and shook his head.

"No; that is not African work; at least it is not like any work of the black men that I have ever seen. They can all work iron, and this was made without the use of iron tools; that I am sure of. Some of our men were shipwrecked once where they had to make stone and shells serve their turn, and I know the look of wood that has been worked with such tools. And the wood itself is not like anything I have from Africa. It is more like the timber of the East."

Now the stranger's eyes lighted with keener interest.

"You think it may be Indian, do you?"

"It may. But how in the name of Sao Cristobal did it come here? Besides, the people of India understand the use of metal as well as we do, or better."

"May there not be wild men in remote islands of the Indian seas?"

"That might be. Gil Andrade has been in those parts, and he says there are more islands than he could count. I have sometimes had occasion to take his stories with a pinch of salt, but if there are islands where wild people live they would make such things as this. And now I think of it, I once picked up a paddle myself, floating off the Azores, that was some such wood as this, but not carved. But the queerest thing I ever found was this nut. Look at it."

It was part of a nutshell as big as a man's head and as hard as wood.

"The inside was quite spoiled," went on the old seaman, "but so far as I could judge it was no kin to the palm nuts we get. I kept the shell, and I have never found any merchant who could match it. Now the current sets toward our coast from the west at a certain point, and that is where all these odd things come ashore."

The guest nodded. "My brother-in-law and I have talked much of these matters. One of his captains saw some time ago the floating bodies of two men, brown-skinned, with straight black hair, not like the natives of any part of Europe or Africa. Another thing which is strange, though I hold it not as important as they do, is that the people of Madeira persistently declare that they see a great island appear and disappear to the westward. According to their description it has lofty mountains and wooded valleys, and some say it is Atlantis and some Saint Brandan's Isle. No ship sailing that way has ever landed there, however."

Sancho's eyes turned seaward. "It is marvelous," he said after a pause, "what things men think they see. And you think, senhor, that the world is not yet all known to us?'"

"I do not know." Colombo stood up to take his departure. "If God hath reserved any great work to be done, He hath also chosen the man who is to do it. His tasks are not done by accident, or left to the blind or the selfish. Toscanelli thinks that since the world is round, we should reach the Indies by sailing due west from this coast, but in that case India would seem to be far greater than we have believed. If I had the ships and the men I would venture it. But at this time the King is altogether taken up with the eastward route to the Indies. It was said of old time, 'He that believeth shall not make haste.'"

"But you will sail to Paradise some day, will you not, senhor?" asked Beatriz, treasuring the tiny globe in one careful hand while the other shaded her eyes from the level rays of the evening sun.

"There is only one way to Paradise, little maid. That is by the will of our Lord. And if you, my lad, are the first to sail round the world, remember that the sea is His, and He made it. Man makes his own Sea of Darkness by ignorance, and hate, and fear."


[1] Prince Henry of Portugal, often called "Henry the Navigator" built the first naval observatory in Europe at Sagres. He may be said to have laid the foundation of the Portuguese and later Spanish discoveries. In the time of Columbus the Mappe-Mondo or Map of the World of a Venetian monk was considered the most complete map yet made.

[2] The statement has been carelessly made in some juvenile books dealing with the age of discovery, that in the time of Columbus nobody knew that the world was round. This of course is not even approximately the case. The conception of the earth as a sphere was generally set forth in what might be called books of science, and even in some popular works like that of Sir John Maundeville, who died in 1372. Its acceptance by the public, however, may be said to have followed somewhat the course of the Darwinian theory in the nineteenth century. Long after evolution was admitted as a truth by scientific men there were schools and even colleges which refused to teach it, and in fact it was not accepted by the public until the generation which first heard of it had died.


Down upon our seaward light, Swept by all the winds that blow, Birds come reeling in their flight-- (_Ay de mi, Cristofero!_) Petrels tossing on the gale, Falcons daring sleet and hail, Curlews whistling high and far, Waifs that cross the harbor bar Borne from isles we do not know-- (_Ay de mi, Cristofero!_)

Round our island haven blest Waves like drifted mountain snow Break from out the shoreless West-- (_Ay de mi, Cristofero!_) Cast ashore a broken spar Born beneath some alien star, Broken, beaten by the wave-- In what far-off unknown grave Lie the hands that shaped it so?

(_Ay de mi, Cristofero!_)

Sails upon the gray world's edge Like mute phantoms come and go,-- Life and honor men will pledge-- (_Ay de mi, Cristofero!_) For the pearls and gems and gold That the burning Indies hold.

Or the Guinea coast they dare With its fever-poisoned air For the slaves they capture so (_Ay de mi, Cristofero!_)

In our chamber small to-night, Fair as love's immortal glow, Shines our silver censer-light-- (_Ay de mi, Cristofero_!) What is this that holds thee fast In old histories of the past?

Put the time-stained parchments by, Men have sought where dead men lie For the secret thou wouldst know-- All too long, Cristofero!



Juan de la Cosa, captain of the _Santa Maria_, was prowling about the beach of Gomera in a thoroughly dissatisfied frame of mind. His own ship, the _Gallego_ before the Admiral re-christened her and made her his flagship, was riding trim as a mallard within sight of his eye. She would never have kept the fleet waiting in the Canaries for a little thing like a broken rudder.

It was the _Pinta_ that had done this, and it was the veteran pilot's private opinion that she would behave much better if her owners, Gomez Rascon and Christoval Quintero, had been left behind in Palos. But what can you do when you have seized a ship for the service of the Crown, and turned her over to a captain who is a rival ship-owner, and her owners wish to serve in her crew and not elsewhere? They cannot be blamed for liking to keep an eye on their property!

"Capitano!" piped a voice at his elbow. He looked around, and then he looked down. An undersized urchin with not much on but a pair of ragged breeches stared up at him boldly, hands behind his back. "Do you know what ails your ship over there?" He nodded sideways at the disgraced _Pinta_.

The accent was that of Bilbao in the captain's own native province, Vizcaya. Ordinarily he would have cuffed the speaker heels over head for impudence, but the dialect made him pause. Besides, he wanted to hear something to confirm his suspicions.

"She is no ship of mine," he growled, "and anyway, what do you know about it?"

"I know much more than they think I do. The calkers did not half do their work before she left port. I'd like to sail in her if she were properly looked after. But when a man goes out on the dolphins' track he likes to come home again, you know."

"A man! Do babes take a ship round Bojador? And who may you call yourself, zagallo (strong youth)?"

"I am Pedro, son of Pedro who was an escaladero (climber) at the siege of Alhama. He was killed on the way home, and my mother died of grief, so that I get my bread where the saints put it. People say that they unlocked all the jails to get you your crew for the Indies, and now I see that it is true."

Juan de la Cosa knew the untamable sauciness of the Vizcayan breed, and knew as well the loyalty that went with it. "Son," he said seriously, "what do you know of this matter?" The boy put aside his insolence and spoke gravely.

"I know that these fellows who have been commanded to serve your Admiral hate him, and will make him lose his venture if they can. I would sooner put to sea in a meal-tub with myself that I can trust, than in a Cadiz galley manned with plotters. When they hauled this fine ship up on the beach I asked for a job, and the lazy fellows were glad enough of help.

I never minded doing their work if they hadn't kicked me. When I heard them planning I said to myself, 'Pedro, mi hidalgo, a crow in hand is worth two buzzards in the bush waiting to pick your bones.' Your Admiral may have to go back to Castile and eat crow.

"They have agreed that they will sail seven hundred leagues and no more, since that is the distance from here to the Indies if your map is true.

If the Admiral refuse to turn back in case land is not found they will pitch him into the sea and tell the world that he was star-gazing and fell overboard, being an old man and unused to perilous voyages. He should get him another crew--if he can."

This was important information. Yet to go back might be more dangerous than to go on. The expedition had already been delayed a fortnight with making a rudder for the _Pinta_, stopping her leaks, and replacing the lateen sails of the _Nina_ with square ones, that she might be able to keep up with the others. Another week must pass before they could sail.

If they returned to Palos it was doubtful whether they could get any men at all to replace the disloyal ones. Too much delay might cause the withdrawal of Martin Pinzon and his brother Vicente, owners of the _Nina_; and if they went, most of the seamen who were worth their salt would go also. La Cosa himself in the Admiral's place would go on and take the chance of mutiny, trusting in his own power to prevent or subdue it.

"Pedro," he said, "have you told this to any one else?"

Chapter end

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