Days of the Discoverers Part 7

It was one of the still, breathless nights of the tropic seas. Pedro's small strong hands had not grasped the helm for a half-hour before the wind freshened, and then a tremendous gust swept down upon the flagship hurling her right upon the unknown shore. Pedro strove desperately with the fearful odds, but before the half-awakened sailors heard his call the _Santa Maria_ was past repair. No lives were lost, but the Admiral decided that it would be necessary to leave a part of the men on shore as the beginning of a settlement. He would not have chosen to do this but for the disaster, for the men who made up these crews were not promising material for a colony in a wild land. But he had no choice in the matter. The two smaller ships would not hold them all. Pedro, shaken with sobs, cast himself at the feet of his master and begged forgiveness.

"No one blames you, my son," said the Admiral, more touched than he had been for a long time. "Be not so full of sorrow for what cannot be helped. The wild people are friendly, the land is kind, and when we have sailed back to Spain with our news there will be no difficulty in returning with as many ships as we may need. Nay, I will not leave thee here, Pedro. I think that now I could not do without thee."


[1] The name of Columbus took various forms according to the country in which he lived. In his native Genoa it would be Cristofero Colombo. In Portugal, where he dwelt for many years, it would be Cristobal Colombo, and in Spanish Christoval or Cristobal Colon. In Latin, which was the common language of all learned men until comparatively recent times, the name took the form Christopherus Columbus, which has become in modern English Christopher Columbus. In each story the discoverer is spoken of as he would have been spoken of by the characters in that particular story.


In this Thy world, O blessed Christ, I live but for Thy will, To serve Thy cause and drive Thy foes Before Thy banner still.

In rich and stately palaces I have my board and bed, But Thou didst tread the wilderness Unsheltered and unfed.

My gallant squadrons ride at will The undiscover'd sea, But Thou hadst but a fishing-boat On windy Galilee.

In valiant hosts my men-at-arms Eager to battle go, But Thou hadst not a single blade To fend Thee from the foe.

Great store of pearls and beaten gold My bold seafarers bring, But Thou hadst not a little coin To pay for Thy lodging.

The trust that Thou hast placed in me, O may I not betray, Nor fail to save Thy people from The fires of Judgment Day!

Be strong and stern, O heart, faint heart-- Stay not, O woman's hand, Till by this Cross I bear for Thee I have made clean Thy land!



"Nombre de San Martin! who is that up there like a cat?"

"Un gato! Cucarucha en palo!"

"If Alonso de Ojeda hears of your calling him a cockroach on a mast, he will grind your ribs to a paste with a cudgel (os moliesen las costillas a puros palos)!" observed a pale, sharp-faced lad in a shabby doublet.

The sailor who had made the comparison glanced at him and chuckled.

"Your pardon--hidalgo. I have been at sea so much of late that the comparison jumped into my mind. Is he a caballero then?"

"One of the household of the Duke of Medina Coeli. He is always doing such things. If he happened to think of flying, he would fly. Every one must be good at something."

The performance which they had just been watching would fix the name of Ojeda very firmly in the minds of those who saw. Queen Ysabel, happening to ascend the tower of the cathedral at Seville with her courtiers and ladies, remarked upon the daring and skill of the Moorish builders.

Everywhere in the newly conquered cities of Granada were their magnificent domes and lofty muezzin towers, often seeming like the airy minarets of a mirage. The next instant Alonso de Ojeda had walked out upon a twenty-foot timber projecting into space two hundred feet above the pavement, and at the very end he stood on one leg and waved the other in the air. Returning, he rested one foot against the wall and flung an orange clean over the top of the tower. He was small, though handsome and well-made, and he had now shown a muscular strength of which few had suspected him.

It was natural that the sailor should be interested in the people of the court, for he had business there. The Admiral of the Indies was making his arrangements for his second voyage, and he had desired Juan de la Cosa to meet him at Seville. As the pilot stood waiting for the Admiral to come out from an interview with Fonseca he had a good look at many of the persons who were to join in this second expedition.

"There will be no unlocking the jail doors to scrape together crews for this fleet, I warrant you," thought the old sailor exultantly as he stood in the shadow of the Giralda watching Castile parade itself before the new hero. Here were Diego Colon, a quiet-looking youth, the youngest brother of the Admiral; Antonio de Marchena the astronomer, a learned monk; Juan Ponce de Leon, a nobleman from the neighborhood of Cadiz with a brilliant military record; Francisco de las Casas with his son Bartolome; and the valiant young courtier whom all Seville had seen flirting with death in mid-air.

"Oh, it was nothing," La Cosa heard Ojeda say when Las Casas made some kindly compliment on his daring. "I will tell you," he added in a lower voice, pulling something small out of his doublet, "I have a sure talisman in this little picture of the Virgin. The Bishop gave it to me, and I always carry it. In all the dangers one naturally must encounter in the service of such a master as mine, it has kept me safe. I have never even been wounded."

The Duke of Medina Coeli was in fact a stern master in the school of arms. He was always at the front in the wars just concluded between Spaniard and Moor, and where he was, there he expected his squires to be. There was no place among the youths whose fathers had given him charge of their military training, for a lad with a grain of physical cowardice. Ojeda moreover had a quick temper and a fiery sense of honor, and it really seemed to savor of the miraculous that he had escaped all harm. At any rate he had reached the age of twenty-one with unabated faith in the little Flemish painting.

"These youngsters--" the veteran seaman said to himself as he looked at the straight, proud, keen-faced squires and youthful knights marching along the streets of the temporary capital, "now that the Moors are vanquished what won't they do in the Indies! I think the golden days must be come for Christians. And shall you be a soldier also, my lad?"

he asked of the sharp-faced boy, who still stood near him.

"My father says not. He wants me to be a lawyer," said the youngster indifferently. Then he slipped away as some companions of his own age, or a little older, came by, and one said enviously,

"Where have you been, Hernan' Cortes? Lucky you were not with us. My faith--" the speaker wriggled expressively, "we caught a drubbing!"

"Told you so," returned the lad addressed, with cool unconcern. "Why can't you see when to let go the cat's tail?"

"He has a head on him, that one," the seaman chuckled. "There is always one of his sort in every gang of boys. But that young gallant Ojeda! A fine young fellow, and as devoted as he is brave." Juan de la Cosa had conceived at first sight an admiration and affection for Ojeda which was to last as long as they both should live.

The fleet that stately sailed from Cadiz on September 25, 1493, was a very different sight from the three shabby little caravels that slipped down the Tinto a year and a half before. The Admiral now commanded fourteen caravels and three great carracks or store-ships, on board of which were horses, mules, cattle, carefully packed shoots of grape-vines and sugar-cane, seeds of all kinds, and provisions ready for use. The fleet carried nearly fifteen hundred persons,--three hundred more than had been arranged for, but the enthusiasm in Spain was boundless. It carried also the embittered hatred of Fonseca. The Bishop, having been the Queen's confessor, naturally became head of the Department of the Indies in order to forward with all zeal the conversion of the native races. But when he tried to assert his authority over the Admiral and appealed to Fernando and Ysabel to support him, he was told mildly but firmly that in the equipment and command of the fleet Colon's judgment was best. This royal snub Fonseca never forgave, and he was one of those persons who revenge a slight on some one else rather than the one who inflicted it. It was also his nature never to forgive any one for succeeding in an undertaking which he himself had prophesied would fail.

All seemed in order on the morning of the embarkation. At this time of year storms were unlikely, and there was no severity of climate to be feared. Half Castile and Aragon had come to see the expedition off. The young cavaliers' heads were filled with visions of rich dukedoms and principalities in the golden empire upon whose coast the discovered islands hung, like pendants of pearl and gold upon the robe of a monarch.

The first incident of the voyage was not, however, romantic. The fleet touched at the Canary Islands to take on board more animals--goats, sheep, swine and fowls, for the Admiral had seen none of these in any of the islands he had visited. In fact the people had no domestic animal whatever except their strange dumb dogs. The cavaliers, glad of a chance to stretch their legs in a space a little greater than the deck of a crowded ship, strolled about discussing past and future with large freedom.

Ojeda was asking Juan de la Cosa about the nature of the country. It seemed to him the ideal field for a man of spirit and high heart. How glorious a conquest would it be to abolish the vile superstitions of the barbarians and set up the altars of the true faith!

The pilot was a little amused and somewhat doubtful; he knew something of savages, and Ojeda and the priests on board did not. It was not, he suggested, always easy to convert stubborn heathen. A pig was a small animal, but Ojeda would remember that to the Moslem it was as great an object of aversion as a lion.

"Ho!" said Ojeda superbly, "that is quite--" He was interrupted by a blow that knocked his legs out from under him and landed him on the ground in a sitting position with his hat over his eyes.

"Who did that?" he cried, leaping to his feet, hand on sword.

"Only a pig, my lord," the sailor answered choking with half-swallowed laughter. It was a pig, which the sailors had goaded to such a state of desperation that it had bolted straight into the group as a pig will, and was now galloping away, pursued by a great variety of maledictions and persons. "They have got the creature now," he added, "You are not hurt?" for Ojeda was actually pale with indignation and disgust.

"No," sputtered the youth, "but that pig--that p-pig--" He looked around him with an eye which seemed to challenge any beholder of whatever condition, to laugh and be instantly run through. Fortunately most of those on the wharf had been too much occupied to see Ojeda fall before the pig, and just then the trumpets blew, and all hastened to get back on board ship.

When an expedition is composed largely of hot-headed youths trained to the use of arms, each of whom has a code of honor as sensitive as a mimosa plant and as prickly as a cactus, the lot of their commanders is not happy. It may have been Ojeda's treasured talisman which saved him from several sudden deaths during the following weeks, but Juan de la Cosa privately believed it was partly the memory of the pig. The young man had what might in another time and civilization have developed into a sense of humor. It would not do for a hero with the world before him to get himself sent back to Spain because of some trivial personal quarrel.

On reaching Hispaniola the adventurers found plenty of real occupation awaiting them. The little colony which the Admiral had left at Navidad on his first voyage had been wiped out. The natives timidly explained that a fierce chief from the interior, Caonaba, had killed or captured all the forty men of the garrison and destroyed their fort. Colon was obliged to remodel all his plans at a moment's notice. Instead of finding a colony well under way, and in control of the wild tribes or at least friendly with them, he found the wreck of a luckless attempt at settlement, and the kindly native villagers turned aloof and suspicious, and living in dread of a second raid by Caonaba. He chose a site for a second settlement on the coast, where ships could find a harbor, not far from gold-bearing mountains which the natives described and called Cibao. This sounded rather like Cipangu.

Ojeda led an exploring party into the mountains, and found gold nuggets in the beds of the streams. In March a substantial little town had been built, with a church, granary, market-square, and a stone wall around the whole. The Admiral then organized an expedition to explore the interior.

On March 12, 1494, Colon with his chief officers went out of the gate of the settlement, which had been named for the Queen, at the head of four hundred men, many of whom were mounted, and all armed with sword, cross-bow, lance or arquebus. With casques and breastplates shining in the sun, banners flying, pennons fluttering, drums and trumpets sounding, they presented a sight which should have brought ambassadors from any monarch of the Indies who heard of their approach. But although a multitude of savages came from the forest to see, no signs of any such capital as that of the Great Khan appeared. At the end of the first day's march they camped at the foot of a rocky mountain range with no way over it but a footpath, winding over rocks and through dense tropical jungles. There appeared to be no roads in the country.

But this was not an impossible situation to the young Spanish cavaliers, for in the Moorish wars it had often been necessary to construct a road over the mountains. A number of them at once volunteered for the service, and with laborers and pioneers, to whom they set an example by working as valiantly as they were ready to fight, they made a road for the little army, which was named in their honor El Puerto de los Hidalgos, the Gentlemen's Pass. When they reached the top of this steep defile and could look down upon the land beyond they saw a vast and magnificent plain, covered with forests of beautiful trees, blossoming meadows and a network of clear lakes and rivers, and dotted here and there with thatch-roofed villages. Near the top of the pass a spring of cool delicious water bubbled out in a glen shaded by palms and one tall and handsome tree of an unknown variety, with wood so hard that it turned the ax of a laborer who tried to cut a chip of it. Colon gave the plain the name of the Vega Real or Royal Plain.

Of all the events, exploits and intrigues of those first years in the Spanish Indies, no one historian among those who accompanied the expedition ever found time to write. Where all was so new, and every man, whether priest, cavalier, soldier, sailor, clerk or artisan, had his own reasons and his own aims in coming to this land of promise, nothing went exactly according to anybody's plans. The Admiral was soon convinced that in Hispaniola at least no civilized capital existed. To their amazement and amusement the Spaniards found that the savages feared their horses more than their weapons. It was discovered after a while that horse and rider were at first supposed to be one supernatural animal. When the white men dismounted the people fled in horror, believing that the ferocious beasts were going to eat them.

Chapter end

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