While the fleet was still some distance away, one of the captured Haiti Indians who had made the voyage to Spain and back was sent ashore to tell Chief Guacanagari and the colony of the Admiral's return. This Indian messenger, having been converted to Christianity and having learned to speak Spanish, was expected to be of great use in the present expedition. Before sending him ashore they dressed him handsomely and covered him with showy trinkets that would impress his countrymen. But the real impression was to come from his telling his tribe what a powerful people the Spaniards were and how advisable it would be to receive them kindly. This attended to, the converted Indian was to rejoin the ship at La Navidad, where Columbus would richly reward him for his services. Our simple Columbus, who loved Spain's civilization and power, entertained great hopes of the Indian's mission, and never suspected that this savage preferred his native island; and that, once he set foot on it, he would never again risk himself in the presence of white men!
The Admiral next stopped at the mouth of a stream where, on his previous voyage, he had heard of gold. The party who went ashore to search for it soon came back aghast. They had found, instead, two bodies lashed to a stake in the form of a cross. The men were hardly recognizable, but the scraps of clothing looked Spanish. The ominous news ran from ship to ship and gloom began to settle over the entire expedition.
Columbus, much disturbed, hastened on to La Navidad. On approaching the spot his crew fired a cannon and shouted, but no response came. They landed; but it was to find the fortress a blackened ruin and the whole settlement destroyed. Even the stout-hearted Admiral was now utterly dejected.
After a spell of grieving came a ray of hope. Perhaps Diego de Arana and his other friends were not all dead; perhaps the treacherous natives had merely driven them off. He had told Diego to keep the gold they gathered hidden in a well, so that, in case of attack, it would be safe; and off Columbus started to hunt for the well. No amount of searching revealed it; instead, another painful sight, a few dead Spaniards; that was all.
Inland, far away from his original abode, the king was found who had so kindly helped Columbus when the Santa Maria was wrecked—King Guacanagari. From him came the only account ever obtained of the fate of the colony; a true account apparently, for later investigations confirmed it. The Spaniards, with the exception of their leader, Arana, had behaved very badly toward each other and toward the natives. They wanted wives, and had stolen all the young women from Guacanagari's village and then had fought with each other for the prettiest. Having obtained wives, some deserted the little European colony and went to live as savages among the Indians. Others had gone to find the gold mines, which quest took them to the eastern part of the island where the fierce chief Caonabo ruled. So enraged was this chief at their invasion that he not only killed them, but descended upon their compatriots at La Navidad, and attacked them one night when all was still and peaceful. Guacanagari heard the savage war whoops, and out of friendship for the Admiral he tried to drive off the assailants, but he himself was wounded and his house was burned. The Spanish fort was fired; the inmates rushed out, only to be butchered or driven into the sea and drowned. Not one man escaped.
Thus ended Columbus's second trip westward across the Atlantic. What a landing! Blackened ruins, dead bodies, the enmity of the natives, and— no gold; all this where he had hoped to be greeted by happy, prosperous men. Here were the first fruits of his great discovery; here the first sample of Spanish ability at colonizing; here the first specimen of what the white man could do in a new and peaceful land; and our great Admiral, thinking of the mixed band he had brought out from Spain to colonize, dropped his head and covered his face with his hands.
All were anxious to leave the scene of this tragedy; but before they left, the native king, Guacanagari, who appeared as friendly as ever, expressed a desire to visit Columbus's ship. While on it he managed to talk with the Caribbean Indians who were aboard. That night the captives, including a woman whom the Spaniards had named Catalina, made their escape and were picked up in waiting canoes. Next day when Columbus sent to Guacanagari to demand their return, the king and his whole village had disappeared. It would appear that this simple savage had grown into a far shrewder person than his European host since that Christmas night when the Santa Maria ran aground.
La Navidad having disappeared, the next concern was to found another settlement. A point some distance east was chosen, where a beautiful green vega, or plain, stretched far back from the shore. The city was to be called Isabella, in honor of the queen who had made possible the discovery of the new lands. Streets were laid out, a fine church and a storehouse were planned to be built of stone, and many private houses, to be built of wood or adobe or any convenient material, were to be constructed. All this was very fine in plan; but when the men were called upon to do the hard manual labor that is required for building a town and planting gardens and fields in an utter wilderness, many of them murmured. They had not come to do hard work, they had come to pick up nuggets of gold. Besides, many were ill after the long diet of salted food and musty bread; even Columbus himself fell ill upon landing, and could not rise from his bed for weeks; and although all this time he continued to direct the work of town building, it progressed but slowly.
So there lay the great Christopher Columbus, bedridden and empty-handed, at the moment when he hoped to be sending back to Spain the gold and other precious substances collected by the men of his first settlement. What should he write to the sovereigns waiting for news? He could not bear to write the sad truth and tell them how all his hopes, and theirs, had come to naught. If only he could have known, or surmised, that his islands fringed a magnificent new continent that had never even been dreamed of by civilized man, his worry might have ceased; for surely a man who had found a new world for Spain need not have found gold besides; but he knew nothing of the continent as yet; and remembering the extravagant promises made in Barcelona, he decided to postpone writing the letter home to Spain until he should make another attempt to find gold.
Accordingly, he sent two expeditions to different parts of the island to find the mines which, according to his understanding of the natives' sign language, must exist. Alonzo de Ojeda and the other captain he sent out returned each with a little gold; and this slight find was sufficient to set Columbus's fervid imagination at work again. He sent a rosy account of the island to the monarchs, and repeated his former promise to soon send home shiploads of gold and other treasures. And no wonder that he and so many others wished for gold; for it is written in his journal, "Gold is the most precious of all substances; gold constitutes treasure; he who possesses it has all the needs of this world as well as the price for rescuing souls from Purgatory and introducing them into Paradise." If gold could do all that, who would not try to possess it?
But so far as his letter to the monarchs went, Columbus knew, even while writing it, that real gold and the promise of gold were two very different things. His promises could never fill up the empty hold of the ship that was going back to Spain; and so, failing the rich cargo which the men of La Navidad were to have gathered, Columbus bethought himself of some other way in which his discoveries might bring money to the Spanish Crown. The plan he hit upon was the plan of a sick, disappointed, desperate man, as will be seen from a portion of his letter. The letter, intended for the sovereigns, was addressed, as was the custom, to their secretary.
"Considering what need we have for cattle and beasts of burden ... their Highnesses might authorize a suitable number of caravels to come here every year to bring over said cattle and provisions. These cattle might be paid for with slaves taken from among the Caribbeans, who are a wild people fit for any work, well built and very intelligent; and who, when they have got rid of the cruel habits to which they have been accustomed, will be better than any other kind of slaves."
Horrible, all this, we say, but it was the fifteenth century. Slavery had existed for ages, and many still believed in it, for men like the good Las Casas were few. Moreover, Columbus was tormented by a feeling of not having "made good." He had promised his sovereigns all sorts of wealth, and instead he had been able to collect only an insignificant amount of gold trinkets on Haiti. Desperate for some other source of wealth, in an evil moment he advised slave-catching.
Besides considering himself to have fallen short in the royal eyes, he was hounded by the complaints and taunts of the men who had accompanied him. They hated work, so he tried to appease them by giving them authority to enslave the natives; and, as our good Las Casas wisely remarks, "Since men never fall into a single error ... without a greater one by and by following," so it fell out that the Spaniards were cruel masters and the natives revolted; to subdue them harsher and harsher measures were used; not till most of them had been killed did the remaining ones yield submissively.
ON A SEA OF TROUBLES
In the new colony of Isabella things went badly from the very start. Its governor comforted himself by thinking that he could still put himself right with everybody by pushing farther west and discovering whether the Asiatic mainland—which Martin Alonzo Pinzon had always insisted lay back of the islands—was really there. Accordingly, Columbus took a crew of men and departed April 24, 1494, leaving his brother Diego in command of the colony. Never had Columbus done a more unwise thing than to leave Isabella at that moment. Not one single lesson of self-help and cooperation had his men yet learned; and of course they reproached him with their troubles. The root of it all was disappointment. They had come for wealth and ease, and had found poverty and hardship. They even threatened to seize the ships in the harbor and sail off, leaving the two brothers alone on the island; yet, knowing all this, Columbus decided to go off and continue his discoveries!
Again he just escaped finding the mainland. On sailing west from Isabella and reaching Cuba at the nearest point to Haiti, he decided to coast along its southern shore. He had gone along its northern shore on his first voyage, and had turned back instead of continuing toward the continent. This time he took the southern coast, pushing west for about a month and a half, and again turning back when he was not more than two hundred miles from Central America. The natives whom he questioned told him, as on his first visit to Cuba, that their land was surrounded by water; but Alonzo de Ojeda, who was with Columbus, said, "These are a stupid race who think that all the world is an island, and do not know what a continent is!" Columbus too did not wish to believe the savages; he preferred to believe that Cuba was the continent. Yet as a navigator Columbus was honest, and no doubt would have gone farther and proved the natives right had he not been pestered by a grumbling crew. His men were dissatisfied at the long tropic voyage which never appeared to bring them one inch nearer wealth, and they clamored to return to Isabella. So mutinous did they become that he decided to turn back, but it was with a heavy heart. Again he must write to the sovereigns and report that he had not yet found a land of wealth. The very thought of this next letter made him miserable.
In fact, our enterprising Admiral was in a very bad way by this time. We recall how he was ill when the new settlement of Isabella was started, and how he nevertheless personally superintended the work. Always a tremendous worker on sea or land, always at his post, meeting his heavy responsibilities as best he knew how, it was nothing but work and worry for the harassed Christopher Columbus; and now when he, a sick man, had undertaken this voyage to the mainland, the natives had declared that Cuba was only a big island!
Columbus lay down in his bunk, broken-hearted. A fever seized him and he raved for several days; and in his ravings he hit upon a plan which was so childish that one would laugh were it not also so pitiful. He decided to write that he had discovered the mainland of Asia, but not yet Cathay, as Cathay lay far inland. To prove that Cuba was really Asia, he called together his crew of eighty men and made them swear before a notary that not only had they cruised along the mainland, but they had learned that it was possible to return from Cuba to Spain by land. This statement being duly sworn to and sealed, the crew were informed that if any one of them should ever deny this, his tongue would be torn out to prevent his repeating the lie.
This time they did not keep so close to the shore. By going farther out they discovered the Isle of Pines, also the pretty little group known as "The Queen's Gardens," and Jamaica, later to be the scene of much woe. Always islands, islands, islands! Among some of them navigation was very dangerous, and the Admiral, still ill, never left the deck for several days and nights. At last he broke down and could not move from his bed. The minute this happened the crew, who had not the slightest interest in discovering beautiful islands, hurried direct to their countrymen in Isabella.
Poor Admiral! Poor men! If only they could have forgotten all about the riches of Cathay, and could have realized the wonder and the honor of being the first white men to gaze on all these lovely spots, these bits of earth straight from the hand of God, how their hearts might have welled with joy and thanksgiving! But no, it was a dissatisfied, heavy- hearted body of men who came back empty-handed to Isabella on September 29, and reported that in all their five months' absence they had seen nothing but savage islands.
Now let us see what mischief had been brewing in the colony during their absence. Columbus, before leaving, had commanded the military governor to place himself at the head of four hundred men and scour the island for provisions. Instead of following these orders, the military governor, without Diego Columbus's leave, went aboard the first ship sailing for Spain. In other words, he deserted. The remainder, on learning this, made a raid on the nearest natives and stole their food and their wives; and the natives naturally took revenge.
It was while the outraged Indians were gathering in large numbers to destroy Isabella that Columbus returned. A sad state of affairs to greet a sick man, and especially when the trouble was all of Spanish making. But there was no time to spend in asking whose fault it was. Their lives were at stake. Isabella might soon share the horrible fate of La Navidad. Columbus hurriedly mustered his men—less than two hundred—and divided them into two companies. One of these he himself commanded, and the other was under his older brother, Bartholomew, who had arrived from Spain during the expedition to Cuba. The Spaniards were clad in armor. The natives were naked and had no guns, and though they were far more numerous than the Europeans, they were soon overcome.
One of the powerful chiefs, however, still remained unsubdued at the head of his forces in the interior of the island. This was the chief Caonabo, already mentioned as the one who had avenged his wrongs on the offenders at La Navidad. Soon he too was captured by Alonzo de Ojeda through the clever ruse of sending him a present. Then came a little more fighting, and the men who had come to convert the savages to Christianity obtained absolute control of the island of Haiti. The enslaved natives, we are told, wove their sorrows into mournful ballads which they droned out desolately as they tilled the fields of their harsh masters.
But even with the natives subjugated there was still much discontent among Columbus's men. There being no gold to pick up and sell, by tilling the land only could they live; and even to farm profitably takes years of experience. For everything that went wrong, they blamed the man who had brought them to the New World, and similarly his brothers who had come to help him govern.
Whenever a ship returned to Spain the miserable colonists sent back letters full of bitter upbraidings against the man who had led them into poverty and hardship. Also one of the priests had gone home, and straight to court, to make a thousand complaints. The military governor who had deserted the colony did the same thing, adding, "There is no gold in the Indies of Antilla, and all the Admiral said about his discoveries was mere sham and banter."
We have already mentioned that, from the moment Columbus started on this second voyage, enemies at home began to do him harm. When, therefore, all these tales reached Spain, they fell on ready ears. Even Queen Isabella, who had always championed Columbus, had grown to see that his discretion and general common sense fell very far short of his courage and his navigating ability. The royal pair, therefore, decided that the whole matter must be investigated.
A man who had accompanied Columbus on his first voyage was appointed by the monarchs to go as Royal Commissioner to Haiti and question Columbus about the condition of the colony. This man was selected because of his supposed kindly feelings to the Admiral, the latter having recommended him to the queen for excellent conduct on that trying first voyage. The queen, we see, thus endeavored to make the inquiry as easy and friendly as possible for the great navigator. But the Royal Commissioner, Don Juan Agnado, acted like many another man suddenly vested with authority; he carried it with a higher hand than kings themselves! Arriving at Isabella at the moment when the Admiral was trying to capture the chief Caonabo in the interior of the island, Agnado snubbed Bartholomew Columbus, threw several officials into prison, put himself at the head of the garrison, and announced that he was going inland after the Admiral!
On his making this show of insolent power, every one believed that he was to be the new governor, and that he had been authorized even to put Columbus to death. At once they gave way to all the meanness of their natures and, in order to gain favor with the new viceroy, they began bitterly denouncing the old.
Columbus, who had received word of Agnado's advent into Isabella, hurried to meet him there. Seeing himself in a sorry plight, he told Agnado that he would immediately go back to Spain and answer his sovereigns' inquiries in person. This was in October, 1495. But all sorts of ill luck prevented his going. A frightful hurricane tore over the island and sank the four vessels which Agnado had brought; then a wanderer came in with tales of a real gold mine in the south of the island and the report had to be investigated. Next, the several forts which had been built had to be strengthened and stocked with provisions; so that it was not till March, 1496, that the Admiral was ready to sail. Only two caravels now remained in Isabella harbor. One of these was the faithful little Nina; and on her the weary Admiral returned to Spain.
THE THIRD VOYAGE
Columbus's second voyage home from his western lands was even more stormy and threatening than his first had been, but the little Nina remained stanch as ever. Besides frightful weather to try his soul, Columbus was taking home two hundred broken-down, disheartened colonists who could no longer endure the hardships of the New World. Even the prospect of going home did not improve their tempers. When the food ran low, colonists and crew threatened to kill and eat the captive natives in the hold. Columbus managed to pacify them all, however, but it must have used up every bit of energy in his worn body.
When, after this tempestuous voyage, the Nina and the other little caravel put into Cadiz harbor on June 11, 1496, there was more humiliation. Crowds collected to greet the gold gatherers; but the unhappy men who crawled off the vessels were paupers—wrecks—mere living skeletons. The very sight of them brought down curses on Christopher Columbus. The man who had dreamed of coming back with a ship full of gold, and being acclaimed by the cheers of the populace, came back instead with the royal displeasure hanging over his head and curses ringing in his ears!
The court was settled, at that time, in the north near Valladolid, and thither Columbus went to plead his case. All along the way he displayed his Indians and tropical plants and little golden ornaments, but the inhabitants were less curious than before. In the picture of this greatest and most illustrious discoverer trying to gain favor with critical crowds by showing them a few naked savages and a few bits of gold, there is something pitiful. For Columbus knew, and the crowds knew, that he was in disfavor, and he was dejected by the fear of an unfriendly reception.
What a relief it must have been to him when, instead, he found himself graciously received. Not a word did the sovereigns utter of their dissatisfaction, either over the affairs of the colony or the small amount of gold. He told them all about his trip along Cuba and the new islands found; and of course he could not refrain from telling them that just before he left Hispaniola real gold mines had been discovered from which they might "confidently expect large returns." They thanked him for his new discoveries and showed him many marks of favor. Instead of paying attention to the many complaints which had been made against Bartolome Colon, they told the Admiral that his brother might remain vice-governor for life. A little later they told him they would take his young son Fernando into the royal household and educate him, and after a time they began to make plans for a third voyage. How much better it all turned out than he had been led to expect from Agnado's conduct!
For his next voyage Columbus asked for eight ships and the sovereigns complied. More than three hundred men were to be sent out, paid by the Crown; and as many more, if they would volunteer to go without pay, were promised a third of the gold they got out of the mines, besides a share in other products.
All these fair promises, where he had been expecting disgrace, must have lifted a load from Columbus's mind; but he was soon to find, as in years gone by, that a long time may elapse between promise and fulfillment. Months and months rolled slowly away and Columbus was still kept waiting in Spain.
It is possible that Ferdinand and Isabella wanted to see what the colony could do without him; or perhaps there really was no other reason than that given, that Spain herself needed every available ship at that time. First, she was sending a great expedition against Naples; being at war with France also, she needed a fleet to guard her own seacoast. Further, as a brilliant marriage had been arranged between two of the royal children of Spain and two of the royal children of Burgundy, there was extra need of ships to carry these princes, in suitable state, across the Bay of Biscay. Indeed, these various Spanish plans called not only for ships, but money; and yet the government managed finally to set aside six million maravedis for Columbus's use. Before he could begin to spend it, however, Ferdinand took it back again, and under circumstances that were very mortifying to the waiting Columbus.
Just after the royal treasurer was ordered to put this sum at the Admiral's disposal, word came to court that Pedro Nino had arrived from Espanola with ships laden with gold!
"There now," cried Christopher in glee, "did I not tell you gold was sure to come?"
"Well then," craftily reasoned King Ferdinand, "hasten you to Cadiz with an order to Pedro Nino to pay the government's share over to you for your ships, and I will keep these six million maravedis in my own treasury for war expenses."
But it all turned out to be a sorry joke on the part of Captain Pedro Nino. His ships were full of slaves which, he laughingly declared, he expected to turn into gold in the slave market.
Thus was Columbus, weary with long waiting, left without any appropriation at all; and Bishop Fonseca laughing at him whenever he observed his eagerness to be off!
In this quarter the impatient Admiral found much hindrance and no sympathy. Not only did Fonseca himself exhibit indifference to Columbus's work, but his secretary did the same. Furthermore, contrary to the terms of Columbus's contract, by which he was to have a monopoly of Indian discovery, Fonseca (on royal order, of course) began giving licenses to other navigators, and the intrepid Columbus saw his coveted prize slipping through his hands.
In all matters relating to government and administration, Bishop Fonseca was a far wiser man than the great navigator. Fonseca possessed the best education a man could receive in that day. His training in the great church organization had given him skill in reading character. He soon saw that Columbus had but little ability outside of navigation; and we wish that, instead of despising him, he had been big enough and kindly enough to say: "Good friend, give up all connection with that struggling colony of Hispaniola. Let me send out a more competent man than yourself to handle it, and do you devote your energies entirely to discovery. That alone shall be your work. Carry it as far as you can, for you are not young and the day will come when you can sail no more."
If a sympathetic, convincing, friendly voice had whispered this good advice to the harassed governor of Espanola, what a load of trouble it might have lifted from his heart. But Bishop Fonseca, unfortunately, was not the man to help another in his hour of trouble. He merely treated Columbus coldly and put every sort of obstacle in his way.
Ships and men were at last ready to sail from Cadiz on May 30, 1498. It happened that ten days before Vasco da Gama, following the Portuguese track around Africa, had left the coast and gone across the Indian Ocean, reaching the rich mainland of the real India—the brilliant, civilized city of Calcutta. Let us be thankful for poor Columbus's sake that there were no cables in those days to apprise him of the fact, else he might have felt even more keenly what a poor showing his own discovery had made.
His fleet this time consisted of six vessels. They stopped as usual at the Canaries, then went farther south to the Cape Verde Islands. Thus a whole month passed before they were ready to cross the Atlantic.
On leaving the Cape Verdes, the Admiral decided to send his best captain with three of the ships due west to Haiti,—this because the Isabella colony was in sore need of provisions. Meanwhile he himself would lead the other three farther south and discover new lands; for he had received a letter in Spain from a gem expert saying, "Go to hot lands for precious stones."
Knowing nothing of currents and calms around the equator in July, he conducted his three ships into such a strong northern ocean current that he had to change his course before ever they reached the equator. Next they lay becalmed for eight days in the most cruel heat imaginable. The provisions were spoiling; the men's tempers were spoiling, too; and so, on the last day of July, judging that they must be south of the Caribbean Islands, Columbus gave up all thought of new investigations and started northwest for Hispaniola. By the new course land was soon sighted, a much larger island than any of the Caribbeans. Out of it rose three imposing mountain peaks; and accordingly it was christened La Trinidad (the Trinity) after the custom of religious naming that prevailed.
Columbus's ships, having shrunken and cracked in the heat of the voyage, were much in need of repair. After cruising around the south and west shore, Looking in vain for a harbor where he could patch up his ships and take on water, he at last found a suitable spot near Point Alcatraz. Here the necessary repairs were made, and, as the Spaniards worked on their boats, they could look across to a low strip of land in the west— the coast, did they but suspect it, of an unheard-of continent nearly as large as all Europe!
Thinking it another island, they sailed over to it when the boats were mended. The Admiral was suffering torture with eyestrain (small wonder, one would say who has seen those hundreds of cramped pages he wrote), so he called a reliable man and ordered him to conduct a party ashore and take possession in the name of their sovereigns. He himself, he said, would lie down awhile in his dark cabin, for the glare of the tropic sun made his eyes ache cruelly. That is how it happened that, on August 10, 1498, the Admiral lost the chance of putting foot on the vast mainland of South America.
Back came the party from shore after a few hours to report that the natives appeared very intelligent, that their land was called Paria, that they wore a little gold which came (as usual) from "the west," and that they wore strings of pearls that were gathered a little farther south on the Paria coast. At last, pearls! How it must have encouraged our ever hopeful Admiral!
So now, though they did not suspect it, the great continent of South America was discovered. They sailed south along its shore for a time, hoping to find the pearls, but the farther they went the rougher the great waves became,—mountainous, indeed,—forming actual lofty ridges on the surface of the sea. Of this phenomenon Columbus wrote home to the monarchs, "I shuddered lest the waters should have upset the vessel when they came under its bows." The rush, as we now know, was made partly by the delta of the Orinoco River and partly by the African current squeezing itself into the narrow space between the continent and the southern end of Trinidad, after which it curls itself into the Gulf of Mexico and comes out again as the Gulf Stream.
Columbus, after buffeting these dangerous waters as long as he could, turned north again along Trinidad and emerged out of the Gulf of Paria, leaving the pearls behind him. Instead of landing and looking to see if the natives spoke the truth, he started a hopeful letter to the sovereigns, telling them what rich pearl fisheries he had discovered. This time, however, Christopher's imagination really ran close to the facts, for at their next landing, on the island of Margarita, north of Venezuela, they actually bartered three pounds of large pearls from the natives! Then they headed northwest for Haiti, reaching it the last of August, 1498.
Nearly two and one half years had passed since he and Agnado had left the island in the hands of their successor, Bartholomew Columbus. During that time no change for the better had come to it. The mistakes on the part of officers, and the rebellions on the part of the people, now made a longer list than ever. Not a man among them, from Bartholomew down to the meanest commoner, appeared to know how to build up a well-ordered, self-respecting community. The spirit of cooperation was entirely lacking. No one thought of the common good, only of his own interests; and those in power had not been trained to handle large groups of men who needed wise directing. In those days, and especially in Spain, the general education was not the sort to develop each individual man toward self-reliance, but to make him part of a big organization where he need not think for himself, but need merely obey orders. If, then, those appointed to issue the orders were not men of wisdom and sense, things were bound to go wrong. Bartholomew Columbus, whom the sovereigns had appointed lord lieutenant for life, had not been a very wise governor, as will soon be apparent.
It was only a little while before the Admiral sailed home with Agnado that gold mines had been discovered on the south coast of Espanola. Bartholomew was therefore instructed to take a certain number of men to the south coast and establish a seaport at the nearest suitable point to the mines. That was how the present town of Santo Domingo (now shortened into San Domingo) came into existence, a town that in time grew to be so important that it gave its name to the whole island.
In order to start building San Domingo, Bartholomew, or, as he should be styled, Don Bartolome, took nearly all the working population out of Isabella. The only ones left were those engaged in building two caravels which the Admiral had started constructing. The men under Don Bartolome appear to have entered into building the new port with fairly good will; for there really was a little gold in the vicinity, and they had been promised payment for their services. If Don Bartolome had stuck to his post, everything might have gone well; but scarcely were the first few houses completed when he decided, most unwisely, to make an expedition far into the west of the island, where there was supposed to be a rich Indian kingdom called Xaragua. Of course when Bartolome reached Xaragua, he found the tribe to be, as usual, a "poor people." He could collect no golden tribute from them, and had to take their offer of produce instead, which, he told them, they must have ready within a certain time. Then he rode off to see how the men left behind at Isabella were getting on.
There, since the day when he had taken away the best (that is, the most industrious) men to work in San Domingo, those remaining had known nothing but misfortune. Many had died; and of those left, many were ill and all were discontented. Unluckily, Don Bartolome was not the man to offer much sympathy or even to stay and put things in order. Instead, he left this first American town to its fate and started on to the second. All the way across the island to San Domingo he kept demanding tribute from the natives he passed. The poor creatures, though they well knew the malignant power of the Spaniards, determined to make one more attempt at resistance. The result was that most of them were killed or taken captive. By this time the tribute of Xaragua was to be ready, and Don Bartolome went after it and did not continue on to the new seaport of San Domingo.
While he was gone, his younger brother Diego was left in command of the eastern part of the island. Diego was far less of a disciplinarian than either Cristobal or Bartolome, and the Spaniards themselves now revolted. In this they were led by a man named Francisco Roldan whom the Admiral had appointed chief-justice. Roldan gathered about him nearly all the well men on the island, taking them from their work in the mines and on the new town. Once banded together, these rebels rode and tramped all over the center of the island, stealing food wherever they could find it. It happened that while they were in the west, near the coast of those same regions of Xaragua where Bartholomew was, along came the three caravels laden with food which Columbus had sent direct from the Cape Verde Islands.
Columbus had instructed the commander of this little fleet to coast along the southern shore till he found the new seaport which Bartholomew was building; but somehow the commander missed it, and sailed much farther west and into the very territory where the Roldan rebels were. Knowing nothing of their disloyalty, he sent a large number of men ashore to inquire for San Domingo. These, as ill luck would have it, fell in with Roldan and his men. We may readily imagine the conversations that ensued.
"Don't go to the town," the malefactors warned the newcomers. "It is nothing but work, work, work, and no pay. We are supposed to be paid out of the gold found, but the amount is so small that not a grain of it ever reaches us! Better stay here and go from one Indian village to another, taking food and golden ornaments from the natives." And the shore party, instead of searching for San Domingo, stayed with Roldan.
The three caravels then continued their search, but never reached San Domingo till a few days after Columbus himself had come up from South America.
A RETURN IN DISGRACE
What a discouraging state of affairs to greet the returning "Governor- General and Viceroy of all the Lands Discovered in the Western Seas!" What comfort were all these titles that Columbus stood out for so obstinately, when half his colonists had joined a rebel leader and the other half were sick and hungry!
By this time Roldan's army was so large that Christopher and his brother had to admit to each other that there was no chance of subduing the insurrection by force. In truth, there was no "force"; for those who were not ill, even the newcomers, were all grumbling against the government. So there was nothing to do but make a treaty with the rebel leader, as if he had been the lawful ruler of a state; and in this treaty he had everything his own way. Columbus had humbly to agree to give two vessels to carry the discontented ones back to Spain; to fill these vessels with ample provisions, and to agree to write a letter to the monarchs stating that Roldan and his men were in no way to blame for the trouble. Here was humiliation indeed! Fancy a high official of the Crown being forced to such an undignified treaty with one who had rebelled against his authority!
But even this did not end the trouble. Columbus could not get the vessels ready in time, and so the malefactors became more vexatious than ever. Later another treaty was made, still more humiliating to the Admiral, for he had to promise, first, that those of Roldan's men who were most anxious to return should be sent to Spain immediately; second, that those who chose to remain should receive gifts of land and houses; third, that he, Columbus, would issue a public proclamation stating that all that had happened had been caused by the false reports of bad men; and fourth, that Roldan the leader should remain chief-justice for the rest of his life! Roldan now condescended to return to San Domingo and sit in the judge's seat.
No sooner was this turbulent leader appeased than another rebel arose. This time, sad to say, it was the brave Alonzo de Ojeda. Because he had succeeded in taking the chief Caonabo prisoner, Columbus had rewarded and honored him by making him captain of a voyage of discovery among the islands. All this time, no doubt, Ojeda was loyal to his Admiral; but he had recently made a trip home to Spain, where, from his friend Bishop Fonseca, he had learned many things, false as well as true, that poisoned his mind against his great leader. So he in turn gathered the discontented into a threatening band.
"I have word from Spain," he told them, "that our good queen lies dying. She is the only friend Cristobal Colon has; and you may be sure that the minute she is dead I can easily arrange to have her favorite removed if you will all rally around me." Many, of course, lent ear to his treacherous talk, and these had many a skirmish with the few who were faithful to Columbus.
Ojeda, besides sneering at and opposing the Admiral's authority, wrote letters back to Fonseca telling him all sorts of unfavorable things concerning Columbus and his brothers. All the rebels, in truth, were sending back complaints, for the old and the new world sent little packet ships monthly. What they did not write was told in Spain by those of Roldan's men whom Columbus had sent home. Some indeed went straight to the king himself with their stories, with the result that the queen had to agree with her husband, who had never been much interested in Columbus and his savages, that the whole matter must be thoroughly investigated.
Yet, even after consenting to court-martial Columbus, as it were, the queen delayed the proceeding as long as possible, as if trying to give her viceroy time to straighten out his situation. But sad tales of misrule still kept coming from Espanola, and finally, after more than a year of waiting, the monarchs sent out Don Francisco de Bobadilla (Boba- deel'ya) with a letter that began:—
* * * * *
Don Cristobal Colon, our Admiral of the Ocean:
We have ordered the Comendador Francisco de Bobadilla, the bearer of this, that he speak to you on our part certain things which he will tell you. We pray you give him faith and credence, and act accordingly.
* * * * *
Christopher, however, was not permitted to give the royal commissioner faith and credence, for the simple reason that Bobadilla did not show him the letter. We have already read of the high-handed manner in which Juan de Agnado acted some years before when sent out to investigate; but, by comparison with Bobadilla, Agnado had been gentleness itself. Bobadilla was a stern and rigorous churchman, comendador, or commander, of one of the famous religious-military orders in Spain. He could tolerate nothing short of the strictest and most unquestioning obedience to authority. He also had a great respect for high birth, and he, like Bishop Fonseca, could never forget that Christopher Columbus was of humble origin. Both Fonseca and Bobadilla would have been astounded had they dreamed that their principal claim to remembrance by coming ages would be from their reluctant association with a certain illustrious man "of humble origin."
It was on August 23, 1499, that Bobadilla's ship entered the mouth of the little river on which San Domingo was situated; and on seeing on either side of the settlement a gallows, and on either gallows the body of a high-born Spaniard lately executed for rebellion, the sight did not incline him to feel kindly toward the low-born governor who had executed them. Columbus and his brother Bartholomew were in the interior at the time, and Bobadilla had no intention of awaiting their return, so eager was he to show his power.
Next morning, when all the colony had gathered in church for mass, he read them the royal letter authorizing him to inquire into the administration of the Viceroy. The letter stated that their Majesties empowered Bobadilla to seize evil-doers and their property, and that the Admiral and all others in authority must aid him in doing so.
Columbus had left his brother Diego in charge of the colony; and Diego, though weak as a ruler, was strong in words when Bobadilla ordered him to hand over the remainder of the rebels for trial, together with evidence against them. Diego replied that the prisoners were held by order of the viceroy, and that the viceroy's authority was higher than the comendador's. Such an answer was not likely to mollify the royal commissioner.
The next morning after mass he opened a second letter and read it to the colonists, a letter which the monarchs told him to open only in case Columbus refused to submit to him. This document proclaimed the bearer, Don Francisco Bobadilla, governor of all the islands. He immediately took the oath of office, and then opened and read to the astonished populace a third royal letter in which Christopher Columbus was commanded to hand over all papers and property belonging to the Crown.
The discontented colonists saw that the day of reckoning had come for their unpopular governor. They exulted in it; and Bobadilla, who realized the satisfactory impression he was making, then and there opened a fourth letter which commanded that he, Bobadilla, should straightway pay all arrears of wages to the men who had worked on San Domingo. As nearly all the men had gone unpaid for a long time past (owing to utter lack of funds), when they heard this last proclamation, they hailed Bobadilla as a benefactor, and his narrow, mean soul swelled with pride.
To be sure, the monarchs really had issued all these letters; but Bobadilla was to read and act upon the second and third letters only in case Columbus refused to obey the first; and here, without giving Columbus any opportunity to speak for himself, Bobadilla had gone to the extreme limit of his powers. It makes one recall Shakespeare's lines about
"Man, proud man, Drest in a little brief authority.... Plays such fantastic tricks before high heaven, As make the angels weep."
By the end of the second day the new governor had seized the Admiral's house. Next he sent a search party to find the two brothers and bid them return. This Christopher and Bartholomew did at once; and Bobadilla, whose noble birth had not given him a noble soul, treated the grumblers and talebearers of San Domingo to the shameful sight of the Discoverer of the New World marching in chains to prison!
While Columbus had not been a successful ruler, it must be borne in mind that the men he was expected to rule were a most ungovernable lot. But even so, it is difficult to believe that among them all there was not one big enough to forget that the man who had been an unsatisfactory colonial governor had been the bravest explorer ever known. But no, they were pitiless. His own cook was ordered to fasten the chains on him. The onlookers exulted in his disgrace; and their outcries were so loud and so bitter that Columbus and his brothers expected every moment to be put to death.
Bobadilla lost no time in deciding what to do with his prisoners. They must be put out of the way, but not by death. Instead, he ordered a nobleman named Villejo to take them at once to Spain. When Villejo, with some soldiers, entered the cell in order to remove the prisoners to the ship, Columbus thought he was to be escorted to the scaffold. "I see I am to die," he said calmly. Villejo, who seems to have been the only man in San Domingo with an ounce of humanity in him, answered kindly, "I am to escort you to a ship, Your Excellency, and then home to Spain."
As they marched to the shore, a rabble followed, shouting every insult imaginable. And thus did Christopher Columbus sail away, for the third time, from the island which he had found so quiet and peaceful that he once wrote, "The nights are lovely, like May nights in Cordova." Here was a change indeed!
When the caravel was under way, Villejo offered to remove the Admiral's shackles.
"No," answered Columbus, with dignity, "their Majesties gave Bobadilla authority to put me in irons; they alone must issue the authority to take the irons off."
And so in irons the greatest discoverer the world has ever known made his sixth crossing of the Atlantic. And in irons he landed in Cadiz in November, 1500.
We have just seen Columbus land in chains at Cadiz. We next see him free, traveling in great splendor to that scene of his first successful interview with Isabella—Granada. What had happened meanwhile to lift him out of misery and disgrace? Simply what always happens when a really great man is too harshly punished, a reaction in the public mind.
In all Spain Columbus had hardly a friend; yet when the people of Cadiz saw him leave Villejo's ship in chains, they were moved with deepest sympathy. They began telling each other that, no matter what his faults might be, he had been the first man deliberately to put out across the dreaded Atlantic and reveal to the world that land, and not monsters, lay on the other side. Had any one else ever begged, during seven years, for the privilege thus to risk his life for the benefit of Spain in particular, and all mankind in general? Even the Portuguese, greatest of exploring nations, had only hugged the African coast cautiously; but this man had sailed straight away from land into the setting sun. Even landsmen appreciated the fine courage that required.
And the first man bold enough to wish to go out and unravel the mystery of the west now walked in chains from a Spanish ship to a Spanish prison! It was monstrous ingratitude, all declared; and they did not hesitate to show their sympathy. The story of his disgrace traveled rapidly, and everywhere it brought out the better nature of the Spanish people, who accordingly denounced this harsh treatment by their sovereigns.
And what had Columbus himself done to help matters along? The wisest thing that he could have done; he had refrained from writing to Ferdinand and Isabella. His silence spoke in his favor; for they did not learn what had happened till a lady-in-waiting at court, a friend of Columbus and of the queen, received a letter which Columbus had written during the voyage, and which the good Villejo sent off by a trusty messenger the minute the ship reached Spain. This lady carried the shocking news to the queen, perhaps even read the whole letter to her; if so, Isabella must have winced at this passage: "I have been wounded extremely by the fact that a man should have been sent out to make inquiry into my conduct who knew that if he sent home a very aggravated account against me, he could remain himself at the head of the government."
Hardly had the queen heard this letter when there came a report from Villejo containing the same story of Bobadilla's brutal haste in dealing with the Admiral. And directly after this came an inquiry from the alcalde (mayor) of Cadiz asking what he should do with his distinguished prisoner.
Isabella saw it was all too true; Bobadilla had gone to the uttermost limit of authority without even waiting to try less offensive measures. She saw that she had selected a very unworthy person for the delicate task of removing a great man from office. Even Ferdinand, who, as we have seen, had no great opinion of Columbus, was grieved over the unhappy affair. Immediately they dispatched a courier to the alcalde with instructions to set the Admiral free, and to treat him with every consideration. Then they invited Columbus to come to them at court, and ordered a credit of two thousand ducats for him, a large sum in those days, for it was equal to about ten thousand dollars in our money. This they did without even waiting to hear Bobadilla's side of the story.
Columbus reached Granada in December, 1500; nine years precisely after the memorable journey that Friar Juan Perez had caused him to make to the same place. As on his return from the second voyage, when he was expecting royal reproaches, he received instead only the kindest treatment. Both Ferdinand and Isabella made him feel, instantly, that, whatever had gone wrong, they knew his worth and considered him a distinguished man.
So overcome was he by this magnanimity that it was some minutes before the white-haired, worn-out man could control his feelings sufficiently to tell his story. Finally, however, he managed to speak. He admitted all that had gone amiss in Espanola and said his only excuse was his inexperience in governing. (Ah, good Admiral, if only you had remembered your inexperience on that January day in that same city of Granada, when you insisted on being made Viceroy of all the lands you might discover!)
The queen, while she pitied Columbus profoundly in his distress, was too wise a woman to let her pity run away with her prudence; so she answered cautiously:—
"Common report accuses you of acting with a degree of severity quite unsuitable for an infant colony, and likely to incite rebellion in it. But the thing I find hardest to pardon is your reducing to slavery many Indians who had done nothing to deserve such a fate. This was contrary to my express orders. As ill fortune willed it, just at the time that news came to me of this breach of my instructions, everybody was complaining of you; no one spoke a word in your favor. I felt obliged to send a commissioner to the Indies to investigate and give me a true report, and, if necessary, to put limits to the authority you were accused of overstepping. If he found you guilty of the charges against you, he was to relieve you of the government and send you to Spain to give an account of your stewardship. This was the extent of his commission. I find that I have made a bad choice in my agent, and I shall take care to make an example of Bobadilla so as to warn others not to exceed their power. But I cannot promise at once to reinstate you as governor. As to your rank of Admiral, I never intended to deprive you of it. But you must abide your time and trust in me."
Isabella's reply is a model of fairness and prudence so far as Columbus is concerned, but it is hardly fair to Bobadilla. The comendador had been brutal, it is true; but it was not true that he had gone beyond the extent of his commission. His brutality consisted in pouncing upon the offender without any preliminaries whatever. Yet it turned out that, in acting thus, he did the best possible thing for Columbus's subsequent treatment. There is no doubt that had he proceeded slowly, with a fair and formal inquiry into all the complaints against the Admiral, it would have been clearly shown that, from the very beginning, everything had gone wrong in the colony. The Indians, once friendly, were now bitter against the Spaniards. The colonists were a bad lot, but Columbus himself had examined and accepted most of them before the ships left Spain.
If mistakes were committed while he was absent exploring Cuba, they were made by his brothers and by those whom he himself had selected to rule in his absence. All of this evidence would have been against Columbus, who in consequence would have been deposed as governor and sent home to answer Bobadilla's charges before a royal court of inquiry. Arriving as a man disgraced after a fair trial, nobody's sympathies would have been stirred. It was precisely because Bobadilla had acted like a brute instead of like a wise judge that everybody denounced him and pitied his victim.
Considering all this, and considering that Columbus himself had admitted his "inexperience in government" to the queen, it is astonishing to learn that he was deeply hurt because she did not reinstate him instantly as ruler of the island! Experience had taught the great discoverer but little. At a moment when he should have fallen on his knees in thankfulness because he would never again have to be responsible for that colony of vicious men, he instead felt hurt! He wanted to return and start the whole sorry business over again. Moreover, he protested, as indeed he had been doing for years, because other navigators were imploring the monarchs to break their contract giving him a monopoly of western exploration, and to allow them to undertake voyages, asking no government assistance whatsoever. Now was the time for him to say, "It is to Spain's interest that she send as many explorers as possible over to these new lands, in order that we may quickly determine how many islands there really are, and whether what I last visited was the mainland; only, pray let me hasten back free from every responsibility except that of a navigator; so that I, who so justly deserve the first chance of exploring the new lands, may get there ahead of these others who are clamoring to go."
Had Columbus been businesslike enough to make this proposition to the monarchs, he need not have died in ignorance of the prodigious fact that he had discovered a great continent undreamed-of by Europeans. But, instead of renouncing his monopoly, he complained that licenses had been granted to others to sail west in violation of the agreement that he alone, and his descendants after him, should sail among the new lands. This attitude annoyed King Ferdinand exceedingly.
For Columbus to hope to keep this monopoly in his own family was madness; as by this time other countries, having heard of his opening up the way, had sent out explorers to plant their standards. John and Sebastian Cabot had gone out from Bristol, England, to Newfoundland, and had discovered, in June, 1497, the North American continent before Columbus had touched South America. Early in 1499 one of the pilots who had accompanied Columbus on his Cuban trip secured a license, and not only explored the Central American coast for several hundred miles, but traded his European trifles and gewgaws with the natives for gold and silver, returning to Spain with real profits.
That same year, 1499, Vicente Pinzon of Palos, who with his brother Martin had made the first voyage, also secured a license and sailed southwest over the equator, discovering the Amazon River and taking possession of Brazil for Spain. Our adventurous acquaintance Ojeda also had been busy. When the Paria pearls arrived in Sevilla, he asked his friend Fonseca to show him both the pearls and Columbus's map of Trinidad and the neighboring coast. Although Ojeda had recently been in open rebellion against the Admiral in Haiti, as we have seen, Fonseca did not hesitate to let him see where the pearl land lay; and so Ojeda, with an Italian named Vespucci, whom we shall meet later, sailed to Paria and gathered its wealth.
Also, in this year so great for navigation, a Portuguese fleet of thirteen ships set out from Lisbon to round the Cape of Good Hope. In trying to escape the long calms which had beset Bartolome Dias in the Gulf of Guinea, Pedro Cabral, commander of the fleet, struck out quite far from the Morocco coast and got into the Equatorial Current. The existence of this powerful westward current had never been suspected by either Spanish or Portuguese mariners. Wind and current combining, Cabral and his captains found themselves, in about a month's time, on the coast of Brazil near the present Rio de Janeiro. Thus a current never before known carried them to land never before known. And thus for the second time, if the shipwrecked pilot told the truth, America was discovered by accident.
All this had given Europe some idea of the vastness of the world to the west. If Columbus was to bring his own discoveries to a glorious finish, it was high time that, instead of quibbling over maintaining a contract, he should have given up the empty honors that were to have been his, and have asked only for permission to hurry back and discover more land.
Ferdinand, who now saw that the islands would need not one but a dozen governors if ever they were to be colonized and developed, would not hear of reinstating Columbus as governor. The most the monarchs would give him in the way of satisfaction was that Bobadilla should be removed and another man, who had had nothing to do thus far with the quarrels of the New World, should be appointed for two years. This new governor, whose name was Nicolas de Ovando, was specially instructed to protect Columbus's profits in the colony, if profits there should ever be. Orders were given that the property of Columbus and his brothers, which Bobadilla had confiscated, was to be restored; and whenever gold was found and smelted, Columbus's share was to be put aside for him. This proved that the sovereigns intended to be just to Columbus, but the latter was nevertheless much depressed over his lost dignities.
The Comendador Ovando, of the famous religious order called the Knights of Alcantara, was appointed to succeed Bobadilla, and began his preparations with certain definite and practical ideas on the subject of colonizing. He was the first to see that respectable married men with their wives and children were needed to give the settlement character; so he offered, or asked the sovereigns to offer, proper inducement to married men. He also secured as many trained workers as possible— artisans and craftsmen. His other measures appear less wise; that is, he felt he must go in state and dignity, else the people would not regard his authority; so he took many body servants and house servants, and rich priestly robes, for he relied a great deal on the appearance of power. No less than thirty-five vessels would suffice to carry his twenty-five hundred passengers (among them Bartolome de las Casas) to San Domingo; and when he started in all his state, the heart of Columbus was sad and sore.
"Ah," thought he, "if only I had had decent men, instead of jail- birds and loafers!" and he pondered sadly on his many misfortunes.
And still the monarchs kept him waiting and would not furnish him with a fleet. While he was waiting came the bitter and disquieting news that Portuguese explorers were returning in a stream from the Indian Ocean with exceedingly rich cargoes, all justly traded for in the markets of Calcutta. Why, he groaned, had his India been so barren of riches?
He began to ponder over all the theories he had read concerning the geography of the world, and to wonder what his discoveries might really be. If it dawned upon him that he had struck islands fringing on absolutely new, unsuspected land, he appears to have dismissed the extraordinary idea, and to have come back to Martin Alonzo Pinzon's theory that he, by sailing west over the globe, had come to Asiatic regions. It must be so, he argued. Marco Polo had made known the fact that an ocean bounded Asia on the east, and that ocean must be the Atlantic, which continued across to Europe. The Indian Ocean which the Portuguese had crossed must be the southern part of the Atlantic, where it curved around Asia's southern shores. Ah, if only he could reach it! If only he had sailed straight for the rich mainland, instead of wasting his time on those pretty islands, inhabited only by a "poor people"!
He began to recall how the land north of the Gulf of Paria stretched far west; how the southern shore of Cuba stretched far west; how the currents of the Caribbean Sea indicated, by the fact that they had washed Cuba, Haiti, and Porto Rico into their long narrow east-and-west shape that somewhere in the west they passed through a strait which separated some large island from southeastern Asia; and that strait must lead into the Indian Ocean—the very ocean the Portuguese were now sailing so profitably! He wisely resolved to linger no longer in Spain, importuning for his lost governorship, but to undertake a fourth voyage and find this passage.
Good reasoning, all this about "the strait," if only facts had been geographically correct; and a brave determination, too, for an old man afflicted with rheumatism and fever and bad sight to resolve to put out once more on that boisterous ocean. We salute you, Don Cristobal! You are a true navigator, never afraid of hardships and labor and perplexing problems. Even had you not discovered America for us, we still would salute you, because you were a tremendous worker!
Full of his new plan, Columbus left beautiful Granada where he had spent two empty years and went to Sevilla. King Ferdinand readily granted him four ships, for the Admiral Cristobal Colon, off on a voyage of discovery, was not nearly so troublesome as the deposed governor and viceroy, lingering around the court to obtain his lost title and revenues.
The fitting out of the ships restored his spirits considerably. Whenever Christopher had to do with boats and sea preparations he was in his element. He now grew optimistic, and, with his usual fatal habit of promising great results, he told his Sevilla acquaintances that he expected to circumnavigate the world. Fatal habit, yes; but it meant that he still kept that rich imagination, without which he never would have made his first voyage.
Meanwhile, he realized that he was getting old, and that he might never come back from this trip. His thoughts often turned to his native Genoa, where he had played so happily as a child in the Vico Dritto di Ponticello; so, one day he sat down and generously wrote to the authorities of Genoa that, should his claims against the Spanish Crown ever be settled, a part of his money was to be used in paying the Genoese tax on wheat and wine, so that the poor might buy these two staples at a lower price.
Finally all was ready; four small, weather-beaten ships; a crew of one hundred and fifty men and boys; a few months' provisions. His brother Bartholomew, not very willingly, and his son Fernando, almost too eagerly, accompanied him. This, his fourth and last voyage, started from Cadiz on May 9, 1502.
THE LAST VOYAGE
Fernando Columbus, though only a lad of fourteen, noted every new experience with intelligent delight. He had his father's passion for writing things down. As it was the result of personal observation, Fernando's account of the fourth voyage may be accepted as more reliable than many other items he has left us concerning the Admiral's history.
Among other things, Fernando says that the little fleet intended starting its search at the outlet of the Gulf of Paria, and then following the land west until they came to the straits leading into the Indian Ocean; but while approaching the Caribbean Islands, his father discovered that one of the vessels was in need of repairs; for which reason he headed for San Domingo, where he hoped to purchase a better caravel.
As Columbus had been told not to stop there till his return trip, he sent one of the faster ships ahead with a letter to Governor Ovando, explaining that he wanted to buy another ship, and also that he was seeking protection from a hurricane that he saw approaching. Knowing the peculiarities of weather in those regions, he was so sure of the storm that he advised Ovando to hold back any vessels that might be about to depart for Spain.
Our weather-wise old Admiral was not mistaken in his prophecy. A furious West Indian hurricane broke on the last day of June; but his poor little ships, instead of lying safe in the shelter of San Domingo harbor, were exposed to all the ravages of the storm. Why? Because Ovando had refused to let him enter the port! A cruel insult; but the Admiral was too busy just then to brood over it. He must hastily draw in under the lee of the land and wait for the hurricane to pass.
It was not the sort that passed, for it stayed and stayed till it was worn out by its own fury. "Eighty-eight days," Columbus wrote to his sovereign, "did this fearful tempest continue, during which I was at sea and saw neither sun nor stars. My ships lay exposed with sails torn; and anchors, cables, rigging, boats, and a quantity of provisions lost.... Other tempests have I experienced, but none of so long duration or so frightful as this."
And all this perilous time, when men and vessels narrowly escaped going to the bottom, the discoverer of the New World was denied the privilege of the only seaport in it! It makes one's blood boil, even to-day, to think that at San Domingo the Comendador Ovando and the whole group of ungrateful landsmen went safely to bed every night in the very houses that they had hated Columbus for making them build, while he was lashing about on the furious waves, thinking his other three ships lost, and expecting every minute a similar fate for his own!
The eighty-eight days, fortunately, were not continuously stormy; there were occasional lulls. It was the end of June when Columbus had asked for shelter; not till the middle of July did the first clear weather come. Then the scattered, battered boats reunited as by a miracle, and found themselves near the "Queen's Garden" islands south of Cuba. Let us leave them there patching their boats and enjoying a bit of sunshine while we see what has been happening at ungrateful San Domingo.
Ovando had been on the island a month and a half when Columbus came along asking permission to land. Whether this was refused through the new governor's ugly nature alone, or whether he believed Columbus's prophecy of bad weather merely an excuse to land, is not known. Certain it is that, although the Spanish monarchs thought San Domingo could get along better without the Admiral, they never intended him to be turned off when a violent hurricane was pending. Ovando evidently did not believe in the hurricane; besides, he did not want Columbus to find out that the new governors were managing no better than he had managed. In this respect there was nothing to be proud of, else Ovando would surely have believed in the hurricane. Bobadilla had been a miserable failure; and he himself had not been there long enough to make any improvements, except the detestable one of sending for African negroes to replace Indian slaves!
One thing, however, had turned out a little better than any one expected, and that was the gold mine near which the town of San Domingo had been built. When Columbus's warning about the storm came, eighteen caravels lay in the harbor ready to start for Spain with eighteen hundredweight of gold. One nugget alone, Las Casas tells us, weighed thirty-five pounds. Out of all this treasure, Columbus's share was forty pounds, and that was set aside and loaded on the poorest, leakiest caravel of the lot, called The Needle, to be sent to Spain and to remain there until he should appear to claim it.
Ovando, like Columbus, wanted the colony to appear profitable in the eyes of the monarchs, and was eager to start off this first golden cargo, also all the spoils he had filched from the natives since his arrival. Then, too, the Comendador Bobadilla was already aboard, and Ovando was eager to be rid of him and also of Francisco Roldan, who never had been, and never could be, of use in any colony; so Ovando, when he read Columbus's warning, threw back his head and exclaimed, "Nonsense! Let them start just the same!"
And start they did; and scarcely were the vessels out of sight when the hurricane broke. Of the eighteen ships only one ever got to Spain. Three returned much damaged to San Domingo. The others went down. The one vessel that reached Spain was the leaky little tub called The Needle, laden with the Admiral's gold! Thus the same storm that sent many of his San Domingo enemies to a watery grave saved for him the first profits he received from the island. It would be some satisfaction to learn that Ovando was rebuked for his cruelty and stupidity; but there is no record of such a reprimand. Perhaps no one even knew that Ovando had been warned. As for the wholesale shipwreck, people merely looked at such things piously in those days, and said, "It is the will of Heaven!"
When the first lull came in that devastating storm, Columbus found himself south of Cuba among the little "Garden" group. It was the third time he had had a chance to sail along the Cuban coast and discover whether it really was an island, as the natives said, or whether it was the mainland, as he had forced his sailors to swear while on the Cuban voyage when his brain was full of fever. Again he let the problem go unsolved; the object of this fourth voyage was to find the straits leading into the Indian Ocean. Having failed to begin his search from Trinidad by following South America westward, as originally planned, he expected he would come to the straits by following Cuba's southern shore in the same direction, if Cuba, as he hoped, was a great strip of land projecting eastward from the continent. And yet, instead of sailing along Cuba, or returning to the Gulf of Paria and hugging the land westward, he suddenly decided to put out southwest into the open sea. This seems to us a foolish course, for no matter at what point he struck land, how would he know whether to explore to the left or right for his straits? Why this least desirable of three courses was taken neither the Admiral nor his son explained in their diaries. Of course he found land,—the Honduras coast; but of course he had no means of knowing what relation it had either to Cuba or to the land around the Gulf of Paria. Thus the poor Admiral lost his last chance of arriving at any just conclusions of the magnitude of his discovery.
Before reaching this Honduras coast they stopped at the Isle of Pines, where they saw natives in comfortable-looking house boats; that is, huge canoes sixty feet long, cut from a single mahogany tree, and with a roofed caboose amidships. These natives wore plenty of gold ornaments and woven clothing; they had copper hatchets and sharp blades of flint; and they used a sort of money for buying and selling. In other words, it was the nearest approach to civilization that Columbus had ever seen in his new lands. He tried by signs to ask about all these things, and the natives pointed west as the place from which their house boat had come. But so keen was Columbus for "the straits" to the Indian Ocean that even gold could not divert him this time; he refused to proceed due west, and thus failed to discover Mexico, the richest region the Spaniards were ever to find on the North American continent.
From the Isle of Pines, the Admiral put out again into the open sea, southwest, and the moment he had cleared land terrific storms were encountered. Worse still, when he neared the coast which he named Honduras, the currents were so violent that his boats could hardly make headway against them. All July and August thunder and lightning were incessant. Timbers creaked and strained till each minute it appeared as if they must have reached the breaking point. Meanwhile the Admiral was enduring the tortures of rheumatism and could not leave his bed; and so, up on deck where the gales and the waves swept free, he ordered them to rig a little cabin of sailcloth; there he lay and directed every move of his crew. One minute he saw his terrified seamen clinging to masts or slipping over wet decks; another, hauling in the mere shreds of sails that were left. One minute he heard them vowing pilgrimages and penances if only they might be saved; another, denouncing the madman who brought them to these terrible waters.
But the sick man did not heed all this; his business was to bring them out alive if possible; so he kept a clear head and issued his orders. Whenever he became discouraged, he looked across the wave-washed decks to the comforting sight of a slender lad of fourteen, brought up delicately at court, but now turning to with a will and helping the sailors with every rough, heavy task. How proud the Admiral must have felt when he wrote in his journal, "It was as if Fernando had been at sea eighty years!"
At last they rounded a point where better weather greeted them, and in thankfulness Columbus called it Cape Gracias a Dios (Thanks to God). But straightway came another blow. On the very first day when they could catch their breath and cease struggling against wind and current and rain, their spirits were again dashed. A rowboat went near the mouth of a river to take on fresh water, and the river came out with a gush, upset the boat, and drowned the men in it. So our sick Admiral, who was drawing a map of the coast, and had just finished writing "Thanks to God," marks down the rushing river and names it "Rio de Desastre" (River of Disaster).
Just below Gracias Cape the current divided into two, one part flowing west, the other south; this latter was followed. Sailing down the Mosquito Coast they came, toward the end of September, to a pleasant spot which Columbus called "The Garden," or El Jardin (pronounced Khar- deen'), and where the natives appeared to be more intelligent than any he had yet seen. Continuing south, he came to Caribaro Bay, where the people wore many flat ornaments of beaten gold. As if they could detect, from afar, the gold lust in the European eye, the poor creatures brandished their weapons to keep the strange-looking visitors from landing; but it was of no avail. Land they did, and traded seventeen gold disks for just three tinkly bells! The voyagers asked, of course, where the gold came from, and were told from Veragua, a little farther south. For once the sign language was correctly understood. Veragua actually existed. The Spaniards found it just west of the Isthmus of Darien.
Here plenty more gold was seen. "In two days," wrote Columbus, "I saw more indications of near-by gold mines than I had seen in four years in Hispaniola." Not only did he see the precious metal, but he heard that "ten days inland" lived tribes who possessed quantities of gold and silver. And then the natives spoke of something far more wonderful, had Columbus but known it, than gold; for they said, also, that ten days' tramp westward lay a vast sea. This, Columbus concluded, must be the immense river Ganges; and his tired brain began figuring how, by a little "tramping west," and a little river boating, and then some more tramping, a Spaniard could get from Darien back to Spain, provided the Moslems did not murder him on the way!
But he was not seeking for gold on this trip. He did not march ten days inland. He turned a deaf ear to it and to all his importuning crew and went searching for his "strait"; by which steadfastness of purpose he just missed discovering the Pacific Ocean. It has been said that Fate was always a little niggardly with Columbus, and never was it truer than at this moment when she at last deafened his ear to the tale of gold and sent him south.
All November and December he continued coasting along South America. But his greedy crew could never forget the sight of those Veragua natives actually smelting gold. The men became sulky and clamored to go back; and furthermore, the ships were too worm-eaten and too covered with barnacles to proceed. On December 5, in order to take the gold-seekers back to Darien, he reluctantly gave over his search for the passage to the Indian Ocean. But the minute he turned north new gales began to blow. These continued so furiously that in a whole month they progressed barely a hundred miles. All this time they were nearly starved; about the only provisions left were their rotten biscuits and these were, as Fernando tells us, so disgusting to look upon that "many waited till night to eat their sop."
At last the famished party got back to Veragua. Eighty men landed with the idea of forming a settlement under Bartolome Colon. They had the good sense to act in the friendliest manner to the native chief; but he was not the simple-minded creature that Guacanagari was, over in Haiti. He saw at once that they wanted gold, so he nodded obligingly, and indicated by signs that he would lead them to the gold mines. And he did; but they proved to be the small, worked-out mines of a neighboring chief who drove the intruders off. Back they went to the first chief's land and began to build a stockade. The first chief still appeared friendly enough, but a very clever young Spaniard named Diego Mendez happened to prowl through the undergrowth to the Indian village and saw the warriors sharpening their knives and making ready to attack the uninvited settlers. Off rushed Diego to tell Don Bartolome; and he, believing that "the best defense is a sharp attack," rushed to the village, captured the chief and many warriors, and sent them captive aboard the waiting caravels. The chief, however, succeeded in jumping over the side, diving to the bottom, and swimming ashore.
It was then quite dark and none saw him come to the surface, but the next day he had another force ready to defy them. Of his fellow- prisoners who had been thrust into the hold, some managed to throw open a hatchway, overpower the guard, and likewise plunge into the sea. The sailors hurriedly pushed back the hatchway so that no more might climb out on deck; but next morning it was discovered that all those who had not escaped were dead. They had committed suicide rather than be carried off by the ruthless strangers.
All this time there was such a rough sea that no small boats could get ashore from the caravels to obtain news of the eighty colonists under Bartolome. At last a sailor offered to swim to land; when he came back, it was with the news that this settlement had gone the way of Isabella and San Domingo, for half its men had mutinied. The gold did not seem worth fighting for where natives were so hostile that a man could not even pick fruit from a tree and eat it! Columbus saw that there was nothing to do but get the men back on the boats and abandon all thought of colonizing what he had already named Costa Rica (Rich Coast).
But to carry out this decision for a while appeared impossible; the waves were too high for any boat to venture out; but at last the clever Diego Mendez, by lashing two canoes together into a sort of raft, got near enough to shore to rescue Don Bartolome and his men and stores. When Diego had succeeded in this perilous task, his Admiral was so grateful that, in the presence of all the men, he kissed him on both cheeks, a mark of great respect in those days. Ah, if only Christopher had found such a stanch, capable friend earlier in his career!
Ever since they reached the mainland Columbus had been suffering torments with rheumatism. Now to add to his agonies a fever attacked him. Along with these ills, and the murmurings of his hungry men, one of the ships was wrecked; and after they had rescued its men and provisions, and were about to find room for them on another ship, this other ship was discovered to be too worm-eaten and disabled to continue the voyage. Columbus, in all his pain, directed the removal of men and goods to the best two caravels. This done, he started for San Domingo, turning his back on his last chance to find the passage to India—the broad Pacific Ocean—if only he had crossed the isthmus between!
THE COURAGE OF DIEGO MENDEZ
At last they were clear of the most disastrous landing that Columbus had ever made. What you have read is but the bare sketch of a chapter in his life that was crowded thick with misfortunes and even horrors. And yet, strange to say, on this detestable coast is the only settlement in the New World that perpetuates the great discoverer's name, the town of Colon, at the Atlantic terminus of the Panama Canal.
The Admiral's health was now ruined, for fevers, sleeplessness, gout, and eyestrain kept him in constant pain, and at times made even that strong mind of his a little queer and wobbly. But on one point at least it remained alert and lucid,—he still could think out his course clearly. With a view to avoiding the treacherous winds and coastwise currents that had previously wrought such havoc with his ships, he set his rudders due east on leaving Veragua; his idea being to sail first east and then north to San Domingo.
Straightway the crews became alarmed, thinking he meant to return direct to Spain, in spite of the fact that the ships were too rotten for the long trip. But no; the Admiral hoped, besides escaping currents, to mystify them as to the geographical position of the gold coast. Remembering how Alonzo de Ojeda had gone back and reaped riches from the pearl coast, and how Pedro Nino, that captain who brought slaves to Cadiz and sent word that he had brought a cargo of gold, and also been to Paria, Christopher decided to zigzag about in such a manner that no one could ever find his way back to the gold country ten days inland from Darien. Suffering and misfortune were surely telling on the Admiral's mind, else he would never have written this childish note: "None of them [the crew] could explain whither I went nor whence I came; they did not know the way to return thither."
But all the time his men grumbled, and could not understand why they were starting for Spain on crazy, crumbling ships, when San Domingo lay so much nearer. Every day they murmured louder, till at last the Admiral foolishly humored them by heading due north; the result was that he turned too soon and found himself in a new current he had never met before. This current carried them past Hispaniola westward again to those same "Gardens of the Queen." The series of storms that here overtook the two battered little ships were almost as bad as those that met them on their last approach to Hispaniola. Anchors were lost and the men kept the ships from sinking only by the constant use of "three pumps and all their pots and kettles." By the 23d of June they had drifted over to Jamaica. The crews were worn out by their hard work to keep afloat. It seemed as if human endurance could stand no more. Many were badly bruised from being dashed down on the decks like bits of wood before the gales; they had had no dry clothing on for days; their hearts were faint, their stomachs fainter, for they had had nothing to eat and drink for some time but black wormy bread and vinegar. How, we ask ourselves as we sit in our comfortable, solid houses, did they endure it? And yet there was even worse to come!
The Admiral saw that even "three pumps and all their pots and kettles" could not keep the water bailed out of the leaky boats. The only thing he could do was to run his ships aground. The first harbor he tried was so barren on every side that starvation stared them in the face; so they pushed on a little farther, the exhausted men again bailing steadily, till they entered a greener spot, now called Don Christopher's Cove. Not a minute too soon did they reach it. Once the ships were grounded on the sandy beach, the tide soon filled the hulls with water. The weary men had to turn to and build cabins on the forecastles; and here at last they managed to keep dry, and to lie down and rest.
Their first thought was how to get food. The resourceful Diego Mendez offered to tramp over the island and trade whatever personal articles the sailors had left for foodstuffs. In this he was successful; he secured more than food; he exchanged the clothing on his own back for a large canoe and six rowers, and returned by sea. The next aid Mendez rendered the shipwrecked men showed even finer heroism than his lashing the canoes together to rescue Bartholomew. He offered to go in an open rowboat all the way from Jamaica to Haiti and ask Ovando to send a rescue vessel!
Look at a map of the West Indies and see what this offer meant! Two hundred miles to the western point of Haiti, two hundred more to the governor at San Domingo, and this, too, across a sea frequented by perilous hurricanes. It was a magnificent piece of volunteer work! Not one chance in a hundred did Diego Mendez have of reaching his destination, and he knew it; yet he offered to take the risk. One of his shipmates caught some of his valorous spirit and offered to accompany him; and the six native rowers, of course, had no choice but to go.
Mendez was as practical and ingenious as he was brave. He fastened weatherboards along the rim of the canoe to prevent shipping water; he fitted it with a mast and sail, and coated it with tar; and while he was doing it the Admiral wrote a brief, businesslike letter to Ovando, telling of the sad plight they were in; he also wrote a long, rambling letter, full of evidence of feeble-mindedness, to the monarchs. These letters Mendez was to take with him.
But Mendez, to every one's dismay, came back again in a few days,—came back alone and with boat and oars smashed. While waiting at the eastern point of Jamaica for a favorable wind to take them over to Haiti, they were surrounded by hostile natives and captured. The six rowers escaped, and the companion of Mendez was probably killed instantly; but while the savages were debating how to kill and cook Mendez, he managed to dash away, jump in his huge canoe, and push off!
The shipwrecked party felt crushed indeed. Their last hope of rescue was gone; but no—Diego Mendez offered to start all over again, if only Don Bartolome would march with an armed force along the shore till there came a favorable moment in the weather for Diego to push across to Haiti.
This precaution saved the intrepid Diego a second surprise from cannibals; but the passage, after leaving Jamaica, was torture. So intense was the heat, that he and his Indian rowers were forced to take turns jumping overboard and swimming alongside the canoe in order to cool off. The Indians, like children, wanted to drink all the water at once. In spite of warning, they emptied the kegs the second night, and then lay down on the bottom of the canoe, panting for more. Diego and his Spanish companion did the rowing till the Indians were rested a bit. Then Diego brought out two more kegs of water which he had artfully hidden under his seat, gave them all a drink, and set them to work again. Late that second night the moon came up, not out of the sea, but behind the jagged rock that lies ten miles off the western end of Haiti. Blessed sight! What new courage it put into the tired rowers; how eager they were to make the rock by sunrise so as to lie in its shade all that August day of 1503, instead of blistering under the torrid sun in an open boat. Surely, if ever men deserved to lie all day in the shade, it was these brave fellows who were trying to save Christopher Columbus.