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Return Voyage-Violent Storms—Arrival at Portugal. [1493.]
It was on the 4th of January that Columbus set sail from La Navidad on his return to Spain. On the 6th, as he was beating along the coast, with a head wind, a sailor at the mast-head cried out that ́there was a sail at a distance, standing towards them. To their great joy it proved to be the Pinta, which came sweeping before the wind with flowing canvas. On joining the admiral, Pinzon endeavoured to excuse his desertion, by saying that he had been separated from him by stress of weather, and had ever since been seeking him. Columbus listened passively but incredulously to these excuses, avoiding any words that might produce altercations, and disturb the remainder of the voyage. He ascertained, afterwards, that Pinzon had parted company intentionally, and had steered directly east, in quest of a region where the Indians on board of his vessel had assured him he would find gold in abundance. They had guided him to Hispaniola, where he had been for some time in a river about fifteen leagues east of La Navidad, trading with the natives. He had collected a large quantity of gold, one half of which he retained as captain, and the rest he divided among his men, to secure their secrecy and fidelity. On
leaving the river, he had carried off four Indian men and two girls, to be sold in Spain.
Colmbus sailed for this river, to which he gave the name of Rio de Gracia; but it long continued to be known as the river of Martin Alonzo. Here he ordered the four men and two girls to be dismissed, well clothed, and with many presents, to atone for the wrong they had experienced, and to allay the hostile feeling it might have caused among the natives. This restitution was not made without great unwillingness, and many angry words, on the part of Pinzon.
After standing for some distance further along the coast, they anchored in a vast bay, or rather gulf, three leagues in breadth, and extending so far inland that Columbus at first supposed it to be an arm of the sea. Here he was visited by the people of the mountains of Ciguay, a hardy and warlike race, quite different from the gentle and peaceful people they had hitherto met with on this island. They were of fierce aspect, and hideously painted, and their heads were decorated with feathers. They had bows and arrows, war clubs, and swords made of palm wood, so hard and heavy that a blow from them would cleave through a helmet to the very brain. At first sight of these ferocious-looking people, Columbus supposed them to be the Caribs, so much dreaded throughout these seas; but on asking for the Caribbean islands the Indians still pointed to the eastward.
With these people the Spaniards had a skirmish, in which several of the Indians were slain. This was the first contest they had had with the inhabitants of the new world, and the first time that native
blood had been shed by white men. From this skirmish Columbus called the place El Golfo de las Fleches, or the Gulf of Arrows; but it is now known by the name of the Gulf of Samana. He lamented that all his exertions to maintain an amicable intercourse had been ineffectual, and anticipated further hostility on the part of the natives; but on the following day they approached the Spaniards as freely and confidently as if nothing had happened; the cacique came on board with only three attendants, and throughout all their subsequent dealings they betrayed no signs of lurking fear or enmity. This frank and confiding conduct, so indicative of a brave and generous nature, was properly appreciated by Columbus: he entertained the cacique with great distinction, and at parting made many presents to him and his attendants. This cacique of Ciguay was named Mayonabex, and in subsequent events of this history will be found to acquit himself with valour and magnanimity, under the most trying circumstances.
Columbus, on leaving the bay, took four young Indians to guide him to the Caribbean islands, situated to the east, of which they gave him very interesting accounts, as well as of the island of Mantinino, said to be inhabited by Amazons.
favourable breeze sprang up, however, for the voyage homewards, and, seeing gloom and impatience in the countenances of his men, at the idea of diverging from their route, he gave up his intention of visiting these islands for the present, and made all sail for Spain.
The trade-winds which had been so propitious on the outward voyage were equally adverse to a re
turn. The favourable breeze soon died away; light winds from the east, and frequent calms, succeeded; but they had intervals of favourable weather, and by the 12th of February they had made such progress as to begin to flatter themselves with the hopes of soon beholding land. The wind now came on to blow violently; on the following evening there were three flashes of lightning in the north-north-east ; from which signs Columbus predicted an approaching tempest.
It soon burst upon them with frightful violence; their small and crazy vessels were little fitted for the wild storms of the Atlantic; all night they were obliged to scud under bare poles at the mercy of the elements. As the morning dawned, there was a transient pause, and they made a little sail; but the wind rose with redoubled fury from the south, and increased in the night, the vessels labouring terribly in a cross sea, which threatened at each moment to overwhelm them or dash them to pieces. The tempest still augmenting, they were obliged again to scud before the wind. The admiral made signal lights for the Pinta to keep in company; for some time she replied by similar signals, but she was separated by the violence of the storm; her lights gleamed more and more distant, until they ceased entirely. When the day dawned, the sea presented a frightful waste of wild broken waves, lashed into fury by the gale; Columbus looked round anxiously for the Pinta, but she was nowhere to be seen.
Throughout a dreary day the helpless bark was driven along by the tempest. Seeing all human skill baffled and confounded, Columbus endeavoured to propitiate Heaven by solemn vows. Lots were
cast to perform pilgrimages and penitences, most of which fell upon Columbus; among other things, he was to perform a solemn mass, and to watch and pray all night in the chapel of the convent of Santa Clara, at Moguer. Various private vows were made by the seamen, and one by the admiral and the whole crew, that if they were spared to reach the land, they would walk in procession, barefooted, and in their shirts, to offer up thanksgivings in some church dedicated to the Virgin.
The heavens, however, seemed deaf to all their vows; the storm grew still more furious, and every one gave himself up for lost. During this long and awful conflict of the elements, the mind of Columbus was a prey to the most distressing anxiety. He was harassed by the repinings of his crew, who cursed the hour of their leaving their country, and their want of resolution in not compelling him to abandon the voyage. He was afflicted, also, when he thought of his two sons, who would be left destitute by his death. But he had another source of distress, more intolerable than death itself. It was highly probable that the Pinta had foundered in the storm. In such case, the history of his discovery would depend upon his own feeble bark; one surge of the ocean might bury it for ever in oblivion, and his name only remain as that of a desperate adventurer, who had perished in pursuit of a chimera.
In the midst of these gloomy reflections, an expedient suggested itself, by which, though he and his ships might perish, the glory of his achievements might survive to his name, and its advantages be secured to his sovereigns. He wrote on parchment a brief account of his discovery, and of his having