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Isabella, and she found how grossly Columbus had been wronged, and the royal authority abused, her heart was filled with mingled sympathy and indignation.
However Ferdinand might have secretly felt disposed against Columbus, the momentary tide of public sentiment was not to be resisted. He joined with his generous queen, in her reprobation of the treatment of the admiral. Without waiting to receive any documents that might arrive from Bobadilla, they sent orders to Cadiz that the prisoners should be instantly set at liberty, and treated with all distinction, and that two thousand ducats should be advanced to Columbus to defray the expenses of his journey to court. They wrote him a letter at the same time, expressing their grief at all that he had suffered, and inviting him to Granada.
The loyal heart of Columbus was cheered by this letter from his sovereigns. He appeared at court, not as a man ruined and disgraced, but richly dressed, and with an honourable retinue. He was received by their majesties with unqualified favour and distinction. When the queen beheld this venerable man approach, and thought on all he had deserved, and all that he had suffered, she was moved to tears. Columbus had borne up firmly against the stern conflicts of the world; he had endured with lofty scorn the injuries and insults of ignoble men, but he possessed strong and quick sensibility. When he found himself thus kindly received, and beheld tears in the benign eyes of Isabella, his long suppressed feelings burst forth; he threw himself upon his knees, and for some time could not utter a word for the violence of his tears and sobbings.
Ferdinand and Isabella raised him from the ground,
and endeavoured to encourage him by the most gracious expressions. As soon as he regained his selfpossession, he entered into an eloquent and highminded vindication of his loyalty, and the zeal he had ever felt for the glory and advantage of the Spanish crown; if, at any time, he had erred, it had been, he said, through inexperience in the art of governing, and through the extraordinary difficulties by which he had been surrounded.
There was no need of vindication on his part. He stood in the presence of his sovereigns a deeply injured man, and it remained for them to vindicate themselves to the world, from the charge of ingratitude towards their most deserving subject. They expressed their indignation at the proceedings of Bobadilla, which they disavowed, as contrary to his instructions; they promised that he should be immediately dismissed from his command, and Columbus reinstated in all his privileges and dignities, and indemnified for the losses he had sustained. The latter expected, of course, to be immediately sent back in triumph to San Domingo, as viceroy and admiral of the Indies; but in this he was doomed to experience a disappointment, which threw a gloom over the remainder of his days. The fact was, that Ferdinand, however he might have disapproved of the violence of Bobadilla, was secretly well pleased with its effects. It had produced a temporary exclusion of Columbus from his high offices, and the politic monarch determined, in his heart, that he should never be restored to them. He had long repented having vested such great powers and prerogatives in any subject, particularly in a foreigner; but at the time of granting them he had no idea of the extent of the countries over which they would be exercised.
Recent discoveries, made by various individuals, showed them to be almost boundless. Vincente Yañez Pinzon, one of the brave and intelligent family of navigators that had sailed with Columbus in his first voyage, had lately crossed the line, and explored the shores of the southern continent, as far as Cape St. Augustine. Diego Lepe, another bold navigator of Palos, had doubled that cape, and beheld the continent stretching away out of sight, to the south-west. The report of every discoverer put it beyond a doubt that these countries must be inexhaustible in wealth, as they appeared to be boundless in extent. Yet over all these Columbus was to be viceroy, with a share in their productions, and in the profits of their trade, that must yield him an incalculable revenue. The selfish monarch appeared almost to consider himself outwitted in the arrangement he had made; and every new discovery, instead of increasing his feeling of gratitude to Columbus, seemed only to make him repine at the growing magnitude of his reward.
Another grand consideration with the monarch was, that Columbus was no longer indispensable to him. He had made his great discovery; he had struck out the route to the new world, and now any one could follow it. A number of able navigators had sprung up under his auspices, who were daily besieging the throne with offers to fit out expeditions at their own cost, and to yield a share of the profits to the crown. Why should he, therefore, confer princely dignities and prerogatives for that which men were daily offering to perform gratuitously?
Such, from his after conduct, appears to have been the jealous and selfish policy which actuated
Ferdinand in forbearing to reinstate Columbus in those dignities and privileges which had been solemnly granted to him by treaty, and which it was acknowledged he had never forfeited by misconduct. Plausible reasons, however, were given for delaying his re-appointment. It was observed that the elements of those factions which had recently been in arms yet existed in the island, and might produce fresh troubles should Columbus return immediately. It was represented as advisable, therefore, to send some officer of talent and discretion to supersede Bobadilla, and to hold the government for two years, by which time all angry passions would be allayed, and turbulent individuals removed. Columbus might then resume the command, with comfort to himself, and advantage to the crown. With this arrangement the admiral was obliged to content himself.
The person chosen to supersede Bobadilla was Don Nicholas de Ovando, commander of Lares, of the order of Alcantara. He is described as being of the middle size, with a fair complexion, a red beard, a modest look, yet a tone of authority; fluent in speech, courteous in manners, prudent, just, temperate, and of great humility. Such is the picture drawn of him by some of his contemporaries; yet he appears, from his actions, to have been plausible and subtle, as well as fluent and courteous; his humility concealed a great love of command; he was a merciless scourge to the Indians, and in his dealings with Columbus he was both ungenerous and unjust.
While the departure of Ovando was delayed by various circumstances, every arrival brought intelligence of the disastrous state of the island, under
the administration of Bobadilla. The latter was not so much a bad, as an imprudent and a weak Imagining rigorous rule to be the rock on which his predecessors had split, he had, at the very outset, relaxed the reins of justice and morality, and, of course, had lost all command over the community. In a little while such disorder and licentiousness ensued, that many, even of the opponents of Columbus, looked back with regret to the strict but wholesome rule of himself and the Adelantado.
One dangerous indulgence granted to the colonists called for another, and each was ceded, in its turn, by Bobadilla. He sold the farms and estates of the crown at low prices, and granted universal permission to work the mines, on paying only an eleventh of the produce to government. To prevent any diminution in the revenues, it became necessary to increase the quantity of gold collected. He enforced, therefore, the repartimientos, by which the caciques were obliged to furnish parties of their subjects to work for the Spaniards in the field and in the mine. To carry these into more complete effect, he made an enumeration of the natives of the island, reduced them into classes, and distributed them, according to his favour or caprice, among the colonists. His constant exhortation to the Spaniards was, to produce large quantities of gold. "Make the most of your time," he would say, "there is no knowing how long it will last;" alluding to the possibility of his being speedily recalled. The colonists acted up to his advice, and so hard did they drive the poor natives, that the eleventh yielded more revenue than had ever been produced by the third, under the government of Columbus. In the mean time, the unhappy Indians