Immagini della pagina

stitious seamen looked upon these counter charms with equal distrust. They suspected the people of this coast to be great enchanters, and that all the delays and hardships they had experienced were in consequence of the ships being under some evil spell, wrought by their magic arts. Even Columbus, and his son and historian Fernando, appear to have been tinctured with this superstition, which indeed is characteristic of the age.

On the 5th of October, Columbus arrived at what is at present called Costa Rica (or the Rich Coast), from the gold and silver mines found in after years among its mountains. Here he began to find ornaments of pure gold among the natives. These increased in quantity when he came to what has since been called the coast of Veragua, where he was assured that the richest mines were to be found. In sailing along these coasts he received repeated accounts of a great kingdom in the west, called Ciguare, at the distance of several days' journey, where, as far as he could understand the imperfect explanations of his interpreters, the inhabitants wore crowns and bracelets and anklets of gold, and employed it in embroidering their garments, and ornamenting and embossing their furniture. They were armed also like the Spaniards, with swords, bucklers, and cuirasses, and were mounted on horses. The country was described also as being commercial, with seaports, in which ships arrived armed with cannon. Above all, Columbus understood that the sea continued round to this kingdom of Ciguare, and that ten days beyond it was the Ganges.

These were evidently rumours of the distant kingdom of Mexico, imperfectly interpreted to

Columbus, and shaped and coloured by his imagination. He concluded that this country must be some province belonging to the Grand Khan, and must lie on the opposite side of a peninsula, and that he would soon arrive at a strait leading into the Indian Sea which washed its shores. The supposed vicinity of the Ganges caused no surprise, as he had adopted the opinion of certain ancient philosophers, who gave the world a smaller circumference than was generally imagined, and but fifty-six miles and two-thirds to a degree of the equinoctial line.

With these erroneous but ingenious ideas, Columbus continued to press forward in search of the imaginary strait, contending with adverse winds and currents, and meeting with great hostility from the natives; for the Indians of these coasts were fierce and warlike, and many of the tribes are supposed to have been of Carib origin. At sight of the ships, the forests would resound with yells and war whoops, with wooden drums, and the blast of conchs, and on landing the shores would be lined with savage warriors armed with clubs, and lances, and swords of palm wood.

At length, having discovered and named Puerto Bello, and continued beyond Cape Nombre de Dios, Columbus arrived at a small and narrow harbour, to which he gave the name of El Retrete, or The Cabinet. Here he had reached the point, to which Bastides, an enterprising voyager, coasting from the eastward, had recently explored. Whether Columbus knew or not of the voyage of this discoverer does not clearly appear, but here he was induced to give up all further attempt to find the strait.

The seamen were disheartened by the constant opposition

of the winds and currents, and by the condition of the ships, which were pierced on all parts by the teredo or worm, so destructive in the tropical seas. They considered themselves still under an evil spell, worked by the Indian sorcerers, and the commanders remonstrated against forcing their way any farther in spite of the elements, with ships so crazed and leaky. Columbus yielded to their solicitations, and determined to return to the coast of Veragua, and search for the mines which were said to abound there.

Here then ended the lofty anticipations which had elevated him above all mercenary views in his struggle along these perilous coasts, and had given a heroic character to the early part of his voyage. It is true, he had been in pursuit of a mere chimera, but it was the chimera of a splendid imagination and a penetrating judgment. The subsequent discovery of the Pacific Ocean bathing the opposite shores of that narrow isthmus, has proved that a great part of his theory was well founded.


Return to the Coast of Veragua-Contests with the Natives. [1502.]

ON the 5th of December, Columbus sailed from El Retrete, to return westward in search of the gold mines of Veragua. He had not proceeded far, however, when the wind suddenly veered to the west, the point from whence, for three months, he had been wishing it to blow, but from whence it now came only to contradict him. In a little while it became so variable and furious as to baffle all seamanship. For nine days the vessels were tossed about, at the mercy of a raging tempest, in an unknown sea, and often exposed to the awful perils of a lee shore. The sea, according to the description of Columbus, boiled at times like a caldron; at other times it ran in mountain waves, covered with foam. At night the raging billows sparkled with luminous particles which made them resemble great surges of flame. For a day and a night the heavens glowed like a furnace with incessant flashes of lightning; while the loud claps of thunder were often mistaken by the mariners for signal guns of distress from their foundering companions. During the whole time there was such a deluge of rain, that the seamen were almost drowned in their open vessels.

In the midst of this wild tumult of the elements they beheld a new object of alarm. The ocean in one place became strangely agitated. The water was whirled up into a kind of pyramid or cone, while a livid cloud, tapering to a point, bent down to meet it. Joining together, they formed a column, which rapidly approached the ships, spinning along the surface of the deep, and drawing up the waters with a rushing sound. The affrighted mariners, when they beheld this waterspout advancing towards them, despaired of averting it by human means, and began to repeat certain passages from St. John the Evangelist. The waterspout passed close by their ships without injuring them, and they attributed their escape to the miraculous efficacy of their quotations from the scriptures.

An interval of calm succeeded, but even this afforded but little consolation to the tempest-tost mariners; they looked upon it as deceitful, and beheld with alarm great numbers of sharks, so abundant and ravenous in those latitudes, roaming about the ships. Among the superstitions of the seas is the belief that these voracious fish have not only the faculty of smelling dead bodies at a distance, but have a presentiment of their prey, and keep about vessels which have sick persons on board, or which are in danger of being wrecked.

For three weeks longer they continued to be driven to and fro, by changeable and tempestuous winds, endeavouring to make a distance of merely thirty leagues, insomuch that Columbus gave this line of sea-board the name of La costa de los Contrastes, or the coast of contradictions. At length, to his great joy, he arrived on the day of Epiphany


« IndietroContinua »