« IndietroContinua »
lantado seized a lance, and sallied forth with seven or eight of his men; Diego Mendez brought several others to his assistance. They had a short skirmish; one Spaniard was killed, and eight wounded; the Adelantado received a thrust in the breast with a javelin; but they succeeded in repulsing the Indians, with considerable loss, and driving them into the forest.
During the skirmish, a boat came on shore from the ships, to procure wood and water. It was commanded by Diego Tristan, a captain of one of the caravals. When the Indians were put to flight he proceeded up the river, in quest of fresh water, disregarding the warning counsels of those on shore.
The boat had ascended about a league above the village, to a part of the river overshadowed by lofty banks and spreading trees. Suddenly the forest resounded with yells and war-whoops, and the blasts of conchs. A shower of missiles was rained from the shores, and canoes darted out from creeks and coves, filled with warriors, brandishing their weapons. The Spaniards, losing all presence of mind, neglected to use their fire-arms, and only sought to shelter themselves with their bucklers. The captain, Diego Tristan, though covered with wounds, endeavoured to animate his men, when a javelin pierced his right eye, and struck him dead. The canoes now closed upon the boat, and massacred the crew. One Spaniard alone escaped, who, having fallen overboard, dived to the bottom, swam under water, and escaped unperceived to shore, bearing tidings of the massacre to the settlement. The Spaniards were so alarmed at the intelligence, and at the thoughts of the dangers that were thickening around them, that, notwithstanding the
remonstrances of the Adelantado, they determined to embark in the caraval, and abandon the place altogether. On making the attempt, however, they found that, the torrents having subsided, the river was again shallow, and it was impossible for the caraval to pass over the bar. A high sea and boisterous surf also prevented their sending off a boat to the admiral, with intelligence of their danger. While thus cut off from all retreat or succour, horrors increased them. The mangled bodies of Diego Tristan and his men came floating down the stream, and drifted about the harbour, with flights of crows and other carrion birds feeding on them, and hovering, and screaming, and fighting about their prey.
In the mean time, the dismal sound of conchs and war drums was heard in every direction in the bosom of the surrounding forest, showing that the enemy was augmenting in number, and preparing for further hostilities. The Adelantado, therefore, deemed it unsafe to remain in the village, which was adjacent to the woods. He chose an open place on the shore, where he caused a kind of bulwark to be made of the boat of the caraval, and of casks and sea chests. Two places were left open as embrasures, in which were mounted a couple of falconets, or small pieces of artillery. In this little fortress the Spaniards shut themselves up, and kept the Indians at a distance by the terror of their firearms; but they were exhausted by watching and by incessant alarms, and looked forward with despondency to the time when their ammunition should be exhausted, or they should be driven forth by hunger to seek for food.
While the Spaniards were exposed to such im
minent peril on shore, great anxiety prevailed on board of the ships. Day after day elapsed without the return of Diego Tristan and his party, and it was feared that some disaster had befallen them. But one boat remained for the service of the ships, and they dared not risk it, in the rough sea and heavy surf, to send it on shore for intelligence. A circumstance occurred to increase the anxiety of the crews. The Indian prisoners were confined in the forecastle of one of the caravals. In the night they suddenly burst open the hatch, and several flung themselves into the sea, and swam to the shore; the rest were secured and forced back into the forecastle, but such was their unconquerable spirit and their despair, that they hanged or strangled themselves with ends of cords, which lay about in their prison, and in the morning were all found dead.
The escape of some of the prisoners gave great uneasiness to the admiral, fearing they would stimulate their countrymen to some new act of vengeance. Still it was impossible to send a boat on shore. At length one Pedro Ledesma, a man of great strength and resolution, volunteered, if the boat would take him to the edge of the surf, to plunge into the sea, swim to the shore, and bring off intelligence. He succeeded, and, on his return, informed the admiral of all the disasters of the settlement, the attack by the Indians, and the massacre of Diego Tristan and his boat's crew. He found the Spaniards in their forlorn fortress in a complete state of insubordination. They were preparing canoes to take them to the ships when the weather should moderate. They threatened that, if the admiral refused to take them on board, they would
embark in the remaining caraval, as soon as it could be extricated from the river, and would abandon themselves to the mercy of the seas, rather than continue on that fatal coast.
The admiral was deeply afflicted at this intelligence, but there appeared no alternative but to embark all the people, abandon the settlement for the present, and return at a future day, with a force competent to take secure possession of the country. The state of the weather rendered the execution even of this plan doubtful. The high wind and boisterous waves still prevented communication, and the situation of those at sea, in crazy and feebly manned ships, on a lee-shore, was scarcely less perilous than that of their comrades on the land. Every hour increased the anxiety of the admiral. Days of constant perturbation, and nights of sleepless anguish, preyed upon a constitution broken by age and hardships. Amidst the acute maladies of the body, and the fever of the mind, he appears to have been visited by partial delirium. In a letter to the sovereigns, he gives an account of a kind of vision, which comforted him when full of despondency, and tossing upon a couch of pain. In the silence of the night, when, wearied and sighing, he had fallen into a slumber, he thought he heard a voice reproaching him with his want of confidence in God. "Oh fool, and slow to believe thy God!" exclaimed the voice, "what did he more for Moses, or for his servant David? From the time that thou wert born he has ever taken care of thee. When he saw thee of a fitting age, he made thy name to resound marvellously throughout the world. The Indies, those rich parts of the earth, he gave thee for thine own,
and empowered thee to dispose of them to others according to thy pleasure. He delivered thee the keys of the gates of the ocean sea, shut up by such mighty chains, and thou wert obeyed in many lands, and didst acquire honourable fame among Christians. Thou dost call despondingly for succour. Answer; who has afflicted thee? God, or the world? The privileges and promises which God has made thee, he has never broken. He fulfils all that he promises, and with increase. Thy present troubles are the reward of the toils and perils thou hast endured in serving others." Amidst its reproaches the voice mingled promises of further protection, and assurances that his age should be no impediment to any great undertaking.
Such is the vision which Columbus circumstantially relates in a letter to the sovereigns. The words here spoken by a supposed voice, are truths which dwelt upon his mind, and agitated his spirit in his waking hours; it was natural, therefore, that they should recur vividly in his feverish dreams. He had a solemn belief that he was a peculiar instrument in the hands of Providence, which, together with a deep tinge of superstition, common to the age, made him prone to mistake every striking dream for a revelation.
His error was probably confirmed by subsequent circumstances. Immediately after the supposed vision, and after nine days of boisterous weather, the wind subsided, the sea became calm, and the Adelantado and his companions were happily rescued from their perilous situation, and embarked on board of the ships. Every thing of value was likewise brought on board, and nothing remained but the