Immagini della pagina

hull of the caraval, which could not be extricated from the river. Diego Mendez was extremely efficient in bringing off the people and the property; and, in reward of his zeal and services, the admiral gave him the command of the caraval vacant by the death of the unfortunate Diego Tristan.


Voyage to Jamaica-Transactions at that Island. [1503.]

TOWARDS the end of April, Columbus set sail from the disastrous coast of Veragua. The wretched condition of his ships, the enfeebled state of his crews, and the scarcity of provisions, determined him to make the best of his way for Hispaniola : but it was necessary, before standing across for that island, to gain a considerable distance to the east, to avoid being swept away far below their destined port by the currents. The pilots and mariners, who had not studied the navigation of these seas with an equally experienced and observant eye, fancied, when Columbus stood along the coast to the east, that he intended to proceed immediately to Spain, and murmured loudly at the madness of attempting so long a voyage, with ships destitute of stores and consumed by the worms. The admiral did not impart his reasons, for he was disposed to make a mystery of his routes, seeing the number of private adventurers daily crowding into his track.

Continuing along the coast eastward, he was obliged to abandon one of the caravals in the harbour of Puerto Bello, being so pierced by the teredo that it was impossible to keep her afloat. He then proceeded about ten leagues beyond Point Blas, near

to what is at present called the gulf of Darien, and which he supposed to be the province of Mangi, in the territories of the Grand Khan. Here he bade farewell to the main land, and stood northward, on the first of May, in quest of Hispaniola. Notwithstanding all his precautions, however, he was carried so far west by the currents, as to arrive, on the 30th of May, among the cluster of islands called the Queen's Gardens, on the south side of Cuba. During this time, his crews suffered excessively from hunger and fatigue. They were crowded into two caravals, little better than mere wrecks, and which were scarcely kept afloat by incessant labour at the pump. They were enfeebled by scanty diet, and dejected by a variety of hardships. A violent storm on the coast of Cuba drove the vessels upon each other, and shattered them to such a degree, that the admiral, after struggling as far as Cape Cruz, gave up all further attempt to navigate them to Hispaniola, and stood over, in search of a secure port, on the island of Jamaica. Here, on the 24th of June, they anchored in a harbour, to which the admiral gave the name of Port San Gloria.

Seeing that his ships were no longer capable of standing the sea, and were in danger of foundering even in port, Columbus ran them aground, within bowshot of the shore, where they were fastened together side by side. They soon filled with water. Thatched cabins were then erected at the prow and stern to shelter the crews, and the wreck was placed in the best possible state of defence. Thus castled in the sea, Columbus trusted to be able to repel any sudden attack of the natives, and at the same time

to keep his men under proper restraint. No one was permitted to go on shore without especial licence, and the utmost precaution was taken to prevent any offence being given to the Indians, who soon swarmed to the harbour with provisions, as any exasperation of them might be fatal to the Spaniards in their present forlorn situation. Two persons were appointed to superintend all bargains, and the provisions thus obtained were divided every evening among the people. As the immediate neighbourhood, however, might soon be exhausted, the zealous and intrepid Diego Mendez made a tour in the interior, accompanied by three men, and made arrangements for the caciques at a distance to furnish daily supplies at the harbour, in exchange for European trinkets. He returned in triumph, in a canoe which he had purchased from the Indians, and which he had freighted with provisions, and through his able arrangement the Spaniards were regularly supplied.

The immediate wants of his people being thus provided for, Columbus revolved in his anxious mind the means of getting from this island. His ships were beyond the possibility of repair, and there was no hope of a chance sail arriving to his relief, on the shores of a savage island, in an unfrequented sea. At length, a mode of relief occurred to him, through the means of this same Diego Mendez whose courage and loyalty he had so often proved. He took him aside to sound him on the subject, and Mendez himself has written an account of this interesting conversation, which is full of character.


Diego Mendez, my son," said the venerable admiral, "of all those who are here, you and I



alone know the great peril in which we are placed. We are few in number, and these savage Indians are many, and of fickle and irritable natures. the least provocation they may throw firebrands from the shore, and consume us in our straw-thatched cabins. The which have made for arrangement provisions, and which at present they fulfil so cheerfully, they may capriciously break to-morrow, and may refuse to bring us any thing; nor have we the means of compelling them. I have thought of a remedy, if it meets your views. In this canoe which you have purchased some one may pass over to Hispaniola, and procure a ship, by which we shall all be delivered from this great peril. Tell me your opinion on the matter."

"Señor," replied Diego Mendez, “ I well know our danger to be far greater than is easily conceived; but as to passing to Hispaniola in so small a vessel as a canoe, I hold it not merely difficult, but impossible, since it is necessary to traverse a gulf of forty leagues, and between islands where the sea is I know not who impetuous and seldom in repose. there is would venture upon so extreme a peril.”

Columbus made no reply; but from his looks, and the nature of his silence, Mendez plainly perceived himself to be the person whom the admiral had in view. Resuming, therefore, the conversation, "Señor," said he, " I have many times put my life in peril to save you and my comrades, and God has hitherto preserved me in a miraculous manner. There are, nevertheless, murmurers, who say that your Excellency intrusts to me every affair wherein honour is to be gained, while there are others in company who would execute them as well as I. I

« IndietroContinua »