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beg, therefore, that you would assemble the people, and propose this enterprise, to see if any one will undertake it, which I doubt. If all decline, I will then come forward and risk my life in your service, as I have many times done already,"
The admiral willingly humoured the wishes of the worthy Mendez; for never was simple vanity accompanied by more generous and devoted zeal.
On the following morning the crew was accordingly assembled, and the proposition made. Every one drew back, pronouncing it the height of rashness. Upon this Diego Mendez stepped forward. Señor," said he, " I have but one life to lose, yet I am willing to venture it for your service, and for the good of all here present; and I trust in the protection of God, which I have experienced on SO many other occasions
Columbus embraced this zealous follower, who immediately set about preparing for the expedition. Drawing his canoe on shore, he put on a false keel, and nailed weather-boards along the bow and stern, to prevent the sea from breaking over it. He then payed it with a coat of tar, furnished it with a mast and sail, and put in provisions for himself, a Spanish comrade, and six Indians.
In the mean while Columbus wrote a letter to Ovando, governor of Hispaniola, begging that a ship might immediately be sent to bring him and his men to Hispaniola; and he wrote another to the sovereigns, entreating for a ship to convey them from Hispaniola to Spain. In this letter he gave a comprehensive account of his voyage, and expressed his opinion that Veragua was the Aurea Chersonesus of the ancients. He supposed himself to have reached
the confines of the dominions of the Grand Khan, and offered, if he lived to return to Spain, to conduct a mission thither to instruct that potentate in the christian faith. What an instance of soaring enthusiasm and irrepressible enterprise is here exhibited! At the time he was indulging these visions, and proposing new and romantic enterprises, he was broken down by age and infirmities, racked by pain, confined to his bed, and shut up in a wreck on the coast of a remote and savage island.
The despatches being ready, Diego Mendez embarked with his Spanish comrade and his six Indians, and coasted the island eastward. Their voyage was toilsome and perilous. When arrived at the end of the island they were suddenly surrounded and taken prisoners by the Indians, who carried them three leagues into the interior, where they determined to kill them. A dispute arising about the division of the spoils, they agreed to settle it, after the Indian fashion, by a game of ball. While thus engaged, Diego Mendez escaped, regained his canoe, and made his way back to the harbour in it, alone, after fifteen days' absence. Nothing daunted by the perils and hardships he had undergone, he offered to depart immediately on a second attempt, provided he could be escorted to the end of the island by an armed force. His offer was accepted, and Bartholomew Fiesco, a Genoese, who had commanded one of the caravals, and was strongly attached to the admiral, was associated with him in this second expedition. Each had a canoe, with six Spaniards and ten Indians under his command. On reaching Hispaniola, Fiesco was to return immediately to Jamaica, to bring tidings to the admiral of the safe arrival of
his messenger; while Diego Mendez was to proceed to San Domingo, and, after purchasing and despatching a ship, was to depart for Spain with the letter to the sovereigns.
All arrangements being made, the Indians placed in the canoes a supply of cassava bread, and each his calabash of water. The Spaniards, beside their provisions, had each his sword and target. The Adelantado, with an armed band, kept pace with them along the coast, until they reached the end of the island, where, waiting for three days until the weather was perfectly serene, they launched forth on the broad bosom of the sea. The Adelantado remained watching them until they became mere specks on the ocean, and the evening hid them from his view, and then returned to the harbour.
Mutiny of Porras-Eclipse of the Moon-Stratagem of Columbus to procure Supplies from the Indians. [1503.]
MONTHS elapsed, and nothing was heard of Mendez and Fiesco. The Spaniards, enfeebled by past sufferings, crowded in close quarters, in a moist and sultry climate, and reduced to a vegetable diet, to which they were unaccustomed, became extremely sickly, and their maladies were heightened by anxiety and suspense. Day after day, and week after week, they kept a wistful look-out upon the sea for the expected return of Fiesco, flattering themselves that every Indian canoe, gliding at a distance, might be the harbinger of deliverance. It was all in vain ; and at length they began to fear that their messengers had perished. Some gradually sank into despondency; others became peevish and impatient, and, in their unreasonable heat, railed at their venerable and infirm commander as the cause of all their misfortunes.
Among the officers of Columbus were two brothers, Francisco and Diego Porras, relations of the royal treasurer Morales. To gratify the latter, the admiral had appointed one of them captain of a caraval, and the other notary and accountant-general of the expedition. They were vain and insolent
men, and, like many others whom Columbus had benefited, requited his kindness with the blackest ingratitude. Mingling with the people, they assured them that Columbus had no intention of returning to Spain, having in reality been banished thence by the sovereigns. Hispaniola, they said, was equally closed against him, and it was his design to remain in Jamaica, until his friends could make interest at court to procure his recal. As to Mendez and Fiesco, they had been sent to Spain by Columbus on his own private concerns; if this were not the case, why did not the promised ship arrive? or why did not Fiesco return? Or if the canoes had really been sent for succour, the long time that had elapsed without tidings gave reason to believe that they had perished by the way. In such case, their only alternative would be to take Indian canoes, and endeavour to reach Hispaniola: but there was no hope of persuading the admiral to do this; he was too old, and too infirm, to undertake such a voyage.
By these insidious suggestions, they gradually prepared the people for revolt, assuring them of the protection of their own relatives in Spain, and of the countenance of Ovando and Fonseca, if not of the favour of the sovereigns themselves, who had shown their ill will towards Columbus by stripping him of part of his dignities and privileges.
On the 2d of January, 1504, the mutiny broke out. Francisco Porras suddenly entered the cabin where Columbus was confined to his bed by the gout, reproached him vehemently with keeping them in that desolate place to perish, and accused him of having no intention to return to Spain. The admiral raised himself in bed, and, maintaining