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his calmness, endeavoured to reason with the traitor; but Porras was deaf to all argument. "Embark immediately, or remain, in God's name!” cried he, with a voice that resounded all over the wreck. "For my part, I am for Castile! those who choose may follow me!"
This was the signal. "For Castile! for Castile!" was heard on every side. The mutineers sprang up on the most conspicuous parts of the vessel, brandishing their weapons, and amidst the uproar the voices of some desperadoes were heard menacing the life of the admiral.
Columbus, ill and infirm as he was, leaped out of bed, and tottered forth to pacify the mutineers, but was forced back into his cabin by some of his faithful adherents. The Adelantado sallied forth lance in hand, and planted himself in a situation to take the whole brunt of the assault. It was with the greatest difficulty that several of the loyal part of the crew could restrain his fury, and prevail upon him to relinquish his weapon, and retire to the cabin of his brother.
The mutineers, being entirely unopposed, took ten canoes, which the admiral had purchased from the Indians; others, who had not been concerned in the mutiny, joined them, through fear of remaining behind, when so reduced in number: in this way forty-eight abandoned the admiral. Many of the sick crawled forth from their cabins, and beheld their departure with tears and lamentations, and would gladly have accompanied them, had their strength permitted.
Porras coasted with his squadron of canoes to the eastward, landing occasionally and robbing the
natives, pretending to act under the authority of Columbus, that he might draw on him their hostility. Arrived at the east end of the island, he procured several Indians to manage the canoes, and then set out on his voyage across the gulf. The Spaniards had scarcely proceeded four leagues, when the wind came ahead, with a swell of the sea, that threatened to overwhelm the deeply laden canoes. They immediately turned for land, and in their alarm threw overboard the greater part of their effects. The danger still continuing, they drew their swords, and compelled most of the Indians to leap into the sea. The latter were skilful swimmers, but the distance to land was too great for their strength; if however they at any time took hold of the canoes to rest themselves and recover breath, the Spaniards, fearful of their overturning the slight barks, would stab them or cut off their hands. Some were thus slain by the sword, others sank exhausted beneath the waves; eighteen perished miserably, and none survived but a few who had been retained to manage the canoes.
Having reached the shore in safety, Porras and his men waited until the weather became favourable, and then made another effort to cross to Hispaniola, but with no better success. They then abandoned the attempt in despair, and returned westward towards the harbour, roving from village to village, living upon the provisions of the Indians, which they took by force if not readily given, and conducting themselves in the most licentious manner. If the natives remonstrated, they told them to seek redress at the hands of the admiral, whom, at the same time, they represented as the implacable foe of
the Indian race, and bent upon gaining a tyrannical sway over their island.
In the mean time, Columbus, when abandoned by the mutineers, and left in the wreck with a mere handful of sick and desponding men, exerted himself to the utmost to restore this remnant to an efficient state of health and spirits. He ordered that the small stock of biscuit which remained, and the most nourishing articles of the provisions furnished by the Indians, should be appropriated to the invalids: he visited them individually, cheered them with hopes of speedy deliverance, and promised that on his return to Spain he would intercede with the sovereigns, that their loyalty might be munificently rewarded. In this way, by kind and careful treatment and encouraging words, he succeeded in restoring them from a state of sickness and despondency, and rendering them once more fit for service.
Scarcely, however, had the little garrison of the wreck recovered from the shock of the mutiny, when it was menaced by a new and appalling evil. The scanty number of the Spaniards prevented them from foraging abroad for provisions, and rendered them dependent on the voluntary supplies of the natives. The latter began to grow negligent. The European trinkets, once so inestimable in their eyes, had sunk in value, by becoming common, and were now almost treated with indifference. The arrangements made by Diego Mendez were irregularly attended to, and at length entirely disregarded. Many of the caciques had been incensed by the conduct of Porras and his followers, which they supposed justified by the admiral; others had been secretly instigated by the rebels to withhold pro
visions, in hopes of starving Columbus and his people, or of driving them from the island.
The horrors of famine began to threaten the terrified crew, when a fortunate idea presented itself to Columbus. From his knowledge of astronomy, he ascertained that within three days there would be a total eclipse of the moon, in the early part of the night. He summoned, therefore, the principal caciques to a grand conference, appointing for it the day of the eclipse. When all were assembled, he told them by his interpreter, that he and his followers were worshippers of a Deity who lived in the skies, and held them under his protection; that this great Deity was incensed against the Indians, who had refused or neglected to furnish his faithful worshippers with provisions, and intended to chastise them with famine and pestilence. Lest they should disbelieve this warning, a signal would be given that very night in the heavens. They would behold the moon change its colour, and gradually lose its light; a token of the fearful punishment which awaited them.
Many of the Indians were alarmed at the solemnity of this prediction, others treated it with derision; all, however, awaited with solicitude the coming of the night. When they beheld a black shadow stealing over the moon, and a mysterious gloom gradually covering the whole face of nature, they were seized with the utmost consternation. Hurrying with provisions to the ships, and throwing themselves at the feet of Columbus, they implored him to intercede with his God to withhold the threatened calamities, assuring him that thenceforth they would bring him whatever he required. Co
lumbus retired to his cabin, under pretence of communing with the Deity, the forests and shores all the while resounding with the howlings of the savages. He returned shortly, and informed the natives that the Deity had deigned to pardon them, on condition of their fulfilling their promises, in sign of which he would withdraw the darkness from the moon. When the Indians saw that planet restored presently to its brightness, and rolling in all its beauty through the firmament, they overwhelmed the admiral with thanks for his intercession. They now regarded him with awe and reverence, as one enjoying the peculiar favour and confidence of the Deity, since he knew upon earth what was passing in the heavens. They hastened to propitiate him with gifts; supplies again arrived daily at the harbour, and from that time forward there was no want of provisions.