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their heads should they break it. The admiral saw, by the abject nature of the letter, how completely the spirit of these misguided men was broken; with his wonted magnanimity he pardoned their offences, merely retaining their ringleader, Francisco Porras, a prisoner, to be tried in Spain for his misdeeds.
Voyage of Diego Mendez to Hispaniola-Deliverance of Columbus from the Island of Jamaica. [1504.]
It is proper here to give some account of the mission of Diego Mendez and Bartholomew Fiesco. When they had taken leave of the Adelantado at the east end of the island of Jamaica, they continued all day in a direct course; there was no wind, the sky was without a cloud, and the sea like a mirror reflecting the burning rays of the sun. The Indians who paddled the canoes would often leap into the water to cool their glowing bodies, and refresh themselves from their toil. At the going down of the sun they lost sight of land. During the night the Indians took turns, one half to row while the others slept. The Spaniards, in like manner, divided their forces; while some took repose, the others sat with their weapons in their hands, ready to defend themselves in case of any perfidy on the part of their savage companions.
Watching and toiling in this way through the night, they were excessively fatigued on the following day; and, to add to their distress, they began to experience the torments of thirst, for the Indians, parched with heat, had already drained the contents of their calabashes. In proportion as the
sun rose, their misery increased, and was irritated by the prospect around them—nothing but water, while they were perishing with thirst. About midday, when their strength was failing them, the commanders produced two small kegs of water, which they had probably reserved in secret for such an extremity. Administering a cooling mouthful occasionally, they enabled the Indians to resume their toils. They held out the hopes of soon arriving at a small island, called Navasa, which lay directly in their way, about eight leagues distant from Hispaniola. Here they would find water to assuage their thirst, and would be able to take repose.
The night closed upon them without any sight of the island; they feared that they had deviated from their course; if so, they should miss the island entirely, and perish with thirst before they could reach Hispaniola. One of the Indians died of the accumulated sufferings of labour, heat, and raging thirst; others lay panting and gasping at the bottom of the canoes. Their companions were scarcely able to continue their toils. Sometimes they endeavoured to cool their parched palates by taking sea water in their mouths, but its briny bitterness only increased their thirst. One after another gave up, and it seemed impossible that they should live to reach Hispaniola.
The commanders, by admirable management, had hitherto kept up this weary struggle with suffering and despair; but they too began to despond. Diego Mendez sat watching the horizon, which was gradually lighting up with those faint rays which precede the rising of the moon. As that planet
arose, he perceived it to emerge from behind a dark mass elevated above the level of the ocean. It proved to be the island of Navasa, but so low, and small, and distant, that, had it not been thus revealed by the rising moon, he would never have discovered it. He immediately gave the animating cry of "land." His almost expiring companions were roused to new life, and exerted themselves with feverish impatience. By the dawn of day they sprang on shore, and returned thanks to God for their deliverance. The island was a mere barren mass of rocks, but they found abundance of rain water in hollow places. The Spaniards exercised some degree of caution in their draughts; but the poor Indians, whose toils had increased the fever of their thirst, gave way to a kind of frantic indulgence, of which several died upon the spot, and others fell dangerously ill.
After reposing all day on the island, where they made a grateful repast upon shell-fish gathered along the shore, they set off in the evening for Hispaniola, the mountains of which were distinctly visible, and arrived at Cape Tiburon on the following day, the fourth since their departure from Jamaica. Fiesco would now have returned to give the admiral assurance of the safe arrival of his messenger, but both Spaniards and Indians refused to encounter the perils of another voyage in the canoes.
Parting with his companions, Diego Mendez took six Indians of the island, and set off for San Domingo. After proceeding for eighty leagues against the currents, he was informed that the governor had departed for Xaragua, fifty leagues distant. Still undaunted by fatigues and difficulties, he
abandoned the canoe, and proceeded alone, on foot, through forests and over mountains, until he arrived at Xaragua, achieving one of the most perilous expeditions ever undertaken by a devoted follower for the safety of his commander.
He found Ovando completely engrossed by wars with the natives. The governor expressed great concern at the unfortunate situation of Columbus, and promised to send him immediate relief; but Mendez remained for seven months at Xaragua, vainly urging for that relief, or for permission to go to San Domingo in quest of it. The constant excuse of Ovando was, that there were not ships of sufficient burden in the island to bring off Columbus and his men. At length, by daily importunity, Mendez obtained permission to go to San Domingo, and await the arrival of certain ships which were expected. He immediately set out on foot; the distance was seventy leagues, and part of his toilsome journey lay through forests and mountains, infested by hostile and exasperated Indians. Immediately after his departure, Ovando despatched from Xaragua the pardoned rebel, Escobar, on that reconnoitring visit which caused so much wonder and suspicion among the companions of Columbus.
If the governor had really entertained hopes that, during the delay of relief, Columbus might perish in the island, the report brought back by Escobar must have completely disappointed him. No time was now to be lost, if he wished to claim any merit in his deliverance, or to avoid the disgrace of having totally neglected him. His long delay had already roused the public indignation, insomuch