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signs of the heavens, with his astronomical instru
Columbus was not ignorant of these secret cabals, but he kept a serene and steady countenance, soothing some with gentle words, stimulating the pride or the avarice of others, and openly menacing the most refractory with punishment. New hopes diverted them for a time. On the 25th of September, Martin Alonzo Pinzon mounted on the stern of his vessel, and shouted "Land! land! Señor, I claim the reward!" There was, indeed, such an appearance of land in the south-west, that Columbus threw himself upon his knees, and returned thanks to God, and all the crews joined in chanting Gloria in excelsis. The ships altered their course, and stood all night to the south-west, but the morning light put an end to all their hopes as to a dream: the fancied land proved to be nothing but an evening cloud, and had vanished in the night.
For several days they continued on with alternate hopes and murmurs, until the various signs of land became so numerous, that the seamen, from a state of despondency, passed to one of high excitement. Eager to obtain the promised pension, they were continually giving the cry of land; until Columbus declared, that should any one give a notice of the kind, and land not be discovered within three days afterwards, he should thenceforth forfeit all claim to the reward.
On the 7th of October, they had come seven hundred and fifty leagues, the distance at which Columbus had computed to find the island of Cipango. There were great flights of small field
birds to the south-west, which seemed to indicate some neighbouring land in that direction, where they were sure of food and a resting-place. Yielding to the solicitations of Martin Alonzo Pinzon, and his brothers, Columbus, on the evening of the 7th, altered his course, therefore, to the west southwest. As he advanced, the signs of land increased; the birds came singing about the ships; and herbage floated by as fresh and green as if recently from shore. When, however, on the evening of the third day of this new course, the seamen beheld the sun go down upon a shoreless horizon, they again broke forth into loud clamours, and insisted upon abandoning the voyage. Columbus endea
voured to pacify them by gentle words and liberal promises; but finding these only increased their violence, he assumed a different tone, and told them it was useless to murmur; the expedition had been sent by the sovereigns to seek the Indies, and happen what might, he was determined to persevere, until, by the blessing of God, he should accomplish the enterprise.
He was now at open defiance with his crew, and his situation would have been desperate, but, fortunately, the manifestations of land on the following day were such as no longer to admit of doubt. A green fish, such as keeps about rocks, swam by the ships; and a branch of thorn, with berries on it, floated by: they picked up, also, a reed, a small board, and, above all, a staff artificially carved. All gloom and murmuring was now at an end, and throughout the day each one was on the watch for the long-sought land.
In the evening, when, according to custom, the
mariners had sung the salve regina, or vesper hymn to the virgin, Columbus made an impressive address to his crew, pointing out the goodness of God in thus conducting them by soft and favouring breezes across a tranquil ocean to the promised land. He expressed a strong confidence of making land that very night, and ordered that a vigilant look-out should be kept from the forecastle, promising to whomsoever should make the discovery a doublet of velvet, in addition to the pension to be given by the sovereigns.
The breeze had been fresh all day, with more sea than usual; at sunset they stood again to the west, and were ploughing the waves at a rapid rate, the Pinta keeping the lead from her superior sailing. The greatest animation prevailed throughout the ships; not an eye was closed that night. As the evening darkened, Columbus took his station on the top of the castle or cabin on the high poop of his vessel. However he might carry a cheerful and confident countenance during the day, it was to him a time of the most painful anxiety; and now, when he was wrapped from observation by the shades of night, he maintained an intense and unremitting watch, ranging his eye along the dusky horizon, in search of the most vague indications of land. Suddenly, about ten o'clock, he thought he beheld a light glimmering at a distance. Fearing that his eager hopes might deceive him, he called to Pedro Gutierrez, gentleman of the king's bedchamber, and demanded whether he saw a light in that direction; the latter replied in the affirmative. Columbus, yet doubtful whether it might not be some delusion of the fancy, called Rodrigo Sanchez
of Segovia, and made the same inquiry. By the time the latter had ascended the round-house, the light had disappeared. They saw it once or twice afterwards in sudden and passing gleams, as if it were a torch in the bark of a fisherman, rising and sinking with the waves; or in the hands of some person on shore, borne up and down as he walked from house to house. So transient and uncertain were these gleams, that few attached any importance to them; Columbus, however, considered them as certain signs of land, and, moreover, that the land was inhabited.
They continued on their course until two in the morning, when a gun from the Pinta gave the joyful signal of land. It was first discovered by a mariner named Rodriguez Bermejo, resident of Triana, a suburb of Seville, but native of Alcala de la Guadaira; but the reward was afterwards adjudged to the admiral, for having previously perceived the light. The land was now clearly seen about two leagues distant, whereupon they took in sail, and laid to, waiting impatiently for the dawn. The thoughts and feelings of Columbus in this little space of time must have been tumultuous and intense. At length, in spite of every difficulty and danger, he had accomplished his object. The great mystery of the ocean was revealed; his theory, which had been the scoff of sages, was triumphantly established; he had secured to himself a glory which must be as durable as the world itself.
It is difficult even for the imagination to conceive the feelings of such a man, at the moment of so sublime a discovery. What a bewildering crowd
of conjectures must have thronged upon his mind, as to the land which lay before him, covered with darkness! That it was fruitful was evident from the vegetables which floated from its shores. He thought, too, that he perceived in the balmy air the fragrance of aromatic groves. The moving light which he had beheld, proved that it was the residence of man. But what were its inhabitants? Were they like those of other parts of the globe; or were they some strange and monstrous race, such as the imagination in those times was prone to give to all remote and unknown regions? Had he come upon some wild island, far in the Indian seas; or was this the famed Cipango itself, the object of his golden fancies? A thousand speculations of the kind must have swarmed upon him, as he watched for the night to pass away; wondering whether the morning light would reveal a savage wilderness, or dawn upon spicy groves, and glittering fanes, and gilded cities, and all the splendours of oriental civilization.