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Coasting of Hispaniola-Shipwreck, and other Occur
rences at the Island.
On the evening of the 6th of December, Columbus entered a harbour at the western end of the island, to which he gave the name of St. Nicholas, by which it is called at the present day. Not being able to meet with any of the inhabitants, who had fled from their dwellings, he coasted along the northern side of the island to another harbour, which he called Conception. Here the sailors caught several kinds of fish similar to those of their own country; they heard also the notes of a bird which sings in the night, and which they mistook for the nightingale, and they fancied that the features of the surrounding country resembled those of the more beautiful provinces of Spain: in consequence of this idea, the admiral named the island Española, or, as it is commonly written, Hispaniola. After various ineffectual attempts to obtain a communication with the natives, three sailors succeeded in overtaking a young and handsome female, who was flying from them, and brought their wild beauty in triumph to the ships. She was treated with the greatest kind
ness, and dismissed finely clothed, and loaded with presents of beads, hawk's bells, and other baubles. Confident of the favourable impression her account of her treatment, and the sight of her presents, must produce, Columbus, on the following day, sent nine men, well armed, to seek her village, accompanied by a native of Cuba as an interpreter. The village was situated in a fine valley, on the banks of a beautiful river, and contained about a thousand houses. The natives fled at first, but being re-assured by the interpreter, they came back to the number of two thousand, and approached the Spaniards with awe and trembling, often pausing and putting their hands upon their heads in token of reverence and
The female also, who had been entertained on board of the ships, came borne in triumph on the shoulders of some of her countrymen, followed by a multitude, and preceded by her husband, who was full of gratitude for the kindness with which she had been treated. Having recovered from their fears, the natives conducted the Spaniards to their houses, and set before them cassava bread, fish, roots, and fruits of various kinds; offering them freely whatever they possessed, for a frank hospitality reigned throughout the island, where as yet the passion of avarice was unknown.
The Spaniards returned to the vessels enraptured with the beauty of the country, surpassing, as they said, even the luxuriant valley of Cordova; all that they complained of was, that they saw no signs of riches among the natives.
Continuing along the coast, Columbus had farther intercourse with the natives, some of whom
had ornaments of gold, which they readily exchanged for the merest trifle of European manufacture. At one of the harbours where he was detained by contrary winds, he was visited by a young cacique, apparently of great importance, who came borne on a litter by four men, and attended by two hundred of his subjects. He entered the cabin where Columbus was dining, and took his seat beside him, with a frank unembarrassed air, while two old men, who were his councillors, seated themselves at his feet, watching his lips, as if to catch and communicate his ideas. If any thing were given him to eat, he merely tasted it, and sent it to his followers, maintaining an air of great gravity and dignity. After dinner, he presented the admiral with a belt curiously wrought, and two pieces of gold. Columbus made him various presents in return; he showed him a coin bearing the likenesses of Ferdinand and Isabella, and endeavoured to give him an idea of the power and grandeur of those sovereigns. The cacique, however, could not be made to believe that there was a region on earth which produced such wonderful people and wonderful things, but persisted in the idea that the Spaniards were more than mortal, and that the country and sovereigns they spoke of must exist somewhere in the skies.
On the 20th of December, Columbus anchored in a fine harbour, to which he gave the name of St. Thomas, supposed to be what at present is called the Bay of Acùl. Here a large canoe visited the ships, bringing messengers from a grand cacique named Guacanagari, who resided on the coast a little farther to the eastward, and reigned over all that
part of the island. The messengers bore a present of a broad belt, wrought ingeniously with coloured beads and bones, and a wooden mask, the eyes, nose, and tongue of which were of gold. They invited Columbus, in the name of the cacique, to come with his ships opposite to the village where he resided. Adverse winds prevented an immediate compliance with this invitation; he therefore sent a boat well armed, with the notary of the squadron, to visit the chieftain. The latter returned with so favourable an account of the appearance of the village, and the hospitality of the cacique, that Columbus determined to set sail for his residence as soon as the wind would permit.
Early in the morning of the 24th of December, therefore, he weighed anchor, with a light wind that scarcely filled the sails. By eleven o'clock at night, he was within a league and a half of the residence of the cacique: the sea was calm and smooth, and the ship almost motionless. The admiral having had no sleep the preceding night, retired to take a little repose. No sooner had he left the deck, than the steersman gave the helm in charge to one of the ship-boys, and went to sleep. This was in direct violation of an invariable order of the admiral, never to intrust the helm to the boys. The rest of the mariners who had the watch took like advantage of the absence of Columbus, and in a little while the whole crew was buried in sleep. While this security reigned over the ship, the treacherous currents, which run swiftly along this coast, carried her smoothly, but with great violence, upon a sandbank. The heedless boy, feeling the rudder strike, and hearing the rushing of the sea, cried out for aid.