Immagini della pagina

of the winds and currents, and by the condition of the ships, which were pierced on all parts by the teredo or worm, so destructive in the tropical seas. They considered themselves still under an evil spell, worked by the Indian sorcerers, and the commanders remonstrated against forcing their way any farther in spite of the elements, with ships so crazed and leaky. Columbus yielded to their solicitations, and determined to return to the coast of Veragua, and search for the mines which were said to abound there.

Here then ended the lofty anticipations which had elevated him above all mercenary views in his struggle along these perilous coasts, and had given a heroic character to the early part of his voyage. It is true, he had been in pursuit of a mere chimera, but it was the chimera of a splendid imagination and a penetrating judgment. The subsequent discovery of the Pacific Ocean bathing the opposite shores of that narrow isthmus, has proved that a great part of his theory was well founded.


Return to the Coast of Veragua-Contests with the Natives. [1502.]

ON the 5th of December, Columbus sailed from El Retrete, to return westward in search of the gold mines of Veragua. He had not proceeded far, however, when the wind suddenly veered to the west, the point from whence, for three months, he had been wishing it to blow, but from whence it now came only to contradict him. In a little while it became so variable and furious as to baffle all seamanship. For nine days the vessels were tossed about, at the mercy of a raging tempest, in an unknown sea, and often exposed to the awful perils of a lee shore. The sea, according to the description of Columbus, boiled at times like a caldron; at other times it ran in mountain waves, covered with foam. At night the raging billows sparkled with luminous particles which made them resemble great surges of flame. For a day and a night the heavens glowed like a furnace with incessant flashes of lightning; while the loud claps of thunder were often mistaken by the mariners for signal guns of distress from their foundering companions. During the whole time there was such a deluge of rain, that the seamen were almost drowned in their open vessels.

In the midst of this wild tumult of the elements they beheld a new object of alarm. The ocean in one place became strangely agitated. The water was whirled up into a kind of pyramid or cone, while a livid cloud, tapering to a point, bent down to meet it. Joining together, they formed a column, which rapidly approached the ships, spinning along the surface of the deep, and drawing up the waters with a rushing sound. The affrighted mariners, when they beheld this waterspout advancing towards them, despaired of averting it by human means, and began to repeat certain passages from St. John the Evangelist. The waterspout passed close by their ships without injuring them, and they attributed their escape to the miraculous efficacy of their quotations from the scriptures.

An interval of calm succeeded, but even this afforded but little consolation to the tempest-tost mariners; they looked upon it as deceitful, and beheld with alarm great numbers of sharks, so abundant and ravenous in those latitudes, roaming about the ships. Among the superstitions of the seas is the belief that these voracious fish have not only the faculty of smelling dead bodies at a distance, but have a presentiment of their prey, and keep about vessels which have sick persons on board, or which are in danger of being wrecked.

For three weeks longer they continued to be driven to and fro, by changeable and tempestuous winds, endeavouring to make a distance of merely thirty leagues, insomuch that Columbus gave this line of sea-board the name of La costa de los Contrastes, or the coast of contradictions. At length, to his great joy, he arrived on the day of Epiphany


(the 6th of January) on the coast of Veragua, and anchored in a river to which, in honour of the day, he gave the name of Belen or Bethlehem.

The natives of the neighbourhood manifested the same fierce and warlike character that generally prevailed along this coast. They were soon conciliated, however, and brought many ornaments of fine gold to traffic; but assured the admiral that the mines lay near the river Veragua, which was about two leagues distant. The Adelantado had an interview with Quibian, the cacique of Veragua, who afterwards visited the ships. He was a stern warrior, of tall and powerful frame, and taciturn and cautious character. A few days afterwards the Adelantado, attended by sixty-eight men, well armed, proceeded to explore the Veragua, and seek its reputed mines. They ascended the river about a league and a half to the village of Quibian, which was situated on a hill. The cacique descended with a numerous train of his subjects, unarmed, and took his seat on a great stone, which one of his attendants drew out of the river. He received his guests with courtesy, for the lofty, vigorous, and iron form of the Adelantado, and his resolute demeanour, were calculated to inspire awe and respect in an Indian warrior. Though his jealousy was evidently awakened by the intrusion of the Spaniards into his territories, yet he readily furnished Don Bartholomew with guides, to conduct him to the mines. These guides led the Adelantado and his men about six leagues into the interior, among thick forests of lofty and magnificent trees, where they told them the mines were situated. In fact, the whole soil appeared impregnated with gold, and the Spaniards

collected a considerable quantity from the surface of the earth, and from among the roots of the trees. From hence, the Adelantado was conducted to the summit of a high hill, which overlooked an immense extent of country, with various villages, and the guides assured him that the whole land, to the distance of twenty days' journey westward, abounded in gold.

Another expedition of Don Bartholomew along the coast, westward, was equally satisfactory; and the reports which he brought of golden tracts of country, together with the rumours of a rich and civilized kingdom in the interior, and the erroneous idea with respect to the vicinity of the Ganges, all concurred to produce a new illusion in the ardent mind of Columbus. He fancied that he had actually arrived at the Aurea Chersonesus, from whence, according to Josephus, the gold had been procured for the building of the temple of Jerusalem. Here, then, was a place at which to found a colony, and establish a mart, which should become an emporium of the wealth of a vast region of mines. His brother, Don Bartholomew, concurred with him in opinion, and agreed to remain here with the greater part of the people, while the admiral should return to Spain for supplies and reinforcements.

They immediately proceeded to carry their plan into operation. Eighty men were selected to remain. Houses of wood, thatched with palm leaves, were erected on the high bank of a creek, about a bow-shot within the mouth of the river Belen. A storehouse was built to receive part of the ammunition, artillery, and stores; the rest was put on board of one of the caravals, which was to be left for the use of the colony.

« IndietroContinua »