Ten Great Events in History
By James Johonnot

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Drawing of the Mayflower
From the collection of the
Cape Cod Pilgrim Memorial Association

Chapter V. Columbus and the New World

The Time.

1. Columbus lived in a stirring age. Everywhere light was breaking in after centuries of darkness, and all Europe was restless with suggestions and beginnings of new life. Great men were plenty; rulers, like the Medici of Florence; artists, like Raphael and Angelo; preachers, like Savonarola, whose fiery prophecies brought him to fiery death; reformers, chief among diem Luther, just beginning to think the thoughts that later set the world agog. Great inventions were spreading; gun-powder, invented before, now becoming terribly effective through the improvement in guns; printing, suddenly opening knowledge to every class; the little compass, with which mariners were just beginning to trust themselves boldly on the seas, in spite of the popular impression that it was a sort of infernal machine presided over by the devil himself.

2. And to this age had been bequeathed the fascinating stories of Sir John Mandeville and Marco Polo, stories to make every boy crazy to be off to seek his fortune. From their travels in Asia these men had brought back the most remarkable accounts of the eastern lands. A country was there, they said, called Cathay, bordering on the sea. It was ruled by an emperor, the Kubla Khan, or Great Khan, who lighted his bedroom with a bright jewel half a foot long, set upon golden pillars, and decorated his walls with wrought gold and hundreds of precious stones. The rivers of the land were crossed by marble bridges, and the houses were roofed and paved with gold. The seas were full of islands where spices grew and countless strange creatures lived: one-eyed men; men with a lip long enough to cover their whole face; men with only one foot, but that so large that they held it over them like an umbrella when they lay down in the sun to rest; two-headed men and men with no heads at all; men whose only food was snakes, and others whose favorite beverage was human blood; dragons and unicorns; woolly hens and sheep that grew on trees; and in one island a valley where only devils dwelt. But there were besides great hills of gold, cities with towers of silver and gold, precious stones of all kinds, and rose-tinted pearls, big and round.

3. There was trade between Europe and certain parts of Asia which they called the Indies, and reached by going east and south by land; but this marvelous country of the Grand Khan lay beyond, and its riches remained a golden dream, known only by the travelers’ reports. That was what was known of Asia. Of Africa, even less; for, fifty years before Columbus was born, only a strip across the northern part of it was known, and south of that lay “nothing,” said the people. And of America, our wide-stretching America, they never dreamed.

4. Some fifty years before the birth of Columbus, Prince Henry of Portugal, studying the matter, came to the conclusion that the world did not necessarily end at “Cape Nothing,” on the African coast, as people said, but perhaps extended a long way farther; and, having an abundance of time and money, he began to send out ships to sail along beyond the cape and see what they could find. And they found a long, long coast. Year after year, until the prince was a gray-haired old man, he sent out vessel after vessel; and, though often storm-driven and wrecked, and unsuccessful, they many times came back with accounts of new discoveries. One by one they brought the numerous islands lying off the northwest coast of Africa to the notice of the people of Europe. And after they once got past that mysterious “Cape Nothing," they sailed along the coast, going farther and farther on successive voyages, until, in 1487, long after Prince Henry’s death, and just before Columbus’s great voyage, the most southern point was rounded, the African continent was known, and the long-sought water-way to the Indies was established.

The Idea.

5. As to the date of Columbus’s birth, historians can not agree within some ten years. It was doubtless some where between 1435 and 1446. They also give different accounts as to his birthplace; but it seems most probable that he was born in Genoa, on the Mediterranean, the son of a wool-carder, and that he went to school in Pavia. At fourteen he became a sailor.

6. Up and down the seas, first in the sunny Mediterranean, later along the stormy Atlantic coast, sailed the lad, the young man, in the small sailing vessels of the time, and learned well the ocean which he afterward so boldly trusted.

7. He was a daring, quick-witted, handsome, bronzed young man when he went to Lisbon, where his brother Bartholomew was established as a cosmographer, making charts for seamen; and with all his enthusiasm for his sea-faring life, he had enough interest in ordinary pursuits to fall in love most romantically. It happened on account of his being so regular at church. Every day he must attend service, and every day to church came Donna Philippa Palestrello, who lived in a convent near by. Across the seats flitted involuntary glances between the cloistered maiden and the handsome brown sailor–with a dimple in his chin, some pictures have him; something besides prayers were read between the lines of the prayer-book, and the marriage which closed this churchly wooing proved the wisdom of both parties.

8. Philippa’s father had been one of Prince Henry’s famous seamen and the governor of Porto Santo, one of the new-found islands; and after his marriage, Columbus lived sometimes at Porto Santo, sometimes at Lisbon, and much of the time on the sea. He sailed south along the African coast to Guinea; north he sailed to England, and farther on to Iceland. Wherever ships could go, there went he, intent on learning all there was to know of the world he lived in. He read eagerly all that was written about the earth’s shape and size. The modern science of his time he well understood. He pored over the maps of the ancient geographer Ptolemy, over the maps of Cosmas, a later geographer, over Palestrello’s charts, given him by Philippa’s mother.

9. Ptolemy said the world is round, but Cosmas, whom good Christians were bound to believe, since he founded his science on the Bible, said it is flat, with a wall around it to hold up the sky–very probable, certainly. But that notion of the ancients that the world is “round like a ball” had been caught up and believed by a handful of men scattered sparsely down through the centuries, and of late lead gained, among advanced scientists, more of a following than ever. And Columbus, who, with all his enthusiasm for adventure and his reverence for religion and he church, had a clear, unbiased, scientific head, mentally turned his back upon Cosmas, and clasped hands with the ancients and the wisest scientists of his own day.

10. The north was known, the south was fast becoming so, the east had been penetrated, but the west was unexplored. Stretching along from Thule, the distant Iceland, to the southern part of the great African continent, thousands of miles, lay the “Sea of Darkness,” as the people called it. What lay beyond? The question had been asked before, times enough; times enough answered for any reasonable man. “Hell was there,” said one superstition, “Haven’t you seen the flames at sunset-time?” “A sea thick like paste, in which no ships can sail," said another. “Darkness,” said another, “thick darkness, the blackness of nothing, and the end of all created things!”

11. There was a legend that over there beyond was Paradise, and St. Brandan, wandering about the seas, had reached it. The ancients told of an island Atlantis over there somewhere in the West, and one of them had said: “In the last days an age will come when ocean shall loose the chains of things; a wonderful country will be discovered, and Tiphis shall make known new worlds, nor shall Thule be the end of the earth.”

12. Ah, to be the discoverer of Atlantis or Paradise! “But, if the world is round,” said Columbus, “it is not hell that lies beyond that stormy sea. Over there must lie the eastern strand of Asia, the Cathay of Marco Polo, the land of the Kubla Khan, and Cipango, the great island beyond it.” “Nonsense!” said the neighbors; “the world isn’t round–can’t you see it is flat? And Cosmas Indicopleustes, who lived hundreds of years before you were born, says it is flat; and he got it from the Bible. You’re no good Christian to be taking up with such heathenish notions!” Thought Columbus, “I will write to Paolo Toscanelli, at Florence, and see what be will say.”

13. So Columbus wrote, and Toscanelli, the wise scientist, answered that the idea of sailing west was good and feasible; and with the letter came a map, on which Asia and the great island Cipango were laid down opposite Europe, with the Atlantic between, exactly as Columbus imagined it. Toscanelli said it was easy enough: “You may be certain of meeting with extensive kingdoms, populous cities, and rich provinces, abounding in all sorts of precious stones; and your visit will cause great rejoicing to the king and princes of those distant lands, besides opening a way for communication between them and the Christians, and the instruction of them in the Catholic religion and the arts we possess.” It was 1474 when this encouragement came, and from this time all the sailor’s thoughts and plans turned toward the west.

14. The life at home between his voyages, whether spent with his brother, the cosmographer, at Lisbon, or with his wife and sailor brother-in-law, on the Porto Santo island, was hardly less nautical than the voyages themselves. Porto Santo was in line with the ship-routes to and from Spain and all the new-found African coast and islands; and the family there, with the men sailors and geographers, and the women, wives and daughters of sailors and geographers, lived in the bracing salt sea-air, full of the tingle of adventure.

15. Wild stories tell the sailors, coming and going, whom one can scarce contradict for lack of certain knowledge; and is it not an age of wonders in real life? And the round earth, the round earth–is it round? And the empire of the Grand Khan just over the western water there–not far! The sailors said that on the shores of one of the islands two dead men of strange appearance had been washed in from the west. The sailors said they had picked up curiously-carved sticks drifting from the west. Pedro Correa himself, Columbus’s brother-in-law, and a man to be trusted, had found one floating from the west. And there was a legend of the sight of land lying like a faint cloud along that western horizon.

16. “The world is round,” said Columbus. “It is not very large” (he thought it much smaller than it is), “and opposite us across that sea lies Asia; and to Asia by way of that sea I will go. There, in the west, lies my duty to God and man; I will carry salvation to the heathen, and bring back gold for the Christians. From the ’Occident to the Orient’ a path I will find through the waters.”

The Waiting.

17. Such a venture as Columbus proposed could scarcely be carried out at that time except by the help of kings, so to the kings went Columbus.

18. Naturally, Portugal, with her proved interest in discovery, came first in his thought; and before Portugal’s king he laid his project. The king should fit him out with vessels and men, and with them Columbus would sail to the Indies, not by the route around Africa, which the Portuguese had so long been seeking, but by a nearer way–straight across the Atlantic. Think of the untold wealth from the empire of the khan rolling in to Portugal if this connection could be established! And think of converting those heathen to our blessed mother church! It was worth thinking about, and the king called a council of his wise men to consider the startling idea. Not long were the wise men in wisely deciding that the plan was the wild scheme of an adventurer, likely to come to no good whatever; and when the king, hardly satisfied, laid it before another council, they, too, wisely declared it ridiculous.

19. O ye owlish dignitaries! Still, the king was not convinced. “We have discovered much by daring adventure, why not more?” “Stick to the coast, and don’t go sailing straight away from all known land into waters unknown and mysterious,” said the wise men. “But if the unknown waters bring us to the riches of Cathay?” said the king. “That’s the extravagant dream of a visionary; it contains no truth and much danger,” said the wise men. “Try it yourself, and see. Unbeknown to this Columbus, just send out a ship of your own to the west, and let them come back and tell us what they find.”

20. It was a most underhand piece of business all around; but the king yielded and sent out a ship, which presently came back again with the report that there was no Cathay there, and they hadn’t found any Cipango; it was all nonsense! And what they had met with was a big storm that scared them terribly. So Columbus retired, and left the king of Portugal to his brave sailors and wise councilors.

21. Next will come Spain, and meantime he will send his brother Bartholomew to present the plan at the English court.

22. The Spanish sovereigns, Ferdinand and Isabella, were down in Andalusia, that beautiful southern province of Spain, in the midst of a war with the Moors, who occupied certain portions of the land, and whom the Spaniards were trying to drive out. So, his wife being now dead, Columbus took his little boy Diego, and to Andalusia they went. They stopped at Palos by the sea, and from there set out on foot. The way was long, and Diego could not go far without getting very thirsty; and his father stopping at a great, dark, stone convent, called Maria de la Rabida, to get him a drink, the prior asked them in to rest a bit. As they talked, Columbus soon told of his great project, to sail to the Indies by way of the western sea.

23. The prior, in his long dark robe and shaved head, opened his eyes at this and wanted to hear more. “Novel project this,” thought he; “very novel-most astonishing I must have my friend, Dr. Fernandez, hear it.” So a messenger was sent to Palos to fetch the doctor, and Columbus went over again the wonderful plan–just to sail west, not so very far, over the round earth, and reach the stately cities of Cathay, and convert the Grand Khan to the faith, and gather of the plentiful gold and jewels of that land. Little Diego stood by and listened with wide-open eyes, and the doctor pondered, while the prior gazed out from the western window upon the Atlantic, and Columbus bent eager eyes and flushed face over his chart.

21. “Why, it may be possible! Send for Martin Alonzo Pinzon. He is a seaman; let us see what he thinks!”

25. To Palos again goes the messenger, to the rich and influential citizen, Alonzo Pinzon, and tells him he is wanted at La Pabida. “Ah, Alonzo Pinzon!” greets him–the prior, “come and hear what a man proposes to do; and a wise and courageous sailor he seems, though poor enough!” And a third time they bend over the charts there in the dark stone convent, and Alonzo Pinzon hears of the western route to India; and Diego gazes from one to the other, and hopes in his heart that his father will take him along–he wants to see the unicorns. Pinzon catches the idea with enthusiasm, promising to help Columbus with money and influence, and to go with him if he goes. The doctor, cogitating upon the statements and arguments, concludes that they make quite a reasonable showing, and advises Columbus to go on.

26. The prior says: “Go at once to the court. Talavera, the queen’s confessor, is a good friend of mine, and a letter of introduction to him will gain you access to the king and queen. They will surely help you.” Diego clasps his hands. “Will you stay with me, Diego?” says the long-robed prior. “I’d rather go to court,” says Diego. “Nay, my son,” says Columbus, “if the good prior will keep you, I will leave you here while I go on my uncertain errand.” So the little boy stands in the great stone doorway and watches his father out of sight toward Cordova.

27. At Cordova is nothing but excitement and confusion. The army is just starting upon a campaign against the Moors. Talavera is preoccupied, has his hands full of business, and can scarcely give Columbus time enough to state his errand. “Dear me, a new route to the Indies! But don’t you see how busy we are with this war? It is probably all nonsense–sounds like it. The court in war-time can not waste precious hours over the consideration of such wild visions as this.” So Columbus takes lodgings in Cordova, supports himself by chart-making, talks to everybody about the new route to Asia, and waits. Such a man with such a story is likely to gain some attention, and by and by he begins to have friends. Several of the important politicians come to know him, some are converts to his theory, and finally the grand cardinal himself procures him an audience with the king and queen.

28. Enthusiastically the “one-idea’d man” unfolds his theories to royalty. The land of the Grand Khan, with its untold treasure, the salvation of millions of souls in the Indies, are the vivid points. The earth is a sphere, and a ship may sail straight from Spain to Cipango, urges this man of imagination and faith. The king was not slow to perceive the great advantages which success in such an enterprise would bring to the government that undertook it; but he must consult the wise men. Talavera should head a commission composed of the great men in the church, great men of science, and professors in the universities. Surely no man could ask for more. So to Salamanca, seat of the greatest Spanish university, Columbus went to convince the commission.

29. In the hall of the convent there was assembled the imposing company–shaved monks in gowns of black and gray, fashionably dressed men from the court in jaunty bats, cardinals in scarlet robes–all the dignity and learning of Spain, gathered and waiting for the man and his idea.

30. He stands before them with his charts, and explains his belief that the world is round, and that Asia stretches from the eastern boundary of Europe to a point something like four thousand miles from Spain. Hence Asia could be reached by sailing due west across the Atlantic. They had heard something of this before at Cordova, and here at Salamanca, before the commission was formally assembled, and they had their arguments ready.

31. You think the earth is round, and inhabited on the other side? Are you not aware that the holy fathers of the church have condemned this belief? Say the fathers, the Scriptures tell us all men are descended from Adam; but certainly no men descended from Adam live in such a region as this you speak of–the antipodes. Will you contradict the fathers? The Holy Scriptures, too, tell us expressly that the heavens are spread out like a tent, and how can that be true if the earth is not flat like the ground the tent stands on? This theory of yours looks heretical.

32. Columbus might well quake in his boots at the mention of heresy; for there was that new Inquisition just in fine running order, with its elaborate bone-breaking, flesh-pinching, thumb-screwing, banging, burning, mangling system for heretics. What would become of the Idea if he should get passed over to that energetic institution?

33. “I am a true and loyal Catholic,” he cries; “I wish to convert the Grand Khan’s people to our blessed faith. I believe the Bible, and God himself sends me on this mission. But these words of the Scriptures are to be taken as a figure, not as literal facts of science.” “Will this sailor teach us how to read the Scriptures!” growl the monks.

34 “Well, for argument, suppose this world is round, and you could sail west to the Indies. The voyage would take years, and you could not carry food enough to keep you from starving.”

35. “But I believe it is only a voyage of four thousand miles, and can, with favoring winds, be accomplished in a short time,” says Columbus, stating his scientific reasons for this belief. “Will this sailor teach us science!” growl the professors. “Well, all this may be true; but really, can you expect us to believe that there is a land beneath us where people walk with their feet up, and trees grow down?" Oh, foolish Columbus! What an absurd idea! “And, besides, if the signor should succeed in sailing down around the earth to this peculiar region, how does he propose to get back again? Will his ship sail up-hill?”

36. Oh, the nudgings and winks among the monks at this poser! And the professors smile triumphantly. “And, anyway, who are you, Signor Colombo, to set yourself up to know more than all the world beside? Haven’t men been sailing in all the seas ever since the time of Noah, and, if such a thing as this were possible, would not somebody have found it out long ago?” With sound science, reverent religion, enthusiastic imagination and faith, he answered them, this unknown sailor, and left them bewildered by his views and impressed by his personality. “Perhaps there is truth in the matter,” said the monks of St. Stephen. They said they would think about it, and they did think about it, and it took them four years to think about it. Meantime they adjourned and went about their own affairs, and Columbus went back to court.

37. The campaign against the Moors began, and from that time to the end of those weary years Columbus followed the court from place to place, over the hills and valleys of beautiful Andalusia. Sometimes he made charts for his support, sometimes be fought in the battles, sometimes he talked with the courtiers, or begged audience with the king to urge him to a decision; but always was with him that one dream on which he was staking all his time and strength–the best years and the fullest power of his manhood–hope of his heart, purpose of his will, that one Idea possessing him in vivid, unwavering faith.

38. The queen was kind. His enthusiasm and sound judgment, his persistent faith in his idea, his dignity and strong determination, tempered by the most manly religion, made him friends even among his examiners at Salamanca; and so he hoped and waited. Think of it–four years of suspense on top of thirteen years of thought and study and investigation toward one end! And when at last Talavera assembled the wise men of the commission: to announce the result of their long deliberation, they had come to this wise conclusion: that the whole thing was foolish and impossible, unworthy of a great king’s attention.

39. Better give it up, Cristoforo Colombo, and make charts for a living the rest of your days. No, says Colombo, that western ocean must be crossed. He turns to the powerful Spanish nobles. They are friendly, but hardly dare take up the project. He will go to France and present his case. But first to La Rabida to see Diego, a tall lad now. “What!” says the prior, “no success? Too bad, too bad! But Spain must not give the glory of this great undertaking to France. I know the queen, and I will write to her; I was her confessor once.”

40. He wrote with such force that he was summoned to the queen at once, and his earnest pleading determined Isabella to send again for Columbus. But again disappointment came, for they took offense at Columbus’s high demands and would not grant them. The Spanish sovereigns were to furnish the largest share of the equipment; he should be admiral of the seas, and he and his sons after him were to rule, under the king, the countries discovered, and share in all the profits of the enterprise. Bold demands from an adventurer! Seventeen years of waiting might have taught him common sense; but with his absurd faith and uncommon sense he would accept no other terms, and turned away again with his Idea and his determination.

41. “Too bad, too bad!” said St. Angel, the tax-collector; “I will plead with the queen. She must not let slip this chance of enriching the king–and converting the khan. I will myself lend the money necessary, if the king can’t afford it.” Said Isabella to St. Angel: “I think as you do. This is a wonderful plan. Let them say what they will, by my own right I am queen of Castile, as well as queen of Spain, and I pledge the crown of Castile to raise for Cristoforo Colombo a suitable equipment to sail to the Indies by the west. Let him make his own terms.”

42. At last the fretting applications, the repeated explanations, the harrowing suspense, the long restriction are over, and the strong wings of the sea-bird are free to bear away over the Atlantic.

The Voyage.

43. At Palos, in Southern Spain, three small ships were provided. One, the Santa Maria, in which Columbus was to sail, was fully decked; the other two–the Pinta and the Niņa–had decks and cabins only at the ends. As for crews, to secure them was no easy matter. Not many sailors cared to trust themselves upon that unknown “Sea of Darkness. “ Not many believed in this story of a western route to Asia.

44. A few, with visions of the Grand Khan’s palaces and the marvelous sights of the East, would go for adventure’s sake, and risk the mystery between. A few, thinking of the “great hills of gold,” would risk the danger of tumbling into hell midway for the chance of getting safely across to the land of treasure. Alonzo Pinzon was on hand, as he had promised, and was given command of the Pinta, while the Niņa was put in charge of his brother Vincent. Royal pardon for crimes and offenses was offered for any who would undertake this voyage, and so some jail-birds were added to the company. Queer stuff for such an undertaking! But beggars can not be choosers, and Cristoforo Colombo might be thankful that he could get anybody for his fool’s errand!

45. On August 3, 1492, in the early morning, the three ships lay in Palos harbor, and down to Palos harbor flock all the town to see them off for Cathay. Groups of trades-people shudder companionably over the vague terrors of the Atlantic, and chatter over the probabilities of the adventurers’ return with untold wealth. Excited women-bareheaded likely-gaze again upon the strong, controlled face of Columbus, and thank God for this missionary to the Grand Khan-only the dark sea will surely be his destruction before he gets there! Children wriggle through the throng and stare at the men who are soon to find out what becomes of the sun when it sets, and to know for themselves whether or no it hisses and makes the water boil. The sailors make their way toward the ships through a running fire of conversation and hand-clasps, culminating at the dock in general good-byes and the clinging embraces and sobs of daughters and sweethearts and wives. The Pinzons are there with their friends. Dr. Fernandez is going, too, and the prior of La Rabida, in his long robe, is exulting with him over this success. Diego, soon to go to court as page to the prince, is there to bid his father good-by.

46. Now all are on the docks ready to embark. A hundred and twenty men to brave the unknown terrors of that sea stretching before them! The prior steps gravely down among them, carrying the sacred host; kneeling before him, Columbus murmurs his last confession and receives the communion; and after him the Pinzons and the sailors reverently commune. The people are silent as the prior blesses the departing ones, and then the ships are manned, the sails spread, and Palos watches until they flutter, like white birds, out of sight-never to return! moan the daughters and the sweethearts and the wives; and the children, with wide dark eyes, whisper of the unicorns and dragons of the East.

47. Off at last! Oh, the exhilaration of it! Admiral of three rickety ships and all the unknown seas; governor of a hundred disreputable sailors and the realms of Cathay!

48. They had not been out three days when the Pinta’s rudder got out of order. That crew of the Pinta had been none too willing to start on this rash expedition, and Columbus had his suspicions that they put it out of order on purpose. Perhaps they did; anyway, the next day it was reported broken again, and Columbus pointed for one of the Canary Islands to get it mended. “We are going to Cathay by way of the western ocean,” they said in reply to the islanders’ questions. “Oh," said the islanders, “every year we can see land lying west of us, away off there. You will find it, though none of us have been there.” Some weeks of delay that unseaworthy Pinta caused; but at last, on September 6th, they were once more started. Now, to the west! And, with their homes and the known world behind them, into the west they sailed!

49. Hardly had the land disappeared when the sailors, dismayed at their own boldness, began to be frightened enough. The steersmen let the vessels drift around a bit. “Steer to the west!” sternly cried Columbus. There was grumbling in the crew, and the admiral showed his wit by commencing then and there two records of the distance traveled each day. The record for the faithless sailors’ edification showed fewer miles than the reality, and the truth of the matter no one knew but himself, from that day until he brought them safe to the other side. The fifth day a fragment of a ship drifted by them–"a wreck!" cried the sailors, and grew gloomy over the bad omen. One night a “remarkable bolt of fire” fell into the sea, and the superstitious men were panic-stricken. How could they go on in the face of this message from heaven? But go on they must. This remarkable admiral said calmly: “Steer to the west.”

50. As the days went on “they began to meet large patches of weeds, very green.” “We must be near to land,” said the sailors. “Perhaps some island,” said the admiral; “but the continent we shall find further ahead.” Another strange thing happened. That little compass, their only sure guide to Cathay, began to behave as if it too had lost its head over this foolhardy undertaking. The neighbors at home had warned them that the devil managed the compass; and this needle, never known to point anywhere but north, now pointed west of north! Was the devil steering them for hell? Heaven’s fiery bolt had warned them; they had not heeded, and now the devil was tampering with the compass. Poor sailors! They looked fiercely on Columbus, and wished themselves well out of this business. But the admiral faced the strange occurrence quietly, though his heart may well have beat fearfully, and proceeded to investigate its cause. He soon announced it. “It is the north star that moves,” he coolly informed the terrified men, “the needle is always true.” The admiral was certainly a marvelously wise man, and the sailors said no more.

51. Eleven days out. No thickening of the sea yet, except with this mass of floating weed. No darkness, except the darkness of night. No nearer the sunset, and always at sunset-time that golden western path across the water. Weeds, weeds–vast stretches of weeds; they must betoken land; and a live crab discovered among them would surely seem to indicate it. The sea is smooth, the air clear. It is like “Andalusia in April, all but the nightingales,” exclaims the admiral. What would you give to hear a nightingale just now, brave-hearted admiral, gazing into the moonlit infinity of silence that enspheres you! You can not bear the crystal tension; go below to the relief of the narrow room and the journal faithfully kept!

52. More signs of land. They kill tunnies–sure sign, say the sailors. And all the signs are from the west, “where I hope the high God in whose hand is all victory will speedily direct us to land,” writes the admiral. Even the faithless sailors begin to forget their sullen disapproval, and the three ships race merrily to see which shall first discover land. Great flocks of birds Alonzo Pinzon saw from the Pinta. “This very night we shall reach land, I believe!” he exulted; and the Pinta swiftly shot ahead, expecting to sight the shore at any moment. “There must be islands all about us,” thought the admiral; “but we will not stay for them now. Straight to the west!”

53. Still no land, for all the signs and eager watching. Leagues of undulating weeds, but no land! And the faint-hearted sailors grumble again. They fear that they never shall “meet in these seas with a fair wind to return to Spain.” A head-wind heartens them, but it quickly flits off laden with kisses for Andalusian sweethearts; and again the east wind fills the sails and carries them away, and away, and away!

54. Alonzo Pinzon and Columbus hold a conference, and Columbus, spreading out that dear map of the Atlantic lying between Europe and Asia, traces for the pilots the course they have pursued–a bold, straight westerly line–and shows them that they are now near the islands of the Asiatic coast. Inspired delusion! How did it happen that the distance you reckoned to Asia was just the distance that landed you on American shores!

55. Then, again, all eyes strain to the west, and the three little ships in that great circle of water steer swiftly on their unknown course to unknown lands. The excited sailors can scarce do their work. “We are nearing land, the admiral says.” “He says it will be perhaps Cipango itself!” “Think of the gold!” “And the dragons!” “Thou’rt a coward. In Cipango the king has his palace roofed and floored with gold.” “And the pearls there are of a beautiful rose-color.” “If it is not Cipango, it will be still some other famous island, if not Cathay.”

56. “But, bethink you of the monsters of those islands: we are like to meet two-headed men, they say, and lions, and beasts with men’s heads!” “Ay, but the gold, the gold!” “What will gold be to thee, man, with a cannibal drinking thy blood?” “And there is somewhere there a valley of devils!” “Hist about that, there’s no need to speak.” “Any land were better than this dreary, endless ocean!” “Ay, ay, any land were better than this endless ocean!–I go to look for land. The admiral offers a reward to the man first discovering it.” “Ho! for the west, and the golden cities of Cathay!”

57. Monsters? devils? The admiral was a man of science and not of superstition, but those wild stories may well have made the night uncanny for him. Suddenly Alonzo Pinzon cried “Land!” and with praiseworthy prudence hastened to claim the reward. The admiral fell on his knees and thanked God. Alonzo Pinzon’s crew sang the “Gloria"; the men of the Niņa ran up the rigging, and shouted that the land was truly there. All night the excited men talked of nothing but that land, and the admiral changed their course to southwest, where it appeared to lie. Fast they sailed till morning, till noon, till afternoon, and then “discovered that what they had taken for land was nothing but clouds!” Oh, the fearful reaction after that tense twenty-four hours! “There is no further shore!” cried the sailors. “It is as they said: the sea goes on forever, and we are going to death!" The admiral quietly ordered, “Sail on into the west.” They could not gainsay him. He willed it, and they sailed on.

58. Weeds and birds still float and fly about the ships. “Fine weather and the sea smooth, many thanks to God,” says the admiral. Alonzo Pinzon wished to seek the islands that might be near them. “No,” said the admiral, “we shall not change our course.” Put the signs of land again brought reviving spirits and new hope to the men, and again the three ships try to outsail one another in the race for the first discovery. The Nina suddenly fired a salute–signal of land–but the land did not appear. Seeing flocks of birds flying southwest, Columbus altered his course to that direction, thinking that the birds knew better than he where land lay.

59. And three days more they sailed, watching eagerly the various signs–weeds, pelicans, passing birds–gazing, gazing, gazing upon that unbroken boundary line sweeping around the lonesome watery world! Only sky and sea, sea and sky, with lines of passing birds black across the one and the undulating weeds streaking the other–three little ships with spreading sails under the blue dome, that distant, limiting circle, delicately distinct, always curving in unbroken perfection. Ah! the calm cruelty of the smiling sea and sky!

60. “The admiral encouraged them in the best manner he could, representing the profits they were about to acquire, and adding that it was to no purpose to complain; having come so far, they had nothing to do but continue on to the Indies till, with the help of our Lord, they should arrive there.” It is said, though Columbus does not record it, that now the sailors whispered about among themselves “that it would be their best plan to throw him quietly into the sea, and say he unfortunately fell in while he stood absorbed in looking at the stars!” If they did plot such folly, they had sense enough not to carry it out.

61. So there was, indeed, nothing for it but to sail on. The next day brought more floating articles and newly excited expectancy. A cane, a log, a carved stick the Pinta found. Think of the way that carved stick passed from, hand to hand! “Carved with an iron tool,” said one. “Nay, I doubt it.” See, they are waving a branch from the Niņa’s deck! Ho, the Pinta! “A stalk loaded with roseberries!” There must be land–or else the devil himself puts these signs in our way. Alonzo Pirzon, in the swift Pinta, kept ahead. Night came down. At ten the admiral, peer into the darkness, saw a light–was it one of those phantom lights reported to dance over these waters? A faint, glimmering light! “Pero Gutierrez, come here. I see a light! Look that way!"–"I see it too,” said Pero. “Rodrigo Sanchez, come here–a light!” But Rodrigo Sanchez does not stand in the right place, and sees nothing at all. It was gone a moment. Then the admiral saw it moving up and down. “It may be an indication of land,” admitted Rodrigo Sanchez; but Columbus was certain, and his orders were prompt and imperative: a strict watch to be kept upon the forecastle, and for him who should first see land a silken jacket and the reward promised by the king and queen.

62. At midnight the Pinta was still ahead. Ninety miles they had made since sunset. Look out for land, Alonzo Pinzon. Midnight–look sharp. No land. One o’clock–look sharp. No land. Two o’clock–what is it? Rodrigo de Triana has seen land, land! Make the signals, Alonzo Pinzon. Ho, the Santa Maria–Land! Ho, the Niņa–Land! Take in the sails, wait now for the dawn–first dawn for Europe in the new world.

63. In the morning–it was Friday, October 12th, five weeks since they saw the last of the Canaries–they found that the land was a small island with naked people on its shore. Here we are at last! We have accomplished it! Think of the exultation! Land with fitting ceremony, and take possession for the king and queen of Spain. Drop the small boat from the Santa Maria (put in your guns, lest the natives prove cannibals). Get in you, and you, and you, of the sailors; get in, Rodrigo de Escovedo, our secretary; you, of course, Rodrigo Sanchez, since the king sent you on purpose to bear witness to this occasion. Alonzo Pinzon and Vincent, carry your standards of the green cross; and the admiral bears the royal standard of our sovereigns. All aboard–put off the boat–row for the shore.

64. The curious natives flock about these strange beings, who come in winged ships, and have bodies covered with something besides skin handsome natives, evidently no cannibals, and very obliging. No lions, or hippogriffs, or unicorns. But gold–yes, little pieces of it hanging about the savages’ necks. They make signs that it comes from a land to the south. Cipango, thought Columbus, and set sail to find it. They were in the group of islands between North and South America, which we call the Bahamas and the West Indies. The first island discovered the natives called Guanahani, but Columbus named it San Salvador–"Holy Saviour.”

65. They sailed about among them, hunting for gold and Cipango; bartering with the astonished natives; observing the land. Not quite equal to Mandeville’s tales were the sights they saw, yet the luxuriant, tropical vegetation of the islands, the trees with luscious fruit and sweet perfume, the brilliant birds flitting through the green foliage, the marvelous fish flashing in the waters, the lizards darting across the paths, were wonderful enough in their new beauty to the sea-weary eyes of the Europeans. “I saw no cannibals,” says Columbus; but he heard of an island full of them. He heard, too, of the island of the Amazons, fierce, wild women, who use bows and spears, and are less like women than men. And there was an island where the inhabitants had no hair, and one where the people had tails. Mermaids he saw, but, adds the honest admiral, they were “not so like ladies as they are painted.”

66. “Where do you get your gold?” says the admiral by signs to the islanders. “Cubanacan,” say the natives. Kubla Khan, flashes across the admiral’s mind, and he sails off in renewed certainty. The island which the natives called Colba, or Cuba, he took for Cipango, and after much searching he came to it at last. When he did reach it, its size deceived him into thinking he had reached the continent, and messengers were straightway dispatched to seek the Grand Khan, with his marble bridges and golden towers. Columbus bad brought along a letter to him from Ferdinand and Isabella, in which they tell him that, having heard of his love for them, and his wish to hear news from Spain, they now send their admiral to tell him of their health and prosperity! But the messengers could not find the khan. How could you know, Cristoforo Colombo, that you were only half way around the great world, and thousands of miles yet from Cathay!

The Reward.

67. America was discovered. The daring admiral never knew it. To the day of his death he thought the world was only half as large as it is, and that he had sailed west to Cathay.

68. America was discovered. Shout, Palos! Seven months only have passed, and here come the heroes back again–back from Cipango and Cathay. Weep for joy, daughters and sweethearts and wives! Little children, gaze with fear upon those dark-skinned painted savages, and be consoled that they brought no dragons. Barcelona, ring your bells! The hero, Columbus, is coming in state! Crowd the streets, the doors, the windows, the roofs; king and queen receive him in magnificence. Hail to the man who has succeeded!

69. Three times afterward Columbus crossed the ocean to the new-found Indies, touching once the mainland of South America. No need to go into the details of his after life. How can one have the heart to tell of the quick subsiding of his triumph, the malicious envy of courtiers, the unreasonable discontent of subordinates, the selfish ambition of rivals, the wanton wickedness of the West Indian settlers; of his removal from the governorship, and his voyage home in chains, over his Atlantic, of his weakening health, his accumulating anxieties, his troubled old age? The peaceful death that closed it all in 1506 was relief to the bold spirit which injustice and pain could not subdue, but only hamper and fret. From the island of Jamaica, three years before his death, America’s discoverer writes to his king and queen:

70. “For seven years was I at your royal court, where every one to whom the enterprise was mentioned treated it as ridiculous; but now there is not a man, down to the very tailors, who does not beg to be allowed to become a discoverer. . . . The lands in this part of the world which are now under your highnesses’ sway are richer and more extensive than those of any other Christian power; and yet, after that I had, by the Divine will, placed them under your high and royal sovereignty, and was on the point of bringing your majesties into the receipt of a very great and unexpected revenue,... I was arrested and thrown, with my two brothers, loaded with irons, into a ship, stripped and very ill treated, without being allowed any appeal to justice. . . . I was twenty-eight years old when I came into your highnesses’ service, and now I have not a hair upon me that is not gray; my body is infirm, and all that was left to me, as well as to my brothers, has been taken away and sold, even to the frock that I wore, to my great dishonor. . . . I implore your highnesses to forgive my complaints. I am, indeed, in as ruined a condition as I have related; hitherto I have wept over others-may Heaven now have mercy upon me, and may the earth weep for me. With regard to temporal things, I have not even a blanca for an offering, and in spiritual things, I have ceased here in the Indies from observing the prescribed forms of religion. Solitary in my trouble, sick, and in daily expectation of death, surrounded by millions of hostile savages full of cruelty, and thus separated from the blessed sacraments of our holy church, how will my soul be forgotten if it be separated from the body in this foreign land! Weep for me, whoever has charity, truth, and justice!”

Ellen Coit Brown.


Preface  •  Chapter I. Defense of Freedom By Greek Valor  •  Chapter II. Crusades and the Crusaders  •  Chapter III. Defense of Freedom in Alpine Passes  •  Chapter IV. Bruce and Bannockburn  •  Chapter V. Columbus and the New World  •  Chapter VI. Defence of Freedom On Dutch Dikes  •  Chapter VII. The Invincible Armada  •  Chapter VIII. Freedom’s Voyage to America  •  Chapter IX. Plassey; and How An Empire Was Won  •  Chapter X. Lexington and Bunker Hill

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