Page images
PDF
EPUB

on the 11th of October, after public prayers for success, he ordered the sails to be furled, and the ships to lie-to, keeping strict watch lest they should be driven ashore in the night. During this interval of suspense and expectation no man shut his eyes, all kept upon deck, gazing intently towards that quarter where they expected to discover the land, which had been so long the object of their wishes.

About ten o'clock in the evening Columbus, standing on the forecastle, observed a light at a distance, and privately pointed it out to Pedro Guttierez, a page of the queen's wardrobe. Guttierez perceived it, and calling out to the comptroller of the fleet, all three saw it in motion, as if it were carried from place to place. A little after midnight the joyful sound of Land, land, was heard from the Pinta, which kept always a-head of the other ships. They all waited in the anguish of uncertainty and impatience for the return of day. As soon as morning dawned all doubts and fears were dispelled. From every ship an island was seen about two leagues to the north, włose verdant fields, well stored with wood, and watered with many rivulets, presented the aspect of a delightful country. The crew of the Pinta instantly began Te Deum, and were joined by those of the other ships, with tears of joy and transports of congratulation. This office of gratitude to heaven was followed by an act of justice to their commander. They threw themselves at the feet of Columbus, with feelings of self-condemnation mingled with reverence. They implored him to pardon their past conduct; and reverting in the phrensy of their admiration from one extreme to another, they now pronounced the man whom they had so lately reVOL, XXIV,

yiled

[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small]

viled and threatened, to be a person inspired by heaven with sagacity and fortitude more than human, in order to accomplish a design so far beyond the ideas and conception of former ages.

As soon as the sun arose they rowed towards the island, with colours displayed, warlike music, and other martial pomp. As they approached the coast they saw it covered with a multitude of people, whom the novelty of the spectacle had drawn together, whose attitudes and gestures expressed wonder and astonishment at the strange objects which presented themselves to their view. Columbus was the first European who set foot on the new world which he had discovered. He landed in a rich dress, and with a naked sword in his hand. His men followed, and kneeling down they all kissed the ground which they had so long desired to see. They returned thanks to God for conducting their voyage to such a happy issue. They then took solemn possession of the country for the crown of Castile and

The Spaniards, while thus employed, were surrounded by many of the natives, who gazed in silent admiration upon actions which they could not comprehend, and of which they could not foresee the consequence.

The dress of the Spaniards, the whiteness of their skin, their beards, their arms, appeared strange and surprising. The vast machines in which they had traversed the ocean, that seemed to move upon the waters with wings, and uttered a dreadful sound, resembling thunder accompanied with lightning and smoke, struck them with such terror, that they began to respect their new guests as a superior order of beings, and concluded that they were children of the Sun, who had descended to visit the earth.

The

[merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

The Europeans were scarcely less amazed at the scene now before them. Every herb, and shrub, and tree, was different from those which flourished in Europe. The inhabitants appeared in the simple innocence of nature, entirely naked. Their black hair, long and uncurled, floated upon their shoulders, or was bound in tresses around their heads. They had no beards, and every part of their body was perfectly smooth. Their complexion was of a dusky copper colour, their features singular rather than disagreeable, their aspect gentle and timid. Their faces, and several parts of their body, were fantastically painted with glaring colours. They were shy at first through fear, but soon became familiar with the Spaniards, and with transports of joy received from them glass beads and other baubles, in return for which they gave them such provisions as they had, and some cotton yarn, the only commodity of value that they could proclnce. Towards evening Columbus returned to his ships, accompanied by many islanders in their canoes, whiclı, though rudely formed out of the trunk of a tree, they rowed with surprising dexterity. Thus, in the first interview between the inhabitants of the old and new worlds, every thing was condicted amicably, and to their mutual satisfacuon. The one, enlightened and ambitious, formed already vast ideas with respect to the advantages wbich they might derive from the regions that began to open to their view. The other, simple and undiscerning, had no foresight of the calamities and desolation which were approaching their country.

Columbus, who now assumed the title and authority of admiral and viceroy, called the island which he had discovered San Salvador. It is better C2

known

known by the name Guanahani, which the natives gave it, and is one of that large cluster of islands called the Lucaya or Bahama isles. It is situated more than 3000 miles west of Gomera, from which the squadron took its departure, and only four degrees south of it: so little had Columbus deviated from the westerly course which he had fixed on as the most proper.

The next day Columbus employed in visiting the coasts of the island; and, from the universal poverty of the inhabitants, he perceived that this was not that rich country for which he was looking. He therefore concluded, that San Salvador was one of the isles which geographers described as situated in the great ocean adjacent to India. Having observed that most of the people whom he had seen wore small plates of gold, by way of ornament, in their nostrils, he eagerly inquired where they got that precious metal. They pointed towards the south : thither he immediately directed his course. He saw several islands, and touched at three of the largest, on which he bestowed the names of St. Mary of the Conception, Ferdinanda, and Isabella. He inquired every where for gold; and the signs that were uniformly made, by way of answer, confirmed him in the opinion that it was brought from the south. He followed that course, and soon discovered a large island, which the natives of San Salvador called Cuba. Here the people, who were all naked, seemed to be more intelligent than those of San Salvador : they treated the Europeans with the same respectful attention, kissed their feet, and honoured them as sacred beings allied to heaven.

Columbus ,visited almost every harbour on the north coast of the island; but, though delighted with the beauty of the scenes which every where presented themselves, he did not find gold in such quantity as was sufficient to satisfy either the avasice of his followers, or the expectations of the court to which he was to return. The people of the country, as much astonished at his eagerness in quest of gold, as the Europeans were at their ignorance and simplicity, pointed towards the east, where an island, which they called Hayli, was situated, in which that metal was more abundant than among them.

Retarded by contrary winds, Columbus did not reach Hayti till the 6th of December. He called the port where lie. first touched St. Nicholas, and the island Hispaniola, in honour of the kingdom by which he was employed. Here the people possessed gold in greater abundance than their neighhours, which they readily exchanged for bells, beads, or pins; and in this unequal traffic both parties were highly pleased, each considering themselves as gailers by the transaction. Columbus was visited by a prince or cazique of the county, who appeared with all the pomp known among a simple people, being carried on a sort of palanquin upon the shoulders of four men, and attended by many of his subjects, who served him with great respect. His deportment was grave and stately, he gave the admiral some thin plates of gold, and a girdle of curious workmanship, receiving in return presents of small value.

Columbus, still intent on discovering the gold mines, continued to interrogate all the natives with whom he had any intercourse concerning their situation, and in full expectation of reaching soon those Tegions which had been the object of his voyage, he directed his course towards the east. He put into a

C3

commo

« PreviousContinue »