A Celebration of Women Writers

"Part I, Chapter 3." by Henrietta Elizabeth Marshall (1876-)
From: This country of ours; the story of the United States by Henrietta Elizabeth Marshall (1876-) New York, George H. Doran company, 1917.

Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom


CHAPTER 3
HOW COLUMBUS FARED FORTH UPON THE SEA OF DARKNESS AND CAME TO PLEASANT LANDS BEYOND

AT first the voyage upon which Columbus and his daring companions now set forth lay through seas already known; but soon the last land-mark was left behind, and the three little vessels, smaller than river craft of today, were alone upon the trackless waste of waters. And when the men saw the last trace of land vanish their hearts sank, and they shed bitter tears, weeping for home and the loved ones they thought never more to see.

 

On and on they sailed, and as day after day no land appeared the men grew restless. Seeing them thus restless, and lest they should be utterly terrified at being so far from home upon this seemingly endless waste of waters, Columbus determined to keep them from knowing how far they had really gone. So he kept two reckonings. One, in which the real length of the ships' daily journey was given he kept to himself: the other, in which the journey was given as much shorter, he showed to the sailors.

Columbus keeps two reckonings

A month went past, six weeks went past, and still there was no trace of land. Then at length came signs. Snow birds which never ventured far to sea flew round the ships. Now the waves bore to them a rudely carved stick, now the ships ploughed a way through masses of floating weeds. All these signs were at first greeted with joy and hope, and the sailors took heart. But as still the days went past and no land appeared, they lost heart again.

 

The fields of weeds which they had at first greeted with joy now became an added terror. Would they not be caught in this tangle of weeds, they asked, and never more win a way out of it? To their fearful and superstitious minds the very breeze which had borne them softly onward became a menace. For if the wind always blew steadily from the east how was it possible ever to return to Spain? So Columbus was almost glad when a contrary wind blew. For it proved to his trembling sailors that one at least of their fears was groundless. But it made little difference. The men were now utterly given over to gloomy terrors.

The sailors are filled with terror

Fear robbed them of all ambition. Ferdinand and Isabella had promised a large sum of money to the man who should first discover land. But none cared now to win it. All they desired was to turn home once more.

 

Fear made them mutinous also. So they whispered together and planned in secret to rid themselves of Columbus. It would be easy, they thought, to throw him overboard some dark night, and then give out that he had fallen into the sea by accident. No one would know. No one in Spain would care, for Columbus was after all but a foreigner and an upstart. The great ocean would keep the secret. They would be free to turn homeward.

 

Columbus saw their dark looks, heard the murmurs of the crews, and did his best to hearten them again. He spoke to them cheerfully, persuading and encouraging, "laughing at them, while in his heart he wept."

 

Still the men went sullenly about their work. But at length one morning a sudden cry from the Pinta shook them from out their sullen thoughts.

 

It was the captain of the Pinta who shouted. "Land, land, my lord!" he cried. "I claim the reward."

Land! Land!

And when Columbus heard that shout his heart was filled with joy and thankfulness, and baring his head he sank upon his knees, giving praise to God. The crew followed his example. Then, their hearts suddenly light and joyous, they swarmed up the masts and into the rigging to feast their eyes upon the goodly sight.

 

All day they sailed onward toward the promised land. The sun sank and still all night the ships sped on their joyous way. But when morning dawned the land seemed no nearer than before. Hope died away again, and sorrowfully as the day went on the woeful truth that the fancied land had been but a bank of clouds was forced upon Columbus.

A delusion

Again for days the ships sailed on, and as still no land appeared the men again began to murmur. Then one day when Columbus walked on deck he was met, not merely with sullen looks, but with angry words. The men clamoured to return. And if the Admiral refused, why, so much the worse for him. They would endure no longer.

 

Bravely the Admiral faced the mutineers. He talked to them cheerfully. He reminded them of what honour and gain would be theirs when they returned home having found the new way to India, of what wealth they might win by trading. Then he ended sternly:

Mutiny

"Complain how you may," he said, "I have to go to the Indies, and I will go on till I find them, so help me God."

 

For the time being the Admiral's stern, brave words cowed the mutineers. But not for much longer, Columbus knew right well, would they obey him if land did not soon appear. And in his heart he prayed God that it might not be long delayed.

 

The next night Columbus stood alone upon the poop of the Santa Maria. Full of anxious thoughts he gazed out into the darkness. Then suddenly it seemed to him that far in the distance he saw a glimmering light appear and disappear once and again. It was as if some one walking carried a light. But so fearful was Columbus lest his fervent hopes had caused him to imagine this light that he would not trust his own eyes alone. So he called to one of his officers and asked him if he saw any light.

The light

"Yes," replied the officer, "I see a light."

 

Then Columbus called a second man. He could not at first see the light, and in any case neither of them thought much of it. Columbus, however, made sure that land was close, and calling the men about him he bade them keep a sharp look-out, promising a silken doublet to the man who should first see land.

 

So till two o'clock in the morning the ships held on their way. Then from the Pinta there came again a joyful shout of "Land! Land!"

Land at last

This time it proved no vision, it was land indeed; and at last the long-looked-for goal was reached. The land proved to be an island covered with beautiful trees, and as they neared the shore the men saw naked savages crowding to the beach.

 

In awed wonder these savages watched the huge white birds, as the ships with their great sails seemed to them. Nearer and nearer they came, and when they reached the shore and folded their wings the natives fled in terror to the shelter of the forest. But seeing that they were not pursued, their curiosity got the better of their fear, and returning again they stood in silent astonishment to watch the Spaniards land.

 

First of all came Columbus; over his glittering steel armour he wore a rich cloak of scarlet, and in his hand he bore the Royal Standard of Spain. Then, each at the head of his own ship's crew, came the captains of the Pinta and the Nina, each carrying in his hand a white banner with a green cross and the crowned initials of the King and Queen, which was the special banner devised for the great adventure. Every man was dressed in his best, and the gay-coloured clothes, the shining armour, and fluttering banners made a gorgeous pageant. Upon it the sun shone in splendour and the blue sky was reflected in a bluer sea: while scarlet flamingoes, startled at the approach of the white men, rose in brilliant flight.

 



THE VOYAGE OF COLUMBUS
Again for days the ships sailed on, and as still no
land appeared the men began to murmur.


As Columbus landed he fell upon his knees and kissed the ground, and with tears of joy running down his cheeks he gave thanks to God, the whole company following his example. Then rising again to his feet, Columbus drew his sword, and solemnly took possession of the island in the name of Ferdinand and Isabella.

Columbus takes possession of the land for Spain, Oct. 12th, 1492;

When the ceremony was over the crew burst forth into shouts of triumph and joy. They crowded round Columbus, kneeling before him to kiss his hands and feet praying forgiveness for their insolence and mutiny, and promising in the future to obey him without question. For Columbus it was a moment of pure joy and triumph. All his long years of struggle and waiting had come to a glorious end.

 

Yet he knew already that his search was not finished, his triumph not yet complete. He had not reached the eastern shores of India, the land of spice and pearls. He had not even reached Cipango, the rich and golden isle. But he had at least, he thought, found some outlying island off the coast of India, and that India itself could not be far away. He never discovered his mistake, so the group of islands nowhere near India, but lying between the two great Continents of America, are known as the West Indies.

 

Columbus called the island upon which he first landed San Salvador, and for a long time it was thought to be the island which is still called San Salvador or Cat Island. But lately people have come to believe that Columbus first landed upon an island a little further south, now called, Watling Island.

 

From San Salvador Columbus sailed about and landed upon several other islands, naming them and taking possession of them for Spain. He saw many strange and beautiful fruits: "trees of a thousand sorts, straight and tall enough to make masts for the largest ships of Spain." He saw flocks of gaily coloured parrots and many other birds that sang most sweetly. He saw fair harbours so safe and spacious that he thought they might hold all the ships of the world.

 

But of such things Columbus was not in search. He was seeking for gold and jewels, and at every place he touched he hoped to find some great eastern potentate, robed in splendour and seated upon a golden throne; instead everywhere he found only naked savages. They were friendly and gentle, and what gold they had–but it was little indeed–they willingly bartered for a few glass beads, or little tinkling bells.

he seeks for gold;

By signs, however, some of these savages made Columbus understand that further south there was a great king who was so wealthy that he ate off dishes of wrought gold. Others told him of a land where the people gathered gold on the beach at night time by the light of torches; others again told him of a land where gold was so common that the people wore it on their arms and legs, and in their ears and noses as ornaments. Others still told of islands where there was more gold than earth. But Columbus sought these lands in vain.

 

In his cruisings Columbus found Cuba, and thought at first it must be the island of Cipango, but finding himself mistaken he decided at length that he had landed upon the most easterly point of India. He could not be far, he thought, from the palace of the Grand Khan, and choosing out two of his company he sent them as ambassadors to him. But after six days the ambassadors returned, having found no gold; and instead of the Grand Khan having seen only a savage chieftain.

he discovers Cuba;

These ambassadors found no gold, but, had they only known it, they found something quite as valuable. For they told how they had met men and women with firebrands in their hands made of herbs, the end of which they put in their mouths and sucked, blowing forth smoke. And these fire-brands they called tabacos.

tobacco;

The Spaniards also discovered that the natives of these islands used for food a root which they dug out of the earth. But they thought nothing of these things. For what were roots and dried herbs to those who came in search of gold, and gems, and precious spices? So they brought home neither potatoes nor tobacco.

potatoes

So far the three little vessels had kept together, but now the captain of the Pinta parted company with the others, not because of bad weather, says Columbus in his diary, but because he chose, and out of greed, for he thought "that the Indians would show him where there was much gold." This desertion grieved Columbus greatly, for he feared that Pinzon might find gold, and sailing home before him cheat him of all the honour and glory of the quest. But still the Admiral did not give up, but steered his course "in the name of God and in search of gold and spices, and to discover land."

 

So from island to island he went seeking gold, and finding everywhere gentle, kindly savages, fair birds and flowers, and stately trees.

potatoes

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Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom

This book has been put on-line as part of the BUILD-A-BOOK Initiative at the
Celebration of Women Writers.
Initial text entry and proof-reading of this book were the work of volunteers at
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Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom