He describes the people whom they at first visited as of fine stature, easy bearing, with long straight hair, and wearing worked handkerchiefs on their heads. At a little distance it seemed as if these were made of silk, like the gauze veil with which the Spaniards were familiar, from Moorish usage.
These people were whiter in color than the Indians he had seen before. They all wore something at the neck and arms, with many pieces of gold at the neck. The canoes were much larger than he had seen, better in build and lighter; they had a cabin in the middle for the princes and their women.
He made many inquiries for gold, but was told he must go farther on, but he was advised not to go there, because his men would be in danger of being eaten. At first, Columbus supposed that this meant that the inhabitants of the gold-bearing countries were cannibals, but he satisfied himself afterwards that the natives meant that they would be eaten by beasts. With regard to pearls, also, he got some information that he should find them when he had gone farther west and farther north. After these agreeable courtesies, the little fleet raised its anchors and sailed west.
Columbus sent one caravel to investigate the river. Finding that he should not succeed in that direction, and that he had no available way either north or south, he leaves by the same entrance by which he had entered. The water is still very fresh, and he is satisfied, correctly as we know, that these currents were caused by the entrance of the great river of water. On the thirteenth of August he leaves the island by what he calls the northern mouth of the river [Boca Grande], and begins to strike salt water again. At this part of Columbus's letter there is a very curious discussion of temperature, which shows that this careful observer, even at that time, made out the difference between what are called isothermal curves and the curves of latitude.
He observes that he cannot make any estimate of what his temperature will be on the American coast from what he has observed on the coast of Africa.
He begins now to doubt whether the world is spherical, and is disposed to believe that it is shaped like a pear, and he tries to make a theory of the difference of temperature from this suggestion. We hardly need to follow this now. We know he was entirely wrong in his conjecture. His demonstration is, that in similar latitudes to the eastward it is very hot and the people are black, while at Trinidad or on the mainland it is comfortable and the people are a fine race of men, whiter than any others whom he has seen in the Indies.
The sun in the constellation of the Virgin is over their heads, and all this comes from their being higher up, nearer the air than they would have been had they been on the African coast.
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With this curious speculation he unites some inferences from Scripture, and goes back to the account in the Book of Genesis and concludes that the earthly Paradise was in the distant east. He says, however, that if he could go on, on the equinoctial line, the air would grow more temperate, with greater changes in the stars and in the water. He does not think it possible that anyone can go to the extreme height of the mountain where the earthly Paradise is to be found, for no one is to be permitted to enter there but by the will of God, but he believes that in this voyage he is approaching it.
Any reader who is interested in this curious speculation of Columbus should refer to the "Divina Comedia" of Dante, where Dante himself held a somewhat similar view, and describes his entrance into the terrestrial paradise under the guidance of Beatrice. It is a rather curious fact, which discoverers of the last three centuries have established, that the point, on this world, which is opposite the city of Jerusalem, where all these enthusiasts supposed the terrestrial Paradise would be found, is in truth in the Pacific Ocean not far from Pitcairn's Island, in the very region where so many voyagers have thought that they found the climate and soil which to the terrestrial Paradise belong.
Columbus expresses his dissent from the recent theory, which was that of Dante, supposing that the earthly Paradise was at the top of a sharp mountain. On the other hand, he supposes that this mountain rises gently, but yet that no person can go to the top. This is his curious "excursion," made, perhaps, because Columbus had the time to write it. The journal now recurs to more earthly affairs.
Passing out from the mouth of the "Dragon," he found the sea running westward and the wind gentle. He notices that the waters are swept westward as the trade winds are. In this way he accounts for there being so many islands in that part of the earth, the mainland having been eaten away by the constant flow of the waves. He thinks their very shape indicates this, they being narrow from north to south and longer from east to west. Although some of the islands differ in this, special reasons maybe given for the difference. He brings in many of the old authorities to show, what we now know to be entirely false, that there is much more land than water on the surface of the globe.
All this curious speculation as to the make-up of the world encourages him to beg their Highnesses to go on with the noble work which they have begun. He explains to them that he plants the cross on every cape and proclaims the sovereignty of their Majesties and of the Christian religion. He prays that this may continue.
The only objection to it is the expense, but Columbus begs their Highnesses to remember how much more money is spent for the mere formalities of the elegancies of the court. He begs them to consider the credit attaching to plans of discovery and quickens their ambition by reference to the efforts of the princes of Portugal. This letter closes by the expression of his determination to go on with his three ships for further discoveries. This letter was written from San Domingo on the eighth of October. He had already made the great discovery of the mainland of South America, though he did not yet know that he had touched the continent.
He had intentionally gone farther south than before, and had therefore struck the island of Trinidad, to which, as he had promised, he gave the name which it still bears. A sailor first saw the summits of three mountains, and gave the cry of land. As the ships approached, it was seen that these three mountains were united at the base. Columbus was delighted by the omen, as he regarded it, which thus connected his discovery with the vow which he had made on Trinity Sunday. As the reader has seen, he first passed between this great island and the mainland.
The open gulf there described is now known as the Gulf of Paria. The observation which he made as to the freshness of the water caused by the flow of the Orinoco, has been made by all navigators since. It may be said that he was then really in the mouth of the Orinoco. Young readers, at least, will be specially interested to remember that it was in this region that Robinson Crusoe's island was placed by Defoe; and if they will carefully read his life they will find discussions there of the flow of the "great River Orinoco. It is determined, by careful geographers, that the discovery of the continent of North America, had been made before this time by the Cabots, sailing under the orders of England.
Columbus was greatly encouraged by the discovery of fine pearls among the natives of Paria. Here he found one more proof that he was on the eastern coast of Asia, from which coast pearls had been brought by the caravans on which, till now, Europe had depended for its Asiatic supplies. He gave the name "Gulf of Pearls" to the estuary which makes the mouth of the River Paria. He would gladly have spent more time in exploring this region; but the sea-stores of his vessel were exhausted, he was suffering from a difficulty with his eyes, caused by overwatching, and was also a cripple from gout.
He resisted the temptation, therefore, to make further explorations on the coast of Paria, and passed westward and northwestward. He made many discoveries of islands in the Caribbean Sea as he went northwest, and he arrived at the colony of San Domingo, on the thirtieth of August. He had hoped for rest after his difficult voyage; but he found the island in confusion which seemed hopeless. His brother Bartholomew, from all the accounts we have, would seem to have administered its affairs with justice and decision; but the problem he had in hand was one which could not be solved so as to satisfy all the critics.
Close around him he had a body of adventurers, almost all of whom were nothing but adventurers. With the help of these adventurers, he had to repress Indian hostilities, and to keep in order the natives who had been insulted and injured in every conceivable way by the settlers.
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He was expected to send home gold to Spain with every vessel; he knew perfectly well that Spain was clamoring with indignation because he did not succeed in doing so. But on the island itself he had to meet, from day to day, conspiracies of Spaniards and what are called insurrections of natives. These insurrections consisted simply in their assertion of such rights as they had to the beautiful land which the Spaniards were taking away from them.
At the moment when Columbus landed, there was an instant of tranquility. But the natives, whom he remembered only six years ago as so happy and cheerful and hospitable, had fled as far as they could. They showed in every way their distrust of those who were trying to become their masters. On the other hand, soldiers and emigrants were eager to leave the island if they could.
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They were near starvation, or if they did not starve they were using food to which they were not accustomed. The eagerness with which, in , men had wished to rush to this land of promise, was succeeded by an equal eagerness, in , to go home from it. As soon as he arrived, Columbus issued a proclamation, approving of the measures of his brother in his absence, and denouncing the rebels with whom Bartholomew had been contending.
He found the difficulties which surrounded him were of the most serious character. He had not force enough to take up arms against the rebels of different names. He offered pardon to them in the name of the sovereigns, and that they refused. Columbus was obliged, in order to maintain any show of authority, to propose to the sovereigns that they should arbitrate between his brother and Roldan, who was the chief of the rebel party.
He called to the minds of Ferdinand and Isabella his own eager desire to return to San Domingo sooner, and ascribed the difficulties which had arisen, in large measure, to his long delay. He said he should send home the more worthless men by every ship. He asked that preachers might be sent out to convert the Indians and to reform the dissolute Spaniards. He asked for officers of revenue, and for a learned judge.
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He begged at the same time that, for two years longer, the colony might be permitted to employ the Indians as slaves, but he promised they would only use such as they captured in war and insurrections. By the same vessel the rebels sent out letters charging Columbus and his brother with the grossest oppression and injustice. All these letters came to court by one messenger. Columbus was then left to manage as best he could, in the months which must pass, before he could receive an answer.
He was not wholly without success. That is to say, no actual battles took place between the parties before the answer returned. But when it returned, it proved to be written by his worst enemy, Fonseca. It was a genuine Spanish answer to a letter which required immediate decision. That is to say, Columbus was simply told that the whole matter must be left in suspense till the sovereigns could make such an investigation as they wished. The hope, therefore, of some help from home was wholly disappointed. Roldan, the chief of the rebels, was encouraged by this news to take higher ground than even he had ventured on before.
He now proposed that he should send fifteen of his company to Spain, also that those who remained should not only be pardoned, but should have lands granted them; third, that a public proclamation should be made that all charges against him had been false; and fourth, that he should hold the office of chief judge, which he had held before the rebellion. Columbus was obliged to accede to terms as insolent as these, and the rebels even added a stipulation, that if he should fail in fulfilling either of these articles, they might compel him to comply, by force or any other means.
Thus was he hampered in the very position where, by the king's orders, and indeed, one would say, by the right of discovery, he was the supreme master. For himself, he determined to return with Bartholomew to Spain, and he made some preparations to do so. But at this time he learned, from the western part of the island, that four strange ships had arrived there. He could not feel that it was safe to leave the colony in such a condition of latent rebellion as he knew it to be in; he wrote again to the sovereigns, and said directly that his capitulation with the rebels had been extorted by force, and that he did not consider that the sovereigns, or that he himself, were bound by it.
He pressed some of the requests which he had made before, and asked that his son Diego, who was no longer a boy, might be sent out to him.
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It proved that the ships which had arrived at the west of the island were under the command of Ojeda, who will be remembered as a bold cavalier in the adventures of the second voyage. For many days, the giant ate one of us for dinner each night. We all lived in fear. One day as we were exploring the island once again, we found some woods that had washed ashore. Using the woods, we made some rafts. When the rafts were ready, we thought of a plan.
One night as the giant slept after his dinner, the remaining of us heated the iron roasting rods. Then all of us thrusted the hot rod into the sleeping giant's eye and blinded him. As the giant rushed out in pain, all of us ran to the rafts on the shore. As we thought we were safe, just then the giant returned with other giants like himself.
They threw large rocks at the rafts and all the rafts sank but the raft on which I was with two of my companions remains safe but we escaped with great difficulty. After some days we reached another island where we went ashore and slept for hours. When we woke up we saw a snake as long and as thick as a palm tree approaching us. We ran to save our lives but one of my companions became the snake's prey. One of my surviving companions climbed a tall tree to save himself. A while later, the huge snake came and caught my companion, too. He ate him up but I survived because I was hiding on the highest branch of the same tree.
To keep myself safe at night, I built a fence of prickly and thorny bush around the tree so when the snake came to get me he could not harm me at all. After trying all night, the snake left at dawn. I thought it would be better to commit suicide than meet a cruel death. I went to the shore to jump into the sea. To my glee I saw an approaching trade ship. Soon the captain of the ship saw me and lowered a boat to take me to the ship. The captain gave me fresh clothes and hot food and heard my adventurous tale. I soon befriended with other merchants on the ship. I felt that I had met the captain somewhere but I could not recall.
One day, as we were nearing a port, the captain gave me some goods to sell there and make money. I asked the captain, where he had found the package. He told me about Sindbad, the Sailor, who had been left behind on a deserted island by mistake. Then I remembered and so did the captain recognise me. He was the same captain and I was on the merchant ship I had sailed on my second voyage. We hugged each other in joy. At the port, I sold my goods and made a lot of money again. As we sailed on, I saw a twelve yards long tortoise basking in the sun on an island.
I also happened to see a strange sea-creature that looked very much like a camel. A few days later, I reached Baghdad and again had a lot of wealth to spend.