Gambar halaman

on the sixth day of September. He immediately left the usual tract of navigation, holding his course due west, and stretched into unfrequented seas. The calmness of the Weather prevented them from making much progress the first day ; but on the second, he lost sight of land. The sailors dejected and disniayed at the boldness of the undertaking, beat their breasts, and shed tears, as if they were never again to see the land. Columbus, confident of success, comforted them with assurances of a happy issue of the voyage, and the prospect of vast wealth.

This pusillanimous spirit of the crew, taught Columbus that he should have to struggle with other difficulties besides what was natural for him to expect from the nature of the undertaking. Fortunately for himself, and for the country which employed him, to an ardent inventive genius, he joined other virtues but rarely united with them: he possessed a perfect knowledge of mankind, an insinuating address, a patient perseverance, in executing any plan, the full and entire government of his own passions, and the art of acquiring the direction of other men’s.

These qualities which eminently formed him for com mand, were accompanied with that experience and knowledge in his profession, which begets confidence in times of difficulty and danger.

The Spanish sailors accustomed only to coasting voyages in the Mediterranean ; the knowledge of Columbus, the fruit of thirty years experience, improved by the inventive skill of the Portuguese, appeared immense.

When they were at sea, he superintended the execu. tion of every order; and allowing himself only a few hours for rest, he was almost constantly on deck. His course lying through seas not formerly visited ; the sounding line or quadrant were seldom out of his hands. He attended to the motions of the tides and currents, watched the lights of birds, the appearance of fishes, of sea weeds and every thing that floated upon the water, entering every occurrence in his Journal.

Expecting the length of the voyage would alarm the sailors, Columbus' concealed from them the real progress which they made. He employed the artifice of reckoning short, during the whole voyage. The fourteenth of September, the fleet was above two hundred leagues to the west of the Canaries : the greatest distance from landthat any Spaniard had been before that time.

But now they were struck with an appearance that was astonishing, because it wss new. The magnetic needle did not point exactly to the Polar Star, but varied a degree towards the west, and as they proceeded, this variation increased. Although this is now familiar, it stills remains one of the mysteries of nature, into the cause of which the sagacity of man has not been able to penetrate, and filled the companions of Columbus with terror.

They were now far from the usual course of navigation, nature itself seemed altered, and the only guide they had left seemed to fail them. Columbus with admirable presence of mind, invented a plausible reason for this appeare ance, which had an effect to dispel their fears, or silence their murmurs. He still steered due west, nearly in the latitude of the Canaries. In this direction he came within the course of the trade winds, which blow invariably from east to west.

He advanced before this steady gale with such rapidity, that it was seldom necessary to shift a sail.

About four hundred legues west of the Canaries the sea was so covered with weeds that it resembled a meadow of vast extent, and was in some places so thick as to impede the progress of the vessels. This was cause of fresh alarm : the seamen imagined this was the utmost boundary of the ocean ; and that these floating weeds concealed dangerous rocks, or a large tract of land, which had sunk in that place, Columbus persuaded them that, instead of alarming, it ought rather to encourage them, to consider it as a sign of approaching land. At the same time a brisk gale sprung up, and carried them forwards. Several birds were seen hovering about the ship, and directing their flight towards the west. The despairing crew rea sumed some degree of spirit, and began to entertain fresh hopes.

Upon the first day of October they were advanced seven hundred and seventy leagues west of the Canaries; but he persuaded his men that he had only proceeded five hundred and eighty four leagues; and fortunately for Columbus, neither his own pilot, nor those of the other ships, could discover the deceit.

Three weeks had now elapsed, and no land appeared, all their prognostics had proved fallacious, and their pros pects of success were now as distant as ever. These reflec. tions made strong impressions, at first, on the timid and.

ignorant, and extended, by degrees, to those who were better informed, or more resolute. The contagion spread, at length, from ship to ship. From secret whispers and murmurings, they proceeded to open cabals and loud complaints.

They charged their sovereign with foolish credulity, in relying on the vain promises and rash conjectures of an indigent foreigner. They affirmed that they had fully performed their duty by venturing in an hopeless cause, and that it would be justifiable in refusing any longer to follow such a desperate adventurer to certain destruction. They contended that it was high time to think of returning to Spain, while their crazy vessels were still in a condition to keep the sea, but they feared the attempt would be impracticable, as the wind which hitherto had been favourable in their course, would make it impossible to sail in an opposite direction.

They all agreed that Columbus should be compelled by force to adopt a measure, on which their safety depended. Some were for throwing him overboard, and getting rid of his remonstrances, being persuaded that, upon their return to Spain, his death would excite little concern; and be enquired into with no curiosity. Columbus was not ignorant : of his perilous situation ; he saw that the disaffection of his crew was ready to burst' forth into open mutiny. He affected to seem ignorant of all their designs, and appeared with a cheerful countenance like a man fully satisfied with the progress he had made, and confident of success. Sometimes he endeavoured to work upon their ambition and avarice, by magnificent descriptions of the fame and wealth which they would in all probability acquire. On other occasions he assumed a ione of authority, and threatened them with vengeance from their sovereign, if by their cowardly behaviour, they should defeat the most noble : effort to promote the glory of God, and exait the Spanish name over every other nation.

The words of a man, they were accustomed io obey, and reverence, were weighty and persuasive. They not only restrained them from violent excesses, but prevailed with them to accompany their admiral some time longer.

As they advanced in their course, signs of approaching land were frequent. Birds appeared in flocks, and directed their flight towards the south west.

In imitation of the Portuguese, who in their several discoveries were guide

by the motion of birds, Columbus altered his course from due west, to that quarter whither they pursued their flight. Holding on in this direction for several days, but with no better success than formerly, and having seen no land for thirty days, their hopes subsided quicker than they had arisen, their fears revived with additional force ; impatience, rage, and despair were visible in every countenance. All subordination was lost; the officers had hitherto concurred in opinion with Columbus, but now. took part with the men; they assembled, and mixed threats with exposa tulations, and required him instantly to tack about, and return to Spain.

Columbus perceived it would be in vain to practice his former arts, or to endeavour to rekindle any zeal for the enterprize in men, in whose breasts fear had extinguished every noble sentiment. It was therefore necessary, to soothe passions, which it was impossible to command, and give way to a torrent too impetuous to be checked. He therefore solemnly promised them, that if they would con-tinue to obey his commands, and accompany him three elays longer, and if during that time, land were not discovered, he would then abandon the enterprize, and direct his course towards Spain..

This proposition did not appear to them unreasonable : enraged as they were, they yielded to the proposition, Columbus saw the presages of approaching land so nume. rous, and certain, that he did not hazard much in confining himself to so short a.term. For some days the sounding Jine reached the bottom, and tbe soil which it brought up was a strong indication that land was at no great distance. The land birds which made their appearance, confirmed their hopes.

The crew of La Pinta observed a cane floating, which seemed to be newly cut, and likewise a piece of timber ar.. tificially carved. The sailors on board La Nigna, took up the branch of a tree with red berries, perfectly fresh. The air was more mild, and warm, and the clouds around the setting sun assumed a new appearance.

Columbus was now so confident of being near land, that on the evening of the eleventh of October, after public prayers for success, he ordered the ships to lie by, and a strict watch kept, lest they should be driven on shore in

During this interval of suspense, and 'anxious on, no man closed his eyes ; but all kept on deck

looking intently towards that part from whence they sus. posed land would appear, which had been so long the object of their most anxious wishes.

About two hours before midnight, 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 called to Salcedo, comptroller of the fleet, all three saw it move as from place to place. A little after midnight, the joyful sound of Land! Land! was heard from La Pinta, which always kept a-head of the other ships. Deceived so often, by fállacious appearances, they were slow of belief, and waited in anxious suspense for the return of day..

When the morning dawned, all their doubts and fears were dispelled; they discovered an island about two leagues to the north, whose verdant fields and woods watered with many rivulets, presented to them the aspect of a delight. ful country.

The crew of La Pinta instantly began the Te Deum, as a hymn of thanksgiving to God; and were joined by the crews of the other ships, with tears of joy, and transports of congratulation. This act of devotion, was followed by an act of justice to their commander : they fell at his feet with feelings of self-condemnation, inspired with reverence. They implored his pardon for their ignorance, incredulity, and insolence, which had created him so much unnecessary disquiet, and passing from one extreme to another, in the warmth of their imagination they now pronounced him whom they had lately reviled and threatened, to be a per son divinely inspired with :sagacity and fortitude more than human, that could accomplish a design beyond the ideas and conceptions of all former ages..

When the sun arose, the boats were all manned and armed, with colours displayed, warlike music, and other martial pomp; they rowed towards the shore : as they approached, they saw a multitude of people, whose gestures expressed wonder and astonishment at the novel and strange objects which presented themselves to their view.

Columbus was the first European that set his foot on the New World. He landed in a rich dress, and with his drawn sword in his hand. His men followed, with the royal standard displayed, and kneeling down, kissed the ground they had so long desired to see. They then erected a crucifix, and prostrating themselves before it, returned

« SebelumnyaLanjutkan »