The Second Voyage
On reflection, King John of Portugal refrained from killing Columbus, and he sailed to Palos, where the people, as you may imagine, were very glad to see him again, and his good old friend, the priest Perez, fell on his neck for joy.
The king and queen were at Barcelona, and thither Columbus proceeded to meet them, making a triumphant march through Spain, like a conqueror. In every city he passed through the people turned out to welcome him with shouts and flowers and music. At Barcelona the city made a grand holiday of his reception. A squadron of cavaliers, splendidly mounted and bearing banners, rode out to escort him into the city. Houses were decorated with flags, streets were densely crowded, and the house-tops covered with spectators, who waved handkerchiefs. A procession was formed. Columbus rode in the middle, leading six Indians in plumes and gaudy costume; the members of his crew followed in their best clothes, bearing products of the islands they had seen.
Trumpets blew blasts of welcome as high court officials, bowing to the ground, led the discoverer, or the Admiral, as be was called, to the throne-room where Ferdinand and Isabella sat side by side in solemn state. He knelt to kiss their hands, but they raised him and bade him sit in an arm-chair opposite them, while he told them the story of his voyage. The courtiers' jaws dropped when they saw a common man sitting in the presence of majesty; they lifted up their eyes as if to say, What is the world coming to? To them the finding of a New World was far less important than the seating of a commoner in the presence of royalty. The monarch treated Columbus like an equal. Isabella invited him to her parlor, and was never tired of hearing him talk about the New World, and Ferdinand took him out riding, as if he had been a lord of high degree.
Most of the nobles made much of him. One of them was captious, and sneeringly said at a public banquet that if Columbus had not discovered the Islands of the West, some one else would have done so. It was then that Columbus asked the party whether any of then could make an egg stand on end. As none of them could, he seized the egg, brought it down with such force on the table that the shell broke, and the egg easily stood upright on the broken end. "Any one could do that," said the noble. "Yes," replied Columbus; "so any one could have discovered the New World if he had known how to do it."
A new expedition of seventeen vessels was fitted out at Cadiz, and the command given to Columbus. But what will surprise you, the general direction of the whole business was intrusted to an archdeacon named Fonseca. It may puzzle you to figure out what archdeacons had to do with naval expeditions. Another thing at which you may be astonished is, that a dispute arising between Spain and Portugal about the ownership of the new countries, the Pope decided that all strange countries which were not inhabited by Christians should be divided between Spain and Portugal, Spain taking those which were west of the Canaries, and Portugal those which were east. It was hard enough on the people of Asia and Africa and America not to have had a chance of being Christians; to lose their lands as well was especially severe; don't you think so?
The fleet sailed on September 25th, 1493, and taking a more southerly course than the first expedition, it first sighted Dominica, and then in turn visited Guadaloupe, Montserrat, Nevis, Santa Cruz, and other islands, which Columbus christened. One of them he called after his flag-ship, the Marie Galante—a name which it bears to this day. Sailors who landed on these islands lost themselves in the dense thickets of the interior. Plants grow so thickly in that luxuriant soil that to this day a traveller has to cut his way through the underbrush with a sword-knife.
On these islands Columbus found a race of natives different from the kind, gentle, timid creatures he had met on the Bahamas and in Hispaniola. He called them Caribs. They were fighters and cannibals, men and women alike. They fought with spears, hatchets, and bows and arrows, and sometimes their arrows were poisoned. They ate dogs, lizards, snakes, wild birds, fish, with corn, cassava, and pine-apples. They were the most vigorous Indians Columbus had met. Some of them wore clothes, and they had a system of laws. But they were always at war with their neighbors, and after a battle they ate their prisoners.
Columbus was not sorry to leave these savages; his fleet sailed to the place in Hispaniola where he had left forty-two men of his first expedition to hold the fort he had built. He was greatly shocked when he got there to find that the fort was gone, and the men gone too. After long search he found a few skulls and some bones. It turned out that the men had quarrelled among themselves over booty, had robbed the Indians, and had behaved infamously to the Indian women; whereupon a tribe of Caribs landed on Hispaniola and murdered them all.
This was a bad beginning for the conquest. But Columbus plucked up spirit, built him a new fort, which he called Isabella, put a garrison into it, and with the rest of his force explored the coasts of Cuba, Jamaica, and Hispaniola. In the two latter he found rivers with gold in the sand and gravel, and he was beginning to hope that he was going to realize his old visions, when he was taken ill and lay five months in his bed in a fever which deprived him of speech, hearing, sense, and memory. Many of his men took the fever; it was probably while it was raging that one of them saw a fish as big as a whale, with a shell like a turtle, two fins like wings, and a head sticking out of the water as large as a wine-cask.
When he got better Columbus led his men on one expedition after another, partly in the hope of finding gold, and partly to divert their minds. But the fever kept spreading, and with it other new and strange diseases which the doctors could not cure. And as many of the men whom Columbus had led across the ocean were idle, and would not work in the hot sun, provisions began to grow scarce. At the same time parties of Spaniards who roamed the island in search of gold behaved so badly that even the meekest Indians turned upon them and attacked them. This was a dark time for the discoverers of the New World.
Driven beyond bearing by the misconduct of the Spaniards, the Indians gathered all their fighting men into an army, and marched down to chive the strangers into the sea. But the poor naked creatures could do little against soldiers who wore coats of mail, and fought with arquebuses. The battle ended in a rout,, and so many of the Indians were killed that the survivors submitted to their fate, bowed their heads meekly, and bore whatever their cruel conquerors chose to inflict.
I am sorry to say that at this time Columbus, who was very much concerned about the salvation of the Indians' souls, proposed to Ferdinand and Isabella to make slaves of them, as the best way of converting them to Christianity, and I am not surprised that the pure and noble woman who was queen wrote on the margin of his letter:
"This should not be done till every other way of converting them has been tried."
But new troubles were in store for the discoverer.
Away across the ocean, in the city of Seville, Archdeacon Fonseca was jealous and spiteful; he intrigued against Columbus, while sailors who had sailed under the Admiral and had been sent home told false stories of his doings in the islands. Spaniards began to complain that he was not sending much gold home, and it was whispered that he was keeping it for himself. People went about saying that Columbus was not the man for the place, that if others whom they could name had been put in command, things would have turned out differently.
Rumors of this spite-work reached the ears of Columbus, and he resolved to go home to face his enemies. He filled a ship with Indian slaves, embarked for Europe, and after dangers from storm and perils from hunger—at one time the ship ran out of provisions and the sailors could hardly be kept from eating the Indian slaves—he landed in Spain in May, 1496. The king and queen received him well, but the Spanish people were tired of him. They had heard stories of the sufferings of the adventurers in Hispaniola. They had been disappointed at the small amount of gold which had come from the New World. Like other races, the Spaniards were fickle; the very people who had roared themselves hoarse three years before, when Columbus first arrived from the Indies, now turned their backs on him, and growled that the archdeacon was probably right after all, and that Columbus was nothing but a crank. King Ferdinand grew cool to him. Queen Isabella alone stood by him, and still cherished faith in his honor and his wisdom.
He had offended her when he brought home a ship-load of Indians, and wanted to sell them as slaves in the market-place of Seville—the money they brought to go to the queen. She would have no such slave sales in her kingdom, nor any blood-money in her pocket. Such Indians as wished to stay in Spain she bade the guards set free; the others she ordered Columbus to take back to their own country. And as Columbus, after all his discoveries, was so poor that he could hardly buy himself clothes, and could not charter a ship to return to the islands he had found, she bought for him two vessels, which he tried to man with volunteers. But the time had passed when young men of ambition craved to sail on voyages of discovery. Nobody was willing to take service under Columbus. To fit out his vessels he had to man them with the worst convicts from the prisons, with which sorry crew he embarked from Spain on his third voyage in May, 1498.