O NE day, in the year 1484, a tall, strongly built man of commanding presence stood before the King of Portugal at the Court of Lisbon. All men of adventurous spirit were drawn to Portugal in these days, for though Prince Henry was long since dead, the enthusiasm he had aroused lived on in his heirs.
Portuguese sailors had already passed the equator,—had even reached the Congo, on the west coast of Africa; but the Cape was yet shrouded in mystery when Christopher Columbus stood before the king. Little did that king realise the strength of the man who now stood before him. He could not read those keen blue-grey eyes, kindling with eager interest, as the Italian unfolded his great, his wonderful plan.
"Sail to the West and the East will be found."
Such words seemed at first the words of a madman. Columbus explained his idea to the king. He told him of the long years he had worked at his scheme, how sure he felt that there was a shorter way to the East—to the land of the Great Khan of Marco Polo fame—than by Africa. The world was surely round. If Asia could be reached by sailing east, surely it could be reached by going west. If the king would grant him ships and money, he was ready to go and see.
The king listened with interest, and referred the plan to some of his learned men. They called Columbus a dreamer, and scoffed at his dreams. Finally they persuaded the king to an ungenerous act. They got from Columbus the plans of his proposed voyage, and while they kept him in suspense awaiting the king's decision, they despatched some ships off privately to investigate the matter.
Away sailed the ships to the Cape Verde Islands. But the weather grew stormy, the pilots trembled at the sight of an unlimited waste of wild tumbling waves, and, losing heart, they returned to tell the king of their failure.
When Columbus heard of this injustice he straightway left Portugal. He would have nothing more to do with a country which could serve him thus. He took his little son, Diego, by the hand, and went to Spain.
One day, says an old story, a stranger walked up to the gate of an ancient monastery, which stood on a solitary height overlooking the southern sea-coast of Spain. The stranger, who was leading a small child, stopped to ask for bread and water, for the boy was hungry.
It was Christopher Columbus and little Diego. They were taken in and fed, and the friar of the monastery was much struck with the grand ideas put forth by this stranger within his gates. He strongly advised him to go to the Spanish Court, where he would find a king and queen—Ferdinand and Isabella—who would certainly listen to his plans. So leaving little Diego behind, he set forth to try and get an audience with the King and Queen of Spain.
Now the Moors, against whom the Cid had fought four centuries before, were still reigning in the southern part of Spain called Granada. All the country was taken up with a great war that was going on between the Christian monarchs, Ferdinand and Isabella, and the Moorish king of Granada, and Columbus could get no one to listen to his great scheme.
Weeks and months, even years, went by, and the Spanish monarchs could spare no time to give audience to the future discoverer of America. It was not till the end of the year 1491 that he was summoned to the king and queen at their camp outside the town of Granada, which they were besieging. So poor was he by this time that the queen sent him money to get clothes suitable to appear at Court.
Here was the great chance for which he had so longed. But though poor, Columbus was proud. He believed in his plan, and he demanded great things. He must be made admiral and viceroy of all the new seas and countries that he should discover, and have one-tenth part of all the gains. His demands were laughed at, and he was dismissed by the Spanish Court.
Mounting his mule, Columbus rode sadly away. Once more he had failed.
But his friends could not bear to see him treated thus. They approached Queen Isabella. In glowing colours they put before her the great possibilities of the scheme, until she exclaimed with fervour: "I will undertake the enterprise for my own crown of Castile, and will pledge my jewels to raise the necessary funds."
A messenger rode hard after Columbus, brought him back to the queen, and all was settled for the great voyage.
Spain, after all, was to have the glory and honour of sending Columbus to discover the New World.