With wonderful endurance the three little vessels buffeted with the waves of the Atlantic. They encountered no heavy storms such as sometimes lash that sea into fury; nor did they observe any of the expected terrors of the trackless deep. Phenomena sometimes startled the mariners, and day after day they were agitated by alternate hopes and disappointments. The volcanic blaze of the peak of Teneriffe scared the sailors as it shop up behind them. When they were two hundred leagues or more westward of that peak, Columbus observed, for the first time in his life, a variation of the needle of his compass from a true line with the north star. It inclined five or six degrees to the northwest, and this variation increased as they sailed on with no sure guide but the stars. Very soon they encountered vast masses of sea-weeds, which retarded the vessels, and seemed like a green island hundreds of miles in extent floating on the bosom of the ocean. It was doubtless the mysterious Sargasso Sea, now so well known to mariners, and which probably gave rise to the legends concerning fertile islands in the Atlantic. Then they were cheered by the sight of a flying heron and tropical bird which were harbingers of land. The sailors, who had been mutinous at times, were quieted by these promises of nature; but when they seemed to be deceptive, the crews again became stormy and almost ungovernable. They reproached their sovereigns for trusting the ambitious Italian, who would sacrifice their lives "to make himself a great lord;" and they resolved to retrace their course and seek the shores of Spain. With kind words, tempting promises of reward, and threats against the more mutinous, Columbus quelled the rising insurrection for the time.
For eleven days after leaving the Canary Islands, the ships had sailed before the easterly trade winds; now gentle breezes came from the southwest, and often diminished into dead calms. At early twilight one evening, Martin Pinzon, standing on the high stem of the Pinta, and pointing toward the southwest, shouted to the admiral, "Land! land! senor; I claims my reward"-a pension promised by the sovereigns to the first man who should discover land. Believing the report to be true, Columbus knelt and returned thanks to God; and his own crew and that of the Pinta, sailing close by, joined with the commanders in repeating the Gloria in Excelsis. Alas! the apparition was only a cloud which vanished before the dawn.
Days passed on, and the sun each evening set in the waves. Martin Pinzon believed that a more southerly course would be wiser, and he was confirmed in his opinion by seeing a flock of parrots flying toward the southwest. He advised Columbus to follow them, but the admiral kept on his due west course. The crews again became discontented and mutinous. They had lost all hope, and in their desperation they defied Columbus. With great dignity and calmness, and with the coolness of true courage, he said: This expedition has been sent out by your sovereigns, and come what may I am determined, by the help of God, to accomplish the object of the voyage." "We will cast you into the sea and return to Spain," said the exasperated sailors; and just at sunset, on the evening of the 11th of October, they were about to carry their threat into execution, when a coast-fish was seen to glide by; dolphins played near the surface; a branch of thorn with berries on it floated near, and a staff, artificially carved, came upon the waters to testify of human habitations near. Such unmistakable signs of land close by hushed the voice of rebellion, and the tigers became as meek as lambs. After the vesper hymn to the Virgin had been sung at the close of twilight, as usual, Columbus addressed his crew in words of kindness and congratulation. Recounting the many blessings which they had received from God on the voyage, he assured them that a greater blessing was about to be bestowed upon them-that probably land would be seen in the morning. He enjoined them all to watch, and promised that to whosoever should first discover land should be given a doublet of velvet, in addition to the pension offered by the sovereigns.
Not an eye was closed. Eagerly every man watched far into the night. Columbus, sitting on the high poop of the Santa Maria, more eagerly than they, gazed upon the western horizon. At about ten o'clock he thought he saw the glimmer of a distant light. He called Gutierrez, gentleman of the king's bed-chamber, who was one of the private adventurers, and inquired whether he saw a light. "I do," said Gutierrez. Columbus then called Sanchez, another adventurer, and after a few minutes they all three saw it, gleaming like a torch in a fisherman's boat, rising and falling with the waves. At length, at two o'clock in the morning, whilst the vessels were continuing on their course, a gun fired on board the Pinta announced the joyful tidings that land had been seen. It was first observed by a mariner named Rodrigo de Triana, but, as Columbus had seen the lights several hours before, the award was given to the admiral. The land was clearly seen at that distance of about six miles. The vessels were laid to, and all waited impatiently for the dawn. When it came a beautiful picture was revealed. Wooded shores were in full view. The perfumes of flowers came upon the light land breeze. Birds in gorgeous plumage hovered around the vessels caroling morning hymns, which seemed like the voices of angels to the late despairing seamen. In spite of every difficulty and danger, Columbus had accomplished his object. "The great mystery of the ocean was revealed," says Mr. Irving. "His theory, which had been the scoff of sages, was triumphantly established; he had secured to himself a glory as durable as the world itself."
At sunrise, Columbus and his companions landed in small boats. Many naked men and one woman, with skins of a dark copper color, who had watched the movements of the Europeans with mingled feelings of curiosity, wonder and awe, now fled in alarm to the deep shadows of the forest. The admiral, dressed in gold-embroidered scarlet cloth and bearing the royal standard, first stepped upon the shore. He was followed by the Pinzons, each carrying the white silk banner of the expedition. It was pennon-shaped, emblazoned with a green cross, on one side of which was the letter F and on the other side the letter Y, the initials of Ferdinand and Ysabella, and each was surmounted by a golden crown. When the officers and crews were all landed, the whole company knelt, kissed the earth, and with tears of joy filling their eyes, chanted the Te Deum Laudamus. Rising from the ground, Columbus displayed the royal standard, and drawing his sword, took possession of the land in the name of the sovereigns of Spain. To the island (for such it proved to be) he gave the name of San Salvador-Holy Saviour. His followers crowded around him with the most extravagant demonstrations of delight. Those who had been most insolent and mutinous were foremost in the utterance of vows of faithfulness thereafter. Each gladly took an oath of obedience to him as admiral and viceroy, and the representative of Ferdinand and Isabella. Now the triumph of Columbus was complete.
The native inhabitants had watched the approaching ships since the dawn, with fear and awe, regarding them as monsters of the deep; and when they saw the white men come from them, dressed in gay colors, with shining lace and glittering armor, they supposed them to be superior beings who had come down from the skies. Each party was a wonder to the other. The naked people with dusky skins painted with a variety of colors and devices, the men without beards and both sexes having long black hair falling from their heads over their shoulders and bosoms in great profusion, were unlike any human beings of whom Columbus and his companions had ever heard. By degrees the alarm of the timid natives subsided, and they approached the Europeans giving and receiving signs of amity and good will. As the boats of the navigators moved along the shore, in an exploration of the coast of the island, the inhabitants of villages, men, women and children, ran to the beach, throwing themselves on the ground, and assuming attitudes of worship of the supposed celestial beings. They made signs for the Spaniards to land; and when they found that the boats kept on their way, many of them went into the sea and swam after them, and others followed in canoes. Believing that he was upon an island of Farther India, Columbus called these wild inhabitants Indians, a name which all the native tribes of America have since borne.
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