صور الصفحة
PDF
النشر الإلكتروني

them concerning the size of the land, they answered that it had no end towards the west. They insisted that the Admiral should land, or should send some one in his name to salute their cacique, promising moreover that if the Spaniards would go to visit the cacique, the latter would make them various presents; but the Admiral, not wishing to retard the execution of his project, refused to yield to their wishes. The islanders asked him his name, and told him the name of their cacique. Continuing his route towards the west, the Admiral arrived several days later in the neighbourhood of a very lofty mountain, where, because of the fertility of the soil, there were many inhabitants. The natives assembled in crowds, and brought bread, cotton, rabbits, and birds on board the ships. They inquired with great curiosity of the interpreter, if this new race of men was descended from heaven. Their king, and a number of wise men who accompanied him, made known by signs that this land was not an island. Landing on another neighbouring island, which almost touched Cuba, the Spaniards were unable to discover a single inhabitant; everybody, men and women, had fled on their approach. They found there four dogs which could not bark and were of hideous aspect. The people eat them just as we do kids. Geese, ducks, and herons abound in that island. Between these islands and the continent there were such strong currents that the Admiral had great difficulty in tacking, and the water was so shallow that the keels of the ships sometimes scraped the sand. For a space of forty miles the water of these currents was white, and so thick that one would have sworn the sea was sprinkled with flour. Having finally regained the open, the Admiral discovered, eighty miles farther on, another very lofty mountain. He landed to replenish his supply of water and wood. In the midst of the thick palm and pine groves two springs of sweet water were found. While the men were busy cutting wood and filling their barrels, one of our archers went off in the woods to hunt. He there suddenly encountered a native, so well dressed in a white tunic, that at the first glance he believed he saw before him one of the Friars of Santa Maria de la Merced, whom the Admiral had brought with him. This native was soon followed by two others, likewise coming out of the forest, and then by a troop of about thirty men, all of them clothed. Our archer turned and ran shouting, as quickly as he could, towards the ships. These people dressed in tunics shouted after him, and tried by all means of persuasion in their power to calm his fears. But he did not stop in his flight. Upon hearing this news, the Admiral, delighted finally to discover a civilised nation, at once landed a troop of armed men, ordering them to advance, if necessary, as far as forty miles into the country, until they should find those people dressed in tunics, or at least some other inhabitants." The Spaniards marched through the forest and emerged on an extensive plain overgrown with brush, amidst which there was no vestige of a path. They sought to cut a pathway through the undergrowth, but wandered about so hopelessly that they hardly advanced a mile. This underbrush was indeed as high as our grain when ripe. Worn out and fatigued, they returned without having discovered a trail. The next day the Admiral sent out a new troop of twenty-five men, urging them to use the greatest diligence to discover the inhabitants of that country. They, however, having come upon the tracks of some large animals, amongst which they thought they recognised those of lions, were terrified and retraced their steps." In the course of their march, they had found a forest overgrown with wild vines, which hung suspended from the loftiest trees, and also many other spice-producing trees. They brought back to Spain heavy and juicy bunches of grapes. As for the other fruits they collected, it was impossible to bring them to Spain, because there were no means of preserving them on board the ships; hence they rotted, and when they were spoiled they threw them into the sea. The men said that they had seen flocks of cranes twice as large as ours in the forest. Pursuing his course, the Admiral sailed towards other mountains; he observed upon the shore two huts, in which only one man was found, who, when he was brought on board the ships, shook his head and hands, indicating by signs that the country about these mountains was very populous. All along this coast the Admiral encountered numerous canoes which came to meet him, and on one side and the other friendly signals were exchanged. The man Diego, who, from the beginning of the voyage understood the language of the islanders, did not understand that of this newcomer. It was known, indeed, that the languages vary in the different provinces of Cuba.” The natives gave it to be understood that a powerful sovereign, who wore clothes, lived in the interior of the country. The whole of the coast was inundated by waters, the beach being muddy and strewn with trees like in our swamps. When they landed to replenish their supply of water, they found some shells with pearls in them. Columbus nevertheless continued on his way, for he sought at that time, in obedience to the royal instructions, to explore the greatest possible extent of sea. As they proceeded on their course, lighted fires were observed on all the hilltops of the coast country, as far as to another mountain eighty miles distant. There was not a single lookout upon the rocks from which smoke did not rise. It was doubtful whether these fires had been lighted by the natives for domestic purposes or whether it was their custom in time of war thus to signal to warn their neighbours to provide for their safety and unite their forces to repel our attacks. What is more probable is that they assembled to inspect our ships, as though they were something prodigious, concerning which they knew not what course to adopt. The coast-line began to recede in a southerly direction, and the sea continued to be encumbered with islands. Some of the ships, which had been scraped by the reefs, had sprung; ropes, sails, and other tackle were rotted, and provisions were spoiled by the humidity. The Admiral was, consequently, obliged to retrace his course.” The extreme point of this country reached by him, and which he believed to be a continent, he named Evangelista. During the return voyage, Columbus passed among many other islands more distant from the continent, and reached a sea where he found such numbers of huge turtles that they obstructed the advance of his fleet. He likewise crossed currents of whitish water, similar to those he had already seen.” Fearing to sail amongst these islands he returned, and coasted along the one he believed to be a continent. As he had never maltreated the natives, the inhabitants,

* None of the natives of the islands wore white tunics, nor indeed any but the most scanty covering. It has been surmised that the soldier who made this report may indistinctly and from a distance have descried a flock of tall white cranes, otherwise he was either the victim of an hallucination or an inventor of strange tales to astonish his fellows. Humboldt (Histoire de la Géographie du nouveau Continent) quotes an instance of the colonists of Angostora once mistaking a flock of cranes for a band of soldiers.

* There were no lions nor large beasts of prey in the island; it has been suggested that these tracks may have been footprints of an alligator.

* Pezuela gives interesting information concerning the tribal languages of Cuba. Diccionario Geografico, Estadistico, Historico de la isla de Cuba.

* Two or three days more would have sufficed to demonstrate the insular character of Cuba, and would doubtless have made Columbus the discoverer of Yucatan.

* The milky colour was produced by quantities of chalky sand, churned up from the bottom by the currents.

both men and women, gladly brought him gifts, displaying
no fear. Their presents consisted of parrots, bread,
water, rabbits, and most of all, of doves much larger than
ours, according to the Admiral's account. As he noticed
that these birds gave forth an aromatic odour when they
were eaten, he had the stomach of one of them opened,
and found it filled with flowers. Evidently that is what
gave such a superior taste to these doves; for it is credible
that the flesh of animals assimilates the qualities of their
food.
While assisting at Mass one day, Columbus beheld a
man eighty years old, who seemed respectable though
he wore no clothes, coming towards him, accompanied
by a number of his people. During the rest of the
ceremony this man looked on full of admiration; he was
all eyes and ears. Then he presented the Admiral with
a basket he was carrying, which was filled with native
fruits, and finally sitting beside him, made the following
speech which was interpreted by Diego Columbus, who,
being from a neighbouring country, understood his
language:
“It is reported to us that you have visited all these
countries, which were formerly unknown to you, and have
inspired the inhabitants with great fear. Now I tell
and warn you, since you should know this, that the soul,
when it quits the body, follows one of two courses; the
first is dark and dreadful, and is reserved for the enemies
and the tyrants of the human race; joyous and delectable
is the second, which is reserved for those who during
their lives have promoted the peace and tranquillity of
others. If, therefore, you are a mortal, and believe that
each one will meet the fate he deserves, you will harm
no one.”
Thanks to his native interpreter, the Admiral under-
stood this speech and many others of the same tenor,
and was astonished to discover such sound judgment in

[ocr errors]
« السابقةمتابعة »