Imágenes de páginas


except tame parrots, of which they had many, and balls of cotton-yarn ; but the eyes of the Spaniards sparkled with hope when they saw small ornaments of gold, which some of them wore. Happy had it been for all the natives of the New World if this yellow metal had not existed among them, for it was to bring them untold suffering and despair.

Such was the island of San Salvador, as Columbus named this first-seen land; but, leaving it, let us go with him in his voyage through that islandsprinkled sea, and use his eyes in taking in the marvels with which it was

Familiar as these islands have become to many of us, to him they were all new, beautiful, and strange, a string of tropic pearls or rare emeralds spread out along those shining waters of the South.

On leaving San Salvador, the Spaniards, their hearts elate with joy and pride in their discovery, hardly knew whither to go. They seemed drawn to the right and the left alike. They found themselves in an archipelago of beautiful islands, green and level, rising on all sides and seemingly numberless. To us they are the great green cluster of the Bahamas, but to Columbus, who fancied that he had reached the shores of Asia, they were that wonderful archipelago spoken of by Marco Polo, in which were seven thousand four hundred and fiftyeight islands, abounding with spices and rich in odoriferous trees and shrubs.

On went the Spanish caravels, sailing over bright and placid waters scarce ruffled by the gentle

breeze, and touching at isle after isle, each of which seemed to the voyagers more beautiful than the last. Resting under the shade of warm and verdant groves, while his men sought to fill their water-casks from the purest and coolest springs, the admiral found the scene around him entrancing to his vision, “the country as fresh and green as the month of May in Andalusia ; the trees, the fruits, the herbs, the flowers, the very stones, for the most part, as different from those of Spain as night from day.”

One isle, which he honored with the name of Isabella, after his patron, the Spanish queen, surpassed in charm all he had yet seen. Like them all, it was covered with rich vegetation, its climate delightful, its air soft and balmy, its scenery so lovely that it seemed to him 16 as if one would never desire to depart. I know not where first to go, nor are my eyes ever weary of gazing on the beautiful verdure.”

Fresh water was abundant, and he ordered all the casks of the ships to be filled. He could not say enough in praise of what he saw.

6. Here are large lakes, and the groves about them are marvellous, and in all the island everything is green, and the herbage as in April in Andalusia. The singing of the birds is such that it seems as if one would never wish to leave this land.

There are flocks of parrots which hide the sun, and other birds, large and small, of so many kinds, and so different from ours, that it is wonderful ; and

besides, there are trees of a thousand species, each having its particular fruit, and all of marvellous flavor, so that I am in the greatest trouble in the world not to know them, for I am very certain that they are each of great value.''

As he approached this island, he fancied that the winds bore to his senses the spicy odors said to be wafted from the islands of the East Indian seas. "As I arrived at this cape, he said, “there came off a fragrance so good and soft of the flowers or trees of the land that it was the sweetest thing in the world.”

Not only were the islands the homes of birds of brilliant plumage and flowers of gorgeous hue, but the very seas seemed to their new visitors like tropical gardens, for the fish with which they abounded rivalled the birds and flowers in brilliancy of color. The scales of some of them glittered like precious stones, and gleams of gold and silver seemed to come from them as they swam around the ships, while the dolphins taken from the water changed color like the chameleon.

The natives who had been taken on board the ships made signs which seemed to indicate that more wonderful islands were yet to be seen, with cities and kings and queens, and abundance of gold and gems; or, at least, the Spaniards understood this from their signs, as they pointed to the south when gold was shown them and they were asked where it could be found. Far to the south was a great island which they named Cuba, and another

which they called Bohio. Cuba, as their signs appeared to show, was of vast extent and abounded with gold, pearls, and spices, and Colụmbus determined to sail for it, hoping there to find the wealth which he and his companions so ardently craved. It cannot be said that the natives wished to deceive them, but no doubt they willingly agreed to all they were asked, with the innocent desire of pleasing their wonderful new friends. Columbus, full of the idea that he was near the shores of India, hoped to reach the city of Quinsai, which Marco Polo had said was one of the most magnificent in the world, and there deliver the letter of his sovereigns to the Grand Khan of the Indies and bring back his reply to Spain. Inspired by this enticing hope, he left the Bahamas and turned the prows of his small fleet towards the isle of Cuba.

It was on the morning of October 28 that the shores of this noble island first met the eyes of the eager mariners. As the small fleet swept along its coast the admiral was struck with its size and grandeur ; its high and airy mountains, like those of Sicily ; its long and sweeping plains, and the fertile valleys of its broad rivers ; its far-reaching forests and many green headlands, which led them on and on into the remote distance. They anchored at length in a beautiful river, whose waters were transparent and deeply shaded with overhanging trees. Here Columbus had himself rowed up the stream, which seemed to grow more enchanting with every mile, forests of lofty and spreading


trees crowding down to its banks, some in fruit, some in flower, some bearing fruits and flowers at

These woods swarmed with birds of brilliant plumage,—the scarlet flamingo, the rich-hued parrots and woodpeckers, the tiny and sparkling humming-birds, which flitted on rainbow wings from flower to flower, and which no European had ever before seen. Even the insects were beautiful, in their shining coats of mail. Though most of the birds were silent, the charms of song were not wanting, and the excited fancy of Columbus detected among them notes like those of the nightingale. Ever open to the charms of nature, Cuba seemed to him an elysium, “the most beautiful island that eyes ever beheld.”

He was sure there must here be mines of gold, groves of spices, rivers and seas that bore pearls. The houses, though simple in structure, , were well built and clean, roofed with palm-leaves and shaded by spreading trees. Led on still by his excited fancy, he hoped soon to find great cities and rich settlements, but none such greeted his gaze. Assured that the capital of the Grand Khan could not be far away, he sent two ambassadors, with presents, to the interior, in a direction pointed out by the people. But after going many miles they found only a village of fifty houses, like those seen on the coast.

There was

no gold or silver, no spices, none of the things they so ardently sought. The only thing new to their eyes was a fashion seen among the people, who rolled up certain dried and


« AnteriorContinuar »