: COLUMBUS DAY
: Good Stories For Great Holidays
BY A. DE LAMARTINE (ADAPTED)
When Columbus left the Canaries to pass with his three small ships into
the unknown seas, the eruptions of Teneriffe illuminated the heavens
and were reflected in the sea. This cast terror into the minds of his
seamen. They thought that it was the flaming sword of the angel who
expelled the first man from Eden, and who now was trying to drive
back in anger those presumptuous o
es who were seeking entrance to the
forbidden and unknown seas and lands. But the admiral passed from ship
to ship explaining to his men, in a simple way, the action of volcanoes,
so that the sailors were no longer afraid.
But as the peak of Teneriffe sank below the horizon, a great sadness
fell upon the men. It was their last beacon, the farthest sea-mark of
the Old World. They were seized with a nameless terror and loneliness.
Then the admiral called them around him in his own ship, and told them
many stories of the things they might hope to find in the wonderful new
world to which they were going,--of the lands, the islands, the seas,
the kingdoms, the riches, the vegetation, the sunshine, the mines of
gold, the sands covered with pearls, the mountains shining with precious
stones, the plains loaded with spices. These stories, tinged with
the brilliant colors of their leader's rich imagination, filled the
discouraged sailors with hope and good spirits.
But as they passed over the trackless ocean, and saw day by day the
great billows rolling between them and the mysterious horizon, the
sailors were again filled with dread. They lacked the courage to sail
onward into the unknown distance. The compass began to vacillate, and
no longer pointed toward the north; this confused both Columbus and his
pilots. The men fell into a panic, but the resolute and patient admiral
encouraged them once more. So buoyed up by his faith and hope, they
continued to sail onwards over the pathless waters.
The next day a heron and a tropical bird flew about the masts of the
ships, and these seemed to the wondering sailors as two witnesses come
to confirm the reasoning of Columbus.
The weather was mild and serene, the sky clear, the waves transparent,
the dolphins played across the bows, the airs were warm, and the
perfumes, which the waves brought from afar, seemed to exhale from
their foam. The brilliancy of the stars and the deep beauty of the night
breathed a feeling of calm security that comforted and sustained the
The sea also began to bring its messages. Unknown vegetations floated
upon its surface. Some were rock-plants, that had been swept off the
cliffs by the waves; some were fresh-water plants; and others, recently
torn from their roots, were still full of sap. One of them carried a
live crab,--a little sailor afloat on a tuft of grass. These plants
and living things could not have passed many days in the water without
fading and dying. And all encouraged the sailors to believe that they
were nearing land.
At eve and morning the distant waning clouds, like those that gather
round the mountain-tops, took the form of cliffs and hills skirting the
horizon. The cry of "land" was on the tip of every tongue. But Columbus
by his reckoning knew that they must still be far from any land, but
fearing to discourage his men he kept his thoughts to himself, for he
found no trustworthy friend among his companions whose heart was firm
enough to bear his secret.
During the long passage Columbus conversed with his own thoughts, and
with the stars, and with God whom he felt was his protector. He occupied
his days in making notes of what he observed. The nights he passed
on deck with his pilots, studying the stars and watching the seas.
He withdrew into himself, and his thoughtful gravity impressed his
companions sometimes with respect and sometimes with mistrust and awe.
Each morning the bows of the vessels plunged through the fantastic
horizon which the evening mist had made the sailors mistake for a
shore. They kept rolling on through the boundless and bottomless abyss.
Gradually terror and discontent once more took possession of the crews.
They began to imagine that the steadfast east wind that drove them
westward prevailed eternally in this region, and that when the time came
to sail homeward, the same wind would prevent their return. For surely
their provisions and water could not hold out long enough for them to
beat their way eastward over those wide waters!
Then the sailors began to murmur against the admiral and his seeming
fruitless obstinacy, and they blamed themselves for obeying him, when it
might mean the sacrifice of the lives of one hundred and twenty sailors.
But each time the murmurs threatened to break out into mutiny,
Providence seemed to send more encouraging signs of land. And these for
the time being changed the complaints to hopes. At evening little birds
of the most delicate species, that build their nests in the shrubs of
the garden and orchard, hovered warbling about the masts. Their delicate
wings and joyous notes bore no signs of weariness or fright, as of birds
swept far away to sea by a storm. These signs again aroused hope.
The green weeds on the surface of the ocean looked like waving corn
before the ears are ripe. The vegetation beneath the water delighted
the eyes of the sailors tired of the endless expanse of blue. But the
seaweed soon became so thick that they were afraid of entangling their
rudders and keels, and of remaining prisoners forever in the forests of
the ocean, as ships of the northern seas are shut in by ice. Thus each
joy soon turned to fear,--so terrible to man is the unknown.
The wind ceased, the calms of the tropics alarmed the sailors. An
immense whale was seen sleeping on the waters. They fancied there were
monsters in the deep which would devour their ships. The roll of the
waves drove them upon currents which they could not stem for want of
wind. They imagined they were approaching the cataracts of the ocean,
and that they were being hurried toward the abysses into which the
deluge had poured its world of waters.
Fierce and angry faces crowded round the mast. The murmurs rose louder
and louder. They talked of compelling the pilots to put about and of
throwing the admiral into the sea. Columbus, to whom their looks
and threats revealed these plans, defied them by his bold bearing or
disconcerted them by his coolness.
Again nature came to his assistance, by giving him fresh breezes from
the east, and a calm sea under his bows. Before the close of the day
came the first cry of "Land ho!" from the lofty poop. All the crews,
repeating this cry of safety, life, and triumph, fell on their knees on
the decks, and struck up the hymn, "Glory be to God in heaven and upon
earth." When it was over, all climbed as high as they could up the
masts, yards, and rigging to see with their own eyes the new land that
had been sighted.
But the sunrise destroyed this new hope all too quickly. The imaginary
land disappeared with the morning mist, and once more the ships seemed
to be sailing over a never-ending wilderness of waters.
Despair took possession of the crews. Again the cry of "Land ho!" was
heard. But the sailors found as before that their hopes were but a
passing cloud. Nothing wearies the heart so much as false hopes and
Loud reproaches against the admiral were heard from every quarter.
Bread and water were beginning to fail. Despair changed to fury. The men
decided to turn the heads of the vessels toward Europe, and to beat back
against the winds that had favored the admiral, whom they intended to
chain to the mast of his own vessel and to give up to the vengeance of
Spain should they ever reach the port of their own country.
These complaints now became clamorous. The admiral restrained them by
the calmness of his countenance. He called upon Heaven to decide between
himself and the sailors. He flinched not. He offered his life as a
pledge, if they would but trust and wait for three days more. He swore
that, if, in the course of the third day, land was not visible on the
horizon, he would yield to their wishes and steer for Europe.
The mutinous men reluctantly consented and allowed him three days of
grace. . . . . . . . . . .
At sunrise on the second day rushes recently torn up were seen floating
near the vessels. A plank hewn by an axe, a carved stick, a bough of
hawthorn in blossom, and lastly a bird's nest built on a branch which
the wind had broken, and full of eggs on which the parent-bird was
sitting, were seen swimming past on the waters. The sailors brought on
board these living witnesses of their approach to land. They were like a
message from the shore, confirming the promises of Columbus.
The overjoyed and repentant mutineers fell on their knees before the
admiral whom they had insulted but the day before, and craved pardon for
As the day and night advanced many other sights and sounds showed that
land was very near. Toward day delicious and unknown perfumes borne on
a soft land breeze reached the vessels, and there was heard the roar of
the waves upon the reefs.
The dawn, as it spread over the sky, gradually raised the shores of an
island from the waves. Its distant extremities were lost in the morning
mist. As the sun rose it shone on the land ascending from a low yellow
beach to the summit of hills whose dark-green covering contrasted
strongly with the clear blue of the heavens. The foam of the waves broke
on the yellow sand, and forests of tall and unknown trees stretched
away, one above another, over successive terraces of the island. Green
valleys, and bright clefts in the hollows afforded a half glimpse into
these mysterious wilds. And thus the land of golden promises, the land
of future greatness, first appeared to Christopher Columbus, the Admiral
of the Ocean, and thus he gave a New World to the nations to come.