CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS ||| Ch.XX. END OF THE JOURNEYCategory: Christopher Columbus
END OF THE JOURNEY
On the pages of history appeared America …
The origin of the name is attributed to the German geographer Martin Waldseemuller, who, in his “Introduction to Cosmography” (1507), latinized the name of the Italian navigator Amerigo Vespucci.
“Amerigo Vespucci? Ah, yes, the Admiral is expecting you.” Amerigo Vespucci straightened and marched into the room to greet the prince of mariners, the greatest of them all, Christopher Columbus.
He had come a long way for this privilege.
A dying old man lay on the bed. He looked more like a skeleton than a living man.
Christopher Columbus raised himself painfully on an elbow. “Come closer,” he called. “Come closer. These old eyes of mine can’t see well.”
Vespucci came closer to the bed.
The old man stared for a long time. When he spoke at last, his voice was very weak.
“I have wanted to see you,” said the sick man. “I have heard your name many times these last few years. You have travelled, they tell me, to the lands I discovered…
“Master, I…” Vespucci began.
Columbus interrupted him. “No! Let me finish! You travelled to the land of Veragua and Paria and you drew a map of its coast. It is dated 1497. Why did you lie? Why do you make the impression that you were the first to see Paria? You made that trip only two years ago, I know. It was I who first saw Paria in 1498!”
“Master,” whispered Vespucci, “it was not I…”
The old mariner looked into Vespucci’s eyes and shook his head. “So they say. It was your friends who dated that map. But your friends are my enemies. I have many enemies. All my life…”
“It was against my will, master,” Vespucci said. “I could not control what was done. I am sorry. Believe me, I have admired you for a long time and I do not want to do anything against you.”
Columbus was quiet for some time. Then he said, “They tell me you wrote a book about your travels.”
“Yes, master. The name of the book is ‘Mundus Novus — the New World’.”
“And they are calling this ‘New World’ of yours ‘Amerigo’s Land’. Some call it ‘America’.” Columbus’s voice was angry.
“Yes,” said Vespucci softly.
The old man raised himself suddenly and sat up in bed. He was very excited.
“It’s a lie!” he shouted.
‘There is no new world. There is no America!”
Amerigo tried to calm him, “But, master…”
“A lie!” cried Columbus. “There is only an old world, an ancient land I have discovered.” He rose from his bed, walked to a table and opened the covers of a large map. His finger traced the lines on it. “See it!” he shouted. “This is Veragua. This is what I alone have discovered. It is not a new continent, but the rim of the ancient Bible lands. It lies on the fringe of the Indies, near the empire of the Grand Khan himself!”
Amerigo shook his head.
Columbus stood bent over his map. “If I had time,” he said sadly, “just a little more time, I should sail through those islands to reach the land of Paradise. I should find Cipango. I should walk on the golden ground of Marco Polo’s Cathay and talk to the mighty Khan. I should find the passage to the Ganges lands. All I need is time, time…”
Amerigo Vespucci stared. He was shocked.
Could this really be the Great Discoverer, still believing those ancient fairy tales? This was 1505, and much had happened since Columbus made his first voyage in search of the Indies. Vespucci himself had explored the lands Columbus discovered. John Cabot, sailing for the English king, had found new land to the north. Well-informed navigators had no doubts that this was truly a new continent, a new world, lying across the ocean on the way to Asia.
In 1492 many people could believe that this land was Asia, but now it was known that Asia was many thousands of sea miles beyond the lands that Columbus had found. Had not the great Leonardo da Vinci demonstrated this? Had Columbus not heard the latest ideas?
Everyone knew now that Columbus had been mistaken. If he had really known the size of the world and the enormous distance from Spain west to Asia, he would never have started out. He found an unknown continent by this mistake and the whole world was grateful to him for this. But it was time to correct the misunderstanding.
Amerigo opened his mouth to try to explain. But something stopped him from speaking. He gazed at the old man. Columbus had forgotten his visitor. He was looking at his map and thinking about the great days of sailing the coasts marked on it.
“The man has lived with his error all his life,” Amerigo thought. “The world is greater because of it. He has nothing else left to believe in. Let him think as he wishes.”
He left the room, saying nothing and softly closed the door. A moment later he was out in the bright Spanish sunshine, walking with long steps down the street.
Christopher Columbus did not notice that his visitor had gone. He imagined he saw the sea before him. A wind at his back, and beneath him a good ship sailing into the west — those were the only times he had really been happy.
His finger traced the paths of his journeys, Guanahani, Cuba, Hispaniola, Jamaica, Veragua, Paria — singing words, enchanting places! There had been glory and adventure in his life!
He walked slowly ta bed and rang a small bell. When the servant appeared in the door, he told him, “Send for my son Diego. Tell him I desire to see him immediately.”
The servant left. Columbus lay back on the bed and closed his eyes. When Diego came, he would dictate his final will and testament.
What should the Admiral of the Ocean Sea write in his last testament? Should he tell the story of his life — how a poor Italian boy became Spain’s greatest admiral?
The old Admiral opened his eyes. Who was that standing by his bed?
“Father,” murmured Diego.
The Admiral smiled. He said, ‘There is paper and a pen on the table. Write as I dictate. Quick, Diego, there is little time.”
“You must rest,” his son protested.
“Quickly, do as I say. There is no time, I tell you.”
Diego went to the table and took the pen. He waited.
How to begin? How to tell the story of the poor weaver’s son? How to tell it for all time so that everybody would know, so that his name would never be forgotten?
Forgotten? He sat up straight in bed. He held his head proudly. They would never forget his name! Not all the slander, aot all the treachery, not all the time of centuries could wipe out the memory of what he had done.
His deed was stronger than his enemies. His deed was stronger than kings and haughty Dons. His deed was stronger even than himself and his mistakes and weaknesses.
The deed would live!