CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS ||| Ch.VI. THE LONG WAITCategory: Christopher Columbus
THE LONG WAIT
King Ferdinand was a lean man with dark eyebrows and a thin mouth. He sat in his throne and watched Columbus with a cold stare. Immediately he decided that he did not like this stranger with the wild blue eyes. “He talks too much,” the king said to himself.
Columbus’s eloquent speech, his religious devotion and serious manner pleased Queen Isabella. Seeing the approval in Isabella’s eyes he went on telling of his great plan. He quoted the Bible and the words of saints, he promised to conquer the whole world for Christendom.
He finished at last. The king yawned and stretched.
Isabella nodded and said kindly, “We will have to think about the matter, of course. You will hear from us.”
Columbus bowed and went out.
That night, at dinner, the queen said, “What a noble man! Such eloquence! Such dignity!”
“Nonsense!” said Ferdinand. “There’s not much joy in him. Give me a man with some wit.”
Isabella frowned. “Sometimes,” she said, “you surprise me. How do you think the Portuguese become so rich and powerful? Exploration and discovery and trade — that’s how! In those heathen lands a glass bead is exchanged for gold. Do you realize the great riches that the Indies possess?”
“Don’t get excited, my dear,” protested Ferdinand. “First of all we don’t know whether such a journey can be made. Secondly, we are at war with Moors and we haven’t the money to back this mad seafarer, or the time.” “But we must do it!” Isabella cried.
The king said, “There are philosophers, scientists and mathematicians at the University of Salamanca who are known throughout the world for their skill and knowledge. Why not let them decide whether this trip over the Ocean Sea is possible? They can hear this fellow and then make their recommendations to us.”
The queen looked at her husband. “What if they say it can be done?”
“In that case,” Ferdinand assured her, “I’ll back the madman completely.”
“He’s no madman,’’.answered Isabella. “But your suggestion is a reasonable one. Let’s do it as you say.”
King Ferdinand, the wily politician, rubbed his hands with satisfaction. “Excellent,” he said. “We’ll set up a committee.” The committee met at the University of Salamanca during the Christmas season that year. Day after day Columbus sat with them discussing his project. He talked so much that his voice became hoarse.
Some men of science believed in Columbus completely and wanted to support him. But others did not want to accept his project. Columbus’s calculations were all wrong, they thought. It was an impossible project, founded on vain hope and unscientific myths.
They agreed on nothing, except that the matter would be discussed further. Go home and wait, they told Columbus. Their decision would be reported to the king and queen.
While he waited for the committee’s final report, Columbus was given a small wage, about the same as the pay of an able seaman, which was very little to live on.
During the next five years of war against the Moors, he followed the royal couple from one camp to another. The caballeros of the court laughed at his poor clothes and ridiculed his project. Columbus hated these aristocrats who knew nothing and yet possessed everything he wanted for his expedition.
His long strong figure began to stoop. His hair became grey. But the blue eyes still shone and there were many who thought they saw madness in them.
In desperation, Columbus made a trip back to Portugal. Perhaps King John would look more favourably on his enterprise this time. But the Portuguese monarch met him with a smug smile. Bartholomew Dias had just returned from a trip round the southernmost tip of Africa. The king was absolutely sure that the route to the Indies round Africa would be established in a short time. He was not at all interested in any other project at this time.
Hopeless Columbus returned to Spain. This time his brother Bartholomew did not want to leave him alone and so went with him. Bartholomew decided to make the expedition to the Indies his life’s work, too, and to devote himself to helping his brother.
The two brothers worked out their strategy. Columbus would stay in Spain, near the king and queen, just to be there when the committee made its report. Bartholomew would try to interest the other kings of Europe in the plan.
Finally, just when Christopher felt he could wait no longer, a message arrived from the queen. The committee had made its report at last. Isabella wanted to see him immediately.
Columbus hurried to the court. A much older man stood now before Isabella. She said she was sorry to see what the difficult years had done to Columbus and added that the committee considered his plan impossible.
Columbus felt hatred, anger, and then only despair.
“I think the committee is wrong,” the queen said. “Wait until we push the Moors out of Granada, their last stronghold in Spain. Then we can begin to think about this enterprise again.”
Columbus said nothing when he left the royal palace. There was only one thing left to do — to wait again. And as he continued to wait, his anger rose. Was he to spend his whole life at the courts of stupid kings and queens?
After nine months he could stand it no longer. He decided to leave Spain as he had left Portugal, to start everything again. He would go to France, join Bartholomew. Together they would find a way to convince the French king.
Columbus left for Palos and La Rabida to take little Diego, now ten or eleven years old. He had come to La Rabida with nothing and now he was returning with nothing.