CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS ||| Ch.XI. THE GREAT DAYCategory: Christopher Columbus
THE GREAT DAY
All the people of Palos came to the dock. They stood in silent groups and looked at the three ships that would soon sail away into the unknown.
The weather on August 3, 1492, was perfect. The sky was blue. A light breeze blew to the west.
An old seaman whose sailing days had long been over looked up at the sky and sniffed the wind. He grunted and said, “It’s an ill wind. It’ll blow them west straight into the arms of the Devil!”
A comrade of his, leaning on his stick, pointed to the three vessels and said, “Look long at them, cousin, and remember their names, for we’ll never see them or their unhappy crews again.”
“I’m glad I’m old,” one man said. “This is one journey I’ll be glad to watch from land.”
Another old sailor smiled. “The young men of Palos feel the same way. Some of them are hiding in the hills. Their wives are bringing food to them until this whole business is over. It was not easy finding crews for this journey.”
“It is not surprising,” came a voice, “that they had to empty the gaols to find men for these ships. Take Bartolome de Torres and his friends — brrr! That mad seafarer of Genoa will be very busy with a crew like that.”
“Ah, but Martin Pinzon and his brothers are sailing, too. They’ll know how to deal with the men. That’s a family of real sailors, those Pinzons.”
The first man winked. “Just between you and me, cousin, the Pinzons will know how to deal with that Genoese, too. He’ll find it hard to keep his position when they are at sea.”
They all laughed. “Leave it to our Palos boys,” said the old man with the stick, “to show that foreigner Columbus his real place. Very soon there won’t be much glory or pride left in him.”
But one of the men said, “What’s the difference? Who wants that kind of glory? They’ll never come back to enjoy it.” Old Pedro Vasquez de la Frontera came by. He stopped for a moment and looked at the group of old sailors with scorn.
“Vultures!” he said to them. “This is a great day, but your eyes have grown too weak to see it.”
A group of seamen sat together on a pile of rope in the harbour. They spoke quietly.
“Which one did they put you on, Sancho?”
“I’m on the “Pinta” with Captain Martin Pinzon,” said Sancho.
“And I,” said Rodrigo, “am on the “Nina” under Vicente Pinzon.”
The first sailor, Pedro, growled, “They put me on the “Santa Maria” under that Genoese with the crazy eyes.”
Sancho said, “Ah, if only we could find a way out of this! Perhaps we could escape right now? We would be in the hills in just a few moments.”
Pedro laughed. “Yes, and have all the royal police after us? One mistake, my friend, and they’ll have us back in gaol quicker than you can think about it! No, that’s not the way.” Rodrigo looked back over his shoulder before he asked, “Well, then, what is the way?”
Pedro smiled, showing his teeth. “The sea can hide very many things,” he said. Then he opened his shirt cautiously to show the others a large knife he hac hidden there. “Who knows? A stab in the back, a splash in the water, and then perhaps the ships will turn homewards because the foreigner fell overboard while watching the stars one night.”
“Do you mean mutiny?”
“Why not?” Pedro asked. “Is there anyone here who likes this crazy Columbus?”
“But there are representatives of the king and queen aboard. How about the brothers Pinzon and the brothers Nino?”
Pedro was ready to answer. “The royal representatives need not know how Columbus meets his death. And I’m sure that the Pinzon brothers would be glad to learn that Columbus is out of their way. The Ninos are loyal to Columbus, that is true, but we will find a way to handle them.”
Rodrigo shook his head. “It’s risky,” he said. “This Columbus talks too much about the gold he expects to find and he knows very well how to persuade people. When there’s the promise of riches, you can’t depend on anyone. The men think differently. They are afraid like us, but they also desire gold and adventure. It will be hard to bring them to our side.” “We shall see what the sea will bring,” said Pedro. “But quiet now, everyone. Here comes Chachu the boatswain!”
A big man in a red woollen cap came up to the group of whispering sailors. His voice was loud. “Hurry to your ships and make it lively! We’re sailing in half an hour!” Voices were heard all over the dock. Men hurried up the gangways. The decks of the three vessels were soon full of busy sailors getting ready for departure.
“Well, Christopher,” Bartholomew put his hands on his brother’s shoulders and looked into his eyes. His own eyes were wet. “At last the dream of your life has realized!”
“Not yet, Bartholomew,” Christopher answered.
“I know you’ll find the Indies.” Columbus smiled. “I’d like everyone who is sailing with me to think so,” he said.
Bartholomew frowned. “I don’t trust those Pinzons,” he said. “They’re plotting something.”
I know,” said Christopher, “but there’s ing I can do about it. Without them,
I should be unable to organize the expedition.”
“Martin Alonso Pinzon is captain of the “Pinta”, and he has two of his brothers on the same ship. Vicente is captain of the “Nina”. They control two of your ships,” said Bartholomew. “It’s only Martin and the “Pinta” that I’m worried about,” said Columbus. “He’s ambitious and he really thinks this whole enterprise v is more his than mine. But I think I can count on the “Nina” and Vicente.”
“Well, I hope so. Goodbye, Christopher!”
“Goodbye, Bartholomew.” Christopher Columbus turned and walked quickly up the gangway of the “Santa Maria”. He waved his hand. “Haul away,70 Chachu,” he called to his boatswain.
With long oars the men pushed the ships away from the dock. They drifted out into the Rio Tinto, and then downstream towards the sea. Then men pulled at their oars.
A sound like a great groan went up from the hundreds of people standing at the docks. As the ships passed the cliffs on which the monastery of Rabida was built, they could hear the chanting of the friars. The men took off their caps, crossed themselves and then bent to the oars again. A boy named Diego ran along the cliffs, waving his cap.
Soon they had passed the Saltes River and were rolling with the tide towards the open sea. The cars were shipped.
The sea breeze caught the sails. White foam appeared at the ships’ bows.
“The course, Captain-General Columbus?”
“South and by west, Chachu!”
Columbus turned and looked back at the “Pinta” and “Nina” following him. He looked beyond them to the disappearing coast of Spain.
Suddenly he felt more lonely than ever before in his life. He looked at the grim faces of the sailors round him. No one met his eyes. Whom could he count on? Who was truly his friend?
“I shall have to learn to do without sleep on this voyage,” he told himself.
“Sailed out of the port in a good company of seamen on the 3rd of August this year, and it was Friday, half an hour before the sunrise”, Columbus wrote in his letter to the King and Queen of Spain.