CHAPTER VI. WHAT COLUMBUS DISCOVERED. Continued…
So with the royal banner and the green-cross standards floating above him, with his captains and chief officers and some of the sailors gathered about him, while all the others watched him from the decks of his fleet, Columbus stepped upon the shore. Then he took off his hat, and holding the royal banner in one hand and his sword in the other he said aloud: I take possession of this island, which I name San Salvador,(*) and of all the islands and lands about it in the name of my patron and sovereign lady, Isabella, and her kingdom of Castile. This, or something like it, he said, for the exact words are not known to us.
(*) The island of San Salvador means the island of the Holy Saviour. Columbus and the Spanish explorers who followed him gave Bible or religious names to very much of the land they discovered.
And when he had done this the captains and sailors fell at his feet in wonder and admiration, begging him to forgive them for all the hard things they had said about him. For you have found Cathay, they cried. You are our leader. You will make us rich and powerful. Hurrah for the great Admiral!
And when the naked and astonished people of the island saw all this—the canoes with wings, as they called the ships, the richly-dressed men with white and bearded faces, the flags and swords, and the people kneeling about this grand-looking old man in the crimson cloak—they said to one another: These men are gods; they have come from Heaven to see us. And then, they, too, fell on the ground and worshiped these men from Heaven, as they supposed Columbus and his sailors to be.
And when they found that the men from Heaven did not offer to hurt them, they came nearer; and the man in the crimson cloak gave them beads and pieces of bright cloth and other beautiful things they had never seen before. And this made them feel all the more certain that these men who had come to see them in the canoes with wings must really be from Heaven. So they brought them fruits and flowers and feathers and birds as presents; and both parties, the men with clothes and the men without clothes, got on very well together.
But Columbus, as we know, had come across the water for one especial reason. He was to find Cathay, and he was to find it so that he could carry back to Spain the gold and jewels and spices of Cathay. The first thing, therefore, that he tried to find out from the people of the island—whom he called “Indians,” because he thought he had come to a part of the coast of India was where Cathay might be.
Of course they did not understand him. Even Louis, the interpreter, who knew a dozen languages and who tried them all, could not make out what these “Indians” said. But from their signs and actions and from the sound of the words they spoke, Columbus understood that Cathay was off somewhere to the southwest, and that the gold he was bound to find came from there. The “Indians” had little bits of gold hanging in their ears and noses. So Columbus supposed that among the finer people he hoped soon to meet in the southwest, he should find great quantities of the yellow metal. He was delighted. Success, he felt, was not far off. Japan was near, China was near, India was near. Of this he was certain; and even until he died Columbus did not have any idea that he had found a new world—such as America really was. He was sure that he had simply landed upon the eastern coasts of Asia and that he had found what he set out to discover—the nearest route to the Indies.
The next day Columbus pulled up his anchors, and having seized and carried off to his ships some of the poor natives who had welcomed him so gladly, he commenced a cruise among the islands of the group he had discovered.
Day after day he sailed among these beautiful tropic islands, and of them and of the people who lived upon them he wrote to the king and queen of Spain: “This country excels all others as far as the day surpasses the night in splendor. The natives love their neighbors as themselves; their conversation is the sweetest imaginable; their faces smiling; and so gentle and so affectionate are they, that I swear to Your Highness there is not a better people in the world.”
Does it not seem a pity that so great a man should have acted so meanly toward these innocent people who loved and trusted him so? For it was Columbus who first stole them away from their island homes and who first thought of making them slaves to the white men.