Chapter 6

CHAPTER VI. WHAT COLUMBUS DISCOVERED.

6.1A little over three hundred years ago there was a Pope of Rome whose name was Gregory XIII. He was greatly interested in learning and science, and when the scholars and wise men of his day showed him that a mistake in reckoning time had long before been made he set about to make it right. At that time the Pope of Rome had great influence with the kings and queens of Europe, and whatever he wished them to do they generally did.

So they all agreed to his plan of renumbering the days of the year, and a new reckoning of time was made upon the rule that most of you know by heart in the old rhyme:

Thirty days hath September,
April, June and November;
All the rest have thirty-one,
Excepting February which alone
Hath twenty-eight—and this, in fine,
One year in four hath twenty-nine.

And the order of the days of the months and the year is what is called, after Pope Gregory, the Gregorian Calendar.

This change in reckoning time made, of course, all past dates wrong. The old dates, which were called Old Style, had to be made to correspond with the new dates which were called New Style.

Now, according to the Old Style, Columbus discovered the islands he thought to be the Indies (and which have ever since been called the West Indies) on the twelfth of October, 1492. But, according to the New Style, adopted nearly one hundred years after his discovery, the right date would be the twenty-first of October. And this is why, in the Columbian memorial year of 1892, the world celebrated the four hundredth anniversary of the discovery of America on the twenty-first of October; which, as you see, is the same as the twelfth under the Old Style of reckoning time.

But did Columbus discover America? What was this land that greeted his eyes as the daylight came on that Friday morning, and he saw the low green shores that lay ahead of his caravels.

As far as Columbus was concerned he was sure that he had found some one of the outermost islands of Cipango or Japan. So he dropped his anchors, ordered out his rowboat, and prepared to take possession of the land in the name of the queen of Spain, who had helped him in his enterprise.

6.2

Just why or by what right a man from one country could sail up to the land belonging to another country and, planting in the ground the flag of his king, could say, “This land belongs to my king!” is a hard question to answer. But there is an old saying that tells us, Might makes right; and the servants of the kings and queens—the adventurers and explorers of old—used to go sailing about the world with this idea in their heads, and as soon as they came to a land they, had never seen before, up would go their flag, and they would say, This land is mine and my king’s! They would not of course do this in any of the well-known or “Christian lands” of Europe; but they believed that all “pagan lands” belonged by right to the first European king whose sailors should discover and claim them.

So Columbus lowered a boat from the Santa Maria, and with two of his chief men and some sailors for rowers he pulled off toward the island.

But before he did so, he had to listen to the cheers and congratulations of the very sailors who, only a few days before, were ready to kill him. But, you see, this man whom they thought crazy had really brought them to the beautiful land, just as he had promised. It does make such a difference, you know, in what people say whether a thing turns out right or not.

Columbus, as I say, got into his rowboat with his chief inspector and his lawyer. He wore a crimson cloak over his armor, and in his hand he held the royal banner of Spain. Following him came Captain Alonso Pinzon in a rowboat from the Pinta, and in a rowboat from the Nina Captain Vincent Pinzon. Each of these captains carried the “banner of the green cross” on which were to be seen the initials of the king and queen of Spain.

As they rowed toward the land they saw some people on the shore. They were not dressed in the splendid clothes the Spaniards expected to find the people of Cathay wearing. In fact, they did not have on much of anything but grease and paint. And the land showed no signs of the marble temples and gold-roofed palaces the sailors expected to find. It was a little, low, flat green island, partly covered with trees and with what looked like a lake in the center.

This land was, in fact, one of the three thousand keys or coral islands that stretch from the capes of Florida to the island of Hayti, and are known as the Bahama Islands. The one upon which Columbus landed was called by the natives Guanahani, and was either the little island now marked on the map as Cat Island or else the one called Watling’s Island. Just which of these it was has been discussed over and over again, but careful scholars have now but little 6.3doubt that it was the one known to-day as Watling’s Island. To see no sign of glittering palaces and gayly dressed people was quite a disappointment to Columbus. But then, he said, this, is probably the island farthest out to sea, and the people who live here are not the real Cathay folks. We shall see them very soon.

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