By A. De Lamartine (Adapted)
Columbus left the Canaries to pass with
his three small ships into the unknown seas, the
eruptions of Teneriffe illuminated the heavens
and were reflected in the sea. This cast terror
into the minds of his seamen. They thought that
it was the flaming sword of the angel who
expelled the first man from Eden, and who now was
trying to drive back in anger those presumptuous
ones who were seeking entrance to the forbidden
and unknown seas and lands. But the admiral
passed from ship to ship explaining to his men,
in a simple way, the action of volcanoes, so that
the sailors were no longer afraid.
But as the peak of Teneriffe sank below the
horizon, a great sadness fell upon the men. It
was their last beacon, the farthest sea-mark of
the Old World. They were seized with a nameless
terror and loneliness.
Then the admiral called them around
him in his own ship, and told them many stories of the
things they might hope to find in the wonderful
new world to which they were going - of the
lands, the islands, the seas, the kingdoms, the
riches, the vegetation, the sunshine, the mines of
gold, the sands covered with pearls, the mountains
shining with precious stones, the plains
loaded with spices. These stories, tinged with the
brilliant colors of their leader's rich imagination,
filled the discouraged sailors with hope and good
But as they passed over the trackless
ocean, and saw day by day the great billows rolling
between them and the mysterious horizon, the
sailors were again filled with dread. They lacked
the courage to sail onward into the unknown
distance. The compass began to vacillate, and
no longer pointed toward the north. This confused
both Columbus and his pilots. The men
fell into a panic, but the resolute and patient
admiral encouraged them once more. So buoyed
up by his faith and hope, they continued to sail
onwards over the pathless waters.
The next day a heron and a tropical bird flew
about the masts of the ships, and these seemed to
the wondering sailors as two witnesses come to
confirm the reasoning of Columbus.
The weather was mild and serene, the sky clear,
the waves transparent, the dolphins played across
the bows, the airs were warm, and the perfumes,
which the waves brought from afar, seemed to exhale
from their foam. The brilliancy of the stars
and the deep beauty of the night breathed a feeling
of calm security that comforted and sustained
The sea also began to bring its messages.
Unknown vegetations floated upon its surface. Some
were rock-plants, that had been swept off the cliffs
by the waves. Some were fresh-water plants, and
others - recently torn from their roots, were still full
of sap. One of them carried a live crab - a little
sailor afloat on a tuft of grass. These plants and
living things could not have passed many days in
the water without fading and dying. And all
encouraged the sailors to believe that they were
At eve and morning the distant waning
clouds, like those that gather round the mountain-tops,
took the form of cliffs and hills skirting the
horizon. The cry of "land" was on the tip of every
tongue. But Columbus by his reckoning knew that
they must still be far from any land, but fearing to
discourage his men he kept his thoughts to himself,
for he found no trustworthy friend among his
companions whose heart was firm enough to bear
During the long passage Columbus conversed
with his own thoughts, and with the stars, and
with God whom he felt was his protector. He
occupied his days in making notes of what he
observed. The nights he passed on deck with his
pilots, studying the stars and watching the seas.
He withdrew into himself, and his thoughtful
gravity impressed his companions sometimes
with respect and sometimes with mistrust and awe.
Each morning the bows of the vessels plunged
through the fantastic horizon which the evening
mist had made the sailors mistake for a shore.
They kept rolling on through the boundless and
bottomless abyss. Gradually terror and discontent
once more took possession of the crews. They
began to imagine that the steadfast east wind
that drove them westward prevailed eternally
in this region, and that when the time came to
sail homeward, the same wind would prevent their
return. For surely their provisions and water
could not hold out long enough for them to beat
their way eastward over those wide waters!
Then the sailors began to murmur against the
admiral and his seeming fruitless obstinacy, and
they blamed themselves for obeying him, when it
might mean the sacrifice of the lives of one hundred
and twenty sailors.
But each time the murmurs threatened to break
out into mutiny, Providence seemed to send more
encouraging signs of land. And these for the time
being changed the complaints to hopes. At evening
little birds of the most delicate species, that
build their nests in the shrubs of the garden
and orchard, hovered warbling about the masts.
Their delicate wings and joyous notes bore no
signs of weariness or fright, as of birds swept far
away to sea by a storm. These signs again aroused
The green weeds on the surface of the
ocean looked like waving corn before the ears are ripe.
The vegetation beneath the water delighted the eyes of
the sailors tired of the endless expanse of blue. But the
seaweed soon became so thick that they were afraid of entangling
their rudders and keels, and of remaining prisoners forever
in the forests of the ocean, as ships of the northern seas
are shut in by ice. Thus each joy soon turned to
fear - so terrible to man is the unknown.
The wind ceased, the calms of the tropics
alarmed the sailors. An immense whale was seen
sleeping on the waters. They fancied there were
monsters in the deep which would devour their
ships. The roll of the waves drove them upon
currents which they could not stem for want of
wind. They imagined they were approaching
the cataracts of the ocean, and that they were
being hurried toward the abysses into which the
deluge had poured its world of waters.
Fierce and angry faces crowded round the mast.
The murmurs rose louder and louder. They talked
of compelling the pilots to put about and of throwing
the admiral into the sea. Columbus, to whom
their looks and threats revealed these plans,
defied them by his bold bearing or disconcerted
them by his coolness.
Again nature came to his assistance,
by giving him fresh breezes from the east, and a calm sea
under his bows. Before the close of the day came
the first cry of "Land ho!" from the lofty poop.
All the crews, repeating this cry of safety, life, and
triumph, fell on their knees on the decks, and struck
up the hymn, "Glory be to God in heaven and
upon earth." When it was over, all climbed as
high as they could up the masts, yards, and rigging
to see with their own eyes the new land that
had been sighted.
But the sunrise destroyed this new hope all too
quickly. The imaginary land disappeared with
the morning mist, and once more the ships seemed
to be sailing over a never-ending wilderness of
Despair took possession of the crews.
Again the cry of "Land ho!" was heard. But the sailors
found as before that their hopes were but a passing
cloud. Nothing wearies the heart so much as
false hopes and bitter disappointments.
Loud reproaches against the admiral were
heard from every quarter. Bread and water were
beginning to fail. Despair changed to fury. The
men decided to turn the heads of the vessels toward
Europe, and to beat back against the winds
that had favored the admiral, whom they intended
to chain to the mast of his own vessel and to give
up to the vengeance of Spain should they ever
reach the port of their own country.
These complaints now became clamorous. The
admiral restrained them by the calmness of his
countenance. He called upon Heaven to decide
between himself and the sailors. He flinched not.
He offered his life as a pledge, if they would but
trust and wait for three days more. He swore
that, if, in the course of the third day, land was
not visible on the horizon, he would yield to
their wishes and steer for Europe.
The mutinous men reluctantly consented
and allowed him three days of grace.
At sunrise on the second day rushes recently
torn up were seen floating near the vessels. A
plank hewn by an axe, a carved stick, a bough
of hawthorn in blossom, and lastly a bird's nest
built on a branch which the wind had broken, and
full of eggs on which the parent-bird was sitting,
were seen swimming past on the waters. The
sailors brought on board these living witnesses
of their approach to land. They were like a
message from the shore, confirming the promises of
The overjoyed and repentant mutineers fell on
their knees before the admiral whom they had
insulted but the day before, and craved pardon
for their mistrust.
As the day and night advanced many other
sights and sounds showed that land was very near.
Toward day delicious and unknown perfumes borne
on a soft land breeze reached the vessels, and there
was heard the roar of the waves upon the reefs.
The dawn, as it spread over the sky,
gradually raised the shores of an island from the waves.
Its distant extremities were lost in the morning
mist. As the sun rose it shone on the land ascending
from a low yellow beach to the summit of hills
whose dark - green covering contrasted strongly
with the clear blue of the heavens. The foam of
the waves broke on the yellow sand, and forests
of tall and unknown trees stretched away, one
above another, over successive terraces of the
island. Green valleys, and bright clefts in the
hollows afforded a half glimpse into these mysterious
wilds. And thus the land of golden promises, the
land of future greatness, first appeared to
Christopher Columbus, the Admiral of the Ocean, and
thus he gave a New World to the nations to come.