Chapter V.


When Columbus landed, at some distance farther along the coast, he found the best houses he had yet seen, very large, like pavilions, and very neat within; not in streets but set about here and there. They were all built of palm branches. Here were dogs which never barked (supposed to be the almiqui), wild birds tamed in the houses and "wonderful arrangements of nets,[*] and fish-hooks and fishing apparatus. There were also carved masks and other images. Not a thing was touched." The inhabitants had fled.

[*] These were probably hammocks.

He went on to the northwest, and saw a cape which he named Cabo de Palmas. The Indians on board the Pinta said that beyond this cape was a river and that at four days' journey from this was what they called "Cuba." Now they had been coasting along the Island of Cuba for two or three days. But Martin Pinzon, the captain of the Pinta, understood this Cuba to be a city, and that this land was the mainland, running far to the north. Columbus until he died believed that it was the mainland.

Martin Pinzon also understood that the king of that land was at war with the Grand Khan, whom they called Cami. The Admiral determined to go to the river the Indians mentioned, and to send to the king the letter of the sovereigns. He meant to send with it a sailor who had been to Guinea, and some of the Guanahani Indians. He was encouraged, probably, by the name of Carni, in thinking that he was really near the Grand Khan.

He did not, however, send off these messengers at once, as the wind and the nature of the coast proved unfit for his going up the river the Indians had spoken of. He went back to the town where he had been two days before.

Once more he found that the people had fled, but "after a good while a man appeared," and the Admiral sent ashore one of the Indians he had with him. This man shouted to the Indians on shore that they must not be afraid, as these were good people, and did harm to no man, nor did they belong to the Grand Khan, but they gave, of what they had, in many islands where they had been. He now jumped into the sea and swam ashore, and two of the inhabitants took him in their arms and brought him to a house where they asked him questions. When he had reassured them, they began to come out to the ships in their canoes, with "spun cotton and others of their little things." But the Admiral commanded that nothing should be taken from them, so that they might know that he was seeking nothing but gold, or, as they called it, nucay.

He saw no gold here, but one of them had a piece of wrought silver hanging to his nose. They made signs, that before three days many merchants would come from the inland country to trade with the Spaniards, and that they would bring news from the king, who, according to their signs, was four days' journey away. "And it is certain" says the Admiral, "that this is the mainland, and that I am before Zayto and Quinsay, a hundred leagues more or less from both of them, and this is clearly shown by the tide, which comes in a different manner from that in which it has done up to this time; and yesterday when I went to the northwest I found that it was cold."

Always supposing that he was near Japan, which they called Cipango, Columbus continued to sail along the northern coast of Cuba and explored about half that shore. He then returned to the east, governed by the assurances of the natives that on an island named Babegue he would find men who used hammers with which to beat gold into ingots. This gold, as he understood them, was collected on the shore at night, while the people lighted up the darkness with candles.

At the point where he turned back, he had hauled his ships up on the shore to repair them. From this point, on the second of November, he sent two officers inland, one of whom was a Jew, who knew Chaldee, Hebrew and a little Arabic, in the hope that they should find some one who could speak these languages. With them went one of the Guanahani Indians, and one from the neighborhood.

They returned on the night between the fifth and sixth of November. Twelve leagues off they had found a village of about fifty large houses, made in the form of tents. This village had about a thousand inhabitants, according to the explorers. They had received the ambassadors with cordial kindness, believing that they had descended from heaven.

They even took them in their arms and thus carried them to the finest house of all. They gave them seats, and then sat round them on the ground in a circle. They kissed their feet and hands, and touched them, to make sure whether they were really men of flesh and bone.

It was on this expedition that the first observation was made of that gift of America to the world, which has worked its way so deep and far into general use. They met men and women who "carried live coals, so as to draw into their mouths the smoke of burning herbs." This was the account of the first observers. But Las Casas says that the dry herbs were wrapped in another leaf as dry. He says that "they lighted one end of the little stick thus formed, and sucked in or absorbed the smoke by the other, with which," he says, "they put their flesh to sleep, and it nearly intoxicates them, and thus they say that they feel no fatigue. These mosquetes, as we should call them, they call tobacos. I knew Spaniards on this Island of Hispaniola who were accustomed to take them, who, on being reproved for it as a vice, replied that it was not in their power (in their hand) to leave off taking them. I do not know what savour or profit they found in them." This is clearly a cigar.

The third or fourth of November, then, 1892, with the addition of nine days to change the style from old to new, may be taken by lovers of tobacco as the fourth centennial of the day when Europeans first learned the use of the cigar.

On the eleventh of November the repairs were completed.

He says that the Sunday before, November 11 it had seemed to him that it would be good to take some persons, from those of that river, to carry to the sovereigns, so that "they might learn our tongue, so as to know what there is in the country, and so that when they come back they may be tongues to the Christians, and receive our customs and the things of the faith. Because I saw and know," says the Admiral, "that this people has no religion (secta) nor are they idolaters, but very mild and without knowing what evil is, nor how to kill others, nor how to take them, and without arms, and so timorous that from one of our men ten of them fly, although they do sport with them, and ready to believe and knowing that there is a God in heaven, and sure that we have come from heaven; and very ready at any prayer which we tell them to repeat, and they make the sign of the cross.

"So your Highnesses should determine to make them Christians, for I believe that if they begin, in a short time they will have accomplished converting to our holy faith a multitude of towns." "Without doubt there are in these lands the greatest quantities of gold, for not without cause do these Indians whom I am bringing say that there are places in these isles where they dig out gold and wear it on their necks, in their ears and on their arms and legs, and the bracelets are very thick.

"And also there are stones and precious pearls, and unnumbered spices. And in this Rio de Mares, from which I departed last night, without doubt there is the greatest quantity of mastic, and there might be more if more were desired. For the trees, if planted, take root, and there are many of them and very great and they have the leaf like a lentisk, and their fruit, except that the trees and the fruit are larger, is such as Pliny describes, and I have seen in the Island of Chios in the Archipelago.

"And I had many of these trees tapped to see if they would send out resin, so as to draw it out. And as it rained all the time I was at the said river, I could not get any of it, except a very little which I am bringing to your Highnesses. And besides, it may be that it is not the, time to tap them, for I believe that this should be done at the time when the trees begin to leave out from the winter and seek to send out their flowers, and now they have the fruit nearly ripe.

"And also here there might be had a great store of cotton, and I believe that it might be sold very well here without taking it to Spain, in the great cities of the Great Khan, which will doubtless be discovered, and many others of other lords, who will then have to serve your Highnesses. And here will be given them other things from Spain, from the lands of the East, since these are ours in the West.

"And here there is also aloes everywhere, although this is not a thing to make great account of, but the mastic should be well considered, because it is not found except in the said island of Chios, and I believe that they get from it quite 50,000 ducats if I remember aright. And this is the best harbor which I have seen thus far--deep and easy of access, so that this would be a good place for a large town."

The notes in Columbus's journals are of the more interest and value, because they show his impressions at the moment when he wrote. However mistaken those impressions, he never corrects them afterwards. Although, while he was in Cuba, he never found the Grand Khan, he never recalls the hopes which he has expressed.

He had discovered the island on its northern side by sailing southwest from the Lucayos or Bahamas. From the eleventh of November until the sixth of December he was occupied in coasting along the northern shore, eventually returning eastward, when he crossed the channel which parts Cuba from Hayti.

The first course was east, a quarter southeast, and on the sixteenth, they entered Port-au-Prince, and took possession, raising a cross there. At Port-au-Prince, to his surprise, he found on a point of rock two large logs, mortised into each other in the shape of a cross, so "that you would have said a carpenter could not have proportioned them better."

On the nineteenth the course was north-northeast; on the twenty-first they took a course south, a quarter southwest, seeking in these changes the island of "Babeque," which the Indians had spoken of as rich with gold. On the day last named Pinzon left the Admiral in the Pinta, and they did not meet again for more than a month.

Columbus touched at various points on Cuba and the neighboring islands. He sought, without success, for pearls, and always pressed his inquiries for gold. He was determined to find the island of Bohio, greatly to the terror of the poor Indians, whom he had on board: they said that its natives had but one eye, in the middle of their foreheads, and that they were well armed and ate their prisoners.

He landed in the bay of Moa, and then, keeping near the coast, sailed towards the Capo del Pico, now called Cape Vacz. At Puerto Santo he was detained some days by bad weather. On the fourth of December he continued his eastward voyage, and on the next day saw far off the mountains of Hayti, which was the Bohio he sought for.