Author: Mary Johnston

Chapter XX

WE sailed for two days east by south. But the weather that had been perfection for long and long again from Palos, now was changed. Dead winds delayed us, the sea ridged, clouds blotted out the blue. We held on. There was a great cape which we called Cape Cuba. Off this a storm met us. We lived it out and made into one of those bottle harbors of which, first and last, we were to find God knows how many in Cuba!

The Admiral named it Puerto del Principe, and we raised on shore here a very great cross. We had done this on every considerable island since San Salvador and now twice on this coast. There were behind us seven or eight crosses. The banner planted was the sign of the Sovereignty of Spain, the cross the sign of Holy Church, Sovereign over sovereigns, who gave these lands to Spain, as she gave Africa and the islands to Portugal. We came to a great number of islets, rivers of clear blue sea between. The ships lay to and we took boat and went among these. The King’s Gardens, the Admiral called them, and the calm sea between them and mainland the Sea of Our Lady. They were thickly wooded, and we thought we found cinnamon, aloes and mastic. Two lovely days we had in this wilderness of isles and channels where was no man nor woman at all, then again we went east and south, the land trending that way. Very distant, out of eastern waste, rose what seemed a large island. The Admiral said that we should go discover, and we changed course toward it, but in three hours’ time met furious weather. The sea rose, clouds like night closed us in. Night came on without a star and a contrary wind blew always. When the dawn broke sullenly we were beaten back to Cuba, and a great promontory against which truly we might have been dashed stood to our north and shut out coast of yesterday. Here we hung a day and night, and then the wind lulling and the sea running not so high, we made again for that island which might be Babeque. We had Indians aboard, but the sea and the whipping and groaning of our masts and rigging and sails and the pitching of the ship terrified them, and terror made them dull. They sat with knees drawn up and head buried in arms and shivered, and knew not Babeque from anything else.

Christopherus Columbus could be very obstinate. Wishing strongly to gain that island, through all this day he had us strive toward it. But the wind was directly ahead and strong as ten giants. The master and others made representations, and at last he nodded his gray head and ordered the put about and the Pinta and the Nina signaled. The Nina harkened and turned, but the Pinta. at some distance seemed deaf and blind. Night fell while still we signaled. We were now for Cuba, and the wind directly behind us, but yet as long as we could see, the Pinta chose not to turn. We set lights for signals, but her light fell farther and farther astern. She was a swifter sailer than we; there was no reason for that increasing distance. We lay to, the beside us. Ere long we wholly lost the Pinta’s light. Night passed. When morning broke Captain Martin Alonso Pinzon and the Pinta were gone.

The sea, though rough, was not too perilous, and never a signal of distress had been seen nor heard.

"Lost? Is the Pinta lost?"

"Lost! No!—But, yes. Willfully lost!"

It was Roderigo Sanchez who knew not much of the sea who asked, and the Admiral answered. But having spoken it that once, he closed his strong lips and coming down from deck said he would have breakfast. All that day was guessing and talk enough upon the ; silent or slurred talk at last, for toward noon the Admiral gave sharp order that the Pinta should be left out of conversation. Captain Martin Pinzon was an able seaman. Perhaps. something (he reminded us of the rudder before the Canaries) had gone wrong. Captain Pinzon may have thought the island was the nearer land, or he may have returned to Cuba, but more to the north than were we. He looked for the . again in a reasonable time. In the meantime let it alone!

So soon as the sea allowed, Vicente Pinzon came in his boat to the Santa Maria, but he seemed as perplexed as we. He did not know his brother’s mind. But Martin Pinzon forever and always was a good sea captain and a Castilian of his word, knowing what was proper observance to his Admiral. If he did this or that, it would be for good reasons. So Vicente, and the Admiral was cordial with him, and saw him over rail and down side with cheerful words. He was cheerful all that day in his speech, cheerful and suave and prophesying good in many directions. But I knew the trouble behind that front.

In some ways the was the best of our ships. Martin Pinzon was a bold and ready man, and those aboard with him devoted to his fortunes. He did not lack opinions of his own, and often they countered the Admiral’s. He was ambitious, and the Admiral’s rights were so vast and inclusive that there seemed not much room to make name and fame. Much the same with riches! What Martin Pinzon had loaned would come back to him beyond doubt, back with high interest and a good deal more. But still it would seem to him that room was needed. In his mind he had said perhaps many times to the Admiral, "Do not claim too much soil! Do not forget that other trees want to grow!"

Martin Pinzon might have put back to Spain, but who knew the man would not think that likely. Far more probable that he might be doing discovery of his own. Perhaps he would rejoin us later with some splendid thing to his credit, claim that Spain could not deny!

Cuba coast rose high and near. It is a shore of the fairest harbors! We made one of these into which emptied a little river. He named haven and river Saint Catherine. In the bed of this stream, when we went ashore, we found no little gold. He took in his hand grains and flakes and one or two pieces large as beans. It was royal monopoly, gold, and every man under strict command—to bring to the Admiral all that was found. Seamen and companions gathered around him, Admiral, Viceroy and Governor, King Croesus to be, a tenth of all gold and spoil filling his purse! And they, too, surely some way they would be largely paid! The dream hovered, then descended upon us, as many a time it descended. Great riches and happiness and all clothed in silk, and every man as he would be and not as he was, a dim magnificence and a sense of trumpets in the air, acclaiming us! I remember that day that we all felt this mystic power and wealth, the Admiral and all of us. For a short time, there by Saint Catherine’s River, we were brought into harmony. Then it broke and each little self went its way again. But for that while eighty men had felt as though we were a country and more than a country. The gold in the Admiral’s hand might have been gold of consciousness.

After this day for days we sailed along Cuba strand, seeing many a fair haven and entering two or three. There were villages, and those dusk, naked folk to, whom by now we were well used, running to beach or cliff brow, making signs, seeming to cry, "Heaven come down, heaven, heaven and the gods!" The notion of a sail had never come to them, though with their cotton they might have made them. They were slow to learn that the wind pushed us, acting like a thousand tireless rowers. We were thrillingly new to them and altogether magical. To any seeing eye a ship under full sail is a beautiful, stately, thrilling thing! To these red men there was a perilous joy in the vision. If to us in the ships there hung in this voyage something mystic, hidden, full of possibility, inch by inch to unroll, throbbing all with the future which is the supernatural, be sure these, too, who were found and discovered, moved in a cloud of mystery torn by strange lightnings!

Sometimes we came into haven, dropped anchor and lowered sails, whereupon those on the shore again cried out. When we took our boats and went to land we met always the same reception, found much the same village, carried on much the same conversations. Little by little we collected gold. By now, within the Admiral’s chest, in canvas bags, rested not a little treasure for Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand. And though it was forbidden, I knew that many of our seamen hid gold. All told we found enough to whet appetite. But still the Indians said south, and Babeque and Bohio!

At last we had sailed to the very eastern end of Cuba and turned it as we might turn the heel of Italy. A great spur that ran into the ocean the Admiral dubbed Alpha and Omega, and we planted a cross.

It fell to me here to save the Admiral’s life.

We had upon the a man named Felipe who seemed a simple, God-fearing soul, very attentive to Fray Ignatio and all the offices of religion. He was rather a silent fellow and a slow, poor worker, often in trouble with boatswain and master. He said odd things and sometimes wept for his soul, and the forecastle laughed at him. This man became in a night mad.

It was middle night. The swung at anchor and the whole world seemed a just-breathing stillness. There was the watch, but all else slept. The watch, looking at Cuba and the moon on the water, did not observe Felipe when he crept from forecastle with a long, sharp two-edged knife such as they sell in Toledo.

Juan Lepe woke from first sleep and could not recover it. He found Bernardo Nunez’s small, small cabin stifling, and at last he got up, put on garments, and slipped forth and through great cabin to outer air. He might have found the Admiral there before him, for he slept little and was about the ship at all hours, but to-night he did sleep.

I spoke to the watch, then set myself down at break of poop to breathe the splendor of the night. The moon bathed Alpha and Omega, and the two ships, the and the Santa Maria. It washed the Pinta but we saw it not, not knowing where rode the Pinta and Martin Alonzo Pinzon. So bright, so pleasureable, was the night!

An hour passed. My body was cooled and refreshed, my spirit quiet. Rising, I entered great cabin on my way to bed and sleep. I felt that the cabin was not empty, and then, there being moonlight enough, I saw the figure by the Admiral’s door. "Who is it?" I demanded, but the unbolted door gave to the man’s push, and he disappeared. I knew it was not the Admiral and I followed at a bound. The cabin had a window and the moonbeams came in. They showed Felipe and his knife and the great Genoese asleep. The madman laughed and crooned, then lifted that Toledo dagger and lunged downward with a sinewy arm. But I was upon him. The blow fell, but a foot wide of mark. There was a struggle, a shout. The Admiral, opening eyes, sprang from bed.

He was a powerful man, and I, too, had strength, but Felipe fought and struggled like a desert lion. He kept crying, "I am the King! I will send him to discover Heaven! I will send him to join the prophets!" At last we had him down and bound him. By now the noise had brought the watch and others. A dozen men came crowding in, in the moonlight. We took the madman away and kept him fast, and Juan Lepe tried to cure him but could not. In three days he died and we buried him at sea. And Fernando, creeping to me, asked, "senor, don’t you feel at times that there is madness over all this ship and this voyage and —the Admiral, I mean?"

I answered him that it was a pity there were so few madmen, and that Felipe must have been quite sane.

"Then what do you think was the matter with Felipe, Senor?"

I said, "Did it ever occur to you, Fernando, that you had too much courage and saw too far?" At which he looked frightened, and said that at times he had felt those symptoms.


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Chicago: Mary Johnston, "Chapter XX," 1492, ed. Jameson, J. Franklin (John Franklin), 1859-1937 in 1492 Original Sources, accessed July 23, 2024, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=CNQGK4U493EF55W.

MLA: Johnston, Mary. "Chapter XX." 1492, edited by Jameson, J. Franklin (John Franklin), 1859-1937, in 1492, Original Sources. 23 Jul. 2024. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=CNQGK4U493EF55W.

Harvard: Johnston, M, 'Chapter XX' in 1492, ed. . cited in , 1492. Original Sources, retrieved 23 July 2024, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=CNQGK4U493EF55W.