The Coming of the White Men/The Genoese sailor
"HERE we are, Uncle Sam. We came early so there would be time for a good long story."
The old man sat reading his newspaper in the soft light of the setting sun. He looked up with a pleas- ant smile to greet the twins as they came arm in arm down the path.
"So you did not get too tired last night, Joe?" he replied. "I didn't know but that you would beg me to go back to fairy stories and leave true ones till you get older."
"Fairy stories indeed !" exclaimed the boy with a look of scorn. "Lucy and I both want to hear about real people. Don't we Lucy?"
"Of course; we said so last night, and we think so more than ever now. Have you made up your mind what to tell us next, Uncle Sam? But per- haps you want to finish your newspaper."
"Newspapers can wait till little folk are asleep in their beds, my darlings. Besides, I have a story all ready and waiting. It is knocking at the door of my mind this very moment and saying, ' Please let me out, please let me out.' So out it must come. There, Joe, stretch yourself comfortably in that hammock; and Lucy, take the steamer chair and draw it up close by my side. Now I hope you are both ready for a visit to another part of the world.
"We won't take any trunks, and there will be no sea-sickness, nor trouble of any kind. So let us start at once on a voyage across the Atlantic Ocean.
"Whew! Here we are safe and sound on the shores of Italy. The waves are rolling gently and the air is sweet and pleasant.
"A dark-skinned boy is sitting on the edge of the wharf and looking out to sea. He is watching the ships coming into port. He can see a tiny speck in the distance but he knows it is the top of some mast. As he watches it a sail comes into view under it. It comes nearer and nearer until the whole of a ship can be seen.
"The name of the boy who sat looking out to sea was Christopher Columbus.
"He loved the sea better than anything else. He
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longed to live on it and make long voyages. He did not know what it was to be afraid.
"As he grew up, he read all he could about the earth. He found that some wise men believed it was not flat, as many supposed, but was round. They also thought it much smaller than it really is.
'The young Columbus said to himself: 'If the world is really round, we can reach India by sailing west, instead of making such a long and tiresome journey to the east."
Why did he care so much about getting to In- dia?" asked Lucy.
"The people of Europe thought India was the richest land in the world. It had great stores of gold and silver. Beautiful silks and satins, wonder- ful pearls and emeralds, fragrant spices, all these things were brought from that glorious land. It is no wonder that Columbus, as well as everyone else, was interested in such a rich country.
'There was another reason, however, why Colum- bus thought so much about India and wished to find a shorter way of reaching it. He loved the Lord with all his heart. He had been told that the people of the East were heathens and that they wor- shiped idols.
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"He thought : 'I would like to tell these people of the One God and of Jesus, the Friend of all men/
I believe he cared more about that than for the silks and spices.
"As soon as Columbus was old enough, he went to sea with some of his relations. He learned how to steer a ship and how to manage it in storms. He proved himself brave and daring in sea-fights. He studied the winds and tides.
'The time came at last when he spoke to the peo- ple of his own town in Italy. He told them he be- lieved he could find India by sailing to the west. They did not listen to him. He himself could not fit up ships to make a long voyage, for he had no money. So he could not try his experiment.
"Years passed by and Columbus went to Portu- gal. He still had one great desire in his heart. You know what that was.
"He lost no time in speaking to the King of Por- tugal. The king listened to the plan. He thought it was a wise one. But he did not offer to send Columbus on a voyage of discovery. O, no! He preferred to send some of his own sailors. If the plan succeeded, he thought he would gain more by so doing.
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"He sent the Italian away. Then he took the maps and charts Columbus had made and showed them to the wisest men of the country. He thought : T will make use of what Columbus knows, but he shall get no reward/
"He was not honest. That is what I think. Don't you agree with me?"
"Of course we do," both children exclaimed.
"Some ships were fitted out and sailed into the west. They had not gone far, how-ever, before the sailors became afraid and turned back. The king of Portugal did not try again."
"I am glad he didn't," said Lucy.
"It served him right," cried Joe.
'We must not leave Columbus," Uncle Sam went on. "The brave sailor left Portugal, but he was not discouraged. He kept thinking, thinking where he should try next. After a while, he thought of Spain. He knew that country was eager for wealth and new lands. He would go there. He started for the Spanish court. His little son went with him.
'The journey through the country was very tire- some. They went slowly, for the roads were rough. The little boy sat in front of his father on the horse's back.
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"At last, one evening, they stopped to rest at a convent. Columbus told the good monks of the plan that was so dear to him. He showed them his charts of the world.
"They were much interested. They said: 'Our king and queen must see your charts. We believe they will give you the money to fit out the ships that you need. It will be a great thing for our country if you find a short way to India.'
"Columbus felt happy when he heard the monks' words. He left his little son in their care and went on his way to the court of Ferdinand and Isabella.
"The king and queen listened kindly, but they could see no way of giving money to Columbus. A war was going on at this very time and they needed all their money to carry it on.
"Columbus stayed in Spain for seven long years. He tried to get some of the rich men of the country to listen to his plans and furnish money. It was all in vain.
"At last, just as he was leaving the country, some messengers came to him. They said: 'Queen Isabella wishes to talk with you once more. She would like to help you/
"How gladly Columbus turned back! He found
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the queen had such faith in him that she was even willing to sell her beautiful jewels, if necessary, for the sake of giving him money.
"He set to work at once to get a fleet ready. Three ships were chosen. Their bows and sterns were built high up out of the water. They were very different from the ships of to-day. Provisions to last a whole year were stowed away in them.
"It was not as easy to find sailors as it was to get the ships."
"I don't see why," interrupted Joe. "I should think there would have been plenty of men eager to go."
"Not so, my lad," replied Uncle Sam. "Only the boldest men would dare to sail far into the west at that time. The people of those days were full of queer fancies. They thought they would come to enchanted islands and great dragons and all sorts of fearful things if they went far away from home.
"At last, however, enough sailors promised to go and the great day came for the ships to set sail. How excited everyone was ! Would these men ever come back to the shores of Spain? Would they really find India, or was it only the dream of a very bold man?
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"The wharves were covered with people who had gathered to see the ships start on their daring voyage.
"They sailed farther and farther into the west; now the lower parts could be but dimly seen; then only the tops of the masts; then they faded alto- gether from sight.
"Now let us leave the onlookers of the shores and join the brave Columbus on the deck of the Santa Maria, his flag-ship.
"Day after day he guided the ships onward and ever westward. After they had passed the Canary Islands, the men were always on the watch for signs of some new land. After days, and then weeks, on the great ocean the sailors became afraid. They begged their leader to turn back, but they begged in vain. He would not listen.
"At first he tried to keep up their courage by telling them of the riches they would gain, or the honors their church would give them if they carried the teachings of Christ to the heathens. When such words lost their power Columbus became stern. He told the men how angry the king would be if they did not obey their captain.
"The time came when they began to plot against
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Columbus. They said : 'We will destroy him. Then, when we get home, we will say that he fell overboard.'
"Could they ever reach home, now they were so far away? The men became afraid of what might happen to them if Columbus were dead and no one left to pilot them home again. So they did not kill him.
"He knew they did not feel kindly to him and
he thought it would be best to make some bargain with them. So he said : 'If we do not see land in a certain number of days I will promise to turn back toward Spain.'
"How eagerly he now watched from the deck of his vessel ! It seemed as though his hopes and beliefs would not prove true. The last day came, the day on which he had promised to turn back if they found no signs of land.
"Lo ! a stick carved by some person's hand came floating along by the ship's side. This was not all, for a branch with berries on it was picked up out of the water. Land must be near !
'I will give a large reward to the man who first sees it,' cried Columbus. As he watched that very
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night he saw a light in the distance. It moved. He called two of his men to look at it.
"Their hearts leaped for joy at the sight.
"Before morning came, a sailor saw the shore in the distance by the light of the moon.
"Children," said Uncle Sam solemnly, "never for- get that it was the I2th of October of the year 1492 that Columbus first stepped upon the shores of the New World. He was dressed in a full suit of steel armor and he held the royal banner of Spain as he landed on the island which he named San Salvador.
"He planted the cross of the Christians and, with his officers and men around him, knelt down to thank God for His great goodness in bringing them so far in safety.
" 'How beautiful, how beautiful !' Columbus ex- claimed as he looked about him. Tall palm trees were moving gently in the warm breeze ; strange and lovely flowers were growing all around; birds of bright colors flew overhead.
"But these were not the only things to fill the brave sailor with wonder. He and his men were soon surrounded by strange-looking people. They had straight black hair and dark red skins. They wore little or no clothing.
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" 'This is India, without a doubt,' said Columbus, 'and these people arc Indians.'
"He noticed the gold ornaments in their ears and he thought with delight of the treasures he would carry back to Spain to good Queen Isabella.
"The Red Men were as much surprised as the Spaniards. They whispered to each other, 'These white beings must be gods come from the heavens to visit us.'
"Then they pointed to the ships and said, 'The great birds that have brought them to us are now floating on the water.'
"The Indians wished to show honor to their vis- itors. They hurried to their simple homes and gath- ered grains and fruits. They brought them as presents to the Spaniards.
"The white men were glad to receive the corn, cotton, and fruits. They feasted on the delicious cocoanuts and bananas, yet they were not satisfied. Gold was what they most wanted. \Yhen they asked the Indians where to find it, the savages pointed towards the south."
"I am glad Columbus wasn't a Spaniard," said Joe, who had kept still a long time for a lively boy. "I just hate the Spaniards. I believe all they care
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for is riches. It's a good thing we beat them in the last war."
"My dear child," replied Uncle Sam, "You should hate no one. We may thank the Spaniards for one thing at least. If it had not been for them, Colum- bus might never have been able to cross the ocean and discover America. You must remember they gave him the ships and money he needed."
"It was the good Queen Isabella," said Joe, "and she didn't seem at all like the rest of her people. But please excuse me for interrupting you, Uncle Sam."
'That is all right, Joe. It shows you are a good listener. Now we will go back to Columbus rest- ing among the palm trees.
"I am sure you children would have loved him. He had bright, keen eyes, yet they were kind and loving; and he moved about with the air of a king."
"He had the right to do so," said Lucy, thought- fully. "He couldn't help feeling how great he
"You are quite right," answered Uncle Sam, as he patted the little girl's head. "Even the steps of a brave man must be different from those of a
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coward. The bravery gets into them without the man's thinking 1 about it.
"But dear me ! It is getting late, and I am only half through my story. We have turned our backs on Columbus and left him alone with the Red Men quite as long as is polite. He enjoyed himself very much with them, however, and stayed several days on the island.
'Then he took to his ships once more and sailed about among the different islands which he called the Indies. He thought that the right name for them, as he still believed he was near the mainland of India.
"Each time they landed, his men kept asking the natives where gold could be found. Each time they were disappointed. But Columbus thought it must be near at hand. He never dreamed that he was still far from the land of spices and precious stones.
"At the end of twelve weeks he said, *\Ye ought to go back to Spain and tell what we have discov- ered.'
'Tie gathered stores of the strange fruits and grains and rich woods and packed them safely away in the ships. He also took some of the brightly- feathered birds.
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"He left a part of the sailors on one of the islands. They were to make a settlement. Then they would have a home ready for Columbus when he should come again with more of their people.
'When he had chosen some of the Indians to go back with him, all was ready and he began to cross the great ocean once more."
"He must have been almost bursting with pride and joy," cried Joe. "And the voyage home must have seemed long, because he had so much to tell."
"It came to an end at last, although there were terrible storms and the ships came very near being wrecked," Uncle Sam went on. "At length, how- ever, they reached Spain.
"The news of their return spread quickly. As soon as Columbus landed crowds gathered to hear about his voyage and the whole country was filled with joy.
"When Columbus went to court to tell his story to the king and queen they would not let him stand before them. 'He is too great a man/ they thought. 'He has gained the right to sit in our presence.'
"O, my !" said Joe, "I thought everybody had to stand before kings and queens."
"Columbus wasn't a king, but he was certainly
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as great, only in another way. Ferdinand was quite right in thinking so. He and his good wife listened with delight to the story of the greatest voyage any man ever made.
'They believed as Columbus did that a short way to India had been found. They eagerly examined the curious things brought to them from the west. They ate of the delicious fruits and admired the bright birds and beautiful woods.
'They said : 'We will have a grand procession through the streets of our city. Columbus shall wear beautiful garments and shall ride in the midst.'
'The Indians, bright with paint and feathers, went first of all in the procession. Crowds of people lined the streets to see the Red Men, the curious fruits and flowers, the parrots, and the stuffed bodies of animals they had never heard of before.
'They wished, most of all, to look upon the great man who had dared to sail so far into the west and who had brought India with all its riches to Spain. For everyone believed this was what Columbus had done.
"Many entertainments were prepared for the great sailor. Nearly everyone wished to give him honor. A few, however, were jealous.
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"One day while Columbus was at a dinner party given in his honor one of the king's courtiers said :
" 'It was not a hard thing to do what this Italian has done. Anyone else might have done the same thing.'
"Of course the man said this because he was jealous and did not like to see so much attention given to a poor sailor from Italy.
"Columbus did not seem troubled at this man's words. He took an egg from the table and handed it to the speaker. Then he said :
" 'Can you make that egg stand on end?' 'The man tried, but could not do it. It was passed from one person to another. Everyone failed. At last it came back to Columbus. He took it in his hand and struck it gently on the table so that the shell was slightly cracked. Then, taking away his hand, he left it standing on end.
'It is easy enough for anyone to do that,' cried the courtier.
" 'It is also easy for anyone to find the Indies after I have shown the way/ was the reply of Columbus.
"Not long after this the great man made ready for another voyage across the ocean.
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How different everything was now ! There was no trouble now to find sailors willing to go with him. Indeed, it was almost too easy. Everyone was anxious to visit the Indies. They believed it was the quickest way to gain riches and comfort.
"When the second fleet was ready to sail there were seventeen ships and fifteen hundred men. Only think of it ! It was almost like a traveling city.
"They had no trouble in crossing the ocean, but when they came to the island where Columbus had before left a part of his men, there was no sign of them nor of the homes they had made.
" 'This time I will choose a different place to settle,' said Columbus.
"He sailed into a fine harbor about forty miles away. The men landed and began to build the first city of the New World for white people to live in. They called it Isabella after the good queen of Spain.
"Columbus spent some time as governor of the settlement. Then he went back to Spain with news of the white men's city in the west. He did not stay long, however. He was soon restless for a third voyage across the great ocean.
"He sailed farther to the southward than he had before. For the first time he saw the shores of
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South America. Then he went back to the settle- ment in the West Indies, but the people were not glad to see him."
Uncle Sam stopped for a moment and looked quite sad.
"Children," he said, "I must tell the truth and say that Columbus was not as good a governor as he was a sailor. It would have been hard work for anyone to rule his people, for they had to work hard and they were not satisfied because gold was not plentiful.
" 'It is not what we expected/ they cried angrily. 'We thought you would bring us to a land filled with gold and diamonds/
"Some of them even whispered among them- selves, 'Columbus is not what he pretends to be. He has cheated us badly/
"At last they declared they would not let him stay there any longer. They put chains upon him and sent him back to Spain."
Uncle Sam took a picture from the table drawer.
"Look at Columbus now," said the old man.
'There he sits on the deck of the ship with heavy
chains bound on his arms like one who has done a
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great wrong. Yet he gave a whole continent to the people who put them on him.
" 'I will take off your chains,' said the kind- hearted captain of the ship. It is a shame for you to wear them.'
" 'No, no. Let them remain/ answered Colum- bus. 'I will wear them as a token of the kindness of princes.'
"How different was his third landing in Spain! This time there \vere no crowds waiting to show him honor. He was carried before the queen, who wept in pity at the sight of her old friend in chains. The brave man now broke down. As he tried to tell his story his words were choked with sobs.
"Isabella did not desert him, however. She helped him to fit out another fleet and he started on his last voyage. He sailed among other islands of the West Indies and returned to Spain after a great deal of suffering. He was sick and poor. There were many who once could not do too much for him but who now mocked him.
"He died with the belief that he had found a short way to India. He had no thought of what he had really discovered. It is a shame he did not get the honor he deserved."
Uncle Sam rose suddenly from his arm chair and began to walk up and down the room. "Yes, it is a shame. A burning shame. Children, let us sing 'Columbia, the Gem of the Ocean/
The old man turned to the little organ at one side of the room. In a moment the house was rilled with the voices of Uncle Sam and his two young friends. When the song was over, the children kissed him good-night and started for home.