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Christopher Columbus and the New World
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The Earthly Paradise Revisited
On the 25th November 1493, Columbus once more dropped his anchor in the harbour of
Monte Christi, and a party was sent ashore to prospect for a site suitable for the new town
which he intended to build, for he was not satisfied with the situation of La Navidad.
There was a large river close by; and while the party was surveying the land they came
suddenly upon two dead bodies lying by the river-side, one with a rope round its neck
and the other with a rope round its feet. The bodies were too much decomposed to be
recognisable; nevertheless to the party rambling about in the sunshine and stillness of that
green place the discovery was a very gruesome one. They may have thought much, but
they said little. They returned to the ship, and resumed their search on the next day, when
they found two more corpses, one of which was seen to have a large quantity of beard. As
all the natives were beardless this was a very significant and unpleasant discovery, and
the explorers returned at once and reported what they had seen to Columbus. He
thereupon set sail for La Navidad, but the navigation off that part of the coast was
necessarily slow because of the number of the shoals and banks, on one of which the
Admiral's ship had been lost the year before; and the short voyage occupied three days.
They arrived at La Navidad late on the evening of the 27th—too late to make it advisable
to land. Some natives came out in a canoe, rowed round the Admiral's ship, stopped and
looked at it, and then rowed away again. When the fleet had anchored Columbus ordered
two guns to be fired; but there was no response except from the echoes that went rattling
among the islands, and from the frightened birds that rose screaming and circling from
the shore. No guns and no signal fires; no sign of human habitation whatever; and no
sound out of the weird darkness except the lap of the water and the call of the birds . . . .
The night passed in anxiety and depression, and in a certain degree of nervous tension,
which was relieved at two or three o'clock in the morning by the sound of paddles and the
looming of a canoe through the dusky starlight. Native voices were heard from the canoe
asking in a loud voice for the Admiral; and when the visitors had been directed to the
Marigalante they refused to go on board until Columbus himself had spoken to them, and
they had seen by the light of a lantern that it was the Admiral himself. The chief of them
was a cousin of Guacanagari, who said that the King was ill of a wound in his leg, or that
he would certainly have come himself to welcome the Admiral. The Spaniards? Yes, they
were well, said the young chief; or rather, he added ominously, those that remained were
well, but some had died of illness, and some had been killed in quarrels that had arisen
among them. He added that the province had been invaded by two neighbouring kings
who had burned many of the native houses. This news, although grave, was a relief from
the dreadful uncertainty that had prevailed in the early part of the night, and the Admiral's
company, somewhat consoled, took a little sleep.
In the morning a party was sent ashore to La Navidad. Not a boat was in sight, nor any
native canoes; the harbour was silent and deserted. When the party had landed and gone
up to the place where the fort had been built they found no fort there; only the blackened