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Christopher Columbus and the New World

Book III: Desperate Remedies
The Voyage To Cuba
The sight of the greater part of their fleet disappearing in the direction of home threw
back the unstable Spanish colony into doubt and despondency. The brief encouragement
afforded by Ojeda's report soon died away, and the actual discomforts of life in Isabella
were more important than visionary luxuries that seemed to recede into the distance with
the vanishing ships. The food supply was the cause of much discomfort; the jobbery and
dishonesty which seem inseparable from the fitting out of a large expedition had stored
the ships with bad wine and imperfectly cured provisions; and these combined with the
unhealthy climate to produce a good deal of sickness. The feeling against Columbus,
never far below the Spanish surface, began to express itself definitely in treacherous
consultations and plots; and these were fomented by Bernal Diaz, the comptroller of the
colony, who had access to Columbus's papers and had seen the letter sent by him to
Spain. Columbus was at this time prostrated by an attack of fever, and Diaz took the
opportunity to work the growing discontent up to the point of action. He told the colonists
that Columbus had painted their condition in far too favourable terms; that he was
deceiving them as well as the Sovereigns; and a plot was hatched to seize the ships that
remained and sail for home, leaving Columbus behind to enjoy the riches that he had
falsely boasted about. They were ready to take alarm at anything, and to believe anything
one way or the other; and as they had believed Ojeda when he came back with his report
of riches, now they believed Cado, the assayer, who said that even such gold as had been
found was of a very poor and worthless quality. The mutiny developed fast; and a table of
charges against Columbus, which was to be produced in Spain as a justification for it, had
actually been drawn up when the Admiral, recovering from his illness, discovered what
was on foot. He dealt promptly and firmly with it in his quarterdeck manner, which was
always far more effective than his viceregal manner. Diaz was imprisoned and lodged in
chains on board one of the ships, to be sent to Spain for trial; and the other ringleaders
were punished also according to their deserts. The guns and ammunition were all stored
together on one ship under a safe guard, and the mutiny was stamped out. But the
Spaniards did not love Columbus any the better for it; did not any the more easily forgive
him for being in command of them and for being a foreigner.