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Christopher Columbus and the New World
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In Spain Again
The loiterers about the harbour of Cadiz saw a curious sight on June 11th, 1496, when the
two battered ships, bearing back the voyagers from the Eldorado of the West,
disembarked their passengers. There were some 220 souls on board, including thirty
Indians: and instead of leaping ashore, flushed with health, and bringing the fortunes
which they had gone out to seek, they crawled miserably from the boats or were carried
ashore, emaciated by starvation, yellow with disease, ragged and unkempt from poverty,
and with practically no possessions other than the clothes they stood up in. Even the
Admiral, now in his forty-sixth year, hardly had the appearance that one would expect in
a Viceroy of the Indies. His white hair and beard were rough and matted, his handsome
face furrowed by care and sunken by illness and exhaustion, and instead of the glittering
armour and uniform of his office he wore the plain robe and girdle of the Franciscan
order—this last probably in consequence of some vow or other he had made in an hour of
peril on the voyage.
One lucky coincidence marked his arrival. In the harbour, preparing to weigh anchor, was
a fleet of three little caravels, commanded by Pedro Nino, about to set out for Espanola
with supplies and despatches. Columbus hurried on board Nino's ship, and there read the
letters from the Sovereigns which it had been designed he should receive in Espanola.
The letters are not preserved, but one can make a fair guess at their contents. Some
searching questions would certainly be asked, kind assurances of continued confidence
would doubtless be given, with many suggestions for the betterment of affairs in the
distant colony. Only their result upon the Admiral is known to us. He sat down there and
then and wrote to Bartholomew, urging him to secure peace in the island by every means
in his power, to send home any caciques or natives who were likely to give trouble, and
most of all to push on with the building of a settlement on the south coast where the new
mines were, and to have a cargo of gold ready to send back with the next expedition.
Having written this letter, the Admiral saw the little fleet sail away on June 17th, and
himself prepared with mingled feelings to present himself before his Sovereigns.
While he was waiting for their summons at Los Palacios, a small town near Seville, he
was the guest of the curate of that place, Andrez Bernaldez, who had been chaplain to
Christopher's old friend DEA, the Archbishop of Seville. This good priest evidently
proved a staunch friend to Columbus at this anxious period of his life, for the Admiral
left many important papers in his charge when he again left Spain, and no small part of
the scant contemporary information about Columbus that has come down to us is
contained in the 'Historia de los Reyes Catolicos', which Bernaldez wrote after the death