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Christopher Columbus and the New World

The Admiral Comes Home
On September 12, 1504., Christopher Columbus did many things for the last time. He
who had so often occupied himself in ports and harbours with the fitting out of ships and
preparations for a voyage now completed at San Domingo the simple preparations for the
last voyage he was to take. The ship he had come in from Jamaica had been refitted and
placed under the command of Bartholomew, and he had bought another small caravel in
which he and his son were to sail. For the last time he superintended those details of
fitting out and provisioning which were now so familiar to him; for the last time he
walked in the streets of San Domingo and mingled with the direful activities of his
colony; he looked his last upon the place where the vital scenes of his life had been set,
for the last time weighed anchor, and took his last farewell of the seas and islands of his
discovery. A little steadfast looking, a little straining of the eyes, a little heart-aching no
doubt, and Espanola has sunk down into the sea behind the white wake of the ships; and
with its fading away the span of active life allotted to this man shuts down, and his
powerful opportunities for good or evil are withdrawn.
There was something great and heroic about the Admiral's last voyage. Wind and sea rose
up as though to make a last bitter attack upon the man who had disclosed their mysteries
and betrayed their secrets. He had hardly cleared the island before the first gale came
down upon him and dismasted his ship, so that he was obliged to transfer himself and his
son to Bartholomew's caravel and send the disabled vessel back to Espanola. The
shouting sea, as though encouraged by this triumph, hurled tempest after tempest upon
the one lonely small ship that was staggering on its way to Spain; and the duel between
this great seaman and the vast elemental power that he had so often outwitted began in
earnest. One little ship, one enfeebled man to be destroyed by the power of the sea: that
was the problem, and there were thousands of miles of sea-room, and two months of time
to solve it in! Tempest after tempest rose and drove unceasingly against the ship. A mast
was sprung and had to be cut away; another, and the woodwork from the forecastles and
high stern works had to be stripped and lashed round the crazy mainmast to preserve it
from wholesale destruction. Another gale, and the mast had to be shortened, for even
reinforced as it was it would not bear the strain; and so crippled, so buffeted, this very
small ship leapt and staggered on her way across the Atlantic, keeping her bowsprit
pointed to that region of the foamy emptiness where Spain was.
The Admiral lay crippled in his cabin listening to the rush and bubble of the water,
feeling the blows and recoils of the unending battle, hearkening anxiously to the straining
of the timbers and the vessel's agonised complainings under the pounding of the seas. We
do not know what his thoughts were; but we may guess that they looked backward rather
than forward, and that often they must have been prayers that the present misery would
come somehow or other to an end. Up on deck brother Bartholomew, who has developed
some grievous complaint of the jaws and teeth—complaint not known to us more
particularly, but dreadful enough from that description—does his duty also, with that