Christopher Columbus and the New World HTML version

The Third Voyage -(Continued)
It may perhaps be wearisome to the reader to return to the tangled and depressing
situation in Espanola, but it cannot be half so wearisome as it was for Columbus, whom
we left enveloped in that dark cloud of error and surrender in which he sacrificed his
dignity and good faith to the impudent demands of a mutinous servant. To his other
troubles in San Domingo the presence of this Roldan was now added; and the reinstated
Alcalde was not long in making use of the victory he had gained. He bore himself with
intolerable arrogance and insolence, discharging one of Columbus's personal bodyguard
on the ground that no one should hold any office on the island except with his consent.
He demanded grants of land for himself and his followers, which Columbus held himself
obliged to concede; and the Admiral, further to pacify him, invented a very disastrous
system of repartimientos, under which certain chiefs were relieved from paying tribute on
condition of furnishing feudal service to the settlers—a system which rapidly developed
into the most cruel and oppressive kind of slavery. The Admiral at this time also, in
despair of keeping things quiet by his old methods of peace and conciliation, created a
kind of police force which roamed about the island, exacting tribute and meting out
summary punishment to all defaulters. Among other concessions weakly made to Roldan
at this time was the gift of the Crown estate of Esperanza, situated in the Vega Real,
whither he betook himself and embarked on what was nothing more nor less than a
despotic reign, entirely ignoring the regulations and prerogatives of the Admiral, and
taking prisoners and administering punishment just as he pleased. The Admiral was
helpless, and thought of going back to Spain, but the condition of the island was such that
he did not dare to leave it. Instead, he wrote a long letter to the Sovereigns, full of
complaints against other people and justifications of himself, in the course of which he
set forth those quibbling excuses for his capitulation to Roldan which we have already
heard. And there was a pathetic request at the end of the letter that his son Diego might
be sent out to him. As I have said, Columbus was by this time a prematurely old man, and
feeling the clouds gathering about him, and the loneliness and friendlessness of his
position at Espanola, he instinctively looked to the next generation for help, and to the
presence of his own son for sympathy and comfort.
It was at this moment (September 5, 1499) that a diversion arose in the rumour that four
caravels had been seen off the western end of Espanola and duly reported to the Admiral;
and this announcement was soon followed by the news that they were commanded by
Ojeda, who was collecting dye-wood in the island forests. Columbus, although he had so
far as we know had no previous difficulties with Ojeda, had little cause now to credit any
adventurer with kindness towards himself; and Ojeda's secrecy in not reporting himself at
San Domingo, and, in fact, his presence on the island at all without the knowledge of the
Admiral, were sufficient evidence that he was there to serve his own ends. Some gleam
of Christopher's old cleverness in handling men was—now shown by his instructing
Roldan to sally forth and bring Ojeda to order. It was a case of setting a thief to catch a
thief and, as it turned out, was not a bad stroke. Roldan, nothing loth, sailed round to that