Christopher Columbus and the New World HTML version

The Fire Kindles
The next step in Columbus's career was a move to Porto Santo, which probably took
place very soon after his marriage—that is to say, in the year 1479. It is likely that he had
the chance of making a voyage there; perhaps even of commanding a ship, for his
experience of the sea and skill as a navigator must by this time have raised him above the
rank of an ordinary seaman; and in that case nothing would be more natural than that he
should take his young wife with him to visit her brother Bartolomeo, and to see the
family property. It is one of the charms of the seaman's profession that he travels free all
over the world; and if he has no house or other fixed possessions that need to be looked
after he has the freedom of the world, and can go where he likes free of cost. Porto Santo
and Madeira, lying in the track of the busiest trade on the Atlantic coast, would provide
Columbus with an excellent base from which to make other voyages; so it was probably
with a heart full of eager anticipation for the future, and sense of quiet happiness in the
present, that in the year 1479 Signor Cristoforo Colombo (for he did not yet call himself
Senor Cristoval Colon) set out for Porto Santo—a lonely rock some miles north of
Madeira. Its southern shore is a long sweeping bay of white sand, with a huddle of sand-
hills beyond, and cliffs and peaks of basalt streaked with lava fringing the other shores.
When Columbus and his bride arrived there the place was almost as bare as it is to-day.
There were the governor's house; the settlement of Portuguese who worked in the mills
and sugar-fields; the mills themselves, with the cultivated sugar-fields behind them; and
the vineyards, with the dwarf Malmsey vines pegged down to the ground, which Prince
Henry had imported from Candia fifty years before. The forest of dragon-trees that had
once covered the island was nearly all gone. The wood had all been used either for
building, making boats, or for fuel; and on the fruit of the few trees that were left a herd
of pigs was fattened. There was frequent communication by boat with Madeira, which
was the chief of all the Atlantic islands, and the headquarters of the sugar trade; and Porto
Santo itself was a favourite place of call for passing ships. So that it was by no means
lonely for Christopher Columbus and his wife, even if they had not had the society of the
governor and his settlement.
We can allow him about three years in Porto Santo, although for a part of this time at
least he must have been at sea. I think it not unlikely that it was the happiest time of his
life. He was removed from the uncomfortable environment of people who looked down
upon him because of his obscure birth; he was in an exquisite climate; and living by the
sea-shore, as a sailor loves to do; he got on well with Bartolomeo, who was no doubt glad
enough of the company of this grave sailor who had seen so much and had visited so
many countries; above all he had his wife there, his beautiful, dear, proud Philippa, all to
himself, and out of reach of those abominable Portuguese noblemen who paid so much
attention to her and so little to him, and made him so jealous; and there was a whispered
promise of some one who was coming to make him happier still. It is a splendid setting,
this, for the sea adventurer; a charming picture that one has of him there so long ago,
walking on the white shores of the great sweeping bay, with the glorious purple Atlantic