The crew of the Nina was shorthanded, what with five of their men in shackles on the Santa Maria. But because of the shortage of men, Charles was given more responsibility. He was being allowed to work with his uncle, learning some navigational skills, and was even standing watch, under supervision. That meant less swabbing the deck and hauling freight!
And…he hoped to be the one to sight it first…but….
“Land! Land!” came a cry.
He slumped in disappointment, for there was a reward offered for the first man seeing land. If it couldn’t be himself, though, Charles was glad that a rather timid little man named Laurence, with a big family at home, might have won it. He was one of the sailors who had been sent over from the Santa Maria to help out, and Charles liked him.
But the “land” turned out to be just another bank of clouds.
Their captain’s brother, Martin Pinzon of the Pinta, had claimed the very first sighting, and they had all fallen to their knees in thanksgiving to God. But it was discovered some hours later that they’d only seen clouds. Then Captain Vincente Pinzon, here on the Nina, had raised the flag and fired a cannon in celebration of a sighting….
But it was yet another cloud.
They saw a floating branch, with a flower, and other signs of land…but still nothing.
Charles new friend, Laurence was hoping for some treasure, just as everyone else was, but more than anything, he longed to see the natives of some foreign land hear the good news of salvation. Laurence’s oldest son was a preacher, but all the rest of his children were young. He came from Switzerland, and he hoped to go back soon with enough gold to take good care of them.
He had some strange ideas, and Sandy was a bit wary of him. But the newcomer was always interested in engaging the priest in conversation, and talking over his new ideas. One concerned the tradition of paying for indulgences to get into heaven. Laurence felt that no one could pay enough or do enough to get to heaven. Indulgences were documents that could be bought, to ensure that relatives who had died could get into heaven quicker. Laurence strongly believed that such things weren’t necessary–that Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross was enough.
Charles friend the priest, and his new friend Laurence—along with Peter— had some serious discussions about it all. Charles was surprised that Uncle Samuel tended to agree with Laurence.
Finally Sandy, finding the man very kind and willing to do a good turn for anyone, decided he liked him.
This could be called heresy in some places, but here on shipboard they had to all work together. The priest and Laurence, in spite of their differences, became friends.
One day some of the other sailors were teasing Laurence, as they often did. Then one got in a slap on the face. Charles and Peter sprang to the timid man’s rescue. It was then that Charles realized that perhaps he wasn’t so timid after all.
“No boys. Thank you, but all is well.” He turned to the sailor who had slapped him. “You can do as you like, but I will not strike back.”
The man was so surprised that he backed away, though some others nearby were talking among themselves. Their eyes gleamed as one said, “well, if that’s the way it is….”
But they saw the bo’sun approaching, and dispersed.
“Boys—’vengeance is mine, says the Lord.’ ” And Laurence headed off to his tasks, too.
But Peter and Charles glanced at each other. Was their friend playing into the hands of some of these more unruly sailors?
They’d just have to keep an eye on their new friend, and protect him if necessary.
Mutiny was afoot again as the winds slowed to a gentle breeze, and the ships lost speed. In spite of the green plants floating on the water here and there, as well as tropical birds that the sailors knew stayed close to land, their quest seemed to escape them.
The admiral finally promised that if they didn’t find land within the next few days, they’d turn back.
But all was to be well, after all.
Well, almost…for there would always be someone who wasn’t happy.
“The admiral! After all this, none of us will get the Queen’s reward—or the admiral’s prize!”
“I can’t believe he was the one who sighted land first,” another grumbled.
“At least we’re here,” said Sandy, trying to offer some reason for rejoicing. “This is what we’ve been waiting for!”
“The Indies! Spices and gold!” cheered the men.
And tomorrow we land, thought Charles. Oh, I hope I can go with them.
“Charles! Come along, now,” called the bo’sun.
Really? He hurried to catch up with Peter and the rest.
“Captain says you can join us!” The usually stern man, put a hand on his shoulder. “Says you’re a good worker, and deserve it. And you’ve even kept that animal in line.”
Everybody knew that the bo’sun had finally taken a liking to Blackie. He’d even been caught giving him scraps now and then.
Charles glimpsed his uncle,who was already helping to let the dinghy down. He had heard it all, and was beaming with pride. Charles knew his mother would hear of this good report someday.
“Blackie!” And after the bo’sun had just complimented them, the dog had jumped in the boat, and out again, excitedly.
“Oh, let him come. First dog in the Indies.”
Charles could tell from Uncle Samuel’s expression that he wasn’t so sure about that. Perhaps they had dogs here. But Charles didn’t argue. Down the ladder he went, with the dog under one arm. Once in the boat, his pet calmed down, loving the feel of the ocean breeze, apparently.
Charles watched as boats from the Pinta and Santa Maria joined them. Admiral Columbus wore a special red jacket for the occasion.
Bursting with excitement, Charles gazed upon the shoreline as they rowed onward.
They had arrived at last.
Charles watched as the two captains and the admiral waded to shore. They knelt and kissed the ground, and thanked God. Columbus carried a royal banner, and the Pinzon brothers held the flags with the green crosses and the initials of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. As they claimed the new land they’d discovered for the king and queen, Columbus named it San Salvador.
Only Laurence seemed uneasy with this. Again, his strange, new ideas! Even though he didn’t broadcast it publicly, Charles knew that he didn’t agree with the normal practice of claiming the land they had discovered.
All of Europe had done it for centuries. First Italy might be in charge of a city or parcel of land—or even a country. Then Spain or France or the Arabs might take it over. Then there would be battles and wars, and someone else would claim it as their own.
“Look! People!” Charles whispered, excitedly.
“That’s why it’s not our land,” whispered Laurence back. “It belongs to the people that live here!”
“Hush,” scolded Sandy. “You don’t think some would thrash you for such talk? Treachery, they’d say. Going against our king and queen!”
“I love my king, and queen, and country as much as anyone. And I know you do yours—but that doesn’t mean these people– who have probably lived here for generations– suddenly don’t own their land anymore, just because we claim it.”
“They’re savages,” hissed Peter. “At least that’s what everyone says.”
“Whatever we call them, it’s still their land.”
“Look at their skin–it’s so different than ours!” said Charles.
“So?” said Laurence, looking down at him, seriously.
“You need to keep quiet if you know what’s good for you, friend,” Sandy insisted. “You don’t want to get killed by your own shipmates before you even meet these people. Keep your outlandish ideas to yourself, at least!”
The admiral was already moving forward to meet the people who were so different than them. And the people looked just as interested in him.
Charles sat among the natives, eating fruits he’d never laid eyes on before. The people were friendly, and the admiral was pleased that they seemed to like his gifts of glass beads and other trinkets. He called them Indians, because of course, here they were in the Indies.
He’d been right all along. All those who had disputed with him whether anything was even out here, were wrong. They were at their destination finally.
“I have a feeling they already have a name,” grouched Laurence, and Sandy poked him with his elbow to be quiet.
They discovered later that Laurence was right. They were the Taino people. They were ruled by a chief rather than a king or queen. Their houses were wooden poles tied together, with thatch roofs. And it was the most beautiful place Charles had ever seen, green and fragrant with bright flowers everywhere.
The natives were getting ready to travel out to the ships to trade. They brought parrots
and balls of cotton thread. They didn’t seem to have weapons, or know what a sword was for.
“No weapons, that’s a good thing,” Charles heard one sailor mutter. “They don’t even know what to do with that sword the Admiral’s showing them. Look, that one cut his finger. We certainly could overtake them if we want to.”
Sandy and Uncle Samuel didn’t like that kind of talk. And it was really a good thing that Laurence hadn’t heard it. As peaceful as he was, he didn’t like people plotting against others.
“No look, they do have weapons. Javelins of some sort. It seems they want to trade them.”
But Charles was distracted with something else he’d never seen before. “Those little boats out there! They’re going to tip over!”
Some of the men had already started out to the ships, negotiating their strange canoes through the strong waves.
“Not so little—look, there’s some long ones!” exclaimed Peter.
“They’re dugouts,” said someone. “Each one looks like its one big log, carved out for them to sit in!”
“And they aren’t tipping over!”
“There’s got to be dozens of men in that one. It’s huge.”
They watched as the men paddled their dugouts out to the ships.
These were days that Charles would never forget.
Even so, there was some disappointment. For of all the things that they had to trade, the natives didn’t seem to have much gold.
“They’re wearing gold—so where is it?”
“Admiral Columbus says they seem to be pointing south. He thinks there’s other islands.”
For by now they had explored enough to know that this was definitely only an island.
“Then we’ll go on,” they heard their leader say. “Japan and China must be near. They got that gold they’re wearing from somewhere! Come everyone, be ready to go back to the ships soon. We’ll go on and find the gold we’ve been searching for, and soon we’ll find the silks and spices we need as well. We’re the first to find this route to the Indies! We’ve succeeded!”
Charles happily waved good bye to some of the boys his age, who had shared food with him. They had been as curious about his white skin as he was about their darker skin. And they had enjoyed playing with Blackie.
He almost didn’t want to leave these people, but he knew they had a ways to go before they completed their quest. The admiral had to pay back the king and queen with a great deal of gold and spices, and his men were expecting riches, too.
They must get on with their journey.
To be continued….
By Carol Bennett
Columbus apparently never realized that he had not found the Indies, and was nowhere near Japan or China. While he was brave and adventurous in his quest, he was mistaken on how long the voyage would actually take.
Historians feel that this first discovery of land was one of the Caribbean Islands, near North America.
Coming soon…Chapter Five. Though it seems that Columbus loved God, and wanted to spread His Word, he also made some big mistakes, and sinned like all people. We’ll find out what happens next on their voyage, and how Uncle Samuel makes a crucial decision.