C H A P T E R X I I I
At Bahia – Meditations on the discoverers – The Caribbees
AT Bahia we refitted, with many necessary provisions, and repaired the keel, which we found, upon hauling out, had been damaged by the encounter with the whale at Frio. An iron shoe was now added for the benefit of all marine monsters wishing to scratch their backs on our canoe.
Among the many friends whom we met at Bahia were Capt. Boyd and his family of the bark H. W. Palmer. We shall meet the Palmer and the Boyds again on the voyage. They were old traders to South America and had many friends at this port who combined to make our visit a pleasant one. And their little son Rupert was greatly taken with the "Riberdade," as he called her, coming often to see us. And the officials of the port, taking great interest in our voyage, came often on board. No one could have treated us more kindly than they.
The venerable Administradore himself gave us special welcome to the port and a kind word upon our departure, accompanied by a present for my wife in the shape of a rare white flower, which we cherished greatly as coming from a true gentleman.
Some strong abolitionists at the port would have us dine in an epicurean way in commemoration of the name given our canoe, which was adopted because of her having been put afloat on the thirteenth day of May, the day on which every human being in Brazil could say, "I have no master but one." I declined the banquet tendered us, having work on hand, fortifying the canoe against the ravaging worms of the seas we were yet to sail through, bearing in mind the straits of my great predecessor from this as well as other causes on his voyage over the Caribbean Seas. I was bound to be strengthened against the enemy.
The gout, it will be remembered, seized upon the good Columbus while his ship had worms, when both ship and admiral lay stranded among menacing savages; surrounded, too, by a lawless, threatening band of his own countrymen not less treacherous than the worst of cannibals. His state was critical indeed! One calamity was from over-high living – this I was bound to guard against – the other was from neglect on the part of his people to care for the ship in a seaman-like manner. Of the latter difficulty I had no risk to run.
Lazy and lawless, but through the pretext of religion, the infected crew wrought on the pious feelings of the good admiral, inducing him at every landing to hold mass instead of cleaning the foul ship. Thus through petty intrigue and grave neglects, they brought disaster and sorrow on their leader and confusion on their own heads. Their religion, never deep, could not be expected to keep Terredo from the ship's bottom, so her timbers were ravished, and ruin came to them all! Poor Columbus! had he but sailed with his son Diego and his noble brother Bartholomew, for his only crew and companions, not forgetting the help of a good woman, America would have been discovered without those harrowing tales of woe and indeed heartrending calamities which followed in the wake of his designing people. Nor would his ship have been less well manned than was the Liberdade, sailing, centuries after, over the same sea and among many of the islands visited by the great discoverer – sailing, too, without serious accident of any kind, and without sickness or discontent. Our advantage over Columbus, I say, was very great, not more from the possession of data of the centuries which had passed than from having a willing crew sailing without dissent or murmur – sailing in the same boat, as it were.
A pensive mood comes over one voyaging among the scenes of the New World's early play-ground. To us while on this canoe voyage of pleasant recollection the fancied experience of navigators gone before was intensely thrilling.
Sailing among islands clothed in eternal green, the same that Columbus beheld with marvellous anticipations, and the venerable Las Casas had looked upon with pious wonder, brought us, in the mind's eye, near the old discoverers; and a feeling that we should come suddenly upon their ships around some near headland took deep hold upon our thoughts as we drew in with the shores. All was there to please the imagination and dream over in the same balmy, sleepy atmosphere, where Juan Ponce de Leon would fain have tarried young, but found death rapid, working side by side with ever springing life. To live long in this clime one must obey great Nature's laws. So stout Juan and millions since have found, and so always it will be.
All was there to testify as of yore, all except the first owners of the land; they alas! the poor Caribbees, together with their camp fires, had been extinguished long years before. And no one of human sympathy can read of the cruel tortures and final extermination of these islanders, savages though they were, without a pang of regret at the unpleasant page in a history of glory and civilization.