The Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus

By Washington Irving | Go to book overview

portent. Columbus took great pains to dispel their apprehensions, explaining the natural causes of those volcanic fires, and verifying his explanations by citing Mount Etna and other well- known volcanoes.

While taking in wood and water and provisions in the island of Gomera, a vessel arrived from Ferro, which reported that three Portuguese caravels had been seen hovering off that island, with the intention, it was said, of capturing Columbus. The admiral suspected some hostile stratagem on the part of the King of Portugal, in revenge for his having embarked in the service of Spain; he therefore lost no time in putting to sea, anxious to get far from those islands, and out of the track of navigation, trembling lest something might occur to defeat his expedition, commenced under such inauspicious circumstances.


CHAPTER II.
CONTINUATION OF THE VOYAGE—FIRST NOTICE OF THE VARIATION
OF THE NEEDLE.

[ 1492.]

Early in the morning of the 6th of September Columbus set sail from the island of Gomera, and now might be said first to strike into the region of discovery; taking leave of these frontier islands of the Old World, and steering westward for the unknown parts of the Atlantic. For three days, however, a profound calm kept the vessels loitering with flagging sails, within a short distance of the land. This was a tantalizing delay to Columbus, who was impatient to find himself far out of sight of either land or sail; which, in the pure atmospheres of them latitudes, may be descried at an immense distance. On the following Sunday, the 9th of September, at daybreak, he beheld Ferro, the last of the Canary Islands, about nine leagues distant. This was the island whence the Portuguese caravels had been seen; he was therefore in the very neighborhood of danger. Fortunately, a breeze sprang up with the sun, their sails were once more filled, and in the course of the day the heights of Ferro gradually faded from the horizon.

On losing sight of this last trace of land, the hearts of the

-93-

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