their own, and those who solicited the redress of imaginary
wrongs. The antechambers were thr.onged, and the dif
ferent individuals in waiting jealously eyed each other, as
if to inquire how far their neighbours would be likely to
thwart their several views or to advance their wishes. Men
bowed, in general, coldly and with distrust ; and the few
that did directly pass their greetings, met with the elabo
rated civility that commonly characterizes the intercourse
While curiosity was active in guessing at the business
of the different individuals present, and whispers, nods,
shrugs of the shoulders, and meaning glances, passed
among the old stagers, as they communicated to each other
the little they knew, or thought they knew, on different
subjects, there stood in the corner of the principal apart
ment, one, in particular, who might be distinguished from
all around him, by his stature, the gravity and dignity of
his air, and the peculiar sort of notice that he attracted.
MERCEDES OF CASTILE. 101
Few approached him, and they that did, as they turned
their backs, cast those glances of self-sufficiency and ridi
cule about them, that characterize the vulgar-minded when
they fancy that they are deriding or sneering in consonance
with popular opinion. This was Columbus, who was very
generally regarded by the multitude as a visionary schemer,
and who necessarily shared in that sort of contemptuous
obloquy that attaches itself to the character. But even the
wit and jokes of the crowd had been expended upon this
subject, and the patience of those who danced attendance
was getting to be exhausted, when a little stir at the door
announced the approach of some new courtier. The man
ner in which the throng quickly gave way, denoted the pre
sence of some one of high rank, and 'presently Don Luis
de Bobadilla stood in the centre of the room.
"It is the nephew of Her Highness's favourite," whis
"A noble of one of the most illustrious families of Cas
tile," said another ; "but a fitting associate of this Colon, as
neither the authority of his guardians, the wishes of the
queen, nor his high station, can keep him from the life of
" One of the best lances in Spain, if he had the prudence
and wisdom to turn his skill to profit," observed a third.
" That is the youthful knight who hath so well deported
himself in this last campaign," growled an inferior officer
of the infantry, "and who unhorsed Don Alonso de Ojeda
in the tourney ; but his lance is as unsteady in its aim, as
it is good in the rest. They tell me he is a rover,"
As if purposely to justify this character, Luis looked
about him anxiously a moment, and then ' made his way
directly to the* side of Colon. The smiles, nods, shrugs,
and half-suppressed whispers that followed, betrayed the
common feeling ; but a door on the side' of the closet open
ing, all eyes were immediately bent in that direction, and
the little interruption just mentioned was as soon forgotten.
" I greet you, Senor," said Luis, bowing respectfully to
Columbus. " Since our discourse of last evening I have
thought of little besides its subject, and have come hither
to renew it."
That Columbus was pleased by this homage, appeared in
102 MERCEDES OF CASTILE.
his eye, his smile, and the manner in which he raised his
body, as if full of the grandeur of his own designs ; but
he was compelled to defer the pleasure that it always gave
him to dilate on his enterprise.
" I am commanded hither, noble Senor," he answered,
cordially, " by the holy Archbishop of Granada, who, it
seemeth, hath it in charge from their Highnesses, to bring
my affair to a speedy issue, and who hath named this very
morning for that purpose. We touch upon the verge of
great events : the day is not distant, when this conquest of
Granada will be forgotten, in the greater importance of the
mighty things that God hath held in reserve !"
" By San Pedro, my new patron ! I do believe you, Se
nor. Cathay must lie at or near the spot you have named,
and your own eyes shall not see it, and its gorgeous stores
of wealth, sooner than mine. Remember Pedro de Munos,
I pray you, Senor Colon."
" He shall not be forgotten, I promise you, young lord ;
and all the great deeds of your ancestors will be eclipsed
by the glory achieved by their son. But I hear my name
called ; we will talk of this anon."
" El Senor Christoval Colon !" was called by one of the
pages, in a loud authoritative voice, and the navigator hur
ried forward, buoyed up with hope and joy.
The manner in which one so generally regarded with in
difference, if not with contempt, had been selected from all
that crowd of courtiers, excited some surprise ; but as the
ordinary business of the antechamber went on, and the
subordinates of office soon appeared in the rooms, to hear
solicitations and answer questions, the affair was quickly
forgotten. Luis withdrew disappointed, for he had hoped
to enjoy another long discourse with Columb'us, on a sub
ject which, as it was connected with his dearest hopes, now
occupied most of his thoughts. We shall leave him, how
ever, and all in the antechambers, to follow the great navi
gator farther into the depths of the palace.
Fernando de Talavera had not been unmindful of his
orders. Instead, however, of associating with this prelate,
men known to be well disposed to listen to the propositions
of Columbus, the king and queen had made the mistake of
choosing some six or eight of their courtiers, persons of
MLKCEDES Of CASTILE. 103
probity and of good general characters, but who were too
little accustomed to learned research, properly to appreciate
the magnitude of the proposed discoveries. Into the pre
sence of these distinguished nobles and churchmen was
Columbus now ushered, and among them is the reader to
suppose him seated. We pass over the customary ceremo
nies of the introduction, and proceed at once to the material
part of the narrative. The Archbishop of Granada was
the principal speaker on the part of the commissioners.
" We understand, Senor Colon," continued the prelate,
" should you be favoured by their Highnesses' power and
authority, that you propose to undertake a voyage into the
unknown Atlantic, in quest of the land of Cathay and the
celebrated island of Cipango?"
"That is my design, holy and illustrious prelate. The
matter hath been so often up between the agents of the two
sovereigns and myself, that there is little occasion to en
large on my views."
" These were fully discussed at Salamanca, of a verity,
where many learned churchmen were of your way of
thinking, Senor, though more were against it. Our Lord
the King, and our Lady the Queen, however, are disposed
to view the matter favourably, and this commission hath
been commanded that we might arrange all previous prin
ciples, and determine the rights of the respective parties.
What force in vessels and equipments do you demand, in
order to achieve the great objects you expect, under the
blessing of God, to accomplish ?"
" You have well spoken, Lord Archbishop ; it will be by
the blessing of God, and under his especial care, that all
will be done, for his glory and worship are involved in the
success. With so good an ally of my side, little worldly
means will be necessary. Two caravels of light burthen
are all I ask, with the flag of the sovereigns, and a suffi
ciency of mariners."
The commissioners turned towards each other in sur
prise, and while some saw in the moderate request the en
thusiastic heedlessness of a visionary, others detected the
steady reliance of faith.
" That is not asking much, truly," observed the prelate,
who was among the first ; " and, though these wars have
104 MERCEDES OF CASTILE.
left us of Castile with an exhausted treasury, we could
compass that little without the aid of a miracle. The ca
ravels might be found, and the mariners levied, but there
are weighty points to determine before we reach that con
cession. You expect, Senor, to be intrusted with the com
mand of the expedition, in your own person?"
" Without that confidence I could not be answerable for
success. I ask the full and complete authority of an ad
miral, or a sea-commander, of their Highnesses. The force
employed will be trifling in appearance, but the risks will
be great, and the power of the two crowns must completely
sustain that of him on whose shoulders will rest the entire
weight of the responsibility."
" This is but just, and none will gainsay it. But, Senor,
have you thought maturely on the advantages that are to
accrue to the sovereigns, should they sustain you in this
" Lord Archbishop, for eighteen years hath this subject
occupied my thoughts, and employed my studies, both by
day and by night. In the whole of that long period have
I done little that hath not had a direct bearing on the suc
cess of this mighty enterprise. The advantages to all
concerned, that will flow from it, have, therefore, scarce
" Name them, Senor."
"First, then, as is due to his all-seeing and omnipotent
protection, glory will be given to the Almighty, by the
spreading of his church and the increase of his worship
pers." Fernando de Talavera and all the churchmen pre
sent piously crossed themselves, an act in which Columbus
himself joined. " Their Highnesses, as is meet, will reap
the next advantages, in the extension of their empire and
in the increase of their subjects. Wealth will flow in upon
Castile and Aragon, in a rapid stream, His Holiness freely
granting to Christian monarchs the thrones and territo
ries of all infidel princes whose possessions may be dis
covered, or people converted to the faith, through their
" This is plausible, Senor," returned the prelate, " and
founded on just principles. His Holiness certainly is in
trusted with that power, and hath been known to use it, for
MERCEDES OF (JASTILE. 105
the glory of God. You doubtless know, Senor Colon, that
Don John of Portugal hath paid great attention to these
matters already, and that he and his predecessors have
probably pushed discovery to the verge of its final limits.
His enterprise hath also obtained from Rome certain pri
vileges that may not be meddled with."
" I am not ignorant of the Portuguese enterprise, holy
prelate, nor of the spirit with which Don John hath exer
cised his power. His vessels voyage along the western
shore of Africa, and in a direction altogether different from
that I propose to take. My purpose is to launch forth, at
once, into the broad Atlantic, and by following the sun to-
\vards his place of evening retirement, reach the eastern
bounds of the Indies, by a road that will lessen the journey
Although the archbishop, and most of his coadjutors,
belonged to the numerous class of those who regarded Co
lumbus as a brain-heated visionary, the earnest, but lofty
dignity, with which he thus simply touched upon his pro
jects ; the manner in which he quietly smoothed down his
white locks, when he had spoken ; and the enthusiasm that
never failed to kindle in his eye, as he dwelt on his noble
designs, produced a deep impression on all present, and
there was a moment when the general feeling was to aid
him to the extent of the common means. It was a singular
and peculiar proof of the existence of this transient feeling
that one of the commissioners immediately inquired
" Do you propose, Senor Colon, to seek the court of
" I know not, noble Senor, that such a potentate hath
even an existence," answered Columbus, whose notions had
got the fixed and philosophical bias that is derived from
science, and who entered little into the popular fallacies of
the day, though necessarily subject to much of the igno
rance of the age ; " I find nothing to establish the truth of
there being such a monarch at all, or such territories."
This admission did not help the navigator's cause ; for
to affirm that the earth was a sphere, and that Prestor John
was a creature of the imagination, was abandoning the
marvellous to fall back on demonstration and probabilities ;
106 MERCEDES OF CASTILE.
a course that the human mind, in its uncultivated condition,
is not fond of taking.
"There are men who will be willing to put faith in the
truth of Prestor John's power and territories," interrupted
one of the commissioners, who was indebted to his present
situation purely to King Ferdinand's policy, " who will
flatly deny that the earth is round ; since we all know that
there are kings, and territories, and Christians, while we
all see that the earth and the ocean are plains."
This opinion was received with an assenting smile by
most present, though Fernando de Talavera had doubts of
" Senor," answered Columbus, mildly, " if all, in this
world, was in truth what it seemeth, confessions would be
little needed, and penance would be much lighter."
" I esteem you a good Christian, Senor Colon," observed
the archbishop, sharply.
"I am such as the grace of God, and a weak nature
have made me, Lord Archbishop ; though I humbly trust
that when I shall have achieved this great end, that I may
be deemed more worthy of the divine protection, as well as
of the divine favour."
" It hath been said that thou deemest thyself especially
set apart by Providence for this work."
"I feel that within me, holy prelate, that encourageth
such a hope; but I build nought on mysteries that exceed
It would be difficult to say whether Columbus lost or
gained in the opinions of his auditors, by this~answer. The
religious feeling of the age was in perfect consonance with
the sentiment ; but to the churchmen present it seemed ar
rogant in a humble and unknown layman, even to believe
it possible that he could be the chosen vessel, when sO many
who appeared to havo- higher claims were rejected. Still,
no expression of this feeling was permitted, for it was then
as it is now, he who seemed to rely on the power of God
carrying with him a weight and an influence that ordinarily
" You propose to endeavour to reach Cathay, by means
of sailing forth into the broad Atlantic," resumed the arch-
bishop, " and yet you deny the existence of Prestor John !"
MERCEDES OF CASTILE. 107
" Your pardon, holy prelate I do propose to reach Ca
thay and Cipango in the mode you mention, but I do not
absolutely deny the existence of the monarch you have
named. For the probability of the success of my enter
prise, I have already produced my proofs a,id reasons,
which have satisfied many learned churchmen ; but evi
dence is wanting to establish the last."
"And yet Giovanni di Montecorvino, a pious bishop of
our holy church, is said to have converted such a prince to
the true faith, nearly two centuries since."
" The power of God can do any thing, Lord Archbishop,
and I am not one to question the merits of his chosen
ministers. All I can answer to this point, is, to say that I
find no scientific or plausible reasons to justify me in pur
suing what may prove to be as deceptive as the light which
recedes before the hand that would touch it. As for Cathay
and its position and its wonders, we have the better estab
lished evidence of the renowned Venetians, Marco and
Nicolo Polo, who not only travelled in those territories, but
sojourned years at the court of their monarch. But, noble
gentlemen, whether there is a Prestor John, or a Cathay,
there is certainly a limit to the western side of the Atlantic,
and that limit I am ready to seek."
The archbishop betrayed his incredulity, in the upward
turn of his eyes ; but having his commands from those
who were accustomed to be obeyed, and knowing that
the theory of Columbus had been gravely heard and re
ported on, years before, at Salamanca, he determined pru
dently to keep within his proper sphere, and to proceed at
once to that into which it was his duty to inquire.
" You have set forth the advantages that you think may
be derived to the sovereigns, should your project succeed,
Senor," he said, " and truly they are not light, if all your
brilliant hopes may be realized ; but it now remaineth to
know what conditions you reserve for yourself, as the re
ward of all your risks and many years of anxious labour."
"All that hath been duly considered, illustrious arch
bishop, and you will find the substance of my wishes set
forth in this paper, though many of the smaller provisions
will remain to be enumerated."
As Columbus spoke, he handed the paper in question to
108 MERCEDES OP CASTILE.
Ferdinand of Talavera. The prelate ran his eyes over it
hastily at first, but a second time with more deliberation,
and it would be difficult to say whether ridicule, or indig
nation, was most strongly expressed in his countenance, as
he deridingiy threw the document on a table. When this
act of contempt was performed, he turned towards Colum
bus, as if to satisfy himself that the navigator was not mad.
"Art thou serious in demanding these terms, Seiior?" he
asked sternly, and with a look that would have caused
most men, in the humble station of the applicant, to swerve
from their purpose.
" Lord Archbishop," answered Columbus, with a dignity
that was not easily disturbed, " this matter hath now occu
pied my mind quite eighteen years. During the whole of
this long period I have thought seriously of little else, and
it may be said to have engaged my mind sleeping and
waking. I saw the truth early and intensely, but every
day seems to bring it brighter and brighter before my eyes.
I feel a reliance on success, that cometh from dependence
on God. I think myself an agent chosen for the accom
plishment of great ends, and ends that will not be decided
by the success of this one enterprise. There is more be
yond, and I must retain the dignity and the means neces
sary to accomplish it. I cannot abate, in the smallest
degree, the nature or the amount of these conditions."
Although the manner in which these words were uttered
lent them weight, the prelate fancied that the mind of the
navigator had got to be unsettled by his long contemplation
of a single subject. The only things that left any doubt
concerning the accuracy of this opinion, were the method
and science with which he had often maintained, even in
his own presence, the reasonableness of his geographical
suppositions ; arguments which, though they had failed to
convince one bent on believing the projector a visionary,
had nevertheless greatly puzzled the listener. Still, the de
mands he had just read, seemed so extravagant, that, for a
single instant, a sentiment of pity repressed the burst of
indignation to which he felt disposed to give vent.
" How like ye, noble lords," he cried, sarcastically, turn
ing to two or three of his fellow-commissioners who had
eagerly seized the paper and were endeavouring to read it,
MERCEDES OF CASTILE. 109
all at the same moment, " the moderate and modest de
mands of the Senor Christoval Colon, the celebrated navi
gator who confounded the Council of Salamanca ! Are
they not such as it becometh their Highnesses to accept on
bended knees, and with many thanks ?"
" Read them, Lord Archbishop," exclaimed several in a
breath ; " let us first know their nature."
" There are many minor conditions that might be granted
as unworthy of discussion," resumed the prelate, taking the
paper ; " but here are two that must give the sovereigns
infinite satisfaction. The Senor Colon actually satisfieth
himself with the rank of 1 " Admiral and Viceroy over all the
countries he may discover ; and as for gains, one-tenth
the church's share, my reverend brethren yea, even one-
tenth, one humble tenth of the proceeds and customs will
content him !"
The general murmur that passed among the commis
sioners, denoted a common dissatisfaction, and at that in
stant Columbus had not a true supporter in the room.
" Nor is this all, illustrious nobles, and holy priests,"
continued the archbishop, following up his advantage as
soon as he believed his auditors ready to hear him " nor
is this all; lest these high dignities should weary their
Highnesses' shoulders, and those of their royal progeny,
the liberal Genoese actually consenteth to transmit them to
his own posterity, in all time to come ; converting the king
dom of Cathay into a realm for the uses of the house of
Colon, to maintain the dignity of which, the tenth of all the
benefits are to be consigned to its especial care !"
There would have been an open laugh at this sally, had
not the noble bearing of Columbus checked its indulgence ;
and even Ferdinand of Talavera, under the stern rebuke
of an eye and mien that carried with them a grave au
thority, began to think he had gone too far.
" Your pardon, Senor Colon," he immediately and more
courteously added ; " but your conditions sounded so lofty
that they have quite taken me by surprise. You cannot
seriously mean to maintain them ?"
" Not one jot will I abate, Lord Priest : that much will
be my due, and he that consenteth to less than he deserveth,
becometh an instrument of his own humiliation. I shall
VOL. I. 10
112 MERCEDES OF CASTILE-
being a term too lofty for such a craving. Reflect, Seiiora,
on the full nature of these demands. This Colon requireth to
be established, for ever, in the high state of a substitute for
a king, not only for his own person, but for those of his
descendants throughout all time, with the title and authority
of Admiral over all adjacent seas, should he discover any
of the lands he so much exalts, before he will consent to
enter into the command of certain of Your Highnesses' ves
sels, a station of itself only top honourable for one of so
little note! Should his most extravagant pretensions be
realized and the probabilities are that they will entirely
fail his demands would exceed his services ; whereas, in
the case of failure, the Castilian and Aragonese names
would be covered with ridicule, and a sore disrespect would
befal the royal dignity for having been thus duped by an
adventurer. Much of the glory of this late conquest would
be tarnished, by a mistake so unfortunate."
" Daughter-Marchioness," observed the queen, turning
towards the faithful and long-tried friend who was occupied
with her needle near her own side " these conditions of
Colon do, truly, seem to exceed the bounds of reason."
" The enterprise also exceedeth all the usual bounds of
risks and adventures, Seiiora," was the steady reply of
Dona Beatriz, as she glanced towards the countenance of
Mercedes. " Noble efforts deserve noble rewards."
The eye of Isabella followed the glance of her friend,
and it remained fixed for some time on the pale anxious
features of her favourite's ward. The beautiful girl her
self was unconscious of the attention she excited ; but one
who knew her secret might easily detect the intense feeling
with which she awaited the" issue. The opinions of her
confessor had seemed so reasonable, that Isabella was on
the point of assenting to the report of the commissioners,
and of abandoning altogether the secret hopes and expecta
tions she had begun to couple with the success of the navi
gator's schemes, when a gentler feeling, one that belonged
peculiarly to her own feminine heart, interposed to give the
mariner another chance. It is seldom that woman is dead
to the sympathies connected with the affections, and the
wishes that sprang from the love of Mercedes de Valverde
MERCEDES OF CASTILE. 113
were the active cause of the decision that the Queen of
Castile came to at that critical moment.
" We must be neither harsh nor hasty with this Genoese,
Lord Archbishop," she said, turning again to the prelate.
" He hath the virtues of devoutness and fair-dealing, and
these are qualities that sovereigns learn to prize. His de
mands no doubt have become somewhat exaggerated by
long brooding, in his thoughts, on a favourite and great
scheme ; but kind words and reason may yet lead him to
more moderation. Let him, then, be tried with propositions
of our own, and doubtless his necessities, if not a sense of
justice, will cause him to accept them. The viceroyalty
doth, indeed, exceed the usual policy of princes, and, as
you say, holy prelate, the tenth is the church's share ; but
the admiral's rank may be fairly claimed. Meet him, then,
with these moderated proposals, and substitute a fifteenth
for a tenth ; let him be a viceroy in his own person,
during the pleasure of Don Fernando and myself, but let
him relinquish the claim for his posterity."