Comic History of the United States - Bill Nye

The Discovery of America

[Illustration] from Comic History of the U.S.A. by Bill Nye

It was a beautiful evening at the close of a warm, luscious day in old Spain. It was such an evening as one would select for trysting purposes. The honeysuckle gave out the sweet announcement of its arrival on the summer breeze, and the bulbul sang in the dark vistas of olive-trees,—sang of his love and his hope, and of the victory he anticipated in the morrow's bulbul-fight, and the plaudits of the royal couple who would be there. The pink west paled away to the touch of twilight, and the soft zenith was sown with stars coming like celestial fire-flies on the breast of a mighty meadow.

Across the dusk, with bowed head, came a woman. Her air was one of proud humility. It was the air of royalty in the presence of an overruling power. It was Isabella. She was on her way to confession. She carried a large, beautifully-bound volume containing a memorandum of her sins for the day. Ever and anon she would refer to it, but the twilight had come on so fast that she could not read it.

[Illustration] from Comic History of the U.S.A. by Bill Nye


Reaching the confessional, she kneeled, and, by the aid of her notes, she told off to the good Father and receptacle of the queen's trifling sins, Fernando de Talavera, how wicked she had been. When it was over and the queen had risen to go, Fernando came forth, and with a solemn obeisance said,—

"May it please your Majesty, I have to-day received a letter from my good friend the prior of the Franciscan convent of St. Mary's of Rabida in Andalusia. With your Majesty's permission, I will read it to you."

"Proceed," exclaimed Isabella, gravely, taking a piece of crochet-work from her apron and seating herself comfortably near the dim light.

"It is dated the sixth month and tenth day of the month, and reads as follows:


"This letter will be conveyed unto your hands by the bearer hereof. His name is Christopher Columbus, a native of Genoa, who has been living on me for two years. But he is a good man, devout and honest. He is willing to work, but I have nothing to do in his line. Times, as you know, are dull, and in his own profession nothing seems to be doing.

"He is by profession a discoverer. He has been successful in the work where he has had opportunities, and there has been no complaint so far on the part of those who have employed him. Everything he has ever discovered has remained that way, so he is willing to let his work show for itself.

"Should you be able to bring this to the notice of her Majesty, who is tender of heart, I would be most glad; and should her most gracious Majesty have any discovering to be done, or should she contemplate a change or desire to substitute another in the place of the present discoverer, she will do well to consider the qualifications of my friend.

"Very sincerely and fraternally thine,

"Etc., etc."

The queen inquired still further regarding Columbus, and, taking the letter, asked Talavera to send him to the royal sitting-room at ten o'clock the following day.

When Columbus arose the next morning he found a note from the royal confessor, and, without waiting for breakfast, for he had almost overcome the habit of eating, he reversed his cuffs, and, taking a fresh handkerchief from his valise and putting it in his pocket so that the corners would coyly stick out a little, he was soon on his way to the palace. He carried also a small globe wrapped up in a newspaper.

The interview was encouraging until the matter of money necessary for the trip was touched upon. His Majesty was called in, and spoke sadly of the public surplus. He said that there were one hundred dollars still due on his own salary, and the palace had not been painted for eight years. He had taken orders on the store till he was tired of it. "Our meat bill," said he, taking off his crown and mashing a hornet on the wall, "is sixty days overdue. We owe the hired girl for three weeks; and how are we going to get funds enough to do any discovering, when you remember that we have got to pay for an extra session this fall for the purpose of making money plenty?"

[Illustration] from Comic History of the U.S.A. by Bill Nye


But Isabella came and sat by him in her winning way, and with the moistened corner of her handkerchief removed a spot of maple syrup from the ermine trimming of his reigning gown. She patted his hand, and, with her gentle voice, cheered him and told him that if he would economize and go without cigars or wine, in less than two hundred years he would have saved enough to fit Columbus out.

A few weeks later he had saved one hundred and fifty dollars in this way. The queen then went at twilight and pawned a large breastpin, and, although her chest was very sensitive to cold, she went without it all the following winter, in order that Columbus might discover America before immigration set in here.

Too much cannot be said of the heroism of Queen Isabella and the courage of her convictions. A man would have said, under such circumstances, that there would be no sense in discovering a place that was not popular. Why discover a place when it is so far out of the way? Why discover a country with no improvements? Why discover a country that is so far from the railroad? Why discover, at great expense, an entirely new country?

But Isabella did not stop to listen to these croaks. In the language of the Honorable Jeremiah M. Rusk, "She seen her duty and she done it." That was Isabella's style.

Columbus now began to select steamer-chairs and rugs. He had already secured the Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria, and on the 3d of August, 1492, he sailed from Palos.

Isabella brought him a large bunch of beautiful flowers as he was about to sail, and Ferdinand gave him a nice yachting-cap and a spicy French novel to read on the road.

He was given a commission as viceroy or governor of all the lands he might discover, with hunting and shooting privileges on same.

[Illustration] from Comic History of the U.S.A. by Bill Nye


He stopped several weeks at the Canary Islands, where he and his one hundred and twenty men rested and got fresh water. He then set out sailing due west over an unknown sea to blaze the way for liberty.

Soon, however, his men began to murmur. They began also to pick on Columbus and occupy his steamer-chair when he wanted to use it himself. They got to making chalk-marks on the deck and compelling him to pay a shilling before he could cross them. Some claimed that they were lost and that they had been sailing around for over a week in a circle, one man stating that he recognized a spot in the sea that they had passed eight times already.

Finally they mutinied, and started to throw the great navigator overboard, but he told them that if they would wait until the next morning he would tell them a highly amusing story that he heard just before he left Palos.

Thus his life was saved, for early in the morning the cry of "Land ho!" was heard, and America was discovered.

A saloon was at once started, and the first step thus taken towards the foundation of a republic. From that one little timid saloon, with its family entrance, has sprung the magnificent and majestic machine which, lubricated with spoils and driven by wind, gives to every American to-day the right to live under a Government selected for him by men who make that their business.

Columbus discovered America several times after the 12th of October, 1492, and finally, while prowling about looking for more islands, discovered South America near the mouth of the Orinoco.

He was succeeded as governor by Francisco de Bobadilla, who sent him back finally in chains. Thus we see that the great are not always happy. There is no doubt that millions of people every year avoid many discomforts by remaining in obscurity.

[Illustration] from Comic History of the U.S.A. by Bill Nye


The life of Columbus has been written by hundreds of men, both in this country and abroad, but the foregoing facts are distilled from this great biographical mass by skilful hands, and, like the succeeding pages, will stand for centuries unshaken by the bombardment of the critic, while succeeding years shall try them with frost and thaw, and the tide of time dash high against their massive front, only to recede, quelled and defeated.