F Heritage History | Voyages and Adventures of Vasco da Gama by George Towle

Voyages and Adventures of Vasco da Gama - George Towle




Adventures at Calicut

No sooner had Davane and Joan Nunez stepped upon the quay than they were surrounded by so eager a crowd, anxious to see Joan Nunez (for rarely had these natives seen a white man), that they were almost smothered, and could scarcely push their way through the mass of natives. Joan had to keep a tight hold on Davane's cloak, so as not to be separated from him. Davane, hurrying along, made his way as best he could to the Gozil's house. This great man received them warmly, and gave them free permission to ramble through the city; and, having heard how rudely they bad been jostled by the people, he sent one of his servants with them to keep a clear passage.

As they passed along the street, some of the Arab merchants saw them. These hastened to persuade the Gozil to detain Joan and Davane in the city over night, so that they might be questioned, and something might be learned from them which the Arabs could use against the Portuguese. This the Gozil, remembering the presents of the Arabs, promised to do.

Joan and Davane were walking leisurely through a long street, gazing at the low shops and bazaars, with their curious wares of ivory and fruit, when suddenly a man came up to them, and, looking hard at Joan, to his great amazement addressed him in Spanish.

"Devil take you!" said the man abruptly. "What brought you here?"

"This salutation did not seem very polite; but, in reality, it was the customary form of welcome. The man immediately showed that he did not mean an insult by continuing,—

"Brother, God preserve you!"

Joan, who knew Spanish well, was so much surprised and rejoiced to hear its familiar tones, that at first he did not reply. Then, recovering himself, he said,—

"God give you health, sir!"

The man asked him where he was going.

"We are going," replied Joan, "to sleep at the Gozil's house."

"I pray yon do not," responded the man who spoke Spanish, "but come along with me to my house. It will give me joy to have you go there and sleep, and eat as much as you choose."

But the Gozil's servant would not permit them to go until his master's consent had been obtained. The Gozil, when appealed to, readily granted their request; and, when they reached the man's house, he made them merry with a bounteous supper.

He asked Joan where the ships were from, and all about their adventures; and then told him that he himself was a native of Seville, in Spain. He went on to say, that, when a small boy, he had been taken prisoner, and, brought to Asia, by some Moors; and that, on regaining his liberty, he had wandered about a great deal, at last finding a home in Calicut. In order to save his life he had pretended to become a Mohammedan, and had adopted the customs of a Moor; but at heart, he said, he was still a Christian.

Joan begged his host to go with him next morning to the ships, where he would be sure of a hearty welcome from Vasco da Gama. The man, whose name was Monsayde, readily accepted the convict's invitation; and early in the morning, having taken leave of the Gozil (for Vasco da Gama had strictly enjoined upon Davane to omit no ceremony of politeness), the three went out in a boat to the San Raphael.

As soon as Monsayde found himself on deck, he ran up to Vasco and Paulo da Gama, who were seated on the quarter-deck, and, making a profound bow, exclaimed in Spanish,—

"Good luck, sirs! good luck! Many rubies, many Emeralds! You are bound to thank God for bringing you to this port; for here there is plenty of all sorts of spices, precious stones, and other riches."

Vasco's surprise at hearing him speak Spanish was as great as that of Joan had been; while the sailors and crossbow-men, who had gathered around, were so much affected at hearing the familiar tongue of their neighbors, the Spaniards, that some of them fairly wept for joy.

"Honored Castilian," said Vasco in welcome, "God give you health!" Before long, Monsayde was on the best possible terms with the captain and the Portuguese. Vasco made him sit on a stool by his side, and tell how he came to be in this remote country; and, dinner-time having arrived, invited him to dine, which he did, sitting at a table with Joan Nunez, while the captains ate at another near by.

Then Vasco da Gama told Monsayde about the voyage, and the objects for which he had come, and asked if he thought the Zamorin would prove friendly to him.

Monsayde listened as if he had something on his mind: he seemed troubled, and twitched about nervously on his seat. At last he broke out, speaking as if with an effort, and said,—

"Listen to me, captain; for I have something to confess. When I came on board this ship, I had it in my heart to betray you. I came as a spy for the Arabs; your enemies, and was going to reveal to them all that I heard and saw. But you have treated me so kindly, and God so smites me in my conscience, that I will truly be your faithful and devoted friend."

He went on to tell Vasco how the Arab merchants, jealous of the Portuguese, and fearful lest the arrival of the ships boded no good to their trade, had conspired to have the ships sent away; that they had bribed the Gozil and treasurer to aid them by setting the Zamorin against the Portuguese; and that they had promised Monsayde himself handsome gifts if he would come and pretend friendship for the strangers, make himself acquainted with their affairs, and betray them to the Arabs.

"It was with this bad purpose," Monsayde went on, "that I invited your men to my house, and that I came on board this ship. But now I pray you, captain, command me what to do, and you shall see that I am not false to you; though it is reasonable that you should not trust me, since I appear to you in the guise of a Moor among Moors."

Vasco da Gama, however, accepted his proffer of service, and, presenting him with some green cloth, told him that his reward would be much greater if he proved trustworthy.

It was then arranged that Monsayde should pretend to betray the Portuguese to the Moors; and, for this purpose, Vasco feigned to forbid him to come to the ships again, and sent him on shore.

Vasco da Gama, having considered what Monsayde had said, announced to Paulo and Coello, that, if the Zamorin invited him to visit him, he should boldly go and intrust himself in his hands. Against this the other captains warmly protested, and asked Vasco what would become of them if he should meet with foul play. They begged him to send some one else, who might represent that he was the captain, and so make terms with the Zamorin.

But Vasco da Gama replied,—

"My brother and my friend, when I embarked on this voyage, I gave up my life and soul to bring it, if God mercifully pleased, to a successful end. And I tell you, that if I were now back within the bar of Lisbon, having failed, I would take my life with my own hands rather than appear discomfited before the king. So, you see, I value my life little; and I should be despicable indeed if I were to put a man in my place to do that which I myself ought to do. I shall go on shore, fearing nothing, but trusting in God. And if, my brother, any disaster befall me, I pray you to go on, and fill these ships with cargoes; or, at least, to return to Portugal, and tell the king what has happened. If the weather is foul, then do you go along the coast, and get such drugs as you can find; but seize nothing forcibly, else the saying of the Arabs, that we are robbers, will become true."

Paulo seeing that his valiant brother would not be turned from his purpose, promised that, in case Vasco met with disaster, he would in all things follow his commands.

But the Zamorin, who was all the time being worked upon by the jealous Arabs, was not yet ready to receive the captain. Accordingly, he sent a message, that Vasco should despatch to him some one in whom he had confidence, to explain what the Portuguese wanted, and in what way they desired to make peace. Whereupon Vasco lost no time in confiding this task to his trusty friend Nicolas Coello, joining on him to tell the Zamorin that what the Portuguese wished was liberty to trade freely, and on equal terms with others, in Calicut; that they desired to go on shore, and buy and sell goods, without being molested, and to be provided with boats for carrying the goods to and fro.

He further ordered Coello to tell the Zamorin, that if these privileges were granted, and hostages were sent on board, the captain himself would go on shore and conclude a peace with him.

Coello, arrayed in a handsome suit, and attended by twelve sturdy Portuguese, proceeded in boats to the town, and was soon conducted with much ceremony to the palace. At the palace-gate he saw a number of seats made of mounds of earth, ranged around; and on one of these, which was covered with a mat, sat the Gozil, waiting to receive him; while just behind was a body of native soldiers, or Nairs, who formed the Gozil's body-guard.

It was now after sundown; and, while Coello was waiting somewhat impatiently to see the Zamorin, a message came from him that he was busy, and could not receive Coello till the next morning.

This made Coello angry, and at first he insisted on returning to the ships that night; but he was at last persuaded by the Gozil to remain in the town, at the house of a Christian, over night. At this house Coello was well entertained; for they feasted him on rice, chickens, and figs, and gave him and his comrades large, comfortable mats upon which to sleep.

Just before retiring, Coello happened to step outside the door a moment, when, to his surprise, he found the Spaniard Monsayde lurking in the shadow of the house. Monsayde put his finger on his lips, as if to warn the other not to speak aloud; and, drawing him aside, whispered,—

I have been on the watch ever since you came ashore, and have been hiding here to get a chance to speak to you. They are trying to make you lose your temper, and rouse your anger, by delaying your interview with the Zamorin. So you must dissemble, and take every thing leisurely, and pretend you are in no hurry at all. If you get angry, they will take advantage of it to quarrel with you."

So saying, the faithful Monsayde crept away into the darkness. The next morning Coello took every thing easily, and appeared to care little how long the Zamorin made him wait. On being escorted to the palace, he was met by the treasurer, who told him that the Zamorin was unwell, and that he would receive the message Coello had to deliver; but Coello refused to deliver it to anyone but the monarch himself.

Finding the Portuguese obstinate, the Zamorin at last ordered that he should be ushered into his presence. Coello found him in a small, dimly-lit chamber, seated on a low lounge, on which was spread a white cloth. Near him stood a Brahmin, or native priest.

Coello observed the Zamorin with much curiosity. He was a tall man, and very dark,—much darker than most of his subjects. His broad breast and shoulders were quite bare, neither did he wear any garment whatever above the waist. From the waist to the knees he was covered with a sort of white skirt. But, if his garments were plain, the jewels that he wore fairly dazzled Coello's eyes with their brilliancy. On one arm, above the elbow, he had a bracelet set with enormous rubies: from this hung a pendant, in which shone a very large, glittering diamond. Around his neck was a necklace of pearls as large as hazel-nuts, and also a gold chain set with pearls and rubies. The Zamorin's hair, which was long and very black, was gathered in a knot on the top of his bead, and around this knot was a string of pearls; while from his ears hung two enormous gold rings.

Coello bowed low to the Zamorin, and then stood in silence. The priest asked Davane, who was by, why he did not speak; to which Davane replied that be could not speak until the Zamorin commanded it.

Then the Zamorin told him to give his message, which he did through the priest and Davane, who acted as interpreters.

Coello was then dismissed, and told to wait outside the palace-gate for the Zamorin's reply. Ere long the Brahmin priest came out, holding a dry palm-leaf, on which Coello observed some rude marks and strokes. The priest solemnly took a string, which he wore round his neck, between his thumbs, and in this posture swore that the Zamorin had put his signature upon the leaf, which proved to be a decree granting the Portuguese the right to trade in Calicut as they desired.

Davane whispered to Coello to take the leaf as if it were a very sacred thing, make a low bow, kiss the leaf, place it on his head, and then in his bosom; all of which Coello did with a very sober face.

It was now time to return to the San Raphael. As Coello was making his way to the shore, the Castilian Monsayde glided up to him in the crowd, slipped a paper into his hand, and hastened off without a word. On it was written some words in Spanish, to the effect that the captain should accept the royal decree, send some merchandise ashore to exchange for other goods every day, and appoint a factor, or trading-agent, to remain on land, and take charge of the sales and purchases.

Coello's return, and the result of his errand to the Zamorin, gave Vasco da Gama profound satisfaction; and so well pleased was he, that he ordered the flags to be run up the masts, the trumpets to be sounded, and the guns to be fired off; the discharge of the latter causing much commotion among the people on shore.

Vasco da Gama lost no time in availing himself of the Zamorin's permission to trade, and in taking the advice secretly sent to him by the worthy Monsayde.

He selected a shrewd man, named Diego Diaz, who had been employed in King Manuel's household, as factor to conduct the trade with the people of Calicut; and ordered Nunez, Davane, and the Melinda pilot, to accompany him on land, select a good store, and begin business.

Anxious to propitiate the Zamorin in all things, Vasco said to Diaz as he was going away,—

"Do not seek to obtain more goods than are willingly offered you. See to it that you pay cheerfully whatever is asked, as if you were making a good bargain; and do not try to cheapen the goods. Appear to be well pleased and satisfied with every thing."

Having received this cautious advice, Diaz and the others went ashore. The Zamorin's treasurer, who, though bribed by the Arabs, was afraid to show hostility to the Portuguese lest he should arouse the Zamorin's anger, had already procured them a large warehouse with two spacious rooms on the quay, and had provided it with benches. Here Diaz and his companions took up their quarters, and prepared to begin trading. Vasco sent on shore a chest of coral, another of vermilion, a barrel of quicksilver, a quantity of copper, some amber, and money; and, to furnish the warehouse, a table covered with green cloth, and a wooden balance and weights for measuring. He also despatched a clerk to aid Diaz in keeping his accounts.

A large crowd of natives soon surrounded the warehouse; and it was with difficulty that they were kept from crowding in. The Gozil and treasurer went ill and settled with Diaz the prices of the drugs which he wished to purchase. The prices of the goods which the ships had brought, and which were to be exchanged, were also agreed upon.

Then a lively scene in front of the warehouse. Huge bags of pepper and other spices and drugs were brought, weighed, and put on board the skiffs waiting at the quay, which carried them out to the San Raphael  and San Gabriel. Meanwhile, lines of swarthy natives were busy carrying into the town the coral and vermilion which Diaz had exchanged for the spices. Diaz took care always to give a little more than full weight, so that the Zamorin's officers should have no cause of complaint. He did not forget to slip some presents into their hands; and presented each of them with a handsome red cap and a fine steel knife, with which they were delighted.

The next day Vasco da Gama sent more goods and money on shore, and the trade went on at the warehouse more briskly than ever. The Zamorin, finding that the Portuguese lavish, and paid high prices for the drugs, was eager to keep the trade going, and told his officers to offer Diaz all the kinds of goods there were in the city; and Diaz bought a variety of articles, among others some planks and rafters, some ginger, cinnamon, and provisions.

On board the ships the men were busy receiving and storing away the cargoes. It was necessary to stow the pepper at the bottom of the hold; and the rafters and planks were used for making compartments, so that the goods might be stowed separately. These compartments were pitched so as to make them tight, and lined with heavy matting.

The treasurer, finding that Diaz took whatever was offered him, and paid well for it, brought some old and worthless cinnamon; and this, too, Diaz took and paid for, though he saw it was bad; thus obeying Vasco da Gama's command.

As this lively trade went on, the Arab merchants became more and more jealous of the new-comers, and redoubled their efforts to poison the Zamorin's mind against them. This was not easy to do, as the Zamorin, who was greedy of riches, was delighted with the gains he was making from the Portuguese.

The Arabs at last persuaded the Gozil to go to the Zamorin and tell him that it was evident the Portuguese had not come to trade, since they bought every thing, good and bad, that was offered to them, and paid foolishly high prices for worthless goods; but that they pretended be merchants, so as to spy out the state of things at Calicut, and to come afterwards as marauders. They also begged him to advise the Zamorin to summon the captain, and receive his embassy, before permitting the trade to go on.

The Zamorin, covetous as he was, was struck by what the Gozil, prompted by the Arabs, said. Besides, he heard that Vasco da Gama had some rich presents for him, which he was going to bring when he came ashore; and the Zamorin was eager to obtain them.

So it was resolved that Vasco da Gama should be summoned to deliver his messages from the King of Portugal in person at the palace.