Voyages and Adventures of Magellan - George Towle

Magellan Goes to Court

Not far from a quaint, picturesque old town in northern Portugal, called Villa Real, there lived, about the year 1500, a nobleman named Magellan. Although an "hidalgo," (nobleman) and descended from a proud and ancient family, Magellan was not rich; but kept up such state and show as he could afford, in the home of his ancestors, which was a curious-looking edifice, with a tower, massive walls, and battlements, and which became, in troublous times, a fortress, as well as a residence.

Here Magellan was wont to entertain the neighboring hidalgos, to receive such distinguished captains, nobles, or voyagers as wandered so far away from the capital, and to lord it over the peasants who tilled the fields and vineyards which stretched over the slopes of the not distant mountains, and along the fertile banks of the pretty stream that flowed between his estate and the town.

The pride of Magellan's heart was his son, Fernan; who, at the period that our story opens, was a vigorous young man of twenty. It was the custom of those days, as now, for the sons of European nobles to be brought up, not to any useful or hard-working occupation, but in ease and luxury; to be treated by their inferiors, even in earliest childhood, with ceremonious respect; and to devote themselves freely to vigorous sports, and such pleasures as their neighborhood or their opportunities afforded. There were but two callings which these young patricians usually thought worthy of their adoption. They were not too proud to become soldiers; and they were often glad to enter upon a political career, as courtiers or statesmen. At the time that Magellan lived, indeed, a third calling was espoused by many young men of high birth; that of following the sea as voyagers and discoverers. But this pursuit was nearly akin to that of a soldier. The voyager commanded his ships upon the ocean; but as soon as he had landed on a strange shore, he buckled on his armor, donned his helmet, drew his sword, and led his men against the inhabitants.

Although the elder Magellan was not rich, young Fernan had been reared amid surroundings of comfort, petted and humored by his fond father and equally doting mother, waited upon obsequiously by the retainers of the house, greeted with humble respect by the peasants and village-folk wherever he made his appearance, and enjoying, to the full, the rough pleasures which the wild country round afforded.

The broad valley where he dwelt was almost surrounded by lofty and savage mountains, clothed with vast, luxuriant forests; while the slopes that descended from it to the meadows along the river bank, were covered by thickly clustering vineyards, bearing the luscious purple grapes from which the famous port wine is made.

Perhaps the chief pastime of Fernan's boyhood and youth was the hunt. Among the mountains roamed the wild boar; the forests were, many of them, peopled with deer; while of smaller game there was an abundance; so that the sportsman need never despair of returning home with well-stocked game-bag, and often found his burden—a deer or a boar—too heavy to be carried without the aid of servants. It was Fernan's delight to follow his hounds, with a merry party of stalwart youths like himself, through the echoing mountain forests, and up the rugged banks of the sparkling river; to ride frantically in pursuit of the wild game, and come to close quarters with the fleet stags and tusk-gnashing boars; and to carry home in triumph the trophies of his day's sport.

Sometimes he encountered even more formidable foes than these; for the "Traz os Montes," near his home, were then infested by savage bands of brigands, who sought no richer prizes than the noble youths who ventured, in pursuit of game, too near their lairs. Fernan was as brave as a lion, and liked nothing better than a battle with the murderous robbers who now and then attacked him and his comrades. He had early learned the use of arms; and was a good swordsman, and a skillful shot. More than once he was brought in wounded from his struggles with the bandits; but he made light of his injuries, and had no sooner recovered than he plunged into the mountain wilds as fearlessly as before.

Not very many miles from the valley in which he dwelt, was Oporto, next to Lisbon the most important city in Portugal. It is from this city that "port" wine takes its name. Oporto is situated on the Atlantic, at the mouth of a wide river. It is a quaint old place, with narrow, zigzag streets, many ancient, lofty houses, adorned in the showy fashion of six or seven centuries ago, and possessing many noble churches and other public buildings. Its harbor is spacious, and to this day is picturesque with the ships of many nations.

In Fernan's time, Oporto was even a busier place than it now is. It was the resort of the nobility of all the country round, and its gaieties and dissipations were only less brilliant than those of Lisbon itself. The round of social pleasures was kept up there with much state and ceremony; while its trade, principally in wine, made the quays, and the region near them, very crowded and busy.

It was the custom of Fernan's father to spend, with his family, a portion of each year at Oporto; and there the young man had many a taste of the pleasures of city life. As he grew older, he became more and more fond of visiting the quays, and of taking sails in the harbor. He made the acquaintance of captains and sailors, and delighted to go on board the caravels and study their arrangements and rigging, and talk with the men about their adventures on the great deep. He would sit for hours in some dark cabin, and listen breathlessly to the tales of perilous voyages, of disastrous shipwrecks on strange coasts, and of desperate fights with savages. He heard with beating heart about the wonderful discoveries which were then being constantly made; about the exploits of Columbus, the heroic discovery of the way to India by his own countryman, Vasco da Gama, and the quick succeeding expeditions that now sailed between the old and the new world.

Of a bold, fearless, adventurous spirit, Fernan was soon seized with an intense passion for the sea. As he stood on the bustling quays of Oporto, and looked afar out where rolled the mighty waves of the Atlantic, he wished that he, too, was a captain, and longed to try his fortune in strange lands. The pastimes of his country home now seemed to him dull and paltry; he said to himself that he was wasting his life, and that, instead of hunting boars and fighting brigands, he might be discovering new lands and winning renown like that of Columbus and da Gama. Even the exciting pleasures of the city—the bull-fights and masquerades, the tournaments and routs, began to pall upon him, and he pined to go out into the world, and see more of men and countries.

One day, when he had been thinking more seriously than usual about his present life, and yearning to change it for a more stirring one, he sought his father in the hall of the house, where the bluff old noble sat, warming his heels before a blazing log-fire.

As he approached, Magellan observed that the young man's brows were knit, and that his face wore a serious and thoughtful expression.

"What troubles you, Fernan?" asked the hidalgo. For some time you have seemed distraught, as if something had happened to perplex you. Sit here by me, son, and open your heart to me."

Fernan did as he was bidden, and after a moment, said: "It is true, my father, that I am not content. I no longer enjoy those pastimes and pleasures that were once my delight. I thirst for adventure, for a stirring life by land and sea. You see, sir, I am now a man, I would go forth into the world, and try my fortune."

"And that shall you, if you please!" said the old man. "To be sure, Traz os Montes is but a dull place for one so brave and ambitious as you; and even Oporto is but a narrow field for your aspirations. You shall go to court, my lad, and seek the favor of our good King Manuel. It will be ill luck if he does not speedily find some exploit for you; I warrant me, a stalwart youth like you will find merit in his royal eyes."

Fernan sprang joyfully to his feet, and seized and kissed his father's hand. "You fill me with happiness, my father!" he exclaimed. "Nothing do I desire so much as to go to Lisbon, and see the splendors of the court, and take service with the king! Think you, sir, that he will receive me in his household? And may it be, that I shall be sent ere long, on some glorious expedition of conquest and discovery? I long to ride the stormy billows, to match my prowess with savage hosts, to win a name and power! When may I go—shall it be soon, my lord?"

"In what haste are you, Fernan, to leave home and kindred!" replied the old man, sorrowfully.

"But you have an impetuous soul, and mayhap nothing will content you but to go forth into the world. King Manuel knows me, and knows that he hath no more sturdy or loyal subject. I doubt not, he will receive you on my petition. Go, then; prepare with such haste as you please; and depart for Lisbon as soon as you are ready."

It was with light, brisk step that Fernan, after thanking his father with trembling voice for his goodness, left the hall, and repaired to his own room, in an upper story of the house. A glow of high spirits already suffused his face, but just now so long-drawn with discontent; and as he paced up and down the floor, with a multitude of feverishly happy thoughts rushing through his brain, his eyes kindled, and his fists clenched in his excitement. Now and then he broke out into some warlike ballad, or some sailor's song, that he had heard in the barracks, or on the caravels at Oporto; and then, becoming calmer, he would look around the room, to see what he could carry with him to the royal court.

There were many preparations to make before he could set out for Lisbon. In order to appear properly at court, a young nobleman must have several suits of rich attire. He must have tunics and trousers of velvet and silk, trimmed with gold and silver lace; he must have slashed caps, with high-nodding plumes; he must have a full suit of glistening armor, helmet, cuirass, buckler, and all; he must have an ample supply of silk stockings, of velvet shoes and slippers, and long top-boots; he must wear a sword, with chased and jeweled hilt and scabbard; he must be supplied with arquebuses and daggers and belts; and, not least, he must be provided with at least one high-mettled, thoroughbred steed, on which to prance and gallop at the state shows and processions. In providing himself with these things, Fernan now busied himself absorbingly during his waking hours. Tailors stitched away unceasingly on his fine new clothes; the hidalgo sent to a distance, and purchased a noble, milk-white horse, for there were none in his stables fit for so momentous a use; and ere many weeks Fernan found himself splendidly equipped for his journey to Lisbon.

One bright morning, there was a lively bristle in the courtyard of his father's mansion at Villa Real. The hidalgo himself, richly dressed, and surrounded by his wife, sons and daughters, stood on the broad steps that led from the door to the paved court, while the servants were gathered in groups below. Presently Fernan's white horse, with gay trappings, was brought out; and then Fernan himself appeared, very fine, in a brand new suit, with plumed cap, and a sword hanging at his side. With him were to go attendants, who soon cantered in the courtyard on their steeds.

The moment of parting came; and Fernan advancing to his parents, knelt to receive their blessing, and was fondly folded in their arms. He embraced in turn his brothers and sisters, waved an adieu to the retainers of the household who gathered to see him off; and, springing lightly upon his horse's back, rode forth, followed by his attendants, on his way to Lisbon.

It took several days to traverse the highways that led from Villa Real to the capital of the kingdom. Fernan's journey was, however, through a smiling and fruitful country, where the vineyards grew luxuriantly, and were just now laden with luscious ripe grapes of many colors. At night he put up at a wayside inn, where he occupied the best room the house afforded, and regaled himself right merrily on the ragouts and omelets which were served up to him smoking hot, with his wine and biscuits. Everywhere he was received with the honor due to his rank and his destined position at court; nor did any accident befall him until, on an Autumn afternoon, his eyes were gladdened by the sight of Lisbon in the distance.

On reaching the capital, and after taking quarters at a hotel which stood not far from the royal palace, Fernan lost no time in seeking an audience of King Manuel. This was easy enough to obtain. Among the young courtiers, Fernan found several old friends from his own part of the country; and they found no difficulty in introducing him to the royal presence.

King Manuel was still youthful, and carried himself with truly royal grace and dignity. His face was rather a stern one, but bore upon it the impress of a grave and thoughtful, rather than an ill-natured character. Ambitious, and eager to advance the glory and power of his realm, and to out-vie its rival, Spain, in the conquest and dominion of distant lands, he was an ardent student, and employed his time rather in serious affairs of state than in the frivolous gaieties of court life.

The monarch was seated in the great hall of his palace, surrounded by his courtiers and officers, when Fernan, arrayed in his most brilliant suit, was ushered into his presence.

The son of the hidalgo Magellan is right welcome," said King Manuel, as Fernan bowed low before him; and it will please me to give him a place in my household." With that, the king went on to inform Fernan that his duty would be to attend the royal person, that he should have a certain stipend every month with which to maintain himself, and that he should be provided with an apartment in the palace.

In no long time, Fernan had become completely accustomed to court life. The fine dresses, the brilliant displays, the balls and parties, the great dinners and imposing ceremonies, for awhile amused and distracted him. He enjoyed the city, with its busy streets, its crowded roadstead, its fine buildings, its gay life; and not less, the companionship of many young men of his own rank and age, with whom he passed many a jolly and boisterous hour.

But his ambition was by no means satisfied by these pastimes and pleasures. The court to him was only the high road to a more stirring and manly career. As he saw the fleets of caravels sail out of the harbor, on their way to newly found lands in Africa, Asia, and America, he longed, too, to traverse the seas, and seek the glories of combat, and the still nobler glories of discovery. Impatiently he watched the preparations of his more lucky companions, who were chosen to take part in these expeditions; he chafed under the necessity by which, while they went forth in search of adventures, he was still bound by his service to the king.

Meanwhile, he grew in the royal favor. King Manuel, perceiving him to be more aspiring and more serious than many of his fellow-courtiers, kept him about his own person, and often engaged in conversation with him. Fernan attracted the king's good will by the enthusiasm with which he talked of the discoveries which had been made by the Portuguese voyagers; and in his own mind, the king soon marked him out as one likely in the not distant future, to be of important service to the state. Had Don Manuel continued to esteem Fernan so highly, he would have added one more bright jewel to his crown, in the possession of the famous straits, the discovery of which is to be described in the following pages; but, unfortunately for Portugal, in the course of time he took a dislike to the ambitious young man, and Spain, instead of Portugal, reaped the benefit of his rare genius.