Voyages and Adventures of Vasco da Gama - George Towle

Departure from Melinda

The ships looked very gay and imposing on the morning appointed for the King of Melinda's visit. The decks glistened, so thoroughly had they been Washed by the sailors. Perfumes were scattered about them; green boughs were disposed in one place and another to give a holiday look; flags floated from the masts and rigging; on the quarter-decks figured stuffs from Flanders, carpets, and brilliantly-colored rugs, were spread; while here and there were placed stands of lances, with newly-burnished and glittering points; and swords, cross-bows, breast-plates, and daggers were hung in graceful arrangement at the masts and sides.

Meanwhile the good old king was resolved to do honor to his new friends by going to them in all the state and magnificence he could command. Arrayed in a long coat of crimson damask lined with green satin, and wearing a splendid turban sewn with jewels, he waited on the quay, surrounded by a gorgeous group of nobles, for Vasco's boats to come off and take him to the ships.

Vasco and Paulo, when everything was ready, proceeded to the shore in their boats. In that of Paulo was placed a chair covered with crimson velvet fringed with gold-lace. On the bottom of the boat was spread a rich carpet, and a handsome banner of white and red damask floated from the bow. When they reached the shore, the king took his place on the chair, expressing his regret that the captains were obliged to stand.

Vasco replied, that, in his country, it was not the custom for anyone to sit in the presence of the monarch.

A large fleet of boats, some Moorish canoes, some belonging to the merchant-ships in the harbor" accompanied the king and captains to the Portuguese ships; and the air was filled with the strange music of the instruments that were carried in them, and the loud noise of the Portuguese trumpets.

When the gay little fleet of boats reached the San Raphael, the cannon boomed forth a deafening welcome. But the king was not yet ready to go on board. He asked Vasco to order the sailors to row around the ships, so that he might see the outsides; and, as they did so, the king plied Vasco with many questions to the rigging and construction.

Then he ascended on board the San Raphael  where the crew, dressed in their best attire, stood in rows, and with uncovered heads, to receive him.

The king and his retinue being invited to sit on the quarter-deck, Vasco pointed out to him the various parts of the rigging, and explained their uses. Then he conducted his royal guest about the ship, showing him the hold, cabins, and store-rooms. In Vasco's own cabin a dainty luncheon was spread, with meats, preserves, olives, and wine, of which the king partook heartily, and without the slightest hesitation. He expressed his surprise and delight at all that he saw, and exclaimed, "if these men use silver, their king must not use anything but gold."

The meal over, Vasco brought a gilt hand-basin and ewer, and offered to pour water on the king's hands to wash them. But this the king would not permit He called one of his own attendants, who poured out the water, with which he washed his hands and mouth, drying them with a napkin embroidered with gold.

Vasco then made a present of the ewer and basin to the king, who at first declined them; but Vasco told him, that, as he had used them, no one else could, according to etiquette: whereat the king expressed his delight, exclaiming that no king in India had such splendid vessels.

The old monarch next went on board the San Gabriel, and, having inspected it, returned to the shore, declaring that he never spent a more pleasant day. Vasco took care to send after him a present of cloths and caps for the king and his ministers, which completed their satisfaction.

"Nothing," cried the king to his courtiers, "is wanting, to these men to achieve whatever they desire."

With the leisurely preparations for departure, the frequent festivities with the old king and his court, the excursions on shore, and visits to the Christian merchantmen, the time passed rapidly away; and, before Vasco knew it, months had gone, and July had come.

The king kept his promise to supply him with two pilots who were familiar with the passage to India,—one for each of the ships. One of these pilots, named Canaca, belonged to an Indian ship, and, on going on board, was found not only to be already acquainted with the astrolabes and quadrants used by Europeans in navigation, but also to have other nautical instruments which the Portuguese had never before seen. He brought with him, a map of the coast of India, with the bearings carefully marked upon it; and seemed, indeed, to be quite as well versed in navigation as the Portuguese themselves. The king also succeeded in persuading the Mozambique pilot, who had been so indignant at being put and kept in irons, to swallow the affront, and do his best to serve Vasco da Gama faithfully, which he agreed to do.

Several days before the departure of the ships, the king invited the captains to a great banquet in his palace, at the same time despatching a number of boats with food for the crews. He further showed his good will by sending some native carpenters to construct tanks in the ships for holding the fresh water. These tanks were not nailed, but fastened tight with cocoanut-thread; and the cracks were plastered with pitch. Four of them were put into each ship, and each tank held thirty pipes of water. The Portuguese were, therefore, in no danger of getting out of water again until they should safely reach the Indian coast.

The captains went on shore every day to visit the king; and, when they were about to depart, Vasco said to him,—

"Since, sire, both sea and land have their perils, we wish to leave here a mark which will remain in your city to call our sojourn with you to mind This mark is a column, with the name of our king upon it; for, in every country that is friendly to him, we place these columns as tokens of his good faith.

"Put up the column as soon as you please," returned the king. "You shall set it at the gate of my palace."

"But if it stands within the city," said Vasco, "it will not be seen by the ships that arrive in port. I pray you, let it be set up where it will be plainly visible from the sea."

"Very well; choose whatever spot you like best, and set it up there. But why did you not erect this column when you first came?

"Our sovereign," replied Vasco, "commanded us only to set it up in a country which we were sure was friendly and sincere; and we could not know your disposition, sire, when we arrived. But now your goodness has made it sure."

A white marble shaft was forthwith brought from the San Raphael, with a handsome pedestal and carved top, on the lower part of which were engraved and gilded the words "King Manuel." Vasco, looking about for a place where to erect it, espied a round hill which rose above the port, on the southern side of the city, and there resolved to set up the column.

It was put in position by the Portuguese, assisted by some Moorish stone-masons. When this was done, a tent was erected just by the column, and beneath the tent was placed an altar. The altar was covered with a rich cloth, and upon it rested a statue of the Virgin Mary.

Three priests said mass beneath the tent, the captains and crews standing or kneeling around, and crowds of the people of Melinda gathering to witness the solemn ceremony. The column was dedicated to the friendship between King Manuel and the King of Melinda; and, when the service was over, the Portuguese returned to their ships.

Vasco da Gama gave some money to the Melinda pilots to be left with their families, and took occasion to present the king with about seven hundred dollars in gold Portuguese coins, done up in a handkerchief. The ship-boy who had been so useful in making the purchases for the ships, and who was one of the convicts Vasco had brought with him, was then consigned to the king, to remain at Melinda until the ships returned from India.

"Your life will be quite safe here," said Vasco to the ship-boy; "for the King of Melinda is a true friend of ours. Be sure and keep your eyes open: look about you well, and see and learn everything you can about; this country and its people, against my return. If you choose, you may travel about among the other countries of the coast; and don't fail to treasure up all the knowledge you acquire. If you do this, I will take you safely, back to Portugal, where you shall be one of the gentlemen of the royal household, as a reward for your fidelity."

The ship-boy thanked Vasco, and readily consented to stay at Melinda.

The time had now come for bidding the good old king and his fair city farewell. It was the 5th of August; and the 6th was the day appointed for the Portuguese to sail.

In the afternoon a number of boats came out to the ships, fairly loaded with good things. There were great boxes of biscuit, rice, and butter; there was a quantity of salted mutton; and there were live sheep, fowls, and vegetables, cocoanuts, fruit, and sacks full of sugar, Such was the generous parting gift of the king.

Early the next morning he came out to the ships to bid them all good-by. The old man was really overcome by the prospect of their departure, and embraced Vasco and Paulo affectionately, begging them not to forget to come that way on their return from India. As the royal boat slowly wended its way back to the shore, the trumpets sounded, the cannon roared, and the crews cheered, and shouted "Lord God be with you, farewell!" while Vasco and Paulo stood on the quarter-decks, and waved their hands to the king, the people on the crowded quays and reef and the crews of the ships which lay at anchor all around them.

The priests now appeared in their robes; and, as all hands knelt on the decks, a solemn prayer went up to heaven for a safe voyage and a happy return.

Vasco, in a loud voice, gave the order to loosen the &ails; and, with a fair wind blowing in the right direction (for the trade-winds had now shifted, and were favorable), the San Raphael  and the San Gabriel sped gayly out of the roadstead of Melinda.

They were about to stretch off into the vast and unknown ocean which lay between them and the crowning object of their perilous voyage. Until then, they had only been skirting the African coast, seldom losing sight of land, and constantly occupied by new sights and stirring adventures: now they were to brave the dangers of strange Seas, filling the wide space of nearly two thousand miles between the African and the Asiatic shore.

Happily, in Vasco da Gama the ships had a commander with a cool, clear head, and a strong, confident, and heroic heart; and one and all looked forward with lively hope and cheerful expectation to the voyage before them.