Voyages and Adventures of Vasco da Gama - George Towle

Vasco da Gama a Prisoner

Just as they were setting out in the litters, Joan Nunez felt some one plucking at his sleeve. On turning round, he saw the Spaniard Monsayde, disguised. He put his finger on his lips, and whispered,—

"Endure what is coming, and be silent."

Then he slipped hurriedly away among the crowd. Nunez, as soon as he had a chance, told Vasco da Gama what Monsayde had said.

The afternoon was far spent; yet the captain of the guard, as he led the company through the long, low streets, seemed to be in no haste. They made many turnings, and were so long on their way, that Vasco da Gama began to suspect foul play. His suspicions were ere long amply verified. They kept going from street to street until the afternoon deepened into twilight, and twilight into night.

Finally the captain of the guard stopped before a row of rather large houses in an obscure street, dismounted from his litter, and, changing his tone suddenly, told Vasco da Gama roughly to get down also. At first, Vasco was terribly angry. He glanced around at his men, and at the troop of Nairs who had escorted them. He saw, that, in a struggle, his Portuguese would stand no chance; and reflected, that, even if he should succeed in overcoming the captain of the guard's men, he could not hope, through the strange city, and in utter ignorance in what part of it he was, to reach the ships in safety. He remembered, too, Monsayde's advice, and, seeing that prudence was the better part of valor, repressed his anger, and quietly submitted to the captain of the guard's insolence.

Vasco and his companions were conducted through the large houses into an inner court, where there was a smaller house. Here they were left to themselves, the captain of the guard taking good care to leave a sufficient number of Nairs on guard.

Vasco da Gama now had ample time to reflect on his situation. What did this mean? Were they imprisoned by the Zamorin's order? or was he ignorant of it? Was it a plot of the Arabs, to which a heavy bribe had induced the captain of the guard to lend his aid ? What were they going to do with him and his men? Here he was in a city of semi-barbarians, who might not scruple to take his life, and to pillage and bum the ships. Did they intend to kill him and the rest?

These questions passed rapidly through his mind, and filled him with alarm; yet he saw that it was useless either to attempt to escape secretly, or to openly resist the Nairs. He resolved that he would keep his temper, and be patient, in the faint hope that the adventure might turn out to be less serious than it now appeared.

On the floor of the building where they were confined were spread a number of coarse straw mats, the only furniture the house contained The Portuguese sat down upon these, and, finding it impossible to sleep, kept talking the greater part of the night of the strange event that had befallen them. Meanwhile Vasco da Gama paced restlessly up and down the room, deep in thought, and so agitated that he could take no rest To add to their discomforts, the night was very hot, and the room in which they were imprisoned very close.

Vasco da Gama


In the middle of the night some Nairs came in and, deposited on the floor some boiled rice, with fig-leaves for plates, some boiled fish which was not very savory, and a large jar of water. Several of the Portuguese ate and drank, but others were too much agitated to be hungry; and Vasco da Gama did not touch the food.

The morning was far advanced before they attempted any thing to relieve their suspense. Then Vasco da Gama tried to send Joan Nunez out with a message to the captain of the guard; but the Nairs would not let him go. About noon some more rice and fish were brought in to them, and they were now hungry enough to eat the food. All that day and the next night they waited anxiously for some sign of what their fate was to be. Food was brought in to them as before; but they received no news of the captain of the guard, nor did they get any inkling of what he meant to do. Vasco's companions lost their patience at this long and mysterious imprisonment, and began to threaten violence against the Nairs: but he calmed them, and told them to put a good face upon the matter, as it was time enough to fight when the affair became desperate; and said that God would deliver them, if it so pleased him.

When they had been in the house two nights, some Nairs came in and told them that the captain of the guard had ordered them to be conveyed to another place. Following their sentinels, the Portuguese went out and walked through the streets, carefully guarded by a large number of native soldiers. Presently they reached the outskirts of the city, and soon found themselves going through a deep thicket, the sun blazing down upon them with a suffocating heat.

About noon they came to the bank or a small river. Here they saw two long Indian boats moored at the brink. The Nair, who seemed to be in command of the rest, ordered Vasco da Gama and three of his men, one of whom was Nunez, to get into the first boat; and the other five Portuguese were pushed into the second boat. Then the Nairs got in, and began to row the boats rapidly up the river. As they passed along, they saw large Indian villages on either bank, the inhabitants of which looked out, and looked at them with much curiosity and amazement. Here and there the river ran between gloomy thickets; now and then broad sandy plains stretched away from the banks. The boat in which Vasco da Gama was soon left the other boat far behind; and once, when he looked round, he perceived that the latter was quite of sight. He was angry at this; but the Nairs paid no attention to him, and rowed steadily on.

By and by they came to a small hamlet, where there were several low, thatched houses. The boat stopped near the bank, and waited while some rice was cooked. Neither Vasco nor his companions were allowed to land. The rice was handed to them; but Vasco was so irritated and amazed at this treatment, that he would not touch it.

The boat sped on, and did not stop again till darkness fell Then the prisoners were taken ashore, and shut up in a small house for the night.

Very early in the morning, Vasco da Gama was suddenly awakened by a Nair, who told him that the captain of the guard had arrived, and wanted to see him. To put on his cloak and sally out took but a moment; but they would let none of his men accompany him, except an interpreter. As he went away, Vasco warned the Portuguese to be discreet, and say or do nothing, whatever happened. Meanwhile the other boat had come, and the Portuguese who had been brought in it were lodged in a hut close by that in which Vasco had passed the night.

He was led a short distance among the brush, and soon came to a narrow path, running through a dense, low thicket. Presently he reached an open place where were some more huts, into one of which he was conducted, and there shut up alone. Although indignant at this treatment, he could at least comfort himself with the thought that he was still alive. He had, indeed, escaped a great danger. The Arabs had tried to persuade the captain of the guard to kill him as he went through the lonely thicket; but the captain had refused to do so, fearing the Zamorin's anger.

Vasco passed a lonely and sleepless night in the solitude of his new prison, and was relieved when, in the morning, he was at last led to the captain of the guard. The captain was sitting on a couch. When Vasco entered, he neither offered him a seat, nor spoke to him: a surly frown was on his dark face. In a moment or two Joan Nunez was brought in to interpret what was said. The captain of the guard then spoke in an insolent tone, through Nunez, to Vasco da Gama.

"We have heard," he said, "from Mombaza, that you Portuguese are robbers, going about the seas plundering; and the Zamorin has ordered that your ships should be taken, and all of you kept prisoners till you confess the truth. Now, you had better tell me the truth, and I will go and relate it to the Zamorin."

"If you will conduct me to the Zamorin," replied Vasco, "I will tell him the truth; but I will not tell you anything."

The Captain of the guard got up in great anger, and cried out,—

"Why won't you tell it to me?"

Vasco remained silent.

The captain kept on asking questions; but Vasco did not open his lips. Then the enraged officer ordered the Nairs to take him away, and to shut him up in a house by himself: He next tried to get something out of Nunez: but this shrewd fellow evaded his questions; and he, too, was again imprisoned.

Finding that he could not make Vasco or any of the Portuguese angry (which he intended when he took them prisoners and brought them away), and fearing to do them any violence lest the Zamorin (who was ignorant of all these things, being away at his country-house) should order his head to be cut off, the captain of the guard was greatly puzzled what course to take.

At last he resolved that he would try to recover Vasco's good will, and get out of the scrape as best he could. He had obtained all the money from the Arabs that he could hope for; and his interest now was to shield himself from the Zamorin's anger.

The next day, therefore, he sent for Vasco, and told him that the Zamorin had made up his mind that all the merchandise on the ships should be sent ashore to the factory; and that then, in four days, he would allow him to take in his cargo of spices and drugs; after which, the ships should sail without delay.

Vasco replied, that he would obey the Zamorin's commands, but that, in order to do so, it was necessary to send a messenger to the ships, The captain of the guard then sent for the rest of the Portuguese to come to their captain: and, when they saw Vasco, they gathered around him, and shouted for joy; for they had been haunted with the fear that he might have been murdered.

But Vasco da Gama's troubles were not yet over. The captain of the guard conducted him back to the city, and lodged him on one of the quays, at some distance from the warehouse.

From this new prison Vasco was allowed to send a message to his brother Paulo. He apprised him of all that had happened, and that he was still a prisoner; told him to send the goods ashore; warned him to see that the hostages did not escape; and, if Paulo found that Vasco was not released, to order back Diaz the agent, and allow no one to go ashore.

He now attempted to get his release, and go to the San Raphael, but this the captain of the guard would not permit. Vasco subdued his anger as best he could, and this time sent a very different message to Paulo.

"Tell him," said he to the messenger, "that I do not think they intend to set me free, no matter how many goods are sent on shore; and beg him, for God's sake, if he sees they will not release me, to send the hostages ashore, and then at once set sail. If they do not allow me to go when the hostages come, then let Paulo return at once to Portugal, and tell the king what has happened. For it is little matter if I am killed; but it is of great importance that the news of the discovery of India should be carried back to Portugal."

When Paulo received this message, he warmly declared that he would not go away without Vasco, but would risk his life, and that of all the men, in the attempt to deliver him, as they were all ready to die for their captain.

"Let the captain of the guard beware," said he; "for I will make war, and destroy every ship in the port."

Paulo ordered that no more goods should be sent ashore, and sent word to Vasco that he should remain to defend him.

The captain of the guard, angry that the goods were not sent (for he expected to get a share of them himself), thought it time to speak to the Zamorin, and, while concealing his harsh treatment of Vasco, to try and rouse his anger against him. He told the Zamorin that the Portuguese had not only refused to send any more goods on shore, but were threatening to bum the city and the ships. The Arab merchants added their persuasions to those of the captain of the guard; and their story so enraged the Zamorin, that he ordered that the goods at the warehouse should be seized, and that Vasco and his comrades should at once be put to death.

The captain of the guard was hurrying away joyfully to obey this command, when the chief priest, a venerable man, told him to stop.

Turning to the Zamorin, the priest said,—

"Sire, do not do this thing. Even if what the captain of the guard says is true, the Portuguese have as yet done no harm, but, like good people, have been very mild and peaceable. Do not execute your will until they show a disposition to do some injury."

This wise advice was adopted by the Zamorin, after a fierce debate with the Arabs.

Only one way to secure the release of Vasco da Gama remained to Paulo: this was to send the hostages on shore, and to trust to this magnanimous act, and to their persuasions with the Zamorin, to obtain Vasco's freedom.

The hostages, who had been kindly and generously treated by the Portuguese, willingly agreed to use every effort to accomplish this; and they were accordingly sent off in a boat, having received presents of red caps, knives, and satin cloths.

They hastened to the palace, and, kneeling before the Zamorin, revealed to him the whole story of Vasco's imprisonment, and the treatment he had received at the hands of the captain of the guard. They besought him to set Vasco free, and declared, that, if he did not, they would kill themselves, as they had staked their heads on the Zamorin's good faith. They begged him to reflect what dishonor and bad reputation he would incur if Vasco met with foul play, and assured him that the Portuguese meant no harm to him or the city.

The Zamorin was amazed and angry to hear of the captain of the guard's conduct, and at once resolved to make all the reparation in his power. Sending for Vasco da Gama, who was wholly in the dark, and did not know what was coming next, the Zamorin frankly begged his pardon for what had occurred, and declared that he would severely punish those who had been guilty of it. He told Vasco that he might go to his ship as soon as he pleased; and, as he spoke, he gave him a large jewel set with rubies and pearls in token of his regret and good will.

Vasco da Gama lost no time in taking advantage of his freedom. Attended by his Portuguese comrades and a large company of Nairs, he hastened to the quay, got into a boat, and set out for theSan Raphael  Just as the boat was pushing off the Spaniard Monsayde ran up and jumped into it, Vasco willingly consenting that he should go off to the ship with him. When Vasco appeared on deck, his brother rushed forward and fervently embraced him. The sailors gathered around him, and many of them wept for joy at beholding their beloved captain once more; and that night there was much feasting and merriment on board the ships.

Monsayde now took occasion to tell Vasco and Paulo the story of the captain of the guard's treachery, of the Zamorin's ignorance of his conduct, and of the hostility of the Arabs.

Vasco, much pleased with Monsayde's fidelity, overwhelmed him with presents, and gave him a paper, which recorded his testimony that the Spaniard was a sincere friend to the Portuguese, and a true Christian. The brothers now resolved to set sail without delay, lest other mishaps should befall them at Calicut. They had gained the objects for which they had come from their far-distant land,—the discovery of the way to India, and the possession of a cargo of drugs and spices; and there was no reason why they should tarry longer.

Monsayde went ashore, being bidden God speed by all the Portuguese, and delighted with Vasco's generosity and praise. The Zamorin, hearing of his arrival, sent for him to go to the palace. Monsayde told him that the ships were going away, and that they were terribly angry at the conduct of the captain of the guard and the Arabs.

While the ships were waiting for a favorable breeze, Vasco was surprised to see Monsayde return with a priest. They came with a message from the Zamorin, who repeated his regret for what had taken place, and apprised Vasco that the captain of the guard had been arrested, and would receive his deserts. He entreated him to return to Calicut, promising that he should have all the goods he wished.

Vasco returned a reply by Monsayde and the priest, to the effect that he accepted the Zamorin's expressions of regret, and would report his friendly words to King Manuel; but that he would surely avenge himself upon the treacherous, Arabs, who had been the cause of all his trouble.

The next morning a fair wind sprang up; and taking a last look of the minarets, quays, and streets of Calicut, the Portuguese weighed anchor, and slowly sailed out into the open sea.