It was too late to save the ship, the current having set her more upon the bank. The admiral, seeing that his boat had deserted him, that the ship had swung across the stream, and that the water was continually gaining upon her, ordered the mast to be cut away, in the hope of lightening her sufficiently to float her off. Every effort was in vain. The keel was firmly bedded in the sand; the shock had opened several seams; while the swell of the breakers, striking her broadside, left her each moment more and more aground, until she fell over on one side. Fortunately the weather continued calm, otherwise the ship must have gone to pieces, and the whole crew might have perished amidst the currents and breakers.
The admiral and her men took refuge on board the caravel. Diego de Arana, chief judge of the armament, and Pedro Gutierrez, the king’s butler, were immediately sent on shore as envoys to the cacique Guaeanagari, to inform him of the intended visit of the admiral, and of his disastrous shipwreck. In the meantime, as a light wind had sprung up from shore, and the admiral was ignorant of his situation, and of the rocks and banks that might be lurking around him, he lay to until daylight.
The habitation of the cacique was about a league and a half from the wreck. When he heard of the misfortune of his guest, he manifested the utmost affliction, and even shed tears. He immediately sent all his people, with all the canoes, large and small, that could be mustered; and so active were they in their assistance, that in a little while the vessel was unloaded. The cacique himself, and his brothers and relatives, rendered all the aid in their power, both on sea and land; keeping vigilant guard that everything should be conducted with order, and the property secured from injury or theft. From time to time, he sent some one of his family, or some principal person of his attendants, to console and cheer the admiral, assuring him that everything he possessed should be at his disposal.
Never, in a civilized country, were the vaunted rites of hospitality more scrupulously observed, than by this uncultivated savage. All the effects landed from the ships were deposited near his dwelling; and an armed guard surrounded them all night, until houses could be prepared in which to store them. There seemed, however, even among the common people, no disposition to take advantage of the misfortune of the stranger. Although they beheld what must in their eyes have been inestimable treasures, cast, as it were, upon their shores, and open to depredation, yet there was not the least attempt to pilfer, nor, in transporting the effects from the ships, had they appropriated the most trifling article. On the contrary, a general sympathy was visible in their countenances and actions; and to have witnessed their concern, one would have supposed the misfortune to have happened to themselves.
“So loving, so tractable, so peaceable are these people,” says Columbus in his journal, “that I swear to your Majesties, there is not in the world a better nation, nor a better land. They love their neighbours as themselves; and their discourse is ever sweet and gentle, and accompanied with a smile; and though it is true that they are naked, yet their manners are decorous and praiseworthy.”