Here was a bolus for Christopher to swallow; a bolus compounded of his own words, his own acts, his hope, dignity, supremacy. In dismal humiliation he accepted the terms, with the addition of a clause more scandalous still—to the effect that the mutineers reserved the right, in case the Admiral should fail in the exact performance of any of his promises, to enforce them by compulsion of arms or any other method they might think fit. This precious document was signed on September 28, 1499 just twelve months after the agreement which it was intended to replace; and the Admiral, sailing dismally back to San Domingo, ruefully pondered on the fruits of a year’s delay. Even then he was trying to make excuses for himself, such as he made afterwards to the Sovereigns when he tried to explain that this shameful capitulation was invalid. That he signed under compulsion; that he was on board a ship, and so was not on his viceregal territory; that the rebels had already been tried, and that he had not the power to revoke a sentence which bore the authority of the Crown; that he had not the power to dispose of the Crown property —desperate, agonised shuffling of pride and self-esteem in the coils of trial and difficulty. Enough of it.
A breath of salt air again will do us no harm as a relief from these perilous balancings of Columbus on the see-saw at Espanola. His true work in this world had indeed already been accomplished. When he smote the rock of western discovery many springs flowed from it, and some were destined to run in mightier channels than that which he himself followed. Among other men stirred by the news of Columbus’s first voyage there was one walking the streets of Bristol in 1496 who was fired to a similar enterprise—a man of Venice, in boyhood named Zuan Caboto, but now known in England, where he has some time been settled, as Captain John Cabot. A sailor and trader who has travelled much through the known sea-roads of this world, and has a desire to travel upon others not so well known. He has been in the East, has seen the caravans of Mecca and the goods they carried, and, like Columbus, has conceived in his mind the roundness of the world as a practical fact rather than a mere mathematical theory. Hearing of Columbus’s success Cabot sets what machinery in England he has access to in motion to secure for him patents from King Henry VII.; which patents he receives on March 5, 1496. After spending a long time in preparation, and being perhaps a little delayed by diplomatic protests from the Spanish Ambassador in London, he sails from Bristol in May 1497.