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Page:The despatches of Hernando Cortes.djvu/21

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INTRODUCTION. • 3 pursuit of wealth, which Was the grand stimulus to enterprise in that day as well as the present, had not been attended with the pi'omised success, and instead of countries abounding in the precious metals, and producing the drugs and spices of the east, a few comparatively unimportant islands and a barren coast were all that had yet rewarded the toils of the adven- turers. The pi'oceeds of the voyages had been scarcely adequate to meet the expenses of their outfits. The hopes of Columbus, it is well known, were centered in the idea that his discoveries constituted a part of the Indies, then the fancied seat of un- bounded riches, and his last voyage Was undertaken for the single purpose of seeking along the coast of the Caribbean sea the strait which he imagined formed the communica- tion between them. It is a curious fact, that he took with him two or three persons skilled in the Arabic language to serve as interpreters in the Mahometan countries, which he then expect- ed to reach. In the course of this voyage, performed in the years 1502-4, the veteran navigator examined the coast of Cen- tral America from the Bay of Honduras to the Spanish Main ; and although on the borders of countries far richer in the pre- cious metals than those lie sought, of which several striking indications were presented to him, all was lost sight of in the vain pursuit of the desired strait. It was during the early part of this disastrous voyage, that the first glimpses were obtained of the superior civilization and wealth of Mexico. Leaving the island of St. Domingo for the south-west, Columbus Was borne hy the currents out of his course, and fell in with a group of islands near Cape Honduras on the upper coast of Guatemala. While examining the largest of these islands, a party from the squadron discovered a canoe of unusual size apparently arriving from some distant point, which was immediately captured and taken along side the Admiral's ship. It is described by Fernando Columbus, the Admiral's son, who accompanied the expedition, as " eight feet wide and as long as a galley, though formed of the trunk of a single tree, and shaped like those common in the islands. In the middle of the canoe there was aft awning made of palm leaves, not unlike those of the Venitian goiKblas, which formed