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THE DISCOVERER OF MADEIRA.
IT is the beginning of June : the year 1419. Two small vessels are leaving the port of Lisbon. The Infant Dom Henry waves his hand from the quay, as the commander of the little expedition bows profoundly from the deck of the leading ship. That commander is Gonzalves Zarco. Where is Gonzalves sailing when he trusts his ships to the broad bosom of the Atlantic? Where, without the guides of modern navigation ? Charts he has none. He has heard that Marco Polo brought from China to Europe the knowledge of an instrument that invariably pointed to the North —but he doubts. He will hug the land as long as he can. The meridian Sun and the polar star must direct him in his need. His business is to find the Isles of the West, of which ancient tradition imperfectly whispers. In 1418 Gonzalves was engaged in exploring the coasts of Africa. He was shipwrecked on a little island, which he will now endeavour again to reach, The seas are calm; the days are bright and long. If the nights are dark, Gonzalves anchors. He is pretty certain of the course. In due time he reaches the small island of Porto Santo, in which, last year, he left two or three of his crew.
What is this strange relation which soon meets the ear of Gonzalves—a relation which is to give new ardour to his sagacious courage, but which has terrors for his superstitious seamen? On the north-east of the isle there appears, at a long distance, a thick darkness—a motionless cloud— which hangs over the sea, and reaches to the sky. That region of darkness—is it not the abyss? There, is the boundary of this earth; and beyond, is the entrance to the Shades. Sometimes a distant murmur, as of troubled waters, comes across the sea. It is the rush of the mournful river of Acheron. Some say, that when the Christians fled from the oppression of the Moors and Saracens, they found an island of refuge in this ocean; and that from that time a mysterious cloud covered that island, so that no enemy could come near to harm them. Who shall dare to pierce that cloud, and solve these mysteries?
Gonzalves sits on the beach of Porto Santo, and looks again and again in the direction of that cloud. When the morning sun shines bright in the East, the cloud is there. When the moon climbs the sky, the cloudy distance is still visible. It never changes its place; its form is always the same. Gonzalves will take counsel of Juan de Moralès, his pilot.
Juan is many years younger than Gonzalves; yet his forehead is wrinkled with cares that scarcely belong to the young. He has passed his boyhood in captivity in Morocco. He has done servile offices up to the period of manhood. He has been chained to the oar, and rowed his taskmasters through many a perilous surf. There is something strange and mysterious about him. His messmates shun him, for they say he is a Castilian, and an enemy to Portugal. He has the Castilian steadiness, with more than Castilian reserve. Misfortune has not abased him: he carries himself as loftily as the proudest of his countrymen; and yet he is of a fairer complexion than those countrymen, and he speaks their language with a singular mixtute of other dialects, and even of other tongues. But that may come of his long captivity amongst Christian slaves of all lands. Juan is not popular: but Gonzalves has unbounded confidence in his pilot. “Juan,” says Gonzalves, “we will wait no longer. Hold you still your opinion ?” “My belief is ever the same. That dark mass, so defined and unchanging, is a mountainous land, seen through a constant mist.” “You have the confidence of knowledge, rather than of conjecture. Did you ever hear speak of such a mountainous land? In that quarter, leagues off, must lie the African deserts.” “I have no knowledge—except my dreams be knowledge. I dream of mountains, rising from the sea, covered with trees to the very summits; of ravines, where rivers come dashing down out of the mountain mists, and rush brightly to the ocean; of a narrow beach under the mountains,
where the waves break wildly, and yet how beautifully!
“ Juan! you must have seen such a land !”
“ Oh no! it is a dream-a dream of the poor ship-boy's loneliness.”
“ We will sail to-morrow, Juan.” “ Good.”
Say nothing; but steer us right to the cloud.” The anchors are weighed in the dawn of a summer morning. A brisk breeze soon carries them away from Porto Santo. There is a man of importance on board, Francis Alcaforado, a squire of Dom Henry's chamber. He is keeping a diary of that voyage—a busy inquisitive man.
Captain, where are you steering ?" " To look for the Isles of the West.' “But you are sailing towards the darkness !” “I think they lie beyond the darkness."
“ You are tempting Heaven. See, we are in the bosom of a mist. There is no sun in the sky, Change your course, Gonzalves.”
Sir, I must obey my commission.” “Look! there is something darker still in the distance.”
I have seen it before—it is land.” Juan is at the helm. He steers boldly through the mist. It is land. The sun is behind that mass of mountains. Juan must be cautious ; there are rocks in that sea. Gonzalves orders out the boats. There is a loud murmuring of surf upon a shore not very distant. The sun is mount
ing out of the exhalation. The mist is rolling off. There are trees on the hills. The boats may near the shore. Glory to Saint Lawrence ! That eastern cape first seen, and now doubled, shall be the Cape San Lourenço! All are joyful but Juan de Morales. It is not the land of his dreams. The crew gather round the pilot-and greet him well But he is silent.
There is a streamlet gushing down to the sea. Gonzalves commands the crew to disembark. A priest goes with them. The water is blessed. The shore is blessed. The commander of the expedition proclaims that the mysterious cloud-land is a veritable possession of the King of Portugal.
And now they coast carefully along in their boats. They peer into the dark ravines, covered with everlasting forests. Again and again they land. Are there any inhabitants ? Not a trace of human dwelling, not a footprint, not a token that man has ever abided here. Birds of bright plumage fly fearlessly about them. They come to a point where four rivers join in their course to the sea. They fill their flasks to carry that sparkling water to the banks of the yellow Tagus. They bring provisions on shore, and sit down in a green valley where gentle waterfalls are sparkling around. They penetrate a wood; the rough gales have torn up some trees.
They elevate one tree, and form a cross; they kneel, and the priest gives his benediction. This point is Santa Cruz. They coast on; a tongue of land stretches far out--a shady