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IN Calecut an old legend or prophecy was current that when the fulness of time should come to pass, India would be conquered and possessed by strangers who would arrive in ships from the west and fight with the thunders of Heaven. A hundred years before Vasco sailed from Portugal an immense number of Chinese, driven from their native country by causes at the present day unknown, had sailed along the Indian coast and settled in its bays and harbors. By some this was supposed to be the prophesied invasion, but others more familiar with the terms of the prophecy knew that not thus could it be fulfilled, for these strangers came from the east and not from the west, nor did they fight with the thunders of Heaven, or any other weapon, but arrived as peaceable settlers, seeking shelter and a home. When, therefore, twenty days after Melinda had faded from view on the western horizon the Portuguese fleet came in sight of Calecut (a large city on the west coast of India and now the seat of the Madras presidency), the prophecy was at once recalled by king and people, and preparations were hastily made to repel the expected hostile invasion. But, to the astonishment of the King of Calecut, the vessels came to anchor in the offing, and needier approached the shore nor sent any messenger to the land. A day passed, two days, three days, and still no message was despatched from the strangers. Who were they, and what did they want? The fishermen who passed in their boats at some distance from the strange crafts said the men were white, but otherwise they could give no information. His curiosity getting the better of his determination to keep the strangers at a distance, the King finally despatched a messenger to the flag-ship to ask who the strangers were and what they wanted in his port. This was the opportunity for which da Gama had waited, for the Moor explained to him that in dealing with the Oriental he must appear indifferent; and in nowise to venture on shore or put himself in the power of an eastern potentate without security and hostages for his personal safety. So da Gama had waited with what patience he might, knowing that sooner or later a messenger would come from the shore to ask his business.


The Moorish, merchant, who acted as the purchasing agent of the fleet, was sent on shore to explain the presence of the vessels in the harbor of Calecut. When asked who were the strangers he at once waxed eloquent, according to directions given him, before leaving, the ship. Under his flexible tongue the dominions of the Portuguese sovereign stretched from the north to the south and extended from the rising to the setting sun. Da Gama and his company had left Portugal years upon years before with a monstrous
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fleet of not less than a thousand sail; had lost their company in a storm, and had been going up and down the world for two years seeking the lost vessels; that they had come to Calecut hoping to find their friends there, and as they were disappointed they would immediately go away. But the Moor's eloquence did not stop here. He told of the visit to Melinda and of the munificence with which da Gama had treated the King; he told of the might and power of the Captain General, of the wonderful engines of war which they carried in the ships, of the presents they had made at Melinda, of the purchases, and liberality with which they had paid for everything they bought. Now that they were here, continued the Moorish merchant, they would, if permitted, buy drugs and spices and then go away. While the King was considering this proposition, permission was given the natives to go out in their boats and sell spices to the fleet, and soon all Calecut was ringing with the praises of munificence shown by the strangers. They bought fish and vegetables, and not in a single instance contested the price, always paying what was asked, no matter how extravagant the demand. Nay, even more than this, for on one occasion a boat came off from shore with a load of wood for sale. The vessels needed no wood and as the craft was going away da Gama ordered a small coin to be given to each one of the boatmen. The pilots, the Moor and the boatmen were alike, astonished, and asked the reason of this strange conduct, when da Gama benevolently explained that these were poor men who came to sell their wood, and that the coin given to each was a reward for his trouble in bringing it out and taking it back again, although the ships needed it not.


Like wildfire the stories of the strangers spread throughout Calecut, and the people and merchants clamored for permission to sell to those who seemed to know nothing of the value of money. The cupidity of the King was excited, his interest was roused by the story of the golden sword, the gilded lance and the great throne which won the heart of the King of Melinda. He invited da Gama to go on shore. The Captain General asked for hostages, and although none came, such plausible messages were sent that da Gama concluded to land.

Along the coast of India the Moors had for many years been the ruling commercial power. Ages before this, in their little boats with sharp prows and great triangular sails, they had crossed the Indian Ocean and established themselves in the principal harbors of India as merchants, brokers and factors. Few in numbers, they soon acquired a considerable influence, and their commercial establishments, like those of the great East India Company in later times, were often fortified and guarded by their own hired troops. For this service they had enlisted large numbers of the natives of the country, the Pariahs, or outcasts, who were so accursed that when they went along a road they were required to shout at every seven steps lest they should by chance meet a member of the higher classes, who would be defiled by the touch of them. Their condition was hopeless, so they readily entered the service of the Moors or Arabs as soldiers, and speedily found their circumstances greatly improved, for not only was their caste raised by their employment, but their pay, lodging and food were far better than they could have hoped for had they remained Pariahs. By the employment of these outcasts the Moors had acquired considerable military, as well as commercial, power on the coast of India, and so great was their prestige that to be "as fortunate as an Arab" was a proverb in Calecut. Although their influence was so great, the Moors were intensely jealous of any interference with their monopoly, and learning that the strangers were merchants they at once bribed the King's ministers to refuse the Portuguese permission to trade.


Among the first visitors from the shore was a man of tall stature and grizzled beard who, to the astonishment of the sailors, greeted them in very good Spanish. Being invited on board, he stated that he had formerly lived in Spain, but was now employed in trading along the Indian Ocean and on the coast of Africa. This man, who had really come as a spy for the purpose of ascertaining the strength of the squadron, was won over by da Gama, and subsequently proved a most valuable friend to the Portuguese. Entering their service while still ostensibly engaged in the interest of the King, he on several occasions brought them intelligence which proved of the greatest value. When da Gama made up his mind to go ashore, he invited this man to attend him, and before leaving the ship, caused all the presents intended for the King to be displayed on tables placed on the deck. Under pretence of furbishing and cleaning them, they were kept in sight for several days, and the Castilian Moor speedily bore to the city news of the magnificent gifts which da Gama had prepared for the King of Calecut. The day of the visit, the King sent to the fleet his signature on a palm leaf, as a mark of friendship; a procession was formed, and the Captain General with a number of his attendants, having their weapons concealed under their garments, got in the boats and pulled for the shore. They landed, and a procession was again formed, the sailors bearing in trays on their heads the presents intended for the King, which were "a piece of very fine scarlet cloth and a piece of crimson velvet, a piece of yellow satin, a chair covered with brocade of large nap, studded with silver-gilt nails; a cushion of Crimson satin, with tassels of gold thread, and another cushion of red satin for the feet; a hand basin chased and gilded, with a ewer of the same kind, a very handsome thing; and a large, very splendid gilt mirror; fifty scarlet caps, with buttons and tassels of crimson twisted silk and gold thread on the top of the caps; and fifty sheaths of knives of Flanders, with ivory handles, which were made in Lisbon, and the sheaths gilded. All these things were wrapped in napkins, and all in very good order."


For some days before the landing of da Gama trading had been briskly conducted by the men of the fleet, to the great disgust of the Moors, who watched with jealous eyes the progress of their rivals. But the commander, in his effort to conciliate the people of Calecut, and thus make a favorable impression, carried his policy a little too far, and thus excited the suspicions of the cunning and watchful Arabs who, seeing the Portuguese paying the highest market prices for cloves that were all stick, for cinnamon whose weight was doubled by clay, and for pepper that was half sand, came to the reasonable conclusion that the strangers were not merchants, but soldiers who, under a pretence of trade, Are laying plans and making preparations to occupy the country. To the King they went with their suspicions, but he would hear nothing of them; and equally in vain did they attempt to prevent the proposed audience with da Gama. The King suspected that they were anxious to continue and perpetuate the monopoly which they had acquired in the trade of Calecut and refused to allow any change in his plans.


With much ceremony, therefore, da Gama and his companions were escorted to the palace where, after passing through many courts and passages, they were finally ushered into a large inner chamber, the door was closed and they were in the presence of the Zamorin, or King of Calecut. He was a tall dark man, having for clothing only a waist-clout of white linen; but what he lacked in raiment he made up in jewels, for every part of his body glittered with gold and precious stones. A large belt in which were set diamonds and rubies of priceless value encircled his waist, a diamond-spangled collar was around his neck, two diamonds each "the bigness of a thumb" hung from his ears, he had bracelets on his arms "as big as the irons they put on a runaway sailor," and even his waist-clout was embroidered with pearls. He held his court in great state; on each side stood men who carried the royal standard, sword and shield, a lad near the King held a golden cup into which, at fitting seasons, royalty expectorated; a priest of the highest dignity stood by with the areca loaf (made of the betel-nut, pepper plant and limes) which the King chewed; an official of much self-importance was in readiness with a small tankard and a golden goblet in case his majesty should chance to thirst, while a soldier of the royal guard held over the king's head as an emblem of authority a golden umbrella.

Before this magnificent potentate da Gama sounded the praises of his own sovereign, the King of Portugal, rehearsed the stories already told of the fabulous extent of his dominions, which by this time comprised all the earth except India, told about the gigantic fleet with which he had sailed and from which he had been separated, and after the most extravagant tales of what his master would do in case the King of Calecut should offend him, wound up his high-flown oration and asked for leave to trade and to establish a factory.


The Zamorin, who seemed disposed to be friendly, partly on account of the prophecy, partly because of the presents, took the matter under advisement, intimating that it should receive favorable consideration. In the meantime, however, the Arab merchants had not been idle. Among the officials of the court was one whose ears were readily open to the chink of coin, and him the Arabs
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approached with a bribe. Enlisting himself in their service, he readily undertook the task of getting the Captain General out of the way. As soon, therefore, as the Zamorin had left the city for his palace in the suburbs, the false minister made da Gama a prisoner and placed him in close confinement, his fate being shared also by the twelve men who had accompanied him during his audience with the King. For some time the incarceration continued, since da Gama, anxious to keep up the fiction of being a merchant, had previously directed that only in the last extremity should any resort to arms be made. The captive Portuguese were subjected to various indignities, this being a part of the plan projected by the Moorish conspirators, as they thus hoped to drive the strangers to violence, then by throwing on them the blame of any bloodshed that might ensue, to secure their expulsion from the country. With admirable art the Portuguese played their part, enquiring with apparent innocence why peaceable merchants were thus treated. No answer was given them, and finally, after some days of detention, the minister, fearing the consequences should his treachery become known to the King, allowed them to depart with an admonition to leave the harbor at once. To ensure their doing so, a body of armed men was collected on the shore and a number of boats prepared to attack the fleet. Not caring to risk a conflict at that time, da Gama ordered the sails to be set and the vessels moved out of a harbor where at first the prospects of the expedition had seemed very bright for friendly and profitable intercourse.


The fleet now sailed away, down the coast of India, putting in here and there as fancy prompted, and everywhere the crew noting with keenly interested eyes whatever they saw that was strange or new. Sailors all, it was not remarkable that they should fill the pages of their journals with accounts of the queer vessels and men which they saw. With a nautical interest in the subject, they tell of the native craft which have only one mast and but three ropes; which are guided by a large rudder of thin planks; which are partly of wood and partly of canvas; which are made water-tight with bitumen; which have no decks, but are provided with a roof of cane matting; which have leather buckets instead of pumps; which have but one sail and carry their water in large tanks instead of barrels; whose anchors are of wood, with stones to make them sink; which are as large as the ships of the Portuguese, and much better adapted for a tropical climate, since they do not become leaky. With ever active interest, the Portuguese watched the Indian catamarans, here seen for the first time by Europeans, examined the long narrow hulls, criticised the outlying beam which prevents an upset, even in the heaviest sea, and admired the seamanship of the natives and the ease with which, a native standing on the beam, they flew through the wildest billows. Many other marvels they saw which, to them strange, have to us long since become familiar through sketches and books of travel.


On their arrival in the vicinity of Goa, a plot was contrived by the Sultan of that place for the capture of the entire fleet, he having learned of its coming through the Moors, who in their light vessels everywhere went before the Portuguese squadron and stirred up evil feeling against the strangers. Knowing nothing of Goa or its people, it was with delight that the lookout at the bow heard himself hailed from a boat beneath in good Spanish with the words "God bless the ships and the Christian crews and all who sail with them." Looking down, he beheld a man of venerable aspect and long white beard, who responded to his questions with plausible words and announced himself as a messenger from the Sultan of Goa. Invited on board, he was questioned by da Gama as to his purpose in coming, but soon excited suspicion by his hesitation and contradictory replies. Just then word was sent to da Gama that the crew of one of the boats which had been cruising in search of a better anchorage had discovered behind the islands of the bay an immense number of fustas, or native boats, filled with men who to all intents seemed to be soldiers. This bit of intelligence intensified the suspicions of the Captain General, who at once ordered the visitor to be seized and put in irons and the crew of his boat to be detained. The former order was quickly carried out, but the latter not so easily, for the native rowers finding themselves about, to be apprehended, at once deserted their boat and took to the water.

"Out with the boats," shouted the officer of the deck, "Don't let one of them get away." A dozen boats were instantly lowered to the water and filled with lusty sailors, roaring with glee at the unexpected fun. Away went the natives, as much at home in the water as on the land, their brown bodies shining through the blue waves. Catching them was no easy matter. They swam almost as fast as the boats could be rowed, and when the chase became hot, dived and changed their course, coming up many yards away in an entirely different direction.

The water splashed, the sailors shouted, the men on the ships, crowding the deck and rigging, howled with delight at the novel spectacle. Now a boat would come up to a native, a sailor would reach out his hand, when flash, the boat would pass over the place where the swimmer had been, and a moment later he would reappear in the rear, swimming away for dear life. After him again, the boat would slowly turn, but not before the native had made a long gap between his heels and the pursuing prow. Slowly it would be lessened. At last overtaken a sailor often seized the fugitive's legs only to be himself pulled into the water by his reluctant captive. But human lungs have limits of endurance, so one by one the divers were tired out and hauled on board more dead than alive, after which the captives were counted but only eleven found, whereas there were twelve in the boat. The sea was scanned but the missing native was nowhere to be seen; no black head was seen to make its way toward shore. The crew thought he must have been drowned, and the boats were ordered drawn up, when a sudden shout arose from the crew of one passing beneath the stern of the San Miguel.

"Here he is," and everybody rushed to the sides and stern, and two sailors in their anxiety to see lost their balance and fell overboard, but were fortunately fished out with boathooks, while the missing native was ignominiously hauled out from under the ship, where with only his nose above water he had been holding on to the rudder.


The natives were sent below, and da Gama questioned the old man who had come on board. Closely pressed, he admitted nothing, but tortured by drops of hot fat being let fall on his body, he finally confessed that he was a Jew of Grenada; that he had come on board with treacherous intent, to observe the number and arms of the crew in order that the boats in waiting behind the islands might that night surprise and capture the vessels. The truth having thus, by means too cruel to be mentioned without reprobation, been extracted from the Grenadian Jew, immediate preparations were made to attack the hostile fustas. Boats were manned and loaded with hardy Portuguese soldiers and sailors, small carronades were placed in the bows, the men were armed and provided with cross-bows and plenty of arrows, and the few firelocks there were, these not yet having come into general use, were placed in trusty hands.

But more than on all the rest of their arms the Portuguese relied on diabolical devices of their own invention, "powder pots" they called them, small vessels, in size and shape closely resembling the cans in which, at the present day, meats and vegetables are preserved. Made of strong earthenware, the cover was securely fitted on, the pot filled with powder, and a fuse left to hang outside. The "powder pot" was really an incipient bomb, and the fuse being lighted, the messenger of destruction was thrown by hand among the enemy. While its explosion did little mischief compared with the terrible weapon of later times, the noise, the injury done by flying fragments, were sufficient to spread consternation among an enemy to whom its employment was a novelty. But this was not the only variety of the powder pot. Another kind was intended not so much to hurt as to frighten the foe. It consisted of a vessel similar to the powder pot, save that in the cover an orifice of an inch in diameter was left. Through this passed the fuse, and the contents of the vessel instead of dry powder, was a mixture of dampened powder and finely pounded sulphur, the fumes of which would readily induce an enemy to beat a retreat.


The shades of night were heavy on the bay as the ten boats pulled away from the fleet, following a light boat in which were eight soldiers and the Grenadian Jew, heavily ironed and guarded by a man on each side. A screen behind the blazing torch kept from the view of the enemy the soldiers in the boat and those in the little squadron following its lead. Boldly the light-boat rounded the point of the island behind which the fustas of the natives were lying in fancied security. "Who comes there?" shouted a native in the Indian tongue. Putting a dagger to the throat of the Jew, da Gama bid him answer, and whispered that instant death would be the penalty of treachery. "'Tis I," hallooed the Jew in reply, "returned with news from the Christian ships." Recognizing his voice, the natives allowed the boat to approach, not having the slightest suspicion of treachery, and in a moment the Portuguese were among them.

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A scene of wild terror and confusion ensued. The heavy Portuguese yawls ran down the flimsy boats of the natives, while the discharges of the cannon and firearms, the wounds made by the arrows from the cross-bows, the sharp biting of the falchions, and crushing blows of the heavy maces and broad-swords, added to the dismay of the natives. The powder pots exploded on board of the Indian vessels, and threw their crews into the greatest panic, while even more dreadful were the fumes of the sulphur pots and the hissing of the damp gunpowder. The onset of the Portuguese was so sudden, it left the Indians time neither to flee nor to prepare for fight. Endeavoring to put their boats about, they ran each other down; crowded together in a helpless mass of boats and men, they fell an easy prey to the merciless Portuguese. Hundreds were drowned, hundreds more were butchered like so many sheep, hundreds were captured. In one brief hour the invaders were masters of the situation and those of the enemy not dead were huddled together, a band of hopeless captives, awaiting the slaughter of which they were presently the victims.


Fearing a savage retribution if he remained longer on the coast, da Gama set sail to return to Portugal. The voyage was completed without especial incident, and from the Tower of Belem, a coast village then, but now a suburb of Lisbon, the King watched the entrance of the squadron which had accomplished a water journey to India and results which were destined to make Portugal a leading power in Europe for many years.

Enthusiastic was the reception of the voyagers; every one was a hero; every one had some story of thrilling adventure or hair-breadth escape; every one vied with his fellows in magnifying the wealth of the country which they had reached by a hitherto unknown route. It was evident that the importance, of the discovery could not be overrated, and King Emanuel began at once preparing to avail himself of da Gama's discoveries. The return of the latter was in September 1499, and in less than six months a fleet of thirteen vessels was on its way to India, to trade and establish factories. For some cause, which has never been made clear; the command of this imposing squadron was given to Alvarez Cabral, instead of to da Gama, the latter, remaining quietly on his estates while Cabral sailed on the voyage of conquest. The first result of the new expedition was the discovery of Brazil, which was an accident, Cabral having sailed top far to the west in the hope of doubling the Cape of Good Hope without encountering its storms. Having claimed this new country in the name of his master, he proceeded on his way, arrived at Calecut, loaded his ships with spices and precious woods, founded a factory, left one ship and a number of men to await his return, and sailed for home.


The rejoicings with which his arrival in Lisbon was greeted had scarcely subsided when a strange sail was seen in the offing, and the vessel coming into port, proved to be the one which Cabral had left in Calecut. Its speedy return was soon explained. No sooner had the Portuguese fleet departed, than the natives rose, massacred the few men whom Cabral had left, burned the factory, and in fear that the fate of the sailors on shore might be their own, the crew of the ship had hastily put to sea, and flying before the monsoon, had crossed the Indian Ocean almost in sight of Cabral's fleet, left Melinda three days after their departure, and in their wake had beaten up the coast of Africa and thus arrived at Lisbon.