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My Shipmate—Columbus   By: (1928-2008)

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My Shipmate Columbus

By STEPHEN WILDER

We've been taught from childhood that the earth is round and that Columbus discovered America. But maybe we take too much on faith. This first crossing for instance. Were you there? Did you see Columbus land? Here's the story of a man who can give us the straight facts.

The laughter brought spots of color to his cheeks. He stood there for a while, taking it, and then decided he had had enough and would sit down. A whisper of amusement still stirred the room as he returned to his seat and the professor said,

"But just a moment, Mr. Jones. Won't you tell the class what makes you think Columbus was not the 'bold skipper' the history books say he was. After all, Mr. Jones, this is a history class. If you know more or better history than the history books do, isn't it your duty to tell us?"

[Illustration: He clutched at his slashed veins and snarled into the face of death.]

"I didn't say he wasn't ," Danny Jones said desperately as the laughter started again. Some profs were like that, he thought. Picking on one student and making the rest of the class laugh and think what a great guy the prof was and what a prize dodo the hapless student was. "I said," Danny went on doggedly, "Columbus might not have been maybe wasn't the bold skipper the history books claim he was. I can't prove it. No one can. I haven't a time machine."

Again it was the wrong thing to say. The professor wagged a finger in front of his face and gave Danny a sly look. "Don't you," he said, "don't you indeed? I was beginning to think you had been willed H. G. Wells' famous literary invention, young man." That one had the class all but rolling in the aisles.

Danny said desperately, "No! No, I mean, they don't even know for sure if Columbus was born in Genoa. They just think he was. So they also could be wrong about "

Abruptly the professor's face went serious. "My dear Mr. Jones," he said slowly, acidly, "don't you think we've had enough of fantasy? Don't you think we ought to return to history?"

Danny sat down and for a moment shut his eyes but remained conscious of everyone looking at him, staring at him, evaluating. It wasn't so easy, he decided, being a sophomore transfer student from a big city college, where almost everything went and there was a certain amount of anonymity in the very size of the classes, to a small town college where every face, after a week or so, was familiar. Danny wished he had kept his big yap shut about Columbus, but it was too late now. They'd be ribbing him for weeks....

On his way back to the dorm after classes he was hailed by a student who lived down the hall from him, a fellow named Groves, who said, "How's the boy, Danny. Next thing you'll tell us is that Cortez was really a sexy Spanish broad with a thirty eight bust who conquered Montezuma and his Indians with sex appeal. Get it, boy. I said "

"Aw, lay off," Danny grumbled.

The other boy laughed, then shrugged, then said, "Oh yeah, forgot to tell you. There's a telegram waiting for you in the dorm. House mother's got it. Well, see you, Vasco da Gama."

Danny trudged on to the Georgian style dormitory and went inside, through the lobby and behind the stairs to the house mother's office at the rear of the building. She was a kindly looking old woman with a halo of white hair and a smile which made her a good copy of everyone's grandmother. But now her face was set in unexpectedly grim lines. "Telegram for you, Danny," she said slowly. "They read it over the telephone first, then delivered it." She held out a yellow envelope. "I'm afraid it's some bad news, Danny." She seemed somehow reluctant to part with the little yellow envelope.

"What is it?" Danny said.

"You'd better read it yourself. Here, sit down."

Danny nodded, took the envelope, sat down and opened it. He read, MR. DANNY JONES, WHITNEY COLLEGE, WHITNEY, VIRGINIA. REGRET TO INFORM YOU UNCLE AVERILL PASSED AWAY LAST NIGHT PEACEFULLY IN HIS SLEEP LEAVING UNSPECIFIED PROPERTY TO YOU... Continue reading book >>




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