Part 3 out of 7
hawk bells, fishhooks, toys of sorts. For that we might
have trouble, four harquebus men and four crossbows were
going. The _Santa Maria_ carried two cannon. Now at the
Admiral's signal, one of these was discharged. It was a
voice not heard before in this world. If he wished to produce
awe that should accompany him like the ancient pillars
of cloud and fire, he had success. When the smoke cleared
we saw the wild men prostrate upon the ivory beach as
though a scythe had cut them down. They lay like fallen
grain, then rose and made haste for the wood. We could
thinly hear their shouting.
Christopherus Columbus descended into the boat of the
_Santa Maria_, Fray Ignatio after him. Diego de Arana,
Roderigo Sanchez, Escobedo, Gutierrez and Juan Lepe the
physician followed. Juan de la Cosa stayed with the ship, it
not being wise to take away all authority. Our armed men
came after and the rowers. We drew off and the small boat
filled. Boats of the Pinta and the Nina joined us. The
great banner over us, the Admiral's hand upon its standard,
we rowed for Asia.
Nearer and nearer. The water hung about us, plain marvel,
not dark blue, but turquoise and clear as air. We could
see the strange, bright-hued fish and the white bottom. The
air breathed Maytime, and now we thought we could tell
the spices. And so ivory-white it was, the long curved
beach, and so gayly bright the emerald of the wood! There
were many palms with other trees we knew not. It was
low, the island, and it shone before us silver and green, and
the trees moved gently in a wind more sweet, we thought,
than any Andalusian zephyr. Pedro Gutierrez stared.
It was not what we had looked for, but it was good
enough. It seemed divine, that morning!
Nearer we drew, nearer. The beach was now bare. We
made out the dark, naked folk at edge of the wood, in tree
shadows, watching us. Were they strange to us, be sure
we were stranger to them!
The azure water, so marvelous, met that sand white like
crushed bone, strewn with delicate shells. Never was wind
so sweet as that which blew this morning! Green plumes,
the palms brushed the sky; there seemed to us fruit trees
also, with satin stems and wide-laden boughs. When we
looked over shoulder the _Santa Maria_, the Pinta and the
Nina each rode double, mast and hull in sky, mast and hull
in mirror sea. Something strange and divine was about
us, over us. We wished to laugh, we wished to weep.
Boat head touched clean sand. The oars rested. Christopherus
Columbus the Admiral stepped from boat first and
alone, all waiting as was right. He took with him the banner
of Spain. He walked a few yards, then struck the
standard into the sand. There was air enough to open the
folds, to make them float and fly. Kneeling, he bowed himself
and kissed the earth. We heard his strong voice praying.
"_Domine Deus, aeterne et omnipotens, sacro tuo verbo
coelum, et terra, et mare, creasti_--"
We also bowed our heads. He rose and cried to Fray
Ignatio. The Franciscan was the next to enter this new
world. After him sprang out Diego de Arana and the others.
The Pinzons, too, were now leaving their boats. All were
at last gathered about the Admiral, between blue water and
green wood. Fifty Spaniards, we gathered there, and we
heard our fellows left upon the ships cheering us. We
kneeled and Fray Ignatio thanked God for us.
We rose, drew long breath and looked about us, then
turned to the Admiral with loud praise and gratulation. He
was girded with a sword, cross-hilted. Drawing it, he set
its point in the sand. Then with one hand upon the cross,
and one lifted and wrapped in the banner folds, he, with a
great voice, proclaimed Spain's ownership. To the King
and Queen of the Spains all lands unchristian and idolatrous
that we might find and use and hold, all that were clearly
away from the line of the King of Portugal, drawn for him
by the Holy Father! In the name of God, in the name of
Holy Church, in the name of Isabella, Queen of Castile,
and Ferdinand, King of Aragon and their united Power,
amen and amen! He motioned to the trumpeter who put
trumpet to his lips and blew a blast to the north and the
south and the east and the west. At the sound there seemed
to come a cry from the fringing wood, a cry of terror.
The island was ours,--if all this could make it ours.
A piece of scarlet cloth spread upon the sand had heaped
upon it necklaces of glass and three or four hawk bells
with other toys. We placed it there, then stood back. At
the Admiral's command the harquebus and crossbow men
laid their weapons down, though watchful eye was kept.
But no arrow flights had come from the wood, and as far
as could be seen some kind of lance, not formidable looking,
was their only weapon. Next the Admiral made our fifer to
play a merry and peaceful air.
We had noted a clump of trees advanced into the sand
and we thought that the bolder men were occupying this.
Now a man started out alone, a young man by the looks of
him, drawn as he was against the white sand, and a paladin,
for he marched to meet alone he knew not what or whom.
"Blackamoor!" exclaimed De Arana beside me, but as he
came nearer we saw that the dead blackness was paint, laid
in a fantastic pattern upon his face and body. Native hue
of skin, as we came presently to find in the unpainted, was
a pleasing red-brown. He advanced walking daintily and
proudly, knowing that his people were watching him. Single
Castilian, single Moor, had advanced so, many a time, between
camps, or between camp and fortress.
Halting beside the red cloth he stooped and turned over
the trinkets. When he straightened himself he had in hand
a string of great beads, rose and blue and green. He fingered
these, seemed about to put the necklet on, then refrained
as too daring. Laying it gently back upon the scarlet he
next took up a hawk bell. These bells, as is known, ring
very clear and sweet. I was afterwards told that the Portuguese
had noted their welcome among the African people.
There was no nail's breadth of information that this man
Columbus could not use! He had used this, and in a list
for just possibly found savage Indians had put down, "good
number of hawk bells."
The red man painted black, took up the hawk bell. It
chimed as he moved it. He dropped it on the sand and gave
back a step, then picked it up and set it tinkling. His face,
the way in which he moved, said "Music from heaven!"
The Admiral motioned to Fray Ignatio to move toward
him. That good man went gently forward. The youth
gave back, but then braced himself, under the eyes of his
nation. He stood. The Franciscan put out a gowned arm
and a long, lean kindly hand. The youth, naked as the
bronze of a god, hesitated, raised his own arm, let it drop
upon the other's. Fray Ignatio, speaking mild words,
brought him across and to the Admiral. The latter, tallest
of us all and greatly framed, lofty of port, dressed with
magnificence, silver-haired, standing forth from his officers
and men, the banner over him, would be taken by any for
Great Captain, chief god of these gods, and certes, at the
first they thought that we were gods! The Indian put his
hands to his face, shrank like a girl and came slowly to his
knees and lower yet until his forehead rested upon the earth.
The Admiral lifted him, calling him "son."
Those of his kind watching from the wood now sent forth
a considerable deputation. There came to us a dozen naked
men, fairly tall, well-shaped, skin of red copper, smeared
often with paint in bars and disks and crescents. Their
hair was not like the Negro's, the only other naked man our
time knew, but was straight, black, somewhat coarse, not
bushy but abundant, cut short with the men below the ear.
They are a beardless people. Our beards are an amazement
to them, as are our clothes. A fiercely quarrelsome folk, a
peace-keeping, gentle folk will sound their note very soon.
These belonged to the latter kind. Their lances were not our
huge knightly ones, nor the light, hard ones of the Moors.
They were hardly more than stout canes, the head not iron
--they had no iron--but flint or bone shaped by a flint
knife. Where the paint was not splashed or patterned over
them, their faces could be liked very well. Lips were not over
full, the nose slightly beaked, the forehead fairly high, the
eyes good. They did not jabber nor move idly but kept
measure and a pleasant dignity. They seemed gentle and
happy. So were they when we found them.
Their speech sounded of no tongue that we knew. Luis
Torres and I alike had knowledge of Arabic. We had no
Persian that might be nearer yet, but Arabia being immemorially
caravan-knit with India, it was thought that it
might be understood. But these bare folk had no notion
of it, nor of the Hebrew which Luis tried next. The Latin
did not do, the Greek of which I had a little did not do.
But there is an old, old language called Gesture. If,
wherever there is a common language there is one people,
then in end and beginning surely we are one folk around
We were to be friends with these islanders. "Friends
first and last!" believed the Admiral. Indeed, all felt it
so, this bright day. If they were not all we had imaged,
sailing to them, yet were they men, and unthreatening, novel,
very interesting to us with their island and their marvelous
blue water. All was heightened by sheer joy of landing,
and of finding--finding something! And what we found
was not horrible nor deathful, but bright, promising, scented
like first fruits.
To them we found we were gods! They moved about us
with a kind of ceremony of propitiation. Two youths came
with a piece of bark carried like a salver, piled with fruits
and with thin cakes of some scraped root. Another brought
a parrot, a great green and rose bird that at once talked,
though we could not understand his words. Two older
men had balls, as large as melons, of some wound stuff that
we presently found to be cotton loosely twisted into yarn.
The Admiral's eyes glowed. "Now if any bring spices or
pepper--" But they did not, nor did they bring gold.
All these things they put down before us, in silence or
with words that we thought were petitions, moving not
confusedly but with a manner of ritual. The Admiral took a
necklace and placed it round the throat of the young man
who first had dared, and in his hand put a hawk bell. That
was enough for himself to do, who was Viceroy. Three of
us finished the distribution. They who had brought presents
were given presents. All would have us go with them
to their village, just behind the trees. A handful of men
we left with the boats and the rest of us crossed sand.
Harquebuses and crossbows went with us, but we had no need
of them. The island apparently followed peace, and its
folk greatly feared to give offense to gods from the sky.
Above the ships held a range of pearly clouds, out of which
indeed one might make strange lands and forms. The Indians
--Christopherus Columbus called them "Indians"--
pointed from ships to cloud. They spoke with movements
of reverence. "You have come down--you have come
down!" We understood them, though their words were not
Now the greenwood rose close at hand. The trees differed,
the woven thickness of it, the color and blossom, from any
wood at home. A space opened before us, and here was
the village of these folk,--round huts thatched with palm
leaves, set on no streets, but at choice under trees. Earth
around was trodden hard, but the green woods pressed close.
Here and there showed garden patches with plants whose
names and uses we knew not. Now we came upon women
and children. Like the men the women were naked. Well-
shaped and comely, with long, black, braided hair, they
seemed to us gentle, pleasing and fearless. The children
were a crew that any might love.
Time lacks to say all that we did and heard and guessed
this day upon this island! It was first love after long weeks
at sea, and our cramped ships and all our great uncertainty!
If it was not what we had expected, still here it was, tangible
land that never had been known, wonderful to us, giving
us already rich narrative for Palos and Huelva and Fishertown, for Cordova and the Queen and King. We
now that other land was to be met, so soon as we sailed a
reasonable distance to meet it. Under the horizon would
be land surely, and surely of an import that this small island
lacked, like Paradise though it seemed to us this day! Any
who looked at the Admiral saw that he would make no long
tarrying here. He named this island San Salvador, but we
would not wait in San Salvador.
This day in shifts, all our men were brought ashore, each
division having three hours of blessed land. So good was
earth under foot, so good were trees, so delectable the fruit,
so lovely to move and run and watch every moving, running,
walking thing! And these good, red-brown folk, naked it
was true, but mannerly after their own fashion, who thought
every seaman a god, and the ship boys sons of gods! And
we also were good and mannerly, the _Santa Maria_, the
Pinta and the Nina. I look back and I see a strange, a
boyish and a happy day.
The sun was westering. We felt the exhaustion of a
long holiday with novelties so many that at last the senses
did not answer. Perhaps the Indians felt it too. Often and
often have I seen great wisdom guide the Admiral. An
hour before approaching night might have said "Go!" he
took us one and all back to the ships. "_Salve Regina_" was
a sound that evening to hear, and afterwards it was to
sleep, sleep,--tired as from the Fair at Seville!
AT first, the day before, we had not made out that the
Indians had boats. Later, straying here and there,
we had seen them drawn upon the shore and covered
with boughs of trees. They called them "canoes", made
them, large and small, out of trunks of trees, hollowed by
fire, and with their stone knives. We had seen one copper
knife. Asked about that, they pointed to the south and
seemed to say that yonder dwelled men who had all they
wished of most things.
From dark the east grew pale, from pallor put on roses.
This day no mariner grumbled at the call to awake. Here
still lay our Fortunate Isle, our San Salvador; here our
ivory beach, our green wood. Up went the little curls of
We had breakfast. So great was now the deference to
him who three days ago had been "madman" and "black
magician", "dreaming fool" and "spinner without thread!"
Now it was "Admiral", "Excellency", and "What shall
we do next?" and "What is your opinion, sir?"
The immediate thing to do proved to be to come forth
from cabin and mark the beach thronging with thrice the
number of yesterday, and the canoes putting off to us. We
counted eight. Only one was a long craft, holding twenty
men; the others came in cockle boats, with one or two or
three. Not only canoes, but they came swimming, men and
boys, all a dark grace in the cerulean, lucid sea. They were
so fearless--for we came from heaven and would not harm
them. We were going to make them rich; we were going
to "save" them.
A score perhaps were helped aboard the _Santa Maria_.
The Pinta, the Nina, had others. They were like children,
touching, staring, excitedly talking and gesturing among
themselves, or gazing in a kind of fixed awe, asking of the
least sailor with all reverence, bowing themselves before the
Admiral, the over-god. The Admiral moved richly dressed,
rapt and benignant, yet sparing a part of himself to keep
all order, measure, rightness on the ship, and another part
to find out with keen pains, "What of other lands? What
of folk who must be your superiors?"
They had brought offerings. Half a dozen parrots perched
around, very gorgeously colored, loquacious in a speech we
did not know. We had stacks of the large round thin
cakes baked on stones which afterwards we called cassava,
and great gourds, "calabashes" filled with fruit, and balls
of cotton in a rude thread. We gave beads, bits of cloth,
little purses, and the small bells that caused extravagant
delight. But ever the Admiral looked for signs of gold,
for he must find for princes and nobles and merchants gold
or silver, or precious stones or spice, or all together. If he
found them not, half his fortunes fell; a half-wind only
would henceforth fill his sails.
And at last came in a canoe with three a young Indian
who wore in his ear a knob of gold. Roderigo Sanchez
saw this first and brought him to the Admiral. The latter,
taking up an armlet of green glass and a hawk bell, touched
the gold in the ear. "Do you trade?" Glad enough was
the Indian to trade. It lay in the Admiral's palm, a piece
of gold as great as a filbert.
Juan Lepe watched him make inquisition, Diego de
Arana, Sanchez and Escobedo at his elbow. He did it
to admiration, with look, gesture and tone ably translating
his words. "Gold--gold?" The Indian said, or we put
down in this wise what he said, "Harac."
Was there more harac on the island? We would give
heavenly things for harac. The Indian was doubtful; he
thought proudly that he had the only harac. "Where did
he get it?" He indicated the south.
"Little island like this one?"
"No. Great land. Harac there in many ears. Much
So we understood him. "Cipango!" breathed the Admiral.
"Or neighbor to Cipango, increasingly rich and civilized
as we go."
He took a case of small boxes, each box filled with merchandise
of spice which he desired. Cinnamon, nutmeg,
pepper, saffron, cloves and others. He made the islander
smell and taste. "Had they aught like these?"
The Indian seemed to say they had not, but would like
to have. He looked about for something with which to
trade, a parrot, or heap of cakes, or ball of cotton. I
thought that it was the box of boxes that he extremely
wished, but the Admiral thought it was the spicery, and
that he must have known them wherever he got the gold.
"Were they found yonder?"
The Admiral stretched arm out over blue sea and the
Indian followed his gesture. He shot out his own arm,
"South--southwest--west," nodded the Admiral. "Many
islands, or the mainland. Gates open before us!"
"Had the Indian been to these lands?" No, it seemed,
but one had come in a boat, wearing this knob of gold,
and he had told them. Was he living? No, he was not
living. What kind of a person was he? Such as us?
Emphatically no. Not such as us! Much, we gathered, as
was the Indian himself. "Pearls have come from Queen's
neck to Queen's neck," quoth the Admiral, "by a thousand
rude hands and twisting ways!"
There was one woman among the visitors to the _Santa
Maria_, a young woman, naked, freely moving and smiling.
Eyes dwelled on her, eyes followed her. She was with an
Indian who might be brother or husband. The Admiral
gave her a worked, Moorish scarf. She tied it about her
head, and the bright ends fell down beside her long, black,
braided hair. None touched her, but they were woman-
starved, and they looked at her hungrily. She had beauty
in her way, and a kind of innocence both frank and shy.
She was like a doe in the green forest, come silently upon
Fed full of marvel at last, these Indians left us. But
no sooner had they reached land and told of great kindness
on the part of the inhabitants of heaven than other canoes
and other swimmers put forth. This might go on all day,
so we checked it by ourselves going ashore.
This day we filled our water casks and took aboard much
fruit and all the cakes that they brought us. Moreover
we explored the island, finding two villages of a piece with
the first, and in the middle land a fair pool of water. This
day like yesterday was blissful wine.
All blessed Christopherus Columbus. No man now but,
for a while, did his bidding with an open heart.
In the morning we sailed away, not without plentiful
promises of return. When we put up our white sails they
cried out and pointed to the cloud sierra. No! We would
not go back to heaven--or if we did so we would come
again, loving so our gentle friends upon earth! We sailed,
and in all our after wanderings we never came back to this
island. And never again, I think, while Columbus voyaged,
did there come to us just the bright, exquisite thrill of that
first land after long doubt and no land. San Salvador--
Holy Saviour Island!
WE were in a throng of islands. We might drop all
for a little while, then from masthead "Land ho!"
None were great islands, many far smaller than
San Salvador. At night we lay to, not knowing currents
and shoals; then broke the day and we flung out sail.
We had with us upon the _Santa Maria_ three San Salvador
men. They had come willingly, two young, fearless
men, and one old man with a wrinkled, wise, interested
face. Assiduous to gain their tongue and impart our own,
the Admiral, beside his own effort, told off for especial
teachers and scholars Luis Torres and Juan Lepe. We
did gain knowledge, but as yet everything was imperfect,
without fine shading, and subject to all miscomprehension.
But like the rest of us, the Admiral guessed in
accordance with his wishes and his previous belief.
All these islands lay flat or almost flat upon the sea. All
showed ivory beach, vivid wood, surrounding water, transparent
and heavenly blue, inhabited by magically colored
fish. When we dropped anchor, took boat and landed, it
was to find the same astonished folk, naked, harmless, holding
us for gods, bringing all they had, eager for our toys
which were to them king's treasures and holy relics. Every
island the Admiral named; he gave them goodly names!
Over and over the Indians pointed south and west. We
understood great lands, clothed men, much gold. But when
we next came to anchor, like small island, like men, women
and children. We traded for a few more knobs of gold,
but they were few.
Toscanelli's map and the Admiral's map lay on cabin
table. "Islands in the Sea of Chin--Polo and Mandeville
alike say thousands--all grades then of advance. Beyond
any manner of doubt, persevering west or west by south,
we shall come to main Asia." So long as he ruled, there
would be perseverance!
At Santa Maria de la Concepcion a solitary large canoe
crowded with Indians was rowing toward us. One of the
San Salvador young men aboard us fancied some slight,
experienced some fear, or may even,--who knows?--have
wearied of the gods. Springing upon the rail he threw
himself into sea and made off with great strokes toward the
canoe. Pedro behind him shouted "Escape!" There was
a rush to the side to observe. Fernando bawled, "Come
back! or we'll let fly an arrow."
He swam, the dark, naked fellow, like a fish. Reaching
the canoe, the Indians there took him in; he seemed to have
a tale to tell, they all broke into talk, the canoe went round,
they rowed fast back to land. The _Nina_, lying near us, had
her boat filling to go ashore. Her men had seen the leap
overboard and the swimmer. Now they put after, rowing
hard for the canoe, that having the start came first to beach.
The Indians sprang out, the San Salvador man with them.
Leaving canoe, they ran across sand into wood. The _Nina's_
men took the canoe and brought it to the _Santa Maria_. In
it were balls of cotton and calabashes filled with fruit and a
chattering parrot. It was the first thing of this kind that
had happened, and the Admiral's face was wrathful. He
had a simple, kindly heart, and though he could be vexed
or irritated, he rarely broke into furious anger. But first
and last he desired peaceful absorption, if by any means
that were possible, of these countries. We absorbing them,
they absorbing us; both the gainers! And he had warm
feeling of romance-love for all this that he was finding.
He saw all his enterprise milk-white, rose-bright. And his
pride was touched that the Indian who had seemed contented
had not truly been so, and that the _Nina_'s men had disobeyed strict commands for friendliness. He would
that content if possible, and he would have no more unordered
chasing of canoes. The Nina's men got anger and
rebuke, Captain Cristoforo Colombo mounting up in the
He would let nothing in the canoe be touched. Instead
he had placed aboard a pot of honey and a flask of wine
and three pieces of cloth, then with a strong shove it was
sent landward, and the tide making in, it came to shore.
We saw two venture from the wood and draw it up on
In a little while came around a point of shore a canoe
with one Indian who made toward us, using his oar very
dexterously, and when he entered our shadow holding up
cotton and fruit. It was to be seen that he had had no
communication with the men of the large canoe.
The Admiral himself called out encouragingly and snatching
the first small thing at hand held it up. The Indian
scrambled on board. He stood, as fine a piece of bronze
as any might see, before the Genoese, as great a figure as
might be found in all Italy--all Spain--all Europe.
The elder touched the younger, the white man the red
man, as a king, a father, might have touched a prince, a
son. He himself took the youth over our ship, showing
him this, showing him that, had the music play for him,
brought him to Fray Ignatio who talked of Christ, pointing
oft to heaven. (To my thinking this action, often repeated,
was one of the things that for so long made them
certain we had come from the skies.) In the cabin he
gave the Indian a cup of wine and a biscuit dipped in honey.
He gave him a silken cap with a tassel and himself put
round his throat one of our best strings of beads, and into
his hand not one but three of the much-coveted hawk bells.
He was kinder than rain after drought. First and last, he
could well lend himself to the policy of kindness, for it was
not lending. Kindness was his nature.
In an hour this Indian, returned to his canoe, was rowing toward shore with a swelling heart and a
loyalty. He touched the island, and we could trust him to
be missionary, preaching with all fervor of heaven and the
Whatever the other's defection, he more than covered it,
the return of the canoe aiding. Santa Maria de la Concepcion
became again friendly. But the Admiral that evening
gave emphatic instruction to Martin and Vicente Pinzon
and all the gathered Spaniards. Just here, I think, began
the rift between him and many. Many would have by prompt
taking, as they take in war. Were not all these heathen
and given? But he would have another way round, though
often he compromised with war; never wanting war but
forced by his time and his companions. Sometimes, in the
future, forced by the people we came among, but far
oftener forced by greed and lust and violence of our own.
Alas, again! Alas, again and again!
After Santa Maria de la Concepcion, Fernandina, and
after Fernandina the most beautiful of islands, Isabella,
where we lay three days. People upon this island seemed
to us more civilized than the Salvador folk. The cotton
was woven, loin cloths were worn, they had greater variety
of calabashes, the huts were larger, the villages more regular.
They slept in "hamacs" which are stout and wide
cotton nets slung between posts, two or three feet above
earth. Light, space-giving, easy of removal, these beds
greatly took our fancy.
Here we sought determinedly for spice-giving trees and
medicinal herbs and roots. It was not a spicery such as
Europe depended upon, but still certain things seemed valuable!
We gathered here and gathered there what might
be taken to Spain. There grew an emulation to find. The
Admiral offered prizes for such and such a commodity
We sailed from Isabella and after three days came to
CUBA! At first he called it Juana, but we came afterwards
still to use the Indian name. Cuba! We saw
it after three days, and it was little enough like
Isabella, Fernandina, Concepcion, San Salvador and the
islets the Admiral called Isles de Arena. It covered all our
south, no level, shining thing that masthead could see around,
but a mighty coast line, mountainous, with headlands and
bays and river mouths. Now after long years, I who outlive
the Admiral, know it for an island, but how could he
or I or any know that in November fourteen hundred and
ninety-two? He never believed it an island.
He stood on deck watching. "Cuba--Cuba! Have you
not read of Cublai Khan? The sounds chime!"
"Cublai Khan. He lives in Quinsai."
"Ay. His splendid, capital city. Buildings all wonderful,
and gardens like Mahound's paradise!"
"But if it is Cipango?"
"Ay. It may be Cipango. We have no angel here to tell
us which. I would one would fly down and take us by the
hand! Being men, we must make guesses."
Beautiful to us, splendid to us, was this coast of Cuba!
We sailed by headlands and deep, narrow-necked bays, river
mouths and hanging forests and bold cliffs. We sailed west
and still headland followed headland, and still the lookout
cried, "It stretched forever like the main!"
We came to a river where ships might ride. Sounding,
we found deep water, entered river mouth and dropped
anchor, then went ashore in the boats. Palms and their
water doubles, and in the grove a small abandoned village.
We had seen the people flee before us, and they were no
more nor other kind of people than had showed in Concepcion
or Fernandina. Yet were they a little wealthier. We
found parrots on their perches, and two dogs, small and
wolf-like that never barked. In one hut lay a harpoon
tipped with bone, and a net for fishing. In another we
found a wrought block of wood which Fray Ignatio pronounced
We went back to our ships, and leaving river, sailed on
in a bright blue sea. The next day we doubled a cape and
found a great haven, but silent and sailless, with no maritime
city thronging the shore. What was this world, so huge, so
sparely, rudely peopled?
We came to anchor close under shore in this haven.
Again the marvelous water, but now it laved a bold and
great country! We landed. Canoes fastened in a row,
another village, most of the folk decamped, but a few
brave men and women tarrying to find out something about
heaven and its inmates. With toys again and pacific gestures
we wiled them to us.
There was upon the _Santa Maria_ a young Indian who
had chosen to come with us from Fernandina. He had courage
and intelligence, was willing to receive instruction and
baptism from Fray Ignatio, and first and last followed the
Admiral with devotion. The latter had him christened
Diego Colon. We taught him Spanish as fast and soundly as
we might, and used him as interpreter. The tongue of his
island was not just the tongue of Cuba, but near enough to
serve. All these Indians have a gift of oratory and dote to
speak at length, with firm voice and great gestures. Now
we set Diego Colon to his narration. We of Castile had so
much of the tongue by now that we could in some wise
Forth it poured! We were gods come from heaven.
Yonder stood the chief god that the others obeyed. He
was very great, strong, good, wise, kind, giving beautiful
gifts! We were all kind--no one was going to be hurt.
We made magic with harac--which we called "gold."
In heaven was not enough harac. So important is it to the
best magic that a chief god has come to earth to seek it.
We also liked cotton and things to eat, especially cassava
cakes, and we liked a very few parrots. But it was gold
that in chief we wanted. The man who brought the gods
gold might go home with gifts so beautiful that there was
never anything seen like them! Especially is there something
that the gods call "bells" that ring and sound in
your hand when you dance! Gold--do you know where
to find it? Another thing! They desire to find a god who
dropped out of the sky a long time ago, and has now a people
and a great, marvelous village. Thinking he might be
here, they have dived down to our land, for they dive in
the sky as we dive in water! The name of the god they
hunt is Grand Khan or Cublai Khan, and his village is
Quinsai. Have you heard of him? They are very anxious
to find him. The chief god with white hair and wonderful
clothes--It is what they call clothes; under it they are as
you and me, only the color is different--the chief god will
give many bells to any folk who can show him the way to
Quinsai. Gold and Quinsai where lives the god Grand
As might have been expected, this brought tidings. "Cubanacan!
Cubanacan!" Whatever that might mean, they
said it with assurance, pointing inland. Diego Colon interrupted
their further speech. "There is a river. Go up
it three days and come to great village. Cacique there
wearing clothes. All men there have gold!"
Pedro Gutierrez spoke. "They'll promise anything for a
"What do they understand and what do they not understand?
What do they say and what do they not say?"
That was Martin Pinzon. "Between them all we are
The Admiral, who was gazing inland after the dark
pointing finger, turned and spoke. "At the root of all
things sit Patience and Make Trial!
"Well, I know," answered Pinzon, "that if these ships
be not careened and mended we shall have trouble! Weather
changes. There will be storm!"
He was right as to ships and weather, and the Admiral
knew it and said as much. I never saw him grudge recognition
to Martin Pinzon. It has been said that he did, but
I never saw it.
That night, on board the _Santa Maria_ there was held a
great council. At last it was settled that we should rest
here a week and overhaul the ships, and that while that
was doing, there should be sent two or three with Indian
guides to find, if might be, this river and this town.
And there were chosen, and given a week to go and come,
Juan Lepe, Luis Torres and a seaman Roderigo Jerez,
with Diego Colon, the Fernandina youth. Likewise there
would go two Indians of this village, blithe enough to
show their country to the gods and the gods to their country.
The next day being Sunday, Fray Ignatio preached a sermon
to the Indians. He assumed, and at this time I think
the Admiral assumed, that these folk had no religion. That
was a mistake. I doubt if on earth can be found a people
Men and women they watched and listened, still, attentive,
knowing that it had somehow to do with heaven. After
sermon and after we had prayed and sung, we fashioned
and set up a great cross upon cliff brow. Again the Indians
watched and seemed to have some notion of what we
The remainder of the day we rested, and on Monday
early Roderigo Jerez, Luis Torres and Juan Lepe with
Diego Colon and two Cuba men made departure, We had
a pack of presents and a letter from the Admiral. For we
might meet some administrator or commandant or other,
from Quinsai or Zaiton or we knew not where. This was
the first of many--ah, so many--expeditions, separations
from main body and return, or not return, as the case
FOREST endless and splendid! We white men often
saw no path, but the red-brown men saw it. It ran
level, it climbed, it descended; then began the three
again. It was lost, it was found. They said, "Here path!"
But we had to serpent through thickets, or make
way on edge of dizzy crag, or find footing through morass.
We came to great stretches of reeds and yielding grass,
giving with every step into water. It was to toil through
this under hot sun, with stinging clouds of insects. But
when they were left behind we might step into a grove of
the gods, such firmness, such pleasantness, such shady going
or happy resting under trees that dropped fruit.
We met no great forest beasts. There seemed to be none
in this part of Asia. And yet Luis and I had read of great
beasts. Dogs of no considerable size were the largest four-
footed things we had come upon from San Salvador to
Cuba. There were what they called _utias_, like a rabbit,
much used for food, and twice we had seen an animal the
size of a fox hanging from a bough by its tail.
If the beasts were few the birds were many. To see the
parrots great and small and gorgeously colored, to see those
small, small birds like tossed jewels that never sang but
hummed like a bee, to hear a gray bird sing clear and loud
and sweet every strain that sang other birds, was to see
and hear most joyous things. Lizards were innumerable;
at edge of a marsh we met with tortoises; once we passed
coiled around a tree a great serpent. It looked at us with
beady eyes, but the Indians said it would not harm a man.
A thousand, thousand butterflies spread their painted fans.
The trees! so huge of girth and height and wherever was
room so spreading, so rich of grain, so full, I knew, of
strange virtues! We found one that I thought was cinnamon,
and broke twigs and bark and put in our great pouch
for the Admiral. Only time might tell the wealth of this
green multitude. I thought, "Here is gold, if we would wait
for it!" Fruit trees sprang by our path. We had with us
some provision of biscuit and dried meat, and we never
lacked golden or purple delectable orbs. We found the
palm that bears the great nut, giving alike meat and
By now Luis Torres and I had no little of Diego Colon's
tongue and he had Spanish enough to understand the simplest
statements and orders. Ferdandina tongue was not
quite Cuba tongue, but it was like enough to furnish sea
room. We asked this, we asked that. No! No one had
ever come to the end of their country. When one town
was left behind, at last you came to another town. One
by one, were they bigger, better towns? They seemed to
say that they were, but here was always, I thought, doubtful
understanding. But no one had ever walked around their
country--they seemed to laugh at the notion--land that
way, always land! On the other hand, there was sea yonder
--like sea here. They pointed south. Not so far there!
"It must be," said Luis, "that Cuba is narrow, though
without end westwardly. A great point or tongue of
The Cubans were strong young men and not unintelligent.
"Chiefs?" Yes, they had chiefs, they called them
_caciques_. Some of them were fighters, they and their people.
Not fighters like Caribs! Whereupon the speaker
rose--we were resting under a tree--and facing south,
used for gesture a strong shudder and a movement as if to
South--south--always they pointed south! We were
going south--inland. Would we come to Caribs? But
no. Caribs seemed not to be in Cuba, but beyond sea, in
Luis and I made progress in language and knowledge.
Roderigo Jerez, a simple man, slept or tried the many kinds
of fruit, or teased the slender, green-flame lizards.
We slept this night high on the mountainside, on soft grass
near a fall of water. The Indians showed no fear of attack
from man or beast. They could make fire in a most
ingenious fashion, setting stick against larger stick and
turning the first with such skill, vigor and persistence that
presently arose heat, a spark, fire. But they seemed to need
or wish no watch fire. They lay, naked and careless, innocent--
fearless, as though the whole land were their castle.
Luis tried to find out how they felt about dangers. We
pieced together. "None here! And the Great Lizard takes
care!" That was the Cuban. Diego Colon said, "The
Great Turtle takes care!"
Luis Torres laughed. "Fray Ignatio should hear that!"
"It is on the road," I said and went to sleep.
The second day's going proved less difficult than the first.
Less difficult means difficult enough! And as yet we had met
no one nor anything that remotely favored golden-roofed
Cipango, or famous, rich Quinsai, or Zaiton of the marble
bridges. Jerez climbed a tall tree and coming down reported
forest and mountain, and naught else. Our companions
watched with interest his climbing. "Do you go
up trees in heaven?"
This morning we had bathed in a pool below the little
waterfall. Diego Colon by now was used to us so, but the
Cuba men displayed excitement. They had not yet in mind
separated us from our clothes. Now we were separated and
were found in all our members like them, only the color differing.
Color and the short beards of Luis Torres and Juan
Lepe. They wished to touch and examine our clothes
lying upon the bank, but here Diego Colon interfered.
They were full of magic. Something terrible might happen!
When Luis and I came forth from water and dried
ourselves with handfuls of the warm grass, they asked:
"Do they do so in heaven?" The stronger, more intelligent
of the two, added, "It is not so different!"
I said to Luis as we took path after breakfast, "It is
borne in upon me that only from ourselves, Admiral to
ship boy, can we keep up this heaven ballad! Clothes,
beads and hawk bells, cannon, harquebus, trumpet and
banner, ship and sails, royal letters and blessing of the Pope
--nothing will do it long unless we do it ourselves!"
"Agreed!" quoth Luis. "But gods and angels are beginning
to slip and slide, back there by the ships! We have
the less temptation here."
He began to speak of a sailor and a brown girl upon
whom he had stumbled in a close wood a little way from
shore. She thought Tomaso Pasamonte was a god wooing
her and was half-frightened, half-fain. "And two hours
later I saw Don Pedro Gutierrez--"
"Ay," said Juan Lepe. "The same story! The oldest
that is!" And as at the word our savages, who had been
talking together, now at the next resting place put forward
their boldest, who with great reverence asked if there were
women in heaven.
Through most of this day we struggled with a difficult
if fantastically beautiful country. Where rock outcropped
and in the sands of bright rapid streams we looked
for signs of that gold, so stressed as though it were the
only salvation! But the rocks were silent, and though in
the bed of a shrunken streamlet we found some glistening
particles and scraping them carefully together got a small
spoonful to wrap in cloth and bestow in our pouch of
treasures, still were we not sure that it was wholly gold. It
might be. We worked for an hour for just this pinch.
Since yesterday morning our path had been perfectly
solitary. Then suddenly, when we were, we thought, six
leagues at least from the ships, the way turning and entering
a small green dell, we came upon three Indians seated
resting, their backs to palm trees. We halted, they raised
their eyes. They stared, they rose in amazement at the sight
of those gods, Roderigo Jerez, Luis Torres and Juan Lepe.
They stood like statues with great eyes and parted lips. For
us, coming silently upon them, we had too our moment of
They were three copper men, naked, fairly tall and well
to look at. But each had between his lips what seemed a
brown stick, burning at the far end, dropping a light ash
and sending up a thin cloud of odorous smoke. These burning
sticks they dropped as they rose. They had seemed so
silent, so contented, so happy, sitting there with backs to
trees, a firebrand in each mouth, I felt a love for them!
Luis thought the lighted sticks some rite of their religion,
but after a while when we came to examine them, we found
them not true stick, but some large, thickish brown leaf
tightly twisted and pressed together and having a pungent,
not unpleasing odor. We crumbled one in our hands and
tasted it. The taste was also pungent, strange, but one
might grow to like it. They called the stick tobacco, and
said they always used it thus with fire, drinking in the smoke
and puffing it out again as they showed us through the
nostrils. We thought it a great curiosity, and so it was!
But to them we were unearthly beings. The men from
the sea told of us, then as it were introduced Diego Colon,
who spoke proudly with appropriate gesture, loving always
his part of herald Mercury--or rather of herald Mercury's
herald--not assuming to be god himself, but cherishing
the divine efflux and the importance it rayed upon him!
The three Indians quivered with a sense of the great
adventure! Their town was yonder. They themselves had
been on the path to such and such a place, but now would
they turn and go with us, and when we went again to the
sea they, if it were permitted, would accompany us and
view for themselves our amazing canoes! All this to our
companion. They backed with great deference from us.
We went with these Indians to their town, evidently the
town which we sought. And indeed it was larger, fitter, a
more ordered community than any we had met this side
Ocean-Sea, though far, far from travelers' tales of Orient
cities! It was set under trees, palm trees and others, by
the side of a clear river. The huts were larger than those
by the sea, and set not at random but in rows with a great
trodden square in the middle. From town to river where
they fished and where, under overhanging palms, we found
many Canoes, ran a way wider than a path, much like a
narrow road. But there were no wheeled vehicles nor
draught animals. We were to find that in all these lands
they on occasion carried their caciques or the sick or hurt
in litters or palanquins borne on men's shoulders. But for
carrying, grinding, drawing, they knew naught of the wheel.
It seemed strange that any part of Asia should not know!
In this town we found the cacique, and with him a _butio_
or priest. Once, too, I thought, our king and church were
undeveloped like these. We were looking in these lands
upon the bud which elsewhere we knew in the flower. That
to Juan Lepe seemed the difference between them and us.
The people swarmed out upon us. When the first admiration
was somewhat over, when Diego Colon and the two
seaside men and the Cubans of the burning sticks had made
explanation, we were swept with them into their public
square and to a hut much larger than common where we
found a stately Indian, the cacique, and an ancient wrinkled
man, the _butio_. These met us with their own assumption
of something like godship. They had no lack of manner,
and Luis and I had the Castilian to draw upon. Then came
presents and Diego Colon interpreting. But as for the
Admiral's letter, though I showed it, it was not understood.
It was gazed upon and touched, considered a heavenly
rarity like the hawk bells we gave them, but not read nor
tried to be read. The writing upon it was the natural
veining of some most strange leaf that grew in heaven, or
it was the pattern miraculously woven by a miraculous
workman with thread miraculously finer than their cotton!
It was strange that they should have no notion at all--not
even their chieftains and priests--of writing! Any part
of Asia, however withdrawn, surely should have tradition
there, if not practice!
In this hut or lodge, doored but not windowed, we found
a kind of table and seats fashioned from blocks of some
dark wood rudely carved and polished. The cacique would
have us seated, sat himself beside us, the _butio_ at his hand.
There seemed no especial warrior class. We noted that,
it being one of the things it was ever in order to note. No
particular band of fighting men stood about that block
of polished wood, that was essentially throne or chair of
state. The village owned slender, bone or flint-headed lances,
but these rested idly in corners. Upon occasion all or any
might use them, but there was no evidence that those occasions
came often. There was no body of troops, nor armor,
no shields, no crossbows, no swords. They had knives,
rudely made of some hard stone, but it seemed that they
were made for hunting and felling and dividing. No clothing
hid from us any frame. The cacique had about his middle
a girdle of wrought cotton with worked ends and some
of the women wore as slight a dress, but that was all. They
were formed well, all of them, lithe and slender, not lacking
either in sinew and muscle, but it was sinew and muscle of
the free, graceful, wild world, not brawn of bowman and
pikeman and swordman and knight with his heavy lance.
In something they might be like the Moor when one saw
him naked, but the Moor, too, was perfected in arms, and
so they were not like.
We did not know as yet if ever there were winter in this
land. It seemed perpetual, serene and perfect summer. Behind
these huts ran small gardens wherein were set melons
and a large pepper of which we grew fond, and a nourishing
root, and other plants. But the soil was rich, rich, and
they loosened and furrowed it with a sharpened stick. There
were no great forest beasts to set them sternly hunting.
What then could give them toil? Not gathering the always
falling fruit; not cutting from the trees and drying the
calabashes, great and small, that they used for all manner
of receptacle; not drawing out with a line of some stouter
fiber than cotton and with a hook of bone or thorn the
painted fish from their crystal water! To fell trees for
canoes, to hollow the canoe, was labor, as was the building
of their huts, but divided among so many it became light
labor. In those days we saw no Indian figure bowed with
toil, and when it came it was not the Indian who imposed
But they swam, they rowed their canoes, they hunted in
their not arduous fashion, they roved afar in their country
at peace, and they danced. That last was their fair, their
games, their tourney, their pilgrimage, their processions to
church, their attendance at mass, their expression of anything
else that they felt altogether and at once! It was like
children's play, renewed forever, and forever with zest. But
they did not treat it as play. We had been showed dances
in Concepcion and Isabella, but here in Cuba, in this inland
town, Jerez and Luis and I were given to see a great and
formal dance, arranged all in honor of us, gods descended
for our own reasons to mix with men! They danced in the
square, but first they made us a feast with _hutias_ and cassava
and fish and fruit and a drink not unlike mead, exhilarating
but not bestowing drunkenness. Grapes were all over these
lands, purple clusters hanging high and low, but they knew
Men and women danced, now in separate bands, now
mingled together. Decorum was kept. We afterwards
knew that it had been a religious dance. They had war
dances, hunting dances, dances at the planting of their corn,
ghost dances and others. This now was a thing to watch,
like a beautiful masque. They were very graceful, very supple;
they had their own dignity.
We learned much in the three days we spent in this town.
Men and women for instance! That nakedness of the body,
that free and public mingling, going about work and adventure
and play together, worked, thought Juan Lepe no
harm. Later on in this vast adventure of a new world,
some of our churchmen were given to asserting that they
lived like animals, though the animals also are there slandered!
The women were free and complaisant; there were
many children about. But matings, I thought, occurred
only of free and mutual desire, and not more frequently
than in other countries. The women were not without modesty,
nor the men without a pale chivalry. At first I thought
constraint or rule did not enter in, but after a talk with their
priest through Diego Colon, I gathered that there prevailed
tribe and kinship restraints. Later we were to find that a
great network of "thou shalt" and "thou shalt not" ran
through their total society, wherever or to what members
it might extend. Common good, or what was supposed to
be common good, was the master here as it is everywhere!
The women worked the gardens, the men hunted; both men
and women fished. Women might be caciques. There were
women caciques, they said, farther on in their land. And it
seemed to us that name and family were counted from the
The Admiral had solemnly laid it upon us to discover the
polity of this new world. If they held fief from fief, then
at last we must come through however many overlords to
the seigneur of them all, Grand Khan or Emperor. We
applied ourselves to cacique and butio, but we found no
Grand Seigneur. There were other caciques. When the
Caribs descended they banded together. They had dimly,
we thought, the idea of a war-lord. But it ended there, when
the war ended. Tribute: He found they had no idea of
tribute. Cotton grew everywhere! Cotton, cassava, calabashes,
all things! When they visited a cacique they took
him gifts, and at parting he gave them gifts. That was all.
Gold? They knew of it. When they found a bit they kept
it for ornament. The cacique possessed a piece the size
of a ducat, suspended by a string of cotton. It had been
given to him by a cacique who lived on the great water.
Perhaps he took it from the Caribs. But it was in the mountains, too. He indicated the heights beyond.
they scraped it from sand under the stream. He seemed indifferent
to it. But Diego Colon, coming in, said that it
was much prized in heaven, being used for high magic, and
that we would give heavenly gifts for it. Resulted from that
the production in an hour of every shining flake and grain
and button piece the village owned. We carried from this
place to the Admiral a small gourd filled with gold. But it
was not greatly plentiful; that was evident to any thinking
man! But we had so many who were not thinking men.
And the Admiral had to appease with his reports gold-thirsty
great folk in Spain.
We spent three days in this village and they were days for
gods and Indians of happy wonder and learning. They
would have us describe heaven. Luis and I told them of
Europe. We pointed to the east. They said that they knew
that heaven rested there upon the great water. The town
of the sun was over there. Had we seen the sun's town? Was
it beside us in heaven, in "Europe"? The sun went down
under the mountains, and there he found a river and his
canoe. He rowed all night until he came to his town. Then
he ate cassava cakes and rested, while the green and gold
and red Lizard [These were "Lizard" folk. They had a
Lizard painted on a great post by the cacique's house.] went
ahead to say that he was coming. Then he rose, right out
of the great water, and there was day again! But we must
know about the sun's town; we, the gods!
Luis and I could have stayed long while and disentangled
this place and loved the doing it.
But it was to return to the Admiral and the waiting ships.
The three tobacco men would go with us to see wonders,
so we returned nine in number along the path. Before we
set out we saw that a storm threatened. All six Indians
were loth to depart until it was over, and the cacique would
have kept us. But Luis and I did not know how long the
bad weather might hold and we must get to the ships. It
was Jerez who told them boastfully that gods did not fear
storms,--specimen of that Spanish folly of ours that worked
harm and harm again!
We traveled until afternoon agreeably enough, then with
great swiftness the clouds climbed and thickened. Sun went
out, air grew dark. The Indians behind us on the path, that
was so narrow that we must tread one after the other, spoke
among themselves, then Diego Colon pushed through marvelously
huge, rich fern to Luis and me. "They say, `will
not the gods tell the clouds to go away?' " But doubt like
a gnome sat in the youth's eye. We had had bad weather off
Isabella, and the gods had had to wait for the sun like
others. By now Diego Colon had seen many and strange
miracles, but he had likewise found limitations, quite numerous
and decisive limitations! He thought that here was
one, and I explained to him that he thought correctly. Europeans
could do many things but this was not among them.
Luis and I watched him tell the Cubans that he, Diego
Colon, had never said that we three were among the highest
gods. Even the great, white-headed, chief god yonder in the
winged canoe was said to be less than some other gods in
heaven which we called Europe, and over all was a High
God who could do everything, scatter clouds, stop thunder
or send thunder, everything! Had we brought our butio
with us he might perhaps have made great magic and helped
things. As it was, we must take luck. That seeming rational
to the Indians, we proceeded, our glory something diminished,
but still sufficient.
The storm climbed and thickened and evidently was to
become a fury. Wind began to whistle, trees to bend, lightnings
to play, thunder to sound. It grew. We stood in
blazing light, thunder almost burst our ears, a tree was riven
a bow-shot away. Great warm rain began to fall. We
could hardly stand against the wind. We were going under
mountainside with a splashing stream below us. Diego
Colon shouted, as he must to get above wind and thunder.
"Hurry! hurry! They know place." All began to run.
After a battle to make way at all, we came to a slope of loose,
small stones and vine and fern. This we climbed, passed
behind a jagged mass of rock, and found a cavern. A
flash lit it for us, then another and another. At mouth
it might be twenty feet across, was deep and narrowed
like a funnel. Panting, we threw ourselves on the cave
The storm prevailed through the rest of this day and far
into the night. "_Hurricane!_" said the Cubans. "Not great
one, little one!" But we from Spain thought it a great
enough hurricane. The rain fell as though it would make
another flood and in much less than forty days. We must
be silent, for wind and thunder allowed no other choice.
Streams of rain came into the cavern, but we found ledges
curtained by rock. We ate cassava cake and drank from a
runlet of water. The storm made almost night, then actual
night arrived. We curled ourselves up, hugging ourselves
for warmth, and went to sleep.
The third day from the town we came to the sea and the
ships. All seemed well. Our companions had felt the
storm, had tales to tell of wrenched anchors and the _Pinta's_
boat beat almost to pieces, uprooted trees, wind, lightning,
thunder and rain. But they cut short their recital, wishing
to know what we had found.
Luis and I made report to the Admiral. He sat under a
huge tree and around gathered the Pinzons, Fray Ignatio,
Diego de Arana, Roderigo Sanchez and others. We related;
they questioned, we answered; there was discussion; the
Admiral summed up.
But later I spoke to him alone. We were now on ship,
making ready for sailing. We would go eastward, around
this point of Asia, since from what all said it must be
point, and see what was upon the other side. "They all
gesture south! They say `Babeque--Babeque! Bohio!' "
I asked him, "Why is it that these Indians here seem glad
for us to go?"
He sighed impatiently, drawing one hand through the
other, with him a recurring gesture. "It is the women!
Certain of our men--" I saw him look at Gutierrez who
"Tomaso Passamonte, too," I said.
"Yes. And others. It is the old woe! Now they have
only to kill a man!"
He arraigned short-sightedness. I said, "But still we are
"Still. But some of the gods--just five or six, say--
have fearful ways!" He laughed, sorrowfully and angrily.
"And you think there is little gold, and that we are very
far from clothed and lettered Asia?"
"So far," I answered, "that I see not why we call these
brown, naked folk Indians."
"What else would you call them?"
"I do not know that."
"Why, then, let us still call them Indians." He drummed
upon the rail before him, then broke out, "Christ! I think
we do esteem hard, present, hand-held gold too much!"
"I say yes to that!"
He said, "We should hold to the joy of Discovery and
great use hereafter--mounting use!"
"Here is virgin land, vast and beautiful, with a clime like
heaven, and room for a hundred colonies such as Greece and
Rome sent out! Here is a docile, unwarlike people ready to
be industrious servitors and peasants, for which we do give
them salvation of their souls! It is all Spain's, the banner
is planted, the names given! We are too impatient! We
cannot have it between dawn and sunset! But look into the
future--there is wealth beyond counting! No great amount
of gold, but enough to show that there is gold."
I followed the working of his mind. It was to smile
somewhat sorrowfully, seeing his great difficulties. He was
the born Discoverer mightily loving Discovery, and watching
the Beloved in her life through time. But he had to
serve Prince Have-it-now, in the city Greed. I said, "Senor,
do not put too much splendor in your journal for the King
and Queen and the Spanish merchants and the Church and
all the chivalry that the ended war releases! Or, if you
prophesy, mark it prophecy. It is a great trouble in the
world that men do not know when one day is talked of or
when is meant great ranges of days! Otherwise you will
have all thirsty Spain sailing for Ophir and Golden Chersonesus,
wealth immediate, gilding Midas where he stands!
If they find disappointment they will not think of the future;
they will smite you!"
I knew that he was writing in that book too ardently,
and that he was even now composing letters to great persons
to be dispatched from what Spanish port he should
first enter, coming back east from west, over Ocean-Sea,
But he had long, long followed his own advice, stood by
his own course. The doing so had so served him that it
was natural he should have confidence. Now he said only,
"I do the best I can! I have little sea room. One Scylla
and Charybdis? Nay, a whole brood of them!"
I could agree to that. I saw it coming up the ways that
they would give him less and less sea room. He went on,
"Merchandise has to be made attractive! The cook dresses
the dish, the girl puts flowers in her hair. . . . Yet, in the
end the wares are mighty beyond description! The dish is
for Pope and King--the girl is a bride for a paladin!"
Again he was right afar and over the great span. But
they would not see in Spain, or not many would see, that
the whole span must be taken. But I was not one to
chide him, seeing that I, too, saw afar, and they would not
see with me either in Spain.
WE sailed for two days east by south. But the
weather that had been perfection for long and
long again from Palos, now was changed. Dead
winds delayed us, the sea ridged, clouds blotted out the
blue. We held on. There was a great cape which we called
Cape Cuba. Off this a storm met us. We lived it out and
made into one of those bottle harbors of which, first and
last, we were to find God knows how many in Cuba!
The Admiral named it Puerto del Principe, and we raised
on shore here a very great cross. We had done this on
every considerable island since San Salvador and now twice
on this coast. There were behind us seven or eight crosses.
The banner planted was the sign of the Sovereignty of Spain,
the cross the sign of Holy Church, Sovereign over sovereigns,
who gave these lands to Spain, as she gave Africa
and the islands to Portugal. We came to a great number
of islets, rivers of clear blue sea between. The ships lay
to and we took boat and went among these. The King's
Gardens, the Admiral called them, and the calm sea between
them and mainland the Sea of Our Lady. They were
thickly wooded, and we thought we found cinnamon, aloes
and mastic. Two lovely days we had in this wilderness
of isles and channels where was no man nor woman at all,
then again we went east and south, the land trending that
way. Very distant, out of eastern waste, rose what seemed
a large island. The Admiral said that we should go discover,
and we changed course toward it, but in three hours'
time met furious weather. The sea rose, clouds like night
closed us in. Night came on without a star and a contrary
wind blew always. When the dawn broke sullenly we were
beaten back to Cuba, and a great promontory against which
truly we might have been dashed stood to our north and
shut out coast of yesterday. Here we hung a day and
night, and then the wind lulling and the sea running not
so high, we made again for that island which might be
Babeque. We had Indians aboard, but the sea and the
whipping and groaning of our masts and rigging and sails
and the pitching of the ship terrified them, and terror made
them dull. They sat with knees drawn up and head buried
in arms and shivered, and knew not Babeque from anything
Christopherus Columbus could be very obstinate. Wishing
strongly to gain that island, through all this day he had
us strive toward it. But the wind was directly ahead and
strong as ten giants. The master and others made representations,
and at last he nodded his gray head and ordered
the _Santa Maria_ put about and the Pinta and the Nina
signaled. The Nina harkened and turned, but the Pinta.
at some distance seemed deaf and blind. Night fell while
still we signaled. We were now for Cuba, and the wind
directly behind us, but yet as long as we could see, the Pinta
chose not to turn. We set lights for signals, but her light
fell farther and farther astern. She was a swifter sailer
than we; there was no reason for that increasing distance.
We lay to, the _Nina_ beside us. Ere long we wholly lost
the Pinta's light. Night passed. When morning broke
Captain Martin Alonso Pinzon and the Pinta were gone.
The sea, though rough, was not too perilous, and never
a signal of distress had been seen nor heard.
"Lost? Is the Pinta lost?"
"Lost! No!--But, yes. Willfully lost!"
It was Roderigo Sanchez who knew not much of the
sea who asked, and the Admiral answered. But having
spoken it that once, he closed his strong lips and coming
down from deck said he would have breakfast. All that
day was guessing and talk enough upon the _Santa Maria_;
silent or slurred talk at last, for toward noon the Admiral
gave sharp order that the Pinta should be left out of
conversation. Captain Martin Pinzon was an able seaman.
Perhaps something (he reminded us of the rudder before
the Canaries) had gone wrong. Captain Pinzon may have
thought the island was the nearer land, or he may have
returned to Cuba, but more to the north than were we. He
looked for the _Pinta_. again in a reasonable time. In the
meantime let it alone!
So soon as the sea allowed, Vicente Pinzon came in his
boat to the Santa Maria, but he seemed as perplexed as we.
He did not know his brother's mind. But Martin Pinzon
forever and always was a good sea captain and a Castilian
of his word, knowing what was proper observance to his
Admiral. If he did this or that, it would be for good reasons.
So Vicente, and the Admiral was cordial with him, and
saw him over rail and down side with cheerful words. He
was cheerful all that day in his speech, cheerful and suave
and prophesying good in many directions. But I knew the
trouble behind that front.
In some ways the _Pinta_ was the best of our ships. Martin
Pinzon was a bold and ready man, and those aboard
with him devoted to his fortunes. He did not lack opinions
of his own, and often they countered the Admiral's.
He was ambitious, and the Admiral's rights were so vast
and inclusive that there seemed not much room to make
name and fame. Much the same with riches! What
Martin Pinzon had loaned would come back to him beyond
doubt, back with high interest and a good deal more.
But still it would seem to him that room was needed. In
his mind he had said perhaps many times to the Admiral,
"Do not claim too much soil! Do not forget that other
trees want to grow!"
Martin Pinzon might have put back to Spain, but who
knew the man would not think that likely. Far more probable
that he might be doing discovery of his own. Perhaps
he would rejoin us later with some splendid thing to his
credit, claim that Spain could not deny!
Cuba coast rose high and near. It is a shore of the fairest
harbors! We made one of these into which emptied a little
river. He named haven and river Saint Catherine. In the
bed of this stream, when we went ashore, we found no little
gold. He took in his hand grains and flakes and one or
two pieces large as beans. It was royal monopoly, gold, and
every man under strict command--to bring to the Admiral
all that was found. Seamen and companions gathered
around him, Admiral, Viceroy and Governor, King Croesus
to be, a tenth of all gold and spoil filling his purse! And
they, too, surely some way they would be largely paid! The
dream hovered, then descended upon us, as many a time it
descended. Great riches and happiness and all clothed in
silk, and every man as he would be and not as he was, a
dim magnificence and a sense of trumpets in the air, acclaiming
us! I remember that day that we all felt this mystic
power and wealth, the Admiral and all of us. For a short
time, there by Saint Catherine's River, we were brought into
harmony. Then it broke and each little self went its way
again. But for that while eighty men had felt as though
we were a country and more than a country. The gold
in the Admiral's hand might have been gold of consciousness.
After this day for days we sailed along Cuba strand,
seeing many a fair haven and entering two or three. There
were villages, and those dusk, naked folk to whom by now
we were well used, running to beach or cliff brow, making
signs, seeming to cry, "Heaven come down, heaven, heaven
and the gods!" The notion of a sail had never come to
them, though with their cotton they might have made them.
They were slow to learn that the wind pushed us, acting
like a thousand tireless rowers. We were thrillingly new to
them and altogether magical. To any seeing eye a ship under
full sail is a beautiful, stately, thrilling thing! To these
red men there was a perilous joy in the vision. If to us in
the ships there hung in this voyage something mystic, hidden,
full of possibility, inch by inch to unroll, throbbing all
with the future which is the supernatural, be sure these, too,
who were found and discovered, moved in a cloud of mystery
torn by strange lightnings!
Sometimes we came into haven, dropped anchor and lowered
sails, whereupon those on the shore again cried out.
When we took our boats and went to land we met always
the same reception, found much the same village, carried on
much the same conversations. Little by little we collected
gold. By now, within the Admiral's chest, in canvas bags,
rested not a little treasure for Queen Isabella and King
Ferdinand. And though it was forbidden, I knew that many
of our seamen hid gold. All told we found enough to whet
appetite. But still the Indians said south, and Babeque and
At last we had sailed to the very eastern end of Cuba and
turned it as we might turn the heel of Italy. A great spur
that ran into the ocean the Admiral dubbed Alpha and
Omega, and we planted a cross.
It fell to me here to save the Admiral's life.
We had upon the _Santa Maria_ a man named Felipe who
seemed a simple, God-fearing soul, very attentive to Fray
Ignatio and all the offices of religion. He was rather a silent
fellow and a slow, poor worker, often in trouble with boatswain
and master. He said odd things and sometimes wept
for his soul, and the forecastle laughed at him. This man
became in a night mad.
It was middle night. The _Santa Maria_ swung at anchor
and the whole world seemed a just-breathing stillness.
There was the watch, but all else slept. The watch, looking
at Cuba and the moon on the water, did not observe Felipe
when he crept from forecastle with a long, sharp two-edged
knife such as they sell in Toledo.
Juan Lepe woke from first sleep and could not recover
it. He found Bernardo Nunez's small, small cabin stifling,
and at last he got up, put on garments, and slipped forth
and through great cabin to outer air. He might have found
the Admiral there before him, for he slept little and was
about the ship at all hours, but to-night he did sleep.
I spoke to the watch, then set myself down at break of
poop to breathe the splendor of the night. The moon bathed
Alpha and Omega, and the two ships, the _Nina_ and the Santa
Maria. It washed the Pinta but we saw it not, not knowing
where rode the Pinta and Martin Alonzo Pinzon. So bright,
so pleasureable, was the night!
An hour passed. My body was cooled and refreshed,
my spirit quiet. Rising, I entered great cabin on my way
to bed and sleep. I felt that the cabin was not empty, and
then, there being moonlight enough, I saw the figure by the
Admiral's door. "Who is it?" I demanded, but the unbolted
door gave to the man's push, and he disappeared. I
knew it was not the Admiral and I followed at a bound. The
cabin had a window and the moonbeams came in. They
showed Felipe and his knife and the great Genoese asleep.
The madman laughed and crooned, then lifted that Toledo
dagger and lunged downward with a sinewy arm. But I
was upon him. The blow fell, but a foot wide of mark.
There was a struggle, a shout. The Admiral, opening eyes,
sprang from bed.
He was a powerful man, and I, too, had strength, but
Felipe fought and struggled like a desert lion. He kept
crying, "I am the King! I will send him to discover Heaven!
I will send him to join the prophets!" At last we had him
down and bound him. By now the noise had brought the
watch and others. A dozen men came crowding in, in the
moonlight. We took the madman away and kept him fast,
and Juan Lepe tried to cure him but could not. In three
days he died and we buried him at sea. And Fernando,
creeping to me, asked, "senor, don't you feel at times that
there is madness over all this ship and this voyage and _him_
--the Admiral, I mean?"
I answered him that it was a pity there were so few
madmen, and that Felipe must have been quite sane.
"Then what do you think was the matter with Felipe,
I said, "Did it ever occur to you, Fernando, that you had
too much courage and saw too far?" At which he looked
frightened, and said that at times he had felt those symptoms.
MARTIN PINZON did not return to us. That tall,
blond sea captain was gone we knew not where. The
_Santa Maria_ and the Nina sailed south along the foot
of Cuba. But now rose out of ocean on our southeast quarter
a great island with fair mountain shapes. We asked
our Indians--we had five aboard beside Diego Colon--
what it was. "Bohio! Bohio!" But when we came there,
its own inhabitants called it Hayti and Quisquaya.
The Admiral paced our deck, small as a turret chamber,
his hands behind him, his mind upon some great chart drawn
within, not without. At last, having decided, he called Juan
de la Cosa. "We will go to Bohio."
So it was done whereby much was done, the Woman with
the distaff spinning fast, fast!
As this island lifted out of ocean, we who had said of
Cuba, "It is the fairest!" now said, "No, this is the fairest!"
It was most beautiful, with mountains and forests and
vales and plains and rivers.
The twelfth day of December we came to anchor in a
harbor which the Admiral named Concepcion.
On this shore the Indians fled from us. We found a
village, but quite deserted. Not a woman, not a man, not a
child! Only three or four of those silent dogs, and a great
red and green parrot that screamed but said nothing.
There was something in this day, I know not what,
but it made itself felt. The Admiral, kneeling, kissed the
soil, and he named the island Hispaniola, and we planted a
For long we had been beaten about, and all aboard the
ships were well willing to leave them for a little. We had
a dozen sick and they craved the shore and the fruit trees.
Our Indians, too, longed. So we anchored, and mariners
and all adventurers rested from the sea. A few at a time,
the villagers returned, and fearfully enough at first. But
we had harmed nothing, and what greatness and gentleness
was in us we showed it here. Presently all thought they
were at home with us, and that heaven bred the finest folk!
Our people of Hispaniola, subjects now, since the planting
of the flag, were taller, handsomer, we thought, than the
Cubans, and more advanced in the arts. Their houses were
neat and good, and their gardens weeded and well-stocked.
The men wore loin cloths, the women a wide cotton girdle or
little skirt. We found three or four copper knives, but
again they said that they came from the south. As in Spain
"west--west" had been his word, so now the Admiral
brooded upon south.
These folk had a very little gold, but they seemed to say
that theirs was a simple and poor village, and that we should
find more of all things farther on. So we left Concepcion,
the cross upon the rock showing a long way through the pure
For two days we coasted, and at the end of this time we
came to a harbor of great beauty and back from it ran a
vale like Paradise, so richly sweet it was! Christopherus
Columbus was quick to find beauty and loved it when found.
Often and often have I seen his face turn that of a child
or a youth, filled with wonder. I have seen him kiss a
flower, lay a caress upon stem of tree, yearn toward palm
tops against the blue. He was well read in the old poets,
and he himself was a poet though he wrote no line of verse.
We entered here and came to anchor and the sails rattled
down. "Hispaniola--Hispaniola, and we will call this
harbor St. Thomas! He was the Apostle to India. And
now we are his younger brothers come after long folding
away. Were we more--did we have a fleet--we might
set a city here and, it being Christmas, call it La Navidad!"
Out came the canoes to us, out the swimmers, dark and
graceful figures cleaving the utter blue. Some one passing
that way overland, hurrying with news, had told these villages
how peaceful, noble, benevolent, beneficent we were.
The canoes were heaped with fruit and cassava bread, and
they had cotton, not in balls, but woven in pieces. And
these Indians had about neck or in ear some bits of gold.
These they changed cheerfully, taking and valuing what
trifle was given. "Gold. Where do you get your gold?
Do you know of Cipango or Cathay or India? Have ever
you heard of Zaiton, or of Quinsai and Cublai Khan?"
They gave us answers which we could not fully understand,
and gestured inland and a little to the east. "Cibao! Cibao!"
They seemed to say that there was all the gold
there that a reasonable mortal might desire. "Cibao?--
Cipango?" said the Admiral. "They might be the same."
"Like Cuba and Cublai Khan," thought Juan Lepe.
Around a point of shore darted a long canoe with many
rowers. Other canoes gave way for it, and the Indians already
upon the _Santa Maria_ exclaimed that it was the
boat of the cacique, though not the cacique but his brother
sat in it. Guacanagari was the cacique. His town was
yonder! They pointed to a misty headland beyond St.
The Indian from the great canoe came aboard, a handsome
fellow, and he brought presents not like any we had
seen. There was a width of cotton embroidered thick with
bits of gleaming shell and bone, but what was most welcome
was a huge wooden mask with eyes and tongue of gold.
Fray Ignatio crossed himself. "The devil they worship,--
poor lost sheep!" The third gift was a considerable piece
of that mixed and imperfect gold which afterwards we
called guanin. And would we go to visit the cacique whose
town was not so far yonder?
It was Christmas Eve. We sailed with a small, small
wind for the cacique's village, out from harbor of St.
Thomas, around a headland and along a low, bright green
shore. So low and fitful was the wind that we moved
like two great snails. Better to have left the ships and gone,
so many of us, in our boats with oars, canoes convoying us!
The distance was not great, but distance is as the power
of going. "I remember," quoth the Admiral, "a calm,
going from the Levant to Crete, and our water cask broken
and not a mouthful for a soul aboard! That was a long,
long two days while the one shore went no further and the
other came no nearer. And going once to Porto Santo
with my wife she fell ill and moaned for the land, and we
were held as by the sea bottom, and I thought she would die
who might be saved if she could have the land. And I remember
going down the African coast with Santanem--"
Diego de Arana said, "You have had a full life, senor!"
He was cousin, I had been told, to that Dona Beatrix
whom the Admiral cherished, mother of his youngest son,
Fernando. The Admiral had affection for him, and Diego
de Arana lived and died, a good, loyal man. "A full outward
life," he went on, "and I dare swear, a full inward
"That is God's truth!" said the Admiral. "You may
well say that, senor! Inside I have lived with all who have
lived, and discovered with all who have discovered!"
I remember as a dream this last day upon the _Santa Maria_.
Beltran the cook had scalded his arm. I dressed it each
day, and dressing it now, half a dozen idling by, watching
the operation, I heard again a kind of talk that I had heard
before. Partly because I had shipped as Juan Lepe an
Andalusian sailor and had had my forecastle days, and
partly because men rarely fear to speak to a physician, and
partly because in the great whole there existed liking between
them and me, they talked and discussed freely enough
what any other from the other end of ship could have
come at only by formal questioning. Now many of the
seamen wanted to know when we were returning to Palos,
and another number said that they would just as soon never
return, or at least not for a good while! But they did not
wish to spend that good while upon the ship. It was a
good land, and the heathen also good. The heathen might
all be going to burn in hell, unless Fray Ignatio could get
them baptized in time, and so numerous were they that
seemed hardly possible! Almost all might have to go to hell.
But in the meantime, here on earth, they had their uses, and
one could even grow fond of them--certainly fond of the
women. The heathen were eager to work for us, catch
us coneys, bring us gold, put hammocks for us between
trees and say "Sleep, senor, sleep!" Here even Tomaso
Passamonte was "senor" and "Don." And as for the
women--only the skin is dark--they were warm-hearted!
Gold and women and never any cold nor hunger nor toil!
The heathen to toil for you--and they could be taught to
make wine, with all these grapes dangling everywhere?
Heathen could do the gathering and pressing, and also the
gold hunting in rocks and streams. Spain would furnish the
mind and the habit of command. It were well to stay and
cultivate Hispaniola! The Admiral and those who wanted
to might take home the ships. Of course the Admiral would
come again, and with him ships and many men. No one
wanted, of course, never to see again Castile and Palos
and his family! But to stay in Hispaniola a while and
rest and grow rich,--that was what they wanted. And no
one could justly call them idle! If they found out all about
the land and where were the gold and the spices, was there
not use in that, just as much use as wandering forever on
the _Santa Maria_?
Mother earth was kind, kind, here, and she didn't have a
rod like mother country and Mother Church! They did not
say this last, but it was what they meant.
"You don't see the rod, that is all," said Juan Lepe.
But there had eventually to be colonies, and I knew that
the Admiral was revolving in his head the leaving in this
new world certain of our men, seed corn as it were, organs
also to gather knowledge against his speedy return with
power of ships and men. For surely Spain would be
grateful,--surely, surely! But he was not ready yet to set
sail for Spain. He meant to discover more, discover further,
come if by any means he could to the actual wealth of great,
main India; come perhaps to Zaiton, where are more merchants
than in all the rest of the world, and a hundred
master ships laden with pepper enter every year; or to
Quinsai of the marble bridges. No, he was not ready to
turn prow to Spain, and he was not likely to bleed himself
of men, now or for many days to come. All these who
would lie in hammocks ashore must wait awhile, and even
when they made their colony, that is not the way that colonies
live and grow.
Beltran said, "Some of you would like to do a little
good, and some are for a sow's life!"
It was Christmas Eve, and we had our vespers, and we
thought of the day at home in Castile and in Italy. Dusk
drew down. Behind us was the deep, secure water of
St. Thomas, his harbor. The Admiral had us sound and
the lead showed no great depth, whereupon we stood a little
out to avoid shoal or bar.
For some nights the Admiral had been wakeful, suffering,
as Juan Lepe knew, with that gout which at times troubled
him like a very demon. But this night he slept. Juan de la
Cosa set the watch. The helmsman was Sancho Ruiz than
whom none was better, save only that he would take a risk
when he pleased. All others slept. The day had been long,
so warm, still and idle, with the wooded shore stealing so
Early in the night Sancho Ruiz was taken with a great
cramp and a swimming of the head. He called to one of
the watch to come take the helm for a little, but none answered;
called again and a ship boy sleeping near, uncurled
himself, stretched, and came to hand. "It's all safe, and
the Admiral sleeping and the master sleeping and the watch
also!" said the boy. Pedro Acevedo it was, a well-enough
meaning young wretch.
Sancho Ruiz put helm in his hand. "Keep her so, while I
lie down here for a little. My head is moving faster than
the _Santa Maria_!"
He lay down, and the swimming made him close his
eyes, and closed eyes and the disappearance of his pain, and
pleasant resting on deck caused him to sleep. Pedro Acevedo
held the wheel and looked at the moon. Then the
wind chose to change, blowing still very lightly but bearing
us now toward shore, and Pedro never noticing this grow
larger. He was looking at the moon, he afterwards said
with tears, and thinking of Christ born in Bethlehem.
The shore came nearer and nearer. Sancho Ruiz slept.
Pedro now heard a sound that he knew well enough. Coming
back to here and now, he looked and saw breakers upon a
long sand bar. The making tide was at half, and that and
the changed wind carried us toward the lines of foam. The
boy cried, "Steersman! Steersman!" Ruiz sat up, holding
his head in his hands. "Such a roaring in my ears!"
But "Breakers! Breakers!" cried the boy. "Take the
Ruiz sprang to it, but as he touched it the _Santa Maria_
grounded. The shock woke most on board, the immediate
outcry and running feet the rest.
The harm was done, and no good now in recriminations!
It was never, I bear witness, habit of Christopherus Columbus.
The Santa Maria listed heavily, the sea pounding against
her, driving her more and more upon the sand. But order
arrived with the Admiral. The master grew his lieutenant,
the mariners his obedient ones. Back he was at thirty, with a
shipwreck who had seen many and knew how to toil with
hands and with head. Moreover, the great genius of the
man shone in darkness. He could encourage; he could
We tried to warp her off, but it was not to be done. We
cut away mast to lighten her, but more and more she grew
fast to the bank, the waves striking all her side, pushing her
over. Seams had opened, water was coming in. The _Nina_ a
mile away took our signal and came nearer, lay to, and sent
The Santa Maria, it was seen, was dying. Nothing more
was to be done. Her mariners could only cling to her like
bees to comb. We got the two boats clear and there was the
boat of the Nina. Missioned by the Admiral, Juan Lepe
got somehow into cabin, together with Sancho and Luis
Torres, and we collected maps and charts, log, journal, box
with royal letters and the small bags of gold, and the Admiral's
personal belongings, putting all into a great sack
and caring for it, until upon the _Nina_ we gave it into his
hand. Above us rang the cry, "All off!"
From Christopherus Columbus to Pedro Acevedo all left
the Santa Maria and were received by the Nina. Crowded,
crowded was the Nina! Down voyaged the moon, up came
with freshness the rose-chapleted dawn. A wreck lay the
Santa Maria, painted against the east, about her a low thunder
of breakers. Where was the _Pinta_ no man knew! Perhaps
halfway back to Spain or perhaps wrecked and drowned
like the flagship. The Nina, a small, small ship and none too
seaworthy, carried all of Europe and Discovery.
IN the small, small cabin of the _Nina_ Christopherus Columbus
sat for a time with his head bowed in his arms,
then rose and made up a mission to go to the cacique
Guacanagari and, relating our misfortune, request aid and
shelter until we had determined upon our course. There
went Diego de Arana and Pedro Gutierrez with Luis Torres
and one or two more, and they took Diego Colon and the
two St. Thomas Indians. It was now full light, the shore
and mountains green as emerald, the water its old unearthly
The _Nina_ swung at anchor just under the land and the
now receding tide uncovered more and more those sands
where the Santa Maria lay huddled and dying. The Admiral
gazed, and the tears ran down his face. He was so great
that he never thought to hide just emotion. He spoke as
though to himself. "Many sins have I, many, many! But
thou wilt not, O God, cast me utterly away because of them!
I will not doubt Thee, nor my calling!"
There was little space about him. The _Nina_ seemed to
quiver, packed and dark with men. His deep voice went on,
and they could hear him, but he did not seem to know that
they were there. "As though upon a raft, here a thousand
leagues in Ocean-Sea! Yet wilt Thou care for thy Good
News. I will come to Spain, and I will tell it. Chosen, and
almost by very name pointed out in Thy Book! The first
Christian shore that I touch I will walk barefoot and in my
shirt at the head of twelve to the first shrine. And, O my
Lord, never more will I forget that that tomb in which
thou didst rest, still, still is held by the infidel!" He beat
his breast. "_Mea culpa! mea culpa!_"
His voice sank, he looked at the sky, then with a turn
of the wrist at the wheel he put that by and became again
the vigilant Admiral of a fleet of one. "She will hold together
yet a while! When the tide is out, we can get to her
and empty her. Take all ashore that can be carried or floated
and may be of use. Up and down--down and up!"
The inhabitants of Hispaniola were now about us in
canoes or swimming. They seemed to cry out in distress
and sympathy, gazing at the _Santa Maria_ as though it were
a god dying there. Their own canoes were living things to
them as is any ship to a mariner, and by analogy our great
canoe was a Being dying, more of a Being than theirs, because
it had wings and could open and fold them. And
then back came our boat with Diego de Arana and the others,
and they had with them that same brother of the cacique who
had come to us in St. Thomas Harbor. And had we been
wrecked off Palos, not Palos could have showed more concern
or been more ready to help than were these men.
We had three boats and the Indian canoes and hands
enough, white and copper-hued. Now at low tide, we could
approach and enter the _Santa Maria_. A great breach had
been made and water was deep in her hold, but we could
get at much of casks and chests, and could take away sails
and cordage, even her two cannon. Eventually, as she broke
up, we might float away to shore much of her timber. When
I looked from the wreck to the little Nina, I could see,
limned as it were in air, the Viceroy's first colony, set in
Hispaniola, beside Guacanagari's town. All Christmas day
we toiled and the Indians at our side. We found them ready,
not without skill, gay and biddable.
Toward sunset came Guacanagari. All the little shore was
strewn and heaped with our matters. And here I will say
that no Indian stole that day though he might have stolen,
and though our possessions seemed to him great wonders
and treasure beyond estimation. What was brought from
the _Santa Maria_ lay in heaps and our men came and went.
The most of our force was ashore or in the boats; only so
many on the Nina. The Admiral, just returned to the ship,
stretched himself upon the bench in her small cabin. Powerful
was his frame and constitution, and powerfully tried
all his life with a thousand strains and buffetings! It seemed
still to hold; he looked a muscular, sinewy, strong and ruddy
man. But there were signs that a careful eye might find.
He lay upon the bench in the cabin and I, who was his
physician, brought him wine and biscuit and made him eat
and drink who, I knew, had not touched food since the
evening before; after which I told him to close eyes and
go away to Genoa and boyhood. He shut them, and I sitting
near brought my will as best I could to the quieting
of all heavy and sorrowful waves.
But then the cacique came. So small was the _Nina_ that
we could hear well enough the word of his arrival. The
Admiral opened his eyes and sat stiffly up. He groaned
and took his head into his hands, then dropped these and
with a shake of his shoulders resumed command. So many
and grievous a sea had dashed over him and retreated and
he had stood! What he said now was, "The tide of the
spirit goes out; the tide comes back in. Let it come back a
Guacanagari entered. This cacique, whose fortunes now
began to be intertwined with ours, had his likeness, so far
as went state and custom, to that Cuban chieftain whom Luis
Torres and I had visited. But this was an easier, less
strongly fibred person, a big, amiable, indolent man with
some quality of a great dog who, accepting you and
becoming your friend, may never be estranged. He was
brave after his fashion, gifted enough in simple things. In
Europe he would have been an. easy, well-liked prince or
duke of no great territory. He kept a simple state, wore
some slight apparel of cotton and a golden necklet. He
brought gifts and an unfeigned sympathy for that death
upon the sand bar.
He and the Admiral sat and talked together. "Gods
from heaven?"--"Christian men and from Europe," and
we could not make him, at this time, understand that that
was not the same thing. We began to comprehend that
"heaven" was a word of many levels, and that they ascribed
to it everything that they chose to consider good and that
was manifestly out of the range of their experience.