TO THE insides
A NOVEL OF ADVENTURE
By C. S. FORESTER
Author of “Captain Horatio Hornbloiper”
CECIL SCOTT FORESTER is an Englishman who, like Keats, Somerset Maugham, and A. J. Cronin, began by being a doctor. He studied medicine at Guy’s Hospital, London, until at last cacoëlh.es scribendi became so exasperating that he fled to Fleet Street. Poetry was his first love. Then, at twenty-five (he was born in 1899), he produced a little masterpiece of horror entitled Payment Deferred, which never found a publisher in America, but which, when acted in England by an unknown named Charles Laughton, became a very dramatic hit indeed.
Small boats have always held a peculiar fascination for Mr. Forester. With his wife as passenger, he has navigated a fifteen-foot motorboat down that romantic and most difficult river, the Loire, and he has similarly explored the Rhine and the Danube. His knowledge of the Spanish coast was gained both as a newspaper correspondent and as the occupant of an odd assortment of vessels. Although he was too young for the first World War, Mr. Forester knows with singular hindsight the workings of the military mind. His love of ships and water and his lively speculation about the pugnacity of man have attracted him to the writing he loves best, direct narratives like The Gun, The African Queen, The General, and — better yet — his splendid trilogy of the British Navy after Nelson, Captain Horatio Hornblower.
Mr. Forester is now in his forty-first year. Recognition came to him, as it comes to many writers, in his late thirties. But today the world is inclined to agree with James Norman Hall when he says, —
' I have the deepest admiration and respect for Mr. Forester’s craftsmanship as a writer, for his knowledge of sailing ships and the sea, and for his knowledge of the quality of the men who sailed the ships.’
TO THE INDIES
BY C. S. FORESTER
THE learned Narciso Rich was washing his shirt. He had dropped a wooden bucket over the side on the end of a rope, and, having filled it, — with difficulty because of its tendency to float and the lack of motion of the ship, — he had swung it up to the foredeck. Although it was late afternoon, it was still stifling hot, and Rich endeavored to stay as much as possible in the shadow cast by the mast and sail, but that was not easy, because the ship was swinging about slowly and aimlessly in the flat calm. The sun stung his bare skin, brown though the latter already was. Yet Rich could not postpone what he was doing until nightfall, because the work in hand necessitated a good light — he was freeing his shirt of the insect pests which swarmed in it.
There were grim thoughts running through his mind as he bent over his revolting task. Firstly, he knew by experience that his shirt was far easier to clean than the leather breeches which he wore, and on which he would have to start work next. Secondly, he would not stay clean very long; not in this ship, where every man was alive with lice, and where the very planking swarmed with loathsome creatures which hastened out at nightfall to suck human blood. At this very moment, when he stopped to think about it, he thought he could distinguish their hideous stench among the other stinks which reached his nostrils.
It was a strange piece of work for him to be doing. Not since his student days had he had to abase himself in this fashion, and for the last five years he had had servants to wait on him in his own house, after he had attained eminence in his profession. Without immodesty he could look on himself as in the first rank of jurisconsults in the triple kingdom of Aragon, and as certainly the second, and possibly the first, authority on the universal maritime code of Catalonia. Merchant princes from Pisa and Florence and Marseille — the very Doge of Venice, for that matter — had sent deputations, almost embassies, to request his judgment upon points in dispute, had listened attentively to his explanations of the law, and had paid in gold for them. Now he was washing his own shirt under an equinoctial sun.
And — he admitted it to himself with all a lawyer’s realism — it was his own fault. He need not have joined this expedition. The King had summoned him to consultation; a pretty tangle they had got their affairs into, His Highness and the Admiral, as a result of not consulting expert legal opinion when drawing up their first agreement, which was exactly what always happened when two laymen tried to save lawyers’ fees. Rich remembered His Highness’s inquiring glance; the subject under discussion was which able-bodied young lawyer it would be best to send out to the Indies to watch over the royal interests and to try to straighten out the legal muddles there. A hot wave of recklessness had swept Rich away.
‘I could go myself, Highness,’ he had said, with an appearance of jesting.
At that moment he had felt weary of the dull round of a lawyer’s life, of the dignified robes, of the solemn pretense to infallibility, of the eternal weariness of explaining to muddled minds the petty points — often the same points over and over again — which to him were clarity itself. He had suddenly realized that he was forty, and aging, and that the twenty years which had elapsed since his journey back to Barcelona from Padua had brought him nothing except the worldly success which seemed to him, momentarily, of small account. With pitiless self-analysis Rich, sousing his shirt in the bucket, reminded himself that at that time the prospect of wearing a sword at his side had made a definite appeal to him, as though he had been a harebrained boy to be attracted by toys.
His Highness’s lantern jaw had dropped a little in surprise.
‘There is nothing we should like better,’ he had said.
There had still been a chance of escape. Instant retraction would have left him at peace in his quiet house in Barcelona, and yet he had thrown away the opportunity.
‘There is no reason why I should not go, Highness,’ he had said, like a fool, and after that there was no chance of withdrawal save at the risk of royal displeasure, and the displeasure of King Ferdinand was more perilous even than a voyage to the Indies.
His shirt was finished now, and he put it on, reveling in the coolness of the wet material against his skin, while he stripped off his breeches — it was repulsive and unpleasing to be naked. It was strange that among all the dangers and discomforts he had expected — the fevers, the poisoned arrows, the firebreathing dragons, the tempests and rocks — he had never anticipated the vermin which now held so important a place in his thoughts. Saint Francis of Assisi, of blessed memory, had spoken of lice as the pearls of poverty. Rich, bending over his disgusting task, shuddered at the unorthodoxy of disapproving of anything Saint Francis had said, until he reassured himself with the thought that divine Providence had not blessed him with the Saint’s humility. There was a whiff of heresy about that, too, now he came to think about it. But he pulled himself together sturdily; his immortal soul could not really be endangered by his cleansing the seams of his breeches. De minimis non curat lex. He could argue a good case with Saint Peter on that point.
This southerly course which they were following now — or would be following, if there were only a wind — would take them into a region of burning sun and brilliant moon; it had done so, for that matter, already. That would greatly increase their chances of obtaining precious metals. The golden glory of the sun and the silver brightness of the moon must obviously engender and stimulate the growth of gold and silver. The soil should be thick with them in this climate, when they reached land. The Portuguese had discovered more and more gold the farther south they pushed their exploration of Africa, which was a clear confirmation of the theory. Shiploads of gold and silver would make Spain rich and powerful. There would be content and plenty in the land. There would be bread on the table of every peasant, and the court of Their Highnesses would be the most brilliant in Christendom.
So Rich had thoroughly approved of this southerly course, which would carry them to the gold-bearing barbaric countries and keep them clear of Cuba and Japan and the other Chinese territories. He was only a tiny bit doubtful now, and that merely on account of practical details. To the north of them lay a region where the wind blew eternally from the eastward; he had sailed through it, he had observed the phenomenon with his own senses. Always from the eastern quarter, sometimes from the north of east, very occasionally from the south of east, that wind blew. If there was a region where there was always a wind blowing, was it not likely that there was another where the wind never blew? They had had days and days of calm. If they were to push farther south still they might reach an area where the calm would be eternal, where they would drift helpless until they died.
And at that very moment a little wind began to blow. He felt it first on his bare legs, damp with the water that had dripped from his shirt — a tiny coolness, the merest ghost of a breath. At first the coolness was all he noticed, never thinking of the cause. Then the big sail above him flapped a trifle, and then louder. Alonso Sanchez de Carvajal, the sailing master, was on his feet now on the poop, looking round at the sea and the sky, and up at the long red-cross pennant which was stirring itself at the masthead. He bellowed orders, and at the sound of his voice the sailors bestirred themselves, rousing themselves up from where they lounged on the decks, moving to halliards and braces with more cheerfulness than they had been accustomed to show during the last few days. The yards were braced round and the sails bellied a little to the wind. Already the motion of the Holy Name had changed, from the indolent indifferent lurching to a more purposeful swoop. Rich heard a sound he had forgotten — the musical bubbling of water under the bows. In itself that was enough to rouse him from his depression. He could feel his spirits rise as he hopped on one leg trying to pull on his breeches and not impede the sailors in their duties.
There was the Admiral on the poop now, in his blue satin doublet with the gold chain glittering round his neck, his white hair hanging to his shoulders. He, too, was looking round the horizon. Now he was speaking to Carvajal, and Carvajal was bellowing more orders to the crew. The yards were being braced farther round. They were altering course; Rich looked forward as the ship steadied herself. Right ahead the sun hovered close above the horizon in a glory of red and gold. The Holy Name was heading due west — the Admiral must have changed his mind at last about holding to the southwestward. To the westward probably lay the nearest land; Rich felt a little thrill of anticipation.
Alonso Perez came shambling past — the Admiral’s servant, major-domo, and general factotum, stoop-shouldered and with arms disproportionately long. He Stepped to the rail and cleared his throat noisily, standing waiting.
‘Go!’ came the Admiral’s high clear voice from the poop, and Perez spat into the indigo sea.
The Admiral was by the rail on the poop, the fingers of his right hand clasping his left wrist. He was counting the number of times his pulse beat while the white fleck of mucus drifted back to him, which would enable him to estimate the speed of the ship through the water. Rich had helped in the initial tedious calculations by which the table of speeds had been constructed — for example: if the ship travels XCI feet while the pulse beats XLIII times, and the number of times the pulse beats in a minute is LXX, how many leagues does the ship travel in an hour? But there was no need to make those calculations now, because the table was constructed once for all, and a mere knowledge of the number of pulse beats enabled anyone to read off the speed of the ship; and Carvajal’s pulse, and the pulse of Diego Osorio the boatswain, had been compared with the Admiral’s so that any one of the three could take an observation.
Rich was beginning again, as he had often done before, to try to work out a similar method of ascertaining longitude, but he was interrupted by his noticing that the ship’s company were assembling aft. He hastened after them, and took his place among the group of gentlemen and priests at the starboard side. The Admiral stood by the tiller, Carvajal at his side, the seamen in line athwartships, and the landsmen to port. Only the lookout and the helmsman took no part in the prayers. Heads were bowed. Horny hands made the sign of the cross. They prayed to the Queen of Heaven, the unlettered among them stumbling through the Latin words following the others. Rich glanced up under his eyelids at the Admiral, who was standing with clasped hands gazing up at the darkening sky. There was a happy exaltation in his face, a fixed and fanatical enthusiasm — everyone was aware of the Admiral’s special devotion to the Blessed Virgin. His blue eyes were still bright in the growing darkness, his white beard ghostlike.
The blessed new coolness of the night gave sweet sleep to Narciso Rich. He told himself, as he stepped into the fresh air in the waist, just before dawn, that they must be nearing the Fountain of Youth, for he felt none of the weight of his forty years on his shoulders, and his bones had ceased to protest about that chaff mattress.
He dipped his bucket and rinsed his face and hands, ran his comb through his hair and beard, and looked about him. The sky was lavender-hued now with the approaching dawn, in such lovely contrast with the blue of the sea as to rouse an ache in his breast, and that blessed breeze was still blowing from the east, driving the Holy Name steadily westward over the rhythmic rise and fall of the sea. He walked over and glanced at the slate hanging beside the helmsman. There was bunch after bunch of little strokes recorded there — they must have made at least twenty leagues during the night. Quite soon they must reach land, and they were a hundred leagues or more farther south than Española, near one of the southern islands which Polo had heard about — Sumatra, perhaps, with its sandalwood and spices.
The ship was fully awake now. Here came the friars in their robes, and after them Rich’s recent cabin mates, the hidalgos, lounging out on deck, their swords at their hips; the two Acevedo brothers, Cristobal García and his followers, Bernardo de Tarpia, still a little unsure of himself from seasickness, and the others. Their lisping Castilian contrasted oddly with the rougher, aspirated Andalusian of the crews and with the sweet Catalan which was music to Rich’s ears. Joăn de Setubal spoke the barbarous Portuguese, which put him on better terms with the Admiral, who spoke Portuguese well, but who, when he spoke Castilian, was liable to lapse with startling unintelligibility into his native Italian. When that happened it was not unusual for him to go on talking for several minutes without realizing what had happened, and to be recalled to Spanish only by the look of blank incomprehension on the face of the person addressed.
Here he came on deck now, wearing scarlet velvet, — the fact that he could wear velvet in that heat was clear enough proof of the way in which personal discomfort meant nothing to him, — his gold chain and his jeweled sword and dagger. His four pages followed him — it was as if they were carrying a five-yard ermine train — and Perez with his white staff of office, and Antonio Spallanzani, his Italian squire. The hidalgos, Rich among them, fell into line and bowed deeply as he approached, with all the deference due to the Regent of the Indies. He bowed stiffly in return — it was rheumatism which made him so unbending — and then turned, with head bowed and uncovered, to murmur a prayer to the Virgin by the taffrail. Carvajal awaited his attention at his elbow, and the Admiral, when he had finished his devotions, turned to him with a slow dignity. Carvajal made his report on the night’s run, the Admiral’s keen blue eyes running over the slate to confirm it. They had run twenty-one leagues. Two great shooting stars had been seen during the middle watch. At dawn the lookout had seen a flight of pelicans. . . .
‘Then land is near,’said the Admiral. ‘Pelicans never fly far to sea/
‘Yes, Excellency,’said Carvajal, bowing again. ‘But the western horizon was clear at daybreak.'
‘No matter. We shall see land today. We are close upon it.’
The Admiral directed his glance forward, to where the lookout stood gazing ahead. There was a little petulance in the Admiral’s manner, a little impatience, as though he suspected the lookout of not doing his duty. Rich felt a little puzzled, because the Admiral could have no certain knowledge that land was within five hundred miles of them in that direction; the Indies already discovered were far to the northward, and no one could tell exactly where were Java and Sumatra, and the islands of the roc and the island of pearls where Sindbad had traded.
‘It may even be in sight, now,’said the Admiral. ‘Here, Perez, go aloft and see for me.'
Perez handed his white staff in silence to one of the pages, and shambled forward. He leaped with ungraceful agility up into the shrouds of the mainmast, and climbed like a cat or an ape up the unstable rope ladder. Every eye watched him as he reached the masthead and steadied himself with one arm linked round a rope and shaded his eyes with his other hand. For a long time he stared to the westward over the indigo sea, looked away to relieve his aching eyes, and then stared again. Suddenly he waved his hand.
‘Land! ‘ he shouted. ‘Land! ‘
The ship broke into a bustle of excitement. Everyone began to scramble for a better point of view. Two or three sailors sprang for the shrouds, and were instantly checked by a high-pitched cry from the Admiral. No one except the faithful Perez should set eyes on this new domain of his before its legitimate ruler did. He walked to the shrouds with the dignity that concealed his rheumatic gait, and slowly began the climb. His bulky clothes and his sword impeded him, but he never hesitated until the masthead was reached. They saw Perez make place for him and point forward, and then, clearly dismissed, slide down the halliard to the deck. The Admiral stayed at the masthead, the sun gleaming on his jewelry and his scarlet and gold. It was long before he began the descent again, longer still before he reached the deck.
‘Gentlemen,’he said gravely to the group of hidalgos, — gravely, but with a sparkle of happiness in his eyes, — ‘yet one more miracle has been vouchsafed to us by the mercy of God.’
He crossed himself, and they waited for him to say more, patiently.
‘This voyage, as you know, gentlemen, the third expedition to the Indies which I have commanded, was undertaken in the name of the Most Holy Trinity. The third voyage, gentlemen, and in the name of the Trinity. And now the first land we sight is a triple peak, three mountain tops conjoined at their base, the emblem of the Trinity, Three in One and One in Three. I have named the land in sight Trinidad, in perpetual memory of this stupendous event. Let us give thanks to God the Father, and to the Blessed Saviour, and to the Holy Spirit.’
The harsh voice of the Dominican friar began at once to recite the prayer; heads were bared and bowed as they followed the words. And when the prayer was finished the Admiral turned to the ship’s boys behind him.
‘Sing, boys,’he commanded. ‘Sing the Salve Regina.’
They sang like angels, their clear high treble soaring up to the cloudless blue sky, the deep bass of the crew blending in harmony with it. It was only after the hymn was finished that the Admiral, with a gesture, dismissed the excited ship’s company so that they could climb the rigging and view the land in sight, but at the same time his eyes met Rich’s and detained him.
‘You see, Don Narciso,’ said the Admiral, gravely, ‘how clearly the hand of God is visible in this enterprise.’
‘Yes, Your Excellency,’ said Rich. He felt the same. The sighting of the triple mountain top as the first incident of a voyage undertaken in the name of the Trinity might — so Rich’s legal mind insisted — have been only a coincidence. But that land should be sighted on the very day the Admiral had predicted it, at a moment when Rich was acutely aware of how insignificant were the data on which to base any calculations — that was also proof of God’s providence. The two facts together made the deduction indisputable.
‘We are no more than ten degrees north of the equinoctial line,’ went on the Admiral. ‘It will be the gold-bearing land whose existence was postulated by my friend Ferrer, the jeweler, as well as by the ancients. Pliny and Aristotle both have passages bearing on the subject. It seems likely enough to me that this will prove to be the land of Ophir of which the Bible tells us.’
There was dismissal in the gesture he made. His mind was wrapped now in lofty schemes, like a mountain among the clouds. Rich bowled and withdrew. He was glad enough, too, to do so, for he was excited and impatient for his first sight of the Indies. He hoisted himself up on the bulwark, but the approaching land was still below the horizon from there, and he set himself to make the unaccustomed climb up the main shrouds — the whole rigging of the ship was still thick with clusters of men, like fruit in a tree. At the masthead there were a dozen of the soldiers whom Bernardo de Tarpia commanded, and they grudgingly made room for him.
Rich clung to the yard, breathless and giddy. He was unaccustomed both to exercise and to heights, and up here the motion of the ship was greatly exaggerated. The horizon swooped round him for a few wild seconds until he regained his breath and his self-control. He wiped off the sweat which was streaming into his eyes and looked forward. There was the land: bright green slopes illuminated by the morning sun. The Indies! The most westerly and the most easterly limit of man’s knowledge of the world he lived in. . . . It was raining there to the northward — the sun behind him was lighting up a dazzling rainbow at that extremity of the island. From there southward, there stretched luxuriant green hills; when the Holy Name rose on a wave he could see a line of white foam as the waves broke against the beach at their feet.
But God had vouchsafed a sign — the Admiral had announced to them the sight of the triple peak from which he had already named this new island. Rich swept his gaze along the sky line to identify the mountain. It was odd that he did not see it at once. He had looked from north to south; now he looked from south to north, more carefully. There was still no triple peak to be seen, and yet it ought to be obvious. The Admiral had been very positive about it indeed. It occurred to Rich that the explanation probably lay in the long interval which had elapsed since the Admiral had first seen the land. During that time the three peaks must have moved round into line relative to the new position of the ship.
Nevertheless, it was disquieting, not merely because he might be at sea under an admiral who saw mountains that did not exist, but because — this was quite as disturbing — it tended to shake his faith in miracles. He had just disproved one for himself, and it was tempting to imagine that all miracles had a similar foundation in wishful thinking. That cut at the base of all religion, and led to doubt and heresy, and from that to polygamy and unsound theories on the distribution of property, to the fires of the Inquisition and the flames of hell. He shuddered at the thought of the damnation of his soul, and clung to the yard in front of him, a little sick. The soldiers beside him were joking coarsely — their words came faintly to his ears as if from another room — about the naked women who were, they hoped, looking out at the ship from the island and awaiting their arrival. He tried to shake off his depression as he set himself to descend the shrouds.
As his feet touched the’ deck he found himself face to face with Rodrigo Acevedo, the elder of the two brothers.
‘Well, Doctor?’said Rodrigo. He was a tall wiry man, of a bitter humor; his high arched nose and his flashing black eyes hinted at his Moorish blood, and he bore himself with an easy athleticism which made Rich conscious of his own ungainly plumpness, and this despite the fact that Rich had been at some pains to acquire that plumpness as increasing the dignity of a young doctor of law.
‘Well?’ said Rich, defensively.
‘What do you think of the promised land?’
‘It looks green and fertile enough,’ answered Rich, still defensive.
‘Did you see the great city of Cambaluc?’
‘No. That must lie more to the north and west.’
‘Yes. More to the north and west. How far? A hundred leagues? A thousand?’
Rich was silent.
‘Five thousand, then?’ sneered Acevedo.
‘Not so far,’ said Rich, hotly.
‘And did you see the Great Khan putting off to welcome us in his gilded galleon ? ‘
‘No,’ said Rich. ‘We have come this far soul h so as to avoid the Great Khan’s dominions.’
‘We have avoided them in all conscience,’ said Acevedo. ‘Did you sec any mountains of gold?’
‘No,’ replied Rich.
‘None? You are quite sure? Did you see any mountain with a triple peak?’
‘I went up the mast a long time after land was sighted,’ said Rich, uneasily. ‘The appearances had changed by then.’
’Yes,’sneered Acevedo again. ‘Doubtless they had.'
’What do you think, then?’ asked Rich, his dignity reasserting itself. He was tired of being teased.
’ I? I think nothing.’
Acevedo’s mouth was distorted in a lopsided smile. Rich remembered what he had heard about Acevedo’s past — of the Inquisition’s descent upon the family of his betrothed; his prospective fatherin-law had been burned at the stake in Toledo, and his prospective bride had been paraded in a fool’s coat to make a solemn act of contrition before disappearing for life into a dungeon where the bread and water of affliction awaited her. The Holy Office must have questioned Acevedo closely enough. He was wise not to think; he was wise to come here to the Indies where the Holy Office would not have its attention called to him again so easily.
‘That is sensible of you,’ said Rich.
Their eyes met, with a gleam of understanding, before Acevedo was called away by a group clustered forward.
The backgammon boards were out, and the dice were already rattling there. Half the ship’s company had already recovered from the excitement of sighting land and had plunged again into the diversions which had become habitual during the long voyage. These people were indifferent to their fate, careless as to where they were going; and that was only to be expected, seeing that three quarters of them at least were on board either against their will or, like Acevedo, because Spain had grown too hot to hold them.
It was like the first voyage over again, when the ships had to be manned by criminals and ne’er-do-wells. For the second voyage there had been no lack of money or of volunteers. Seventeen tall ships had sailed, with full complements, and a score of stowaways had been found on board after sailing, so great had been the eagerness to join as a result of the marvelous stories the Admiral had brought back of the wealth and the wonders of the newly discovered lands. But, during the years that followed bad news had drifted back across the ocean. The original garrison left in Española were all dead by the time the second expedition arrived, and death had followed death in terrifying succession. Death by disease, death by poisonous serpents, death even from the pointed canes which were all the weapons the Indians possessed. Then death by famine, death by the gallows after mutiny.
The stories told by the broken men who were lucky enough to make their way back to Spain had discouraged the nation. The adventurous spirits now followed Gonsalvo de Cordoba to the conquest of Italy. King Ferdinand, struggling in the whirlpool of European affairs, had naturally been dubious about expending further strength on chimerical conquests. Twenty ships from the Basque ports had been necessary to convey the Princess Katharine and a suitable train to her wedding with the Prince of Wales. It was not surprising that compulsion was necessary to man the ships for this present third expedition.
Rich remembered the sullen evidence given by the wretched survivors whom he had examined. Every man had cherished a grievance, mainly against, the Admiral. It was Rich’s digest of the evidence which had influenced His Highness to dispatch a lawyer to the Indies to investigate. Rich told himself that, like the eagle in the fable, it was he himself who had winged the arrow of his fate.
‘By order of the Admiral!’ announced the harsh voice of Alonso Perez in the stifling ‘tween-decks. ‘All gentlemen on board the Holy Name will wear halfarmor and swords today. By order of the Admiral!’
It was nearly dawn, and still comparatively dark. The harsh voice awakened Rich from a tumultuous sleep; the heat and the excitement had kept him awake most of the night. He sat up on his chaff mat tress in his shirt and listened to the yawns and groans around him. Someone pulled the deadlight away from the scuttle and let in a little more light and a whiff of fresher air; the sky visible through the hole was a rich dark blue. Twenty tousled men were stretching and rubbing their eyes, their hair and beards in disorder. Some were experimentally running their tongues over their palates, savoring the foul taste in their mouths resulting from a night in the poisonous atmosphere of the ‘tween-decks.
He got to his knees, — the deck above was too low to admit of standing, with the ‘tween-decks floored with chests, rolled up his mattress, and struggled to open the chest beneath it. Cristobal García lay next to him, against the bulkhead; he was big and burly and bearded to the eyes, and clearly in a bad temper. An unexpected movement of the ship caught Rich off his balance and rolled him against him. García growled like a wounded bear.
’I beg your pardon, sir,’said Rich, hastily.
He tugged the heavy bundle of his armor out of the chest and allowed the lid to fall with a crash. García yelped at the noise in his ear.
‘God, what a devilish din!’ he said. He got on to his elbow and eyed Rich sardonically. ‘So our little fat doctor of law becomes a soldier today?’
‘The Admiral’s orders,’ said Rich.
‘The Admiral can work miracles by his orders, apparently,’ growled García.
Rich kept his mouth shut. It saved trouble, although he could have replied that he was entitled to wear the gentlemanly sword although he was merely a vintner’s son; half the artisans of Catalonia could do so — much to the amusement of fine gentlemen — thanks to the peculiar laws of the kingdom. He comforted himself with the thought that although not yet forty he had already accumulated more wealth than was owned by all the segundones — younger sons — in this crowded space put together. He had acquired it honestly, too, and with no advantage over them save a good education. In the whole fleet he was perhaps the only man who had not been driven by necessity to join, the only man save the Admiral who had already made a name for himself in his own walk of life.
Rich could see, as he peered under the peak of his helmet, the gleam of more armor on the decks of the two caravels lying hove-to a short distance away. The fleet was close up to the land, and had been lying-to through the dark hours. Rich gazed across the intervening water: easy green slopes, lush vegetation, dazzling white surf where the ocean swell burst upon the beaches. . . . The steady east wind blew, but it hardly tempered the sweltering heat; Rich in his armor and helmet felt as if he were being roasted alive.
Here came the Admiral, in his usual dignified procession, walking stiffly on account of his rheumatism. Orders were bellowed and stamping men hauled at ropes. Round came the ships, westward before the wind, heading close along shore. Now Rich could understand why the Admiral had so persistently, when the expedition was being got together, demanded only little ships—nothing more than a hundred tons. The two small caravels could sail far nearer the beach and have the land under far closer observation than could the Holy Name. A sailor in the bows of each vessel was heaving the lead and chanting the depths, but apart from the men engaged in the actual work of the ship everyone’s attention was fixed upon the land.
The Admiral was giving an order now, and the bombardier fussed over his swivel cannon. He ladled powder into the muzzle, and stuffed it down with a mop. He clicked his flint and steel over his tinder, blew at the spark, tried again, got his match alight, whirled it round to make it glow, and pressed it on the touchhole. There was a loud bang, and a puff of smoke. The birds screamed and a little cloud of them appeared above the trees on the island. The echo of the report ran flatly along the shore, and that was all. No welcoming human appeared; the armored men stood stupid and silent on the decks.
‘A lovely land, Don Narciso,’ said the Admiral’s voice in Rich’s ear — he started with surprise. ‘Green and fertile, like Andalusia in springtime.’
‘Yes, Your Excellency,’ said Rich, unhappily.
The Admiral was breathing great lungfuls of air. There was a fresh color to his cheeks, and a fresh light in his eyes. He wore his armor and his cloak over it as if they were gossamer.
‘There is something rejuvenating about the air here,’ said the Admiral. ‘Do you not notice how fresh and sweet it is?’
‘The sun is hot,’ protested Rich feebly.
‘Naturally, seeing that at noon it is directly overhead at this time of year. But that calls forth the treasures of the soil, the fruits, the minerals. This will prove to be the richest quarter of the earth, Don Narciso.’
‘We must hope so.’
‘Hope? We know it to be so already. The ancients proved it, and the Scriptures tell us so. Last night, Don Narciso, instead of sleeping, I pondered over our new discoveries. I thought about this new balminess of the air, as compared with the windless and torrid regions of the ocean which we have crossed. I compared this blessed land with the stifling unhealthiness of those regions of Africa which the Portuguese have discovered and which lie as close to the equinoctial line as does this. There must be an explanation of the difference. Is it not likely to be that the earth is not a perfect sphere, as one might deduce from what one knows of the northern half, but drawn out and prolonged towards this point, like, say, the thinner end of a pear? Or perhaps on a smaller scale — one can naturally not he certain yet of exact proportions — like the nipple on a woman’s breast?'
‘The possibility had not occurred to me, Your Excellency,’ said Rich, bewildered.
’But now you must appreciate it. Here we must be farther from the earth’s centre, closer to heaven, remote from evil. I think we must be close beside the Garden of Eden, the Earthly Paradise, where the Tree of Knowledge grows, and where man is near to God.’
Rich stared up, under his helmet’s peak, at the tall gaunt Admiral and the ecstasy in his face. Yesterday they had reached Ophir, today it was the Garden of Eden. He could think of no passages in the ancients or in the Scriptures to justify either theory. He was at a loss for words with which to make any pretense at a reply. But he was preserved from the necessity, for the Admiral’s keen eyes had detected an indentation in the shore line. He turned to give orders in his clear, penetrating tenor, and the seamen leaped to obey him. The steersman dragged the tiller over; the sails were clewed-up; the anchor was let go and the cable roared through the hawsehole. Even Rich, with his mere theoretical knowledge of the sea, was impressed by the neatness of the manoeuvre — as impressed as he was by the Admiral’s sudden change from a dreamer of lunatic dreams to a sailor of profound practical ability. As the Holy Name swung to her anchor the Admiral turned to Rich.
‘A stream comes down to the sea at that beach, Don Narciso. I shall send ashore for fresh water. Would you care to go with the landing party and take possession of (he island in the name of Their 11 ighnesses? ‘
’Indeed yes. I must thank Your Excellency.’
There was no denying the thrill of excitement which ran through him at the suggestion. Rich forgot the weight of his armor and the heat of the sun; he fidgeted with his sword hill while the sailors rigged the yardarm tackles with which to swing out the longboat from the waist. The cooper supervised the lowering of the empty barrels into the boat; six seamen scrambled down and took their places at the oars; Osorio the boatswain took the tiller. At a sharp command from the Admiral four of Bernardo de Tarpia’s crossbowmen followed him. Then came Antonio Spallanzani, the Admiral’s Italian squire, with the Admiral’s standard, bearing the lions and castles of Leon and Castile, recently granted him, quartered with the harry wavy, argent and azure, charged with green islands, to represent his discoveries. Those lions and castles in the flag might be of use if ever a legal argument arose regarding the sovereignty over this new land. They would help to make out Their Highnesses’ case — but although the Admiral might be suspected of much, no one had yet openly accused him of dreaming of an independent. sovereignty.
They were waiting for him. Rich clambered flown into the boat, ungracefully, conscious of many eyes upon him, and realizing only after he had settled himself at Spallanzani’s side that if he had slipped into the sea his armor would have carried him straight to the bottom. The sailors tugged at the oars, and they went dancing over the sea towards the shore.
The Italian sat silent — he had a reputation for taciturnity — while they rowed past the anchored caravels, busy hoisting out their boats, and crept in closer to the shore. There were still only the golden beach and the white surf and the tangled greenery to be seen. The sailors rested on their oars for a space while Osorio stood up and studied the surf. He gave a hoarse cry; the sailors tugged sharply at the oars, and the boat leaped forward on the shoulder of a wave, hurrying on until its motion died away and the sand scraped under the keel and the white foam eddied back past them. The sailors leaped out, thigh-deep, in the water, and hauled the boat up as far as it would go, until by a wave of his hand Osorio indicated to the two gentlemen that it was time for them to step ashore. Rich scrambled up into the bows and from there over the side; a dying wave swirled past his knees as he stepped into the water and his feet sank in the sand. He struggled up the beach, oppressed by the weight of his armor, until he was beyond the water’s edge. The Italian was close behind him, and the crossbowmen followed, their crossbows on their shoulders. Spallanzani struck the shaft of the flag into the sand and took a paper from his breast.
‘We,’ he read, a barbarous Tuscan accent coloring his Castilian, ‘Don Christopher Columbus, Admiral of the Ocean, Viceroy and Governor of the Islands of the Indies, Captain-General and Grandee of Spain . . .’ It was a solemn formula of possession.
When he had finished Rich took off his helmet.
‘This is done,’ he proclaimed, bareheaded, to the four solemn crossbowmen, ‘in the name of Their Highnesses Don Ferdinand and Donna Isabella, by the grace of God King and Queen of Castile, Leon, Aragon, Sicily, Granada, Toledo, Valencia, Galicia, Mallorca, and Seville, Count and Countess of Barcelona, Roussillon and Cerdagne, Duke and Duchess of Athens and Neopatra, Marquis and Marchioness of Oristano and Goziano, Lord and Lady of Biscay and Molina.’
He had left out quite a number of the titles, but he had done enough to ensure the legality of the royal possession, especially as the only witnesses were the crossbowmen, standing with oxlike stupidity in the sunshine. Osorio and his men had put out the boat’s anchor, and were carrying empty waiter breakers up the beach. At a roar from the boatswain two of the crossbowmen joined in the work; the other two wound up their bows, laid bolts in the grooves, and walked forward to where the stream came bubbling down out of the greenery, to stand as sentries on guard against surprise. It was an elementary precaution to take, so elementary that Rich experienced a feeling of annoyance that he had not thought of it and ordered it himself.
He cleared the hilt of his sword and walked curiously up the beach, conscious now of a particular thrill at making these, his first steps in the New World. The little stream bubbled and gurgled, and he stooped and filled his hands and drank, over and over again, rejoicing in the water’s cool freshness and in having enough to drink after six weeks of a ration of only three leathern cups of water a day. He walked on beside the stream, to be engulfed in the delicious shade of the vegetation, so dense and tangled that it was only by walking ankle-deep on the pebbles that he was able to make any progress. He turned a corner and the forest behind him cut him off from the sea more effectively than the closing of a door. The sounds of the beach — the surf, and the voices of the watering party — ended abruptly.
He turned back and made his way down the stream again. Were those bees, beating the air above the scarlet flowers? Rich looked at them more closely. They were liny birds, brilliant in their coloring. He thought they were the most lovely things he had ever seen in his life. He plunged into the thorns in order to view them more closely, but they flew away, erratically, at his slow approach, and would not return. With a twinge of real regret he continued his way. A loud challenge greeted him at the edge of the wood, and he replied, a little self-consciously, ‘Friend.’ It was the first time in his life a sentinel had ever challenged him.
The crossbowman lowered his weapon and allowed him to pass, blinking in the sunshine. Someone was kneeling at the water’s edge, above the point where the men were filling their barrels. He had a Hat pan in his hand, which, with a gentle rocking motion, he was holding at the surface of the water. There was gravel in the bottom of the pan, and under the influence of the current and of the man’s raking fingers it was gradually being swept away. Rich recognized the man and guessed what he was doing — it was Diego Alamo, the assayer, who had sailed in the caravel Santa Ana along with the expedition. Alamo had dealt in gold and precious stones; he was learned in the languages of the East and with his knowledge of Hebrew and Chaldean might be useful when they made contact with Asiatic civilization. Under suspicion of being a crypto-Jew, he had thought it well to accept the appointment of Royal Assayer to escape the attention of the Holy Office.
Alamo, with a skillful jerk, flirted the remaining water from the pan and studied the layer of sediment closely, inclining the pan to this side and to that so as to catch the faintest gleam of color. Then he shrugged his shoulders and washed the pan clean, looking up to meet Rich’s eyes upon him.
‘Ha, good day, Don Narciso,’ he said, white teeth showing in a smile.
‘Good day,’ said Rich. ‘Are there signs of gold?’
‘Not so far. The country looks as if it might bear gold, but I’ll certify that this stream has none.’
Rich forgot any disappointment he might feel at that statement in the pleasure of this reëncounter with a friend — Alamo and he were old acquaintances. He made the conventional inquiries as to whether Alamo had enjoyed his passage across the ocean — conventional and yet sincere. It was odd to ask those questions here, on the shores of the Indies.
‘Well enough, thank you,’ answered Alamo. There was a wry smile on his dark intelligent face; Rich guessed that Alamo was as much out of place among the seamen and gentlemen-adventurers of the Santa Ana as he himself was in the Holy Name.
Alamo rose to his feet, brushing his hands clean. The Loach was a scene of animation now, with three boats lying in the shallows and a score of men carrying water casks. The two caravels lay beyond, black upon the blue, and farther out the Holy Name rode to her anchor.
‘Have you been into the forest?’ asked Alamo.
‘Did you see any minerals? Any rocks?’
‘Only the pebbles and boulders of the stream bed. The forest is too thick to see more.’
Alamo walked on among the rocks of the beach, Rich straying a little apart from him along the water’s edge. It was he who made the final discovery, and his sharp cry brought Alamo hurrying back to him. There was a little stretch of smooth sand here, at which Rich was staring; in the sand was a wide, shallow groove, and around it were the halfobliterated prints of bare feet. Rich had already made the deductions from the appearances.
‘No ship’s boat made that mark,’ he said. ‘There is no sign of a keel.’
Alamo nodded agreement, stooping to peer at the footprints.
‘There is little enough left to see,’ he said. ‘But I should think the feet that made those marks were longer and narrower than any Spaniard’s.’
‘And how long ago were they made? An hour? Two hours?’
They looked at each other, a little helpless. Neither of them had the faintest idea.
‘We can be sure of one thing at least,’ said Rich. ‘The people here are not as eager to meet us as were those of Cuba and Española.’
A bellowing behind them made them turn; the watering party was waving arms to them in recall. They picked their way back over the rocks.
The squadron was still sailing westward, along the south coast of Trinidad, while the Admiral listened to Rich’s report. His face fell a little when he heard that Alamo had found no sign of gold, but he grew cheerful again over the undoubted evidence that the island was inhabited, and over the other details which Rich conveyed.
A loud cry from a lookout brought everybody to his feet again. There was a canoe, a black speck under the glaring sun, full in sight as they rounded a heartland. It was well out to sea, on passage between cape and cape; they could see the flash of the paddles as the men bent to their work. With the wind right aft the squadron overhauled it fast; it turned frantically to make for the shore, but the Santa Ana was there, cutting it off, and it headed back. Fifty yards from the Holy Name the paddles ceased work, and the canoe drifted idly on the blue.
Brown and naked, with streaming black hair, the Indians stared with frightened eyes at the huge hull drifting down upon them. One of them stood up, overcome with curiosity, in the desire to see better, revealing herself as a woman, quite naked save for her necklace. A loud roar of laughter burst from the ship — a naked woman was so rare a sight as naturally to excite laughter. She sat down abruptly, with hands over her face, and in her place a man rose to his feet, balancing precariously in the rocking canoe. He set an arrow to the string of the bow he held, raised the weapon and drew it to his breast, and loosed off the shaft.
Rich saw the arrow in the air; it struck his breastplate with a slight tap, and dropped on the deck with a faint clatter. It was an effort as feeble as a child’s — the shaft was already spent in its fifty yards’ flight by the time it reached him. His furred judicial robe would have been as effective protection as his steel breastplate. The arrow was merely a thin cane, crudely sharpened at one end, and with a single parrot’s feather at the other. But the gesture had excited the Spaniards. A crossbowman lifted his lumbering weapon to reply, and lowered it again at a hasty order from the Admiral.
‘Put that crossbow down!’ he called, in his high tenor. ‘We are at peace with them. Hey, Diego, there, beat your tambourine, and you boys dance to it. Show them that we mean no harm.’
It was a ludicrous scene, the ship’s boys capering on the forecastle, and the sullen Indians gazing up at them uncomprehending. The canoe was in the lee of the Holy Name now, and the wind was gradually drifting the big ship down upon it. The Admiral himself was up on the bulwark, jingling hawk’s-bells — hawk’s-bells had been found to be an unfailing attraction in the other Indian islands — and Alonso Perez was beside him, a red woolen cap in either hand held temptingly towards them.
‘Jorge,’ muttered the Admiral out of the corner of his mouth to a seaman close at hand. ‘Strip off your coat and make ready to upset the canoe.’
The canoe was close alongside as Jorge swung himself over the bulwark and dropped amid a wild scream from the Indians. The canoe overturned, and the occupants were flung into the sea. They were glad to clutch the ropes thrown to them and to be pulled on deck, where they stood, dripping water, with the Spaniards clustered round them. Four of them were men and two women, the women quite naked, but three of the men wearing cloaks of course cotton about their shoulders — Rich examined the material, It was of poorer weave than any he had ever seen.
‘Make fast the canoe!’ called the Admiral over the bulwark. ‘Put those paddles back in her!’
The Indians made a frightened group, their arms about each other and their teeth chattering in fright, while the Spaniards pushed and elbowed to see more closely these strange humans, who felt no shame at nudity, who had never heard the name of God, who knew nothing of steel or gunpowder. Someone stretched out a hand and stroked a woman’s shoulder; she shrank from the touch at first, but when it was renewed she gradually recovered from her shyness and smiled a little over her shoulder at the man who caressed her, like a child; but a new bellow of laughter made her seek safety again beside her fellows.
‘Guanahani,’ said the Admiral. ’Cuba. Cibao. Hayti.’
The names of these places meant nothing to them.
’Canoa,' said the Admiral, pointing overside.
That they understood; they nodded and smiled.
‘Canoay’ they said, in chorus, and one of them went on to say more, in a singsong tone.
It was the Admiral’s turn to shake his head.
‘Their speech is not unlike that of Española,’ he said to Rich. ‘ But it is not the same, save for a few words, like canoa.’
‘Canoa,” repeated one of the Indians, parrot-fashion.
The Admiral jingled one of his hawk’sbells enticingly, and they eyed it with wonder. He offered it, and they shrank back a little. He took the hand of one of the men, and put the bell into it, shutting his fingers over it, and then setting the bell a-rattle again by shaking the man’s fist. An awed expression crept over the man’s face as he realized that this bell was actually to be his. He could hardly credit his good fortune, cautiously opening his hand and finally jingling the bell delightedly. All the Indians were smiling broadly now.
Rich’s eyes were on the necklace worn by the woman in the background. He stretched out his hand to examine it; she shrank away for a moment, and he tried to make soothing noises. But immediately she understood what he wanted, and stepped forward, proffering a loop of the necklace to him. He examined it closely. It was a string of pearls — two yards of pearls, The other Spaniards noticed what he was doing, and surged towards them, frightening her; a score of hands were stretched out for the necklace, when the Admiral turned fiercely upon them and they dropped back again.
‘They are pearls,’ said the Admiral, after examination. He took one of the red woolen caps from Alonso Perez and offered it to her with a gesture of exchanging it for the necklace. She did not understand. He jingled a hawk’s-bell, and reached for the necklace again. Suddenly her expression changed to one of comprehension, and with two swift movements she uncoiled the necklace from her neck and thrust it, a great double handful, into his hands. Her puzzled look as he proffered the cap in exchange revealed that she had intended the necklace as a gift.
‘It is the same as in Española,’ said the Admiral. ‘The heathen have no notion of barter. They think that because a stranger wants a thing that is sufficient reason for giving it.’
The surging Spaniards round laughed at such folly.
‘She does not know what that cap is for, either, Your Excellency,’ remarked someone in the background.
‘True,’ said the Admiral.
At his order Perez took off his helmet and the Admiral perched the cap on top of his mass of hair, stood back with a gesture of admiration, look the cap again and put it on the head of the trembling woman. The other Indians chattered at the sight, teeth flashing in smiles.
‘And look at this, Your Excellency. Look!’ said a Spaniard, loudly.
One of the Indian men had something hanging on a string round his neck, a little fleck of something with a yellow glint. It was a tiny fragment of gold, smaller than half a castellano, but gold all the same. Rich heard the quick intake of breath all round the ring. Gold! The Admiral strode up, his expression so hard and fierce that the Indian raised his arm to ward off a blow.
‘Where did you get this?’ demanded the Admiral.
The Indian still cowered away, and the Admiral, with an obvious effort at self-control, changed his tone.
‘Send for Alamo from the Santa Ana,’ he said, aside, and then, turning back to the Indian, he smiled winningly. He raised his eyebrows in an obvious question, pointed to the bit of gold, and then away to the island. The Indian thought for a moment, and pointed westward. There was a general murmur from the crowd — there was gold in the west.
‘Much?’ asked the Admiral, making a gesture with widespread arms. ‘Much?’
The Indian, after a moment of puzzlement, extended his arms in agreement, to the sound of a renewed murmur from the crowd. There was much gold to be found; but Rich, watching the byplay, was not quite so sure. The Indian was clearly doubtful of the significance of the question asked him. He might be meaning that the gold was far away, or even, conceivably, that it was hard to come by. Years of sifting evidence had given Rich an insight into the extraordinary ways in which misunderstandings can arise.
The Admiral was jingling another hawk’s-bell and offering to barter it for the gold, and the Indian made the exchange gladly as soon as he grasped what the Admiral wanted.
’This piece of gold would buy five hundred hawk’s-bells,’ commented the Admiral; he reached for another scarlet cap and set it on the Indian’s head, to the accompaniment of a renewed chorus of admiration from the others.
‘They like caps just as much as hawk’s-bells,’ said the Admiral to Rich. ‘In that, they are more like the cannibal Indians of Dominica than those of Española. That is what one would expect.’
The longboat, rowed as fast as a dozen stout arms could drive her, had returned now from the Santa Ana, and Alamo reported himself to the Admiral. He looked at the string of pearls which the Admiral gave him for inspection.
‘They are pearls undoubtedly,’he said, feeling their texture with his lips. He shaded them from the sun with his body to see their lustre. ‘Yet they are different from the pearls of the Orient. Their tinge and lustre are not the same.’
‘Are they valuable?’ demanded the Admiral.
‘Oh yes. Half their value has disappeared because of the clumsy way in which they have been bored, but I would give you a good price for them in the Calle del Paradis. As rarities, even if for no other reason, they would stand high. And there are some good specimens here, too. These two match well and are of superb lustre. A queen could have no bet ter eardrops.’
‘And what of this gold?’
Alamo took the fragment of metal, poised it on a finger tip, tested it against his teeth, turned it to obtain a flash of the sun from it.
‘That, is gold,’ he said. ‘Without my acids and scales I cannot assay it, but I am certain it is pure and virgin. It contains no base metal, in other words, and it is in a state of nature, as it was found.’
‘And where’ would that be?’
‘In the bed of a stream, most likely. Or in sand or loam close to a stream. Gold found in the heart of a rock is never in pieces as large as this.’
‘Thank you. Now speak to these men in the tongues of the East.’
Alamo addressed the Indians in a language of which Rich understood no word. Nor did the Indians, to judge by the blankness of their expressions. Alamo tried again, this time in the Arabic with which Rich was faintly familiar, but without result. He spoke to them in Greek, of which Rich had a working knowledge, and then again in a language faintly reminiscent of Arabic to Rich. The Indians’ faces remained impassive.
‘That is Hebrew, Greek, the Arabic of the East, and the Arabic of the West, Your Excellency,’ said Alamo.
‘Thank you. We can let them go now,’ said the Admiral.
He took more caps, and set one on the head of each Indian. He pressed a hawk’s-bell into the hands of all, and then he waved them over the side to where their canoe, gunwale-deep, floated at the end of a line.
‘Go in peace,’ he said, as they still stood awestruck at the magnificence of the presents pressed upon them. He drew one by the wrist to the ship’s side to make his meaning plain. They slid down the line into the waterlogged canoe; one of the women took hold of a big shell tied to the gunwale and with it; began to scoop the water swiftly out— it was obvious that they were perfectly accustomed to having their cranky craft, capsized. The line was cast off, and the men took the paddles. Slowly the canoe headed in for the land.
‘With kind treatment and presents,’ said the Admiral, coming to stand beside Rich, ‘we can hope that they will tell their fellows and send them to us. We need pearls and we need gold.’
‘We have made a start,’ said Rich, cheerfully.
‘So we have,’ said the Admiral; in his two fists was the long string of pearls, luminous in the failing light.
‘I could wish,’ said the Admiral, ‘that we might see more Indians. We need to trade. And we shall need labor for the mines.’
He called a request to Carvajal, and the Holy Name headed once more towards the coast of Trinidad, a seaman at the lead to ascertain the safe limit of their approach. The land was tantulizingly just too far away for close observation.
‘Might I — ‘ began Rich, and then he hesitated, surprised at himself, before he took the plunge. ‘Might I take the longboat closer in to shore?’
‘I should be glad if you did,’ said the Admiral. ‘You must take every possible opportunity to be able to report favorably to Their Highnesses on the wealth of these islands.’
Rich bad no time to repent. It was a surprisingly short interval before he found himself in the stern sheets of the longboat, indubitably invested with his first command at sea, and experiencing a tremor of fearful excitement in consequence. The old sailor Jorge sat at the tiller beside him, two more sailors were at the sheet, and forward there sat five gentlemen of coat-armor, glad of the opportunity of escaping for a while from the confinement of the ship and ready in consequence to acquiesce in the command with which the Admiral had tacitly invested him. Rodrigo Acevedo was one of them, however — there was a hint of a smile on his handsome swarthy face as he met Rich’s eye, which told Rich that Acevedo was aware of the inner doubts which were troubling him.
The wind was off the land, blowing briskly enough, and the boat lay over gavly on her side as they headed parallel to the shore, the sailors handling sheet and tiller deftly as they translated Rich’s vague directions into action. The coast curved here in a wide bay, shelving so gradually that even the longboat had to keep two hundred yards from the beach, and everywhere the monotonous green vegetation came down to t lie very water’s edge —green, eternally green. There were irregularly shaped hills in the background, but never a sign of a clearing, no hint of smoke to betray the habitation of man. The wind blew more briskly yet, and the sky was overcast, yet it was stifling hot. As Rich stirred uncomfortably in his seat he felt the sweat trickling in the folds of his clothes.
A rainstorm changed the color of the hills from green to gray; it came drifting towards them over the gray sea. Soon it was upon them — they heard the hiss of the drops upon the water as it approached. The first drops rang sharply on the helmet which Rich wore, — he had discarded his armor, — but immediately the distinctive sound was blurred in his ears by the roar of the rain beating everywhere about them. Entirely exposed as they were, they could neither think nor see. The rain fell in cataracts, blotting out both ships and shore from view, soaking them and dazing them as it drove into their faces.
Rich was still conscious of Jorge moving beside him. He was still attending to his duties, presumably by touch and instinct, and his example diverted Rich from his first instinct to order the longboat to run back for shelter to the ship. Rich set his teeth; he would not be the first to give in. As captain, even though it was only of a longboat, he must make no complaint about the conditions, and the thought of Rodrigo Acevedo’s earlier amused tolerance acted as a new stimulant. It was worth suffering discomfort if the hidalgos had to share it. They might be better swordsmen than he, better horsemen; they might think of him as a pothellied little lawyer, but sitting in the rain was a thing anyone could do, without either practice or grandfathers. He wiped the rain out of his eyes to peer at the five gentlemen huddled in mute discomfort in the bows, and grinned to himself and settled down to endure.
For an hour they crept along through the downpour, and then, when the rain had almost killed the wind, it stopped as suddenly as it began. Within a few seconds the sun was shining in all its majesty, and the wind, hot and sticky, had almost died away. Rich stood up to wring the water from his clothes; the thwarts steamed in the glaring sunlight. There was no change in the appearance of the shore — the hills may have grown a little loftier, but they were still clothed in their eternal green. He scanned the coast carefully, and looked to seaward, where the Holy Name in all the glory of her colored sails and ensigns preceded the two caravels on her slow northerly course. Only then did he pay any attention to the group in the bows, and, even so, he waited for them to speak first.
‘God, what rain!’ said Bernardo de Tarpia. His hair hung lank over his cheeks, his trim beard was a mere ludicrous wisp. The water trickled out of the skirts of his coat as he stood up.
‘What, of the food?’ asked Cristobal García, I suppose the rain has made the bread no better than pudding?’
‘No, gentlemen,’ explained Jorge. ‘It is a tarred sack in which it is kept.’
‘It is hard to decide,’ said Garcia, ‘whether a flavor of tar is preferable to rain water.’
‘Tar or no tar,’ interrupted Rich, fumbling in his pocket, ‘I mean to dine today on fresh fish, newly broiled.’
‘Fresh fish!’ exclaimed García.
‘That is what I said,’ said Rich, demurely. ‘It will he odd if we cannot catch enough for our dinners here.’
The little bundle he produced from his pocket contained lines and hooks; he felt a gratified glow as he heard the delighted exclamations of his crew. He thought of the other contents of his chest in the ‘tween-decks in the Holy Name his anxiety during the three weeks between his deciding to join the expedition and its sailing had at least stimulated him into wondering what might be of most use in the new world, and he had stocked his chest accordingly. These penniless younger sons, their heads full of battles and gold mines, had done nothing of the sort.
He doled out lines and hooks; a biscuit from the bag was crumbled into paste for bait.
‘Please God,’ said García, piously, ‘that the fish here like the flavor of weevils.’
With shortened sail, before the faint air, the longboat crept slowly over the glassy sea. The gentlemen fished as enthusiastically as the seamen; il was amusing to note how they cheered up at the thought of fish for dinner, and how earnestly they plunged into the business. Two months of weevily biscuits, of stinking dried cod, and of boiled barley porridge and stale olives, made the prospect of fresh fish ineffably atractive. But Rich could guess how they would round on him, their tempers sharpened by disappointment, if no fish were caught. He bent his head secretly and prayed earnestly to Saint Peter — he had prayed to Saint Peter for good fortune in fishing often before, on pleasant outings in the roadstead of Barcelona, but this lime there was an edge to his prayer. He wanted desperately to catch fish.
Saint Peter was kind. They caught fish in plenty while the wind died away to nothing. They landed and built a fire and toasted their fish on sticks before it — not very efficiently. Rich wondered secretly to himself what comment these young men would have made if in their fathers’ houses they had been served with fish half charred and half raw, but here, stretching their legs on land for the first time in months, and in the blessed shade at the edge of the sand, they ate with gusto, and with only moderate curses for the mosquitoes which bit them. Rich could see a new light in their eyes when, full fed and comfortable, they regarded him now. There was a faint respect for him as a giver of good things; he sat with his back against a tree and his helmet on the ground beside him and felt happier than he had felt for months.
The ships still lay becalmed on the blue, blue sea under the glaring sun.
‘We can explore for a little while,’ he announced. ‘Who’ll come with me?’
They all wanted to, seamen and gentlemen both, looking eagerly to him for orders.
‘Two men must guard the boat,’ decided Rich. ‘Will anyone volunteer? Then you must stay, Jorge. And you, Don Diego. Come on, you others.’
‘There is everything here save the Great Khan and the mines of Ophir,’ said Rodrigo Acevedo in an undertone to Rich, but Rich would not allow himself to be drawn; he could not enter into a discussion of that sort while in a position of responsibility.
And at this place where they had stopped for a moment there seemed, for the first time, to be a possibility of humans near them. There might almost be a path through the undergrowth here, nearly imperceptible, probably only a wild-beast run. Rich looked up at the sky; there was a wisp of cloud there which was quite stationary — in the absence of wind they could continue the exploration without fear of being parted from the Holy Name.
‘Follow me quietly,’ he said to the others, and he turned his steps up the path, his sword in his hand.
But they could not hope to move quietly in the forest. Deadwood crackled under their feet, low twigs rang on their helmets, their scabbards rattled and their accoutrements creaked. There was precious little hope, Rich realized, of ever surprising a party of Indians in this fashion, especially after he stumbled and fell full-length. As he picked himself up someone came running down the path and stopped and looked at them — it was a little Indian boy, naked and pothellied. He put his finger in his mouth and stared, the sunlight through the branches making st range markings on his brown skin. His features began to work and it was eicarly only a matter of seconds before he would start to cry.
‘Seize hold of him!’ hissed García into Rich’s ear.
‘Quiet!’ muttered Rich in reply over his shoulder.
He held out his hand, peacefully.
‘Hullo, little one,’ he said.
The little boy took his finger from his mouth and stared all the harder, postponing his tears.
‘Come to me,’ said Rich. ‘Come along, little one. Come and talk to me.’
Clearly while he spoke gently the child would not be frightened. He racked his brains for things to say, chattering ludicrously, and the little boy slowly began to sidle towards him, with many hesitations.
‘There!’ said Rich, squatting down on his heels to bring their two faces on a level.
The little boy piped out something incomprehensible; his eyes were fixed on Rich’s helmet, and he stretched out a small hand and touched it.
‘Pretty!’ said Rich. ‘Pretty!’
The child replied in his own strange language, still engrossed in the helmet. When at last his interest died away Rich cautiously straightened himself.
‘There!’ he said again, and pointed slowly up the path. ‘Mother? Father?’
He began gently to walk forward, and the little boy put his hand in his and trotted with him.
They came out info a little clearing. There was a tiny wisp of smoke rising in the centre, marking the position of a small fire. On one side there were five strange houses of dead leaves, but no human stirred; as they stood grouped at the edge of the clearing they could hear no sound save that of the birds and the insects. The little boy tugged at Rich’s hand to draw him forward, and then raised his voice, calling. An Indian woman broke from the forest beyond the clearing and came running heavily towards them. She too was naked, and far gone in pregnancy; she caught up the little boy in her arms and stared at them, asking urgent questions of the child meanwhile.
Rich spread his left hand again in the instinctive gesture of peace, even though his right still held his drawn sword.
‘We come in peace,’ he said. He tried to make soothing noises; the little boy pointed at the glittering helmets and chattered shrilly to his mother.
Now there was a bustle and stir in the forest; a score of Indians came forth into the clearing, old and young, men and women and children. Rich, looking to see if any of them were armed, saw that one man carried a little cane bow, as feeble as a ten-year-old child’s, and two small cane arrows, and two others carried headless cane spears, against which ordinary clothes — leaving leather coats out of account — would be adequate protection. He took off his helmet.
‘We are here,’ he announced, forcing his voice down into quiet conversational tones, ‘in the name of Their Highnesses the King and Queen of Castile and Leon.’
The Indians smiled, with flashing white teeth, chattering to each other in their high-pitched voices.
‘The woman there has pearls!’ said García at Rich’s shoulder.
Round each arm above the elbow she wore a rope of pearls, each pearl larger than any they had obtained before.
‘Look at them, by God!’ said Tarpia.
The Indians noticed their gestures and turned to see what it was which was attracting so much attention; if was obvious enough to them that it was the pearls. They chattered and laughed to each other, the wearer of the pearls — a fine handsome woman of early middle age — laughing as much as any of them, a little bashfully. The wrinkled old man beside her — husband or father, it was not apparent which — laughed and clapped her on the shoulder, urging her forward. She approached them modestly, eyes cast down. She stripped the pearls from her arms, stood hesitating for a moment, and then thrust one rope into García’s hand and the other into Tarpia’s, scuttling back to her companions with a laugh. The Spaniards eyed their treasures.
tail and the goggling of its strange eyes to perfection.
‘He means a lizard,’ said Rich, trying to keep a little of the consternation out of his vnice.
' Does he?' said Tarpia. ‘Well, lizard is good enough for me.’
‘My God, yes,’ said García. ‘Look at this.’
He had drawn, one of the girls to his knees. She stood stock-still, with eyes downcast, trembling a little. Rich looked anxiously round the ring. He saw the smile die away from the face of one of the Indian men. The merriment ceased; it was as if a shadow had come over the sun.
‘ Remember the Admiral’s orders, Don Cristobal,’ said Rich, anxiously.
‘Oh, to hell with orders,’ expostulated García.
' Don Cristobal’s talking treason,’interjected Acevedo. He grinned as he said it, but that did not blunt the point of what he said.
“Oh, very well then,’ grumbled García. He clapped the girl on the flank and pushed her from him, and the tension died away from the attitudes of the Indians. The women hastened round, offering more bread; the wrinkled man broke off more meat. There were fruits being offered, too, like pale yellow eggs, faintly aromatic when Rich smelled one, vaguely acid and pleasant when he bit into the pulp.
‘Guava,’ said the lad who gave it to him.
‘Back to the ship!’ Rich called to the others. He was conscious of the invidiousness of his condition, of uncertainly as to whether he had to request or could command; more, he knew with a qualm that he was not of the stuff to whom command came naturally. But they rose to obey him. Tarpia and García were arm in arm, muttering to each other with their eyes on the women — he could guess the sort of filth they were saying to each other.
The wrinkled man came with a new question, pointing up to the sky, repeating his question and tapping Rich on the breast and pointing upwards again. He was asking if they were going to return to their habitation in the sky.
’Oh, no, no, no!' laughed Rich.
He thought for a moment of trying to explain all the complexities of ships and sea passages and the kingdom of Spain in sign language, and gave up the notion as soon as he thought of it. Others who might follow him could tackle that task. He shook the old man’s hand, and he waved good-bye to the women.
’The journey back to the boat was not as toilsome as the upward climb. At one corner, by the brook, they caught a glimpse of the sea — the ships had drifted a league or more along the coast, but were still within easy reach; from the way their bows were turned to all points of the compass it was obvious that they were quite becalmed. The brook gurgled sleepily, the parrots overhead squawked and fluttered, and all the noises of the forest engulfed them again as they went on down the hill. Far away, Rich heard the faint cry of a strange bird, high and shrill, repeated more than once.
They came out at last into the bright evening sunshine of the beach, where Don Diego Morel dozed on his back and Jorge whittled at a stick with his knife. They looked up as the party approached.
' Is all well?’ asked Rich, and then, in the same moment, he knew that all was not well. Gonzalo Acevedo was close behind him. One of the seamen was a little farther back. Rodrigo Acevedo emerged from the forest as he stood and waited, and after him there came — nobody.
‘Where’s Don Cristobal? Where’s Don Bernardo?’ he demanded.
‘I thought they were in front with you,’ said Acevedo, a litlle surprised.
‘Where’s Diego?’ asked Jorge of the seaman.
' I thought he was following me.’
‘Perhaps they are coming,’ said Acevedo. But his eyes met Rich’s, and they both knew they were thinking the same thoughts.
Rich wavered. if what he suspected was the ease, if the missing men had made their way back to the village, they must have already had an hour or more to work their will there, and would have another hour before he got back again. And what was he to do when he got there? And how was he to find his way back to the boat in darkness?
’I’ll wait,’ he said, bitterly, turning his back on them to hide his feelings.
He had been flattering himself he was learning to command men, and this was the first of his achievements. He sat down on a fallen tree and gnawed at his fists.
‘What’s all this about a village?' asked Moret, curiously, of the Acevedos.
They began to tell him of their experiences and discoveries; the eager babble went on unheeded by Rich, who sat with his back to them, his joints aching and his heart sick. Suddenly a now recollection came to him, one that set his heart beating fast and increased his feeling of nausea. That wild, high-pitched cry which he had heard repeated, far back in the forest, and which he had thought to be the cry of a strange bird he knew what it was now. He could guess what bloody work it told of, back in the village. He got to his feet, and paced the sand stiffly, boiling with helpless fury.
A dull report reached his ears, and, looking towards the ships, he saw a little puff of smoke at the bows of the Holy Name. The great standard at her mainmasthead came slowly down, rose again, descended and rose.
‘That’s a signal to us, sir,’called Jorge. ‘We’ll have to go back.’
‘Very well,’said Rich, his mind made up. ‘The others will be left in the forest.'
They began to put their gear back into the boat and made preparations for pushing her out. Rich climbed in and sat in the stern sheets. A shout from the forest made them pause and look round.
’That’s García,’said Rodrigo Acevedo.
The three of them came in sight now at the edge of the trees, running over the sand towards the boat. Rich saw their faces in the light of the last of the sun, like a trio of schoolboys caught in a piece of mischief, guilty and yet impudent, meeting his eyes and looking away again.
‘Where have you been?' asked Moret as they came up, panting.
’Oh, we missed our way,’ said Tarpia, looking sidelong at Rich in the stern
They followed the example of the others, throwing their weight against the boat and splashing out with her in the shallows. There was no opportunity of talking for a moment, and then they all came tumbling in over the sides. García was on the aftermost thwart beside Jorge, and face to face with Rich. He reached for an oar along with the others.
‘Shall we have to use these things?’ he asked, loudly, dropping the oar clumsily into the rowlock.
Rich was staring at García’s hand, and García caught sight of his expression and followed his gaze. The hand was stained with dried blood, hand and wrist, black in the light of I he fast-dying sunset. Very coolly, García leaned over the side and washed his hands in the sea.
’It will be a long pull back to the ships,’ he said, and took hold of his oar again. His teeth showed white in his swarthy face as he smiled.
(To be continued)
With each twelve months of the Atlantic
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