Now, for all my dislike, I had found the old Englishman a person of some dignity and command: but it was wonderful how, in Zarco’s presence, he shrank to a withered creature, a mere applejack without juice or savour. The man (I could see) was eager to get to business at once, and could well have done without the ceremony of which Zarco would not omit the smallest trifle. After the first salutations came the formal escort to the Governor’s house; and after that a meal which lasted us two hours; and then the Count must have us visit his new sugar-mills and inspect the Candia vines freshly pegged out, and discuss them. On all manner of trifles he would invite Master d’Arfet’s opinion: but to show any curiosity or to allow his guests to satisfy any, did not belong to his part of host—a part he played with a thoroughness which diverted me while it drove the Englishman well-nigh mad.
But late in the afternoon, and after we had worked our way through a second prodigious meal, I had compassion on the poor man, and taking (as we say) the bull by both horns, announced the business which had brought us. At once Zarco became grave.
“My dear Bartholomew,” said he, “you did right, of course, to bring Master d’Arfet to me. But why did you show any hesitation?” Before I could answer he went on: “Clearly, as the lady’s husband, he has a right to know what he seeks. She left him: but her act cannot annul any rights of his which the Holy Church gave him, and of which, until he dies, only the Holy Church can deprive him. He shall see Morales’ statement as we took it down in writing: but he should have the story from the beginning: and since it is a long one, will you begin and tell so much as you know?”
“If it please you,” said I, and this being conveyed to Master d’Arfet, while Zarco sent a servant with his keys for the roll of parchment, we drew up our chairs to the table, and I began.
“It was in September, 1419,” said I, “when the two captains, John Gonsalvez Zarco and Tristram Vaz, returned to Lagos from their first adventure in these seas. I was an equerry of our master, the Infante Henry, at that time, and busy with him in rebuilding and enlarging the old arsenal on the neck of Cape Sagres; whence, by his wisdom, so many expeditions have been sent forth since to magnify God and increase the knowledge of mankind.
“We had built already the chapel and the library, with its map-room, and the Prince and I were busy there together on the plans for his observatory in the late afternoon when the caravels were sighted: and the news being brought, his Highness left me at work while he rode down to the port to receive his captains. I was still working by lamplight in the map-room when he returned, bringing them and a third man, the old Spaniard Morales.
“Seating himself at the table, he bade me leave my plans, draw my chair over, and take notes in writing of the captains’ report. Zarco told the story—he being first in command, and Tristram Vaz a silent man, then and always: and save for a question here and there, the Prince listened without comment, deferring to examine it until the whole had been related.