This neighborhood, La Navidad and the shipwreck of the Santa Maria, burned Guarico and now this empty village, perpetual reminder that in some part our Indian subjects liked us not so well as formerly and could not be made Christian with a breath, grew no longer to our choice. Something of melancholy overhung for the Admiral this part of Hispaniola. He was seeking a site for a city, but now he liked it not here. The seventeen ships put on sail and, a stately flight of birds greater than herons, pursued their way, easterly now, along the coast of Hispaniola.
Between thirty and forty leagues from the ruin of La Navidad opened to us a fair, large harbor where two rivers entered the sea. There was a great forest and bright protruding rock, and across the south the mountains. When we landed and explored we found a small Indian village that had only vaguely heard that gods had descended. Forty leagues across these forests is a long way. They had heard a rumor that the cacique of Guarico liked the mighty strangers and Caonabo liked them not, but as yet knew little more. The harbor, the land, the two rivers pleased us. “Here we will build,” quoth the Viceroy, “a city named Isabella.”
CHRISTMASTIDE, a year from the sinking of the Santa Maria, came to nigh two thousand Christian men dwelling in some manner of houses by a river in a land that, so short time before, had never heard the word “Christmas.” Now, in Spain and elsewhere, men and women, hearing Christmas bells, might wonder, “What are they doing—are they also going to mass—those adventurers across the Sea of Darkness? Have they converted the Indies? Are they moving happily in the golden, spicy lands? Great marvel! Christ now is born there as here!”
Juan Lepe chanced to be walking in the cool of the evening with Don Francisco de Las Casas, a sensible, strong man, not unread in the philosophers. He spoke to me of his son, a young man whom he loved, who would sooner or later come out to him to Hispaniola, if he, the elder, stayed here. So soon as this we had begun to speak thus, “Come out to Hispaniola.” “Come out to Isabella in Hispaniola.” What a strong wind is life, leaping from continent to continent and crying, “Home wherever I can breathe and move!” This young man was Bartolome, then at Salamanca, at the University. Bartolome de Las Casas, whom Juan Lepe should live to know and work with. But this evening I heard the father talk, as any father of any promising son.
With us, too, was Don Juan Ponce de Leon, who had a story out of Mandeville of a well by the city of Polombe in Prester John’s country. If you drank of the well, though you were dying you would never more have sickness, and though you were white-bearded you would come young again!
The palms waved above Isabella that was building behind the camp by the river. It was beginning, it was planned out; the stone church, the stone house of the Viceroy were already breast-high. A Spanish city building, and the bells of Europe ringing.