For not a few days we visited, sailing and anchoring, lifting again and stopping again. Once the people were pacified, they gave us kindly enough welcome, trading and wondering. We slipped by bold coasts and headlands which we must double, mountains above us. They ran by inland paths, saving distance, telling village after village. When we made harbor, here was the thronged beach. Some of these people wore a slight dress of woven grass and palm leaves, and they used crowns of bright feathers. We got from them in some quantity golden ornaments. But south for gold, south—south, they always pointed south!
The Cordera, the Santa Clara and the San Juan set sail out of the Harbor of Good Weather, in Santiago or Jamaica. A day and a night of pleasant sailing, then we saw the great Cuba coast rise blue in the distance. The weather wheeled.
There was first a marvelous green hush, while clouds formed out of nothing. We heard a moaning sound and we did not know its quarter. The sea turned dead man’s color. Then burst the wind. It was more than wind; it seemed the movement of a world upon us. Bare of all sails, we labored. We were driven, one from the other. The mariners fell to praying.
A strange light was around us, as though the tempest itself made a light. By it I marked the Admiral, upright where he could best command the whole. He had lashed himself there, for the ship tossed excessively. His great figure stood; his white, blowing hair, in that strange light, made for him a nimbus. It was strange, how the light seemed to seize that and his brow and his gray-blue eyes. Below the eyes his lips moved. He was shouting encouragement, but only the intention could be heard. The intention was heard. He looked what he was, something more than a bold man and a brave sea captain, and there streamed from him comfort. It touched his mariners; it came among them like tongues of flame.
Darkness increased. We were now among lightnings like javelins and loud thunder. Then fell the rain, in torrents, in drops large as plums. It was as though another ocean was descending upon us.
It lasted and we endured. After long while came lessening in that weight of rain, and then cessation. Suddenly the tempest was over. There shone a star — three stars and on topmast and bowsprit Saint Elmo’s lights.
Our mariners shouted, “Safe—safe! Saint Elmo!”
Suddenly, over all the sky, were stars shining. The Admiral raised his great voice. “Sing, all of us!
Sancta Maria!’ "
With the morning the Santa Clara and the San Juan, beaten about, some injury done, but alive! And the coast of Cuba, nearer, nearer, tall and blue—and at last very tall and green and gold.
Off Cuba and still off Cuba, the southern coast now, as against the northern that once we tried for a while. Sail and come to land, stay a bit, and shake out sails once more!