Day after day and day after day! Creeping eastward along a bad shore, in the teeth of the demon. The seas, the winds, the enormous rain wore us out. Men grew large-eyed. If we slept came a shriek and wakened us. We would put to land, but the wind turned and thrust us out again, or we found no harbor. We seemed to be fixed in one place while time rushed by us.
Forecastle began to say, “It is enchantment!” Presently poop echoed it. The boy Fernando brought it to his father. “Alonso de Zamorra and Bernardo the Apothecary say that demons and witches are against us.”
“The Prince of the Power of the Air!” said the Admiral. “It may be, child! Paynimry against Christianity. We had a touch of the same quality once off Cuba. But is it, or is it not, Christian men shall win! And send me Bartholomew Fiesco. Such talk is injury. It bores men’s courage worse than the teredo a ship’s bottom!”
We thought the foul weather would never cease, and our toil would never cease—then lo! at the point of despair the sky cleared with a great clap of light, the coast turned sharply, sheerly south—he named the great cape, Cape Gracias a Dios—and we ran freely, West again.
Coming in three days to a wide river mouth, in we turned. The shore was grown with reeds that would do for giants’ staffs. On mud banks we saw the crocodile, “cayman” they call it. Again the sky hung a low, gray roof; a thin wind whistled, but for all that it was deathly hot. Seeing no men, we sent two boats with Diego Mendez up the stream. They were not gone a half league, when, watching from the Consolacion we marked a strange and horrid thing. There came without wind a swelling of the sea. Our ships tossed as in tempest, and there entered the river a wall of sea water. Meeting the outward passing current, there ensued a fury with whirlpools. It caught the boats. Diego Mendez saved his, but the other was seized, tossed and engulfed. Eight men drowned.
The thing sank as it had come. The River of Disaster, we named it, and left this strip of coast that seemed to us gloomy and portentous. “Wizardry! It’s not to be lucky, this voyage.” It was now late September.
Next day, we anchored, it being most clear and beautiful. We lay beside a verdurous islet, between it and a green shore. Here were all our fruits, and we thought we smelled cinnamon and clove. Across, upon the main, stood a small village. Cariari the Indians there called themselves. They had some gold, but not to touch that canoe from Yucatan. Likewise they owned a few cotton mantles, with jars of baked clay, and we saw a copper hatchet. But they did not themselves make these things. They had drifted to them, we thought, from a people far more skilled.
The Admiral cried, “When and when and when shall we come to this people?”