Would we put to land we were beaten back. We had never seen such waves, and at times they glowed with cold fire. The sea with the wind twisted, danced and shouted. We were deaf with thunder and blind with lightning. When the rain descended, it was as though an upper ocean were coming down. A little surcease, then return of the tempest, like return of Polyphemus. Men died from drowning, and, I think, from pure fright. One day the clouds drove down, the sea whirled up. There was made a huge water column, a moving column that fast grew larger. Crying out, our sailors flung themselves upon their knees. It passed us with a mighty sound, and we were not engulfed.
The Admiral said, “God tries us, but he will not destroy us utterly!”
The boy Fernando, in a moment’s wild terror who was ordinarily courageous as any, clung to him. “O my son! I would that you were in La Rabida, safe beside Fray Juan Perez! My son and my brother Bartholomew!”
Now came to us all scarcity of food and a misery of sickness. Now two thirds would have mutinied had we not been going back—but we were going back—creeping, crawling back as the tempest would allow us.
Christmas! We remembered our first Christmas in this world, by Guarico in Hispaniola, when the Santa Maria sank. Again we found a harbor, and we lay there between dead and alive, until early January. We sailed and on Epiphany Day entered a river that we knew to be in golden Veragua. The Admiral called it the Bethlehem.
Gold again, gold! Not on the Bethlehem, but on the river of Veragua, not far away, to which the Admiral sent the Adelantado and two long boats filled with our stoutest men. They brought back gold, gold, gold!
The cacique of these parts was Quibian, a barbarian whom at the last, not the first, we concluded to be true brother of Caonabo.
With threescore of our strongest, the Adelantado pushed again up the river of Veragua, too rough and shallow for our ships. He visited Quibian; he traded for gold; he was taken far inland and from a hill observed a country of the noblest, vale and mountain and Indian smokes. The mountains, the Indians said, were packed with gold. He brought back much gold, Indians bearing it for him in deep baskets that they made.
Quibian paid us a visit, looked sullenly around, and left us. Not in the least was he Guacanagari! But neither, quite yet, did he turn into Caonabo.
The Admiral sat pondering, his hands before him between his knees, his gray-blue eyes looking further than the far mountains. Later, on the shore, he and the Adelantado walked up and down under palm trees. The crews watched them, knowing they were planning.
What they planned came forth the next day, and it was nothing short of a colony, a settlement upon the banks of the river Bethlehem.