The King spoke. “Master Christopherus, in war much else has to cease! In much we have had to find patience, and you have to find it.”
“My lord King, yes!” replied the tall man. “It is eighteen years since in Lisbon, looking upon the sea one day, I said to myself, `Is there a question that is not to be answered? This ocean is to be crossed. Then why do not I cross it? There is Cipango, Cathay and India! Gold and spices are there, and here lie ships, and between, when all is said, is only sea! God made the sea to be sailed! Yonder they worship idols, here we worship Christ. There are idols, here is Christ. Once a Christopherus carried Christ across water!’ Eighteen years ago. I said, `I can do it!’ I say it to-day, my lord and my lady. I can do it!”
Of the seated great ones only the Queen’s spirit appeared to answer his. He seemed to enchant her, to take her with him. But the King’s cool face regarded him with something like dislike. He spoke in an edged voice. “Saint Christopher asked no great wage. That is the point, Master Christopherus, so let us to it! At last the Queen and I say `We agree’ to this enterprise, which may bring forth fruit or may not, or may mean mere empty loss of ships and men and of our monies! Yet we say `yea.’ But we do not say `yea ’, Master Christopherus, to the too great ferry fee which you ask! I say `ask’, but verily the tone is of command!”
The man whom they called Master Christopherus made a slow, wide gesture of deprecation. The Archbishop took the word. “Too much! You ask a hundred times too much! I must say to you that it is unchristianly arrogance. You talk like a soldan!” An assenting murmur came from the other ecclesiastics.
The Queen spoke. “Master Christopherus, if it be a great thing to do, is not the doing it and thereby blessing yourself no less than others—is not that reward? Not that Castile shall deny you reward, no! Trust me that if you bring us the key of India you shall not find us niggardly! But we and they who advise us stumble at your prescribing wealth, honors and gifts that they say truly are better fitting a great prince! Trust us for enrichment and for honor do you come back with the great thing done! Leave it all now to Time that brings to pass. So you will be clearer to go forth to the blessed carrying of Christ!”
She spoke earnestly, a Queen, but with much about her of womanly, motherly sweetness. I saw that she greatly liked the man and somewhere met his spirit. But the King was gathering hardness. He spoke to a secretary standing behind him. “Have you it there written down, the Italian’s demand?”
The man produced a paper. “Read!” But before it could be unfolded, Master Christopherus spoke.