“When you got right underfoot wouldn’t you fall; that’s what I want to know?”
“Fall! Fall where?”
“Into the sky! My God, it’s deep! And there wouldn’t be any boat to pick you up nor any floating oar to catch by—”
The vision seemed to appall them. Fernando drew back of hand across eyes.
I came in. “You wouldn’t do that any more than the ant falls off the orange! Men have come back who have been almost underfoot, so far to the east had they traveled. They found there men and kingdoms and ways not so mightily unlike ours.”
“They went that way,” answered Pedro, jerking his hand eastward, “over good land! And maybe, whatever they said, they were lying to us! I’m thinking most of the learned do that all the time!”
“Well,” said Sancho, “if we do come back, we’ll have some rare good tales to tell!”
There fell a pause at that, a pause of dissent and exasperation, but also one of caught fancy. It would undoubtedly be a glory to tell those tales to a listening, fascinated Fishertown!
Juan Lepe said, “For months I’ve been with a trader running from San Lucar to Marseilles. I’ve had no news this long while! What’s doing at Palos?”
They were ready for an audience, any audience, and forthwith I had the story of the Admiral fairly straight— or I could make it straight—from that day when we parted on the Cordova road. These men did not know what had happened in March or in April, but they knew something of May. In May he came to Palos and settled down with Fray Juan Perez in La Rabida, and to see him went Captain Martin Pinzon who knew him already, and the physician Garcia Fernandez and others, and they all talked together for a day and a night. After that the alcalde of Palos and others in authority had letters and warrants from the Queen and the King, and they overbore everything, calling him Don and El Almirante and saying that he must be furnished forth. Then came a day when everybody was gathered in the square before the church of Saint George, and the alcalde that had a great voice read the letters.
“I was there!” said Fernando. “I brought in fish that morning.”
“I, too!” quoth Sancho. “I had to buy sailcloth.”
It was Pedro chiefly who talked. “They were from the King and Queen, and the moral was that Palos must furnish Don Cristoval Colon, Admiral of the Ocean-Sea— and we thought that was a curious thing to be admiral of! —two ships and all seamen needed and all supplies. A third ship could be enterprised, and any in and around Palos was to be encouraged to put in fortune and help. Ships and those who went in them were to obey the said Don Cristoval Colon or Columbus as though he were the Queen and the King, the Bishop of Seville and the Marquis of Cadiz! It didn’t say it just that way but that was what it meant. We were to follow him and do as he told us, or it would be much the worse for us! We weren’t to put in at St. George la Mina on the coast of Africa, nor touch at the King of Portugal’s islands, and that was the whole of it!”