The old woman by the Tinto talked garrulously. Thankful was she that her son Miguel dwelled ten leagues away! Else surely they would have taken him, as they were taking this one’s son and that one’s son! To hear her you would think of an ogre—of Polyphemus in the cave—reaching out fatal hand for this or that fattened body. Nothing then, she said, to do but to pinch and save so that one might pay the priest for masses! She told me with great eyes that a hundred leagues west of Canaries one came to a sea forest where all the trees were made of water growing up high and spreading out like branches and leaves, and that this forest was filled with sea wolves and serpents and strange beasts all made of sea water, but they could sting and rend a man very ghastly. After that you came to sirens that you could not help leaping to meet, but they put lips to men’s breasts and sucked out the life. Then if the wind drove you south, you smelled smoke and at night saw flames, and if you could not get the ship about—
In mid-afternoon I left the sands and took the road
La Rabida. By the walled vineyard that climbs the hill
I was met by three mounted men coming from the monastery.
The first was Don Juan de Penelosa, the second was the
Prior of La Rabida, the third was the Admiral of the Ocean-
Fray Juan Perez first saw me clearly, drawn up by wall. He had been quoting Latin and he broke at Dominus et magister. The Admiral turned gray eyes upon me. I saw his mind working. He said, “The road to Cordova—Welcome, Juan Lepe!”
I gave him the name, seeing him for a moment somewhat whimsically as Viceroy of conquered great India of the elephants and the temples filled with bells. His face lighted. He looked at me, and I knew again that he liked me. I liked him.
My kinsman the Prior had started to speak to me, but then had shot a look at Juan de Penelosa and refrained. The Queen’s officer spoke, “Why, here’s another strong fellow, not so tall as some but powerfully knit! Are you used to the sea?”
I answered that I had been upon a Marseilles bark that was wrecked off Almeria, and that I had walked from San Lucar. He asked my name and I gave it. “Juan Lepe.” I attach you then, Juan Lepe, for the service of the Queen! Behold your admiral, Don Cristoval Colon! His ships are the Santa Maria, the Pinta and the Nina, his destination the glorious finding of the Indies and Cipango where the poorest man drinks from a golden cup! Princes, I fancy, drink from hollowed emeralds! You will sail to-morrow at dawn. In which ship shall we put him, Senor?”
“In the Santa Maria,” answered the Admiral.
So short as that was it done! And yet—and yet—it had been doing for a long time, for how long a time I have no way of measuring!
Juan de Penelosa continued to speak: “Follow us into Palos where Sebastian Jaurez will give you wine and a piece of money. Thence you will go to church where indeed we are bound, all who sail being gathered there for general confession and absolution. This voyage begins Christianly!”