In the end, we the going forth, kneeling, made general confession and the priest’s hands in the dusk above absolved us. There was solemnity and there was tenderness. A hundred and twenty, we came forth from church, and around us flowed the hundreds of Palos, men and women and children. All was red under a red sunset, the boats waiting to take us out to the Santa Maria, the Pinta and the Nina.
We marched to waterside. Priests and friars moved with us, singing loudly the hymn to the Virgin, Lady of all seamen. Great tears ran down Fray Juan Perez’s checks. It was a red sunset and the west into which we were going looked indeed blood-flecked. Don Juan de Penelosa, harking us on, had an inspiration. “You see the rubies of Cipango!”
It is not alone “great” men who bring about things in this world. All of us are in a measure great, as all are on the way to greater greatness. Sailors are brave and hardy men; that is said when it is said that they are sailors. In many hearts hung dread of this voyage and rebellion against being forced to it. But they had not to be lashed to the boats; they went with sailors’ careless air and dignity. By far the most went thus. Even Fernando ceased his wailing and embarked. The red light, or for danger or for rubies in which still might be danger, washed us all, washed the town, the folk and the sandy shore, and the boats that would take us out to the ships, small in themselves, and small by distance, riding there in the river-mouth like toys that have been made for children.
The hundred and twenty entered the boats. It was like a little fishing fleet going out together. The rowers bent to the oars, a strip of water widened between us and Spain. Loud chanted the friars, but over their voices rose the crying of farewell, now deep, now shrill. “Adios!” The sailors cried back, “Adios! Adios!” From the land it must have had a thin sound like ghosts wailing from the edge of the world. That, the sailors held and Palos held, was where the ships were going, over the edge of the world. It was the third day of August, in the year fourteen hundred and ninety-two.
PALOS vanished, we lost the headland of La Rabida, a haze hid Spain. By nightfall all was behind us. We were set forth from native land, set forth from Europe, set forth from Christendom, set forth from sea company and sailors’ cheer of other ships. That last would not be wholly true until we were gone from the Canaries, toward which islands, running south, we now were headed. We might hail some Spanish ship going to, coming from, Grand Canary. We might indeed, before we reached these islands, see other sails, for a rumor ran that the King of Portugal was sending ships to intercept us, sink us and none ever be the wiser, it not being to his interest that Spain should make discoveries! Pedro it was who put this into my ear as we hauled at the same rope. I laughed. “Here beginneth the marvelous tale of this voyage! If all happens that all say may happen, not the Pope’s library can hold the books!”