Gutierrez shook the dice in the box. “Oh, Queen Luck, that I have served for so long! Why do you not make me viceroy?”
Said Escobedo, “Viceroy of the continent of
Admiral of seaweed and fishes!”
Diego de Arana took that up. “We are obliged to find something! No sensible man can think like some of those forward that this goes on forever and we shall sail till the wood rots and sails grow ragged and wind carries away their shreds or they fall into dust!”
“Who knows anything of River-Ocean? We may not find the western shore, if there be such a thing, for a year! By that time storm will sink us ten times over, or plague will take us—”
“There’s not needed plague nor storm. Just say, food won’t last, and water is already half gone!”
“That’s the undeniable truth,” quoth Roderigo Sanchez, and looked with a perturbed face at the too-smooth sea.
Smooth blue sea continued, wind continued, pushing like a great, warm hand, east to west. The Admiral spent hours alone in his sleeping cabin. There were men who said that he studied there a great book of magic. He had often a book in his hand, it is true, but Juan Lepe the physician knew what he strove to keep from others, that the gout that at times threatened crippling was upon him and was easier to bear lying down.
Sunset, vesper prayer and Salve Regina. As the strains died, there became evident a lingering on the part of the seamen. The master spoke to the Admiral. “They’ve found out about the needle, sir! Perhaps you’d better hear them and answer them.”
Almost every day he heard them and answered them. To make his seamen, however they groaned and grumbled and plotted, yet abide him and his purpose was a day-after-day arising task! Now he said equably, in the tone almost of a father, “What is it to-day, men?”
The throng worked and put forward a spokesman, who looked from the Admiral to the clear north. “It is the star, sir! The needle no longer points to it! We thought you might explain to us unlearned—What we think is that distance is going to widen and widen! What’s to keep needle from swinging right south? Then will we never get home to Palos and our wives and children—never and never and never!”
Said the Admiral, “It will not change further, or if it does a very little further!” In his most decisive, most convincing voice he explained why the needle no longer pointed precisely to the star. The deviation marked and allowed for, it was near enough for practical purposes, and the reasons for the wandering—
I do not know if the wisdom of our descendants will confirm his explanation. It is so often to explain the explanation! But one as well as another might do here. What the Santa Maria wanted was reassurance, general and large, stretching from the Canaries to India and Cathay and back again. He knew that, and after no great time spent with compass needle and circularly traveling polar star, he began to talk gold and estate, and the pearls and silk and spices they would surely take for gifts to their family and neighbors, Palos or Huelva or Fishertown!