I liked the young man.
How wild and without law, save “Hold if you can!” were these mountains!’ “Hold if you can to life—hold if you can to knowledge—hold if you can to joy!” Black cliff overhung black glen and we knew there were dens of robbers. Far and near violence falls like black snow. This merchant band gathered to sleep under oaks with a great rock at our back. We had journeyers’ supper and fire, for it was cold, cold in these heights. A little wine was given and men fell to sleep by the heaped bales; horses, asses and mules being fastened close under the crag. Three men watched, to be relieved in middle night by other three who now slept. A muleteer named Rodrigo and Juan Lepe and the young merchant took the first turn. The first two sat on one side of the fire and the young merchant on the other.
The muleteer remained sunken in a great cloak, his chin on his arms folded upon his knees, and what he saw in the land within I cannot tell. But the young merchant was of a quick disposition and presently must talk. For some distance around us spread bare earth set only with shrubs and stones. Also the rising moon gave light, and with that and our own strength we did not truly look for any attack. We sat and talked at ease, though with lowered voices, Rodrigo somewhere away and the rest of the picture sleeping. The merchant asked what had been my last voyage.
I answered, after a moment, to England.
“You do not seem to me,” he said, “a seaman. But I suppose there are all kinds of seamen.”
I said yes, the sea was wide.
“England now, at the present moment?” he said, and questioned me as to Bristol, of which port he had trader’s knowledge. I answered out of a book I had read. It was true that, living once by the sea, I knew how to handle a boat. I could find in memory sailors’ terms. But still he said, “You are not a seaman such as we see at Palos and San Lucar.”
It is often best not to halt denial. Let it pass by and wander among the wild grasses!