It might have been not land, but a small boat afire. But that is not probable, and we upon the Santa Maria held that to see burning wood on shore, though naught showed of that shore itself, was truly first to view, first of all of us, that land we sought. He did not care for the ten thousand maravedies, but he cared that it should be said that God showed it first to him.
The wind pushed us on with the flat of a great hand. Midnight and after midnight. At the sight of that flame we should have fired our cannon, but for some reason this was not done. Now the silver silence beyond the ship was torn across by the Pinta’s gun. She fired, then came near us. “Land! Land!” Now we saw it under the moon, just lifting above the sea,—lonely, peaceful, dark.
It was middle night. The Santa Maria, the Pinta and the Nina went another league, then took in sail and came to anchor.
THE Admiral set a watch and commanded all beside to sleep. To-morrow might be work and wakefulness enough! The ship grew silent. With the Pinta and the Nina it lay under the moon, and all around was silver water.
He did not sleep this night, I am sure. At all times he was a provident and wakeful sea king who knew his ship through and through. His habit was light sleep and not many hours of that. He studied his books at night while others slept. Lying in his bed, with eyes open or eyes shut, he watched form in the darkness lands across sea.
This night so far from Europe passed. The sense of day at hand wrapped us. In the east arose a cool, a stern and indifferent pallor. It changed, it flushed. We carried in the Santa Maria a cock and hens. Cock crew.
Christopherus Columbus had Italian love for fit, harmonious noting of vast events. This morning the trumpeter also of the Santa Maria waked those who slept. The clear and joyful notes were heard by the Pinta and the Pinta, too, answered with music. The Nina took it from her. Beltran the cook and his helpers gave us a stately breakfast. The Admiral came forth from his cabin in a dress that a prince might have worn, crimson and tawny, and around his throat a golden chain. Far and near rushed into light, for in these lands and seas the dawn makes no tarrying. It is almost night, then with a great clap of light it is day.
We had voyaged, all thought, to Asia over an untrodden way. Every eye turned to land. Not haze, not dissolving cloud, not a magic nothing in the thought, but land, land, solid, palpable, like Palos strand! Had we seen a great port city, had we seen ships crowding harbor, had we seen a citadel on some height, armed and frowning, had we marked temples and palaces and banners afloat in this divine cool wind of morning, many aboard us would have had now no surprise, would have cried, “Of course, I really knew it, though for the fun of it I pretended otherwise!”