“I myself,” he said presently, “have gone by sea to Vigo and to Bordeaux.” He warmed his hands at the fire, then clasped them about his knees and gazed into the night. “What, Juan Lepe, is that Ocean we look upon when we look west? I mean, where does it go? What does it strike?”
“India, belike. And Cathay. To-day all men believe the earth to be round.”
“A long way!” he said. “O Sancta Maria! All that water!”
“We do not have to drink it.”
He laughed. “No! Nor sail it. But after I had been on that voyage I could see us always like mice running close to a wall, forever and forever! Juan Lepe, we are little and timid!”
I liked his spirit. “One day we shall be lions and eagles and bold prophets! Then our tongue shall taste much beside India and Cathay!”
“Well, I hope it,” he said. “Mice running under the headlands.”
He fell silent, cherishing his knees and staring into the fire. It was not Juan Lepe’s place to talk when master merchant talked not. I, too, regarded the fire, and the herded mountains robed in night, and the half-moon like a sail rising from an invisible boat.
The night went peacefully by. It was followed by a hard day’s travel and the incident of the road. At evening we saw the walls of Zarafa in a sunset glory. The merchants and their train passed through the gate and found their customary inn. With others, Juan Lepe worked hard, unlading and storing. All done, he and the bully slept almost in each other’s arms, under the arches of the court, dreamlessly.
The next day and the next were still days of labor. It was not until the third that Juan Lepe considered that he might now absent himself and there be raised no hue and cry after strong shoulders. He had earned his quittance, and in the nighttime, upon his hands and knees, he crept from the sleepers in the court. Just before dawn the inn gate swung open. He had been waiting close to it, and he passed out noiselessly.
In the two days, carrying goods through streets to market square and up to citadel and pausing at varying levels for breath and the prospect, I had learned this town well enough. I knew where went the ascending and descending ways. Now almost all lay asleep, antique, shaded, Moorish, still, under the stars. The soldiery and the hidalgos, their officers, slept; only the sentinels waked before the citadel entry and on the town walls and by the three gates. The town folk slept, all but the sick and the sorrowful and the careful and those who had work at dawn. Listen, and you might hear sound like the first moving of birds, or breath of dawn wind coming up at sea. The greater part now of the town folk were Christian, brought in since the five-year-gone siege that still resounded. Moors were here, but they had turned Christian, or were slaves, or both slave and Christian. I had seen monks of all habits and heard ring above the inn the