Their speech sounded of no tongue that we knew. Luis Torres and I alike had knowledge of Arabic. We had no Persian that might be nearer yet, but Arabia being immemorially caravan-knit with India, it was thought that it might be understood. But these bare folk had no notion of it, nor of the Hebrew which Luis tried next. The Latin did not do, the Greek of which I had a little did not do. But there is an old, old language called Gesture. If, wherever there is a common language there is one people, then in end and beginning surely we are one folk around the earth!
We were to be friends with these islanders. “Friends first and last!” believed the Admiral. Indeed, all felt it so, this bright day. If they were not all we had imaged, sailing to them, yet were they men, and unthreatening, novel, very interesting to us with their island and their marvelous blue water. All was heightened by sheer joy of landing, and of finding—finding something! And what we found was not horrible nor deathful, but bright, promising, scented like first fruits.
To them we found we were gods! They moved about us with a kind of ceremony of propitiation. Two youths came with a piece of bark carried like a salver, piled with fruits and with thin cakes of some scraped root. Another brought a parrot, a great green and rose bird that at once talked, though we could not understand his words. Two older men had balls, as large as melons, of some wound stuff that we presently found to be cotton loosely twisted into yarn. The Admiral’s eyes glowed. “Now if any bring spices or pepper—” But they did not, nor did they bring gold.
All these things they put down before us, in silence or with words that we thought were petitions, moving not confusedly but with a manner of ritual. The Admiral took a necklace and placed it round the throat of the young man who first had dared, and in his hand put a hawk bell. That was enough for himself to do, who was Viceroy. Three of us finished the distribution. They who had brought presents were given presents. All would have us go with them to their village, just behind the trees. A handful of men we left with the boats and the rest of us crossed sand. Harquebuses and crossbows went with us, but we had no need of them. The island apparently followed peace, and its folk greatly feared to give offense to gods from the sky. Above the ships held a range of pearly clouds, out of which indeed one might make strange lands and forms. The Indians —Christopherus Columbus called them “Indians”— pointed from ships to cloud. They spoke with movements of reverence. “You have come down—you have come down!” We understood them, though their words were not ours.
Now the greenwood rose close at hand. The trees differed, the woven thickness of it, the color and blossom, from any wood at home. A space opened before us, and here was the village of these folk,—round huts thatched with palm leaves, set on no streets, but at choice under trees. Earth around was trodden hard, but the green woods pressed close. Here and there showed garden patches with plants whose names and uses we knew not. Now we came upon women and children. Like the men the women were naked. Well-shaped and comely, with long, black, braided hair, they seemed to us gentle, pleasing and fearless. The children were a crew that any might love.