The immediate thing to do proved to be to come forth from cabin and mark the beach thronging with thrice the number of yesterday, and the canoes putting off to us. We counted eight. Only one was a long craft, holding twenty men; the others came in cockle boats, with one or two or three. Not only canoes, but they came swimming, men and boys, all a dark grace in the cerulean, lucid sea. They were so fearless—for we came from heaven and would not harm them. We were going to make them rich; we were going to “save” them.
A score perhaps were helped aboard the Santa Maria. The Pinta, the Nina, had others. They were like children, touching, staring, excitedly talking and gesturing among themselves, or gazing in a kind of fixed awe, asking of the least sailor with all reverence, bowing themselves before the Admiral, the over-god. The Admiral moved richly dressed, rapt and benignant, yet sparing a part of himself to keep all order, measure, rightness on the ship, and another part to find out with keen pains, “What of other lands? What of folk who must be your superiors?”
They had brought offerings. Half a dozen parrots perched around, very gorgeously colored, loquacious in a speech we did not know. We had stacks of the large round thin cakes baked on stones which afterwards we called cassava, and great gourds, “calabashes” filled with fruit, and balls of cotton in a rude thread. We gave beads, bits of cloth, little purses, and the small bells that caused extravagant delight. But ever the Admiral looked for signs of gold, for he must find for princes and nobles and merchants gold or silver, or precious stones or spice, or all together. If he found them not, half his fortunes fell; a half-wind only would henceforth fill his sails.
And at last came in a canoe with three a young Indian who wore in his ear a knob of gold. Roderigo Sanchez saw this first and brought him to the Admiral. The latter, taking up an armlet of green glass and a hawk bell, touched the gold in the ear. “Do you trade?” Glad enough was the Indian to trade. It lay in the Admiral’s palm, a piece of gold as great as a filbert.
Juan Lepe watched him make inquisition, Diego de Arana, Sanchez and Escobedo at his elbow. He did it to admiration, with look, gesture and tone ably translating his words. “Gold—gold?” The Indian said, or we put down in this wise what he said, “Harac.”
Was there more harac on the island? We would give heavenly things for harac. The Indian was doubtful; he thought proudly that he had the only harac. “Where did he get it?” He indicated the south.
“Little island like this one?”
“No. Great land. Harac there in many ears. Much harac.”
So we understood him. “Cipango!” breathed the Admiral. “Or neighbor to Cipango, increasingly rich and civilized as we go.”
He took a case of small boxes, each box filled with merchandise of spice which he desired. Cinnamon, nutmeg, pepper, saffron, cloves and others. He made the islander smell and taste. “Had they aught like these?”