We met no great forest beasts. There seemed to be none in this part of Asia. And yet Luis and I had read of great beasts. Dogs of no considerable size were the largest four-footed things we had come upon from San Salvador to Cuba. There were what they called utias, like a rabbit, much used for food, and twice we had seen an animal the size of a fox hanging from a bough by its tail.
If the beasts were few the birds were many. To see the parrots great and small and gorgeously colored, to see those small, small birds like tossed jewels that never sang but hummed like a bee, to hear a gray bird sing clear and loud and sweet every strain that sang other birds, was to see and hear most joyous things. Lizards were innumerable; at edge of a marsh we met with tortoises; once we passed coiled around a tree a great serpent. It looked at us with beady eyes, but the Indians said it would not harm a man. A thousand, thousand butterflies spread their painted fans.
The trees! so huge of girth and height and wherever was room so spreading, so rich of grain, so full, I knew, of strange virtues! We found one that I thought was cinnamon, and broke twigs and bark and put in our great pouch for the Admiral. Only time might tell the wealth of this green multitude. I thought, “Here is gold, if we would wait for it!” Fruit trees sprang by our path. We had with us some provision of biscuit and dried meat, and we never lacked golden or purple delectable orbs. We found the palm that bears the great nut, giving alike meat and milk.
By now Luis Torres and I had no little of Diego Colon’s tongue and he had Spanish enough to understand the simplest statements and orders. Ferdandina tongue was not quite Cuba tongue, but it was like enough to furnish sea room. We asked this, we asked that. No! No one had ever come to the end of their country. When one town was left behind, at last you came to another town. One by one, were they bigger, better towns? They seemed to say that they were, but here was always, I thought, doubtful understanding. But no one had ever walked around their country—they seemed to laugh at the notion—land that way, always land! On the other hand, there was sea yonder —like sea here. They pointed south. Not so far there! “It must be,” said Luis, “that Cuba is narrow, though without end westwardly. A great point or tongue of Asia?”
The Cubans were strong young men and not unintelligent. “Chiefs?” Yes, they had chiefs, they called them caciques. Some of them were fighters, they and their people. Not fighters like Caribs! Whereupon the speaker rose—we were resting under a tree—and facing south, used for gesture a strong shudder and a movement as if to flee.
South—south—always they pointed south! We were going south—inland. Would we come to Caribs? But no. Caribs seemed not to be in Cuba, but beyond sea, in islands.
Luis and I made progress in language and knowledge. Roderigo Jerez, a simple man, slept or tried the many kinds of fruit, or teased the slender, green-flame lizards.