There was little space about him. The Nina seemed to quiver, packed and dark with men. His deep voice went on, and they could hear him, but he did not seem to know that they were there. “As though upon a raft, here a thousand leagues in Ocean-Sea! Yet wilt Thou care for thy Good News. I will come to Spain, and I will tell it. Chosen, and almost by very name pointed out in Thy Book! The first Christian shore that I touch I will walk barefoot and in my shirt at the head of twelve to the first shrine. And, O my Lord, never more will I forget that that tomb in which thou didst rest, still, still is held by the infidel!” He beat his breast. “Mea culpa! mea culpa!”
His voice sank, he looked at the sky, then with a turn of the wrist at the wheel he put that by and became again the vigilant Admiral of a fleet of one. “She will hold together yet a while! When the tide is out, we can get to her and empty her. Take all ashore that can be carried or floated and may be of use. Up and down—down and up!”
The inhabitants of Hispaniola were now about us in canoes or swimming. They seemed to cry out in distress and sympathy, gazing at the Santa Maria as though it were a god dying there. Their own canoes were living things to them as is any ship to a mariner, and by analogy our great canoe was a Being dying, more of a Being than theirs, because it had wings and could open and fold them. And then back came our boat with Diego de Arana and the others, and they had with them that same brother of the cacique who had come to us in St. Thomas Harbor. And had we been wrecked off Palos, not Palos could have showed more concern or been more ready to help than were these men.
We had three boats and the Indian canoes and hands enough, white and copper-hued. Now at low tide, we could approach and enter the Santa Maria. A great breach had been made and water was deep in her hold, but we could get at much of casks and chests, and could take away sails and cordage, even her two cannon. Eventually, as she broke up, we might float away to shore much of her timber. When I looked from the wreck to the little Nina, I could see, limned as it were in air, the Viceroy’s first colony, set in Hispaniola, beside Guacanagari’s town. All Christmas day we toiled and the Indians at our side. We found them ready, not without skill, gay and biddable.
Toward sunset came Guacanagari. All the little shore was strewn and heaped with our matters. And here I will say that no Indian stole that day though he might have stolen, and though our possessions seemed to him great wonders and treasure beyond estimation. What was brought from the Santa Maria lay in heaps and our men came and went. The most of our force was ashore or in the boats; only so many on the Nina. The Admiral, just returned to the ship, stretched himself upon the bench in her small cabin. Powerful was his frame and constitution,