Spanish Voyages of Discovery

By Washington Irving | Go to book overview

up for lost; and many years might elapse before the casual bark of a discoverer might venture along these shores. Long before that time their fate would be sealed, and their bones bleaching on the sands would alone tell their story.

In this hopeless state many abandoned themselves to frantic grief, wandering about the island, wringing their hands and uttering groans and lamentations; others called upon God for succour, and many sat down in silent and sullen despair.

The cravings of hunger and thirst at length roused them to exertion. They found no food but a few shell-fish scattered along the shore, and coarse herbs and roots, some of them of an unwholesome quality. The island had neither springs nor streams of fresh water, and they were fain to slake their thirst at the brackish pools of the marshes.

Nicuesa endeavoured to animate his men with new hopes. He employed them in constructing a raft of drift-wood and branches of trees, for the purpose of crossing the arm of the sea that separated them from the main land. It was a difficult task, for they were destitute of tools, and when the raft was finished they had no oars with which to manage it. Some of the most expert swimmers undertook to propel it, but they were too much enfeebled by their sufferings. On their first essay the currents which sweep that coast bore the raft out to sea, and they swam back with difficulty to the island. Having no other chance of escape, and no other means of exercising and keeping up the spirits of his followers, Nicuesa repeatedly ordered new rafts to be constructed, but the result was always the same, and the men at length either grew too feeble to work or renounced the attempt in despair.

Thus, day after day and week after week elapsed without any mitigation of suffering or any prospect of relief. Every day some one or other sank under his miseries, a victim not so much to hunger and thirst as to grief and despondency. His death was envied by his wretched survivors, many of whom were reduced to such debility that they had to crawl on hands and knees in search of the herbs and shell-fish which formed their scanty food.

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