Spanish Voyages of Discovery

By Washington Irving | Go to book overview

Ojeda, as usual, would speedily have settled the question by the sword, but he had the whole vagabond crew against him, who overpowered him with numbers and threw him in irons. Still his swelling) spirit was unsubdued. He reviled Talavera and his gang as recreants, traitors, pirates, and offered to fight the whole of them successively, provided they would give him a clear deck, and come on two at a time. Notwithstanding his diminutive size, they had too high an idea of his prowess, and had heard too much of his exploits, to accept his challenge; so they kept him raging in his chains while they pursued their voyage.

They had not proceeded far, however, when a violent storm arose. Talavera and his crew knew little of navigation, and were totally ignorant of those seas. The raging of the elements, the baffling winds and currents, and the danger of unknown rocks and shoals filled them with confusion and alarm. They knew not whither they were driving before the storm, or where to seek for shelter. In this hour of peril they called to mind that Ojeda was a sailor as well as soldier, and that he had repeatedly navigated these seas. Making a truce, therefore, for the common safety, they took off his irons, on condition that he would pilot the vessel during the remainder of her voyage.

Ojeda acquitted himself with his accustomed spirit and intrepidity; but the vessel had been already swept so far to the westward that all his skill was ineffectual in endeavouring to work up to Hispaniola against storms and adverse currents. Borne away by the gulf stream, and tempest-tost for many days, until the shattered vessel was almost in a foundering condition, he saw no alternative but to run it on shore on the southern coast of Cuba.

Here then the crew of freebooters landed from their prize in more desperate plight than when they first took possession of it. They were on a wild and unfrequented coast, their vessel lay a wreck upon the sands, and their only chance was to travel on foot to the eastern extremity of the island, and seek some means of crossing to Hispaniola, where, after their toils, they might perhaps only arrive to be thrown into a dungeon. Such, however, is the yearning of civilized men after the haunts of cultivated society, that they set out, at every risk, upon their long and painful journey.

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