CHAPTER 16: The Splitting-Up of the Flotilla

THE GOVERNOR did not want to stop there but went into a nearby bay dotted with islets. The other barges joined him, and we found we could take fresh water from the sea, the river emptying into it in a torrent.

To parch corn - which we had eaten raw for two days now - we scrambled onto an island, but found no firewood, so decided to go to the river, one league distant behind the point. All our efforts to breast the violent current resulted only in our getting carried farther out. The north wind rose from shore to drive us the rest of the way to the high sea in spite of anything we could do. About half a league from shore we had sounded and found no bottom even at thirty fathoms, convinced that the current somehow interfered with our measurement. [True; the normal delta depth in this vicinity in the 20th century is ten fathoms, or sixty feet.]

For two days we toiled to gain the shore. Awhile before dawn of the third, we saw smoke rising at several points and worked toward it. We found ourselves in three fathoms of water, but it was still too dark to risk landing where we had seen the columns of smoke. So we held up till daylight.

When it came, the barges had lost sight of each other and I found mine floating in thirty fathoms. Keeping my course all day, to the hour of vespers, I at last sighted two other barges. As we neared them, I recognized the closer one as that of the Governor.

He asked me what I thought we should do. I said, join the barge ahead; by no means abandon her; so the three might go where God willed, together. He said that could not be done; the lead barge was too far out to sea and he wanted to get to shore. If I wished to follow him, he continued, I should order my men to the oars, since only by arm work could the land be gained. His old cohort, Captain Pantoja, had advised him thus. Pantoja claimed that if we did not make land that day, we would not in six more, by which time we would have starved.

The Governor's will clearly divulged, I took up my oar, and all my men theirs, and we rowed till nearly sunset. But, the Governor having the healthiest and strongest men in his barge, we could not keep up. I yelled to him to throw me a rope so we could stay with him. He called back that if he were to do what he hoped that night, he must not further sap his men's strength. I said that since we were too feeble to carry out his orders to follow him, he must tell me how he would that I should act. He replied that it was no longer a time when one should command another; that each must do as he thought best to save himself; that that was what he was doing now. So saying, he pulled away in his barge.

Unable to follow, I steered toward the barge at sea, which waited for me. When fairly close, I found her to be the one commanded by Captain Peñalosa and Captain Téllez.