“Misguided, rash, intruding fool, farewell!
Thou see’st to be too busy is some danger.”
It is the spring of 1582-3. The gray March skies are curdling hard and high above black mountain peaks. The keen March wind is sweeping harsh and dry across a dreary sheet of bog, still red and yellow with the stains of winter frost. One brown knoll alone breaks the waste, and on it a few leafless wind-clipt oaks stretch their moss-grown arms, like giant hairy spiders, above a desolate pool which crisps and shivers in the biting breeze, while from beside its brink rises a mournful cry, and sweeps down, faint and fitful, amid the howling of the wind.
Along the brink of the bog, picking their road among crumbling rocks and green spongy springs, a company of English soldiers are pushing fast, clad cap-a-pie in helmet and quilted jerkin, with arquebus on shoulder, and pikes trailing behind them; stern steadfast men, who, two years since, were working the guns at Smerwick fort, and have since then seen many a bloody fray, and shall see more before they die. Two captains ride before them on shaggy ponies, the taller in armor, stained and rusted with many a storm and fray, the other in brilliant inlaid cuirass and helmet, gaudy sash and plume, and sword hilt glittering with gold, a quaint contrast enough to the meager garron which carries him and his finery. Beside them, secured by a cord which a pikeman has fastened to his own wrist, trots a bare-legged Irish kerne, whose only clothing is his ragged yellow mantle, and the unkempt “glib” of hair, through which his eyes peer out, right and left, in mingled fear and sullenness. He is the guide of the company, in their hunt after the rebel Baltinglas; and woe to him if he play them false.
“A pleasant country, truly, Captain Raleigh,” says the dingy officer to the gay one. “I wonder how, having once escaped from it to Whitehall, you have the courage to come back and spoil that gay suit with bog-water and mud.”
“A very pleasant country, my friend Amyas; what you say in jest, I say in earnest.”
“Hillo! Our tastes have changed places. I am sick of it already, as you foretold. Would Heaven that I could hear of some adventure Westward-ho! and find these big bones swinging in a hammock once more. Pray what has made you so suddenly in love with bog and rock, that you come back to tramp them with us? I thought you had spied out the nakedness of the land long ago.”
“Bog and rock? Nakedness of the land? What is needed here but prudence and skill, justice and law? This soil, see, is fat enough, if men were here to till it. These rocks — who knows what minerals they may hold? I hear of gold and jewels found already in divers parts; and Daniel, my brother Humphrey’s German assayer, assures me that these rocks are of the very same kind as those which yield the silver in Peru. Tut, man! if her gracious majesty would but bestow on me some few square miles of this same wilderness, in seven years’ time I would make it blossom like the rose, by God’s good help.”
“Humph! I should be more inclined to stay here, then.”
“So you shall, and be my agent, if you will, to get in my mine-rents and my corn-rents, and my fishery-rents, eh? Could you keep accounts, old knight of the bear’s-paw?”
“Well enough for such short reckonings as yours would be, on the profit side at least. No, no — I’d sooner carry lime all my days from Cauldy to Bideford, than pass another twelve-month in the land of Ire, among the children of wrath. There is a curse upon the face of the earth, I believe.”
“There is no curse upon it, save the old one of man’s sin —‘Thorns and thistles it shall bring forth to thee.’ But if you root up the thorns and thistles, Amyas, I know no fiend who can prevent your growing wheat instead; and if you till the ground like a man, you plough and barrow away nature’s curse, and other fables of the schoolmen beside,” added he, in that daring fashion which afterwards obtained for him (and never did good Christian less deserve it) the imputation of atheism.
“It is sword and bullet, I think, that are needed here, before plough and harrow, to clear away some of the curse. Until a few more of these Irish lords are gone where the Desmonds are, there is no peace for Ireland.”
“Humph! not so far wrong, I fear. And yet — Irish lords? These very traitors are better English blood than we who hunt them down. When Yeo here slew the Desmond the other day, he no more let out a drop of Irish blood, than if he had slain the lord deputy himself.”
“His blood be on his own head,” said Yeo, “He looked as wild a savage as the worst of them, more shame to him; and the ancient here had nigh cut off his arm before he told us who he was: and then, your worship, having a price upon his head, and like to bleed to death too —”
“Enough, enough, good fellow,” said Raleigh. “Thou hast done what was given thee to do. Strange, Amyas, is it not? Noble Normans sunk into savages — Hibernis ipsis hiberniores! Is there some uncivilizing venom in the air?”
“Some venom, at least, which makes English men traitors. But the Irish themselves are well enough, if their tyrants would let them be. See now, what more faithful liegeman has her majesty than the Inchiquin, who, they say, is Prince of Themond, and should be king of all Ireland, if every man had his right?”
“Don’t talk of rights in the land of wrongs, man. But the Inchiquin knows well that the true Irish Esau has no worse enemy than his supplanter, the Norman Jacob. And yet, Amyas are even these men worse than we might be, if we had been bred up masters over the bodies and souls of men, in some remote land where law and order had never come? Look at this Desmond, brought up a savage among savages, a Papist among Papists, a despot among slaves; a thousand easy maidens deeming it honor to serve his pleasure, a thousand wild ruffians deeming it piety to fulfil his revenge: and let him that is without sin among us cast the first stone.”
“Ay,” went on Raleigh to himself, as the conversation dropped. “What hadst thou been, Raleigh, hadst thou been that Desmond whose lands thou now desirest? What wilt thou be when thou hast them? Will thy children sink downwards, as these noble barons sank? Will the genius of tyranny and falsehood find soil within thy heart to grow and ripen fruit? What guarantee hast thou for doing better here than those who went before thee? And yet, cannot I do justice and love mercy? Can I not establish plantations, build and sow, and make the desert valleys laugh with corn? Shall I not have my Spenser with me, to fill me with all noble thoughts, and raise my soul to his heroic pitch? Is not this true knight-errantry, to redeem to peace and use, and to the glory of that glorious queen whom God has given to me, a generous soil and a more generous race? Trustful and tenderhearted they are — none more; and if they be fickle and passionate, will not that very softness of temper, which makes them so easily led to evil, make them as easy to be led towards good? Yes — here, away from courts, among a people who should bless me as their benefactor and deliverer — what golden days might be mine! And yet — is this but another angel’s mask from that same cunning fiend ambition’s stage? And will my house be indeed the house of God, the foundations of which are loyalty, and its bulwarks righteousness, and not the house of fame, whose walls are of the soap-bubble, and its floor a sea of glass mingled with fire? I would be good and great — When will the day come when I shall be content to be good, and yet not great, like this same simple Leigh, toiling on by my side to do his duty, with no more thought for the morrow than the birds of God? Greatness? I have tasted that cup within the last twelve months; do I not know that it is sweet in the mouth, but bitter in the belly? Greatness? And was not Essex great, and John of Austria great, and Desmond great, whose race, but three short years ago, had stood for ages higher than I shall ever hope to climb — castles, and lands, and slaves by thousands, and five hundred gentlemen of his name, who had vowed to forswear God before they forswore him and well have they kept their vow! And now, dead in a turf-hovel, like a coney in a burrow! Leigh, what noise was that?”
“An Irish howl, I fancied: but it came from off the bog; it may be only a plover’s cry.”
“Something not quite right, sir captain, to my mind,” said the ancient. “They have ugly stories here of pucks and banshees, and what not of ghosts. There it was again, wailing just like a woman. They say the banshee cried all night before Desmond was slain.”
“Perhaps, then, this one may be crying for Baltinglas; for his turn is likely to come next — not that I believe in such old wives’ tales.”
“Shamus, my man,” said Amyas to the guide, “do you hear that cry in the bog?”
The guide put on the most stolid of faces, and answered in broken English —
“Shamus hear naught. Perhaps — what you call him? — fishing in ta pool.”
“An otter, he means, and I believe he is right. Stay, no! Did you not hear it then, Shamus? It was a woman’s voice.”
“Shamus is shick in his ears ever since Christmas.”
“Shamus will go after Desmond if he lies,” said Amyas. “Ancient, we had better send a few men to see what it is; there may be a poor soul taken by robbers, or perhaps starving to death, as I have seen many a one.”
“And I too, poor wretches; and by no fault of their own or ours either: but if their lords will fall to quarrelling, and then drive each other’s cattle, and waste each other’s lands, sir, you know —”
“I know,” said Amyas, impatiently; “why dost not take the men, and go?”
“Cry you mercy, noble captain, but — I fear nothing born of woman.”
“Well, what of that?” said Amyas, with a smile.
“But these pucks, sir. The wild Irish do say that they haunt the pools; and they do no manner of harm, sir, when you are coming up to them; but when you are past, sir, they jump on your back like to apes, sir — and who can tackle that manner of fiend?”
“Why, then, by thine own showing, ancient,” said Raleigh, “thou may’st go and see all safely enough, and then if the puck jumps on thee as thou comest back, just run in with him here, and I’ll buy him of thee for a noble; or thou may’st keep him in a cage, and make money in London by showing him for a monster.”
“Good heavens forefend, Captain Raleigh! but you talk rashly! But if I must, Captain Leigh —
‘Where duty calls
To brazen walls,
How base the slave who flinches’
Lads, who’ll follow me?”
“Thou askest for volunteers, as if thou wert to lead a forlorn hope. Pull away at the usquebaugh, man, and swallow Dutch courage, since thine English is oozed away. Stay, I’ll go myself.”
“And I with you,” said Raleigh. “As the queen’s true knight-errant, I am bound to be behindhand in no adventure. Who knows but we may find a wicked magician, just going to cut off the head of some saffron-mantled princess?” and he dismounted.
“Oh, sirs, sirs, to endanger your precious —”
“Pooh,” said Raleigh. “I wear an amulet, and have a spell of art-magic at my tongue’s end, whereby, sir ancient, neither can a ghost see me, nor I see them. Come with us, Yeo, the Desmond-slayer, and we will shame the devil, or be shamed by him.”
“He may shame me, sir, but he will never frighten me,” quoth Yeo; “but the bog, captains?”
“Tut! Devonshire men, and heath-trotters born, and not know our way over a peat moor!”
And the three strode away.
They splashed and scrambled for some quarter of a mile to the knoll, while the cry became louder and louder as they neared.
“That’s neither ghost nor otter, sirs, but a true Irish howl, as Captain Leigh said; and I’ll warrant Master Shamus knew as much long ago,” said Yeo.
And in fact, they could now hear plainly the “Ochone, Ochonorie,” of some wild woman; and scrambling over the boulders of the knoll, in another minute came full upon her.
She was a young girl, sluttish and unkempt, of course, but fair enough: her only covering, as usual, was the ample yellow mantle. There she sat upon a stone, tearing her black dishevelled hair, and every now and then throwing up her head, and bursting into a long mournful cry, “for all the world,” as Yeo said, “like a dumb four-footed hound, and not a Christian soul.”
On her knees lay the head of a man of middle age, in the long soutane of a Romish priest. One look at the attitude of his limbs told them that he was dead.
The two paused in awe; and Raleigh’s spirit, susceptible of all poetical images, felt keenly that strange scene — the bleak and bitter sky, the shapeless bog, the stunted trees, the savage girl alone with the corpse in that utter desolation. And as she bent her head over the still face, and called wildly to him who heard her not, and then, utterly unmindful of the intruders, sent up again that dreary wail into the dreary air, they felt a sacred horror, which almost made them turn away, and leave her unquestioned: but Yeo, whose nerves were of tougher fibre, asked quietly —
“Shall I go and search the fellow, captain?”
“Better, I think,” said Amyas.
Raleigh went gently to the girl, and spoke to her in English. She looked up at him, his armor and his plume, with wide and wondering eyes, and then shook her head, and returned to her lamentation.
Raleigh gently laid his hand on her arm, and lifted her up, while Yeo and Amyas bent over the corpse.
It was the body of a large and coarse-featured man, but wasted and shrunk as if by famine to a very skeleton. The hands and legs were cramped up, and the trunk bowed together, as if the man had died of cold or famine. Yeo drew back the clothes from the thin bosom, while the girl screamed and wept, but made no effort to stop him.
“Ask her who it is? Yeo, you know a little Irish,” said Amyas.
He asked, but the girl made no answer. “The stubborn jade won’t tell, of course, sir. If she were but a man, I’d make her soon enough.”
“Ask her who killed him?”
“No one, she says; and I believe she says true, for I can find no wound. The man has been starved, sirs, as I am a sinful man. God help him, though he is a priest; and yet he seems full enough down below. What’s here? A big pouch, sirs, stuffed full of somewhat.”
“Hand it hither.”
The two opened the pouch; papers, papers, but no scrap of food. Then a parchment. They unrolled it.
“Latin,” said Amyas; “you must construe, Don Scholar.”
“Is it possible?” said Raleigh, after reading a moment. “This is indeed a prize! This is Saunders himself!”
Yeo sprang up from the body as if he had touched an adder. “Nick Saunders, the Legacy, sir?”
“Nicholas Saunders, the legate.”
“The villain! why did not he wait for me to have the comfort of killing him? Dog!” and he kicked the corpse with his foot.
“Quiet! quiet! Remember the poor girl,” said Amyas, as she shrieked at the profanation, while Raleigh went on, half to himself:
“Yes, this is Saunders. Misguided fool, and this is the end! To this thou hast come with thy plotting and thy conspiring, thy lying and thy boasting, consecrated banners and Pope’s bulls, Agnus Deis and holy waters, the blessing of all saints and angels, and thy Lady of the Immaculate Conception! Thou hast called on the heavens to judge between thee and us, and here is their answer! What is that in his hand, Amyas? Give it me. A pastoral epistle to the Earl of Ormond, and all nobles of the realm of Ireland; ‘To all who groan beneath the loathsome tyranny of an illegitimate adulteress, etc., Nicholas Saunders, by the grace of God, Legate, etc.’ Bah! and this forsooth was thy last meditation! Incorrigible pedant! Victrix causa Diis placuit, sed victa Catoni!”
He ran his eye through various other documents, written in the usual strain: full of huge promises from the Pope and the king of Spain; frantic and filthy slanders against Elizabeth, Burghley, Leicester, Essex (the elder), Sidney, and every great and good man (never mind of which party) who then upheld the commonweal; bombastic attempts to terrify weak consciences, by denouncing endless fire against those who opposed the true faith; fulsome ascriptions of martyrdom and sanctity to every rebel and traitor who had been hanged for the last twenty years; wearisome arguments about the bull In Caena Domini, Elizabeth’s excommunication, the nullity of English law, the sacred duty of rebellion, the right to kill a prince impenitently heretical, and the like insanities and villainies, which may be read at large in Camden, the Phoenix Britannicus, Fox’s Martyrs, or, surest of all, in the writings of the worthies themselves.
With a gesture of disgust, Raleigh crammed the foul stuff back again into the pouch. Taking it with them, they walked back to the company, and then remounting, marched away once more towards the lands of the Desmonds; and the girl was left alone with the dead.
An hour had passed, when another Englishman was standing by the wailing girl, and round him a dozen shockheaded kernes, skene on thigh and javelin in hand, were tossing about their tawny rags, and adding their lamentations to those of the lonely watcher.
The Englishman was Eustace Leigh; a layman still, but still at his old work. By two years of intrigue and labor from one end of Ireland to the other, he had been trying to satisfy his conscience for rejecting “the higher calling” of the celibate; for mad hopes still lurked within that fiery heart. His brow was wrinkled now; his features harshened; the scar upon his face, and the slight distortion which accompanied it, was hidden by a bushy beard from all but himself; and he never forgot it for a day, nor forgot who had given it to him.
He had been with Desmond, wandering in moor and moss for many a month in danger of his life; and now he was on his way to James Fitz-Eustace, Lord Baltinglas, to bring him the news of Desmond’s death; and with him a remnant of the clan, who were either too stout-hearted, or too desperately stained with crime, to seek peace from the English, and, as their fellows did, find it at once and freely.
There Eustace stood, looking down on all that was left of the most sacred personage of Ireland; the man who, as he once had hoped, was to regenerate his native land, and bring the proud island of the West once more beneath that gentle yoke, in which united Christendom labored for the commonweal of the universal Church. There he was, and with him all Eustace’s dreams, in the very heart of that country which he had vowed, and believed as he vowed, was ready to rise in arms as one man, even to the baby at the breast (so he had said), in vengeance against the Saxon heretic, and sweep the hated name of Englishman into the deepest abysses of the surge which walled her coasts; with Spain and the Pope to back him, and the wealth of the Jesuits at his command; in the midst of faithful Catholics, valiant soldiers, noblemen who had pledged themselves to die for the cause, serfs who worshipped him as a demigod — starved to death in a bog! It was a pretty plain verdict on the reasonableness of his expectations; but not to Eustace Leigh.
It was a failure, of course; but it was an accident; indeed, to have been expected, in a wicked world whose prince and master, as all knew, was the devil himself; indeed, proof of the righteousness of the cause — for when had the true faith been other than persecuted and trampled under foot? If one came to think of it with eyes purified from the tears of carnal impatience, what was it but a glorious martyrdom?
“Blest Saunders!” murmured Eustace Leigh; “let me die the death of the righteous, and let my last end he like this! Ora pro me, most excellent martyr, while I dig thy grave upon this lonely moor, to wait there for thy translation to one of those stately shrines, which, cemented by the blood of such as thee, shall hereafter rise restored toward heaven, to make this land once more ‘The Isle of Saints.’”
The corpse was buried; a few prayers said hastily; and Eustace Leigh was away again, not now to find Baltinglas; for it was more than his life was worth. The girl had told him of the English soldiers who had passed, and he knew that they would reach the earl probably before he did. The game was up; all was lost. So he retraced his steps, as a desperate resource, to the last place where he would be looked for, and after a month of disguising, hiding, and other expedients, found himself again in his native county of Devon, while Fitz-Eustace Viscount Baltinglas had taken ship for Spain, having got little by his famous argument to Ormond in behalf of his joining the Church of Rome, “Had not thine ancestor, blessed Thomas of Canterbury, died for the Church of Rome, thou hadst never been Earl of Ormond.” The premises were certainly sounder than those of his party were wont to be; for it was to expiate the murder of that turbulent hero that the Ormond lands had been granted by Henry II.: but as for the conclusion therefrom, it was much on a par with the rest.
And now let us return to Raleigh and Amyas, as they jog along their weary road. They have many things to talk of; for it is but three days since they met.
Amyas, as you see, is coming fast into Raleigh’s old opinion of Ireland. Raleigh, under the inspiration of a possible grant of Desmond’s lands, looks on bogs and rocks transfigured by his own hopes and fancy, as if by the glory of a rainbow. He looked at all things so, noble fellow, even thirty years after, when old, worn out, and ruined; well for him had it been otherwise, and his heart had grown old with his head! Amyas, who knows nothing about Desmond’s lands, is puzzled at the change.
“Why, what is this, Raleigh? You are like children sitting in the market-place, and nothing pleases you. You wanted to get to Court, and you have got there; and are lord and master, I hear, or something very like it, already — and as soon as fortune stuffs your mouth full of sweet-meats, do you turn informer on her?”
Raleigh laughed insignificantly, but was silent.
“And how is your friend Mr. Secretary Spenser, who was with us at Smerwick?”
“Spenser? He has thriven even as I have; and he has found, as I have, that in making one friend at Court you make ten foes; but ‘Oderint dum metuant’ is no more my motto than his, Leigh. I want to be great — great I am already, they say, if princes’ favor can swell the frog into an ox; but I want to be liked, loved — I want to see people smile when I enter.”
“So they do, I’ll warrant,” said Amyas.
“So do hyenas,” said Raleigh; “grin because they are hungry, and I may throw them a bone; I’ll throw you one now, old lad, or rather a good sirloin of beef, for the sake of your smile. That’s honest, at least, I’ll warrant, whosoever’s else is not. Have you heard of my brother Humphrey’s new project?”
“How should I hear anything in this waste howling wilderness?”
“Kiss hands to the wilderness, then, and come with me to Newfoundland!”
“You to Newfoundland?”
“Yes. I to Newfoundland, unless my little matter here is settled at once. Gloriana don’t know it, and sha’n’t till I’m off. She’d send me to the Tower, I think, if she caught me playing truant. I could hardly get leave to come hither; but I must out, and try my fortune. I am over ears in debt already, and sick of courts and courtiers. Humphrey must go next spring and take possession of his kingdom beyond seas, or his patent expires; and with him I go, and you too, my circumnavigating giant.”
And then Raleigh expounded to Amyas the details of the great Newfoundland scheme, which whoso will may read in the pages of Hakluyt.
Sir Humphrey Gilbert, Raleigh’s half-brother, held a patent for “planting” the lands of Newfoundland and “Meta Incognita” (Labrador). He had attempted a voyage thither with Raleigh in 1578, whereof I never could find any news, save that he came back again, after a heavy brush with some Spanish ships (in which his best captain, Mr. Morgan, was killed), having done nothing, and much impaired his own estate: but now he had collected a large sum; Sir Gilbert Peckham of London, Mr. Hayes of South Devon, and various other gentlemen, of whom more hereafter, had adventured their money; and a considerable colony was to be sent out the next year, with miners, assayers, and, what was more, Parmenius Budaeus, Frank’s old friend, who had come to England full of thirst to see the wonders of the New World; and over and above this, as Raleigh told Amyas in strictest secrecy, Adrian Gilbert, Humphrey’s brother, was turning every stone at Court for a patent of discovery in the North-West; and this Newfoundland colony, though it was to produce gold, silver, merchandise, and what not, was but a basis of operations, a halfway house from whence to work out the North-West passage to the Indies — that golden dream, as fatal to English valor as the Guiana one to Spanish — and yet hardly, hardly to be regretted, when we remember the seamanship, the science, the chivalry, the heroism, unequalled in the history of the English nation, which it has called forth among those our later Arctic voyagers, who have combined the knight-errantry of the middle age with the practical prudence of the modern, and dared for duty more than Cortez or Pizarro dared for gold.
Amyas, simple fellow, took all in greedily; he knew enough of the dangers of the Magellan passage to appreciate the boundless value of a road to the East Indies which would (as all supposed then) save half the distance, and be as it were a private possession of the English, safe from Spanish interference; and he listened reverently to Sir Humphrey’s quaint proofs, half true, half fantastic, of such a passage, which Raleigh detailed to him — of the Primum Mobile, and its diurnal motion from east to west, in obedience to which the sea-current flowed westward ever round the Cape of Good Hope, and being unable to pass through the narrow strait between South America and the Antarctic Continent, rushed up the American shore, as the Gulf Stream, and poured northwestward between Greenland and Labrador towards Cathay and India; of that most crafty argument of Sir Humphrey’s — how Aristotle in his book “De Mundo,” and Simon Gryneus in his annotations thereon, declare that the world (the Old World) is an island, compassed by that which Homer calls the river Oceanus; ergo, the New World is an island also, and there is a North-West passage; of the three brothers (names unknown) who had actually made the voyage, and named what was afterwards called Davis’s Strait after themselves; of the Indians who were cast ashore in Germany in the reign of Frederic Barbarossa who, as Sir Humphrey had learnedly proved per modum tollendi, could have come only by the North-West; and above all, of Salvaterra, the Spaniard, who in 1568 had told Sir Henry Sidney (Philip’s father), there in Ireland, how he had spoken with a Mexican friar named Urdaneta, who had himself come from Mar del Zur (the Pacific) into Germany by that very North-West passage; at which last Amyas shook his head, and said that friars were liars, and seeing believing; “but if you must needs have an adventure, you insatiable soul you, why not try for the golden city of Manoa?”
“Manoa?” asked Raleigh, who had heard, as most had, dim rumors of the place. “What do you know of it?”
Whereon Amyas told him all that he had gathered from the Spaniard; and Raleigh, in his turn, believed every word.
“Humph!” said he after a long silence. “To find that golden emperor; offer him help and friendship from the queen of England; defend him against the Spaniards; if we became strong enough, conquer back all Peru from the Popish tyrants, and reinstate him on the throne of the Incas, with ourselves for his body-guard, as the Norman Varangians were to the effeminate emperors of Byzant — Hey, Amyas? You would make a gallant chieftain of Varangs. We’ll do it, lad!”
“We’ll try,” said Amyas; “but we must be quick, for there’s one Berreo sworn to carry out the quest to the death; and if the Spaniards once get thither, their plan of works will be much more like Pizarro’s than like yours; and by the time we come, there will be neither gold nor city left.”
“Nor Indians either, I’ll warrant the butchers; but, lad, I am promised to Humphrey; I have a bark fitting out already, and all I have, and more, adventured in her; so Manoa must wait.”
“It will wait well enough, if the Spaniards prosper no better on the Amazon than they have done; but must I come with you? To tell the truth, I am quite shore-sick, and to sea I must go. What will my mother say?”
“I’ll manage thy mother,” said Raleigh; and so he did; for, to cut a long story short, he went back the month after, and he not only took home letters from Amyas to his mother, but so impressed on that good lady the enormous profits and honors to be derived from Meta Incognita, and (which was most true) the advantage to any young man of sailing with such a general as Humphrey Gilbert, most pious and most learned of seamen and of cavaliers, beloved and honored above all his compeers by Queen Elizabeth, that she consented to Amyas’s adventuring in the voyage some two hundred pounds which had come to him as his share of prize-money, after the ever memorable circumnavigation. For Mrs. Leigh, be it understood, was no longer at Burrough Court. By Frank’s persuasion, she had let the old place, moved up to London with her eldest son, and taken for herself a lodging somewhere by Palace Stairs, which looked out upon the silver Thames (for Thames was silver then), with its busy ferries and gliding boats, across to the pleasant fields of Lambeth, and the Archbishop’s palace, and the wooded Surrey hills; and there she spent her peaceful days, close to her Frank and to the Court. Elizabeth would have had her re-enter it, offering her a small place in the household: but she declined, saying that she was too old and heart-weary for aught but prayer. So by prayer she lived, under the sheltering shadow of the tall minster where she went morn and even to worship, and to entreat for the two in whom her heart was bound up; and Frank slipped in every day if but for five minutes, and brought with him Spenser, or Raleigh, or Dyer, or Budaeus or sometimes Sidney’s self: and there was talk of high and holy things, of which none could speak better than could she; and each guest went from that hallowed room a humbler and yet a loftier man. So slipped on the peaceful months, and few and far between came Irish letters, for Ireland was then farther from Westminster than is the Black Sea now; but those were days in which wives and mothers had learned (as they have learned once more, sweet souls!) to walk by faith and not by sight for those they love: and Mrs. Leigh was content (though when was she not content?) to hear that Amyas was winning a good report as a brave and prudent officer, sober, just, and faithful, beloved and obeyed alike by English soldiers and Irish kernes.
Those two years, and the one which followed, were the happiest which she had known since her husband’s death. But the cloud was fast coming up the horizon, though she saw it not. A little longer, and the sun would be hid for many a wintry day.
Amyas went to Plymouth (with Yeo, of course, at his heels), and there beheld, for the first time, the majestic countenance of the philosopher of Compton castle. He lodged with Drake, and found him not over-sanguine as to the success of the voyage.
“For learning and manners, Amyas, there’s not his equal; and the queen may well love him, and Devon be proud of him: but book-learning is not business: book-learning didn’t get me round the world; book-learning didn’t make Captain Hawkins, nor his father neither, the best ship-builders from Hull to Cadiz; and book-learning, I very much fear, won’t plant Newfoundland.”
However, the die was cast, and the little fleet of five sail assembled in Cawsand Bay. Amyas was to go as a gentleman adventurer on board of Raleigh’s bark; Raleigh himself, however, at the eleventh hour, had been forbidden by the queen to leave England. Ere they left, Sir Humphrey Gilbert’s picture was painted by some Plymouth artist, to be sent up to Elizabeth in answer to a letter and a gift sent by Raleigh, which, as a specimen of the men and of the time, I here transcribe5 —
“BROTHER— I have sent you a token from her Majesty, an anchor guided by a lady, as you see. And further, her Highness willed me to send you word, that she wisheth you as great good hap and safety to your ship as if she were there in person, desiring you to have care of yourself as of that which she tendereth and, therefore, for her sake, you must provide for it accordingly. Furthermore, she commandeth that you leave your picture with her. For the rest I leave till our meeting, or to the report of the bearer, who would needs be the messenger of this good news. So I commit you to the will and protection of God, who send us such life and death as he shall please, or hath appointed.
“Richmond, this Friday morning,
“Your true Brother,
5 This letter was a few years since in the possession of Mr. Pomeroy Gilbert, fort-major at Dartmouth, a descendant of the admiral’s.
“Who would not die, sir, for such a woman?” said Sir Humphrey (and he said truly), as he showed that letter to Amyas.
“Who would not? But she bids you rather live for her.”
“I shall do both, young man; and for God too, I trust. We are going in God’s cause; we go for the honor of God’s Gospel, for the deliverance of poor infidels led captive by the devil; for the relief of my distressed countrymen unemployed within this narrow isle; and to God we commit our cause. We fight against the devil himself; and stronger is He that is within us than he that is against us.”
Some say that Raleigh himself came down to Plymouth, accompanied the fleet a day’s sail to sea, and would have given her majesty the slip, and gone with them Westward-ho, but for Sir Humphrey’s advice. It is likely enough: but I cannot find evidence for it. At all events, on the 11th June the fleet sailed out, having, says Mr. Hayes, “in number about 260 men, among whom we had of every faculty good choice, as shipwrights, masons, carpenters, smiths, and such like, requisite for such an action; also mineral men and refiners. Beside, for solace of our people and allurement of the savages, we were provided of musique in good variety; not omitting the least toys, as morris-dancers, hobby-horses, and May-like conceits, to delight the savage people, whom we intended to win by all fair means possible.” An armament complete enough, even to that tenderness towards the Indians, which is so striking a feature of the Elizabethan seamen (called out in them, perhaps, by horror at the Spanish cruelties, as well as by their more liberal creed), and to the daily service of God on board of every ship, according to the simple old instructions of Captain John Hawkins to one of his little squadrons, “Keep good company; beware of fire; serve God daily; and love one another”— an armament, in short, complete in all but men. The sailors had been picked up hastily and anywhere, and soon proved themselves a mutinous, and, in the case of the bark Swallow, a piratical set. The mechanics were little better. The gentlemen-adventurers, puffed up with vain hopes of finding a new Mexico, became soon disappointed and surly at the hard practical reality; while over all was the head of a sage and an enthusiast, a man too noble to suspect others, and too pure to make allowances for poor dirty human weaknesses. He had got his scheme perfect upon paper; well for him, and for his company, if he had asked Francis Drake to translate it for him into fact! As early as the second day, the seeds of failure began to sprout above ground. The men of Raleigh’s bark, the Vice-Admiral, suddenly found themselves seized, or supposed themselves seized, with a contagious sickness, and at midnight forsook the fleet, and went back to Plymouth; whereto Mr. Hayes can only say, “The reason I never could understand. Sure I am that Mr. Raleigh spared no cost in setting them forth. And so I leave it unto God!”
But Amyas said more. He told Butler the captain plainly that, if the bark went back, he would not; that he had seen enough of ships deserting their consorts; that it should never be said of him that he had followed Winter’s example, and that, too, on a fair easterly wind; and finally that he had seen Doughty hanged for trying to play such a trick; and that he might see others hanged too before he died. Whereon Captain Butler offered to draw and fight, to which Amyas showed no repugnance; whereon the captain, having taken a second look at Amyas’s thews and sinews, reconsidered the matter, and offered to put Amyas on board of Sir Humphrey’s Delight, if he could find a crew to row him.
Amyas looked around.
“Are there any of Sir Francis Drake’s men on board?”
“Three, sir,” said Yeo. “Robert Drew, and two others.”
“Pelicans!” roared Amyas, “you have been round the world, and will you turn back from Westward-ho?”
There was a moment’s silence, and then Drew came forward.
“Lower us a boat, captain, and lend us a caliver to make signals with, while I get my kit on deck; I’ll after Captain Leigh, if I row him aboard all alone to my own hands.”
“If I ever command a ship, I will not forget you,” said Amyas.
“Nor us either, sir, we hope; for we haven’t forgotten you and your honest conditions,” said both the other Pelicans; and so away over the side went all the five, and pulled away after the admiral’s lantern, firing shots at intervals as signals. Luckily for the five desperadoes, the night was all but calm. They got on board before the morning, and so away into the boundless West.6
6 The Raleigh, the largest ship of the squadron, was of only 200 tons burden; The Golden Hind, Hayes’ ship, which returned safe, of 40; and The Squirrel (whereof more hereafter), of 10 tons! In such cockboats did these old heroes brave the unknown seas.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:52