“He is brass within, and steel without,
With beams on his topcastle strong;
And eighteen pieces of ordinance
He carries on either side along.”
Sir Andrew Barton.
Let us take boat, as Amyas did, at Whitehall-stairs, and slip down ahead of him under old London Bridge, and so to Deptford Creek, where remains, as it were embalmed, the famous ship Pelican, in which Drake had sailed round the world. There she stands, drawn up high and dry upon the sedgy bank of Thames, like an old warrior resting after his toil. Nailed upon her mainmast are epigrams and verses in honor of her and of her captain, three of which, by the Winchester scholar, Camden gives in his History; and Elizabeth’s self consecrated her solemnly, and having banqueted on board, there and then honored Drake with the dignity of knighthood. “At which time a bridge of planks, by which they came on board, broke under the press of people, and fell down with a hundred men upon it, who, notwithstanding, had none of them any harm. So as that ship may seem to have been built under a lucky planet.”
There she has remained since as a show, and moreover as a sort of dining-hall for jovial parties from the city; one of which would seem to be on board this afternoon, to judge from the flags which bedizen the masts, the sounds of revelry and savory steams which issue from those windows which once were portholes, and the rushing to and fro along the river brink, and across that lucky bridge, of white-aproned waiters from the neighboring Pelican Inn. A great feast is evidently toward, for with those white-aproned waiters are gay serving men, wearing on their shoulders the city-badge. The lord mayor is giving a dinner to certain gentlemen of the Leicester house party, who are interested in foreign discoveries; and what place so fit for such a feast as the Pelican itself?
Look at the men all round; a nobler company you will seldom see. Especially too, if you be Americans, look at their faces, and reverence them; for to them and to their wisdom you owe the existence of your mighty fatherland.
At the head of the table sits the lord mayor; whom all readers will recognize at once, for he is none other than that famous Sir Edward Osborne, clothworker, and ancestor of the dukes of Leeds, whose romance now-a-days is in every one’s hands. He is aged, but not changed, since he leaped from the window upon London Bridge into the roaring tide below, to rescue the infant who is now his wife. The chivalry and promptitude of the ‘prentice boy have grown and hardened into the thoughtful daring of the wealthy merchant adventurer. There he sits, a right kingly man, with my lord Earl of Cumberland on his right hand, and Walter Raleigh on his left; the three talk together in a low voice on the chance of there being vast and rich countries still undiscovered between Florida and the River of Canada. Raleigh’s half-scientific declamation and his often quotations of Doctor Dee the conjuror, have less effect on Osborne than on Cumberland (who tried many an adventure to foreign parts, and failed in all of them; apparently for the simple reason that, instead of going himself, he sent other people), and Raleigh is fain to call to his help the quiet student who sits on his left hand, Richard Hakluyt, of Oxford. But he is deep in talk with a reverend elder, whose long white beard flows almost to his waist, and whose face is furrowed by a thousand storms; Anthony Jenkinson by name, the great Asiatic traveller, who is discoursing to the Christ-church virtuoso of reindeer sledges and Siberian steppes, and of the fossil ivory, plain proof of Noah’s flood, which the Tungoos dig from the ice-cliffs of the Arctic sea. Next to him is Christopher Carlile, Walsingham’s son-inlaw (as Sidney also is now), a valiant captain, afterwards general of the soldiery in Drake’s triumphant West Indian raid of 1585, with whom a certain Bishop of Carthagena will hereafter drink good wine. He is now busy talking with Alderman Hart the grocer, Sheriff Spencer the clothworker, and Charles Leigh (Amyas’s merchant-cousin), and with Aldworth the mayor of Bristol, and William Salterne, alderman thereof, and cousin of our friend at Bideford. For Carlile, and Secretary Walsingham also, have been helping them heart and soul for the last two years to collect money for Humphrey and Adrian Gilbert’s great adventures to the North-West, on one of which Carlile was indeed to have sailed himself, but did not go after all; I never could discover for what reason.
On the opposite side of the table is a group, scarcely less interesting. Martin Frobisher and John Davis, the pioneers of the North-West passage, are talking with Alderman Sanderson, the great geographer and “setter forth of globes;” with Mr. Towerson, Sir Gilbert Peckham, our old acquaintance Captain John Winter, and last, but not least, with Philip Sidney himself, who, with his accustomed courtesy; has given up his rightful place toward the head of the table that he may have a knot of virtuosi all to himself; and has brought with him, of course, his two especial intimates, Mr. Edward Dyer and Mr. Francis Leigh. They too are talking of the North-West passage: and Sidney is lamenting that he is tied to diplomacy and courts, and expressing his envy of old Martin Frobisher in all sorts of pretty compliments; to which the other replies that,
“It’s all very fine to talk of here, a sailing on dry land with a good glass of wine before you; but you’d find it another guess sort of business, knocking about among the icebergs with your beard frozen fast to your ruff, Sir Philip, specially if you were a bit squeamish about the stomach.”
“That were a slight matter to endure, my dear sir, if by it I could win the honor which her majesty bestowed on you, when her own ivory hand waved a farewell ‘kerchief to your ship from the windows of Greenwich Palace.”
“Well, sir, folks say you have no reason to complain of lack of favors, as you have no reason to deserve lack; and if you can get them by staying ashore, don’t you go to sea to look for more, say I. Eh, Master Towerson?”
Towerson’s gray beard, which has stood many a foreign voyage, both fair and foul, wags grim assent. But at this moment a Waiter enters, and —
“Please my lord mayor’s worship, there is a tall gentleman outside, would speak with the Right Honorable Sir Walter Raleigh.”
“Show him in, man. Sir Walter’s friends are ours.”
Amyas enters, and stands hesitating in the doorway.
“Captain Leigh!” cry half a-dozen voices.
“Why did you not walk in, sir?” says Osborne. “You should know your way well enough between these decks.”
“Well enough, my lords and gentlemen. But, Sir Walter — you will excuse me”— and he gave Raleigh a look which was enough for his quick wit. Turning pale as death, he rose, and followed Amyas into an adjoining cabin. They were five minutes together; and then Amyas came out alone.
In few words he told the company the sad story which we already know. Ere it was ended, noble tears were glistening on some of those stern faces.
“The old Egyptians,” said Sir Edward Osborne, “when they banqueted, set a corpse among their guests, for a memorial of human vanity. Have we forgotten God and our own weakness in this our feast, that He Himself has sent us thus a message from the dead?”
“Nay, my lord mayor,” said Sidney, “not from the dead, but from the realm of everlasting life.”
“Amen!” answered Osborne. “But, gentlemen, our feast is at an end. There are those here who would drink on merrily, as brave men should, in spite of the private losses of which they have just had news; but none here who can drink with the loss of so great a man still ringing in his ears.”
It was true. Though many of the guests had suffered severely by the failure of the expedition, they had utterly forgotten that fact in the awful news of Sir Humphrey’s death; and the feast broke up sadly and hurriedly, while each man asked his neighbor, “What will the queen say?”
Raleigh re-entered in a few minutes, but was silent, and pressing many an honest hand as he passed, went out to call a wherry, beckoning Amyas to follow him. Sidney, Cumberland, and Frank went with them in another boat, leaving the two to talk over the sad details.
They disembarked at Whitehall-stairs; Raleigh, Sidney, and Cumberland went to the palace; and the two brothers to their mother’s lodgings.
Amyas had prepared his speech to Frank about Rose Salterne, but now that it was come to the point, he had not courage to begin, and longed that Frank would open the matter. Frank, too, shrank from what he knew must come, and all the more because he was ignorant that Amyas had been to Bideford, or knew aught of the Rose’s disappearance.
So they went upstairs; and it was a relief to both of them to find that their mother was at the Abbey; for it was for her sake that both dreaded what was coming. So they went and stood in the bay-window which looked out upon the river, and talked of things indifferent, and looked earnestly at each other’s faces by the fading light, for it was now three years since they had met.
Years and events had deepened the contrast between the two brothers; and Frank smiled with affectionate pride as he looked up in Amyas’s face, and saw that he was no longer merely the rollicking handy sailor-lad, but the self-confident and stately warrior, showing in every look and gesture,
“The reason firm, the temperate will,
Endurance, foresight, strength, and skill,”
worthy of one whose education had been begun by such men as Drake and Grenville, and finished by such as Raleigh and Gilbert. His long locks were now cropped close to the head; but as a set-off, the lips and chin were covered with rich golden beard; his face was browned by a thousand suns and storms; a long scar, the trophy of some Irish fight, crossed his right temple; his huge figure had gained breadth in proportion to its height; and his hand, as it lay upon the window-sill, was hard and massive as a smith’s. Frank laid his own upon it, and sighed; and Amyas looked down, and started at the contrast between the two — so slender, bloodless, all but transparent, were the delicate fingers of the courtier. Amyas looked anxiously into his brother’s face. It was changed, indeed, since they last met. The brilliant red was still on either cheek, but the white had become dull and opaque; the lips were pale, the features sharpened; the eyes glittered with unnatural fire: and when Frank told Amyas that he looked aged, Amyas could not help thinking that the remark was far more true of the speaker himself.
Trying to shut his eyes to the palpable truth, he went on with his chat, asking the names of one building after another.
“And so this is old Father Thames, with his bank of palaces?”
“Yes. His banks are stately enough; yet, you see, he cannot stay to look at them. He hurries down to the sea; and the sea into the ocean; and the ocean Westward-ho, forever. All things move Westward-ho. Perhaps we may move that way ourselves some day, Amyas.”
“What do you mean by that strange talk?”
“Only that the ocean follows the primum mobile of the heavens, and flows forever from east to west. Is there anything so strange in my thinking of that, when I am just come from a party where we have been drinking success to Westward-ho?”
“And much good has come of it! I have lost the best friend and the noblest captain upon earth, not to mention all my little earnings, in that same confounded gulf of Westward-ho.”
“Yes, Sir Humphrey Gilbert’s star has set in the West — why not? Sun, moon, and planets sink into the West: why not the meteors of this lower world? why not a will-o’-the-wisp like me, Amyas?”
“God forbid, Frank!”
“Why, then? Is not the West the land of peace, and the land of dreams? Do not our hearts tell us so each time we look upon the setting sun, and long to float away with him upon the golden-cushioned clouds? They bury men with their faces to the East. I should rather have mine turned to the West, Amyas, when I die; for I cannot but think it some divine instinct which made the ancient poets guess that Elysium lay beneath the setting sun. It is bound up in the heart of man, that longing for the West. I complain of no one for fleeing away thither beyond the utmost sea, as David wished to flee, and be at peace.”
“Complain of no one for fleeing thither?” asked Amyas. “That is more than I do.”
Frank looked inquiringly at him; and then —
“No. If I had complained of any one, it would have been of you just now, for seeming to be tired of going Westward-ho.”
“Do you wish me to go, then?”
“God knows,” said Frank, after a moment’s pause. “But I must tell you now, I suppose, once and for all. That has happened at Bideford which —”
“Spare us both, Frank; I know all. I came through Bideford on my way hither; and came hither not merely to see you and my mother, but to ask your advice and her permission.”
“True heart! noble heart!” cried Frank. “I knew you would be stanch!”
“Westward-ho it is, then?”
“Can we escape?”
“Amyas, does not that which binds you bind me?”
Amyas started back, and held Frank by the shoulders at arm’s length; as he did so, he could feel through, that his brother’s arms were but skin and bone.
“You? Dearest man, a month of it would kill you!”
Frank smiled, and tossed his head on one side in his pretty way.
“I belong to the school of Thales, who held that the ocean is the mother of all life; and feel no more repugnance at returning to her bosom again than Humphrey Gilbert did.”
“But, Frank — my mother?”
“My mother knows all; and would not have us unworthy of her.”
“Impossible! She will never give you up!”
“All things are possible to them that believe in God, my brother; and she believes. But, indeed, Doctor Dee, the wise man, gave her but this summer I know not what of prognostics and diagnostics concerning me. I am born, it seems, under a cold and watery planet, and need, if I am to be long-lived, to go nearer to the vivifying heat of the sun, and there bask out my little life, like fly on wall. To tell truth, he has bidden me spend no more winters here in the East; but return to our native sea-breezes, there to warm my frozen lungs; and has so filled my mother’s fancy with stories of sick men, who were given up for lost in Germany and France, and yet renewed their youth, like any serpent or eagle, by going to Italy, Spain, and the Canaries, that she herself will be more ready to let me go than I to leave her all alone. And yet I must go, Amyas. It is not merely that my heart pants, as Sidney’s does, as every gallant’s ought, to make one of your noble choir of Argonauts, who are now replenishing the earth and subduing it for God and for the queen; it is not merely, Amyas, that love calls me — love tyrannous and uncontrollable, strengthened by absence, and deepened by despair; but honor, Amyas — my oath —”
And he paused for lack of breath, and bursting into a violent fit of coughing, leaned on his brother’s shoulder, while Amyas cried,
“Fools, fools that we were — that I was, I mean — to take that fantastical vow!”
“Not so,” answered a gentle voice from behind: “you vowed for the sake of peace on earth, and good-will toward men, and ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.’ No my sons, be sure that such self-sacrifice as you have shown will meet its full reward at the hand of Him who sacrificed Himself for you.”
“Oh, mother! mother!” said Amyas, “and do you not hate the very sight of me — come here to take away your first-born?”
“My boy, God takes him, and not you. And if I dare believe in such predictions, Doctor Dee assured me that some exceeding honor awaited you both in the West, to each of you according to your deserts.”
“Ah!” said Amyas. “My blessing, I suppose, will be like Esau’s, to live by my sword; while Jacob here, the spiritual man, inherits the kingdom of heaven, and an angel’s crown.”
“Be it what it may, it will surely be a blessing, as long as you are such, my children, as you have been. At least my Frank will be safe from the intrigues of court, and the temptations of the world. Would that I too could go with you, and share in your glory! Come, now,” said she, laying her head upon Amyas’s breast, and looking up into his face with one of her most winning smiles, “I have heard of heroic mothers ere now who went forth with their sons to battle, and cheered them on to victory. Why should I not go with you on a more peaceful errand? I could nurse the sick, if there were any; I could perhaps have speech of that poor girl, and win her back more easily than you. She might listen to words from a woman — a woman, too, who has loved — which she could not hear from men. At least I could mend and wash for you. I suppose it is as easy to play the good housewife afloat as on shore? Come, now!”
Amyas looked from one to the other.
“God only knows which of the two is less fit to go. Mother! mother! you know not what you ask. Frank! Frank! I do not want you with me. This is a sterner matter than either of you fancy it to be; one that must be worked out, not with kind words, but with sharp shot and cold steel.”
“How?” cried both together, aghast.
“I must pay my men, and pay my fellow-adventurers; and I must pay them with Spanish gold. And what is more, I cannot, as a loyal subject of the queen’s, go to the Spanish Main with a clear conscience on my own private quarrel, unless I do all the harm that my hand finds to do, by day and night, to her enemies, and the enemies of God.”
“What nobler knight-errantry?” said Frank, cheerfully; but Mrs. Leigh shuddered.
“What! Frank too?” she said, half to herself; but her sons knew what she meant. Amyas’s warlike life, honorable and righteous as she knew it to be, she had borne as a sad necessity: but that Frank as well should become “a man of blood,” was more than her gentle heart could face at first sight. That one youthful duel of his he had carefully concealed from her, knowing her feeling on such matters. And it seemed too dreadful to her to associate that gentle spirit with all the ferocities and the carnage of a battlefield. “And yet,” said she to herself, “is this but another of the self-willed idols which I must renounce one by one?” And then, catching at a last hope, she answered —
“Frank must at least ask the queen’s leave to go; and if she permits, how can I gainsay her wisdom?”
And so the conversation dropped, sadly enough.
But now began a fresh perplexity in Frank’s soul, which amused Amyas at first, when it seemed merely jest, but nettled him a good deal when he found it earnest. For Frank looked forward to asking the queen’s permission for his voyage with the most abject despondency and terror. Two or three days passed before he could make up his mind to ask for an interview with her; and he spent the time in making as much interest with Leicester, Hatton, and Sidney, as if he were about to sue for a reprieve from the scaffold.
So said Amyas, remarking, further, that the queen could not cut his head off for wanting to go to sea.
“But what axe so sharp as her frown?” said Frank in most lugubrious tone.
Amyas began to whistle in a very rude way.
“Ah, my brother, you cannot comprehend the pain of parting from her.”
“No, I can’t. I would die for the least hair of her royal head, God bless it! but I could live very well from now till Doomsday without ever setting eyes on the said head.”
“Plato’s Troglodytes regretted not that sunlight which they had never beheld.”
Amyas, not understanding this recondite conceit, made no answer to it, and there the matter ended for the time. But at last Frank obtained his audience; and after a couple of hours’ absence returned quite pale and exhausted.
“Thank Heaven, it is over! She was very angry at first — what else could she be? — and upbraided me with having set my love so low. I could only answer, that my fatal fault was committed before the sight of her had taught me what was supremely lovely, and only worthy of admiration. Then she accused me of disloyalty in having taken an oath which bound me to the service of another than her. I confessed my sin with tears, and when she threatened punishment, pleaded that the offence had avenged itself heavily already — for what worse punishment than exile from the sunlight of her presence, into the outer darkness which reigns where she is not? Then she was pleased to ask me, how I could dare, as her sworn servant, to desert her side in such dangerous times as these; and asked me how I should reconcile it to my conscience, if on my return I found her dead by the assassin’s knife? At which most pathetic demand I could only throw myself at once on my own knees and her mercy, and so awaited my sentence. Whereon, with that angelic pity which alone makes her awfulness endurable, she turned to Hatton and asked, ‘What say you, Mouton? Is he humbled sufficiently?’ and so dismissed me.”
“Heigh-ho!” yawned Amyas;
“If the bridge had been stronger,
My tale had been longer.”
“Amyas! Amyas!” quoth Frank, solemnly, “you know not what power over the soul has the native and God-given majesty of royalty (awful enough in itself) when to it is superadded the wisdom of the sage, and therewithal the tenderness of the woman. Had I my will, there should be in every realm not a salique, but an anti-salique law: whereby no kings, but only queens should rule mankind. Then would weakness and not power be to man the symbol of divinity; love, and not cunning, would be the arbiter of every cause; and chivalry, not fear, the spring of all obedience.”
“Humph! There’s some sense in that,” quoth Amyas. “I’d run a mile for a woman when I would not walk a yard for a man; and — Who is this our mother is bringing in? The handsomest fellow I ever saw in my life!”
Amyas was not far wrong; for Mrs. Leigh’s companion was none other than Mr. Secretary, Amyas’s Smerwick Fort acquaintance; alias Colin Clout, alias Immerito, alias Edmund Spenser. Some half-jesting conversation had seemingly been passing between the poet and the saint; for as they came in she said with a smile (which was somewhat of a forced one)—“Well, my dear sons, you are sure of immortality, at least on earth; for Mr. Spenser has been vowing to me to give your adventure a whole canto to itself in his ‘Faerie Queene’.”
“And you no less, madam,” said Spenser. “What were the story of the Gracchi worth without the figure of Cornelia? If I honor the fruit, I must not forget the stem which bears it. Frank, I congratulate you.”
“Then you know the result of my interview, mother?”
“I know everything, and am content,” said Mrs. Leigh.
“Mrs. Leigh has reason to be content,” said Spenser, “with that which is but her own likeness.”
Spare your flattery to an old woman, Mr. Spenser. When, pray, did I” (with a most loving look at Frank) “refuse knighthood for duty’s sake?”
“Knighthood?” cried Amyas. “You never told me that, Frank!”
“That may well be, Captain Leigh,” said Spenser; “but believe me, her majesty (so Hatton assures me) told him this day, no less than that by going on this quest he deprived himself of that highest earthly honor, which crowned heads are fain to seek from their own subjects.”
Spenser did not exaggerate. Knighthood was then the prize of merit only; and one so valuable, that Elizabeth herself said, when asked why she did not bestow a peerage upon some favorite, that having already knighted him, she had nothing better to bestow. It remained for young Essex to begin the degradation of the order in his hapless Irish campaign, and for James to complete that degradation by his novel method of raising money by the sale of baronetcies; a new order of hereditary knighthood which was the laughing-stock of the day, and which (however venerable it may have since become) reflects anything but honor upon its first possessors.
“I owe you no thanks, Colin,” said Frank, “for having broached my secret: but I have lost nothing after all. There is still an order of knighthood in which I may win my spurs, even though her majesty refuse me the accolade.”
“What, then? you will not take it from a foreign prince?”
“Have you never read of that knighthood which is eternal in the heavens, and of those true cavaliers whom John saw in Patmos, riding on white horses, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, knights-errant in the everlasting war against the False Prophet and the Beast? Let me but become worthy of their ranks hereafter, what matter whether I be called Sir Frank on earth?”
“My son,” said Mrs. Leigh, “remember that they follow One whose vesture is dipped, not in the blood of His enemies, but in His own.”
“I have remembered it for many a day; and remembered, too, that the garments of the knights may need the same tokens as their captain’s.”
“Oh, Frank! Frank! is not His precious blood enough to cleanse all sin, without the sacrifice of our own?”
“We may need no more than His blood, mother, and yet He may need ours,” said Frank.
How that conversation ended I know not, nor whether Spenser fulfilled his purpose of introducing the two brothers and their mother into his “Faerie Queene.” If so, the manuscripts must have been lost among those which perished (along with Spenser’s baby) in the sack of Kilcolman by the Irish in 1598. But we need hardly regret the loss of them; for the temper of the Leighs and their mother is the same which inspires every canto of that noblest of poems; and which inspired, too, hundreds in those noble days, when the chivalry of the Middle Ages was wedded to the free thought and enterprise of the new.
So mother and sons returned to Bideford, and set to work. Frank mortgaged a farm; Will Cary did the same (having some land of his own from his mother). Old Salterne grumbled at any man save himself spending a penny on the voyage, and forced on the adventurers a good ship of two hundred tons burden, and five hundred pounds toward fitting her out; Mrs. Leigh worked day and night at clothes and comforts of every kind; Amyas had nothing to give but his time and his brains: but, as Salterne said, the rest would have been of little use without them; and day after day he and the old merchant were on board the ship, superintending with their own eyes the fitting of every rope and nail. Cary went about beating up recruits; and made, with his jests and his frankness, the best of crimps: while John Brimblecombe, beside himself with joy, toddled about after him from tavern to tavern, and quay to quay, exalted for the time being (as Cary told him) into a second Peter the Hermit; and so fiercely did he preach a crusade against the Spaniards, through Bideford and Appledore, Clovelly and Ilfracombe, that Amyas might have had a hundred and fifty loose fellows in the first fortnight. But he knew better: still smarting from the effects of a similar haste in the Newfoundland adventure, he had determined to take none but picked men; and by dint of labor he obtained them.
Only one scapegrace did he take into his crew, named Parracombe; and by that scapegrace hangs a tale. He was an old schoolfellow of his at Bideford, and son of a merchant in that town — one of those unlucky members who are “nobody’s enemy but their own”— a handsome, idle, clever fellow, who used his scholarship, of which he had picked up some smattering, chiefly to justify his own escapades, and to string songs together. Having drunk all that he was worth at home, he had in a penitent fit forsworn liquor, and tormented Amyas into taking him to sea, where he afterwards made as good a sailor as any one else, but sorely scandalized John Brimblecombe by all manner of heretical arguments, half Anacreontic, half smacking of the rather loose doctrines of that “Family of Love” which tormented the orthodoxy and morality of more than one Bishop of Exeter. Poor Will Parracombe! he was born a few centuries too early. Had he but lived now, he might have published a volume or two of poetry, and then settled down on the staff of a newspaper. Had he even lived thirty years later than he did, he might have written frantic tragedies or filthy comedies for the edification of James’s profligate metropolis, and roistered it in taverns with Marlowe, to die as Marlowe did, by a footman’s sword in a drunken brawl. But in those stern days such weak and hysterical spirits had no fair vent for their “humors,” save in being reconciled to the Church of Rome, and plotting with Jesuits to assassinate the queen, as Parry and Somerville, and many other madmen, did.
So, at least, some Jesuit or other seems to have thought, shortly after Amyas had agreed to give the spendthrift a berth on board. For one day Amyas, going down to Appledore about his business, was called into the little Mariners’ Rest inn, to extract therefrom poor Will Parracombe, who (in spite of his vow) was drunk and outrageous, and had vowed the death of the landlady and all her kin. So Amyas fetched him out by the collar, and walked him home thereby to Bideford; during which walk Will told him a long and confused story; how an Egyptian rogue had met him that morning on the sands by Boathythe, offered to tell his fortune, and prophesied to him great wealth and honor, but not from the Queen of England; had coaxed him to the Mariners’ Rest, and gambled with him for liquor, at which it seemed Will always won, and of course drank his winnings on the spot; whereon the Egyptian began asking him all sorts of questions about the projected voyage of the Rose — a good many of which, Will confessed, he had answered before he saw the fellow’s drift; after which the Egyptian had offered him a vast sum of money to do some desperate villainy; but whether it was to murder Amyas or the queen, whether to bore a hole in the bottom of the good ship Rose or to set the Torridge on fire by art-magic, he was too drunk to recollect exactly. Whereon Amyas treated three-quarters of the story as a tipsy dream, and contented himself by getting a warrant against the landlady for harboring “Egyptians,” which was then a heavy offence — a gipsy disguise being a favorite one with Jesuits and their emissaries. She of course denied that any gipsy had been there; and though there were some who thought they had seen such a man come in, none had seen him go out again. On which Amyas took occasion to ask, what had become of the suspicious Popish ostler whom he had seen at the Mariners’ Rest three years before; and discovered, to his surprise, that the said ostler had vanished from the very day of Don Guzman’s departure from Bideford. There was evidently a mystery somewhere: but nothing could be proved; the landlady was dismissed with a reprimand, and Amyas soon forgot the whole matter, after rating Parracombe soundly. After all, he could not have told the gipsy (if one existed) anything important; for the special destination of the voyage (as was the custom in those times, for fear of Jesuits playing into the hands of Spain) had been carefully kept secret among the adventurers themselves, and, except Yeo and Drew, none of the men had any suspicion that La Guayra was to be their aim.
And Salvation Yeo?
Salvation was almost wild for a few days, at the sudden prospect of going in search of his little maid, and of fighting Spaniards once more before he died. I will not quote the texts out of Isaiah and the Psalms with which his mouth was filled from morning to night, for fear of seeming irreverent in the eyes of a generation which does not believe, as Yeo believed, that fighting the Spaniards was as really fighting in God’s battle against evil as were the wars of Joshua or David. But the old man had his practical hint too, and entreated to be sent back to Plymouth to look for men.
“There’s many a man of the old Pelican, sir, and of Captain Hawkins’s Minion that knows the Indies as well as I, and longs to be back again. There’s Drew, sir, that we left behind (and no better sailing-master for us in the West-country, and has accounts against the Spaniards, too; for it was his brother, the Barnstaple man, that was factor aboard of poor Mr. Andrew Barker, and got clapt into the Inquisition at the Canaries); you promised him, sir, that night he stood by you on board the Raleigh: and if you’ll be as good as your word, he’ll be as good as his; and bring a score more brave fellows with him.”
So off went Yeo to Plymouth, and returned with Drew and a score of old never-strikes. One look at their visages, as Yeo proudly ushered them into the Ship Tavern, showed Amyas that they were of the metal which he wanted, and that, with the four North-Devon men who had gone round the world with him in the Pelican (who all joined in the first week), he had a reserve-force on which he could depend in utter need; and that utter need might come he knew as well as any.
Nor was this all which Yeo had brought; for he had with him a letter from Sir Francis Drake, full of regrets that he had not seen “his dear lad” as he went through Plymouth. “But indeed I was up to Dartmoor, surveying with cross-staff and chain, over my knees in bog for a three weeks or more. For I have a project to bring down a leat of fair water from the hill-tops right into Plymouth town, cutting off the heads of Tavy, Meavy, Wallcomb, and West Dart, and thereby purging Plymouth harbor from the silt of the mines whereby it has been choked of late years, and giving pure drink not only to the townsmen, but to the fleets of the queen’s majesty; which if I do, I shall both make some poor return to God for all His unspeakable mercies, and erect unto myself a monument better than of brass or marble, not merely honorable to me, but useful to my countrymen.”9 Whereon Frank sent Drake a pretty epigram, comparing Drake’s projected leat to that river of eternal life whereof the just would drink throughout eternity, and quoting (after the fashion of those days) John vii. 38; while Amyas took more heed of a practical appendage to the same letter, which was a list of hints scrawled for his use by Captain John Hawkins himself, on all sea matters, from the mounting of ordnance to the use of vitriol against the scurvy, in default of oranges and “limmons;” all which stood Amyas in good stead during the ensuing month, while Frank grew more and more proud of his brother, and more and more humble about himself.
9 This noble monument of Drake’s piety and public spirit still remains in full use.
For he watched with astonishment how the simple sailor, without genius, scholarship, or fancy, had gained, by plain honesty, patience, and common sense, a power over the human heart, and a power over his work, whatsoever it might be, which Frank could only admire afar off. The men looked up to him as infallible, prided themselves on forestalling his wishes, carried out his slightest hint, worked early and late to win a smile from him; while as for him, no detail escaped him, no drudgery sickened him, no disappointment angered him, till on the 15th of November, 1583, dropped down from Bideford Quay to Appledore Pool the tall ship Rose, with a hundred men on board (for sailors packed close in those days), beef, pork, biscuit, and good ale (for ale went to sea always then) in abundance, four culverins on her main deck, her poop and forecastle well fitted with swivels of every size, and her racks so full of muskets, calivers, long bows, pikes, and swords, that all agreed so well-appointed a ship had never sailed “out over Bar.”
The next day being Sunday, the whole crew received the Communion together at Northam Church, amid a mighty crowd; and then going on board again, hove anchor and sailed out over the Bar before a soft east wind, to the music of sacbut, fife, and drum, with discharge of all ordnance, great and small, with cheering of young and old from cliff and strand and quay, and with many a tearful prayer and blessing upon that gallant bark, and all brave hearts on board.
And Mrs. Leigh who had kissed her sons for the last time after the Communion at the altar-steps (and what more fit place for a mother’s kiss?) went to the rocky knoll outside the churchyard wall, and watched the ship glide out between the yellow denes, and lessen slowly hour by hour into the boundless West, till her hull sank below the dim horizon, and her white sails faded away into the gray Atlantic mist, perhaps forever.
And Mrs. Leigh gathered her cloak about her, and bowed her head and worshipped; and then went home to loneliness and prayer.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:52