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Days of the Discoverers Part 22

To a perfectly innocent and lawful coasting trade Drake and his crew now added this hazardous passenger service. They were braving imprisonment, torture and the stake, for in 1562 no less than twenty-six Englishmen were burned alive in Spain, and ten times as many lay in prison. Before Drake was twenty all Spanish ports were closed to English trade. He sold his ship and joined Hawkins in his more or less contraband trade with the West Indies.

With every year of adventure upon the high seas his hatred of the tyranny of Spain deepened and strengthened. Yet though Spanish ferocity might soak the world in blood, he would not have his men tainted with the evil inheritance of the idolaters. It came to be known that El Draque did not kill prisoners. His crews fought like demons, but they slew no unarmed man, they molested no woman or child. On these terms only would he accept allies. Tons of plunder he took, but never a helpless life. He landed the shivering crews of his prizes on some Spanish island or with a laugh returned to them their empty ships. "A dead man's no mortal use to anybody," he would say cheerily, and go on using his cock-boats to sink or capture galleys. At twenty-seven, beholding for the first time the shining Pacific, he vowed that with God's help he would sail an English ship on that sea. Alone upon the platform built in a great tree with steps cut in its trunk, to which his negro allies the Maroons had guided him, he conceived the sublimely audacious plan which he was one day to unfold to Walsingham and the Queen.

The air was thick with rumors of war with Spain when Drake arrived in London years later, in the company of a new friend, Thomas Doughty,--courtier, soldier, scholar, familiar with every shifting undercurrent of European court life. Never at a loss for a phrase, ready of wit and quick of understanding, Doughty could put into words what the frank-hearted young sea-captain had thought and felt and dreamed. Both knew the peace with Philip to be only deceptive. Walsingham and Leicester were for war; Burleigh for peace; between the two the subtle Queen played fast and loose with her powerful enemy.

Drake avowed to Doughty his belief that to strike effectively at the gigantic power of Spain, England must raid the colonies--not the West Indies alone, but the rich western provinces of Peru and Chili. No one had been south of Patagonia since its discovery, sixty years before.

Geographers still held that beyond the Straits of Magellan a huge Antarctic continent existed. From that unknown region of darkness and tempest came the great heaving ground-swell, the tidal wave and the hurricane. Even Spanish pilots never used the perilous southern route.

Treasure went overland across the Isthmus. Every year an elephantine treasure-ship sailed from Panama westward through the South Sea; and there was a rich trade between the American mines and the Orient and the Spanish peninsula, by way of the Cape of Good Hope. Doughty's imagination was fired by the gorgeous possibilities of the idea, and when he became the secretary of Christopher Hatton, the Queen's handsome Captain of the Guard, he laid the plan before him with all the eloquence of his persuasive tongue. Hatton finally obtained from Elizabeth a promise to contribute a thousand crowns to the cost of an expedition to penetrate the South Seas. This, however, was only on condition that the affair should be kept secret, above all from Burleigh, who was certain to use every effort to stop it. She had already, in a private audience with Drake, been informed of the main features and even the details of the scheme, and had assured him that when the time was ripe he should be chosen to avenge the long series of injuries which Philip had inflicted upon England's honor and her own.

When in mid-November, 1577, Drake ran out of Plymouth with his tiny fleet, he had with him all told one hundred and fifty seamen and fourteen boys, enlisted for a voyage to Alexandria, although it was pretty well known that this was a blind. His flagship, the _Pelican_, afterward re-christened the _Golden Hynde_ for Hatton's coat-of-arms, was a hundred-ton ship carrying eighteen guns. The _Marygold_, a barque of thirty tons and fifteen guns, and the _Swan_, a provision ship of fifty tons, were commanded by two of the gentlemen volunteers, Mr. John Thomas and Mr. John Chester. Captain John Wynter commanded the _Elizabeth_, a new eighty-ton ship, and a fifteen-ton pinnace called the _Christopher_ in honor of Hatton, was commanded by Tom Moore. Thomas Doughty was commander of the land-soldiers, and his brother John was enlisted among the gentlemen adventurers.

All of Drake's experience and sagacity had gone to the fitting out of the ships. There were less than fifty men on board besides the regular crews, and among them were special artisans, two trained surveyors, skilled musicians furnished with excellent instruments, and the adventurous sons of some of the best families in England. As page the Admiral had his own nephew, Jack Drake. There were stores of wild-fire, chain-shot, arquebuses, pistols, bows, and other weapons. The Queen herself had sent packets of perfume breathing of rich gardens, and Drake's table furniture was of silver gilt, engraved with his arms; even some of the cooking utensils were of silver. Nothing was spared which became the dignity of England, her Admiral and her Queen. On calm nights the sea was alive with music. And on board the little flagship Doughty and Drake talked together as those do whose minds answer one another like voices in a roundelay.

Men who have time and again run their heads into the jaws of death are often inclined to fatalism. Drake had never expressed it in words, but he had a feeling that whatever he was meant to do, God would see that he did, so long as he gave himself wholly to the work. One evening when the Southern Cross was lifting above the darkling sea, and the violins were crooning something with a weird burden to it, Doughty mused aloud.

"'T is the strangest thing in life, that whatever we are most averse to, that we are fated to do."

"Eh?" said Drake with a laugh, looking up from Eden's translation of Pigafetts. "Accordin' to that you can't even trust yourself. D'you look to see me set up an image to be worshiped?" Then he added in a lower tone, "That's foolish, Tom. God don't shape us to be puppets."

"That sounds like old Saavedra," was Doughty's idle comment. "He had great store of antiquated sentiments--like those in the chronicles of the paladins. I knew his nephew well--a witty fellow, but visionary. He laughed at the old cavalero, but he was fond of him, and our affections rule us and ruin us. A man should have no loves nor hates if he would get on at court."

Sheer surprise kept the other silent for the moment, and Doughty went on,--

"The old man had been in Mexico with Cortes, and might have risen to Adelantado in some South American province if he had not been too scrupulous to join Pizarro. He was in London, ten or fifteen years before I knew him, and I believe he was the destruction of a well-considered Spanish plot for the assassination of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth--the assassins nearly killed him. He was left for dead and was picked up by some sailors."

"He was in luck." Drake's eyes twinkled.

"They would have been luckier--if they had let the Spanish agents in London know they had him. He paid them well of course, but he gave them credit for the most exalted motives. All his geese were swans."

"Maybe they acted out o' pure decency," Drake said dryly.

"My Admiral, this is not Utopia." Doughty stroked his beard with a light complacent hand. "Seriously, it is not a kindness to expect of men without traditions more than they are capable of doing. 'E meglio cade dalle fenestre che del tetto.'" (It is better to fall from the window than from the roof.)

Drake was silent, fingering the slender Milanese poniard with the blade inlaid with gold and the great ruby in the top of the hilt, which lay on the table between them. The shipmaster came in just then with some question, and the conversation dropped.

[Illustration: "DRAKE WAS SILENT, FINGERING THE SLENDER MILANESE PONIARD."--_Page_ 227]

It was not often that Francis Drake attempted to analyze the character and behavior of those about him. Mostly he judged men by a shrewd instinct; but that night he lay long awake, watching the witch-lights upon the waves from the dancing lanterns. He was acute enough to see that Doughty had hit slyly at him over Saavedra's shoulders. Doughty had not liked it that Moone should be raised to the rank of captain; he had already shown that he regarded himself as second only to Drake in command, and the champion of the gentlemen as distinct from the mariners. The second officer of every English ship was a practical shipmaster whose authority held in all matters concerning navigation.

The soldiers and their officers were passengers. This was unavoidable in view of the new method of English sea-fighting, which depended quite as much on the skill of the seamen as on the armed and trained soldier.

English gunners could give the foe a broadside and slip away before their huge adversary could turn. Drake now had two factions to deal with, and he bent his brows and set his jaw as he pondered the situation. If discord arose, the gentlemen would have to come to order.

There was no room here for old ideas of caste. Any man too good to haul on a rope might go to--Spain.

Doughty had a way of taking it for granted that Drake and he, as gentlemen, shared thoughts and feelings not to be comprehended by common men. On land this had not seemed offensive, but on blue water, with the old sea-chanteys in his ears, in the intimate association of a long voyage, Drake found himself resenting it. What was there about the man that made his arguments so plausible when one heard them, so false when his engaging presence was withdrawn? And yet how devoted, how sympathetic, how witty and companionable he could be! Drake found himself excusing his friend as if he were a woman,--laughed, sighed, and went to sleep.

Presently he began to hear of John Doughty's amusing himself by reading palms and playing on the superstitions of the sailors with strange prophecies, in which his brother sometimes joined. Drake summoned the two to a brief interview in which Thomas Doughty learned that his friend on land, frank, boyish and unassuming, was a different person from the Admiral of the Fleet. Yet as this impression faded, the brothers perversely went on encouraging discord between the gentlemen adventurers and the sailors, and foretelling events with sinister aptness.

It grew colder and colder. It should be summer,--but as they crept southward they encountered cold and wind beyond that of the North Sea in January. The nights grew long; the battering of the gales never ceased; the ships lost sight of one another. It was whispered that not only had the uncanny brothers foretold the evil weather, but Thomas Doughty had boasted of having brought it about. "We'll ha' no luck till we get rid of our prophet," said blunt Tom Moone, "and the Lord don't provide no whales for the likes o' he."

Drake warned his comrade with an ominous quiet. "Doughty," he said, "if you value your neck you keep your reading and writing to what a common man can understand--you and your brother. A man can't always prophesy for himself, let alone other folk."

"You heard what he said," commented Wynter grimly when the Admiral was in his cabin behind closed doors. "Better not raise the devil unless you know for sure what he'll do. There's been one gallows planted on this coast."

"Sneck up!" laughed Doughty, "he would not dare hang a gentleman!" but he felt a creeping chill at the back of his neck.

On the desolate island where the stump of Magellan's gallows stood black against a crimson dawn, they landed and the tragedy of estrangement and suspicion ended. Thomas Doughty was tried for mutiny and treason before a jury of his peers. Every man there held him a traitor, yet he was acquitted for lack of evidence. Thus encouraged, Doughty boldly declared that they should all smart for this when Burleigh heard of it. What he had done to hinder the voyage, he averred, was by Burleigh's orders, for before they sailed he had gone to that wily statesman and told him the entire scheme.

In a flash of merciless revelation Drake saw the truth. He left Doughty to await the verdict, called the companies down to the shore, and there told them the story of the expedition from first to last, not overlooking the secret orders of the Queen.

"This man was my friend," he said with a break in his voice such as they had not heard save at the suffering of a child. "I would not take his life,--but if he be worthy of death, I pray you hold up your hands."

There was a breathless instant when none stirred; then every hand was raised.

On the next day but one they all sat down to a last feast on that bleak and lonely shore; the two comrades drank to each other for the last time, shared the sacrament, and embracing, said their farewells. Doughty proved that if he could not live a true man he could die like a gentleman; the headsman did his work, and Drake pronounced the solemn sentence, "Lo! this is the death of traitors!"

In that black hour the boyish laughter went forever from the eyes of the Admiral, and the careless mirth from his voice. When after a while young Jack Drake, unable to bear the silence that fell between them, began some phrase of blundering boyish affection, the sentence trailed off into a stammer.

"He's dead and at peace, Jack," the master said, the words dropping wearily, like spent bullets. "He couldn't help being as he was,--I reckon. If I'd known he was like that I could ha' stopped him, but I never knew--till too late."

Discord among the crews continued, until Drake, rousing from his fitful melancholy, called them all together on a Sunday, and mounted to the place of the chaplain.

"I am going to preach to-day," he said shortly. Then he unfolded a paper and began to read it aloud.

"My masters, I am a very bad orator, for my bringing up hath not been in learning; but what I shall speak here let every man take good notice of and let him write it down. For I will speak nothing but what I will answer it in England, yea, and before Her Majesty." He reminded them of the great adventure before them and went on.

"Now by the life of God this mutiny and dissension must cease. Here is such controversy between the gentlemen and the sailors that it doth make me mad to hear it. I must have the gentleman to haul with the mariner and the mariner with the gentleman. I would know him that would refuse to set his hand to a rope--but I know there is not any such here.

"Any who desire to go home may go in the _Marygold_, but let them take care that they do go home, for if I find them in my way I will sink them."

Then beginning with Wynter he reduced every officer to the ranks forthwith, reprimanded known offenders, and wound up with this appeal:

"We have set by the ears three mighty sovereigns, and if this voyage have not success we shall be a scorning unto our enemies and a blot on our country forever. What triumph would it not be for Spain and Portugal! The like of this would never more be tried!" Then he gave every man his former rank and dismissed them. Moone, meeting Will Harvest that night by the light of a bonfire, was the only man who dared venture a comment. "We was spoilin' for a lickin'," he said, "and we got it. I do hope and trust we'll keep out o' mischief till Frankie gets us home to Plymouth, Hol'." Will grinned back cheerfully, and there was a subdued laugh from the group about the fire. The fleet was itself again.

Adventure after adventure succeeded, wilder than minstrel ever sang. The _Marygold_ went down with all hands; Wynter in the _Elizabeth_, believing the Admiral lost, turned homeward; the _Christopher_ and the _Swan_ had already been broken up. All alone the little _Golden Hynde_, blown southward, sailed around Cape Horn and proved the Antarctic continent a myth. Then Drake steered northward after more than two month's tossing on the uncharted seas, to revictual his ship in Spanish ports, fill his hold with the rich cargoes of one prize ship after another, and capture at last the great annual treasure-ship _Nuestra Senora de la Concepcion_, nicknamed the _Spitfire_ because she was better armed than most of the ships plying on that coast. As they ballasted the _Golden Hynde_ with silver from her huge hulk the jesting seamen dubbed her the _Spit-silver_. The little flagship was literally brimful of silver bars, ingots of gold, pieces of eight, and jewels whose value has never been accurately known. The Spanish Adelantados, accustomed to trust in their remoteness for defense, frantically looked for Drake everywhere except where he was. Warships hung about the Patagonian coast to catch him on his way home--surely he could not stay at sea forever!

But Drake had other plans. Navigators were still searching for the northern passage, the Straits of Anian, and he coasted northward until his men were half paralyzed with cold and the creeping chill of the fog.

From the latitude of Vancouver he turned south again, and put into a natural harbor not far from the present San Francisco, which he named New Albion because of the white cliffs like the chalk downs of England.

Here he landed and made camp to refit and repair his flagship. He had captured on one prize, two China pilots in whose possession were all the secret charts of the Pacific trade.

Indians ventured down from the mountains to the little fort and dockyard, wondering and admiring. Parson Fletcher presently came to the Admiral with the extraordinary news that they were worshiping the English as gods. Horror and laughter contended among the Puritans when they found themselves set up as idols of the heathen, and the chaplain endeavored by signs to teach the simple savages that the God whom all men should worship was invisible in the heavens.

"'T only shows," remarked Moone, with a nail in one corner of his mouth, after vehemently dissuading a persistent adorer, "that a man never knows what he'll come to. Granny Toothacre used to say that if there's a thing you fight against all your life it'll come to you sooner or later."

"So she did," said Drake with a grim smile as he passed. "Takes a woman to tell a fortune, after all."

"D'you ever hear what become of the old Don we picked up that time?"

Moone asked in a lowered voice.

"Not since he sent Frankie the dagger with the gold work and the jewel.

Chapter end

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