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Days of the Discoverers Part 24

They seated themselves upon a grassy bank and the play began.

Before half a dozen speeches had been said it was quite clear that the dark-eyed child who played the Indian King was the heart and fire of the piece. They were all clever children and well trained, but he alone lived his part. His small figure moved with a grace and dignity that even his grotesque apparel could not spoil. The costumer had evidently built his design for the costume of an Indian chief upon legends of wild men drawn from the history of Hanno and his gorillas, adding whatever absurdities he had gathered from sailors of the Gold Coast and the Caribbean Sea. Armadas, who had made a voyage to Newfoundland and seen the stately figure of a sachem outlined against a sunset sky, thought that the boy's instinct was truer than the costumer's tradition.

"Let me arrange thy habit, lad," he said when the first scene ended and the clown began his dance. With a few deft touches, ripping down one side of the tunic and wreathing a girdle of ivy and bracken, he changed the whole outline of the figure. With the hairy tunic draped as a cloak, and the ungainly plumed head-dress arranged as a warrior's crest, the character which had been almost ridiculous became heroic, as the author of the masque evidently had intended. The little King's beautiful voice changed like the singing of a Cremona violin as he spoke his lines to the white stranger:

"To this our wild domain we welcome thee In honorable hospitality.

If Thou dost come as the great Lord of Life, The Lord of bear and wolf, and stag and fox, Leopard and ape, and rabbits of the rocks, We are thy children, as our brothers are,-- The furry folk of forest fastnesses, The bright-winged birds that wanton with the breeze, The seal that sport amid the sapphire seas.

We worship gods of lightning and of thunder, Of winds and hissing waves, the rainbow's wonder, The fruits and grains, borne by the kindly earth, And all the mysteries of death and birth.

Say who you are, and from what realm you hail, White spirits that in winged peraguas sail?

If ye be angels, tell us of your heaven.

If ye be men, tell us who is your King."

It was not a long play, and had been written by a court poet especially for the children, of whose acting the Queen was fond. There were dances and songs--a sailor's contra-dance to the music of a horn pipe, a stately passamezzo by the Indian court, a madrigal and an ode in compliment to the Queen.[3] Finally the leader of the white men planted the banner of England on the little knoll, and in the name of his sovereign received the homage of the Indians. The last notes of the final chorus had just died away when trumpets called from the Thames, and the scene melted into chaos. Off ran the players, cramming costumes and properties into their wallets as they went, to see the Queen land at the water-gate. Amadas and Barlowe took the same direction less hurriedly.

"I wonder now," said Armadas thoughtfully, "how much of prophecy there may have been in that mascarado? Do you know, old lad, we may be taken for gods ourselves in two months' time? God grant they think us not devils before we are done!"

"We need have no fear if no Spaniards have landed on that coast before us," said Barlowe stolidly. "If they have--no poetical speeches will help our cause."

The Queen's great gilded barge with its crimson hangings came sweeping up the river just as they joined the company drawn up to receive her.

The tall graceful figure of Ralegh was nearest her, and when she set her small neat foot upon the stone step it was his hand which she accepted to steady her in landing. She was a sovereign every inch even in her traveling cloak, but when dinner was over, and she took her seat in the throne-room, she dazzled the eye with the splendor of gold and pearl network over brilliant velvets, the glitter of diamonds among the frost-work of Flanders lace. Elizabeth knew how to stage the great Court drama as well as any Master of the Revels.

Moreover, what the Queen did, set the fashion for all the courtiers, to the profit and prosperity of merchants and craftsmen. Earls might secretly writhe at the prospect of entertaining their sovereign with suitable magnificence, but the tradesmen and purveyors rubbed their hands. When a company of Flemings was employed for four years on the carving of the beams and panels of the Middle Temple Hall, or noblemen to be in the fashion built new banquet-rooms in the Italian style, with long windows and galleries, English, Flemish and Huguenot builders flocked to the kingdom. If she took with one hand she gave with the other, and it was not without reason that the common folk of England long after she was dead called their daughters after "good Queen Bess."

To Armadas and Barlowe it was a novel and splendid pageant. After they were presented to the Queen, and expressed their modest thanks for the honor of being sent upon her service, they withdrew to a window-recess to watch the company. The gentlemen pensioners in gold-embroidered suits and lace-edged ruffs, the dignified councilors in richer if darker robes, the maids of honor, bright as damask roses moving in the wind, all circled around one pale woman with keen gray-blue eyes that never betrayed her. A little apart, speaking now and then to some courtier or councilor, stood the Spanish Ambassador in somber black and gold, like a watchful spider in a garden of rich flowers. Ralegh, careless and debonair, gave him a frank salutation as he came to speak to his captains.

"You may repent of the venture and wish to stay at Court," he said smiling. "The Queen thinks well of ye."

"Not I," growled Barlowe, and Armadas laughed, "My Lord, do you think so ill of us as to deem us weathercocks in the wind?"

"You must take care to avoid the clutches of the Inquisition," Ralegh added, not lowering his voice noticeably, yet not speaking loud enough to be heard by others. "I have hastened the fitting out of the ships and delayed your coming to Court lest Philip's ferrets be set on you. The life of Kings and Queens is like to a game of chess."

"Of primero rather, it seems to me," said Armadas, "or the game the Spanish call ombre. Chess is brain against brain, fair play. In the other one may win the game by the fall of the cards--or by cheatery."[4]

"A good simile, Philip," said Ralegh, with shining eyes. "'T is all very well to say, as some do, that if old King Harry were alive he'd have our Englishmen out of Spanish prisons. But in his day Spain had hardly begun her conquests over seas, and the Inquisition had not tasted English blood. It was Philip that taught our men primero--and the best player is he who can bluff, so playing his hand that his enemy guesses not the truth. And the stake in this game is--Empire."

Ralegh's head lifted as if he saw visions. In silence the three joined the company now assembling to see the masque of the children.

Bravely it went, nimbly the dancers footed it, sweetly rang the choruses, and well did the little chief and captain play their parts. At the end the Queen, saying in merry courtesy that she could do no less for him who had found her a kingdom and him who freely gave it, presented a ring set with a carnelian heart to Hal Kempe who played Cabot, but about the neck of Tom Poope she hung a golden chain, for if he had to wear her fetters, she said, they should at least be golden.

And so the play came to an end, and work began.

[Illustration: "IF HE HAD TO WEAR HER FETTERS, THEY SHOULD AT LEAST BE GOLDEN."--_Page_ 245]

On April 27, with a fair wind, the two ships of Ralegh's venture went down to the Channel and out upon the western ocean. They had good fortune, for not a Spaniard crossed their course. Nine weeks later they sighted the coast which the French had once called Carolina. Before they were near enough to see it well they caught the scent of a wilderness of flowering vines and trees blown seaward, and as they neared the shore they saw tall cedars and goodly cypresses, pines and oaks and many other trees, some of them quite unknown to English soil. It is written in Armadas's journal that the wild grapes were so abundant near the sea that sometimes the waves washed over them; and the sands were yellow as gold. The first time that an arquebus was fired, great flocks of birds rose from the trees, screaming all together like the shouting of an army, but there seemed to be no fierce beasts nor indeed any large animals.

"With kine, sheep, cattle, and poultry, and such herbs and grain as can be brought from England," said Armadas, "this land would sure be a paradise on earth."

"You forget the serpent," returned Barlowe, who had been reared by a Puritan grandfather and knew his Bible.

"I am not likely to forget our great enemy while the name of Ribault or Coligny remains unforgotten," said the other. "All the more reason why this land should be kept for the Religion."

Indeed when they landed they found little in the country or the people to recall Adam's doom. They set up their English standard upon an island and took possession of the domain in the name of Elizabeth of England.

This island the Indians called Wocoken, and the inlet where the ships lay, Ocracoke. They went inland as the guests of the native chiefs, and on the island of Roanoke they were entertained by the people of Wingina the king, most kindly and hospitably. The sea remained smooth and pleasant and the air neither very hot nor very cold, but sweet and wholesome. Manteo and Wanchese, two of the Indian warriors, chose to sail away with the white men, and in good time the ships returning reached Plymouth harbor, early in September of that year. Manteo was made Lord of Roanoke, the first and the last of the American Indians to bear an English title to his wild estate. The new province was named Virginia, with the play upon words favored in that day, for it was a virgin country, and its sovereign was the Virgin Queen.

When the two captains came again to London they found the air full of the intriguings of Spain. In that year Santa Cruz had organized a plot against the Queen's life, discovered almost by chance; in that year it became clear that Philip's long chafing against the growing sea-power of England and his hatred of such rangers as Drake and Hawkins must sooner or later blaze up in war. And by chance also Armadas learned how narrow had been their own escape from a Spanish prison.

He had been the guest of a friend at the acting of Master Lyly's new masque by the Children of the Chapel at Gray's Inn. Little Tom Poope sang Apelles's song and ruffled it afterward among the ladies of the court, as lightly as Essex himself. Armadas came out into the dank Thames air humming over the dainty verses,--

"'At last he staked her all his arrows.

His mother's doves, and team of sparrows--'"

A small hand slid into his own and pulled him toward a byway.

"Why, how is it with thee, Master Poope? Didst play thy part bravely, lad."

"Come," said the boy in a low breathless voice. "I have somewhat to tell thee. In here," and he drew Armadas toward a doorway. "'T is my mother's lodging--there is nothing to fear."

A woman let them in as if she had been watching for them, opened the door into a small plainly furnished private room and vanished.

"Art not going on any more voyages to the Virginias?" asked the boy, his eager eyes on the Captain's face.

"Not for the present, my boy. Why? Wouldst like to sail with us, and learn more of the ways of Indian Princes?"

"Nay, I have no time for fooling--they'll miss me," said the youngster impatiently. "The Spanish Ambassador has his spies upon thee, and thou must leave a false scent for them to smell out. He sent his report on thee, eight months ago."

"Before we sailed to Roanoke?" queried Armadas with lifted brows.

"Before thou went to Richmond that day. His Excellency quizzed me after the masque and asked me did I know when the ships sailed and whither they were bound, believing me to be cozened by his gold. I told him they were for Florida to find the fountain of youth for the Queen, and would sail on May-day!"

A grin of pure delight widened the boy's face, and he wriggled in gleeful remembrance where he perched, on a tall oaken chair. "Oh, they will swallow any bait, those gudgeons, and some day their folly will be the end of them. I would not have them catch thee if they could be fooled, and well did I fool them, I tell thee!"

"For--heaven's--sake!" stammered Armadas in amazement. "Little friend,"

he added gently, "it seems to me that we owe thee life and honor. But why didst do it?"

"Why?" The boy's fine dark brows bent in a quick frown. "What a pox right had they to be tempting me to be false to the salt that I and they had eaten? I hate all Spaniards. I'd ha' done it any way," he added shyly, "for to win our game, but I did it for love o' thee because thou took my part about the mascarado."

"I think," said Armadas as he took from his wallet a bracelet of Indian shell-work hung with baroque pearls, "that all our fine plans would ha'

come to naught but for thy wise head, young 'un. These be pearls from the Virginias, and if you find 'em scorched, that's only because the heathen know no other way of opening the oyster-shell but by fire. The beads are such as they use for money and call roanoke. The gold of the Spanish mines can buy men maybe, but it does not buy such loyalty as thine, that's sure. I have no gold to give, lad,--but wear this for a love-token. And I think that could the truth be known, the Queen herself would freely name thee Lord of Roanoke."

NOTES

[1] The name is variously spelled Armadas, Amidas and Amadas. The form here used is that of the earliest records. The same is true of the spelling "Ralegh."

[2] Companies of children under various names were often employed in the acting of plays in the time of Elizabeth. These are the "troops of children, little eyasses" alluded to by Shakespeare in "Hamlet." They sometimes acted in plays written for them by Lyly and others, and sometimes in the popular dramas of the day. Ben Jonson wrote a charming epitaph on Salathiel Pavy, one of these little actors, who died at thirteen.

[3] The passamezzo, passy-measure or half-measure was a popular Elizabethan dance, like the coranto and lavolta.

[4] Primero, or ombre, is said to be the ancestor of our modern game of poker. An interesting account of its origin and variations will be found in Mrs. Schuyler Van Rensselaer's "Prophetical, Educational and Playing Cards."

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