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Francis Drake, the Scourge of Spain. page 3


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The question now before them was how to get home. The whole west coast of America was now alarmed, and the Spaniards would stop him if he tried to return by the Straits as he came. So Drake called the ship's company together and took them into counsel. He desired to sail north and find a way home by the North-west Passage; for he, too, was possessed by that chimerical idea.

"All of us," writes one of his company, "willingly hearkened and consented to our general's advice; which was, first, to seek out some convenient place to trim our ship, and store ourselves with wood and water and such provisions as we could get; thenceforward to hasten on our intended journey for the discovery of the said passage, through which we might with joy return to our longed homes."

On 16th March they made the coast of Nicaragua and effected some captures. Swooping down upon the little port of Guatuleo, they found the judges sitting in court, and as a merry change for them, the whole court, judges! and counsel and prisoners, were carried off to the Golden Hind, where, amid hearty laughter, the chief judge was bidden to write an order for all the inhabitants to leave the town for twenty-four hours. Then Drake and his men went ashore and replenished their cupboards from the Spanish storehouses. The next capture was a vessel containing two Chinese pilots, who had all the secret charts for sailing across the Pacific.

We may well believe that Drake, as he pored over these in his little cabin, may have thought to himself, "Why should not we go home that way, and thus have sailed round the globe?"

On 3rd June they had reached latitude 42 N., and were feeling the cold extremely. A storm was blowing as they reached Vancouver Island, and here they turned back, and after turning south ten degrees put into a fair and good bay? where the white cliffs reminded them of home, probably near San Francisco.

The natives came round in their canoes, and one threw a small rush basket full of tabah, or tobacco, into the ship's boat.

Tents were put up on the shore and fortified by stones, but the red folk who assembled seemed to be worshipping the strangers as gods. Presents were exchanged, but their women "tormented themselves lamentably, tearing chest and bosom with their nails, and dashing themselves on the ground till they were covered with blood." Drake at once ordered all his crew to prayers. The natives seemed to half-understand the ceremony, and chanted a solemn "Oh!" at every pause.

Next day the great chief came with his retinue in feathered cloaks and painted faces. The red men sang and the women danced, until the chief advanced and put his coronet on Drake's head. These people lived in circular dens hollowed in the ground; they slept upon rushes round a central fire. The men were nearly naked; the women wore a garment of bulrushes round the waist and a deer-skin over the shoulders.

When at the end of July the Golden Hind weighed anchor, loud lamentations went up and fires were lit on the hilltops as a last sacrifice to the divine strangers. For sixty-eight days they sailed west and saw no land; then they came to islands where the natives pilfered; then they made the Philippines, and in November the Moluccas. Drake anchored at a small island near Celebes, east of Borneo, and spent four weeks in cleaning and repairing his ship. Here they saw bats as big as hens, and land-crabs, "very good and restoring meat," which had a habit of climbing up into trees when pursued.

As they sailed west they got entangled among islands and shoals, and on the 9th of January 1579 they sailed full tilt upon a rocky shoal and stuck fast.

Boats were got out to find a place for an anchor upon which they might haul, but at the distance of a boat's length they found deep water and no bottom. The ship remained on the shoal all that night. First they tried every shift they could think of, but the treasure-laden vessel refused to budge. Then Drake, seeing all was hopeless, and that not only the treasure, but all their lives, were likely to be lost, summoned the men to prayers. In solemn preparation for death they took the Sacrament together.

Then, when the ship seemed fast beyond their strength to move her, Drake, with the same instinct that prompted Cromwell after him to say, "Trust in God, but keep your powder dry," gave orders to throw overboard eight guns.

They went splash into the six feet of water by the side, and the ship took no notice at all; so Drake, with a sigh, cried, "Throw out three tons of cloves - sugar - spices - anything;" till the sea was like a caudle all around. And the Golden Hind still rested quietly on the shelving rock, with only six feet of water on one side, whereas it needed thirteen to float her. The wind blew freshly and kept her upright as the tide went down. The crew began to look curiously at one another, and to wonder what would happen when all their food was consumed.

At the lowest of the tide the wind suddenly fell, and the ship losing this support, fell over sideways towards the deep water.

So they were to be drowned after all, for she must fill now.

No; there was a harsh scraping sound heard. Could it be possible? Yes; her keel was slipping down the slope very gently and mercifully.

What a shout these sea-worn mariners raised; how they thanked God for this salvation; for the relief had come at low tide, when all their efforts seemed to be useless. Surely it was a miracle - an answer to their captain's prayers. On reaching Java, Drake was informed that there were large ships not far off - Portuguese settlements were rather too near to be safe; so he steered for the Cape of Good Hope, which his men thought " a most stately thing, and the fairest cape they had seen in the whole circumference of the earth."

As the Golden Hind sailed along by Sierra Leone and towards Europe, the great sea rover must have felt that the prayer he had breathed within the mammoth tree on Darien six years before was at last fulfilled.

He had sailed the South Sea and crossed the Pacific and made the compass of the round world in the Golden Hind within three years.

As they reckoned, when nearing Plymouth Sound, it was Monday, September 25, 1580, but within an hour they learnt that they had arrived on Sunday.

No one expected them; no one at first realised what vessel it was that came silently to anchorage, heavy and slow from the barnacles and weeds; for the news had come home that Drake had been hanged by the Spaniards. But only in August last, Mendoza, the Spanish ambassador, had come to Burghley with a wild tale sent him by the Viceroy of Mexico, that El Draque had been ravaging the Pacific, and playing the pirate amongst King Philip's ships. The Queen pretended she knew nothing about it, and pacified the ambassador by seeming to agree with him that Drake was a very naughty man indeed. So, when the Golden Hind dropped her anchor, a few friends took boat and told her captain how things were going at Court.

Drake's blue eyes at first looked steely. Had he sailed round the world and brought all this treasure home to be given over to Spain?

But a moment's thought brought a merry twinkle into those eyes, and he gave a sharp order: "Up with the anchor, there! Warp her out behind St. Nicholas Island!"

If he must be treated as a pirate, then they must catch him if they can. "You will take my excuses to the Mayor, and tell him how gladly I would land; but you have the plague, I hear, at Plymouth; our constitutions are hardly strong enough to bear an attack of plague."

Meanwhile a messenger was sent by Drake post-haste to London, with gifts for the Queen and Burghley; then a visit from Drake's wife and some friends made the time pass pleasantly enough. Yet it was somewhat galling to the brave adventurer to have to wait a week for tidings as to whether he was to lose his head for piracy, or win a Queen's admiration for performing a great feat of seamanship. At last a summons to Court was brought to Plymouth. Drake, of course, obeyed the Queen's command, but he did not venture to London alone. Many friends rode with him, and no doubt they enjoyed themselves, as sailors will, on their long journey, especially when they came to Sherborne Castle and Sir Walter Raleigh. A long train of pack-horses followed, laden with delicate attentions for royal ladies. Just as he was drawing near London, the news came that Philip had seized Portugal and was posing as the master of the world. Still more startling news came that a Spanish force had landed in Ireland. The Council were half disposed to make peace on any terms, when Drake came stalking in amongst the half-hearted courtiers.

The Queen saw him, heard the strange story of his madcap adventures, caught the audacious spirit of her bravest seaman, and stood firm against the timid proposers of peace. Besides, she was simply charmed by the lovely presents he offered her, and sent Drake back to Plymouth with a private letter under her sign-manual, ordering him to take ten thousand pounds worth of bullion for himself. The rest was sent up to the Tower, after the crew had received their share. Then Drake brought the Golden Hind round and up the Thames for all the town to gape and wonder at, while the crew swaggered about the streets of Deptford like little princes; and so the news of the great treasure flew from city to hamlet, and from hill to vale, increasing with the miles it posted.

The Queen ordered that Drake's ship should be drawn up in a little creek near Deptford, and there should be kept as a memorial for ever.

Then, the more to honour her champion, she went on board and partook of a grand banquet under an awning on the main deck. "Francis Drake, kneel down." The sword was lightly placed on his shoulder, and he rose "Sir Francis."

The Golden Hind remained at Deptford, as a show vessel that had been round the world, until it dropped to pieces. From one of its planks a chair was made and presented to the University of Oxford.

Thus the politics of England were influenced by a seaman - a hero who knew not fear, and who dared to say what he thought, even though it was to his Queen.

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