Story of Sir Francis Drake - Mrs. O. Elton

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Drake well knew that delay and idleness would soon spoil the spirits of his men, so he at once divided them into two companies, under himself and John Oxenham, to go roving in the two pinnaces in different directions and seek for food and plunder. Some of the Maroons were dismissed with gifts, and the rest remained with a few men on board ship. The Governor of Panama had warned the towns so well that it was useless to attempt them at present. Drake, in the Minion, took a frigate of gold and dismissed it, somewhat lighter, to go on its way. John Oxenham, in the Bear, took a frigate well laden with food of all kinds. Drake was so pleased with this ship, which was strong and new and shapely, that he kept her as a man-of-war in place of the sunken ship. And the company were heartened with a feast and much good cheer that Easter Day.

Next day the pinnaces met with a French captain out of Newhaven, whose ship was greatly distressed for want of food and water. Drake relieved him, and the captains exchanged gifts and compliments. The French captain sent Drake "a gilt fair scimitar" which had belonged to Henry the Third of France, and had in return a chain of gold and a tablet. This captain brought them the news of the Massacre of St. Bartholomew's Day, and said he thought "those Frenchmen the happiest who were furthest from France, now no longer France but Frenzy." He had heard famous reports of their riches, and wanted to know how he also could "make his voyage." They resolved, after consultation, to take him and twenty of his men to serve for halves. They now sent for the Maroons.

A party was made up of twenty Frenchmen, fifteen Englishmen, and some Maroons. They sailed with a frigate and two pinnaces towards a river called Rio Francisco, to the west of Nombre de Dios. There was not enough water to sail the frigate, so she was left in charge of a mariner to await the return of the pinnaces. They went on, and landed both captains with their force. Those in charge of the pinnaces were ordered to be there the fourth day without fail. The land party went on through the woods towards the high road from Panama to Nombre de Dios, where the mules now went daily. They marched, as before, in silence. They stayed all night a mile from the road, in great stillness, and refreshed themselves. They could hear the carpenters working on their ships, which they did at nights because of the fierce heat of the day. Next morning, the 1st of April, they heard such a number of bells that the Maroons rejoiced exceedingly, and assured them they should now have more gold and silver than they could tarry away. And so it came to pass.

For three trains appeared, one of fifty mules and two of seventy each, and every mule carried 300 lbs. weight of silver, amounting to nearly 30 tons. The leaders of the mules were taken by the heads, and all the rest lay down, as they always do. The fifteen soldiers who guarded each train were routed, but not before they bad wounded the French captain sorely, and slain one of the Maroons. They took what silver and gold they could carry, and buried the rest in the burrows made in the earth by the great land crabs under old fallen trees, and in the sand and gravel of a shallow river.

After two hours they marched back through the woods, but had to leave the French captain to rest and recover from his wound. Two of his men willingly stayed with him. Later on a third Frenchman was found to be missing. He had got drunk, and overloaded himself with plunder, and lost himself in the woods. They afterwards found he was taken by the Spaniards in the evening, and, upon. torture, revealed to them where the treasure was hidden.

When they reached the river's mouth, they saw seven Spanish pinnaces at Sea, which had come out to search the coasts. This made them fear their own pinnaces were taken. But a storm in the night forced the Spaniards to go home, and also delayed the English pinnaces, for the wind was so contrary and so strong that they could only get half way. For this reason they had fortunately been unseen by the Spaniards.

"But our Captain, seeing their ships, feared lest they had taken our pinnaces, and compelled our men by torture to confess where his ships and frigate were. In this great doubt and perplexity the company feared that all means of returning to their country were cut off, and that their treasure would then serve them to small purpose. But our captain comforted and encouraged us all, saying: 'We should venture no further than he did. It was no time now to fear, but rather to haste to prevent that which was feared. If the enemy have prevailed. against our pinnaces (which God forbid!), yet they, must have time to search them, time to examine the mariners, time to execute their resolution after it is determined. Before all those times be taken, we may get to our ships, if ye will, though not possibly by land, because of the hills, thickets, and rivers, yet by water. Let us, therefore, make a raft with the trees that are here in readiness, as offering themselves, being brought down to the river happily by this last storm, and let us put ourselves to sea! I will be one, who be the other?'

"John Smith offered himself, and two Frenchmen that could swim very well desired they might accompany our Captain, as did the Maroons likewise. They had prayed our Captain very earnestly to march by land, though it was a sixteen days' journey, in case the ship had been surprised, that he might abide with them always. Pedro was most eager in this, who was fain to be left behind because he could not row.

"The raft was fitted and fast bound; a sail of a biscuit-sack was prepared; an oar was shaped out of a young tree to serve instead of a rudder, to direct their course before the wind.

"At his departure, our Captain comforted the company by promising 'that, if it pleased God he should put his foot in safety on board his frigate, he would, by one means or other, get them all on board, in spite of all the Spaniards in the Indies!'

In this manner pulling off to sea, he sailed some three leagues, sitting up to the waist continually in water, and up to the armpits at every surge of the waves, for the space of six hours upon this raft. And what with the parching of the sun and what with the beating of salt water, they had all of them their skins much fretted away.

"At length God gave them the sight of two pinnaces turning towards them with much wind, but with far greater joy to him than can easily be guessed. So he did cheerfully declare to those three with him, that they were our pinnaces! and that all was safe, so there was no cause of fear!

"But look, the pinnaces not seeing the raft, nor suspecting any such matter, by reason of the wind, and night growing on, were forced to run into a cove behind the point, to take shelter for the night. Our Captain seeing this, and gathering that they would anchor there, put his raft ashore, and ran round the point by land, where he found them. They, upon sight of him, made as much haste as they could to take him and his company on board. For our Captain, on purpose to see what haste they could and would make in extremity, himself ran in great haste, and so made the other three with him, as if they had been chased by the enemy. And so those on board suspected, because they saw so few with him.

"And after his coming on board, when they demanded 'how his company did?' he answered coldly, 'Well!' They all feared that all went scarce well. But he, willing it rid all doubts, and fill them with joy, took out of his bosom a quoit of gold, thanking God that 'our voyage was made!' "

They then rowed up the river and rescued the others, and brought back, such of the treasure as they had been able to carry with them, and all returned to the ships by dawn. There Drake divided the treasure equally by weight between the French and the English. During the next fortnight everything was set in order, and the Pascha  given to the Spanish prisoners to go home in. Meanwhile a party was sent out to try and rescue the French captain and to seek for the buried treasure. One only of the Frenchmen managed to escape and was saved. Much of the treasure had been discovered by the Spaniards, but not all, and the party returned very cheerful, with thirteen bars of silver and a few quoits of gold. The Frenchmen now left them, having got their shares of the treasure. The ships parted when passing close by Cartagena, which they did in the sight of all the fleets "with a flag of St George on the main top of the frigate, with silk streamers and ancients (national flags) down to the water."

Later on they anchored to trim and rig the frigates and stow away the provisions, and they tore up and burnt the pinnaces so that the Maroons might have the ironwork. One of the last days Drake desired Pedro and three of the chief Maroons to go through both his frigates and see what they liked. He promised to give them whatever they asked, unless he could not get back to England without it. But Pedro set his heart on the scimitar which the French captain had given to Drake; and knowing Drake liked it no less, he dared not ask for it or praise it. But at last he bribed one of the company to ask for him, with a fine quoit of gold, and promised to give four others to Drake. Drake was sorry, but he wished to please Pedro, who deserved so well, so he gave it to him with many good words. Pedro received it with no little joy, and asked Drake to accept the four pieces of gold, as a token of his thankfulness and a pledge of his faithfulness through life. He received it graciously, but did not keep it for himself but caused it to be cast into the whole adventure, saying that "if he had not been helped to that place he would never have got such a thing, and it was only just that those who shared his burden in setting him to sea should enjoy a share of the benefits."

"Thus with good love and liking, we took our leave of that people. We took many ships during our abode in those parts, yet never burnt nor sunk any, unless they acted as men-of-war against us, or tried to trap us. And of all the men taken in those vessels, we never offered any kind of violence to any, after they were once come into our power. For we either dismissed them in safety, or kept them with us some longer time. If so, we provided for them as for ourselves, and secured them from the rage of the Maroons against them, till at last, the danger of their discovering where our ships lay being past, for which cause only we kept them prisoners, we set them also free.

"We now intended to sail home the directest and speediest way, and this we happily performed, even beyond our own expectations, and so arrived at Plymouth, on Sunday about sermon-time, August the 9th, 1573.

"And the news of our Captain's return being brought unto his people, did so speedily pass over all the church, and fill their minds with delight and desire to see him, that very few or none remained with the preacher. All hastened to see the evidence of God's love and blessing towards our gracious Queen and country by the fruit of our Captain's labour and success.