Gateway to the Classics: Thirty More Famous Stories Retold by James Baldwin
Thirty More Famous Stories Retold by  James Baldwin

"Upon a Peak in Dairen"

Second Story

After Balboa's discovery of the Pacific Ocean, seventy years went by. Then, one day, another bold adventurer stood upon a peak in Darien.

The name of this man was Francis Drake. He was known far and wide as the most daring sailor on the seas. He was an Englishman, and he hated Spain and the Spaniards with a bitter hatred. Like Balboa, he visited Darien in search of gold; but he meant to get it from those whom he called his enemies—to take it away from them by force.

He stood near the top of a high cliff, not far from the line where the famous Panama Canal is now being built. Below him there was a deep ravine, and along the ravine there was a mule path. This mule path was the road along which the Spaniards carried their treasures over the mountains to the seaport of Darien, to be loaded on ships and sent to Spain. Close to this pathway, crouching behind rocks and trees, were Captain Drake's followers—a few rough sailors armed to the teeth and a band of light-footed Indians with spears and clubs. They seemed to be expecting some one to pass that way; for they moved very cautiously and kept their weapons in their hands ready for use, while they watched their leader on the steep mountain wall above them.

As Drake stood near the edge of the cliff he saw before him a tall tree with spreading branches reaching like gaunt, bare arms toward the sky. "Ah!" said he, "what better outlook could one want than this?"

Sailor as he was, it was easy enough for him to clamber up the gnarled trunk. Soon he was standing on the very topmost branch. As he looked around him, what a glorious view did he behold! On every side were wooded mountain tops, green with tropical verdure. Between them were deep ravines and broad valleys, with thick forests of giant trees and sprawling vines and tangled underwoods, through which the feet of man had never passed. Far to the north he caught faint glimpses of the sea on which he had lately sailed, and he knew that in a snug harbor somewhere on the coast of that sea his ship, safe hidden from Spanish eyes, was waiting for his return.

But it was not for the northern view that he cared. He turned and looked in the other direction. Never had he seen a grander sight. There, in plain view before him, was the great western ocean, the mighty Pacific, which the Spaniard Balboa had discovered, and which Spain had ever since claimed as her own.

The waters danced and sparkled in the sunlight, just as they had done in Balboa's time, and they stretched south and west a marvelous distance, until at last sea and sky seemed mingled in one. The heart of the bold sailor was strangely moved as he lazed upon this scene; for he was the first of Englishmen to behold that greatest of all waters.

As he looked he could see the ships of Spain, like specks upon the water, sailing into the port of Panama, and bringing the treasures of Peru and of the golden East to swell the wealth and increase the power of the Spanish king. Tears came to his eyes. He clenched his hands with strong determination. His breath came quickly as he thought of the hated Spaniards and of their claim to the ownership of half the world.

Then, forgetting where he was, he knelt down among the branches. "O God," he prayed, "help me to humble the pride of Spain, and help me to promote England's glory on the seas. And I vow to give my time and strength to this cause, and never to rest till I shall sail an English ship on the waters of this great ocean."

A call from his men in the ravine below aroused him; and as he hastened to descend from the tree he heard the tinkle of bells far down the mountain pass. A train of mules laden with gold and silver from the mines of Peru was slowly approaching. It was to waylay and capture such a train that he and his followers had come to this peak in Darien; and here, now, was his opportunity.

An hour later Captain Drake was dividing the treasure among his followers. There was so great a weight of precious metals that they could not carry it all, but were obliged to bury a part in a secret place in the forest.

The story of the bold capture was carried to Panama and the other Spanish towns on the isthmus, but Drake was soon safe back on board of his ship. The fear of the bold sea rover spread to every port on the coast, and from that day the pride of Spain began to be humbled.


Two years later Captain Drake fulfilled his vow by sailing an English vessel on the mighty Pacific. Along the coasts of Chile and Peru he sailed. He captured Spanish towns, he waylaid Spanish treasure ships, he carried terror into all the Spanish provinces. Then, when his vessel was loaded with so much treasure that she could carry no more, he turned his course to the west, and was the first Englishman to sail across the Pacific. Westward and still westward he sailed. He passed on the south of the Philippines, he touched at the Spice Islands, he traversed the Indian Ocean, he sailed around Africa, and finally returned in safety to England. It was a wonderful voyage—the first English voyage round the world.

Queen Elizabeth was so delighted when she heard of Drake's exploits that she cried out, "He shall be SIR Francis Drake. I myself will make him a knight."


"I myself will make him a knight."

And Sir Francis Drake it was; and from his time the power of England on the sea began to be felt.

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