The Golden Mule-trains
There were forty-eight men of the party, of whom eighteen only were English. The Maroons carried arms and food, and got more food with their arrows from time to time. Every day they began to march by sunrise, and rested in the heat of the day in shelters made by the Maroons. The third day they came to a little town or village of the Maroons, which was much admired by the sailors for its beauty and cleanliness. "As to their religion," says the story, "they have no kind of priests, only they held the Cross in great awe. But by our Captain's persuasions, they were contented to leave their crosses and to learn the Lord's Prayer, and to be taught something of God's worship."
They begged Drake to stay with them some days, but he had to hasten on. Four of the best guides amongst the Maroons marched on ahead, and broke boughs to show the path to those that followed. All kept strict silence. The way lay through cool and pleasant woods.
"We were much encouraged because we were told there was a great tree about half way, from which we could see at once both the North Sea, from whence we came, and the South Sea, whither we were going.
"The fourth day we came to the height of the desired hill, a very high hill, lying east and west like a ridge between the two seas. It was about ten of the clock. Then Pedro, the chief of the Maroons, took our Captain by the hand, and prayed him to follow him if he wished to see at once two seas, which he had so greatly longed for.
"Here was that goodly and great high Tree, in which they had cut and made various steps to get up near the top. Here they had made a convenient bower, where ten or twelve men might easily sit. And here we might, with no difficulty, plainly see the Atlantic Ocean, whence we now came, and the South Atlantic (Pacific) so much desired. South and north of the Tree they had felled certain trees that the prospect might be clearer.
"Our Captain went up to this bower, with the chief Maroon. He had, because of the breeze, as it pleased God, a very fair day. And he saw that sea of which he had heard such golden reports. He prayed Almighty God, of His goodness, to give him life and leave to sail once in an English ship in that sea!. Then he called up the rest of our men, and specially he told John Oxenham of his prayer and purpose, if it pleased God to grant him that happiness. He, understanding it, protested that, unless our Captain did beat him from his company, he would follow him, by God's grace! Thus all quite satisfied with a sight of the seas, came down, and after our repast continued our ordinary march through the woods."
The last part of the march was through high pampas grass. But now they began to get glimpses of Panama, and could at last see the ships in the harbour. Now the march had to be more secret and silent than ever, till at length they lay hidden in a grove near the high road from Panama to Nombre de Dios. From here a Maroon was despatched, clothed as a negro of Panama, as a spy. He was to go into the town and learn when the treasure was to be taken from the King's Treasure-house in Panama to Nombre de Dios. This journey to Venta Cruz was always made by night, because of the heat and toil of walking through the pampas grass. But from Venta Cruz to Nombre de Dios they traveled always by day and not by night, because the way lay through fresh, cool woods. The mules were tied together in long trains, and guarded, if possible, by soldiers, for fear of the Maroons.
The spy brought back news in the afternoon that a certain great man intended to go to Spain by the first ship, and was going that night towards Nombre de Dios with his daughter and family. He had fourteen mules, of which eight were laden with gold and one with jewels: There were also two other trains of fifty mules each, mostly laden with food, and with a little silver, which were to come out that night also. Upon hearing this they marched until they came to within two leagues of Venta Cruz. Then Drake lay down with half his men on one side of the way, about fifty paces off, in the long grass. John Oxenham, with the captain of the Maroons and the other half of the men, lay on the other side of the road at the same distance. In about half-an-hour's time they could hear the mules both coming and going from Venta Cruz to Panama, where trade was lively when the fleet was there. The sound of the deep-voiced bells which the mules wore carried far in the still night. The men had been strictly charged not to stir or show themselves, but let all that come from Venta Cruz pass by quietly, for they knew the mules brought nothing but merchandise from there. But one of the men, called Robert Pike, had "drunk too much brandy without water," and forgot himself, and with a Maroon went close to the road.
"And when a cavalier from Venta Cruz, well mounted, with his page running at his stirrup, passed by, he rose up to look, though the Maroon, more cautious, pulled him down and tried to hide him. But by this time the gentleman had noticed that one half of him was white, for we had all put our shirts over our other clothing that we might be sure to know our own men in the pell-mell in the night. The cavalier put spurs to his horse, and rode away at a gallop to warn others.
"The ground was hard and the night was still, and our Captain heard this gentleman's trot change to a gallop. He suspected that we were discovered, but could not imagine by whose fault, nor had he time to search. The gentleman, as we heard afterwards, warned the Treasurer who, fearing Captain Drake had come to look for treasure on land, turned his train of mules aside from the way, and let the others which were coming pass on. Thus, by the recklessness of one of our company, and by the carefulness of that traveler, we were disappointed of a most rich booty. But we thought that God would not let it be taken, for likely it was well gotten by that Treasurer.
"The other two mule trains, which came behind that of the Treasurer, were no sooner come up to us than we stayed and seized on them. One of the chief carriers, a very sensible fellow, told our Captain by what means we were discovered, and counseled us to shift for ourselves betimes, for we should encounter the whole force of the city and country before day would be about us."
Drake and his men were little pleased at the loss of their golden mule-trains, for they had only taken two horse-loads of silver. It was the more provoking that they had been betrayed by one of their own men. There was no help for it, and Drake never "grieved at things past," so they decided to march back the nearest way. Pedro, the chief of the Maroons, said he "would rather die at Drake's foot than leave him to his enemies." When they got near Venta Cruz, they turned back the mules with their drivers. Outside the town the soldiers met them, and a fight took place upon Drake's refusing to surrender.
"The soldiers shot off their whole volley, which, though it lightly wounded our Captain and several of our men, caused death to one only of our company, who was so powdered with hail-shot that we could not recover his life, though he continued all that day afterwards with us. Presently, as our Captain perceived their shot to come slacking, like the last drops of a great shower of rain, he gave his usual signal with his whistle, to answer them with our shot and arrows.
"The Maroons had stepped aside at first for terms of the shot. But seeing that we marched onwards they all rushed forward, one after the other, with their arrows ready in their bows, and their manner of country dance or leap, ever singing, Yo Pehò! Yo Pehò! and so got before us. They then continued their leap and song, after the manner of their country wars, till they and we overtook the enemy. Our Maroons, now thoroughly encouraged, when they saw our resolution, broke in through the thickets near the town's end, and forced the enemy to fly. Several of our men were wounded, and one Maroon was run through with one of their pikes, but his courage and mind served him so well that he revenged his own death ere he died, by giving him that deadly wound."
So they entered the town, and stayed there some hours for rest and refreshment, and the Maroons were allowed to carry away some plunder. At sunrise they marched away, for they had been gone from the ship nearly a fortnight, and had left the company weak and sickly. Drake marched cheerfully, and urged on his weary and disappointed men with brave promises, but in the hurried march they had often to go hungry. Three leagues from the port the Maroons had built a camp or village while they were away, and here they persuaded Drake to stop, as it had been built "only for his sake." "And indeed he was the more willing to consent, that our want of shoes might be supplied by the Maroons, who were a great help to us. For all our men complained of the tenderness of their feet, and our Captain himself would join in their complaint, sometimes without cause, but sometimes with cause indeed, which made the rest to bear the burden more easily. These Maroons did us good service all the time they were with us. They were our spies on the journey, our guides, our hunters, and our house wrights, and, had indeed able and strong bodies for carrying our necessities. Yea, many times when some of our company fainted with sickness of weariness, two Maroons would carry him with ease between them, two miles together; and at other times, when need was, they would show themselves no less valiant than industrious, and of good judgment.
"From this town our Captain despatched a Maroon with a token and a certain order to the master. He, all those weeks, kept good watch against the enemy, and shifted in the woods for fresh food, for the relief and recovery of our men left on board."
When the messenger reached the shore he hailed those on the ship, who quickly fetched him on board. He showed Drake's token, the golden toothpick, and gave the message, which was to tell the master to meet him at a certain river. When the master looked at the toothpick, he saw written on it, "By me, Francis Drake." Then be believed the messenger, and prepared what provision he had, and repaired to the mouth of the river. About three o'clock Drake and his men saw the pinnace, and there was double rejoicing. The wanderers seemed strangely changed in face and plight to those who had lived in rest and plenty on board ship. Drake, indeed, was less so than the others. The fasting and hard marches had done much, but still more "their inward grief, for that they returned without that golden treasure they hoped for, did show her print and footsteps in their faces." But Drake was determined to repeat the attempt.