Gateway to the Classics: The Story of Sir Walter Raleigh by Margaret Duncan Kelly
The Story of Sir Walter Raleigh by  Margaret Duncan Kelly

Westward Ho!

A T this time there lived at the Court of Queen Elizabeth a beautiful orphan girl. Her father had been a wise and courtly knight. She herself was one of the Queen's maids of honour.

To Sir Walter Raleigh she seemed the most beautiful lady in the whole world. He thought, as he watched her waiting on the Queen, that he had never before seen so much grace and sweetness.

They often met, and every time Raleigh loved this fair maid of honour more and more. When he found she loved him too, he said they would be married at once. They did not dare to tell the Queen, for they knew she did not like her maids of honour to marry. So they were married secretly. But an enemy of Raleigh's told the Queen.

The Queen was very angry. They had no right, she said, to marry without leave from their sovereign. So bitter was her anger that she shut both Raleigh and his bride in prison in the Tower of London. After a few weeks, however, she was sorry, and gave them their freedom once more. Still she could not quite forgive Raleigh; she would not admit him to her presence or Court.

So Raleigh took his beautiful wife far away into the heart of the country, away from the glitter and rush of the gay Court life of which she was so weary. They went to the west country, where Raleigh had a splendid manor-house, surrounded by a great park with waving woods and grassy lawns. Here they spent two happy years, and in this lovely home their eldest son was born.

One day as they roamed through the woods, Raleigh talked to his wife of the resolve he had made when a boy. He told her of that wondrous golden city, for which the Spaniards were always searching in vain. He told her of his longing to sail westward and seek that city through the unknown pathless forests in the heart of South America. What a triumph it would be if he could only find it, and win such treasure for England! Why should it be left for Spaniards to find?

As he talked of the joy of wild adventures in strange lands, and of the glory that might be won in battles with the Spaniards, Lady Raleigh listened with a heavy heart. At first she begged him not to leave her. While he talked of glory, she thought only of the danger. But she was a brave woman, and when she saw how great his longing was, she told him at last to go.

So, after great preparation, he sailed away from Plymouth into the golden West. Once again he listened to the sailors singing their old song:

"Westward ho! with a rum-below,

And hurra for the Spanish main, O!"

But this time the voices were those of his own sailors, and Raleigh's heart bounded with joy as he thought that at last, after years of waiting, at last he was to explore the mysterious New World, and perhaps to conquer for England lands of untold wealth. He set out with five ships, and carried with him some small boats for rowing up rivers.

The land in South America to which Raleigh was going was called Guiana. Through this land flows a mighty river called the Orinoco. On the coast, at the mouth of the river, lies an island, which at that time belonged to Spain. To this island Raleigh came first. At night time some Indians came secretly on board his ships to ask the English to save them from the horrible cruelty of the Spaniards.

So Raleigh stormed the chief town of the island and captured the Spanish Governor. He set free the poor Indians, whom he found chained in dreadful dungeons.

Both Spaniards and Indians told Raleigh still stranger stories than he had heard in England.

"In a province," they said, "not passing a day's journey off, there are so many Indians as would shadow the sun, and so much gold as all yonder plain will not hold it. These Indians anoint their bodies all over with gold-dust to make the braver show, and then they dance, with eagles of gold hanging on their breasts. They are different from all other men, for the points of their shoulders are higher than the crowns of their heads."

Raleigh listened to these stories, but did not altogether believe them, for he noticed that no one had seen these wonders for themselves; they had all been told of them by some one else.

And now Raleigh made ready for his dangerous voyage up the Orinoco river. Leaving his ships at anchor near the Spanish island, he embarked a hundred of his bravest men in the five river-boats. They carried with them enough food to last a month.

The entrance to the Orinoco river was called the Serpent's Mouth, because it was so difficult and dangerous. Raleigh, describing it afterwards, said: "There are many streams, crossing each other so many times, and all so fair and large and so like one to another that no man can tell which to take; and if we went by the sun or compass, hoping thereby to go directly one way or other, yet that way also we were carried in a circle amongst multitudes of islands, and every island so bordered with high trees that no man could see any further than the breadth of the river."

Suddenly they saw in the distance a small canoe, with three Indians in it, crossing the river. Raleigh gave chase and soon overtook them. He persuaded one of the Indians to be his pilot. "But for this," he tells us, "I think we had never found the way either to Guiana or back to our ships."

Guided by the old Indian pilot they came to a "goodly river"; but so violent was the current, that they could row against it only by main strength, the gentlemen taking turns with the common sailors. When three days had gone the men began to despair. The weather was very hot, and the river was bordered with very high trees, which kept away the air, while every day the current seemed stronger against them. So long they laboured that many days were spent, their bread was nearly finished, they had no drink at all but the river water, and yet they seemed no nearer to the promised land.

The men, who were wearied and scorched, grew weaker and weaker. Raleigh had to persuade them to go on by telling them that one more day's work would bring them to the land of plenty. "If we return," he said, "we are sure to starve by the way, and the world will also laugh us to scorn."

On the banks of the river they found all sorts of fruit good to eat; but for this and the fish they caught they would have starved. There were many birds too of strange beautiful colours flitting about among the trees like great butterflies. Some were crimson, some orange, some a rich purple. The explorers were forced to shoot many of these gorgeous birds for food.

At last the old Indian pilot persuaded them to leave their biggest boat in the great river, and to row the smaller boats up a narrow stream. "It will bring you," he said, "to an Indian town, where you will find store of bread, hens, fish, and the country wine. This town is so near that you can go and return by nightfall."

So they rowed up the stream. For many hours they rowed, and still the pilot told them it was a little further. "But," says Raleigh, "when it grew towards night, and we asked where the place was, he told us but four reaches more. When we had rowed four and four we saw no sign; and our poor men were heart-broken and tired, for we had now come near forty miles."

Soon it was as dark as pitch. The river became so narrow that the trees hung over from side to side, their branches covering the water. The men were forced to cut a passage through the branches with their swords. They were very hungry, for they had eaten nothing since early morning, and had no food with them. They began to think that the pilot had led them that way to betray them. At last they decided to hang him as a traitor; but the poor old Indian kept telling them "that it was but a little further, but this one turning and that turning." Suddenly, soon after midnight, they saw a light, and rowing towards it they heard the dogs of the village barking. So the pilot's life was saved, and the weary sailors found food and rest for the night. When the day came Raleigh traded with the Indians for bread, and fish, and hens.

Then with this store of food they rowed back to their friends, who were waiting in the big boat or galley, as it was called.

They could now see the country which they had passed in the dark the night before. This is how Sir Walter Raleigh describes it: "On both sides of this river we passed the most beautiful country that ever mine eyes beheld; and whereas all that we had seen before was nothing but woods, prickles, bushes, and thorns, here we beheld plains of twenty miles in length, the grass short and green." Here and there groves of tall stately trees rose from the grass. "And still, as we rowed, the deer came down feeding by the water's side as if they had been used to a keeper's call."

In this river they saw many sorts of strange fish, "and of marvellous bigness." There were, too, many savage alligators. The alligator is a great creature something like a dragon. He is covered with an armour of bony scales. He has sharp, strong, cruel teeth. His mouth and throat are so large that he can easily swallow a man; when he swims he lashes the water from side to side with his great tail.

As Raleigh came near to the mouth of this river, where the galley was waiting in the great river, a young negro leaped out of the galley and swam to meet his master; but suddenly he was seized and devoured in their very sight by one of these dreadful alligators.

And now once more they toiled up the great river. They soon finished the food the Indians had given them. Once more they were nearly starving, when they saw in the distance some Indian canoes. They chased them, and the Indians in terror left their boats, which were laden with bread, and fled into the woods. But Raleigh captured them; and when they saw how kind and generous he was, one of them offered to be his pilot. So Raleigh gave his old pilot, who no longer knew the way, many presents and sent him back in one of the canoes.

Raleigh's men, no longer hungry, cried, "Let us go on, we care not how far!" So on and on they went.

At last, on the fifteenth day, to their great joy they discovered afar off the mountains of Guiana.


The King gave Raleigh a delicious pine-apple.

When the Indians found that Raleigh and his men were not cruel Spaniards, they came to the river-side, bringing them many presents.

Even the Indian king of that land came to welcome the good white lord. He was a very old and a very wise man. He came to Raleigh with all his chiefs behind him, each bearing a present in his hands. The old king had the strange name of Topiawari. He gave Raleigh a delicious pine-apple, which Raleigh liked so much that he called it the "princess of fruits that grow under the sun."

Among the presents which the Indians offered was a beast called the armadillo, which was barred over with small plates of bone, with a white horn growing at its back as big as a great hunting-horn; this horn was really the tail of the beast.

Raleigh took Topiawari into a little tent which he had set up on the river bank. There he told him that he was the servant of a Queen, who was the great chief of the north, and had more chiefs under her than there were trees in that land. "This Queen," said Raleigh, "is the enemy of the Spaniards because they are cruel and wicked. She has freed all the coast of the northern world from their slavery to Spain; now she has sent me to free you also, and to defend the country of Guiana from Spanish conquest."

When Topiawari heard that the Great White Queen was an enemy of the Spaniards, he was very glad. All the Indians hated the Spaniards with fierce and terrible hatred. They told Raleigh the secret of how to make poisoned arrows, and how to cure the wound. These secrets the Spaniards had tried to discover for many years; but the Indians would not tell, even when they were tortured.

"I am very old," said Topiawari, "and Death calls daily for me. But if I am still alive when you return from the country of Guiana, I will come again to see you." So he said good-bye, and Raleigh and his men went on with their voyage in search of the golden city.

On they struggled against the current of that mighty river. At last they were forced to rest. They made a camp on the bank of the river and explored the country round.

In the distance Raleigh could hear the roar of many waters. He ran to the top of the first hill near the river, and from there he saw some wonderful waterfalls. Each waterfall was as high over the other as a church tower. The water fell with such fury that it looked like the smoke of some great town.

The strange thunder of waters drew them on little by little, until at last they went into the next valley, where they could better see the wonderful sight.

The country was very beautiful with hills, and valleys, and fair green grass. The ground was of hard sand easy to walk on. The deer were roaming on every side, and the birds, towards evening, were singing on every tree with a thousand different tunes.

Some of Raleigh's men brought to him pieces of white sparkling rock in which glittered some grains of gold; but the gold was deep in the rocks, and they had nothing to tear it out with but their daggers and fingers.

But now the heavy rains began, and the river began to rage and overflow very dangerously. The men, whose clothes were always wet, began to cry out that it was time to turn homewards.

So Raleigh had to give up his search for the golden city, but he decided that he would try again the next year.

The voyage back was very swift, for the current swept them down the river. They went nearly a hundred miles in one day.

Raleigh sent again for the old chief Topiawari. So many Indians came with him laden with baskets of food that it seemed like a great market in England. The hungry sailors crowded round, every one laying hand on what he liked; but Raleigh made them pay for everything they took, even if it was only a potato. So the Indians loved and trusted him more than ever.

Topiawari gave Raleigh his only son to take with him into England. An English boy called Hugh Goodwin, who longed for strange adventures, begged Raleigh to let him stay behind with the Indians. He said he wanted to learn the Indian language. One of the sailors said he would stay too to keep Hugh Goodwin company.

So Raleigh, giving them as much powder and shot and money as he could spare, bade them good-bye. He promised to come again next year if possible.

The journey back was swift and easy until they came to the mouth of the river, where it flowed into the sea.

Then there arose a mighty storm, and their tiny boats could hardly live in the raging sea; but at last they reached the Spanish island once more. There they found their ships at anchor, which was indeed a joyful sight.

"Now," said Raleigh, "that it hath pleased God to send us safe to our ships, it is time to leave Guiana to the sun, and steer away towards the north, home again to England."

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