T O most of the sailors of Elizabeth's time the chief inducement to make a voyage to the westward lay in the possibility of winning Spanish gold in one way or another, but a few sailed with quite a different object. A little more than a century before Drake's famous voyage around the world, Columbus had crossed the Atlantic, hoping to find a shorter passage to India. In the days of Elizabeth it was well known that a continent blocked the way to Asia, but mariners had no idea that North America was nearly as broad as it has proved to be, and they were ever hoping to find a passage through it to the wonderful countries of spices and gems and perfumes.
Interest in the New World was increasing. Every year new maps, books of travel, and descriptions of various parts of the earth, especially of America, were published, some of the descriptions real and some almost wholly imaginative; but whatever they were, they always found readers.
One man who watched eagerly for whatever came from the press about the New World was a sea-captain named Martin Frobisher. He read all these books, he studied globes and charts, and at last he felt sure that he knew the way to fame and wealth, but he was a poor man and he could not carry out his plans alone. He sought an audience with the queen.
"I've heard of you before, my gallant captain," said Elizabeth graciously. "Didn't you care for the building of one of my ships that were sent against the Irish rebels?"
"I did, your Majesty, and if only that ship belonged to me, I would put her to a noble use."
"And what might that be?" asked the queen.
"Your Majesty, men have sailed to the northeast, to the south, and to the west, but no man has yet gone to the north of the New World. There lies the way to India, and to find that way is the only thing in all the world that is yet left undone whereby a man may become both rich and notable."
"And so you plan to go to the northwest?" asked Elizabeth.
"He who has little gold must have few plans, but it might well be that as the southern land tapers to a point, so the northern land narrows, and then with an open sea and a short voyage to Cathay, what would the wealth of the Spanish mines be to us? We could buy and sell in every clime. Give us the riches of India, and we could fit out a fleet that would drive King Philip from the shores of the New World, from the waters of the Atlantic, from——"
"Perchance from the face of the earth, my captain?" interrupted Elizabeth. "I promise you that I will think of this scheme of yours."
Elizabeth did think of it, but to her mind there was a far greater charm in a wild voyage of buccaneering than in the possibilities of slow gain by trading with people across two oceans, and she gave Frobisher no help. He won a friend, however, in the Earl of Warwick, and the fleet of three daring little vessels set out for the north. Elizabeth did not help to pay the costs of the voyage, but she stood on the shore and waved her royal hand to the commander as he dropped slowly down the Thames.
Frobisher came home with great joy. He had entered the strait that is called after him, and he had seen, as he believed, America lying on his left hand and Asia on his right. That was surely the way to India. It is no wonder that crowds went to visit his tiny barque.
"Can you not give me a memento of the voyage?" asked a lady.
"Next year I will bring you a memento from China," answered Frobisher. "Shall it be silks or jewels or perfumes?"
"Beggars should not be choosers," said the lady with a smile, "but give me a bit of this strange black stone as a pledge that you will not forget me next year when you are even more famous than you are to-day."
"One of the sailors brought that aboard," said Frobisher. "It looks like sea-coal, but it is as heavy as iron."
This little gift put Frobisher at the head of a fleet of fifteen vessels, but he was no longer free to win glory as an explorer. The bit of black stone was dropped into the fire to see whether it would burn, and then vinegar was poured upon it. It glittered, and an Italian chemist declared that it was rich in gold. After this there was no difficulty in raising funds for a voyage to the marvelous country of the north where gold lay about on the surface of the ground.
The ships sailed, but they met icebergs, fog, and storm. Frobisher hesitated. He believed that he could force his way to the Pacific, but his orders were to make sure of the gold, and he loaded his ships with what proved to be only worthless earth. In later years he won honors and wealth, but his dream of finding the Northwest Passage was never realized.
Thus far most people had thought of America as a place where a man might be fortunate enough to find a gold mine, but where he was quite as likely to be killed by the Indians or captured by the Spaniards. Others looked upon it as a troublesome mass of land that blocked the way to the riches of commerce with India. To one young courtier this strange New World was something more than the home of possible gold mines, and in his mind it was certainly not an obstacle to wealth and success. This young man was named Walter Raleigh. He had shown his scholarship at Oxford and his bravery in a campaign in Ireland. It came to pass that he and the lord deputy of Ireland disagreed. "I wish to defend myself before the royal council," said Raleigh. This defence was managed so skilfully that the queen listened with the closest attention.
"Bring that young Raleigh to me," she commanded when the council dissolved.
Raleigh knelt before her and kissed her hand.
"Young man," said she, "you seem to have been in no way worsted by those mighty councilors of mine."
"Your Majesty," answered Raleigh with the look of admiration that was so dear to Elizabeth, "could one fail to be aroused to the best that is in him when he has the honor of speaking in the glorious presence of his sovereign?"
"What can you do?" asked the queen bluntly, but most graciously, for this kind of flattery was ever a delight to her.
"Shall I bring from Ireland the bodies of those who have dared to rebel against your Majesty's wise and gentle rule?" asked Raleigh, "that they may testify of me?"
"You can fight. Can you do aught beside?"
"Truly, yes, I can count myself the happiest and most favored of mortals in that upon me is turned the kindly thought of her who surpasseth all other women as far as the glowing sun doth surpass the beams of the farthing rushlight."
Raleigh was wise enough to keep the favor that he had won. Elizabeth could rebuke a maid of honor for wearing too expensive a gown, but of her courtiers she demanded the most handsome attire that their purses could provide. This new favorite had only a shallow purse, but he willingly spent every penny that he could raise on brilliant apparel, and he neglected no opportunity to make himself of use to the queen.
One morning the rain was falling fast, and one of the ladies in waiting said:—
"Surely your Majesty will remain indoors to-day."
"My servants may dread the raindrops," answered Elizabeth, "but a queen should fear nothing."
"With two thousand gowns she may well afford to spoil one for every shower," said one lady to another. This was before the days of umbrellas, but there was nothing to do save to hope for sunshine. The hour for the walk came, and the queen went forth. The sun had come out.
"Someone has been praying for clear skies," said she, "and verily I wish he had broadened his prayer a bit and prayed also for dry ground."
"It have been young Raleigh," said one of the ladies to another a little pointedly. "He loves to dwell in the sunshine as the moth loves the beam of the candle."
"There isn't another man in England who can tell just what to do in any difficulty as well as he," declared another lady.
"Then I would that he were here now," whispered the first. "The queen will go straight across that miry place, and if she is ill, we shall have to bear the blame."
"There he comes as if he had been sent for," said the second, for Raleigh was approaching. He was decked out in the bravest attire and was daintily picking his way along the muddy road.
"It's but this day week that he had a new scarlet cloak," said a lady in the train, "and see the gorgeousness of the blue plush that he wears this morning! I'll warrant he put his last shilling into it."
The queen hesitated a moment, but there was no hesitation in Raleigh. Quick as thought, he slipped off the shining blue plush mantle and spread it on the ground before Elizabeth.
"She who is to her devoted people the glory of the sunlight must never fail to see under her feet the reflection of that clear sky which her shining has bestowed upon her fortunate subjects." So said the courtier, and he well knew that in the glance of approval given him by Elizabeth lay the promise of many cloaks.
He rose rapidly in the queen's favor. She gave him whatever he asked, and he did not hesitate to ask for what he wanted. Elizabeth had a fashion of rewarding a favorite by giving him a "monopoly," as it was called, that is, the sole right to sell some one thing. One man had the right to sell gunpowder, another salt, while yet another was the only man in England who was allowed to collect and export old shoes. To Raleigh she gave the privilege of exporting woolen cloth, and at another time the sole right to sell wine in the kingdom. He was no longer a poor young courtier, straining every resource to dress as handsomely as the taste of the queen demanded. Now he wore silver armor that sparkled with rubies and pearls and diamonds. Even his shoes were so encrusted with jewels that they were said to be worth more than six thousand gold pieces. Money flowed freely into his coffers. Besides Elizabeth's other gifts, he could ask for his monopolies whatever price he chose, and whoever wished to buy must pay it. There were rumors that this brilliant young favorite had higher aspirations, even to the hand of the queen herself. The story is told that one day when Raleigh was standing by a window, tracing idly scrolls and letters on the pane with a diamond, he heard the queen coming up softly behind him. He went on as if he did not know of her presence and wrote on the glass:—
"Fain would I climb, but that I fear to fall."
Elizabeth drew a diamond ring from her finger and put an ending to the couplet:—
"If thy heart fail thee, do not climb at all."
With such encouragement, it is no wonder that Raleigh felt sure of her interest in whatever he wished to attempt. He had a great undertaking in mind, and between his compliments to Elizabeth his thoughts often turned to the westward, to the wonderful New World. It was not hard to persuade the queen to give him a grant of land in America, and he sent out two barques to explore the coast north of Florida. When the skippers returned, Raleigh brought them before the queen.
"Is this new country so much better than our own old England?" she asked.
"Nothing could be better than the land which has the happiness to be ruled directly by your Majesty," answered Raleigh, "but, truly, the New World is a goodly place."
"How does it differ from our land?" asked the queen of one of the skippers, and he answered:—
"Your Majesty, as we drew near the shore, there was no smell of wharfs or fishing, but a fragrance as if we were in the midst of some delicate garden."
"We have perfumes in England," said the queen. "Did you discover anything better than pleasant odors?" she asked of the second skipper.
"Yes, your Majesty, we found what is not in all England, for when we landed, the low, sandy shore was so overgrown with grapes that the very beating and surge of the sea overflowed them; the vines ran over hills and plains, they climbed every little shrub, and they made their way to the tops of the cedars. I do think that in all the world the like abundance is not to be found."
"Perfumes and grapes," said the queen. "Raleigh, my man, that is a good beginning. Send your skippers away, and tell me what is your request, for I know you have one. When will you ever cease begging, Walter?"
"When you cease to be so kind a benefactress," was the courtier's shrewd and graceful reply.
The skippers were sent away, and the queen said:—
"Now tell me about this land of grapes. Fruit and perfumes are well enough, but they do little to fill an empty treasury. What else lies within your patent?"
"There are beasts of all kinds that roam the forests, there are birds and fish, there are the highest and reddest cedars of the world, coral of red and white, pearls, fruits, vegetables, natives that are gentle and kindly and void of all guile and treason."
"What do you call this paradise of yours?"
"The natives call it Wingina."
"I'll give you a better name. It was visited while a virgin queen was on the throne, so call it Virginia, and I'll be its godmother."
"O, Madam," said Raleigh with enthusiasm, "never had a sovereign such a chance to add to the glory of her renown. America is not only a country in which one may make a fortune, it is a fortune in itself. Why should it not become a second home of the English nation?"
The queen's eyes kindled. "How could that be?" she asked.
"Your Majesty," he answered, eagerly, "the soil of Virginia is the richest in the world. The natives sow their corn in May and they reap it in July; they sow it again in June and July, and they reap it but two months after the planting. Our men put peas into the ground, and in ten days they were fourteen inches high. Beans and wheat and oats may be had for the asking."
"And supposing my good friend Philip should fall upon these amazingly fertile lands, he might put the colonists to the sword even before their peas were above the ground."
"Might we not also fancy a strong band of colonists building vessels of the goodly trees of the Virginia forests and sailing out boldly into the Atlantic to capture the treasure ships of Spain? Might not the colonists steer to the northward and free our Newfoundland fishing grounds from the hateful presence of the Spaniard?"
" 'Walter, thou reasonest well,' " laughed the queen, "but one little thing you've mayhap forgot. Tell me, Walter, my man, where shall we find these worthy colonists who are to raise corn in two months and fight King Philip while it is growing?"
"Your Majesty," answered the courtier gravely, "those who are driven from England will be our colonists."
"Driven from England," repeated the queen, "what mean you by that?"
"Our farmers have long been raising sheep instead of grain," said he. "One man can easily care for many sheep. Those men that are driven from their old farm work can find naught else to do. They must starve or steal, and, Madam, it grieves me sorely to see that twenty or even thirty are often hanged before the hour of noon for stealing a shilling or perchance but a morsel of bread."
"They who steal must be punished," said the queen, "but it would please me well if there were some other remedy than hanging."
"The corn of Virginia will be a remedy, my queen, and there is yet another benefit that would come to England from colonies across the Atlantic. We wish to spread our commerce to foreign lands, but if we have a second England on the other side of the sea, will not our own countrymen of America buy and sell with us? Cannot laws be made that they shall trade with no others, if, indeed, they should be so disloyal as to think of such a thing? Why need we care for trade with a nation across the Pacific when we can trade with our own people in Virginia?"
"Walter, you are wonderfully in earnest about this scheme of yours. It would ill become me to question the fairness or worthiness of my godchild, and I will think of what you say, I will think of it."
Elizabeth thought of the plan, indeed the air was so full of talk about the proposed Virginian colony that she could have hardly helped thinking about it. In Virginia there was fertile soil, a good hope of finding gems and gold, and little probability of trouble with the Indians. Her councilors discussed the plan. Said one to another:—
"Think you that the queen will aid young Raleigh?"
" 'Sir Walter' you must say now that he has become a knight," rejoined the second. "Yes, I do believe that she will. Has she not followed his every whim till Leicester has fairly turned green with jealousy? She has just given him the wine monopoly, and that is worth thousands of pounds in a single year. If she gives him that, would she withhold aid for the bringing up of this 'godchild' of hers?"
"You're a shrewd man, I admit," said the first, "but I've watched this queen of ours since she was no higher than my table, and I've never yet seen her affection for any one get the better of her. She's a woman, but she's also a queen, and she's more queen than woman."
"I'm not the man to hold an opinion and fear to back it up," rejoined the other. "I've a fair bit of land down in Devon, and I'll wager it against that house of yours in London that she'll help 'educate the godchild.' "
The land was lost, for Elizabeth could not bear to part with her gold pieces unless she could be sure of a generous return. Raleigh did not give up his plan, however, and soon a company of colonists was sent to Roanoke Island, off the coast of what is now North Carolina. The colony failed because the new settlers were too eager to search for gold to spend their time planting corn and beans, or even peas that would grow fourteen inches in ten days. "They are lazy and homesick, and they talk too much," reported the governor, and when a fleet of Drake's came to shore, they all went aboard and sailed for home.
These homesick colonists carried tobacco with them to England, and smoking soon became the fashionable amusement. Sir Walter was enthusiastic in its praise.
"One would think that this wonderful plant of yours was your own child," said the queen to him as he sat puffing out the smoke from his silver pipe, "you claim for it so many virtues."
"You say well, Madam," declared Sir Walter. "It is verily a wonderful plant."
"And I suppose you would even say that you could tell the weight of that smoke of yours. There's no boundary to your impudence."
"Indeed I can, your Majesty," returned Sir Walter calmly.
"I'll wager this pin against your buckle that you cannot," retorted the queen.
"I'll take the wager," said he, "and with the more joy since the experiment will secure me the delight of your presence." He weighed some tobacco and put it into his pipe. Then after he had smoked it he weighed the ashes. "The difference is the weight of the smoke," said he, and Elizabeth paid the bet. "Many a man have I known who has turned his gold into smoke," she declared merrily, "but you are surely the first who has turned his smoke into gold. You're a marvelous man, Sir Walter."