Raleigh's First Adventures
W HEN Walter Raleigh was about fourteen, he had to say good-bye to his sailor friends. His father said that it was time for him to go to a great college in Oxford, where he would learn to be a clever man.
In those days there were no railways, so travellers had to ride or drive, which made the journey much longer. It took about three days to ride from Devonshire to Oxford, which is an inland place a great distance from the sea.
At first Walter felt very far away from his Devonshire home. He missed the sea, and he missed the boating and fishing. There is a river at Oxford, but that could not make up for the sea. He even envied the sailor lads who had gone to sea instead of to college. But he worked hard; and as he was very clever, everything he did was well done. He learnt Greek and Latin, which are very difficult. He learnt how to make fine speeches and how to write beautiful poetry. Everybody admired him, he was so handsome and brave, and soon he had many friends.
At this time, while the English people were so happy under Good Queen Bess, the people in France, which is just across the English Channel, were very miserable. The French people were fighting with each other, which is the most dreadful kind of war. Some of the Frenchmen came to England to ask the English to join their side.
When Raleigh heard of this, he threw down his books, and rode away with a hundred other Oxford men to fight in France. Raleigh was very young when he went to France—only seventeen. He stayed there for five years, fighting all the time up and down France. He learnt to be a strong soldier, always ready for the enemy, never taken by surprise. He was swift to strike, and swifter still to defend himself. He learnt how to command his men, and how to find out the enemy's weakest place.
When Raleigh came back from France he had his wish at last, and went to sea, but the book which he wrote telling of his adventures is lost.
All this time he had not forgotten his longing to fight the Spaniards. His chance came at last, though not in the way he had expected. There was no need to sail away to the New World, or even to Spain.
Many, many years before the reign of Queen Elizabeth, the English had crossed the Irish Sea and had conquered Ireland. But the Irish people were very brave. They were always fighting to drive the English out of their country, and now they had asked the Spaniards to help them.
News came to England that the Spaniards had landed in the south of Ireland, and were building a fort there. More soldiers were needed to put down the Irish rebels and drive out the Spaniards. This was Raleigh's chance. He was made a captain, and sailed to Ireland with a hundred soldiers, most of them brave Devonshire men.
On the sand-hills of a bay on the Irish coast the golden flag of Spain was flying above the fort, which held 800 of the enemy, both Spaniards and Irishmen.
Outside the sheltered bay the great waves of the Atlantic Ocean were dashing against the black rocks. But louder than the roaring sea sounded the cannons of the fort. They were thundering at the battery or little fort which the English had made among the sand-hills. Raleigh was in this battery, and his guns flashed back their answer to the Spanish fort.
"Down with that rag!" cried Raleigh.
The gunners fired once more, and the soldiers bent their long-bows at the hated Spanish flag which was floating proudly over the fort.
The flagstaff was struck! Down went the great flag of Spain. The hurrahs of the English soldiers were echoed by the sailors. For in the bay lay the English ships. The Spaniards were besieged both by sea and land. They knew that if they did not capture the English battery soon, all hope would be lost.
So on a dark stormy night 200 men stole silently from the fort. They were going to surprise the English. They carried scaling-ladders with which to climb the walls of the battery. But in the darkness and the rain the way over the sand-hills was hard to find. Some of the Spaniards walked into the sea, and only just saved themselves from drowning! Some of them lost their way in the sand-hills, and had to wait until it was light enough to find their way back to the fort.
The men who did reach the English battery found the English ready for them. After a short fight the Spaniards had to fly for their lives. The next day a white flag was hoisted over the fort where the yellow one had been before. The white flag meant the fort had surrendered. The Spaniards were beaten, and could help the Irish no more.
But Raleigh's work in Ireland was not yet finished. The Irish were still fighting, and Raleigh had to stay in Ireland for two or three years longer.
There was in the south of Ireland a strong castle, which belonged to an Irish rebel lord. To this castle many of the Irish rebels used to fly in times of danger, knowing that the lord of the castle would give them refuge.
So Raleigh decided to try and capture the castle. He set out with only six men. They had a long distance to ride, along rough and lonely roads. On the way they had to cross a ford, which is a shallow place in a river. The men were very tired, for they had been on horseback for many hours. They were not riding together like soldiers, but were straggling behind Raleigh, some of them half asleep.
Suddenly, just as Raleigh was crossing the ford, there was a wild yell, and Irish rebels seemed to start up from every side. Raleigh was surrounded.
Then began a desperate fight, hand to hand. Raleigh, striking right and left, forced his way at last through the enemy. But looking back, he saw that one of his men was in great danger; his horse had thrown him into the river. He was struggling to get out; but in another minute the rebels would have cut him down. Quick as lightning Raleigh rode back to rescue his friend, who was a Devon man. Immediately the rebels turned on Raleigh. His horse was shot under him, and his enemies, with a shout of triumph, called to him to yield! But he stood with his pistol in one hand and a stout stick in the other, and held them all at bay, one man against twenty, until his friend was safe. Then, fighting his way through the wild Irish rebels, he himself escaped. He found that all his men were safe, and they marched quickly on to the castle; but all they found was a mass of smoking ruins. The Irish had burnt the castle rather than let the English capture it.
The story of his daring deed spread far and wide, even to the palace of the great Queen Elizabeth, who heard how one of her soldiers, far away on a desolate Irish bog, had fought for England single-handed against fearful odds.
Raleigh had many other desperate fights with the Irish. He had shown himself to be so gallant a soldier that he was often chosen to do the most difficult and dangerous deeds.
One evening he was told to take prisoner an Irish lord who had been pretending to be on the English side, but was really helping the rebels. This man, whose name was Lord Roche, lived in a castle with the strange name of Bally-in-Hash. It was one of the strongest castles in Ireland. Raleigh knew that it would be very hard to capture. But the very evening he received his orders he set out with only ninety men, promising that if he came back alive he would bring Lord Roche with him.
Lord Roche, who had spies all over the country, heard that Raleigh was on the way to Castle Bally-in-Hash, and sent 800 men to fight him on the road. But Raleigh went a different way, and so escaped.
In the early morning he came to the little town which was near the castle. Here he found 500 of the townspeople ready to fight him. But they were not real soldiers, and Raleigh, by pretending he had more men coming behind him, soon made them run away.
Then, leaving most of his men in the town, he hurried to the castle with only six soldiers. The other men were to follow.
"I wish to speak to Lord Roche," said Raleigh to the guard at the castle gate.
"You cannot enter the castle with more than two followers," said the guard.
"Very well," said Raleigh, going boldly through the great iron gate with only two men behind him.
He was taken to Lord Roche, who was sitting at breakfast with his wife in the castle hall. While Raleigh was talking to Lord Roche, the two soldiers, who had been left in the courtyard, managed to open the gate and let in all the other soldiers, who had now come up.
"My lord," said Raleigh, "you are my prisoner."
"Your prisoner!" cried Lord Roche. "You dare to say that to me in my own castle!"
Raleigh silently pointed through the open door to the courtyard, which was full of English soldiers armed at all points. Lord Roche saw that he really was a prisoner in his own castle.
When the night came Raleigh began the long march back with his prisoner. Again and again the rebels attacked him and tried to save Lord Roche. Again and again they were beaten off by Raleigh and his men. The night was wild and wet, and the way was steep and rough. But Raleigh kept his word. He brought his prisoner safely back.
For these brave deeds Raleigh was given broad lands in Ireland by the Queen.
But he was tired of Ireland. He wanted to go to London to see the great Queen and her lords and ladies. So he left his lands in Ireland, and sailed away to seek his fortune in London.