Raleigh's Last Voyage
F OR twelve years Sir Walter Raleigh was shut up in the Tower. During that time his glorious dream of a new England beyond the seas had come partly true. Englishmen had at last settled in Virginia, the fair land which Raleigh had named after Elizabeth, the Virgin Queen.
But Guiana was still an unknown country to the English, and Raleigh was always begging the King to gain some part of it for England. At first King James would not listen. He knew the Spaniards would be very angry, and he was very much afraid of the Spaniards. He wanted so much to be friends with the King of Spain, that his great wish was for his son to marry a Spanish princess.
But James and his courtiers were both greedy for gold, and when Raleigh told them of a rich gold mine in Guiana, they began to cast longing eyes across the sea. As Raleigh was the only man who knew the way to this gold mine, King James resolved at last to set him free and send him to Guiana for the gold.
When the King of Spain heard that Sir Walter Raleigh, his hated enemy, was free, he was filled with fear for the sake of his lands in the New World. He was so angry, indeed, that James nearly changed his mind after all. But his greed for gold was stronger than his fear of the Spaniards. He did not forbid Raleigh to go, but he promised the King of Spain that if any of his subjects were attacked in this search for gold Raleigh should be given up when he returned, to be hanged in Spain.
So at last Sir Walter Raleigh was free to leave the dark, dreary Tower and walk along the London streets in the sunshine of a bright winter day. He had been a strong man when the Tower gates had closed behind him twelve years before; now as he walked through London, looking curiously at the many changes in the well-known streets and buildings, he looked old and worn. He had suffered so much in his damp prison from the want of fresh air and exercise that he would never be strong again. His hair was snow-white, but his dark eyes still flashed with life and spirit.
Walter, Raleigh's eldest son, was now a brave young man, and his father made him captain of his own ship, the Destiny, which had just been built.
Every penny of the money which Lady Raleigh still had left was spent in fitting out the ships. Many other people gave money too to help in this exciting search for gold.
In the spring-time twelve ships set sail from Plymouth Bay. The weather was wild and stormy, and for many weeks the ships had to shelter in a bay on the Irish coast. A great sickness came amongst the crews and many of the best men died.
When at last they sighted the shores of Guiana, Sir Walter himself was too ill to leave his cabin for several days. In all the years that had passed by, the faithful Indians had never forgotten the great English chief who had treated them so kindly. Year by year they had looked for his coming, for he had promised to come again.
They flocked to the shore to welcome him, bringing many gifts. One of the chiefs, whom Raleigh called Harry, had spent two years in England, and had stayed in the Tower with his beloved master. He had gone back to Guiana, thinking he would never see Sir Walter again, and now his joy knew no bounds.
Raleigh was carried ashore, and his old Indian friends came in crowds to see him as he lay in his tent.
Suddenly a tall, fine-looking Indian pushed eagerly through the others, and knelt at Sir Walter's feet with an offering of Indian bread. His skin, though burnt brown with the sun, seemed fairer than that of the other Indians. He poured forth a stream of Indian talk mixed with broken words of English. What was Raleigh's joy to find that this was Hugh Goodwin, the English boy he had left with the Indians twenty-two years before! He was now a great man in his tribe, and had almost forgotten how to speak English.
This time Raleigh was too ill to make the dangerous river voyage himself. He had to stay at the mouth of the river with the large ships. He gave the command to a brave and faithful captain who had been with him in all the perils of his first voyage to Guiana, and who knew where the mine was. Young Walter Raleigh, his gallant son, was to share the command.
Raleigh gave them a month's provisions, and told them they were not to fight with any Spaniards except in self-defence.
For many days they toiled up the Orinoco River. As they drew near to the place where they expected to find the mine, they saw to their horror a new Spanish village. It was New Year's morning, and they decided to land and rest for that day, while they made up their minds what to do.
But the Spaniards, who had been warned of their coming, had laid an ambush. At dead of night, as the English lay sleeping on the river-bank, the Spaniards rushed down upon them from a hill and fiercely attacked them.
The Englishmen were so taken by surprise that they would all have been broken and cut to pieces had not their valiant captains roused them and led them on. As it was, they fought with such fury that the Spaniards were driven back. The Englishmen followed; but a new force of Spaniards came from the village to help their comrades.
For a moment it seemed as if the English would be beaten. But young Raleigh, calling to his men to follow, dashed on, and fearlessly charged the enemy. In the short but deadly hand-to-hand fight he killed the Spanish leader. He was wounded himself, but still fought on, bleeding as he was. At last he was struck down, wounded to death. With his last breath he cried to his men, "Go on!"
But even though their brave young leader had fallen, the English gained the victory and captured the village. The next day they carried his body to the little village church. All his men followed, and with the music of muffled drums they buried him there in that lonely foreign land.
The captain soon found that it was impossible to get to the mine. The men were very different from the brave Devon sailors whom Raleigh had commanded in the old days. And the Spaniards, who were hiding in the woods, sprang upon them at every turn.
At last the captain gave the word to return. So with heavy hearts they rowed back down the great river to tell Sir Walter the terrible news of their failure.
When Raleigh heard the miserable story he was almost mad with grief. His gallant son was dead! His men had come back without the gold. They had fought with the Spaniards, which meant certain death when he returned to England. No wonder, then, that he turned on the faithful captain with bitter words of anger. The poor man tried to tell him that he had done his best, but Raleigh would listen to no excuse.
The wretched captain was so heart-broken by the anger of his beloved leader that he could not bear to live; he went to his cabin and stabbed himself to the heart. So, at the saddest time of his life, Raleigh lost one of his most faithful followers in this miserable way.
The voyage back was very wretched. The seas were stormy; the sailors were wild and disobedient. Raleigh himself, sick and weary, was almost broken down with sorrow.
He wrote a sad letter to his wife, and sent it on by a swift ship to tell her the news of their son's death and his own ruin.
"Comfort your heart, dearest Bess," he wrote; "I shall sorrow for us both. I shall sorrow the less because I have not long to sorrow, because not long to live . . . . The Lord bless and comfort you that you may bear patiently the death of your valiant son."