The conquest of Mexico, an extensive empire with a numerous and warlike population, by a mere handful of Spaniards, is one of the romances of history. Indeed, a writer of fiction would scarcely have dared to invent so improbable a story. Even the bravery of the Spaniards, and the advantage of superior arms would not have sufficed to give them the victory, had it not been that Mexico was ripe for disruption. The Aztecs, instead of conciliating by wise and gentle government the peoples they had conquered, treated them with such despotic harshness that they were ready to ally themselves with the invaders, and to join with them heartily against the central power; so that instead of battling against an empire single-handed, the Spaniards had really only to war with a great city, and were assisted by a vast army of auxiliaries.
Fortunately, the details of the extraordinary expedition of Cortez were fully related by contemporary writers, several of whom were eyewitnesses of the scenes they described. It was not necessary for me, however, to revert to these; as Prescott, in his admirable work on the conquest of Mexico, has given a summary of them; and has drawn a most vivid picture of the events of the campaign. The book far surpasses in interest any volume of fiction, and I should strongly recommend my readers to take the first opportunity that occurs of perusing the whole story, of which I have only been able to touch upon the principal events.
While history is silent as to the voyage of the Swan, it is recorded by the Spaniards that an English ship did, in 1517 or 1518, appear off the port of San Domingo, and was fired at by them, and chased from the islands; but it was not until some twenty or thirty years later that the English buccaneers openly sailed to challenge the supremacy of the Spaniards among the Western Islands, and to dispute their pretensions to exclude all other flags but their own from those waters. It may, however, be well believed that the ship spoken of was not the only English craft that entered the Spanish main; and that the adventurous traders of the West country, more than once, dispatched ships to carry on an illicit trade there. Such enterprises would necessarily be conducted with great secrecy, until the relations between Spain and England changed, and religious differences broke up the alliance that existed between them during the early days of Henry the 8th.
G. A. Henty.
A Startling Proposal
On March 3rd, 1516, the trading vessel the Swan dropped anchor at Plymouth. She would in our days be considered a tiny craft indeed, but she was then looked upon as a large vessel, and one of which her owner, Master Diggory Beggs, had good reason to be proud. She was only of some eighty tons burden, but there were few ships that sailed out from Plymouth of much larger size; and Plymouth was even then rising into importance as a seaport, having flourished mightily since the downfall of its once successful rival--Fowey. Large ships were not needed in those days, for the only cargoes sent across the sea were costly and precious goods, which occupied but small space. The cloths of the Flemings, the silks and satins of Italy, the produce of the East, which passed first through the hands of the Venetian and Genoese merchants, and the wines of France and Spain were the chief articles of commerce. Thus the freight for a vessel of eighty tons was a heavy venture, and none but merchants of wealth and position would think of employing larger ships. In this respect the Spaniards and the Italian Republics were far ahead of us, and the commerce of England was a small thing, indeed, in comparison with that of Flanders.
In Plymouth, however, the Swan was regarded as a goodly ship; and Master Diggory Beggs was heartily congratulated, by his acquaintances, when the news came that the Swan was sailing up the Sound, having safely returned from a voyage to Genoa.
As soon as the anchor was dropped and the sails were furled, the captain, Reuben Hawkshaw, a cousin of Master Beggs, took his place in the boat, accompanied by his son Roger, a lad of sixteen, and was rowed by two sailors to the landing place. They were delayed for a few minutes there by the number of Reuben's acquaintances, who thronged round to shake him by the hand; but as soon as he had freed himself of these, he strode up the narrow street from the quays to the house of Master Diggory.
Reuben Hawkshaw was a tall, powerfully built man, weatherbeaten and tanned from his many comings and goings upon the sea; with a voice that could be heard in the loudest storm, and a fierce look--but, as his men knew, gentle and kind at heart, though very daring; and having, as it seemed, no fear of danger either from man or tempest.
Roger was large boned and loosely jointed, and was likely some day to fill out into as big a man as his father, who stood over six-feet-two without his shoes.
Reuben was wont to complain that he, himself, was too big for shipboard.
"If a crew were men wholly of my size," he would say, "a ship would be able to carry but a scant crew; for, lie they as close as they would, there would not be room for a full complement below."
For indeed, in those days space was precious, and on board a ship men were packed well-nigh as close as they could lie; having small thought of comfort, and being well content if there was room to turn, without angering those lying next on either side.
The merchant, who was so stout and portly that he offered a strong contrast to his cousin, rose from his desk as the latter entered.
"I am glad, indeed, to see you back, Cousin Reuben; and trust that all has fared well with you."
"Indifferent well, Cousin Diggory. We have a good stock of Italian goods on board; but as, of course, these took up but a small portion of her hold, I put into Cadiz on my way back. There I filled up with three-score barrels of Spanish wine, which will, I warrant me, return good profit on the price I paid for them."
"And you have met with no accidents or adventures, Reuben?"
"Not more than is useful. We had a fight with some Moorish pirates, who coveted the goods with which, as they doubtless guessed, we were laden; but we beat them off stoutly, with a loss of only six men killed among us. We had bad weather coming up the Portugal Coast, and had two men washed overboard; and we had another stabbed in a drunken brawl in the street. And besides these there are, of course, many who were wounded in the fight with the Moors and in drunken frays ashore; but all are doing well, and the loss of a little blood will not harm them, so our voyage may be termed an easy and pleasant one.
"That is well," the merchant said, in a tone of satisfaction. "We cannot expect a voyage like this to pass without accident.
"And how are you, Roger?" he asked, turning to the boy, who was standing near the door with his cap in his hand, until it should please his elders to address him.
"I am well, I thank you, Master Diggory. It is seldom that anything ails with me. I trust that Mistress Mercy and my cousins are well."
"You had best go upstairs, and see them for yourself, Roger. Your father and I have weighty matters to talk over, and would fain be alone."
Roger was glad to escape from the merchant's counting house and, bowing to his cousin, went off with a quiet step; which, after he had closed the door behind him, was changed into a rapid bound as he ascended the stairs.
"Gently, Roger," Mistress Beggs said, as he entered the room where she and her two daughters were sitting, at work. "We are truly glad to see you, but you must remember that we stay-at-home people are not accustomed to the boisterous ways of the sea."
The reproof was administered in a kindly tone, but Roger colored to the hair; for indeed, in his delight at being back again, he had forgotten the manners that were expected from a lad of his age, on shore. However, he knew that, although Mistress Beggs was somewhat precise in her ways, she was thoroughly kind; and always treated him as if he were a nephew of her own, rather than a young cousin of her husband's. He therefore recovered at once from his momentary confusion, and stepped forward to receive the salute Mistress Beggs always gave him, on his return from his voyages.
"Dorothy, Agnes, you remember your Cousin Roger?"
The two girls, who had remained seated at their work--which had, however, made but little progress since their father had run in, two hours before, to say that the Swan was signaled in the Sound--now rose, and each made a formal courtesy, and then held up her cheek to be kissed, according to the custom of the day; but there was a little smile of amusement on their faces that would have told a close observer that, had their mother not been present, their greeting would have been a warmer and less ceremonious one.
"Well, well, Roger," Mistress Beggs went on, "it is marvelous to see how fast you grow! Why, it is scarce six months since you sailed away, and you seem half a head taller than you were when you went! And so the Swan has returned safely, without damage or peril?"
"No damage to speak of, Cousin Mercy, save for a few shot holes in her hull, and a good many patches on her side--the work of a Moorish corsair, with whom we had a sharp brush by the way."
"And was there loss of life, Roger?"
"We have come back nine hands shorter than we sailed with, and there are a few on board still unfit for hard work."
"And did you fight, Cousin Roger?" Dorothy Beggs asked.
"I did what I could with my bow, until I got alongside, and then joined in the melee as well as I could. The heathen fought bravely, but they were not a match for our men; being wanting in weight and strength, and little able to stand up against the crushing blows of our axes. But they are nimble and quick with their curved swords; and the fierceness of their faces, and their shouting, would have put men out of countenance who had less reason to be confident than ours."
"And the trading has gone well?" asked Mistress Beggs, who was known to have a keen eye to the main chance.
"I believe that my father's well satisfied, Cousin Mercy, and that the venture has turned out fully as well as he looked for."
"That is well, Roger.
"Do you girls go on with your work. You can sew while you are listening. I will go and see that the preparations for dinner are going on regularly, for the maids are apt to give way to talk and gossip, when they know that the Swan is in."
Roger receives a less formal salute from his cousins
As soon as she had left the room, the two girls threw down their work and, running across to Roger, saluted him most heartily.
"That is a much better welcome," Roger said, "than the formal greetings you before gave me. I wonder what Cousin Mercy would have said, had she chanced to come in again."
"Mother guessed well enough what it would be, when we were alone together," Dorothy said, laughing. "She always thinks it right on special occasions to keep us to our manners, and to make us sure that we know how it is becoming to behave; but you know well, Roger, that she is not strict with us generally, and likes us to enjoy ourselves. When we are staying up at the farm with Aunt Peggy, she lets us run about as we will; and never interferes with us, save when our spirits carry us away altogether. I think we should be glad if we always lived in the country.
"But now, Roger, let us hear much more about your voyage, and the fight with the Moors. Are they black men?"
"Not at all, Dorothy. They are not very much darker than our own fishermen, when they are bronzed by the sun and wind. There are black men who live somewhere near their country, and there were several of these fighting with them. These blacks are bigger men than the Moors, and have thick lips and wide mouths. I believe that they live as slaves among the Moors, but those who were with them fought as bravely as they did; and it needed a man with a stout heart to engage with them, so ugly were their faces."
"Were you not terrified, Roger?"
"I was frightened at first, Dorothy, and felt a strange weakness in my knees, as they began to swarm up the ship's side; but it passed off when the scuffle began. You see, there was no time to think about it. We all had to do our best, and even had I been frightened ever so badly, I hope that I should not have showed it, for it would have brought shame upon my father as well as myself; but in truth I thought little about it, one way or the other. There they were on the deck, and had to be driven back again; and we set about the work like Englishmen and honest men and, thanks to our pikes and axes, we had not very much trouble about it; especially when we once became fairly angered, on seeing some of our friends undone by the heathen.
"I myself would rather go through two or three such fights, than encounter such another storm as we had off the coast of Portugal, for four days. It seemed that we must be lost, the waves were of such exceeding bigness--far surpassing anything I had ever seen before. My heart was in my mouth scores of times, and over and over again I thought that she would never rise again, so great was the weight of water that poured over her. Truly it was the mercy of God which alone saved us, for I believe that even my father thought the ship would be beaten to pieces, though he kept up a show of confidence in order to inspirit the men. However, at the end of the fourth day the gale abated; but it was days before the great sea went down, the waves coming in long regular hills, which seemed to me as big as those which we have here in Devonshire; but smooth and regular, so that while we rolled mightily, there was naught to fear from them."
"I should not like to be a sailor," Agnes said. "It would be far better, Roger, were you to come into our father's counting house. You know he would take you into his business, did Cousin Reuben desire it."
"I should make but a poor penman, Agnes. I love the sea dearly, and it is seldom that we have such gales to meet as that; and after all, it is no worse to be drowned than it is to come to any other death. I am well content, cousin, with matters as they are; and would not stay ashore and spend my life in writing, not to be as rich as the greatest merchant in Plymouth. I almost wish, sometimes, I had been born a Spaniard or a Portugal; for then I might have a chance of sailing to wondrous new countries, instead of voyaging only in European waters."
"It seems to me that you have plenty to see as it is, Roger," Dorothy said.
"I do not say nay to that," Roger assented; "but I do not see why Spain and Portugal should claim all the Indies, East and West, and keep all others from going there."
"But the pope has given the Indies to them," Dorothy said.
"I don't see that they were the pope's to give," Roger replied. "That might do for the king, and his minister Wolsey, and the bishops; but when in time all the people have read, as we do, Master Wycliffe's Bible, they will come to see that there is no warrant for the authority the pope claims; and then we may, perhaps, take our share of these new discoveries."
"Hush, Roger! You should not speak so loud about the Bible. You know that though there are many who read it, it is not a thing to be spoken of openly; and that it would bring us all into sore trouble, were anyone to hear us speak so freely as you have done. There has been burning of Lollards, and they say that Wolsey is determined to root out all the followers of Wycliffe."
"It will take him some trouble to do that," Roger said, shrugging his shoulders. "Still, I will be careful, Dorothy, for I would not on any account bring trouble upon you, here. But, thank Heaven, England is not Spain, where men are forever being tortured and burned for their religion. The English would never put up with that. It may be that there will be persecution, but methinks it is rather those whose opinions lead them to make speeches that are regarded as seditious, and who stir up the people into discontent, who fall into trouble; and that, as long as folks hold their own opinions in peace and quiet, and trouble not others, neither king nor cardinal will seek to interfere with them.
"It is not so in Spain. There, upon the slightest suspicion that a man or woman holds views differing from those of the priests, he is dragged away and thrown into the prisons of the Inquisition, and tortured and burned."
Mistress Mercy now returned, and she and the girls busied themselves in laying the table for dinner.
That evening, after Mistress Mercy, the girls, and Roger had retired to bed, Reuben Hawkshaw and his cousin had a long talk together, concerning the next voyage of the Swan. After Master Diggory had discussed the chances of a voyage to the low countries, or another trip to the Mediterranean, Reuben, who had been silently listening to him, said:
"Well, Cousin Diggory, to tell you the truth, I have been turning over a project that seems to me to offer a chance of greater profit, though I deem it not without risk. That is the case, of course, with all trading affairs; and, as you know, the greater the risk the greater the profit, so the question to be considered is whether the profit is in fair proportion to the risk run. I think that it is, in this case, and I am ready to risk my life in carrying it out. It is for you to consider whether you are ready to risk your venture."
"What is it, Reuben? There are no other voyages that I know of; unless, indeed, you think of sailing up to Constantinople, and trading with the Grand Turk."
"My thoughts go farther afield still, Diggory. It is a matter I have thought over for some time, and when I was at Cadiz the other day I made many inquiries, and these have confirmed me in my opinions on the matter. You know that the Spaniards are gaining huge wealth from the Indies, and I heard at Cadiz that, after the conquest they made, a year since, of the island they call Cuba, the stores of precious things brought home were vast indeed. As you know, they bring from there gold and spices and precious woods, and articles of native workmanship of all kinds."
"I know all that, Reuben; and also that, like dogs in the manger, they suffer none others to sail those seas; and that no English ship has ever yet traversed those waters."
"That is so, Diggory; but by all I hear the number of islands is large, and there are reports that there lies, farther west, a great land from which it is they procure, chiefly, the gold and silver and precious things. Now it seems to me that, were the matter secretly conducted, so that no news could be sent to Spain, a ship might slip out and cruise there, dealing with the natives, and return richly stored with treasures.
"The Swan is a fast sailer and, did she fall in with the Spanish ships, would show them a clean pair of heels. Of course she would avoid the places where the Spaniards have forts and garrisons, and touch only at those at which, I hear, they trade but little;" and he took out a scroll from his bosom, unrolled it, and showed it to be a map.
"This I purchased, for ten gold pieces, of a Spanish captain who had come to poverty and disgrace from his ship being cast away, while he was asleep in liquor, in his cabin--a fault which is rare among the Spaniards, and therefore thought all the more of. I met him in Cadiz, at a wine shop near the port. He told me his story as we drank together, for he spoke Dutch, having traded much with the Low Countries.
"He took out a map, to show me some of the places at which he had had adventures. I said that the thing was curious, and would buy it of him, if he was disposed to sell. He said that it would be as much as his life were worth to part with it, to an Englishman; and, indeed, that it was only captains of ships trading in those seas who were allowed to have them, seeing that all matters connected with the islands were held as a state secret. After some trouble and chaffering, however, he agreed to make me an exact copy, and to sell it me for ten gold pieces.
"This is the copy. It is exact, for I compared it with the original, before I paid for it. Now here, you see, are laid down the position and bearing of all the islands, together with all the ports and places where the Spaniards have their settlements. This line over here represents the mainland, but it is, as you see, but vaguely drawn; seeing that, except at one or two points, the Spaniards themselves have but little knowledge of it. Now it seems that, with the help of this, I might so navigate the Swan as to avoid much risk of falling in with the Dons; and might yet make a shift to fill up the ship with goods of all kinds, such as would sell here for great prices. I know, of course, that were we taken we should be killed without mercy; but in the first place they would have to catch us, which would not be easy; and in the second to capture us, which, methinks would be more difficult still, seeing that a crew of stout Devonshire lads, fighting with halters round their necks, would give a good account of themselves, even if overhauled by a great Spanish galleon.
"What think you of the scheme, Cousin Diggory?"
"It is a perilous one, certainly, Reuben," the merchant replied, after a long silence. "There is the risk of the loss of the ship and all her freight, and there is the risk of the loss of your life and of those of the crew; and I would rather lose even the Swan, Reuben, than that harm should come to you and Roger. Then it may well be that, even if you carried the scheme to a successful end, and returned laden with wealth, the king and his counselors, when the matter came to their ears--which it would be sure to do on your return, for it would make a prodigious talk--might be grievously offended, accuse us of embroiling England with Spain, confiscate the cargo, visit me with fine and imprisonment, and treat you and the crew as pirates."
"I do not fear that," Reuben said. "Our relations with Spain have grown cold, lately, and there is a talk of peace between us and France. In the next place, I should say that the king would be mightily glad to see a chance of us English having a finger in this pie, that the Spaniards want to keep to themselves; and that he will perceive that great advantage will arise, from our obtaining a share of the trade with the Indies. There is a rare jealousy in the country, at the Spaniards and Portugals keeping all the trade of both the Indies in their hands; and methinks that, even if he judged it necessary to make a show of displeasure against the men who led the way in this matter, there would in the end be much honor, as well as profit, in this venture."
"It is a grave matter, Reuben, and one not to be undertaken without much thought and calculation. Still, I own that the proposal is a tempting one, and that the possession of this map, which I will examine at my leisure, would help you much in your enterprise. Truly, as you say, although the king might frown, there would be much honor as well as profit in being the first English merchant to dispatch a ship to the Spanish main. I love not the Spaniards and, like all Englishmen who think as I do on matters of religion, have viewed with much disfavor our alliance with men who are such cruel persecutors of all who are not of their religion."
"I hate them," Reuben Hawkshaw said, energetically. "They swagger as if they were the lords of the world, and hold all others as of no account beside them. If you resolve on this enterprise I shall, of course, do my utmost to avoid them; but should they try to lay hand on us, I shall be right glad to show them that we Englishmen hold ourselves fully a match for them."
"Well, well, we must not think of that," Diggory Beggs said, hastily; "but, nevertheless, cousin, if the Swan sails for those seas, I will see that she is well provided with ordnance and small arms, so that she shall be able to hold her own with those who would meddle with her."
"That is all I ask, Diggory. We shan't meddle with them, if they do not meddle with us; but if they treat us as pirates, to be slain without form of trial, they must not blame us if we act as pirates when they come upon us. They hold that they are beyond the law, when they are once beyond sight of land, going westward; and we have only to take them at their word.
"As to piracy, if the things that are whispered as to their cruelty to the natives be true, pirates are an innocent and kindly folk compared to them. They openly proclaim that all found in these seas, which they claim as their own, will be treated as enemies and slain without mercy; and we shall be, therefore, fully justified in treating as an enemy any Spanish ship that we may come across; and holding her as a fair prize, if we are strong enough to take her."
"But you must not go out with that intent, Reuben. If I fit out the Swan to go to the Indies, it is that she may trade honestly with such natives as are ready to trade with her, and not that she may wage war against the Spaniards."
"I quite understand that, Cousin Diggory," Reuben Hawkshaw said, with a grim smile; "and that also is my intent, if the Spaniards will but let me adhere to it; only if we are attacked, we must defend ourselves. If they try to capture us, and we beat them, it is but natural that we should capture them."
"Against that I have nothing to say, Reuben. I can find no authority, in Scripture, for the Spaniards claiming a portion of the seas as their right. The world is all, as it seems to me, open to trade, and neither the pope nor anyone else has a right to parcel it out, for the exclusive use of one or two nations. As we all know, the seas within a mile or two of shore are held to belong, naturally, to those who own the land; but that is a different thing, altogether, to holding that more than half the seas, inasmuch as we know of them, are to be held as private property by Spaniards and Portugals.
"Well, we will say no more about it, at present. There is plenty of time to think it over, while the Swan is unloading. I certainly do not like to take so great a risk as this would be on my own shoulders; but if I could get two or three others to join me, I should be willing enough to embark upon it."
"I need not tell you, Diggory, that it behooves you to be right careful as to those to whom you may broach it. Remember that an incautious word might ruin the enterprise altogether. If so much as a whisper of it reached the ear of the Spanish ambassador in London, he would apply to the king to put a stop to it; and whatever King Harry might think of it, he could hardly permit the Swan to sail in the face of such a remonstrance, for to do so would assuredly embroil him with Spain."
"I will be careful, Reuben; for I see this as well as you do, and shall only speak to men who have, before now, worked with me in joint adventures, and on whose discretion I can surely rely. I will talk the matter over with them, Reuben, first; and if they appear favorably disposed, you shall meet them here, show them your map, and explain your intentions fully to them. If three others join me, in equal shares, I shall propose that, as it is your idea, and as you have obtained this map, you shall have an equal share with each of us in the business; and shall, in addition to your pay as master, take one-fifth of the profits, after payment of expenses. Will that content you?"
"Right well, Cousin Diggory; and from this moment I shall, I can tell you, regard myself as a rich man."
The unloading of the Swan occupied some time. There was no undue haste, in those days. The bales were hoisted by whips from the hold, and then carried up to Master Beggs' warehouse. The sailors had earned a fair time for repose, after the hardships of the voyage, and took matters easily, and it was more than a week before the Swan's hold was empty.
During that time the merchant had not made any allusion, to Reuben, as to their conversation on the evening after the Swan came into port. But Reuben was neither surprised nor anxious at this silence. He knew that his cousin although an enterprising was a cautious man, and had hardly hoped to find his proposal so favorably entertained. He had looked for absolute refusal at first, and expected that he would only arrive at his end after long disputes and discussion. Therefore he doubted not that Diggory was turning the matter over and over in his mind, settling the details, and perhaps broaching the matter to the merchants he had spoken of.
The Swan, once empty, was laid up on the shore; where she dried at low tide, so that she could have her seams caulked, and a coat of pitch laid on below the waterline, and be made tight and sound for any voyage on which she might be dispatched. Reuben Hawkshaw had lost his wife years before and, when in port at Plymouth, always occupied lodgings in a house a short distance from that of his cousin; spending his evenings mostly at Master Diggory's, but refusing to take his breakfast or dinner there.
"I know what is what, cousin," he would say, when the merchant pressed him and Roger to come to breakfast or dinner. "Women are women and, as is only right, they hold to the nicety of things; and nothing displeases them more than for people to come in late for their meals. When I am at work I work, and if when the clock strikes the hour for meals I am in the middle of a job, I see that it is finished before the men knock off. Then there is the matter of washing and cleaning up, for one gathers much dust and dirt in the hold of a ship; so that, do what I would, Roger and I could never reckon upon being punctual, and the matter would weigh on my mind when I ought to be thinking of other things. No, no, Diggory, we will be free men, taking our bite and sup on board, as we can make shift to get them; and then, when work is over, coming with clean hands and a clear mind, to supper with you. When the Swan's hold is empty, it will be time enough to talk about amusement."
The evening after the unlading of the cargo was completed, Master Diggory said to his wife:
"Get the table cleared as soon as you can, Mercy, and bring two flasks of that last batch of Spanish wine out of the cellar, and put them and some cups on the board. I have two or three friends coming in, to talk over a matter of business with Reuben and me."
As soon as the table was cleared, Roger asked permission of his aunt to take his cousins for a walk upon the Hoe. This was readily granted, as there was no other room in which they could well be bestowed; and having set the wine upon the table, Dame Mercy retired to look after domestic matters, of which she always found an abundance to occupy her.
In a short time Master Turnbull, Master Streatham, and Master Winslow, three worshipful traders of Plymouth, arrived.
"Cousin Reuben," Master Diggory said, "I have spoken to these good friends of mine in respect of that venture which you proposed to me, and they would fain hear more of it, from your own lips. You can speak with confidence before them; for, whether they agree to cast in their lot with us or not, no word of this matter will pass their lips."
Reuben addressed himself to his task, and that at much greater detail than he had given, when first speaking of the matter to Diggory. He told them what he had gathered from the sea captains, and others, as to the articles with which the Dons traded with the natives. That they were for the most part cheap and common, and that the amount required for a sufficient stock of such merchandise would be very small. Small hand mirrors, strings of colored glass beads, brass rings and trinkets, colored handkerchiefs and bright cloths, were the articles chiefly used in barter. Knives and axes were greatly prized, the natives considering iron to be more valuable than silver or gold. Small bells and brass vessels were also valued, and iron spear and arrow heads were eagerly sought for; but the Spaniards were chary of providing such goods, seeing that they might be used in conflicts against themselves.
Then he produced a list of the stores that would be required for the ship and crew.
"In this matter," he said, "you will think, perhaps, that my demands are excessive; but I am of opinion that money in this way would be well spent. As a rule--though I say it before men accustomed to victualing ships--our crews are vilely provided for. Salt meat they must eat, for no other can be obtained at sea; but it should be of good quality, likewise the other provisions. I want not biscuits that are alive with maggots, nor moldy flour, nor peas or other things that cattle would turn up their noses at. I want everything to be the very best of its kind, with cider good, and sound, and in fair abundance.
"This is not an ordinary voyage. We shall be away for many months, maybe for a year or two; and unless the men are well fed they will assuredly lose their health, and likely enough become mutinous. If we come upon a Spanish ship when three parts of the crew are weak with scurvy, we shall make but a poor fight of it. Therefore, I want to keep my men in good strength and in good heart, and to do this they must be well fed. Such a voyage as this no English ship has ever made before and, cooped up as we shall be in the Swan--for we must carry a great crew--everything depends upon there being no fair ground for grumbling. Many a ship has been lost from the crew being weakened by scurvy, and if you are to bring this enterprise to a good end, I say that there must be no stint in the matter of provisions, and that all must be the very best of their kind.
"I trust that, once out there, we shall be able to obtain an abundance of fruit and vegetables from the natives; for these are things, above all, necessary to keep men's blood sweet on shipboard.
"Then, as to arms. I think we should carry twelve pieces, six of a side; of which four should be of good size, and yet not too large to be quickly handled. In the matter of weight, the Spaniards are sure to have the advantage of us; but if we can shoot much more quickly than they can, it will equalize matters. Then, of course, there will be bows and arrows. I do not hold greatly to the new musketoons--a man can shoot six arrows while he can fire one of them, and that with a straighter and truer aim, though it is true they can carry somewhat farther. Then, of course, there will be pikes, and boarding axes, and a good stock of powder and balls for the cannon. These are the complete lists I have made out.
"Now I hold that we should carry from eighty to a hundred men. These I should pay only the ordinary rate of wage, but each should have an interest in the venture, according to his rank. As to the profits, I would leave it to you, my masters, to reckon; but seeing that in fair trade one can get gold, to say nothing of silver, weight for weight for iron; and other things in proportion; you can judge for yourselves what it will amount to--to say nothing of the chance of our falling in with a Spanish treasure ship, which may be rash enough, regarding us an easy prize, to fall foul of us."
"There is no doubt that the profits will be great, if you return safely home, Master Hawkshaw," Nicholas Turnbull said; "but the chances of that seem but small."
"I think that the chances are good enough to risk my life upon, Master Turnbull," Reuben replied; "and no man can show greater confidence than that. This is the map of which my Cousin Diggory has no doubt spoken to you. You see that the islands are many, and some of them great; and that the places at which the Spaniards have ports are few, in comparison. We have to avoid these, but anywhere else we can open trade with the natives. If we are chased, and find the place too hot for us, we can make away to the mainland and, cruising along there, may come upon places that the Spaniards have never visited, and may there gather great store of gold and silver, without danger. But I wish no one, and certainly not my Cousin Diggory, to enter upon this affair unless with confidence and good heart. I would far rather take a horse and travel to Bristol, and lay my scheme before some of the traders there."
This idea was most distasteful to the traders, for Plymouth regarded Bristol with great jealousy; and Diggory Beggs at once said:
"No, no, Reuben. My friend Master Nicholas Turnbull did not mean that he regarded your scheme as hopeless, only that the risks were doubtless great. But we all know that to earn great profit one must run such risk; and the venture, divided between four of us, would not be a very heavy one--that is to say, not beyond what we are justified in periling.
"Would you leave us for a while, Reuben? We will examine these lists that you have made, and reckon up the total cost; and we shall then see the better how much we shall each have to contribute, to make up our venture."
Reuben nodded and, putting on his hat, left the room, saying, "In an hour I will return;" and then strolled over to a tavern much frequented by the masters of the ships in the port.
Bound To Unknown Parts
When Reuben Hawkshaw returned to the chamber where Diggory Beggs was in conference with the other three traders, he found that these had finished their calculations.
"The matter is settled, Reuben, as far as we are concerned. My three friends and myself will go equal shares in the matter. The value of the Swan is to be taken as part of my contribution, and if she ever comes back again, as we hope she may do, that sum will be deducted from my share of the profits, due allowance being made for what damage or injury she may have suffered. You, it is understood, will take a share of the profits equal to ours, and one-third share will, in the first place, be set aside to be divided among the other officers and crew. It will be left entirely to you to choose your officers and men, and I need not tell you the sort of fellows to pick out for such a business.
"I shall see that the Swan is provided with new rigging and gear, and that there is a plentiful store of all things on board, to repair any damage you may suffer from storm or foe. My good friends here are willing that the purchasing of all the stores required shall be in my hands, and you shall yourself test the quality of all the provisions before the bargains are concluded, so as to see that everything is sweet and wholesome. My friends here will not appear in the affair at all, for if folks saw that four of us were concerned in the venture, they would think that it was something quite out of ordinary.
"All preparation will be made as quietly as possible, and it will be given out that the Swan is going to make a voyage to the Levant, and that she will carry a stronger battery of guns than usual to beat off any Moorish pirates she may meet by the way. As it is known that she had a sharp fight, coming homeward, it will seem only natural that we should add to her armament. I shall write up to my agent in London to purchase for me the articles required to trade with the natives, and bid him send them round here by sea, well packed in bales. If we were to purchase so many strange articles, here, it would give rise to talk; for people would wonder with whom we intended to trade such goods.
"Tomorrow morning you and I will make out a list of what you deem advisable for the purpose."
For another hour the party sat and talked; for, now that the other traders had fully determined to go into the venture, they were quite excited over it.
"Truly if I could but be spared from my business, here, I would gladly go with you myself," Master Streatham said. "I have always had a longing to see strange climes, and as no Englishman has yet set eyes on these countries you are about to visit, Friend Reuben, I would gladly be by your side, and take share in your perils and adventures."
"I doubt not your heart and courage, Master Jonas," Reuben replied, "and would warrant that you would behave doughtily, in case of fight with Spaniard or Indian; but I question whether you would support the hardships of the voyage, as cheerfully as you would the dangers. Although you may store the Swan with the best provisions that money can buy, a diet of naught but biscuit and salt meat palls after some weeks--to say nothing of some months--of it; and this all the more in a hot climate, where the appetite weakens, and one comes to pine for dainty cakes such as our Devonshire wives are famous for."
"Yes, I fear I never should support that," Master Streatham, who was a large corpulent man, mightily fond of the pleasures of the table, agreed with a sigh.
"Besides, Friend Jonas," Diggory Beggs put in, "Mistress Tabitha would have her voice in the matter; and however much your spirit would lead you to such an adventure, I doubt whether she would let you put foot on board."
"No, it is not for us to be running after adventure," Nicholas Turnbull said. "In the first place, we are sober citizens, and have our wives and families to think about, and our business and the affairs of the town; and in the next place, even could we leave all these, Master Reuben Hawkshaw would not thank us for our company. Every foot of space is of value on the ship; and men who take up space and consume food, and can neither set a sail nor work a cannon, are but useless encumbrances."
"You have spoken truly, Master Nicholas," Reuben said bluntly. "In the matter of a trip to London, or even as far as the Low Countries, we could accommodate your worshipful honors well enough; but on a journey like this, any man who cannot, if needs be, drink bilge water and eat shoe leather, is best at home. I took a voyage once--it is many years ago, now--to Amsterdam, and the owner, not my good cousin here, but another, took a fancy to go with me; and his wife must needs accompany him, and verily, before that voyage was over, I wished I was dead.
"I was no longer captain of the ship. My owner was my captain, and his wife was his. We were forever putting into port for fresh bread and meat, milk and eggs, for she could eat none other. If the wind got up but ever so little, we had to run into shelter and anchor until the sea was smooth. The manners of the sailors shocked her. She would scream at night when a rat ran across her, and would lose her appetite if a living creature, of which, as usual, the ship was full, fell from a beam onto her platter. I was tempted, more than once, to run the ship on to a rock and make an end of us all.
"No, no: a day's sail out from Plymouth, in a freshly launched ship, on a fine day, with a store of good victuals and a few flasks of good wine, is a right merry business; but farther than that I wish not to see a passenger, on board any ship which I command."
The others laughed.
"Well, Master Diggory, we must be going," Nicholas Turnbull said; "it is getting late. Tomorrow I will come over in the forenoon, as you suggest; and we will go through these lists more carefully, and talk over prices and see what bulk they will occupy, and discuss many other matters with the aid and advice of Master Hawkshaw. There is no occasion for undue haste; and yet, if the thing is to be done, the sooner it be done the better."
As the party went out, Reuben found his son waiting outside the door.
"Well, father?" he asked anxiously, when the three merchants had walked briskly off towards their homes.
"It is all settled, Roger. As soon as everything is prepared, the Swan will sail for the Spanish main."
Roger threw his cap high in the air, with a lusty shout that startled the better passers-by, hurrying towards their homes; for it was now long after dark, and although the town watch patrolled the streets regularly, prudent citizens did not care to be abroad after nightfall.
"You silly boy;" Reuben said; "you have lost your cap."
"Nay, I heard it fall somewhere here," Roger said, searching; "besides, a cap is a small matter, one way or other.
"Ah! Here it is, floating in a pool of mud; however, a bucket of water will set it all right, in the morning.
"O father! I feel wild with joy, only to think that all we have talked over together is going to be true, and that we are to be the first Englishmen who ever saw the beautiful islands they talk about, and the natives with their feathers and strange attire. And--"
"And the Spaniards with their loaded guns, and their dungeons and gibbets," Reuben Hawkshaw put in.
"Not for us, father. The bottom of the sea maybe, but not a Spanish dungeon."
"I hope not, my lad. Still, no man can see the future. However, I am right glad that we are to try this adventure. It is a glorious one, and will bring us honor in the eyes of all Englishmen if we succeed, to say nothing of wealth.
"But mind that you let not your spirits run away with your tongue. No word of this must be spoken to a soul, nor must any mention be made of it in the hearing of my Cousin Mercy, or the girls. The four partners in the adventure have all taken a solemn promise to each other, that they will not breathe a word of it even to their wives, averring that women could never be trusted to keep a secret; though as far as I have seen of them, methinks a woman can keep a bridle on her tongue just as well as a man--and indeed, somewhat better, since they do not loosen them with cider, or wine, or strong waters. But I believe, myself, it was not so much that they doubted whether their wives would keep the secret, as whether they would approve of the enterprise; and that they made the contract together, in order that each might, afterwards, be able to assure his wife that, for his part, he would gladly have taken her into his confidence, but that he was obliged to fall in with the wishes of his partners.
"It is a strange thing, Roger, but methinks that, whereas most men behave valiantly enough when it comes to blows with an enemy, a great proportion are but cowards with their wives."
"But why should they be, father?"
"That is an easy question to ask, Roger, but a difficult one to answer. Maybe you will understand the matter better, some day, when you have taken a wife to yourself. In some matters there is no doubt that women's wits outrun those of men, and that they have a wonderful sharpness of tongue. Now a man, when things go wrong with him, speaks out loudly and roundly; he storms and he rages, but when it is over, there is an end of it. Now a woman is not like that. She seems to ponder the matter over in her heart, and to bring it out as it were piecemeal--throwing little darts at you when you don't expect it; saying little things to which, from their suddenness, you can find no reply; and pricking you furiously all over, until you are ready to roar out with pain and vexation. You see, Roger, a prick hurteth more than a great cut."
"I should not have thought that, father."
"That is because you have not thought the matter over, Roger. In that fight with the Moors many of the men were sorely cut and wounded, but you heard no cry from them; they only set their teeth the harder, and smote more furiously upon their foes; but there was no one of them all but, had he sat down suddenly on a small nail, would have roared out like a bull, and have sworn lustily for a good half hour. So it is in domestic matters: the man rages and storms when things go wrong; and his wife, if she be a woman of judgment, holds her peace until it is over, knowing well enough that he will be at her mercy, afterwards. Then she sets to work, like those gnats that came on board at Genoa, that they call mosquitoes, and startles him with shrill buzzings in his ears, and pricketh him in the tenderest spots she can find; drawing but the smallest speck of blood, but causing an itching that makes him ready to tear his flesh.
"Your mother, Roger, was one of the best of women. She was a good housewife, and an affectionate. I do not know that I ever saw her greatly ruffled in temper, but there were times when I would fly from my house, and not come up from my work on board, until it was time to go straight away to bed, so did she prick and sting me with her tongue; and that not shrilly or with anger, but with little things, let slip as it were unawares, and with an air of ignorance that they in any way applied to me.
"No, Roger, if you will take my advice you will make your ship your mistress. She will have her ways, but you will learn them, and will know just how much helm she requires, and how the sail should be trimmed; but with a woman no man attains to this knowledge, and if you take my advice, you will give them a wide berth.
"I know," he went on, in answer to Roger's merry laugh, "that this is a matter in which no man will trust to other experience than his own. Every man who takes a woman to wife thinks that he can manage her, and goes into the matter with a light heart, as if it were a mere pleasure excursion on which he is embarking; whereas, in truth, it is a voyage as full of dangers and perils as that upon which we are about to adventure.
"Now let us turn back to our lodging, for I have nearly gone on my face four times already, in these deep ruts and holes. I would that the councilors of this town could see the streets of Genoa, or Cadiz, or Amsterdam! They might then try to mend the ways of Plymouth, and make them somewhat less perilous to passengers, after dark."
Work began in earnest upon the following day. A number of shipwrights were set upon the hull of the Swan, which was to be thoroughly overhauled, caulked and pitched, within and without. The masts and rigging were to be carefully looked to, and every defect repaired. A new suit of sails was ordered, the old ones to be patched where the Moorish shot had torn them, so as to be of use as a second suit, did any misadventure happen to the others.
James Standing, the first mate, took charge of these matters; Reuben Hawkshaw assisting Diggory Beggs in all things relating to the stores. Greatly were the provision merchants of the town surprised at the quality of the provisions that Master Beggs ordered for the use of the Swan. Nothing but fine flour of the last year's grinding; freshly killed beef and pork, to be carefully salted down in barrels; and newly baked biscuits would satisfy Reuben Hawkshaw. They could scarce believe that such articles could be meant for use on shipboard; for, as a rule, the very cheapest and worst quality of everything was considered as amply good enough for the use of sailors.
Then, too, the cider and beer must be neither thin nor sour, but sweet and of good body. Surely, Master Beggs must have gone off his head, thus to furnish his ship! For never before had a vessel sailed out of Plymouth harbor, provided after this fashion. An ample store of ropes and cordage, and of all matters required for a ship's equipage, were also laid in. To all questions as to the surprising lavishness of cost, Diggory replied:
"I would have the ship well found in all matters. It was but the other day that the Antelope returned from a voyage to the Levant. She had lost a third of her crew from scurvy, and of the rest but six were strong enough to pull at a rope when she came into port. Did not the women follow Master Skimpole, her owner, through the streets, and cry after him that he was the murderer of their husbands, by reason of the foul victual that he had provided for their use? No, no, it will cost more to start with, but it will be cheaper in the end; for a weak crew often means the losing of a ship, besides the loss of a good name. I have never carried economy to such lengths as did Master Skimpole; but I am resolved, in the future, that those who sail in my ships shall have good and wholesome fare. Then, if misfortune happens, no one will be able to point to me in the streets, and say that I fed my men worse than dogs, and thought only of my profits and nothing of the lives of those who served me."
Indeed Master Diggory, after a short time, quite forgot that all this provision for the health and comfort of the crew was but the outcome of Reuben Hawkshaw's insistence; and came to regard himself, with a feeling of pride, as a man possessed of greater benevolence than his fellow merchants.
A week after the refitting of the Swan was completed she was afloat, with a large proportion of her stores in her hold. A ship from London came round and took up her berth alongside of her, discharging large numbers of bales and cases into her; together with six cannon, in addition to those she before carried, and a large store of ammunition. This naturally gave rise to fresh talk in the town.
"They say that you are fitting the Swan out for a pirate, Master Beggs," one of the merchants said to him; "for twelve cannon are more than a peaceful trader can positively require."
"Yes, if she is to meet with none but peaceful people, neighbor; but if she meets with those who are not peaceful, at all, she needs just as much defense as if she were a ship of war. Master Hawkshaw had much ado to beat off the Moorish pirates who attacked him on his last voyage; and as the present one will be longer, and more dangerous, he has put stress upon me to add much to her armament. She will have valuable cargo on her return voyage, and he has strongly urged upon me to provide such means of defense as may ensure her being able to beat off any who meddle with her; besides, as far as I can read the course of politics, it seems to me that our alliance with Spain is well nigh at an end, and before the Swan is on her return we may be at war with her. This in itself is good reason why I should give my master the means of defending himself stoutly.
"The money spent on the guns is not wasted. They will be none the worse for keeping; and should the Swan, on her next voyage, go into a safer line of trade, I can sell them for as much as they now cost me."
In the meantime, Reuben Hawkshaw had been carefully and quietly picking a crew. He was going to take with him fully twice as many as had, before, sufficed to navigate the Swan. Of the forty men who had sailed with him he had lost nine, and five others had not sufficiently recovered from their wounds to sail with him again. Of the remainder he engaged twenty, all of whom were stout and willing fellows who would, he knew, sail with him wherever he bid them. The remaining six, being given to grumbling, he would have none of, good sailors though they were.
"Half-a-dozen grumblers are enough to spoil a whole crew," he said.
There were, therefore, some sixty new hands to engage. Towards these he found eighteen who had sailed with him on previous voyages, and were glad enough to rejoin him; for he had the name of being a good captain, considerate to his men; one who would be obeyed, but who did not harass his crew, and did all he could, in reason, to make them comfortable.
The others were picked up carefully, one by one. For this purpose he took some of his best men aside, and confided to them, privately, that the present voyage was to be out of the ordinary, and that he needed not only stout fellows but willing and cheerful ones: men who would take hardships without grumbling, and who, with a prospect of good reward in addition to their pay, would go without question where they were told, and do as they were ordered--were it to singe the beard of the Grand Turk, himself, in his own palace. He charged them, therefore, to find for him men of this kind, among their relations, or men who had sailed with him.
"I would rather," he said, "have landsmen, providing they are strong and stout hearted, than sailors, however skillful, who are given to grumbling and disaffection. We shall have plenty of good sailors on board, and the others will soon learn their business; therefore, choose you not for seamanship, but rather for willingness and good temper. And broach not the subject to any unless you feel assured, beforehand, that they will be willing to join; for I want not the matter talked about. Therefore those who join are to keep the matter private, and are not to come on board until the night before we get up our anchors. We are taking a much stronger crew than usual, for we have many guns that need working, if it comes to fighting."
As these instructions were given separately, none of the twelve men he spoke to knew that the others had received similar instructions; and that instead of forty men, as usual, the Swan was to carry nearly ninety.
As to the officers, Reuben Hawkshaw needed none others than those who had before sailed with him. The two mates had each been with him for upwards of ten years, and had learned their business under his eye; and he intended, although he had not as yet told him so, to rate Roger as third mate. His boatswain would go in the same capacity as before; and he shipped, as gunner, one who had served for some years in a king's ship in that rank, and was well acquainted with the working of ordnance.
Mistress Mercy had, of course, heard from her gossips of the talk that was going on, concerning the unusual preparations that were being made, by her husband, for the forthcoming voyage of the Swan; and the trader was often put to his wits' end by her questions on the subject. His professions of benevolence towards the crew, and his explanations of his reasons for her powerful armament had sufficed for others, but they by no means satisfied her.
"Do you think, Diggory Beggs," she asked, indignantly, "that after all these years I do not know you as well as I do the contents of my linen chest? I have never before known you open your purse strings one inch wider than was necessary. Have I not always had to ask, until I am verily ashamed, before I can get a new gown for myself, or a decent cloak for the girls? You have ever been hard fisted with your money, and never disposed to spend a groat, save on good occasion. There is not the wife of a trader of your standing in Plymouth but makes a braver show than I do, when we walk on the hoe on holidays or feast days.
"There is something at the bottom of all this I don't understand; but mark you, Diggory, I am not to be kept in the dark. As your wife, I have a right to know why you are throwing about good and lawful money. I toil and slave to keep your house decent and respectable, at small cost; but I shall do so no longer. If you can afford to throw money into the gutter in one way, you can in another; and people will cry shame on you, when, as they say, you are pampering up your sailors, in such manner as will cause discontent among all others in the port, while your wife and daughters are walking about in homespun!"
Mistress Mercy did not succeed in extracting the information she desired from her husband, who was, however, forced to fall back upon the defense that he had his reasons, but that he was pledged to say nothing concerning them.
"Pledged!" she replied, scornfully. "And to whom are you pledged, I should like to know? I thought you were pledged to me, and that you were bound to cherish and comfort me; which means, of course, that you were to have no secrets from me, and to tell me all that I desire to know."
But though Diggory kept the secret, albeit with much trouble; and with many misgivings as to what would happen in the future, when his wife came to learn of the important venture he had undertaken, without consulting her; she nevertheless succeeded so far that, in order to pacify her, he was obliged to allow her a free hand in choosing, from his magazines, such pieces of cloth and silk for herself and the girls as she had a fancy to. This permission she did not abuse as to quality, for she knew well enough what was becoming, in the way of dress, for the wife of a merchant; and that it was not seemly, for such a one, to attire herself in apparel suited for the wives of nobles, and ladies of the Court. But Diggory groaned in spirit, although he prudently said nothing, at seeing that she took advantage of the present position to carry off a store which would amply suffice, for at least two or three years' wearing, for herself and the girls.
"You have done me a parlous ill turn, Cousin Reuben," he said sadly to his cousin, "by bidding me hide this matter from my wife. A few more such secrets, and I should be a ruined man. Never before have I known her seized with a desire for such prodigality of vesture. I have looked upon her, all these years, as a sober and discreet woman, well content to wear what was quiet and becoming to her station; but now--truly my heart melted when I saw how she fingered the goods, and desired John, my assistant, to cut off such lengths as she desired from some of my goodliest cloths."
"Tut, tut, cousin; you exaggerate things greatly. It is no wonder that Mistress Mercy, seeing that you are flourishing greatly in trade, and able to spend your money freely, should deem it but fitting that she, as your wife, should make a braver show than heretofore. Besides, the girls are growing up, and need to be a little bright and gay. Why, man, there are many London citizens, who could not count their broad pieces with you, whose wives spend many times as much, every year, on their attire as Mistress Mercy has cost you now."
"Well, well, Reuben, there may be something in what you say; but no more secrets, or there is no saying what wild extravagance she might take in her head, next time. She might quarrel with the house and insist upon a new one, furnished from top to bottom; or set her heart on a coach, with running footmen. No, no more secrets, or I shall be having her so set herself up that I shall be no more master of my own house."
Roger was plied with many questions by his cousins, who tried alternately coaxing, and pouting, to learn from him why it was that, as all told them, preparations were being made for the voyage of the Swan such as were unknown, before, at Plymouth. All he could reply was that the ship was only being victualed as all ships ought to be whose owners cared, as they should do, for the comfort and health of their crews. More than that he could not say. He would not deny that he had certain ideas of his own as to the voyage; but if Cousin Diggory and his father thought it well to make no talk about the matter, it was not for him to say what were his thoughts about it.
"But we would tell nobody," Dorothy urged. "Don't you think we could keep a secret, as well as you can?"
"That is just it, Cousin Dorothy! Don't you see, if I were to tell you, it would be a proof that I could not keep a secret? And then, if you told it, I could not blame you for blabbing. I don't say there is any secret; but if there is, I must keep it."
"I know that you are going into danger, Reuben; else you would not have all those great guns they say there are, on board."
"The great guns will keep us out of danger, you see. The more guns, the less danger."
"Come away, Agnes," Dorothy said, with an assumption of stateliness. "Cousin Roger is altogether too smart for us. Let him keep his secrets, if he will; and let us go and help mother with her sewing."
And so, for the last two or three days before the Swan sailed, there was a coolness between Roger and the girls, as well as between Diggory Beggs and his wife.
At last the day came when everything was complete, the water casks filled, and the last packet and bale stored away in the hold; and even Reuben Hawkshaw admitted that there was nothing else that he could think of, requisite either for the safety or navigation of the ship, or the provisioning or health of the crew.
The order was passed round for all the old hands to be aboard before sunset, that evening, together with those who had been openly engaged to fill up the vacancies. As for the rest, the twelve recruiters each received private orders. Three of them were to bring down the men they had engaged to the wharf, abreast of the Swan, at eight o'clock; and to go off in the boat which would be awaiting them there, under charge of Master Standing. Three others were to come half an hour later. The other six were to bring down their men at daybreak--so that all would get on board unnoticed.
The last meal at Master Diggory's was but a dull one. The subject of the Swan and her voyage had, by common consent, been dropped altogether for the last day or two; and it was not until supper was over that Mistress Mercy, and the girls, knew that the hour of sailing was at hand. Then Reuben spoke up:
"We go on board tonight, Cousin Mercy, and shall get up our anchor and loose our sails the first thing in the morning. I know that you have been somewhat aggrieved, at not learning more about our intentions; but it was not Cousin Diggory's fault that you have not been told."
"I do not seek to pry into matters which my husband thinks fit to conceal from me," she said, coldly.
"Nevertheless, cousin, you are hurt; and I cannot blame you, seeing that it is natural that a woman should like to know what is passing around her. But I wish, before I go, that you should see that Diggory is not to blame in this matter. There is no harm in my telling you, now, that he stands not alone in this venture, but that others have joined with him. Now he himself, knowing you to be a circumspect woman, who could be trusted to keep to yourself anything that you might learn, would willingly have taken you into our councils; but all women are not so discreet, and matters which it is very important should be kept secret might have leaked out, had it not been proposed that all concerned in the matter should bind themselves solemnly to each other, to say no words about it, even to their wives; and thus, you see, Diggory's lips have been sealed, and that not by any mistrust of you.
"It may be some time before it will be prudent for the truth about this voyage to be known, but in good time those concerned may think fit to relieve each other of this agreement they have entered upon, and to let their wives, and others who may be depended upon, into the secret. I wanted to tell you this before we sailed, for I should not like to go away feeling that you cherished aught of malice against me; for I have seen for some time that you have held me, as well as your husband, to blame. We are going on a long voyage, Cousin Mercy, and one from which it may well be that none of us will ever return to this good town of Plymouth. I am somewhat breaking my promise in saying this, and I rely upon you, and the girls, repeating it to no one. It is a long and venturous journey, and one not without much peril; but if it succeeds, it will bring much honor, as well as wealth, to all concerned.
"And now, Cousin Mercy, as I have told you so much as that, I trust that we may part as we have always parted, in friendly and kindly fashion. You and your husband have been good friends to me and my boy, and have gone in that matter far beyond the ordinary bounds of kinship; and I should not like to start upon this voyage knowing that there was a cloud between us."
Mistress Mercy rose from her seat, walked round to Reuben Hawkshaw, and kissed him.
"Forgive me, Cousin Reuben," she said, "for my cross looks and shrewish ways. I see that I have acted altogether wrongly in the matter, and that neither you nor Diggory are to blame. I knew not that others were concerned, and thought that a mystery was being made because it was considered that, did I know it, I should run out and blab it in the streets of Plymouth. Now I know how it is, I am well content as to that; but not so, at the thought of this unknown peril into which you are about to run, and I wonder that Diggory should adventure your life, and that of Roger, upon such an expedition."
"It is my own proposal, Cousin Mercy, and Diggory has but yielded to my wishes. Roger is as hot for the adventure as I am, and we are both content to run what risks we may encounter, for the honor which we shall gain if we return safely home.
"And now, Roger, let us be going. Leave takings are sad things, and the shorter they are made, the better."
While these words had been said the girls, who sat on either side of Roger, were silently making their peace with him, by furtive squeezes of his hands below the table; and they burst into tears, as Roger and his father rose.
"Goodbye, Agnes," Roger said.
"Goodbye, Dorothy," and as he kissed her he whispered, "if I return, I will bring you the prettiest trinkets ever seen in Plymouth."
"Bring back yourself, Roger, and I shall be more than content," she replied.
In another minute they were gone, Diggory Beggs taking his hat and starting with them; telling his wife that he should not return until morning, as he should go on board the Swan with them, and remain until she sailed.
"You will not go before daybreak, Cousin Reuben?" Mistress Mercy asked.
"No; it will more likely be an hour after sunrise before we weigh anchor."
"Then I and the girls will be down on the wharf, to see the last of you and wave our kerchiefs, and wish you a pleasant voyage and a safe return."
Great was the surprise of the original crew of the Swan, when boat load after boat load of fresh hands arrived. They themselves had been quietly told that the voyage was likely to be one of unusual length, and that none save those willing and ready to stay away, as long as might be required, were to sail in the Swan on her present venture. There was, therefore, a general idea current among them that Master Hawkshaw had some adventure quite out of the ordinary in his mind; and the news that some heavy guns had arrived from London for her, had confirmed their opinion as to the voyage.
"Let us have no loud talk, tonight," Reuben Hawkshaw ordered. "When we get our sails spread tomorrow, and are well out of port, you can talk to your hearts' content; but the night is still, and I want not that attention of any on shore should be called to the ship. There has been more foolish talk than enough about her already; so turn in to rest, lads, without ado. The boatswain will serve you each out a pottle of cider, such as you never drank on board ship before, I warrant me, and which is a sample of what you will have, all the voyage. When you have tossed that off, let each lie down as he can find space. We will divide into watches, and settle as to each man's place, tomorrow.
"Pengarvan, set four hands aside to go on shore, with the boat, an hour before daybreak. Tell them off to sleep where you can lay hands upon them, easily. Keep the boat alongside, and make off to the wharf as noiselessly as you can; but I shall be on deck, then, and will give you further orders."
The second mate only replied, "Ay, ay, Captain Hawkshaw," for he was a man of but few words.
Reuben Hawkshaw was not fond of Cornishmen, but he made an exception in the case of Pengarvan--indeed, although their borders joined, there was little liking among Cornish and Devon men for each other.
"They are black, ill-conditioned dogs," Reuben Hawkshaw would say; "good sailors, I own; none better; but glum and surly in their ways, and with nothing joyous in their natures. It seems to me that working in the darkness--in those holes of theirs, underground--has infected the spirits of the whole county; as it might well do, seeing that, as everyone knows, there are little people who guard the treasures of the mines; and who, if they cannot do bodily hurt to those who delve for metals, can yet infect their spirits with a black melancholy, and do them other grievous harm.
"So when Pengarvan came to me as a boy, on the quay here, and asked me to take him with me to sea, I did not much like doing so; for I saw at once, by his speech, that he was Cornish; but I did not like to turn him away, for he said that he was willing, and accustomed to the sea. So I gave him a trial, and he has turned out a first-rate sailor. He is chary of speech, and not given to jest or laughter; but he is always quick, and willing to obey orders; taking whatever comes in good part, and bearing himself just the same, in storm, as in sunshine.
"I know naught of his history. The Swan has been his home since he first came on board, twelve years ago. As long as she is afloat, he never leaves her. When she is laid down for repairs, he takes the nearest lodging on hand, and abides there till she is afloat again. I believe that he comes from Fowey, and guess that he got into some trouble or other, and had to run for it. But that's nothing to me. I want no better man; and know that, whatever comes, I can rely upon Pengarvan to stand by me, and the ship, to the last."
If the men were astonished at the thirty new hands who came on board on the previous evening, they were still more astonished when as many more embarked in the morning. The newcomers were ordered to keep in the forecastle, and in the quarters under it, until the Swan was well away from land.
"There will be a good many eyes turned on the ship, as soon as we are seen to be shaking out our canvas," Reuben said; "and there is no need to set their tongues wagging, by showing more men on deck than we usually carry."
The captain and Diggory Beggs talked late on into the night. They went over all the ground again; and Reuben brought out the map of the islands, and showed where he intended to touch.
"I think not to do much trading there," he said. "There is gold in Hispaniola and Cuba; but the captain I got the chart from said there was no very great store there, and that the natives had but little of it when the Spaniards first arrived; seeing that it took trouble and labor to obtain, and they are by nature altogether averse to hard work, and moreover place but little value on the gold. But there were rumors among them that, farther west, there was a land where gold was in great plenty; and where there was a powerful people, dressed in gay attire, and wearing great bracelets and necklaces of gold.
"So far, the Spaniards have not found this land; though they have sailed down the coast a long way to the south, and northward as far as the point that Master Cabot reached, when he sailed down from Newfoundland; but due west they have never sailed far, and have found the sea ever stretching away in front of them; so that it is clear that either the great mainland is split in two at this point, or there is a vast bay. This I shall try to discover, and if we find these people of whom the Indians speak, we may well return loaded down with gold.
"My advice to you, Cousin Diggory, is that you and your partners should continue to keep silent as to this voyage of ours. If we come not back, and after a time there is a talk here that we have gone to the Indies, the news may be carried to London; and you may be questioned, and may be blamed mightily for undertaking such an adventure, without the king's permission; and all sorts of harm may fall upon you. Success would, in my mind, altogether excuse you; and you will be able to offer so great a present to the king that he will be mighty contented. But if you fail, it will be otherwise. Therefore my advice is, till the Swan is anchored in the port say nothing about her. It were best, from the moment we sail, to write off all that has been spent upon her as money lost, just the same as if you knew for certain that she had gone down as soon as she was out of sight of land.
"Folks will ask you what has become of her, and you will truly say that you have had no news; and when months pass on, and she comes not, you will shake your head, and say that you begin to fear that evil has befallen her. She may have gone down in a storm, or been cast on some rocky coast and all perished, or been captured by pirates.
"If the friends of the sailors make a stir, and go to the magistrates, you have but to show the copy of the letter of instructions which we drew up the other day, laying it down that I was to make for the African Straits, and to put into no Portuguese or Spanish port by the way; that I was then to shape my course for the island of Malta, and to take in fresh stores of food and water there; then that I was to pass round the southernmost point of Greece, and sail upwards to Constantinople, and there to dispose of such portion of my cargo as I could sell at good profit, buying goods suited for our market with the monies I received; and if my hold was full I was then to return straight to England; but if I had still some of my cargo unsold, I could trade as best seemed to me among the Eastern Islands, and with the ports of Asia.
"There would be your instructions to show, and as it is notorious to all that you provisioned the ship in the best manner possible, and laid in greater stores than ordinary of all things necessary for the voyage, none can hold you to blame, in any way, if the chances of the seas have proved too masterful for us, and the Swan returns no more.
"Should we carry out our enterprise to the fullest, and gain great store of gold, I shall, if it is possible, come not directly home, but to some port--maybe in Ireland, maybe in the Low Countries--whence we can send word to you. Upon hearing of our coming there, I should advise you and your fellow adventurers to journey straight to London, to gain audience with one of the ministers, and tell him you have a matter of great importance to communicate to the king himself; and that you should then lay before his majesty an account of what you have done, and pray him to pardon your boldness, which was due to your desire for the honor of the country as much as to wish for profit, and beg him to accept such share of the gold as you may think fit. I shall, of course, when I write let you know about what weight of the metal I have on board. In that way, when the ship comes into port all will be smooth sailing for you; whereas if I come unannounced, there is no saying what share of your profits his majesty may think fit to take."
"I think the plan is a very good one, indeed, Reuben; and I will follow it to the letter. When think you may I begin to expect to hear news of you?"
"It is difficult to say, seeing that we know neither the distance we may have to sail, nor the difficulties we may have to meet with, nor the winds and currents of those regions. I should say fifteen months at the earliest; and if double that time passes, without your hearing aught, then I should say you may give up all hope of ever seeing us again."