How They Took the Pearls at Margarita

P. Henry. Why, what a rascal art thou, then, to praise him so for running!
Falstaff.   O’ horseback, ye cuckoo! but a-foot, he will not budge a foot.
P. Henry. Yes, Jack, upon instinct.
Falstaff.   I grant ye, upon instinct.
   —Henry IV. Pt. I.

They had slipped past the southern point of Grenada in the night, and were at last within that fairy ring of islands, on which nature had concentrated all her beauty, and man all his sin. If Barbados had been invested in the eyes of the newcomers with some strange glory, how much more the seas on which they now entered, which smile in almost perpetual calm, untouched by the hurricane which roars past them far to northward! Sky, sea, and islands were one vast rainbow; though little marked, perhaps, by those sturdy practical sailors, whose main thought was of Spanish gold and pearls; and as little by Amyas, who, accustomed to the scenery of the tropics, was speculating inwardly on the possibility of extirpating the Spaniards, and annexing the West Indies to the domains of Queen Elizabeth. And yet even their unpoetic eyes could not behold without awe and excitement lands so famous and yet so new, around which all the wonder, all the pity, and all the greed of the age had concentrated itself. It was an awful thought, and yet inspiriting, that they were entering regions all but unknown to Englishmen, where the penalty of failure would be worse than death— the torments of the Inquisition. Not more than five times before, perhaps, had those mysterious seas been visited by English keels; but there were those on board who knew them well, and too well; who, first of all British mariners, had attempted under Captain John Hawkins to trade along those very coasts, and, interdicted from the necessaries of life by Spanish jealousy, had, in true English fashion, won their markets at the sword’s point, and then bought and sold honestly and peaceably therein. The old mariners of the Pelican and the Minion were questioned all day long for the names of every isle and cape, every fish and bird; while Frank stood by, listening serious and silent.

A great awe seemed to have possessed his soul; yet not a sad one: for his face seemed daily to drink in glory from the glory round him; and murmuring to himself at whiles, “This is the gate of heaven,” he stood watching all day long, careless of food and rest, as every forward plunge of the ship displayed some fresh wonder. Islands and capes hung high in air, with their inverted images below them; long sand-hills rolled and weltered in the mirage; and the yellow flower-beds, and huge thorny cacti like giant candelabra, which clothed the glaring slopes, twisted, tossed, and flickered, till the whole scene seemed one blazing phantom-world, in which everything was as unstable as it was fantastic, even to the sun itself, distorted into strange oval and pear-shaped figures by the beds of crimson mist through which he sank to rest. But while Frank wondered, Yeo rejoiced; for to the southward of that setting sun a cluster of tall peaks rose from the sea; and they, unless his reckonings were wrong, were the mountains of Macanao, at the western end of Margarita, the Isle of Pearls, then famous in all the cities of the Mediterranean, and at the great German fairs, and second only in richness to that pearl island in the gulf of Panama, which fifteen years before had cost John Oxenham his life.

The next day saw them running along the north side of the island, having passed undiscovered (as far as they could see) the castle which the Spaniards had built at the eastern end for the protection of the pearl fisheries.

At last they opened a deep and still bight, wooded to the water’s edge; and lying in the roadstead a caravel, and three boats by her. And at that sight there was not a man but was on deck at once, and not a mouth but was giving its opinion of what should be done. Some were for sailing right into the roadstead, the breeze blowing fresh toward the shore (as it usually does throughout those islands in the afternoon). However, seeing the billows break here and there off the bay’s mouth, they thought it better, for fear of rocks, to run by quietly, and then send in the pinnace and the boat. Yeo would have had them show Spanish colors, for fear of alarming the caravel; but Amyas stoutly refused, “counting it,” he said, “a mean thing to tell a lie in that way, unless in extreme danger, or for great ends of state.”

So holding on their course till they were shut out by the next point, they started; Cary in the largest boat with twenty men, and Amyas in the smaller one with fifteen more; among whom was John Brimblecombe, who must needs come in his cassock and bands, with an old sword of his uncle’s which he prized mightily.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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