« PreviousContinue »
telling them that he was the servant of a Queen who was an enemy of the Spaniards “in respect of their tyranny and oppression, and that she delivered all such nations about her as were by them oppressed.” The result of his discourse was, that “in that part of the world her Majesty is now very famous and admirable.”
The first difficulty which met the adventurers was the navigation of the mouths of the Orinoco. On account of the sandbanks and the shifting tides, it was impossible for the ships to go up the mouth of the river. So Ralegh had to decide to leave his ships anchored on the coast of Trinidad, near Los Gallos, and proceed on his expedition in five open boats, which carried one hundred men and enough provisions for a month. “First of all," writes Ralegh, “we had as much sea to cross over in our wherries as between Dover and Calais, and in a great billow, the wind and current being both very strong.” They took with them an Indian as pilot, who promised to bring them into the great river Orinoco, “but indeed of that which he entered he was utterly ignorant; for he had not seen it in twelve years before, at which time he was very young and of no judgement, and if God had not sent us another help we might have wandered a whole year in that labyrinth of rivers. ... For I know all the earth doth not yield a like confluence of streams and branches, the one crossing the other so many times, and all so fair and large and so like one
EXPEDITION UP THE ORINOCO.
another, as no man can tell which to take.” The good chance which befell Ralegh was the capture of an old Indian who really knew the country, and who was able to act as their pilot through the sixteen arms which the Orinoco makes where it falls into the sea. The next difficulty which beset the adventurers was the rapidity of the current. After rowing four days through the intricate branchings of the river "we fell,” says Ralegh, "into as goodly a river as ever I beheld, called the great Amana, which ran more directly without windings or turnings than the other; but soon the flood of the sea left us, and being enforced either by main strength to row against a violent current, or to return as wise as we went, we had then no shift but to persuade the companies that it was but two or three days' work, and therefore desired them to take pains, every gentleman and others taking their turns to row. When three days more were overgone, our companies began to despair, the weather being extreme hot, the river bordered with very high trees that kept away the air, and the current against us every day stronger than the other ; but we evermore commanded our pilots to promise an end the next day, and used it so long
we were driven to assure them from four reaches of the river to three, and so to two, and so to the next reach; but so long we laboured that many days were spent, and we driven to draw ourselves to harder allowance, our bread
even at the last, and no drink at all, and men and ourselves so wearied and scorched, and doubtful withall whether we should ever perform it or no, the heat increasing as we drew near the line; for we were now in five degrees.”
The variety of the scenery did something towards cheering them on their way. “On the banks of these rivers were divers sorts of fruits good to eat, flowers and trees of such variety as were sufficient to make ten volumes of herbals. We relieved ourselves many times with the fruits of the country, and sometimes with fowl and fish. We saw birds of all colours—some carnation, some crimson, orange-tawney, purple, &c.; and it was unto us a great good passing time to behold them, besides the relief we found by killing some store of them with our fowling-pieces.” At last the Indian pilot led Ralegh and a few others some way up a branch stream to an Indian village, where they were hospitably received, and got good store of bread, fish, and hens. To reach this village they passed through most beautiful country, plains twenty miles long, with the grass short and green, where the deer came down feeding by the waterside.
After Ralegh returned to the rest of the company they had the good fortune to take two canoes, which they found laden with bread. This excellent bread so delighted the men that they cried, “Let us go on, we care not how far.” Two other canoes escaped their pursuit, one of which
RALEGH AND THE NATIVES.
they heard contained three Spaniards. On the bank they found hidden under a bush a refiner's basket, with divers things needful for the trial of metals. They heard that the three Spaniards had a good quantity of ore and gold with them. They tried hard to catch them, but in vain. They laid hands however on an Indian who had served as pilot to the Spaniards, and gave Ralegh much information about the gold mines.
The Spaniards had told the Indians that the English were men-eaters, hoping by this tale to keep them from having any intercourse with the English. But Ralegh compelled his men to treat the Indians so well, that they soon perceived the falseness of the Spaniards' tales, and felt great love for the strangers. “But I confess," writes Ralegh, “it was a very impatient work to keep the meaner sort from spoil and stealing when we came to their houses; which because in all I could not prevent, I caused my Indian interpreter at every place when we departed to know of the loss or wrong done; and if aught were stolen or taken by violence, either the same was restored, and the offender punished, or else was paid for to their uttermost demand.” The result of this treatment was that the Indians came down in crowds to the water-banks with their women and children to gaze at the wonderful strangers, and bring them food, venison, pork, fowls, fish, excellent fruits, and roots; above all, the pine-apple, “that prince of fruits," as Ralegh calls it.
The English were hospitably received at the little towns, some of which were well-situated and surrounded with goodly gardens. In one of these towns Ralegh had much talk with an old chief, called Topiawari, who “is held for the proudest and wisest of all the Orenoqueponi, and so behaved himself, as I marvelled to find a man of that gravity and judgment, and of so good discourse, that had no help of learning or breed.” Topiawari told Ralegh much about the different peoples of that country, and promised to come and see him again on his way back. .
The onward progress of the travellers was soon stopped by the rapid rise of the rivers, caused by the first heavy winter rains. They halted at the beginning of a river called Caroli, and three parties went out to explore the country by land. Ralegh with another party went to see some wonderful falls formed by the river Caroli: “a strange thunder of waters,” he calls them. “Never saw I a more beautifull country nor more lively prospects-hills so raised here and there over the valleys, the river winding into divers branches, the plains all fair green grass, the deer crossing in every path, the birds towards evening singing on every tree with a thousand several tunes, the air fresh with a gentle easterly wind, and every stone that we stooped to take up promised either gold or silver by its complexion.” The other companies brought back equally favourable reports; but it seemed high time to return,