From one of the original leading ladies of historical fiction, this reissued classic captures the life of sir Walter Raleigh—a man of extraordinary ambition whose complex relationship with Elizabeth I followed him around the globe.
Beloved historical novelist Norah Lofts was the queen of royal tales for generations. Loft’s books are back, and in Here Was a Man, one of the greatest adventurers of the sixteenth century vividly and romantically comes to life. When young Walter Raleigh first presented himself before Elizabeth I, he dreamt of carving out an empire in the New World to lay at her feet. But Elizabeth is equally determined to keep this handsome, witty young man at her side. Through years of frustration, violent quarrels, reconciliation, and the challenges and rewards of exploration, Raleigh desperately tries to hold on to his dream. Lofts peoples her rich tale with some of the greatest personalities of the age, including Shakespeare, Marlowe, Sir Phillip Sydney, and Sir Francis Drake, painting a detailed portrait of the Elizabethan era in all its colorful, contentious glory. Sweeping readers from the courts of Europe to the jungles of South America, Here Was a Man offers history lovers a feast that only Norah Lofts could deliver.
|Product dimensions:||5.24(w) x 8.08(h) x 0.63(d)|
About the Author
Norah Lofts (1904-1983) was one of the best loved of all historical fiction novelists, known for her authentic application of period detail to all her books. She was a bestselling author on both sides of the Atlantic. Lofts wrote more than fifty books, including the bestselling The King’s Pleasure, about Katharine of Aragon, and The Concubine, about Anne Boleyn.
Read an Excerpt
Budleigh Point in the County of Devon June 23, 1568
We've only one virginity to lose,
And where we lose it, there our hearts will be.
Old Harkess paused in his dragging of the boat to the water's edge, and listened. There were no sounds except the sighing of the summer sea and the swish of the wind through the rough grass at the cliff 's top, and he was not listening for those. He sighed, for he was an old man, and lazy, and a little help with the launching and the rowing was very welcome on these warm nights. He spat on his hands and took a fresh hold on the boat. Twice after that he paused, and the third time heard what he had been waiting for, the quick step, the hurried breathing, and presently the voice calling breathlessly, "Harky, wait for me. Harky."
Urgent as was the call, it was not loud, and the old man smiled in the darkness; a cautious one, Wally, for all his eagerness. He called back, quietly, "Ahoy, lad." Out of the shadows a figure came stumbling, threw itself silently upon the boat, and with the old man's apparent help, dragged it into the water. As they clambered in the boy said, with reproach in his voice, "I believe you were going without me."
"I didn't want to. I like a bit of company, as you know. But 'twas getting latish and the nights are short now. I thought they'd kept you in up at the house."
"They tried. Father locked me in, but thank God I'm still thin enough for the window, and light enough for the wisteria."
"You won't allust be. What'll you do then?"
"I'll be gone before then. I'm to go to Oxford this autumn."
"I shall miss you, Wally."
"Not as much as I shall you, Harky. Any boy who'll lend you a hand is the same to you. You're Odysseus to me."
"A bald sailor who was always talking."
"Nice thing to call me!"
"High praise really. Where're you making for?"
"Straight out from the Point. 'Tis a French ship with a cargo of best Bordeaux. 'S' pity your father's so set against the night wine, Wally. Many's the cheap drink he might have."
"Oh, father." The boy's voice was a shrug. "He's got trouble enough without running foul of the Excise men. Devon men are always wrong; they upset Mary by being Protestant, and now Elizabeth is all against the privateering."
"Only when it's near home, lad. If your father and his friends were busy in the Indies she'd call them the brightest jewels in her crown."
The word "Indies" struck like a gong in the boy's mind.
"Here, I'll row, Harky. You take a rest. She'll be heavier coming back."
Nothing loath the old man drew in his oars and sat back.
"Why's your father so set against the sea for you, Wally? He's a seaman himself."
"That's just why. There's nothing in it, he says. I'm to study for the law or the Church, and then look for preferment. Kate Ashley's a cousin of father's, and she has the Queen's ear and will speak for me."
"Well, no doubt that'd be a steady safe thing to be. But you'd be wasted as a clerk, lad."
"Maybe. Still, learning can do you no harm. Anyway, I can't be a sailor like Humphrey, I'm always sick at sea. Nights like this are all very well. And oh, but I've a mind to see the Indies and all that vast country beyond them."
"Ah, it's fair enough, some of it, and rich too. But you ain't so welcome there as you was in my young days. Thick with Spaniards, and the Indians so savage with the treatment they've had that they're waiting behind every tree to put a poisoned arrow through your guts."
"They'll all be wiped out soon, though. Remember what you were telling me the other night."
"About the thousands that were driven into the silver mines and never came out again? Yes, I dare say you're right. Still anybody that sets foot in that continent from now on'll have to fight every step, I'm thinking."
They both fell silent, the old man thinking of the far countries that had held no romance for him, that had been places where one was hungry or thirsty or in danger, and the boy thinking of the far countries too, but as places that drew him as inexplicably as a magnet draws a needle. He knew that Harkess would mock at his thoughts, could he know them. Harky said that four thousand slaves were driven into a silver mine, but he didn't see them in his mind's eye. He couldn't see, in that driving, the gesture of the conqueror. He didn't see the silver delved for by dark slaves from the dark earth, pouring its silver stream into the treasure galleons that sailed with it, stately into Cadiz. He didn't want Harky to think like that. Enough for him to supply the fact, and to leave the image unsullied by his thoughts. And in Harkess's simplicity and realism may have lain the secret of the enormous influence of his casual words upon young Raleigh's life.
Presently the dark hulk of a ship loomed up; Harkess took his oars again, and they drew alongside carefully. The wine in its roped casks was stowed neatly in the bottom of the boat; money changed hands, a few sentences were spoken in the smugglers' peculiar tongue that was neither French nor English, and Raleigh and Harkess began pulling for the shore. They spoke little, for the laden boat demanded all their care and strength; once Harkess spoke, but only to say, "Second cave, Wally."
Within about a hundred yards of the shore Raleigh halted his oars and turned his head, listening. Harkess stopped rowing and said quietly, "What is it?"
"Somebody's at the cave if I'm not mistaken. Can you hear anything?"
"Hearing's not what it was. But there...there was a light. God's breath, it's that Trebor, he's been on the watch for weeks. We can't land, Wally. We must pull round the Point and hope to get it all under cover at Mother Shale's before morning. If we don't you'll have the pleasure of the sight of me in the stocks. As for you, your father'd..."
"Flay me," said Raleigh.
Already there was a hint of coming light in the sky to the east and they bent their backs, working the oars like slaves in the galleys. To get round the Point was always a hard task, currents met there, and at intervals a swirl of frothy water betrayed the presence of hidden rocks. By the time they were round they could see each other, they had both discarded all clothes but their breeches and the sweat was running off them in streams. Once round, however, they were out of sight of whoever had been watching the cave, and stood a reasonable chance of retaining both their cargo and their liberty. Mother Shale's stood in a dip in the cliff, sheltered from view on all sides except that facing the sea. It was a long, low, rambling building which could be alehouse, farm, smugglers' rendezvous or brothel according to who came inquiring. There were always barrels in her cellar, but seldom the same barrels two nights running, and the same might be said of the horses in her stable.
She herself was a villainous old woman. She bore on her back the marks of a whipping that she had received through the streets of Exeter for being a wanton, long ago. That whipping had put her definitely on the side of the lawbreakers, and many a smuggler, rogue, and wench in trouble had had cause to bless those stripes.
She came to the window in response to a shower of pebbles sped from Raleigh's hand. Ten words from Harkess informed her of the night's doings and brought her stumbling to the door. In a quarter of an hour the wine was in her cellar, and the boat a foot below the sand in the cove beside the house. Meantime someone within doors had stirred up the ashes of the fire that seldom died completely, and soon Harkess and Raleigh, shivering in the cold morning air, were crouched beside it, wooden platters of fat bacon on their knees, and horn cups of strong ale in their hands. The boy, who had been awake all night and subjected to unusual strain for some hours, could barely stay awake long enough to finish his breakfast. He roused himself for just long enough to say to Harkess, "I must be getting back," but he never heard Harkess reply, "You can't go in that state, lad. And anyhow, you can't get home before they miss you." His head had fallen forward and he was asleep.
When he woke he became conscious first of the scent of new hay and then of the red glow with which he was surrounded. Then he saw the girl who had waked him looking at him. She had red smiling lips, and she was laughing at him. He sat up quickly and began to pick the hay from his hair and clothes, blushing slightly at the indignity of being caught so by a laughing girl. She laughed again, and catching up a handful of loose hay, tossed it over him, and said, "Sleepyhead. You've been asleep all day. Harkess is having his supper."
Raleigh scrambled to his feet, shaking the hay from his head, brushing it from his clothes. But the girl was in a teasing mind, and fast as he cleaned himself she tossed more on him. At last, more to gain time than from any desire to play with her, he gathered a great armful and dropped it on her from his superior position on top of the heap. With a little squeal she threw herself on him, the hay flew wildly for several minutes. The red rays of the sunset danced with dust, and at last, spent and breathless, they dropped down beside one another on the tousled mound, and looked at each other, panting. He saw then that she was both older than himself and very pretty. Her hair that was black where it hugged her head had a web of reddish light over it where the loose strands stood up in the sun. Her skin was like honey, and her parted lips showed little white teeth, and a pink, pointed tongue. In her sharp nose and chin lay the threat that in a few years she would be unmistakably old Mother Shale's granddaughter, but for the time being she was lovely. She pouted her lips to blow away a wisp of hair that had fallen over her nose, and then she leaned back, back until she was lying on the hay, with her arms curved above her head. The rolled-up sleeves of her cotton frock revealed the little blue veins that ran, slanting, from wrist to elbow, and the whole pose drew attention to the base of her neck where the untanned skin was startlingly white, and to the budding breasts that thrust their nipples against the thin material.
Something unknown caught the boy by the throat. "You're lovely," he breathed. She laughed again, and threw out one arm to catch his head and draw it down to her face. He kissed her, clumsily and shyly at first, as he kissed his mother when occasion demanded. But in this, as in all things, he was fated to be a quick learner, and an expert when learned. And to the girl it was no new road. It was very easy.
Harkess's voice rang through the barn. "What are you at, Wally! I can't wait any longer. You can finish your sleeping at home."
Shaking, the boy rose to his feet. The girl whispered, "Don't say I'm here. Come again."
"I will," he whispered, and slipped off the mound of hay, and came, with a well-simulated yawn, out of the shadowy barn to where Harkess stood in the last glow of sunset.
"Never see such a boy for sleeping," grumbled the old man. "Come on now, put your best foot forward, and I'll come home with you and tell your father that the fault was none of yours."
"You needn't trouble, Harky. I can deal with my father."
There was something in the tone that made Harkess look at him sharply. True he had said "Harky" in the old, boyish, friendly way, but there was something arrogant in the voice and in the rest of the speech that made Harkess suddenly conscious that this was the Squire's son, and that he was only a foremast hand turned smuggler. Still, his kind old heart made him persist, "Are you sure? I'd hate for you to get into trouble through me."
Raleigh said, absently, "That'll be all right," and they walked on in silence.
This then, thought the boy, was to be a man, with a man's pleasures and privileges. He had known about it, of course, and rather recoiled from it, but he had never guessed. How sweet she was, soft and yielding and wise! Better not to dwell on her wisdom perhaps, it emphasized his own ignorance. But oh what paths, what prospects of pleasures had been opened tonight! With the Indies forgotten, he bade Harkess a careless good night and went to face his father. He was a man now, he was not going to be flogged on this or any other night. The very idea of an irreverent hand being laid upon him made him burn with shame where yesterday there would have been fear only. And so deep was his new assurance, so soundly rooted in natural laws, that his father after one glance at his flushed and defiant face put all thought of corporal punishment behind him, forever. Copyright © 1963 by Norah Lofts Copyright renewed © 1964 by Norah Lofts
The Netherlands November 17, 1572
It was a November evening. Three men sat huddled over a brazier in a leaky tent, waiting for a fourth. They might have been waiting for him to complete the number for a card game, for the cards lay in a pile on an upturned box, which held also a bottle of wine, three parts empty, and some horn cups. But there was an expression of anxiety upon their faces, and a certain tension in the way that they sat upon their stools that belied the peaceful supposition. Humphrey Gilbert was boring fresh holes in a belt that had stretched from constant soaking; the nail that he used squeaked in the wet leather and every now and then he paused with it uplifted in his hand and listened; then, assured that the sound was not the one that he awaited, he would shake his large head, lower the nail, and resume his squeaking. At each pause Philip Sydney would hold his pen still and look toward the door of the tent and wait. Then, as Gilbert shook his head, Sydney would look toward him, catch his eye with an expression of sympathy, and go on with his writing. The third man seemed less concerned. He tilted his stool upon one leg and swiveled round upon it; he hummed softly behind his closed lips; he eyed the bottle and grimaced as he realized how little was left in it; and at every pause of Gilbert's he let out an impatient sigh.
Presently Sydney laid down his pen, closed the little vessel that contained his ink and folded his paper.
"It's useless," he said in his quiet voice, "the boy has been gone twelve hours or more. Something must have happened."
"I don't trust the country people," said Gilbert miserably. "If it comes to blows they're as likely as not to turn against their allies, to curry favor with the Spaniards. It's my fault, I should never have let him go. He's but a lad when all's said."
"Well," said Gasgoigne, righting his stool with a thud, "if aught has happened to him it's an end he would have chosen for himself. And I for one would as soon have a Spanish bullet, or for that matter a Dutch pike, through my spleen as hang about here up to my eyes in mud for the rest of my days, as we look like doing."
"We weren't talking of you." Sydney spoke quietly still, but there was a wealth of dislike in his voice. "You may have little to live for. Walter is young, far too young to..."
"Don't talk of it," said Gilbert. He stood up and tossed the unfinished belt into the corner of the tent where the light of the swinging smoking lantern did not fall. "He's barely twenty; it's his first campaign."
Gasgoigne, determinedly pessimistic, murmured as though to himself, "Those whom the gods love..."
"Quit it!" snapped Sydney. "A foolish old saying that means anyway that if the gods love you you're young at eighty. Be of good cheer, Humphrey. The horses may be bogged. And Walter is canny. Besides, you can't stand between him and danger forever, you know."
Gilbert sat down again. The soft leather of his breeches, stiffened by the rain, creaked as he moved. Gasgoigne flung a fresh handful of charcoal on the brazier and resumed his humming. A fresh spatter of rain hissed on the wet canvas overhead. For some moments there was silence in the tent except for the crackle of the charcoal and the monotonous repetition of Gasgoigne's ditty. Then that stopped too. The singer gave another impatient sigh and picked up his cards.
"For the love of God let's do something. Otherwise I shall go crazy and drink what's left of our last bottle. And I don't want to do that, it'll make a splendid welcome for Walter. There's faith for you, Philip, 'the evidence of things unseen,' as the clerics say."
"Don't mock," said Sydney. "And I don't want to play now."
"Come on, man. I've not lost all hope of playing my nag against yours and winning. We shan't do any good by sitting here like mutes at a funeral."
"Oh, very well. My Peg against your Pan. Going to risk your spavined steed, Humphrey?"
Gilbert shook his head. Gasgoigne began to shuffle the cards that were among his most treasured possessions. Each card was a slice of ivory, so thin as to be almost translucent, and the Kings and Queens were painted as carefully as miniatures. The Queen of Hearts was especially beautiful, she had the red hair, thin lips and exquisite hands of Elizabeth Tudor. The others were all dark, all nonentities. Gasgoigne had never been in the Queen's presence, but when he did achieve his ambition and stand before her he was going to tell her that through many years, on many strange journeys, he had carried her portrait with him. He had just turned over his cards and seen with pleasure that the red-haired Queen had fallen to him when Gilbert jumped up again, overturning his stool as he made for the tent opening. Sydney laid down his cards and asked, "Where are you going?"
"To Leicester. I must do something. I'll get him to let me take ten men and go out to look for the boy."
"I'll come with you," said Sydney. He handed his cards back to Gasgoigne, who rose too, taking out a calf-skin case as he did so and slipping the cards inside it before he said, "And I."
The three stepped out into the street of the canvas town. On either side of the muddy track the tents stood in order. From some came the sound of voices and laughter, but most were dark and silent, filled with sleeping men.
They plunged through the mud and turned left at the end of the road. The new road, even muddier than the first, gave upon an open square where the great tent that was Leicester's headquarters stood. As they drew nearer they could hear the noise of men's voices, and the "plop" of horses' hoofs in the mire. Lanterns bobbed about, carried by men in a hurry. "It's they!" exclaimed Sydney, and seizing Gilbert's arm he began to run, unmindful of the mud that his flying heels sent into the face of Gasgoigne, who was close behind. Gasgoigne cursed and fell back a pace or two. There was no hurry, he thought. If this were Walter the good news would keep, and if it were ill tidings of him, why hasten toward it?
Just within the circle of lantern light the two runners stopped and the more leisurely Gasgoigne came up to them. He put a hand on Sydney's shoulder and leaned upon him while he stood on his toes to see over the ring of men who were crowded round talking. After one glance he lowered himself and turned excitedly to Gilbert. He ignored the look of impatient dislike that Sydney had leveled at him when he saw whose weight he had been bearing. He knew that Sydney disliked him and would have quarreled with him often and gladly enough if it had not been that Walter was their mutual friend.
"Look at the horses, Humphrey, Spanish bits and bridles. Before God, the boy's brought in some captives!"
"Has he come in himself? That's what I want to know." Gilbert shook off Gasgoigne's hand and began to elbow his way through the throng. "Are these Raleigh's men?" he asked several times, and pushed on without waiting for an answer. With Sydney and Gasgoigne stumbling along in the rapidly closing space made by his great shoulders Raleigh's half-brother came out before Leicester's tent. And there, diffident as always, he halted. At the same moment the flap of the tent lifted and Raleigh stood in the opening. By the light of the lanterns that swung from poles on either side of the tent they could see his face, white with fatigue and shining with rain, the bright eyes and slightly parted lips.
"Hullo, Humphrey, Philip, George," he greeted them in turn. "Have you seen what we've brought in?"
"Are you all right?" Gilbert demanded.
"Never better. Tired. But will you guess what we've brought in?"
"Ten Spanish grandees, richly attired, and ten steeds caparisoned in gold," said Gasgoigne; and for the second time that evening Sydney said, "Don't mock." For he knew that this was the boy's hour, when his friends should stand quietly by, and listen, even to his boasting.
" 'Tisn't mockery for once. Only there are nineteen of them. And Alva's bullion wagon, with the Spanish army's pay for six months on it."
Now indeed all three of his hearers were shaken. "What?" they said. And then as the great news sank in they clasped his hands, thumped his back, kissed him on both cheeks.
"It is the bullion, I suppose?" Gilbert asked seriously. "I mean, the Spaniards are crafty. They didn't palm you off with some rubbish, just to further their own ends?"
"Not they. They didn't have time. I'll tell you all about it, only I must get some dry things on me. I'm soaked."
The four set off along the muddy track that led back to the tent. Here and there a man rushed out to ask if the news were true, but Gilbert on one side and Sydney on the other pushed them away with a brief, "Aye, he's brought in Alva's money bags," and hurried Raleigh on.
"It'll end the war," said Gilbert as they strode along. "Our men paid and properly fed again will simply eat the Spaniards. They'll be rare and disheartened over this. Walter, my boy, you're a credit to your family." One of his rare smiles came to his lips and passed unseen in the darkness.
His feelings toward Walter were as much of gratitude as of pride. For like all the wars that are fought in the flat, wet lands, this war had dragged on and on until both sides were weary, so weary of mud and rain and discomfort that they hardly cared any longer who won if only they could go home and be warm, and dry, and properly fed again. And Gilbert had another reason to be eager that the war should end. What Virginia and Guiana were to be to his half-brother, the North-West Passage was to him. He asked no more of life than to be allowed to set out with the Queen's patent and a good ship under him to look for the way to reach the warm and spicy East through the cold straits that lay, he was certain, to the north of Newfoundland. But first he must gain the Queen's ear: and to Gilbert's simple, honest way of thinking the only way to do that was to serve her. He had begun his service in Ireland, but that had not sufficed; so here he was in Holland, with sundry other noblemen and gentry who had given their time and their substance to fight the Queen's war, and were now sinking in the mud; their money spent; their men unpaid and mutinous; and their hopes waning day by rainy day. Now it would end. The Spaniards would be discouraged by the blow that had fallen so suddenly, and the Spanish army, never too docile in the Netherlands, would mutiny when their wages were not forthcoming. And Walter's was the hand that had knocked off Gilbert's fetters. Dear Walter, so rash, so headstrong and so lucky. Gilbert loved him for those qualities; they were the ones that he himself conspicuously lacked.
They regained the tent, and stooping their heads one after another entered that limited space of shelter and comfort. Home-coming is as much a question of smell as of the senses of sight and hearing and Raleigh drew in deep satisfied breaths of the air scented of smoky oil lamp and wet leather. Several times during that eventful day he had wondered if he would ever smell it again. He sat down upon the stool that Gasgoigne had previously occupied, smiled upon his friends with drowsy contentment and stretched his hands over the brazier. Sydney knelt down like a servant and began removing the long spurred riding boots. Gasgoigne, not to be outdone in service, poured the wine into one of the horn cups, and then, in mockery of Sydney, knelt as he offered it. Gilbert routed about until he found a woolen robe thickly wadded with lambs' wool, and as Sydney rose to his feet with the boots in his hands, said, "Get off your wet clothes, Walter, and put this on."
Obediently Raleigh stood up and loosened thongs and buttons, letting the sodden garments fall heavily to the floor. For one instant he stood naked, a slender boyish figure, white as alabaster save for dark brown on chest and thigh and the sudden change to brown at wrist and neck where the exposed skin began. Then he drew the robe around him with a sigh of sensuous pleasure and sat down again.
Gasgoigne had been watching him closely. To the man of forty that momentary glimpse of the boy's body had been a revelation of youth and immaturity, and possibility. Walter had everything in his favor. He was young, spirited, good to look upon, charming. And on this single day's work surely he would step straight into the Queen's favor. She would listen, eyes wide and lips parted to the story of how a boy of twenty, scouting at the head of a troop of tired men, had brought in the gold for which the Spanish general was waiting, aloof in his impregnable city. And when that tale was told there, behind the teller, would be his dear friend, George Gasgoigne, waiting his turn. Waiting until by a happy twist of speech, a flash of wit, or a well-timed compliment he might rivet the Queen's attention upon himself. That was why he, a man full grown, worldly, experienced, had cultivated the friendship of this boy; had listened to him and flattered him. Yes and mocked him. For he was clever enough, this man whose cleverness had never yet gained him anything, to realize that Raleigh was no fool; he would tire easily of a friend who was all fawning spaniel. Gasgoigne's adulation was never unleavened. As Raleigh drained the cup and set it back on the box he said suddenly:
"Where are the ducats, Walter?"
"With the Earl. Where else?" asked Raleigh, who had seen and not greatly appreciated Gasgoigne's mockery of Sydney.
"God's curse on it, what a mistake!" cried Gasgoigne. "Why didn't you come here first? I could have told you what to do."
"What else was there to do but to hand prisoners and all over to the commander-in-chief?"
"Taken half of it, or all of it if needs were, and carried it to Whitehall, or Windsor, or wherever she is, and laid it in her lap."
"Whose? Oh, the Queen's. Much good that would do. We need it here. The men haven't been fed properly or paid for months. We're on short commons ourselves." He flicked the empty bottle with his thumb.
"That is beside the question. You've your career to think of. Gaining the Queen's favor should mean more to you than feeding a lot of chawbacons."
"Your course would have been desertion," said Gilbert solemnly, "and if the Queen is half the woman she is reputed to be, that would be no way to her favor."
Gasgoigne curled his lip. "If she is half the woman she is reputed to be Alva's money bags would have bought her, soul...and body."
Sydney leaned forward on his stool, his fine nostrils quivered. Perhaps here at last was a good impersonal cause for the quarrel after which his soul had been thirsting for so long.
"Take that back, Gasgoigne, or by Heaven I'll make you."
Gasgoigne looked at Raleigh, understood exactly the sly interest that had replaced the expression of tired contentment on the young face, and shrugged his shoulders. He was not going to quarrel with Sydney, yet.
"Oh, certainly, if you wish it. I had no idea that your ideals extended so far."
Sydney was not appeased, he went on offensively:
"There were twenty chawbacons, as you call them, riding with Walter. They took their share in whatever danger was going and they and their ilk should have their share in any advantage that the money brings."
"Paying the men and feeding them seems to me a way of ending the war," put in the practical Gilbert.
"Of providing it with sinews, I should say," said Gasgoigne, but he spoke less truculently to Gilbert. There was no hope in his mind of supplanting the half-brother in Raleigh's affections.
"Well, quit the argument, and let's hear Walter's story," said Sydney. He alone of the four cared nothing for whether Raleigh had ended or prolonged the war; whether the Queen ever heard of the gold or not. Sydney's ambition, either for his friends or for himself, did not lie that way. He wanted to live, to savor life, to be where stirring deeds were done, to know the men who did them, to do them, when possible, himself. Wherever life promised, not reward but action, there he followed. And when the drum beat toward the last action and the long silence, he went uncalculating with his ambition achieved and left behind the fairest name of them all. At this moment he wanted not to reckon what the day's work would bring, but to hear how it had been done.
"It wasn't difficult," Raleigh began, "we'd seen nothing all day. A woman at a farm gave us some rye bread and then went indoors to an upstairs window to look out and watch us eat it, I suppose. From there she called out in a terrified voice for us to begone, she could see Spaniards on the road, and if they saw us, or guessed that she had fed us, they'd burn the farm. I ran up and looked out of the window and far away on the skyline I could see them riding in a long line with the wagon in the middle. I guessed that it must be valuable, or they'd have put such a slow thing at the rear. We finished the bread, there wasn't much, and then rode in a half-circle until we struck the road. There happened to be a bridge over the canal at one point, and near by some stacks. We hid ourselves behind those and waited. The road was very bad and the horsemen in front didn't expect an attack, they rode easily and crossed the bridge first, about thirty of them. Then came the wagon, wallowing along in the mud, and about thirty more men strung out behind it. I got my fellows ready and as the wagon drew level I said, 'Now, you chaps, here's tomorrow's dinner, come out and get it.' We'd got the wagon and mastered the men behind it before the others heard the row and came back. A few of them bolted when they saw the mess we'd made already; the rest fought, but they weren't really ready or anything. And so we brought the wagon and a prisoner apiece, and that's all." He yawned and stretched his arms as he finished the unvarnished story.
"A splendid piece of strategy," said Gilbert.
"Three to one is pretty good odds," added Sydney.
"Oh, they weren't actually three to one at any moment," said Raleigh, literally, from the midst of another yawn.
"I hope Leicester gets it all down in his report and doesn't forget that it was your job, not his," said Gasgoigne. He rose as he spoke and pulled aside the tent flap. "Not raining now," he said, and stepped outside. As soon as the canvas had fallen behind him Sydney stretched out his hand and gripped Raleigh's wrist. It was slender and his fingers closed round it.
"Don't let him preach his poison into you, Walter," he said quickly, for Gasgoigne would be back in a moment. "So long as a thing is done, what does the report matter? Once let that worm bite you and you'll never be at ease again." He withdrew his hand hastily as Gasgoigne's step sounded outside.
"I'm going to bed," said Raleigh, pressing his fingers to his eyes.
In bed, however, with the tent darkened, he was unable to sleep. His mind was like a mirror in which changing scenes were shown. He saw the affair by the bridge again. Saw himself reporting to Leicester. Then he saw what he would have done had he seen Gasgoigne first and taken his counsel. He crossed the sea, being horribly sick, as he always was; he reached the Queen and poured the gold into her lap; she was pleased. No, she was angered at his desertion, as Humphrey had said. Which of the pictures was true? He thought of Sydney's hastily given warning. At that thought he sighed and turned over. Probably Sydney was right, joy lay in the action, not in the reward. But already something was stirring in him, something entirely alien to Sydney's high ideals of chivalry. He loved Sydney, perhaps best of all the three who were now sleeping within reach of his hands. Sydney's nature, his calm and his fire, his ideals and his poetry all attracted the boy who was so like him in so many ways. But George attracted him, too. Just as part of him was kin to Philip, so part of him acknowledged a secret, subtler kinship with that other bitter, restless, worldly nature. Perhaps on this very night as he tossed restlessly on his straw pallet and listened to the rain that splashed on the stretched tent cloth above him, the duel between the two parts of his make-up, the duel that was to end only at his death, had its beginning. At one moment he was Sydney's man and cared nothing for what Leicester might or might not write. The next, Gasgoigne's discipline, he was sweating with agitation lest his name should be omitted from the report. And all the time he was aware that he had no choice or will in the matter. Two men, the poet and the sophist, were within him, fighting for mastery, and neither would give up the struggle without injuring the soul for which he fought. "Which am I?" he asked himself. "Sydney," cried the poet. "Gasgoigne," shouted the sophist. "Both," moaned Raleigh.
The two symbols of the spiritual protagonists slept unheeding.
And meantime Leicester had called for new candles, and as they flared and bowed in the draughty tent he bent over his report. It was heartening news for a general to send to the Queen and the Council. Sixty-odd Spaniards beaten off, nineteen and the bullion wagon captured. How the Queen would gloat! But the name of the tired muddy boy who had led the men out to capture "tomorrow's dinner" was not mentioned therein. Years were to pass before that name was to reach the Queen's jeweled ears. And when Raleigh heard of the omission he knew by the sick disappointment in his stomach that the sophist had gained the first victory. Copyright © 1963 by Norah Lofts Copyright renewed © 1964 by Norah Lofts
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I received this for a gift and loved it. I knew very little about Sir Walter Raleigh and learned so much. I always enjoy the writing style of Norah Lofts.