The Boat Of Phantom Children

: Myths & Legends Of Our New Possessions & Protectorate

Sir Francis Drake, destroyer of many of the "invincible" ships of

Spain, came to America with Sir John Hawkins, to subdue the Spanish

colonies with the heaviest fleet he ever commanded. Though wrangles

between the commanders made this expedition a comparative failure,

still wherever the head of a don was seen, a cracking blow was struck

at it. War was a crueller business then than it is to-day, in spite

of our high exp
osives, our armored ships, our mighty guns, and our

nimble tactics, and things were done that no captain would dare in

these times; at least, no captain with a fear of the world's rebuke,

or that of his own conscience. Just before Christmas, 1594, Drake

was scourging the coast of Colombia, burning houses, and shipping

and despoiling the towns. The people of one village near Rio de la

Hache, having been warned of his coming, buried their little property,

closed their houses, put fifty of their children on a fishing smack,

while they hurriedly provisioned some boats to carry all the people to

a distant cape, where they would remain in hiding until after Drake

had destroyed their homes and passed on. The fisherman who owned the

smack set sail too soon; he was separated from the others in a gale,

and Drake, who then appeared, ran between him and the shore, and with

a couple of shots drove him farther into the wild sea. The smack never

returned. After the English had passed, the people watched for it,

and, truly, on the next day, a boat was seen beating against the gale

and trying to make the pier. As it came nearer, the parents saw their

children holding out their arms and laughing. Then the outlines of the

hull and sail grew dim, the children's forms drooped as if weary; and

in another moment the vision had passed. Long was the grief and loud

were the curses on the English. When Drake learned that he had fired

on a harmless fishing vessel and driven a company of little ones away

from land to be sunk in a tempest, he was filled with compunction and

misgiving. The same vision that the parents had seen crossed the path

of his own ships. Before every storm the boat of phantoms appeared,

and when he sailed for Escudo and Porto Bello it followed him. Wearied

with many wars, ill with tropical fever, repentant for this useless

killing, he sank into a depression from which nothing could rouse him,

and in January he died on his ship, at Nombre de Dios. His remains were

consigned to a sailor's grave--the wide ocean--and as the ship moved

on her way, the crew, looking back to the place where the body had gone

down, saw the phantom smack rise from the deep, rush like a wind-blown

wrack across the spot, and melt into the air as it neared the shore.