But Drake went faster by sea than their news by land. Every vessel was overhauled, taken, searched, emptied of its treasure, and then sent back with its crew and passengers at liberty. One day a watering party chanced upon a Spaniard from Potosi fast asleep with thirteen bars of silver by him. The bars were lifted quietly and the Spaniard left sleeping peacefully. Another Spaniard suddenly came round a corner with half a ton of silver on eight llamas. The Indians came off to trade; and Drake, as usual, made friends with them at once. He had already been attacked by other Indians on both coasts. But this was because the unknown English had been mistaken for the hated Spaniards.
As he neared Lima, Drake quickened his pace lest the great annual treasure ship of 1579 should get wind of what was wrong. A minor treasure ship was found to have been cleared of all her silver just in time to balk him. So he set every stitch of canvas she possessed and left her driving out to sea with two other empty prizes. Then he stole into Lima after dark and came to anchor surrounded by Spanish vessels not one of which had set a watch. They were found nearly empty. But a ship from Panama looked promising; so the pinnace started after her, but was fired on and an Englishman was killed. Drake then followed her, after cutting every cable in the harbor, which soon became a pandemonium of vessels gone adrift. The Panama ship had nothing of great value except her news, which was that the great treasure ship Nuestra Senora de la Conception, 'the chiefest glory of the whole South Sea,' was on her way to Panama.
She had a very long start; and, as ill luck would have it, Drake got becalmed outside Callao, where the bells rang out in wild alarm. The news had spread inland and the Viceroy of Peru came hurrying down with all the troops that he could muster. Finding from some arrows that the strangers were Englishmen, he put four hundred soldiers into the only two vessels that had escaped the general wreck produced by Drake's cutting of the cables. When Drake saw the two pursuing craft, he took back his prize crew from the Panama vessel, into which he put his prisoners. Meanwhile a breeze sprang up and he soon drew far ahead. The Spanish soldiers overhauled the Panama prize and gladly gave up the pursuit.
They had no guns of any size with which to fight the Golden Hind; and most of them were so sea-sick from the heaving ground-swell that they couldn't have boarded her in any case.
Three more prizes were then taken by the swift Golden Hind. Each one had news which showed that Drake was closing on the chase. Another week passed with every stitch of canvas set. A fourth prize, taken off Cape San Francisco, said that the treasure ship was only one day ahead. But she was getting near to Panama; so every nerve was strained anew. Presently Jack Drake, the Captain's page, yelled out Sail-ho! and scrambled down the mainmast to get the golden chain that Drake had promised to the first lookout who saw the chase. It was ticklish work, so near to Panama; and local winds might ruin all. So Drake, in order not to frighten her, trailed a dozen big empty wine jars over the stern to moderate his pace. At eight o'clock the jars were cut adrift and the Golden Hind sprang forward with the evening breeze, her crew at battle quarters and her decks all cleared for action. The chase was called the 'Spitfire' by the Spaniards because she was much better armed than any other vessel there. But, all the same, her armament was nothing for her tonnage. The Spaniards trusted to their remoteness for protection; and that was their undoing.
To every Englishman's amazement the chase was seen to go about and calmly come to hail the Golden Hind, which she mistook for a despatch vessel sent after her with some message from the Viceroy! Drake, asking nothing better, ran up alongside as Anton her captain hailed him with a Who are you? A ship of Chili! answered Drake. Anton looked down on the stranger's deck to see it full of armed men from whom a roar of triumph came. English! strike sail! Then Drake's whistle blew sharply and instant silence followed; on which he hailed Don Anton: — Strike sail! Senor Juan de Anton, or I must send you to the bottom! —Come aboard and do it yourself! bravely answered Anton. Drake's whistle blew one shrill long blast, which loosed a withering volley at less than point-blank range. Anton tried to bear away and shake off his assailant. But in vain. The English guns now opened on his masts and rigging. Down came the mizzen, while a hail of English shot and arrows prevented every attempt to clear away the wreckage. The dumbfounded Spanish crew ran below. Don Anton looked overside to port; and there was the English pinnace, from which forty English boarders were nimbly climbing up his own ship's side. Resistance was hopeless; so Anton struck and was taken aboard the Golden Hind. There he met Drake, who was already taking off his armor. 'Accept with patience the usage of war,' said Drake, laying his hand on Anton's shoulder.
For all that night, next day, and the next night following Drake sailed west with his fabulous prize so as to get well clear of the trade route along the coast. What the whole treasure was has never been revealed. But it certainly amounted to the equivalent of many millions at the present day. Among the official items were: 13 chests of pieces of eight, 80 lbs. of pure gold, jewels and plate, 26 ton weight of silver, and sundries unspecified. As the Spanish pilot's son looked over the rail at this astounding sight, the Englishmen called out to say that his father was no longer the pilot of the old Spit-fire but of the new Spit-silver.
The prisoners were no less gratified than surprised by Drake's kind treatment. He entertained Don Anton at a banquet, took him all over the Golden Hind, and entrusted him with a message to Don Martin, the traitor of San Juan de Ulua. This was to say that if Don Martin hanged any more Englishmen, as he had just hanged Oxenham, he should soon be given a present of two thousand Spanish heads. Then Drake gave every Spanish officer and man a personal gift proportioned to his rank, put all his accumulated prisoners aboard the emptied treasure ship, wished them a prosperous voyage and better luck next time, furnished the brave Don Anton with a letter of protection in case he should fall in with an English vessel, and, after many expressions of goodwill on both sides, sailed north, the voyage ' made'; while the poor 'spit-silver' treasure ship turned sadly east and steered for Panama.