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Sea StoriesThe Launch Etcetera
Ships begin life with a retrograde movement; they im...
Spanish Bloodhounds And English Mastiffs
When the sun leaped up the next morning, and the tropic light flashed
suddenly into the tropic day, Amyas was pacing the deck, with
disheveled hair and torn clothes, his eyes red with rage and weeping,
his heart full--how can I describe it? Picture it to yourselves, you
who have ever lost a brother; and you who have not, thank God that you
know nothing of his agony. Full of impossible projects, he strode and
staggered up and down, as the ship thrashed and close-hauled through
the rolling seas. He would go back and burn the villa. He would take
Guayra, and have the life of every man in it in return for his
brother's. "We can do it, lads!" he shouted. "Drake took Nombre de
Dios, we can take La Guayra." And every voice shouted, "Yes."
"We will have it, Amyas, and have Frank too, yet," cried Cary; but
Amyas shook his head. He knew, and knew not why he knew, that all the
ports in New Spain would never restore to him that one beloved face.
"Yes, he shall be well avenged. And look there! There is the first
crop of our vengeance." And he pointed toward the shore, where between
them and the now distant peaks of the Silla, three sails appeared, not
five miles to windward.
"There are the Spanish bloodhounds on our heels, the same ships which
we saw yesterday off Guayra. Back, lads, and welcome them, if they
were a dozen."
There was a murmur of applause from all around; and if any young heart
sank for a moment at the prospect of fighting three ships at once, it
was awed into silence by the cheer which rose from all the older men,
and by Salvation Yeo's stentorian voice.
"If there were a dozen, the Lord is with us, who has said, 'One of you
shall chase a thousand.' Clear away, lads, and see the glory of the
Lord this day."
"Amen!" cried Cary; and the ship was kept still closer to the wind.
Amyas had revived at the sight of battle. He no longer felt his wounds
or his great sorrow as he bustled about the deck; and ere a quarter of
an hour had passed, his voice cried firmly and cheerfully as of old--
"Now, my masters, let us serve God, and then to breakfast, and after
that clear for action."
Jack Brimblecombe read the dally prayers, and the prayers before a
fight at sea, and his honest voice trembled, as, in the Prayer for all
Conditions of Men (In spite of Amyas's despair), he added, "and
especially for our dear brother Mr. Francis Leigh, perhaps captive
among the idolaters;" and so they rose.
"Now, then," said Amyas, "to breakfast. A Frenchman fights best
fasting, a Dutchman drunk, an Englishman full, and a Spaniard when the
devil is in him, and that's always."
"And good beef and the good cause are a match for the devil," said
Cary. "Come down, captain; you must eat too."
Amyas shook his head, took the tiller from the steersman, and bade him
go below and fill himself. Will Cary went down, and returned in five
minutes with a plate of bread and beef, and a great jack of ale, coaxed
them down Amyas's throat, as a nurse does with a child, and then
scuttled below again with tears hopping down his face.
Amyas stood still steering. His face was grown seven years older in
the last night. A terrible set calm was on him. Woe to the man who
came across him that day!
"There are three of them, you see, my masters," said he, as the crew
came on deck again. "A big ship forward, and two galleys astern of
her. The big ship may keep; she is a race ship, and if we can but
recover the wind of her, we will see whether our height is not a match
for her length. We must give her the slip, and take the galleys first."
"I thank the Lord," said Yeo, "who has given so wise a heart to so
young a general; a very David and Daniel, saving his presence, lads.
Silas Staveley, smite me that boy over the head, the young monkey; why
is he not down at the powder-room door?"
And Yeo went about his gunnery, as one who knew how to do it, and had
the most terrible mind to do it thoroughly, and the most terrible faith
that it was God's work.
So all fell to; and though there was comparatively little to be done,
the ship having been kept as far as could be in fighting order all
night, yet there was "clearing of decks, lacing of nettings, making of
bulwarks, fitting of waistcloths, arming of tops, tallowing of pikes,
slinging of yards, doubling of sheets and tacks." Amyas took charge of
the poop, Cary of the forecastle, and Yeo, as gunner, of the main-deck,
while Drew, as master, settled himself in the waist; and all was ready,
and more than ready, before the great ship was within two miles of them.
She is now within two musket-shots of the _Rose_, with the golden flag
of Spain floating at her poop; and her trumpets are shouting defiance
up the breeze, from a dozen brazen throats, which two or three answer
lustily from the _Rose_, from whose poop flies the flag of England, and
from her fore the arms of Leigh and Cary side by side, and over them
the ship and bridge of the good town of Bideford. And then Amyas
"Now, silence trumpets, waits, play up! 'Fortune my foe!' and God and
the Queen be with us!"
Whereon (laugh not, reader, for it was the fashion of those musical, as
well as valiant days) up rose that noble old favorite of good Queen
Bess, from cornet and sackbut, fife and drum; while Parson Jack, who
had taken his stand with the musicians on the poop, worked away lustily
at his violin.
"Well played, Jack; thy elbow flies like a lamb's tail," said Amyas,
forcing a jest.
"It shall fly to a better fiddle-bow presently, sir, and I have the
"Steady, helm!" said Amyas. "What is he after now?"
The Spaniard, who had been coming upon them right down the wind under a
press of sail, took in his light canvas.
"He don't know what to make of our waiting for him so bold," said the
"He does though, and means to fight us," cried another. "See, he is
hauling up the foot of his mainsail: but he wants to keep the wind of
"Let him try, then," quoth Amyas. "Keep her closer still. Let no one
fire till we are about. Man the starboard guns; to starboard, and
wait, all small arm men. Pass the order down to the gunner, and bid
all fire high, and take the rigging."
Bang went one of the Spaniard's bow guns, and the shot went wide. Then
another and another, while the men fidgeted about, looking at the
priming of their muskets, and loosened their arrows in the sheaf.
"Lie down, men, and sing a psalm. When I want you I'll call you.
Closer still, if you can, helmsman, and we will try a short ship
against a long one. We can sail two points nearer the wind than he."
As Amyas had calculated, the Spaniard would gladly enough have stood
across the _Rose's_ bows, but knowing the English readiness dare not
for fear of being raked; so her only plan, if she did not intend to
shoot past her foe down to leeward, was to put her head close to the
wind, and wait for her on the same tack.
Amyas laughed to himself. "Hold on yet awhile. More ways of killing a
cat than choking her with cream. Drew, there, are your men ready?"
"Ay, ay, sir!" and on they went, closing fast with the Spaniard, till
within a pistol-shot.
"Ready about!" and about she went like an eel, and ran upon the
opposite tack right under the Spaniard's stern. The Spaniard,
astonished at the quickness of the maneuver, hesitated a moment, and
then tried to get about also, as his only chance; but it was too late,
and while his lumbering length was still hanging in the wind's eye,
Amyas's bowsprit had all but scraped his quarter, and the _Rose_ passed
slowly across his stern at ten yards' distance.
"Now, then!" roared Amyas. "Fire, and with a will! Have at her,
archers: have at her, muskets all!" and in an instant a storm of bar
and chain-shot, round and canister, swept the proud Don from stem to
stern, while through the white cloud of smoke the musket-balls, and the
still deadlier clothyard arrows, whistled and rushed upon their
venomous errand. Down went the steersman, and every soul who manned
the poop. Down went the mizzen topmast, in went the stern-windows and
quarter-galleries; and as the smoke cleared away, the golden flag of
Spain, which the last moment flaunted above their heads, hung trailing
in the water. The ship, her tiller shot away, and her helmsman killed,
staggered helplessly a moment, and then fell up into the wind.
"Well done, men of Devon!" shouted Amyas, as cheers rent the welkin.
"She has struck," cried some, as the deafening hurrahs died away.
"Not a bit," said Amyas. "Hold on, helmsman, and leave her to patch
her tackle while we settle the galleys."
On they shot merrily, and long ere the armada could get herself to
rights again, were two good miles to windward, with the galleys
sweeping down fast upon them.
And two venomous-looking craft they were, as they shot through the
short chopping sea upon some forty oars apiece, stretching their long
sword-fish snouts over the water, as if snuffing for their prey.
Behind this long snout, a strong square forecastle was crammed with
soldiers, and the muzzles of cannon grinned out through port-holes, not
only in the sides of the forecastle, but forward in the line of the
galley's course, thus enabling her to keep up a continual fire on a
ship right ahead.
The long low waist was packed full of the slaves, some five or six to
each oar, and down the center, between the two banks, the English could
see the slave-drivers walking up and down a long gangway, whip in hand.
A raised quarter-deck at the stern held more soldiers, the sunlight
flashing merrily upon their armor and their gun-barrels; as they
neared, the English could hear plainly the cracks of the whips, and the
yells as of wild beasts which answered them; the roll and rattle of the
oars, and the loud "Ha!" of the slaves which accompanied every stroke,
and the oaths and curses of the drivers; while a sickening musky smell,
as of a pack of kenneled hounds, came down the wind from off those dens
of misery. No wonder if many a young heart shuddered as it faced, for
the first time, the horrible reality of those floating hells, the
cruelties whereof had rung so often in English ears from the stories of
their own countrymen, who had passed them, fought them, and now and
then passed years of misery on board of them. Who knew but what there
might be English among those sun-browned, half-naked masses of panting
"Must we fire upon the slaves?" asked more than one, as the thought
"Spare them all you can, in God's name: but if they try to run us down,
rake them we must, and God forgive us."
The two galleys came on abreast of each other, some forty yards apart.
To out-maneuver their oars as he had done the ship's sails, Amyas knew
was impossible. To run from them was to be caught between them and the
He made up his mind, as usual, to the desperate game.
"Lay her head up in the wind, helmsman, and we will wait for them."
They were now within musket-shot, and opened fire from their bow-guns;
but, owing to the chopping sea, their aim was wild. Amyas, as usual,
withheld his fire.
The men stood at quarters with compressed lips, not knowing what was to
come next. Amyas, towering motionless on the quarter-deck, gave his
orders calmly and decisively. The men saw that he trusted himself, and
trusted him accordingly.
The Spaniards, seeing him wait for them, gave a shout of joy--was the
Englishman mad? And the two galleys converged rapidly, intending to
strike him full, one on each bow.
They were within forty yards--another minute, and the shock would come.
The Englishman's helm went up, his yards creaked round, and gathering
way, he plunged upon the larboard galley.
"A dozen gold nobles to him who brings down the steersman!" shouted
Cary, who had his cue.
And a flight of arrows from the forecastle rattled upon the galley's
Hit or not hit, the steersman lost his nerve, and shrank from the
coming shock. The galley's helm went up to port, and her beak slid all
but harmless along Amyas's bow; a long dull grind, and then loud crack
on crack, as the _Rose_ sawed slowly through the bank of oars from stem
to stern, hurling the wretched slaves in heaps upon each other; and ere
her mate on the other side could swing round to strike him in his new
position, Amyas's whole broadside, great and small, had been poured
into her at pistol-shot, answered by a yell which rent their ears and
"Spare the slaves! Fire at the soldiers!" cried Amyas; but the work
was too hot for much discrimination; for the larboard galley, crippled
but not undaunted, swung round across his stern, and hooked herself
venomously on to him.
It was a move more brave than wise; for it prevented the other galley
from returning to the attack without exposing herself a second time to
the English broadside; and a desperate attempt of the Spaniards to
board at once through the stern-ports and up the quarter was met with
such a demurrer of shot and steel that they found themselves in three
minutes again upon the galley's poop, accompanied, to their intense
disgust, by Amyas Leigh and twenty English swords.
Five minutes' hard cutting, hand to hand, and the poop was clear. The
soldiers in the forecastle had been able to give them no assistance,
open as they lay to the arrows and musketry from the _Rose's_ lofty
stern. Amyas rushed along the central gangway, shouting in Spanish,
"Freedom to the slaves! death to the masters!" clambered into the
forecastle, followed close by his swarm of wasps, and set them so good
an example how to use their stings that in three minutes more there was
not a Spaniard on board who was not dead or dying.
"Let the slaves free!" shouted he. "Throw us a hammer down, men.
Hark! there's an English voice!"
There is indeed. From amid the wreck of broken oars and writhing
limbs, a voice is shrieking in broadest Devon to the master, who is
looking over the side.
"Oh, Robert Drew! Robert Drew! Come down, and take me out of hell!"
"Who be you, in the name of the Lord?"
"Don't you mind William Prust, that Captain Hawkins left behind in the
Honduras, years and years agone? There's nine of us aboard, if your
shot hasn't put 'em out of their misery. Come down, if you've a
Christian heart, come down!"
Utterly forgetful of all discipline, Drew leaps down hammer in hand,
and the two old comrades rush into each other's arms.
Why make a long story of what took but five minutes to do? The nine
men (luckily none of them wounded) are freed, and helped on board, to
be hugged and kissed by old comrades and young kinsmen; while the
remaining slaves, furnished with a couple of hammers, are told to free
themselves and help the English. The wretches answer by a shout; and
Amyas, once more safe on board again, dashes after the other galley,
which has been hovering out of reach of his guns: but there is no need
to trouble himself about her; sickened with what she has got, she is
struggling right up wind, leaning over to one side, and seemingly ready
"Are there any English on board of her?" asks Amyas, loth to lose the
chance of freeing a countryman.
"Never a one, sir, thank God."
So they set to work to repair damages; while the liberated slaves,
having shifted some of the galley's oars, pull away after their
comrade; and that with such a will that in ten minutes they have caught
her up, and careless of the Spaniard's fire, boarded her en masse, with
yells as of a thousand wolves. There will be fearful vengeance taken
on those tyrants, unless they play the man this day.
And in the meanwhile half the crew are clothing, feeding, questioning,
caressing those nine poor fellows thus snatched from living death; and
Yeo, hearing the news, has rushed up on deck to welcome his old
"Is Michael Heard, my cousin, here among you?"
Yes, Michael Heard is there, white-headed rather from misery than age;
and the embracings and questionings begin afresh.
"Where is my wife, Salvation Yeo?"
"With the Lord."
"Amen!" says the old man, with a short shudder. "I thought so much;
and my two boys?"
"With the Lord."
The old man catches Yeo by the arm.
"How, then?" It is Yeo's turn to shudder now.
"Killed in Panama, fighting the Spaniards; sailing with Mr. Oxeham; and
'twas I led 'em into it. May God and you forgive me!"
"They couldn't die better, cousin Yeo."
The old man covers his face with his hands for a while.
"Well, I've been alone with the Lord these fifteen years, so I must not
whine at being alone awhile longer--'twon't be long."
"Put this coat on your back, uncle," says some one.
"No; no coats for me. Naked came I into the world, and naked I go out
of it this day, if I have a chance. You'm better go to your work,
lads, or the big one will have the wind of us yet."
"So she will," said Amyas, who had overheard; but so great is the
curiosity of all hands that he has some trouble in getting the men to
quarters again; indeed, they only go on condition of parting among
themselves with them the newcomers, each to tell his sad and strange
story. How after Captain Hawkins, constrained by famine, had put them
ashore, they wandered in misery till the Spaniards took them; how,
instead of hanging them (as they at first intended), the Dons fed and
clothed them, and allotted them as servants to various gentlemen about
Mexico, where they throve, turned their hands (like true sailors) to
all manner of trades, and made much money; so that all went well, until
the fatal year 1574, when, much against the minds of many of the
Spaniards themselves, that cruel and bloody Inquisition was established
for the first time in the Indies; and how from that moment their lives
were one long tragedy; how they were all imprisoned for a year and a
half, racked again and again, and at last adjudged to receive publicly,
on Good Friday, 1575, some three hundred, some one hundred stripes, and
to serve in the galleys for six or ten years each; while as the
crowning atrocity of the Moloch sacrifice, three of them were burnt
alive in the market-place of Mexico.
The history of the party was not likely to improve the good feeling of
the crew towards the Spanish ship which was two miles to leeward of
them, and which must be fought with, or fled from, before a quarter of
an hour was past. So, kneeling down upon the deck, as many a brave
crew in those days did in like case, they "gave God thanks devoutly for
the favor they had found," and then with one accord, at Jack's leading,
sang one and all the ninety-fourth Psalm:
"Oh, Lord, thou dost revenge all wrong;
Vengeance belongs to thee," etc.
And then again to quarters; for half the day's work, or more than half,
still remained to be done; and hardly were the decks cleared afresh,
and the damage repaired as best it could be, when she came ranging up
to leeward, as closehauled as she could.
She was, as I said, a long flushed-decked ship of full five hundred
tons, more than double the size, in fact, of he Rose, though not so
lofty in proportion; and many a bold heart beat loud, and no shame to
them, as she began firing away merrily, determined, as all well knew,
to wipe out in English blood the disgrace of her late foil.
"Never mind, my merry masters," said Amyas, "she has quantity and we
"That's true," said one, "for one honest man is worth two rogues."
"And one culverin three of their footy little ordnance," said another.
"So when you will, captain, and have at her."
"Let her come abreast of us, and don't burn powder. We have the wind,
and can do what we like with her. Serve the men out a horn of ale all
round, steward, and all take your time."
So they waited five minutes more, and then set to work quietly, after
the fashion of English mastiffs, though, like those mastiffs, they
waxed right mad before three rounds were fired, and the white splinters
(sight beloved) began to crackle and fly.
Amyas, having, as he had said, the wind, and being able to go nearer it
than the Spaniard, kept his place at easy point-blank range for his
two-eighteen-pounder culverins, which Yeo and his mate worked with
"We are lacking her through and through every shot," said he. "Leave
the small ordnance alone yet awhile, and we shall sink her without
"Whing, whing," went the Spaniard's shot, like so many humming-tops,
through the rigging far above their heads; for the ill-constructed
ports of those days prevented the guns from hulling an enemy who was to
windward, unless close alongside.
"Blow, jolly breeze," cried one, "and lay the Don over all thou
canst.--What the murrain is gone, aloft there?"
Alas! a crack, a flap, a rattle; and blank dismay! An unlucky shot had
cut the foremast (already wounded) in two, and all forward was a mass
of dangling wreck.
"Forward, and cut away the wreck!" said Amyas, unmoved. "Small arm
men, be ready. He will be aboard of us in five minutes!"
It was true. The _Rose_, unmanageable from the loss of her head-sail,
lay at the mercy of the Spaniard; and the archers and musqueteers had
hardly time to range themselves to leeward, when the _Madre Dolorosa's_
chains were grinding against the _Rose's_, and grapples tossed on board
from stem to stern.
"Don't cut them loose!" roared Amyas. "Let them stay and see the fun!
Now, dogs of Devon, show your teeth, and hurrah for God and the Queen!"
And then began a fight most fierce and fell: the Spaniards, according
to their fashion, attempted to board: the English, amid fierce shouts
of "God and the Queen!" "God and St. George for England!" sweeping
them back by showers of arrows and musquet balls, thrusting them down
with pikes, hurling grenades and stink-pots from the tops; while the
swivels on both sides poured their grape, and bar, and chain, and the
great main-deck guns, thundering muzzle to muzzle, made both ships
quiver and recoil, as they smashed the round shot through and through
So they roared and flashed, fast clenched to each other in that devil's
wedlock, under a cloud of smoke beneath the cloudless tropic sky; while
all around, the dolphins gamboled, and the flying-fish shot on from
swell to swell, and the rainbow-hued jellies opened and shut their cups
of living crystal to the sun.
So it raged for an hour or more, till all arms were weary, and all
tongues clove to the mouth. And sick men, rotting with scurvy,
scrambled up on deck, and fought with the strength of madness: and tiny
powder-boys, handing up cartridges from the hold, laughed and cheered
as the shots ran past their ears; and old Salvation Yeo, a text upon
his lips, and a fury in his heart as of Joshua or Elijah in old time,
worked on, calm and grim, but with the energy of a boy at play. And
now and then an opening in the smoke showed the Spanish captain, in his
suit of black steel armor, standing cool and proud, guiding and
pointing, careless of the iron hail, but too lofty a gentleman to soil
his glove with aught but a knightly sword-hilt: while Amyas and Will,
after the fashion of the English gentlemen, had stripped themselves
nearly as bare as their own sailors, and were cheering, thrusting,
hewing, and hauling, here, there, and everywhere, like any common
mariner, and filling them with a spirit of self-respect,
fellow-feeling, and personal daring, which the discipline of the
Spaniards, more perfect mechanically, but cold and tyrannous, and
crushing spiritually, never could bestow. The black-plumed Senor was
obeyed; but the golden-locked Amyas was followed, and would have been
followed through the jaws of hell.
The Spaniards, ere five minutes had passed, poured en masse into the
_Rose's_ waist: but only to their destruction. Between the poop and
forecastle (as was then the fashion) the upper-deck beams were left
open and unplanked, with the exception of a narrow gangway on either
side; and off that fatal ledge the boarders, thrust on by those behind,
fell headlong between the beams to the main-deck below, to be
slaughtered helpless in that pit of destruction, by the double fire
from the bulkheads fore and aft; while the few who kept their footing
on the gangway, after vain attempts to force the stockades on poop and
forecastle, leaped overboard again amid a shower of shot and arrows.
The fire of the English was as steady as it was quick.
Thrice the Spaniards clambered on board, and thrice surged back before
that deadly hail. The decks on both sides were very shambles; and Jack
Brimblecombe, who had fought as long as his conscience would allow him,
found, when he turned to a more clerical occupation, enough to do in
carrying poor wretches to the surgeon, without giving that spiritual
consolation which he longed to give, and they to receive. At last
there was a lull in that wild storm. No shot was heard from the
Amyas leaped into the mizzen rigging and looked through the smoke.
Dead men he could descry through the blinding veil, rolled in heaps,
laid flat; dead men and dying; but no man upon his feet. The last
volley had swept the deck clear; one by one had dropped below to escape
that fiery shower: and alone at the helm, grinding his teeth with rage,
his mustachios curling up to his very eyes, stood the Spanish captain.
Now was the moment for a counter stroke. Amyas shouted for the
boarders, and in two minutes more he was over the side, and clutching
at the Spaniard's mizzen rigging.
What was this? The distance between him and the enemy's side was
widening. Was she sheering off? Yes--and rising, too, growing bodily
higher every moment, as if by magic. Amyas looked up in astonishment
and saw what it was. The Spaniard was heeling fast over to leeward
away from him. Her masts were all sloping forward, swifter and
swifter--the end was come, then!
"Back! in God's name back, men! She is sinking by the head!" And with
much ado some were dragged back, some leaped back--all but old Michael
With hair and beard floating in the wind, the bronzed naked figure,
like some weird old Indian fakir, still climbed on steadfastly up the
mizzen-chains of the Spaniard, hatchet in hand.
"Come back, Michael! Leap while you may!" shouted a dozen voices.
"And what should I come back for, then, to go home where no one knoweth
me? I'll die like an Englishman this day, or I'll know the reason
why!" and turning, he sprang in over the bulwarks, as the huge ship
rolled up more and more, like a dying whale, exposing all her long
black hulk almost down to the keel, and one of her lower-deck guns as
if in defiance exploded upright into the air, hurling the ball to the
In an instant it was answered from the _Rose_ by a column of smoke, and
the eighteen-pound ball crashed through the bottom of the defenseless
"Who fired! Shame to fire on a sinking ship!"
"Gunner Yeo, sir," shouted a voice from the maindeck. "He's like a
madman down here."
"Tell him if he fires again, I'll put him in irons, if he were my own
brother. Cut away the grapples aloft, men. Don't you see how she
drags us over? Cut away, or we shall sink with her."
They cut away, and the _Rose_, released from the strain, shook her
feathers on the wave-crest like a freed sea-gull, while all men held
Suddenly the glorious creature righted herself, and rose again, as if
in noble shame, for one last struggle with her doom. Her bows were
deep in the water, but her after-deck still dry. Righted: but only for
a moment, long enough to let her crew come pouring wildly up on deck,
with cries and prayers, and rush aft to the poop, where, under the flag
of Spain, stood the tall captain, his left hand on the standard-staff,
his sword pointed in his right.
"Back men!" they heard him cry, "and die like valiant mariners."
Some of them ran to the bulwarks, and shouted "Mercy! We surrender!"
and the English broke into a cheer and called to them to run her
"Silence!" shouted Amyas. "I take no surrender from mutineers.
Senor," cried he to the captain, springing into the rigging and taking
off his hat, "for the love of God and these men, strike! and surrender
_a buena guerra_."
The Spaniard lifted his hat and bowed courteously, and answered.
"Impossible, Senor. No _guerra_ is good which stains my honor."
"God have mercy on you, then!"
"Amen!" said the Spaniard, crossing himself.
She gave one awful lunge forward, and dived under the coming swell,
hurling her crew into the eddies. Nothing but the point of her poop
remained, and there stood the stern and steadfast Don, cap-a-pie in his
glistening black armor, immovable as a man of iron, while over him the
flag, which claimed the empire of both worlds, flaunted its gold aloft
and upwards in the glare of the tropic noon.
"He shall not carry that flag to the devil with him; I will have it
yet, if I die for it!" said Will Cary, and rushed to the side to leap
overboard, but Amyas stopped him.
"Let him die as he lived, with honor."
A wild figure sprang out of the mass of sailors who struggled and
shrieked amid the foam, and rushed upward at the Spaniard. It was
Michael Heard. The Don, who stood above him, plunged his sword into
the old man's body: but the hatchet gleamed, nevertheless: down went
the blade through the headpiece and through head; and as Heard sprang
onward, bleeding, but alive, the steel-clad corpse rattled down the
deck into the surge. Two more strokes, struck with the fury of a dying
man, and the standard-staff was hewn through. Old Michael collected
all his strength, hurled the flag far from the sinking ship, and then
stood erect one moment and shouted, "God save Queen Bess!" and the
English answered with a "Hurrah!" which rent the welkin.
Another moment and the gulf had swallowed his victim, and the poop, and
him; and nothing remained of the _Madre Dolorosa_ but a few floating
spars and struggling wretches, while a great awe fell upon all men, and
a solemn silence, broken only by the cry
"Of some strong swimmer in his agony."
And then, suddenly collecting themselves, as men awakened from a dream,
half-a-dozen desperate gallants, reckless of sharks and eddies, leaped
overboard, swam towards the flag, and towed it alongside in triumph.
"Ah!" said Salvation Yeo, as he helped the trophy up over the side;
"ah! it was not for nothing that we found poor Michael! He was always
a good comrade. And now, then, my masters, shall we inshore again and
burn La Guayra?"
"Art thou never glutted with Spanish blood, thou old wolf?" asked Will
"Never, sir," answered Yeo.
"To St. Jago be it," said Amyas, "if we can get there: but--God help
And he looked round sadly enough; while no one needed that he should
finish his sentence, or explain his "but."
The fore-mast was gone, the main-yard sprung, the rigging hanging in
elf-locks, the hull shot through and through in twenty places, the deck
strewn with the bodies of nine good men, besides sixteen wounded down
below; while the pitiless sun, right above their heads, poured down a
flood of fire upon a sea of glass.
And it would have been well if faintness and weariness had been all
that was the matter; but now that the excitement was over, the collapse
came; and the men sat down listlessly and sulkily by twos and threes
upon the deck, starting and wincing when they heard some poor fellow
below cry out under the surgeon's knife; or murmuring to each other
that all was lost. Drew tried in vain to rouse them, telling them that
all depended on rigging a jury-mast forward as soon as possible. They
answered only by growls; and at last broke into open reproaches. Even
Will Cary's volatile nature, which had kept him up during the fight
gave way, when Yeo and the carpenter came aft, and told Amyas in a low
"We are hit somewhere forward, below the waterline, sir. She leaks a
terrible deal, and the Lord will not vouchsafe to us to lay our hands
on the place, for all our searching."
"What are we to do now, Amyas, in the devil's name?" asked Cary,
"What are we to do, in God's name, rather," answered Amyas in a low
voice. "Will, Will, what did God make you a gentleman for, but to know
better than those poor fickle fellows forward, who blow hot and cold at
every change of weather!"
"I wish you'd come forward and speak to them, sir," said Yeo, who had
overheard the last words, "or we shall get nought done."
Amyas went forward instantly.
"Now then, my brave lads, what's the matter here, that you are all
sitting on your tails like monkeys?"
"Ugh!" grunts one. "Don't you think our day's work has been long
enough yet, captain?"
"You don't want us to go in to La Guayra again, sir? There are enough
of us thrown away already, I reckon, about that wench there."
"Best sit here, and sink quietly. There's no getting home again,
"Why were we brought out here to be killed."
"For shame, men!" cries Yeo, "murmuring the very minute after the Lord
has delivered you from the Egyptians."
Now I do not wish to set Amyas up as better, thank God, than many and
many a brave and virtuous captain in her Majesty's service at this very
day: but certainly he behaved admirably under that trial. Drake had
trained him, as he trained many another excellent officer, to be as
stout in discipline and as dogged of purpose, as he himself was: but he
had trained him also to feel with and for his men, to make allowances
for them, and to keep his temper with them, as he did this day.
Amyas's conscience smote him (and his simple and pious soul took the
loss of his brother as God's verdict on his conduct), because he had
set his own private affection, even his own private revenge, before the
safety of his ship's company and the good of his country.
"Ah," said he to himself, as he listened to his men's reproaches, "if I
had been thinking, like a loyal soldier, of serving my queen, and
crippling the Spaniard, I should have taken that great bark three days
ago, and in it the very man I sought!"
So "choking down his old man," as Yeo used to say, he made answer
"Pooh! pooh! brave lads! For shame, for shame! You were lions
half-an-hour ago; you are not surely turned sheep already! Why, but
yesterday evening you were grumbling because I would not run in and
fight those three ships under the batteries of La Guayra, and now you
think it too much to have fought them fairly out at sea? Nothing
venture, nothing win; and nobody goes birdnesting without a fall at
times. If any one wants to be safe in this life, he'd best stay at
home and keep his bed; though even there who knows but the roof might
fall through on him?"
"Ah, it's all very well for you, captain," said some grumbling younker,
with a vague notion that Amyas must be better off than he because he
was a gentleman. Amyas's blood rose.
"Yes, sirrah! Do you fancy that I have nothing to lose? I who have
adventured in this voyage all I am worth, and more; who, if I fall,
must return to beggary and scorn? And if I have ventured rashly,
sinfully, if you will, the lives of any of you in my own private
quarrel, am I not punished? Have I not lost----?"
His voice trembled and stopped there, but he recovered himself in a
"Pish! I can't stand here chattering. Carpenter! an ax! and help me
to cast these spars loose. Get out of my way, there! lumbering the
scuppers up like so many moulting fowls! Here, all old friends, lend a
hand! _Pelican's_ men, stand by your captain! Did we sail round the
world for nothing?"
This last appeal struck home, and up leaped half-a-dozen of the old
Pelicans, and set to work at his side manfully to rig the jury-mast.
"Come along!" cried Cary to the malcontents; "we're raw longshore
fellows, but we won't be outdone by any old sea-dog of them all." And
setting to work himself, he was soon followed by one and another, till
order and work went on well enough.
"And where are we going, when the mast's up?" shouted some saucy hand
"Where you daren't follow us alone by yourself, so you had better keep
us company," replied Yeo.
"I'll tell you where we are going, lads," said Amyas, rising from his
work. "Like it or leave it as you will, I have no secrets from my
crew. We are going inshore there to find a harbor, and careen the
There was a start and a murmur.
"Inshore! Into the Spaniards' mouths?"
"All in the Inquisition in a week's time."
"Better stay here, and be drowned."
"You're right in that last," shouts Cary. "That's the right death for
blind puppies. Look you! I don't know in the least where we are, and
I hardly know stem from stern aboard ship; and the captain may be right
or wrong--that's nothing to me; but this I know, that I am a soldier,
and will obey orders; and where he goes, I go; and whosoever hinders me
must walk up my sword to do it."
Amyas pressed Cary's hand, and then--
"And here's my broadside next, men. I'll go nowhere, and do nothing
without the advice of Salvation Yeo and Robert Drew; and if any man in
the ship knows better than these two, let him up, and we'll give him a
hearing. Eh, _Pelicans_?"
There was a grunt of approbation from the Pelicans; and Amyas returned
to the charge.
"We have five shots between wind and water, and one somewhere below.
Can we face a gale of wind in that state, or can we not?"
"Can we get home with a leak in our bottom?"
"Come along now! Here's the wind again round with the sun, and up to
the northwest. In shore with her."
Sulkily enough, but unable to deny the necessity, the men set to work,
and the vessel's head was put toward the land; but when she began to
slip through the water, the leak increased so fast that they were kept
hard at work at the pumps for the rest of the afternoon.
The current had by this time brought them abreast of the bay of
Higuerote. As they ran inward, all eyes were strained greedily to find
some opening in the mangrove belt: but none was to be seen for some
time. The lead was kept going; and every fresh heave announced
"We shall have very shoal work of those mangroves, Yeo," said Amyas; "I
doubt whether we shall do aught now, unless we find a river's mouth."
"If the Lord thinks a river good for us, sir, he'll show us one." So
on they went, keeping a southeast course, and at last an opening in the
mangrove belt was hailed with a cheer from the older hands, though the
majority shrugged their shoulders, as men going open-eyed to
Of the mouth they sent in Drew and Cary with a boat, and watched
anxiously for an hour. The boat returned with a good report of two
fathoms of water over the bar, impenetrable forests for two miles up,
the river sixty yards broad, and no sign of man. The river's banks
were soft and sloping mud, fit for careening.
"Safe quarters, sir," said Yeo, privately, "as far as Spaniards go. I
hope in God it may be as safe from fevers."
"Beggars must not be choosers," said Amyas. So in they went.
They towed the ship up about half-a-mile to a point where she could not
be seen from the seaward; and there moored her to the mangrove-stems.
Amyas ordered a boat out, and went up the river himself to reconnoiter.
He rowed some three miles, till the river narrowed suddenly, and was
all but covered in by the interlacing boughs of mighty trees. There
was no sign that man had been there since the making of the world.
He dropped down the stream again, thoughtfully and sadly. How many
years ago was it that he had passed this river's mouth? Three days.
And yet how much had passed in them! Don Guzman found and lost--Rose
found and lost--a great victory gained, and yet lost--perhaps his ship
lost--above all, his brother lost.
Lost! O God, how should he find his brother?
Some strange bird out of the woods made mournful answer--"Never, never,
How should he face his mother?
"Never, never, never!" walled the bird again; and Amyas smiled
bitterly, and said "Never!" likewise.
The night mist began to steam and wreath upon the foul beer-colored
stream. The loathy floor of liquid mud lay bare beneath the mangrove
forest. Upon the endless web of interarching roots great purple crabs
were crawling up and down. They would have supped with pleasure upon
Amyas's corpse; perhaps they might sup on him after all; for a heavy
sickening graveyard smell made his heart sink within him, and his
stomach heave; and his weary body, and more weary soul, gave themselves
up helplessly to the depressing influence of that doleful place. The
black bank of dingy leathern leaves above his head, the endless
labyrinth of stems and withes (for every bough had lowered its own
living cord, to take fresh hold of the foul soil below); the web of
roots, which stretched away inland till it was lost in the shades of
evening--all seemed one horrid complicated trap for him and his; and
even where, here and there, he passed the mouth of a lagoon, there was
no opening, no relief--nothing but the dark ring of mangroves. Wailing
sadly, sad-colored mangrove-hens ran off across the mud into the dreary
dark. The hoarse night-raven, hid among the roots, startled the
voyagers with a sudden shout, and then all was again silent as a grave.
The loathy alligators lounging in the slime lifted their horny eyelids
lazily, and leered upon him as he passed with stupid savageness. Lines
of tall herons stood dimly in the growing gloom, like white fantastic
ghosts, watching the passage of the doomed boat. All was foul, sullen,
weird as witches' dream. If Amyas had seen a crew of skeletons glide
down the stream behind him, with Satan standing at the helm, he would
scarcely have been surprised. What fitter craft could haunt that
Next: The Club-hauling Of The Diomede