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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Boy Who Sailed With Blake - Chapter 12. The Captives Rescued--Blake's Exploits And Death
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The Boy Who Sailed With Blake - Chapter 12. The Captives Rescued--Blake's Exploits And Death Post by :65587 Category :Long Stories Author :William H. G. Kingston Date :May 2012 Read :1250

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The Boy Who Sailed With Blake - Chapter 12. The Captives Rescued--Blake's Exploits And Death

CHAPTER TWELVE. THE CAPTIVES RESCUED--BLAKE'S EXPLOITS AND DEATH

Lancelot and I had formed a plan with Lieutenant Aylett, by which we deemed that it would be possible, though no more than possible, to recover our two sisters, Mr Kerridge, and Margaret. We had asked permission of the admiral to undertake it. He pointed out the the dangers we must encounter.

"Far be it from me ever to refuse my sanction to so righteous an object," he added; "such volunteers as you can obtain may go, and heaven prosper you."

When our design was made known on board the _Saint George and _Hampshire we might have obtained the whole of the crews of both ships, as well, indeed, as those of the rest of the fleet. On consulting Captain Blake, however, he advised us to take only fifty men; thirty from the flag-ship and the _Hampshire_, and the remainder from among the others of the fleet. We calculated that the whole of the warlike part of the population of Tunis would have been summoned to the defence of the castles and batteries. It was our intention to land while the action continued about three miles from the city, at a spot with which Lieutenant Aylett was acquainted, and from thence he know the road to the residence of the old chief who held our friends captives. We might, he believed, reach the house and be back again to the boats before the Dey could gain intelligence of our expedition, and send any force of strength sufficient to oppose us. Dick, of course, was of the party, and old Martin was as eager as any of the younger men to go; but we tried to persuade him to remain on board, fearing that the fatigue of our march would be more than he could endure. He entreated so hard, however, to be allowed to take part in the recovery of Mistress Audrey that we gave way, and with hanger by his side, pistols in his belt, and a musket over his shoulder, he prepared for the expedition.

While the cannonade was still going forward, we put off in two boats, which kept on the larboard side of one of the frigates, despatched for the service, so that we were unseen from the town. As soon as we had got near the landing-place, the frigate tacked and hove to, while we, pulling rapidly in, leaped on shore, and the boats returned to the frigate, which sailed back as if to rejoin the fleet, but according to orders was ready again to put about to receive us, should our expedition prove successful, on our return.

Led by Lieutenant Aylett, we set out on our march at as fast a rate as our feet could move. Old Martin kept alongside me, showing the activity of many a younger man; fearing, however, that his strength would fail, I begged him to let me carry his musket.

"No, no, Mister Ben," he answered; "I care not, if we get Mistress Audrey and Margaret back, whether I fall by the way. I have faced Death in too many shapes to fear him now."

As to the character of the country through which we passed, I cannot describe it. I know that there were palm trees, and prickly pears, and other strange shrubs, and rocks covered with creepers, and here and there fields of corn and plantations of fruit trees. We saw but few people, and those women, children, or old men, who fled at our approach to hide themselves. Onwards we pushed, regardless of enemies who might be gathering behind--eager only to find the captives and to place them in our midst, when we were prepared to fight our way back against any odds which might oppose us.

My heart bounded as if it would choke me when, on gaining the top of a hill, Lieutenant Aylett exclaimed, pointing ahead--

"There's old Mustapha's house!" but the next instant a sickening feeling came over me, as I dreaded lest those we hoped to find might have been removed. Without halting for an instant, we rushed down the slope, and so divided our force that we might surround the building. Orders had been given that not a shot should be fired lest we should wound our friends. In silence we dashed on, until we were close to the gates, when Lieutenant Aylett cried out--

"Open, open; we come as friends."

The bars were withdrawn, the gate swung back, when instead of a turbaned Moor, who should we see but old Margaret! She recognised us at once, as we grasped hands.

"Where are my father and sister?" exclaimed Lancelot.

"Where is my dear Audrey?" I cried.

Before she could reply there arose such a shrieking and shouting from the farther end of the hall that we could scarcely hear her speak.

"Mr Kerridge is there," she at length said, pointing through an opening into the garden, "and the young ladies are with Mrs Mustapha and the other women who are making all that hubbub there."

"Run, good Margaret, and tell them we are here," I exclaimed, while Lancelot, like a dutiful son, rushed out into the garden in search of his father.

Scarcely had he gone than the door at the other end of the hall opened, and two young boys, as they seemed, sprang towards us, followed by Margaret. The next instant I had Audrey in my arms, and was holding the hand of Mistress Cicely. In spite of their disguise and sunburnt cheeks, I knew them directly, and in a few words explained how we had come to rescue them. They were less astonished than we expected, for the sound of firing had reached their ears, and they guessed that either the town or pirate ships had been attacked by a foreign squadron.

Margaret was eagerly talking to Martin, whose attention was more occupied by Audrey than by what she was saying. The moment his sense of propriety would allow, coming forward, he took her hand and poured out the feelings of his heart at having recovered her.

Before many minutes had passed, the clashing of swords and Lancelot's voice shouting for assistance reached our ears. Dick, followed by several of the men, rushed in the direction he had taken, when they found him defending himself from the attack of a sturdy old Moor and three attendants, who, however, on seeing the British seamen approaching, took to flight. The sailors pursued, and coming up with the old Moor we were about to cut him down, when a man with a hoe in his hand sprang out from behind some bushes, exclaiming--

"Spare his life, friends; though he has kept me in slavery, and is somewhat a hard taskmaster, we should return good for evil."

Then, turning to the old Moor, he made a sign to him that he should remain quiet while he eagerly questioned the seamen. Lancelot by this time had come up, and I saw him spring forward and embrace the stranger, who was, I had no doubt, his long-lost father, although so greatly changed that I had not recognised him.

Such he was, but as not a moment could be spared, after a few words had been exchanged, we were summoned by Lieutenant Aylett to commence our retreat. We did not stop to bid farewell to Mustapha and his family, but placing the two girls with Margaret in our midst, we recommenced our march.

Not a moment did we halt, for we had many miles to travel before we could reach the water, while at any instant we might be attacked by overwhelming numbers of enraged Moors.

My fear was that the rescued ones, unaccustomed to rapid walking, might sink from fatigue, but the joy of having recovered their liberty kept up their strength. The firing had ceased, but as we looked towards the city we could see a cloud of smoke still hanging over it. The last height we had to cross was gained. The sea lay before us, when one of the men on our left flank shouted out he saw a large body of Moors approaching. We all soon saw them, and it seemed doubtful whether we could reach the boats before they were upon us, but as we pushed on the frigate came in view, standing close in with the shore, towards which her guns were directed. The Moors were rushing on, and even at that distance we could hear their savage cries, when the frigate opened fire upon them, compelling them to beat a retreat, while we hastened down the hill and gained the boats which had just come in to receive us. The frigate was obliged to tack, but before the Moors could return we had pulled away beyond the range of their muskets. We were soon on board the frigate, when our arrival caused no small astonishment as well as delight, when it was discovered that we had rescued the captives, and still more so when it was known who they were.

The young ladies, although they had so long worn male attire, were far from feeling at ease on finding themselves among their countrymen, and they entreated to be led below, to avoid the gaze of the seamen.

We should, we feared, have great difficulty in procuring suitable costumes to enable them to appear with satisfaction in public.

"We must apply to the admiral to help us; he can do everything," observed Lancelot. "So don't trouble yourself about the matter, Cicely."

As we stood towards the fleet we saw the line-of-battle ships getting up their anchors, and making sail away from the shore, from which not a gun was now fired. One of the boats conveyed our party to the _Saint George_, where the admiral received our friends with the greatest kindness, highly commending us for the way in which we had achieved our undertaking. We found that he intended to inflict no further chastisement on the Dey of Tunis, it being considered that the destruction of his fleet, the ruin of his forts, and the vast number of men who had been slain would induce him to refrain from interfering with English interests in future.

Running along the coast we visited Tripoli, the Dey of which State, taught a lesson by the punishment the ruler of Tunis had received, showed every desire to be on terms of friendship with us. The fleet then proceeded up the Adriatic to pay the Venetians a friendly visit.

Space does not permit me to describe that curious canal-intersected city, where the admiral was received with such honours as are accorded generally only to royal persons. Thanks to his generosity, Cicely and Audrey were here supplied with all the requisite articles of female dress, which were sent on board the day after our arrival, so that they were able to go on shore in their proper characters, and view the wonders of the city.

Leaving the Adriatic we again came off Tunis, when a white flag was seen flying from the castle of Porto Ferino. The Dey immediately acceded to all our demands, and signed a treaty affording advantageous terms to the English.

Thence we stood across to Malta, where the haughty Templars, having heard of the way in which our admiral had exacted reparation, not only from the Grand Duke, but from the Pope himself, at once succumbed and delivered up the ships and their cargoes of which they had despoiled the English merchants. This matter settled, we sailed across to Algiers, the pirate prince of which State immediately sent a present of cattle on board the fleet, and undertook to liberate all English captives in his country at a moderate ransom per head, they being, he observed, the property of private individuals who had purchased them from others, while he undertook never again to molest English traders. To these terms the admiral consented, and in a few days a whole fleet of boats came off, bringing numerous liberated slaves, a large portion of whom had endured the sorrows of captivity for many years, the amount agreed on being paid over to their late masters.

While we lay close in with the shore, we observed one morning a number of persons swimming off towards us. Just as they neared the sides of the ship, several boats, manned by turbaned Moors, were seen pulling away in chase of the fugitives, who now, shouting out in Dutch, entreated us to take them on board.

Our seamen, regardless of the savage war we had lately waged with the Hollanders, hurried to lower down ropes and to drag the swimmers on board. Scarcely were they all on deck than the Algerine boats came alongside, and the Moors demanded the fugitives, affirming that they were their own runaway slaves.

"What!" exclaimed Martin, "give up Christians who have once enjoyed the freedom of an English man-of-war, even though they may be enemies, to pirates and infidels. I don't believe any honest man on board will stand by and see that done. Just bundle the rascally Turks out of the ship, and let them know that when once a man steps under our flag he is free."

The Algerines, with looks of indignation, took their departure, but before long they returned with a message from the Dey, insisting on the terms of the new treaty, by which a certain ransom was to be paid for all liberated captives. On hearing this, Martin suggested that a subscription should be raised to pay the ransom of the Dutchmen. A boat being sent round from ship to ship, the necessary sum was soon collected, the admiral himself paying in proportion to his rank. While we lay off Algiers we heard of the fearful massacre of the Protestants of the Vaudois valley by the soldiers of the Duke of Savoy.

The admiral had received instructions from the Protector to threaten the southern coast of France and Piedmont, should the Duke refuse to make all the reparation in his power. The menace had its due effect, and the Duke gave a pledge not again to interfere with the Christian inhabitants of those lovely valleys. We sailed for the Straits of Gibraltar, calling on the way at Malaga to obtain water and fresh provisions. While a party of our seamen were on shore at that place, a procession carrying the Host, with banners and heathenish figures, passed through the streets, when they not only refused to bow, but mocked and jeered, at which the mob, urged on by a priest, savagely attacked them and drove them back to the boats.

On hearing this, the admiral sent a trumpeter on shore demanding, not that the mob should be punished, but that the priest who had set them on should be delivered up to him.

The governor replied that such a thing as giving up a Catholic priest to heretics had never been heard of, and that he had no power in the case.

On this the admiral replied, "If I fail to see that said priest on the deck of the _Saint George_, before the lapse of three hours, I will burn your city to the ground."

Within the specified time the priest appeared, when the admiral, summoning witnesses from both sides, heard the case, and decided that the seamen were wrong in mocking, even at the superstitious observances of the natives, but that the priest was also wrong in taking the law into his own hands, instead of sending on board to complain, when the seamen would have been properly punished.

Satisfied that the priest had been placed at his mercy, the admiral, warning him for the future, sent him safely on shore.

On the fleet reaching Cadiz, the admiral finding that he was expected to remain on the coast of Spain to wait for the Silver fleet, offered Mr Kerridge and his party a passage home in the _Constant Warwick_, by which he was sending off despatches. He at the same time sent Lancelot and me.

"I intend to let you return with your friends, as you require rest after the hard work you have gone through," he said in a kind tone. "You must also take charge of Martin Shobbrok, whose great age and failing strength unfits him for active service. Your names will remain on the books of the _Saint George_, and should any captures be made, you will obtain your due share of prize money."

We were both well-nigh overpowered by the admiral's kindness. Though I desired to remain with him, I felt unwilling to be again separated from Audrey as also from Cicely, as between us a warm attachment had sprung up, though I always before looked on her in the light of a sister.

"But you, sir," I observed, "require rest more than any other person in the fleet."

The admiral smiled faintly as he replied, "While I have life and my country requires my services. I must remain afloat."

Of the homeward voyage I will not speak.

Once more the well-known Start appeared in sight, and the _Constant Warwick steering for Lyme, we went on shore, thankful to heaven for our safe return to our native land.

Mr Kerridge forthwith set about placing his affairs, which had suffered from his long absence, in order, Lancelot and I assisting him.

Cicely promised to be mine when the war was over, as I acknowledged; should the admiral summon me, I could not refuse to go.

My sister Audrey had made the same promise to Lancelot; and the ladies could not help laughing and archly remarking to one another that "although they had so long worn a certain pair of garments--considered the exclusive property of men--they were never again likely to put them on."

In the course of the summer Admiral Blake returned to England, but there was no repose for him. In spite of his illness, and the suffering he endured from his wound, he was occupied day after day in visiting the dockyards and arsenals, forwarding the building and repairing of ships, and other duties of his station.

The Commonwealth was at war with Spain. Portugal had not fulfilled the terms of her treaty, especially that clause which secured the English from the supervision of the diabolical Inquisition, and other nations were only waiting an opportunity to draw the sword against her.

Another fleet was consequently fitted out, and Admiral Blake, who had hoisted his flag on board the _Naseby_, sent the summons Lancelot and I had expected to join her.

The admiral looked pale and ill, yet his spirits were as high as ever, and as the fleet sailed down Channel, and the white cliffs of Old England faded from sight, we little thought that he, our beloved chief, had looked his last on the land he loved so dearly.

I can but give a brief account of the important services rendered during the long cruise we had now commenced.

Passing down the coast of Portugal, the admiral sent a frigate up the Tagus, demanding of the King of Portugal a complete fulfilment of the clauses of the late treaty. The effect of the message was satisfactory in the extreme. Every clause was agreed to, and among others the right of Englishmen to have Bibles and Protestant books in their houses, without thereby infringing the laws of the country.

Without stopping we pressed on to Cadiz, looking out for the Silver fleet, which had not arrived.

We here encountered a fearful storm, by which several of our ships were damaged and compelled to return home, but yet the Spaniards would not venture out of port to fight us; and the admiral, leaving Captain Stayner in the _Speaker_, and six other ships to watch in the bay, sailed for Malaga, on which town we inflicted condign punishment in consequence of the assistance the people had afforded to a Genoese and to a Sicilian galley which had taken part with the Spaniards against us.

On our return to Cadiz, we found to our infinite satisfaction that Captain Stayner's squadron had fallen in with the first division of the Silver fleet, and had sunk or captured every galleon containing treasure of immense value.

In the hopes of encountering the second division, the admiral remained at sea the whole winter off Cadiz, notwithstanding the heavy gales we encountered. We were absent from our post a short time, during which we came off Algiers to settle a dispute with the Dey, who, not forgetting the punishment inflicted on Tunis, yielded to our demands without a shot.

On our return towards the Straits, we relieved Tangiers, then a Portuguese settlement, closely invested by the Moors, whom our guns drove away and dispersed. Returning to Cadiz we again endeavoured, but in vain, to draw out the Spanish fleet, and while we lay off and on the harbour, news came from undoubted sources that the second Silver fleet, hearing of the disaster to the first, was afraid of continuing the homeward voyage, and had put into Santa Cruz, a port of one of the Canary Islands.

Thither the admiral resolved to sail with his fleet, now numbering by arrivals from England about twenty-five large ships and frigates.

On the morning of the 19th of April, 1657, the frigate sent on ahead brought intelligence that the Silver fleet, together with several men-of-war and merchant vessels, were at anchor in the bay of Santa Cruz, guarded by castles and batteries of immense strength. Notwithstanding, the wind being favourable, the admiral resolved to attack at once, and the fleet under all sail stood in, Rear-admiral Stayner, with a portion, being directed to assail the galleons, while the admiral himself assaulted the batteries.

The Spaniards, their ships formed in a semicircle, believing that our defeat was certain, opened a tremendous fire, which every British ship returned with terrible effect to the enemy.

In a few minutes the action became general, equalling in fury any which we had ever fought. So well was our artillery plied, that many of the guns in the castles and batteries were ere long silenced, when, leaving a few frigates to keep them in play, the admiral sailed on to the assistance of the gallant Stayner, and now with our united guns we played havoc among the Spaniards. Ship after ship was set on fire, while two proud galleons had already sunk, and by two o'clock of that eventful day not a mast remained above water--the whole of the Silver fleet was destroyed.

No sooner was the work performed than the wind shifted to the south-west, enabling every one of our ships to sail out again, beyond range of the castle guns. Not one was missing, and we had only fifty men killed and a hundred and fifty wounded in this most gallant exploit.

Some of the most damaged ships were sent home, while we returned to the coast of Spain, where we found the Spaniards eager to make peace in order to avoid future disasters.

Thence we sailed for Salee, to compel the corsairs of that State to restore their Christian captives to freedom. At the appearance of our red-cross banner the Moorish chief sent an envoy on board, promising to comply with all the admiral's demands. In one week every Christian captive in the country was on board our ships. Water and such provisions as we required had been received, and a treaty of peace had been signed, but, alas! we who were with him saw that the admiral's days were numbered.

After looking into the Tagus, our canvas was spread for England. Onwards we pressed under all sail. Often during the voyage he expressed the hope that he might see again his native land. The Lizard was sighted. Soon Ram Head was rounded, and an officer from the deck came into the cabin to announce to us, who with sad hearts were standing round the death-bed of our beloved chief, that Plymouth itself was in sight.

Stretching out his arms, he sought to rise, but his strength had failed. His eyes gazed upwards, his lips murmured a prayer, and then, when, from the expression of his noble countenance, we saw that his spirit had fled, even the stoutest-hearted amongst us burst into tears, sobbing like little children. Deep, honest grief was marked on the faces of the vast crowds which had gathered on the shores to welcome the returning hero.

I need not speak of the magnificent funeral ordered by the Protector to lay at rest in Westminster Abbey the honoured remains of the greatest of England's admirals.

Among the mourners stood a grey-haired veteran, leaning on a staff to support his tottering steps.

"Alack, alack! Master Ben, it is a sad day, and little did my eyes wish to see it," murmured Martin. "I followed his father to the grave, but little did I expect to outlive his noble son. I knows, howsumdever, that it won't be for long, and I am ready, when the Lord wills, to depart."

Old Martin's words were prophetic. He returned with Lancelot and I to Lyme, and in a few days the old sailor took to his bed, from which he never rose. We mourned for him sincerely, feeling that we had lost a true and faithful friend. But he was spared from witnessing the degradation of our country.

Three years passed. The great Protector himself was dead. His son had retired into private life, and Charles Stuart came back to gain eternal infamy by a thousand vile deeds, not the least among which was to order the body of the great admiral to be exhumed and to be cast into a hole dug near the back door of one of the prebendaries of the abbey.

After the death of my patron, I for a short time only went to sea. Dick, who had hitherto remained afloat, came back to be present when Lancelot and I married, and having himself taken a wife, he settled near us in the neighbourhood of Lyme. It was not from lack of my talking of them if our children were not well versed in the deeds of the great admiral which I have briefly narrated in the preceding pages.


(THE END)
William H. G. Kingston's Novel: Boy who sailed with Blake

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