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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Golden Grasshopper: A Story Of The Days Of Sir Thomas Gresham - Chapter 15. A Fight With Robbers
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The Golden Grasshopper: A Story Of The Days Of Sir Thomas Gresham - Chapter 15. A Fight With Robbers Post by :tbaker818 Category :Long Stories Author :William H. G. Kingston Date :May 2012 Read :3062

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The Golden Grasshopper: A Story Of The Days Of Sir Thomas Gresham - Chapter 15. A Fight With Robbers

CHAPTER FIFTEEN. A FIGHT WITH ROBBERS

Sir Thomas Gresham had been absent for some time, and his return to Antwerp was daily expected. I was busily at work at my desk, when I heard the sound of horses' hoofs coming along the street. I looked out, and saw a party of travellers. Calling Master Clough, he and I, with others, hurried to the door. Sir Thomas led the cavalcade, with a young lady by his side. I had never, I thought, seen a more fair or graceful girl, while I admired the perfect ease with which she managed the jennet on which she rode. Who she was I scarcely dared to guess. She could scarcely be the little Aveline from whom I had parted, and yet the thought crossed me that it must be her.

Two young men followed,--one a strong, stout, broad-shouldered man, whose features were wonderfully like those of my old friend A'Dale, although somewhat concealed by beard and whisker. He formed a strong contrast to the slight, pale, sickly youth at his side. A second glance convinced me that the latter was my former playmate and companion-- Richard Gresham. He seemed very sick and ill, leaning forward in his saddle, as if scarcely able to support his body. Master Clough hurried out to assist Sir Thomas to dismount, while I hastened, with one of the servants, to take the young lady's horse. The smile she gave me, as she dropped lightly from her saddle, reminded me of Aveline.

"You do not know me, Ernst Verner," she said; "am I so woefully changed since we parted?"

Her sweet voice sent a thrill through my heart. I had no longer any doubt that she was Aveline. Meantime A'Dale had thrown himself from his steed, and had helped Richard to the ground, giving him his arm to support him. Sir Thomas greeted me kindly.

"He has not borne the journey as well as we had hoped," he said, looking at Richard; "but the doctors advised change of air and scene, and we trusted that a short sea-voyage, and a visit to this busy city, might benefit him. Aveline has kindly come to assist in caring for him, and I have taken your old friend Andrew A'Dale into my service."

Poor Richard looked kindly at me as he took my hand; but he scarcely had strength, it seemed, to smile. A'Dale and I greeted each other heartily, and together we assisted our young friend up the stairs. He could not, indeed, without aid, drag himself along; but youth is buoyant, and both he and we were soon talking of what we would do when he had regained his strength. Aveline was committed to the charge of our old housekeeper--Dorothea Lipman, with whom she had some difficulty in holding conversation; Dorothea's only language being Flemish, of which Aveline knew but little.

After a night's rest, Richard had considerably recovered. Whenever he came into the public room, I could not help observing the devoted attention which Aveline paid him. She seemed to watch his every look, and attend to his slightest want. He, indeed, I thought, expected her to devote herself to him and to demand her services as a right, which she willingly rendered. At first this seemed but natural after the accounts Sir Thomas had given me; but I confess, when she appeared to have scarcely any time to attend to me or to anybody else, a feeling of jealousy stole over me. And yet why should I be jealous of that poor sickly lad? indeed, what right had I to expect that she would regard me in any other light than that of a humble secretary of her kind lady's husband? I had a sincere affection, however, for Richard, and heartily wished him to recover. Mistress Aveline had always treated me with kindness, and I was not vain enough to mistake the way in which she received any little attention I was able to pay her.

Sir Thomas Gresham was constantly receiving visitors at his house. Among them came at this time Master Thomas Cecil, the son of the great minister, accompanied by his tutor, Master Windebank. He was a young, pleasant-mannered, good-tempered youth, apparently somewhat light-hearted, and inclined to amuse himself with whatever fell in his way.

During his stay he rode out on several occasions with Mistress Aveline, and seemed highly pleased with her company. She, in return, seemed to attend to what he said, even with more pleasure than she listened to poor Richard, who was unable, while riding, to enter much into conversation in consequence of his cough and short breathing. I generally accompanied the party when they went out after our usual hours of business. It was but natural that a gay young man should pay attention to a sweet and lively girl like Aveline, and at first I did not care so much for it; but after a time, when I thought she seemed pleased with his attentions, I began heartily to wish that he would take his departure. One thing I thought I had discovered--that her heart was not given to Richard; but then I was convinced for the same reason that she did not care for me. I was very glad when Sir Thomas, at the minister's request, supplied young Cecil and his tutor with money to enable them to continue their tour which they intended making through Germany, and from thence passing on through Switzerland into Italy.

We were, shortly after this, more busily employed than ever in purchasing bow staves, as Sir Thomas urged the Government by writing frequently, and, when he went home, personally, to make every preparation for war. He had discovered the hatred which the Roman Catholic sovereigns had for England, now that Queen Elizabeth had declared herself so decidedly Protestant. At the same time, he deemed it important to supply England with the precious metals, that she might, in case of a war, have wherewith to pay her troops.

As the bullion was purchased, it was shipped, as I have already mentioned, on board vessels. At length, in consequence of the expected scarcity of shipping, Sir Thomas resolved to make a large shipment on board one particular vessel. The amount had been carefully done up inside various packages, as I believe I have before described.

"It is necessary that a trustworthy person should be on board, to see that the goods are not tampered with," observed Sir Thomas to me. "You and A'Dale will therefore go down and see them shipped, and you will afterwards continue on board and proceed with the ship to England. As soon as she is unloaded, you will return in her, and report to me all that takes place, and all the news you can hear in London. You will go to Lombard Street, and receive despatches from Master John Elliot to bring with you."

As a small portion of the goods only had been shipped when we reached the vessel, the bulk not having arrived, A'Dale and I determined to remain at the hostel instead of going on board to sleep. We were seated in the public room, and talking together in English, when, in a pause in the conversation, I heard three rough-looking persons speaking Flemish at a little distance from me. I pricked up my ears as I heard one of them remark:

"Oh! they are only two English lads; they cannot, depend on it, understand a word we say."

This made me listen more carefully, though I continued speaking with greater energy apparently than ever to A'Dale.

I still kept my ears, however, open to hear everything my neighbours said. I soon found that they were talking about our ship--the _Diamond_.

"She began to receive her goods to-day," said one; "and by to-morrow evening she will probably be able to sail with the turn of the tide. We must not let her escape us, as some of those English vessels of late have done. The question is, whether we shall attack her before she gets out of the Scheld, or wait till she reaches the broad seas."

Some of the party were for waiting at the mouth of the river, hoping thereby to make off with their prize with less risk of its being retaken; others, however, considered that they might thereby lose it, and that it would be more prudent to attack the ship while she lay at anchor.

This plan was at last, so I suppose, adopted. I looked as unconcerned as possible, as if I had not heard anything of what was said. I feared, however, that there was great danger of the _Diamond being taken, as the pirates appeared to have a large force at their command.

I did not like to leave the room as long as the men were talking, hoping by staying to gain further information about their plans. It was evident they were thoroughly well informed of all that was going forward, and it became, therefore, very important that I should be careful as to my proceedings. I had observed near me a sunburnt, weather-beaten man, in the dress of a sea officer, who every now and then glanced up at the pirates as they spoke. Once I caught his eye, and, by the look he gave me, I felt sure that he knew I had been listening.

A'Dale and I, having finished our supper, got up, I proposing to take a turn in the fresh air before going to bed. As we had been talking of our voyage, I knew that the stranger, who must have overheard what we said, was aware that our ship was bound for London. We stood outside the door of the hostel for some minutes, before deciding which direction we should take. Just as we were moving on, I felt a hand placed on my shoulder.

"Young master," said the stranger, "excuse my interruption. I heard you remark that you were in the service of Sir Thomas Gresham, and about to sail on board the _Diamond_. I heard, too, what was said by those other men. You understand what they said, I think?"

"Not I, indeed," answered A'Dale, who now for the first time heard of the plot, for I had been unable before to tell him of it. "I do not know what you mean."

"I do, however, sir," I observed. "I would ask you whether you know anything about these men, and whether they are likely to carry out their project?"

"I feel very sure they will carry it out. The only way that I can see, is to be ready for them," answered the stranger. "I fear, however, that the crew of the _Diamond is too small to defend her. My own vessel lies at no great distance; and if you will accept it, I will render you all the assistance in my power."

"Thank you, friend!" exclaimed A'Dale; "though I doubt not we should be able to beat back any marauders, yet a few more stout arms would be of great assistance."

But I was not quite so willing to accept the offer of the stranger. I had learnt caution. It was a quality greatly inculcated on all his inferiors by Sir Thomas Gresham. Perhaps, I thought, this very man is only a confederate, and hopes thus to obtain quiet possession of the vessel.

"Thank you, my friend," I answered, turning to the stranger. "We will communicate your offer to the captain; but we are only passengers on board; we have no command over her, and without his sanction I cannot venture to accept your offer."

"I understand," answered the stranger, promptly; "I do not take your remarks amiss. I mean you well; but you are very right not to accept such an offer without consideration. My vessel, the _Falcon_, lies rather lower down the river. Your captain will easily discover her; and if, on consideration, he wishes to receive the assistance of an honest man, who esteems his employer, and is well able to render aid, he can summon me, and I will come with a boat's crew, or two may be, and fight as I should were my own vessel attacked."

Saying these words, the stranger shook our hands warmly, and disappeared in the gloom.

A'Dale and I continued our walk. He seemed to think that I had been ungrateful in not accepting the assistance so freely offered. I explained my reasons. He saw that I was right. It was then too late to get a boat; indeed, so small was the amount of cargo as yet shipped--of which the pirates were well aware--that there was no fear of their attacking her that night. We agreed, therefore, that I should go aboard the first thing in the morning to speak to the captain, leaving A'Dale to look after the goods on shore.

I also proposed engaging a few stout fellows, well-armed, in addition to our own crew, and thus hoped to be able to repel any attack the pirates might make upon us.

The next morning, the instant the grey dawn streamed into our chamber, we sprang out of bed. We wished to leave the house unobserved, in case any of the sea-robbers or their confederates might be living there. To prevent them from discovering what we were about, should any one observe us, we took our way directly from the river; and then turning round again through some narrow streets, once more hurried towards it. We soon found a boat, and telling A'Dale to keep a bright look-out around him, I pulled down in her towards the _Diamond_.

Captain Davis, her commander, was surprised to see me thus early. I told him the reason of my coming. He was inclined, I saw, to doubt that the people whose conversation we had overheard were speaking about his vessel.

"If they had been speaking English, Master Verner, your ears might not have deceived you; but as they were talking Flemish, it is very likely, that being a foreign lingo, you may be mistaken."

"But it is not a foreign lingo to me, Captain Davis," I answered, laughing; "it is, I may say, my native tongue, and therefore I am not likely to be mistaken."

"That makes a difference, to be sure," he answered; "yet still the chances are they were speaking of something else. If they had had a plot in hand such as you suppose, they would have been more cautious."

"When the wine is in, the wit is out, captain," I remarked. "At first, I grant you, they said nothing to betray themselves; but when I tell you that some of our chief nobles act just as indiscreetly, you may more readily believe that such men as these might let out their secrets on such an occasion."

"Well, well, Master Verner, I am bound to believe you; and as night comes on we will have the men armed and on the watch. Still, I rather think it will come to nothing; but, as you observe, it is well to be prepared."

The crew were all Englishmen--twenty stout fellows; and, with well-sharpened hangers in their hands and a supply of pikes, I hoped they would have no difficulty in keeping any assailants out of the ship. I told them that there might be a chance of that sort of thing, and they all expressed their readiness to defend the ship to the last. I mentioned to the captain what I had done.

"Oh yes," he said, "my dogs will fight well; there is no fear of that. We were once attacked near the Straits of Gibraltar by a Salee rover; and although the villains outnumbered my crew as three to one, yet we beat them off, even though many of them had already gained our deck. We shall treat these fellows in the same way, depend on that, whoever they are."

A'Dale exerted himself so energetically, that before dark all the goods were on board and safely stowed away. An officer of the Customs having brought us our clearance papers, as soon as the tide served we were able to sail. Having still some daylight, and hoping thus to avoid the threatened attack, we immediately got under weigh, and dropped down the river. The night, however, becoming cloudy and dark, and the wind being contrary, we were once more obliged to bring up.

"If the pirates come to look for us, they will find us gone," observed Captain Davis, as we sat at supper round the cabin-table.

"But if they intended to attack us, depend upon it they were on the watch," observed A'Dale, "and know where we are as well as they did before."

I agreed with A'Dale that we ought to keep a strict watch, as we had intended. Captain Davis, I observed, as sailors are too apt to do, made light of the danger of which we had warned him.

"They will think twice before they attack the _Diamond_, depend on that, young masters," he answered to our remarks.

As A'Dale and I had been up since daybreak, and actively engaged all the time, both of us felt very sleepy. Yet we were far too anxious willingly to go to sleep. Without taking off our clothes, therefore, we threw ourselves down in our bedplaces in the after-cabin, hoping that we should be awakened by the slightest noise. We kept our swords by our sides, ready for instant action. The captain, however, laughed at us for our anxiety.

"Don't be alarmed, my young masters," he observed, in a somewhat taunting tone; "if we are attacked, we shall be able to give a good account of the villains, without having to call you up, so you might have taken off your clothes and gone to sleep comfortably."

He made some other remarks, much in the same strain; but as he continued speaking, his words sounded less and less distinct to my ears, and before he had concluded I was fast asleep.

It seemed to me but a minute after I had shut my eyes that I was aroused by a fearful uproar. Shouts and shrieks and cries of all sorts, the report of fire-arms and the clashing of steel. I started up, hitting my head, as I did so, against the beam above me, and sprang out of my narrow bed. I called loudly to A'Dale. He was so fast asleep that the first shout did not completely arouse him. The second, however, made him spring to his feet.

"What has happened?" he asked.

"The pirates have come, there is little doubt of that," I answered; "we must go and drive them back."

As I said this, sword in hand, I sprang up the companion-ladder, and he followed me. As we reached the deck, I saw a number of dark forms clustering in the rigging, whilst others were attempting to get over the sides. Our men were bravely endeavouring to drive them back with their hangers and pikes, a few arquebuses also being brought into use. Some were armed with cross-bows, but they had thrown them aside for the purpose of doing more service with their sharp blades. Never had I heard so fearful a din, for the object of the pirates seemed to be to overwhelm us, and frighten us out of our wits by their numbers. Two or three of our men lay wounded, dying on the deck. It seemed, indeed, that the pirates were gaining the advantage. A'Dale, who was a stout fellow and well accustomed to the use of his sword, laid about him lustily, and assisted much in keeping them at bay. It was pretty evident that the watch on deck had been taken by surprise, and that the poor fellows who lay weltering in their blood had been cut down unawares. The captain, however, to do him justice, was doing his best to make amends for his want of caution, and was fighting bravely, appearing now in one place, now in another, wherever the enemy were seen climbing up the sides. Still they were determined fellows, and there appeared too great a probability that they would take the ship. But at length we drove most of them back into their boats; several of the bravest being killed. Our men began to shout "Victory! victory!" rather too soon. In another instant the enemy were again swarming up the sides, urged on by their leaders. They were evidently a large and well-organised body, and seemed determined to conquer or lose their lives in their attempt to take the vessel. Once more they appeared above the bulwarks, several following each other in quick succession, and dropping down on our decks in spite of our utmost efforts to repel them. Once having gained a footing, they were enabled to keep a clear space, by which others entered. Our captain, seeing that a desperate effort must be made to drive them back, called on A'Dale and me and several of the men to attack them. We rushed forward, and a fiercer combat ensued than had yet taken place. I felt a sharp pang in my shoulder, and knew that I was wounded; but though the blood flowed freely, I was yet able to wield my sword. Still the number of our enemies increased, and inch by inch they drove us back, the larger portion of our crew being compelled all this time to guard the sides from the assaults of other parties who were endeavouring to climb up them. I began to fear, as I saw the state of affairs, that the _Diamond and her rich cargo would fall into the hands of the pirates. They too seemed to consider themselves secure of victory, for with loud shouts they encouraged each other to push on, calling at the same time to their comrades, who were yet in the boats alongside, to come up and secure their victory. Already some of our men began to cry out that all was lost, and entreat for quarter. Just then a seaman, who had been on the opposite side to that attacked by the pirates, came running up to the captain to tell him that more enemies were coming.

"Better die fighting like brave men than yield," answered Captain Davis.

As he spoke, I looked on one side and saw the heads of people appearing over the bulwarks.

"To the rescue! a Gresham! a Gresham!" they shouted. I was afraid that this was only to deceive us; I recognised, however, the voice of the stranger who had offered his services. And now, before the pirates could get over to attack them, some twenty well-armed men leaped down on our decks, and springing to our side, with pikes and swords drove back our assailants. In vain the pirates attempted to resist the attack. Our friends were fresh, while our enemies had already exhausted themselves in the efforts they had been making. The pirates asked for no quarter: neither our supporters nor our crew were inclined to give it. Several were cut down and killed on the deck, others saved their lives by ignominiously jumping over the bulwarks; and so rapidly did the fortune of war change, that in a few minutes not a live pirate was to be seen on our decks. Several were hurled headlong into their boats desperately wounded, others thrown overboard.

The pirates' boats were now seen shoving off, and attempting to make their escape. As soon as this was perceived by the stranger, he called to his men, and they, returning to their boats, made chase. They were not long in overtaking them, and in the midst of the gloom we could just distinguish the boats apparently mingled together. Again we heard shouts and cries, and the sharp report of arquebuses, with the clashing of steel. Which party was gaining the victory, however, we could not tell. At length the two boats of our friends appeared coming out of the gloom, towing a third. They were soon alongside, and the stranger captain appeared on our deck with three prisoners. They were all he had been able to take. As lanterns were held to their countenances, they appeared to be ruffian fellows, from whom but little information could be obtained. They seemed also to be expecting instant death, abject terror adding to the ill favour of their looks.

Although the captain and other persons on board spoke Flemish, I, as being the best linguist, was deputed to speak to the men. I told them that now they were our prisoners we could do as we thought right, but we had no wish to kill them, even though they might deserve death. I then asked them at whose instigation they had attacked us. At length I discovered that the band was composed of persons who had been driven from their homes by the persecutions of the Spaniards; that some one among them, of superior rank to the rest, had heard, by some means or other, that the ship we sailed in had a large treasure on board, of which they hoped to possess themselves. Captain Davis consulted with us as to what we should do with our prisoners. We agreed that it might be as well to show them the cargo of the ship, and to ask them whether they thought it worth risking their lives to obtain it; and then to let them go, hoping that they would persuade their comrades not further to pursue us; for, although this first party had been driven back, we believed the assertion of the men, that there were a vast number more, who might, should the wind continue contrary, overtake us in their row-boats, and carry out their original plan.

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