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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Golden Grasshopper: A Story Of The Days Of Sir Thomas Gresham - Chapter 28. The Beggars Of The Sea
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The Golden Grasshopper: A Story Of The Days Of Sir Thomas Gresham - Chapter 28. The Beggars Of The Sea Post by :brokerage Category :Long Stories Author :William H. G. Kingston Date :May 2012 Read :1879

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The Golden Grasshopper: A Story Of The Days Of Sir Thomas Gresham - Chapter 28. The Beggars Of The Sea

CHAPTER TWENTY EIGHT. THE BEGGARS OF THE SEA

At the moment I have described, when we felt that all hope of escape had gone--for we could scarcely expect ourselves to resist the numbers who were rushing down with cries of vengeance to force their way in--a voice of authority was heard, ordering them to desist. At first they seemed in no way inclined to obey. One who appeared by his rich costume to be an officer of authority made his appearance. He spoke with a Spanish accent:

"Hold! men, hold! what are you about to do? We come not to war against helpless women. On deck, all of you; or expect the punishment of mutineers!"

He spoke with a tone of authority not to be disobeyed. Our enraged assailants quickly retired, without attempting any further violence. The officer started back with surprise when he found the dead bodies at the entrance of the cabin.

"You have defended yourselves well, gentlemen," he said, addressing A'Dale and me, as we still stood with our swords in our hands, and at our posts. "These men met their deserts. I do not therefore blame you; on the contrary, I may compliment you on your gallantry. Here!" he exclaimed, "some of you come down and convey these dead bodies away, and throw them overboard. If a few more of you had been treated in the same way, the loss would not have been great."

The bodies having been dragged away by some of our late assailants, who obeyed the order, the officer entered the cabin. He bowed with all the grace of a Spaniard to the ladies, and expressed his regret that they had been caused so much anxiety and terror. We found that he was Don Alfonzo de la Fuente, the commander of the squadron, and though obeying his master, Philip, in carrying out his laws, yet he did so with a feeling of commiseration for the unfortunate victims of his cruelty.

"I will send for an officer I can trust," he said, "who will remain on board your ship, and protect you from the lawless violence of the prize crew. All I can I will do to make amends for your disappointment. If you will permit me, I will write an order, and send to my ship, and will not leave you till the officer arrives; for I regret to say there are not many in whom I can confide, who will treat you as I should desire."

We supplied Don Alfonzo with writing materials, and he summoning some of the men, a boat was despatched to his ship, which it appeared was the last of the squadron. On going on deck with him, I found that the wind had again greatly fallen, and Captain Radford told me that he believed it would soon be a perfect calm. In a short time the officer who had been sent for arrived, and Don Alfonzo took his departure, giving him directions how he was to behave.

The officer, who, though young, had an expression of firmness and courage in his countenance, which was at the same time very pleasing, introduced himself as Don Rodrigo Ruiz. He spoke Flemish but slightly, but I was able to understand his Spanish sufficiently to carry on a conversation with him, and to interpret to the rest. I soon judged from his expressions, although he spoke with caution, that he was not unfavourable to the Protestants. I could not help suggesting to him that he should endeavour to come over to England, where he might not only declare his principles, but worship in public according to his conscience. At length, urged by Don Rodrigo, I retired to the cabin, where, rolling myself in my cloak, I lay down to sleep. He observed that he must remain on deck to keep watch over his men.

I was awoke by the sound of voices on deck, apparently shouting to one of the other ships. Hurrying up, I saw the crews busily engaged in setting sail, though as yet there was but little wind to fill them. Bowing to Don Rodrigo, who was on deck issuing his orders, he pointed towards the east, where I saw, scarcely three miles off, the sails of numerous vessels, the sun rising behind them, throwing them into the shade, and making them stand out in bold relief against the sky.

"What are they?" I asked, turning to the young officer.

"That remains to be discovered," he answered; "but our Admiral evidently believes that they are not friends, and has ordered us to set all sail, and to do our utmost to escape."

"But who do you think they are?" I again asked.

"The much-dreaded Gueux--the Beggars of the Sea," he answered. "They are known to have a large squadron afloat, under the command of that fierce captain, De la Marck--the descendant of the Wild Boar of Ardennes. If they come up with us, the tables will indeed be turned; and it will go hard, I suspect, with our men. The hatred between the two races is so great, that I fear little mercy will be shown to any of us."

"I am glad, then, that you are on board this ship," I replied; "for, after the courtesy you have shown us, I trust that you will escape injury."

"I have no great confidence on that score," he answered. "Though you, I am sure, will do your best to save my life, the Beggars of the Sea are not likely in the heat of battle to listen to your wishes."

"But surely your Admiral will not attempt to fight with such a superior force as there appears to be approaching us?"

"It will matter little whether we fight or not," answered the officer. "To the Spaniards, at all events, among our crews, no mercy will be shown, though the lives of the native Flemings may be spared, if they agree to join the Gueux; and probably very few will refuse to do so."

The Beggars of the Sea--for such there was no doubt were the strangers-- came on with a fresh breeze, rapidly approaching the Spanish squadron. In vain every sail which the Spanish ships could carry was set to woo the breeze. Their enemies came up rapidly with them. Seeing this, the Admiral ordered Don Rodrigo to alter his course, and to do his utmost to escape, directing him to return to the first Flemish port he could reach.

"There may be some who will dispute that matter with him," whispered Captain Radford to me. "Does the Don fancy we should submit to be carried off prisoners when we more than equal in number our captors?"

"Certainly," I said; "but I trust, whatever is done, the young Spanish officer may not be injured. Pray let us do our best to save his life."

We now once more stood out from among the Spanish squadron. The _Falcon being a fast vessel, and having all the sail she could set now put on her, gradually distanced them. In the meantime, however, the Beggars of the Sea came up at a rapid rate, and soon got the Spaniards within reach of their guns. We watched them with great interest. Our fate might possibly depend upon the result of the action. The Beggars far outnumbered the Spaniards both in ships and men, although the latter had larger vessels and carried more guns. As the Gueux came up, they opened their fire hotly on the Spaniards, who, to do them justice, showed every inclination to defend their ships. Three of the largest of the Beggars' ships attacked the Admiral, the others tackled his consorts, the two squadrons running on together. The Admiral's was the leading ship. One of the Gueux was stationed on her broadside, another rather more on her bows, and a third hung on her quarter. The breeze blew away the smoke every now and then, so as to allow us a clear view of the fight. Never had I seen shots exchanged with so much rapidity. Both our crew and our captors were looking on with intense anxiety at what was going forward. At length our men uttered a loud shout as the foremast of the Spanish Admiral went by the board. Still the other masts stood, but the Gueux seemed to be redoubling their efforts, and kept pouring broadside upon broadside into the ship. Hearing what was going forward, all our passengers assembled on deck, the Spaniards in no way attempting to prevent them. We had by this time got out of the line of shot, keeping somewhat ahead of the combatants. At length another shout burst from the throats of our men as the mainmast of the Spanish Admiral was seen to sway first on one side and then on the other, and at length, with its streamers and flags flying, to fall forward over the wreck of the other mast. The other ships seemed to be suffering in the same way; first one mast and then another went. And now the Gueux were seen to be crowding round the ships, the masts and spars of which were one by one shot away.

I observed, meantime, Captain Radford going about the decks, and speaking to the crew. Don Rodrigo did not see him. I guessed Captain Radford's intentions; but he, having observed the terms I was on with the young officer, evidently did not wish to ask me to act a treacherous part towards him. The Beggars' ships which had come up after the others were engaged, their services not being required, were now seen standing after us. But it was a question, being evidently slower ships, whether they would overtake us; indeed, I judged that they would not, when we both had an equal amount of wind. I could fancy, more than actually see, the scenes which were taking place on board the captured ships. They and the Gueux appeared locked together in a deadly embrace. The crews of the latter were evidently swarming on board, and, after so hot a fight, there was no hope that blood would be spared. Still, from the flashes of pistols and arquebuses, it was evident that the fight continued, and that a desperate resistance was being made. Suddenly flames burst forth in the midst of the combatants. The Gueux vainly endeavoured to extricate themselves from their almost conquered antagonist. In another instant there was a loud explosion. The remaining mast of the Admiral's ship was seen to shoot up into the air, while her deck and broken spars and everything on it rose up many feet. There was a roar like thunder, and flames and smoke ascended with terrific fury, high above which were seen burning fragments of the wreck spreading far and wide, which again came down upon the decks of the conquerors, and fell hissing all around into the ocean. The next moment the Spanish ship had disappeared; but flames were bursting out from those of the Beggars which had been in contact with her. They, however, were at length extinguished. I heard a sigh escape the bosom of the young officer, near whom I was standing.

"He was my friend and guardian," he said. "Alas! he deserved a better fate!"

At that instant there was a cry from the Spaniards, and though I turned round instantly, I saw that every one of them had been tackled by one of the English seamen, aided by the Flemish passengers. Several had been cut down, but others had been captured without bloodshed.

"I must ask you for your sword, sir," said Captain Radford, holding a pistol to the young officer, who turned round, but had not time to draw his weapon. "You are our prisoner, and resistance will be useless!"

The capture of the Spaniards had not been accomplished a minute too soon, for the Beggars' ships were almost within gunshot, and would have opened their fire upon us. Instantly the Spanish ensign was hauled down, and that of England hoisted. The officer, seeing that he could do nothing, at once, with a bow, handed his sword to Captain Radford.

"Pray keep it, and promise that you will not use it against us," said the captain, handing it him back.

Our sails were on this furled, and a boat, by Captain Radford's orders, was lowered.

"To prevent mistakes, I must go on board the Beggars' ships, or they may perchance open their fire without inquiring who we are. They are not very scrupulous in that matter."

This precaution of Captain Radford I believe saved us. He quickly reached the headmost of the two vessels, and explained how matters stood to the officer in command--the gallant Treslong.

I need not describe the joy of the poor Flemings at this happy turn of affairs. Instead of prisoners, they were now at liberty, and warmly congratulated by their countrymen who came on board. It would have fared but ill with Don Rodrigo and his men had they not already been made prisoners, and had we not interfered in their favour. When the officer from the Beggars' squadron came on board, we at once explained how he had behaved towards us, and begged that he might be treated with courtesy and consideration, of which he was certainly well worthy. Finding that the heart of the Beggar officer was still unmoved, I whispered to him that I felt sure he was himself a Protestant, and served the King Philip very much against his will. This seemed to have very great weight with the officer, and he only advised that he should remain with our party, promising that he should receive neither insult nor injury.

A'Dale and I were anxious to visit our late captors, as well as some of the Beggars' squadron. The two captured vessels lay together, almost wrecks, and it was evident, from the way the pumps were going, that they could with difficulty be kept afloat. We went up the side of one of them. I had witnessed several sad scenes, but my heart sickened when I beheld the perfect shambles the deck had in a short time become. It seemed as if the whole of her crew must have been shot down by the guns of the Beggars!

"These scenes," I exclaimed, "will sicken me for war for the rest of my days!"

"I cannot say that it has that effect on me," said A'Dale. "It is very horrible, but people fight to kill, and know that they run the risk of being killed. Now I am rather weary of the merchant's desk, and if some of these gallant captains will receive me as an officer on board their ships, I propose joining them."

"You an officer, A'Dale?" I said; "you know but little of nautical affairs."

"But I can soon learn," he answered. "Very few of them knew much about the sea a few months ago. Besides, I have a fancy for a rover's life on the ocean."

"But what is to become of Mistress Margery?" I asked, in a low voice.

"Ah! there's the rub," he answered. "I will tell you about it by-and-by. It is not that I do not love her, or that she does not return my affection. Do not suppose that; but this is not the place to talk about it."

We had returned to our boat when he said this, and were pulling towards one of the Beggars' ships which lay between us and the _Falcon_. On stepping on board, the commander received us very courteously. I found that he was a well-known noble, William de Blois, of Treslong. Fearing, notwithstanding the promise of the first officer who had visited us, that Don Rodrigo's life would be endangered, we begged Captain Treslong to interfere in his favour, explaining who he was, and the generous way he had behaved towards us. He promised faithfully to do so; and our minds were thus greatly relieved with regard to Don Rodrigo. I proposed returning to the _Falcon_; but, to my surprise and regret, A'Dale there and then tendered his services to Captain Treslong, who accepted his offer.

"You must not expect any high rank given to you at first," he said; "but you will fight your way up to that in time, I doubt not, from the account you give of yourself; and I fully believe you will be a credit to the cause. You had better go back to your ship and see your friends, and come on board before we part company. We shall probably see you safe in sight of the English coast. By the bye, your captain must not expect to escape without paying salvage. Our men are disappointed at having lost the Spaniard's large ship; and they will be in no good humour unless they collect a little prize money."

With this not very satisfactory message, we pulled back towards the _Falcon_. I asked A'Dale again on our way how he could bring himself to give up little Margery.

"I do not give her up," he answered; "but I hope to collect a good sum with which to set up house, far more rapidly than I have any chance of doing with Sir Thomas Gresham. He has treated me very kindly, and made good use of me; but I have no great hopes that he will place me in a position where I can obtain a sufficient income to support a wife, for a long time to come, at all events."

I felt really sorry for Mistress Margery that A'Dale had come to this resolution. I did my best, however, to persuade him to alter his mind; but the more I urged, the stronger appeared his determination of joining the Gueux. At length, by the great exertions of the rovers' crews, the two Spanish ships were got into a condition for again making sail, and then, with the whole of the fleet, we steered a course for England.

Once more the shores of Old England appeared in sight, and, rounding the Goodwin Sands, we came to an anchor in the Downs. Glad as we English were to see our native land, the joy of the unhappy refugees seemed far to surpass ours. As they gazed on the land of freedom, they fell down on their knees on deck, and together joined in a hymn of praise and thanksgiving. Eagerly they packed up the few articles which they had been able to bring away. Master Clough having paid a handsome sum out of the property he had brought off to the Beggars, the rest was landed, and under an escort of soldiers, whom he engaged for that purpose, he prepared to send it off to London.

I will not describe the parting of Mistress Margery and A'Dale. He commended her to Aveline's care--who promised to look after her rather as a sister than a dependant, and, shaking me warmly by the hand, returned on board Captain Treslong's ship. We assisted, with the _Falcons boats, in landing the emigrants. They were received, on setting foot on the English shore, with the greatest kindness by the inhabitants of Dover and other places. Their destitute condition becoming known, subscriptions were raised for their support, houses found, and a place of worship allowed them.

Master Clough kindly invited Don Rodrigo to accompany him to London--an offer which our Spanish friend was glad to accept; while his men, many of whom were Flemings, volunteered on board the Beggars' fleet.

Two or three Spaniards were put on shore to find their way back to their country by the first vessel under the Spanish flag which might visit Dover. We then all set forward for London, with the escort in charge of Master Clough's chests of gold.

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