“It fell about the Martinmas,
When nights were lang and mirk,
That wife’s twa sons cam hame again,
And their hats were o’ the birk.
“It did na graw by bush or brae,
Nor yet in ony shough;
But by the gates o’ paradise
That birk grew fair eneugh.”
The Wife of Usher’s Well.
It is the evening of the 15th of February, 1587, and Mrs. Leigh (for we must return now to old scenes and old faces) is pacing slowly up and down the terrace-walk at Burrough, looking out over the winding river, and the hazy sand-hills, and the wide western sea, as she has done every evening, be it fair weather or foul, for three weary years. Three years and more are past and gone, and yet no news of Frank and Amyas, and the gallant ship and all the gallant souls therein; and loving eyes in Bideford and Appledore, Clovelly and Ilfracombe, have grown hollow with watching and with weeping for those who have sailed away into the West, as John Oxenham sailed before them, and have vanished like a dream, as he did, into the infinite unknown. Three weary years, and yet no word. Once there was a flush of hope, and good Sir Richard (without Mrs. Leigh’s knowledge), had sent a horseman posting across to Plymouth, when the news arrived that Drake, Frobisher, and Carlisle had returned with their squadron from the Spanish Main. Alas! he brought back great news, glorious news; news of the sacking of Cartagena, San Domingo, Saint Augustine; of the relief of Raleigh’s Virginian Colony: but no news of the Rose, and of those who had sailed in her. And Mrs. Leigh bowed her head, and worshipped, and said, “The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord!”
Her hair was now grown gray; her cheeks were wan; her step was feeble. She seldom went from home, save to the church, and to the neighboring cottages. She never mentioned her sons’ names; never allowed a word to pass her lips, which might betoken that she thought of them; but every day, when the tide was high, and red flag on the sandhills showed that there was water over the bar, she paced the terrace-walk, and devoured with greedy eyes the sea beyond in search of the sail which never came. The stately ships went in and out as of yore; and white sails hung off the bar for many an hour, day after day, month after month, year after year: but an instinct within told her that none of them were the sails she sought. She knew that ship, every line of her, the cut of every cloth; she could have picked it out miles away, among a whole fleet, but it never came, and Mrs. Leigh bowed her head and worshipped, and went to and fro among the poor, who looked on her as an awful being, and one whom God had brought very near to Himself, in that mysterious heaven of sorrow which they too knew full well. And lone women and bed-ridden men looked in her steadfast eyes, and loved them, and drank in strength from them; for they knew (though she never spoke of her own grief) that she had gone down into the fiercest depths of the fiery furnace, and was walking there unhurt by the side of One whose form was as of the Son of God. And all the while she was blaming herself for her “earthly” longings, and confessing nightly to Heaven that weakness which she could not shake off, which drew her feet at each high tide to the terrace-walk beneath the row of wind-clipt trees.
But this evening Northam is in a stir. The pebble ridge is thundering far below, as it thundered years ago: but Northam is noisy enough without the rolling of the surge. The tower is rocking with the pealing bells: the people are all in the streets shouting and singing round bonfires. They are burning the pope in effigy, drinking to the queen’s health, and “So perish all her enemies!” The hills are red with bonfires in every village; and far away, the bells of Bideford are answering the bells of Northam, as they answered them seven years ago, when Amyas returned from sailing round the world. For this day has come the news that Mary Queen of Scots is beheaded in Fotheringay; and all England, like a dreamer who shakes off some hideous nightmare, has leapt up in one tremendous shout of jubilation, as the terror and the danger of seventeen anxious years is lifted from its heart for ever.
Yes, she is gone, to answer at a higher tribunal than that of the Estates of England, for all the noble English blood which has been poured out for her; for all the noble English hearts whom she has tempted into treachery, rebellion, and murder. Elizabeth’s own words have been fulfilled at last, after years of long-suffering —
“The daughter of debate,
That discord aye doth sow,
Hath reap’d no gain where former rule
Hath taught still peace to grow.”
And now she can do evil no more. Murder and adultery, the heart which knew no forgiveness, the tongue which could not speak truth even for its own interest, have past and are perhaps atoned for; and her fair face hangs a pitiful dream in the memory even of those who knew that either she, or England, must perish.
“Nothing is left of her
Now, but pure womanly.”
And Mrs. Leigh, Protestant as she is, breathes a prayer, that the Lord may have mercy on that soul, as “clear as diamond, and as hard,” as she said of herself. That last scene, too, before the fatal block — it could not be altogether acting. Mrs. Leigh had learned many a priceless lesson in the last seven years; might not Mary Stuart have learned something in seventeen? And Mrs. Leigh had been a courtier, and knew, as far as a chaste Englishwoman could know (which even in those coarser days was not very much), of that godless style of French court profligacy in which poor Mary had had her youthful training, amid the Medicis, and the Guises, and Cardinal Lorraine; and she shuddered, and sighed to herself”— To whom little is given, of them shall little be required!” But still the bells pealed on and would not cease.
What was that which answered them from afar out of the fast darkening twilight? A flash, and then the thunder of a gun at sea.
Mrs. Leigh stopped. The flash was right outside the bar. A ship in distress it could not be. The wind was light and westerly. It was a high spring-tide, as evening floods are always there. What could it be? Another flash, another gun. The noisy folks of Northam were hushed at once, and all hurried into the churchyard which looks down on the broad flats and the river.
There was a gallant ship outside the bar. She was running in, too, with all sails set. A large ship; nearly a thousand tons she might be; but not of English rig. What was the meaning of it? A Spanish cruiser about to make reprisals for Drake’s raid along the Cadiz shore! Not that, surely. The Don had no fancy for such unscientific and dare-devil warfare. If he came, he would come with admiral, rear-admiral, and vice-admiral, transports, and avisos, according to the best-approved methods, articles, and science of war. What could she be?
Easily, on the flowing tide and fair western wind, she has slipped up the channel between the two lines of sandhill. She is almost off Appledore now. She is no enemy; and if she be a foreigner, she is a daring one, for she has never veiled her topsails — and that, all know, every foreign ship must do within sight of an English port, or stand the chance of war; as the Spanish admiral found, who many a year since was sent in time of peace to fetch home from Flanders Anne of Austria, Philip the Second’s last wife.
For in his pride he sailed into Plymouth Sound without veiling topsails, or lowering the flag of Spain. Whereon, like lion from his den, out rushed John Hawkins the port admiral, in his famous Jesus of Lubec (afterwards lost in the San Juan d’Ulloa fight), and without argument or parley, sent a shot between the admiral’s masts; which not producing the desired effect, alongside ran bold Captain John, and with his next shot, so says his son, an eye-witness, “lackt the admiral through and through;” whereon down came the offending flag; and due apologies were made, but not accepted for a long time by the stout guardian of her majesty’s honor. And if John Hawkins did as much for a Spanish fleet in time of peace, there is more than one old sea-dog in Appledore who will do as much for a single ship in time of war, if he can find even an iron pot to burn powder withal.
The strange sail passed out of sight behind the hill of Appledore; and then there rose into the quiet evening air a cheer, as from a hundred throats. Mrs. Leigh stood still, and listened. Another gun thundered among the hills; and then another cheer.
It might have been twenty minutes before the vessel hove in sight again round the dark rocks of the Hubbastone, as she turned up the Bideford river. Mrs. Leigh had stood that whole time perfectly motionless, a pale and scarcely breathing statue, her eyes fixed upon the Viking’s rock.
Round the Hubbastone she came at last. There was music on board, drums and fifes, shawms and trumpets, which wakened ringing echoes from every knoll of wood and slab of slate. And as she opened full on Burrough House, another cheer burst from her crew, and rolled up to the hills from off the silver waters far below, full a mile away.
Mrs. Leigh walked quickly toward the house, and called her maid —
“Grace, bring me my hood. Master Amyas is come home!”
“No, surely? O joyful sound! Praised and blessed be the Lord, then; praised and blessed be the Lord! But, madam, however did you know that?”
“I heard his voice on the river; but I did not hear Mr. Frank’s with him, Grace!”
“Oh, be sure, madam, where the one is the other is. They’d never part company. Both come home or neither, I’ll warrant. Here’s your hood, madam.”
And Mrs. Leigh, with Grace behind her, started with rapid steps towards Bideford.
Was it true? Was it a dream? Had the divine instinct of the mother enabled her to recognize her child’s voice among all the rest, and at that enormous distance; or was her brain turning with the long effort of her supernatural calm?
Grace asked herself, in her own way, that same question many a time between Burrough and Bideford. When they arrived on the quay the question answered itself.
As they came down Bridgeland Street (where afterwards the tobacco warehouses for the Virginia trade used to stand, but which then was but a row of rope-walks and sailmakers’ shops), they could see the strange ship already at anchor in the river. They had just reached the lower end of the street, when round the corner swept a great mob, sailors, women, ‘prentices, hurrahing, questioning, weeping, laughing: Mrs. Leigh stopped; and behold, they stopped also.
“Here she is!” shouted some one; “here’s his mother!”
“His mother? Not their mother!” said Mrs. Leigh to herself, and turned very pale; but that heart was long past breaking.
The next moment the giant head and shoulders of Amyas, far above the crowd, swept round the corner.
“Make a way! Make room for Madam Leigh!”— And Amyas fell on his knees at her feet.
She threw her arms round his neck, and bent her fair head over his, while sailors, ‘prentices, and coarse harbor-women were hushed into holy silence, and made a ring round the mother and the son.
Mrs. Leigh asked no question. She saw that Amyas was alone.
At last he whispered, “I would have died to save him, mother, if I could.”
“You need not tell me that, Amyas Leigh, my son.”
“How did he die?” whispered Mrs. Leigh.
“He is a martyr. He died in the ——”
Amyas could say no more.
A strong shudder passed through Mrs. Leigh’s frame, and then she lifted up her head.
“Come home, Amyas. I little expected such an honor — such an honor — ha! ha! and such a fair young martyr, too; a very St. Stephen! God, have mercy on me; and let me not go mad before these folk, when I ought to be thanking Thee for Thy great mercies! Amyas, who is that?”
And she pointed to Ayacanora, who stood close behind Amyas, watching with keen eyes the whole.
“She is a poor wild Indian girl — my daughter, I call her. I will tell you her story hereafter.”
“Your daughter? My grand-daughter, then. Come hither, maiden, and be my grand-daughter.”
Ayacanora came obedient, and knelt down, because she had seen Amyas kneel.
“God forbid, child! kneel not to me. Come home, and let me know whether I am sane or mazed, alive or dead.”
And drawing her hood over her face, she turned to go back, holding Amyas tight by one hand, and Ayacanora by the other.
The crowd let them depart some twenty yards in respectful silence, and then burst into a cheer which made the old town ring.
Mrs. Leigh stopped suddenly.
“I had forgotten, Amyas. You must not let me stand in the way of your duty. Where are your men?”
“Kissed to death by this time; all of them, that is, who are left.”
“We went out a hundred, mother, and we came home forty-four — if we are at home. Is it a dream, mother? Is this you? and this old Bridgeland Street again? As I live, there stands Evans the smith, at his door, tankard in hand, as he did when I was a boy!”
The brawny smith came across the street to them; but stopped when he saw Amyas, but no Frank.
“Better one than neither, madam!” said he, trying a rough comfort. Amyas shook his hand as he passed him; but Mrs. Leigh neither heard nor saw him nor any one.
“Mother,” said Amyas, when they were now past the causeway, “we are rich for life.”
“Yes; a martyr’s death was the fittest for him.”
“I have brought home treasure untold.”
“What, my boy?”
“Treasure untold. Cary has promised to see to it to-night.”
“Very well. I would that he had slept at our house. He was a kindly lad, and loved Frank. When did he?”—
“Three years ago, and more. Within two months of our sailing.”
“Ah! Yes, he told me so.”
“Told you so?”
“Yes; the dear lad has often come to see me in my sleep; but you never came. I guessed how it was — as it should be.”
“But I loved you none the less, mother!”
“I know that, too: but you were busy with the men, you know, sweet; so your spirit could not come roving home like his, which was free. Yes — all as it should be. My maid, and do you not find it cold here in England, after those hot regions?”
“Ayacanora’s heart is warm; she does not think about cold.”
“Warm? perhaps you will warm my heart for me, then.”
“Would God I could do it, mother!” said Amyas, half reproachfully.
Mrs. Leigh looked up in his face, and burst into a violent flood of tears.
“Sinful! sinful that I am!”
“Blessed creature!” cried Amyas, “if you speak so I shall go mad. Mother, mother, I have been dreading this meeting for months. It has been a nightmare hanging over me like a horrible black thunder-cloud; a great cliff miles high, with its top hid in the clouds, which I had to climb, and dare not. I have longed to leap overboard, and flee from it like a coward into the depths of the sea. — The thought that you might ask me whether I was not my brother’s keeper — that you might require his blood at my hands — and now, now! when it comes! to find you all love, and trust, and patience — mother, mother, it’s more than I can bear!” and he wept violently.
Mrs. Leigh knew enough of Amyas to know that any burst of this kind, from his quiet nature, betokened some very fearful struggle; and the loving creature forgot everything instantly, in the one desire to soothe him.
And soothe him she did; and home the two went, arm in arm together, while Ayacanora held fast, like a child, by the skirt of Mrs. Leigh’s cloak. The self-help and daring of the forest nymph had given place to the trembling modesty of the young girl, suddenly cast on shore in a new world, among strange faces, strange hopes, and strange fears also.
“Will your mother love me?” whispered she to Amyas, as she went in.
“Yes; but you must do what she tells you.”
“She will laugh at me, because I am wild.”
“She never laughs at any one.”
“Humph!” said Ayacanora. “Well, I shall not be afraid of her. I thought she would have been tall like you; but she is not even as big as me.”
This hardly sounded hopeful for the prospect of Ayacanora’s obedience; but ere twenty-four hours had passed, Mrs. Leigh had won her over utterly; and she explained her own speech by saying that she thought so great a man ought to have a great mother. She had expected, poor thing, in her simplicity, some awful princess with a frown like Juno’s own, and found instead a healing angel.
Her story was soon told to Mrs. Leigh, who of course, woman-like, would not allow a doubt as to her identity. And the sweet mother never imprinted a prouder or fonder kiss upon her son’s forehead, than that with which she repaid his simple declaration, that he had kept unspotted, like a gentleman and a Christian, the soul which God had put into his charge.
“Then you have forgiven me, mother?”
“Years ago I said in this same room, what should I render to the Lord for having given me two such sons? And in this room I say it once again. Tell me all about my other son, that I may honor him as I honor you.”
And then, with the iron nerve which good women have, she made him give her every detail of Lucy Passmore’s story and of all which had happened from the day of their sailing to that luckless night at Guayra. And when it was done, she led Ayacanora out, and began busying herself about the girl’s comforts, as calmly as if Frank and Amyas had been sleeping in their cribs in the next room.
But she had hardly gone upstairs, when a loud knock at the door was followed by its opening hastily; and into the hall burst, regardless of etiquette, the tall and stately figure of Sir Richard Grenville.
Amyas dropped on his knees instinctively. The stern warrior was quite unmanned; and as he bent over his godson, a tear dropped from that iron cheek, upon the iron cheek of Amyas Leigh.
“My lad! my glorious lad! and where have you been? Get up, and tell me all. The sailors told me a little, but I must hear every word. I knew you would do something grand. I told your mother you were too good a workman for God to throw away. Now, let me have the whole story. Why, I am out of breath! To tell truth, I ran three-parts of the way hither.”
And down the two sat, and Amyas talked long into the night; while Sir Richard, his usual stateliness recovered, smiled stern approval at each deed of daring; and when all was ended, answered with something like a sigh:
“Would God that I had been with you every step! Would God, at least, that I could show as good a three-years’ log-book, Amyas, my lad!”
“You can show a better one, I doubt not.”
“Humph! With the exception of one paltry Spanish prize, I don’t know that the queen is the better, or her enemies the worse, for me, since we parted last in Dublin city.”
“You are too modest, sir.”
“Would that I were; but I got on in Ireland, I found, no better than my neighbors; and so came home again, to find that while I had been wasting my time in that land of misrule, Raleigh had done a deed to which I can see no end. For, lad, he has found (or rather his two captains, Amadas and Barlow, have found for him) between Florida and Newfoundland, a country, the like of which, I believe, there is not on the earth for climate and fertility. Whether there be gold there, I know not, and it matters little; for there is all else on earth that man can want; furs, timber, rivers, game, sugar-canes, corn, fruit, and every commodity which France, Spain, or Italy can yield, wild in abundance; the savages civil enough for savages, and, in a word, all which goes to the making of as noble a jewel as her majesty’s crown can wear. The people call it Wingandacoa; but we, after her majesty, Virginia.”
“You have been there, then?”
“The year before last, lad; and left there Ralf Lane, Amadas, and some twenty gentlemen, and ninety men, and, moreover, some money of my own, and some of old Will Salterne’s, which neither of us will ever see again. For the colony, I know not how, quarrelled with the Indians (I fear I too was over-sharp with some of them for stealing — if I was, God forgive me!), and could not, forsooth, keep themselves alive for twelve months; so that Drake, coming back from his last West Indian voyage, after giving them all the help he could, had to bring the whole party home. And if you will believe it, the faint-hearted fellows had not been gone a fortnight, before I was back again with three ships and all that they could want. And never was I more wroth in my life, when all I found was the ruins of their huts, which (so rich is the growth there) were already full of great melons, and wild deer feeding thereon — a pretty sight enough, but not what I wanted just then. So back I came; and being in no overgood temper, vented my humors on the Portugals at the Azores, and had hard fights and small booty. So there the matter stands, but not for long; for shame it were if such a paradise, once found by Britons, should fall into the hands of any but her majesty; and we will try again this spring, if men and money can be found. Eh, lad?”
“But the prize?”
“Ah! that was no small make-weight to our disasters, after all. I sighted her for six days’ sail from the American coast: but ere we could lay her aboard it fell dead calm. Never a boat had I on board — they were all lost in a gale of wind — and the other ships were becalmed two leagues astern of me. There was no use lying there and pounding her till she sank; so I called the carpenter, got up all the old chests, and with them and some spars we floated ourselves alongside, and only just in time. For the last of us had hardly scrambled up into the chains, when our crazy Noah’s ark went all aboard, and sank at the side, so that if we had been minded to run away, Amyas, we could not; whereon, judging valor to be the better part of discretion (as I usually do), we fell to with our swords and had her in five minutes, and fifty thousand pounds’ worth in her, which set up my purse again, and Raleigh’s too, though I fear it has run out again since as fast as it ran in.”
And so ended Sir Richard’s story.
Amyas went the next day to Salterne, and told his tale. The old man had heard the outlines of it already: but he calmly bade him sit down, and listened to all, his chin upon his hand, his elbows on his knees. His cheek never blanched, his lips never quivered throughout. Only when Amyas came to Rose’s marriage, he heaved a long breath, as if a weight was taken off his heart.
“Say that again, sir!”
Amyas said it again, and then went on; faltering, he hinted at the manner of her death.
“Go on, sir! Why are you afraid? There is nothing to be ashamed of there, is there?”
Amyas told the whole with downcast eyes, and then stole a look at his hearer’s face. There was no sign of emotion: only somewhat of a proud smile curled the corners of that iron mouth.
“And her husband?” asked he, after a pause.
“I am ashamed to have to tell you, sir, that the man still lives.”
“Still lives, sir?”
“Too true, as far as I know. That it was not my fault, my story bears me witness.”
“Sir, I never doubted your will to kill him. Still lives, you say? Well, so do rats and adders. And now, I suppose, Captain Leigh, your worship is minded to recruit yourself on shore a while with the fair lass whom you have brought home (as I hear) before having another dash at the devil and his kin!”
“Do not mention that young lady’s name with mine, sir; she is no more to me than she is to you; for she has Spanish blood in her veins.”
Salterne smiled grimly.
“But I am minded at least to do one thing, Mr. Salterne, and that is, to kill Spaniards, in fair fight, by land and sea, wheresoever I shall meet them. And, therefore, I stay not long here, whithersoever I may be bound next.”
“Well, sir, when you start, come to me for a ship, and the best I have is at your service; and, if she do not suit, command her to be fitted as you like best; and I, William Salterne, will pay for all which you shall command to be done.”
“My good sir, I have accounts to square with you after a very different fashion. As part-adventurer in the Rose, I have to deliver to you your share of the treasure which I have brought home.”
“My share, sir? If I understood you, my ship was lost off the coast of the Caracas three years agone, and this treasure was all won since?”
“True; but you, as an adventurer in the expedition, have a just claim for your share, and will receive it.”
“Captain Leigh, you are, I see, as your father was before you, a just and upright Christian man: but, sir, this money is none of mine, for it was won in no ship of mine. — Hear me, sir! And if it had been, and that ship”—(he could not speak her name)—“lay safe and sound now by Bideford quay, do you think, sir, that William Salterne is the man to make money out of his daughter’s sin and sorrow, and to handle the price of blood? No, sir! You went like a gentleman to seek her, and like a gentleman, as all the world knows, you have done your best, and I thank you: but our account ends there. The treasure is yours, sir; I have enough, and more than enough, and none, God help me, to leave it to, but greedy and needy kin, who will be rather the worse than the better for it. And if I have a claim in law for aught — which I know not, neither shall ever ask — why, if you are not too proud, accept that claim as a plain burgher’s thank-offering to you, sir, for a great and a noble love which you and your brother have shown to one who, though I say it, to my shame, was not worthy thereof.”
“She was worthy of that and more, sir. For if she sinned like a woman, she died like a saint.”
“Yes, sir!” answered the old man, with a proud smile; “she had the right English blood in her, I doubt not; and showed it at the last. But now, sir, no more of this. When you need a ship, mine is at your service; till then, sir, farewell, and God be with you.”
And the old man rose, and with an unmoved countenance, bowed Amyas to the door. Amyas went back and told Cary, bidding him take half of Salterne’s gift: but Cary swore a great oath that he would have none of it.
“Heir of Clovelly, Amyas, and want to rob you? I who have lost nothing — you who have lost a brother! God forbid that I should ever touch a farthing beyond my original share!”
That evening a messenger from Bideford came running breathless up to Burrough Court. The authorities wanted Amyas’s immediate attendance, for he was one of the last, it seemed, who had seen Mr. Salterne alive.
Salterne had gone over, as soon as Amyas departed, to an old acquaintance; signed and sealed his will in their presence with a firm and cheerful countenance, refusing all condolence; and then gone home, and locked himself into Rose’s room. Supper-time came, and he did not appear. The apprentices could not make him answer, and at last called in the neighbors, and forced the door. Salterne was kneeling by his daughter’s bed; his head was upon the coverlet; his Prayer-book was open before him at the Burial Service; his hands were clasped in supplication; but he was dead and cold.
His will lay by him. He had left all his property among his poor relations, saving and excepting all money, etc., due to him as owner and part-adventurer of the ship Rose, and his new bark of three hundred tons burden, now lying East-the-water; all which was bequeathed to Captain Amyas Leigh, on condition that he should re-christen that bark the Vengeance — fit her out with part of the treasure, and with her sail once more against the Spaniard, before three years were past.
And this was the end of William Salterne, merchant.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:56