“Britannia needs no bulwarks,
No towers along the steep,
Her march is o’er the mountain wave,
Her home is on the deep.”
CAMPBELL, Ye Mariners of England.
And now began that great sea-fight which was to determine whether Popery and despotism, or Protestantism and freedom, were the law which God had appointed for the half of Europe, and the whole of future America. It is a twelve days’ epic, worthy, as I said in the beginning of this book, not of dull prose, but of the thunder-roll of Homer’s verse: but having to tell it, I must do my best, rather using, where I can, the words of contemporary authors than my own.
“The Lord High Admirall of England, sending a pinnace before, called the Defiance, denounced war by discharging her ordnance; and presently approaching with in musquet-shot, with much thundering out of his own ship, called the Arkroyall (alias the Triumph), first set upon the admirall’s, as he thought, of the Spaniards (but it was Alfonso de Leon’s ship). Soon after, Drake, Hawkins, and Frobisher played stoutly with their ordnance on the hindmost squadron, which was commanded by Recalde.” The Spaniards soon discover the superior “nimbleness of the English ships;” and Recalde’s squadron, finding that they are getting more than they give, in spite of his endeavors, hurry forward to join the rest of the fleet. Medina the Admiral, finding his ships scattering fast, gathers them into a half-moon; and the Armada tries to keep solemn way forward, like a stately herd of buffaloes, who march on across the prairie, disdaining to notice the wolves which snarl around their track. But in vain. These are no wolves, but cunning hunters, swiftly horsed, and keenly armed, and who will “shamefully shuffle” (to use Drake’s own expression) that vast herd from the Lizard to Portland, from Portland to Calais Roads; and who, even in this short two hours’ fight, have made many a Spaniard question the boasted invincibleness of this Armada.
One of the four great galliasses is already riddled with shot, to the great disarrangement of her “pulpits, chapels,” and friars therein assistant. The fleet has to close round her, or Drake and Hawkins will sink her; in effecting which manoeuvre, the “principal galleon of Seville,” in which are Pedro de Valdez and a host of blue-blooded Dons, runs foul of her neighbor, carries away her foremast, and is, in spite of Spanish chivalry, left to her fate. This does not look like victory, certainly. But courage! though Valdez be left behind, “our Lady,” and the saints, and the bull Caena Domini (dictated by one whom I dare not name here), are with them still, and it were blasphemous to doubt. But in the meanwhile, if they have fared no better than this against a third of the Plymouth fleet, how will they fare when those forty belated ships, which are already whitening the blue between them and the Mewstone, enter the scene to play their part?
So ends the first day; not an English ship, hardly a man, is hurt. It has destroyed for ever, in English minds, the prestige of boastful Spain. It has justified utterly the policy which the good Lord Howard had adopted by Raleigh’s and Drake’s advice, of keeping up a running fight, instead of “clapping ships together without consideration,” in which case, says Raleigh, “he had been lost, if he had not been better advised than a great many malignant fools were, who found fault with his demeanor.”
Be that as it may, so ends the first day, in which Amyas and the other Bideford ships have been right busy for two hours, knocking holes in a huge galleon, which carries on her poop a maiden with a wheel, and bears the name of Sta. Catharina. She had a coat of arms on the flag at her sprit, probably those of the commandant of soldiers; but they were shot away early in the fight, so Amyas cannot tell whether they were De Soto’s or not. Nevertheless, there is plenty of time for private revenge; and Amyas, called off at last by the admiral’s signal, goes to bed and sleeps soundly.
But ere he has been in his hammock an hour, he is awakened by Cary’s coming down to ask for orders.
“We were to follow Drake’s lantern, Amyas; but where it is, I can’t see, unless he has been taken up aloft there among the stars for a new Drakium Sidus.”
Amyas turns out grumbling: but no lantern is to be seen; only a sudden explosion and a great fire on board some Spaniard, which is gradually got under, while they have to lie-to the whole night long, with nearly the whole fleet.
The next morning finds them off Torbay; and Amyas is hailed by a pinnace, bringing a letter from Drake, which (saving the spelling, which was somewhat arbitrary, like most men’s in those days) ran somewhat thus:—
“DEAR LAD — I have been wool-gathering all night after five great hulks, which the Pixies transfigured overnight into galleons, and this morning again into German merchantmen. I let them go with my blessing; and coming back, fell in (God be thanked!) with Valdez’ great galleon; and in it good booty, which the Dons his fellows had left behind, like faithful and valiant comrades, and the Lord Howard had let slip past him, thinking her deserted by her crew. I have sent to Dartmouth a sight of noblemen and gentlemen, maybe a half-hundred; and Valdez himself, who when I sent my pinnace aboard must needs stand on his punctilios, and propound conditions. I answered him, I had no time to tell with him; if he would needs die, then I was the very man for him; if he would live, then, buena querra. He sends again, boasting that he was Don Pedro Valdez, and that it stood not with his honor, and that of the Dons in his company. I replied, that for my part, I was Francis Drake, and my matches burning. Whereon he finds in my name salve for the wounds of his own, and comes aboard, kissing my fist, with Spanish lies of holding himself fortunate that he had fallen into the hands of fortunate Drake, and much more, which he might have kept to cool his porridge. But I have much news from him (for he is a leaky tub); and among others, this, that your Don Guzman is aboard of the Sta. Catharina, commandant of her soldiery, and has his arms flying at her sprit, beside Sta. Catharina at the poop, which is a maiden with a wheel, and is a lofty built ship of 3 tier of ordnance, from which God preserve you, and send you like luck with.
“Your deare Friend and Admirall,
“She sails in this squadron of Recalde. The Armada was minded to smoke us out of Plymouth; and God’s grace it was they tried not: but their orders from home are too strait, and so the slaves fight like a bull in a tether, no farther than their rope, finding thus the devil a hard master, as do most in the end. They cannot compass our quick handling and tacking, and take us for very witches. So far so good, and better to come. You and I know the length of their foot of old. Time and light will kill any hare, and they will find it a long way from Start to Dunkirk.”
“The admiral is in a gracious humor, Leigh, to have vouchsafed you so long a letter.”
“St. Catherine! why, that was the galleon we hammered all yesterday!” said Amyas, stamping on the deck.
“Of course it was. Well, we shall find her again, doubt not. That cunning old Drake! how he has contrived to line his own pockets, even though he had to keep the whole fleet waiting for him.”
“He has given the lord high admiral the dor, at all events.”
“Lord Howard is too high-hearted to stop and plunder, Papist though he is, Amyas.”
Amyas answered by a growl, for he worshipped Drake, and was not too just to Papists.
The fleet did not find Lord Howard till nightfall; he and Lord Sheffield had been holding on steadfastly the whole night after the Spanish lanterns, with two ships only. At least there was no doubt now of the loyalty of English Roman Catholics, and indeed, throughout the fight, the Howards showed (as if to wipe out the slurs which had been cast on their loyalty by fanatics) a desperate courage, which might have thrust less prudent men into destruction, but led them only to victory. Soon a large Spaniard drifts by, deserted and partly burnt. Some of the men are for leaving their place to board her; but Amyas stoutly refuses. He has “come out to fight, and not to plunder; so let the nearest ship to her have her luck without grudging.” They pass on, and the men pull long faces when they see the galleon snapped up by their next neighbor, and towed off to Weymouth, where she proves to be the ship of Miguel d’Oquenda, the vice-admiral, which they saw last night, all but blown up by some desperate Netherland gunner, who, being “misused,” was minded to pay off old scores on his tyrants.
And so ends the second day; while the Portland rises higher and clearer every hour. The next morning finds them off the island. Will they try Portsmouth, though they have spared Plymouth? The wind has shifted to the north, and blows clear and cool off the white-walled downs of Weymouth Bay. The Spaniards turn and face the English. They must mean to stand off and on until the wind shall change, and then to try for the Needles. At least, they shall have some work to do before they round Purbeck Isle.
The English go to the westward again: but it is only to return on the opposite tack; and now begin a series of manoeuvres, each fleet trying to get the wind of the other; but the struggle does not last long, and ere noon the English fleet have slipped close-hauled between the Armada and the land, and are coming down upon them right before the wind.
And now begins a fight most fierce and fell. “And fight they did confusedly, and with variable fortunes; while, on the one hand, the English manfully rescued the ships of London, which were hemmed in by the Spaniards; and, on the other side, the Spaniards as stoutly delivered Recalde being in danger.” “Never was heard such thundering of ordnance on both sides, which notwithstanding from the Spaniards flew for the most part over the English without harm. Only Cock, an Englishman” (whom Prince claims, I hope rightfully, as a worthy of Devon), “died with honor in the midst of the enemies in a small ship of his. For the English ships, being far the lesser, charged the enemy with marvellous agility; and having discharged their broadsides, flew forth presently into the deep, and levelled their shot directly, without missing, at those great and unwieldy Spanish ships.” “This was the most furious and bloody skirmish of all” (though ending only, it seems, in the capture of a great Venetian and some small craft), “in which the lord admiral fighting amidst his enemies’ fleet, and seeing one of his captains afar off (Fenner by name, he who fought the seven Portugals at the Azores), cried, ‘O George, what doest thou? Wilt thou now frustrate my hope and opinion conceived of thee? Wilt thou forsake me now?’ With which words he being enflamed, approached, and did the part of a most valiant captain;” as, indeed, did all the rest.
Night falls upon the floating volcano; and morning finds them far past Purbeck, with the white peak of Freshwater ahead; and pouring out past the Needles, ship after ship, to join the gallant chase. For now from all havens, in vessels fitted out at their own expense, flock the chivalry of England; the Lords Oxford, Northumberland, and Cumberland, Pallavicin, Brooke, Carew, Raleigh, and Blunt, and many another honorable name, “as to a set field, where immortal fame and honor was to be attained.” Spain has staked her chivalry in that mighty cast; not a noble house of Arragon or Castile but has lent a brother or a son — and shall mourn the loss of one: and England’s gentlemen will measure their strength once for all against the Cavaliers of Spain. Lord Howard has sent forward light craft into Portsmouth for ammunition: but they will scarce return to-night, for the wind falls dead, and all the evening the two fleets drift helpless with the tide, and shout idle defiance at each other with trumpet, fife, and drum.
The sun goes down upon a glassy sea, and rises on a glassy sea again. But what day is this? The twenty-fifth, St. James’s-day, sacred to the patron saint of Spain. Shall nothing be attempted in his honor by those whose forefathers have so often seen him with their bodily eyes, charging in their van upon his snow-white steed, and scattering Paynims with celestial lance? He might have sent them, certainly, a favoring breeze; perhaps, he only means to try their faith; at least the galleys shall attack; and in their van three of the great galliasses (the fourth lies half-crippled among the fleet) thrash the sea to foam with three hundred oars apiece; and see, not St. James leading them to victory, but Lord Howard’s Triumph, his brother’s Lion, Southwell’s Elizabeth Jonas, Lord Sheffield’s Bear, Barker’s Victory, and George Fenner’s Leicester, towed stoutly out, to meet them with such salvoes of chain-shot, smashing oars, and cutting rigging, that had not the wind sprung up again toward noon, and the Spanish fleet come up to rescue them, they had shared the fate of Valdez and the Biscayan. And now the fight becomes general. Frobisher beats down the Spanish admiral’s mainmast; and, attacked himself by Mexia and Recalde, is rescued by Lord Howard; who, himself endangered in his turn, is rescued in his turn; “while after that day” (so sickened were they of the English gunnery) “no galliasse would adventure to fight.”
And so, with variable fortune, the fight thunders on the livelong afternoon, beneath the virgin cliffs of Freshwater; while myriad sea-fowl rise screaming up from every ledge, and spot with their black wings the snow-white wall of chalk; and the lone shepherd hurries down the slopes above to peer over the dizzy edge, and forgets the wheatear fluttering in his snare, while he gazes trembling upon glimpses of tall masts and gorgeous flags, piercing at times the league-broad veil of sulphur-smoke which welters far below.
So fares St. James’s-day, as Baal’s did on Carmel in old time, “Either he is talking, or he is pursuing, or he is on a journey; or peradventure he sleepeth, and must be awaked.” At least, the only fire by which he has answered his votaries, has been that of English cannon: and the Armada, “gathering itself into a roundel,” will fight no more, but make the best of its way to Calais, where perhaps the Guises’ faction may have a French force ready to assist them, and then to Dunkirk, to join with Parma and the great flotilla of the Netherlands.
So on, before “a fair Etesian gale,” which follows clear and bright out of the south-southwest, glide forward the two great fleets, past Brighton Cliffs and Beachy Head, Hastings and Dungeness. Is it a battle or a triumph? For by sea Lord Howard, instead of fighting is rewarding; and after Lord Thomas Howard, Lord Sheffield, Townsend, and Frobisher have received at his hands that knighthood, which was then more honorable than a peerage, old Admiral Hawkins kneels and rises up Sir John, and shaking his shoulders after the accolade, observes to the representative of majesty, that his “old woman will hardly know herself again, when folks call her My Lady.”
And meanwhile the cliffs are lined with pike-men and musketeers, and by every countryman and groom who can bear arms, led by their squires and sheriffs, marching eastward as fast as their weapons let them, towards the Dover shore. And not with them alone. From many a mile inland come down women and children, and aged folk in wagons, to join their feeble shouts, and prayers which are not feeble, to that great cry of mingled faith and fear which ascends to the throne of God from the spectators of Britain’s Salamis.
Let them pray on. The danger is not over yet, though Lord Howard has had news from Newhaven that the Guises will not stir against England, and Seymour and Winter have left their post of observation on the Flemish shores, to make up the number of the fleet to an hundred and forty sail — larger, slightly, than that of the Spanish fleet, but of not more than half the tonnage, or one third the number of men. The Spaniards are dispirited and battered, but unbroken still; and as they slide to their anchorage in Calais Roads on the Saturday evening of that most memorable week, all prudent men know well that England’s hour is come, and that the bells which will call all Christendom to church upon the morrow morn, will be either the death-knell or the triumphal peal of the Reformed faith throughout the world.
A solemn day that Sabbath must have been in country and in town. And many a light-hearted coward, doubtless, who had scoffed (as many did) at the notion of the Armada’s coming, because he dare not face the thought, gave himself up to abject fear, “as he now plainly saw and heard that of which before he would not be persuaded.” And many a brave man, too, as he knelt beside his wife and daughters, felt his heart sink to the very pavement, at the thought of what those beloved ones might be enduring a few short days hence, from a profligate and fanatical soldiery, or from the more deliberate fiendishness of the Inquisition. The massacre of St. Bartholomew, the fires of Smithfield, the immolation of the Moors, the extermination of the West Indians, the fantastic horrors of the Piedmontese persecution, which make unreadable the too truthful pages of Morland — these were the spectres, which, not as now, dim and distant through the mist of centuries, but recent, bleeding from still gaping wounds, flitted before the eyes of every Englishman, and filled his brain and heart with fire.
He knew full well the fate in store for him and his. One false step, and the unspeakable doom which, not two generations afterwards, befell the Lutherans of Magdeburg, would have befallen every town from London to Carlisle. All knew the hazard, as they prayed that day, and many a day before and after, throughout England and the Netherlands. And none knew it better than she who was the guiding spirit of that devoted land, and the especial mark of the invaders’ fury; and who, by some Divine inspiration (as men then not unwisely held), devised herself the daring stroke which was to anticipate the coming blow.
But where is Amyas Leigh all this while? Day after day he has been seeking the Sta. Catharina in the thickest of the press, and cannot come at her, cannot even hear of her: one moment he dreads that she has sunk by night, and balked him of his prey; the next, that she has repaired her damages, and will escape him after all. He is moody, discontented, restless, even (for the first time in his life) peevish with his men. He can talk of nothing but Don Guzman; he can find no better employment, at every spare moment, than taking his sword out of the sheath, and handling it, fondling it, talking to it even, bidding it not to fail him in the day of vengeance. At last, he has sent to Squire, the armorer, for a whetstone, and, half-ashamed of his own folly, whets and polishes it in bye-corners, muttering to himself. That one fixed thought of selfish vengeance has possessed his whole mind; he forgets England’s present need, her past triumph, his own safety, everything but his brother’s blood. And yet this is the day for which he has been longing ever since he brought home that magic horn as a fifteen years boy; the day when he should find himself face to face with an invader, and that invader Antichrist himself. He has believed for years with Drake, Hawkins, Grenville, and Raleigh, that he was called and sent into the world only to fight the Spaniard: and he is fighting him now, in such a cause, for such a stake, within such battle-lists, as he will never see again: and yet he is not content, and while throughout that gallant fleet, whole crews are receiving the Communion side by side, and rising with cheerful faces to shake hands, and to rejoice that they are sharers in Britain’s Salamis, Amyas turns away from the holy elements.
“I cannot communicate, Sir John. Charity with all men? I hate, if ever man hated on earth.”
“You hate the Lord’s foes only, Captain Leigh.”
“No, Jack, I hate my own as well.”
“But no one in the fleet, sir?”
“Don’t try to put me off with the same Jesuit’s quibble which that false knave Parson Fletcher invented for one of Doughty’s men, to drug his conscience withal when he was plotting against his own admiral. No, Jack, I hate one of whom you know; and somehow that hatred of him keeps me from loving any human being. I am in love and charity with no man, Sir John Brimblecombe — not even with you! Go your ways in God’s name, sir! and leave me and the devil alone together, or you’ll find my words are true.”
Jack departed with a sigh, and while the crew were receiving the Communion on deck, Amyas sate below in the cabin sharpening his sword, and after it, called for a boat and went on board Drake’s ship to ask news of the Sta. Catharina, and listened scowling to the loud chants and tinkling bells, which came across the water from the Spanish fleet. At last, Drake was summoned by the lord admiral, and returned with a secret commission, which ought to bear fruit that night; and Amyas, who had gone with him, helped him till nightfall, and then returned to his own ship as Sir Amyas Leigh, Knight, to the joy and glory of every soul on board, except his moody self.
So there, the livelong summer Sabbath-day, before the little high-walled town and the long range of yellow sandhills, lie those two mighty armaments, scowling at each other, hardly out of gunshot. Messenger after messenger is hurrying towards Bruges to the Duke of Parma, for light craft which can follow these nimble English somewhat better than their own floating castles; and, above all, entreating him to put to sea at once with all his force. The duke is not with his forces at Dunkirk, but on the future field of Waterloo, paying his devotions to St. Mary of Halle in Hainault, in order to make all sure in his Pantheon, and already sees in visions of the night that gentle-souled and pure-lipped saint, Cardinal Allen, placing the crown of England on his head. He returns for answer, first, that his victual is not ready; next, that his Dutch sailors, who have been kept at their post for many a week at the sword’s point, have run away like water; and thirdly, that over and above all, he cannot come, so “strangely provided” of great ordnance and musketeers are those five-and-thirty Dutch ships, in which round-sterned and stubborn-hearted heretics watch, like terriers at a rat’s hole, the entrance of Nieuwport and Dunkirk. Having ensured the private patronage of St. Mary of Halle, he will return tomorrow to make experience of its effects: but only hear across the flats of Dixmude the thunder of the fleets, and at Dunkirk the open curses of his officers. For while he has been praying and nothing more, the English have been praying, and something more; and all that is left for the Prince of Parma is, to hang a few purveyors, as peace offerings to his sulking army, and then “chafe,” as Drake says of him, “like a bear robbed of her whelps.”
For Lord Henry Seymour has brought Lord Howard a letter of command from Elizabeth’s self; and Drake has been carrying it out so busily all that Sunday long, that by two o’clock on the Monday morning, eight fire-ships “besmeared with wild-fire, brimstone, pitch, and resin, and all their ordnance charged with bullets and with stones,” are stealing down the wind straight for the Spanish fleet, guided by two valiant men of Devon, Young and Prowse. (Let their names live long in the land!) The ships are fired, the men of Devon steal back, and in a moment more, the heaven is red with glare from Dover Cliffs to Gravelines Tower; and weary-hearted Belgian boors far away inland, plundered and dragooned for many a hideous year, leap from their beds, and fancy (and not so far wrongly either) that the day of judgment is come at last, to end their woes, and hurl down vengeance on their tyrants.
And then breaks forth one of those disgraceful panics, which so often follow overweening presumption; and shrieks, oaths, prayers, and reproaches, make night hideous. There are those too on board who recollect well enough Jenebelli’s fire-ships at Antwerp three years before, and the wreck which they made of Parma’s bridge across the Scheldt. If these should be like them! And cutting all cables, hoisting any sails, the Invincible Armada goes lumbering wildly out to sea, every ship foul of her neighbor.
The largest of the four galliasses loses her rudder, and drifts helpless to and fro, hindering and confusing. The duke, having (so the Spaniards say) weighed his anchor deliberately instead of leaving it behind him, runs in again after awhile, and fires a signal for return: but his truant sheep are deaf to the shepherd’s pipe, and swearing and praying by turns, he runs up Channel towards Gravelines picking up stragglers on his way, who are struggling as they best can among the flats and shallows: but Drake and Fenner have arrived as soon as he. When Monday’s sun rises on the quaint old castle and muddy dykes of Gravelines town, the thunder of the cannon recommences, and is not hushed till night. Drake can hang coolly enough in the rear to plunder when he thinks fit; but when the battle needs it, none can fight more fiercely, among the foremost; and there is need now, if ever. That Armada must never be allowed to re-form. If it does, its left wing may yet keep the English at bay, while its right drives off the blockading Hollanders from Dunkirk port, and sets Parma and his flotilla free to join them, and to sail in doubled strength across to the mouth of Thames.
So Drake has weighed anchor, and away up Channel with all his squadron, the moment that he saw the Spanish fleet come up; and with him Fenner burning to redeem the honor which, indeed, he had never lost; and ere Fenton, Beeston, Crosse, Ryman, and Lord Southwell can join them, the Devon ships have been worrying the Spaniards for two full hours into confusion worse confounded.
But what is that heavy firing behind them? Alas for the great galliasse! She lies, like a huge stranded whale, upon the sands where now stands Calais pier; and Amyas Preston, the future hero of La Guayra, is pounding her into submission, while a fleet of hoys and drumblers look on and help, as jackals might the lion.
Soon, on the south-west horizon, loom up larger and larger two mighty ships, and behind them sail on sail. As they near a shout greets the Triumph and the Bear; and on and in the lord high admiral glides stately into the thickest of the fight.
True, we have still but some three-and-twenty ships which can cope at all with some ninety of the Spaniards: but we have dash, and daring, and the inspiration of utter need. Now, or never, must the mighty struggle be ended. We worried them off Portland; we must rend them in pieces now; and in rushes ship after ship, to smash her broadsides through and through the wooden castles, “sometimes not a pike’s length asunder,” and then out again to re-load, and give place meanwhile to another. The smaller are fighting with all sails set; the few larger, who, once in, are careless about coming out again, fight with top-sails loose, and their main and foreyards close down on deck, to prevent being boarded. The duke, Oquenda, and Recalde, having with much ado got clear of the shallows, bear the brunt of the fight to seaward; but in vain. The day goes against them more and more, as it runs on. Seymour and Winter have battered the great San Philip into a wreck; her masts are gone by the board; Pimentelli in the San Matthew comes up to take the mastiffs off the fainting bull, and finds them fasten on him instead; but the Evangelist, though smaller, is stouter than the Deacon, and of all the shot poured into him, not twenty “lackt him thorough.” His masts are tottering; but sink or strike he will not.
“Go ahead, and pound his tough hide, Leigh,” roars Drake off the poop of his ship, while he hammers away at one of the great galliasses. “What right has he to keep us all waiting?”
Amyas slips in as best he can between Drake and Winter; as he passes he shouts to his ancient enemy —
“We are with you, sir; all friends today!” and slipping round Winter’s bows, he pours his broadside into those of the San Matthew, and then glides on to re-load; but not to return. For not a pistol shot to leeward, worried by three or four small craft, lies an immense galleon; and on her poop — can he believe his eyes for joy? — the maiden and the wheel which he has sought so long!
“There he is!” shouts Amyas, springing to the starboard side of the ship. The men, too, have already caught sight of that hated sign; a cheer of fury bursts from every throat.
“Steady, men!” says Amyas, in a suppressed voice. “Not a shot! Re-load, and be ready; I must speak with him first;” and silent as the grave, amid the infernal din, the Vengeance glides up to the Spaniard’s quarter.
“Don Guzman Maria Magdalena Sotomayor de Soto!” shouts Amyas from the mizzen rigging, loud and clear amid the roar.
He has not called in vain. Fearless and graceful as ever, the tall, mail-clad figure of his foe leaps up upon the poop-railing, twenty feet above Amyas’s head, and shouts through his vizor —
“At your service, sir whosoever you may be.”
A dozen muskets and arrows are levelled at him; but Amyas frowns them down. “No man strikes him but I. Spare him, if you kill every other soul on board. Don Guzman! I am Captain Sir Amyas Leigh; I proclaim you a traitor and a ravisher, and challenge you once more to single combat, when and where you will.”
“You are welcome to come on board me, sir,” answers the Spaniard, in a clear, quiet tone; “bringing with you this answer, that you lie in your throat;” and lingering a moment out of bravado, to arrange his scarf, he steps slowly down again behind the bulwarks.
“Coward!” shouts Amyas at the top of his voice.
The Spaniard re-appears instantly. “Why that name, senor, of all others?” asks he in a cool, stern voice.
“Because we call men cowards in England, who leave their wives to be burnt alive by priests.”
The moment the words had passed Amyas’s lips, he felt that they were cruel and unjust. But it was too late to recall them. The Spaniard started, clutched his sword-hilt, and then hissed back through his closed vizor —
“For that word, sirrah, you hang at my yardarm, if Saint Mary gives me grace.”
“See that your halter be a silken one, then,” laughed Amyas, “for I am just dubbed knight.” And he stepped down as a storm of bullets rang through the rigging round his head; the Spaniards are not as punctilious as he.
“Fire!” His ordnance crash through the stern-works of the Spaniard; and then he sails onward, while her balls go humming harmlessly through his rigging.
Half-an-hour has passed of wild noise and fury; three times has the Vengeance, as a dolphin might, sailed clean round and round the Sta. Catharina, pouring in broadside after broadside, till the guns are leaping to the deck-beams with their own heat, and the Spaniard’s sides are slit and spotted in a hundred places. And yet, so high has been his fire in return, and so strong the deck defences of the Vengeance, that a few spars broken, and two or three men wounded by musketry, are all her loss. But still the Spaniard endures, magnificent as ever; it is the battle of the thresher and the whale; the end is certain, but the work is long.
“Can I help you, Captain Leigh?” asked Lord Henry Seymour, as he passes within oar’s length of him, to attack a ship ahead. “The San Matthew has had his dinner, and is gone on to Medina to ask for a digestive to it.”
“I thank your lordship: but this is my private quarrel, of which I spoke. But if your lordship could lend me powder —”
“Would that I could! But so, I fear, says every other gentleman in the fleet.”
A puff of wind clears away the sulphurous veil for a moment; the sea is clear of ships towards the land; the Spanish fleet are moving again up Channel, Medina bringing up the rear; only some two miles to their right hand, the vast hull of the San Philip is drifting up the shore with the tide, and somewhat nearer the San Matthew is hard at work at her pumps. They can see the white stream of water pouring down her side.
“Go in, my lord, and have the pair,” shouts Amyas.
“No, sir! Forward is a Seymour’s cry. We will leave them to pay the Flushingers’ expenses.” And on went Lord Henry, and on shore went the San Philip at Ostend, to be plundered by the Flushingers; while the San Matthew, whose captain, “on a hault courage,” had refused to save himself and his gentlemen on board Medina’s ship, went blundering miserably into the hungry mouths of Captain Peter Vanderduess and four other valiant Dutchmen, who, like prudent men of Holland, contrived to keep the galleon afloat till they had emptied her, and then “hung up her banner in the great church of Leyden, being of such a length, that being fastened to the roof, it reached unto the very ground.”
But in the meanwhile, long ere the sun had set, comes down the darkness of the thunderstorm, attracted, as to a volcano’s mouth, to that vast mass of sulphur-smoke which cloaks the sea for many a mile; and heaven’s artillery above makes answer to man’s below. But still, through smoke and rain, Amyas clings to his prey. She too has seen the northward movement of the Spanish fleet, and sets her topsails; Amyas calls to the men to fire high, and cripple her rigging: but in vain: for three or four belated galleys, having forced their way at last over the shallows, come flashing and sputtering up to the combatants, and take his fire off the galleon. Amyas grinds his teeth, and would fain hustle into the thick of the press once more, in spite of the galleys’ beaks.
“Most heroical captain,” says cary, pulling a long face, “if we do, we are stove and sunk in five minutes; not to mention that Yeo says he has not twenty rounds of great cartridge left.”
So, surely and silent, the Vengeance sheers off, but keeps as near as she can to the little squadron, all through the night of rain and thunder which follows. Next morning the sun rises on a clear sky, with a strong west-north-west breeze, and all hearts are asking what the day will bring forth.
They are long past Dunkirk now; the German Ocean is opening before them. The Spaniards, sorely battered, and lessened in numbers, have, during the night, regained some sort of order. The English hang on their skirts a mile or two behind. They have no ammunition, and must wait for more. To Amyas’s great disgust, the Sta. Catharina has rejoined her fellows during the night.
“Never mind,” says Cary; “she can neither dive nor fly, and as long as she is above water, we — What is the admiral about?”
He is signalling Lord Henry Seymour and his squadron. Soon they tack, and come down the wind for the coast of Flanders. Parma must be blockaded still; and the Hollanders are likely to be too busy with their plunder to do it effectually. Suddenly there is a stir in the Spanish fleet. Medina and the rearmost ships turn upon the English. What can it mean? Will they offer battle once more? If so, it were best to get out of their way, for we have nothing wherewith to fight them. So the English lie close to the wind. They will let them pass, and return to their old tactic of following and harassing.
“Good-bye to Seymour,” says Cary, “if he is caught between them and Parma’s flotilla. They are going to Dunkirk.”
“Impossible! They will not have water enough to reach his light craft. Here comes a big ship right upon us! Give him all you have left, lads; and if he will fight us, lay him alongside, and die boarding.”
They gave him what they had, and hulled him with every shot; but his huge side stood silent as the grave. He had not wherewithal to return the compliment.
“As I live, he is cutting loose the foot of his mainsail! the villain means to run.”
“There go the rest of them! Victoria!” shouted Cary, as one after another, every Spaniard set all the sail he could.
There was silence for a few minutes throughout the English fleet; and then cheer upon cheer of triumph rent the skies. It was over. The Spaniard had refused battle, and thinking only of safety, was pressing downward toward the Straits again. The Invincible Armada had cast away its name, and England was saved.
“But he will never get there, sir,” said old Yeo, who had come upon deck to murmur his Nunc Domine, and gaze upon that sight beyond all human faith or hope: “Never, never will he weather the Flanders shore, against such a breeze as is coming up. Look to the eye of the wind, sir, and see how the Lord is fighting for His people!”
Yes, down it came, fresher and stiffer every minute out of the gray north-west, as it does so often after a thunder-storm; and the sea began to rise high and white under the “Claro Aquilone,” till the Spaniards were fain to take in all spare canvas, and lie-to as best they could; while the English fleet, lying-to also, awaited an event which was in God’s hands and not in theirs.
“They will be all ashore on Zealand before the afternoon,” murmured Amyas; “and I have lost my labor! Oh, for powder, powder, powder! to go in and finish it at once!”
“Oh, sir,” said Yeo, “don’t murmur against the Lord in the very day of His mercies. It is hard, to be sure; but His will be done.”
“Could we not borrow powder from Drake there?”
“Look at the sea, sir!”
And, indeed, the sea was far too rough for any such attempt. The Spaniards neared and neared the fatal dunes, which fringed the shore for many a dreary mile; and Amyas had to wait weary hours, growling like a dog who has had the bone snatched out of his mouth, till the day wore on; when, behold, the wind began to fall as rapidly as it had risen. A savage joy rose in Amyas’s heart.
“They are safe! safe for us! Who will go and beg us powder? A cartridge here and a cartridge there? — anything to set to work again!”
Cary volunteered, and returned in a couple of hours with some quantity: but he was on board again only just in time, for the south-wester had recovered the mastery of the skies, and Spaniards and English were moving away; but this time northward. Whither now? To Scotland? Amyas knew not, and cared not, provided he was in the company of Don Guzman de Soto.
The Armada was defeated, and England saved. But such great undertakings seldom end in one grand melodramatic explosion of fireworks, through which the devil arises in full roar to drag Dr. Faustus forever into the flaming pit. On the contrary, the devil stands by his servants to the last, and tries to bring off his shattered forces with drums beating and colors flying; and, if possible, to lull his enemies into supposing that the fight is ended, long before it really is half over. All which the good Lord Howard of Effingham knew well, and knew, too, that Medina had one last card to play, and that was the filial affection of that dutiful and chivalrous son, James of Scotland. True, he had promised faith to Elizabeth: but that was no reason why he should keep it. He had been hankering and dabbling after Spain for years past, for its absolution was dear to his inmost soul; and Queen Elizabeth had had to warn him, scold him, call him a liar, for so doing; so the Armada might still find shelter and provision in the Firth of Forth. But whether Lord Howard knew or not, Medina did not know, that Elizabeth had played her card cunningly, in the shape of one of those appeals to the purse, which, to James’s dying day, overweighed all others save appeals to his vanity. “The title of a dukedom in England, a yearly pension of 5000 pounds, a guard at the queen’s charge, and other matters” (probably more hounds and deer), had steeled the heart of the King of Scots, and sealed the Firth of Forth. Nevertheless, as I say, Lord Howard, like the rest of Elizabeth’s heroes, trusted James just as much as James trusted others; and therefore thought good to escort the Armada until it was safely past the domains of that most chivalrous and truthful Solomon. But on the 4th of August, his fears, such as they were, were laid to rest. The Spaniards left the Scottish coast and sailed away for Norway; and the game was played out, and the end was come, as the end of such matters generally comes, by gradual decay, petty disaster, and mistake; till the snow-mountain, instead of being blown tragically and heroically to atoms, melts helplessly and pitiably away.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:56