Great Sea Stories
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by John L. French
Category: Classic Literature/Historical Fiction
Description: A collection of sea-faring adventures that will thrill sailors of any age. From the Cannibal Island of the South Seas, to Iceland's fjords, to the actual events on the BOUNTY, with a stop to enjoy the capture of the Great White Whale, these sea stories will thrill you
eBook Publisher: ebooksonthe.net/ebooksonthe.net, 1919 book
eBookwise Release Date: April 2009
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [474 KB]
Reading time: 295-413 min.
Spanish Bloodhounds and English Mastiffs,
From "Westward Ho!"by Charles Kingsley
When the sun leaped up the next morning, and the tropic light flashed suddenly into the tropic day, Amyas was pacing the deck, with disheveled hair and torn clothes, his eyes red with rage and weeping, his heart full--how can I describe it? Picture it to yourselves, you who have ever lost a brother; and you who have not, thank God that you know nothing of his agony. Full of impossible projects, he strode and staggered up and down, as the ship thrashed and close-hauled through the rolling seas. He would go back and burn the villa. He would take Guayra, and have the life of every man in it in return for his brother's. "We can do it, lads!" he shouted. "Drake took Nombre de Dios, we can take La Guayra." And every voice shouted, "Yes."
"We will have it, Amyas, and have Frank too, yet," cried Cary; but Amyas shook his head. He knew, and knew not why he knew, that all the ports in New Spain would never restore to him that one beloved face.
"Yes, he shall be well avenged. And look there! There is the first crop of our vengeance." And he pointed toward the shore, where between them and the now distant peaks of the Silla, three sails appeared, not five miles to windward.
"There are the Spanish bloodhounds on our heels, the same ships which we saw yesterday off Guayra. Back, lads, and welcome them, if they were a dozen."
There was a murmur of applause from all around; and if any young heart sank for a moment at the prospect of fighting three ships at once, it was awed into silence by the cheer which rose from all the older men, and by Salvation Yeo's stentorian voice.
"If there were a dozen, the Lord is with us, who has said, 'One of you shall chase a thousand.' Clear away, lads, and see the glory of the Lord this day."
"Amen!" cried Cary; and the ship was kept still closer to the wind.
Amyas had revived at the sight of battle. He no longer felt his wounds or his great sorrow as he bustled about the deck; and ere a quarter of an hour had passed, his voice cried firmly and cheerfully as of old--
"Now, my masters, let us serve God, and then to breakfast, and after that clear for action."
Jack Brimblecombe read the dally prayers, and the prayers before a fight at sea, and his honest voice trembled, as, in the Prayer for all Conditions of Men (In spite of Amyas's despair), he added, "and especially for our dear brother Mr. Francis Leigh, perhaps captive among the idolaters;" and so they rose.
"Now, then," said Amyas, "to breakfast. A Frenchman fights best fasting, a Dutchman drunk, an Englishman full, and a Spaniard when the devil is in him, and that's always."
"And good beef and the good cause are a match for the devil," said Cary. "Come down, captain; you must eat too."
Amyas shook his head, took the tiller from the steersman, and bade him go below and fill himself. Will Cary went down, and returned in five minutes with a plate of bread and beef, and a great jack of ale, coaxed them down Amyas's throat, as a nurse does with a child, and then scuttled below again with tears hopping down his face.
Amyas stood still steering. His face was grown seven years older in the last night. A terrible set calm was on him. Woe to the man who came across him that day!
"There are three of them, you see, my masters," said he, as the crew came on deck again. "A big ship forward, and two galleys astern of her. The big ship may keep; she is a race ship, and if we can but recover the wind of her, we will see whether our height is not a match for her length. We must give her the slip, and take the galleys first."
"I thank the Lord," said Yeo, "who has given so wise a heart to so young a general; a very David and Daniel, saving his presence, lads. Silas Staveley, smite me that boy over the head, the young monkey; why is he not down at the powder-room door?"
And Yeo went about his gunnery, as one who knew how to do it, and had the most terrible mind to do it thoroughly, and the most terrible faith that it was God's work.
So all fell to; and though there was comparatively little to be done, the ship having been kept as far as could be in fighting order all night, yet there was "clearing of decks, lacing of nettings, making of bulwarks, fitting of waistcloths, arming of tops, tallowing of pikes, slinging of yards, doubling of sheets and tacks." Amyas took charge of the poop, Cary of the forecastle, and Yeo, as gunner, of the main-deck, while Drew, as master, settled himself in the waist; and all was ready, and more than ready, before the great ship was within two miles of them.
She is now within two musket-shots of the Rose, with the golden flag of Spain floating at her poop; and her trumpets are shouting defiance up the breeze, from a dozen brazen throats, which two or three answer lustily from the Rose, from whose poop flies the flag of England, and from her fore the arms of Leigh and Cary side by side, and over them the ship and bridge of the good town of Bideford. And then Amyas calls--
"Now, silence trumpets, waits, play up! 'Fortune my foe!' and God and the Queen be with us!"
Whereon (laugh not, reader, for it was the fashion of those musical, as well as valiant days) up rose that noble old favorite of good Queen Bess, from cornet and sackbut, fife and drum; while Parson Jack, who had taken his stand with the musicians on the poop, worked away lustily at his violin.
"Well played, Jack; thy elbow flies like a lamb's tail," said Amyas, forcing a jest.
"It shall fly to a better fiddle-bow presently, sir, and I have the luck--"
"Steady, helm!" said Amyas. "What is he after now?"
The Spaniard, who had been coming upon them right down the wind under a press of sail, took in his light canvas.
"He don't know what to make of our waiting for him so bold," said the helmsman.
"He does though, and means to fight us," cried another. "See, he is hauling up the foot of his mainsail: but he wants to keep the wind of us."
"Let him try, then," quoth Amyas. "Keep her closer still. Let no one fire till we are about. Man the starboard guns; to starboard, and wait, all small arm men. Pass the order down to the gunner, and bid all fire high, and take the rigging."
Bang went one of the Spaniard's bow guns, and the shot went wide. Then another and another, while the men fidgeted about, looking at the priming of their muskets, and loosened their arrows in the sheaf.
"Lie down, men, and sing a psalm. When I want you I'll call you. Closer still, if you can, helmsman, and we will try a short ship against a long one. We can sail two points nearer the wind than he."
As Amyas had calculated, the Spaniard would gladly enough have stood across the Rose's bows, but knowing the English readiness dare not for fear of being raked; so her only plan, if she did not intend to shoot past her foe down to leeward, was to put her head close to the wind, and wait for her on the same tack.
Amyas laughed to himself. "Hold on yet awhile. More ways of killing a cat than choking her with cream. Drew, there, are your men ready?"
"Ay, ay, sir!" and on they went, closing fast with the Spaniard, till within a pistol-shot.
"Ready about!" and about she went like an eel, and ran upon the opposite tack right under the Spaniard's stern. The Spaniard, astonished at the quickness of the maneuver, hesitated a moment, and then tried to get about also, as his only chance; but it was too late, and while his lumbering length was still hanging in the wind's eye, Amyas's bowsprit had all but scraped his quarter, and the Rose passed slowly across his stern at ten yards' distance.
"Now, then!" roared Amyas. "Fire, and with a will! Have at her, archers: have at her, muskets all!" and in an instant a storm of bar and chain-shot, round and canister, swept the proud Don from stem to stern, while through the white cloud of smoke the musket-balls, and the still deadlier clothyard arrows, whistled and rushed upon their venomous errand. Down went the steersman, and every soul who manned the poop. Down went the mizzen topmast, in went the stern-windows and quarter-galleries; and as the smoke cleared away, the golden flag of Spain, which the last moment flaunted above their heads, hung trailing in the water. The ship, her tiller shot away, and her helmsman killed, staggered helplessly a moment, and then fell up into the wind.
"Well done, men of Devon!" shouted Amyas, as cheers rent the welkin.
"She has struck," cried some, as the deafening hurrahs died away.
"Not a bit," said Amyas. "Hold on, helmsman, and leave her to patch her tackle while we settle the galleys."
On they shot merrily, and long ere the armada could get herself to rights again, were two good miles to windward, with the galleys sweeping down fast upon them.
And two venomous-looking craft they were, as they shot through the short chopping sea upon some forty oars apiece, stretching their long sword-fish snouts over the water, as if snuffing for their prey. Behind this long snout, a strong square forecastle was crammed with soldiers, and the muzzles of cannon grinned out through port-holes, not only in the sides of the forecastle, but forward in the line of the galley's course, thus enabling her to keep up a continual fire on a ship right ahead.
The long low waist was packed full of the slaves, some five or six to each oar, and down the center, between the two banks, the English could see the slave-drivers walking up and down a long gangway, whip in hand. A raised quarter-deck at the stern held more soldiers, the sunlight flashing merrily upon their armor and their gun-barrels; as they neared, the English could hear plainly the cracks of the whips, and the yells as of wild beasts which answered them; the roll and rattle of the oars, and the loud "Ha!" of the slaves which accompanied every stroke, and the oaths and curses of the drivers; while a sickening musky smell, as of a pack of kenneled hounds, came down the wind from off those dens of misery. No wonder if many a young heart shuddered as it faced, for the first time, the horrible reality of those floating hells, the cruelties whereof had rung so often in English ears from the stories of their own countrymen, who had passed them, fought them, and now and then passed years of misery on board of them. Who knew but what there might be English among those sun-browned, half-naked masses of panting wretches?
"Must we fire upon the slaves?" asked more than one, as the thought crossed him.
"Spare them all you can, in God's name: but if they try to run us down, rake them we must, and God forgive us."