Across the Spanish Main, by Harry Collingwood.
This book, of average length, is set at the end of the sixteenth century, when the English were in a state of war against the Spanish. The heroes of the story are two boys from Devon, a county in the south-west of England. They set off with a view to repairing the fortunes of the family of one of them, by chasing and capturing Spanish treasure ships.
Their adventures are many and various, and include being captured by a famous pirate. They are also, later on in the book, condemned to be burnt to death by the Inquisition. Luckily they are able to escape this disagreeable outcome.
They also come across a cryptogram, which is rather difficult to solve, but which eventually they manage to decypher, and which leads them to the treasure hoarded by the pirate, who by that time has met his end.
This is a good book, and one which makes a very nice audiobook.
ACROSS THE SPANISH MAIN, BY HARRY COLLINGWOOD.
HOW ROGER TREVOSE AND HARRY EDGWYTH MADE A CERTAIN COMPACT.
"Now now, Roger, my lad; what are you thinking of?" These words were addressed to a tall, fair young man of about eighteen or nineteen years of age, who was standing on Plymouth Hoe, gazing earnestly at the Sound and the evolutions of certain vessels which had just entered it round Penlee Point.
The speaker was a lad of about the same age, but shorter in height, sturdier in build, and altogether more robust and healthy-looking than his companion, who belonged rather to the class of dreamers than that of workers.
The time was a bright summer morning in the month of June, in the year 1586; and although the great Armada—which Philip of Spain fondly believed was to crush England—was as yet undreamed of, war was even then being carried on in a somewhat desultory manner between England and Spain, very much to the disadvantage of the latter country.
English gentlemen, who called themselves "gentlemen adventurers", were fitting out merchant-vessels as warships, and sailing for the Spanish Main and the Indies in the hope of securing some of the splendid prizes that were at that time to be obtained through pluck and audacity, in the shape of Spanish galleons richly and heavily laden with spices and gold from Manila, plate from Acapulco, or costly silks and fabrics and treasure untold from the new Spanish colony of Mexico.
It was of these stirring deeds and adventures that Roger Trevose of Pentillie Manor, on the river Tamar, in the county of Devon—fairest and sweetest of all English counties,—was thinking when his friend Harry Edgwyth, who had just arrived upon the scene, put his question: "How now, Roger, my lad; what are you thinking of?"
"I was thinking, Harry, what a splendid thing it would be if you and I could join some of these gentlemen adventurers (heroes I call them), and try our luck in the Spanish seas, fighting for our fortunes, and the glory of dear old England. Just think of it, lad! That is a life for a man to lead; is't not so, Harry? Pentillie Castle, as you know well, is heavily mortgaged; and my poor father and mother are very hardly put to it to make sufficient money to keep the old place up; and what would be more fitting, Harry, I ask you, than for the only son, the heir to those fair estates and that grand old mansion, to sail in some ship going to the Indies, and endeavour to retrieve the fortunes of his house? Think for a moment, Harry; who knows but that we might sight some rich Spanish galleon, laden almost to the water's edge with plate, and, having sighted her, chase and capture her! Why, a share of one of those splendid cargoes that the plate galleons carry would probably be sufficient to enable me to restore the fortunes of the dear old home, pay off its mortgages, and free my dearly-loved parents from the load of care that is now oppressing them. And that," continued Roger, becoming wildly enthusiastic, "need not be the finish of it all. With some of the money I could and would fit out an expedition of my own, and sail for the Indies on my own account; and perhaps return with my ship more richly-laden than any ship has ever been before; and my name would ring through England; I should be given honours; perhaps be called to court; and who knows, Harry, where I should stop! Why, lad, it is enough to fire the most sluggish blood, let alone mine, which is hot enough, God wot, as is that of all the Trevose family."
"Ay, Roger," answered Harry, "but have you well weighed the risks; have you thought of what your parents would feel if you left them all alone to go to the Spanish Main, whence, perchance, you would never return? Remember, lad, you are their only son, and heir to the old estate and manor; and think what they would feel did you never come back."
"Harry," replied Roger, "never, never have I seen or met your equal for caution! Why prate, lad, of what might happen? Think rather of what is certain to befall, and that is that I shall come back a rich man, rich enough to enable me to realise all my wishes and ambitions. Why, if everyone thought as you do, where would now be the names of the heroes who have already made our dear England the mistress of the seas? 'Nothing dare, nothing gain', lad; that's my motto!"
"You are quite right in what you say," replied Harry, "but only too well do I know your careless and reckless disposition, Roger; and although you would surely do daring deeds, and cover yourself with glory, I fear me greatly that you would not live to bring home that treasure, even if you did live long enough to gain it."
"Harry, if I did not know you as I do, lad," retorted Roger, "I should be inclined to dub you craven; but, as it is, I know full well that you only suffer from excess of caution, even as you say that I suffer from lack of the same. But I do not agree with your prophecy that I should not live to bring home my spoil. No, I feel within myself that I shall succeed in my venture, if I can bring my father and mother to consent to my going; and I am also convinced that I shall be able to bring my riches safely home. Meanwhile, the question is: Can I persuade some brave captain to take me on his ship?"
"Have you, then, truly made up your mind to sail for the Indies, Roger, if you can get one of our adventurers to take you?" cried Harry. "Methought you were only dreaming, and did not seriously entertain the idea of leaving England."
"I was never more serious in my life," replied Roger; "in fact I had made up my mind some time since, and was but considering how and when I could best put the matter before my parents, and wondering whether they would give their consent to my embarking on such an enterprise. And I would give much, Harry, my friend, if I could persuade you to accompany me. Has not the prospect of adventure, glory, and perchance great wealth, any attraction for you?"
"Ay, that has it," asserted Harry; "but you seem to forget that, if I go with you, I must leave my sister behind; and what would become of her, poor maid? I have no other relations to whom she could go, or who would care for her; and I cannot leave her behind, all alone."
Roger broke into a peal of merry laughter.
"Why, lad," said he, "you are forever making difficulties where none exist! Now list to me, for I have a proposal to make you. If I can persuade my father and mother to let me go, they will then, as you say, be alone, seeing that I am their only child; but if your sister were to go to them, it would in part reconcile them to my absence, while at the same time the arrangement would provide a home for your sister, and a way out of your difficulty. What do you say to my idea?"
"That it is a good one," agreed Harry; "and I thank you, Roger, for the thought, which truly had occurred to me also, but I did not like to be the first to mention it. My sister has ever loved your mother, and I think your mother has some little affection for the maid; and I am sure, therefore, that she would be happy with your folk."
"Let us then consider the matter as settled, so far as we are concerned, Harry," said Roger; "and let us pledge each other to sail together; to stand by each other through thick and thin, through fair and foul; to share all dangers; and to divide equally all plunder that we may obtain from the rascally Dons. Then I will away to consult my folk; and you shall come too, Harry, and add your persuasions to mine. You shall entreat them, with me, to let me go, promising them that, if they will part with me, your sister shall keep them company till we return. And I am sure that if we both plead hard enough, Harry, lad, we shall in the end succeed in obtaining from them a promise to let me go at the very first opportunity."
"Very well, Roger," assented Harry; "this shall be the first action in which I will stand by you according to our pledge; and I will come with you and add my entreaties to yours that your people should let you go. But when do you intend to ask them, lad?"
"I am in Plymouth until the morrow after next," said Roger; "and then I intend to take my boat, which I have left at Sutton Pool, and pull up the river back to Pentillie; and you will come with me, Harry, will you not?"
"Ay, lad, that will I; have I not promised you?" replied the latter. "But I must now go about my business, else shall I not be in time to accompany you according to my promise. So until the appointed time, when I will certainly meet you, farewell, lad! and have a care that that hare-brain of yours does not get you into some trouble, meanwhile; for I know what you are when you come into Plymouth on a holiday."
"Never fear for me, Harry," returned Roger; "I have now something in view of more importance than street brawls and such follies, and shall take care that I get into no trouble to prevent my joining you at Sutton Pool, as we agreed."
With these words the two lads separated, Harry returning to his home to break the momentous news to his sister, and elicit her views concerning the proposed expedition, and Roger proceeding to the house of his uncle, a worthy mercer of the town, with whom he was staying during the holiday which he was at that time taking in Plymouth. Little did those two boys (for they were scarcely more) realise the momentous nature of the step that they had taken when they pledged one another on Plymouth Hoe! Could they but have foreseen the wild and terrible days, the awful sights, the hardships and privations, which lay before them, and through which they would have to pass ere they might return to their native country, it is highly probable that they would not have started on their expedition at all. Or, if they had done so, it would have been with far heavier hearts and more serious faces than they carried at the time when they made their compact to stand by one another "through fair and foul, through thick and thin", as they phrased it, that morning on Plymouth Hoe.
HOW THEY LEFT PLYMOUTH AT DAWN ON THE TWENTY-FIRST DAY OF JULY, 1586.
At the time appointed the two friends met as agreed, and, taking the small boat belonging to Roger, which he had left at the boat-stairs in Sutton Pool, they pulled up the river Tamar, arriving in due course at Roger's home, Pentillie Manor—or Castle, as it was called by the country-folk round about.
Harry, as Roger's best and dearest friend, was always welcome there; it was, in fact, almost as much his home as was his house in Plymouth, where he lived with his only relation, his sister Mary, on whom, be it whispered, Roger had already begun to look with eyes which had somewhat more in them than mere friendship.
After the two lads had had a meal—which they sorely needed after their long pull—Roger intimated that he desired to speak to his father and mother in private; so they all three moved to an adjoining room.
Said Roger: "My dear father and mother, I have for some time been of the opinion that I am only wasting my days at home here doing nothing, and have long been wishing to speak to you both about the matter. While I was on my holiday in Plymouth I heard of nothing but the adventures and exploits of those men who have gone to the Indies and the South American coast, and of their success in arms against the Spaniards. To my mind there is no occupation so befitting an English gentleman as that of taking up arms against our natural enemies, the Spanish; and also it is quite clear to me that huge fortunes are to be won in this grand game of war; while you both know, as well as I, in what great need of money our house stands at present. So a few mornings ago I finally determined that, if I could obtain your consent and permission, I would enter into the profession upon which I have set my heart, without further delay. And as Cavendish is sailing very shortly for the Indies and the Spanish Main, I think it would be a good plan for me to sail with him if he can be persuaded to take me. I have spoken with Harry on the matter, and he has agreed to sail with me; while, as some compensation for my loss to you, he will leave his sister Mary—of whom I know you are very fond— with you, to be in your safe-keeping until our return, which God grant may be not only with honour and glory, but also with sufficient money from prizes to enable us to retrieve the fortunes of our house! You may perhaps think that I ain too young, and had better wait for a few years; yet Cavendish himself is only twenty-six, and he is not only joining an expedition, but is actually captain of it. I think, therefore, that I am quite old enough to be one of the members of his crew; and if I show any promise, and work hard, as I fully intend to do, no doubt Cavendish will soon promote me to some post under him as an officer of rank, suitable to my age and ability. This, then, is what I have wished to speak to you about; and now, having told you all my wishes, I beg that you will let me go."
It is needless to say that this sudden news of Roger's determination came as somewhat of a blow to his parents, especially his mother, who was very much against her son adopting a profession in which there was so much danger. Roger's father, however, looked at the matter from a more practical and business point of view, being fully aware that what Roger had said about the glory honour, and riches to be won by a brave man at sea at that period was perfectly true; and, although loath to lose his only son, he saw quite clearly that the lad had fully made up his mind to go to sea, even before speaking about the matter, and that if he were forbidden he would take kindly to nothing else. So he promised Roger that he would talk the matter over with his wife, and that in due time they would let their son know their decision, possibly in the course of the day.
Roger's mother, as might be expected, raised all the opposition she could to his going away; but her husband pointed out to her so clearly the advantages to be gained that eventually she gave way, and consented, with many tears, to part with her boy. She found some slight consolation, however, in the fact that Mary Edgwyth would be with her during Roger's absence; for she knew that Mary would be to her even as a daughter, and would help, in some measure, to fill Roger's place until he returned.
His father accordingly communicated to Roger the result of his talk with his wife, and the latter, being a high-spirited young fellow, was naturally greatly elated thereat, and plied his father with questions as to when he might be allowed to leave, and how the adventure was to be brought about. There was a good deal to be done, however, before Roger and Harry could get away; clothes had to be bought and packed, and Roger's father had to make enquiry as to whether Mr Cavendish could find room in his ship, and, if so, whether he would take the two lads.
All, however, proved satisfactory in the long run, and Roger and Harry were ordered to be on board Cavendish's ship, the Stag Royal, on or before the twentieth day of July. This left the two boys about a month in which to complete their preparations before the day of sailing came round, and, needless to say, the time lagged most painfully for the eager young adventurers, although to Roger's parents it seemed all too short.
Meanwhile Mary Edgwyth had come up to the Manor, and was safely installed there; and the last week before the date of sailing soon came round, both boys being in a perfect fever of enthusiasm and delight at the prospect of leaving England to fight the Spaniards.
On the eve of their departure Roger's father presented Harry and Roger each with a splendid new rapier, the blades of which were made of the best Toledo steel, of so fine a temper that it was possible, without injury to the weapon, to bend the point round until it met the hilt, the blade springing back, when released, to its original position and shape. This gift naturally delighted the two lads immensely.
At length their final orders came, bidding them be on board by the 20th of July, without fail, as the ship and fleet sailed on the 21st at daybreak.
Roger and Harry accordingly packed their belongings, and, girding on their new swords, started down the river early the next day, accompanied by Roger's parents and Harry's sister, all of whom were anxious to see as much of the two lads as possible before they left.
They all arrived in Plymouth in the afternoon, and the lads having reported themselves, and formally joined their ship, the entire party proceeded to Harry's house to spend the night.
They all rose in the early hours of the next morning, and the last farewells were said upon the quay, while the boat from the Stag Royal remained alongside to convey them to the ship. Roger's mother wept copiously, and fervently prayed that her son might return safe and sound, while his father, less demonstratively, shook hands with him and gave him his blessing, in the form of a husky "God keep you, boy!" Mary Edgwyth embraced her brother affectionately, and it must be said that all the tears she shed were not for Harry alone; it is certain that many of them were evoked by the thought that she was also parting from Roger.
At length the two lads stepped down the quay stairs into the boat, each looking rather fixedly in front of him as he battled with a peculiar choking sensation in the throat; but they gripped their swords tightly, striving to gain courage by the touch of them, and managed to keep back the tears which threatened to overflow; and when half-way to the ship they were able to turn round and wave farewells to the three people still watching from the quay.
HOW ROGER AND HARRY TOOK PART IN THEIR FIRST SEA-FIGHT.
The squadron, headed by the ship of Cavendish himself, the Stag Royal, was well on its way to the Indies across the Atlantic, having taken in wood, water, and stores at the Western Islands. Roger and Harry, by this time quite recovered from their first sea-sickness, were fast asleep in their bunks, it being their watch below, when they were aroused by a cry on deck of "Sail-ho!" followed by the question in another voice: "Where away?"
"Right ahead, sir," came the reply. "She seems to be a large ship, and Spanish by her rig."
This was quite enough for the two lads, who, springing out of their berths, dressed with all possible speed and ran up on deck.
When they arrived there, however, there was nothing to be seen from that level; but twenty pairs of eager eyes were looking out from the forecastle-head, anxious for the first glimpse of the stranger, who was nearly certain to prove an enemy, and therefore a prospective prize.
Presently a voice exclaimed: "I see her, I see her; there she is right ahead of us!" and at the same moment another hail floated down from the masthead: "Sail-ho, again, and several of them!"
By this time both Roger and Harry could see the topsails of the ship first sighted, and their hearts beat fast at the prospect of a coming engagement.
"How many sail can you make out?" shouted the officer on deck.
"I can see four more, besides the one we sighted first, sir," came the reply; "and the ships look to me like a Spanish fleet sent out to intercept us, for they seem to be hove-to and waiting for something."
"That is well," replied the officer, smiling at Roger; "let them only lie-to until we reach them, and there is not much doubt that they will get something in the nature of an extremely disagreeable surprise."
Now the fleet of Cavendish consisted of three ships only—the Stag Royal, on board which were Roger and Harry, with Cavendish himself, she being the flag-ship of the little squadron. Behind, at a distance of about half a mile, came the Elizabeth and the Good Adventure, close together.
Cavendish, having come on deck shortly after the first hail, looked at the fleet of the enemy, and then cast his eyes over his own small squadron, as if comparing in his mind the comparative strengths of the two fleets.
Then he gave the order: "Prepare the ship for action, men; clear the decks; get the hammocks rolled up and triced along the bulwarks; open the powder-magazine and get powder and shot on deck, and see that the captain of every gun has a plentiful supply of each. Also pass the word for the yeoman of the signals to signal the Elizabeth and the Good Adventure to prepare for action forthwith, and to range up one on each side of me."
Having given these orders, and seen that the men hastened to carry them out, Cavendish turned to Harry and Roger, who were standing together anxiously looking ahead at the five ships, which were growing larger and more distinctly visible to the eye every moment.
"Well, young gentlemen," said he, "I mean to engage those five ships that you see yonder, and so will you get your first taste of the adventure you have come to seek. See that you bear yourselves bravely; remember you are fighting for your queen and the honour and glory of your country. This coming engagement is going to be no child's play, you may take my word for it. They are five vessels to our three, and are more heavily armed and of bigger tonnage than are we, by the look of them. But fear not, young men; faint heart never won fair enterprise; and if we should beat them—as I am certainly determined that we shall— doubtless you will have a handsome booty to handle after the battle. Yet will it be hard fighting; and I trust that not only you two, but every man on board these good ships of mine will do his very utmost."
With these words Cavendish turned away, and went aft to give further orders. Meanwhile the other two ships of his squadron, in answer to his signal, had crowded on more sail, and were fast closing up, one on either side of the flag-ship.
The hulls of the five Spaniards were now quite plainly to be seen, and it was observed that they were all prepared and waiting to give battle, having slightly altered their formation since sighting the English, in order to secure what they thought was the best position for fighting their opponents.
They were by this time about two miles distant, and had formed themselves into two divisions, in the order now known as "column of line ahead", and were evidently expecting the English ships to run in between the two squadrons thus formed, trusting thus to be obliged to use only one broadside of each ship, while the English would be compelled to use both; the idea of the Spaniards being that with this formation the English would pass between them one at a time, and while each English ship would use both broadsides upon entering the lane between the two Spanish squadrons, she would be thereafter exposed, with empty guns, to the fire in succession of the five Spanish ships; that is to say, the two ships in line ahead on the one side, and the three in the same formation on the other.
But if they imagined that the English were going to walk open-eyed into such a simple trap as that they were vastly mistaken.
Cavendish saw at once what tactics the enemy anticipated that he would adopt, and immediately made up his mind to checkmate them by following a totally different line of action; and accordingly he promptly signalled for his other two captains to come on board. This they did forthwith, and, taking them into the cabin of his ship, he briefly and hurriedly explained to them the manoeuvre he intended to adopt to outwit the Spaniards.
This explanation was soon made, and the two skippers immediately returned to their respective ships.
The two squadrons had by this time arrived within gunshot of each other, and Harry and Roger, eager though they were for the fight to commence, were yet conscious of a peculiar feeling something akin to fright, in extenuation of which it must be remembered that neither of the boys had ever been in action before.
It was now half an hour after mid-day, and one bell sounded on the three ships of the English fleet.
At almost the same moment, and before the sound of the bells had died away, the first shot in the action was fired by the Spaniards.
Harry, who was watching the starboard line or division of the enemy, saw a flash, and immediately afterwards heard a whizzing sound, followed from somewhere over his head by a sharp crash. Then a shower of splinters fell round him and Roger, who was standing close by; while immediately following this, down the wind came the dull boom of the explosion.
Roger looked aloft to see what damage had been done by the shot; it was not very much: the fore topmast showed a white mark where a piece had been neatly gouged out of it, and a few ropes were severed, but nothing serious had happened.
In accordance with Cavendish's orders, no shot was fired in return by the English fleet; and presently, as they were about half a mile from the foremost Spanish vessels, a very hurricane of smoke and fire burst from as many of them as could bring their guns to bear on the little English squadron.
There was a crashing and crackling all round, and Roger and Harry involuntarily winced as the round-shot came flying through the bulwarks, and spars and splinters came tumbling and flying all around them. From behind them there came a shriek, as some poor wretch met his death-wound, and from across the water more shrieks were heard, announcing that theirs was not the only ship that was struck.
"First blood to the enemy," shouted Harry to Roger through the turmoil of crashing wood and the shrieks of wounded men.
"Yes," replied Roger; "but I wish they would give us orders to fire. This plan of sailing along without making any reply to the enemy's guns is unnerving me, and it seems to me that if we are fired upon much longer without replying we shall have no men left in condition to fight when we get alongside the enemy."
"Never fear, Roger," replied Harry. "Cavendish knows what he is about; and I think I see, even now, what manoeuvre he means to execute."
The three English ships were now heading as though they indeed intended passing between the two lines of the enemy's squadron, and had so far fired not a single shot. Suddenly, however, when only separated by a few hundred yards, the English changed their course two or three points to port, and headed for the starboard side of the two ships which constituted the right-hand line of the Spanish fleet.
Thus the three English vessels were for a few minutes opposed to only two Spanish ships, the three others being unable to fire except through their consorts.
This manoeuvre compelled the other three ships to leave their present berths and run before the wind, afterwards tacking before they could range up on the opposite side of the English fleet and so bring their guns to bear.
But during the time occupied by this movement, the English ships were by no means idle.
Upon ranging up alongside the two Spanish vessels, the sails of the English ships collapsed as if by magic, the halliards being let go and the clewlines manned; and, as the craft lost way, grapnels were thrown, and the ships were secured alongside two of the Spaniards.
At that period the Spanish war-vessels were built with "flush" decks, that is, their decks were level fore and aft, and without bulwarks, and were of much greater length than the English vessels, which were short, and therefore more easy to manoeuvre than the Spaniards. Likewise there were raised constructions at bow and stern, something like small forts, called forecastles and aftercastles; the former word still remaining under our modern term forecastle.
The English vessels were then, as mentioned above, shorter by a good deal than those of their opponents, and so the total length of the three English ships was covered by that of the two Spanish vessels, which fact preserved them for the moment from the fire of the other three ships of the enemy. Roger now saw the reason why Cavendish had reserved his fire. Immediately his ships came alongside those of the enemy, the broadsides of all three were simultaneously discharged, with fearful effect, for amid the crash of falling spars and rending timbers could be heard the cries and shrieks of the wounded, and the moans of the dying.
A dense cloud of smoke spread over the decks and concealed the combatants from one another, but the din was terrific; while orders and shouts, hoarse words of command, and fierce oaths mingled with the cheers of the English.
The sternmost vessel of the enemy, which was the one that had received the concentrated broadsides of two of the English ships, was now on fire somewhere on her lower-deck; three or four of her ports were blown into one big opening, and her decks were a very shambles of dead and wounded.
The fire below made very rapid headway, and effectually prevented her men from working the lower-deck guns; it thus happened that with one discharge from the English guns one of the two Spanish ships engaged was seriously crippled.
The two craft, however, responded gallantly from their upper decks with what cannon they were still able to serve, and a perfect hail of arrows and arquebus bullets swept the English decks, mowing down men in all directions.
The English had quietly reloaded those of their broadside guns that were on the side of the enemy, the guns of the port broadside being still undischarged.
"Now, lads," roared Cavendish above the clamour and din of rending timber and falling spars, "give them another broadside; and let the musketeers on the upper decks and the bowmen in the fore and after castles follow it up with a volley, in order to clear their decks. Immediately after the discharges the boarders are to follow me!"
At the commencement of the engagement Roger and Harry, seeing what was likely to happen, had laid aside their light rapiers and armed themselves with a pair of pistols apiece and the more formidable English hanger as used by the ordinary seamen; and shoulder to shoulder they stood by the starboard bulwarks, ready to spring as soon as Cavendish should give his order to board.
Meanwhile the three other Spaniards, seeing the manoeuvre of the English and the danger of their consorts, had made all sail as quickly as possible, and were now running away before the wind in order to go about and stand up on the starboard tack to engage the English vessels and relieve their companions, which were in a somewhat parlous state.
The guns of the English ships' starboard broadsides now once more opened fire with a simultaneous crash, which was immediately followed by a discharge of musketry and arrows which laid low on the Spaniard's deck nearly every living soul who had not taken what cover the deck structures afforded.
"Now, boarders," roared Cavendish, his voice ringing high above the turmoil, "away with you, and do not leave their decks until their flag comes down!"
With a wild cheer the seamen, headed by Cavendish—who was closely supported by Roger and Harry, who were respectively second and third on the enemy's decks,—dashed at the Spaniards.
One of the two Spanish ships was now blazing fiercely, having been set on fire by the discharges of the English guns, and her crew were beginning to think that the time had arrived for them to leave her. In this opinion they were confirmed by the English, who were gradually driving them from their own decks to those of their consort. They were thus, as it were, between two fires, and were badly hampered by the necessity to climb from the one vessel to the other. Those of them who could not gain the deck of the other ship were driven overboard, and very few of them survived to reach their goal.
"Quickly, lads," shouted Roger; "drive these fellows off the deck, and let us regain our own ship while we can. The other Spaniards are drawing up, and will be on us before we are ready for them if we do not look sharp."
The seamen, animated by his voice, and seeing the necessity for doing as he said, redoubled their efforts, and, with hearty cheers, massed themselves together and charged along the reeking and slippery decks.
The Spaniards, unable to resist the weight of the charge, scattered, and, finding no other way of escape, dashed below; but they could not so easily avoid the victorious English, who followed and hunted them out of their hiding-places.
As Roger and Harry, having dashed below in pursuit, were running down one of the narrow alleyways, searching for hidden Spaniards, a man sprang from behind a curtain and aimed a heavy blow with his sword at Roger, who was foremost, cutting him down.
With a faint groan Roger fell, and Harry stumbled over his body, thus enabling the Spaniard to effect his escape.
Half-stunned from the force of his fall, Harry raised himself and bent over Roger.
"Roger, Roger," he exclaimed, "are you much hurt? Speak to me, lad."
But Roger made no reply, lying perfectly still, with a stream of red slowly spreading from under his head and staining the white planking. Suddenly, from above sounded a harsh cry.
"Back, back, every man of you, and cut the ships adrift; the Spaniards are firing the magazines; back, for your lives!" Loud and imperative rang out the voice of Cavendish. "Quick, lads, for your lives, or we shall be all blown up together!"
"Roger, Roger, wake, lad," cried Harry; "the ship has been set on fire, and will blow up directly. Heavens, what can I do?"
But Roger never stirred; so, as there was nothing else to be done, Harry took his body under the arms and began to drag him along toward the nearest hatchway.
At this moment the broadsides of the English again rang out, showing that the other three Spaniards were drawing up, and were within gunshot.
Meanwhile, on board the Spanish ship no sound was to be heard save the roar and crackle of the flames, as Harry, putting out all his strength, lifted the inanimate body of his friend to his shoulder, and plunged along the passage through the blinding and suffocating smoke.
He was dashing forward, holding his breath as much as possible, with his eyes smarting with smoke, and feeling as though they would burst from their sockets, when he crashed up against some obstacle, dropping the body of Roger from the force of the contact. A puff of fresh air now blew the smoke aside for a moment, and Harry saw what was the cause of his stoppage. His way was blocked by a stout oaken door, that had evidently been closed by some seaman when he retreated upon hearing the alarm that the magazine was in danger of being fired.
Harry dragged frantically at the handle and turned it wildly, but in vain; the door was secured on the other side by some kind of spring latch, and escape seemed impossible.
The smoke meanwhile was momentarily becoming more and more dense, and it was now an agony to breathe, while every second of delay meant awful danger; and Roger seemed to be rapidly bleeding to death for want of attention to his wound.
Harry looked round for some instrument with which to force the door, and his eye fell upon a handspike, probably dropped by some flying foe. Seizing this, he smashed madly at the door, till at length the panel splintered under his frantic blows; then, putting his hand through the opening, he felt for the latch, found it, and the door opened at his touch.
Once again raising Roger in his arms, he staggered blindly along; and at last, bleeding from contact with splinters, and his hands almost raw with wielding the handspike, he reached the foot of the companion-ladder and dashed up it with his still inanimate burden in his arms.
On reaching the deck he saw that the grapnels had been cut, the three English vessels had drifted some hundreds of yards away, and were even then engaging the three other Spanish ships which had come up; and the air was again full of the roar of cannon, the crashing of timbers, falling of masts, shrieks, groans, cries, orders, and imprecations.
The Spanish ship which had been in company with the craft that caught fire had vanished, and only a few timbers and fragments were floating on the surface; she had evidently been sunk by the terrible fire of the English guns.
The ship on which they now were, the Maria Dolorosa, was by this time a spouting fountain of flame, from her bows as far aft as her mainmast. Her guns were exploding one after another as the fire reached them, and added their thunder to the already awful din.
Harry raised his voice, and shouted over the water with all the power of his lungs to the English ships, but the continued roar of the cannon, mingled with the rattling crash of musketry volleys, the shouted commands of the officers, the hoarse outcries of toiling and fighting men, and the crash of rending wood as the broadsides tore their way into the vitals of the reeling ships effectually drowned his outcries; while everybody was far too busily engaged to notice his critical situation.
"Ah, Roger!" said he, apostrophising the inanimate figure that lay at his feet as he stood at the extreme edge of the poop, in order to be as far away from the furnace heat as possible,—"Ah, Roger, I fear, dear lad, that our lives are coming to an end even before we are fairly launched on our adventures! Oh, why cannot they—!"
At this moment there was a roar as if all earth and heaven were dissolving in chaos, and Harry, feeling as if he were being whirled downward into everlasting night, knew no more.
The fire had at last reached the magazine!
WHAT HAPPENED TO ROGER ON BOARD THE GLORIA DEL MUNDO.
When Roger next opened his eyes he was at a loss to to recall immediately to mind the preceding events; nor could he for the moment imagine where he might be.
He was in great pain from the wound in his head, received on board the Spanish ship which he and Harry had boarded together, and this served to bring his memory back to what had occurred.
He remembered rushing with Harry down a dark alleyway, with cutlass in hand, and also that a man had suddenly sprung at him and cut him down; that he had received so violent a blow on his head that he had felt certain his skull was cloven asunder; and then his memory ceased abruptly. But where was Harry, his inseparable companion?
Roger raised his throbbing head painfully, and tried to look round, but could nowhere discover the presence of his dear friend. He shouted his name: "Harry; Harry, where are you?" but there was no reply. Only somewhere above him he could hear the roar of cannon, hoarse cries of command, angry shouts, and the trampling feet of many men.
Looking about him, he perceived that he lay in a cabin of some sort, very richly furnished, but lit by a light so dim that he could only make out objects in it very indistinctly. There was no port-hole or sky-light of any description in the apartment, which led him to the conclusion that he must be in some room far away below the water-line. This impression was heightened by the fact that exterior noises came to his ears muffled, as by distance.
In the cabin itself there was no sound, save the gnawing of a rat somewhere on the floor below him. On the walls he could dimly discern two or three pictures, and just above his bunk was a portrait of a lady. There were also several star trophies of weapons arranged at intervals; and at one end of the cabin—which was of unusually spacious dimensions—stood a large cabinet or escritoire, one of the drawers of which had apparently been pulled out hastily, as papers were to be seen protruding from it, and several documents had fallen to the floor.
Oh, how he wished he might venture to rise from his bunk and make an investigation of the cabin! But he was afraid to attempt any such exploit, for his head ached so atrociously, and he felt so deadly sick and giddy from the anguish of his wound and loss of blood, that he felt certain if he exerted himself but ever so little he would sink helpless and insensible to the deck. While thinking thus he abstractedly raised his hand to his head, and thus discovered that his wound had been bandaged, evidently by a skilled hand, for the wrappings were all neatly put on, adjusted, and sewn, instead of being merely tied. This was so far satisfactory, for it seemed to point to the fact that he had fallen into friendly hands, although his returning senses, enabled him to come to the conclusion that he must certainly be aboard a Spanish ship. With a sigh of relief he was preparing to pull the coverlet over him and lie down once more, when his ear caught the sound of footsteps approaching. He was just about to shout to the person or persons, whoever they might be, and enquire as to where he was, and whether they could afford him any information as to what had become of Harry, when his quick ear caught one or two words of the conversation which the unknown persons were carrying on. It was in Spanish. Then his surmise was a true one, and he was indeed aboard one of the enemy's ships. With a stifled cry he flung himself down in the bunk, and pulled the coverlet over him once again, closing his eyes, and simulating heavy breathing, in the hope of persuading the new-comers that he was in a deep slumber.
He was only just in time, for as he composed his limbs into a comfortable position, in the event of the strangers making a lengthy stay, two men entered.
Roger looked at them from between his nearly-closed eyelids and saw that both were tall men, slender and dark, both wearing long black mustachios and closely trimmed beards. Roger happened to possess a slight knowledge of Spanish, and was thus able to gather the meaning of at least part of their conversation. With one accord they approached Roger's bunk and leaned over, looking at his face.
"He sleeps," said the elder of the two men.
"Well, let him sleep as long as he will," replied his companion sardonically, "for it is little enough sleep the young heretic will get when once he is delivered over to the Holy Inquisition."
He had heard quite enough of the methods of that institution to understand the significance of the words. He longed to open his eyes and take more particular note than he had yet been able to do of the personality of his two visitors; but he withstood the temptation, and kept his eyes closed, listening hard to catch all he could of the ensuing conversation.
"And what, Alvarez, are the captain's orders with regard to the boy?" said the elder man, whose name, it transpired, was de Soto.
"Senor Don Guzman's orders," answered the other, "are that he is to be kept in this cabin until we have finally disposed of these three pestilent English ships; and when that is done, and we have captured them, he is to be locked up in the fore hold, with the other prisoners we shall take—if the rascals do not in this case fight to the death, as they often do. Then when we return to Cadiz they are all to be handed over to the Holy Inquisition."
Roger felt the cold perspiration start in beads on his forehead.
"Ah! It seems almost a pity," said de Soto, "that we should have plucked this lad from the sharks, only to hand him over to those other fiends of the Holy Office; for he is a handsome and stalwart lad, and those limbs of his were never meant to be seared with red-hot irons, and torn asunder on the rack!"
"Hush, de Soto, my friend!" responded Alvarez; "let no man save myself hear you speak thus of the Holy Office, or thy limbs, of which thou art so proud, may perchance make acquaintance with the same torments as are reserved for this young heretic."
"Thanks, Alvarez!" returned de Soto; "I should not have spoken thus before any other than thyself; but thou art my friend, I know. I can trust thee with my life; as, indeed, I am trusting thee in speaking thus freely of the so-called Holy Inquisition. Is it not so?"
"Yes, de Soto, it is so; and I am indeed thy friend," replied Alvarez, turning his head slightly aside, so that his companion might not catch the evil glitter that shone in his eyes. He did not know that Roger was observing him through nearly-closed lids, and that he had caught that look on Alvarez's face as he turned from de Soto; and possibly if he had known he would not have greatly cared. But if ever the devil incarnate looked out of any man's eyes, he did at that moment out of those of the man whom Roger had heard addressed as Alvarez.
"But how goes the fight, de Soto?" he continued, after a pause. "Methinks there is less cannonading now than there was a little time since."
"When I left the deck a few minutes ago," answered de Soto, "two of our ships, alas!—the Maria Dolorosa and the Buena Vista—had disappeared. One was sunk by the fire of these cursed English: and, unable to hold the other, our brave countrymen fired her magazine. I expect this young heretic was on board the ship that blew up, for just before the explosion came I thought I saw two figures on her poop, one of whom was standing up, while the other was lying on the deck at his feet. I think the one who was lying down must have been our friend, here. What became of the other I know not; but he was doubtless either drowned or swallowed by one of those same sharks from which we only just rescued this lad in the nick of time. He will live, I fear, to wish that we had left him to them. As for our other three ships, they were engaging right valiantly those of the enemy, and beating them down too; but these cursed islanders seem to know not when they are beaten, and I doubt me that our victory will be at all an easy one. As for them, although the ship of Cavendish has lost all her masts, her hull is almost intact, thanks to our wretched gunnery; and there she now lies on the water, unable to move, it is true, but, like a wounded lion, all the more dangerous for being wounded. But the Gloria del Mundo is giving her all attention, and she will be compelled to strike to our heavier broadsides ere long. Our other two vessels, El Capitan and Salvador, are engaging the remaining ships of the English squadron, and the moment cannot be far distant when they will all surrender to the flag of his most sacred majesty, Philip of Spain, the invincible flag, the flag of the empire of the Old World and the New," concluded de Soto. "So," thought Roger to himself, "it would appear that I am on board the Gloria del Mundo, and that the action is as yet undecided. But Senor de Soto is, I imagine, somewhat mistaken if he seriously believes that Cavendish will surrender his ships; rather will he let them sink with colours flying. I will not believe that the flag of England, the mistress of the seas, is this day destined to dip to the blood and gold flag of Spain. And the end of the fight, I will wager, is not only farther off than this good de Soto suspects, but it will also have a different ending from what he looks forward to, or my name is not Roger Trevose!"
"I believe the lad is awake," said Alvarez; "I could almost swear he moved just now."
Both men bent over Roger, who had involuntarily stirred upon hearing that these two anticipated the surrender of the English.
"No," dissented de Soto, "I think he still sleeps; you must have imagined it, Alvarez."
The glitter came again into the eyes of the latter, as he replied: "de Soto, my imagination is not—" when suddenly the roar of cannonading again commenced, drowning the remainder of the sentence. Then came a shock that made the stately vessel reel throughout the whole of her massive fabric. There was a rending and grinding of timber, and a frightful crash on deck announced that one of the masts had come down.
Roger heard distant cheers, and knew that his prognostication that the end had not yet come was correct. Evidently the English had repeated the manoeuvre that they had so successfully practised earlier in the day, and laid their ships alongside once more. Musketry, pistol-shots, shouts, groans, the clash of steel, a perfect medley of sound floated down from the deck above and through the open cabin-door.
"Quick, Alvarez, on deck!" roared de Soto, plunging out of the cabin; "the English have laid us aboard, and will have the ship if we are not careful!"
Alvarez was in nowise behindhand. Snatching his sword from its sheath, and clutching a pistol from the table as he went, he followed de Soto on deck.
Roger attempted to get out of his bunk, with the idea of joining his friends on deck and taking part in the fight, but he fell back on his mattress, weak and giddy from the attempt. What would he not give to be able to go on deck at this moment! but he could not stir for the reeling giddiness of his head; he felt that to attempt to rise would but result in his falling insensible to the floor of the cabin; and he could but lie still and listen to the turmoil raging above his head.
The din was terrific; now came triumphant shouts in English, and Roger could picture to himself the bravo fellows rushing the Spaniards pell-mell across their own decks and into the water, or below; and again the tide of battle seemed to turn, and the English to be getting the worst of it.
Oh, maddening thought, that he was helplessly imprisoned here, unable to take part in the brave doings that were being wrought above! Little by little the shouts and fierce cries died away. "Who had won?" conjectured Roger to himself.
There was a clatter of running feet in the passage leading to the cabin, and the man Alvarez, with a hunted look of terror in his face, clashed into the apartment. He burrowed hastily among the papers in the open drawer that Roger had noticed at first, and apparently was unable to find what he was looking for.
"Carramba!" he ejaculated, "what has de Soto done with those papers?"
He tore the remainder of them from the drawer with a curse, flung them on the floor, and, dropping on his knees, hastily turned them over one after another as they lay there.
Now for some time Roger had been vaguely conscious of a peculiar sluggish movement of the ship as she heaved on the swell, and the sight of Alvarez's haste suddenly brought the ghastly truth home to him. The ship was sinking!
"I must wait no longer," muttered Alvarez to himself, "or I shall be drowned like a rat in a trap, in company with that young heretic there in the bunk. I wonder whether by any chance de Soto has taken those papers himself! Carrajo! now I remember. When we came in together to look at the English whelp the drawer was open. Without doubt de Soto has them. Well, never mind; I will have them from him before I have finished with him. I can recall all he has said about the Holy Inquisition, and, if that is not enough to condemn him, I can easily enough invent something else; but have those papers from him before he dies, I will. Perhaps, when he is in the hands of that Inquisition he hates so much, he will be willing to surrender those documents to his dear friend Alvarez, if that friend promises to rescue him from further torment. And now for the English cub," he continued, rising to his feet and drawing his dagger from its sheath.
Once again came that sickening lurch, accompanied by the sound of washing of water close at hand. The ship was fast settling down.
"No," murmured Alvarez, "I cannot wait. My life is too valuable to me to risk it even for the pleasure of slaying an Englishman; and the sea will soon send the youngster to the nether world." And he rushed from the cabin, leaving the papers and charts strewn on the floor at the foot of the escritoire.
By this time Roger was pretty fully awake to a knowledge of his great and pressing danger. Here he was, weak and dazed to the point of utter helplessness, on board a fast-sinking ship, with none to render him aid, and feeling quite unable to move without it.
"Oh, God help me!" he moaned; "what a miserable death to die! Harry! Harry! Harry!" he cried distractedly, "come and help me; I am here below drowning! Help! help!"
There was no reply.
But a sound that he had heard before without attaching much importance to it now forced itself upon his attention; it was the swishing of water; and, looking over the edge of his bunk he saw that water was already rising fast over the floor of the cabin. Desperation now lent him strength, and, pulling himself together with a violent effort, he slowly and painfully rose upright and put his legs over the edge of the berth. He felt incapable of making any further effort for the moment.
Then once more he raised his voice and shouted for help, and this time he fancied that far away in the distance he heard a reply. He shouted again and again; then paused, listening.
The answering voice sounded a little nearer.
At that moment the ship gave another roll, and to Roger it seemed as though she must founder immediately.
There was another sickening lurch, and Roger, convinced that the end had come, went tumbling off the edge of his bunk, and fell flat on his face in about two feet of water which was washing over the cabin floor. The shock of the fall displaced his bandages; his wound began to bleed afresh; and, confused as he still was, the idea took possession of him that he was in danger of bleeding to death.
Would nobody ever come to take him out of this awful hole? "Help, help, I am drowning!" he shouted.
But this time there was no answering voice.
Then Roger once more pulled himself together and began to crawl over the floor, the water splashing round and over him. Inch by inch he neared the door, and then he heard a call, so near that it startled him.
"For Heaven's sake, where are you, Roger? Answer, man, if you are alive." The voice was Harry's.
"Harry," groaned Roger, "here I am; help me quickly or you will be too late; the ship sinks fast!"
Guided by the voice, Harry soon made his appearance.
"Roger, man," he cried, "thank God I have found you! I thought you were gone for ever. Can you help yourself at all, lad?"
"A little, I think, if you will put your arm round me," replied Roger.
Harry flung his arm under Roger's arm-pits and raised him to his feet.
"One moment, Harry," cried Roger, pointing to the papers which Alvarez had left on the floor, and which were now floating about the cabin; "secure these papers; I believe they are of value."
Harry seized the documents with his free hand, and, supporting Roger, staggered with him to the foot of the companion-ladder. How they eventually got up into the free air the two never clearly knew, for they were deep down in the body of the ship, and had two or three ladders to climb ere they arrived on the upper deck. But reach it they did, after what seemed an eternity of suspense. Then, as they stepped out once more into the blessed free air of heaven, the whole of the Atlantic seemed suddenly to sweep over the ship; they felt her slide from beneath their feet; and they were drawn down, down, down, until it appeared as though they would never again see the light. But at last, with lungs bursting and almost suffocated, they shot up to the heaving surface of the sea, clinging tightly to each other.
And there—oh, blessed sight!—not twenty fathoms away, lay their own ship, dismasted and looking an utter wreck, but more beautiful to their eyes than any palace.
From her decks there came a shout: "There they are! there they are! Lower away a boat! lower quickly, or the sharks will have them!"
In a few minutes the only remaining boat belonging to the ship was lowered, and a dozen willing arms were sending her flying over the water towards the two lads.
Bearded faces looked over her gunwale, and brawny arms literally snatched them from an awful death; for as they were dragged out of the water there was a snap of hungry jaws, and several huge sharks were baulked of their prey.
A few minutes later, dripping and exhausted, the two lads found themselves once more safe and sound on the decks of their beloved ship, and saw Cavendish himself looking at them with an expression of anxiety on his face.
"I hope, lads, you are none the worse for your adventure?" said he.
"No, sir, we are safe, thank God!" replied Roger; "but we have been through a good deal, and are somewhat shaken. We should therefore like to go below for a while. But is all the fighting over?"
"Yes," replied Cavendish, "and victory is to us."
The two then went below, and Harry soon had Roger under the care of the surgeon. The good man pronounced that his wound was not dangerous, and that he would do, with care.
Then, sitting by Roger's side, Harry plunged into a recital of his adventures since the boarding of the Spaniard, a circle of eager listeners standing or sitting round them.
THEY ENCOUNTER A STORM AT SEA, AND REACH THE ISLAND OF CUBA.
What had happened to Roger is already known to the reader, and what befell Harry after the explosion on board the Maria Dolorosa may be very shortly recounted.
The shock of his plunge into the cold water brought him to his senses in time to prevent him from drowning, and his first thought was to look after Roger; but his friend was nowhere to be seen. He shouted his name in vain for some time, and then started to swim towards his own ship, which lay quite near, in the faint hope that perhaps his friend might have been seen and rescued by her.
He made enquiries immediately on reaching the deck of the ship, but could elicit no information as to Roger's whereabouts, and everybody on board was much too busy with his own work of fighting the three remaining Spanish ships to pay any attention to Harry. But he could not thus easily resign himself to Roger's loss, and he peered over the lee bulwarks in an endeavour to discover his friend's body, if it were still afloat.
He could, however, see nothing of it, and was beginning to fear that he had indeed lost his dear friend and the companion of his boyhood, when from the Gloria del Mundo, the Spanish ship which was nearest to him, he saw a boat lowered, which pulled away in the direction of a floating piece of wreckage which he had not until then noticed. He saw the boat row up close to this wreckage, and take from it a body which appeared to be hanging limply across it; and, looking more intently, he felt almost certain that the body was that of Roger. The boat pulled back to the Gloria del Mundo, and was hoisted on board.
If the body was indeed that of Roger, then, thank Heaven! he was safe for the time being; but the poor lad was nevertheless still in a very precarious situation, being on board a Spanish ship. Harry could see also that the vessel was in manifest distress, and had apparently not much longer to float.
It was some time after this that Cavendish, having at length disposed of his previous antagonist, ordered his ship to be laid alongside the Gloria del Mundo, with the object of capturing her out of hand, and making a prize of her before she sank. This was accordingly done, and the crash which Roger had heard, followed by the cries and musketry, was indeed, as he believed, the result of the English vessel being laid alongside and the rush of the English boarders.
It goes without saying that Harry was among the first to board, and he immediately commenced his search for Roger, but unluckily began it in a totally different quarter from that in which Roger had been placed.
The Gloria del Mundo was soon in the hands of the English, but it was found that she was sinking too fast for them to save her, and the boarders were at once recalled.
Harry, however, determined not to leave without his friend, and he was therefore left behind when the Englishmen returned to their own vessel. The grapnels uniting the two ships were cut, and at once the craft began to drift apart, Harry being left on board the Spanish vessel searching for Roger.
How he found him and rescued him, obtaining possession of certain documents at the very last moment, and hoisted Roger on deck even as the ship swamped beneath their feet, has already been told.
Now, as to the result of the action. Of the two ships first engaged by the English—the Maria Dolorosa and the Buena Vista—the latter had been sunk at the commencement of the action, and the former had blown up.
The third ship, the Gloria del Mundo, had sunk. The Salvador and El Capitan were the only two of the Spanish fleet that still remained afloat, and both were fearfully knocked about. The Salvador had lost all her masts, every one of her boats had been smashed to pieces by the gun-fire of the English, and her sides were everywhere perforated with shot-holes. But a prize crew had been put on board her, and was now hard at work patching her up and rendering her seaworthy, rigging jury-masts, cutting away wreckage, and otherwise putting her once more into sailing trim. El Capitan was in a similar condition. She had still her mizzenmast standing; but otherwise she was as badly damaged as her companion, and was undergoing the same repairs and refit.
The Spaniards who had escaped on board the Salvador and El Capitan from the other vessels, and the crews of the two ships themselves still left alive, had been divided into five batches, one being put on board each ship. This was done by way of precaution, since, thus separated, there was much less likelihood of their attempting to recapture their own ships or take those of the English.
The English squadron had suffered almost as badly, for although none of the vessels had been sunk, they were all in a very seriously damaged condition. Cavendish's vessel, the Stag Royal, had lost all her masts, and was in great danger of foundering, her appearance being that of a huge mass of wreckage rather than a ship; but the carpenters were hard at work on her, and were making good her defects as quickly as possible.
The other two vessels of the English fleet, the Elizabeth and the Good Adventure, were not quite so much cut up as the ship of the commodore, but stood in need of a good deal of repair before they would be again serviceable.
The English had put prize crews on board the two Spanish ships, sadly depleting the companies of their own ships, and all hands were kept hard at the work of repair, for Cavendish knew that, in the event of a gale springing up, none of the ships would weather it in their existing condition. It was very trying work, too, this patching up of the vessels at sea, and at the best it could be nothing more than a temporary repair. But at last, after three days of incessant toil, all five of the craft were reported as fit to proceed on the voyage. Yet it was agreed that they ought to run for some place where the ships might be beached, careened, and overhauled thoroughly; otherwise they could not be trusted to weather the storms which they would inevitably meet with on their proposed cruising-ground, which was the Caribbean Sea.
Cavendish therefore summoned a conclave of the captains of his little squadron in the cabin of the flag-ship, to decide upon some place where they might go to execute the necessary repairs.
The charts were got out and laid upon the table; courses were laid off to various places, and the distances thereto measured and calculated; and after some discussion it was decided unanimously that they should run for the West India Islands, trusting that they might meet with no Spanish squadron either on the way or at their rendezvous for overhauling.
The place they agreed to make for was the eastern end of the island of Cuba, as this island lay on their direct course for the Caribbean Sea and the coast of Mexico, where they intended to cruise in the hope of picking up some plate-laden galleon from Vera Cruz or Tampico.
This island of Cuba was, it is true, a Spanish possession, but it was at this time newly discovered and only very sparsely populated. So, by keeping to the eastern extremity of the island, and maintaining a sharp lookout whilst the ships were in the process of careening, they hoped to avoid any encounter with their enemies until, the ships being properly repaired and once more serviceable, they should find themselves in a position to resume their cruise with a view to the securing of more prizes.
The squadron of five ships which they had just beaten had been sent out from Cadiz to intercept Cavendish and prevent him from reaching the Indies, and, being a war fleet, had no treasure on board. The gain to the English consisted, therefore, solely in the acquisition of two more ships for their little fleet; but this was not altogether an unmixed blessing, because, with the obligation to man their extra two vessels, the whole five were now short-handed.
Cavendish gave his orders to his captains, which were that the five vessels should make for the eastern end of Cuba, and, if separated, meet at a spot the bearings of which he gave them, about a day's sail from the island, whence they would proceed in company, so as to arrive at their agreed destination all together.
It now remained to appoint two captains to the prizes and put prize crews on board them, and this was soon done. Cavendish appointed the first and second officers of his flag-ship as captains of the two captured Spanish ships, replacing his first officer by the third, a man named Leigh, and appointing Roger to the vacant post of second officer.
It had been his intention to promote Harry to a position as officer on one of the captured ships, but the lad begged so hard to be allowed to remain in the same vessel as Roger that Cavendish at last consented, adding that he thought Harry was throwing away an opportunity which might not again occur. So long as he might remain by Roger's side, however, Harry did not very much care. "Besides," thought he, "we made a compact to remain always by one another, and I am sure Roger would have stayed with me had I been appointed instead of him."
The signal was now made for all sail possible to be carried, so that they might the sooner reach their rendezvous and begin the work of overhauling and repairs of which they stood in such urgent need. If separated by storm or any other mischance they were to meet at the place agreed upon during the conclave in the cabin of the flag-ship.
Sail was made accordingly, and the little squadron, now increased by two ships, but with sadly diminished crews, resumed its voyage.
For the first three days all went smoothly, the speed of the whole being regulated by the pace of the slowest vessel in the squadron. On the evening of the third day, however, the weather showed signs of changing. They had been sailing along with a good following breeze, the sky overhead a deep, cloudless, sapphire blue, and the sea smooth enough to relieve them from all uneasiness. Now, however, the sun was sinking toward the horizon like a ball of dull red copper, and the western sky, instead of being clear as previously, was heavy with black clouds that were banking up and threatening to obscure the sun ere it set. Overhead, too, deep violet clouds made their appearance, tinged here and there to lurid red and orange by the rays of the fast-disappearing luminary. The air, moreover, felt dull and heavy, and carried a peculiar odour not unlike brimstone. This singular condition of the atmosphere was not without its effect on the men, who felt listless and disinclined to work. A sense of impending peril seemed to be hanging over all. The wind, too, was gradually dying away, and came fitfully and at intervals in hot, sulphurous puffs. The sea, which had been sparkling in thousands of tiny wavelets in the rays of the sun, began to assume a dark and oily appearance; and a long swell was beginning to make itself felt, causing the sails, as they drooped against the masts, to flap noisily with a sound like the crack of an arquebuse.
Gradually the sky grew blacker and more overcast, and the sea assumed the appearance of ink. The five ships of the squadron were all well within sight of one another, and lay motionless save for their uneasy heaving to the swell which was now fast-rising. Having lost steerage-way, they were "boxing the compass", that is, were heading first in one direction and then in another, their bows slowly swinging until they pointed in various directions. Cavendish was on deck, looking anxiously at the sky, and presently he gave the order to all hands to shorten sail, and hailed the ship lying nearest to him to do the same.
The other vessels were lying too far away for a hail to carry, and there was no wind to lift the signal flags if hoisted; but the commodore was relieved to see the remainder of the fleet follow his example. In a few moments the canvas of the whole squadron was seen coming heavily down or being rolled up on the yards; and before very long all the ships were either under bare poles or being snugged down with everything secured ready for any emergency.
Cavendish, however, still remained very anxious: and he had cause enough for his anxiety. For his squadron had only recently come through a heavy action, and their timbers were strained; masts had been merely secured in a temporary manner, and the necessary stays and fore and aft preventers had not yet all been rigged; indeed, the process of bending new sails, ropes, etcetera, was still being gone on with although the ships had been got under way at the earliest possible moment. Shot-holes had been only roughly plugged, and in some of the vessels pumping was still being carried on day and night. The two prizes had been knocked about still more badly; in fact the whole squadron was in a very unfit state to encounter even a strong gale, and the coming storm threatened something very much worse than this. But everything was battened down and made as snug as possible, and all that Cavendish could now do was to trust in Providence and hope his ships would survive the tempest, since nothing had been left undone that mortal hands could possibly do.
A dull moaning sound at length began to make itself heard, and several hot sulphurous gusts of wind came down out of the north; the blocks overhead creaked, the cordage rattled, and in the heavy silence weird noises made themselves perceptible. Roger and Harry were standing on the poop, exchanging comments on the weather, and Cavendish and his chief officer, Richard Leigh, were in close conversation on the main-deck just below them, glancing anxiously from time to time toward the northward, where the sky had become black almost as midnight.
"Look there, Harry," observed Roger, pointing to the main-topgallant yard; and, looking up, Harry perceived two lambent globes of greenish fire.
As he continued looking and wondering what they might be, other weird lights made their appearance on the yard-arms and on the very tops of the masts, presenting a beautiful, but at the same time a very eerie, spectacle. The same phenomenon was to be seen on the spars of every vessel in sight; and as it was by this time very nearly dark (there being scarcely any twilight in these latitudes), the whole squadron had the appearance of being illuminated.
"Whatever can it possibly be?" queried Harry; "I have never seen anything like it before."
"I suspect," returned Roger, "that it is in some way connected with the approaching storm. I have heard sailors speak of those lights as witch-lights, death-gleams, and corposants, and their appearance is said always to foretell disaster. I hope, however, that they do not forebode evil on this occasion, although things are looking decidedly unpleasant just now."
Cavendish, hearing their conversation, looked up, and, observing the apprehension of the two, explained to them that the lights were termed, by the Portuguese navigators, "Lights of Saint Elmo"; and he assured the lads that the lights were not the cause of, but the harbingers of, storm.
"I fear, however," added he, "that we are in for a bad time of it, and you youngsters had better beware lest you be swept overboard when the sea rises; for if anyone is washed over the side during what is coming he will have no chance of being picked up again. So take care, young men!"
Suddenly Roger perceived, far away to the north, a line of white, which looked like a thin streak of paint drawn across an ebony background, and the dull moaning noise in the air quickly grew in volume, at the same time becoming more shrill. Roger shouted down a warning to Leigh, who was standing near the wheel, and pointed away in the direction from which the line of white was approaching. Cavendish, who had just walked forward to make sure that all was as it should be, heard the warning, and shouted an order for all on deck to prepare for the outfly, and then, seizing his speaking-trumpet, rushed up on the poop beside the boys, and roared out a warning to the only ship within hail. Then, turning, he told the two lads to get down off the poop on to the main-deck, where they would be sheltered to a certain extent by the high bulwarks of the ship. In obedience to this command they hurried down the starboard accommodation ladder, whilst Cavendish made his way down the one on the port side, and all three reached the deck together.
Cavendish then shouted some order to Leigh at the wheel, but whatever it may have been, his words were drowned by the awful shriek and roar of the hurricane as it burst upon them.
To Harry and Roger, who had never experienced anything of the kind before, it seemed as though some mighty invisible hand had smitten the ship, throwing her over on to her beam-ends. She heeled down before the blast until it seemed as though she would capsize altogether, while the two boys were precipitated both together across the streaming decks into the lee scuppers, whence they found it impossible to escape owing to the excessive slant of the deck.
Leigh was hanging on to the wheel for his life, endeavouring to put the helm hard up, and so turn the ship's stern to the wind to enable her to run before the gale—the only course possible under the circumstances.
Cavendish and a few men in the fore-part of the vessel were meanwhile striving manfully to hoist a staysail and get some way upon the ship, so as to help her to pay off before the sea, and so save her from being pooped by the waves, which were rising higher and higher every moment.
At length the stability of the ship prevailed, and she began to right. Then, Roger and Harry, rushing to Leigh's assistance, helped him to put the helm up, and the ship paid off and began to scud before the wind, while Cavendish, encouraging his little body of men up in the eyes of the ship, managed to get the foresail set, after having had it nearly blown out of the bolt-ropes.
Looking astern, the boys saw the huge seas rushing after them, each one threatening to engulf the craft and send her to the bottom; and indeed that would speedily have been her fate had the men not been able to set the small rag of sail, and thus made it possible for her to keep ahead of the waves.
The foaming crests of the sea were ablaze with phosphorescence, and appeared to tower above the poop as high as the main-topsail-yard, and the sight of them sweeping along after the ship was positively appalling. The wind now began to increase in violence, literally tearing off the summits of the huge waves and sending them in spindrift hurtling across the deck like showers of shot that cut the face like the lash of a whip. The uproar was terrific, the shrieking and howling of the wind blending with the creaking and straining of the timbers of the labouring ship. Crash succeeded crash aloft, but they could distinguish nothing of what was happening because of the intense blackness. Yet the motion of the ship was becoming steadier, for the reason that the wind was so strong that it was actually beating down the sea.
Suddenly the two lads heard a rending and tearing sound, followed by a crash quite close to them, as something weighty smote the deck; and through the fearful din that raged round them there rang out the scream of a man in agony.
"Harry," said Roger, "that is the mizzenmast come down, and it has injured some poor fellow! Let us endeavour to reach him if we can."
And, still holding to each other, they began to feel their way carefully along the deck, which was now encumbered with wreckage.
Suddenly Harry cried out, and fell over something, which proved to be the wreck of the fallen mast.
"Are you hurt, Harry?" queried Roger.
"No, lad," came the response, "and I think I have found the poor fellow whose scream we heard just now; he seems to have been crushed by the mast as it fell. If you will stoop down here, you will be able to feel his body. Had we but a lever of some kind we might perhaps be able to raise the mast sufficiently to drag him from underneath it."
Roger climbed over the mast and, feeling for Harry, knelt down beside him, where he found the body that Harry had fallen upon when he tripped over the mast.
By touch he found that the poor seaman, whoever he was, was pinned down immovably to the deck, the mast lying right across the middle of his body.
Roger put his mouth to the ear of the man, and shouted: "Are you badly hurt; and can you move with assistance?"
He caught the reply: "Is that you, Master Trevose? I am pinned down by this spar, and I believe my leg is broken; but if you could manage to get the mast raised by ever so little, I believe I could scramble out from under it."
"Can we find a lever anywhere?" shouted Roger.
"There are a couple of handspikes in the rack close to you; if you can find these, they will do," replied the wounded seaman.
Roger worked his way to the rack indicated by the man, and fortunately found the handspikes at once. Taking them both, he quickly scrambled back again and handed one to Harry, retaining the other himself.
The two lads then prized the points under the mast, and threw all their weight on the shafts, using them as levers. They felt the mast quiver and move slightly.
"That's the way, Master Trevose; one more lift like that and I'll be out from under," shouted the man.
Roger and Harry again exerted all their strength, the mast rose perceptibly, and they heard a cry of pain from the seaman as he wormed himself from under the spar.
"I be out now, Master," came the voice; "if ye can lift me up and get me below, I'll thank ye."
One of them supporting him on either side, they raised the unfortunate fellow upright, and with great difficulty assisted him across the deck, and so to the companion-hatch, which they found without trouble, as it was now growing somewhat lighter. The clouds were not quite so thick, and an occasional gleam came from the moon as she was uncovered.
They got the man below, Roger taking him on his back down the companion-ladder, while Harry ran for the surgeon. The latter soon made his appearance, and attended to the sufferer, who proved to be an ordinary seaman named Morgan.
Having seen the patient off their hands and well attended to, the couple returned to the deck.
They found that the wind was lessening every moment, and the clouds were disappearing fast, permitting the moon to shine out fitfully; but the sea, no longer kept down by the pressure of the wind, was rising rapidly.
"I think the squall is past its worst, Harry," said Roger. "What we have to fear now is the sea, which will get worse, I am afraid, ere it goes down—but look there! Merciful Heaven! what is that?" he continued, pointing away over their port quarter with his finger.
The inky blackness had lifted somewhat, and they could plainly perceive the hull of one of their own ships, presumably; but her ports were open, and her interior appeared as a glowing furnace, while, even as they looked, tongues of fire spurted up from her deck and began to lick round her masts, and from the hapless vessel a long wail of anguish and despair came floating down the wind.
Every eye in the ship was at once turned to the burning vessel, which they presently made out to be, by her rig, the Salvador, one of the two captured Spanish vessels.
What seemed to have happened was that the Spanish prisoners confined below had fired the ship before the squall came down, in the hope of being able to overpower their captors in the ensuing confusion, trusting to luck for the opportunity to extinguish the conflagration afterwards. The storm arising after they had set fire to the vessel, however, the wind had fanned the flames until she had become a raging fiery furnace fore-and-aft. And there was no means of affording succour to the miserable men on board her, for the sea was running tremendously high and rising every minute.
She was an awful but gorgeous spectacle, presenting the appearance of a floating volcano, vomiting flame and smoke as she rushed along before the wind; but still more awful were the cries and shrieks of agony that were borne to them across the intervening water.
Cavendish at once gave orders that his ship should be run as close as possible, compatible with her safety, and this was done; but it was impossible to save her wretched crew, and the rest of the fleet endured the misery of beholding their comrades burn, together with the panic-stricken Spaniards, the authors of the calamity, as many of whom as possible had been released as soon as the fire was discovered.
A speedy end, however, came to the appalling tragedy which was taking place before their very eyes; for while they still watched, powerless to save, a terrific explosion occurred, followed by a rain of blazing pieces of timber and, gruesome sight! of portions of human bodies which had been whirled aloft, and now came hurtling down on the decks of the flag-ship. The fire had reached the Salvador's magazine!
This awful spectacle cast a deep gloom over the entire ship's company.
Shortly afterwards, none of the other vessels being in sight, and the sea having moderated somewhat, Cavendish ordered the ship's course to be altered, and they again bore up for the rendezvous.
On the tenth day after the storm they reached, without further adventure, the agreed latitude and longitude, and hove-to, waiting for the remainder of the squadron to make its appearance.
Two days later, the first of the other vessels, the Elizabeth, made her appearance, and on the same evening, by the light of the tropic stars, the other two joined them.
All four remained hove-to until daybreak. Early on the following morning they all got under weigh again, and headed for the land, which now could not be many miles distant.
Shortly after noon came the ever-welcome cry from the masthead: "Land ho!"
"Where away?" demanded the officer of the watch.
"Dead ahead," answered the lookout.
"Keep her as she goes," ordered Cavendish; and with an ever-lessening wind they glided toward the land that climbed higher and higher above the horizon by imperceptible degrees.
By the end of the first dog-watch on that same evening they were close enough to make out the formation of the land; and at length, sighting a bay that looked promising for their purpose, they bore up for it, sounding all the way as they went.
As the land opened up, the bay toward which they were heading appeared to offer increasingly advantageous facilities for careening and repairing; and they presently passed in between two low headlands covered with palms, and dropped anchor in the calm inlet in six fathoms of water, at which depth they could clearly see the bottom of sand thickly dotted with shells and broken pieces of coral.
At last, after many weary and fateful days, they had reached a haven on the other side of the Atlantic; a haven in one of the islands of those fabled Indies where, if legend was to be believed, gold was to be found more plentifully than iron in England!
All hands gazed longingly at the shore; but leave could not be granted that night, as the country was unknown, and although it appeared to be uninhabited, they could not be certain what eventualities might arise. Cavendish, therefore, deemed it better to wait until morning, and then send a strong force on shore to reconnoitre and explore.
Meanwhile Roger and Harry went below to their bunks and slumbered, dreaming of the coming morn. Those of the crew who were off duty slept on deck or in their hammocks, as the fancy took them; the anchor watch was set; and thus all hands, waking or sleeping, waited for the morning which should disclose to them this garden of Paradise.
HOW THEY INVESTIGATED A CERTAIN CIPHER AND MET WITH SOME ADVENTURES.
Day had scarcely broken next morning ere Harry and Roger tumbled out of their bunks, dressed, and went up on deck, so eager were they once more to be on shore after their many long days at sea.
As they came on deck the sun rose in all his tropic grandeur, and transfigured the little inlet—with the ships floating on its bosom, its environment of green palms and tropical verdure, and its golden sands running down to the water's edge—into a veritable nook of fairyland.
For a distance, so far as they could judge, of about three miles the ground appeared to be fairly level, rising very gradually, and thickly covered with tropical foliage. Beyond that there was a range of hills, apparently about a thousand feet high; and beyond these again rose peak after peak of lofty mountains, the bare summits of the tallest glowing like jewels in the brilliant tropical light. Close at hand, on the southern shore of the inlet, lofty cliffs ran sheer down to the water's edge, where a ledge of rocks ran out some little distance into the bay, and these rocks seemed to be literally honey-combed with caves. On the northern side of the inlet the water shoaled gradually, terminating on a beach of clean yellow sand, which again stretched for some distance above water mark, and was then lost among the bush foliage. Tall coco-nut palms graced the margin of the inlet, and, behind them, trees bearing oranges, guavas, bananas, lemons, mangoes, and various other kinds of tropical fruits could be discerned close at hand. It was in truth a lovely scene that the lads gazed upon that bright morning.
There was a moderately good rise and fall of tide, judging from the marks on the beach, and the northern shore was undoubtedly the one that would be chosen by Cavendish for careening his vessels, as the ground sloped steeply but evenly, the sand was firm and hard, and the trunks of the palm-trees would be very useful for securing the hawsers, by means of which they would heave the vessels down on their beam-ends.
The sun mounted higher in the clear blue of the heavens as they looked, and all about them rose the sounds of awakening nature. Away back in the woods they could hear the chattering of monkeys; parrots and birds of bright plumage screamed and sang and fluttered among the trees near the beach; and several bright-plumaged flamingoes stalked gravely about the shallows, seeking their morning meal in the limpid water.
Presently, too, life on board the vessels was stirring, and the shrill whistle of the boatswain's pipe roused all hands to their duties. The men came tumbling up from below, and the business of the day commenced.
The officers of the ship and the two lads went down presently to breakfast, after which leave to go on shore was granted to several of them, including Roger and Harry.
Those who were going ashore quickly determined to make up a party and keep together, because as yet they knew nothing of the country, and there was the chance that it might be inhabited; in which case, if separated, and any savages were in the neighbourhood, the whites might find themselves awkwardly situated.
As many of the crew as could be spared were also allowed to go on shore for a few hours before the business of careening and refitting commenced; and, needless to say, they were delighted at the prospect of having a little more space wherein to walk about than the narrow decks of their own ships, and also of being able to get some fresh fruit—of which they stood in great need, scurvy having already appeared among them.
After breakfast, therefore, they quickly got the boats over the side, and soon there was a regular procession of them from the vessels to the shore.
Once there, the seamen immediately began to gather the fresh fruit, and, collecting a pile of what they most fancied, they lay down beside it, and ate at their ease, their past perils forgotten for the moment, and all of them supremely happy.
A few of the more adventurous spirits, however, went off into the woods on a tour of investigation, taking their muskets and bows with them, in the hope of procuring a little fresh meat.
Roger and Harry, who had, of course, gone ashore with the first boat-load, stood for a while on the beach at the edge of the water, undecided for the moment what to do first.
Harry suggested having a bathe in the limpid water of the little bay, first of all; and indeed it looked so inviting that Roger was not slow in seconding the proposition.
Accordingly they soon slipped off their clothes, and were quickly disporting themselves like young dolphins in the water, when Harry, glancing up, saw the ships lying, as it seemed, only some quarter of a mile away, their shapes reflected in the water with such distinctness that it was difficult to say where the substance ended and the shadow began.
This apparent proximity of the ships immediately put an idea into both their heads at the same moment, and they both shouted together: "Let us have a race off to the Stag Royal."
They laughed that they should have spoken the same words together, and they immediately decided that they would have a wager of a noble on the event.
"Are you ready, then, Roger? 'tis a race to the Stag Royal; and the first up the ship's side and on her deck will win the noble," exclaimed Harry.
"Agreed, lad; away we go!" replied Roger.
And the two started off, swimming strongly, with a side stroke instead of the breast; for although the former required more power, yet it was the faster stroke, and they reckoned their strength to be quite equal to a much longer distance than that to the ship.
But, as is invariably the case, distance viewed over water is deceptive, and by the time that they had done three-quarters of the course both were feeling pretty well fagged out with their unusual exertions, though neither would admit it; and the fact remained that they were swimming much slower than at the start. Suddenly they were startled by a loud hail from the deck of the Stag Royal—the ship for which they were making,—in the voice of Cavendish.