Roger Willoughby, A Story of the Times of Benbow, by W.H.G. Kingston.
Sadly, this was the last book Kingston wrote. He was diagnosed with a rapid fatal illness while he was writing it, and he used the opportunity of bidding his young readers farewell in the Preface.
There is a lot of action in the book, from encounters with the Barbary Pirates in what is now called Morocco, to military goings-on in Somerset and Dorset, to trials by Jeffreys, the Chief Justice (or Injustice might be a better name). It's just a little bit confusing! An example of how confusing is that there's a ship called Benbow, and a couple of chaps of that name as well. We have tried to sort out some inconsistencies in spelling, for example Axminster and Axeminster, Tregellen and Treleggen, but I think few of us would do any better if we were trying to finish a book in the few remaining days of our life.
It's not a long book, and not a short one, either. About ten hours to read aloud.
ROGER WILLOUGHBY, A STORY OF THE TIMES OF BENBOW, BY W.H.G. KINGSTON.
"Hillo, Roger! glad to find you at last. I have been hunting up and down along the cliffs for the last hour or more, till I began to fear that you must have been carried off by a Barbary corsair, or spirited away on the end of Mother Shipton's broomstick."
The speaker was a fine-looking lad of sixteen, dressed in the costume worn by Puritans in the time of the second Charles—a long cloth coat of unobtrusive hue, knee-breeches, high-heeled shoes with large buckles, a thick neckcloth tied in a bow, and a high-crowned, broad-brimmed hat; but the brim of the lad's hat was looped up on one side by a rosette of silver lace, his shoe-buckles were of massive silver, his neckcloth was of silk, and his coat of fine cloth, betokening that he was of the rank of a gentleman, and that, if a Puritan, he had taken no small pains to set his person off to the best advantage.
"Faith! I had no idea that I had been so long hidden away in my cosy nook, and if you had not ferreted me out, Stephen, I should likely enough have lain perdu for another hour or more," answered Roger, a sturdy blue-eyed boy, apparently a year or two younger than Stephen Battiscombe, and of the same station in life; but his dress, though of gayer colours and less precise cut than that of his friend, was somewhat threadbare, and put on as if he had not troubled himself much about the matter. "See, I have been studying the art of navigation, and begin to hope that I shall be able to sail a ship through distant seas as well as Drake or Cavendish, or Sir Martin Frobisher, or Sir Richard Grenville, or the great Christopher Columbus himself,—ay, and maybe to imitate their gallant deeds," he continued, holding up a small well-thumbed volume. "I have not made as much progress this morning as I expected to do, for I have ever and anon been watching yonder fine ship, which has long been in sight, striving to beat down Channel against this light westerly breeze, but for some time past she has made no progress, or rather has been drifting back to the eastward."
"It seems to me that she is standing in this way," observed Stephen, shading his eyes with his hand from the noonday sun. "Certes, she is a goodly craft, and light as is the wind slips swiftly through the water."
"Would that I were on board of her!" exclaimed Roger. "She is doubtless bound out to some of those strange lands of which I have read in Master Purchas Pilgrims, and many another book of voyages. How I long to visit those regions, and to behold with mine own eyes the wonderful sights they present!"
"Many, you should understand, are mere travellers' tales—lying fables— such as Sir John de Mandeville would make us believe about monsters, half man and half beast, and people walking about with their heads under their arms, and cities of marble, the windows of precious stones, and the streets paved with gold, and such like extravagances," observed Stephen. "I much doubt also whether your father will readily accede to your wishes. Think how he would grieve should any of the many mishaps befall you which so often overtake those who voyage on the treacherous ocean."
"My father knows that I must seek my fortune in some calling or other, and he would be well pleased were I to come back with a goodly store of the gold of Golconda to restore the impoverished fortunes of our house," answered Roger, still looking eagerly towards the approaching ship.
"Day-dreams, my friend, day-dreams,—natural enough, but very unlikely to come true," said Stephen in a somewhat sententious tone, such as he considered became one of his mature years. If the truth were to have been known, however, Master Stephen Battiscombe was apt to indulge in day-dreams himself, though of a different character—a judge's wig and robes, or even a seat on the Woolsack, were not beyond his aspirations. He now added, "But we must stop talking here longer. See, the sun is already at his height in the heavens; an we delay the Colonel and Madam Pauline will be justly chiding us for being late to dinner."
"I am ready," answered Roger, still, however, lingering and watching the ship in the offing. "But tell me, what cause brought you to Eversden this morning?"
"I came over to ask you to return with me to Langton, that you might join us in making war on the young rooks, which have increased too greatly in our woods of late. Not finding you, I would fain, I own, have remained in the house to enjoy the society of sweet Mistress Alice, but Madame Pauline, cruelly insisting that she required her aid in the manufacture of some conserves, sent me out to search for you."
"I am bound to be grateful to you for coming, whether willingly or not, to look for me, or I might have remained in my nest mayhap till the sun had sunk behind Beer Head out yonder," said Roger, beginning to climb up the cliff. "I would gladly, however, remain till the ship comes near enough to let us get a better sight of her."
To this, however, Stephen would not consent, for the reason he had already given, and Roger also well knew that his uncle, Colonel Tregellen, would be displeased should they not appear at the regular dinner-hour.
Roger Willoughby's cosy nook, as he called it, was a small hollow in the cliff a few feet from the summit, surrounded by a thick growth of purple bramble, scented clematis, pink thorn, and other shrubs, which formed a complete shelter from all but southerly winds, and likewise concealed it from any one passing along the downs above. It was on a part of the Dorsetshire coast between Lyme and Bridport, almost in the centre of the extensive bay which has Portland Bill on its eastern side and the Start Point on the west. To the right could be seen Lowesdon Hill and Pillesdon Pen rising above the surrounding country, while to the left a line of precipitous cliffs extended in a bold sweep for several miles to the conical height of the Gilten Cap, visible to the mariner far away out at sea, while inland, beyond a range of smooth undulating downs, were fields of grass and corn, orchards and woods, amid which appeared here and there a church steeple, the roof of a farm-house or labourer's cottage, or the tower or gable-end of some more pretentious residence.
Still, Roger accompanied Stephen Battiscombe with evident reluctance, and turned more than once to take another look at the approaching ship which had so attracted his attention.
"She must be purposing to come to an anchor close to the shore, and we may be able to go on board her," he exclaimed.
"Very possibly her captain intends to bring up to wait till the tide turns," said Stephen in a tone of indifference. "If you have a fancy for visiting her, the sooner we get back to Eversden the more time you will have to accomplish your object, should your father not object to your going; but as we do not know the character of the vessel, he may doubt whether the trip is a safe one—she may be a pirate, or a trader in want of hands, and may kidnap you and your boatmen to fill up the complement of her crew."
Roger laughed heartily as Stephen ceased speaking. "We need not fear any danger of that sort," he said. "My father is not so over-careful of me as you suppose. Neither he nor the Colonel will say me nay, and if you are unwilling to accompany me, I will go alone."
"No! no!—if you go I will go with you," answered Stephen. "I merely wished to warn you, that you might not be disappointed."
"I know well that I can always trust you, and that you are ever ready to please me when you can," said Roger. "But, as you say, it were a pity to lose time—so we will hasten on to the manor-house, and as soon as we have satisfied our hunger, we will return to the shore and get Ben Rullock and his boy Toby to put us aboard the stranger. See, she is still standing in for the land, and she would certainly not come so close except for the purpose of anchoring."
The boys had now reached the highest part of the downs. After this, having to descend to the cultivated ground, they lost sight of the ship. Making a short cut across some fields enclosed by stone walls, they reached a lane with hedges on either side, along which they proceeded for a mile or more, as snake-like it twisted and turned in various directions, till, crossing what from its width looked like a high-road, though as full of ruts and holes as the lane, they passed through a gateway, the entrance to an avenue of fine beech-trees. The once stout gate shook and creaked on its rusty hinges as they pushed it open; the keeper's lodge was in ruins, burnt down many years ago, for the marks of fire were still visible on the portions of the walls seen between the ivy and other creepers partially covering them. The lads, hurrying up the avenue, soon reached a substantial house of some size, surrounded by a broad moat with a roughly constructed wooden bridge, where once a drawbridge had existed across the narrowest part, directly in front of the chief entrance. The most prominent feature of the building was a porch of stone, handsomely carved; on the right side of it was a breadth of wall with several windows, and at the end what appeared from its architecture to be a chapel, though the large window at the gable-end had been bricked up, a few loopholes only being left in it. On the other side of the porch was a still more extensive range of windows, giving light to a large hall, and beyond that again was a square stone tower, serving in the eyes of the architect as a balance to the chapel. The moat was a sufficient distance from the house to allow of a roadway round it to the back, where, guarded by a high wall, the offices and stables, the cow-house, the piggeries and poultry-yard, were situated.
The boys hurried through the open doorway, the savoury odours proceeding from the hall on the left exciting their appetites. The family were already seated at table, and Master Holden, the parson of the parish, was in the act of saying grace. As soon as he had concluded, they took the places left vacant for them, Stephen managing to place himself next to Mistress Alice Tufnell, while Roger, who cared not where he sat, went to one on the opposite side of the table between his father and the parson, who had at first humbly taken a lower position. At the head of the table sat Colonel Tregellen, the owner of Eversden Manor, with his sprightly French wife, Madam Pauline, on his right, and his brother-in-law, Master Ralph Willoughby, Roger's father, on his left.
"You are late, lads," said the Colonel, looking first at one, then at the other, in a somewhat stern manner. "You know the rules of the house—how comes it?"
"Please, sir, I was looking for Roger, and only lately discovered him," answered Stephen, who was the elder, and thought it incumbent on him to speak first. "He was not aware how the hours had gone by."
"And why were you not aware how time passed, Master Roger?" asked the Colonel, turning to his nephew. "The sun is shining in the heavens, and you should have known when noon arrived."
"I was sitting in the shade and reading, good uncle," answered Roger in a brisk tone, which showed that he had little fear of the Colonel's displeasure; "besides, to say the truth, I was watching a fine ship standing in for the coast, which ship I have a notion has come to anchor not far from this, and as soon as Stephen and I have stowed away some food, with yours and my father's leave and good pleasure we propose going on board her to learn what cargo she carries, whither she is bound, and all about her."
"You are of an inquisitive disposition regarding all things nautical, Roger," observed the Colonel. "I have no objection, if your father has not, but take care you are not carried off to sea. We must make Stephen Battiscombe answerable for that; and if the vessel has a suspicious look, remember that you are not to venture on board."
"Ah, yes; do take care that the strange ship you speak of is not a pirate. It would be dreadful to have you spirited away, as I have heard has sometimes happened," observed Madam Pauline.
"There is not much risk of that," observed Mr Willoughby. "Since the noble Blake commanded the fleets of England, such gentry have not dared to venture into the English Channel."
"And are you also going, Master Battiscombe?" asked Alice, turning to Stephen.
"I have no great fancy for the expedition, and would rather spend my time here, Mistress Alice," he answered. "But Roger begs for my companionship, and I must go to look after him, for I suspect that he would not be greatly grieved if he were to be carried off, as his heart is set on visiting foreign lands, and he knows not how to accomplish his wishes."
"If you go I know you will advise him wisely," said Alice, in a tone which showed that she placed confidence in the person she was addressing.
Stephen looked gratified. "I will not betray my trust," he said, "and I hope, Mistress Alice, that I shall act in a way to merit your approval."
The lads did not allow their plates to remain idly before them. Roger sent his for an additional supply of the goodly sirloin which the Colonel was carving, and then, as soon as he had finished eating, without waiting for the pasties or Master Holden's grace, he started up and said: "We have your leave, uncle, my father not objecting, to visit the stranger, and I doubt not we shall bring you before evening a good account of her."
Mr Willoughby nodded his assent. "You may go, Roger, and Stephen is his own master, but remember the caution you have received. Should you find, which is most probable, that the commander is a goodly person, and his ship is going to remain long enough at anchor, you may invite him up to the manor-house, and say we shall gladly receive him. It may be that he has been long at sea, and some fresh provisions will be welcome."
"Thank you," said Roger, leaving his chair.—"Come along, Stephen; we shall find Ben Rullock and Toby at their hut before they leave for their evening fishing, if we make haste."
Stephen, with less eagerness than that exhibited by his friend, rose from his seat, and bowing to Madam Pauline and Mistress Alice, followed Roger out of the hall.
"They are spirited lads," observed the Colonel, "and as they have little enough to fill up their time, I like not to deny them such amusement as they discover for themselves."
"Where it is harmless 'tis right that it should be encouraged," remarked Master Holden, who seldom said anything except it was to agree with the Colonel, his patron, by whose means he had been reinstated in the parish at the Restoration.
Colonel Tregellen, a staunch Cavalier, the owner of Eversden, had during the Civil War been among the most active partisans of King Charles the First, in whose service he had expended large sums of money. On the triumph of Cromwell his property was confiscated, and he had judged it prudent to escape beyond seas. The manor, however, had been purchased by his brother-in-law, Roger Willoughby, who had married his sister, and who had held it during the period of the Commonwealth. Mr Willoughby was a rigid Puritan, and had been as active in supporting Cromwell as his brother-in-law had been in the cause of the opposite party. At the Restoration the tables were again turned, and Colonel Tregellen, who had some time before ventured back to England, had, by an amicable arrangement with his brother-in-law, again become possessed of the estate, it being settled that Mr Willoughby and his son should reside with him.
While abroad, Colonel Tregellen had married a French Protestant lady, a very charming and lively person, who made herself liked by all who came in contact with her. Having no children of their own, they had adopted the grand-daughter of a Cavalier friend killed at Naseby, who had committed his only daughter to the Colonel's care. On his return to England she came to live at Eversden Manor, where she married Mr Harry Tufnell, the younger son of a gentleman of property in the county. He, however, soon afterwards died, leaving his widow and infant daughter slenderly provided for. Two years elapsed from his death, when Mrs Tufnell, who was then staying at the manor-house, followed him to the grave. Madam Pauline had promised to be a mother to her child, and such she had ever since truly proved. Alice, who was too young to feel her loss, had always looked upon the Colonel and his wife as her parents, and loved them as such, though the Colonel had considered it expedient that she should retain her father's name, and keep up such intercourse with her family as circumstances would permit. She amply rewarded the Colonel and Madam Pauline for the care they bestowed on her by the amiability of her disposition, her sweet and engaging manners, and the affection she exhibited towards them. She was a year or two younger than Roger, but from her intelligence and appearance, and a certain manner she had caught from Madam Pauline, she was generally supposed to be older. She and Roger were fast friends, and regarded each other as brother and sister. Of late she not only looked but felt herself the elder of the two, and treated him as young ladies are sometimes inclined to treat boys, in a slightly dictatorial way, ordering him about, and expecting him to obey her slightest behest; as he was invariably obedient they never quarrelled, and she always appeared to receive his service as her right.
Mr Willoughby, who lost his wife some years after the Restoration, and was in infirm health, had sunk almost heart-broken into the position of a dependant on his brother-in-law. He had paid a heavy price to obtain Eversden, and had also expended large sums in support of the cause he advocated, besides which, certain mercantile speculations into which he had entered had been unsuccessful, so that when deprived of Eversden he had no means remaining for his support. The hope, which he probably entertained, that his son Roger would be Colonel Tregellen's heir, was somewhat damped when Mistress Alice was adopted as his daughter—not that he felt any jealousy of her in consequence,—indeed, he might possibly have entertained the idea that she would marry Roger, and that, should she become the Colonel's heiress, the property would thus be restored to the family. Had the subject, however, been spoken of to him, he would very likely have replied that he did not wish his thoughts to dwell on such sublunary matters, that, all being ordered for the best, he would leave them in the hands of Providence, without attempting to interfere. Still, as Alice grew up into a sweet and engaging girl, he could not help wishing, as he looked at her, that she would some day become his son's wife. It is certain, however, that such thought had never for a moment crossed Roger's mind, nor that of the young lady either. She would have laughed heartily if the subject had been mentioned to her, and declared that she should as soon have thought of marrying old Mr Willoughby himself, whom she always called her uncle. Fortunately no one had ever been silly enough to talk to her about the matter, and she and Roger had never had what might prove a barrier to their friendship placed between them.
Roger's thoughts were generally occupied with his grand idea to go abroad to the Indies, or to America, or to the plantations, to make a fortune, and to restore the family to its former position. He did not consider that his father was dependent on the Colonel, but he saw that the latter himself had but limited means; for the estate, although of considerable extent, yielded but a poor income. Its owner had nothing else to depend on, so that he was unable to repair the house or to make improvements on the land. The King on his Restoration had promised to give him a lucrative post as soon as he could find one suited to his talents, but year after year passed by, and he received no appointment; at length he went up to London—a journey not easily performed in those days,—and after waiting for a considerable time, through the interest of an old friend he obtained an interview with the Merry Monarch.
"Gadzooks, man!" exclaimed the King, when he saw him, "I remember you well,—a loyal, sturdy supporter of our cause. We have had so many loyal gentlemen applying for posts that we fear all have been filled up, but depend on it we will not forget you. Go back to Eversden, and wait with such patience as may be vouchsafed you. In due course of time you will receive notice of the appointment to which we shall have the satisfaction of naming you."
Colonel Tregellen took his leave and returned to Eversden, but he was too old a soldier to have his hopes raised high, and from that time to the present he had received no further communication on the subject— indeed, he had reason to believe that the King had forgotten all about him. Though he did not in consequence of this waver in his loyalty, it did not increase his affection for the King, and made him criticise the monarch's proceeding with more minuteness than might otherwise have been the case. He had ever been a firm Protestant, and he had become still more attached to the Reformed principles, and more enlightened, from the example set him by his wife, and also from the instruction he received from her. He was sufficiently acquainted with political affairs to know that the King was more than suspected of leaning to Romanism, while the Duke of York—the heir to the throne—was a professed Romanist. His love, therefore, for the family for whom he had fought and expended his fortune had greatly waned of late years, and he therefore agreed more nearly with the opinions of his brother-in-law than formerly. This change of sentiment permitted him willingly to receive young Battiscombe, who was of a Puritan family, at his house, though at one time he would not have admitted him within his doors. He also lived on friendly terms with other neighbours holding the same opinion as the owner of Langton Hall. Still, the Colonel did not altogether abandon his Cavalier habits and notions, which, without intending it perhaps, he instilled into the mind of his young nephew, who, although his father had been a supporter of Cromwell, was ready enough to acknowledge Charles as the rightful king of England. He and Stephen often had discussions on the subject, but as neither held his opinions with much obstinacy, they never fell out on the matter, and generally ended with a laugh, each asserting that he had the beat of the argument. Stephen, if not a bigoted Puritan, was a strong Protestant, and never failed to express his dread of the consequences should James come to the throne.
Stephen Battiscombe was the second son of Mr Battiscombe of Langton Park, who had several other sons and daughters. He had been an officer in General Monk's army, and had consequently retained his paternal estates, although he had been compelled to part with some of his broad acres in order to secure the remainder. Stephen had been for the last year or two a constant visitor at Eversden, he and Roger having formed a friendship; it may be that he came oftener than he otherwise might have done for the sake of enjoying the society of Mistress Alice, whom he greatly admired.
The early dinner being concluded, and the viands removed, the ladies retired to pursue their usual avocations, while the Colonel, with Mr Willoughby and Master Holden, sat still at the table, not so much to indulge in potations, though a flagon of wine and glasses stood before them, as to discuss certain parochial questions in which they were interested.
The first matter to be discussed had scarcely been broached when the Colonel, whose quick ears had detected the sound of horses' hoofs in the court-yard, exclaimed, "Hark! here come visitors. I pray you, Master Holden, go and see who they are, and, should they have travelled far, and require food, bid the cook make ready a sufficiency; whether they be old friends or strangers, we must not show a want of hospitality if they come expecting to find it at Eversden." The curate, ever accustomed to obey his patron's directions, rose and hastened to the door. Not long after he had gone, Tobias Platt, the Colonel's serving-man, who performed the duties of butler, valet, and general factotum, entered the hall.
"Master Thomas Handscombe, cloth-merchant of London, who has just come down from thence, craves to see Mr Roger Willoughby," he said.
"Do you know him?" asked the Colonel of his brother-in-law.
"Yes, an old and worthy friend," answered Mr Willoughby, rising from his seat.
"Let him be admitted, and assure him of a welcome," said the Colonel, turning to Tobias Platt, who hurried out of the hall, while Mr Willoughby followed him somewhat more leisurely. He found his old friend, a middle-aged man of grave exterior, in travel-stained cloak, broad-brimmed beaver, just dismounting from a strongly-built nag, to whose saddle were attached a pair of huge holsters in front, and a valise behind. He was accompanied by two attendants, each of whose animals carried considerably heavier burdens, apparently merchandise, more or less of cloth and other articles, firmly secured by leathern straps.
"I am glad to see you again, Master Handscombe," exclaimed Mr Willoughby, warmly pressing the hand of his old friend; "although I am no longer master of this mansion, I can bid you welcome, for my good brother-in-law, Colonel Tregellen, desires that all my friends should be his friends; but you will remember that he is an old Cavalier, and that there are certain subjects it were better not to touch on."
"I mix too much with all classes of men not to be on my guard," answered the merchant, as he accompanied Mr Willoughby into the house, when Tobias Platt came forward to take his dusty cloak and beaver, and then followed Mr Willoughby into the hall, where the Colonel received him as his brother-in-law's friend.
"You will be glad to shake off more of the dust of your journey while a repast is preparing," observed the Colonel. "The servant will provide you with water and other necessaries."
The guest gladly accepted the offer. Mr Willoughby himself accompanied him to the room, that they might have an opportunity of conversing in private, which they might not afterwards obtain. Madam Pauline and Alice, on hearing from Master Holden of the arrival of a stranger from London, returned to the hall, where all the party were soon again assembled. Master Handscombe, though a man of grave deportment, had no objection to hear himself speak.
"When did you leave London?" was one of the first questions very naturally put by the Colonel to his guest.
"Just seven days ago, good sir," answered Mr Handscombe. "Having sent all my goods with my two servant-men by the stage-wagon, I took my place by the light coach which now runs from London to the West. There were six of us inside, who, till the moment we met, were not aware of each other's existence, though, before we parted, we had become as intimate as a litter of puppies. Pretty close stowing it was too—yet, considering the jolting, bumping, and rolling, that was an advantage. Oftentimes I feared that the coach would go over altogether into the ditch, when I was thankful that there was not any one outside except the coachman and guard, who are in a manner born to it, to break their necks. Still, notwithstanding all impediments, we accomplished thirty miles a day; that is fast going, you will allow, compared to the stage-wagon or other ancient means of conveyance. Once only we were stopped by highwaymen, but the guard's blunderbuss disposed of one of them, and an old officer, who was fortunately for us one of the passengers, though his legs were of the longest, shot another, and the rest, fearing that the Major's pistols would settle a third of their gang, rode off, leaving us to proceed unmolested. Mine host of the 'Green Dragon,' where we had stopped, seemed greatly surprised at seeing us arrive safely, and pulled a long face at hearing of the highwayman whom the Major had shot, for he owed a long score, he acknowledged, which he had now no chance of getting paid. At Salisbury I found my nag and servants, and, leaving the coach, proceeded on to this place by such roads as I could discover. It was one comfort to believe that we were not likely to encounter highwaymen by paths so little frequented, though we had several streams to cross, where we ran no small risk of our lives, especially near Salisbury, where the waters were out, and for some hours no boat was to be found to ferry us across. However, at length, by God's kind providence, we got over, and as you see, good masters, I have arrived sound in health and limb."
"Truly you have reason to be thankful," observed Mr Willoughby; "for it is a long time since I made a journey to London, and, of my own free will, I will never again undertake it."
"And what news do you bring from the city?" asked the Colonel. "How go matters at Court?"
"About the Court I know but little, except such as appears in the broad-sheet and scraps of information which reach the city. The Dukes of York and Monmouth are still at daggers drawn, the King now favouring one, now the other, though Monmouth by his affable and condescending manners wins the hearts of many of the people, while the Earl of Shaftesbury is ever plotting and contriving how he may keep the power in his own hands, and play one against the other. The Duke of Monmouth, who was, as you may have heard, banished, has returned without the King's permission, and, as he refuses again to quit the kingdom, has been stripped of his various offices; but a short time ago appeared a tract in which the Duke is clearly pointed out as the fittest person, from his courage, quality, and conduct, to become the ruler of these realms. It is remarked that he who has the worst title will make the best King. There is a story current of the existence of a black box in which is deposited the marriage-contract between the King and the Duke's mother, but some doubt, not without reason, whether such a black box exists, much more the contents spoken of. Be that as it may, many persons speak boldly of the Duke of Monmouth some day becoming King of England."
"What is your opinion, Master Handscombe?" asked the Colonel.
"I have merely reported what is said," answered the merchant. "My business is in buying and selling, and I have no wish to enter into political affairs."
"Well answered, sir; but I would have it clearly understood that I hope none of those in whom I have an interest will ever draw sword or aid by tongue or otherwise in supporting any but the rightful and legitimate Sovereign of these realms. Though James has become a Papist, he will not interfere with the rights and privileges of his Protestant subjects."
"On that point there exist adverse and strong opinions," answered Master Handscombe. "A Roman in power and a Roman out of power are two very different species of animals. The one rules it like the lordly lion, and strikes down with his powerful paw all opponents; the other creeps forward gently and noiselessly like the cat,—not the less resolved, however, to destroy his prey."
"You would then rather see the Duke of Monmouth than the Duke of York king of England?" said the Colonel.
"No, good sir, I said not so," answered Mr Handscombe. "I am merely repeating at your desire what people do say in the city, and in the towns also through which I passed."
While they were speaking, Tobias Platt had placed a smoking hot dish before the hungry traveller, on which the Colonel bade him fall-to. Scarcely, however, had he commenced operations, when young Roger hurried into the hall.
"We have brought him, uncle; he was very willing to come, and you will like him as much as we do. I ran on to announce him, and he and Stephen will be here anon."
"But who is your friend?" asked the Colonel. "You have not told us."
"He is the captain of the fine ship we saw entering the bay; his name is Benbow, and his ship is the Benbow frigate. He received us in a courteous manner when we went on board, and told him that we had come to invite him on shore. He said as there was no prospect of a breeze for some hours, he would gladly accept your invitation.—Here he comes."
A youngish, broadly-built man, with light blue eyes and somewhat sun-burnt complexion, dressed as a sea-going officer of those days, entered the hall accompanied by Stephen Battiscombe, and advanced, hat in hand, towards the Colonel, who rose to receive him.
"You have come just in time, Captain Benbow, for such I hear is your name, to partake of a dinner prepared for a friend from London; you are heartily welcome."
"Thanks, good sir, but I dined before I came on shore, though I shall be happy to quaff a glass of wine to your health and that of your guests," he answered, as he seated himself in a chair, which the Colonel offered, by his side.
"We have not many visitors in this quiet place, and are always glad to receive those who have sailed, as you have undoubtedly, to many foreign lands," observed the Colonel, as he poured out a glass of sparkling wine for the new-comer, who, before putting it to his lips, bowed to the ladies and then to the Colonel and the other gentlemen.
"Methinks I should know you, Captain Benbow," said Mr Handscombe, looking up at him from the other side of the table. "We have met on 'Change, and I may venture to say it in your presence that no sea-captain stands higher than you do in the estimation of the merchants of London."
"Much obliged to you, Master Handscombe, for the opinion you express of me," said Captain Benbow, at once recognising the worthy merchant. "I have always wished to do my duty towards those whose goods I carry, and to defend my cargo against pirates, privateers, and corsairs of all descriptions, as well as to carry it safely to its destination."
"The name of Benbow sounds familiar to my ears," said the Colonel, looking earnestly at the merchant captain. "I had two old well-loved comrades, Colonel Thomas and Colonel John Benbow, gentlemen of estate in Shropshire, who raised regiments in the service of his late Majesty, of pious memory, and for whom I also had the honour of drawing my sword. I well remember that 20th of September in the year of grace 1642, when they and many more came with their faithful men to Shrewsbury to enrol themselves under the King's standard, and opposed those who had resolved on his destruction. From that day forward we fought side by side in many a bloody battle, sometimes in the open field, sometimes in the defence of towns or fortified manor-houses, till the King's cause was lost and his sacred head struck off, though even then we did not despair that the cause of monarchy would triumph; and as soon as our present King, marching from Scotland, reached Worcester, I, with the two Colonel Benbows, who had mustered their Shropshire men, and a few other noble gentlemen—alack! not so many as we had a right to expect—arrayed ourselves under the King's standard. We had secured, as we hoped, a strong position, and expected that when Cromwell and his Ironsides marched against us we should drive them back and hold our own, with Wales and other loyal counties in our rear, till the nation was aroused. But such was not to be, for without waiting to give himself breathing-time after his march, Cromwell set upon us. Though many fought bravely, others grew faint-hearted, and took to flight, and the day was lost. I fell wounded, and was conveyed to the house of a faithful friend, who concealed me; but unhappily the Colonel Benbows were both made prisoners, and Colonel Thomas Benbow with the Earl of Derby and several other gallant noblemen. To my grief, I heard soon afterwards that Colonel Thomas Benbow was shot with the Earl and several others, for engaging in what the usurper pleased to call rebellion; but of my friend Colonel John Benbow I could for a long time hear nothing, and had myself to escape across seas."
"I am the son of Colonel John Benbow, of whom you speak," said the Captain. "I know that my uncle Thomas was made prisoner in the fight at Worcester, and afterwards cruelly shot. My father escaped with the help of a friend, and remained concealed with my mother and their family, living in the humblest way, till King Charles the Second was restored to the throne. Through the influence of some friends my father obtained a small office connected with the Ordnance in the Tower, which brought him in sufficient to feed and clothe his family in a simple fashion. I was young, and used to what might be called penury, and I well knew that I must seek my fortune in the world, and work hard. I had an early taste for the sea, for we lived near the Thames, and I often used to make trips with the watermen, among whom I was a favourite. When I was old enough to make myself useful they paid me for the assistance I gave them, looking after boats, sometimes bringing them a fare from the shore, and often taking an oar. I was just ten years old when the present King came to the throne, and I might perchance have joined one of his ships, but from the way I heard my friends the watermen say that men were treated on board them, I had no fancy for joining a man-of-war. Soon after the time I speak of, an old friend of my father's got him an appointment in the Tower, which brought him in indeed but 80 pounds a year; yet as that was more than our family had had to live on for many a long year, it was a cause of much rejoicing and thanksgiving. Still it was not enough to allow any of us who could work to live in idleness, and I determined to try what I could do. I was one day looking out for a fare for an old waterman, John Cox by name, who had engaged my services, I being an especial favourite of his, when a sailor-like man came down and said he wanted to be put on board the Rainbow frigate lying in the stream. 'John Cox will put you on board,' says I; 'there's his boat. I'll hail him, and he will be down in a moment.'
"'That will do,' said the stranger, and he stepped on board the boat.
"'Are you the old man's son?' he asked.
"'No, sir; I am the son of Colonel Benbow, who has got an office in the Tower.'
"'What! his son thus employed!' exclaimed the stranger. 'Is he going to bring you up as a waterman?'
"'An please you, sir, I am bringing myself up to gain an honest livelihood as best I can,' I answered.
"'Would you like to go to sea and visit foreign countries?' asked the stranger.
"'That I would, sir, with all my heart,' I answered.
"'What will you say if I offer to take you?' he asked, looking at me.
"'That I will accept your offer, and serve you faithfully,' I said.
"'Then, lad, you shall come with me aboard the Rainbow. We will go back and see your father. I would not take you without his sanction; but if he approves, we shall have time to get such an outfit as you require, for I do not sail till to-morrow.'
"John Cox and I put Captain Downing, for such was his name, on board the Rainbow. He told us to wait alongside for him. After some time he again stepped into the boat, and ordered John Cox to pull for the Tower Stairs.
"On landing, he bade me conduct him to my father's lodgings, which I gladly did. My father, as it happened, had met Captain Downing, and knew him to be a man of probity. Thanking the Captain for his offer, he without hesitation gave me leave to accompany him as cabin-boy. It did not take long to get an outfit, and bidding my old father and my kind mother and brothers and sisters farewell, I went on board the Rainbow. We dropped down the Thames the next day, but it was nearly a week before we were fairly at sea. The moment I stepped on board, having determined to become a sailor, I set to work to learn everything I could. The Captain helped me in every way. I observed especially the manner he treated his men. He spoke kindly to them, took care that they had plenty of good provisions, and never demanded more work of them than he knew they could perform. Thus the same crew sailed with him voyage after voyage, and I said to myself, 'Whenever I get command of a ship, I will treat my men in the same way.' We sailed for the Levant, and were more than a year away, and then made several voyages to Lisbon and Cadiz, and other places on the coast of Portugal and Spain, two out to the West Indies. When I got back I found my father holding his old post in the Tower, still cheerful and contented, though, as he said, he thought some of his old friends might have found him one with better pay, considering what he had lost for holding to the Royal cause. The first Dutch war was just over, when the Governor received notice that the King himself was going to visit the Tower to inspect the ordnance. All the officers, from the highest to the lowest, in their best attire, were drawn up to receive his Majesty. Among them stood my father, his white hair streaming over his shoulders, a head taller than any of the bystanders, I well remember the cry which was raised of 'Here comes the King!' Presently his Majesty appeared. As he walked along, nodding to one, exchanging a word with another, his eye fell on my father, whom he knew at once, as he did most people, however long a time had passed since he had seen them. 'Gadzooks! why, there's my old friend Colonel Benbow!' exclaimed the King, going up to him and giving him a warm embrace. 'I have not seen you since we parted at Worcester; if all had acted as bravely as you did, we should have had a very different account to give of that day. What do you here?'
"'An please your Majesty, I have a post of 80 pounds a year, in which I do my duty as cheerfully as I would were it 4000 pounds a year,' answered my father.
"'Alack, alack! that an old and faithful friend should have been so neglected,' said the King. 'You ought to have had one of the best posts I have it in my power to confer, for you lost not only your own property, but your brave brother lost his life, as I have heard, with many other gallant gentlemen.—Colonel Legge,' he said, turning to one of the officers in attendance, 'bring Colonel Benbow to me to-morrow, and we will see what office we can best bestow on him. I will provide for him an his family as becomes me.'
"As the King passed on, my honoured father, overcome with joy and gratitude for the King's intended goodness, sank down on a bench, where he sat motionless. Suddenly a pallor was seen to overspread his countenance, and he would have fallen forward had not some of those standing by hurried to support him;—but he was past human help; the sudden revulsion of feeling was more than his weak frame could stand, and before the King had left the Tower he had breathed his last. It was a sad day to my mother, but we tried to comfort her by reminding her that our father died from excessive joy, that the King would graciously bestow the favour he had intended for him on her and us. From that day forward, however, no message came from his Majesty to inquire why my father had not appeared at Court. Though means were also taken to let the King know of our father's death, and that his wife and family were almost destitute no notice was taken, and my mother had to depend on such support as I and her other children could give her; but do all we could, it was only sufficient to keep her from starving. Well may I say, 'Put not your trust in princes.'
"I need not trouble you, fair ladies and gentlemen, with a further account of my early life. I was in great favour with Captain Downing, with whom I sailed for many years as his chief officer, and on his death, which occurred at sea, he left me his share in the Rainbow, and other property. As she was getting old and unfit for long voyages, I sold her and built the Benbow frigate, which ship several of my former crew joined as soon as she was ready for sea. Thus, you see, my life has not been a very eventful one, though I have risen to independence by just sticking to my duty. I do not say that I have not met with adventures, but I will occupy no more of your time by attempting to describe them."
Roger and Stephen, especially the former, had been eagerly listening to the account Captain Benbow gave of himself.
"How I should delight to sail with you, if my father would give me leave!" exclaimed Roger.
"If there were time, I should be happy to take you on board my ship and teach you to become a sailor, but I fear there is no time, as I must be away again as soon as the tide changes, for I am bound up to the further end of the Mediterranean, and you require certain suits of clothing and other articles which cannot be procured in a moment."
"If you propose putting into Plymouth, the difficulty might be obviated," said Roger, who looked much disappointed. "I could soon scrape such few things together as I require, for I care not much what I wear."
"But you have not yet obtained your father's sanction to your going, young gentleman, and it was only provided that he should give his permission that I offered to receive you on board my ship," said the Captain.
"Thank you heartily, Captain Benbow," said Mr Willoughby. "From the report I have heard of you through my friend Handscombe here, there is no man to whom I would more willingly confide my son, for he has set his heart on being a sailor; but, as you observe, he requires suitable clothing, and that cannot be procured forthwith; still, if you will give me intimation of your return to England, and are willing to take him on your next voyage, I will send him to the port at which your ship lies without fail."
"I will do that," said the Captain.—"So, Master Roger, you may look upon yourself as my future shipmate."
Still Roger appeared much disappointed, as he had expected to go off at once.
"Cheer up, my lad," said the Captain good-humouredly. "I will not fail to give notice of my arrival to your father." The Captain evidently took compassion on the boy's eagerness, for he added, "To show my readiness to take you, if your friends will undertake to collect such needful articles as you must have, I will agree to wait till a breeze springs up, which may not be for several hours to come."
"Thank you, sir, thank you," cried Roger, looking at his aunt and Mistress Alice, and then at his father and the Colonel, as much as to ask what they would do.
"If your father gives you leave, I will not say you nay," observed the Colonel. "But I know nothing of the required preparations. Madam Pauline and Alice had better say what they and the maidens in the house can do in the course of a few hours."
Roger turned inquiringly towards them.
"As Captain Benbow is good enough to take you, we will do our best to get the things you require ready," said Madam Pauline.
"I am loath to lose Roger, but if he will accept some of my clothing, I will ride back to Langton Park and get it for him," said Stephen. "It is much against the grain, though, I confess."
"Thank you, thank you, Stephen," cried Roger, grasping his friend's hand. "I know that you are sorry to part from me, but then you know how much I long to go to sea, and may never have so good an opportunity."
The matter being thus settled, Madam Pauline and Alice hastened to inspect poor Roger's scanty wardrobe, and to consider how with the materials in the house they could most speedily add to it, while Stephen, mounting his horse, rode away for Langton, and Roger himself, accompanied by Master Holden, hunted through the big lumber-room at the top of the house, with the hopes of finding a chest in which his property might be stowed. He soon found one of oak, clamped with iron, which, though larger and heavier than was desirable, might, he thought, serve the purpose required. Their next business was to collect the treasures, including a few well-thumbed books, which Roger wished to take with him, and which he at once placed in the bottom of the chest. The rest of the party remained at table, the Colonel talking chiefly with Captain Benbow, whom he looked upon as an old friend.
"You will remain at the manor-house to-night, I hope," said the Colonel, "and you may return in the morning with my nephew at as early an hour as you desire. I suspect that the females of the family will take but few hours of rest, as their needles will be busy during the night in preparing the young fellow's wardrobe."
"Thank you for the offer, Colonel, but I have made a rule, from which I never depart, always to sleep on board my ship," answered the Captain. "I know not what may happen during the night, and I am thus in readiness for any emergency."
Mr Willoughby was engaged in earnest conversation with Master Handscombe, the merchant, on matters which, it appeared, they were unwilling should reach the ears of the Colonel. They spoke of the Duke of Monmouth, Lord Shaftesbury, and many other persons. Master Handscombe appeared to be very anxious to ascertain the political opinions of the landowners and other gentlemen residing in that part of Dorsetshire and the neighbouring counties of Wilts and Devon. It might have been suspected that the cloth-merchant had other objects in view besides those connected with his mercantile pursuits.
In spite of the exertions made by the indefatigable Madame Pauline and her assistants during the evening, Roger's wardrobe was not completed; indeed, darkness was approaching before Stephen Battiscombe returned with the bundle of clothing which he had generously devoted to the use of his friend. Captain Benbow had risen from the table, and having wished the Colonel and the rest of the party good-bye, was prepared to set out on his return to his ship. Stephen and Roger insisted on accompanying him, and he was glad of their society, as he confessed that he might have some difficulty in finding his way alone. His boat was waiting for him at the beach.
"You will come down with your traps as soon as possible after daylight, my lad," he said, as he stepped on board, "and I will send a boat on shore for you."
"No fear, sir, about my being punctual," answered Roger, and his heart bounded as he thought that in a few hours more he should be on board the stout ship which rode at anchor out in the bay. He and Stephen stood on the beach watching the boat till she was lost to sight in the fast increasing gloom. Already, as they stood there, they observed that although the calm was as perfect as before, the water had begun to break with considerably more force than it had done since the morning. Smooth undulations came rolling in and burst with a dull splash on the sand, then rushed up in a sheet of snowy foam, which had scarcely disappeared before another took its place.
"I cannot quite make it out," observed Stephen. "It seems to me that the sky is unusually dark away to the south and south-west; to say the truth, it looks to me as if there was a bank of dark clouds out there."
"I do not see any bank. It is simply the coming gloom of evening which darkens the sky in that direction," answered Roger. "I think you are mistaken; however, it is time that we should get back, as I have many things to do, and I don't like to desert my poor father, as it will be the last evening I shall spend with him for many a day."
Stephen acknowledging this, they hastened back to the manor-house.
Madam Pauline, aided by Alice and several active-fingered maidens, laboured without cessation for several hours till they had prepared Roger's kit as far as circumstances would allow. The Colonel had retired to his chamber, and Mr Willoughby had seen Master Handscombe to one which had been prepared for him. Roger and Stephen had fallen asleep in spite of their intention of sitting up all night to be ready for the morning, when suddenly a strong blast, which found its way through the window, blew out two of the lamps at which the maidens had been working. Madam Pauline ordered them to run and shut it. Scarcely had this been done, when another blast, sweeping round the house, shook it almost to its foundation, setting all the windows and doors rattling and creaking. Even Stephen and Roger were at length awakened. The wind howled and whistled and shrieked among the surrounding trees, the thunder roared, the lightning flashed, the rain came down in torrents.
"Which way does the wind blow, think you?" asked Roger in an anxious tone.
"From the south-west, I fear," answered Stephen. "And if so, Captain Benbow will have reason to wish that he had got a good offing from the shore before it came on."
"Surely she's a stout craft, and will stand a worse gale than this," answered Roger.
"I do not know what you would call a worse gale than this," said Stephen. "It makes the house rock, and I should not be surprised to find many an old elm torn up by the roots."
"I wish that I had been on board to assist our brave friend and his crew," said Roger.
"You may have reason to be thankful that you are safe on shore," remarked Stephen. "Such a gale as this is sufficient to drive even a stouter ship than the Benbow frigate from her anchors; but we must wait patiently till the morning to ascertain the truth."
"Why should that be?" exclaimed Roger. "I am not afraid of the wind, and can find my way if it were twice as dark as it is.—Come along."
Stephen, however, who was not inclined to expose himself to the inclemency of the weather, proposed that they should wait till the morning.
"No, no," said Roger, rising and putting on his clothes; "if we are to be of any use we should go at once."
"Certainly, if such is the case," said Stephen, also rising. "But I am afraid that we can render no assistance to the stout frigate if she is in peril."
"Let us go and see about it, at all events," said Roger, who had finished dressing.
They put on their thick overcoats; fortunately Stephen had left his some days before at the manor-house. They had hitherto awakened no one, and had just reached the side-door when they saw a light coming along the passage.
"Who goes there?" asked a voice, which they recognised as that of Mr Willoughby. "Whither are you going, lads, on such a night as this?" he inquired.
"We are greatly afraid that some misadventure may have befallen the Benbow frigate, and are going to see, father. You will not say us no, I hope?"
Mr Willoughby hesitated, but Roger pressed the point, and finally obtained leave, his father assisting them to close the door, to do which required no small amount of exertion. So great was the darkness, in spite of Roger's knowledge of the road and the lantern he carried, the lads could not at times clearly see their way. The wind blew in their faces the branches waved to and fro, the tall trees bent, while ever and anon down came the rain in huge drops battering against them. Still they struggled on. Crossing the downs, they had still to make greater exertions, or further progress would have been impossible, but they were not to be daunted.
"We must take care that we do not go suddenly over the edge of the cliff," said Stephen, who was always cautious. "Even with the light of the lantern it is difficult to distinguish it."
"I shall see it clearly enough when we get there," said Roger. "But I propose that we first visit Ben Rullock's cottage, and get him and his boy to help us; he will know whereabouts the ship lies."
"But you do not think we can go off to the ship in his boat?" remarked Stephen.
"No; my fear is that the ship may be driven in close to the shore, and that her crew may be unable to escape from her," said Roger.
He, knowing the locality well, even in the darkness, managed to hit the path which led down to the old fisherman's cottage; he and his companion, however, had to walk cautiously, for it was narrow and winding, and a false step might have sent them over the cliff.
On reaching the door they knocked loudly.
"Ben Rullock, turn out! turn out! there is a ship in danger!" shouted Roger. But the dashing of the breakers on the shore, and the howling of the wind, produced so wild an uproar that his voice was not heard. Again and again he and Stephen shouted and knocked louder and louder.
"Who's there wanting me at this hour of the morning?" they at length heard a voice from within exclaim. Roger repeated what he had before said, and at length old Ben came to the door with a candle, which was immediately blown out.
"A ship in danger, young master!" he exclaimed. "I have not heard her guns firing, or other signal of distress, and my ears are pretty sharp, even when I am asleep."
"We are anxious about the Benbow frigate, as we are afraid that she may have been driven on shore."
"Her captain knows too well what he is about to allow her to do that," answered old Ben. "He had not been aboard yesterday evening two minutes before he got under weigh, and must have gained a good offing before the gale came on."
"I heartily hope that such may be the case," observed Stephen.
"I am afraid that if he got under weigh he will not be coming back," said Roger.
"We shall soon know," observed Ben. "Dawn is just breaking, and it will be daylight ere long.—Come in, young gentlemen, and in the meantime, for you are wet through, I will rouse up young Toby, and we will have a fire lighted to dry your wet duds."
The lads were glad enough to accept old Ben's invitation, for though they had strained their eyes to the utmost no sign could they discover of the Benbow frigate, but they fancied that the darkness, which is generally the greatest an hour before dawn, had concealed her from their sight. Toby, who turned out on being called, quickly lighted a fire with the driftwood, of which there was generally an abundant supply on the beach, and they sat before it for some time drying their wet clothes, its bright light preventing them from seeing how rapidly the dawn was advancing. At length Roger starting up exclaimed, "Why, it is nearly broad daylight: we shall be well able to see the ship where she lay at anchor."
"I doubt if you will see her there or anywhere else," said old Ben, as he accompanied Roger and Stephen, who eagerly ran out of the cottage.
Though the rain had ceased, the gale was blowing as hard as ever, while the spray which rose from the breakers dashing on the shore beneath their feet filled the air as they reached a point where, by shading their eyes with their hands, they could obtain a view over the whole bay. They eagerly looked out, but nowhere was the Benbow frigate to be seen. Ben's information was correct.
It was evident that Captain Benbow, on perceiving the approach of bad weather, had immediately got under weigh to gain a good offing. In vain the lads gazed along the whole line of the horizon extending from the Bill of Portland to the Start—not a sail was visible.
"Maybe she's run in for shelter on the other side of Portland, or, still more likely, has stood on through the Needle passage to bring up inside the Isle of Wight," observed Ben. "She will not be coming back here, you may depend on?"
As there was nothing more to be done, Roger, greatly disappointed, returned with Stephen to the manor-house. He was very glad to find that the ship had escaped, but he was afraid that it might be long before she would return, and his hopes of going to sea on board her would be realised.
The gale lasted scarcely the usual three days, when the weather became as fine as before, and Roger paid many a visit to the shore in the hopes of seeing the Benbow frigate coming once more to an anchorage. Though many ships passed by, they were bound up or down Channel, and none came near the land.
It was the first great disappointment Roger had ever had. Day after day went by, but still the Benbow frigate did not make her appearance. Sometimes he hoped that he should receive a letter from her captain, telling him to come to some port farther west; where he might go on board, but no letter was received. The thought occurred to him that the vessel had been wrecked or had gone down during that dreadful night, but old Ben assured him that she had got under weigh while the wind was sufficiently to westward to enable her to weather Portland Bill and its dreaded Race, and that she was well out at sea before the worst of it commenced.
"All a sailor wishes for is a stout ship and plenty of sea-room, you should know, Master Roger, and if he gets that he is content, as I have a notion Captain Benbow was on that night," observed the old man.
Roger often looked at his chest of clothes, and at length he did up those Stephen had brought him, and took them back to Langton Park, but his friend begged him to keep them.
"You may want them still, I hope, and you will not refuse to oblige an old friend by accepting them," he said.
Meantime Mr Handscombe accompanied Mr Willoughby to pay a visit to Squire Battiscombe at Langton Park; his object he did not explain.
"I have a notion that your worthy friend has some other object besides attending to his mercantile affairs in his visit to the west country," observed the Colonel to his brother-in-law, who came back to the manor-house without his companion.
"If you do not insist on knowing, it were as well that I should not tell you," answered Mr Willoughby. "All I can say is that he is much touched by the Duke of Monmouth, Lord Shaftesbury, and others, and that he is a true Protestant and right honest man. He is bound for Bristol, from which place he promises to write to me, though it may be some time before I shall hear from him."
The Colonel was satisfied with this explanation; it did not occur to him that any evil consequences would arise from his receiving so respectable a personage as Mr Handscombe at his house.
Roger was expecting another visit from Stephen, and perhaps Mistress Alice might have been looking forward with some pleasure to his coming, when a note was received from him saying that by his father's express desire he was about to accompany Mr Handscombe to Bristol; that before the note would reach Roger he should already have set out. He regretted not having had time to pay a farewell visit, and begged to send his kind regards to Madam Pauline and Mistress Alice, as also to the Colonel and Mr Willoughby. "Mr Handscombe," he continued, "undertakes to place me in a situation of trust, and my father thinks that it would be folly to decline so fine an opportunity of forwarding my interests in life. I promise you, Roger, that should I hear of any situation which you can fill with advantage, I will not fail to let you know, and I hope that your father and the Colonel will approve of your accepting it; you know that I mean what I say, and therefore do not look upon it as a mere make-believe promise."
This last paragraph somewhat consoled Roger for the regret he felt at the loss of his friend and companion.
"I am sure he will do his best," said Mistress Alice, who was always ready to praise Stephen; she, indeed, thought there were but few people like him in the world.
"Yes, he is honest and truthful, two excellent qualities in a young man," observed Madam Pauline.
"Yes, that he is, and I shall not find any one like him in this part of the country," said Roger.
Stephen often said the same thing of his friend.
Roger Willoughby had now plenty of time to attend to his studies; he continued working away steadily with his book of navigation, as well as with the few other works which he possessed, his uncle and father helping him to the best of their ability, but neither of them had had much time in their youth for study. He obtained rather more assistance from Master Holden, who was very willing to impart such knowledge as he possessed, albeit not of a description which Roger especially prized.
Almost sooner than he expected, Roger received a note from Stephen Battiscombe, saying that his good fortune had been greater than he expected. He had got a situation in one of the principal mercantile houses in Bristol with which Mr Handscombe was connected, and that a post for which he considered Roger very well suited being vacant, he had applied and obtained it for him.
"Lose no time in setting out," he wrote, "for after a few weeks' training we are to sail on board one of the ships belonging to the firm for the Levant."
Mr Willoughby and the Colonel were highly pleased with this. It seemed to open the way to Roger's advancement, while he would be able to gratify his taste for the sea without being bound to it, as he would have been had he sailed with Captain Benbow. The question arose how he was to get to Bristol. The distance was considerable, upwards of sixty miles in a straight line, and much more when the turnings of the roads were calculated, which roads were in many places in a very bad condition. Roger himself, who was eager to set out, proposed performing the journey on a small horse or cob, with such luggage as could be carried in his valise and saddle-bags, while the remainder was to be sent by the stage-wagon from Lyme.
"But, my dear boy, you might be attacked by highwaymen, and robbed and murdered on the road," said his father.
"I will try to beat off any highwaymen who may attack me, or gallop away from them," answered Roger. "Besides, I doubt whether any gentlemen of the road would think it worth while to attack a boy like me; they generally fly at higher game. I have been talking to Tobias Platt, and he says that old Tony, though he has not done much work of late, will carry me well, and that if I do not push him too hard, I may do the journey in three days, or four at the most."
Old Tony was a cob which Mr Willoughby had ridden several years, but was now allowed to spend most of his days in the meadows. As no better mode of conveyance could be suggested, it was arranged that Roger should set out in a couple of days with his valise and saddle-bags, with a brace of pistols and a sword for his protection, in the use of which he had been well instructed by the Colonel. Old Tony in the meantime was fed on oats to prepare him for the journey. Just as Roger was about to set out, the Colonel received an intimation that his neighbour, Mr Battiscombe, would proceed the following day in the same direction, and he accordingly rode over to Langton to ask whether he would allow Roger to travel in his company.
"With great pleasure," he replied, "although, as I have several places to visit I may be longer about the journey than he would were he to go alone."
This, however, was of little consequence compared to the advantage it would be to Roger to travel with a gentleman who would, of course, have several servants in attendance.
The morning arrived in which Roger Willoughby was to start from the home of his childhood to commence the active business of life. He was to sleep at Langton Park that he might start at daybreak the following morning with Mr Battiscombe.
The Colonel accompanied him part of the way.
"It is as well that you should make your appearance alone," he observed. "It will show that you can take care of yourself, for your father and I have given you plenty of good advice, and all I have now to counsel you is to remember and follow it at the proper time. I have always found you to be honest and upright. Continue to be so. Fear God, and do your duty to man, and you will grow up all your father and I wish to see you. Now, fare thee well," he added, pressing Roger's hand. "If this proposed expedition to sea be carried out, you will witness strange sights and things of which you little dream at present, and you will come back, I hope, well able to amuse us two old men in our solitude with an account of your adventures."
The Colonel turned his horse's head, and Roger rode forward on his nag to Langton Hall. The squire received him in the kindest way possible.
"As I cannot take one of my sons, I am glad of your company, Roger, though it may delay your arrival at Bristol for some days," he observed.
"I thought that the journey could be performed in three days," said Roger.
"So it can under ordinary circumstances," answered Mr Battiscombe, "but there may be interruptions, and we may have to tarry at the houses of friends; but I will talk to you more about that matter when we are on the road."
Roger was always treated as a friend by the family at Langton Hall, who thought of him more as the son of Mr Willoughby, who agreed with them in politics and religion, than as the nephew of the Cavalier Colonel Tregellen, with whom they differed on many points.
At an early hour the following morning the whole family were astir to see the travellers start. Mr Battiscombe took with him a couple of stout serving-men, well mounted on strong horses. Farewells were uttered, and they set out. Leaving Axminster and Chard to the west, they proceeded northward along green lanes, the hedges on either side rich with flowers of varied tints. For some distance they met with few persons, for the labourers were out in the fields, and no travellers were journeying along those by-roads. The first day's journey was but a short one, as Mr Battiscombe was unwilling to run the risk of knocking up his horses. As there was no inn on the road, they stopped at the house of a friend of his, holding the same religious and political opinions. As Roger took but little interest in the subjects they discussed over the decanters of beer which were placed on the table at supper, he was not sorry to be ordered off to bed.
"If we do not make more progress than we have done to-day, it will be a long time before we get to Bristol," he thought. "Had I been by myself, I could have made my nag go twice as far. However, we shall see how much we can accomplish to-morrow."
As on the previous day, they started at early dawn, that, as Mr Battiscombe said, "they might run no risk of having to travel by night." They stopped at noon at a farm-house, with the owner of which Mr Battiscombe was well acquainted. The family were sitting down to dinner, and the travellers were warmly invited to enter and partake of the abundant though somewhat rough fare placed on the board. At one end of the table sat the sturdy farmer with his buxom wife and his sons and daughters; at the other were the farm-servants, with wooden bowls and platters before them, their knives the only implements they possessed to help themselves to food.
"We are about to make holiday this afternoon Mr Battiscombe," said the farmer. "The great Duke of Monmouth, with a party of friends, has ridden down from London to pay us west country folks a visit, and is on his way to stop at White Lackington House, where Mr George Speke awaits to welcome him. The country people from all quarters are turning out to do him honour, and we wish to show the affection we all feel for the champion of the Protestant faith."
"I had some intimation of this a few days ago, and so timed my journey to Bristol that I might be able to pay my respects to our brave Duke," said Mr Battiscombe.
As soon as dinner was over the farmer and his sons mounted their horses, and the whole party rode forward at a more rapid rate than Mr Battiscombe and Roger had gone on the previous day. As they reached the high-road which was between Ilchester and Ilminster, they saw numbers of people, some on horseback, some on foot, hurrying up from all directions, both men and women, among them several parties of young maidens dressed in white, and carrying baskets of flowers, the men generally in their gayest costumes. Presently the cry arose, "The Duke is coming!" when the young women hurried on and strewed the road with herbs and flowers, and as the Duke appeared, incessant shouts arose, "God bless King Charles and the Protestant Duke!" No one could look on him without admiring his fine figure, his handsome features, and graceful manner, as he bowed with his plumed hat, now to one side, now to the other. It was truly an exciting scene. Banks lined with people in their gayest dresses, trees covered with boys who had climbed up to obtain a better view of the spectacle, banners with various devices waving everywhere, while the people bawled themselves hoarse with shouting their joyous welcomes. Mr Battiscombe was among those who rode forward to salute the Duke and then to fall into his train, which was rapidly increasing. At last two thousand appeared in one body from the direction of Ilminster, more and more continuing to pour in, till their numbers must have swelled to twenty thousand at least. Mr Battiscombe met several friends and acquaintances, with whom he held conversation, and all were unanimous in speaking of the affability and condescension of the Duke. Thus for several miles they rode on, their numbers increasing, till they reached the confines of White Lackington Park. Mr Speke, the owner, who had been prepared for the Duke's coming, rode out with a body of retainers to welcome his Grace; and that there might be no impediment to the entrance of the multitude who had arrived, he forthwith ordered several perches of the park paling to be taken down. In front of the house stood a group of Spanish chestnut-trees, famed for their size and beauty; beneath them were placed tables abundantly spread with all varieties of refreshment, of which the Duke with his immediate attendants were invited to partake.
Mr Speke no sooner observed Mr Battiscombe than, beckoning to him, he introduced him to the Duke, with whom he had much conversation, while Roger was left by himself to watch the proceedings. The horsemen rode round and round that they might obtain a good view of the Duke, while those on foot pressed forward for the same purpose, and it was not without difficulty that they were prevented from approaching too near. No person, indeed, under royal rank had ever been received with the respect and honours now bestowed on the Duke. So well accustomed, however, was he to be thus treated, that he took everything as a matter of course; at the same time he expressed his gratitude to his noble entertainers for the honour they were doing him. He was leaning back talking to Mr Battiscombe, his hand hanging carelessly over the side of the chair, when from among the crowd a woman rushed forward, and eagerly seizing it, placed it on her head and face. The Duke, apparently much astonished, started up.
"Why did you do that, good woman?" he asked.
"That I might be cured of the king's evil, for which I have in vain applied all the remedies the surgeons can prescribe," she answered. "I have also travelled a score of miles that I might be touched by the seventh son of a seventh son, though all with no effect; but now I am assured that I shall recover."
"I pray that you may, good woman," said the Duke, "though I know not how far the power of curing resides in me. What is your name?"
"Here," said the Duke, producing a coin from his pocket, "this may help to console you should my touch fail to produce the desired effect." The woman on this immediately retired, telling all those present that she felt sure she should ere long recover.
The Duke slept that night at White Lackington House, to which Mr Speke invited Mr Battiscombe and Roger, who had thus a further opportunity of seeing the Duke. The next day the Duke set forth to visit Sir John Sydenham at Brampton House, where he was entertained with a splendid dinner. In the evening he went on to Barrington Court, the seat of Sir William Strode, who had prepared another sumptuous entertainment to do him honour. After dinner, attended by a multitude of people, he rode to Chard, at which town he was met and welcomed by a crowd of men, women, and children, all shouting their welcomes till their voices were hoarse. At night he slept at Ford Abbey, where he was treated to a very splendid supper by the owner, Mr Edmund Prideaux.
Mr Battiscombe would willingly have accompanied His Grace during the rest of his progress, but he was compelled to proceed on his journey. He, however, received due notice of the movements of the Duke, who visited many other gentlemen of rank and influence throughout Somersetshire and other parts in the west. He received, too, notice of the perfect cure of Elizabeth Parcet, the document being signed by Henry Clark, minister of Crewkerne, two captains, a clergyman, and four others, which was forwarded to him before he reached Bristol.
"This is wonderful!" he exclaimed as he showed it to Roger. "It proves one of two things, either that the Duke of Monmouth is the lawful son of Charles the Second, or that imagination must have had a powerful influence on the poor woman, for it is here stated that in two days she was perfectly well."
"Is it not possible that there may not be a third solution to the mystery?" asked Roger, who was clear-sighted and somewhat matter-of-fact. "There being a good many people who desire to have it supposed that the Duke is the rightful heir to the throne of England, it is possible that the paper was a bold forgery, drawn up for the purpose of influencing the populace. Either the woman may have been hired to play her part, and was not really a martyr to the king's evil, or she may not be cured. It might be worth while to inquire whether Mr Clark, the minister of Crewkerne, ever put his signature to the paper, or if such a person exists; such, I suspect, would be the opinion my uncle would have formed on the subject."
"Thou art a thorough infidel, Roger!" exclaimed Mr Battiscombe in a half angry tone, though he confessed there was some probability in what Roger said.
Be that as it may, the document produced the effect intended on the minds of many of the ignorant, not only in the West of England but in London, where it was circulated, and the Duke and his supporters were not persons generally inclined to contradict what was calculated to forward their objects.
Instead of three or four days, more than a week had passed before Mr Battiscombe and Roger reached Bristol, where Stephen welcomed them at the lodgings he occupied, close to the mansion of the wealthy firm in whose service he was employed. Mr Handscombe was still there, though about to return to London. He was highly pleased at hearing of the reception the Duke had met with.
"He has been sowing the seeds which will, I hope, produce ample fruit in good time," he observed. "While his present Majesty lives, though at heart more Papist than Protestant, it may be well for him to remain quiet; but should James Duke of York come to the throne, it will be time for all who love our Protestant principles to rally round the standard of Monmouth."
Mr Battiscombe having soon transacted the business which had brought him to Bristol, took his departure to return south with Mr Handscombe.
Roger set to work with the zeal which was one of his characteristics to master the details of the work he had undertaken, and soon won the approval and confidence of his employers.
Bristol, though covering a much less extent of ground than at the present time, was then looked upon as a large city, but its beautiful churches were surrounded by a labyrinth of narrow lanes, through which a coach or cart could with difficulty pass along; goods were therefore conveyed about the town almost exclusively in trucks drawn by dogs. As even the chief merchants could not use carriages when they went abroad, they walked on foot, attended by servants in rich liveries. They were renowned also for their luxurious entertainments, when their guests were supplied with a beverage composed of the richest Spanish wines, known as "Bristol milk." The merchants traded chiefly to the West Indies and the American plantations, as also to the coast of Africa and the Levant. It was in one of these princely firms that Stephen Battiscombe and Roger Willoughby were so fortunate as to find employment, and, thanks to the strong recommendation of Mr Handscombe, they were both placed in posts of trust.
Several months had passed away, during which Stephen Battiscombe and Roger Willoughby had performed their duties in the counting-house at Bristol much to the satisfaction of their employers. Roger had not abandoned his wish of going to sea, though he was too wise to give up his present situation till a good opportunity should offer. He had, while passing along the quay, observed a house with a large wooden quadrant over the door, and on inquiry he found that a certain master-mariner, Captain Trickett, who gave lessons in astronomy and navigation, resided there. He made bold to enter, and explaining his wish to master the subjects the captain taught, soon entered into an arrangement to attend three evenings a week.
"I promise you, lad, before the winter is over, to turn you out as good a navigator as Sir Francis Drake, Master John Hawkins, or any other sea-captain you may be pleased to name," said the old captain. "Give your mind to it, that is the first requisite; it is of little use for an instructor to put information in one ear which pops out at the other as soon as it is received."
Captain Trickett was an enthusiast in his art, had been pilot in his youth to several expeditions which had gone forth from England to explore foreign regions, and had many strange accounts to give of the buccaneers and logwood cutters in the Caribbean Sea, where he himself had spent some time. Roger made considerable progress in his studies, and at length persuaded Stephen Battiscombe to accompany him.
"It would not be lost time if you also were to take some lessons and were to try to master the subject; it is very interesting, and perchance some day, if you have to sail on business to foreign lands, you may find the knowledge you acquire of use," said Roger. "Captain Trickett tells me that he has known instances where the officers of a ship have died, and no one on board remained capable of taking her into port."
Thus instigated, Stephen, who had a very good head for mathematics, readily attended the instruction of Captain Trickett, and following the Captain's advice by giving his mind to the subject, soon acquired as much knowledge as Roger himself. On holidays, when the sun was up in the sky, the Captain delighted to accompany his pupils to some open space, where, with the aid of a false horizon, he could teach them practically how to take an observation or to "shoot the sun," as he called it. The mode in which the two lads were employing themselves came to the ears of the principals of the firm, who much approved of their diligence and industry.
"Would that we had others like you!" said Mr Kempson. "Our difficulty is to find men who combine knowledge of business with that of seamanship and navigation. After a few voyages, if Captain Trickett does not speak of you in too laudatory terms, you will be able to take charge of a ship to sail either to the West Indies or to the North American plantations, or to the coast of Africa, or to the Levant. We will take care, in the meantime, that you have opportunities of exercising your skill."
Roger and Stephen thanked the worthy merchant for the approval he had bestowed on them, and promised to continue as diligent as heretofore.
Roger often went down to the river to inquire what vessels had arrived, in the hopes of meeting with Captain Benbow, who he felt sure would receive him on board his ship, but the Benbow frigate did not make her appearance. He heard, however, that she had been met with bound for the Thames, so that he had the satisfaction of knowing that she had escaped the gale which caught her off the Dorsetshire coast. He was told, indeed, that she always traded between London and foreign ports, and that there was very little probability of her putting into Bristol, unless she should obtain a cargo from any merchants connected with that port, which was not likely, as they always reserved their freights for Bristol vessels.
"I must hope for some other chance of meeting him," said Roger to Stephen as they were walking home. "I do not think he can have forgotten me, and he appeared to be a man who, having made a promise, would certainly keep to it, so that if I could fall in with his ship I should not hesitate to go on board and ask him to take me."
"You are very well off where you are," remarked Stephen, "and I would advise you to stick to the desk till you have gained a thorough knowledge of mercantile affairs. You may then have an opportunity of turning them to good account, whereas at present you scarcely know enough to be of much use to you."