The Ferryman of Brill, and other stories, by William H G Kingston.
Chapters 1 to 4 constitute "The Ferryman of Brill", while the other seven chapters are short stories on their own. All these stories had previously appeared in early volumes of "The Quiver". They were collected and published by Cassell's, who were not Kingston's usual publishers, and the book came out in the year of Kingston's death.
THE FERRYMAN OF BRILL, AND OTHER STORIES, BY WILLIAM H G KINGSTON.
THE PROTESTANT LOVERS—A RIVAL—DIEDRICH FINDS HIS FOOTSTEPS DOGGED— FINDS A FRIEND IN THE FERRYMAN—THREATENED WITH THE INQUISITION—FLIES TO SEA.
Not far from the broad and slow-flowing river Meuse stands the town of Brill. Flanders, in which it is found, formed at the period to which we refer a province of the dominions belonging to Philip of Spain. It was ruled with no very paternal hand by the Duke of Alva, who resided chiefly at Brussels. He had been employed for several years in burning, hanging, drowning, and cutting off the heads of his loving subjects, and torturing them in a variety of ways, in order to make them dutiful children of the Church of Rome, and of his master, Philip. Not with great success, for they still hated, with an unalterable deadly hatred, both one and the other. Brill at that time was not a populous city, nor did it possess much commercial importance; but it was well walled and fortified, however, and had a most commodious port. The inhabitants were peaceable, well-disposed people, who thought as much of themselves as the citizens of other cities of similar importance are apt to do. Among them was a young merchant—Diedrich Meghem. He had made several voyages of adventure, and was well accustomed to a seafaring life. Now prosperous, and hoping to become wealthy, he was about to settle down as a steady citizen on shore, with the expectation of some day, perhaps, becoming burgomaster of his native city. Diedrich, as young men are apt to do, looked about for a wife to share his good fortune, and had fixed his affections on Gretchen Hopper, a fair and very lovely girl, the daughter of a flourishing merchant. Hopper was supposed to be the possessor of considerable wealth—a dangerous distinction in those days. Duke Alva heard of the merchant Hopper's reputed wealth, and had made a note to take an early opportunity of relieving him of a portion if not the whole of it. Hopper was known to hold the reformed principles, and though he was careful not to intrude his opinions in public, the duke's advisers suggested that there would be no difficulty in bringing up an accusation of heresy against him. Diedrich was an ardent Protestant. His eye had long been fixed on William of Orange as the person best able to lift his country out of the present depressed condition in which she groaned.
Gretchen was a quiet, gentle girl, and she also held to the opinions of her father and her lover, in spite of her gentleness, with a determination in no way inferior to theirs. Gretchen soon found out that the honest, generous-hearted Diedrich loved her, and not long after this discovery she acknowledged to him that he possessed her entire heart. She had, however, other admirers, from whom she might have chosen a husband of a nobler family and of greater wealth than Diedrich. Among other pretenders to her hand was Caspar Gaill, a Fleming of good family, who, however, held to the Romish faith and supported the government of Alva. The merchant Hopper had a great regard for Diedrich, and was well pleased to find that he wished to become his daughter's husband. He at once accepted him as a son-in-law, and gave the young couple his blessing.
"The times are not propitious for marriage, however," he observed. "Matters may mend; they can scarcely grow worse. Gretchen is young, and can wait a little. You must have patience, then, my good friend Diedrich."
Gretchen and her lover passed many pleasant evenings together, though it was considered prudent not to make their intended marriage public. One, however, had watched Diedrich's constant visits to the house, and his heart burned with jealousy.
One evening Diedrich was returning to his home, when, looking over his shoulder on hearing footsteps, he discovered that he was followed. When he walked faster, the stranger proceeded also at the same rate; when he stopped, the stranger stopped; when he went at a slow pace, the stranger slackened his speed. At length, passing a shrine at the corner of a street, before which a bright lamp was kept burning, Diedrich turned sharply round, and found himself standing face to face with the person who had been following him.
"What object have you in dodging my steps?" asked Diedrich, placing his hand on his sword ready to draw.
"As you ask me a question, I will put another to you," said the stranger, also drawing his sword half out of the scabbard. "For what purpose do you visit the house where you have been passing the evening?"
"You put a question to which I positively refuse to reply to any one, and still less to you, Caspar Gaill, for I know you well," answered Diedrich, still further drawing out his sword.
"Then I refuse to answer the question you put to me," said Caspar. "We understand each other, and you may know me henceforth as your enemy."
"A matter of very little consequence," answered Diedrich, in a scornful tone.
The young men parted, but from that day forward Diedrich was aware that his footsteps were constantly followed when he went abroad, especially on the Sabbath, when he was accustomed to attend the meetings of the Protestants held in the city. Still he was too proud and too fearless to alter his mode of proceeding on this account. At night often he saw in the distance a dim figure following him, but which, when he turned round, invariably disappeared.
On one occasion he resolved to pursue the spy, and punish him severely if he could overtake him. Scarcely had he left his home when he observed a figure as usual like a distant shadow coming after him. He walked on for some way, as if indifferent to the circumstance, by gentle degrees slackening his pace, till, as he supposed, his pursuer had approached nearer than usual. He then suddenly turned round, and, darting forward, was close up to the man before the latter made any attempt to escape.
"Why, Diedrich Meghem, you seem to be in a desperate hurry this evening," said a voice he thought he recollected.
"What, Peter Kopplestock, are you my secret pursuer?" he asked, in a tone of surprise.
"It may be so, but I may be your guardian angel," answered the person thus addressed, in a low voice. "I have been wishing to see you without witnesses for some days past, and now the matter brooks of no delay."
"Come to my house, then," said Diedrich; "we can speak there without fear of interruption."
"That's the very place it will not be wise for me to go to," said Peter; "if I go there I shall be observed. Do you come to my house. You will find a porch a little to the right of it. Slip in there and remain quiet for a few minutes. Should you be followed at the time, your pursuer will pass by and lose sight of you. Come in an hour hence. It will be dangerous to put off the visit till to-morrow."
Diedrich followed the advice of his friend. He had known Peter Kopplestock from his earliest days. Peter was of no very exalted rank, but he had numerous friends who, not without reason, put confidence in him. His chief occupation was that of a ferryman plying across the river Meuse. He also visited the ships which appeared at the mouth of the river when unable for want of wind to come up to the town, and took provisions off to them, and brought messages on shore. Peter Kopplestock took an especial interest in Diedrich; Diedrich had always been his generous employer, and was now going to marry his niece.
The wealthy merchant Hopper had once been a humble clerk, and he then had married the very beautiful sister of Peter the ferryman. She had died, and her young daughter had been educated as well as any young lady in the land. Diedrich was well aware of the relationship, and it increased the confidence he felt in Peter, who was also of his own way of thinking—indeed, a more thorough Protestant could not have been found.
Diedrich found his way, at the hour appointed, to Peter Kopplestock's cottage down by the river-side. He saw, when leaving his own house, the usual figure following him, but he hoped, by hiding himself as Peter had advised him to do, to escape from his pursuer. The cottage door was ajar. He pushed it open and entered. Peter welcomed him cordially.
"I have sad news for you, my friend," said the ferryman. "You have been denounced to the Inquisition as a heretic, and your enemies have resolved to take your life. Among them you may reckon Caspar Gaill. He thinks that by getting rid of you he may win the hand of my fair niece."
"How do you know that?" asked Diedrich.
"He told me so himself," said the ferryman. "He is not aware of our connection, and he takes me to be a Romanist. He confides to me his love for Gretchen, if such a fellow has a heart to love, and, in case she should continue to refuse his hand, he engaged me to assist him in carrying her off. A pretty proceeding that would be. However, I did not decline his offer, but told him that I was very sure he was premature in executing his plan; that he must wait patiently, and that by-and-by, should the young lady continue obdurate, he might put it into execution."
"But what do you advise me to do?" asked Diedrich. "I cannot leave Gretchen—I cannot leave my business to ruin and destruction; I would rather remain and brave the worst."
"Tell me, have any of those who have been denounced to the Inquisition escaped from their fangs?" said Peter. "I trow not; then how do you hope to escape death if you remain? Take my advice, my friend; fly while you can, before your wings are clipped. It is a hard thing, I know, for you to leave the girl you love, and it's cruel to neglect a flourishing business which is affording you a handsome income. But you need not lead a life of indolence. You wear a sword, and you have an arm to wield it. You would be welcomed by those bold rovers of the sea, the 'water beggars.' If you offer your assistance to William de la Marck, he will gladly accept it. It would be a glorious thing to assist in liberating your country, and the only aid we can hope for is from the ocean. On shore we cannot withstand the cruel Spaniards, but at sea we may compete with them successfully."
Diedrich sat silent for some time.
"You cast down my hopes just now, but you have again raised them," he exclaimed. "I will go and consult Gretchen. If she urges me to go, I will follow your advice; I am sure that she will remain true to me till I return."
"I wish that I could persuade you to go off at once," said Peter; "your enemies are vigilant, and determined on your destruction, and any moment you may find yourself in their power."
Diedrich promised to be cautious, and to keep as much as possible within the house during the next day, while he would make all the preparation in his power for his speedy departure, should Gretchen approve of his intention.
Peter told him that there was a vessel down the river on the point of sailing. He was acquainted with the captain, who was a warm partisan of the Prince of Orange, and would do his utmost to protect him should he go on board.
Diedrich Meghem was a brave man, but the Inquisition, he knew too well, was not an institution to be trifled with. Poor Gretchen was overwhelmed with grief when she heard of the dangerous position in which Diedrich was placed. She urged him to fly without delay, promising again and again to be faithful to him, and to welcome him as a husband whenever he should return. The merchant Hopper also advised him to leave the country. Diedrich Meghem had made all the arrangements possible with his head clerk and manager, and was still writing busily at his own house, having packed up such articles as he desired to take with him, when Peter Kopplestock hurried into his room.
"It's time for you to be off at once, my friend," he exclaimed; "this very night the Inquisitors' officers will visit your house, and if they find you, will carry you off to an imprisonment from which, with life, you will never escape. Here, I have brought this large Spanish cloak; throw it over your shoulders and follow me. Your portmanteau and bags I will take care of."
It was already too dark to distinguish people in the streets. Peter led the way down to the river, Diedrich following him. They were quickly on board the ferryboat, but Peter, instead of pulling over to the other bank of the river, rowed down the stream as fast as his arms could urge on the boat. Diedrich stepped on board the vessel, where he was welcomed cordially by the skipper. Peter threw his portmanteau and bag over the bulwarks, and giving him his blessing, pulled back to the town.
AN UNWELCOME SUITOR—GRETCHEN REFUSES TO ACCEPT CASPAR GAILL—CASPAR PLOTS WITH FATHER QUIXADA TO BETRAY THE PROTESTANTS—THE MONK'S TREACHERY.
Gretchen was seated in the parlour of her father's house, busily employed in tapestry work—the constant occupation of young ladies in those days, as at present. The merchant Hopper came in; care and thought sat on his brow. His daughter affectionately inquired the cause of his anxiety.
"I cannot tell you, my child," he answered. "It is enough to know that so many of my friends, in various parts of our unhappy land, have been put to death by fire, and sword, and drowning, through the mandates of the tyrant Alva, and who knows what may be our fate in this city? Hitherto we have escaped, but the priests are busy, and are even now trying to ferret out the Protestants. I am thankful that our friend Diedrich escaped; he would certainly otherwise have been seized."
"Oh, Father! I wish you would try and escape too," said Gretchen; "I will accompany you. We can go to England, that land of liberty. If you cannot take any of your wealth with you, I will labour for you there. Surely we shall find friends there, and need not have any fear of starving."
Their conversation was interrupted by a knock at the door, and Caspar Gaill was announced. Both the merchant and his daughter received him coldly. He came dressed in gay attire, and seemed to consider himself in the light of a favoured suitor. Now he spoke to Gretchen, now he turned to her father. Again he turned to the young lady, and urged her to promise to be his.
"You know not the danger to which you are exposed," he observed. "As the wife of a well-known Catholic you will be safe, and I may be able to protect your father. At present he is in great peril. I do not hesitate to tell him so."
The merchant, thanking Caspar for his offer, assured him that he would not bias his daughter.
"My being in peril must not compel her to give her hand where she cannot also bestow her heart. You will not take amiss what I have said, as it arises from no personal ill-feeling towards you."
In vain Caspar pleaded his cause, and at length, with a frown on his brow, and an angry glance in his eye, although honeyed words were on his lips, he took his departure.
Caspar Gaill left the house of the merchant Hopper in no enviable mood. He took his way through the street till he reached the door of a certain religious house or monastery, as it was called, and inquired for a Father Quixada. He was shown into a cell inhabited by a Spanish monk who acted as his father confessor.
"How fares your suit with the pretty Gretchen, my son?" asked the father, who at the same time, however, had observed Caspar's angry look.
The young man shook his head, and replied briefly that he had been refused.
"No hope?" asked the father.
"None," answered Caspar.
"You would have a better chance if the merchant was out of the way," observed the priest.
"Very likely, but he is cautious. It may be no easy matter to get rid of him," answered Caspar.
"Follow my advice, my son, and it can be managed. You have strong suspicions that he is a Protestant. Pretend that you have given up his daughter, but that you desire to be instructed in the new faith. In a short time he will trust you, and if he attends any place of meeting where the Protestants meet, you can introduce me among them. I can disguise myself so that they shall not know me, and I may then not only mark him, but all others who may be present, and inform against them as may be most convenient."
CASPAR PROFESSES THE PROTESTANT FAITH—ATTENDS A MEETING—EFFECT OF THE GOSPEL ON CASPAR—CASPAR, HOWEVER, KEEPS HIS ENGAGEMENT WITH FATHER QUIXADA—DOUBTS AND FEARS—THE MONK ATTENDS THE NEXT MEETING, AND NOTES ALL PRESENT—CASPAR'S REMORSE—THE SPY AGAIN IN THE LITTLE COMPANY— CASPAR WARNS THE INTENDED VICTIMS—TOO LATE—FATHER AND DAUGHTER IN THE HANDS OF THE INQUISITION—CONDEMNED—CASPAR DESPAIRS OF THE RESULT OF HIS WORK—CONSULTS THE FERRYMAN—BUT NEW PLANS FAIL.
Caspar did not at first like this plan. It was treacherous and deceitful, and he must act the part of a spy and a hypocrite to carry it out; but as it was proposed to him by his father confessor, he came to the conclusion that he ought not to hesitate about it.
The merchant Hopper was surprised a few days after this to receive a visit from Caspar Gaill. The young man told him that he had abandoned all hopes of winning his daughter's hand; indeed, he thought of quitting the country. He confessed that he had of late taken every opportunity of examining the new doctrines, and that he was acquainted enough with them to make him desire to go to England, where he might study them more freely, and with greater safety. "I know not what your opinions may be, Mr Hopper, but I am very sure that you will not mention mine to any one else."
The merchant was generally cautious, but the young man's apparent frankness threw him greatly off his guard. Caspar, urged on by Father Quixada, persevered, and at length fully persuaded the merchant Hopper that he was a convert to the Protestant faith. A private meeting of Protestants was to take place, and Caspar entreated that he might be allowed to be present. The merchant no longer hesitated. At the meeting prayers were offered up, hymns sung, and the simple Gospel plainly put before those present. The young man listened attentively in spite of himself. He there learned that all men are sinners and justly condemned; that "God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son" to suffer instead of sinful man, and to save him from the result of that determination. He heard that "the just shall live by faith," not by any works, not by any good deeds that they can do, not by any forms and ceremonies to which they may adhere, but simply trusting to the blood shed for them on Calvary, to the perfect and complete sacrifice offered up by Christ for them. He there learned that Jesus Christ had become sinful man's sin-bearer; that He had fulfilled the obedience which man had neglected to fulfil; that He came to save sinners, to lift the weary and heart-broken, the wretched and the penitent, out of their miserable state; that man is saved simply by turning away from his sins, from his idolatries, from the thoughtless course he may have hitherto followed, and looking trustfully, believingly, on Jesus crucified for him. The young man went away from the meeting with new thoughts, but with an unchanged heart. He had promised to go immediately to Father Quixada, and he fulfilled his promise, though not without doubt and hesitation.
"You have done well," said the father. "Let me once get among these people, and I will put a stop to their preaching, while you may make sure of winning pretty Gretchen for your wife, and perchance come in for a share of the merchant's property, which I may secure for you."
There was to be another meeting the following night. Caspar passed the interval in a state of doubt and agitation. He had promised to introduce the father, who, disguised as a German merchant just arrived from the South, was eager to be present. Often the young man thought he would try and persuade the father not to go, then that he would positively refuse to introduce him. He had, however, already given him so much information that he would have had no difficulty in finding his way to the place of meeting by himself. Still, Caspar might acknowledge his own treacherous intentions and warn the Protestants of the spy who was about to be in their midst. The cunning priest soon discovered his perplexity, and used every argument to induce him to be satisfied that he was doing the right thing. Caspar was over-persuaded, but not convinced. The evening came, the meeting took place, and the German merchant was received as a Christian brother by those present. He noted them all, old men, young men, and women of various ranks.
Father Quixada heard the same truths which had been listened to by Caspar Gaill, but they fell on ground of a different character. He went away utterly regardless of them. He had now, not only the merchant Hopper, but several other influential and wealthy citizens in his power. He wished, however, to get more into his net, and hearing that in a day or two another meeting would take place, at which several other persons would attend, he laid his plans accordingly. "I shall have a good haul by that time," he thought to himself.
Caspar Gaill had in the meantime been seized with remorse. He had betrayed the man who had trusted him, the father of one whom he wished to make his bride; still he dared not warn them. The friar, he well knew, had his eye upon him. He knew too completely the secrets of his heart, and he felt sure that should he attempt to defeat Father Quixada's projects, he himself would be the first victim of his vengeance.
At the intended meeting, not only the merchant Hopper, but his fair daughter Gretchen was present. Caspar Gaill came also, but how different were his thoughts to those he had entertained when first he entered that hall!
He kept looking anxiously round, hoping that the German merchant might not appear. His heart sank, however, when, just before the sermon began, the seeming merchant appeared, and was, to human eye, the most devout of all the congregation. No one joined more heartily in the hymns of Marot; no one seemed to hang more earnestly on the words of the speaker. Again were the glorious truths of the Gospel put forth in simple language. Though the merchant's eyes were fixed on the speaker, and his countenance beamed with intelligence, his thoughts were far away, occupied in a plan for capturing the whole of those who were engaged in worship round him. His quick eye, too, was noting all who were present. He marked the fair Gretchen, and knew her at once from being with her father.
"Caspar has not chosen ill, so far as eye is concerned," he said to himself. "No wonder he raves about the little maiden. He need no longer have any fears about winning her; she may not love him, but surely she will rather become his bride than be sent to the stake. Few girls would prefer burning, or drowning, or hanging, to a young and gallant husband. Caspar is well-favoured, she will not refuse him; we will give her the choice."
The meeting was brought to a conclusion. Father Quixada left the hall with the rest, and after making several turns and twists so as to escape observation, he took his way to the house where a newly-arrived bishop lodged, sent from Brussels to look into the religious condition of Brill. The bishop and Father Quixada were of kindred spirit. The former held an important office in the Holy Inquisition, and felt no compunction, but on the contrary, considerable satisfaction, at sending a dozen of his fellow-creatures to suffer death by drowning, or burning, because they might differ from him on a few theological points. Father Quixada explained the plan he had adopted, and received the warm approval of his superior.
It was late at night. The fair Gretchen was about to retire to her room. The merchant had been engaged at his books and accounts. He had been collecting such property as he could put into a portable form, and had made up his mind to leave Brill forthwith for England. He had communicated his intentions to Peter Kopplestock, who highly approved of them, and had engaged to put him on board a vessel the following morning by daybreak. There was a knock at the door. The merchant himself, attended by Barbara the housekeeper, went with a light to open it. A figure wrapped in a cloak was standing there.
"Admit me for a moment," said the stranger. "I come to warn you of danger."
He entered, and the light held by Barbara fell on the features of Caspar Gaill.
"I come to entreat you to fly immediately. Even now I may be too late. The officers of the Inquisition are already proceeding through the city, to capture certain suspected persons. You are among them. I dare not wait another moment; no mercy would be shown me if I was discovered."
The unhappy young man spoke in a low, trembling voice. Tears were in his eyes; he was pale as death.
Again he hastened forth. He had not dared to confess the whole truth. The merchant closed the door, and proceeded with yet greater speed with his preparations. He sent Barbara to Gretchen's room to tell her to prepare for flight. During the housekeeper's absence there was another knock at the door. It was repeated with far greater violence when those without found that it was not opened. After the warning he had received, the merchant guessed too well who were his visitors. He hastily concealed the property he was about to carry off, and the other articles he had prepared for his departure. He then sent Barbara to the door, who, with unwilling hands, began slowly to withdraw the bolts.
"What is the matter?" she asked; "what are you in such a hurry for? Why do you thus disturb quiet citizens from their early rest?"
So nervous was she, however, that she could scarcely continue her interrogations. At length the last bolt was withdrawn, and a party in dark cloaks and masks were seen at the door.
"Where are your master and his daughter?" asked one of them; "they must accompany us forthwith."
"My master and his daughter!" asked Barbara, "what can you want with them at this hour of the night?"
"They must come to the Holy Office, to answer certain questions," answered the speaker. "Lead the way."
"But if the door is opened the light will be blown out, and you will be unable to follow me."
Her great aim was to delay as long as possible, in the hope that by some means her master and Gretchen might make their escape by the back of the house. She was greatly in hope that the light would blow out, that she might thus have an excuse for a longer delay.
"Come—come! no fooling, mistress!" exclaimed the officer. "Lead on, or we must find the way by ourselves."
On this, Barbara proceeded up the broad steps to the floor above. Two or three men, however, kept watch below. In vain were all her precautions. In the usual sitting room, quietly seated at a table, were Gretchen and her father. They rose as the officers of the Inquisition entered, and the merchant asked them what they wanted. The officer repeated what he had said to Barbara.
"We must obey," said the merchant; "we have no power to resist."
Instantly the father and daughter were surrounded, and carried off separately. Poor Barbara wrung her hands in terror as she saw them depart. They were carried along to the prison in which those accused by the Inquisition were confined. Brill had for some time been free from such visitations, but the presence of Alva at Brussels had stirred up the authorities, and victims were sought for throughout every town in Flanders.
They were not allowed to languish long in prison before their trial took place. It was very short, for they did not deny the accusations brought against them. They refused to acknowledge that the elements of bread and wine were really the body and blood of Christ.
"Christ is in heaven," answered the merchant Hopper, "at the right hand of God; He cannot be on earth at the same time. I don't believe that sinful man, by a few words, would have the power of changing bread and wine into flesh and blood. If there was a change, our sense would give us evidence of that change. The bread remains bread, and the wine, wine. But more than this, I see no authority in Scripture for this belief. Christ told us to take bread and wine in remembrance of the last supper He took with His disciples on earth, or rather, of the great sacrifice which He was about to offer up, the last, the only one which God would ever accept, all previous ones being types of this; promising us the same support to our spiritual nature that the bread and wine gives to our physical nature. He often speaks of Himself as a door, as a rock, as a corner-stone of a building. In the same way He speaks of His flesh and blood. He intends us to understand that we are spiritually to feed on Him, that is to say, to trust on His sacrifice, His blood shed for us."
"This is heresy! You need say no more," said the judge. "And your daughter there, what does she say to these things?"
"I agree with my father," answered Gretchen, firmly. "I believe that the just shall live by faith; that neither our works nor our obedience to the Church of Rome will help in any way to save us. Christ has accomplished that great and glorious work, and only requires us to take hold of it by faith."
"Enough—enough!" exclaimed the Inquisitor, stamping; "you have condemned yourself by your own words. We need no other witnesses, though we can prove that you and others were present at heretical meetings. That circumstance alone was sufficient to condemn you to death. We may afford you a few days for consideration and repentance. If you will recant your errors, you may receive a more merciful sentence, but if not, you, Andrew Hopper, are condemned to be burned alive; and you, Gretchen Hopper, to be drowned in a tank at the place of execution."
Several other persons were brought up before the Inquisitors, the greater number of whom were condemned to death. Andrew Hopper's property was confiscated to the use of the state, or in other words, to assist Duke Alva in riveting yet more firmly his yoke upon the necks of their countrymen. Both Andrew Hopper and Gretchen Hopper bore their fate with firmness and resignation. The chief regret of his daughter was that she was separated from her father. She longed to be with him that she might comfort and support him. Her thoughts, too, occasionally went back to her lover Diedrich. Where was he all the time? Alas! she would never see him again in this world, but she prayed that he might remain firm to the truth, and meet her in a more glorious state of existence.
When Caspar Gaill found what had taken place, he was in despair. He felt inclined to throw himself into the Meuse, and there end his life. He accused himself, very justly, of having caused the destruction of one he professed to love.
Might he yet do anything to save Gretchen? She might, perhaps, be got off, though it was not likely that her father would be allowed to escape. At first he thought of trying to get Father Quixada to plead for Gretchen, but he shuddered when he remembered the character of the man, and felt that even should the priest get her off, her condition would possibly not be improved. At last he bethought himself of consulting Peter Kopplestock. He had already told him of his love for Gretchen, he might possibly induce the ferryman to assist in her escape—no easy task, however, and one full of perils. Peter had not before heard of the seizure of the merchant Hopper and his daughter. He was naturally indignant in the extreme against all concerned.
"We must be cautious, however," he said at length, recovering his calmness. "I tell you, however, Caspar Gaill, I believe you have had something to do with it. You may be sorry now when it is too late. However, you must now exert yourself. Your father and the Bishop of Mons are old friends. You must endeavour to get the execution of these people deferred for a few days. That will give me more time to devise a scheme for their escape. A little bribery will probably have considerable effect. You have plenty of wealth, expend it liberally in this cause; you may thus somewhat repair the harm you have done."
Caspar promised to follow the advice of Peter, declaring that he would spend every guilder he possessed to aid his object. Day after day passed by, the accused refused to recant, and the Inquisitor declared that he could not "longer delay affording the true Catholics in the place the pleasure of seeing their Protestant fellow-citizens committed to the flames."
Caspar bribed liberally as he promised, but though his money was taken there was no good result. At length the day arrived when the executions were to take place. A stage was erected with a gibbet on it and huge casks of water. Below, on the solid ground, stakes with chains were driven into the ground; while near the gibbet was a post with a chain in which those who were to be mercifully strangled before being thrown into the flames were to be placed. It was a fearful-looking spectacle— fearful from its very simplicity. There was no parade nor decoration, nothing to conceal the naked horror of the work.
THE BEGGARS OF THE SEA—PETER CHERISHES NEW HOPES—PETER IS SENT AS AN ENVOY FROM THE ROVERS—THE EXECUTIONS ARE SUSPENDED, AND CASPAR SENT TO TREAT WITH THE BEGGARS—CASPAR RESIGNS GRETCHEN TO DIEDRICH—THE BEGGARS OF THE SEA ATTACK BRILL—DIEDRICH VISITS THE INQUISITION—FATHER QUIXADA ATTEMPTS TO KEEP HIS PRISONERS, BUT IS DEFEATED—BRILL IS CAPTURED BY THE PROTESTANTS—AND BECOMES THE CRADLE OF THE DUTCH REPUBLIC.
Peter Kopplestock was in despair. He had in vain attempted to obtain an interview with his young niece, or to send her any message. The prisoners were so strictly watched that he was unable even to send her a message. Her death and that of her worthy father seemed sealed. Peter in despair returned to his post; it was time for him to be ready to ferry passengers across the river. He had taken one party across, and was returning once more to Brill, when down the river a fleet of several large vessels was seen standing up towards the town. Peter watched them with interest. That they were not merchant vessels, he was well aware. They were not Spanish ships either. He came to the conclusion, therefore, that they must be the Beggars of the Sea. Concealing his own feelings, he informed his passengers, who wished to know his opinions. They were the powerful fleet of those redoubted rovers, and there could be little doubt that they had come up to attack Brill. By the time he had fully worked upon the fears of his passengers, they arrived at the landing-place on the side of the city. Instantly the whole party rushed up towards the town, spreading the alarming information they had received. He told them also that for their sakes he would venture down the river, and try and ascertain more particulars. Some urged him not to run so great a risk. He laughingly answered that it mattered little, that they could but hang him if he was caught, and that many an honest man was every day suffering a worse fate than that, thanks to the Duke of Alva.
Peter rowed away down the river as hard as he could urge on his boat. As he approached the fleet he was more convinced than ever that he was right. The first vessel he hailed was commanded, he was told, by William de Blois, Seigneur of Treslong, a noble whose brother had been executed by the Duke of Alva, and who had himself fought by the side of Count Louis at Yemmingen, where he was desperately wounded.
Kopplestock was an old acquaintance of his, and was immediately recognised. Treslong welcomed him warmly; he was the very man he wished to meet. Peter, nothing loth, communicated at once the events going forward in the city, and urged an immediate attack. Here was a means, he hoped, of saving his friends.
"Depend upon it we are not anxious to delay, for the honest truth is, we have scarcely a piece of biscuit or a lump of cheese remaining on board any of the ships in the fleet. Our fellows are literally starving, and land we must, somewhere or other, and forage for food. However, come, my friend, we will go on board the admiral's ship, and hear what he says to the proposal of an immediate attack."
Treslong, getting into Peter's boat, proceeded forthwith to the ship of Admiral De la Marck. The first person Peter caught sight of on board was Diedrich Megheni. Even Peter thought he had never seen a wilder set of ruffians than the crew of the flag-ship, but they were all far surpassed by the admiral himself. His hair was long and shaggy, his beard hung down over his chest, joined by his whiskers, pendant from his cheeks, while his huge moustache projected out far on either side. He was in no ways loth to attack the place. "My jolly Beggars will soon make themselves masters of the town," he observed; "but as you wish it, Treslong, we will see what diplomacy will do first. Who will take a message to the magistrates of the city?"
"Our worthy friend Peter Kopplestock will do so," observed Treslong. "Here, take my ring; it will accredit you as our envoy. If the town will surrender, we promise to treat all the inhabitants with consideration and tenderness; if not, they must take the consequences."
Peter, receiving further directions, jumped into his boat, and hurried back towards the town.
The hour for the execution of the condemned heretics was approaching. If he could work upon the fears of the Inquisitor, they might yet be saved.
While Peter is rowing with all his might up towards Brill, the sudden appearance of the ships of the Sea-beggars must be accounted for. The fleet of De la Marck had been lying for some time in different ports in the south of England, sallying forth occasionally and making prizes of Spanish ships. It was the policy of Queen Elizabeth and her Government at this time to remain at peace; and the Duke of Alva's commissioners had been urging on her that the continued countenance afforded by the English to the Beggars of the Sea must inevitably lead to a war with Spain. Towards the end of March, therefore, De la Marck received a peremptory order from Elizabeth to quit the shores of England, while her subjects were forbidden to supply them with meat, bread, beer, or any other necessaries. The rover fleet set sail, therefore, from Dover, on one of the last days in March, with scarcely any provisions on board. They stood over, accordingly, towards the coast of Zealand; and finally entered, as has been described, the river Meuse.
Peter quickly reached the town, and pushed through the crowd of inhabitants, who came round him, asking him all sorts of questions, to none of which he would reply, except to say that a large force of the Water-beggars, some thousands, as far as he could tell, were about to enter the city, and cut all their throats if they were opposed, or if they found that any of their friends had been injured.
"Take care what the Inquisitors are about," he added. "If these people whom they have condemned to death are executed, depend upon it the Water-beggars will put every man and woman in the place to death. Just see about that matter."
Pushing on, he made his appearance in the town-house, where the magistrates were assembled. He told them that he had been sent by the fierce Admiral De la Marck, and by Treslong, who was well known to them; that two commissioners on the part of the city should be sent out to confer with them. He had to assure them that the deputies would be courteously treated, and he was ordered to say that the only object of those who had sent him was to free the land, and to overthrow the tyranny of the Spaniards.
"And how many men under him has De la Marck, do you think?" asked the chief magistrate.
"It would be difficult for me to count them," answered Peter, carelessly, "considering I only saw some of their ships; but there are probably some five thousand in all, more or less; but they are desperate fellows, and equal to twice the number of ordinary mortals."
On hearing this, the magistrates made long faces at each other.
"It is clear that we cannot resist such a force," observed one; "but what shall we do? Shall we negotiate, or shall we fly?"
"In my opinion, it would be judicious to do both," observed a sagacious old burgher. "We should negotiate in order to gain time to run away."
"But which two men will be found to proceed to the rebel fleet as our envoys?" asked another. "It is an honourable post, is no one ready to fill it?"
There seemed a great likelihood of the negotiations breaking down for want of envoys to carry them on. At this juncture Caspar Gaill made his appearance in the court-house.
"I will go," he said, "on one condition: that the executions which were to take place this morning are suspended. If we put to death the fellow-religionists of these people, they are not likely to treat us with much mercy."
The justice of Caspar's remark was at once seen; and in spite of the protestations of the Inquisitor and the other priests, that it would be impious to take their victims out of the hands of the Church, the magistracy decided that the criminals should be immediately respited.
"If we determine on fighting, and put the enemy to flight, you holy fathers may then execute due punishment on the heretics," observed one of the magistrates; "but, in the meantime, we prefer not to subject ourselves to the rage of these desperate freebooters."
Caspar quickly persuaded another friend to accompany him on board the fleet, and, rowed by Peter, they proceeded on board the admiral's ship. It was there the rivals met. Caspar, before entering the admiral's cabin, had just time to exchange a few words with Diedrich.
"I resign Gretchen to you," he whispered; "I am not worthy of her. I acted a vile and treacherous part, and was very nearly the cause of the destruction of her and her father. They are now, I trust, safe; unless those vile priests prove treacherous. At all events there is no time to be lost in hastening on shore, that they may be completely rescued from their power."
As soon as the message of the magistrates was received, the sailors quickly leaped into their boats, and hastened on shore. The rovers were divided into two parties. One, under Treslong, made an attack upon the southern gates; while the other, commanded by the admiral, advanced upon the northern. The governor of the city, it appeared, had not agreed to the proposals of the magistrates, and had made preparations to resist their entrance. Hungry men, especially of the character of the sea-rovers, are not likely to be stopped by trifles. Treslong and his followers forthwith attacked the gates with great fury. Just at the moment that they forced an entrance, the governor of the city was endeavouring to take his departure. He was, however, arrested by the rovers. Meantime De la Marck and his men, lighting a huge fire at the northern gate, rigged a battering-ram, formed out of a ship's mast; and as the fire burned the wood of the gates, they commenced battering away with might and main. The gates quickly gave way; and, dashing the embers of the fire aside, the bold sailors, sword in hand, rushed into the town, and speedily found themselves masters of the place. Among those who had accompanied Treslong was Diedrich Meghem. Peter Kopplestock had kept by his side. A choice band of seamen had followed Diedrich.
"Follow me, lads," he exclaimed, as soon as they were inside the gates; "our first work must be to set the prisoners of the Inquisition free."
He and Peter rushed on, followed by a party of seamen. The Inquisitors and monks endeavoured to prevent their entrance. The doors were very soon battered in. Gretchen, who expected every instant to be led forth to execution, was on her knees in her cell. She heard the noise, little suspecting the cause. At that moment the door opened, and a monk appeared. She looked up, and beheld the stern features of Father Quixada. There was a glance in his eye which made her tremble.
"Have you come to lead me to death?" she asked.
"No, I would give you your liberty; follow me."
"No; I will not," she exclaimed, regarding him with a look of horror.
He rushed forward, and seized her by the arm, and was dragging her along the passage, when footsteps were heard approaching; and the ray of sunlight which streamed along the passage fell on a party of men who were hurrying through it. Their leader was Diedrich Meghem. With a cry of joy, Gretchen, tearing herself from the grasp of the monk, darted forward towards another part of the prison. The patriot seamen soon discovered the cell in which the merchant Hopper was confined, and he and all the other prisoners were quickly liberated. A large number of the citizens had escaped; but several monks and priests who had remained in the convent were captured, as well as the governor and some other civil authorities. Admiral De la Marck took possession of the town in the name of the Prince of Orange. Thus the weary spirit of freedom, so long a fugitive over earth and sea, at length found a resting-place; and the foundation of the Dutch Republic was laid in the little city of Brill. No indignity was offered to the inhabitants of either sex, and all those who remained were treated with consideration. The captors, however, took possession of the best houses, and very naturally made themselves at home. The inclination to plunder the churches, however, could not long be restrained. The altars and images were destroyed, while the rich furniture and the gorgeous vestments of the priests were appropriated by the rovers. Adam van Haren, who commanded one of the ships, appeared on his vessel's deck attired in a magnificent high-mass chasuble; while his seamen dressed themselves up in the various other vestments which the Romish clergy had been wont to wear on their grand festivals. So great was the hatred of the admiral for everything connected with the Church of Rome, that thirteen unfortunate monks and priests, including Father Quixada, who had been taken prisoners, were, by his orders, a few days after the capture of the city, executed in the very way that they had intended to put to death the victims of the Inquisition. Caspar Gaill joined the fleet of De la Marck, and was soon afterwards killed in an action with some Spanish ships. In spite of Duke Alva's attempt to retake Brill, the city remained ever afterwards faithful to the Prince of Orange. Diedrich and Gretchen were the first persons united according to the Protestant form in Brill, after its capture, and their descendants have ever been among its most respected inhabitants.
FRANK CARLTON—A STORY OF NIAGARA
NIAGARA—ITS GRANDEUR AND DANGERS—FANNY REJECTS FRANK BECAUSE HE IS NOT A HERO—SCARCITY OF HEROES—FANNY'S NEPHEWS GET INTO A BOAT—THEY DRIFT AWAY—NO HOPE—HELP AT THE LAST—A FEARFUL STRUGGLE—FANNY FINDS FRANK IS A HERO AFTER ALL.
Niagara, the father of waters! The name is significant of something grand; words are inadequate to describe the mighty cataract. The waters which rush down from Lake Superior, passing through Lake Huron and Lake Saint Clair, and onward across Lake Erie, finally force their course in a northern direction into Lake Ontario. On first leaving Lake Erie, they flow in a tranquil current, and divide, leaving an island in the centre, on which a thousand cattle save one are said to feed. Then the rapidity of the current increases, till those who voyage on its bosom see in front of them, raised high in the blue sky, a cloud of vapour. This is said to be the crown of Niagara, the vapoury particles collecting from the boiling caldron below.
Proceeding onward, a roaring sound is heard, the current increases in rapidity, and ahead appears a line of foaming breakers. Those who once get within their power must give up all hope of life. No vessel built with mortal hands can live amidst those furious rapids. In the centre a rocky island appears, thickly covered with trees, and while one portion of the stream rushes directly on, and takes a leap downwards of 200 feet, the other and smaller portion, sweeping round Goat Island, finds its way into the lower level, over the cliff on the right bank of the river. The last-mentioned fall is known as the American fall, as the territory on that side of the river belongs to the United States.
Onward the waters rush, between lofty cliffs, at a distance of three miles, when they meet an opposing rock, and, circling round and round, form a fearful whirlpool. No one falling into that circling eddy has ever escaped with life. The stoutest boat would soon be dashed to pieces.
At length the waters find their way out by a narrow passage, and rush onward into Lake Ontario. A long fall across the direct current of the River is known as the Horseshoe Fall. Standing on the British bank of the stream, it is seen on the right, with the American fall directly opposite the spectator. In the latter fall many fearful accidents have occurred.
The scenery above the Falls is very different to that below. In the latter the banks are high and precipitous, and the stream flows on 200 feet below the summit of the cliffs. Above the cataract, on the contrary, the river presents the appearance rather of a large lake. The woods, consisting of firs, and birch, and maple, come close down to the water, their branches overhanging the stream. Here and there are clearings. Many mills moved by water power, and numerous farms, extend along the banks on either side.
It was somewhere above the rapids that a young man, clad in homely costume but with the appearance and bearing of a gentleman, was walking by the river's brink. By his side was a fair girl. He was speaking to her earnestly and gently, but she seemed to be turning an indifferent ear to his words.
"I acknowledge your merits, Mr Carlton, but really I cannot see that I should be expected to give my heart and hand, as you ask me, to one who has not done anything to show that he is above the ordinary run of respectable young gentlemen." The girl spoke in a somewhat bantering tone.
"But really, Miss Fanny Aveling, you are expecting too much at the present day. Gentlemen cannot go forth with a lance and fight in tournaments, as in days of yore, to win the admiration of the ladies of their love. I offer you an honest heart, and I have every reason to believe I shall establish a comfortable home; and really I think that is a more sensible thing than running the risk of getting a knock on the head for no purpose whatever."
"How fearfully matter-of-fact you are," answered Fanny. "I tell you I do not like matter-of-fact people. If you had been a soldier or sailor, and had fought the battles of your country, and got wounded, and obtained a number of medals for your gallantry, I might possibly have felt differently towards you."
"But I have had no opportunity of doing anything of the sort," urged Frank Carlton. "I came out here to form an estate, and I have succeeded in what I undertook, while a number of other persons with similar opportunities have failed. I do not say this for the sake of boasting, but simply as a fact which is certainly not discreditable."
"Humdrum," answered the young lady, half to herself. "Numbers have done as well."
"So they have," said Frank Carlton, "and are married and settled, and have every reason to be thankful that they came to the country."
"Well, Mr Carlton, there is no use carrying on the conversation further," exclaimed Fanny: "You ask me to give you my heart and hand; I frankly confess I have no inclination to do so."
"But, surely, you have led me to suppose you would," said Frank, in a tone of reproach.
"That was when I did not think you in earnest," said Fanny. "If you had said this before, I should have given you an answer which might then have satisfied you."
"Nothing will satisfy me but 'yes,'" said Frank, "for I believe that you have more sense than you pretend to have."
"That is to say, you think I have sense enough to love you," said Fanny, still in a tone of banter. "We part as friends, however, and if you insist on coming to call upon my sister, Mrs Barton, of course I cannot help it, only do not for a moment suppose that I give you any encouragement."
Frank Carlton, having graduated at Oxford, had come out a few years before to set up as a farmer in Canada. He had enjoyed the advantage of studying under a Scotch farmer for a year, and this gave him more knowledge of agricultural affairs than is possessed by many of the young men who go out to settle. He had also given his mind to the work, and what was of great importance, had withstood the temptations to idleness into which so many fall. He was also a man of refined tastes and habits, which he did not allow the rough life of a settler to make him abandon. Captain and Mrs Barton were among his nearest neighbours. He had been for some time a constant visitor at the house, and two little boys, the children of Mrs Barton, were his especial favourites.
Fanny Aveling had, the year before, come out from England, and not long after her arrival Frank Carlton began to reflect that his house would be in a far better condition than it was at the present, if he could place a mistress at its head. He had had no reason to suppose that Miss Aveling was indifferent towards him, until the day on which the conversation which has been described took place. He was still, it must be owned, somewhat in doubt about the matter. He did not suppose that she cared for anybody else; indeed he knew of no visitor at the house likely to have won her affections. He therefore, as most men would have done under similar circumstances, lived on in the hope of ultimately winning her. Still, week after week passed, and though he made frequent visits to Captain Barton's, Miss Aveling's manner towards him remained totally unchanged. At length, sanguine as he was, he began to fear that he had misplaced his affections. He also grew distant in his manner towards her, and he seldom paid a visit to the house of his former friends.
Mrs Barton could not but suspect the cause, for she, it must be owned, was favourable to Frank Carlton, and thought that her sister could not make a more desirable match.
"What more can you require in a man than Frank possesses, Fanny?" she said one day to her sister.
"Yes," observed Fanny, "he is honest, and he does not smoke, and he does not drink, and he does not use bad language, that I know of, and he's very respectable; in fact, in my opinion, he is made up of negatives."
"Oh, you foolish girl!" exclaimed Mrs Barton; "you want him to threaten to leave you for ever, or to jump down the Falls, or to commit some other outrageous act, and then perhaps your feelings would be worked up, and you would be ready to entreat him to remain and be yours."
"No, I tell you I don't care for him, that I know of, and don't know that I ever shall," answered Fanny, petulantly. "I have made up my mind, when he next comes, to let him understand that very clearly."
As it happened, Frank paid another visit the following day to the Bartons. Fanny certainly did contrive to show him that there were no hopes of her becoming his wife.
He would make a tour through the country, visit Toronto, Montreal, and perhaps go down to Quebec. Or he would make a trip to the Far West, across Lake Superior to the Red River Settlement, and visit the small band of his countrymen collected there. At first he thought he would start at once, and not pay a farewell visit to the Bartons.
It happened that Mrs Barton, her sister, and her two little boys, Frank's favourites, Ernest and Harry, were strolling about by the bank of the river. They had gone somewhere down in the direction of the rapids, when Fanny exclaimed that the scenery, already tinged by the bright hue of autumn, was so beautiful that she must stop and make a sketch.
The two sisters sat down on the bank, while Fanny, with the hand of an artist, rapidly sketched the scene. She had to employ the most gorgeous colours which her colour-box could supply, and even then could scarcely give sufficient brightness to the landscape. While she was sketching, the little boys ran along the bank, where, moored to the shore, they found a boat, and very naturally got into it. Their mother and aunt did not observe them. They got out the oars, and began to make believe that they were rowing. Now they pulled on one side and then on the other. Harry, the youngest, tired of rowing, put in the oar, and began to play with the "painter." The boat had been carelessly secured, and by some means or other he let the painter slip. Ernest, in the meantime, who was still rowing, turned the boat round, and before the boys knew what was happening, they were drifting from the shore. Already, before they saw their danger, they were too far off to regain the bank. Often they had been told of the fearful risk of being carried off by the current. They screamed with fear. Their cries aroused their mother and aunt. Several people also had been attracted by them from a neighbouring farm, but no boat was to be seen at hand in which they could be followed. Already the boat was moving down the current. It was still some distance from the rapids: but, unless stopped in its course, it must eventually reach them.
Mrs Barton and Fanny cried in vain to the spectators to aid in rescuing the children. Some of the men ran along the bank up the stream, but others stood still, and declared they had no power to save the children.
"Still, if you would but swim in, you might get on board the boat before it has gone far," exclaimed Mrs Barton.
"And run a pretty fair chance of losing our own lives," was the reply made by some of the men.
Some way down, another boat was at length seen. It was a small, frail skiff, and moored very near the commencement of the rapids.
"Will any one try and save my children?" exclaimed Mrs Barton in despair.
Again the men shook their heads.
"Not for a thousand pounds. Before one could reach the boat in that rotten canoe, she would be among the rapids."
The fond mother and Fanny became almost frantic with despair. Just at that moment a figure was seen bounding down from a neighbouring height. In an instant, with a knife, he cut the painter securing the skiff to the shore. A pair of paddles were in the skiff. He leaped in and shoved off from the bank. Mrs Barton knew him, and so did Fanny.
"It's Frank Carlton!" they exclaimed. "Oh, blessings on him! May God protect him!"
Already the boat was approaching the commencement of the rapids. Once in their power, even his sturdy arms could scarcely stem the current. Not for one moment did he calculate the difficulty or danger he was to undergo. With rapid strokes he pursued the floating boat. How eagerly did the fond mother watch his proceedings! She stood apparently calm on the bank, only now and then extending her arms, as if she would draw back the boat which contained her loved ones.
Still, to those who looked on it seemed scarcely possible that the children could escape. If they were lost, so also would be Frank Carlton. Still he pursued. The motion of the boat which contained the boys showed its near approach to the rapids. In two or three minutes it would be within their power. It seemed hardly credible that he could reach it even in that time. Onward he went, every now and then turning his head round to watch the boat. Already it began to leap and toss. The water foamed around it.
"See! he has got alongside!" exclaimed the people from the shore; "but will he have strength to stem the current on his return?"
A glance showed him that two oars were in the boat. Leaving his canoe to its fate, he leaped into the boat, and seized the oars. Now came a fearful struggle. Should an oar give way, he and his young friends must inevitably be lost. He nerved himself for the undertaking by offering up prayer for strength to One who alone can give it. Grasping the oars, he placed his feet firmly at the bottom of the boat, and rowed manfully. At first it seemed to those who looked on that he made no way. The boat's head was up the stream, but still she seemed to be going slowly and surely downwards. He struggles on. The water foams around the boat on every side. Yes! he is making way—he has gained an inch, another and another. Slowly the boat moves onward, out of the power of the rapids. A foot is gained. Still, by the exertions he is making, his strength must become exhausted. He rows on and on; the boat makes headway. Surely the prayers of that fond mother are heard. The gallant young man renews his exertions. He is resolved, God helping him, to save the children. He thinks not of himself, or what will be the consequences to his own frame. The veins seem starting from his forehead. Those only who have gone through such a contest, can understand what he had to endure. The people from the neighbouring farms now eagerly crowd the shores, ready to render him assistance when he reaches it. Some, however, even now doubt whether he will accomplish the undertaking. Should his strength fail, even for an instant, the boat would quickly be carried back, with those on board, to destruction. With all his strength he continues rowing, looking neither to the right hand nor the left. His eyes are on the young children who sit crouching down in terror at the bottom of the boat. With a smile, he endeavours to encourage them. Again and again he cries to Heaven for strength. Gradually the boat approaches the shore. Now it has reached an upward eddy. Still he rows on, and the boat safely reaches the bank. Scarcely conscious of his success, he is lifted out of the boat, and eager hands restore the children to their mother. She clasps them to her bosom, and pours out her gratitude to their deliverer. But there is one kneeling by his side who entreats those who stand by to bring some water to bathe his brow. The handkerchief tied round his throat is loosened. He returns to consciousness, and sees Fanny Aveling bending over him. In a short time he declares himself sufficiently recovered to walk, and a joyful party returned to Barton Lodge.
Our tale is finished. Though he returned home that evening, Frank could not do otherwise than, the following morning, visit Barton Lodge, to enquire after the boys. Fanny Aveling no longer received him as had been her wont.
"You have done something," she exclaimed. "Yes, I see it is not necessary for a man to go and fight, and kill his fellow-creatures, to be a hero. Oh, Frank, what a very silly girl I have been!"
Frank assured her he was confident she would be a wise woman in future, and it is scarcely necessary to add that Frank's establishment soon had a mistress at its head.
FAITHFUL AND BRAVE
A BIG SCAMP AND A TRUE MAN—ELLIS VISITED BY HIS SWEETHEART—READS HIS BIBLE ON BOARD SHIP—TRIALS AND PERSECUTIONS—ELLIS KNOCKS JONES DOWN— DANGER—JONES SHIRKS AND ELLIS ENCOUNTERS IT—A CHRISTIAN WOMAN'S TEST— A TERRIBLE PREDICAMENT—THE MIDDY SAVED BY ELLIS—AND THE SAILORS ASCRIBE IT TO THE POWER OF PRAYER.
I was many years ago, first-lieutenant of the Rainbow frigate. We were fitting out alongside the old Topaz hulk, in Portsmouth Harbour, for the North American and West India stations, at that time united under one command. We were nearly ready for sea, but still were a good many hands short of our complement. For want of better, we had entered several men, who would, I was afraid, prove but hard bargains; one especially, who gave the name of John Jones, was a great, big, hulking fellow, with an unpleasant expression of countenance, out of whom I guessed but little work was to be got. The same day he joined, another man came aboard and volunteered. He was a fine, active, intelligent fellow. He said that his name was William Ellis, and that he had been eight years at sea, in the merchant service. If there was little work in Jones, there was plenty in him I saw, though he was a remarkably quiet-looking man. He answered the questions put to him, but did not volunteer a word about himself.
We had gone out to Spithead, and the Blue Peter was flying aloft, when a shore boat came alongside. In the boat was a young woman, nicely, though very plainly dressed, and a lad, who looked like her brother. She asked leave to come on board, and inquired for William Ellis. Ellis was aloft. His name had been loudly called along the lower deck, before, casting his eyes below, having finished his work, they fell on her. She gave a half-shriek of terror as she saw him, quick as lightning, gliding down the rigging. He, in another moment, was by her side. A blush was on his manly cheek, as he took her hand and warmly pressed it. They talked earnestly for some time. He did not ask her to move from the spot where they stood. At length, with a sigh, having shaken hands with the lad, he prepared to help her into the boat. Her last words, pronounced in a firm, though sweet voice, were, "Oh! remember."
I was particularly struck by her quiet, modest manner, and her pleasing, intelligent expression of countenance. We had despatches for Jamaica and other West India Islands, which we visited in turn. Ellis continued, as at first, one of the most quiet, well-behaved men in the ship. Every moment of his watch below—that is to say, when off duty— he was engaged in reading, chiefly, as I afterwards found, the Bible. In those days, a Bible on the lower deck was a rarity, and religious books were still less often seen. The Rainbow formed no exception to the rule, and Ellis got to be looked at with suspicion and dislike by the greater number of the men. He was equally disliked by some of the officers. The reason was clear—his life and example was a reproach to them.
We had not been long in that treacherous clime before "Yellow Jack," as sailors call the yellow fever, came on board. Numbers of our crew were speedily down with it. Several died, and the pestilence increased. The ship's company, as sometimes occurs, took a panic, and men who would boldly have faced a visible enemy, trembled with dread at the thoughts of being struck down by the fever. It was difficult to get men to attend properly on the sick. Ellis was an exception; he immediately volunteered for that duty, and was indefatigable in its performance. He did more, I found; he spoke words of counsel and encouragement to the sick and dying; he pointed out to them the Saviour, on whom looking with repentance and faith in His all-sufficient work, they might be assured of forgiveness.
Harry Lethbridge, a young midshipman, was among the first attacked. Ellis carefully watched over the boy. Whenever he had performed his other duties, he returned to the side of the hammock in which Harry lay, bathed his face, sponged out his mouth, and gave him cooling drinks, like the most gentle of nurses. More than once the doctor told me, however, that he was afraid the young midshipman would slip through his fingers, and he afterwards said that he considered it was mostly owing to the very great attention paid to him by Ellis that he had escaped. Ellis did more; he spoke to Harry, when his strength was returning, in a way to touch his heart,—he told him how he had been saved from the jaws of death by a God who loved his soul, and he showed how alone that soul could be saved, and how freely and fully it would be saved, if he would but accept the redemption offered him.
Notwithstanding the way Ellis had behaved during the fever, John Jones, and men of his stamp, of whom there were many, continued to sneer at him on account of his religion. "Any old woman, or young girl, could have done as well as he did,—nursing a few sick men and boys: what was that!" they said. "It didn't make him a bit more of a man."
From the West Indies we were sent to North America, to do away with the effects of the fever. Knowing what a quiet man Ellis was, I was somewhat surprised when one day, on the passage to Halifax, John Jones came up to me on deck, fuming with rage, and preferred a formal charge against him, for having assaulted and thrashed him. I, of course, as in duty bound, sent for Ellis, and witnesses on both sides, to examine into the case. Ellis appeared, hat in hand, and at once acknowledged that he had thrashed Jones, but offered as an excuse that Jones and other men had systematically annoyed him whenever he sat down to read the Bible, and that at last Jones, encouraged by his previous forbearance, had snatched up the book and made off with it, threatening to throw it overboard. "I could bear it no longer, sir," said Ellis; "so I knocked him over, that I might get back my Bible, and read it afterwards in peace. Besides, sir, he said that people who read the Bible are never worth anything, only just fit to nurse sick people, and that come a gale of wind, or any danger, they would always be found skulking below."
"In that respect you, Jones, are wrong, and you had no business to snatch away Ellis's Bible; but you, Ellis, broke through the rules of discipline by knocking Jones over. You must reserve your blows for the enemies of your country. I must therefore punish you. It is your first offence, but it is too serious a one to be overlooked. Go below."
I inflicted as light a punishment as I well could on Ellis. After he had undergone it, he came to me and expressed his regret at having lost his temper, without in any way attempting to exculpate himself.
We reached Halifax, remained there a fortnight refitting, and again sailed to cruise off the coast. Nova Scotia possesses a rocky, forbidding shore, near which a seaman would dislike to be caught with a gale blowing on it. One night, on a passage round to Prince Edward's Island, we had kept closer in shore, in consequence of the fineness of the weather, than would, under other circumstances, have been prudent. The captain was ill below. Suddenly the wind shifted, and blew directly on shore. I was called up, and hurrying on deck, saw at once that we were to have a rough night of it.
The first thing to be done was to get a good offing. Accordingly I hauled to the wind, and as it was not yet blowing very hard, I kept the canvas on her which had previously been set. Suddenly a squall, its approach unseen, struck the ship, and before a sheet could be started, the main-topgallant yard was carried away, and the spar, wildly beating about in the now furiously-blowing gale, threatened to carry away, not only the topgallant mast, but the topmast itself. The loss of more of our spars at such a moment might have been disastrous in the extreme. To clear away the spar was, therefore of the greatest importance, but it was an operation which would expose those who attempted it to the most imminent dangers.
I sung out for volunteers. At that moment seeing Jones standing near me, I could not help saying, "Come, my man, there's work for you; you were boasting of your manhood the other day!" The first to spring forward to my call was William Ellis.
"No," I answered; "I have made the offer to Jones. He ought to succeed if any man can."
Jones looked aloft, then shook his head.
"I dare not; the man who attempts it will be sure to lose his life."
Ellis, as if anticipating the reply Jones would make, had been securing an axe to his belt; having felt the edge to assure himself that it was sharp. Scarcely had Jones finished speaking, than, exclaiming, "I'll go!" he was ascending the main rigging.
I watched him with intense anxiety as long as I could see him, but he was soon lost to sight in the gloom of night up aloft there amid the tightening ropes, the straining mast, and the loosened sail and shattered spar, which kept driving backwards and forwards and round and round with terrific violence. I kept my eyes fixed on the spot where I knew he must be. Now I thought I saw him clinging on to the rigging with one hand, while with the other, his axe gleaming above his head, he made stroke after stroke at the ropes by which the topgallant yard still hung to the mast. Had he been hurled from the rigging, the ocean would have been his tomb, for, heeling over as the ship was, he would have fallen far to leeward. I fully expected such would be his fate; it might be mine too, for I was determined to make the attempt if others failed. I thought of the young woman who had visited him on board, and of her sorrowing heart. My eye caught sight of something falling. Was it Ellis? No! A shout rose from the crew. Down came the shattered spar and the torn sail clear of everything, and fell into the foaming, hissing waters, through which the frigate was forcing her way. The topgallant mast stood uninjured. Ellis the next minute was beside me on the deck.
"Thank you, Ellis; you did that work nobly," I said to him. "I think that no one in future will venture to taunt you for your Bible-reading propensities."
I was now able to send the hands aloft to shorten sail, and I fully believe that our masts, and the ship herself, and our lives, were saved by that act of courage. I afterwards asked Ellis how he felt when aloft.
"That I was in the hands of God, sir," he answered. "I prayed for His protection, and I never felt my heart more light, or my courage more firm." [See Note.]
As may be supposed, no one after this ventured to call Ellis a milksop, or to speak disparagingly of him in any other way. Jones sunk in public estimation as Ellis rose, and gained great influence among the ship's company, which he did not fail to use to their benefit. He still further increased it by another act, which, however, was not so much a proof of courage as of presence of mind, only the sailors declared, with a tinge of superstition, that no other man on board could have done it. I will mention it presently.
I frequently spoke to Ellis in a way an officer cannot venture to do, except to a well-tried man. One day I asked him if he did not wish to write to his wife, as I had the opportunity of sending letters.
"I am not married, sir," he answered, calmly. "That young woman you saw, sir, Mary Summers, has promised to marry me when I get back, if I can prove to her that I have acted all the time I have been away like a Christian man. It's a long story too, and I won't trouble you with it now; only Mary has very strong notions, and very right notions too. I wasn't once what I now try to be. I was altogether careless about religion. I fell in love with Mary, and tried my best to appear good, and so far succeeded that I won her love. When, however, she found out what I really was she said that nothing would induce her to marry me unless I was a Christian. She gave me books and I read them, and I read the Bible as I had never read it before, and she talked to me till I thought that I was what she wanted me to be; but she said that people couldn't tell what they really were till they were out in the busy world and tried, and that I must be tried before she could venture to marry me. At first I thought her terms very hard; but I do assure you, sir, when I came to know more of the Gospel I felt that they were wise and just. It's a very different thing to appear all right and correct, and to feel very good too, in a quiet village, with a religious, sensible young woman to watch over one, than to keep straight aboard a man-of-war among a number of godless associates. In one case a man may almost forget the necessity of earnest prayer. I do assure you sir, I have felt aboard here that I could not get on an hour without it."
Reader, remember these words of Ellis. Consider how you will act when you are tried and tempted. Satan often lets people alone when he finds them in an easy position, that they may grow conceited of their own strength. Never cease praying that you may see his wiles, and that, through the Holy Spirit, you may be enabled to resist them, but never, never trust to your own strength, or you will be sure to fall.
Some two years after this, when Harry Lethbridge had grown into a fine young man, promising to be as smart an officer as any in the navy, we were on our passage between the northern and southern portions of our station, when we were caught in as heavy a gale as I ever experienced—a complete hurricane. It came down on us so suddenly that it required all hands to shorten sail as smartly as they could do. Among those who sprang aloft when the hands were turned up was Harry Lethbridge, whose station was the foretop. The post of honour among seamen in reefing sails is the weather earing. [Note. An earing is a rope to haul up the outer part of a sail.] Thus when the fore-topsail was to be reefed, Harry eagerly sought, and was the first man out on, the yard-arm. While reefing the sail, on hauling out the earing, from the strength of the wind, and from his anxiety to get it done quickly, he did not haul the first turn sufficiently taut. After taking the second, and getting a good pull on it, the first earing rendered suddenly, and, losing his balance, he fell over the yard. Those who saw him as I did thought he was gone, but no; as he fell he had kept hold of the earing, and there he hung, suspended by it about nine feet below the yard-arm and full sixty from the deck, though, of course, far outside it, that is to say, over the boiling ocean.
Those on deck looked up, almost paralysed with the terrible spectacle. His destruction seemed inevitable. His hands were giving way. He caught the rope in his teeth, and thus he hung suspended, alive and strong, with the joyous spirits and anticipations of youthful manhood, and yet with death as it were gaping for him. The man nearest to him on the yard threw towards him the end of a rope, but it was blown away to leeward out of his reach. The captain instantly directed that a running bowline knot should be made round the earing, and thus lowered over his head; but his voice was drowned by the gale. Cries of horror escaped from the lips of all who saw him. "A man overboard! a man overboard!" was shouted out, for every one expected to see him fall into the sea. William Ellis had never taken his eye off him. I saw him hurry forward. Poor Harry could hold on no longer. His hands relaxed their gripe of the rope, his teeth gave way, he fell. As he did so, the ship lurched heavily to leeward and he came towards the forecastle. Ellis sprang forward, and as Harry's feet touched the deck, caught him in his arms. The midshipman's life was preserved, and the only injury he received was the fracture of one of his ankle-bones. [Note. The whole of this account is fact, without the slightest alteration.] "He's the only man who could have done it, though," I afterwards heard some of the seamen remark. "He prayed that he might do it, and he did it, do ye see." Even the irreligious often acknowledge the efficacy of the prayers of Christian men.
William Ellis persevered in his Christian course till the ship was paid off, when I saw his Mary, who had come to Portsmouth to welcome him. They married; he obtained a warrant as a gunner, and some years afterwards, through the influence of Harry Lethbridge, got a good appointment on shore. The young midshipman, feeling that his life had, through God's mercy, been preserved that he might do Him service, became a thorough Christian, in practice as well as in name, and a first-rate officer; while Ellis continued as he had begun, aided and encouraged, I have no doubt, by his excellent wife, to the end of his life.
Note. This account was given to the author by the late Admiral Saumarez, and the words are to the best of his recollection those used by the man who performed the act recorded.
THE TWO SAILOR-BOYS, A TRUE TALE
NED BURTON LOSES HIS MOTHER, AND IS LEFT PENNILESS—WALKS TO PORTSMOUTH, AND IS DISHEARTENED—IS CHEERED, DIRECTED, AND HELPED BY OLD MOLL—GETS ON BOARD THE TRAINING SHIP—AND MAKES A FRIEND—BUT IS REJECTED FOR NOT BEING ABLE TO READ—COMFORTED BY BILL HUDSON—BILL'S SHIPMATES HELP NED TO FIELD LANE—BILL TAKES HIM THERE—HE IS KINDLY RECEIVED—IS MADE A SAILOR OF AT LAST.
On a miserable pallet bedstead, in a small attic of one of the meanest houses in the lowest portion of a provincial town in the south of England, a woman lay dying. The curtainless window and window—panes, stuffed with straw, the scanty patchwork covering to the bed, the single rickety chair, the unswept floor, the damp, mildewed walls, the door falling from its hinges, told of pinching poverty. On the opposite corner to the bedstead there was a heap of straw, to serve as another bed, and against the wall a much-battered sea-chest and an open basket, containing even now a few rotting oranges, some damaged tapes, and such articles as are vended by small hawkers. Standing by the bed-side was a lad with an intelligent, not ill-favoured, countenance, though sickly, and expressive of deep grief, as he gazed on the face of one who had ever been a kind mother to him, and from whom he now knew full well that he was to be parted for ever.
"Ned, my boy, I have done my best to keep myself and thee from the workhouse," said the woman, trying to lift herself up on her arm, that she might the better see the lad. "It has been a hard struggle, but I have done it for thy father's sake. He was a sailor, and would never have thought to see me come to this pass. Thou must be one, too, Ned. It's a rough life, but better far than starving on shore. I've done little for thee, lad, but feed thee, and try to teach thee to be honest, as thy father was. Be honest, Ned, whatever ye do, for thy poor mother's sake. But for thee, lad, I'd have left the weary world many a long year ago."
"Oh, mother, mother, stay now—oh, do!" cried the lad. "Won't the doctor help you—won't the parson?"
"No, lad; no doctor, no parson, can keep me here. But I'd like to see the parson. Maybe he'd tell me about the place I'm going to; for it's far off, I wot, and little I know of the road."
"Oh, mother, I'll run and fetch him."
Just as Ned was going, the dying woman sunk down, exhausted with talking. "Don't leave me, boy," she faintly murmured; "it's too late now. May God hear a widow's prayer, and be merciful to you, and forgive me."
Her voice sank—the last words were gasped out. Her son bent his head to hear her: he stood gazing at her face, expecting to hear her speak again. Gradually he became aware that he was alone in the world. His grief was too deep for tears. For hours he stood there, watching the face of the only being who had cared for him in the world; and then Ned Burton went out and did as she had before bade him, and, with the money she had hoarded up for the purpose, and that produced by the sale of the last few articles in the house, save his father's sea-chest, obtained for her an humble funeral, truly, but not that of a pauper. Then, leaving the chest with a neighbour till he should return and claim it, he went forth penniless into the world to seek his fortune.
Ned Burton's ambition was to be a sailor—not that he knew anything of the sea, except that his father had spent his life on it. His mother could not read or write, and, unable to instruct him or to pay for his instruction, being, indeed, too poor to do without the pittance his labours brought, she had allowed him to grow up in extreme ignorance— though, according to the faint light that was in her, she had taught him, to the best of her power, to do right. Still, poor Ned knew nothing of religion. He had never been taught even to pray. Thus, helpless and forlorn, he went forth to battle with the world. A neighbour had told him that big ships sailed from Portsmouth, so towards Portsmouth he bent his steps, inquiring his way as he went. A few of those who knew him, and had bought his mother's oranges and bobbins, gave him a few pence, and filled his wallet with crusts of bread, and scraps of cheese and bacon, so that he had not to beg for food.
At night he slept under haystacks or hedges, or in empty barns, and thus in time he reached Portsmouth, sore-footed, weary, and hungry, for during the last day his wallet had been empty.
Wandering down the High Street, he passed through a large gateway, and out on a common, from whence he caught sight of the blue sea, and several huge ships floating on it, but they were too far out to reach, and he had no money to pay for a boat; and he would have gained nothing had he reached them, for a poor ragged boy like him would not have been received on board. So he went back the way he had come. He asked several people if they could tell him how he could get on board ship, but they must have thought that he was silly, for they smiled and passed on.
He had begun to think that he should never obtain his wishes, when close to the Southsea Gate he saw an old apple-woman sitting at her stall. She brought his mother to mind. She looked kind, too, so he asked her. Something in his manner touched Old Moll's heart. She asked him several questions, and then said, "Sure, yes; there's what they call a training-ship for boys—the old —-, off the Dockyard, at Portsea. They, maybe, will take you. Here's sixpence to get aboard; and here— you look hungry, lad—is some gingerbread and apples—they'll do you good; and now God speed you! Go straight on—you can't miss the way, and come and tell me some day how you've fared."
Ned went on through narrow lanes and dirty streets, till he came near the shore of the harbour, which was crowded with vessels of all sizes.
"If one won't have me, surely another will," he said to himself, as he gazed with wonder at some of the line-of-battle ships. "They must want a precious number of people to fill those great things."
He now began to inquire which was the old —-, where boys were received. He was told that he couldn't see her from there—that she was higher up the harbour; but none of the boatmen he spoke to seemed disposed to take him on board. In vain he promised his sixpence. He had gone out to the end of one of the slips from the Common Hard, when two seamen and a sailor lad came down, carrying baskets, evidently full of provisions, and directed one of the boatmen who had just refused him to take them on board the old —-. As they were stepping into the wherry, the boatman beckoned to Ned, and told him that he could now go. He took his seat next to the lad, who, in spite of his own clean white trousers, and blue shirt with worked collar, and fresh straw hat, seemed in no way to despise his ragged dress. In a kind tone he asked Ned why he was going on board. Ned told him.
"Hope you'll succeed, mate," he observed. "A year ago, I was like you— only paler and thinner, and maybe fewer clothes to my back—and trembled when I went aloft; and now there are not many aboard can reach the main-truck from the deck before me, or lay out smarter on a yard."
The tide was against them, so that Ned had time to tell his new acquaintances a good deal of his history before they reached the ship. They all seemed to take an interest in him, especially the lad—a fine, strong ruddy-faced young fellow of sixteen.
"Well, just do you ask for Bill Hudson—that's me—after you've seen the first lieutenant and the doctor; and then I'll tell you what to do," said the latter. "You might lose yourself, do ye see, otherwise, about there."
When they arrived alongside the huge ship, and Ned proffered his sixpence, the men wouldn't let him pay it, but helped him up the side through the entrance port, when he found himself, for the first time, on the main-deck of a man-of-war. While Bill Hudson went to find the proper person to take him to the officers for examination, he was lost in wonder, looking at the huge guns, with their polished gear, the countless number, it seemed, of boys and men moving about—all so cleanly and neatly dressed—and the spotless decks, white as a wooden platter.
At length he was summoned. He trembled with agitation, for he felt so dirty, and poor, and miserable, that he thought the officers, when they saw him, would quickly turn him out of the ship again. The first lieutenant, however, important as he looked, seemed pleased with his appearance and manner; the surgeon pronounced him a healthy, able-bodied lad, fit for the service; but he had brought no certificates of parentage or age. Had he his parents' permission to come to sea? he was asked. They were both dead: he had no friends; but he produced a tin case which had been his father's. The contents showed that the owner had been a petty officer in the navy, and had borne an excellent character. But another question was put; could he read and write? (No boys could be received at that time unless they possessed those accomplishments.) Poor Ned had to confess that he was ignorant of both arts.
He was finally rejected. There was no help for it; though, as his father's certificate-case was returned to him, the officers expressed a hope that he might be some day accepted, if he could learn.
He went forward, much dejected, to find Bill Hudson; for this was but small consolation to him. How could he learn to read and write, when all his strength would be required to obtain food for his subsistence? So he thought.
Bill heard his account of what had happened.
"If you had said that you couldn't read and write, I could have told you what would happen. But, don't be cast down, Ned. Little more than three years ago, I couldn't read nor write, and hadn't shoes to my feet, and scarce a rag on my back. I was a poor outcast boy, without father or mother—no shelter for my head, and often no food to eat. I picked up a living as I could, holding horses, running errands, when anybody would trust me. I didn't steal, but I was often and often very near doing so, as I passed the butchers', and fruiterers', and bakers' shops—just to fill my empty stomach. It wasn't so much because I wouldn't do it, as because I knew that they kept a sharp look-out, and I should have been caught. At last I thought I would try it on; and I didn't care if I was sent to prison, for I should have been fed, at all events: but that very day a gentleman passing, saw me watching a stall, the owner of which had just left it, as if I was going to take whatever I could grab; and so I was. And he asked me if I was hungry; and he gave me a roll from his pocket, and then he asked me where I lived, and I said 'Nowhere;' and then he told me that if I would follow him he would show me where I could get food and shelter, and, might be, clothing and instruction, and means, too, of gaining my livelihood. Though I didn't much credit him, I went; and he took me to the Field Lane Ragged School, as it is called; and there I found all he told me, and more. I soon showed them that I didn't want to eat the bread of idleness, and they got me employment in the day, and in the evening I used to go regularly to the school, and sleep in the Refuge, till I earned enough, by working four days, to go to the day-school for two days; and I soon learned to read and write; and more than that, Ned, I learned what made me a Christian, which I wasn't before I went there. For, I tell you, Ned, I was a heathen; I knew no more about God and his love for man than a block of stone; and I thought that he hated poor people, and sent them all to hell, and that there was no use being good. I did not know that it was sin brought the misery I saw around me into the world, and that God hates sin, but loves sinners; for if he doesn't, he'd never have sent his only Son into the world to save them. At last I was asked what trade I would be, and I said, 'A sailor;' for I had been reading about the sea, and thought I should like to live on it. So they sent me down here, and I do like it, Ned, right well. And now I've told you all this, because I want to ask you if you'd like to go to Field Lane. I tell you it is a blessed place; and a blessed moment it was to me when I entered it. You'd learn to read and write, and be looked after, and learn to gain your daily bread, and be told about God and Jesus Christ, and how to be happy; and if you don't know about them, you can't be happy, that I tell you."