"Forward, and cut away the wreck!" said Amyas, unmoved. "Small-arm men, be ready. He will be aboard of us in five minutes!"
It was too true. The _Rose_, unmanageable from the loss of her head-sail, lay at the mercy of the Spaniard; and the archers and musketeers had hardly time to range themselves to leeward, when the _Madre Dolorosa's_ chains were grinding against the _Rose's_, and grapples tossed on board from stem to stern.
"Don't cut them loose!" roared Amyas. "Let them stay and see the fun! Now, dogs of Devon, show your teeth, and hurrah for God and the Queen!"
And then began a fight most fierce and fell; the Spaniards, according to their fashion, attempted to board, the English, amid fierce shouts of "God and the Queen!" "God and St. George for England!" sweeping them back by showers of arrows and musket balls, thrusting them down with pikes, hurling grenades from the tops; while the swivels on both sides poured their grape, and bar, and chain, and the great main-deck guns, thundering muzzle to muzzle, made both ships quiver and recoil, as they smashed the round shot through and through each other.
So they roared and flashed, fast clenched to each other under a cloud of smoke beneath the cloudless tropic sky; while all around, the dolphins gamboled, and the flying-fish shot on from swell to swell, and the rainbow-hued jellies opened and shut their cups of living crystal to the sun, as merrily as if nothing had happened.
So it raged for an hour or more, till all arms were weary, and all tongues clove to the mouth. Sick men scrambled up on deck and fought with the strength of madness; and tiny powder-boys, handing up cartridges from the hold, laughed and cheered as the shots ran past their ears; and old Salvation Yeo, a text upon his lips, and a fury in his heart as of Joshua or Elijah in old time, worked on, calm and grim, but with the energy of a boy at play. And now and then an opening in the smoke showed the Spanish captain, in his suit of black steel armor, standing cool and proud, guiding and pointing, careless of the iron hail, but too lofty a gentleman to soil his glove with aught but a knightly sword-hilt; while Amyas and Will, after the fashion of the English gentlemen, had stripped themselves nearly as bare as their own sailors, and were cheering, thrusting, hewing, and hauling, here, there, and everywhere, like any common mariner, and filling them with a spirit of self-respect, fellow-feeling, and personal daring, which the discipline of the Spaniards, more perfect mechanically, but cold and tyrannous, and crushing spiritually, never could bestow. The black-plumed senor was obeyed; but the golden locked Amyas was followed; and would have been followed to the end of the world.
The Spaniards, ere five minutes had passed, poured into the _Rose's_ waist, but only to their destruction. Between the poop and forecastle (as was then in fashion) the upper deck beams were left open and unplanked, with the exception of a narrow gangway on either side; and off that fatal ledge the boarders, thrust on by those behind, fell headlong between the beams to the maindeck below to be slaughtered helpless in that pit of destruction, by the double fire from the bulkheads fore and aft; while the few who kept their footing on the gangway, after vain attempts to force the stockades on poop and forecastle, leaped overboard again amid a shower of shot and arrows. The fire of the English was as steady as it was quick; and though three-fourths of the crew had never smelled powder before, they proved well the truth of the old chronicler's saying (since proved again more gloriously than ever at Alma, Balaklava, and Inkermann), that "the English never fight better than in their first battle."
Thrice the Spaniards clambered on board; and thrice surged back before that deadly hail. The deck on both sides were very shambles; and Jack Brimblecombe, who had fought as long as his conscience would allow him, found enough to do in carrying poor wretches to the surgeon. At last there was a lull in that wild storm. No shot was heard from the Spaniard's upper-deck.
Amyas leaped into the mizzen rigging, and looked through the smoke. Dead men he could descry through the blinding veil, rolled in heaps, laid flat; dead men and dying; but no man upon his feet.
The last volley had swept the deck clear; one by one had dropped below to escape that fiery shower: and alone at the helm, grinding his teeth with rage, his mustachios curling up to his very eyes, stood the Spanish captain.
Now was the moment for a counter-stroke. Amyas shouted for the boarders, and in two minutes more he was over the side, and clutching at the Spaniard's mizzen rigging.
What was this? The distance between him and the enemy's side was widening. Was she sheering off? Yes--and rising too, growing bodily higher every moment, as if by magic. Amyas looked up in astonishment and saw what it was. The Spaniard was keeling fast over to leeward away from him. Her masts were all sloping forward, swifter and swifter--the end was come then!
"Back! in God's name back, men! She is sinking by the head!"
And with much ado some were dragged back, some leaped back--all but old Michael Heard.
With hair and beard floating in the wind, the bronzed naked figure, like some weird old Indian fakir, still climbed on steadfastly up the mizzen-chains of the Spaniard, hatchet in hand.
"Come back, Michael! Leap while you may!" shouted a dozen voices.
"And what should I come back for, then, to go home where no one knoweth me? I'll die like an Englishman this day, or I'll know the reason why!" and turning, he sprang in over the bulwarks, as the huge ship rolled up more and more, like a dying whale, exposing all her long black bulk almost down to the keel, and one of her lower-deck guns, as if in defiance, exploded upright into the air, hurling the ball to the very heavens.
In an instant it was answered from the _Rose_ by a column of smoke, and the eighteen-pound ball crashed through the bottom of the defenceless Spaniard.
"Who fired? Shame to fire on a sinking ship!"
"Gunner Yeo, sir," shouted a voice up from the maindeck. "He's like a madman down here."
"Tell him if he fires again, I'll put him in irons, if he were my own brother. Cut away the grapples aloft, men. Don't you see how she drags us over? Cut away, or we shall sink with her."
They cut away, and the _Rose_, released from the strain, shook her feathers on the wave-crest like a freed sea-gull, while all men held their breath.
Suddenly the glorious creature righted herself, and rose again, as if in noble shame, for one last struggle with her doom. Her bows were deep in the water, but her afterdeck still dry. Righted: but only for a moment, long enough to let her crew come pouring wildly up on deck, with cries and prayers, and rush aft to the poop, where, under the flag of Spain, stood the tall captain, his left hand on the standard-staff, his sword pointed in his right.
"Back, men!" they heard him cry, "and die like valiant mariners."
Some of them ran to the bulwarks, and shouted "Mercy! We surrender!"
and the English broke into a cheer and called to them to run her alongside.
"Silence!" shouted Amyas. "I take no surrender from mutineers.
Senor," cried he to the captain, springing into the rigging and taking off his hat, "for the love of God and these men, strike!
and surrender _a buena querra_."
The Spaniard lifted his hat and bowed courteously, and answered, "Impossible, senor. No _querra_ is good which stains my honor."
"God have mercy on you, then!"
"Amen!" said the Spaniard, crossing himself.
She gave one awful lunge forward, and dived under the coming swell, hurling her crew into the eddies. Nothing but the point of her poop remained, and there stood the stern and steadfast Don, cap-a-pie in his glistening black armor, immovable as a man of iron, while over him the flag, which claimed the empire of both worlds, flaunted its gold aloft and upward in the glare of the tropic noon.
"He shall not carry that flag with him! I will have it yet, if I die for it!" said Will Gary, and rushed to the side to leap overboard, but Amyas stopped him.
"Let him die as he has lived, with honor." A wild figure sprang out of the mass of sailors who struggled and shrieked amid the foam, and rushed upward at the Spaniard. It was Michael Heard. The Don, who stood above him, plunged his sword into the old man's body: but the hatchet gleamed, nevertheless: down went the blade through headpiece and through head; and as Heard sprang onward, bleeding, but alive, the steel-clad corpse rattled down the deck into the surge. Two more strokes, struck with the fury of a dying man, and the standard-staff was hewn through. Old Michael collected all his strength, hurled the flag far from the sinking ship, and then stood erect one moment and shouted, "God save Queen Bess!" and the English answered with a "Hurrah!" which rent the welkin.
Another moment and the gulf had swallowed his victim, and the poop, and him; and nothing remained of the _Madre Dolorosa_ but a few floating spars and struggling wretches, while a great awe fell upon all men, and a solemn silence, broken only by the cry
"Of some strong swimmer in his agony."
And then, suddenly collecting themselves, as men awakened from a dream, half-a-dozen desperate gallants, reckless of sharks and eddies, leaped overboard, swam toward the flag, and towed it alongside in triumph.
A BRAVE SCOTTISH CHIEF
This is the story of the life of Alexander Gordon of Earlstoun, in the province of Galloway, Scotland. Earlstoun is a bonny place, sitting above the waterside of the river Ken. The gray tower stands ruinous and empty to-day, but once it was a pleasant dwelling, and dear to the hearts of those who had dwelt in it, when they were in foreign lands or hiding out on the wild wide moors. It was the time when Charles II wished to compel the most part of the people of Scotland to change their religion and worship as he bade them.
Some obeyed the king; but most hated the new order of things, and cleaved in their hearts to their old ways and to their old ministers, who had been put out of their churches and homes at the coming of the king. Many even set themselves to resist the king in open battle rather than obey him in the matter of their consciences. It was only in this that they were rebellious, for many of them had been active in bringing him again to the throne.
Among those who thus went out to fight were William Gordon and his son Alexander. William Gordon was a grave, courteous, and venerable man, and his estate was one of the best in all Galloway. Like nearly all the lairds in the south and west, he was strongly of the Presbyterian party, and resolved to give up life and lands rather than his principles. Now, the king was doubtless ill-advised, and his councillors did not take the kindly or the wise way with the people at this time; for a host of wild Highlanders had been turned into the land, who plundered in cotter's and laird's hall without much distinction between those that stood for the Covenants and those that held for the king. So in the year 1679 Galloway was very hot and angry, and many were ready to fight the king's forces wherever they could be met with.
So, hearing news of a revolt in the west, William Gordon rode away, with many good riders at his back, to take his place in the ranks of the rebels. His son Alexander, whose story we are to tell, was there before him. The Covenanting army had gained one success in Drumclog, which gave them some hope, but at Bothwell Bridge their forces were utterly broken, largely through their own quarrels, by the Duke of Monmouth and the disciplined troops of the government.
Alexander Gordon had to flee from the field of Bothwell. He came home to Earlstoun alone, for his father had been met about six miles from the battle-field by a troop of horse, and as he refused to surrender, he was slain there and buried in the parish of Glassford.
Immediately after Bothwell, Alexander Gordon was compelled to go into hiding with a price upon his head. Unlike his father, he was very ready-witted, free with his tongue, even boisterous upon occasion, and of very great bodily strength. These qualities stood him in good stead during the long period of his wandering and when lying in concealment among the hills.
The day after Bothwell, he was passing through the town of Hamilton, when he was recognized by an old retainer of the family.
"Save us, Maister Alexander," said the man, who rememhered the ancient kindnesses of his family, "do you not know that it is death for you to be found here?"