A SEA-FIGHT IN THE TIME OF QUEEN BESS
By Charles Kingsley
When the sun leaped up the next morning, and the tropic night
flashed suddenly into the tropic day, Amyas was pacing the deck,
with dishevelled hair and torn clothes, his eyes red with rage
and weeping, his heart full—how can I describe it? Picture it
to yourselves, picture it to yourselves, you who have ever lost a
brother; and you who have not, thank God that you know nothing of
his agony. Full of impossible projects, he strode and staggered
up and down, as the ship thrashed close-hauled through the rolling
seas. He would go back and burn the villa. He would take Guayra,
and have the life of every man in it in return for his brother's.
"We can do it, lads!" he shouted. "If Drake took Nombre de Dios,
we can take La Guayra." And every voice shouted, "Yes."
"We will have it, Amyas, and have Frank too, yet," cried Cary; but
Amyas shook his head. He knew, and knew not why he knew, that all
the ports in New Spain would never restore to him that one beloved
"Yes, he shall be well avenged. And look there! There is the first
crop of our vengeance." And he pointed toward the shore, where
between them and the now distant peaks of the Silla three sails
appeared, not five miles to windward.
"There are the Spanish bloodhounds on our heels, the same ships
which we saw yesterday off Guayra. Back, lads, and welcome them,
if they were a dozen."
There was a murmur of applause from all around; and if any young
heart sank for a moment at the prospect of fighting three ships
at once, it was awed into silence by the cheer which rose from all
the older men, and by Salvation Yeo's stentorian voice:
"If there were a dozen, the Lord is with us, who has said, 'One of
you shall chase a thousand.' Clear away, lads, and see the glory
of the Lord this day."
"Amen!" cried Gary; and the ship was kept still closer to the wind.
Amyas had revived at the sight of battle. He no longer felt his
wounds, or his great sorrow; even Frank's last angel's look grew
dimmer every moment as he bustled about the deck; and ere a quarter
of an hour had passed, his voice cried firmly and cheerfully as of
"Now, my masters, let us serve God, and then to breakfast, and
after that clear for action."
Jack Brimblecombe read the daily prayers, and the prayers before a
fight at sea, and his honest voice trembled as, in the Prayer for
all Conditions of Men (in spite of Amyas' despair), he added, "and
especially for our dear brother Mr. Francis Leigh, perhaps captive
among the idolaters;" and so they rose.
"Now, then," said Amyas, "to breakfast. A Frenchman fights best
fasting, a Dutchman drunk, an Englishman full, and a Spaniard when
the devil is in him, and that's always."
"And good beef and the good cause are a match for the devil," said
Cary. "Come down, captain; you must eat too."
Amyas shook his head, took the tiller from the steersman, and bade
him go below and fill himself. Will Cary went down, and returned
in five minutes, with a plate of bread and beef, and a great jack
of ale, coaxed them down Amyas' throat, as a nurse does with a
child, and then scuttled below again with tears hopping down his
Amyas stood still steering. His face was grown seven years older
in the last night. A terrible set calm was on him. Woe to the man
who came across him that day!
"There are three of them, you see, my masters," said he, as the crew
came on deck again. "A big ship forward, and two galleys astern of
her. The big ship may keep; she is a race ship, and if we can but
recover the wind of her, we will see whether our height is not
a match for her length. We must give her the slip, and take the
"I thank the Lord," said Yeo, "who has given so wise a heart to
so young a general; a very David and Daniel, saving his presence,
lads; and if any dare not follow him, let him be as the men of
Meroz and Succoth. Amen! Silas Stavely, smite me that boy over the
head, the young monkey; why is he not down at the powder-room door?"
And Yeo went about his gunnery, as one who knew how to do it, and
had the most terrible mind to do it thoroughly, and the most terrible
faith that it was God's work.
So all fell to; and though there was comparatively little to
be done, the ship having been kept as far as could be in fighting
order all night, yet there was "clearing the decks, lacing the
nettings, making of bulwarks, fitting of waist-cloths, arming of
tops, tallowing of pikes, slinging of yards, doubling of sheets
and tacks," enough to satisfy even the pedantical soul of Richard
Amyas took charge of the poop, Gary of the forecastle, and Yeo, as
gunner, of the main deck, while Drew, as master, settled himself
in the waist; and all was ready, and more than ready, before the
great ship was within two miles of them.
And now, while the mastiffs of England and the bloodhounds of Spain
are nearing and nearing over the rolling surges, thirsting for each
other's blood, let us spend a few minutes at least in looking at
them both, and considering the causes which in those days enabled
the English to face and conquer armaments immensely superior in
size and number of ships, and to boast that in the whole Spanish
war but one queen's ship, the Revenge, and (if I recollect right)
but one private man-of-war, Sir Richard Hawkins' Dainty, had ever
struck their colors to the enemy.
What was it which enabled Sir Richard Grenvil's Revenge, in his
last fearful fight off the Azores, to endure, for twelve hours
before she struck, the attack of eight Spanish armadas, of which
two (three times her own burden) sank at her side; and after all
her masts were gone, and she had been boarded three times without
success, to defy to the last the whole fleet of fifty-four sail,
which lay around, her, waiting for her to sink, "like dogs around
the dying forest king?"
What was it that enabled young Richard Hawkins' Dainty, though
half her guns were useless through the carelessness or treachery
of the gunner, to maintain for three days a running fight with two
Spaniards of equal size with her, double weight of metal, and ten
times the number of men?
What enabled Sir George Gary's illustrious ship, the Content,
to fight single-handed, from seven in the morning till eleven at
night, with four great armadas and two galleys, though her heaviest
gun was but one nine-pounder, and for many hours she had but thirteen
men fit for service?
What enabled, in the very year of which I write, those two valiant
Turkey merchantmen of London, the Merchant Royal and the Tobie,
with their three small consorts, to cripple, off Pantellaria in the
Mediterranean, the whole fleet of Spanish galleys sent to intercept
them, and return triumphant through the Straits of Gibraltar?
And lastly, what in the fight of 1588, whereof more hereafter,
enabled the English fleet to capture, destroy, and scatter that
Great Armada, with the loss (but not the capture) of one pinnace,
and one gentleman of note?
There were more causes than one: the first seems to have lain in
the build of the English ships; the second in their superior gunnery
and weight of metal; the third (without which the first would have
been useless) in the hearts of the English men.
The English ship was much shorter than the Spanish; and this (with
the rig of those days) gave them an ease in manoeuvring, which
utterly confounded their Spanish foes. "The English ships in the
fight of 1588," says Camden, "charged the enemy with marvellous
agility, and having discharged their broadsides, flew forth presently
into the deep, and levelled their shot directly, without missing,
at those great ships of the Spaniards, which were altogether heavy
and unwieldy." Moreover, the Spanish fashion, in the West Indies
at least, though not in the ships of the Great Armada, was, for
the sake of carrying merchandise, to build their men-of-war flush
decked, or as it was called "race" (razés), which left those on
deck exposed and open; while the English fashion was to heighten
the ship as much as possible at stem and stern, both by the sweep
of her lines, and also by stockades ("close fights and cage-works")
on the poop and forecastle, thus giving to the men a shelter, which
was further increased by strong bulkheads ("co-bridgeheads") across
the main-deck below, dividing the ship thus into a number of separate
forts, fitted with swivels ("bases, fowlers and murderers") and
loopholed for musketry and arrows.
But the great source of superiority was, after all, in the men
themselves. The English sailor was then, as now, a quite amphibious
and all-cunning animal, capable of turning his hand to everything,
from needlework and carpentry to gunnery or hand-to-hand blows;
and he was, moreover, one of a nation, every citizen of which was
not merely permitted to carry arms, but compelled by law to practice
from childhood the use of the bow, and accustomed to consider
sword-play and quarter-staff as a necessary part and parcel
of education, and the pastime of every leisure hour. The "fiercest
nation upon earth," as they were then called, and the freest
also, each man of them fought for himself with the self-help and
self-respect of a Yankee ranger, and once bidden to do his work,
was trusted to carry it out by his own wit as best he could. In
one word, he was a free man.
The English officers, too, as now, lived on terms of sympathy with
their men unknown to the Spaniards, who raised between the commander
and the commanded absurd barriers of rank and blood, which forbade
to his pride any labor but that of fighting. The English officers,
on the other hand, brought up to the same athletic sports, the
same martial exercise, as their men, were not ashamed to care for
them, to win their friendship, even on emergency to consult their
judgment; and used their rank, not to differ from their men,
but to outvie them; not merely to command and be obeyed, but like
Homer's heroes, or the old Norse vikings, to lead and be followed.
Drake touched the true mainspring of English success when he once
(in his voyage round the world) indignantly rebuked some coxcomb
gentleman-adventurers with, "I should like to see the gentleman that
will refuse to set his hand to a rope. I must have the gentlemen
to hale and draw with the mariners." But those were days in which
her Majesty's service was as little overridden by absurd rules of
seniority as by that etiquette which is at once the counterfeit and
the ruin of true discipline. Under Elizabeth and her ministers, a
brave and a shrewd man was certain of promotion, let his rank or
his age be what they might; the true honor of knighthood covered
once and for all any lowliness of birth; and the merchant service
(in which all the best sea-captains, even those of noble blood,
were more or less engaged) was then a nursery, not only for seamen,
but for warriors, in days when Spanish and Portuguese traders
(whenever they had a chance) got rid of English competition by
salvoes of cannon-shot.
Hence, as I have said, that strong fellow-feeling between officers
and men; and hence mutinies (as Sir Richard Hawkins tells us) were
all but unknown in the English ships, while in the Spanish they broke
out on every slight occasion. For the Spaniards, by some suicidal
pedantry, had allowed their navy to be crippled by the same
despotism, etiquette, and official routine by which the whole nation
was gradually frozen to death in the course of the next century
or two; forgetting that, fifty years before, Cortez, Pizarro, and
the early conquistadores of America had achieved their miraculous
triumphs on the exactly opposite methods; by that very fellow-feeling
between commander and commanded by which the English were now
conquering them in their turn.
Their navy was organized on a plan complete enough; but on one
which was, as the event proved, utterly fatal to their prowess
and unanimity, and which made even their courage and honor useless
against the assaults of free men. "They do, in their armadas at sea,
divide themselves into three bodies; to wit, soldiers, mariners, and
gunners. The soldiers and officers watch and ward as if on shore;
and this is the only duty they undergo, except cleaning their
arms, wherein they are not over curious. The gunners are exempted
from all labor and care, except about the artillery; and these are
either Almaines, Flemings, or strangers; for the Spaniards are but
indifferently practiced in this art. The mariners are but as slaves
to the rest, to moil and to toil day and night; and those but few
and bad, and not suffered to sleep or harbor under the decks. For
in fair or foul weather, in storms, sun, or rain, they must pass
void of covert or succor."
This is the account of one who was long prisoner on board their
ships; let it explain itself, while I return to my tale. For the
great ship is now within two musket-shots of the Rose, with the
golden flag of Spain floating at her poop; and her trumpets are
shouting defiance up the breeze, from a dozen brazen throats, which
two or three answer lustily from the Rose, from whose poop flies
the flag of England, and from her fore the arms of Leigh and Cary
side by side, and over them the ship and bridge of the good town
of Bideford. And then Amyas calls:
"Now, silence trumpets, waits, play up! 'Fortune my foe!' and God
and the Queen be with us!"
Whereon (laugh not, reader, for it was a fashion of those musical
as well as valiant days) up rose that noble old favorite of good
Queen Bess, from cornet and sackbut, fife and drum; while Parson
Jack, who had taken his stand with the musicians on the poop, worked
away lustily at his violin.
"Well played, Jack; thy elbow flies like a lamb's tail," said Amyas,
forcing a jest.
"It shall fly to a better fiddle-bow presently, sir, if I have the
"Steady, helm!" said Amyas. "What is he after now?"
The Spaniard, who had been coming upon them right down the wind
under a press of sail, took in his light canvas.
"He don't know what to make of our waiting for him so bold," said
"He does, though, and means to fight us," cried another. "See, he
is hauling up the foot of his mainsail; but he wants to keep the
wind of us."
"Let him try, then," quoth Amyas. "Keep her closer still. Let no
one fire till we are about. Man the starboard guns; to starboard,
and wait, all small-arm men. Pass the order down to the gunner,
and bid all fire high, and take the rigging."
Bang went one of the Spaniard's bow guns, and the shot went wide.
Then another and another, while the men fidgeted about, looking at
the priming of their muskets, and loosened arrows in the sheaf.
"Lie down, men, and sing a psalm. When I want you, I'll call you.
Closer still, if you can, helmsman, and we will try a short ship
against a long one. We can sail two points nearer the wind than
As Amyas had calculated, the Spaniard would gladly enough have stood
across the Rose's bows, but knowing the English readiness, dare
not for fear of being raked; so her only plan, if she did not
intend to shoot past her foe down to leeward, was to put her head
close to the wind, and wait for her on the same tack.
Amyas laughed to himself. "Hold on yet awhile. More ways of killing
a cat than choking her with cream. Drew, there, are your men ready?"
"Ay, ay, sir!" and on they went, closing fast with the Spaniard,
till within a pistol-shot.
"Ready about!" and about she went like an eel, and ran upon
the opposite tack right under the Spaniard's stern. The Spaniard,
astounded at the quickness of the manoeuvre, hesitated a moment,
and then tried to get about also, as his only chance; but it was
too late, and while his lumbering length was still hanging in the
wind's eye, Amyas' bowsprit had all but scraped his quarter, and
the Rose passed slowly across his stern at ten yards' distance.
"Now, then!" roared Amyas. "Fire, and with a will! Have at
her—archers, have at her, muskets all!" and in an instant a storm
of bar and chainshot, round and canister, swept the proud Don
from stem to stern, while through the white cloud of smoke the
musket-balls, and the still deadlier clothyard arrows, whistled
and rushed upon their venomous errand. Down went the steersman,
and every soul who manned the poop. Down went the mizzen topmast,
in went the stern windows and quarter galleries; and as the smoke
cleared away, the gorgeous painting of the Madre Dolorosa, with
her heart full of seven swords, which, in a gilded frame, bedizened
the Spanish stern, was shivered in splinters; while, most glorious
of all, the golden flag of Spain, which the last moment flaunted
above their heads, hung trailing in the water. The ship, her tiller
shot away, and her helmsman killed, staggered helplessly a moment,
and then fell up into the wind.
"Well done, men of Devon!" shouted Amyas, as cheers rent the welkin.
"She has struck!" cried some, as the deafening hurrahs died away.
"Not a bit," said Amyas. "Hold on, helmsman, and leave her to patch
her tackle while we settle the galleys."
On they shot merrily, and long ere the armada could get herself
to rights again, were two good miles to windward, with the galleys
sweeping down fast upon them.
And two venomous-looking craft they were, as they shot through the
short chopping sea upon some forty oars apiece, stretching their
long sword-fish snouts over the water, as if snuffing for their prey.
Behind this long snout, a strong square forecastle was crammed with
soldiers, and the muzzles of cannon grinned out through port-holes,
not only in the sides of the forecastle, but forward in the line
of the galley's course, thus enabling her to keep up a continual
fire on a ship right ahead.
The long low waist was packed full of the slaves, some five or
six to each oar, and down the centre, between the two banks, the
English could see the slave-drivers walking up and down a long
gangway, whip in hand. A raised quarter-deck at the stern held
more soldiers, the sunlight flashing merrily upon their armor and
their gun-barrels; as they neared, the English could hear plainly
the cracks of the whips, and the yells as of wild beasts which
answered them; the roll and rattle of oars, and the loud "Ha!" of
the slaves which accompanied every stroke, and the oaths and curses
of the drivers; while a sickening musky smell, as of a pack of
kennelled hounds, came down the wind from off those dens of misery.
No wonder if many a young heart shuddered as it faced, for the first
time, the horrible reality of those floating hells, the cruelties
whereof had rung so often in the English ears, from the stories
of their own countrymen, who had passed them, fought them, and now
and then passed years of misery on board of them. Who knew but what
there might be English among those sun-browned, half-naked masses
of panting wretches?
"Must we fire upon the slaves?" asked more than one, as the thought
"Spare them all you can, in God's name; but if they try to run us
down, rake them we must, and God forgive us."
The two galleys came on abreast of each other, some forty yards
apart. To out-manoeuvre their oars as he had done the ship's sails,
Amyas knew was impossible. To run from them, was to be caught
between them and the ship.
He made up his mind, as usual, to the desperate game.
"Lay her head upon the wind, helmsman, and we will wait for them."
They were now within musket-shot, and opened fire from their
bow-guns; but, owing to the chopping sea, their aim was wild. Amyas,
as usual, withheld his fire.
The men stood at quarters with compressed lips, not knowing what
was to come next. Amyas, towering motionless on the quarter-deck,
gave orders calmly and decisively. The men saw that he trusted
himself, and trusted him accordingly.
The Spaniards, seeing him wait for them, gave a shout of joy—was
the Englishman mad? And the two galleys converged rapidly, intending
to strike him full, one on each bow.
They were within forty yards—another minute, and the shock would
The Englishman's helm went up, his yards creaked round, and gathering
way he plunged upon the larboard galley.
"A dozen gold nobles to him who brings down the steersman!" shouted
Carey, who had his cue.
And a flight of arrows from the forecastle rattled upon the galley's
Hit or not hit, the steersman lost his nerve, and shrank from the
coming shock. The galley's helm went up to port, and her beak slid
all but harmless along Amyas' bow; a long dull grind, and then
loud crack on crack, as the Rose sawed slowly through the bank
of oars from stem to stern, hurling the wretched slaves in heaps
upon each other; and ere her mate on the other side could swing
round, to strike him in his new position, Amyas' whole broadside,
great and small, had been poured into her at pistol-shot, answered
by a yell which rent their ears and hearts.
"Spare the slaves! Fire at the soldiers!" cried Amyas; but the
work was too hot for much discrimination, for the larboard galley,
crippled but not undaunted, swung round across his stern, and hooked
herself venomously on to him.
It was a move more brave than wise; for it prevented the other
galley from returning to the attack without exposing herself a
second time to the English broadside; and a desperate attempt of
the Spaniards to board at once through the stern ports, and up the
quarter, was met with such a demurrer of shot and steel that they
found themselves in three minutes again upon the galley's poop,
accompanied, to their intense disgust, by Amyas Leigh and twenty
Five minutes' hard cutting, hand to hand, and the poop was clear.
The soldiers in the forecastle had been able to give them no assistance,
open as they lay to the arrows and musketry from the Rose's lofty
stern. Amyas rushed along the central gangway, shouting in Spanish,
"Freedom to the slaves! death to the masters!" clambered into the
forecastle, followed close by his swarm of wasps, and set them so
good an example how to use their stings, that in three minutes more
there was not a Spaniard on board who was not dead or dying.
"Let the slaves free!" shouted he. "Throw us a hammer down, men.
Hark! there's an English voice!" There is indeed. From amid the
wreck of broken oars and writhing limbs, a voice is shrieking in
broadest Devon to the master, who is looking over the side:
"Oh, Robert Drew! Robert Drew! Come down and take me out of hell!"
"Who be you, in the name of the Lord?"
"Don't you mind William Prust, that Captain Hawkins left behind in
the Honduras, years and years agone? There's nine of us aboard, if
your shot hasn't put 'em out of their misery. Come down—if you've
a Christian heart, come down!"
Utterly forgetful of all discipline, Drew leaps down, hammer in
hand, and the two old comrades rush into each other's arms.
Why make a long story of what took but five minutes to do? The nine
men (luckily none of them wounded) are freed, and helped on board,
to be hugged and kissed by all comrades and young kinsmen; while
the remaining slaves, furnished with a couple of hammers, are told
to free themselves and help the English. The wretches answered by
a shout; and Amyas, once more safe on board again, dashes after
the other galley, which has been hovering out of reach of his guns;
but there is no need to trouble himself about her; sickened with
what she has got, she is struggling right up wind, leaning over to
one side, and seemingly ready to sink.
"Are there any English on board of her?" asked Amyas, loth to lose
the chance of freeing a countryman.
"Never a one, sir, thank God."
So they set to work to repair damages; while the liberated slaves,
having shifted some of the galley's oars, pull away after their
comrade; and that with such a will, that in ten minutes they have
caught her up, and careless of the Spaniard's fire, boarded her en
masse, with yells as of a thousand wolves. There will be fearful
vengeance taken on those tyrants, unless they play the man this
And in the meanwhile half the crew are clothing, feeding, questioning,
caressing those nine poor fellows thus snatched from living death;
and Yeo, hearing the news, has rushed up on deck to welcome his
old comrades, and:
"Is Michael Heard, my cousin, here among you?"
Yes, Michael Heard is there, white-headed rather from misery than
age; and the embracings and questionings begin afresh.
"Where is my wife, Salvation Yeo?"
"With the Lord."
"Amen!" says the old man, with a short shudder.
"I thought so much; and my two boys?"
"With the Lord."
The old man catches Yeo by the arm.
"How, then?" It is Yeo's turn to shudder now.
"Killed in Panama, fighting the Spaniards; sailing with Mr. Oxenham;
and 'twas I led 'em into it. May God and you forgive me!"
"They couldn't die better, Cousin Yeo. Where's my girl Grace?"
The old man covers his face with his hands for a while. "Well, I've
been alone with the Lord these fifteen years, so I must not whine
at being alone a while longer—it won't be long."
"Put this coat on your back, uncle," says some one.
"No; no coats for me. You'd better go to your work, lads, or the
big one will have the wind of you yet."
"So she will," said Amyas, who has overheard; but so great is the
curiosity on all hands, that he has some trouble in getting the
men to quarters again; indeed, they only go on condition of parting
among themselves the new-comers, each to tell his sad and strange
story. How after Captain Hawkins, constrained by famine, had put
them ashore, they wandered in misery till the Spaniards took them;
how, instead of hanging them (as they at first intended), the Dons
fed and clothed them, and allotted them as servants to various
gentlemen about Mexico, where they throve, turned their hands
(like true sailors) to all manner of trades, and made much money,
and some of them were married, even to women of wealth; so that
all went well, until the fatal year 1574, when, "much against the
minds of many of the Spaniards themselves, that cruel and bloody
Inquisition was established for the first time in the Indies"; and
how, from that moment, their lives were one long tragedy.
The history even of their party was not likely to improve the good
feeling of the crew toward the Spanish ship which was two miles
to leeward of them, and which must be fought with, or fled from,
before a quarter of an hour was past. So, kneeling down upon the
deck, as many a brave crew in those days did in like case, they
"gave God thanks devoutly for the favor they had found"; and then
with one accord, at Jack's leading, sang one and all the ninety-fourth
"O, Lord, Thou dost revenge all wrong,
Vengeance belongs to Thee," etc.
And then again to quarters; for half the day's work, or more than
half, still remained to be done; and hardly were the decks cleared
afresh, and the damage repaired as best it could be, when she came
ranging up to leeward, as closehauled as she could. She was, as
I said, a long flush-decked ship of full five hundred tons, more
than double the size, in fact, of the Rose, though not so lofty
in proportion; and many a bold heart beat loud, and no, shame to
them, as she began firing away merrily,, determined, as all well
knew, to wipe out in English blood the disgrace of her late foil.
"Never mind, my merry masters," said Amyas, "she has quantity and
"That's true," said one, "for one honest man is worth two rogues."
"And one of our guns, three of theirs," said another. "So when
you will, captain, and have at her."
"Let her come abreast of us, and don't burn powder. We have the
wind, and can do what we like with her. Serve the men out a horn
of ale all round, steward, and all take your time."
So they waited for five minutes more, and then set to work quietly,
after the fashion of English mastiffs, though they waxed right mad
before three rounds were fired, and the white splinters began to
crackle and fly.
Amyas, having, as he had said, the wind, and being able to go nearer
it than the Spaniard, kept his place at easy point-blank range for
his two eighteen-pounder guns, which Yeo and his mate worked with
"We are lacking her through and through every shot," said he.
"Leave the small ordnance alone yet awhile, and we shall sink her
"Whing, whing," went the Spaniard's shot like so many humming-tops,
through the rigging far above their heads; for the ill-constructed
ports of those days prevented the guns from hulling an enemy who
was to windward, unless close alongside.
"Blow, jolly breeze," cried one, "and lay the Don over all thou
canst. What's the matter aloft there?"
Alas! a crack, a flap, a rattle; and blank dismay! An unlucky shot
had cut the foremast in two, and all forward was a mass of dangling
"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
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
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
"Silence!" shouted Amyas. "I take no surrender from mutineers.
Señor," 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 á buena querra."
The Spaniard lifted his hat and bowed courteously, and answered,
"Impossible, señor. 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-à-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