"You will understand, Deane," he observed, "that you have a very simple part to play when you reach London; but I must have your promise that you will do nothing without my orders, and that you will make all the inquiries I may direct, and gain all the information you can on certain points which I will explain to you. You will thus be enabled to render great service to an important cause, and run no risk or danger yourself."
"As to that," answered Jack, "I am ready enough to run all sorts of risks where there is a good object to be attained; and I would rather be trusted than asked to act in the dark, as I am now doing!" Long Sam smiled grimly.
"Others may not be so willing to trust you as you suppose," he answered. "Indeed, it is better for all parties that you should not be acquainted with what is taking place. I wish you, however, to understand, that the men with whom I am engaged are persons of honour and character, and are not likely to do any act unworthy of their position."
"Then there is some plot or scheme afoot?" said Jack. "I have long thought so, but could gain no information about the matter."
"You are right in that respect," answered Long Sam: "there is an important scheme about to be carried out; and as soon as you have given proof of your fitness to engage in it, you shall be informed as to the particulars. In the meantime, all I require is simple obedience to my directions, and then all will be well."
After riding for some distance across somewhat hilly country, on reaching the summit of a height, he pulled up his horse, exclaiming, "Why, surely that must be London!"
Before him, spread out, and extending some way both to the east and west, were numberless streets of houses, with towers and spires rising above them in all directions, Before them, glittering white in the sunlight, rose the pinnacles of the magnificent fane of Saint Paul's, with its lofty dome—just then verging towards completion, to the satisfaction of its talented architect, Sir Christopher Wren—while beyond could be seen, winding on through meadows and green fields, and then amidst the houses and stores of London and Westminster, the city and the borough, the blue stream of the Thames, covered with numerous boats and barges. Keeping to the right, Long Sam led his companion round the outside of London, at the back of the palace at Kensington, to the village of Hammersmith.
"We shall there find proper stables, and a careful groom to look after our horses," he observed; "and purchasers will not object to ride down there to inspect them—they may deem them of more value than if they were brought to their doors."
The village then consisted chiefly of a single street, with here and there a few houses on either side of branch roads. Instead of selecting the chief inn, Long Sam rode up to the door of a small house, with the sign of "The Bear" swinging on poles before it. Some good-sized stables showed that he had selected it more on account of the accommodation it could afford the horses than that which they would find within its doors for themselves.
"We're pretty full, masters," said the landlord, as he eyed the two travellers; "but I'll manage to put you up as best I can, as it's cold weather to sleep out in the lofts. I've got a room for you," he said, looking at Long Sam, "where, by adding two or three feet to the bed, you will find room to stretch yourself; and you, my lad, will be content with a little closet we have got on the stairs. There's not much air or light comes in, but it's pretty warm, considering it's near the kitchen chimney; and as for light, you will do well enough without that at night."
Jack, who had been accustomed to rough lodgings since he started with Will Brinsmead, expressed himself perfectly satisfied with the accommodation which was promised him. Long Sam, taking a valise which he had before him, followed the landlord up to his room.
Jack soon found that his companion intended to make him act the part of the careful groom, the person he spoke of, for some reason or other, not being forthcoming.
"You must keep a watchful eye on the horses, Jack," he observed, when he came down-stairs. "I have business which calls me elsewhere, and I must entrust them to you. Take care that they are well fed, and that their shoes are in good order. See that no tricks are played with them; for in this city rogues of all sorts abound. Some, for instance, on pretence of looking at them, may come in and lame them, perchance to depreciate their value; you understand me? You must watch, too, that no one, pretending to try their paces, gallops off, and leaves you to follow if you list, and to find, when you come back, that the rest have been disposed of in the same way."
"When I engaged for a ride, Master Smart, my object was to see the big city," said Jack, in a tone of expostulation.
"Have patience, lad!" answered Long Sam; "you will see the city soon enough, and perhaps have more time to spend in it than you expect I have the means of rewarding you in a way that will suit your taste. So let me hear no more grumbling, I pray thee!"
Saying this, Long Sam, turning on his heel, walked away from the stables, leaving Jack to groom the tired horses. Jack was fortunately accustomed to make the best of every thing, and, therefore, though somewhat hungry and tired, he set to work with whisp and brush to get the dust and dirt of the roads off the animals, and to put them into a condition to enjoy their food.
Several days passed by, during which Jack found himself almost a prisoner in the stable-yard. Occasionally Long Sam appeared, accompanied by various persons who took a look at the horses; but, strange to say, although they were lavish in their praises of the animals, no purchasers were found. At all events, the horses remained in their stalls. Among two or three who one day came together, Jack observed a person whose countenance he thought he recognised. The man turned a cold, unmeaning glance towards him as he caught Jack's eye fixed on his countenance.
"I am sure that is Master Stirthesoul!" Jack said to himself. "He is the same man I met at Mr Harwood's, and the same who was in Master Pearson's company at Saint Faith's. What can he have to do here?"
Jack resolved to solve the doubt by addressing him. Just as he was about to open his lips, the man, giving him a somewhat menacing look, turned round and followed Long Sam out of the stable. Jack saw him whispering a few words into Long Sam's ears.
"Oh, he's all right and faithful!" he heard the latter say. "He knows nothing, and if he did, he's not the lad to betray us!"
Jack could not tell whether these words were intended for his ears or not. However, the visitors walked away without taking any further notice of him.
In spite of Smart's promises, Jack began to feel very weary of confinement in the precincts of the inn, and determine on insisting that Long Sam should take his place.
"He pretends to be a groom, and therefore I do not see that he should not act as one," said Jack to himself.
Just, however, as he was about to insist on this arrangement with his companion, Long Sam told him that he might go into the city and take a look round London, and see what he could of the sights.
"Only take care to find your way back again here before the evening," he observed. "Keep in the broader streets, and don't tell any strangers where you come from, or what has brought you to the city."
It was Sunday morning; and Jack, putting on his best garments which he had brought with him, started on his walk. He took his way along a very bad road leading to the Strand, with the fields and cabbage-gardens to the right, and Hyde Park to the left, which then extended nearly to the Palace of Kensington. Fortunately the weather was dry for the season of the year, or he would have been splashed over from head to foot. Besides Saint Paul's, a number of beautiful churches were already raising their heads by the genius of Wren in various parts of London. Seeing a number of people collecting before a church, and having never failed at home in attending Divine Service, he took courage, and followed the crowd within the building. Although he had been accustomed occasionally to see people take their eyes off their books to watch the entrance of a stranger, or to examine the dress of their neighbours, or perhaps to exchange glances with one another, he was little prepared for the style of behaviour in which the congregation of the church where he now found himself indulged. Here were collected many of the beauties, and a few of the fine gentlemen of the day. It may have been that they lost little by not attending to the preacher. So Jack thought from what he could catch of the discourse, little of which he could understand, so full of flowers of rhetoric was it. Most of his neighbours were, at all events, flirting and ogling all through the service, and as they entered and took their seats all courtesied and bowed to their acquaintance, as if they had been at a theatre. Jack could not help feeling thankful when the service was brought to a conclusion.
"If this is the way the great people worship God in this big city, I am afraid the citizens and poorer ones can pay very little attention to Him at all," he thought.
Jack found himself looked at askance by several persons of ordinary degree, among whom he stood at the farther end of the building. At length he made his way into the open air. He much admired, however, the coaches and sedan-chairs that came to fetch away all the grand people, with little negro boys from the Sugar Islands to hold up the trains of the ladies, and pages who sat on the steps of the gaily-painted coaches, drawn, some by four, and some by six horses.
In a walk along the Mall, where, of course, no one paid the least attention to the open-mouthed country lad, Jack saw a still greater number of fashionable people. Among them was a very stout lady, carried in a sedan-chair with painted panels, and he heard the passers-by remark that she was the Princess Ann. Her chair was followed by another sedan, which, he was told, contained the Lady Churchill, whose beautiful face looked, however, in any thing but a good-humour. He saw many other sights, some of them curious enough but altogether he was disappointed with this his first day in London.
"They say that the streets are paved with gold; but that is a mistake. They could only once have been gilt, and the fine gentlemen I have met must have rolled in them, and the gilding must have stuck to their clothes."
Jack had been looking out all the day in the hopes of seeing the king, of whose courage, wisdom, and remarkable clemency, he had often heard his father and cousin Nat speak. They looked upon him, indeed, as the bulwark of the Protestant faith in England, and notwithstanding all the efforts which Mr Harwood and his daughter, and Master Pearson and others had made to eradicate that notion from Jack's mind, it remained in reality as firm as ever. The very reason which the king's enemies brought forward to depreciate him, raised him more and more in his opinion. His desire was at length gratified, when, on the 8th of February, Long Sam told him, that if he would go and stand near the gates of the Palace of Kensington he would there very likely get a glimpse of the king.
"And hark you, my lad," he said, "you must observe carefully all that happens at the time, and bring me word. Take your stand, also, with your right foot before the left, and your hand in the breast of your coat. A person will then probably come and speak to you, and you will repeat to me all he says. If he does not speak, he will give you a note, which you are to bring immediately to me."
Jack, as directed, took up his post at the gates of the palace at Kensington. He had not long to wait, when the gates were thrown open, and some guards appeared, and then a coach with six horses, within which sat a gentleman with a long nose and prominent features, dressed in a rich riding-suit. On either side were more horsemen, who Jack heard were the King's Dutch guards. They were followed by several Dutch officers of the court, among whom was the faithful Duke of Portland, and others of high rank. Jack had a good view of that clear hawk's eye, and the large Roman nose and the serious countenance, which expressed little but acute penetration into the mind and motives of others, with all of which the coinage of the realm had made his subjects familiar. The sight of the great warrior and wisest statesman of the day, who knew himself to be surrounded by plots, and yet went his way with perfect coolness, had great effect upon Jack's somewhat excitable mind. He threw up his cap, and shouted, "Hurrah! long live the King!" in as good faith as any of the many bystanders; and his first impulse was to run off, following the coach, shouting, as youths and boys are used to do after any great personage. The king leaned forward over a paper which he held in his hand, so that nearly the whole of his figure was visible at the window of the coach, which took its way towards Richmond.
Suddenly Jack remembered the direction he had received from Long Sam. Going back to the place he had before occupied, he put himself in the position in which he had been standing. Looking round, he saw a person who had come out of the palace observing him narrowly. The person, who was dressed in the livery of the palace, at length passed close to him.
"Are you Long Sam's messenger?" he asked.
"At your service," answered Jack.
"Where does he lodge?" asked the stranger.
"At the Bear," was Jack's answer.
"Take this note, and deliver it quickly," said the stranger; "but do not move from where you now stand till I have re-entered the palace."
Saying this, the stranger slipped a sealed packet into Jack's hand. He immediately concealed it in his doublet, but as he did so a shade of doubt crossed his mind that all was not right. He waited, however, a few minutes till the person who had given him the packet had re-entered the gate, and then took his way back to the Bear. He could not, however, help occasionally looking round to observe whether his steps were followed. He felt that he was engaged in some secret transaction; and from some of the remarks which Long Sam had let drop, as well as the appearance of the concealed Jesuit in his society, he could not help fearing that the plot afoot was against the welfare of the king. He reached the inn, however, in safety, and described exactly to Long Sam all he had seen.
"But you must tell me honestly," he said, "whether this matter has any thing to do with any proceeding which may injure the king. As I watched him just now, I thought of the many brave actions which he has performed, and his calmness and courage at the present time, and could not help feeling that I would rather fight for him than against him."
"You are a foolish young man!" answered Long Sam, in a more angry tone than he had ever used towards Jack. "Follow my directions, and all will be right. I do not want to hurt your feelings," he added, seeing that Jack's colour came to his cheek. "And now I must leave you."
"As to that," answered Jack, "I have no wish to quarrel with you, or any other man; but it strikes me I have been made a 'cat's-paw' of, and I tell you frankly I should like to know our object in coming to London."
"Then as frankly I will tell you—I cannot give it," answered Long Sam. "If you don't know your own interests, it's your own fault; but remain here a few days longer, and I have no doubt you will learn all you wish to know, and probably much more than I know now."
Several days passed by after this conversation, during which Long Sam was constantly absent. Other circumstances had occurred which made Jack more suspicious than ever. He had been waiting all day for his companion, when, as Long Sam had not returned at ten o'clock at night, it being past the usual time of retiring, Jack went to his bedroom, into which, as the entrance was in rather a public position, he securely bolted himself. After he had been asleep for some time he awoke with a start, and was greatly surprised to hear voices close to him. At first, he thought himself transported back to the old house at the Hagg, and that the sounds he heard proceeded from the ghosts which were said to haunt it. However, on sitting up, and more perfectly recovering his senses, he perceived that the speakers were real personages in close proximity to him. Although a gleam or two of light came through a partition which separated him from the room where he supposed them to be, he was unable to find any chink or opening through which he could observe what the speakers were about. As he had not been placed there intentionally for the purpose of hearing the conversation, he did not feel that he was guilty of eavesdropping, or that it was his duty to refrain from listening to what was spoken. There appeared to be a number of persons collected together, two or three of whom took the lead among the others.
"My friends, I have to thank you for meeting me here to-night," were the first words Jack heard uttered. "We have an important object to carry out, and it requires all the nerve and courage we possess to ensure its success. We have a rightful cause, and that should strengthen our arms for any deed which may be necessary. Remember we are not acting for ourselves, but under the full authority and sanction of our lawful sovereign, King James. It becomes necessary for his interests, and for our own, and for that of all England, and moreover for that of the only true and pure faith, which we profess—the faith of Rome—that the Usurper should be removed. You perceive, then, that we lift the responsibility off our own shoulders upon those who give us authority to act. I should be myself ever far from advocating assassination, or any other unlawful way of getting rid of a rival, but in this instance it seems that no other mode presents itself. I hope, then, that you are prepared to go through with the plan I have to propose, by whatever way it is to be carried out, or whatever may be the consequences."
"Yes, yes, we are all prepared!" exclaimed several persons.
"Stay, friends!" cried another; "say not that all are prepared. We are all ready to draw our swords in a lawful quarrel and in an open manner, such as true soldiers may fight for, but there are other ways at which Sir George has hinted, and it may be that some of them are not such as honourable men would desire to engage in."
"What mean you, Captain?" exclaimed the first speaker. "Do you dare to affirm that I propose any scheme which is not honourable and lawful? Whatever I do, or whatever I say, I act under the authority of my true and only sovereign, King James. I acknowledge no other, and therefore I feel myself at liberty to draw my sword in opposition to any one who claims the title of my king."
"How are we to be sure that you have this authority, good sir?" asked the former speaker. "I have served under the banners of many leaders, and have always been faithful to those who trusted me; but before I draw my sword against the Prince of Orange I should like to know that it is according to the wish of James, late King of England, who by that means may recover his own."
"Here, then, incredulous men," exclaimed the person who had been addressed as 'Sir George;' "listen to the commission I have received from King James himself:—
"'Our will and pleasure is, and we do hereby fully authorise, strictly require, and expressly command, our loving subjects to rise in arms and make war upon the Prince of Orange, the usurper of our throne, and all his adherents, and to seize for our use all such forts, towns, and strongholds within our dominion of England as may serve to further our interest, and to do from time to time such other acts of hostility against the Prince of Orange and his adherents as may conduce most to our service. We judge this the properest, justest, and most effectual means of procuring the Restoration and their deliverance, and we do hereby indemnify them for what they shall act in pursuance of this our royal command, given at our court of Saint Germain-en-Laye, the 27th of December, 1695.'
"This will, I hope, satisfy you, gentlemen, that we are not acting without due authority; moreover, you should be aware that the Duke of Berwick came over to England a few months ago, and visited many of the principal adherents of King James, who are all ready, on the signal which we shall make them, to rise in arms, and raise the standard of our lawful king. He is also at the present moment prepared to put himself at the head of an army of 20,000 French soldiers, who are drawn out of the different garrisons of the neighbourhood of Calais. There is also a fleet ready to bring them across as soon as they receive the signal which we are preparing to give. The French king has promised to support King James, and will follow with another army, which will be as soon as possible collected."
"That appears a well-arranged, straightforward scheme, such as soldiers and men of honour can engage in," observed another speaker.
"I am glad you think so, Captain," observed Sir George; "and I feel very sure, that as soon as the signal I have spoken of is given, we shall have hundreds like yourselves flocking to the royal standard."
"But what is to be that signal, may I ask?" inquired another, who had not before spoken. "I am willing to draw my sword at the command of the King, but I never like to take a leap in the dark, and am better pleased when all matters are explained clearly beforehand."
"It is not usual for a general to give a sketch of his campaign to his subordinates," answered Sir George, in a haughty tone. "There are certain matters of which it is better that as few as possible should be informed. I trust that this reply will satisfy you."
"It must, by my faith!" mattered the old officer; "but, for my part, I have no taste for these secret plots; I would rather a band of brave fellows had been collected together, and that King James's standard had been raised, and that then we had marched through the country, gathering strength in our progress."
"To be cut to pieces by Dutch William's soldiers, or to be surrounded and strung up like foot-pads!" observed another speaker.
"There are difficulties in our way, but they are such as brave men will gladly encounter."
Such was the strain in which the conversation continued. As yet nothing was said which might lead Jack to suppose that any immediate outbreak was likely to occur. Yet his suspicions were aroused, and he could not help fancying that the voice of the speaker who was addressed as "Sir George" was very like that of Long Sam. If so, he felt that he himself would be in some way implicated in the plot.
At length the party appeared to be breaking up, and most of the persons who had formed it took their departure. Still some remained; and at length he heard the door bolted and barred behind those who had gone out. Those who remained poked up the fire and drew their chairs round it.
"All will go well!" exclaimed the person who had been addressed as "Sir George."
"And now let us see to the more important part of our work. While Dutch William lives, or at all events is at liberty, King James will not move from his present position, and even the King of France cannot beard the lion in his den. As long as the Protestants have a leader they will be united, and a rising of the adherents of King James will be hopeless; but once let the head of William be laid low, and before they have time to make arrangements to secure another Protestant sovereign, King James can be brought over, and the Catholic religion again be established in the land. The end sanctifies the means, as my excellent father-confessor assures me, and I therefore have no compunction as to that matter. King James has sent over a number of his 'gentlemen of the guard' and others, who have come as it were on their private concerns, but who are all prepared to unite, as soon as they receive directions from me, to carry out any scheme I may propose. To those who are squeamish I have suggested merely that we seize and bring away the Prince of Orange, carry him on board ship, and thence convey him over to France: but that will never do; before he could be got to the Thames he would be rescued, and our necks would have to answer for our folly. There is but one safe plan, and that is to set upon him armed with pistols and strong pushing-swords, and thus at once to put him to death. As soon as he is dead his own adherents even will be afraid to assault us, not knowing who may next be at the head of affairs, What say you, gentlemen?—I have spoken plainly to you."
"I have been advised on this matter before," was the answer. "With you, I feel that which you propose is the only way of proceeding, especially if by that means we can establish again our religion in the land. If once we can gain the upper hand, we may without difficulty so oppress and keep down these Protestant heretics that we may compel them to come over to the true faith, or drive them from the country."
"We are all agreed, then, my friends?" said the leader of the plot. "Listen, then, to the plan which I have arranged. The king, as you know, frequently drives out from his palace at Kensington for the purpose of hunting in Richmond Park, and takes boat near Turnham Green to cross the Thames to the Surrey side. I have arranged several leaders, each of whom has five men well mounted to act under him. They will be well-armed with blunderbusses, musketoons, pistols, and well-sharpened swords. There is a spot at Turnham Green where the road is narrow, with high hedges and ditches on each side, so that a coach and six horses cannot easily turn on a sudden. Just about there, also, there are some shrubs and bushes which will afford shelter to our men. We have spies in the palace who will give us exact information of the hours and days when the king goes forth in his coach; and as he has but a small body of guards with him, there will be little risk of a miscarriage. All we have now to do, is to fix the day for the carrying out of the scheme. It is well conceived, and cannot fail; and, moreover, if any of those engaged in it have qualms of conscience, I am able to promise them full absolution, should the king fall by their hands."
Jack was horrified at what he heard. What course was he to pursue? Should he at once make his way to the palace and give information of the atrocious plot? It was not at all likely, should he do so, that he would be believed. He lay on his bed in deep distress of mind. That his companion who had brought him to London was engaged in the plot, he had no doubt whatever; indeed, he fully believed that he was one of the leaders.
While he lay thus, considering what course to pursue, he heard some of those who had been in the room take their departure. One, however, remained, and he thought he recognised the heavy footsteps of the principal speaker. He kept walking up and down the room, occasionally muttering to himself. Jack was on the point of dropping off to sleep when again the door opened gently, and another person entered hurriedly.
"Ah, Ellis, what news do you bring?" asked the occupier of the room.
"Bad news indeed, Sir George," answered the other. "I was in the neighbourhood of the residence of the Earl of Portland two days back, when I saw Captain Fisher passing by. Although he was disguised I knew him, and, aware that he was acquainted with all our secrets, I followed him closely. I watched him till he entered the Earl's house, and, though Lord Portland himself was out, he remained there till the return of his lordship. This made me dread that his purpose was to denounce us. I was made sure of this, when, after waiting a considerable time, Lord Portland himself came forth, and drove at full speed to the palace. Still I had no certain information of what Fisher had been about, and I therefore kept the matter secret; watching only carefully the proceedings of all those who are acquainted with our plot. I kept a watch also at the Earl's door, and at length received notice that Captain Pendergrast had also visited the Earl; and only this very night I have obtained information that he and La Rue have both been at the palace. As you know, also, this morning the king gave orders that his coaches and guards should be made ready to go out hunting as usual, but suddenly, just at the moment they were to set forth, notice was sent to them that the king was unwell, and could not go abroad that day. Putting these things together, I am sure that the king has been warned of our plot, and that those who are in it will ere long be seized. He probably now only waits till he has learned the names of our party, and ascertained where each of us are to be found."
"Ellis, you deserve my gratitude!" exclaimed Long Sam. "It is time then that each of us should seek his safety in flight. I shall be off this moment; and I will leave the raw youth I have brought with me from the north to pay the score as best he can. He knows nothing; and if he is taken up and clapped into prison, he can do me no harm. Will you come with me? Here's a horse at your service."
"Thank you, Sir George," answered the other man, "I have business to do which must be done this night, in London, and I hope to get on board ship before daybreak and be off for France. I will not delay longer here."
Saying this, Ellis took a hurried departure, uttering but a short farewell to his companion. Long Sam immediately followed him out of the room. Jack sat up in bed and rubbed his eyes to be sure that he had not been dreaming.
"This, then, is the plot in which Mr Harwood has been engaged," he thought to himself. "I can serve him best by giving him information that it has been discovered. If I remain long here, I shall probably, as Long Sam observes is likely, be seized and sent to prison. Instead of paying the score, I will leave the horses to do that, and take the one which will most quickly carry me along the road to Sherwood Forest."
Jack, on this, quickly dressed himself in a rough riding-habit, and packed his other garments into his valise. Having loaded his pistols and seen to their priming, he stuck them in his belt, and, carrying his valise under his arm, with his boots in his hand, he silently stole down-stairs. Without difficulty he found his way into the room where the conspirators had met; then, putting on his boots, he made his way to the stables. He dared not strike a light, but, knowing well the positions of the horses, and the place where the saddles were hung up, he hoped to find no difficulty in getting off. He quickly opened the stable-door, and was about to enter, when a deep voice exclaimed, "Stand, or you're a dead man!"
He felt sure the person who spoke was Long Sam.
"Don't fire," he answered, calmly, "you will gain nothing by so doing!"
"Then tell me what you are about to do, youngster," exclaimed Long Sam, stepping forth, leading a horse by the bridle.
"I have as much right to take a midnight ride as you have," answered Jack. "I don't wish to stop you, but if you go your way, I claim a right to go mine."
"You are crowing loudly, my lad!" said Long Sam, with a curse.
"I have no wish to crow," answered Jack, "but if you have to ride to save your life, I wish to do the same to save my liberty. If you attempt to stop me I will give the alarm, and you well know what the consequences will be. You wish to make a tool of me—you will find that if you still attempt to do so, you will cut your own fingers."
"You are a sharp lad," answered Long Sam, or Sir George Barclay, for Jack before long had reason to know that such was the real name of his late companion. "You have found out a great deal more than I supposed. However, I believe you honest: and now make the best of your way out of this city. If you can give notice to any of our friends that they are in danger, you will be rendering them an important service, which, perhaps, some day or other they will be able to repay; and if not, you may rest satisfied that you have performed a kind action."
Saying this, Sir George led his horse through the gateway of the inn, which was left ajar, probably by pre-arrangement, and disappeared in the darkness. Jack quickly saddled the steed which had been bestowed on him by Master Pearson, and took his way northward by the road along which he had come to Hammersmith. As soon as he was at a distance from any houses, he clapped spurs to his horse and galloped over the ground at as fast a rate as the bad state of the roads would allow.
A RIDE FOR LIBERTY.
While Jack is galloping towards Sherwood Forest, we will give a short description of the plot which had been designed for the overthrow of William of Orange and the restoration of James the Second to the throne of England, and the re-establishment of Romanism throughout the realm.
The adherents of James, who desired to retain him on the throne of England in spite of his attempts to establish a despotic government, and to restore the Roman Catholic religion in the country, were called by their opponents "Jacobites." A large number of them belonged themselves to the Church of Rome, and, instigated by their priests, many of whom, in consequence of the liberality of King William, were allowed to remain in the country, were with other discontented persons continually plotting for the restoration of King James. At length, the two plots which have been hinted at in the previous pages were concocted. One, in which Mr Harwood and a number of noblemen and gentlemen of honourable character were engaged, had for its object the rising of the Jacobites generally throughout England, while Louis the Fourteenth undertook to send an army of 20,000 men to their assistance. This was about the year 1693. At the same time, another plot of an atrocious character was either proposed to James or suggested by him. He had himself, by this time, become thoroughly imbued with Jesuit principles, being surrounded by priests of that order. At all events, there is no doubt that the plot met with his cordial sanction. The plan proposed was to assassinate William as he was on his way to hunt in Richmond Park. While the country by his death was thrown into a state of confusion, the Jacobites were to fly to arms and the French army was to cross the channel.
Towards the end of 1695, the Duke of Berwick, a natural son of Charles the Second, came over secretly to England to try the temper of the Jacobites, Louis having promised to send his troops across immediately that they should rise. The Duke landed in Romney Marsh, where he took up his abode at the house of a smuggler of the name of Robert Hunt. By means of this man he was enabled to transmit the information he received to France. It appears, however, that the Jacobites were unwilling to risk their lives by rising while William remained firmly seated on the throne, dreading the arm of that bold and sagacious monarch.
There is no doubt, that in consequence of the failure of the Duke of Berwick's attempt in England to induce his friends to rise in arms, James and Louis agreed to the plot which had before been suggested for the assassination of William. The king was to be murdered on the 15th of February, as he was leaving his palace at Kensington to hunt in Richmond Park. Now it appears that a few days before this, James left Paris, and journeyed to Calais, where he set himself at the head of an army of about 20,000 men, who were drawn out of the garrisons which lay near the frontier. A considerable fleet also assembled there from Dunkirk and other ports, while transports, and more men-of-war to convoy them over, were also brought together. Several regiments indeed were already embarked while James waited at Calais, and no one can doubt that he remained there to receive the first notice of the projected assassination. Louis had communicated to the various courts in which he had ministers, the facts that he had acknowledged James King of England, and that he purposed to invade that country to re-establish him on the throne. At this time William had a large fleet at Spithead, and an army attached to him, while the larger part of the nation were desirous that he should remain their king. With all of these facts Louis was well acquainted, and there can be no doubt that he was himself also aware of the intended assassination, as he had far too much sense to suppose that while William lived any invasion of England would have been successful.
The chief promoter of the scheme for the invasion of England was Sir John Fenwick, a baronet of good family, but it does not appear that he was in any way connected with the assassination plot. Sir John Friend, a city knight, was also implicated in this plot. The Earl of Aylesbury and Lord Montgomery, with many others, were also connected with it. Charnock, Sir William Parkyns, Rookwood, Lowick, Cranburn, Knightley were among the chief persons engaged in the assassination plot.
The conspirators were to be scattered about Turnham Green in taverns and ale-houses, and to be brought together upon a signal being given. Each body of them was under a leader, so as to give the proceeding the air of a military act. While some were to attack the king's guards, others had been especially selected to shoot at the king himself. James had sent over a number of his own body-guard to be in readiness to support the conspirators. It appears, however, that the military men engaged in the work were very unwilling to undertake it, unless they received a commission from James himself. This document was therefore drawn up and signed by the king, and on seeing it, some of them imagined that the undertaking in which they engaged, although of a somewhat desperate character, was as honourable as that of entering into a campaign in regular service. Some, however, felt great doubts about the matter, as they could not help viewing it in its true light. Among these were two captains, Pendergrast, an Irish officer, and Fisher, an Englishman, and a Frenchman named De la Rue, who without any agreement with each other, at different times gave information to the Earl of Portland of the contemplated assassination of the king.
William at first was very unwilling to believe in the plot, and it was not without difficulty that the Earl of Portland could persuade his Majesty not to go forth on his hunting expedition on that eventful 15th day of February.
The greater number of the conspirators not having received such early information as did Sir George Barclay, continued to meet, even on that very day, hoping still to carry out their plan on the following Saturday. They were nearly all seized, most of them in their beds, before they had received any notice of the discovery of the plot.
Charnock, who had been a Fellow of Magdalen College, Oxford, and had become its Popish vice-president, was an indefatigable agent of the Jacobites. So completely imbued had he become with Jesuitical principles, that he had persuaded himself that he had full right to murder the king, having as he supposed a commission from the person he considered the legal proprietor of the throne. He offered to disclose all he knew of the consultations and designs of the Jacobites, if his life were spared, and the reply of King William is worthy of note: "I desire not to know them," feeling assured probably, that many were in it whom he hoped still to win over by generosity and kindness.
Sir John Friend and Sir William Parkyns were next tried, and were executed, on being found guilty, at Tyburn, on which occasion three of the non-juring clergy attended them, and had the audacity at the place of execution to give them public absolution, with an imposition of hands in the view of all people, for the act in which they had been engaged.
Sir John Fenwick, was captured shortly after the discovery of the plot, while attempting to escape to France. His trial lasted for a considerable time. He was, however, clearly found guilty, and executed. He richly merited the fate he met, for although he did not propose to assassinate the king, his aim was to bring over an army of foreigners, and subjugate those of his countrymen who differed from him in opinion, and to re-establish the Romish faith in England.
The people had before this been grumbling at the British fleet being detained so long at Spithead by contrary winds, but it was the presence of this fleet which contributed greatly to prevent James from attempting to cross the channel with an army placed under his command by the French king. Immediately also on hearing of the plot, a number of seamen who had remained concealed for fear of the press-gangs, came forward and volunteered on board the various ships which had commenced fitting out. Indeed the discovery of this abominable Jacobite plot had such an effect upon the nation generally, that many who formerly pitied the condition of the exiled king, were now completely alienated from him, by this means producing a more perfect establishment of King William on the throne.
John Deane's residence in the fens, and the experience he there gained in finding his way across country, assisted him greatly in the ride he was now taking northward. He had carefully noted every spot as he came by with Long Sam, and he was thus able to ride forward without having to inquire the road. His nerves were well strung and he was constitutionally brave; but never before had he felt so uncomfortable as he now did. Every moment he expected to have Long Sam galloping after him; and he felt very sure that those who contemplated the assassination of the king would not hesitate to kill him, if they fancied it would conduce to their safety or interest to put him out of the way. He could not help expecting also to be stopped by adherents of King William who might have heard of the plot and would naturally inquire why he was thus spurring onward away from London. They might, he thought, suppose that he was one of the conspirators. It could be shown that he had been associating with those who had engaged in the plot. He might thus probably from being unable to prove his innocence, lose his life along with them.
He rode on through that long winter's night without stopping. His horse was well trained, having both spirit and bottom; and thus daylight found him still pressing onward. At length he was obliged to pull up at the sign of the Fox and Chickens, a small roadside inn some fifty miles or more from London. The landlord eyed him askance as he led his horse into the stable, and began carefully to rub down the animal, to prepare it for its food.
"Will it please you to take some breakfast, my master?" asked Boniface, with a peculiar expression. "You seem to have ridden pretty hard since sunrise?"
"Yes," answered Jack; "my poor beast has borne me well. He has a few more miles to go before I can stable him for the night; and he needs rest and refreshment more than I do after his gallop over these bad roads."
"I will go in and tell my dame to get breakfast for you," said the landlord, "while you are looking after your horse. I like to see a man treat his beast well, as you are doing; and you deserve the best rasher my dame can cook for you."
The landlord was as good as his word; and when shortly afterwards Jack entered the inn, he found a dish smoking on the board, and a tankard of good ale standing by its side. His anxiety had not deprived him of his appetite; and he resolved, if his horse could hold out, to push on till nightfall. He, however, was not perfectly satisfied with the manner of his host, and could not help fancying that he suspected him of being either a highwayman or a fugitive from justice; and every time the door opened, he expected to see a bailiff or a Government official of some sort enter, to interrogate him as to what he was about and where he was going. He fully experienced the truth of Shakspeare's saying, "Conscience does make cowards of us all"! As soon, therefore, as he thought his horse was in a condition again to take to the road, he started up, and paying his score, walked out to the stables. The landlord followed him, and touched him on the shoulder.
"I like your looks, young master," he said; "but still there are one or two things about you which might excite suspicion. I would advise you, therefore, not to stop at any large town, if you have again to put up before you reach your destination."
Jack, while he thanked the landlord for his kind intentions, put on an indifferent air, as if his advice was unnecessary, and springing into the saddle, wished him good-day, and trotted at an easy pace till he was out of sight of the inn. He then once again put spurs to his steed, and away he flew along the road Master Pearson had not over-praised his horse when he told him that at a push he could cover a long distance, for, bad as was the road in many places, the good steed never stumbled nor hesitated, but kept up his pace, as if well aware that much depended on the progress he could make.
The farther north Jack advanced the better he knew the country; and as he found that it would be impossible to get to the other side of Nottingham that night, he turned aside off the high-road, to put up at the house of a miller, where he had several times stopped when making holiday excursions from Nottingham. The man was hearty and good-natured, with a buxom, kind wife, and a pretty little daughter. He thought he might there possibly gain some information of what had taken place at home, and be guided accordingly. He might probably also, should his own good steed be unable to proceed, obtain another horse from the miller, on which to continue his journey to Harwood Grange. It was getting dark as Jack rode up to the mill, and he found the miller knocking off work and disconnecting his water-wheels.
"Don't you know me, Master Simpson?" said Jack, as the miller stared at him from beneath his well-powdered brows.
"Ay, in troth, that do I! Mr John Deane, if I mistake not," answered the honest miller. "Why, lad, you seem to have ridden hard this evening! What is your pleasure?"
"A night's rest, and some food for my horse and myself," answered Jack, dismounting. "You will give it me, like a kind man, and ask no questions. I have business of importance which takes me some distance from hence, and I'm afraid if I were to ride on through the night with my tired steed, that we both of us should roll in the mud before day dawns."
The miller made Jack welcome; and, having stabled his horse as usual, he was soon seated opposite pretty Margery Simpson, by the side of the kind dame. Jack had to confess that he had not been at home for some time, in order to make inquiries respecting his friends at Nottingham. He could, however, gain no information; but the miller told him that as soon as the roads dried up a little with the March winds, he purposed going there. It struck Jack, therefore, that by this means he might communicate with his family, and fortunately having some paper in his valise, he was able to write a few lines to his brother Jasper. He told him of his welfare, and that he purposed immediately going on board a man-of-war, and seeking his fortunes at sea.
"I will not enter into my reasons, brother Jasper," he wrote; "but I find the land not suited for me, and I wish to prove my loyalty to our brave King William, and to seek for adventures on the ocean, where, I have an idea, more gold, and as much honour is to be gained as on shore."
Jack sent his best love to his father and mother and sisters, and begged that they would not forget him, or condemn him, whatever they might hear to his discredit. He carefully sealed this letter, which Master Simpson promised faithfully to deliver either to Jasper, or to Polly, should the former be absent from home.
"Now, Master Simpson, I will ask you still another favour; the moon will be up in four or five hours: let me sleep till then, and allow me to rise and proceed on my way. I shall thus reach the end of my journey soon after daybreak, where I can get further rest for myself and horse."
Although the good miller at first objected to this, Jack induced him to agree to let him take his departure. The air was bitterly cold, for the wind was from the north and a sharp frost had set in, and Jack feared lest a snowstorm should come on and impede his progress. He was therefore thankful that he had started at that early hour, hoping without impediment to reach Harwood Grange. His good steed, after a few hours' rest, carried him as well as when he first started from Hammersmith, and the sun had only just risen as he rode up the avenue to the Grange. He was anxious to make as little disturbance as possible, and he therefore at once rode up to the stable, and begged the groom to attend to his horse while he went up to the house. The man, who did not know him, seemed indisposed at first to obey his orders.
"It is a matter of importance," said Jack; "and I may have but little time to rest my tired beast."
As the housemaid was just opening the front door, Jack entered, and learned that the Squire was already on foot, and that Mistress Alethea would soon be down to breakfast. Jack hurried into the Squire's own room, where he was examining several fire-arms, placed against the wall.
"Mr Harwood," he exclaimed, "I fear that you are in danger! If you have been connected with those engaged in the conspiracy to bring over a foreign army, and to dethrone King William, let me urge you to fly or to conceal yourself. The plot has been discovered!"
Mr Harwood turned deadly pale on hearing this, and trembled in every limb.
"I am deeply thankful to you for the warning you have given me," he answered. "But what am I to do? I cannot leave my daughter, and know not where to conceal myself."
"Mistress Alethea will surely find a welcome and shelter in the house of my father," answered Jack. "I will endeavour to assist you to escape to a place of safety. It may be that no one will search for you here; but if you think it more advisable to go abroad, I will accompany you either to Yarmouth or Harwich, where you may take ship and get across to France."
Mr Harwood overwhelmed Jack with thanks, and gladly accepted his offer. Their plans were scarcely arranged when Alethea entered the room. She showed far more courage than her father had done on hearing of the discovery of the plot, though anxious about his safety. She at once declared her intention of accompanying him.
"That cannot be, my child!" said Mr Harwood. "You know not the difficulties and dangers I may have to go through; and though you might be willing to share them, they must of necessity be greatly increased should you be with me. We have friends in this neighbourhood who will, I am sure, take charge of you. With them you will live happily and securely; and I trust that in a short time, when this matter has blown over, I may be able to return once more to England."
Jack's heart beat violently when he heard these remarks of Mr Harwood.
"Oh, yes!" he exclaimed; "I feel sure that my mother and sisters will gladly afford all the protection Miss Harwood requires. I wish that I could accompany her to Nottingham. Could I not do it, and rejoin you, Mr Harwood?"
"What, and run the risk of being apprehended yourself?" exclaimed the Squire. "No; I will send Alethea under the escort of two trusty grooms with her tirewoman, and will throw myself on the kindness of your family. Already I am deeply indebted to them, and shall but add to the obligation."
The Squire spoke with some hesitation. Even at that moment his aristocratic feelings influenced him, and he felt as if he was honouring the Deane family by thus confiding his daughter to their charge. Some time had thus passed when the Squire recollected that Jack must require food.
"It would never do to set forward without being prepared," he observed. "Take your breakfast with Alethea, while I go and put together such valuables as it may be prudent for me to carry; and you, my daughter, will take the remainder, for I know not, should I be informed against, what will be the fate of the old Grange and of the estate my fathers have held for so many centuries."
Jack, as he sat by the side of Alethea endeavouring to eat his breakfast, in vain tried to utter the sentiments with which his heart was full. Whenever he attempted to speak he hesitated and stammered, and his tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth. Alethea was more serious, naturally, than he had ever seen her before.
"I foresaw that it might come to this," she said, at last, to Jack. "But, do you know, I rather glory in suffering for what I believe to be a right cause!"
"But oh, Miss Harwood," exclaimed Jack, now able to speak, "surely no cause would justify the means by which the conspirators have attempted to carry out their project—to murder the great and brave king! Surely nothing can justify assassination!"
"Oh, no, no!" exclaimed Alethea. "But surely those with whom my father was associated have not attempted to commit so fearful a crime?"
"Most certainly the crime was contemplated," answered Jack. "I heard the whole plan discussed, but whether Mr Harwood's especial friends were acquainted with it or not, I cannot say; but of one thing I feel very sure, from what I heard, that James was well aware of the project, and sanctioned it by the countenance he gave to those who undertook to carry it out."
"If I were sure of that," exclaimed Alethea, with a tone of indignation, "my whole feelings towards King James would be changed! While I thought him an honourable and an injured man, and the rightful sovereign of these realms, my feelings were in his favour; but if his principles would allow him to act as you describe, then I cannot but feel that the nobles and commons of England were right in their dread of having such a man to reign over them."
"I wish Mr Harwood had seen matters in that light before he allowed himself to be drawn into the plot!" said Jack. "Perhaps, however, he may now be induced to do so. If so, when those who have principally engaged in it have suffered the penalty of their crimes, he will probably be allowed to return home, and live quietly as heretofore. For my own part, as I have been consorting with the king's enemies, though unknowingly, I have determined, from henceforth, to fight for him and his friends, and to try my fortune on the ocean. It will be more to my taste than being pinched up in breastplate and helmet, and having to fight on shore. I may there win a name and fame, Alethea; and perchance when I come back I may look forward to—"
Whatever Jack was going to say was interrupted by the entrance of Mr Harwood. As may be supposed, he had but a small appetite for breakfast, though pressed by his daughter, who in every way tried to keep up his spirits, to partake of it. The steward and head groom were ordered to accompany Miss Harwood into Nottingham, while his own fleetest hunter was to be got ready to start as soon as Jack's horse was sufficiently rested.
In vain Jack waited for an opportunity to finish the sentence he had begun, for having, as he thought, broken the ice, he hoped to get yet farther in, but just as the party were rising from breakfast, which had been put off to a later hour than usual, a visitor was announced, and Jasper Deane entered the room. His surprise at seeing Jack was very great. They greeted each other, however, as affectionate brothers, though Jasper refrained from asking Jack questions which it might have been disagreeable to him to answer in the presence of Alethea and Mr Harwood.
"I am sure, Jasper, you will answer for our parents being ready to receive Miss Harwood," said Jack, "during the temporary absence of her father. I have brought him some news, with which I need not trouble you, which requires him to leave home immediately."
"Why not trust me?" answered Jasper; "surely I would not betray Mr Harwood's secrets!"
"For your own sake it may be better for you not to know them," answered Jack. "It is time that we should be on our road. Bear my duty to my father and mother and my love to our sisters, and I will write to them of my proceedings as soon as I have an opportunity."
Jack saw that Mr Harwood was impatient to be off, while he himself knew the importance of losing no time in getting to a place of safety; he had no opportunity, therefore, of asking Jasper questions as to what had taken place at Nottingham, nor did he himself wish to tell him what he had been about. He merely mentioned his letter entrusted to the miller. "That will tell you more about my intentions," he observed. If a pang of jealousy crossed his heart when he saw his brother ride off by the side of Alethea, he quickly banished it, and immediately afterwards he and Mr Harwood, with their valises strapped to their saddles, were making their way through the forest to the east.
CHAPTER TWENTY ONE.
JOHN DEANE TURNS SAILOR, AND JOINS THE "WEYMOUTH," CAPTAIN JUMPER.
At no time for many years had there been greater activity in the chief naval ports of England than in February, 1696. All the ships in the service were ordered to be brought forward, and as many more as could be obtained were purchased for the Royal Navy. Officers and men eagerly offered their services; indeed the enthusiasm of all ranks and professions was very great. Numerous seamen from the merchant service joined the navy, and there was no lack of volunteers eager to be employed. A squadron lay in the Medway, fitting out as quickly as stores could be brought on board them and the men could be collected. Among them was the "Weymouth," a ship of forty guns, commanded by the well-known Captain Jumper. Her sails were bent, and she only waited for her powder to be brought on board to go to sea, as soon as she could fill up with her proper complement of men. A boat had just come alongside, and the first lieutenant reported that she contained a number of volunteers.
Among the first who stepped on board was a fine, active-looking young man, though, to the nautical eye, he had not much the look of a sailor.
"Where have you served before, my man?" asked Mr Cammock, the first lieutenant; "and what do you know of seamanship?"
"I have served nowhere, please you, sir," was the answer, "but I am ready to learn. And I know how to handle a cutlass, and shoot a partridge or pheasant flying."
"You are the lad for us then," answered the officer. "What is your name? We will enter you as a landsman; but you will soon make an able seaman."
"John Deane, at your service, sir," answered our friend; for he it was who, having put his purpose of joining the navy into execution, had volunteered for the "Weymouth."
It was the first time he had ever stood on the deck of a ship. No wonder then that he gazed about him with a look of astonishment, at the guns thickly ranged on either side; at the numerous brass swivels and other pieces which graced her quarters and forecastle, and the high lanterns of brass astern; at the numberless ropes which led here and there from the masts and spars, with their ends neatly coiled down on deck; at the seamen, in their loose dresses, shirts, and trousers, with belts round their waists, contrasting with the officers in their three-cornered hats and long coats, laced with gold or silver, large embroidered belts by which hung their rapiers—each dressed rather according to his fancy and means, than to any authorised uniform.
A number of other men were then called up. Among the first was one whose countenance Jack thought he knew. He looked at him several times, till at length it struck him that it must be the very man who had guided him to Pearson's farm in the fens—Ned Burdale. There was the same sturdy, independent look, bold eye, and manner. What, however, had induced him to enter on board a king's ship, Jack could not divine. At all events, he felt it would be wise in him not to claim acquaintance with a person of so doubtful a character.
He little expected to find any body else whom he had met before; but he had not been long on board, when a seaman came up to him, and, putting out his hand, exclaimed—
"What, Jack Deane, don't you know me?"
"Yes," said Jack, at last, wringing him by the hand; "but I should not have recognised you in that dress and with that ugly cut down your cheek, if I did not remember your voice."
"Yes; I have seen some service already," answered the seaman. "I have a bullet through my leg, and this pretty little remembrance on my cheek; but it's what we have to expect. We're paid for it, you know; and besides, we give as good as we take, and that's a consolation."
"But what made you come to sea?" asked Jack. "I had no idea you had any fancy that way."
"I may ask the same question of you, friend Deane," said Smedley, for it was Jack's old poaching acquaintance. "The honest truth is, I found Nottingham too hot to hold me, and so here I am come to serve his majesty. It is a pretty hard life, I will own; but I have brought myself into it, and so I have determined not to grumble."
"Well, I have my own reasons, too, Smedley, for coming to sea," said Jack, "but you will excuse me if I don't explain them. I hope we may both do our duty, and fight bravely for our country. That's what I have come to sea for, with the hope of seeing a little more of the world than I should if I had remained at Nottingham, or continued to drive oxen between Scotland and Stourbridge."
Smedley, who had already been some weeks at sea, was able to give Jack a good deal of instruction in his duties, and found him an apt scholar. Jack was determined to make himself a seaman as soon as he could. From morning till night he was employed in picking up information, and he soon gained some knowledge in the arts of knotting and splicing. He quickly, too, found his way aloft; and though at first he felt rather giddy at the mast-head, his eye soon got accustomed to look down on the deck below, and he could run out on the yards in a short time with any man on board. He soon, indeed, surpassed Smedley himself. The man he took to be Burdale, from the way he walked the deck, was evidently accustomed to a sailor's life.
So rapidly were the ships got ready for sea, that in a short time a large fleet was collected in the Downs under the command of Admiral Russell. He had under him Lord Berkeley, Admiral of the Blue, and Sir Cloudesley Shovel, Vice-Admiral of the Red; Mr Aylmer, Vice-Admiral of the Blue, with two Dutch squadrons under two rear-admirals.
As soon as the fleet was collected, they set sail for the coast of France, arriving shortly afterwards off Dunkirk. It was here that the celebrated French Admiral, Jean Bart, held the command of a French fleet. As the English fleet passed Calais, three or four hundred vessels of all sorts were seen with their sails bent ready for sea. As soon as the French saw the English fleet approaching Dunkirk, several of their men-of-war ran close up to the pier. Hopes were now entertained by the English crews that some fighting would take place. Sir Cloudesley Shovel, with several captains, stood in towards Dunkirk, to see if there was any possibility of burning the fleet. This, however, was declared to be impracticable, and Admiral Russell therefore sailed back to Dover, leaving a squadron under Sir Cloudesley Shovel, to watch the movements of the enemy. A short time after this, Sir Cloudesley Shovel, who had returned to the Downs, was ordered to take with him the bomb-vessels, and such small ships as he should think necessary; and attempt the burning of Calais with the transports, and other ships in that harbour.
Calais was soon in sight. The English could see the harbour crowded with vessels, which as they approached, however, ran close up under their batteries where the ships could not get at them. The wind was off shore, which gave them smooth water; and the squadron, in gallant style, beat up as near to the town as the water would allow. They now anchored, their men-of-war protecting the bomb-vessels, which instantly commenced throwing shells into the place. It was a fine sight to see them, like vast rockets, rising in the air and curling over, until they fell into the devoted town.
For several hours the fiery shower continued. Now flames were seen to burst out in one part of the town, now in another; and now the vessels in the harbour caught fire; several in succession exploded. As each of the enemy's vessels blew up, the English crews burst forth with loud cheers, and redoubled their efforts. The enemy were not idle, but the English ships were so placed that not many of the French shot did damage. The shipping in the harbour suffered most, as the chief aim of the English was to destroy them, and a large number of privateers were blown up or burned. A strong wind was blowing when the action began, and it continued increasing, till the squadron could with difficulty hold their position before the town. Still the English persevered. A large portion of the town was burnt down, and a considerable amount of shipping was destroyed. Such would have been the fate of the whole, had not the gale at length compelled Sir Cloudesley Shovel to throw out a signal for retiring. This was done in good order, and the squadron returned to the Downs.
Soon after this, a squadron of which the "Weymouth" formed one of the ships, was sent to cruise off Dunkirk, where it was understood that Jean Bart, with several ships of war, was still lying ready for sea. Rear-Admiral Benbow was placed in command of this squadron; but on his arrival before the place, he found the number of ships he had with him too small to guard both channels; the weather, also, proving extremely foggy, Du Bart slipped out, and, steering to the north-east, fell in with the Dutch Baltic fleet of about a hundred sail, escorted by five frigates, all of which he took, and above half the merchantmen. In the midst of Du Bart's victory, he was surprised by the appearance of the Dutch outward-bound Baltic fleet, under the convoy of thirteen men-of-war, which so closely pursued him that he was obliged to abandon most of his prizes. He burned four of the frigates, and putting their crews on board the fifth, turned her adrift, which, with thirty-five of the merchant-ships, were retaken. A fast galley brought this news to Admiral Benbow, who immediately steered in pursuit of the French squadron. The "Weymouth" was one of the leading ships.
Jack Deane, who was now rated as an able seaman, was constantly at the mast-head looking out for the enemy, eager as any on board to come up with them.
"Several sail ahead!" he shouted out one morning at daybreak.
There was no doubt that this was the enemy. The signal was thrown out accordingly, and the English crowded all sail in chase. The wind, however, which was in their favour, began to fall, and, greatly to their disappointment, it became almost a calm. The Frenchmen, however, retained the breeze, and were soon again out of sight.
In vain the English seamen whistled for a wind. Noon passed by, and still they remained becalmed. Whether it was their whistling or not produced the breeze, one sprung up towards evening, and the brave Benbow steered after the French. Again they were discovered, and again lost sight of. Once more their white canvas was seen ahead, and hopes were entertained that they would be overtaken before they could reach the shelter of Dunkirk, towards which they were steering. They, however, made good use of their heels, and before a shot could reach them they had run into Dunkirk.
The fleets of England were, however, enabled to punish the French severely for their audacious project of invading our "tight little island," and for their still more nefarious plan, which had been hatched under the sanction of their king, for assassinating the constitutional and Protestant monarch whom her people had chosen, and imposing on them in his stead a Papist and a tyrant.
Jack kept his eyes and ears open, and picked up all the information he could as to what was going forward in all directions. He had resolved when he joined to become an officer, and he knew very well that the only way of accomplishing his object was to attend strictly to his duties, to be obedient to his superiors, and to gain all the information in his power.
Among the novelties which had lately been introduced into the ships of the Royal Navy were brass box-compasses. These were placed in front of the steering-wheels, and were a great improvement upon the former contrivances for the same object. A large number of ships having been wrecked on the Eddystone Rock, off Plymouth, an application was made to the Trinity House to erect a lighthouse on it, which was begun that very year, and it was supposed that it would be completed in the course of the next three years. The masters and owners of ships agreed to pay a penny per ton outwards and inwards to assist in defraying the expense.
A register for thirty thousand seamen was established. They were to be in readiness at all times for supplying the Royal Navy, and were to receive a bounty of forty shillings yearly. On the 29th of January of that year, the "Royal Sovereign," built in the reign of Charles the First, and at that time the largest ship ever built in England, was by accident burned at her moorings in Gillingham Reach, in the river Medway.
"Well, Deane, and how do you like a sea life?" asked Smedley, after Jack had been some time on board.
"I will tell you when I've been longer afloat," answered Jack. "From what I have seen of it, I am ready to stick to it; that's what I've got to say. And how do you like it?"
"To confess the truth, I am getting rather tired of it," answered Smedley. "I thought it would be an easier life than I find it, but this cruising up and down the Channel and blockading the enemy's ports is trying work, and often I wish myself on shore again, taking a stroll or galloping through Sherwood Forest."
"That's because you have not a right object in view," answered Jack. "Now I have made up my mind to take the roughs and smooths as I find them. If I get shot or wounded, it is the fate of many a better man; and if I escape, I hope to fight my way up to wear a cocked hat and laced coat."
"That's very well for you, Deane, because you were born a gentleman," said Smedley. "I came to sea because I could not help it: all about that poaching affair, and the burning of the houses."
"I wish we had never engaged in it, I own," said Jack. "It has cost me dear; and what I regret most is the injury it did my character in the place, and the annoyance it must have caused my family when it was found out."
"What do you mean?" asked Smedley. "I do not understand you."
"Why, that the man who met us on that night, and showed us how to spear the salmon, told me that a warrant was out against me for poaching and firing the huts, and that if I went back to Nottingham I should be sent to prison," answered Jack.
"He told you a lie, then. Your name has never been mentioned in connexion with the affair; and to this day, unless you have told any body, I am very sure that no one in Nottingham knows any thing about it."
"Then what object could Pearson have had for saying so?" said Jack.
"I have an idea," said Smedley; "I may be right or I may be wrong; and from what you have told me of the man, he has just wanted to keep you from going back to Nottingham. Why he did so I cannot exactly say, except that he probably wanted to make use of you in some way or other."
The light at length burst on Jack's mind, and at once he saw the danger of getting into bad company. Had he refrained from joining in that fatal expedition, he would not have met Pearson; and if he had not met Pearson, he would never have been drawn into the plot which had so nearly cost him dear. Perhaps even his life might have been sacrificed in consequence! He did not say this to Smedley, because he had determined not to say any thing to him about the plot in which he had been unintentionally mixed up.
"It shall be a lesson to me through life," he thought. "If a person once associates with evil-disposed people, he knows not how soon he may be led to do as they're doing."
Often he thought of honest Will Brinsmead and his wise sayings, and the advice he had bestowed on him. Jack was every day becoming far more thoughtful than he had been hitherto. He was living among a wild, careless, rough set of men. Most of them were brave and honest; but there were rogues and cowards among them. The greater number lived only for the present moment, and were utterly thoughtless about the future. Now, John Deane felt that he must either be drawn in to act as they were acting, and to become like them, or he must keep himself as much as possible aloof from them. This, however difficult it might be, he determined to do.
In former days laws had been passed, not only to maintain a discipline in the navy, but for regulating the moral conduct of the men. There were regulations against profane swearing, or gambling, or fighting, or quarrelling; and orders were issued for the performance of Divine Service, not only on Sundays, but on weekdays, and on every occasion before going into action with an enemy. Unhappily, however, by this time this had become a dead-letter; and a general indulgence was allowed to the seamen in all the vices which have been mentioned. The men were also badly and tyrannically treated; and often their pay was kept back from them. The provisions were frequently very bad, and the greater number of men who were sent as surgeons on board the ships were grossly ignorant of their professional duties. Still the love of adventure existing in the breasts of English lads, the opportunities which seamen enjoyed of obtaining prize-money, and the efforts of the press-gangs, kept the Royal Navy tolerably supplied with men. A large number also joined, whatever can be said to the contrary, from patriotic motives, desirous of maintaining the honour of the British flag, protecting the commerce of the country, and guarding their native shores from foreign aggression. Such was the feeling which animated the breasts of thousands when Jack Deane joined the navy. Such is the feeling which has induced many thousands more on various occasions, when their country needed their services to assist in manning her fleets.
It was a great relief to Jack Deane to find that he still maintained an honourable name in his native town, and he at once wrote home in a strain he had not before ventured to use, telling his father, to whom he addressed his letter, that he had come to sea for the sake of fighting for the cause of King William, and that he hoped when he returned home to present himself in the rank of an officer.
CHAPTER TWENTY TWO.
John Deane had soon the opportunity he had long wished for, of engaging in a naval fight. As the "Weymouth" was cruising in the Channel, a sail was seen on the lee bow. Captain Jumper immediately ordered the ship to be kept away, and clapped on all the canvas she could carry in chase. The stranger, on seeing this, bore away, but the "Weymouth" was a fast ship, and rapidly came up with her. The drum beat to quarters, and the ship was prepared for action. Shot were brought up from below and placed in the racks ready for use. The powder-magazine was opened, and the powder-boys were sent up with their tubs and arranged in rows along the deck, ready to supply the seamen who fought the guns with powder. The slow-matches were got ready, and pistols, boarding-pikes, and hangers served out to the men. Jackets and shirts were discarded, and the crew stood ready, dressed alone in their trousers, with belts round their waists in which their pistols were stuck, and their hangers attached. There could be no doubt that the stranger was an enemy, though he had not yet shown his colours.
Few would have supposed that the crew who now stood at their guns were about in a short time to be engaged in deadly fight. Jokes of all sorts were passed along the decks, and peals of laughter were indulged in, till silenced when they became too uproarious by the officers. Jack found Smedley standing close to him, both having been appointed to the same gun. A handkerchief was bound round his head to keep his hair, which in the fashion of seamen in those days was worn long, away from his eyes. He was as cool and collected as the rest of his shipmates, but did not seem inclined to join in the jokes in which they were indulging.
"You seem somewhat out of spirits, Jem!" said John Deane. "What makes you so grave? we're sure to thrash the enemy, however big he may be."
"Just the thoughts of home, Jack," answered Smedley. "I was thinking just now whether I should not have been better off attending to my father's business, with the prospect of marrying pretty Mary Smithers, than out here, stripped to the waist, with a chance of having my head carried off before the day's over!"
"Nonsense, Jem!" answered Deane; "you should not let such thoughts trouble you. Your head is as firm on your shoulders as that of any other man on board."
"Ay, but how many other men will lose theirs?" said Smedley. "I cannot help thinking of home at all events, and though I may come out of this day's fight unscathed, I often wish I had remained quietly at home, without hankering after the sea. It all comes of that wild life we boys led in the forest. We did many things we ought not to have done, and it's to those I owe being out here. However, I will try to do my duty and bring no discredit on our native town."
"I am sure you will not do that," said Jack; "and I hope I shall see you throw up your cap with the rest of us, when the enemy strikes to our flag."
As the "Weymouth" drew near the stranger it was seen that she was a very large ship, considerably larger than the former, and probably carrying many more guns, with a more numerous crew. Still this in no way daunted the courage of the British seamen, but only made them the more eager for the attack. Most of them had already engaged in many a hard-fought battle with superior numbers, and come off victorious. They knew what British pluck and British muscle could do, and that if they could handle their guns twice as fast as the enemy could haul in and out theirs, that even should they have only half the number of their antagonist, they might still hope to beat her.
Jack had frequently spoken to the man whose countenance he thought he knew when he first came on board, but the latter denied ever having seen him before. Jack now saw him standing at a gun not far from the one where he was stationed. The man looked very pale, and, like Smedley, was not joining in the jokes of his shipmates. Jack watched his countenance, and now was more convinced than ever that he was Burdale.
As the "Weymouth" drew near, the stranger hoisted French colours, and finding that escape was impossible, hauled up her courses, and fired a gun in defiance, which was answered by one from the "Weymouth." Both of the shots, however, fell short of their aim. The combatants, without again firing, now rapidly drew near each other, with their flags and streamers flying and their trumpets loudly sounding. Men armed with muskets were stationed in the large heavy round-tops, each holding a dozen or more soldiers, while others were stationed in the topgallant forecastle, and others at the poop. Guns were also placed inside the forecastle, as also under the poop, with their muzzles turned in-board, so that should the enemy attempt to board, the decks might be swept by their fire. These guns, however, were not loaded with round-shot, but with langrage, which, by scattering around, might kill a number of persons at each discharge. The wind was moderate, the sea tolerably smooth. Captain Jumper stood in the mizen-rigging directing the movements of his ship, while the other officers were stationed in different parts in command of the guns, some on the upper and main-deck, others on the forecastle and poop. The surgeons were below in the cock-pit, getting ready their instruments, and lint, and bandages, and preparing the tables on which amputation when necessary might be performed. Here also were restoratives arranged, for those who might faint from loss of blood. They had taken a look at the enemy, and aware from her superior size that the fight would be a desperate one, were coolly talking over the amount of work in store for them. Not a word was now spoken along the decks, for all jokes were silenced by command of the officers. The captains of the guns stood ready with their slow-matches in their hands, prepared to fire at the signal being given. Already the two antagonists were within range of each other's artillery, but both waited to get still nearer that the greater effect might be produced by their fire. John Deane could not help holding his breath, as did many a brave man on board, not from any sensation of fear, but from intense eagerness for the moment when the combat was to begin. They had not long to delay. Captain Jumper had contrived to place his ship in the position which British officers of all ages have wished to hold with regard to the enemy—that is, broadside to broadside; and now he saw that the wished-for moment had arrived. "Fire!" he shouted. The word was echoed along the decks. The trumpets now brayed out their loudest sounds of defiance. The captains of the guns applied their matches, and the loud roar of artillery broke the silence which had hitherto reigned over the water. The Frenchmen were not slow to answer, and their shot came crashing on board with terrible effect. Many a fine fellow who had been laughing and joking with the rest was laid low. The white splinters were flying on either side, and ropes which had just before been trim and taut hung in festoons or flew out in the breeze, while many a shot-hole was seen through the sails. Without a moment's delay the guns were hauled in. The powder-boys sprang up from their tubs and handed out the powder, which being quickly rammed home, the shot was thrown into the muzzle. Again the guns were run out. No order was now required for firing, but as rapidly as the guns could be loaded they were discharged towards the enemy.
Thus for some time the English ship ran alongside her huge antagonist. Her name painted on her stern was the "Fougueux," and thirty ports were counted on each side. Jack Deane stood at his gun, hauling it in with right good will, and running it out still more eagerly as fast as his arms and those of his mates could work it, thinking of nothing else, and not looking round, even to see what had become of any of those near him. Now and then he heard a groan or a cry, and as he turned round to hand on the powder or the shot, he saw perchance a poor fellow amidst the smoke struggling on the deck. Next moment there was a loud crash close to him, and he found himself sprinkled over from head to foot with blood. He felt no pain, and scarcely knew whether it was his own or that of a shipmate. No sound was heard, but he saw that the man who had stood next to him the moment before was no longer there, but a few feet off a human being lay stretched on the deck. He was about to stoop down to help the man during the interval that the charge was being rammed home.
"Let him alone," said the captain of the gun; "he has drunk his last glass of grog. See, that's his blood which has turned you into a red Indian. Hurrah, lads! we'll revenge him, and all those who lose the number of their mess to-day!"
All this time the small-arm men were not idle. Showers of bullets were flying from the tops and forecastle, returned from those of the enemy.
Now an attempt was made by the "Fougueux," by bracing up her yards, to cross under the stern of the "Weymouth." This, however, was quickly prevented by Captain Jumper, by a similar manoeuvre, as he had no intention of giving up the advantageous position he held.
It was impossible to ascertain the effect which the fire of the British ship was producing among the French crew, but Jack could not help fearing that a considerable number of his shipmates were either killed or wounded. Those who were wounded were immediately carried below, while the killed were borne to the other side of the deck, and slipped overboard through the ports, in order to avoid discouraging the survivors. Still the fight continued with unabated fury.
"Fire away, my lads!" cried Captain Jumper; and his words were echoed by the officers in all directions. "We will sink the enemy or go down with our own colours flying. Never let it be said that the 'Weymouth' had to strike to a Frenchman!"
The speech was a very short one, but it had its effect in encouraging the crew. Scarcely a minute afterwards a fearful sound was heard. It was that of an explosion. And the ship trembled from stem to stern, while those on the quarter-deck saw the poop lifting up into the air, sending some of those on it overboard, and killing several others.
"Fire, fire!" was shouted; "the ship's on fire!"
"We have water enough alongside, my lads, to extinguish it!" cried the captain, in an undaunted tone; and in an instant those of the crew not actually working the guns were hurried up with buckets, with which they soon put out the flames. The Frenchmen shouted, thinking that they were about to gain the victory, but they were answered by a loud cheer of defiance from the British seamen.
It became now absolutely necessary for the "Weymouth" to stand away from the enemy for a short time to repair damages. The only fear of the British sailors was that in the meantime the enemy might attempt to escape.
"No fear of that, lads!" cried the brave captain, who knew what they were speaking of. "See, we have made too many shot-holes between 'wind and water,' and in a few minutes the main-mast will go by the board, if the wind increases."
This was very evident, for while the "Weymouth" put her helm down, to stand away from the "Fougueux" for a short distance, the other immediately ceased firing. The survivors of her crew were probably engaged in attempting to repair the damages she had received. This gave the English leisure to perform their own work without interruption.
Jack as he was leaving his gun to go aloft, looked round him. Of those who had stood but lately by his side, several were missing. Smedley was nowhere to be seen. He inquired among the crew of his gun.
"Yes; a shot struck him and he was carried below, but whether mortally wounded or not, no one could tell."
As he passed up the hatchway, the man whom he took to be Burdale lay on the deck. A bullet which had found its way through a port had struck him down. He was bleeding also from a wound in his shoulder. Jack sprang forward to assist him, but just at that instant the men who were appointed to carry the wounded below, lifted him off the deck, and bore him from his sight.
The decks now presented a very different scene to that which they did a short hour ago. Fore and aft they were covered with blood, and in many places they were blackened and torn up by the shot which had ploughed its way across them. The beams and stanchions in every direction were shattered and broken, and the whole ship showed the severity of the action in which she had been engaged.
"We may be in a bad state enough," Jack heard an old seaman say, "but if you were to go on board the enemy, you would see matters ten times worse. Their decks, depend upon it, are slippery with gore all over, and for one man we have lost, they have lost five."
There was little time, however, for talking. The officers were shouting here and there, giving their directions, and the men were springing aloft to obey them, or running wherever they were summoned. In a short time the ropes were knotted, the yards braced up, the damage done to the poop partially repaired, and the "Weymouth" again stood towards her opponent. As she approached she was received with a hot fire, which she returned with interest, while the big guns once more with loud roars sent forth their shot. The soldiers and small-arm men rattled away with their musketry, and the swivels, culverins, and other small guns, in rapid succession added to the uproar by their sharper reports. Bullets, round-shot, and langrage were flying thickly around.
"Depress your guns and fire at her hull!" cried the captain, seeing the effect that had already been produced on the enemy.
As the Frenchmen's fire grew slacker, that of the English became more and more brisk. Scarcely had a gun been discharged when it was again hauled in and once more sent forth its deadly missile into the hull of the enemy. Just as the action re-commenced, the enemy's main-mast went by the board. A loud shout burst from the throats of the British seamen. Scarcely had it died away when the mizen-mast followed; and now the stout ship was seen to be heeling over. A cry ran along the decks, "She's sinking, she's sinking!" Still her guns continued to send forth her shot, though with far less frequency than at first. Another and another broadside was fired into her; and now it became evident that there was truth in the belief that she was about to go down.
"Cease firing!" cried the English captain. "Not another shot will she discharge at us."
As he spoke the bow of the "Fougueux" was seen to rise out of the water. Loud shrieks and cries rose from her decks. Her stern gradually sank.
"Lower the boats!" cried the English captain. "Be smart, my lads: we must save the poor fellows' lives."
Unhappily, several of the English boats had been almost knocked to pieces. Those which could yet swim were immediately lowered. John Deane jumped into one of the first that reached the water. Ere, however, they could get up to the foundering ship, the sea had washed over her deck. Down—down she went, carrying with her all her wounded and a large number of those who had escaped unhurt. The rest had thrown themselves into the water, some to swim, some holding on to planks or broken spars: but of these, many who had delayed leaving to the last, were drawn down in the vortex of the sinking ship. As the first English boat reached the spot, the streamer at her fore-royal-mast-head was alone to be seen fluttering for a moment above the eddying waters, and then downwards it was drawn after the mast to which it had been attached. Some were still striking out bravely towards their late antagonists. The boats were soon among them, taking up all they met. Many, however, sunk before the very eyes of the English sailors, as they pulled towards them. The boats were soon loaded, and returned to the "Weymouth," fearing lest they should be swamped should they take on board any more of the struggling wretches. Having handed up those they had saved, they once more returned; but, in the meantime, many of those they desired to help had sunk beneath the waves: and out of a crew of six or seven hundred who had lately manned that tall ship, scarcely three-score remained alive. They confessed that upwards of a hundred had been killed and wounded since the commencement of the action, owing, as they acknowledged, to the rapidity with which the English fired at them. Thus the hard-won prize was lost.
CHAPTER TWENTY THREE.
AFTER THE BATTLE.
The brave crew of the "Weymouth" had enough to do to repair their own damages to escape a similar fate. As it was, the "Weymouth" was in a perilous condition from the number of shot-holes she had received in her hull, and probably had a gale sprung up, she also would have gone to the bottom of the ocean. Exhausted by the action as the men were, they still laboured away, as British seamen are ever ready to do, to repair damages, and to keep the ship afloat. A course was then shaped for Plymouth Sound.
As soon as Jack was able to go below, he inquired anxiously for Smedley. He had been carried to the cock-pit. Jack went there. It was the first time he had ever entered that place of horrors, and his heart sank, and he almost fainted at the sickly odour which reached him. As he approached it, cries and groans reached his ears. On the table lay a poor fellow stripped naked, looking already a corpse, on whose leg the surgeons had been operating. His leg, with several other limbs, lay in a basket of sawdust beneath the table. The blood had completely left his face, which still bore the marks of the agony he had suffered, which in those days there were few means of alleviating. One of the surgeons was pouring brandy-and-water down his throat, while another was applying burnt feathers and other restoratives to his nose.
"It's of little use, I'm afraid," said the elder surgeon: "he has slipped through our fingers after all!"
At first Jack did not recognise the countenance of the sufferer. He looked again: the features were those of Smedley! The surgeon spoke too truly; the previous loss of blood, and the agony he had suffered during amputation, had been more than his system could bear, and the lamp of life was already flickering in its socket. For an instant he returned to consciousness. Jack went up to him and took his hand, while the surgeons continued to apply their remedies.
"Shall I bear any message to your friends at Nottingham, poor Jem?" he asked.
A slight pressure of the hand was the only answer the sufferer could make. A sigh escaped his bosom. The surgeon put his hand upon his wrist.
"He has gone, poor fellow! there's no calling him back!" he observed. "Here, take the body away, and put Ned Jones in his place. His arm must come off, if I mistake not!"
Jack turned away with a sad heart. In the cots around were numerous forms. He was about to return on deck, when he recognised among them the countenance of Burdale. The man's eyes followed Jack, and seemed to ask him to return. He went up to him.
"Can I do any thing for you?" he asked. "We have met before, I think?"
"We have; but you cannot help me much, I suspect. Still, I thank you kindly for the offer. I knew you also when you came on board, and was glad to find that you had escaped the trouble into which I thought you would have fallen."
The ice was thus broken, and Jack, while wishing to be of use to the wounded man, whose time on earth he thought was likely to be short, determined to gain all the information he could from him respecting Pearson, and the circumstances which had brought them together. As soon as the ship had been put to rights, those who could be removed were carried to the main-deck, and placed in a part screened off, called the sick-bay. Here Jack had an opportunity of visiting his wounded acquaintance whenever he chose. The man grew weaker and weaker, and seemed indeed to suspect that his own end was approaching.