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The Gentleman by Alfred Ollivant

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THE GENTLEMAN
A ROMANCE OF THE SEA

BY ALFRED OLLIVANT

AUTHOR OF "BOB, SON OF BATTLE" AND
"REDBOAT CAPTAIN"

1908

TO
THE NAVY

CONTENTS

JULY 1805

BOOK I _THE LITTLE TREMENDOUS_

I
THE DEATH OF BLACK DIAMOND

Chap.
I. THE MAN ON THE GREY

II. THE GALLOPING GENT

III. THE GUNNER OF THE SLOOP

IV. OLD DING-DONG

V. REUBEN BONIFACE'S STORY

VI. THE LUGGER _KITE_

VII. THE MAN IN THE LUGGER

VIII. THE SCENT-BOTTLE

II
MAGNIFICENT ARRY

IX. THE TWO PRIVATEERS

X. THE MAIN-DECK

XI. COMMODORE MOUCHE

XII. BOARDERS

XIII. AFTER THE FIGHT

III
UNDER THE CLIFF

XIV. SUNDAY EVENING

XV. THE VOICE FROM THE POWDER-MAGAZINE

XVI. MAGNIFICENT ARRY GOES ALOFT

XVII. THE GRAVE OF THE LITTLE _TREMENDOUS_

XVIII. OLD DING-DONG'S REVENGE

XIX. OLD DING-DONG HOMEWARD-BOUND

BOOK II

_BEACHY HEAD_

I
THE GAP GANG

XX. THE LAST OF A BRITISH SEAMAN.

XXI. KIT STARTS ON HIS MISSION

XXII. FAT GEORGE & CO

XXIII. THE CLIMB

XXIV. THE CLIMB

II
THE MAN ON THE CLIFF

XXV. THE GENTLEMAN BOWS

XXVI. THE DEAD WOMAN

XXVII. THE HOLLOW IN THE COOMBE

XXVIII. ON THE TOP OF THE WORLD

III
ABERCROMBY'S BLACK COCK

XXIX. THE FLAG OF HIS COUNTRY

XXX. AN OLD SONG

XXXI. THE MAN WITH THE SWORD

XXXII. THE BROKEN SQUARE

XXXIII. FIGHTING FITZ

XXXIV. THE FACE ON THE WALL

IV
THE GARRISON

XXXV. THE SOLDIER'S MOTHER

XXXVI. THE FIGHTING MAN

XXXVII. THE SAINT

XXXVIII. THE SIMPLETON

XXXIX. THE FLAP OF A FLAG.

V
THE BOARDING OF THE PRIVATEER

XL. THE SWIM IN THE DARK

XLI. PIGGY, THE PRIVATEERSMAN

XLII. THE MAN IN THE BOAT

XLIII. A BLACK BORDERER TO THE RESCUE

BOOK III _FORT FLINT_

I
BESIEGED

XLIV. THE ENGLISHMAN

XLV. THE PARSON AT HOME

XLVI. THE PARSON'S STORY

XLVII. THE DESPATCH-BAG

XLVIII. THE DOXIE'S DAUGHTER

II
THE SALLY

XLIX. MAKING READY

L. IN THE DRAIN

LI. VOICES OF THE LOST

LII. HARE AND HOUND

LIII. OLD TOADIE

LIV. THE PARSON'S AGONY

LV. PRETTY POLLY-KISS-ME-QUICK

LVI. THE RACE FOR THE COTTAGE

III
THE SHADOW OF THE WOMAN

LVII. THE PARLEY

LVIII. THE PLANK CAPONIER

LIX. MISS BLOSSOM

LX. THE TWO PRAYERS

LXI. KNAPP'S RETURN

LXII. THE PARSON MUSES

IV
THE GENTLEMAN'S LAST CARD

LXIII. NELSON'S TOPSAILS

LXIV. RUMBLINGS OF THUNDER

LXV. THE DOINGS IN THE CREEK

LXVI. BUGLES

LXVII. THE ACE OF TRUMPS

V
THE FORLORN HOPE

LXVIII. THE BLESSING

LXIX. THE PARSON'S SORTIE

LXX. THE LAST OF OLD FAITHFUL

LXXI. ON THE SHINGLE-BANK

LXXII. THE RACE FOR THE LUGGER

LXXIII. _NOBLESSE OBLIGE_

BOOK IV _NELSON_

I
H.M.S. _MEDUSA_

LXXIV. NATURE, THE COMFORTER

LXXV. ON THE DECK OF THE _MEDUSA_

LXXVI. IN THE CABIN OF THE _MEDUSA_

LXXVII. THE _MEDUSA_ GOES ABOUT

LXXVIII. NELSON'S HEART

LXXIX. IN THE CABIN AGAIN

LXXX. THE _MEDUSA_ DIPS HER ENSIGN

II
KNAPP'S STORY

LXXXI. THE RETURN

LXXXII. BACK TO THE DOOR

LXXXIII. PIPER PRAYS

LXXXIV. IN THE COTTAGE

III
THE WISH AT EVENING

LXXXV. THE SANCTUARY

LXXXVI. TWILIGHT

LXXXVII. HIS CAUSE

LXXXVIII. THE ADVENTURER

LXXXIX. THE LAST POST

SEPTEMBER 1805

The introductory poem appeared originally in the _Pall Mall
Magazine_, and is re-published by permission of the Editor.

OUR SEA

The Sea! the Sea!
Our own home-land, the Sea!
'Tis, as it always was, and still, please God, will be,
When we are gone,
Our own,
Possessing it for Thee,
Ours, ours, and ours alone,
The Anglo-Saxon Sea.

The stripped, moon-shining, naked-bosomed Sea.

No jerry-building here;
No scenes that once were dear
Beneath man's tawdry touch to disappear;
Always the same, the Sea,
Th' unstable-steadfast Sea.
'Tis, as it always was, and still, please God, will be,
When we are gone,
Our own,
Vice-regents under Thee,
Ours, ours, and ours alone,
The Anglo-Saxon Sea.

The mighty-furrowed, moody-minded Sea.

New suns and moons arise;
Perish old dynasties;
For ever rise and die the centuries;
Only remains the Sea,
Our right of way, the Sea.
'Tis, as it always was, and still, phase God, will be,
When we are gone,
Our own,
Our heritage from Thee,
Ours, ours, and ours alone,
The Anglo-Saxon Sea.

Our good, grey, faithful, Saxon-loving Sea._

JULY 1805

"Succeed, and you command the Irish Expedition," said the squat fellow.

"My Emperor!" replied the tall cavalry-man, saluted, and clanked away
in the gloom.

* * * * *

A sweet evening, very fresh, the tide crashing at the foot of the cliff.

In the twilight, above Boulogne, a man was standing, hands behind him.

The moon lay on the water, making a broad white road that led from
his feet across the flowing darkness West.

The dusk was falling. About him the earth grew dark; above him all
was purity and pale stars.

Only the tumble of the tide, white-lipped on the beach beneath, stirred
the silence; while one little dodging ship, black in the wake of the
moon, told of some dare-devil British sloop, bluffing the batteries
upon the cliff.

The rustle of the water beneath, its crashing rhythm and hiss as of
breath intaken swiftly, soothed him. He fell into a waking dream.

It seemed to his wide eyes that the sea rose, heavenward as a wall;
its foot set in foam, its summit on a level with his face. Against
it a silver ladder leaned. He had but to mount that ladder to pluck
the island-jewel, the desire of his heart these many years.

He reached a hand into the night as though to realise his wish; and
even as he did so, the sloop barked.

A mortar hard by boomed; the sea splashed; the sloop scudded seaward,
laughing; and the dreamer awoke.

Behind him, hutted on the cliffs, lay the Army of England: [Footnote:
The Army of England was Napoleon's name for the Army of Invasion.]
such a sword, now two years a-tempering, as even he, the Great
Swordsman, had never wielded.

Beneath him in the dimming basin huddled 3000 gun-vessels, waiting
their call.

Before him, across the moon-white waste, under the North star, lay
that stubborn little land of Bibles and evening bells, of smoky cities,
and hedge-rows fragrant with dog-rose and honeysuckle, of apple-cheeked
children, greedy fighting-men, and still-eyed women who became the
mothers of indomitable seamen--that storm-beaten land which for so
long now, turn he where he would, had risen before him, Angel of the
Flaming Sword, and waved him back.

Between him and it ran a narrow lane of sea, the moon-road white across
it: so narrow he could almost leap it; so broad that now after years
of trying he was baffled still.

Could his Admirals only stop the Westward end of that narrow lane for
six hours, that he and his two-hundred-thousand might take the moon-road
unmolested, he was Master of the World.

But--they could not.

In his hand, fiercely crumpled, lay the despatch that told him
Villeneuve was back in Vigo, shepherded home again.

And by whom?

That little one-eyed one-armed seaman, who for ten years now had stood
between him and his destiny.

One man, the man of Aboukir Bay. [Footnote: On August 1, 1798, Nelson
destroyed the French fleet in Aboukir Bay at the Battle of the Nile.]

BOOK I

_THE LITTLE TREMENDOUS_

I

THE DEATH OF BLACK DIAMOND

CHAPTER I

THE MAN ON THE GREY

The man on the grey was in a hurry.

The stab of his backward heels; the shake and swirl of his bridle-hand;
the flog of his arm in time with the horse's stride, told their own tale.

A huge fellow, his face was red and round as a November sun. Hat and
wig were gone; and his once white neck-cloth was soaked with blood.

He came over the crest of the Downs at a lurching gallop; down
the ragged rut-worn lane, the dusty convolvuluses glimmering up at
him in the dusk; past the squat-spired Church in the high Churchyard
among the sycamores; down the rough and twisted Highstreet of Newhaven
in the chill of that August evening, as no man had ever come before.

A bevy of smoke-dimmed men in the bar of the Bridge, discussing in
awed whispers last night's affair of the Revenue cutter off Darby's
Hole, hushed suddenly at the clatter and rushed out as he stormed past.
He paid no heed. Those staring eyes saw nothing but the brown street
sliding under him, a pair of sweating ears, a flapping mane, and before
him a tumble of old roofs; while beyond in the harbour, the spars of
a sloop of war pricked the evening.

Clear of the little town huddling on the hillside, he drove along the
bank of the slow green river, flogging still.

One thing was clear: the grey was dead-beat.

He was roaring like a furnace, and straight as a rail from tail to
muzzle. Black and white with sweat, he jerked along at a terrible toppling
stagger. Only those vice-like legs and hands plucking, plucking, kept
body and soul together.

Where the river widened, and the sea gleamed misty across the
harbour-mouth, as though he knew his mission was fulfilled, up went
his head, and he fell in thundering ruin.

Where he fell he lay, lank-necked.

The tail twitched once; the body trembled; the great heart broke.

CHAPTER II

THE GALLOPING GENT

I

A boat had just put off from the bank, a tall lad steering. The great
red horseman, strangely active for so huge a man, flung himself clear
of his horse, snatched a pistol from a holster, and came floundering
down the cobbled river-bank, his coat-tails floating.

"Put back, sir!" he bellowed in husky fury. "Put back, my God! or I'll
fire."

He was standing, the water to his tops, with heaving shoulders.

"Don't shout; don't shoot; and don't swear," replied a voice, pure
as a lady's. "And perhaps I'll oblige."

The boy edged the boat into the bank. The huge fellow, in too great
a hurry to wait, floundered out, clutched her by the stern, and scrambled
in.

"My God, sir!" he panted, thrusting a dripping face into the boy's.
"D'you know who you're a-talking to?--I'm a ridin-officer on Government
business."

"And d'you know who _you're_ a-talkin to?" replied the boy, cold as
the other was hot. "I'm a King's officer on King's business. Remove your
face, please. Sit down. And don't shake so, or you'll spill us.--I'm a
midshipman going aboard my ship."

"Then you're just in time for warm work, Mr. Milkshipman," panted the
other.

He bumped down on the thwart opposite the waterman, and thrust
at the oars.

"Row, man, row!" he urged. "The Gallopin Gent's got through."

II

The colour of apple-blossom, coming and going in the lad's cheek, died
away, and left him pale.

He was a splendid stripling, sun in his hair, sun in his eyes; with
something of the lank grace of the fawn about him.

The face was fine almost to haggardness; with long chin, delicate nose,
and eager eyes, very shy.

The boy had broken through the chrysalis of childhood, and not yet
emerged into the fighting male. There was no down on his chin; the
radiance of his cheek was yet undimmed. The soul, rosy behind its clouds,
still tinged them with dawn-lights.

He was a Boy, sparkling Boy; Boy at the age when he is Woman, and Woman
at her best, the playfellow, the tease, the inspiration; free of limb,
as yet untrammelled of mind; with passionate hatreds and heroic adorations.

He was steering now, his eyes on the battered topsails in the mists
before him; and in those eyes a glitter of swords. Had his mother or
Gwen been there, they could have told from that frosty calm, those
jealous-drooping lids, that Master Boy meant mischief.

And so it was.

This fat fellow with the heaving shoulders on the thwart before him,
this chap with the crease across his bald neck, and the black sweat
trickling from his hair, had insulted him.

As woman, he was bent upon revenge; as man, he would go warily, striking
only to strike home.

"That was a fine horse you flogged to death," he began tranquilly,
trailing his fingers in the dead green waters.

"Yes, sir," panted the other, thrusting at the oars. "I don't spare
spur when I'm ridin agin the French. I'm a man, and an Englishman--not
a pink-faced, girl-eyed booby togged out in a cocked hat and a tin
dagger, calling meself a King's officer."

"I guessed that you were not one of us," replied the boy delicately.
"Your manners are too distinguished. But tell me a little more about
your ride. You seemed in rather a hurry. I take it you were riding
for a drink."

The great man swung round. His whole life seemed to have stopped short,
and now hung behind his eyes--an appalling shadow.

For one swift moment the boy thought he would be struck.

Then the big man spoke; and his voice was measured and very still.

"If you think I burst the gamest eart that ever beat in an orse's ide
for a drink, why then, sir," with crushing simplicity, "you think wrong."

He resumed his rowing, and continued with the same surprising dignity.

"I bred that orse; I broke that orse; I loved that orse."

The tide of the boy's being set back with a shock.

"O!" he cried. "O ... I didn't mean ... I really...."

"That's all right, sir," came the other's smothered voice. "I know
you didn't."

He swallowed, and his face grew rigid. Then a light broke all about
it.

"But there!" with husky pride. "He won't bear me no grudge--will
you, old man?" with a hoarse burst of tenderness, flinging his arm
towards the bank, where the dead horse's girths glimmered still in
the dusk. "He know'd I wouldn't have asked it of him, only I had to.
That's my old orse! that's my Robin!--Never asked no questions. Just
took and died and did his duty without the talkin. Maybe some of us
might learn a bit from him."

Taking a great bandana from his pocket, he blew his nose like the report
of a pistol.

"A'ter all," he said, with touching solemnity, "he died for his country,
did my Robin--same as Abercromby at Alexandrya."

III

Behind them on the hill a clock struck eight.

The riding-officer held up his hand.

"Ark!" he cried. "It was going seven in Ditchling as I pelted down
the Beacon. Gallop! gallop! gallop! There's ne'er another orse in England
could ha done it, with big Jerry Ram bumpin on his back all the way;
danged if there be!"

He thumped his knee.

"King George ought to know on it! He died for him. Fair lay down to
it, belly all along the ground. Might ha know'd he was on the King's
business, and the Gentleman with two minutes' start streakin away for
Birling Gap like a bullet from the bow."

"Aw, he'll be out again than?" drawled the waterman, sleepy and Sussex.

"Out again!" shouted Big Jerry, and clapping the handkerchief to his
ear, thrust it beneath the other's eye of mildew. "What's that?--blood,
ain't it?--whose?--mine.--How?--The Gentleman."

"You'll ha met him than, I expagt?" cooed the waterman in his cautious
way.

"He met me more like," replied Big Jerry with the grim humour of the
whole-hearted man, who gives hard knocks and takes them all in good part.

"Not but what we was expectin him, you'll understand."

"You knaw'd he was comin than surely?" came the waterman's slow musical
voice.

"Know'd it!" roared the other. "O course we know'd it. Why's the
_Kite_ been layin in Cuckmere Haven since night afore last?--why
was the Gap Gang strung out all the way from Furrel Beacon to Beachy
Head all day yesterday?--Why was Black Diamond mouchin round in Lewes
this morning?--Why?--why?--why?"

"Why?" asked the boy, breathless.

"Because the Gallopin Gent was comin down with despatches for Boney,
and they were keepin the road for him. That's why," screamed the big
man, bumping up and down in his excitement.

"Only question was which way. Ye see it's most in general all ways
at once with him. Up and down, day and night, all over Sussex, these
weeks past. No stoppin him; no coppin him; no nothin him. Always the
same chap--gentleman, mighty gay, bit o red riband in his button-hole,
and blood chestnut with a white blaze between his knees. Always the
same tale--gave em the go-by somehow. No sayin where or when--only
just when you're least expectin him, then you can make sure of him.
And when you are ready for him, seems he's readier for you."

He mopped his forehead, the laughing puckers gathering about his eyes.

"Look at us this evenin. There we was ridin easy up the Beacon, me
and the orse-patrol--_lookin for him_. Just as we tops the brow
who pops over the wall like a swallow but the Gentleman himself on
his chestnut?"

He threw back his head and chuckled.

"There!--I can't ardly elp laughin. The cheek o the chap!"

"Did he run?" asked the boy, all eyes.

"Run!" snorted the riding-officer. "No run about _im_.... Rode
at us like a rigiment of cavalry, swinging his sword, and laughin fit
to bust himself.... Half the boys bolted--and I don't know as I blame
them: they swear he's old Nick. Dick Halkett, old Job, and me, we stood
it.... Bang he rides at old Job and bowls him over a buster; runs young
Dick through the body; slops me over the pate a good un; and steals
away down the hill, waving his hand and crying--'Adoo! adoo! adoo!
remember me!'--as if we was likely to forget him!"

The big man mopped his bloody ear with a quizzical grin.

"I know'd it was no good follerin. Nothing foaled o mortal mare can
collar that chestnut, once she's away. So I bangs my hat down, catches
the old orse by the ead, and rams him down the hill for Newhaven."

He began to push at the oars again.

"For there's two roads to Birling Gap, my lad: one by land, and one by
sea. We've missed him by land. Now we'll see what the Jack-tars can do."

IV

The boy said nothing. His eyes were on his ship, dim above him in the
mist.

She was in rags and tatters: so much he could see, and little
else. Yet to him she seemed to glow in the dusk. He saw her through
blurred eyes in a cloud of glory, and his heart thrilled to her.

She was his ship; that ship of which he had dreamed ever since he could
dream, this boy born to the sea.

And was he not proud of her?

Shivering like a lover, he brought up alongside; and as he did so he
thrust out a hand to feel the wooden ribs which covered that heart
of valour.

For was she not the little _Tremendous_, of whom the heroic tales
were told!

CHAPTER III

THE GUNNER OF THE SLOOP

Swiftly and silently the _Tremendous_ spread her wings in the dusk.

The riding-officer was going over the side.

"Good luck, sir!" he said. "Make a cop; and Pitt'll thank you on his
knees."

For all answer the block-of-granite little man by the wheel
turned his back.

"Cut the cable!" he barked. "Set studdin-sails alow and aloft! Inboard
side-lights! Boniface, take a party of small-arm men forrad, and keep a
sharp look-out!"

Before the riding-officer had dropped into the dinghy, the
_Tremendous_ began to slap the water, shaking out ragged topsails
as she slid out of the harbour, a misty rain shrouding her.

"There's a row-boat coming up astern, sir," ventured the boy--"rowing
like mad."

"I have ears, sir, and I'm usin em," snapped the other, and stumped
forward, leaning heavily on a stick, thick and surly as himself.

They were the first words he had spoken to the lad, this block-of-granite
little man, across whose knees his father had died at St. Vincent;
and the boy did not find them encouraging.

"Send im victoriush,
Appee and gloriush,
Long to reign o er--i--ush,
Goshave----

"Uncle George!" bawled a bibulous voice. "Row, ye devil, row!--or I'll
split y'up, and chuck y'overboard."

A boat pelted up under the counter of the sloop. The singer rose suddenly,
clutched at a man-rope, and came swinging up the side.

The light of the binnacle-lamp fell upon him.

He was a tall fellow, with bushy black whiskers, a long tallowy nose
that in some old-time battle had been broken, and eyes with a wild
wet gleam in them. Now he sheered up against the bulwark, waving riotously.

"Three cheers for the lirrel _Tremendous_! Ooray! ray! ray!--We're
alf our ship's company short. There's only old Ding-dong left on the
quar'er-deck. I'm drunk as David's sow. And we're off to cur out the
Grand Armee. Ooray! ray! ray!" and he fell hiccoughing away into foolish
laughter.

"Hadn't you better go below?" said a pure treble at his side. "You're
beastly drunk."

The man pulled himself together, and stared through the gloom.

"Lumme!" he whispered. "A tottie!--a tottie for Lushy!... Lemme cuddle
ye, darlin, _do_."

"I'm a midshipman," said the boy briefly. "Shut up; and behave yourself."

The man tried to stand up, and swept off his hat.

"Ow de do, sir? Ow de do? By all means ow de do? Lemme introjuice you all
round. I'm Mr. Lanyon, commonly called Lushy, because? one? me failins:
Gunner aboard this packet by rights, and Actin Fust Lieutenant by the
grace o God--there bein no one else to act, see? This ere," he continued,
smacking the bulwark, "is His--Majesty's--ship--_Tremendous_, well
known and respected between the Lizard and the Nore. Not lookin her
sauciest just now, I grant you: shrouds tore to tatters, mizzen spliced,
bowsprit splintered, plugged fore and aft, and alf her weather bulwark
carried away. But that's _ex tempore_, as the sayin is. We only put
in at dawn to refit, and land wounded."

"Where's she been?" asked the boy.

"Been!" cried the other with rollicking laughter. "That's a good un.
Ere's a kid ain't eard where we been. Been!" the sudden thunder in
his voice. "Why, in Boulong Arbour among Boney's craft. H'in and h'out,
under Nap's nose. Stormed the Arbour Battery; set the gun-vessels afire;
and came out under their guns, colours at the truck, and the bosun's
boy in the mizzenchains singin--

O it's a snug little island,
A right little tight little island."

He clutched the boy's shoulder, and thrust flaming eyes into his.

"Old man's got a game leg since Camperdown. Fust Lieutenant led the
landin party--Mr. Wrot. Dessay you've heard tell of him. Dry Wrot,
they called him. Tubby little bloke, all belly and big voice. Fine
chap to fight, though, be God--only so thirsty, same as me. He took
it in the tummy, crawlin through the embrasure--hand-grenade, I fancies.
I was next man on the ladder." He was marching up and down, his hands
swinging, seeming to smoulder almost in the gloom.

"Pretty work in the battery, be God, as ever I see!--One time we was
bungin round-shot at each other across the casement, like marbles.
Give the Mossoos their due they fought like eroes; but not like h'us,
sir! not like h'us!"

He strode up and down, breathing flame.

"Ah, you should ha seen us. I were in me glory. A bloody massacree,
that's what it were. Bloody massacree. Enough to make a blessed saint
weep for joy. Pommesoul it were."

He turned in his stride, and the lamp showed the tears dribbling down
his face.

"And when we'd mushed up the blanky caboodlum: spiked the guns; sent
the gunners to glory; and blow'd up the battery, who led the boys out?"

He stopped dead.

"Old Lush!--Lushy, the Gunner, Gorblessim!" swelling his chest, and
patting it. "And why?--because there wasn't a quarter-deck officer,
not so much as a middy or mate, left to do it."

He resumed his strut with fighting hands.

"That's our sort aboard the _Tremendous_, sir. We're the
halleloojah lads to fight. And what we are, old Ding-dong made us."

"Who's old Ding-dong?" asked the boy, breathlessly.

The Gunner shot a finger at the block-of-granite figure forward.

"That's the man as won the battle o the Nile," he whispered with husky
magnificence. "And ere's the man that elped him."

He bowed with wide hands. Drunk as he was there was yet a dilapidated
splendour about the fellow as about an historic ruin. The boy felt it
through his disgust.

"I thought Nelson did a bit," he said.

"Nelson did much; I did more; _e_ did most," with a wave forward.
"Why!" shouting now. "Who was it led the line inside the shoal--creepin
it, leadsman in the chains, soundin all the way?--We _Thunderers_,
the _Goliath_ treadin mighty jealous on our heels. And who
commanded the _Thunderer_?--Old Ding-dong. And what did he get
for it?"

He smacked a hand down on the boy's shoulder.

"Broke him, sir!--broke him back to a sloop o war!--old Ding-dong,
the damdest, darndest, don't-care-a-cursest old sea-dog as ever set
his teeth in a French line o battle ship, and wouldn't let go, though
they fired double-shotted broadsides down his throat."

"But why did they break him?" gasped the boy. "It doesn't sound like
Nelson."

The other smacked his long nose with a finger mysteriously.

"I don't know what you mean," said the boy, short and sharp.

"Ah, and just as well you don't," replied the other loftily. "Some
day, Sonny, you'll know all there is to know and a leetle bit more--same
as me. Plenty time first though. If you've done suckin it's more'n
you look."

He began to march again.

"Yes, sir: he'd ha hoisted his broad pendant afore this, would old
Ding-dong, pit-boy and powder-monkey and all, only for that. And as
I'd ha gone h'up with him as he went h'up, so I goes down with him
when he goes down. I know'd old Ding-dong. He was the man for me. Talk
o fightin!--Dicky Keats, Ned Berry, the Honourayble Blackwood: good
men all and gluttons at it!--but for the real old style stuff,
ammer-and-tongs, fight to a finish, takin punishment and givin it,
there ain't a seaman afloat as'll touch our old man."

He spat over the side.

"Yes, sir, when he went, I went along, and never regretted
it--never. We've seen more sport aboard this blame little packet than
the rest of the Fleet together. Clear'd the Channel, be God, we
ave!--prowlin up and down, snow and blow, fog and shine, like a rampin
champin lion. Why, sir, we've fought a first-rate from Portland Bill
to Dead Man's Bay--this blame little boat you could sail in a babby's
bath! _Took her too!_ and towed her into Falmouth Roads, all standin,
like a kid leadin its mother by the and. Talk o Cochrane and the
_Speedy_!--Gor blime!--what's he alongside us?"

He steadied suddenly.

"Ush! ere comes the old man."

The boy could hear the stump of a stick on the deck.

"What's he wearin?" whispered the other, peering. "You can most always
tell the lay he's on by that. Pea-jacket means boat-work, cuttins out,
fire-ships, landin parties, and the like. If it's old blue frock
and yaller waistcoat, then it's lay em aboard and say your prayers.
And if it's cocked hat and chewin a quid, then it's elp you God: for
your time's come."

"You're a disgrace to the Service, Mr. Lanyon," came a curt voice.

"And you're a credit to it, sir," was the hearty retort.

"Go below."

"And just sposin I won't," answered the drunkard--"only sposin,
mind!--just for the sake of argyment, d'ye see?--what then?"

"Irons."

The drunkard folded his arms.

"And might I make so bold, Commander Ardin," he began elaborately,
"to ask who'll fight your guns, your Actin Fust in irons; and besides
yourself ne'er another officer on the quar'er-deck--only this ere squab."

"I'll fight em myself if needs be. Go below, d'ye hear?"

The Gunner stumbled away, roaring laughter.

"Sail the blurry ship; fight the blurry ship; sink the blurry ship;
and go to ell in the blurry ship. That's old Ding-dong."

CHAPTER IV

OLD DING-DONG

"They call you Kit?"

The boy started.

His name, his pet name that he had not heard for days, on the lips
of this block-of-granite little man, who had only spoken so far to
snub him.

"Mother does, sir--and Gwen."

There was silence; only the water talking beneath the ship's bows,
as she took the open sea and began to swing to it.

"Your father was my friend," continued the voice, less harsh now. "I
was a pit-boy; he was a gentleman: we was friends."

The voice was gruff again.

"Ran away to sea same night--he from the Hall; me from the pit-mouth.
Met under the old oak on the green.

"'Ready, Bill?' says he.

"'Right, sir,' says I.

"'Then forge ahead.'

"And forge ahead it was, and never parted, till the Lord saw good to
come atween us for the time bein at St. Vincent."

The voice in the darkness ceased and began again.

"Quiberon Bay was our first. Fifty-nine that were. I was powder-monkey
on the _Royal George_; he was Hawke's orderly midshipman. St.
Vincent our last. And a God's plenty in between. One time Dutchmen;
one time Dons; and most all the time the French. Yes, sir," with quiet
gusto, "reck'n we saw all the best that was goin in our time, and not a
bad time neether--for them as like it, that's to say: seamen and such."

He was silent for a time, chewing his memories.

And what memories they were!--Had he not sailed under Boscawen in the
fifties, when that old sea-dog stood between England and Invasion?
Had he not lived to see Napoleon's Eagles brooding over the cliffs
of France, intent on the same enterprise?--And between the two, what
men, what deeds?--Hawke smashing Conflans in a hurricane; Rodney,
gloriously alone, fighting his ship against a fleet; Duncan hammering
the Dutch; Sam Hood, Jack Jervis, Nelson, Cuddie Collingwood; and all
that grim array of big-beaked, bloody-fisted fighting men who for fifty
years had held the narrow seas against all comers.

"D'you remember your father?"

The old man brooded over the boy. In a dumb and misty way he was puzzling
out one of life's mysteries--this long stripling with the eyes sprung
somehow from that other long stripling with the eyes, whom he had followed
from the pit-mouth fifty years since.

"I just remember him coming into the nursery with mother and a candle
the night before he sailed the last time, sir, to join Lord Howe."

"Ah," mused the old man, "that'd be a week afoor the First o June;
and nigh three years afoor he died."

He paused again, rummaging in his memory.

"He was Post-Captain at St. Vincent; I was his First--aboord the old
_Terrible_, 74.... You'll ha heard all about _that_ tale.
[Footnote: Sir John Jervis crushed the Spanish fleet off Cape St. Vincent
in 1797. In this action the Spanish fleet was in two divisions. In
order to prevent a junction between them Nelson drew out of the British
line and single-handed attacked the Spanish weather-division, including
the Spanish flag-ship and five other sail of the line. See Mahan's
"Life of Nelson."]

"'Plucky chap, Nelson,' says the Captain, as he tumbles to the little
man's game. 'Wear ship, and a'ter him.' So we hauls out? the line,
us and the _Culloden_--Tom Troubridge--and pushes up, all sail
set, to help him.

"By then we got alongside, the _Captain_--Nelson's ship she
were--was a sheer hulk. As we pass her, your father leans over the
rail.

"'Well done, _Captain_,' says he, liftin his hat.

"Nelson blinks his one eye up--I can see him now.

"'That you, Kit?' he pipes through his nose that way of is'n. 'You've
got it all your own way now. I'm a wreck. Good luck, _Terrible_.'

"So on we goes bang atween two Spanish Fust-rates--hundud and twenty
guns apiece. Had em all to ourselves, and asked no better.

"'Just your style, Bill,' says the Captain. He was pacing up and down
the lee of the poop with me. 'Pretty work, ain't it?'

"'Too pretty to last, sir,' says I; as our fore-mast went by the board.

"Just then up runs the carpenter's mate all of a sweat.

"'Well, Michael,' says the Captain, 'what is it to-day?'

"'Goin down with a run, sir,' pants old Chips. 'Twenty foot? water
in her well.'

"The Captain turns to me.

"'Where's the nearest land, Willum?' says he, with that twinkle of
is'n. Always called me Willum, when he meant mischief, did the Captain.

"'Why, sir,' says I, 'the bottom, I reck'n.'

"'Wrong again,' says he. 'That's the nearest land to me,' and he points
at the _Santy Maria_, Don Somebody Somethin's Flag-ship. 'Hard
a-starboard, if you please, Mr. Hardin,' says he. 'I'm a-goin to land.'

"So I luffs up alongside, and fell aboard Er Oliness--like a mighty
great mountain above us she was, all poop, and galleries, and Armada
fittins.

"When our bow scraped her quarter,

"'Anybody for the shore!' pipes the Captain; and he jumps into her
main-chain....

"Ah, but you should ha heard the men cheer!"

The old man paused, breathing deep.

"Ten minutes a'terwards he was dying acrost my knees on the spar-deck
of the Don.

"'Has she struck, Bill?' he whispers, coughing....

"'The three decker's struck, sir,' says I, 'and the four-decker's strikin.'

"He shuts his eyes.

"'Then I can depart in peace,' he sighs. 'Tell Marjory I done my duty.'

"And he up and died."

There was a cough in the darkness.

"So I calls a cutter away, and rowed aboord the _San Josef_, the
men blubberin like a pack o babbies, to break it to Nelson. Like twins,
them two, Nelson and your father: that like, ye see!

"Well, there was the Commodore on the Don's quarter-deck, Berry beside
him, the Spanish Captain afoor him, and behind him a British Jack-Tar
tuckin the Spaniards' swords under his arm like so many umberellas.

"I breaks it to him short and straight.

"'Captain Caryll's compliments, sir,' says I. 'And he's dead.'

"Nelson claps his hands to his face as though I'd struck him. Then
he falls on my neck afoor em all--Dons too.

"'O Ding-dong!' says he. 'I loved him.'--Just like that. 'I loved him....'

"Yes, that was Nelson all through: one alf woman, t'other alf hero.

"Then he pulls himself together.

"'But there!' he says. 'He lived like an English gentleman; and he
died like a British seaman. May I go that way when my time comes.'
And he sweeps off his cocked hat as though it might ha been to the
King, and--

"'God bless Kit Caryll,' says he."

The old man blew his nose in the darkness.

"Yes, sir," he continued, "that was your father and my friend," and
then suddenly gruff--

"D'you mean takin a'ter him?"

"I mean to try, sir," said the boy huskily.

In the darkness a hand gripped his.

CHAPTER V

REUBEN BONIFACE'S STORY

I

Clear of the harbour, the boy's hat blew overboard.

He tasted his lips, and found them salt.

Never at sea before, yet somehow it was all strangely familiar, and
strangely dear.

The feel of the ship, alive beneath his feet; the lift, the plunge,
the swaying rhythm of the bows; the roll of the masts against a patch
of stars--there was music in them all; a music that stirred his heart;
the music of inherited Memory.

The sea was in his blood; and his blood began to sing to it. Old voices
from the Past, that Past which is still the Present, woke within him.
Old memories, borne down the ages upon the dark river of race life,
haunted him dimly. Old and terrible experiences--murders and mutinies;
distresses on rafts; thirsts and screaming madnesses; naked men howling
on hen-coops under waste skies, sea-birds wailing desolately overhead;
great ships, man-forsaken, God-forgotten, wallowing blindly amid green
mountains that flowed and foamed upon them--shadows in shoals, they
rose, glimmered, and were gone in the twilight waters of returning
consciousness.

Sea-wolves in beaked ships from the Baltic; pirate-adventurers who
had sailed and sacked under the Conqueror; pioneers of new-found lands:
blood of his blood, and brain of his brain, they lived again, roused
from centuries of sleep by the stir and whiff and secret business of
the dark waters.

The mystery of it thrilled the boy: the blind night, the moving waters,
the wind in his hair, the crash of spray upon the deck--old friends
all, he recognised them as such, and found them beautifully familiar.

He was flowing down the River of Eternal Life and one with it. He was:
he had been: he always would be. There was no Death, no Time. Life
was One and Everlasting.

His nostrils wide, renewing old impressions, he walked forward, proud
and self-composed.

True son of the sea, yet he knew himself her master. She was his woman,
to be loved and lorded over. He found himself brooding over her dark
beauty with the stern pride of possession. Manhood was rushing in on
him: its passions, its power, its splendid cruelties. He began to tingle
to them.

They had not met, it seemed, to know each other, these two world-old
friends, for half a generation. Now once more they came together,
heart to heart, man to woman, loving faithfully as ever.

II

The wind freshened. The sloop began to feel the sea and swing to it.
She was a dark and secret ship: not a light save for the glare of the
binnacle-lamp; the only sound the creak of a block, the mutter of canvas,
and the chatter of waters.

It was a dirty night, a wet mist blowing landward. There was no moon;
only here and there a star pierced the cloud-drift.

The boy groped his way forward.

In the bows a dark lantern on the deck shone on a group of sea-boots.

"Pretty night for our work, sir," came a cheery voice. "Might ha been
made for us."

"Where are we?" asked the boy.

"Yon's Seaford Head, sir," as a great white dimness thrust out of the
mist towards them. "We're layin along close inshore. See that glimmer
forrad on the port-bow?--Ah, it's gone again! That's the Seven Sisters.
And between the last o them and Beachy Head lays Birling Gap. And
somewhere there or thereabouts, we'll make our cop, if a cop it's to
be."

"Who is it we're after?"

"Lugger _Kite, sir--Black Diamond's craft....

"Funny thing fortune, sir," the man continued after a pause. "Never
know how it's going to take you till you're took. Little thing sims
to sway it. At one day's time there warn't a smarter seaman afloat
than Bert Diamond. Might ha rose to the quarter-deck--just the sort;
got a way with him and that. Only one fault, sir--the sailor's failin."

"What's that?"

"Too lovin by fur....

"It's generally always his one fault capsizes a man," the seaman
continued. "And so it were with poor old Bert--he warn't Black at
that time o day, yo'll understand."

"What's the rights o that yarn, Reube?" grumbled a deep voice.

"I ca'ant rightly tall ye because I don't justly knaw, Abe. They said
this here Mr. Lucy--Love-me Lucy they called him in the ward-room--got
messin about a'ter Diamond's gal. But anyways there it were. Diamond
struck him--struck his officer."

"What happened?"

"Why, sir; flogged round the Fleet."

A man spat noisily on the deck.

"Maybe you've never seen a man flogged round the Fleet?"

"Never."

"Then heaven help you never may, sir. I'd liefer fight a gun in the
waist through farty Fleet-actions, than see one man go through
that--wouldn't you, Abe?"

"Ay, that I would," grumbled the deep voice.

"Ah; and so'd we all," came a windy chorus.

There was a stamping of feet: then the story-teller went on,

"I stood by the gang-way when he came up the side, a blanket across
his shoulders.

"'Ullo, Reube,' says he....

"That were all.... I said nawthing.... I saw his face....

"When he came out o the sick-bay three months a'terwards, with his kit
to go ashore--he was dismissed the Service, yo'll understand, sir--I
was on deck.... He limped across, and shook hands with me out o them
all.... We'd been like brothers, him and me.... Then he went down the
side and never a word.... Just as his head was on a level with the
deck, he stops. Good-bye all,' says he, with a laugh I never heard
him laugh before. 'The British Navy ain't eard the last o Black
Diamond.'... And nor we had, by thunder."

III

The _Tremendous_ thrashed into a swell. A spout of foam flung
up, and crashed down on the deck. When the last hiss of it had died
away, Boniface took up his tale.

"That was 99--after Acre. I was away nigh on six years, middlin busy
too. We'd the lot atop on us one time or t'other--French, Roossians,
Dons, Dutch, Swedes, Danes, and all; and Nap to thank for em....

"Last Spring I come home to find Black Diamond cock o the Gap Gang,
and better fear'd nor Boney's self in East Sussex. That'd be a day
or two after they'd done Mr. Lucy."

"What was that?"

"Why, sir, Mr. Lucy, he was Coast-guard Officer of this district.
One day his grey cob cantered into Lewes alone--no Mr. Lucy. Two night
a'terwards a keeper chap found his body in Abbot's Wood....

"They'd crucified him to a tree, and flogged him to the bone; then
stuck an ace o diamonds on to his back, and on it

_Returned with thanks_."

"And that warn't all," grumbled the deep voice.

"That it warn't," came the windy chorus. "Never is with them."

"But who'd done it?" cried the boy.

"Gap Gang, sir."

"Who are they?"

"Why, sir, Birling Gap Gang it should be by rights. That's where they
mostly lay rough when they're this side. And it suits them
to-rights--that lonely, you see: just naked hills, cliffs, badgers,
foxes, and the like.--And such a crew! God help the man or maid crosses
their hawse. Fear neither God nor Devil."

"Only Black Diamond," grumbled the deep voice. "Meek as milk with him."

There was a grim chuckle all round.

"Are they smugglers?" asked the boy.

"Call emselves smugglers," replied Reuben. "But they ain't the gentlemen
proper. For it's mighty little smuggling they do. Maybe run a cargo
every now and then to keep in with the folk on the hill--East-dean and
Friston way. But they're after bigger game, I allow."

"What's that?"

"Despatch-running for Little Boney, sir."

IV

The boy waited. There was more to come, he felt; and he was right.

In a minute Diamond's old ship-mate resumed his tale.

"Last July, I was on furlough at Alfriston. One evening I went for a
bit of a stroll on the hill. Up there, under the sky, top o Snap Hill,
was a look-out chap with a telescope. I knaw'd his back, and the high
way with his head at first onset. It was Black Diamond.

"'Hullo, Bert,' says I, coming up behind.

"Round he jumps, terrible dark.

"I'd hardly ha know'd him--toff'd out quite the officer, bits of
epaulettes, waxed moustachers, pistol and all. I'd never ha beleft it!

"'That Reube?' says he, at last, starin properly.

"'That's me, sir,' says I.

"His face cleared; and he shoved his pistol back.

"'Excuse me, Reube,' says he. 'Every man that wears that uniform is
unfriends with me, with one exception--and that's yourself,' and he
took my hand.

"'It's nice to look into a pair of eyes can look back at you,' he
goes on, very quiet, pumping my hand. 'How are you, old mate?--We're
quite strangers.'

"'I'm tidy middlin, thank-you, sir,' says I: must keep on a-sirrin
him somehow. 'How's things going with you?'

"'Why,' says he, with that terrible great laugh of his, 'like God
Almighty--slow but sure.'

"'Nice crowd you've got together by all accounts, sir,' says I.

"'All picked men,' says he, mighty grim. 'But drop your voice if you're
going to talk about the darlings: I've a dozen of em in the goss handy
by. There's not a man sails aboard the _Kite_ but swings in chains,
if he's copp'd. Makes em wonderful nippy at a pinch,' says he, with
that little smile o his. 'You wouldn't believe.'

"' Yes,' I says. 'Reg'lar man o war style aboard the _Kite_,
they do say. Trice em up, and flog em, if everything ain't just so.'

"'That's so,' says he. 'Duchess could eat her dinner off my deck--has,
too.'

"'Only wonder is they stick it,' says I.

"'Ah,' he says, 'they're my _men_, not my _mates_, see?--This
ain't a free-tradin show. We ain't partners, I pay em.'

"I looked him straight in the face.

"'And who pays you, old pal?' says I--'if you'll excuse the question.'

"'The Emperor,' says he, calm as you please. 'Nice feller, too.'

"I stared a bit.

"'Knaw him then?' says I.

"'Supp'd with him night afore last,' says he, matter-of-fact like;
and I knaw'd he warn't lying--'Me and the Emperor and another
gentleman.' He began to laugh. 'Rare sport he was too, the gentleman!
Hear him sauce the Emperor!' Then he takes a sweeping look through
his glass. 'Ye see we've a little bit o business forrard, me and him
and the Emperor.'

"Well, sir, I was gettin my monkey up, as you may allow. Here'd I been
tow-rowin up and down the high seas at tenpence a day these six years
past, doin my little bit to spoil Boney's game; and here was this
chap--dismissed with ignominy, mind!--toff'd out like a dandy Admiral,
flashin his French rings and sham Emperors in my face.

"Still I aren't no mug. So cardingly,

"'What's it all about, Bert?' says I, confidential-like.

"He didn't answer: kep on all the while a-squintin through the glass
towards the Forest.

"'You a blockade-man, [Footnote: The blockade-men were coast-guards.]
Reube?' says he at last.

"'No,' says I, 'I'm a liberty-man from the _Tremendous_.'

"'Ah,' says he, queer and quiet. 'I'm glad to hear that, Reube. Mighty
glad you're not a blockade-man.'

"'Why for?' says I, innocent-like.

"'Why,' says he, ''tain't healthy for blockade-chaps in these parts
just now.... You heard o poor Mr. Lucy?'

"'Yes, surely,' I says, pretty spiteful--'dirty business and all.'

"He dropped the glass.

"'What's that?' says he, short-like.

"So cardingly I told him _all_ about it.

"'That's my friend Fat George,' says he between his teeth.

"'I suppose it's news to you,' I sneers.

"He looks me in the eyes properly.

"'This is the first I've heard of it,' says he. 'Struth it is! No,'
he says, 'I gave him what he gave me, no more, and no less--five hundred,
_crossed_; while I lay among the blue-bells and counted em out
for him, same as he done for me. And when it was over--"And now," I
says, "to show you I'm a Christian, I'll leave the boys to put you
out of your pain; and that's more than ever you done for _me_."
And I strolled away. They must ha been up to their larks a'ter I
left--mucky gaol-birds!' he says. 'Funny thing they _can't_ be'ave
like gentlemen.'

"'Well,' I says, 'as to Mr. Lucy, he play'd it down a dog's trick on you;
and you got back on him. And man to man,' I says, 'no parsons bein by, I
don't say no to that. But if it comes to selling your country for money--'

"He swings round all black and white and lightning.

"'Money!' he snarls. 'Steady, Reube.'

"'What then?' says I.

"'Ah,' says he, drawing his breath like a cat swearin. 'As I just
told you, I'm a Christian; and I don't forget.'

"Talk o bitter!

"'Well,' I says, 'if it's revenge you're a'ter, sims to me you've had
a belly-ful.'

"'Ah, I ain't begun yet,' says he, breathing slow. 'That's my little
private account. There's the system to settle yet.'

"'What!' says I, coming closer. 'So you're going to fix up the British
Navy next?'

"'Goin to try,' says he, rollin out that tarrible great laugh of
his--'God helpin me.'

"That was a bit _too_ much.

"'Well, I'm a sailor myself,' says I, 'and an Englishman. So, mind
yourself!' And I goes for him blind.

"He never budge: just blew his whistle; and a dozen of em sprang out
o nowhere.

"'Unclasp his little arms,' says Diamond. 'He thinks I'm his lady-bird.'

"Just then a whistle sounded rithe away acrost the Weald. Another nearer
took it up, and another--like partridges callin on a summer's evening.

"'Here he comes,' says Diamond, glass to his eye. 'Reube,' says he,
'there's things good kids such as you are best not seein. Boys, take
him to the top o Deepdene, and give him a tilt down. Gently does it,'
says he. 'He's an honester man nor any o you.'

"So cardingly they march me away.

"But I hadn't gone above a dozen steps, when I heard him comin a'ter
me.

"'Reube,' says he, kind o shy-like, 'I suppose you won't shake with an
old ship-mate?'

"'No,' says I, 'I don't shake with no ---- traitors.'

"He drops his hand.

"'Ah, well,' says he, 'think the best you can o me. You're much the
man I'd ha been, if God had been gooder to me. Good-bye, Reube,' says
he. 'All the luck.'

"And somehow he seemed a bit o choky; and somehow I felt the same myself.

"So cardingly they march me away to the top o the coombe, where it's
steep as a ship's side, and gave me a shove.

"Down I sprawls, rolly-bowly, anyhow all among the jumping hares,
and brought up in the shadows at the bottom.

"And as I was feeling to see if my head still set on my shoulders,
a chap on horse-back comes cantering up the shoulder of the coombe
above me, black against the light....

"That was the first o this here Gentleman all the talk's on...."

V

The mist was blowing by in huge white puffs like the breath of a giant.

"That was the beginning," continued Reuben. "It warn't the end though
not by no means. Many's the time since then them words of his about
the blockade-chaps, and his queer way o sayin em's come back to me."

"Why?" asked the boy.

"Why, sir?--why, indeed?--Two days later a patrol was found at the
foot o the Devil's Chimney, heads bashed in. Blow'd over o course!--Week
a'terwards petty officer found drowned in dew-pond top o Warren Hill.
Accident o course!--Next day common seaman hung in his own braces
Jevington Holt. Suicide o course! And so it's been going on ever
since--blockade-men murdered; blockade-men missin; blockade-men washed
ashore--until last night."

"What then?"

"Ain't you heard, sir?" aghast. "Last night--eleven o'clock--full
moon--clear as crystal--Diamond laid the _Kite_ aboard the Revenue
cutter off Darby's Hole."

"Well?" breathlessly.

"Ah, well indeed, sir!--No one'll ever knaw the rights o that yarn.
Only one chap o the crew o the _Curlew_ left alive to tell the
tale--poor Alf Huggett here alongside o me. Stove in a water-butt and
hid in it--didn't you, Alf?"

There was a waiting silence.

"It's broke him up surely, sir," whispered Reuben. "And I don't wonder.
Saw enough through that bung-hole to keep him thinking for the rest
of his life."

"Fat George!" shivered a thin voice. "Fat George!"

"Ah!" came the windy chorus. "Him and old Toadie!"

"Anyways there it be!" continued Reuben. "At noon to-day the _Curlew_
drifted up against Seaford jetty, yards hung with her own crew, like
carcasses in a butcher's shop."

"Brutes!" gasped the boy. "But what's the meaning of it all?"

Reuben shrugged till his oil-skins crackled.

"No sayin, sir. Summat's up; summat big. Diamond wanted the coast
cleared; and he's cleared it--by thunder he has! Swep it up bald as
the back o my hand."

The mist blew away faint and thin. Through it the bowed crest-line
of a cliff loomed up to larboard.

"There's the last o the Seven Sisters!" said Reuben. "Birling Gap's
just here along." He moved among his men. "Stations, boys. It's here
or hereabouts...."

"Hush!" whispered Kit.

CHAPTER VI

THE LUGGER KITE

I

"D'you hear anything, sir?"

The boy made no reply, listening, listening.

Had he made a mistake?--was it only the swish of waters under the
keel? ... No!

_"There! there, in front!"_

This time there was no mistaking it--the noise of a boat's bow smashing
into seas.

Reuben brought his fist down with a thump.

"To the tick!"

Just then the cloud-drift parted. Through tatters of mist the moon
shone down.

II

Bowling out on the top of the tide came a lugger, the foam at her foot.

She was black in the moon, and barely a cable's length away.

"That her?" asked the gruff voice of the old Commander.

"That's the _Kite_, sir," answered Reuben. "Know her luff anywheres.
Foots it like a witch, and handles like a lady. A boy could sail her;
and she'll carry farty at a pinch."

The old Commander watched her across the glimmering waters.

"Means havin it," he said with a grunt half of admiration, half of
satisfaction.

"Ah, that's Diamond, sir!" answered the other. "God A'mighty couldn't
stop him once he's set."

The old Commander measured the lessening distance between him and his
prey.

"I shall keep as I go," he said deliberately. "Reck'n he'll do
the same. We oughter meet. But if he should scrape through, why let
him have it nice and hearty as he goes under my bows."

"Ay, ay, sir."

He stumped aft; while the men rammed down their sou-westers.

III

"I'll lay I bag Fat George in the belly," said one, spitting leisurely,
as he fingered his musket.

"I'll lay you don't then," retorted another.

"I'll lay you couldn't miss it," chipped in a wag.

There was a rumble of laughter, quickly hushed.

The boy among them sniggered, to vindicate his courage.

How brave they were! and what beasts! They made him sick, and filled
him with admiration. He should like to be like that--to feel nothing;
to see nothing; to loll up against the side and spit about, and make
bad jokes, a minute before he took the life of a brother man. That
was fine: that was manhood. One day, please God, he would be the same.

He peeped at the lugger. She was holding on, hard-driven, a long-boat
with high-cocked nose tearing astern.

The big ship was bearing down on her like a hawk on a sparrow. It was
bullying but O! was it not glorious? The old thrill, the thrill of
thrills, incomparable, made him tremble. He was manhunting once more.

"He'll carry the sticks out of her," muttered one of the men. "Crackin
along all sail--capsize or no."

"He may crack along," said another. "He's done. Black Diamond's done."

The sea flopped in the moon. Here and there a gathering swell hissed
into foam. The _Tremendous_ scarcely felt it; but the lugger lay
over on her side, seams dripping, and thrashed furiously along.

Her crew, squatting along the weather gunwale, turned bowed and shining
backs to the sloop.

Only the man at the tiller had seen her; and he made no sign.

The moon was on his face, black and white and bearded; and his eyes
on the sloop.

"Calm chap!" whispered one.

"Plucky meat," replied another. "Guts like a lion on him."

"Which is Black Diamond?" asked the boy.

"Him at the tiller, sir--moon on his face. He's seen us. 'Tothers
ain't--not yet."

The _Tremendous_ crashed into a sea. The aftmost man on the
lugger's gunwale turned.

He saw the Avenger towering over him, dark wings spread, snow-drifts
spurting before her.

An awful horror convulsed his face.

"King's ship!" came a ghastly-screaming treble. "Put back, Diamond!"

The man at the tiller never stirred. One lightning arm flashed forward.

"Down, George!" came a voice of thunder. "I'm going through."

There was a flash in the moon; the smothered crack of a pistol; and
a furious tumble of men aft.

"Gor! they're knifin him!"

"Their own skipper!"

"That's the Gap Gang!" rose in a groaning chorus from the bows of the
sloop.

IV

Splash followed splash.

The crew of the lugger were jumping for the long-boat.

The moon shone down mildly on savage waters, and a tumult of men.

All about the boat was a fury of fighting. Some were in it, some in
the water. Those within were slashing at the hands of those scrambling
in.

Every man was for himself, and every man against his neighbour. They
fought like beasts, beasts who could blaspheme.

Sin seen naked! Sin and its consequences!

Death-screams; bellowed blasphemies; howls for mercy rose as from the
pit.

"No room!--It's me, Joe!--Too many aboard!--Knife the ----!--I'm
done!--Elp us up!--Don't, George!"

Out of the torment of howls, oaths, prayers, came again the
ghastly-screaming treble.

"Cut the painter!"

A boy, the last on the lugger, afraid before to trust the water, jumped
now.

"Don't leave Jacky!" spluttered the thin boy's voice, tearful and
terrified; as the little shaven head bobbed up by the boat.

"Ands off!" screamed the treble. "We're sinkin a'ready. What, you
little ----! then ave it! ave it! ave it!"

A shrill squeal and then again that ghastly-screaming treble--

"Row, ye ----, row!"

Silence; tumbling waters; and the moon, sick with horror, darkened
suddenly.

CHAPTER VII

THE MAN IN THE LUGGER

I

The lugger came bowling on, one man in her stern.

"Diamond's bested em!" rose in a roar from the _Tremendous_.

And so it seemed.

The _Kite_ was making straight for the sloop, plunging giddily,
as though wounded.

"All hands aloft!" roared old Ding-dong. "Back tops'ls!"

There was a scamper of feet along the deck; and up the shrouds a scurry
of dark figures. Above was ordered bustle; from the deck a sounding
voice ruled all, as God rules the world.

"Canst use a pistol, lad?"

The words, swift as hail, smote Kit's ear.

"I don't know, sir," babbled the boy, sick with excitement.

A minute back Hell had yawned, and he had peeped in. He was still aghast.

"Then find oot!" fierce as a sword. "Joomp into t'mizzen-chains, and
pick off yon chap at the helm, as he cooms under ma counter."

He thrust a pistol into the boy's hands.

How limp the lad felt beside this masterful old man!

In another moment he was standing in the chains, the dark and giddy
waters swirling beneath him. The blood thumped in his temples.

Was it to be his St. Vincent? his chance?

The lugger came tearing up. He could hear the swish of the waters,
white at her foot; he could see the wet sail, the bucketing bows,
the fore-deck awash. She would pass bang beneath his feet. He could
see no man at the helm--only the jumping bowsprit, the thrashing foot,
and that huge lug-sail, bellying over the water.

Suddenly his mind flamed. In the white glare of it he saw the thing
to do, and had done it, before cold reason could check him.

He jumped.

The boat and giddy waters rose up to meet him. He fell as on to a
mattress, full of wind. It was the lug-sail he had struck. Down it
he sprawled to the deck, there to find himself upon his hands and knees,
something soft beneath him.

One man was in the boat; and that man was staring him in the face.

There was no mistaking him. He was black, with diamond eyes. The moon
was on his face; and about his lips a queer snarling smile.

Kit expected him to pounce; yet he did not, lolling back in the
stern-sheets, very much at his ease. The tiller under his arm wobbled,
and he wobbled with it. In spite of those staring eyes of his, there
was a dreadful unsteadiness about the man. Was he wounded?--was he
drunk?

Somehow the boy was not very much afraid. It was all too dream-like.
He heard his heart thundering far-away on the remotest shores of being.
He heard his own voice speaking, and was surprised at it--how steady
it was, and how small!

It was saying,

"I'm a King's officer. That's a King's ship. There are about a thousand
men on board. It's all no go. D'you give in?"

The man grinned sardonically. Then his head fell forward. He lurched
horribly. The tiller slipped from under his arm. The lugger fell away,
and lay on the water like a wounded bird.

Then Kit understood.

Black Diamond was dead.

II

The boy's mind relaxed like a burst bladder.

He began to laugh.

Where was he?

Alone on the deep with a dead man.

Well, well. It was not for the first time surely. A ghost, long-laid,
walked again. A sudden lightning had flashed upon his past. In it he
had seen and _remembered_. Something of a forgotten self floated
to the surface. In turmoil, his Eternal Mind had thrown up on the sea
of Time a memory from its imperishable hoard.

Slowly he recollected himself, and looked about him.

He was kneeling on something soft, and his hands were warm and slimy.
He looked down, and jerked back with a scream.

He was kneeling on a dead man, and his hands were crimson.

A gust caught the lugger: she staggered forward with a flap and swing
of her boom. Her master, her mate, was dead; and the spirit had gone
out of her.

No time for the horrors! he must be doing.

In a moment he was at work with his dirk. The great lug came down with
a rattle.

Forward under the boom, he cut the sheet of the jib. It fluttered
furiously, streaming lee-ward. Then he stumbled aft.

The murdered helmsman still lolled in drunken stupor, smiling inscrutably.

Astern the sloop lay with tall clothed masts, swaying, a phantom on
the troubled waters.

A boat had put off from her, and was bucking towards him.

"Lugger ahoy!" came a windy voice across the water. "Is that you,
sir?--all well?"

"I'm all right," cried the boy, and was ashamed to find his voice
cracked with emotion.

The boat bumped alongside. Reuben Boniface's face popped up over the
side.

"Plucky thing, sir!" he cried, bobbing with the boat; then seeing
the man at the tiller--"Ah, Bert! a fair cop."

"He's dead," said the boy with a sob.

"Dead!" cried the other, thrusting forward. "By thunder! so he is.
Boys, Black Diamond's dead!" He took the dead man by the hand. "Poor
old mate!" he continued in hushed voice. "Fancy that now. Diamond dead!"

Another head bobbed up.

"Did you kill him, sir?" asked an awed voice.

"No, I didn't. I think it was this man. He killed Black Diamond; and
Black Diamond killed him back."

His heart was swollen almost to bursting.

A row of heads now bobbed all along the side, staring at the dead man.
It awed them, this lay-figure with the dreadful stillness brooding
about it, rocking with the rock of the sea. They spoke of it with lowered
voices reverently.

"Funny thing--him so quiet. Don't seem nat'ral like."

"Warn't like that ten minutes since."

"That Black Diamond!--and can't lift his own hand now!"

"Ah, makes a change, Death, don't it?"

"One thing sure," ended a philosopher. "Like it or not--sooner or
later--in this world we all gets our desarts."

So these solemn children, big of the sea, brooded over the Great
Mystery. Here _they_ were in the dark, the night blind about them,
the old sea roaming round; and here was _It_. Dimly they tried
to apprehend _It_. Somehow _It_ made them feel strangely
small, and somehow strangely great.

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