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by Charles Kingsley
THE RAJAH SIR JAMES BROOKE, K.C.B.
GEORGE AUGUSTUS SELWYN, D.D.
BISHOP OF NEW ZEALAND
THIS BOOK IS DEDICATED
By one who (unknown to them) has no other method of expressing his admiration and reverence for their characters.
That type of English virtue, at once manful and godly, practical and enthusiastic, prudent and self-sacrificing, which he has tried to depict in these pages, they have exhibited in a form even purer and more heroic than that in which he has drest it, and than that in which it was exhibited by the worthies whom Elizabeth, without distinction of rank or age, gathered round her in the ever glorious wars of her great reign.
I. HOW MR. OXENHAM SAW THE WHITE BIRD
II. HOW AMYAS CAME HOME THE FIRST TIME
III. OF TWO GENTLEMEN OF WALES, AND HOW THEY HUNTED WITH THE HOUNDS, AND YET RAN WITH THE DEER
IV. THE TWO WAYS OF BEING CROST IN LOVE
V. CLOVELLY COURT IN THE OLDEN TIME
VI. THE COMBES OF THE FAR WEST
VII. THE TRUE AND TRAGICAL HISTORY OF MR. JOHN OXENHAM OF PLYMOUTH
VIII. HOW THE NOBLE BROTHERHOOD OF THE ROSE WAS FOUNDED
IX. HOW AMYAS KEPT HIS CHRISTMAS DAY
X. HOW THE MAYOR OF BIDEFORD BAITED HIS HOOK WITH HIS OWN FLESH
XI. HOW EUSTACE LEIGH MET THE POPE’S LEGATE
XII. HOW BIDEFORD BRIDGE DINED AT ANNERY HOUSE
XIII. HOW THE GOLDEN HIND CAME HOME AGAIN
XIV. HOW SALVATION YEO SLEW THE KING OF THE GUBBINGS
XV. HOW MR. JOHN BRIMBLECOMBE UNDERSTOOD THE NATURE OF AN OATH
XVI. THE MOST CHIVALROUS ADVENTURE OF THE GOOD SHIP ROSE
XVII. HOW THEY CAME TO BARBADOS, AND FOUND NO MEN THEREIN
XVIII. HOW THEY TOOK THE PEARLS AT MARGARITA
XIX. WHAT BEFELL AT LA GUAYRA
XX. SPANISH BLOODHOUNDS AND ENGLISH MASTIFFS
XXI. HOW THEY TOOK THE COMMUNION UNDER THE TREE AT HIGUEROTE
XXII. THE INQUISITION IN THE INDIES
XXIII. THE BANKS OF THE META
XXIV. HOW AMYAS WAS TEMPTED OF THE DEVIL
XXV. HOW THEY TOOK THE GOLD-TRAIN
XXVI. HOW THEY TOOK THE GREAT GALLEON
XXVII. HOW SALVATION YEO FOUND HIS LITTLE MAID AGAIN
XXVIII. HOW AMYAS CAME HOME THE THIRD TIME
XXIX. HOW THE VIRGINIA FLEET WAS STOPPED BY THE QUEEN’S COMMAND
XXX. HOW THE ADMIRAL JOHN HAWKINS TESTIFIED AGAINST CROAKERS
XXXI. THE GREAT ARMADA
XXXII. HOW AMYAS THREW HIS SWORD INTO THE SEA
XXXIII. HOW AMYAS LET THE APPLE FALL
HOW MR. OXENHAM SAW THE WHITE BIRD
“The hollow oak our palace is,
Our heritage the sea.”
All who have travelled through the delicious scenery of North Devon must needs know the little white town of Bideford, which slopes upwards from its broad tide-river paved with yellow sands, and many-arched old bridge where salmon wait for autumn floods, toward the pleasant upland on the west. Above the town the hills close in, cushioned with deep oak woods, through which juts here and there a crag of fern-fringed slate; below they lower, and open more and more in softly rounded knolls, and fertile squares of red and green, till they sink into the wide expanse of hazy flats, rich salt-marshes, and rolling sand-hills, where Torridge joins her sister Taw, and both together flow quietly toward the broad surges of the bar, and the everlasting thunder of the long Atlantic swell. Pleasantly the old town stands there, beneath its soft Italian sky, fanned day and night by the fresh ocean breeze, which forbids alike the keen winter frosts, and the fierce thunder heats of the midland; and pleasantly it has stood there for now, perhaps, eight hundred years since the first Grenville, cousin of the Conqueror, returning from the conquest of South Wales, drew round him trusty Saxon serfs, and free Norse rovers with their golden curls, and dark Silurian Britons from the Swansea shore, and all the mingled blood which still gives to the seaward folk of the next county their strength and intellect, and, even in these levelling days, their peculiar beauty of face and form.
But at the time whereof I write, Bideford was not merely a pleasant country town, whose quay was haunted by a few coasting craft. It was one of the chief ports of England; it furnished seven ships to fight the Armada: even more than a century afterwards, say the chroniclers, “it sent more vessels to the northern trade than any port in England, saving (strange juxtaposition!) London and Topsham,” and was the centre of a local civilization and enterprise, small perhaps compared with the vast efforts of the present day: but who dare despise the day of small things, if it has proved to be the dawn of mighty ones? And it is to the sea- life and labor of Bideford, and Dartmouth, and Topsham, and Plymouth (then a petty place), and many another little western town, that England owes the foundation of her naval and commercial glory. It was the men of Devon, the Drakes and Hawkins’, Gilberts and Raleighs, Grenvilles and Oxenhams, and a host more of “forgotten worthies,” whom we shall learn one day to honor as they deserve, to whom she owes her commerce, her colonies, her very existence. For had they not first crippled, by their West Indian raids, the ill-gotten resources of the Spaniard, and then crushed his last huge effort in Britain’s Salamis, the glorious fight of 1588, what had we been by now but a popish appanage of a world- tyranny as cruel as heathen Rome itself, and far more devilish?
It is in memory of these men, their voyages and their battles, their faith and their valor, their heroic lives and no less heroic deaths, that I write this book; and if now and then I shall seem to warm into a style somewhat too stilted and pompous, let me be excused for my subject’s sake, fit rather to have been sung than said, and to have proclaimed to all true English hearts, not as a novel but as an epic (which some man may yet gird himself to write), the same great message which the songs of Troy, and the Persian wars, and the trophies of Marathon and Salamis, spoke to the hearts of all true Greeks of old.
One bright summer’s afternoon, in the year of grace 1575, a tall and fair boy came lingering along Bideford quay, in his scholar’s gown, with satchel and slate in hand, watching wistfully the shipping and the sailors, till, just after he had passed the bottom of the High Street, he came opposite to one of the many taverns which looked out upon the river. In the open bay window sat merchants and gentlemen, discoursing over their afternoon’s draught of sack; and outside the door was gathered a group of sailors, listening earnestly to some one who stood in the midst. The boy, all alive for any sea-news, must needs go up to them, and take his place among the sailor-lads who were peeping and whispering under the elbows of the men; and so came in for the following speech, delivered in a loud bold voice, with a strong Devonshire accent, and a fair sprinkling of oaths.
“If you don’t believe me, go and see, or stay here and grow all over blue mould. I tell you, as I am a gentleman, I saw it with these eyes, and so did Salvation Yeo there, through a window in the lower room; and we measured the heap, as I am a christened man, seventy foot long, ten foot broad, and twelve foot high, of silver bars, and each bar between a thirty and forty pound weight. And says Captain Drake: ‘There, my lads of Devon, I’ve brought you to the mouth of the world’s treasure-house, and it’s your own fault now if you don’t sweep it out as empty as a stock-fish.'”
“Why didn’t you bring some of they home, then, Mr. Oxenham?”
“Why weren’t you there to help to carry them? We would have brought ’em away, safe enough, and young Drake and I had broke the door abroad already, but Captain Drake goes off in a dead faint; and when we came to look, he had a wound in his leg you might have laid three fingers in, and his boots were full of blood, and had been for an hour or more; but the heart of him was that, that he never knew it till he dropped, and then his brother and I got him away to the boats, he kicking and struggling, and bidding us let him go on with the fight, though every step he took in the sand was in a pool of blood; and so we got off. And tell me, ye sons of shotten herrings, wasn’t it worth more to save him than the dirty silver? for silver we can get again, brave boys: there’s more fish in the sea than ever came out of it, and more silver in Nombre de Dios than would pave all the streets in the west country: but of such captains as Franky Drake, Heaven never makes but one at a time; and if we lose him, good-bye to England’s luck, say I, and who don’t agree, let him choose his weapons, and I’m his man.”
He who delivered this harangue was a tall and sturdy personage, with a florid black-bearded face, and bold restless dark eyes, who leaned, with crossed legs and arms akimbo, against the wall of the house; and seemed in the eyes of the schoolboy a very magnifico, some prince or duke at least. He was dressed (contrary to all sumptuary laws of the time) in a suit of crimson velvet, a little the worse, perhaps, for wear; by his side were a long Spanish rapier and a brace of daggers, gaudy enough about the hilts; his fingers sparkled with rings; he had two or three gold chains about his neck, and large earrings in his ears, behind one of which a red rose was stuck jauntily enough among the glossy black curls; on his head was a broad velvet Spanish hat, in which instead of a feather was fastened with a great gold clasp a whole Quezal bird, whose gorgeous plumage of fretted golden green shone like one entire precious stone. As he finished his speech, he took off the said hat, and looking at the bird in it–
“Look ye, my lads, did you ever see such a fowl as that before? That’s the bird which the old Indian kings of Mexico let no one wear but their own selves; and therefore I wear it,–I, John Oxenham of South Tawton, for a sign to all brave lads of Devon, that as the Spaniards are the masters of the Indians, we’re the masters of the Spaniards:” and he replaced his hat.
A murmur of applause followed: but one hinted that he “doubted the Spaniards were too many for them.”
“Too many? How many men did we take Nombre de Dios with? Seventy- three were we, and no more when we sailed out of Plymouth Sound; and before we saw the Spanish Main, half were gastados, used up, as the Dons say, with the scurvy; and in Port Pheasant Captain Rawse of Cowes fell in with us, and that gave us some thirty hands more; and with that handful, my lads, only fifty-three in all, we picked the lock of the new world! And whom did we lose but our trumpeter, who stood braying like an ass in the middle of the square, instead of taking care of his neck like a Christian? I tell you, those Spaniards are rank cowards, as all bullies are. They pray to a woman, the idolatrous rascals! and no wonder they fight like women.”
“You’m right, captain,” sang out a tall gaunt fellow who stood close to him; “one westcountry-man can fight two easterlings, and an easterling can beat three Dons any day. Eh! my lads of Devon?
“For O! it’s the herrings and the good brown beef, And the cider and the cream so white; O! they are the making of the jolly Devon lads, For to play, and eke to fight.”
“Come,” said Oxenham, “come along! Who lists? who lists? who’ll make his fortune?
“Oh, who will join, jolly mariners all? And who will join, says he, O!
To fill his pockets with the good red goold, By sailing on the sea, O!”
“Who’ll list?” cried the gaunt man again; “now’s your time! We’ve got forty men to Plymouth now, ready to sail the minute we get back, and we want a dozen out of you Bideford men, and just a boy or two, and then we’m off and away, and make our fortunes, or go to heaven.
“Our bodies in the sea so deep,
Our souls in heaven to rest!
Where valiant seamen, one and all, Hereafter shall be blest!”
“Now,” said Oxenham, “you won’t let the Plymouth men say that the Bideford men daren’t follow them? North Devon against South, it is. Who’ll join? who’ll join? It is but a step of a way, after all, and sailing as smooth as a duck-pond as soon as you’re past Cape Finisterre. I’ll run a Clovelly herring-boat there and back for a wager of twenty pound, and never ship a bucketful all the way. Who’ll join? Don’t think you’re buying a pig in a poke. I know the road, and Salvation Yeo, here, too, who was the gunner’s mate, as well as I do the narrow seas, and better. You ask him to show you the chart of it, now, and see if he don’t tell you over the ruttier as well as Drake himself.”
On which the gaunt man pulled from under his arm a great white buffalo horn covered with rough etchings of land and sea, and held it up to the admiring ring.
“See here, boys all, and behold the pictur of the place, dra’ed out so natural as ever was life. I got mun from a Portingal, down to the Azores; and he’d pricked mun out, and pricked mun out, wheresoever he’d sailed, and whatsoever he’d seen. Take mun in your hands now, Simon Evans, take mun in your hands; look mun over, and I’ll warrant you’ll know the way in five minutes so well as ever a shark in the seas.”
And the horn was passed from hand to hand; while Oxenham, who saw that his hearers were becoming moved, called through the open window for a great tankard of sack, and passed that from hand to hand, after the horn.
The school-boy, who had been devouring with eyes and ears all which passed, and had contrived by this time to edge himself into the inner ring, now stood face to face with the hero of the emerald crest, and got as many peeps as he could at the wonder. But when he saw the sailors, one after another, having turned it over a while, come forward and offer to join Mr. Oxenham, his soul burned within him for a nearer view of that wondrous horn, as magical in its effects as that of Tristrem, or the enchanter’s in Ariosto; and when the group had somewhat broken up, and Oxenham was going into the tavern with his recruits, he asked boldly for a nearer sight of the marvel, which was granted at once.
And now to his astonished gaze displayed themselves cities and harbors, dragons and elephants, whales which fought with sharks, plate ships of Spain, islands with apes and palm-trees, each with its name over-written, and here and there, “Here is gold;” and again, “Much gold and silver;” inserted most probably, as the words were in English, by the hands of Mr. Oxenham himself. Lingeringly and longingly the boy turned it round and round, and thought the owner of it more fortunate than Khan or Kaiser. Oh, if he could but possess that horn, what needed he on earth beside to make him blest!
“I say, will you sell this?”
“Yea, marry, or my own soul, if I can get the worth of it.”
“I want the horn,–I don’t want your soul; it’s somewhat of a stale sole, for aught I know; and there are plenty of fresh ones in the bay.”
And therewith, after much fumbling, he pulled out a tester (the only one he had), and asked if that would buy it?
“That! no, nor twenty of them.”
The boy thought over what a good knight-errant would do in such case, and then answered, “Tell you what: I’ll fight you for it.”
“Thank ‘ee, sir!
“Break the jackanapes’s head for him, Yeo,” said Oxenham.
“Call me jackanapes again, and I break yours, sir.” And the boy lifted his fist fiercely.
Oxenham looked at him a minute smilingly. “Tut! tut! my man, hit one of your own size, if you will, and spare little folk like me!”
“If I have a boy’s age, sir, I have a man’s fist. I shall be fifteen years old this month, and know how to answer any one who insults me.”
“Fifteen, my young cockerel? you look liker twenty,” said Oxenham, with an admiring glance at the lad’s broad limbs, keen blue eyes, curling golden locks, and round honest face. “Fifteen? If I had half-a-dozen such lads as you, I would make knights of them before I died. Eh, Yeo?”
“He’ll do,” said Yeo; “he will make a brave gamecock in a year or two, if he dares ruffle up so early at a tough old hen-master like the captain.”
At which there was a general laugh, in which Oxenham joined as loudly as any, and then bade the lad tell him why he was so keen after the horn.
“Because,” said he, looking up boldly, “I want to go to sea. I want to see the Indies. I want to fight the Spaniards. Though I am a gentleman’s son, I’d a deal liever be a cabin-boy on board your ship.” And the lad, having hurried out his say fiercely enough, dropped his head again.
“And you shall,” cried Oxenham, with a great oath; “and take a galloon, and dine off carbonadoed Dons. Whose son are you, my gallant fellow?”
“Mr. Leigh’s, of Burrough Court.”
“Bless his soul! I know him as well as I do the Eddystone, and his kitchen too. Who sups with him to-night?”
“Sir Richard Grenville.”
“Dick Grenville? I did not know he was in town. Go home and tell your father John Oxenham will come and keep him company. There, off with you! I’ll make all straight with the good gentleman, and you shall have your venture with me; and as for the horn, let him have the horn, Yeo, and I’ll give you a noble for it.”
“Not a penny, noble captain. If young master will take a poor mariner’s gift, there it is, for the sake of his love to the calling, and Heaven send him luck therein.” And the good fellow, with the impulsive generosity of a true sailor, thrust the horn into the boy’s hands, and walked away to escape thanks.
“And now,” quoth Oxenham, “my merry men all, make up your minds what mannered men you be minded to be before you take your bounties. I want none of your rascally lurching longshore vermin, who get five pounds out of this captain, and ten out of that, and let him sail without them after all, while they are stowed away under women’s mufflers, and in tavern cellars. If any man is of that humor, he had better to cut himself up, and salt himself down in a barrel for pork, before he meets me again; for by this light, let me catch him, be it seven years hence, and if I do not cut his throat upon the streets, it’s a pity! But if any man will be true brother to me, true brother to him I’ll be, come wreck or prize, storm or calm, salt water or fresh, victuals or none, share and fare alike; and here’s my hand upon it, for every man and all! and so–
“Westward ho! with a rumbelow,
And hurra for the Spanish Main, O!”
After which oration Mr. Oxenham swaggered into the tavern, followed by his new men; and the boy took his way homewards, nursing his precious horn, trembling between hope and fear, and blushing with maidenly shame, and a half-sense of wrong-doing at having revealed suddenly to a stranger the darling wish which he had hidden from his father and mother ever since he was ten years old.
Now this young gentleman, Amyas Leigh, though come of as good blood as any in Devon, and having lived all his life in what we should even now call the very best society, and being (on account of the valor, courtesy, and truly noble qualities which he showed forth in his most eventful life) chosen by me as the hero and centre of this story, was not, saving for his good looks, by any means what would be called now-a-days an “interesting” youth, still less a “highly educated” one; for, with the exception of a little Latin, which had been driven into him by repeated blows, as if it had been a nail, he knew no books whatsoever, save his Bible, his Prayer-book, the old “Mort d’Arthur” of Caxton’s edition, which lay in the great bay window in the hall, and the translation of “Las Casas’ History of the West Indies,” which lay beside it, lately done into English under the title of “The Cruelties of the Spaniards.” He devoutly believed in fairies, whom he called pixies; and held that they changed babies, and made the mushroom rings on the downs to dance in. When he had warts or burns, he went to the white witch at Northam to charm them away; he thought that the sun moved round the earth, and that the moon had some kindred with a Cheshire cheese. He held that the swallows slept all the winter at the bottom of the horse-pond; talked, like Raleigh, Grenville, and other low persons, with a broad Devonshire accent; and was in many other respects so very ignorant a youth, that any pert monitor in a national school might have had a hearty laugh at him. Nevertheless, this ignorant young savage, vacant of the glorious gains of the nineteenth century, children’s literature and science made easy, and, worst of all, of those improved views of English history now current among our railway essayists, which consist in believing all persons, male and female, before the year 1688, and nearly all after it, to have been either hypocrites or fools, had learnt certain things which he would hardly have been taught just now in any school in England; for his training had been that of the old Persians, “to speak the truth and to draw the bow,” both of which savage virtues he had acquired to perfection, as well as the equally savage ones of enduring pain cheerfully, and of believing it to be the finest thing in the world to be a gentleman; by which word he had been taught to understand the careful habit of causing needless pain to no human being, poor or rich, and of taking pride in giving up his own pleasure for the sake of those who were weaker than himself. Moreover, having been entrusted for the last year with the breaking of a colt, and the care of a cast of young hawks which his father had received from Lundy Isle, he had been profiting much, by the means of those coarse and frivolous amusements, in perseverance, thoughtfulness, and the habit of keeping his temper; and though he had never had a single “object lesson,” or been taught to “use his intellectual powers,” he knew the names and ways of every bird, and fish, and fly, and could read, as cunningly as the oldest sailor, the meaning of every drift of cloud which crossed the heavens. Lastly, he had been for some time past, on account of his extraordinary size and strength, undisputed cock of the school, and the most terrible fighter among all Bideford boys; in which brutal habit he took much delight, and contrived, strange as it may seem, to extract from it good, not only for himself but for others, doing justice among his school-fellows with a heavy hand, and succoring the oppressed and afflicted; so that he was the terror of all the sailor-lads, and the pride and stay of all the town’s boys and girls, and hardly considered that he had done his duty in his calling if he went home without beating a big lad for bullying a little one. For the rest, he never thought about thinking, or felt about feeling; and had no ambition whatsoever beyond pleasing his father and mother, getting by honest means the maximum of “red quarrenders” and mazard cherries, and going to sea when he was big enough. Neither was he what would be now-a-days called by many a pious child; for though he said his Creed and Lord’s Prayer night and morning, and went to the service at the church every forenoon, and read the day’s Psalms with his mother every evening, and had learnt from her and from his father (as he proved well in after life) that it was infinitely noble to do right and infinitely base to do wrong, yet (the age of children’s religious books not having yet dawned on the world) he knew nothing more of theology, or of his own soul, than is contained in the Church Catechism. It is a question, however, on the whole, whether, though grossly ignorant (according to our modern notions) in science and religion, he was altogether untrained in manhood, virtue, and godliness; and whether the barbaric narrowness of his information was not somewhat counterbalanced both in him and in the rest of his generation by the depth, and breadth, and healthiness of his education.
So let us watch him up the hill as he goes hugging his horn, to tell all that has passed to his mother, from whom he had never hidden anything in his life, save only that sea-fever; and that only because he foreknew that it would give her pain; and because, moreover, being a prudent and sensible lad, he knew that he was not yet old enough to go, and that, as he expressed it to her that afternoon, “there was no use hollaing till he was out of the wood.”
So he goes up between the rich lane-banks, heavy with drooping ferns and honeysuckle; out upon the windy down toward the old Court, nestled amid its ring of wind-clipt oaks; through the gray gateway into the homeclose; and then he pauses a moment to look around; first at the wide bay to the westward, with its southern wall of purple cliffs; then at the dim Isle of Lundy far away at sea; then at the cliffs and downs of Morte and Braunton, right in front of him; then at the vast yellow sheet of rolling sand-hill, and green alluvial plain dotted with red cattle, at his feet, through which the silver estuary winds onward toward the sea. Beneath him, on his right, the Torridge, like a land-locked lake, sleeps broad and bright between the old park of Tapeley and the charmed rock of the Hubbastone, where, seven hundred years ago, the Norse rovers landed to lay siege to Kenwith Castle, a mile away on his left hand; and not three fields away, are the old stones of “The Bloody Corner,” where the retreating Danes, cut off from their ships, made their last fruitless stand against the Saxon sheriff and the valiant men of Devon. Within that charmed rock, so Torridge boatmen tell, sleeps now the old Norse Viking in his leaden coffin, with all his fairy treasure and his crown of gold; and as the boy looks at the spot, he fancies, and almost hopes, that the day may come when he shall have to do his duty against the invader as boldly as the men of Devon did then. And past him, far below, upon the soft southeastern breeze, the stately ships go sliding out to sea. When shall he sail in them, and see the wonders of the deep? And as he stands there with beating heart and kindling eye, the cool breeze whistling through his long fair curls, he is a symbol, though he knows it not, of brave young England longing to wing its way out of its island prison, to discover and to traffic, to colonize and to civilize, until no wind can sweep the earth which does not bear the echoes of an English voice. Patience, young Amyas! Thou too shalt forth, and westward ho, beyond thy wildest dreams; and see brave sights, and do brave deeds, which no man has since the foundation of the world. Thou too shalt face invaders stronger and more cruel far than Dane or Norman, and bear thy part in that great Titan strife before the renown of which the name of Salamis shall fade away!
Mr. Oxenham came that evening to supper as he had promised: but as people supped in those days in much the same manner as they do now, we may drop the thread of the story for a few hours, and take it up again after supper is over.
“Come now, Dick Grenville, do thou talk the good man round, and I’ll warrant myself to talk round the good wife.”
The personage whom Oxenham addressed thus familiarly answered by a somewhat sarcastic smile, and, “Mr. Oxenham gives Dick Grenville” (with just enough emphasis on the “Mr.” and the “Dick,” to hint that a liberty had been taken with him) “overmuch credit with the men. Mr. Oxenham’s credit with fair ladies, none can doubt. Friend Leigh, is Heard’s great ship home yet from the Straits?”
The speaker, known well in those days as Sir Richard Grenville, Granville, Greenvil, Greenfield, with two or three other variations, was one of those truly heroical personages whom Providence, fitting always the men to their age and their work, had sent upon the earth whereof it takes right good care, not in England only, but in Spain and Italy, in Germany and the Netherlands, and wherever, in short, great men and great deeds were needed to lift the mediaeval world into the modern.
And, among all the heroic faces which the painters of that age have preserved, none, perhaps, hardly excepting Shakespeare’s or Spenser’s, Alva’s or Farina’s, is more heroic than that of Richard Grenville, as it stands in Prince’s “Worthies of Devon;” of a Spanish type, perhaps (or more truly speaking, a Cornish), rather than an English, with just enough of the British element in it to give delicacy to its massiveness. The forehead and whole brain are of extraordinary loftiness, and perfectly upright; the nose long, aquiline, and delicately pointed; the mouth fringed with a short silky beard, small and ripe, yet firm as granite, with just pout enough of the lower lip to give hint of that capacity of noble indignation which lay hid under its usual courtly calm and sweetness; if there be a defect in the face, it is that the eyes are somewhat small, and close together, and the eyebrows, though delicately arched, and, without a trace of peevishness, too closely pressed down upon them, the complexion is dark, the figure tall and graceful; altogether the likeness of a wise and gallant gentleman, lovely to all good men, awful to all bad men; in whose presence none dare say or do a mean or a ribald thing; whom brave men left, feeling themselves nerved to do their duty better, while cowards slipped away, as bats and owls before the sun. So he lived and moved, whether in the Court of Elizabeth, giving his counsel among the wisest; or in the streets of Bideford, capped alike by squire and merchant, shopkeeper and sailor; or riding along the moorland roads between his houses of Stow and Bideford, while every woman ran out to her door to look at the great Sir Richard, the pride of North Devon; or, sitting there in the low mullioned window at Burrough, with his cup of malmsey before him, and the lute to which he had just been singing laid across his knees, while the red western sun streamed in upon his high, bland forehead, and soft curling locks; ever the same steadfast, God-fearing, chivalrous man, conscious (as far as a soul so healthy could be conscious) of the pride of beauty, and strength, and valor, and wisdom, and a race and name which claimed direct descent from the grandfather of the Conqueror, and was tracked down the centuries by valiant deeds and noble benefits to his native shire, himself the noblest of his race. Men said that he was proud; but he could not look round him without having something to be proud of; that he was stern and harsh to his sailors: but it was only when he saw in them any taint of cowardice or falsehood; that he was subject, at moments, to such fearful fits of rage, that he had been seen to snatch the glasses from the table, grind them to pieces in his teeth, and swallow them: but that was only when his indignation had been aroused by some tale of cruelty or oppression, and, above all, by those West Indian devilries of the Spaniards, whom he regarded (and in those days rightly enough) as the enemies of God and man. Of this last fact Oxenham was well aware, and therefore felt somewhat puzzled and nettled, when, after having asked Mr. Leigh’s leave to take young Amyas with him and set forth in glowing colors the purpose of his voyage, he found Sir Richard utterly unwilling to help him with his suit.
“Heyday, Sir Richard! You are not surely gone over to the side of those canting fellows (Spanish Jesuits in disguise, every one of them, they are), who pretended to turn up their noses at Franky Drake, as a pirate, and be hanged to them?”
“My friend Oxenham,” answered he, in the sententious and measured style of the day, “I have always held, as you should know by this, that Mr. Drake’s booty, as well as my good friend Captain Hawkins’s, is lawful prize, as being taken from the Spaniard, who is not only hostis humani generis, but has no right to the same, having robbed it violently, by torture and extreme iniquity, from the poor Indian, whom God avenge, as He surely will.”
“Amen,” said Mrs. Leigh.
“I say Amen, too,” quoth Oxenham, “especially if it please Him to avenge them by English hands.”
“And I also,” went on Sir Richard; “for the rightful owners of the said goods being either miserably dead, or incapable, by reason of their servitude, of ever recovering any share thereof, the treasure, falsely called Spanish, cannot be better bestowed than in building up the state of England against them, our natural enemies; and thereby, in building up the weal of the Reformed Churches throughout the world, and the liberties of all nations, against a tyranny more foul and rapacious than that of Nero or Caligula; which, if it be not the cause of God, I, for one, know not what God’s cause is!” And, as he warmed in his speech, his eyes flashed very fire.
“Hark now!” said Oxenham, “who can speak more boldly than he? and yet he will not help this lad to so noble an adventure.”
“You have asked his father and mother; what is their answer?”
“Mine is this,” said Mr. Leigh; “if it be God’s will that my boy should become, hereafter, such a mariner as Sir Richard Grenville, let him go, and God be with him; but let him first bide here at home and be trained, if God give me grace, to become such a gentleman as Sir Richard Grenville.”
Sir Richard bowed low, and Mrs. Leigh catching up the last word–
“There, Mr. Oxenham, you cannot gainsay that, unless you will be discourteous to his worship. And for me–though it be a weak woman’s reason, yet it is a mother’s: he is my only child. His elder brother is far away. God only knows whether I shall see him again; and what are all reports of his virtues and his learning to me, compared to that sweet presence which I daily miss? Ah! Mr. Oxenham, my beautiful Joseph is gone; and though he be lord of Pharaoh’s household, yet he is far away in Egypt; and you will take Benjamm also! Ah! Mr. Oxenham, you have no child, or you would not ask for mine!”
“And how do you know that, my sweet madam!” said the adventurer, turning first deadly pale, and then glowing red. Her last words had touched him to the quick in some unexpected place; and rising, he courteously laid her hand to his lips, and said–“I say no more. Farewell, sweet madam, and God send all men such wives as you.”
“And all wives,” said she, smiling, “such husbands as mine.”
“Nay, I will not say that,” answered he, with a half sneer–and then, “Farewell, friend Leigh–farewell, gallant Dick Grenville. God send I see thee Lord High Admiral when I come home. And yet, why should I come home? Will you pray for poor Jack, gentles?”
“Tut, tut, man! good words,” said Leigh; “let us drink to our merry meeting before you go.” And rising, and putting the tankard of malmsey to his lips, he passed it to Sir Richard, who rose, and saying, “To the fortune of a bold mariner and a gallant gentleman,” drank, and put the cup into Oxenham’s hand.
The adventurer’s face was flushed, and his eye wild. Whether from the liquor he had drunk during the day, or whether from Mrs. Leigh’s last speech, he had not been himself for a few minutes. He lifted the cup, and was in act to pledge them, when he suddenly dropped it on the table, and pointed, staring and trembling, up and down, and round the room, as if following some fluttering object.
“There! Do you see it? The bird!–the bird with the white breast!”
Each looked at the other; but Leigh, who was a quick-witted man and an old courtier, forced a laugh instantly, and cried–“Nonsense, brave Jack Oxenham! Leave white birds for men who will show the white feather. Mrs. Leigh waits to pledge you.”
Oxenham recovered himself in a moment, pledged them all round, drinking deep and fiercely; and after hearty farewells, departed, never hinting again at his strange exclamation.
After he was gone, and while Leigh was attending him to the door, Mrs. Leigh and Grenville kept a few minutes’ dead silence. At last–“God help him!” said she.
“Amen!” said Grenville, “for he never needed it more. But, indeed, madam, I put no faith in such omens.”
“But, Sir Richard, that bird has been seen for generations before the death of any of his family. I know those who were at South Tawton when his mother died, and his brother also; and they both saw it. God help him! for, after all, he is a proper man.”
“So many a lady has thought before now, Mrs. Leigh, and well for him if they had not. But, indeed, I make no account of omens. When God is ready for each man, then he must go; and when can he go better?”
“But,” said Mr. Leigh, who entered, “I have seen, and especially when I was in Italy, omens and prophecies before now beget their own fulfilment, by driving men into recklessness, and making them run headlong upon that very ruin which, as they fancied, was running upon them.”
“And which,” said Sir Richard, “they might have avoided, if, instead of trusting in I know not what dumb and dark destiny, they had trusted in the living God, by faith in whom men may remove mountains, and quench the fire, and put to flight the armies of the alien. I too know, and know not how I know, that I shall never die in my bed.”
“God forfend! ” cried Mrs. Leigh.
“And why, fair madam, if I die doing my duty to my God and my queen? The thought never moves me: nay, to tell the truth, I pray often enough that I may be spared the miseries of imbecile old age, and that end which the old Northmen rightly called ‘a cow’s death’ rather than a man’s. But enough of this. Mr. Leigh, you have done wisely to-night. Poor Oxenham does not go on his voyage with a single eye. I have talked about him with Drake and Hawkins; and I guess why Mrs. Leigh touched him so home when she told him that he had no child.”
“Has he one, then, in the West Indies?” cried the good lady.
“God knows; and God grant we may not hear of shame and sorrow fallen upon an ancient and honorable house of Devon. My brother Stukely is woe enough to North Devon for this generation.”
“Poor braggadocio!” said Mr. Leigh; “and yet not altogether that too, for he can fight at least.”
“So can every mastiff and boar, much more an Englishman. And now come hither to me, my adventurous godson, and don’t look in such doleful dumps. I hear you have broken all the sailor-boys’ heads already.”
“Nearly all,” said young Amyas, with due modesty.. “But am I not to go to sea?”
“All things in their time, my boy, and God forbid that either I or your worthy parents should keep you from that noble calling which is the safeguard of this England and her queen. But you do not wish to live and die the master of a trawler?”
“I should like to be a brave adventurer, like Mr. Oxenham.”
“God grant you become a braver man than he! for, as I think, to be bold against the enemy is common to the brutes; but the prerogative of a man is to be bold against himself.”
“To conquer our own fancies, Amyas, and our own lusts, and our ambition, in the sacred name of duty; this it is to be truly brave, and truly strong; for he who cannot rule himself, how can he rule his crew or his fortunes? Come, now, I will make you a promise. If you will bide quietly at home, and learn from your father and mother all which befits a gentleman and a Christian, as well as a seaman, the day shall come when you shall sail with Richard Grenville himself, or with better men than he, on a nobler errand than gold-hunting on the Spanish Main.”
“O my boy, my boy!” said Mrs. Leigh, “hear what the good Sir Richard promises you. Many an earl’s son would be glad to be in your place.”
“And many an earl’s son will be glad to be in his place a score years hence, if he will but learn what I know you two can teach him. And now, Amyas, my lad, I will tell you for a warning the history of that Sir Thomas Stukely of whom I spoke just now, and who was, as all men know, a gallant and courtly knight, of an ancient and worshipful family in Ilfracombe, well practised in the wars, and well beloved at first by our incomparable queen, the friend of all true virtue, as I trust she will be of yours some day; who wanted but one step to greatness, and that was this, that in his hurry to rule all the world, he forgot to rule himself. At first, he wasted his estate in show and luxury, always intending to be famous, and destroying his own fame all the while by his vainglory and haste. Then, to retrieve his losses, he hit upon the peopling of Florida, which thou and I will see done some day, by God’s blessing; for I and some good friends of mine have an errand there as well as he. But he did not go about it as a loyal man, to advance the honor of his queen, but his own honor only, dreaming that he too should be a king; and was not ashamed to tell her majesty that he had rather be sovereign of a molehill than the highest subject of an emperor.”
“They say,” said Mr. Leigh, “that he told her plainly he should be a prince before he died, and that she gave him one of her pretty quips in return.”
“I don’t know that her majesty had the best of it. A fool is many times too strong for a wise man, by virtue of his thick hide. For when she said that she hoped she should hear from him in his new principality, ‘Yes, sooth,’ says he, graciously enough. ‘And in what style?’ asks she. ‘To our dear sister,’ says Stukely: to which her clemency had nothing to reply, but turned away, as Mr. Burleigh told me, laughing.”
“Alas for him!” said gentle Mrs. Leigh. “Such self-conceit–and Heaven knows we have the root of it in ourselves also–is the very daughter of self-will, and of that loud crying out about I, and me, and mine, which is the very bird-call for all devils, and the broad road which leads to death.”
“It will lead him to his,” said Sir Richard; “God grant it be not upon Tower-hill! for since that Florida plot, and after that his hopes of Irish preferment came to naught, he who could not help himself by fair means has taken to foul ones, and gone over to Italy to the Pope, whose infallibility has not been proof against Stukely’s wit; for he was soon his Holiness’s closet counsellor, and, they say, his bosom friend; and made him give credit to his boasts that, with three thousand soldiers he would beat the English out of Ireland, and make the Pope’s son king of it.”
“Ay, but,” said Mr. Leigh, “I suppose the Italians have the same fetch now as they had when I was there, to explain such ugly cases; namely, that the Pope is infallible only in doctrine, and quoad Pope; while quoad hominem, he is even as others, or indeed, in general, a deal worse, so that the office, and not the man, may be glorified thereby. But where is Stukely now?”
“At Rome when last I heard of him, ruffling it up and down the Vatican as Baron Ross, Viscount Murrough, Earl Wexford, Marquis Leinster, and a title or two more, which have cost the Pope little, seeing that they never were his to give; and plotting, they say, some hare-brained expedition against Ireland by the help of the Spanish king, which must end in nothing but his shame and ruin. And now, my sweet hosts, I must call for serving-boy and lantern, and home to my bed in Bideford.”
And so Amyas Leigh went back to school, and Mr. Oxenham went his way to Plymouth again, and sailed for the Spanish Main.
HOW AMYAS CAME HOME THE FIRST TIME
“Si taceant homines, facient te sidera notum, Sol nescit comitis immemor esse sui.”
Old Epigram on Drake.
Five years are past and gone. It is nine of the clock on a still, bright November morning; but the bells of Bideford church are still ringing for the daily service two hours after the usual time; and instead of going soberly according to wont, cannot help breaking forth every five minutes into a jocund peal, and tumbling head over heels in ecstasies of joy. Bideford streets are a very flower- garden of all the colors, swarming with seamen and burghers, and burghers’ wives and daughters, all in their holiday attire. Garlands are hung across the streets, and tapestries from every window. The ships in the pool are dressed in all their flags, and give tumultuous vent to their feelings by peals of ordnance of every size. Every stable is crammed with horses; and Sir Richard Grenville’s house is like a very tavern, with eating and drinking, and unsaddling, and running to and fro of grooms and serving-men. Along the little churchyard, packed full with women, streams all the gentle blood of North Devon,–tall and stately men, and fair ladies, worthy of the days when the gentry of England were by due right the leaders of the people, by personal prowess and beauty, as well as by intellect and education. And first, there is my lady Countess of Bath, whom Sir Richard Grenville is escorting, cap in hand (for her good Earl Bourchier is in London with the queen); and there are Bassets from beautiful Umberleigh, and Carys from more beautiful Clovelly, and Fortescues of Wear, and Fortescues of Buckland, and Fortescues from all quarters, and Coles from Slade, and Stukelys from Affton, and St. Legers from Annery, and Coffins from Portledge, and even Coplestones from Eggesford, thirty miles away: and last, but not least (for almost all stop to give them place), Sir John Chichester of Ralegh, followed in single file, after the good old patriarchal fashion, by his eight daughters, and three of his five famous sons (one, to avenge his murdered brother, is fighting valiantly in Ireland, hereafter to rule there wisely also, as Lord Deputy and Baron of Belfast); and he meets at the gate his cousin of Arlington, and behind him a train of four daughters and nineteen sons, the last of whom has not yet passed the town-hall, while the first is at the Lychgate, who, laughing, make way for the elder though shorter branch of that most fruitful tree; and so on into the church, where all are placed according to their degrees, or at least as near as may be, not without a few sour looks, and shovings, and whisperings, from one high-born matron and another; till the churchwardens and sidesmen, who never had before so goodly a company to arrange, have bustled themselves hot, and red, and frantic, and end by imploring abjectly the help of the great Sir Richard himself to tell them who everybody is, and which is the elder branch, and which is the younger, and who carries eight quarterings in their arms, and who only four, and so prevent their setting at deadly feud half the fine ladies of North Devon; for the old men are all safe packed away in the corporation pews, and the young ones care only to get a place whence they may eye the ladies. And at last there is a silence, and a looking toward the door, and then distant music, flutes and hautboys, drums and trumpets, which come braying, and screaming, and thundering merrily up to the very church doors, and then cease; and the churchwardens and sidesmen bustle down to the entrance, rods in hand, and there is a general whisper and rustle, not without glad tears and blessings from many a woman, and from some men also, as the wonder of the day enters, and the rector begins, not the morning service, but the good old thanksgiving after a victory at sea.
And what is it which has thus sent old Bideford wild with that “goodly joy and pious mirth,” of which we now only retain traditions in our translation of the Psalms? Why are all eyes fixed, with greedy admiration, on those four weather-beaten mariners, decked out with knots and ribbons by loving hands; and yet more on that gigantic figure who walks before them, a beardless boy, and yet with the frame and stature of a Hercules, towering, like Saul of old, a head and shoulders above all the congregation, with his golden locks flowing down over his shoulders? And why, as the five go instinctively up to the altar, and there fall on their knees before the rails, are all eyes turned to the pew where Mrs. Leigh of Burrough has hid her face between her hands, and her hood rustles and shakes to her joyful sobs? Because there was fellow- feeling of old in merry England, in county and in town; and these are Devon men, and men of Bideford, whose names are Amyas Leigh of Burrough, John Staveley, Michael Heard, and Jonas Marshall of Bideford, and Thomas Braund of Clovelly: and they, the first of all English mariners, have sailed round the world with Francis Drake, and are come hither to give God thanks.
It is a long story. To explain how it happened we must go back for a page or two, almost to the point from whence we started in the last chapter.
For somewhat more than a twelvemonth after Mr. Oxenham’s departure, young Amyas had gone on quietly enough, according to promise, with the exception of certain occasional outbursts of fierceness common to all young male animals, and especially to boys of any strength of character. His scholarship, indeed, progressed no better than before; but his home education went on healthily enough; and he was fast becoming, young as he was, a right good archer, and rider, and swordsman (after the old school of buckler practice), when his father, having gone down on business to the Exeter Assizes, caught (as was too common in those days) the gaol-fever from the prisoners; sickened in the very court; and died within a week.
And now Mrs. Leigh was left to God and her own soul, with this young lion-cub in leash, to tame and train for this life and the life to come. She had loved her husband fervently and holily. He had been often peevish, often melancholy; for he was a disappointed man, with an estate impoverished by his father’s folly, and his own youthful ambition, which had led him up to Court, and made him waste his heart and his purse in following a vain shadow. He was one of those men, moreover, who possess almost every gift except the gift of the power to use them; and though a scholar, a courtier, and a soldier, he had found himself, when he was past forty, without settled employment or aim in life, by reason of a certain shyness, pride, or delicate honor (call it which you will), which had always kept him from playing a winning game in that very world after whose prizes he hankered to the last, and on which he revenged himself by continual grumbling. At last, by his good luck, he met with a fair young Miss Foljambe, of Derbyshire, then about Queen Elizabeth’s Court, who was as tired as he of the sins of the world, though she had seen less of them; and the two contrived to please each other so well, that though the queen grumbled a little, as usual, at the lady for marrying, and at the gentleman for adoring any one but her royal self, they got leave to vanish from the little Babylon at Whitehall, and settle in peace at Burrough. In her he found a treasure, and he knew what he had found.
Mrs. Leigh was, and had been from her youth, one of those noble old English churchwomen, without superstition, and without severity, who are among the fairest features of that heroic time. There was a certain melancholy about her, nevertheless; for the recollections of her childhood carried her back to times when it was an awful thing to be a Protestant. She could remember among them, five-and- twenty years ago, the burning of poor blind Joan Waste at Derby, and of Mistress Joyce Lewis, too, like herself, a lady born; and sometimes even now, in her nightly dreams, rang in her ears her mother’s bitter cries to God, either to spare her that fiery torment, or to give her strength to bear it, as she whom she loved had borne it before her. For her mother, who was of a good family in Yorkshire, had been one of Queen Catherine’s bedchamber women, and the bosom friend and disciple of Anne Askew. And she had sat in Smithfield, with blood curdled by horror, to see the hapless Court beauty, a month before the paragon of Henry’s Court, carried in a chair (so crippled was she by the rack) to her fiery doom at the stake, beside her fellow-courtier, Mr. Lascelles, while the very heavens seemed to the shuddering mob around to speak their wrath and grief in solemn thunder peals, and heavy drops which hissed upon the crackling pile.
Therefore a sadness hung upon her all her life, and deepened in the days of Queen Mary, when, as a notorious Protestant and heretic, she had had to hide for her life among the hills and caverns of the Peak, and was only saved, by the love which her husband’s tenants bore her, and by his bold declaration that, good Catholic as he was, he would run through the body any constable, justice, or priest, yea, bishop or cardinal, who dared to serve the queen’s warrant upon his wife.
So she escaped: but, as I said, a sadness hung upon her all her life; and the skirt of that dark mantle fell upon the young girl who had been the partner of her wanderings and hidings among the lonely hills; and who, after she was married, gave herself utterly up to God.
And yet in giving herself to God, Mrs. Leigh gave herself to her husband, her children, and the poor of Northam Town, and was none the less welcome to the Grenvilles, and Fortescues, and Chichesters, and all the gentle families round, who honored her husband’s talents, and enjoyed his wit. She accustomed herself to austerities, which often called forth the kindly rebukes of her husband; and yet she did so without one superstitious thought of appeasing the fancied wrath of God, or of giving Him pleasure (base thought) by any pain of hers; for her spirit had been trained in the freest and loftiest doctrines of Luther’s school; and that little mystic “Alt-Deutsch Theologie” (to which the great Reformer said that he owed more than to any book, save the Bible, and St. Augustine) was her counsellor and comforter by day and night.
And now, at little past forty, she was left a widow: lovely still in face and figure; and still more lovely from the divine calm which brooded, like the dove of peace and the Holy Spirit of God (which indeed it was), over every look, and word, and gesture; a sweetness which had been ripened by storm, as well as by sunshine; which this world had not given, and could not take away. No wonder that Sir Richard and Lady Grenville loved her; no wonder that her children worshipped her; no wonder that the young Amyas, when the first burst of grief was over, and he knew again where he stood, felt that a new life had begun for him; that his mother was no more to think and act for him only, but that he must think and act for his mother. And so it was, that on the very day after his father’s funeral, when school-hours were over, instead of coming straight home, he walked boldly into Sir Richard Grenville’s house, and asked to see his godfather.
“You must be my father now, sir,” said he, firmly.
And Sir Richard looked at the boy’s broad strong face, and swore a great and holy oath, like Glasgerion’s, “by oak, and ash, and thorn,” that he would be a father to him, and a brother to his mother, for Christ’s sake. And Lady Grenville took the boy by the hand, and walked home with him to Burrough; and there the two fair women fell on each other’s necks, and wept together; the one for the loss which had been, the other, as by a prophetic instinct, for the like loss which was to come to her also. For the sweet St. Leger knew well that her husband’s fiery spirit would never leave his body on a peaceful bed; but that death (as he prayed almost nightly that it might) would find him sword in hand, upon the field of duty and of fame. And there those two vowed everlasting sisterhood, and kept their vow; and after that all things went on at Burrough as before; and Amyas rode, and shot, and boxed, and wandered on the quay at Sir Richard’s side; for Mrs. Leigh was too wise a woman to alter one tittle of the training which her husband had thought best for his younger boy. It was enough that her elder son had of his own accord taken to that form of life in which she in her secret heart would fain have moulded both her children. For Frank, God’s wedding gift to that pure love of hers, had won himself honor at home and abroad; first at the school at Bideford; then at Exeter College, where he had become a friend of Sir Philip Sidney’s, and many another young man of rank and promise; and next, in the summer of 1572, on his way to the University of Heidelberg, he had gone to Paris, with (luckily for him) letters of recommendation to Walsingham, at the English Embassy: by which letters he not only fell in a second time with Philip Sidney, but saved his own life (as Sidney did his) in the Massacre of St. Bartholomew’s Day. At Heidelberg he had stayed two years, winning fresh honor from all who knew him, and resisting all Sidney’s entreaties to follow him into Italy. For, scorning to be a burden to his parents, he had become at Heidelberg tutor to two young German princes, whom, after living with them at their father’s house for a year or more, he at last, to his own great delight, took with him down to Padua, “to perfect them,” as he wrote home, “according to his insufficiency, in all princely studies.” Sidney was now returned to England; but Frank found friends enough without him, such letters of recommendation and diplomas did he carry from I know not how many princes, magnificos, and learned doctors, who had fallen in love with the learning, modesty, and virtue of the fair young Englishman. And ere Frank returned to Germany he had satiated his soul with all the wonders of that wondrous land. He had talked over the art of sonneteering with Tasso, the art of history with Sarpi; he had listened, between awe and incredulity, to the daring theories of Galileo; he had taken his pupils to Venice, that their portraits might be painted by Paul Veronese; he had seen the palaces of Palladio, and the merchant princes on the Rialto, and the argosies of Ragusa, and all the wonders of that meeting-point of east and west; he had watched Tintoretto’s mighty hand “hurling tempestuous glories o’er the scene;” and even, by dint of private intercession in high places, had been admitted to that sacred room where, with long silver beard and undimmed eye, amid a pantheon of his own creations, the ancient Titian, patriarch of art, still lingered upon earth, and told old tales of the Bellinis, and Raffaelle, and Michael Angelo, and the building of St. Peter’s, and the fire at Venice, and the sack of Rome, and of kings and warriors, statesmen and poets, long since gone to their account, and showed the sacred brush which Francis the First had stooped to pick up for him. And (license forbidden to Sidney by his friend Languet) he had been to Rome, and seen (much to the scandal of good Protestants at home) that “right good fellow,” as Sidney calls him, who had not yet eaten himself to death, the Pope for the time being. And he had seen the frescos of the Vatican, and heard Palestrina preside as chapel-master over the performance of his own music beneath the dome of St. Peter’s, and fallen half in love with those luscious strains, till he was awakened from his dream by the recollection that beneath that same dome had gone up thanksgivings to the God of heaven for those blood-stained streets, and shrieking women, and heaps of insulted corpses, which he had beheld in Paris on the night of St. Bartholomew. At last, a few months before his father died, he had taken back his pupils to their home in Germany, from whence he was dismissed, as he wrote, with rich gifts; and then Mrs. Leigh’s heart beat high, at the thought that the wanderer would return: but, alas! within a month after his father’s death, came a long letter from Frank, describing the Alps, and the valleys of the Waldenses (with whose Barbes he had had much talk about the late horrible persecutions), and setting forth how at Padua he had made the acquaintance of that illustrious scholar and light of the age, Stephanus Parmenius (commonly called from his native place, Budaeus), who had visited Geneva with him, and heard the disputations of their most learned doctors, which both he and Budaeus disliked for their hard judgments both of God and man, as much as they admired them for their subtlety, being themselves, as became Italian students, Platonists of the school of Ficinus and Picus Mirandolensis. So wrote Master Frank, in a long sententious letter, full of Latin quotations: but the letter never reached the eyes of him for whose delight it had been penned: and the widow had to weep over it alone, and to weep more bitterly than ever at the conclusion, in which, with many excuses, Frank said that he had, at the special entreaty of the said Budaeus, set out with him down the Danube stream to Buda, that he might, before finishing his travels, make experience of that learning for which the Hungarians were famous throughout Europe. And after that, though he wrote again and again to the father whom he fancied living, no letter in return reached him from home for nearly two years; till, fearing some mishap, he hurried back to England, to find his mother a widow, and his brother Amyas gone to the South Seas with Captain Drake of Plymouth. And yet, even then, after years of absence, he was not allowed to remain at home. For Sir Richard, to whom idleness was a thing horrible and unrighteous, would have him up and doing again before six months were over, and sent him off to Court to Lord Hunsdon.
There, being as delicately beautiful as his brother was huge and strong, he had speedily, by Carew’s interest and that of Sidney and his Uncle Leicester, found entrance into some office in the queen’s household; and he was now basking in the full sunshine of Court favor, and fair ladies’ eyes, and all the chivalries and euphuisms of Gloriana’s fairyland, and the fast friendship of that bright meteor Sidney, who had returned with honor in 1577, from the delicate mission on behalf of the German and Belgian Protestants, on which he had been sent to the Court of Vienna, under color of condoling with the new Emperor Rodolph on his father’s death. Frank found him when he himself came to Court in 1579 as lovely and loving as ever; and, at the early age of twenty-five, acknowledged as one of the most remarkable men of Europe, the patron of all men of letters, the counsellor of warriors and statesmen, and the confidant and advocate of William of Orange, Languet, Plessis du Mornay, and all the Protestant leaders on the Continent; and found, moreover, that the son of the poor Devon squire was as welcome as ever to the friendship of nature’s and fortune’s most favored, yet most unspoilt, minion.
Poor Mrs. Leigh, as one who had long since learned to have no self, and to live not only for her children but in them, submitted without a murmur, and only said, smiling, to her stern friend–“You took away my mastiff-pup, and now you must needs have my fair greyhound also.”
“Would you have your fair greyhound, dear lady, grow up a tall and true Cotswold dog, that can pull down a stag of ten, or one of those smooth-skinned poppets which the Florence ladies lead about with a ring of bells round its neck, and a flannel farthingale over its loins?”
Mrs. Leigh submitted; and was rewarded after a few months by a letter, sent through Sir Richard, from none other than Gloriana herself, in which she thanked her for “the loan of that most delicate and flawless crystal, the soul of her excellent son,” with more praises of him than I have room to insert, and finished by exalting the poor mother above the famed Cornelia; “for those sons, whom she called her jewels, she only showed, yet kept them to herself: but you, madam, having two as precious, I doubt not, as were ever that Roman dame’s, have, beyond her courage, lent them both to your country and to your queen, who therein holds herself indebted to you for that which, if God give her grace, she will repay as becomes both her and you.” Which epistle the sweet mother bedewed with holy tears, and laid by in the cedar-box which held her household gods, by the side of Frank’s innumerable diplomas and letters of recommendation, the Latin whereof she was always spelling over (although she understood not a word of it), in hopes of finding, here and there, that precious excellentissimus Noster Franciscus Leighius Anglus, which was all in all to the mother’s heart.
But why did Amyas go to the South Seas? Amyas went to the South Seas for two causes, each of which has, before now, sent many a lad to far worse places: first, because of an old schoolmaster; secondly, because of a young beauty. I will take them in order and explain.
Vindex Brimblecombe, whilom servitor of Exeter College, Oxford (commonly called Sir Vindex, after the fashion of the times), was, in those days, master of the grammar-school of Bideford. He was, at root, a godly and kind-hearted pedant enough; but, like most schoolmasters in the old flogging days, had his heart pretty well hardened by long, baneful license to inflict pain at will on those weaker than himself; a power healthful enough for the victim (for, doubtless, flogging is the best of all punishments, being not only the shortest, but also a mere bodily and animal, and not, like most of our new-fangled “humane” punishments, a spiritual and fiendish torture), but for the executioner pretty certain to eradicate, from all but the noblest spirits, every trace of chivalry and tenderness for the weak, as well, often, as all self-control and command of temper. Be that as it may, old Sir Vindex had heart enough to feel that it was now his duty to take especial care of the fatherless boy to whom he tried to teach his qui, quae, quod: but the only outcome of that new sense of responsibility was a rapid increase in the number of floggings, which rose from about two a week to one per diem, not without consequences to the pedagogue himself.
For all this while, Amyas had never for a moment lost sight of his darling desire for a sea-life; and when he could not wander on the quay and stare at the shipping, or go down to the pebble-ridge at Northam, and there sit, devouring, with hungry eyes, the great expanse of ocean, which seemed to woo him outward into boundless space, he used to console himself, in school-hours, by drawing ships and imaginary charts upon his slate, instead of minding his “humanities.”
Now it befell, upon an afternoon, that he was very busy at a map, or bird’s-eye view of an island, whereon was a great castle, and at the gate thereof a dragon, terrible to see; while in the foreground came that which was meant for a gallant ship, with a great flag aloft, but which, by reason of the forest of lances with which it was crowded, looked much more like a porcupine carrying a sign- post; and, at the roots of those lances, many little round o’s, whereby was signified the heads of Amyas and his schoolfellows, who were about to slay that dragon, and rescue the beautiful princess who dwelt in that enchanted tower. To behold which marvel of art, all the other boys at the same desk must needs club their heads together, and with the more security, because Sir Vindex, as was his custom after dinner, was lying back in his chair, and slept the sleep of the just.
But when Amyas, by special instigation of the evil spirit who haunts successful artists, proceeded further to introduce, heedless of perspective, a rock, on which stood the lively portraiture of Sir Vindex–nose, spectacles, gown, and all; and in his hand a brandished rod, while out of his mouth a label shrieked after the runaways, “You come back!” while a similar label replied from the gallant bark, “Good-bye, master!” the shoving and tittering rose to such a pitch that Cerberus awoke, and demanded sternly what the noise was about. To which, of course, there was no answer.
“You, of course, Leigh! Come up, sir, and show me your exercitation.”
Now of Amyas’s exercitation not a word was written; and, moreover, he was in the very article of putting the last touches to Mr. Brimblecombe’s portrait. Whereon, to the astonishment of all hearers, he made answer–
“All in good time, sir!” and went on drawing.
In good time, sir! Insolent, veni et vapula!”
But Amyas went on drawing.
“Come hither, sirrah, or I’ll flay you alive!”
“Wait a bit!” answered Amyas.
The old gentleman jumped up, ferula in hand, and darted across the school, and saw himself upon the fatal slate.
“Proh flagitium! what have we here, villain?” and clutching at his victim, he raised the cane. Whereupon, with a serene and cheerful countenance, up rose the mighty form of Amyas Leigh, a head and shoulders above his tormentor, and that slate descended on the bald coxcomb of Sir Vindex Brimblecombe, with so shrewd a blow that slate and pate cracked at the same instant, and the poor pedagogue dropped to the floor, and lay for dead.
After which Amyas arose, and walked out of the school, and so quietly home; and having taken counsel with himself, went to his mother, and said, “Please, mother, I’ve broken schoolmaster’s head.”
“Broken his head, thou wicked boy!” shrieked the poor widow; “what didst do that for?”
“I can’t tell,” said Amyas, penitently; “I couldn’t help it. It looked so smooth, and bald, and round, and–you know?”
“I know? Oh, wicked boy! thou hast given place to the devil; and now, perhaps, thou hast killed him.”
“Killed the devil?” asked Amyas, hopefully but doubtfully.
“No, killed the schoolmaster, sirrah! Is he dead?”
“I don’t think he’s dead; his coxcomb sounded too hard for that. But had not I better go and tell Sir Richard?”
The poor mother could hardly help laughing, in spite of her terror, at Amyas’s perfect coolness (which was not in the least meant for insolence), and being at her wits’ end, sent him, as usual, to his godfather.
Amyas rehearsed his story again, with pretty nearly the same exclamations, to which he gave pretty nearly the same answers; and then–“What was he going to do to you, then, sirrah?”
“Flog me, because I could not write my exercise, and so drew a picture of him instead.”
“What! art afraid of being flogged?”
“Not a bit; besides, I’m too much accustomed to it; but I was busy, and he was in such a desperate hurry; and, oh, sir, if you had but seen his bald head, you would have broken it yourself!”
Now Sir Richard had, twenty years ago, in like place, and very much in like manner, broken the head of Vindex Brimblecombe’s father, schoolmaster in his day, and therefore had a precedent to direct him; and he answered–“Amyas, sirrah! those who cannot obey will never be fit to rule. If thou canst not keep discipline now, thou wilt never make a company or a crew keep it when thou art grown. Dost mind that, sirrah?”
“Yes,” said Amyas.
“Then go back to school this moment, sir, and be flogged.”
“Very well,” said Amyas, considering that he had got off very cheaply; while Sir Richard, as soon as he was out of the room, lay back in his chair, and laughed till he cried again.
So Amyas went back, and said that he was come to be flogged; whereon the old schoolmaster, whose pate had been plastered meanwhile, wept tears of joy over the returning prodigal, and then gave him such a switching as he did not forget for eight-and-forty hours.
But that evening Sir Richard sent for old Vindex, who entered, trembling, cap in hand; and having primed him with a cup of sack, said–“Well, Mr. Schoolmaster! My godson has been somewhat too much for you to-day. There are a couple of nobles to pay the doctor.”
“O Sir Richard, gratias tibi et Domino! but the boy hits shrewdly hard. Nevertheless I have repaid him in inverse kind, and set him an imposition, to learn me one of Phaedrus his fables, Sir Richard, if you do not think it too much.”
“Which, then? The one about the man who brought up a lion’s cub, and was eaten by him in play at last?”
“Ah, Sir Richard! you have always a merry wit. But, indeed, the boy is a brave boy, and a quick boy, Sir Richard, but more forgetful than Lethe; and–sapienti loquor–it were well if he were away, for I shall never see him again without my head aching. Moreover, he put my son Jack upon the fire last Wednesday, as you would put a football, though he is a year older, your worship, because, he said, he looked so like a roasting pig, Sir Richard.”
“Alas, poor Jack!”
“And what’s more, your worship, he is pugnax, bellicosus, gladiator, a fire-eater and swash-buckler, beyond all Christian measure; a very sucking Entellus, Sir Richard, and will do to death some of her majesty’s lieges erelong, if he be not wisely curbed. It was but a month agone that he bemoaned himself, I hear, as Alexander did, because there were no more worlds to conquer, saying that it was a pity he was so strong; for, now he had thrashed all the Bideford lads, he had no sport left; and so, as my Jack tells me, last Tuesday week he fell upon a young man of Barnstaple, Sir Richard, a hosier’s man, sir, and plebeius (which I consider unfit for one of his blood), and, moreover, a man full grown, and as big as either of us (Vindex stood five feet four in his high-heeled shoes), and smote him clean over the quay into the mud, because he said that there was a prettier maid in Barnstaple (your worship will forgive my speaking of such toys, to which my fidelity compels me) than ever Bideford could show; and then offered to do the same to any man who dare say that Mistress Rose Salterne, his worship the mayor’s daughter, was not the fairest lass in all Devon.”
“Eh? Say that over again, my good sir,” quoth Sir Richard, who had thus arrived, as we have seen, at the second count of the indictment. “I say, good sir, whence dost thou hear all these pretty stories?”
“My son Jack, Sir Richard, my son Jack, ingenui vultus puer.”
“But not, it seems, ingenui pudoris. Tell thee what, Mr. Schoolmaster, no wonder if thy son gets put on the fire, if thou employ him as a tale-bearer. But that is the way of all pedagogues and their sons, by which they train the lads up eavesdroppers and favor-curriers, and prepare them–sirrah, do you hear?–for a much more lasting and hotter fire than that which has scorched thy son Jack’s nether-tackle. Do you mark me, sir?”
The poor pedagogue, thus cunningly caught in his own trap, stood trembling before his patron, who, as hereditary head of the Bridge Trust, which endowed the school and the rest of the Bideford charities, could, by a turn of his finger, sweep him forth with the besom of destruction; and he gasped with terror as Sir Richard went on–“Therefore, mind you, Sir Schoolmaster, unless you shall promise me never to hint word of what has passed between us two, and that neither you nor yours shall henceforth carry tales of my godson, or speak his name within a day’s march of Mistress Salterne’s, look to it, if I do not–“
What was to be done in default was not spoken; for down went poor old Vindex on his knees:–
“Oh, Sir Richard! Excellentissime, immo praecelsissime Domine et Senator, I promise! O sir, Miles et Eques of the Garter, Bath, and Golden Fleece, consider your dignities, and my old age–and my great family–nine children–oh, Sir Richard, and eight of them girls!–Do eagles war with mice? says the ancient!”
“Thy large family, eh? How old is that fat-witted son of thine?”
“Sixteen, Sir Richard; but that is not his fault, indeed!”
“Nay, I suppose he would be still sucking his thumb if he dared– get up, man–get up and seat yourself.”
“Heaven forbid!” murmured poor Vindex, with deep humility.
“Why is not the rogue at Oxford, with a murrain on him, instead of lurching about here carrying tales and ogling the maidens?”
“I had hoped, Sir Richard–and therefore I said it was not his fault–but there was never a servitorship at Exeter open.”
“Go to, man–go to! I will speak to my brethren of the Trust, and to Oxford he shall go this autumn, or else to Exeter gaol, for a strong rogue, and a masterless man. Do you hear?”
“Hear?–oh, sir, yes! and return thanks. Jack shall go, Sir Richard, doubt it not–I were mad else; and, Sir Richard, may I go too?”
And therewith Vindex vanished, and Sir Richard enjoyed a second mighty laugh, which brought in Lady Grenville, who possibly had overheard the whole; for the first words she said were–
“I think, my sweet life, we had better go up to Burrough.”
So to Burrough they went; and after much talk, and many tears, matters were so concluded that Amyas Leigh found himself riding joyfully towards Plymouth, by the side of Sir Richard, and being handed over to Captain Drake, vanished for three years from the good town of Bideford.
And now he is returned in triumph, and the observed of all observers; and looks round and round, and sees all faces whom he expects, except one; and that the one which he had rather see than his mother’s? He is not quite sure. Shame on himself!
And now the prayers being ended, the rector ascends the pulpit, and begins his sermon on the text:–
“The heaven and the heaven of heavens are the Lord’s; the whole earth hath he given to the children of men;” deducing therefrom craftily, to the exceeding pleasure of his hearers, the iniquity of the Spaniards in dispossessing the Indians, and in arrogating to themselves the sovereignty of the tropic seas; the vanity of the Pope of Rome in pretending to bestow on them the new countries of America; and the justice, valor, and glory of Mr. Drake and his expedition, as testified by God’s miraculous protection of him and his, both in the Straits of Magellan, and in his battle with the Galleon; and last, but not least, upon the rock by Celebes, when the Pelican lay for hours firmly fixed, and was floated off unhurt, as it were by miracle, by a sudden shift of wind.
Ay, smile, reader, if you will; and, perhaps, there was matter for a smile in that honest sermon, interlarded, as it was, with scraps of Greek and Hebrew, which no one understood, but every one expected as their right (for a preacher was nothing then who could not prove himself “a good Latiner”); and graced, moreover, by a somewhat pedantic and lengthy refutation from Scripture of Dan Horace’s cockney horror of the sea–
“Illi robur et aes triplex,” etc.
and his infidel and ungodly slander against the impias rates, and their crews.
Smile, if you will: but those were days (and there were never less superstitious ones) in which Englishmen believed in the living God, and were not ashamed to acknowledge, as a matter of course, His help and providence, and calling, in the matters of daily life, which we now in our covert atheism term “secular and carnal;” and when, the sermon ended, the communion service had begun, and the bread and the wine were given to those five mariners, every gallant gentleman who stood near them (for the press would not allow of more) knelt and received the elements with them as a thing of course, and then rose to join with heart and voice not merely in the Gloria in Excelsis, but in the Te Deum, which was the closing act of all. And no sooner had the clerk given out the first verse of that great hymn, than it was taken up by five hundred voices within the church, in bass and tenor, treble and alto (for every one could sing in those days, and the west-country folk, as now, were fuller than any of music), the chant was caught up by the crowd outside, and rang away over roof and river, up to the woods of Annery, and down to the marshes of the Taw, in wave on wave of harmony. And as it died away, the shipping in the river made answer with their thunder, and the crowd streamed out again toward the Bridge Head, whither Sir Richard Grenville, and Sir John Chichester, and Mr. Salterne, the Mayor, led the five heroes of the day to await the pageant which had been prepared in honor of them. And as they went by, there were few in the crowd who did not press forward to shake them by the hand, and not only them, but their parents and kinsfolk who walked behind, till Mrs. Leigh, her stately joy quite broken down at last, could only answer between her sobs, “Go along, good people–God a mercy, go along–and God send you all such sons!”
“God give me back mine!” cried an old red-cloaked dame in the crowd; and then, struck by some hidden impulse, she sprang forward, and catching hold of young Amyas’s sleeve–
“Kind sir! dear sir! For Christ his sake answer a poor old widow woman!”
“What is it, dame?” quoth Amyas, gently enough.
“Did you see my son to the Indies?–my son Salvation?”
“Salvation?” replied he, with the air of one who recollected the name.
“Yes, sure, Salvation Yeo, of Clovelly. A tall man and black, and sweareth awfully in his talk, the Lord forgive him!”
Amyas recollected now. It was the name of the sailor who had given him the wondrous horn five years ago.
“My good dame,” said he, “the Indies are a very large place, and your son may be safe and sound enough there, without my having seen him. I knew one Salvation Yeo. But he must have come with– By the by, godfather, has Mr. Oxenham come home?”
There was a dead silence for a moment among the gentlemen round; and then Sir Richard said solemnly, and in a low voice, turning away from the old dame,–
“Amyas, Mr. Oxenham has not come home; and from the day he sailed, no word has been heard of him and all his crew.”
“Oh, Sir Richard! and you kept me from sailing with him! Had I known this before I went into church, I had had one mercy more to thank God for.”
“Thank Him all the more in thy life, my child!” whispered his mother.
“And no news of him whatsoever?”
“None; but that the year after he sailed, a ship belonging to Andrew Barker, of Bristol, took out of a Spanish caravel, somewhere off the Honduras, his two brass guns; but whence they came the Spaniard knew not, having bought them at Nombre de Dios.”
“Yes!” cried the old woman; “they brought home the guns, and never brought home my boy!”
“They never saw your boy, mother,” said Sir Richard.
“But I’ve seen him! I saw him in a dream four years last Whitsuntide, as plain as I see you now, gentles, a-lying upon a rock, calling for a drop of water to cool his tongue, like Dives to the torment! Oh! dear me!” and the old dame wept bitterly.
“There is a rose noble for you!” said Mrs. Leigh.
“And there another!” said Sir Richard. And in a few minutes four or five gold coins were in her hand. But the old dame did but look wonderingly at the gold a moment, and then–
“Ah! dear gentles, God’s blessing on you, and Mr. Cary’s mighty good to me already; but gold won’t buy back childer! O! young gentleman! young gentleman! make me a promise; if you want God’s blessing on you this day, bring me back my boy, if you find him sailing on the seas! Bring him back, and an old widow’s blessing be on you!”
Amyas promised–what else could he do?–and the group hurried on; but the lad’s heart was heavy in the midst of joy, with the thought of John Oxenham, as he walked through the churchyard, and down the short street which led between the ancient school and still more ancient town-house, to the head of the long bridge, across which the pageant, having arranged “east-the-water,” was to defile, and then turn to the right along the quay.
However, he was bound in all courtesy to turn his attention now to the show which had been prepared in his honor, and which was really well enough worth seeing and hearing. The English were, in those days, an altogether dramatic people; ready and able, as in Bideford that day, to extemporize a pageant, a masque, or any effort of the Thespian art short of the regular drama. For they were, in the first place, even down to the very poorest, a well-fed people, with fewer luxuries than we, but more abundant necessaries; and while beef, ale, and good woollen clothes could be obtained in plenty, without overworking either body or soul, men had time to amuse themselves in something more intellectual than mere toping in pot- houses. Moreover, the half century after the Reformation in England was one not merely of new intellectual freedom, but of immense animal good spirits. After years of dumb confusion and cruel persecution, a breathing time had come: Mary and the fires of Smithfield had vanished together like a hideous dream, and the mighty shout of joy which greeted Elizabeth’s entry into London, was the key-note of fifty glorious years; the expression of a new- found strength and freedom, which vented itself at home in drama and in song; abroad in mighty conquests, achieved with the laughing recklessness of boys at play.
So first, preceded by the waits, came along the bridge toward the town-hall a device prepared by the good rector, who, standing by, acted as showman, and explained anxiously to the bystanders the import of a certain “allegory” wherein on a great banner was depicted Queen Elizabeth herself, who, in ample ruff and farthingale, a Bible in one hand and a sword in the other, stood triumphant upon the necks of two sufficiently abject personages, whose triple tiara and imperial crown proclaimed them the Pope and the King of Spain; while a label, issuing from her royal mouth, informed the world that–
“By land and sea a virgin queen I reign, And spurn to dust both Antichrist and Spain.”
Which, having been received with due applause, a well-bedizened lad, having in his cap as a posy “Loyalty,” stepped forward, and delivered himself of the following verses:–
“Oh, great Eliza! oh, world-famous crew! Which shall I hail more blest, your queen or you? While without other either falls to wrack, And light must eyes, or eyes their light must lack. She without you, a diamond sunk in mine, Its worth unprized, to self alone must shine; You without her, like hands bereft of head, Like Ajax rage, by blindfold lust misled. She light, you eyes; she head, and you the hands, In fair proportion knit by heavenly hands; Servants in queen, and queen in servants blest; Your only glory, how to serve her best; And hers how best the adventurous might to guide, Which knows no check of foemen, wind, or tide, So fair Eliza’s spotless fame may fly Triumphant round the globe, and shake th’ astounded sky!”
With which sufficiently bad verses Loyalty passed on, while my Lady Bath hinted to Sir Richard, not without reason, that the poet, in trying to exalt both parties, had very sufficiently snubbed both, and intimated that it was “hardly safe for country wits to attempt that euphuistic, antithetical, and delicately conceited vein, whose proper fountain was in Whitehall.” However, on went Loyalty, very well pleased with himself, and next, amid much cheering, two great tinsel fish, a salmon and a trout, symbolical of the wealth of Torridge, waddled along, by means of two human legs and a staff apiece, which protruded from the fishes’ stomachs. They drew (or seemed to draw, for half the ‘prentices in the town were shoving it behind, and cheering on the panting monarchs of the flood) a car wherein sate, amid reeds and river-flags, three or four pretty girls in robes of gray-blue spangled with gold, their heads wreathed one with a crown of the sweet bog-myrtle, another with hops and white convolvulus, the third with pale heather and golden fern. They stopped opposite Amyas; and she of the myrtle wreath, rising and bowing to him and the company, began with a pretty blush to say her say:–
“Hither from my moorland home,
Nymph of Torridge, proud I come; Leaving fen and furzy brake,
Haunt of eft and spotted snake,
Where to fill mine urns I use,
Daily with Atlantic dews;
While beside the reedy flood
Wild duck leads her paddling brood. For this morn, as Phoebus gay
Chased through heaven the night mist gray, Close beside me, prankt in pride,
Sister Tamar rose, and cried,
‘Sluggard, up! ‘Tis holiday,
In the lowlands far away.
Hark! how jocund Plymouth bells, Wandering up through mazy dells,
Call me down, with smiles to hail, My daring Drake’s returning sail.’
‘Thine alone?’ I answer’d. ‘Nay; Mine as well the joy to-day.
Heroes train’d on Northern wave, To that Argo new I gave;
Lent to thee, they roam’d the main; Give me, nymph, my sons again.’
‘Go, they wait Thee,’ Tamar cried, Southward bounding from my side.
Glad I rose, and at my call,
Came my Naiads, one and all.
Nursling of the mountain sky,
Leaving Dian’s choir on high,
Down her cataracts laughing loud, Ockment leapt from crag and cloud,
Leading many a nymph, who dwells Where wild deer drink in ferny dells; While the Oreads as they past
Peep’d from Druid Tors aghast.
By alder copses sliding slow,
Knee-deep in flowers came gentler Yeo And paused awhile her locks to twine
With musky hops and white woodbine, Then joined the silver-footed band,
Which circled down my golden sand, By dappled park, and harbor shady,
Haunt of love-lorn knight and lady, My thrice-renowned sons to greet,
With rustic song and pageant meet. For joy! the girdled robe around
Eliza’s name henceforth shall sound, Whose venturous fleets to conquest start, Where ended once the seaman’s chart,
While circling Sol his steps shall count Henceforth from Thule’s western mount, And lead new rulers round the seas
From furthest Cassiterides.
For found is now the golden tree, Solv’d th’ Atlantic mystery,
Pluck’d the dragon-guarded fruit; While around the charmed root,
Wailing loud, the Hesperids
Watch their warder’s drooping lids. Low he lies with grisly wound,
While the sorceress triple-crown’d In her scarlet robe doth shield him,
Till her cunning spells have heal’d him. Ye, meanwhile, around the earth
Bear the prize of manful worth.
Yet a nobler meed than gold
Waits for Albion’s children bold; Great Eliza’s virgin hand
Welcomes you to Fairy-land,
While your native Naiads bring
Native wreaths as offering.
Simple though their show may be, Britain’s worship in them see.
‘Tis not price, nor outward fairness, Gives the victor’s palm its rareness; Simplest tokens can impart
Noble throb to noble heart:
Graecia, prize thy parsley crown, Boast thy laurel, Caesar’s town;
Moorland myrtle still shall be
Badge of Devon’s Chivalry!”
And so ending, she took the wreath of fragrant gale from her own head, and stooping from the car, placed it on the head of Amyas Leigh, who made answer–
“There is no place like home, my fair mistress and no scent to my taste like this old home-scent in all the spice-islands that I ever sailed by!”
“Her song was not so bad,” said Sir Richard to Lady Bath–“but how came she to hear Plymouth bells at Tamar-head, full fifty miles away? That’s too much of a poet’s license, is it not?”
“The river-nymphs, as daughters of Oceanus, and thus of immortal parentage, are bound to possess organs of more than mortal keenness; but, as you say, the song was not so bad–erudite, as well as prettily conceived–and, saving for a certain rustical simplicity and monosyllabic baldness, smacks rather of the forests of Castaly than those of Torridge.”
So spake my Lady Bath; whom Sir Richard wisely answered not; for she was a terribly learned member of the college of critics, and disputed even with Sidney’s sister the chieftaincy of the Euphuists; so Sir Richard answered not, but answer was made for him.
“Since the whole choir of Muses, madam, have migrated to the Court of Whitehall, no wonder if some dews of Parnassus should fertilize at times even our Devon moors.”
The speaker was a tall and slim young man, some five-and-twenty years old, of so rare and delicate a beauty, that it seemed that some Greek statue, or rather one of those pensive and pious knights whom the old German artists took delight to paint, had condescended to tread awhile this work-day earth in living flesh and blood. The forehead was very lofty and smooth, the eyebrows thin and greatly arched (the envious gallants whispered that something at least of their curve was due to art, as was also the exceeding smoothness of those delicate cheeks). The face was somewhat long and thin; the nose aquiline; and the languid mouth showed, perhaps, too much of the ivory upper teeth; but the most striking point of the speaker’s appearance was the extraordinary brilliancy of his complexion, which shamed with its whiteness that of all fair ladies round, save where open on each cheek a bright red spot gave warning, as did the long thin neck and the taper hands, of sad possibilities, perhaps not far off; possibilities which all saw with an inward sigh, except she whose doting glances, as well as her resemblance to the fair youth, proclaimed her at once his mother, Mrs. Leigh herself.
Master Frank, for he it was, was dressed in the very extravagance of the fashion,–not so much from vanity, as from that delicate instinct of self-respect which would keep some men spruce and spotless from one year’s end to another upon a desert island; “for,” as Frank used to say in his sententious way, “Mr. Frank Leigh at least beholds me, though none else be by; and why should I be more discourteous to him than I permit others to be? Be sure that he who is a Grobian in his own company, will, sooner or later, become a Grobian in that of his friends.”
So Mr. Frank was arrayed spotlessly; but after the latest fashion of Milan, not in trunk hose and slashed sleeves, nor in “French standing collar, treble quadruple daedalian ruff, or stiff-necked rabato, that had more arches for pride, propped up with wire and timber, than five London Bridges;” but in a close-fitting and perfectly plain suit of dove-color, which set off cunningly the delicate proportions of his figure, and the delicate hue of his complexion, which was shaded from the sun by a broad dove-colored Spanish hat, with feather to match, looped up over the right ear with a pearl brooch, and therein a crowned E, supposed by the damsels of Bideford to stand for Elizabeth, which was whispered to be the gift of some most illustrious hand. This same looping up was not without good reason and purpose prepense; thereby all the world had full view of a beautiful little ear, which looked as if it had been cut of cameo, and made, as my Lady Rich once told him, “to hearken only to the music of the spheres, or to the chants of cherubim.” Behind the said ear was stuck a fresh rose; and the golden hair was all drawn smoothly back and round to the left temple, whence, tied with a pink ribbon in a great true lover’s knot, a mighty love-lock, “curled as it had been laid in press,” rolled down low upon his bosom. Oh, Frank! Frank! have you come out on purpose to break the hearts of all Bideford burghers’ daughters? And if so, did you expect to further that triumph by dyeing that pretty little pointed beard (with shame I report it) of a bright vermilion? But we know you better, Frank, and so does your mother; and you are but a masquerading angel after all, in spite of your knots and your perfumes, and the gold chain round your neck which a German princess gave you; and the emerald ring on your right fore-finger which Hatton gave you; and the pair of perfumed gloves in your left which Sidney’s sister gave you; and the silver-hilted Toledo which an Italian marquis gave you on a certain occasion of which you never choose to talk, like a prudent and modest gentleman as you are; but of which the gossips talk, of course, all the more, and whisper that you saved his life from bravoes–a dozen, at the least; and had that sword for your reward, and might have had his beautiful sister’s hand beside, and I know not what else; but that you had so many lady-loves already that you were loath to burden yourself with a fresh one. That, at least, we know to be a lie, fair Frank; for your heart is as pure this day as when you knelt in your little crib at Burrough, and said–
“Four corners to my bed
Four angels round my head;
Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John,
Bless the bed that I lie on.”
And who could doubt it (if being pure themselves, they have instinctive sympathy with what is pure), who ever looked into those great deep blue eyes of yours, “the black fringed curtains of whose azure lids,” usually down-dropt as if in deepest thought, you raise slowly, almost wonderingly each time you speak, as if awakening from some fair dream whose home is rather in your platonical “eternal world of supra-sensible forms,” than on that work-day earth wherein you nevertheless acquit yourself so well? There–I must stop describing you, or I shall catch the infection of your own euphuism, and talk of you as you would have talked of Sidney or of Spenser, or of that Swan of Avon, whose song had just begun when yours–but I will not anticipate; my Lady Bath is waiting to give you her rejoinder.
“Ah, my silver-tongued scholar! and are you, then, the poet? or have you been drawing on the inexhaustible bank of your friend Raleigh, or my cousin Sidney? or has our new Cygnet Immerito lent you a few unpublished leaves from some fresh Shepherd’s Calendar?”
“Had either, madam, of that cynosural triad been within call of my most humble importunities, your ears had been delectate with far nobler melody.”
“But not our eyes with fairer faces, eh? Well, you have chosen your nymphs, and had good store from whence to pick, I doubt not. Few young Dulcineas round but must have been glad to take service under so renowned a captain?”
“The only difficulty, gracious countess, has been to know where to fix the wandering choice of my bewildered eyes, where all alike are fair, and all alike facund.”
“We understand,” said she, smiling;–
“Dan Cupid, choosing ‘midst his mother’s graces, Himself more fair, made scorn of fairest faces.”
The young scholar capped her distich forthwith, and bowing to her with a meaning look,
“‘Then, Goddess, turn,’ he cried, ‘and veil thy light; Blinded by thine, what eyes can choose aright?'”
“Go, saucy sir,” said my lady, in high glee: “the pageant stays your supreme pleasure.”
And away went Mr. Frank as master of the revels, to bring up the ‘prentices’ pageant; while, for his sake, the nymph of Torridge was