The Bravest of the Brave by G. A. Henty
Chapter XVII: Home
Upon the arrival of the Earl of Peterborough at Valencia he was received with the profoundest sympathy and respect by the people, who were filled with indignation at the treatment which the man whose daring and genius had freed Catalonia and Valencia of the French had received at the hands of their ungrateful monarch. Finding that a portion of the fleet had been ordered to the West Indies, the earl was obliged to abandon his project of capturing Minorca and then carrying substantial aid to the Duke of Savoy. He, however, went to Genoa, and there borrowed a hundred thousand pounds, which he brought back to Valencia and sent to the king for the use of the army.
The cause of Charles was already well nigh desperate. Castile was lost, and the enemy were pressing forward to recover Catalonia and Valencia. Affairs were in the utmost state of confusion. Peterborough's rivals having got rid of him now quarreled among themselves, or their only bond of union was their mutual hatred of the earl.
The king himself, while he pretended to flatter him, wrote letters behind his back to England bringing all sorts of accusations against him, and succeeded in obtaining an order for his return. Before leaving he implored the king and his generals to avoid a battle, which would probably be disastrous, and to content themselves with a defensive war until Eugene of Savoy and the Duke of Marlborough broke the power of France elsewhere. His opinion was overruled, and the result was the disastrous battle of Almanza, in which the hopes of Charles of Austria of obtaining the crown of Spain were finally crushed.
Peterborough embarked on the 14th of May on board the Resolution, man of war, commanded by his second son Henry.
The Resolution was accompanied by two frigates, the Enterprise and the Milford Haven. The King of Spain's envoy to the court of Savoy also sailed in the Resolution. The earl took with him his two aides de camp, who were both too indignant at the treatment which their chief had received to desire to remain with the army in Spain. The little squadron sailed first for Barcelona, where it only remained a few hours, and then set sail for Italy.
On the fifth day at sea they fell in with a French fleet of six men of war. Two carried eighty guns, two seventy, one sixty-eight, and the other fifty-eight. The Resolution was a slow sailer, and the French, who at once gave chase, gained rapidly upon her. As resistance against such overwhelming odds seemed hopeless, Peterborough determined to go with the Spanish envoy and the state papers on board the Enterprise. There was little time for reflection. A small boat was lowered, and the earl, with a hasty adieu to his son, Jack, and Graham, descended the ship's side with the Spanish envoy and rowed away to the Enterprise.
"We are fated to see the inside of a French prison, after all," Jack said to Graham.
"I don't know, Stilwell. We have both been in their hands once, and did not stay there long. I can hardly believe that our luck's going to desert us at last."
"I don't see much chance of our escape this time, Graham. Six ships against one are too great odds even for English sailors. The smallest of them carries as many guns as we do, and once a prisoner on board a ship there is no slipping away."
"We are not prisoners yet, Jack, and I don't think that Mordaunt will strike his flag without a struggle, though they are six to one. He is just his father over again as far as courage goes."
"Well, I hope, anyhow, the earl will get away," Jack said. "If it hadn't been for all those state papers he is burdened with I am sure he would have stuck to the Resolution and fought it out. It would be just the kind of desperate adventure to suit him. See, he has reached the Enterprise, and she and the Milford Haven are spreading every sail; but although they will leave us behind I question whether they will outsail the French. They are coming up fast."
"It will soon be dark," Graham said, "and they may be able to slip away. You may be sure the French will attend to us first, as being the most valuable prize."
"Well, gentlemen," Captain Mordaunt said, coming up to them, "you are going to have a piece of new experience. I know you have been through some apparently hopeless conflicts on land with my father, but I don't think you have ever seen a sea fight."
"Are you going to fight them all, sir?" Jack asked.
"I am going to try," the captain said. "My orders were to go to Leghorn, and to Leghorn I mean to go if the ship floats; but I tell you honestly I do not think there is much chance of our getting there. Still, as long as the ship floats, the British flag will float over her."
"Is there anything we can do, sir?" Jack asked. "We shall be happy to serve as volunteers in any capacity in which you think we may be useful."
"Until it comes to boarding I fear that you cannot help," the captain said, "except by walking about between decks and cheering and inspiriting the men. The presence of officers looking cool and confident among them always does good. If the enemy try to board us you shall fight by my side."
The two fastest sailing French vessels were so close when night fell that it was hopeless to try to evade them either by changing the ship's course or by lowering the sails. At ten o'clock they were less than a mile astern, one on either quarter. The ship had long since been ready for action, and the men were now called to the guns; but the enemy did not open fire, but could, by the night glasses, be seen somewhat to shorten sail so as to keep about the same distance behind the Resolution.
"Cowardly dogs," the young captain said, "they do not mean to fight until the whole of their consorts come up. However, we ought not to grumble, as every hour takes us so much nearer port."
He then ordered the men to lie down by the guns and get what sleep they could until the enemy opened fire. Jack and Graham, finding that there was nothing to be done, threw themselves into their hammocks, and slept till five o'clock in the morning. They were then aroused, and went on deck. The six French ships had now all come up, and were coming on in a body.
"Good morning, gentlemen," the young captain said gayly. "We have a fine morning for our amusement. I wish the wind would freshen a little more so as to take this lubberly old ship faster through the water."
At six o'clock the leading vessel of the French squadron opened fire, and at the signal her consorts all followed her example. Some of them were now almost abreast of the Resolution, and the iron shower tore through her sails and cut her rigging. She answered with a broadside from both sides, and the battle commenced in earnest.
In all the annals of British seamanship there is no more heroic story than that of the fight between the Resolution and the six French men of war. From six in the morning until half past three in the afternoon she maintained the unequal contest, still keeping on under full sail toward her port, only yawing occasionally to pour a broadside into one or other of her foes. They were now running along the coast, and the peasants on the distant hills must have watched with astonishment the unequal fight as the vessels pressed on past them. By half past three the Resolution was little more than a wreck. Her sails were riddled with holes, many of her spars shot away, her sides ragged and torn, and many of her crew killed, but the remainder of the crew still fought their guns unflinchingly.
"We can do no more," Captain Mordaunt said to Jack. "The carpenter has just reported that the mainmast is so seriously injured that at any moment it may go over the side. It is impossible to hope any longer to reach Leghorn, but my ship I am determined they shall not have."
So saying, he gave orders to the first lieutenant, and the vessel's head was suddenly turned straight toward the shore. The French, astonished at so desperate a course, did not venture to follow her, and the Resolution threaded her way through the dangerous reefs till at last she brought up with a sudden crash which sent her tottering mainmast over the side.
The French advanced cautiously until nearing the reefs, and then opened a distant fire, which the Resolution did not return. The captain ordered the exhausted crew from their guns, a strong allowance of grog was served out, and after a meal the men felt again ready for work. Jack and his companion were at dinner with the captain, when the officer in charge of the deck reported that the French ships were lowering their boats.
"Let the men rest as long as possible, Mr. Darwin, but when you see the boats fairly on their way toward us beat to quarters."
A few minutes later the roll of the drums was heard. "Now, gentlemen, we will go on deck," the captain said, "since they will not let us alone. But if their ships could not take us I do not think that their boats will have much chance."
Dusk was closing in when they went on deck and saw all the boats of the six French men of war, crowded with men, rowing in a line toward them. The captain gave the order for the men to load with grape. As soon as the French flotilla came well within range the word was given, and a storm of balls swept their line.
Several of the boats were sunk at once, the others paused to pick up their comrades from the water, and then again dashed forward; but by this time the guns were again loaded, and the hail of iron again crashed into them. With splendid bravery the French still advanced until close to the ship. Then Captain Mordaunt ordered all the lower deck guns to be run in and the ports closed, and the crew to come on deck. While some worked the upper guns, others kept up a heavy fire of musketry upon the boats, which swarmed round the ship.
Again and again the French made determined efforts to board, but they were unable to climb the lofty sides of the ship. At length, after suffering terrible loss, the French sailors gave up the attempt and rowed sullenly off to their ships, covered by the darkness from the English fire. Captain Mordaunt took off his cap and gave the signal, and a hearty cheer arose from the crew. The night passed quietly, the terribly diminished crew lay down as they stood by the guns, in readiness to repel another attack, should it be attempted. The next morning one of the French eighty gun ships got under way, and, with merely a rag of canvas shown, and her boats rowing ahead and sounding to find a channel through the reefs, gradually made her way toward the Resolution.
"Well, gentlemen," the captain said, "I think you will agree with me that nothing further can be done. The ship is already half full of water, the magazine is flooded, and the whole of the powder wetted. The ship is a wreck, and I should be only throwing away the men's lives uselessly by attempting further resistance."
The officers thoroughly agreed, and with the greatest coolness the captain gave his orders for the abandonment of the vessel. Although the French man of war had now opened fire, all the wounded, the whole of the crew, the flags, papers, and everything of value were placed in the boats, and the vessel was then set on fire in a dozen places.
After superintending everything personally, and making sure that the fire had obtained such a hold that it could not be extinguished, Captain Mordaunt ordered the officers to descend into the boats. Just as he was about to leave the deck himself, the last man on board the ship, a cannon shot from the French man of war struck him in the leg. The officers ran back and raised him from the deck.
"It might have been worse," he said cheerfully. "Now, gentlemen, will you carry me down and place me in my gig, and then take your boats as arranged? Be careful, as you row toward shore, to keep the Resolution between you and the Frenchman's guns."
Everything was done steadily and in order, and the survivors of the crew of the Resolution reached the shore without further loss. The Resolution was now in a blaze from end to end, and by eleven o'clock she was burned to the water's edge. Mordaunt and his crew were kindly received by the people of the country. As the captain himself would not be able to move for some time, Jack and Graham said adieu to him and posted to Turin, where the earl had told them that he should go direct from Leghorn.
They arrived before him, but twenty-four hours after they had reached the capital of Savoy the earl arrived. He had already heard rumors of the desperate fight between the Resolution and the enemy, and that his son had been wounded. His aides de camp were now able to assure him that, although serious, Captain Mordaunt's wounds were not likely to be fatal, and Peterborough was delighted with the narrative of the gallant achievement of his son. Shortly afterward an imperative order for his return reaching the earl, he set out for England through Germany with his two aides de camp. Peterborough was suffering from illness caused by the immense exertions he had made through the campaign, and traveled but slowly. He visited many of the German courts, and went for a few days to the camp of Charles of Sweden in Saxony.
After this, by special invitation, he journeyed to the camp of the Duke of Marlborough at Genappes, where he was received with much honor by the great commander. He presented to him his two aides de camp.
"They have, my lord duke," he said, "been my faithful friends throughout the whole campaign in Spain, they have shared all my dangers, and any credit I may have gained is due in no small degree to their zeal and activity. It is unlikely that I shall again command an army in the field, and therefore I would recommend them to you. They will accompany me to England, for they, too, need a rest, after their exertions; after that I trust that they may be sent out to fight under your orders, and I trust that you will keep them in your eye, and will give them the advantage of your protection and favor."
The duke promised to do so, and, after a few days' stay in the camp, the earl with his two followers started for England, where he arrived on the 20th of August, 1707, nearly two years to a day from the date when he had appeared, with a force under his command, before Barcelona. But the campaign itself, so far as he was concerned, had lasted less than a year, as it was in August, 1706, that he rode into Valencia, after having been deprived of his command.
In that year he exhibited military qualities which have never been surpassed. Daring to the point of extreme rashness where there was a possibility of success, he was prudent and cautious in the extreme when prudence was more necessary than daring. With absurdly insufficient means he all but conquered Spain for Charles of Austria, and would have succeeded in doing so altogether had he not, from first to last, been thwarted and hampered by jealousy, malignity, stupidity, and irresolution on the part of the king, his courtiers, and the generals who should have been the earl's assistants, but who were his rivals, detractors, and enemies.
It must be owned that Peterborough owed this opposition in some degree to himself. He was impatient of fools, and took no pains to conceal his contempt and dislike for those whose intellects were inferior to his own. His independence of spirit and eccentricity of manner set the formal German and Spanish advisers of the king against him, and although adored by the officers and men who served under him, he made almost every man of rank approaching his own who came in contact with him his personal enemy. Among the bulk of the Spanish people of the provinces in which he warred he was beloved as well as admired, and even to this day legends of the brilliant and indefatigable English general are still current among the people of Catalonia and Valencia. No man ever served the cause to which he devoted himself with greater zeal and sincerity. He was lavish of his own private means in its interest, and, even when his advice and opinion were most slighted, he was ready to sacrifice himself, his rank, and dignity to the good of the cause. Had he had the good fortune to command an army of his own countrymen unfettered by others, it is probable that he would have gained a renown equal to that of the greatest commanders the world has known.
The great services which he had rendered were warmly felt and acknowledged by the people of England on his return, and the attempts of his enemies to undermine his reputation were confuted by the papers which he brought back with him. For a time Peterborough took a considerable part in politics, and his acrimony in debate so enraged his enemies that his conduct during the war in Spain was called into question. A debate on the subject took place. In this he successfully defended himself from the attacks made against him, and a formal vote of thanks to him was passed.
Some years afterward he retired altogether from public life, and privately married Miss Anastasia Robinson, his first wife having died many years before. Miss Robinson was a singer of the highest repute, of the most amiable character, and kindest disposition. There was no reason why the match should not have been publicly acknowledged, as the lady was held in universal esteem; but, with his usual eccentricity, the earl insisted on the marriage being kept a secret, and did not announce it until on his death bed in the year 1735. Lady Peterborough lived in profound retirement, universally beloved and honored, to the age of eighty-eight.
Upon arriving in London Jack stayed for a few days with his friend Graham, whose family lived there. The earl had told the young officer that he would introduce them to the queen, but, on their calling by appointment on him at his hotel on the third day after their arrival in town, Peterborough said:
"You had best go about your own business for a time; the queen is out of temper. The ears of ministers have been poisoned by lying letters from my enemies in Spain, but it will all come right in time. As you know, I have papers which will clear me of every charge that their malignity may invent. When I am in favor again I will let you know, and will present you to the queen and minister of war; at any rate, you will like a rest at home before you set out for the Netherlands, so there will be plenty of time."
The next day Jack took his place on the coach for Southampton. He arrived there after fourteen hours' journey, and put up at a hotel for the night. The next morning he dressed himself with greater care than usual, and started for the well remembered shop in the High Street. He knocked at the private door, and inquired if Mistress Anthony were in.
"Will you say that a gentleman whom she knows wishes to speak to her?"
Jack was shown into the parlor, and in a minute or two Mrs. Anthony appeared, looking a little flustered at hearing that a grand looking officer wished to see her. Jack advanced toward her with a smile.
"Why, Jack!" she exclaimed with a scream of delight, "is it you?" and the good woman threw her arms round his neck and kissed him as if he had been her own son.
"Of course we got your letters," she said, "telling us how you had been made an officer and then a captain. The last letter we had from you was from Italy; telling us about that great sea fight, and that you were coming home, but that's eight months ago. We knew you were with my Lord Peterborough, and we saw in the Intelligencer about his being in Germany, and last week they said he had come home. We were talking about you only yesterday, and wondering whether you would come down to see us, and whether you would know us now you had grown such a fine gentleman, and being written about in Lord Peterborough's dispatches, and accustomed to all sorts of grand society."
"You knew I would," Jack said; "why, where should I go if not here? And Alice is quite well, I hope, and grown quite a woman."
"Not quite a woman yet, Jack, but getting on." She opened the door and called Alice, and in a minute the girl ran down. Her mother saw that she had guessed who the caller was, for she had smoothed her hair and put on a bright ribbon which her mother had not seen for three years, and which Jack himself had given her. She paused a moment shyly at the door, for this young officer, in all the glories of the staff uniform, was a very grand figure in her eyes.
"How do you do, Cousin Jack?" she said, coming forward, with a bright color and outstretched hand.
"How are you, Cousin Alice?" Jack said, mimicking her tone; "why, you little goose," he exclaimed, catching her in his arms and kissing her, "you don't suppose I am going to be satisfied with shaking your hand after being nearly three years away."
"Oh, but you are so big, Jack, and so grand, it seems different altogether."
"You are bigger than you were, Alice, but it does not seem in the least different to me."
"Well, I thought you would be quite changed, Jack, and quite different, now you are a captain, and famous, and all that, and you have seen so many grand ladies in all the countries you have traveled that--that--" And she hesitated.
"Well, go on," Jack said gravely.
"Well, then, that you would have forgotten all about me."
"Then you are a very bad little girl, Alice, and not half so good as I thought you were, for you must have a very bad opinion of me, indeed, if you thought all that of me."
"I don't think I quite thought so, Jack. Well, I told myself it was only natural it should be so."
"We will argue that out presently," Jack said; "and now, where is Mr. Anthony?"
"I will call him, Jack," Mrs. Anthony said. "You have no ill feeling, I hope, toward him, for you know he really has been very sorry about the part he took in getting you away, and has blamed himself over and over again."
"I never have had," Jack said; "it has been the best thing that ever happened to me. If I had had my own way I should still be working before the mast instead of being a captain in the army."
Mr. Anthony was soon called in from the store. At first he was a little awkward and shy, but Jack's heartiness soon put him at his ease.
Jack stayed a fortnight at Southampton, and then, on the receipt of a letter from the Earl of Peterborough, went up to town, where he was presented to the queen and afterward to the minister of war by the earl.
A week later he and Graham sailed for the Netherlands and joined the army of the Duke of Marlborough, and served under that great commander until, three years later, the war was brought to a conclusion. They were attached to the staff of one of the generals of division.
The duke kept his promise to the Earl of Peterborough, and kept his eye on the young officers. Both distinguished themselves in the hard fought battles in Belgium, and the end of the war found them both colonels. There being no prospect of further wars the army was greatly reduced, and Jack was retired on half pay, and as soon as matters were arranged in London he again made his way down to Southampton, and at once asked Mr. Anthony's permission to pay his addresses to his daughter.
The ex mayor consented with delight, and, as Alice herself offered no objection, matters were speedily arranged. Jack's half pay was sufficient for them to live on comfortably, and Mr. Anthony, in his gratification at a marriage which he considered did him great honor, presented her with a handsome sum at her wedding, and the young couple settled down in a pretty house a short distance out of Southampton.
Jack was never called out again for active service, and lived in the neighborhood of Southampton until the end of his long life, buying a small estate there, when, at the death of Mr. Anthony, the handsome fortune which the cloth merchant had made came to his daughter, subject to an annuity to Mrs. Anthony, who took up her abode for the rest of her life with her son-in-law, her daughter, and their children. For many years Colonel Stilwell sat in parliament as member for Southampton, and maintained a warm friendship with his ancient commander until the death of the latter, in 1735.