The Bravest of the Brave by G. A. Henty
Chapter VI: A Commission
The moments passed slowly and anxiously, for if the mutineers were to pour up from below before the cartridges arrived and the lieutenant had got the petty officers and men on whom they could rely ready for action, it was improbable that the officers would be able successfully to oppose the rush of the men, armed as these would be with matchlock and pike.
The mutineers, however, believing that there was no occasion to hurry, were quietly carrying out their intentions. The noncommissioned officers had all been seized, tied, and placed under sentries, whose orders were to pike them if they uttered a word. A strong guard had been placed at the foot of the gangway to prevent any of the soldiers who were not in the plan from going on deck and giving the alarm. The muskets were not loaded, as on embarkation all ball cartridges had, as usual, been stowed away in the magazine; but they reckoned upon obtaining possession of this at the first rush. The ringleaders proceeded to form the men in fours, so that they could pour on to the deck in military order. The men of each company were told off to separate work. Two companies were to clear the decks, where, on their appearance, they would be joined by their comrades there, and to overpower any sailors who might offer resistance.
Another company was to run down and secure the magazine, and, breaking it open, to serve out cartridges to all. Two other companies were to rush aft and overpower the officers; the sixth and seventh were to form round the head of the hatchway leading to the decks where the sailors slept, and to allow only those to come on deck who had entered into the plot. The other three companies were already on deck. The arrangements were excellent, but the care taken in preparing for them, and the necessity for doing this in silence lest the stir should be heard and an alarm be given on deck, occupied time which the officers were turning to advantage.
As soon as the captain and naval men had gained the quarterdeck they threw off the lashings of the guns, and had all in readiness for running them in and taking them aft to the edge of the quarterdeck. There was a deep sensation of relief as one after another the midshipmen joined them, each carrying three cartridges of grape, and followed by the gunner with four more. The lieutenant was to stay below to lead the sailors on to the deck.
The gunner brought a message saying that all was well. Many of the sailors were found to have turned into their hammocks without undressing, and to have hand pikes or cutlasses concealed beneath the clothes. These, however, had been surprised and taken without the slightest noise; as, on finding a lantern on one side of their heads and a pistol on the other, each had submitted without the slightest resistance. All these had been sent down to the hold below, and a guard placed over them. The guns were loaded and the whole of the officers divided among them in readiness to run them forward. Four or five minutes passed, then a shout was heard forward and a low rush of many feet.
In an instant the four guns on the quarterdeck were run across. While this was being done there was a clashing of swords, shouts, and a noise of conflict heard forward, and at the same time a loud cheer arose, while from the after hatchway a dark body of men rushed up on to the deck and formed across it. Some midshipmen, who had been told off for the duty, ran up from the officers' cabin with lighted lanterns, which were ranged along at the edge of the quarterdeck.
There was a rush aft of the mutineers, but these recoiled astonished at the sight of the pikes which confronted them, and the line of sailors four deep across the deck, while at the same moment the light of the lanterns showed them the officers on the quarterdeck, and the four guns pointed threateningly toward them. For a moment a silence of astonishment and dismay succeeded the uproar which had preceded it, then the captain's voice was heard:
"Down with your arms, you mutinous dogs, or I will blow you into the air. It is useless to resist. We are prepared for you, and you are without ammunition. Throw down the arms on the decks, every man of you, before I count three, or I fire. One--two--"
There was a loud clattering of arms, mingled with shouts of--"We surrender; don't fire, sir, don't fire."
"It's all over," the captain said grimly. "Mr. Hartwell, march your men forward, shoot any scoundrel instantly whom you find with arms in his hands, collect all the weapons and bring them aft.
"Now, Colonel Clifford," he said, turning to the officer in command of the regiment, "if you go below with the officers, you can unloose the noncommissioned officers; they will be able to point out to you the ringleaders in this business. They had better be ironed at once and put into the hold. You will have no more trouble now, I fancy."
In ten minutes the whole of the arms had been collected and stored up, the noncommissioned officers had pointed out some twenty of the ringleaders, and these were safely in irons below, while a strong guard of armed sailors was placed between decks to see that there was no renewal of insubordinate conduct. There was, however, no fear of this; the men were thoroughly cowed and humiliated by the failure of their plan, and each was occupied only in hoping that he had not been sufficiently conspicuous to be handed over in the morning to join the prisoners below.
There was no more sleep that night on board the ship. After breakfast two courts martial were held, the one by the naval, the other by the military officers. The latter sentenced two men, who were convicted on the testimony of the noncommissioned officers as having been the leaders, to be hung, and the sentence was at once carried out. The regiment was formed in close order on deck unarmed and witnessed the execution of their comrades, who were hung up to the extremities of the main yard. The other prisoners were sentenced to two hundred lashes apiece--a punishment which was, according to the ideas of the time, very lenient, such a punishment being frequently administered for comparatively trifling offenses, and the prisoners considered themselves fortunate in escaping hanging, for which, indeed, they had prepared themselves.
Previous to the administration of their punishment the colonel addressed the men, and told them that all the ringleaders had been found guilty and sentenced to death, but that the members of the court martial had agreed with him that, considering the youth and inexperience of the offenders and the whole circumstances of the case, it would be possible to remit the death sentence, confident that the prisoners and the whole of the regiment would recognize the leniency with which they had been treated, and would return to their duty with a firm and hearty determination to do all in their power to atone for their misconduct, and to show themselves true and worthy soldiers of the queen. If this was the case, no further notice would be taken of the error; but at the same time he warned them that he had by him a long list of men who had taken a prominent part in the affair, and that the first time any of these misconducted themselves they might be well assured that no mercy would be shown to them.
The naval court martial showed no greater severity than that administered by the military officers. The vessel was short handed, and moreover the officers did not wish the stigma to attach to the ship of a serious mutiny among the crew. Had any of these been hung, the matter must have been reported; but as none of the crew had absolutely taken part in the rising, however evident it was that they intended to do so, no sentences of death were passed. But a number of the men were sentenced to be flogged more or less severely, those who had but lately been pressed getting off with comparatively light punishments, while the heaviest sentences were passed on the older hands concerned in the affair.
The arms of the troops continued to be kept under a strong guard until, ten days later, the rest of the fleet were seen, just as the northern point of Portugal was made out. A few hours later the fleet was united; and the next day, the wind dying entirely away, Colonel Clifford proceeded in a boat to the flagship to report to the Earl of Peterborough the mutiny which had taken place in his regiment, and its successful suppression.
Immediately the mutiny had been put down Jack Stilwell had stolen away and rejoined the soldiers forward; and although there was much wonder among the men as to how the affair had been discovered, none suspected him of having betrayed them, and believed that the officers must have been warned by some word incautiously let drop in their hearing. Only to Sergeant Edwards did Jack reveal what had taken place.
"Do you know, lad, I guessed as you had had a hand in the business somehow. When I was standing tied up against the mast I had to keep my mouth shut; but I had the use of my eyes, and I could not make you out among them. I might have missed you, of course; but your company was formed up close to where I was standing, and I thought I should have seen you if you had been there. I could not think what had become of you; but when the men came pouring down again without their arms, and I heard them cursing and swearing because the sailors and the officers and all was found in readiness to receive them, it somehow came to my mind as that you was at the bottom of it--though how, I could not for the life of me make out, for I knew you had gone below when I did."
"I wish, sergeant, that when you are examined, as you will be about this affair, you will ask Captain Curtis to ask the colonel not to let it be known publicly that it was I who warned him, for my life would be unbearable among the men if they knew it. And if it didn't happen before, it would be certain that the first time we went into action I should get a bullet in my back."
"You are right there, my lad. I will tell the captain. You may be sure your conduct won't be overlooked; but at present, as you say, the less said about it the better."
An hour after Colonel Clifford had gone on board the flagship the boat returned with orders that Private Stilwell, of D Company, was to go back with them. The order was given to Captain Curtis, who sent first for Sergeant Edwards.
"Go forward, sergeant, and tell Stilwell that he is to go on board the flagship. No doubt the colonel has spoken to the general. Tell the lad apart, and let him make his way aft here to the gangway quietly, so that he won't be noticed. If any of the men happen to see him going off in the boat, they may suppose that the colonel has only sent for some man who can write; and naturally if the captain had ordered me to choose a man, I should have picked him out."
On reaching the deck of the flagship Jack was conducted to the admiral's cabin. At the head of the table was seated a man whom Jack recognized at once, from the description he had heard of him, as the Earl of Peterborough. He was small and very spare in person, his features were pleasant, his nose somewhat prominent, his eye lively and penetrating. He had laid aside the immense wig which, in accordance with the custom, he wore when abroad or at court in England; and Jack saw his hair, which was light brown and somewhat scanty. The admiral of the fleet sat next to him; for although Peterborough had the command of the expedition both at land and sea, an admiral was in command of the fleet under him. Colonel Clifford was seated on the earl's left, and several other naval and military officers were at the table.
"Well, young man," Peterborough said, "Colonel Clifford has been telling us that it is due to you that I have not a regiment the less under my orders, and that her majesty has not lost a ship from the list of her navy. He says that the whole thing was so quickly done that he has not been able to learn the full particulars from you, and that he has abstained from questioning you because you did not wish any suspicion to be excited among the men of the part you played in it. Now, please to tell me the whole history of the affair."
Jack thereupon related how his suspicions had been aroused by Sergeant Edwards, who was only waiting for sufficient opportunity and a certainty of information to divulge the plot to the officers. He then related his awaking as the mutiny began, and the steps he had taken to warn the officers. When he had done, the earl said:
"You have acted smartly and well, young man; you have shown promptness, courage, and fidelity. You speak above your rank. What is your parentage?"
"My father was a clergyman, sir," Jack said, "but being dispossessed of his living in the troubles, could not make his case known on the return of King Charles; but he supported himself by teaching, and gave me such education as he could, in hope that I too should enter the ministry. But my thoughts did not incline that way; and when he died, and also my mother, I thought of going to sea, when it happened that I was pressed for a soldier. And seeing that it was so, I made up my mind to make the best of things."
"And you have done so, young man; and right glad am I that your education and parentage are such that I can reward you as I should wish. I give you a discharge now from your regiment and appoint you ensign. You will at present form one of my staff; and glad am I to have so dashing and able a young officer ready to hand for any perilous service I may require."
On the 20th of June the fleet sailed up the Tagus.
Jack had not returned on board his ship.
"Better stop here," the earl said. "If you went back, and they heard you were promoted, likely enough some of them might toss you overboard on a dark night. We will set the tailors at once to work to rig you up an undress uniform. You can get a full dress made at Lisbon. Not that you will be wanting to wear that much, for we have come out for rough work; still, when we ride triumphantly into any town we have taken, it is as well to make a good impression upon the Spanish donnas. And, say what they will, fine feathers go a long way toward making fine birds. Do you write a good hand?"
"I think I write a pretty fair one, sir."
"That is good. I write a crabbed stick myself, and there's nothing I hate more than writing; and as for these young gentlemen, I don't think they will be of much use for that sort of thing. However, I shan't have a great deal of it. But you shall act as my secretary when necessary."
The earl's orders to the tailors were peremptory to lose no time in fitting Jack with an undress suit, and in twenty-four hours he was able to join the mess of the young officers and volunteers who accompanied the general. These were all young men of good family; and having heard how Jack had saved the ship from mutiny, they received him among them with great heartiness, which was increased when they found that he was well educated and the son of a gentleman.
It was a great satisfaction to Jack, that owing to the kindness and generosity of the earl, he was able to pay his expenses at mess and to live on equal terms with them; for the general had dropped a purse with a hundred guineas into his hand, saying:
"This will be useful to you, lad, for you must live like the other officers. I owe it to you many times over for having saved me that regiment, upon whose equipment and fitting out I had spent well nigh a hundred times that sum."
Some of the officers were but little older than Jack, and by the time the ship dropped anchor in the Tagus he was quite at home with them.
"What a lovely city!" he said as he leaned over the bulwark and looked at the town standing on the steep hills sloping down to the river.
"Yes, indeed," Graham, one of the young officers, agreed. "But I fancy the Portuguese are but poor creatures. The Earl of Galway writes in his dispatches that they are great at promises, but he finds he can expect little assistance from them."
"Have you any idea whether we are going to land here?"
"No; wherever we land, you may be sure it won't be here. The Earl of Galway has been here two or three months, and he has some good regiments with him. Our chief would be losing his position did we land here, as he has a separate command, and would of course be under Galway if the forces were joined. The Dutch fleet is to be here in a day or two, and the Archduke Charles sailed a fortnight before we did; and as we have made a very slow voyage of it, he ought to have been here long ago. What a talk there will be! What with the archduke, and the Portuguese, and the Dutch, and the Prince of Hesse Darmstadt, and the Earls of Galway and Peterborough, and probably every one of them with his own ideas and opinions, it will be hard to come to any arrangement. Besides there will be dispatches from the British court, and the court of the Netherlands, and the Austrian emperor, all of whom will probably differ as to what is the best thing to be done. There will be a nice to do altogether. There's one thing to be said, our chief can out talk them all; and he can say such disagreeable things when he likes that he will be likely to get his own way, if it's only to get rid of him. There goes his boat into the water. What an impatient fellow he is, to be sure."
No sooner had Peterborough landed than he turned all his energies to obtain the supplies which had been denied to him at home, and after much difficulty he succeeded in borrowing a hundred thousand pounds from a Jew named Curtisos on treasury bills on Lord Godolphin, with the condition that the lender should be given the contract for the supply of provisions and other requisites for the army. The day that the earl had carried out this arrangement he returned on board radiant. Hitherto he had been terribly out of temper, and Jack, who had become his amanuensis, had written at his dictation many very sharp notes to every one with whom he had come in contact. As soon as he came on board he sent for Jack to his cabin.
"Sit down, Mr. Stilwell. I have a dispatch for you to write to the lord treasurer. I have got my money, so that difficulty is at an end. It is glorious! I couldn't get a penny out of them before I sailed, now I have got as much as I want. I would give a thousand guineas out of my own pocket to see Godolphin's face when he reads my dispatch, and finds that he's got to honor bills for a hundred thousand pounds; it will be better than any comedy that ever was acted. How the pompous old owl will fret and fume! But he will have to find the money for all that. He can't begin the campaign by dishonoring bills of her majesty's general, or no one would trust us hereafter. You haven't seen my lord treasurer, Mr. Stilwell?"
"No, sir, I have not been at court at all."
"That's a pity," the earl said; "for you lose the cream of the joke. Now, I shall go on shore tomorrow and get everything that is wanted, and then the sooner we are off the better; we have been here a fortnight, and I am sick of the place."
Jack was by no means sick of Lisbon, for he enjoyed himself vastly. The town was full of troops--English, Dutch, and Portuguese. Of an evening there were fetes and galas of all kinds, and as the earl always attended these, Jack and the other young officers were permitted to go ashore either in full uniform to take part in the fetes, or to enjoy themselves according to their fancies.
As Graham had predicted, it was some time before any conclusion was arrived at as to the destination of the fleet. Several councils were held, but no decision was come to. Peterborough's orders were so vague that he could use his own discretion. He had, indeed, been recommended to prevail upon the Archduke Charles to accompany him and to proceed to Italy, where he was to form a junction with Victor Amadeus, Duke of Savoy, who was sorely pressed by the armies of France.
A messenger, however, arrived by sea with an order from the queen that the fleet should proceed to the coast of Catalonia, in consequence of information which had been sent to the British court of the favorable disposition of the Catalans toward the Archduke Charles. This was in accordance with the counsel which the Prince of Hesse Darmstadt had been strenuously urging, and his recent success in the capture and subsequent defense of Gibraltar gave weight to his words and effaced the recollection of his failure before Barcelona in the previous year.
The final decision rested in a great measure with the Archduke Charles, who at last decided to proceed with Lord Peterborough and land upon the coast of Spain and test the disposition of his Valencian and Catalan subjects. The reasons for Peterborough's falling in with the decision to move on Barcelona are explained in a dispatch which he dictated to Sir George Rooke on the 20th of July.
"Upon the letter of my Lord Godolphin and the secretary of state, the King of Spain, his ministers, and my Lord Galway and myself have concluded there was no other attempt to be made but upon Catalonia, where all advices agree that six thousand men and twelve hundred horse are ready expecting our arrival with a general goodwill of all the people. The Portuguese have entirely refused to join in any design against Cadiz, and by a copy of my Lord Galway's letter you will find he is in an utter despair of their attempting anything this year, and that by our instructions it will appear that there is no other enterprise left for our choice."
Peterborough's military force was, however, wholly insufficient for such an enterprise. He prevailed upon Lord Galway to give him a part of Lord Raby's and General Cunningham's regiments of English dragoons, although the Portuguese strenuously opposed this being done. Their conduct, indeed, at this time was very similar to that which they adopted a hundred years later toward the Duke of Wellington, throwing every conceivable obstacle in the English commander's way, and opposing every plan of action which he suggested. Many of the dragoons were without horses, but Lord Peterborough mounted them on animals which he bought with some of the money he had procured from Curtisos.
The Prince of Hesse Darmstadt went on ahead to Gibraltar to arrange for a portion of the garrison to accompany the expedition. On the 28th of July the Archduke Charles embarked with Lord Peterborough on board the Ranelagh, and an hour later the fleet put to sea. Off Tangiers they were joined by the squadron under Sir Cloudesley Shovel, and a few days later they reached the Bay of Gibraltar.
Here they found that the Prince of Hesse Darmstadt had arranged that the battalion of the guards, with three other veteran regiments that had borne part in the gallant defense of the fortress, were to be embarked, and two of the newly raised corps Lord Peterborough had brought out from England were to take their place in the garrison. The regiment to which Jack had belonged was one of these. As soon as he heard the news ho took the first opportunity of speaking to the earl.
"I have a favor to ask, sir."
"What is that, lad?"
"It is, sir, that Sergeant Edwards, who, if you remember, advised me about warning the officers of the mutiny, should be transferred to one of the regiments coming on board."
"Certainly, my lad; I had not forgotten him. I truly wish that he had sufficient education to give him a commission. I sent to inquire of his colonel, but finding that he could not read or write, and that he would be out of place among the officers, I could not do it; but I will gladly take him with us on active service. It would be hard on a good soldier to be left behind with that mutinous set of rascals."
Jack had already heard from Sergeant Edwards, whom he had met several times on shore at Lisbon, and who had rejoiced most heartily at his promotion, that Lord Peterborough had sent him, through the colonel, a purse of fifty guineas as a reward for his conduct.
Jack immediately proceeded in a boat to his old vessel, with an order from the earl that the sergeant should be at once transferred into one of the regiments coming on board. The sergeant was delighted, for orders had already been received for the regiment to disembark and form part of the garrison.
An hour later the Archduke Charles landed, amid the thunder of the guns of the fleet and fortress, for here for the first time he was acknowledged as and received the honor due to the King of Spain. There was but little delay--Lord Peterborough's energy hurried every one else forward, and on the 5th of August the fleet again put to sea, the king and the Prince of Hesse Darmstadt accompanying it.
The winds were contrary, and it was not till the 11th that they anchored in Altea Bay, at the mouth of the Guadalaviar, on the Valencian coast. On the other side of the roadstead stood the castle and village of Denia. The expedition was received with good will by the people, who hated the ascendency of France at Madrid and were bitterly jealous of Castile.
As soon as the fleet anchored Peterborough caused a manifesto to be distributed among the people disclaiming any idea of aggrandizement on the part of Great Britain or her allies, or any intention of injuring the persons or property of Spaniards who were the lawful subjects of King Charles III.
"We come," said he, "to free you from the insupportable yoke of the government of foreigners, and from the slavery to which you have been reduced and sold to France by ill designing persons."
Several of the Spanish followers of the king landed to encourage the people, among them General Basset y Ramos, an active officer who was a Valencian by birth. The people rapidly assembled from the surrounding country and lined the shore shouting "Long live King Charles III!"
Abundant supplies of provisions were sent off to the fleet, for which, however, Peterborough insisted upon liberal payment being made.
A detachment of British infantry was landed to cover the operation of watering the fleet. The insurrection spread rapidly, and a thousand of the peasants seized the town of Denia for the king. A frigate and two bomb vessels crossed the bay and threatened the castle. This, although a magnificent pile of building, was but weakly fortified, and after a few shots had been fired it surrendered, and General Ramos with four hundred regular troops from the fleet landed and took possession, and amid the enthusiasm of the population Charles III was for the first time on Spanish ground proclaimed King of Spain and of the Indies.
The Earl of Peterborough now proposed a plan of the most brilliant and daring kind, and had his advice been taken the war would probably have terminated in a very short time, by securely seating Charles III upon the Spanish throne. Madrid was distant but fifty leagues from Altea Bay. Requena was the only town of strength that lay in the way; the rich country would have afforded ample provision and means of transport, and these the friendly portion of the people would have placed at the disposal of the army.
In the whole of Central Spain there was no force which could oppose him. All the troops of Philip were either on the frontier of Portugal or occupying the disaffected cities of the north. At Madrid there were but a few troops of horse; in a week then, and possibly without shedding a drop of blood, Charles might have been proclaimed king in the capital of Spain. The plan was, of course, not without danger. Marshal Tesse, with an overwhelming force, would threaten the left of the advancing army, and the garrisons of the northern cities, if united, could march with equal superiority of force upon its right; but Tesse would be followed by Lord Galway and the allied and Portuguese army, while Barcelona and the other strongholds of Catalonia would rise if their garrisons were withdrawn.
Even in the case of failure Peterborough could have retired safely through Valencia and have re-embarked on board the fleet, or could have marched to Gibraltar. The scheme was at once daring and judicious, but the Archduke Charles was slow and timid, and was controlled by the advice of his even slower and more cautious German advisers, and neither argument nor entreaty on the part of Peterborough could suffice to move him. The earl was in despair at so brilliant an opportunity being thrown away, and expressed himself with the greatest of bitterness in his letters home as to the impossibility of carrying out movements when embarrassed by the presence of the king and by the incapacity of the king's advisers.
However, finding that nothing could be done he re-embarked his troops, and the fleet sailed for Barcelona. It was not however, thought probable that a successful attempt could be made upon so strongly fortified a city, and it was determined that if upon inspection the chances of success should appear slight, the fleet and army should at once proceed, as originally intended, to the assistance of the Duke of Savoy.