Chapter XIX. A Sea Fight.
 

The instant the rowers were secured Harry Furness embraced his faithful follower William Long. He had learned from Jacob that the ship had appeared in sight about two in the afternoon, and that it was not thought likely by the sailors of the port that she would reach it until the breeze sprang up in the morning, although she might get within a distance of five or six miles. The whole party had, in concurrence with Harry's orders, brought with them their hoes, which were the only weapons that were attainable. It was agreed that their best course would be to row along the shore until near the lights of the port, then to row out and lay on their oars half a mile beyond the entrance, where, as it was a starlight night, they would assuredly see the ship if she had come to anchor. As soon as the first dawn commenced they were to row out and meet the ship. Wrappings of cloth were fastened round the rowlocks to prevent noise, twelve men took the oars, the boat was shoved down into the sea, and they started on their voyage. The boat rowed but slowly, and it was, Harry judged, past three o'clock when they reached the point they had fixed on off the mouth of the harbor. No ship was visible outside the port, although there was sufficient light to have seen its masts had it been there.

"We had better go another half-mile further out," he said. "Should they take it into their heads on shore, when they see us, to send a fast boat out to inquire what we are doing, it might overtake us before we could reach the ship."

An hour after they had ceased rowing a faint streak of daylight appeared in the west, and a ship could be seen about three miles seaward, while the shore was nearly that distance behind them, for they had been deceived by the darkness, and were much further out than they had thought.

"It is all the better," Harry said. "It must be some time before they think of sending a boat after us, and we shall reach the ship before it can overtake us."

As soon as it became broad daylight Harry took one of the oars himself, and all save the twelve rowers, and Jacob and William Long who sat in the stern, lay down in the bottom of the boat, where some pieces of matting, used for covering cargo, were thrown over them. There was not as yet a breath of wind, and the ship's sails hung idly against the masts. After three-quarters of an hour's hard rowing the barge approached her side. There were only a few figures on the deck.

"Are you the captain of this vessel?" Jacob asked one who seemed to him of that condition.

"Ay, ay," the sailor said. "What is the news?"

"I have come off from the island," Jacob answered, "by orders of his worshipful the governor, to warn you that there is an insurrection among the slaves of the island, and to bid you not to anchor outside, or to wait for your papers being examined, but to enter at once."

By this time the boat was alongside, and Jacob climbed on board.

"You have brought some troops with you?" he asked, "They will be wanted."

"Yes, I have eighty men whom I have brought as a reinforcement to the garrison of the island, besides a hundred and fifty prisoners from Waterford, stowed away below the hatches forward. Hullo! why, what is this? Treason!"

As he spoke Harry, followed by the rowers, swarmed on board armed with their hoes. The captain and the men round him were at once knocked down. The sentries over the fore hatchway discharged their muskets, and, with some of the crew stationed there, made aft. But Harry's party had now all joined him on deck. A rush was made, and the decks entirely cleared. A few of the soldiers who came running up through the after hatchway on hearing the tumult and noise of the fight were beaten down and hurled below on those following them, and the hatches were slipped on and secured. Then a triumphant shout of "God and the King!" was raised.

The forehatches were now lifted, and the prisoners invited to come up. They rushed on deck, delighted and bewildered, for it was the first time that they had seen the sun since they left England, having been kept below, where many had died from confinement and bad air, while all were sorely weakened and brought low. Among them were many officers, of whom several were known to Harry--although they had some difficulty in recognizing in the man, bronzed brown by his exposure to the sun and clad in a tattered shirt and breeches--their former comrade, Harry Furness. A search was at once made for arms, and ranged in the passage to the captain's cabin were found twenty muskets for the use of the crew, together with as many boarding pikes and sabers. Ammunition was not wanting. The arms were divided among Harry's band of forty men, and the twenty strongest of those they had rescued. The hoes were given to the remainder.

The captain, who had by this time recovered from the blow dealt him by Harry, was now questioned. He was told that if he would consent with his crew to navigate the vessel to Holland, he should there be allowed to go free with the ship, which it seemed was his own property; but the cargo would be sold as a fair prize, to satisfy the needs of his captors. If he refused, he would be sent with his crew on shore in the barge, and his ship and cargo would alike be lost to him. The captain had no hesitation in accepting the first of these alternatives, as he would be, although no gainer by the voyage, yet no loser either. He told Harry that for himself he had no sympathy with the rulers in London, and that he sorely pitied the prisoners he was bringing over.

The hatch was now a little lifted, and the prisoners below summoned to surrender. This they refused to do. Harry and his men then, with much labor, lowered a four-pounder carronade down the forehatch, and wheeled it to within a few feet of the bulkhead which divided that portion where the prisoners had been confined from the after part. The gun was loaded to the muzzle with grape, and discharged, tearing a hole through the bulkhead and killing and wounding many within. Then the officer in command offered to surrender.

Harry ordered them at once to hand up all their firelocks and other arms through the hatchway, which was again lifted for the purpose. When those on deck had armed themselves with those weapons, the prisoners were ordered to come up, bringing their wounded with them. As they reached the deck they were passed down into the barge, from which all the oars save four had been removed. Six of the soldiers had been killed, and the remainder having entered the barge, where they were stowed as thickly as they could pack, the head rope was dropped, and they were allowed to row away. Besides the eighty muskets of the guard, a store of firelocks, sufficient to arm all on board, was found; these having been intended for the use of the garrison. A gentle breeze had by this time sprung up from the land, and the ship's head was turned seaward.

The boat was but half a mile behind them when it was joined by an eight-oared galley, which had been seen rowing out from the harbor, whence, doubtless, it had been dispatched to inquire into the errand of the boat seen rowing off to the ship. After lying alongside the barge for a minute or two she turned her head, and made back again with all speed.

"You would have done more wisely," the captain said to Harry, "if you had retained the prisoners on board until the second boat came alongside. You could have swamped that, and sent those in it back with the others, who will not reach shore until late this afternoon, for with only four oars they will make no way until the land breeze falls."

"It would have been better--far better"--Harry agreed--"but one does not always think of things at the right time. What ships are there in port, Jacob?"

"There is the vessel I came by and two others," Jacob replied, "all about the same size as this, and mounting each as many guns. You have eight, I see, captain; the one I came out in had ten."

"They will pursue us," the captain said, "you may be sure. It is known that we are not a fast sailer, and I think, sir, you will have to fight for it."

"So be it," Harry said. "There are two hundred of us, and though they might sink the ship, they will assuredly never carry it by boarding. There is not a man here who would not rather die fighting than spend his life in slavery on that island."

The vessel had gone about six miles on her course, when from the topmast the captain announced that the galley had gained the port, now twelve miles distant. "There is a gun," he said, five minutes later. "They have taken the alarm now." He then descended to the deck, leaving a sailor in the tops. Two hours later the latter announced that the topsails of three ships coming out from the harbor were visible.

"We have nigh thirty miles' start," the captain said. "They will not be up to us till to-morrow at midday."

"Do you think it would be any use to try to lose them by altering our course in the night?" Harry asked.

"No," the captain answered. "It is but ten o'clock in the day now. They will be within ten or twelve miles by nightfall, for the wind is stronger near the land than it is here, and with their night glasses they could hardly miss us on a bright starlight night. I am ready to try if you like, for I do not wish to see the ship knocked into matchwood."

After some deliberation it was determined to hold their course, and as night came on it was found that escape would have been out of the question, for the vessels behind had overhauled the Lass of Devon faster than had been anticipated, and were little more than five miles astern. They could be plainly seen after darkness set in, with the night glasses.

"What you must do, captain, is to lay her aboard the first which comes up," Harry said; "even if they have brought all the garrison we shall be far stronger than any one of them taken singly."

During the night the pursuing vessels lessened sail and maintained a position about a mile astern of the chase, evidently intending to attack in the morning. The day spent in the open air, with plenty of the best eating and drinking which could be found in the ship, had greatly reinvigorated the released prisoners, and when at daybreak the vessels behind were seen to be closing up, all were ready for the fight. The enemy, sure that their prey could not escape them, did not fire a shot as they came up in her wake. The two immediately behind were but a cable's length asunder, and evidently meant to engage on either side. Harry ordered the greater portion of men below, leaving only sufficient on deck to fight the guns, to whose use many were well accustomed. The wind was very light, and the ships were scarcely stealing through the water.

"We had better fight them broadside to broadside," Harry said; "but keep on edging down toward the ship to leeward."

The fight began with a heavy fire of musketry from the tops, where, in all three ships, the best marksmen had been posted. Then, when they were abreast of each other, the guns opened fire. The vessels were little more than fifty yards apart. For half an hour the engagement continued without intermission. Both ships of the enemy had brought all their guns over to the sides opposed to the Royalist vessel, and fought eighteen guns to his eight. Fearing to injure each other, both aimed entirely at the hull of their opponent, while Harry's guns were pointed at the masts and rigging. The sides of the Lass of Devon were splintered and broken in all directions, while those of his assailants showed scarcely a shot mark. The fire of his men in the tops--all old soldiers--had been so heavy and deadly that they had killed most of the marksmen in the enemy's tops, and had driven the rest below. All this time the Lass of Devon was raked by the fire of the third vessel which had come up behind her, and raked her fore and aft. At the end of the half-hour the mainmast of the vessel to windward, which had been several times struck, fell with a crash.

"Now, captain, lay her aboard the ship to leeward."

They had already edged down within twenty yards of this ship, and slowly as they were moving through the water, in another three or four minutes the vessels grated together. At Harry's first order the whole of his men had swarmed on deck, pouring in such a fire of musketry that none could stand alive at the enemy's tiller to keep her head away as the Lass of Devon approached. As the vessels touched Harry leaped from the bulwark on to the deck of the enemy, followed by Jacob and his men. The Parliamentary troops had also rushed on deck, and, although inferior in numbers, for they counted but eighty men, they made a sturdy stand. Gradually, however, they were driven back, when an exclamation from Mike, who, as usual, was close to Harry, caused him to look round.

The ship behind had, the moment she perceived the Lass of Devon bearing down upon her consort, crowded on more sail, and was now ranging up on the other side of her. Bidding Jacob press the enemy hard with half his force, Harry, with the remainder, leaped back on to the deck of his own ship, just as the enemy boarded from the other side. The fight was now a desperate one. The vessel which had last arrived bore a hundred of the troops of the garrison, and the numbers were thus nearly equal. The Royalists, however, fought with a greater desperation, for they knew the fate that awaited them if conquered. Gradually they cleared the deck of the Lass of Devon of the enemy, and in turn boarded their opponent. William Long led thirty men into the tops of the Lass of Devon, and poured their fire into the crowded enemy. Every step of the deck was fiercely contested, but at last the Roundheads gave way. Some threw down their arms and called for quarter, others ran below. The Royalists, with shouts of "Remember Drogheda!" fell upon them, and many of those who had surrendered were cut down before Harry could arrest the slaughter.

A loud cheer announced the victory, and the men in the other ship, who had hitherto, although with difficulty, made front against the attacks of Jacob and his men, now lost heart and ran below. The wind had by this time entirely dropped, but battening the prisoners below, Harry set his men to thrust the ships past one another, until they were sufficiently in line for their guns to be brought to bear upon the third enemy. Crippled as she was by the loss of her mast, she immediately hauled down her colors, and the victory was complete.

The prisoners were brought on deck and disarmed. Harry found that the boats of the four ships would carry two hundred men closely packed, and but a hundred and eighty of the two hundred and fifty troops who had sailed in pursuit remained alive. These, with sufficient provisions and water to last for three days, were made to take their places in the boats, and told to row back to the island, which they should be able to regain in two days at the utmost. The crews of the captured ships were willing enough to obey the orders of their captors, for the sailors had in general but little sympathy with the doings of Parliament. Harry had lost in killed and wounded forty-two men, and the rest he divided between the four ships, giving about thirty-five men to each. He himself, with Jacob, William Long, and Mike, remained on board the Lass of Devon, officers being placed in command of the troops on board the other ships, which were ordered to sail in company with her. Twenty-four hours were spent in getting a jury-mast set in place of that which had been shot away. When this was completed the four ships hoisted their canvas and sailed together for Holland.

They met with no adventure until near the mouth of the English Channel, when one morning a fleet of eight ships was perceived. The captain of the Lass of Devon at once pronounced them to be ships of war, and their rate of sailing speedily convinced Harry that there was no chance of escape. Against such odds resistance was useless, and the other ships were signaled to lower their topsails in answer to the gun which the leading ship of the squadron fired. Anticipating a return to captivity, if not instant death, all on board watched the approaching men-of-war. Presently these, when close at hand, brought up into the wind, and a boat was lowered. It rowed rapidly to the Lass of Devon, which lay somewhat the nearest to them. Harry stood on the quarter-deck ready to surrender his sword. The boat came alongside, an officer leaped on deck and advanced toward him.

Harry could scarce believe his eyes; this gallant, in the gay dress of a cavalier officer, could be no follower of Cromwell. The officer paused and gazed in astonishment at Harry. The recognition was mutual, and the words "Furness" and "Elphinstone" broke from their lips.

"Why, Elphinstone, what squadron is that?"

"Prince Rupert's, to be sure," the officer said.

"What! did you take us for the Roundhead fleet?"

Harry made no reply, but taking off his hat, shouted to his men, "It is the Royalist fleet. Three cheers for Prince Rupert."

A cheer of joy burst from the men, caught up and re-echoed by the crews of the other ships. Harry led the officer into his cabin, and rapidly explained to him the circumstances which had taken place; ten minutes later, entering a boat, he rowed off to the flagship.

"Why! Harry Furness!" exclaimed Prince Rupert, "whither do you spring from? I heard of you last as being sent to slave in the Bermudas, and methought, old friend, that you would stand the heat better than most, since you had served such a sharp apprenticeship with me in that oven you wot of. And now tell me how is it that you have got free, and that I find you sailing here with four ships?"

Harry related his adventure. When he had finished Prince Rupert said:

"I envy you, Furness, in that you have three faithful friends. One is as much as most men could even hope for, whereas you have three, who each seem willing to go through fire and water for you. They do remind me of the wonderful servants of whom my old nurse used to tell me as a child. They were given by a fairy to some fortunate prince, and whenever he got into sore straits were ready to do the most impossible things to free him from them. Now you must take up your quarters here until we reach Holland, whither I am on the point of sailing. We have picked up several fat prizes, which I have sent to Italy to sell, to pay the wages of my men, for his gracious majesty's exchequer is of the emptiest. But I hear that Blake is about to put to sea with the ships of the Parliament, and I care not to risk my fleet, for they will be needed to escort his majesty to Scotland are long."

"Are the Scots then again inclined to his majesty's cause? Were I King Charles, I would not trust myself to them," Harry said. "They sold his father, and would sell him--at least Argyll and the knaves with him would do so."

"I like not these cold, calculating men of the north, myself," Prince Rupert said, "and trust them as little. Nor would my cousin venture himself again among them, if he took my advice. His majesty, however, is no more given to the taking of advice than was his father before him, unless it be of Buckingham and Wilmot, and other dissolute young lords, whose counsel and company are alike evil for him."

The same afternoon the fleet sailed for Holland, the four merchantmen accompanying it. Upon their arrival there Harry sold the three ships which he had taken, together with such cargo as was found in their holds. He sold also the cargo of the Lass of Devon, leaving the ship itself, as he had promised, to the captain, its owner, and making him and the sailors a handsome present for the way they stood by him and worked the ship during the action. The rest of the proceeds he divided between the officers and men who had sailed with him, and finding that these were ready still to share his fortunes, he formed them into a regiment for the service of the king, enlisting another hundred Royalists, whom he found there well-nigh starving, in his ranks.

It was at the end of April, 1650, that Harry reached Hamburg, and a month later came the news of the defeat and death of the Earl of Montrose. He had two months before sailed from Hamburg to the Orkneys, where he had landed with a thousand men. Crossing to the mainland he had marched down into Sunderland. There he had met a body of cavalry under Colonel Strachan, in a pass in the parish of Kincardine, now called Craigchonichan, or the Rock of Lamentation. The recruits he had raised in Orkney and the north fled at once. The Scotch and Germans he had brought with him fought bravely, but without effect, and were utterly defeated, scattering in all directions. Montrose wandered for many days in disguise, but was at last captured, and was brought to Edinburgh with every indignity. He was condemned to death by the Covenanters, and executed. So nobly did he bear himself at his death that the very indignities with which Argyll and his minions loaded him, in order to make him an object of derision to the people, failed in their object, and even those who hated him most were yet struck with pity and admiration at his noble aspect and bearing. Argyll stood at a balcony to see him pass, and Montrose foretold a similar fate for this double-dyed traitor, a prediction which was afterward fulfilled. Harry deeply regretted the loss of this gallant and chivalrous gentleman.