When London Burned by G. A. Henty
Chapter XIII. The Battle of Lowestoft
The Earl returned with his son and Cyril to town, and the latter spent the night in the City.
"I do not know, Cyril," Captain Dave said, as they talked over his departure, "that you run much greater risk in going than do we in staying here. The Plague makes progress, and although it has not invaded the City, we can hardly hope that it will be long before it appears here. There are many evil prophecies abroad, and it is the general opinion that a great misfortune hangs over us, and they say that many have prepared to leave London. I have talked the matter over with my wife. We have not as yet thought of going, but should the Plague come heavily, it may be that we shall for a time go away. There will be no business to be done, for vessels will not come up the Thames and risk infection, nor, indeed, would they be admitted into ports, either in England or abroad, after coming from an infected place. Therefore I could leave without any loss in the way of trade. It will, of course, depend upon the heaviness of the malady, but if it becomes widespread we shall perhaps go for a visit to my wife's cousin, who lives near Gloucester, and who has many times written to us urging us to go down with Nellie for a visit to her. Hitherto, business has prevented my going, but if all trade ceases, it would be a good occasion for us, and such as may never occur again. Still, I earnestly desire that it may not arise, for it cannot do so without sore trouble and pain alighting on the City. Did the Earl tell you, Cyril, what he has done with regard to John?"
"No; he did not speak to me on the subject."
"His steward came here three days since with a gold watch and chain, as a gift from the Earl. The watch has an inscription on the case, saying that it is presented to John Wilkes from the Earl of Wisbech, as a memorial of his gratitude for the great services rendered to his daughters. Moreover, he brought a letter from the Earl saying that if John should at any time leave my service, owing to my death or retirement from business, or from John himself wishing, either from age or other reason, to leave me, he would place at his service a cottage and garden on his estate, and a pension of twenty pounds a year, to enable him to live in comfort for the remainder of his days. John is, as you may suppose, mightily pleased, for though I would assuredly never part with him as long as I live, and have by my will made provision that will keep him from want in case I die before him, it was mighty pleasant to receive so handsome a letter and offer of service from the Earl. Nellie wrote for him a letter in which he thanked the Earl for the kindness of his offer, for which, although he hoped he should never be forced to benefit from it, he was none the less obliged and grateful, seeing that he had done nothing that any other bystander would not have done, to deserve it."
Early the next morning Sydney Oliphant rode up to the door, followed by two grooms, one of whom had a led horse, and the other a sumpter-mule, which was partly laden. Captain Dave went down with Cyril to the door.
"I pray you to enter, my Lord," he said. "My wife will not be happy unless you take a cup of posset before you start. Moreover, she and my daughter desire much to see you, as you are going to sail with Sir Cyril, whom we regard as a member of our family."
"I will come up right willingly," the young noble said, leaping lightly from his horse. "If your good dame's posset is as good as the wine the Earl, my father, tells me you gave him, it must be good indeed; for he told me he believed he had none in his cellar equal to it."
He remained for a few minutes upstairs, chatting gaily, vowing that the posset was the best he had ever drank, and declaring to Nellie that he regarded as a favourable omen for his expedition that he should have seen so fair a face the last thing before starting. He shook hands with John Wilkes heartily when he came up to say that Cyril's valises were all securely packed on the horses, and then went off, promising to send Captain Dave a runnet of the finest schiedam from the Dutch Admiral's ship.
"Truly, I am thankful you came up," Cyril said, as they mounted and rode off. "Before you came we were all dull, and the Dame and Mistress Nellie somewhat tearful; Now we have gone off amidst smiles, which is vastly more pleasant."
Crossing London Bridge, they rode through Southwark, and then out into the open country. Each had a light valise strapped behind the saddle, and the servants had saddle-bags containing the smaller articles of luggage, while the sumpter-mule carried two trunks with their clothes and sea necessaries. It was late in the evening when they arrived at Chatham. Here they put up at an hotel which was crowded with officers of the Fleet, and with Volunteers like themselves.
"I should grumble at these quarters, Cyril," Sydney said, as the landlord, with many apologies, showed them into a tiny attic, which was the only place he had unoccupied, "were it not that we are going to sea to-morrow, and I suppose that our quarters will be even rougher there. However, we may have elbow-room for a time, for most of the Volunteers will not join, I hear, until the last thing before the Fleet sails, and it may be a fortnight yet before all the ships are collected. I begged my father to let me do the same, but he goes back again to-day to Sevenoaks, and he liked not the idea of my staying in town, seeing that the Plague is spreading so rapidly. I would even have stayed in the country had he let me, but he was of opinion that I was best on board--in the first place, because I may not get news down there in time to join the Fleet before it sails, and in the second, that I might come to get over this sickness of the sea, and so be fit and able to do my part when we meet the Dutch. This was so reasonable that I could urge nothing against it; for, in truth, it would be a horrible business if I were lying like a sick dog, unable to lift my head, while our men were fighting the Dutch. I have never been to sea, and know not how I shall bear it. Are you a good sailor?"
"Yes; I used to go out very often in a fishing-boat at Dunkirk, and never was ill from the first. Many people are not ill at all, and it will certainly be of an advantage to you to be on board for a short time in quiet waters before setting out for sea."
On going downstairs, Lord Oliphant found several young men of his acquaintance among those staying in the house. He introduced Cyril to them. But the room was crowded and noisy; many of those present had drunk more than was good for them, and it was not long before Cyril told his friend that he should go up to bed.
"I am not accustomed to noisy parties, Sydney, and feel quite confused with all this talk."
"You will soon get accustomed to it, Cyril. Still, do as you like. I dare say I shall not be very long before I follow you."
The next morning after breakfast they went down to the quay, and took a boat to the ship, which was lying abreast of the dockyard. The captain, on their giving their names, consulted the list.
"That is right, gentlemen, though indeed I know not why you should have come down until we are ready to sail, which may not be for a week or more, though we shall go out from here to-morrow and join those lying in the Hope; for indeed you can be of no use while we are fitting, and would but do damage to your clothes and be in the way of the sailors. It is but little accommodation you will find on board here, though we will do the best we can for you."
"We do not come about accommodation, captain," Lord Oliphant laughed, "and we have brought down gear with us that will not soil, or rather, that cannot be the worse for soiling. There are three or four others at the inn where we stopped last night who are coming on board, but I hear that the rest of the Volunteers will probably join when the Fleet assembles in Yarmouth roads."
"Then they must be fonder of journeying on horseback than I am," the captain said. "While we are in the Hope, where, indeed, for aught I know, we may tarry but a day or two, they could come down by boat conveniently without trouble, whereas to Yarmouth it is a very long ride, with the risk of losing their purses to the gentlemen of the road. Moreover, though the orders are at present that the Fleet gather at Yarmouth, and many are already there 'tis like that it may be changed in a day for Harwich or the Downs. I pray you get your meals at your inn to-day, for we are, as you see, full of work taking on board stores. If it please you to stay and watch what is doing here you are heartily welcome, but please tell the others that they had best not come off until late in the evening, by which time I will do what I can to have a place ready for them to sleep. We shall sail at the turn of the tide, which will be at three o'clock in the morning."
Oliphant wrote a few lines to the gentlemen on shore, telling them that the captain desired that none should come on board until the evening, and having sent it off by their boatmen, telling them to return in time to take them back to dinner, he and Cyril mounted to the poop and surveyed the scene round them. The ship was surrounded with lighters and boats from the dockyards, and from these casks and barrels, boxes and cases, were being swung on board by blocks from the yards, or rolled in at the port-holes. A large number of men were engaged at the work, and as fast as the stores came on board they were seized by the sailors and carried down into the hold, the provisions piled in tiers of barrels, the powder-kegs packed in the magazine.
"'Tis like an ant-hill," Cyril said. "'Tis just as I have seen when a nest has been disturbed. Every ant seizes a white egg as big as itself, and rushes off with it to the passage below."
"They work bravely," his companion said. "Every man seems to know that it is important that the ship should be filled up by to-night. See! the other four vessels lying above us are all alike at work, and may, perhaps, start with us in the morning. The other ships are busy, too, but not as we are. I suppose they will take them in hand when they have got rid of us."
"I am not surprised that the captain does not want idlers here, for, except ourselves, every man seems to have his appointed work."
"I feel half inclined to take off my doublet and to go and help to roll those big casks up the planks."
"I fancy, Sydney, we should be much more in the way there than here. There is certainly no lack of men, and your strength and mine together would not equal that of one of those strong fellows; besides, we are learning something here. It is good to see how orderly the work is being carried on, for, in spite of the number employed, there is no confusion. You see there are three barges on each side; the upper tiers of barrels and bales are being got on board through the portholes, while the lower ones are fished up from the bottom by the ropes from the yards and swung into the waist, and so passed below; and as fast as one barge is unloaded another drops alongside to take its place."
They returned to the inn to dinner, after which they paid a visit to the victualling yard and dockyard, where work was everywhere going on. After supper they, with the other gentlemen for Prince Rupert's ship, took boat and went off together. They had learned that, while they would be victualled on board, they must take with them wine and other matters they required over and above the ship's fare. They had had a consultation with the other gentlemen after dinner, and concluded that it would be best to take but a small quantity of things, as they knew not how they would be able to stow them away, and would have opportunities of getting, at Gravesend or at Yarmouth, further stores, when they saw what things were required. They therefore took only a cheese, some butter, and a case of wine. As soon as they got on board they were taken below. They found that a curtain of sail-cloth had been hung across the main deck, and hammocks slung between the guns. Three or four lanterns were hung along the middle.
"This is all we can do for you, gentlemen," the officer who conducted them down said. "Had we been going on a pleasure trip we could have knocked up separate cabins, but as we must have room to work the guns, this cannot be done. In the morning the sailors will take down these hammocks, and will erect a table along the middle, where you will take your meals. At present, as you see, we have only slung hammocks for you, but when you all come on board there will be twenty. We have, so far, only a list of sixteen, but as the Prince said that two or three more might come at the last moment we have railed off space enough for ten hammocks on each side. We will get the place cleaned for you to-morrow, but the last barge was emptied but a few minutes since, and we could do naught but just sweep the deck down. To-morrow everything shall be scrubbed and put in order."
"It will do excellently well," one of the gentlemen said. "We have not come on board ship to get luxuries, and had we to sleep on the bare boards you would hear no grumbling."
"Now, gentlemen, as I have shown you your quarters, will you come up with me to the captain's cabin? He has bade me say that he will be glad if you will spend an hour with him there before you retire to rest."
On their entering, the captain shook hands with Lord Oliphant and Cyril.
"I must apologise, gentlemen, for being short with you when you came on board this morning; but my hands were full, and I had no time to be polite. They say you can never get a civil answer from a housewife on her washing-day, and it is the same thing with an officer on board a ship when she is taking in her stores. However, that business is over, and now I am glad to see you all, and will do my best to make you as comfortable as I can, which indeed will not be much; for as we shall, I hope, be going into action in the course of another ten days, the decks must all be kept clear, and as we have the Prince on board, we have less cabin room than we should have were we not an admiral's flagship."
Wine was placed on the table, and they had a pleasant chat. They learnt that the Fleet was now ready for sea.
"Four ships will sail with ours to-morrow," the captain said, "and the other five will be off the next morning. They have all their munitions on board, and will take in the rest of their provisions to-morrow. The Dutch had thought to take us by surprise, but from what we hear they are not so forward as we, for things have been pushed on with great zeal at all our ports, the war being generally popular with the nation, and especially with the merchants, whose commerce has been greatly injured by the pretensions and violence of the Dutch. The Portsmouth ships, and those from Plymouth, are already on their way round to the mouth of the Thames, and in a week we may be at sea. I only hope the Dutch will not be long before they come out to fight us. However, we are likely to pick up a great many prizes, and, next to fighting, you know, sailors like prize-money."
After an hour's talk the five gentlemen went below to their hammocks, and then to bed, with much laughter at the difficulty they had in mounting into their swinging cots.
It was scarce daylight when they were aroused by a great stir on board the ship, and, hastily putting on their clothes, went on deck. Already a crowd of men were aloft loosening the sails. Others had taken their places in boats in readiness to tow the ship, for the wind was, as yet, so light that it was like she would scarce have steerage way, and there were many sharp angles in the course down the river to be rounded, and shallows to be avoided. A few minutes later the moorings were cast off, the sails sheeted home, and the crew gave a great cheer, which was answered from the dockyard, and from boats alongside, full of the relations and friends of the sailors, who stood up and waved their hats and shouted good bye.
The sails still hung idly, but the tide swept the ship along, and the men in the boats ahead simply lay on their oars until the time should come to pull her head round in one direction or another. They had not long to wait, for, as they reached the sharp corner at the end of the reach, orders were shouted, the men bent to their oars, and the vessel was taken round the curve until her head pointed east. Scarcely had they got under way when they heard the cheer from the ship astern of them, and by the time they had reached the next curve, off the village of Gillingham, the other four ships had rounded the point behind them, and were following at a distance of about a hundred yards apart. Soon afterwards the wind sprang up and the sails bellied out, and the men in the boats had to row briskly to keep ahead of the ship. The breeze continued until they passed Sheerness, and presently they dropped anchor inside the Nore sands. There they remained until the tide turned, and then sailed up the Thames to the Hope, where some forty men-of-war were already at anchor.
The next morning some barges arrived from Tilbury, laden with soldiers, of whom a hundred and fifty came on board, their quarters being on the main deck on the other side of the canvas division. A cutter also brought down a number of impressed men, twenty of whom were put on board the Henrietta to complete her crew. Cyril was standing on the poop watching them come on board, when he started as his eye fell on two of their number. One was Robert Ashford; the other was Black Dick. They had doubtless returned from Holland when war was declared. Robert Ashford had assumed the dress of a sailor the better to disguise himself, and the two had been carried off together from some haunt of sailors at Wapping. He pointed them out to his friend Sydney.
"So those are the two scamps? The big one looks a truculent ruffian. Well, they can do you no harm here, Cyril. I should let them stay and do their share of the fighting, and then, when the voyage is over, if they have not met with a better death than they deserve at the hands of the Dutch, you can, if you like, denounce them, and have them handed over to the City authorities."
"That I will do, as far as the big ruffian they call Black Dick is concerned. He is a desperate villain, and for aught I know may have committed many a murder, and if allowed to go free might commit many more. Besides, I shall never feel quite safe as long as he is at large. As to Robert Ashford, he is a knave, but I know no worse of him, and will therefore let him go his way."
In the evening the other ships from Chatham came up, and the captain told them later that the Earl of Sandwich, who was in command, would weigh anchor in the morning, as the contingent from London, Chatham, and Sheerness was now complete. Cyril thought that he had never seen a prettier sight, as the Fleet, consisting of fifty men-of-war, of various sizes, and eight merchant vessels that had been bought and converted into fire-ships, got under way and sailed down the river. That night they anchored off Felixstowe, and the next day proceeded, with a favourable wind, to Yarmouth, where already a great number of ships were at anchor. So far the five Volunteers had taken their meals with the captain, but as the others would be coming on board, they were now to mess below, getting fresh meat and vegetables from the shore as they required them. As to other stores, they resolved to do nothing till the whole party arrived.
They had not long to wait, for, on the third day after their arrival, the Duke of York and Prince Rupert, with a great train of gentlemen, arrived in the town, and early the next morning embarked on board their respective ships. A council was held by the Volunteers in their quarters, three of their number were chosen as caterers, and, a contribution of three pounds a head being agreed upon, these went ashore in one of the ship's boats, and returned presently with a barrel or two of good biscuits, the carcasses of five sheep, two or three score of ducks and chickens, and several casks of wine, together with a large quantity of vegetables. The following morning the signal was hoisted on the mast-head of the Royal Charles, the Duke of York's flagship, for the Fleet to prepare to weigh anchor, and they presently got under way in three squadrons, the red under the special orders of the Duke, the white under Prince Rupert, and the blue under the Earl of Sandwich.
The Fleet consisted of one hundred and nine men-of-war and frigates, and twenty-eight fire-ships and ketches, manned by 21,006 seamen and soldiers. They sailed across to the coast of Holland, and cruised, for a few days, off Texel, capturing ten or twelve merchant vessels that tried to run in. So far, the weather had been very fine, but there were now signs of a change of weather. The sky became overcast, the wind rose rapidly, and the signal was made for the Fleet to scatter, so that each vessel should have more sea-room, and the chance of collision be avoided. By nightfall the wind had increased to the force of a gale, and the vessels were soon labouring heavily. Cyril and two or three of his comrades who, like himself, did not suffer from sickness, remained on deck; the rest were prostrate below.
For forty-eight hours the gale continued, and when it abated and the ships gradually closed up round the three admirals' flags, it was found that many had suffered sorely in the gale. Some had lost their upper spars, others had had their sails blown away, some their bulwarks smashed in, and two or three had lost their bowsprits. There was a consultation between the admirals and the principal captains, and it was agreed that it was best to sail back to England for repairs, as many of the ships were unfitted to take their place in line of battle, and as the Dutch Fleet was known to be fully equal to their own in strength, it would have been hazardous to risk an engagement. So the ketches and some of the light frigates were at once sent off to find the ships that had not yet joined, and give them orders to make for Yarmouth, Lowestoft, or Harwich. All vessels uninjured were to gather off Lowestoft, while the others were to make for the other ports, repair their damages as speedily as possible, and then rejoin at Lowestoft.
No sooner did the Dutch know that the English Fleet had sailed away than they put their fleet to sea. It consisted of one hundred and twelve men-of-war, and thirty fire-ships, and small craft manned by 22,365 soldiers and sailors. It was commanded by Admiral Obdam, having under him Tromp, Evertson, and other Dutch admirals. On their nearing England they fell in with nine ships from Hamburg, with rich cargoes, and a convoy of a thirty-four gun frigate. These they captured, to the great loss of the merchants of London.
The Henrietta had suffered but little in the storm, and speedily repaired her damages without going into port. With so much haste and energy did the crews of the injured ships set to work at refitting them, that in four days after the main body had anchored off Lowestoft, they were rejoined by all the ships that had made for Harwich and Yarmouth.
At midnight on June 2nd, a fast-sailing fishing-boat brought in the news that the Dutch Fleet were but a few miles away, sailing in that direction, having apparently learnt the position of the English from some ship or fishing-boat they had captured.
The trumpets on the admiral's ship at once sounded, and Prince Rupert and the Earl of Sandwich immediately rowed to her. They remained but a few minutes, and on their return to their respective vessels made the signals for their captains to come on board. The order, at such an hour, was sufficient to notify all that news must have been received of the whereabouts of the Dutch Fleet, and by the time the captains returned to their ships the crews were all up and ready to execute any order. At two o'clock day had begun to break, and soon from the mastheads of several of the vessels the look-out shouted that they could perceive the Dutch Fleet but four miles away. A mighty cheer rose throughout the Fleet, and as it subsided a gun from the Royal Charles gave the order to weigh anchor, and a few minutes later the three squadrons, in excellent order, sailed out to meet the enemy.
They did not, however, advance directly towards them, but bore up closely into the wind until they had gained the weather gauge of the enemy. Having obtained this advantage, the Duke flew the signal to engage. The Volunteers were all in their places on the poop, being posted near the rail forward, that they might be able either to run down the ladder to the waist and aid to repel boarders, or to spring on to a Dutch ship should one come alongside, and also that the afterpart of the poop, where Prince Rupert and the captain had taken their places near the wheel, should be free. The Prince himself had requested them so to station themselves.
"At other times, gentlemen, you are my good friends and comrades," he said, "but, from the moment that the first gun fires, you are soldiers under my orders; and I pray you take your station and remain there until I call upon you for action, for my whole attention must be given to the manoeuvring of the ship, and any movement or talking near me might distract my thoughts. I shall strive to lay her alongside of the biggest Dutchman I can pick out, and as soon as the grapnels are thrown, and their sides grind together, you will have the post of honour, and will lead the soldiers aboard her. Once among the Dutchmen, you will know what to do without my telling you."
"'Tis a grand sight, truly, Cyril," Sydney said, in a low tone, as the great fleets met each other.
"A grand sight, truly, Sydney, but a terrible one. I do not think I shall mind when I am once at it, but at present I feel that, despite my efforts, I am in a tremor, and that my knees shake as I never felt them before."
"I am glad you feel like that, Cyril, for I feel much like it myself, and began to be afraid that I had, without knowing it, been born a coward. There goes the first gun."
As he spoke, a puff of white smoke spouted out from the bows of one of the Dutch ships, and a moment later the whole of their leading vessels opened fire. There was a rushing sound overhead, and a ball passed through the main topsail of the Henrietta. No reply was made by the English ships until they passed in between the Dutchmen; then the Henrietta poured her broadsides into the enemy on either side of her, receiving theirs in return. There was a rending of wood, and a quiver through the ship. One of the upper-deck-guns was knocked off its carriage, crushing two of the men working it as it fell. Several others were hurt with splinters, and the sails pierced with holes. Again and again as she passed, did the Henrietta exchange broadsides with the Dutch vessels, until--the two fleets having passed through each other--she bore up, and prepared to repeat the manoeuvre.
"I feel all right now," Cyril said, "but I do wish I had something to do instead of standing here useless. I quite envy the men there, stripped to the waist, working the guns. There is that fellow Black Dick, by the gun forward; he is a scoundrel, no doubt, but what strength and power he has! I saw him put his shoulder under that gun just now, and slew it across by sheer strength, so as to bear upon the stern of the Dutchman. I noticed him and Robert looking up at me just before the first gun was fired, and speaking together. I have no doubt he would gladly have pointed the gun at me instead of at the enemy, for he knows that, if I denounce him, he will get the due reward of his crimes."
As soon as the ships were headed round they passed through the Dutch as before, and this manoeuvre was several times repeated. Up to one o'clock in the day no great advantage had been gained on either side. Spars had been carried away; there were yawning gaps in the bulwarks; portholes had been knocked into one, guns dismounted, and many killed; but as yet no vessel on either side had been damaged to an extent that obliged her to strike her flag, or to fall out of the fighting line. There had been a pause after each encounter, in which both fleets had occupied themselves in repairing damages, as far as possible, reeving fresh ropes in place of those that had been shot away, clearing the wreckage of fallen spars and yards, and carrying the wounded below. Four of the Volunteers had been struck down--two of them mortally wounded, but after the first passage through the enemy's fleet, Prince Rupert had ordered them to arm themselves with muskets from the racks, and to keep up a fire at the Dutch ships as they passed, aiming specially at the man at the wheel. The order had been a very welcome one, for, like Cyril, they had all felt inactivity in such a scene to be a sore trial. They were now ranged along on both sides of the poop.
At one o'clock Lord Sandwich signalled to the Blue Squadron to close up together as they advanced, as before, against the enemy's line. His position at the time was in the centre, and his squadron, sailing close together, burst into the Dutch line before their ships could make any similar disposition. Having thus broken it asunder, instead of passing through it, the squadron separated, and the ships, turning to port and starboard, each engaged an enemy. The other two squadrons similarly ranged up among the Dutch, and the battle now became furious all along the line. Fire-ships played an important part in the battles of the time, and the thoughts of the captain of a ship were not confined to struggles with a foe of equal size, but were still more engrossed by the need for avoiding any fire-ship that might direct its course towards him.
Cyril had now no time to give a thought as to what was passing elsewhere. The Henrietta had ranged up alongside a Dutch vessel of equal size, and was exchanging broadsides with her. All round were vessels engaged in an equally furious encounter. The roar of the guns and the shouts of the seamen on both sides were deafening. One moment the vessel reeled from the recoil of her own guns, the next she quivered as the balls of the enemy crashed through her sides.
Suddenly, above the din, Cyril heard the voice of Prince Rupert sound like a trumpet.
"Hatchets and pikes on the starboard quarter! Draw in the guns and keep off this fire-ship."
Laying their muskets against the bulwarks, he and Sydney sprang to the mizzen-mast, and each seized a hatchet from those ranged against it. They then rushed to the starboard side, just as a small ship came out through the cloud of smoke that hung thickly around them.
There was a shock as she struck the Henrietta, and then, as she glided alongside, a dozen grapnels were thrown by men on her yards. The instant they had done so, the men disappeared, sliding down the ropes and running aft to their boat. Before the last leaped in he stooped. A flash of fire ran along the deck, there was a series of sharp explosions, and then a bright flame sprang up from the hatchways, ran up the shrouds and ropes, that had been soaked with oil and tar, and in a moment the sails were on fire. In spite of the flames, a score of men sprang on to the rigging of the Henrietta and cut the ropes of the grapnels, which, as yet--so quickly had the explosion followed their throwing--had scarce begun to check the way the fire-ship had on her as she came up.
Cyril, having cast over a grapnel that had fallen on the poop, looked down on the fire-ship as she drifted along. The deck, which, like everything else, had been smeared with tar, was in a blaze, but the combustible had not been carried as far as the helm, where doubtless the captain had stood to direct her course. A sudden thought struck him. He ran along the poop until opposite the stern of the fire-ship, climbed over the bulwark and leapt down on to the deck, some fifteen feet below him. Then he seized the helm and jammed it hard down. The fire-ship had still steerage way on her, and he saw her head at once begin to turn away from the Henrietta; the movement was aided by the latter's crew, who, with poles and oars, pushed her off.
The heat was terrific, but Cyril's helmet and breast-piece sheltered him somewhat; yet though he shielded his face with his arm, he felt that it would speedily become unbearable. His eye fell upon a coil of rope at his feet. Snatching it up, he fastened it to the tiller and then round a belaying-pin in the bulwark, caught up a bucket with a rope attached, threw it over the side and soused its contents over the tiller-rope, then, unbuckling the straps of his breast- and back-pieces, he threw them off, cast his helmet on the deck, blistering his hands as he did so, and leapt overboard. It was with a delicious sense of coolness that he rose to the surface and looked round. Hitherto he had been so scorched by the flame and smothered by the smoke that it was with difficulty he had kept his attention upon what he was doing, and would doubtless, in another minute, have fallen senseless. The plunge into the sea seemed to restore his faculties, and as he came up he looked eagerly to see how far success had attended his efforts.
He saw with delight that the bow of the fire-ship was thirty or forty feet distant from the side of the Henrietta and her stern half that distance. Two or three of the sails of the man-of-war had caught fire, but a crowd of seamen were beating the flames out of two of them while another, upon which the fire had got a better hold, was being cut away from its yard. As he turned to swim to the side of the Henrietta, three or four ropes fell close to him. He twisted one of these round his body, and, a minute later, was hauled up into the waist. He was saluted with a tremendous cheer, and was caught up by three or four strong fellows, who, in spite of his remonstrances, carried him up on to the poop. Prince Rupert was standing on the top of the ladder.
"Nobly done, Sir Cyril!" he exclaimed. "You have assuredly saved the Henrietta and all our lives. A minute later, and we should have been on fire beyond remedy. But I will speak more to you when we have finished with the Dutchman on the other side."