Chapter 17 HOW THE YELLOW COG CROSSED THE BAR OF GIRONDE.
For two days the yellow cog ran swiftly before a northeasterly wind, and o_he dawn of the third the high land of Ushant lay like a mist upon th_himmering sky-line. There came a plump of rain towards mid-day and the breez_ied down, but it freshened again before nightfall, and Goodwin Hawtayn_eered his sheet and held head for the south. Next morning they had passe_elle Isle, and ran through the midst of a fleet of transports returning fro_uienne. Sir Nigel Loring and Sir Oliver Buttesthorn at once hung thei_hields over the side, and displayed their pennons as was the custom, notin_ith the keenest interest the answering symbols which told the names of th_avaliers who had been constrained by ill health or wounds to leave the princ_t so critical a time.
That evening a great dun-colored cloud banked up in the west, and an anxiou_an was Goodwin Hawtayne, for a third part of his crew had been slain, an_alf the remainder were aboard the galleys, so that, with an injured ship, h_as little fit to meet such a storm as sweeps over those waters. All night i_lew in short fitful puffs, heeling the great cog over until the water curle_ver her lee bulwarks. As the wind still freshened the yard was lowered hal_ay down the mast in the morning. Alleyne, wretchedly ill and weak, with hi_ead still ringing from the blow which he had received, crawled up upon deck.
Water-swept and aslant, it was preferable to the noisome, rat-haunted dungeon_hich served as cabins. There, clinging to the stout halliards of the sheet, he gazed with amazement at the long lines of black waves, each with it_urling ridge of foam, racing in endless succession from out the inexhaustibl_est. A huge sombre cloud, flecked with livid blotches, stretched over th_hole seaward sky-line, with long ragged streamers whirled out in front of it.
Far behind them the two galleys labored heavily, now sinking between th_ollers until their yards were level with the waves, and again shooting u_ith a reeling, scooping motion until every spar and rope stood out har_gainst the sky. On the left the low-lying land stretched in a dim haze, rising here and there into a darker blur which marked the higher capes an_eadlands. The land of France! Alleyne's eyes shone as he gazed upon it. Th_and of France!—the very words sounded as the call of a bugle in the ears o_he youth of England. The land where their fathers had bled, the home o_hivalry and of knightly deeds, the country of gallant men, of courtly women, of princely buildings, of the wise, the polished and the sainted. There i_ay, so still and gray beneath the drifting wrack—the home of things noble an_f things shameful—the theatre where a new name might be made or an old on_arred. From his bosom to his lips came the crumpled veil, and he breathed _ow that if valor and goodwill could raise him to his lady's side, then deat_lone should hold him back from her. His thoughts were still in the woods o_instead and the old armory of Twynham Castle, when the hoarse voice of th_aster-shipman brought them back once more to the Bay of Biscay.
"By my troth, young sir," he said, "you are as long in the face as the devi_t a christening, and I cannot marvel at it, for I have sailed these water_ince I was as high as this whinyard, and yet I never saw more sure promise o_n evil night."
"Nay, I had other things upon my mind," the squire answered.
"And so has every man," cried Hawtayne in an injured voice. "Let the shipma_ee to it. It is the master-shipman's affair. Put it all upon good Maste_awtayne! Never had I so much care since first I blew trumpet and showe_artel at the west gate of Southampton."
"What is amiss then?" asked Alleyne, for the man's words were as gusty as th_eather.
"Amiss, quotha? Here am I with but half my mariners, and a hole in the shi_here that twenty-devil stone struck us big enough to fit the fat widow o_ortham through. It is well enough on this tack, but I would have you tell m_hat I am to do on the other. We are like to have salt water upon us until w_e found pickled like the herrings in an Easterling's barrels."
"What says Sir Nigel to it?"
"He is below pricking out the coat-armor of his mother's uncle. 'Pester me no_ith such small matters!' was all that I could get from him. Then there is Si_liver. 'Fry them in oil with a dressing of Gascony,' quoth he, and then swor_t me because I had not been the cook. 'Walawa,' thought I, 'mad master, sobe_an'—so away forward to the archers. Harrow and alas! but they were worse tha_he others."
"Would they not help you then?"
"Nay, they sat tway and tway at a board, him that they call Aylward and th_reat red-headed man who snapped the Norman's arm-bone, and the black man fro_orwich, and a score of others, rattling their dice in an archer's gauntle_or want of a box. 'The ship can scarce last much longer, my masters,' quot_. 'That is your business, old swine's-head,' cried the black galliard. 'L_iable t'emporte,' says Aylward. 'A five, a four and the main,' shouted th_ig man, with a voice like the flap of a sail. Hark to them now, young sir, and say if I speak not sooth."
As he spoke, there sounded high above the shriek of the gale and the strainin_f the timbers a gust of oaths with a roar of deep-chested mirth from th_amblers in the forecastle.
"Can I be of avail?" asked Alleyne. "Say the word and the thing is done, i_wo hands may do it."
"Nay, nay, your head I can see is still totty, and i' faith little head woul_ou have, had your bassinet not stood your friend. All that may be done i_lready carried out, for we have stuffed the gape with sails and corded i_ithout and within. Yet when we bale our bowline and veer the sheet our live_ill hang upon the breach remaining blocked. See how yonder headland loom_pon us through the mist! We must tack within three arrow flights, or we ma_ind a rock through our timbers. Now, St. Christopher be praised! here is Si_igel, with whom I may confer."
"I prythee that you will pardon me," said the knight, clutching his way alon_he bulwark. "I would not show lack of courtesy toward a worthy man, but I wa_eep in a matter of some weight, concerning which, Alleyne, I should be gla_f your rede. It touches the question of dimidiation or impalement in the coa_f mine uncle, Sir John Leighton of Shropshire, who took unto wife the wido_f Sir Henry Oglander of Nunwell. The case has been much debated b_ursuivants and kings-of-arms. But how is it with you, master shipman?"
"Ill enough, my fair lord. The cog must go about anon, and I know not how w_ay keep the water out of her."
"Go call Sir Oliver!" said Sir Nigel, and presently the portly knight made hi_ay all astraddle down the slippery deck.
"By my soul, master-shipman, this passes all patience!" he cried wrathfully.
"If this ship of yours must needs dance and skip like a clown at a kermesse, then I pray you that you will put me into one of these galeasses. I had bu_at down to a flask of malvoisie and a mortress of brawn, as is my use abou_his hour, when there comes a cherking, and I find my wine over my legs an_he flask in my lap, and then as I stoop to clip it there comes another curse_herk, and there is a mortress of brawn stuck fast to the nape of my neck. A_his moment I have two pages coursing after it from side to side, like hound_ehind a leveret. Never did living pig gambol more lightly. But you have sen_or me, Sir Nigel?"
"I would fain have your rede, Sir Oliver, for Master Hawtayne hath fears tha_hen we veer there may come danger from the hole in our side."
"Then do not veer," quoth Sir Oliver hastily. "And now, fair sir, I mus_asten back to see how my rogues have fared with the brawn."
"Nay, but this will scarce suffice," cried the shipman. "If we do not veer w_ill be upon the rocks within the hour."
"Then veer," said Sir Oliver. "There is my rede; and now, Sir Nigel, I mus_rave——"
At this instant, however, a startled shout rang out from two seamen upon th_orecastle. "Rocks!" they yelled, stabbing into the air with thei_orefingers. "Rocks beneath our very bows!" Through the belly of a great blac_ave, not one hundred paces to the front of them, there thrust forth a hug_agged mass of brown stone, which spouted spray as though it were som_rouching monster, while a dull menacing boom and roar filled the air.
"Yare! yare!" screamed Goodwin Hawtayne, flinging himself upon the long pol_hich served as a tiller. "Cut the halliard! Haul her over! Lay her tw_ourses to the wind!"
Over swung the great boom, and the cog trembled and quivered within fiv_pear-lengths of the breakers.
"She can scarce draw clear," cried Hawtayne, with his eyes from the sail t_he seething line of foam. "May the holy Julian stand by us and the thrice- sainted Christopher!"
"If there be such peril, Sir Oliver," quoth Sir Nigel, "it would be ver_nightly and fitting that we should show our pennons. I pray you. Edricson, that you will command my guidon-bearer to put forward my banner."
"And sound the trumpets!" cried Sir Oliver. "In manus tuas, Domine! I am i_he keeping of James of Compostella, to whose shrine I shall make pilgrimage, and in whose honor I vow that I will eat a carp each year upon his feast-day.
Mon Dieu, but the waves roar! How is it with us now, master-shipman?"
"We draw! We draw!" cried Hawtayne, with his eyes still fixed upon the foa_hich hissed under the very bulge of the side. "Ah, Holy Mother, be with u_ow!"
As he spoke the cog rasped along the edge of the reef, and a long whit_urling sheet of wood was planed off from her side from waist to poop by _utting horn of the rock. At the same instant she lay suddenly over, the sai_rew full, and she plunged seawards amid the shoutings of the seamen and th_rchers.
"The Virgin be praised!" cried the shipman, wiping his brow. "For this shal_ell swing and candle burn when I see Southampton Water once more. Cheerily, my hearts! Pull yarely on the bowline!"
"By my soul! I would rather have a dry death," quoth Sir Oliver. "Though, Mor_ieu! I have eaten so many fish that it were but justice that the fish shoul_at me. Now I must back to the cabin, for I have matters there which crave m_ttention."
"Nay, Sir Oliver, you had best bide with us, and still show your ensign," Si_igel answered; "for, if I understand the matter aright, we have but turne_rom one danger to the other."
"Good Master Hawtayne," cried the boatswain, rushing aft, "the water comes i_pon us apace. The waves have driven in the sail wherewith we strove to sto_he hole." As he spoke the seamen came swarming on to the poop and th_orecastle to avoid the torrent which poured through the huge leak into th_aist. High above the roar of the wind and the clash of the sea rose th_hrill half-human cries of the horses, as they found the water rising rapidl_round them.
"Stop it from without!" cried Hawtayne, seizing the end of the wet sail wit_hich the gap had been plugged. "Speedily, my hearts, or we are gone!" Swiftl_hey rove ropes to the corners, and then, rushing forward to the bows, the_owered them under the keel, and drew them tight in such a way that the sai_hould cover the outer face of the gap. The force of the rush of water wa_hecked by this obstacle, but it still squirted plentifully from every side o_t. At the sides the horses were above the belly, and in the centre a man fro_he poop could scarce touch the deck with a seven-foot spear. The cog la_ower in the water and the waves splashed freely over the weather bulwark.
"I fear that we can scarce bide upon this tack," cried Hawtayne; "and yet th_ther will drive us on the rocks."
"Might we not haul down sail and wait for better times?" suggested Sir Nigel.
"Nay, we should drift upon the rocks. Thirty years have I been on the sea, an_ever yet in greater straits. Yet we are in the hands of the Saints."
"Of whom," cried Sir Oliver, "I look more particularly to St. James o_ompostella, who hath already befriended us this day, and on whose feast _ereby vow that I shall eat a second carp, if he will but interpose a secon_ime."
The wrack had thickened to seaward, and the coast was but a blurred line. Tw_ague shadows in the offing showed where the galeasses rolled and tossed upo_he great Atlantic rollers, Hawtayne looked wistfully in their direction.
"If they would but lie closer we might find safety, even should the co_ounder. You will bear me out with good Master Witherton of Southampton that _ave done all that a shipman might. It would be well that you should dof_amail and greaves, Sir Nigel, for, by the black rood! it is like enough tha_e shall have to swim for it."
"Nay," said the little knight, "it would be scarce fitting that a cavalie_hould throw off his harness for the fear of every puff of wind and puddle o_ater. I would rather that my Company should gather round me here on the poop, where we might abide together whatever God may be pleased to send. But, certes, Master Hawtayne, for all that my sight is none of the best, it is no_he first time that I have seen that headland upon the left."
The seaman shaded his eyes with his hand, and gazed earnestly through the haz_nd spray. Suddenly he threw up his arms and shouted aloud in his joy.
"'Tis the point of La Tremblade!" he cried. "I had not thought that we were a_ar as Oleron. The Gironde lies before us, and once over the bar, and unde_helter of the Tour de Cordouan, all will be well with us. Veer again, m_earts, and bring her to try with the main course!"
The sail swung round once more, and the cog, battered and torn and well-nig_ater-logged, staggered in for this haven of refuge. A bluff cape to the nort_nd a long spit to the south marked the mouth of the noble river, with a low- lying island of silted sand in the centre, all shrouded and curtained by th_pume of the breakers. A line of broken water traced the dangerous bar, whic_n clear day and balmy weather has cracked the back of many a tall ship.
"There is a channel," said Hawtayne, "which was shown to me by the Prince'_wn pilot. Mark yonder tree upon the bank, and see the tower which rise_ehind it. If these two be held in a line, even as we hold them now, it may b_one, though our ship draws two good ells more than when she put forth."
"God speed you, Master Hawtayne!" cried Sir Oliver. "Twice have we com_cathless out of peril, and now for the third time I commend me to the blesse_ames of Compostella, to whom I vow——"
"Nay, nay, old friend," whispered Sir Nigel. "You are like to bring a judgmen_pon us with these vows, which no living man could accomplish. Have I no_lready heard you vow to eat two carp in one day, and now you would ventur_pon a third?"
"I pray you that you will order the Company to lie down," cried Hawtayne, wh_ad taken the tiller and was gazing ahead with a fixed eye. "In three minute_e shall either be lost or in safety."
Archers and seamen lay flat upon the deck, waiting in stolid silence fo_hatever fate might come. Hawtayne bent his weight upon the tiller, an_rouched to see under the bellying sail. Sir Oliver and Sir Nigel stood erec_ith hands crossed in front of the poop. Down swooped the great cog into th_arrow channel which was the portal to safety. On either bow roared th_hallow bar. Right ahead one small lane of black swirling water marked th_ilot's course. But true was the eye and firm the hand which guided. A dul_craping came from beneath, the vessel quivered and shook, at the waist, a_he quarter, and behind sounded that grim roaring of the waters, and with _lunge the yellow cog was over the bar and speeding swiftly up the broad an_ranquil estuary of the Gironde.