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Boy who sailed with Blake

William Henry Giles Kingston

  Produced by Nick Hodson of London, England

  The Boy who sailed with Blake, by W.H.G. Kingston.


  Another vintage Kingston book, this time with a background of the 1650s,when Cromwell and the Roundheads were in power.

  With acknowledgement to Chamber's Biographical Dictionary we read:

  Blake, Robert (1599-1657) English naval commander, the son of amerchant. Educated at Wadham College, Oxford, he continued his father'sbusiness and led the life of a quiet country gentleman until he was 40.Returned for Bridgwater in 1640 to the short Parliament, he cast in hislot with the Parliamentarians. In the Civil War he took part in thedefence of Bristol (1643) and Lyme Regis (1644), and his defence ofTaunton (1644-45) against overwhelming odds proved a turning point inthe war. Appointed Admiral in 1649, he destroyed Prince Rupert's fleetand captured the Scilly Isles and Jersey. In the first Dutch War(1652-54) he defeated Tromp at the battle of Portland and shatteredDutch supremacy at sea. He destroyed the Barbary Coast pirate fleet offTunis (1655) and in 1657 destroyed a Spanish treasure fleet at SantaCruz off Teneriffe. He died as his ship entered Plymouth, and wasburied in Westminster Abbey, but his body was removed at theRestoration. He is considered one of the greatest of English admirals,second only to Nelson.

  That was the background to this story. The only thing that upset yourtranscriber is that he is by nature on the side of the Cavaliers and theMonarchy, rather than that of the Roundheads.



  The following story is not one of reckless adventure, nor one in whichfighting and bloodshed are introduced to fan a spurious spirit ofheroism. It is the reproduction of a page of history, and a mostimportant one, when good men held not their lives dear to uphold anddefend that which was dearer than life--civil and religious liberty.

  The example of Blake is held up to the boys of to-day, not because hefought and conquered, but because he was a conscientious, God-fearingman, and his conscience told him that the best interests of his countrydemanded resistance to the Stuart rule. Such a man as Blake was a heroeverywhere, and needed not a quarter-deck to display his heroism.



  "Hark! the bells of Saint Michael's are sending forth a jovial peal!"exclaimed Lancelot Kerridge, as he, Dick Harvey, and I were one day onboard his boat fishing for mackerel, about two miles off the sea-porttown of Lyme. "What they are saying I should mightily like to know, fordepend on't it's something of importance. Haul in the lines, Ben!" hecontinued, addressing me; "and, Dick, put an oar out to windward. I'lltake the helm. We shall fetch the Cob by keeping our luff."

  The wind was off shore, but as we were to the westward of the Cob, andthe tide was making in the same direction, we could easily fetch it.The water was smooth, the sea blue and bright as the eyes of sweetCicely Kerridge, my friend Lancelot's young sister, while scarcely acloud dimmed the clear sky overhead.

  Lyme, then containing but one thousand inhabitants, where my twocompanions and I lived, is situated in Dorsetshire, near its westernborder, on the northern shore of a wide bay, formed by the Bill ofPortland on the east and the Start Point on the west. Along the coastare several other towns, of which Dartmouth, owing to its excellentharbour, is the most considerable, besides numerous villages, includingCharmouth and Uplyme. A line of cliffs of no great height extends awayon either side of Lyme, which stands at the bottom of a valley; whilebeyond it rise the green slopes of Colway and Uplyme, hills overlookingthe town.

  On the eastern side was the house of my father, Captain Roger Bracewell.He had commanded several of the trading ships of Master Humphrey Blake,of Bridgwater, at one time a merchant of renown, and the father ofCaptain Robert Blake, who had already made his name famous for hisgallant defence of Prior's Hill when Bristol was besieged by PrinceRupert, until it was yielded in a dastardly fashion by Governor Fiennes.My father retiring from the sea with a competency, having married latein life, settled in Lyme, his native place. His house, which overlookedthe bay, was of the better sort, with curious gables, and a balconysupported on strong wooden pillars in front, where he was wont to sit,smoking his pipe, and enjoying a view of the ocean he still loved fullwell, with the ships--their white canvas spread to the breeze--sailingby in the distance, or approaching to take shelter in our roadstead.

  There were a few other residences of the same character; but most of thehouses were built of soft stone, with thatched roofs, forming fourirregular narrow streets, with several narrower lanes of no verydignified character. Still, we were fond of our little town, and hadreasons to be proud of it from the events I am about to describe.

  My two friends and I spent much of our time on the water. Lancelot, mysenior by two years, was the son of the worshipful Master Kerridge,Mayor of Lyme, and Dick's father was Mr Harvey, a man of considerablewealth and influence in the neighbourhood, brother-in-law of Mr Ceely,who had been made Governor of the town by the Parliament.

  Our fathers were Puritans and staunch Parliamentarians. They had becomeso in consequence of the faithlessness of the King, and the attempt ofLaud to introduce Popish rites and to enslave the consciences offree-born Englishmen. Who, indeed, could have witnessed the clipping ofears, the slitting of noses, the branding of temples, and burning oftongues, to which the Archbishop resorted to crush Nonconformity--whocould have seen their friends imprisoned, placed in the pillory, andeven scourged through the streets, without feeling their hearts burnwith indignation and their whole souls rebel against tyranny sooutrageous?

  "It is a wonder that any honest man could be found to support thatmiscreant Laud," I remember hearing my father say. "He and hisfaithless master are mainly answerable for the civil strife nowdevastating, from north to south and east to west, our fair Englishland."

  But I must not trouble my readers with politics; my object is to narratethe scenes I witnessed, or the events in which I took a part. I was tooyoung, indeed, at that time to think much about the matter, but yet Iwas as enthusiastic a Roundhead as any of my fellow-townsmen. As weapproached the little harbour we passed through a large fleet oftraders, brought up in the roadstead for shelter, most of which,belonging to London merchants, dared not therefore put into any portheld by the Cavaliers. Three or four had dropped their anchors while wewere out fishing. We hailed one of them, which had come in from thewestward, to ask the news.

  "Bad news!" was the answer. "The Malignants have taken Exeter, and manyother places in the west country, and are now marching in great force onLondon."

  "I hope they won't come to Lyme on their way, for if they do, we shallhave but small chance of withstanding them," I observed to my companionsas we sailed on.

  "I have but little fear on that score," replied Lancelot. "We'll fightwhile a man remains on his legs, or a gun can be fired from ourbatteries."

  Lancelot's enthusiasm inspired me. The breeze freshened. We soonrounded the Cob, when we pulled up among the small craft which crowdedthe harbour, to a spot where Lancelot usually kept his boat. As soon aswe had moored her we sprang on shore, and hurried through the lower partof the town, which was almost deserted.

  We found the greater portion of the inhabitants collected at thenorthern side; and I had scarcely time to ask a question of my father,whom I joined, before we saw a body of troops approaching, led by anofficer on horseback. He was a strong-built man, of moderate height,with a fair and florid complexion, and, contrary to the fashion generalamong Puritans, his hair, in rich profusion, was seen escaping beneathhis broad-brimmed hat, while he wore large w
hiskers, but no beard--hiscountenance unmistakably exhibiting firmness and determination. Hereturned in a cordial manner the salutes of the principal townsmen, whohad gone out to meet him.

  "Who is he?" I asked of my father.

  "That, my son, is Colonel Blake. He has come with five hundred men ofPopham's regiment, to protect us from a large army of Malignants--twentythousand men, it is said--under Prince Maurice, cousin to the King. Hethreatens to annihilate our little town; but though we shall have a hardstruggle to beat them back, God will protect the right."

  The bells we had heard had been set ringing on the announcement of theapproach of Colonel Blake; and now, as he and his brave followersentered the town, they pealed forth with redoubled energy.

  While the men were sent to their quarters, he, accompanied by theGovernor and Mayor, and several officers, rode round the outskirts ofthe town, to point out the spots where he judged it necessary thatbatteries and entrenchments should be thrown up.

  He was accompanied by a young nephew, also named Robert Blake, son ofhis brother Samuel, who was killed some time before at Bridgwater, whilecommanding a company in Colonel Popham's regiment. I afterwards becamewell acquainted with young Robert Blake, as we were much drawn togetherby the fondness for a sea life which we both possessed. His was rathera passion than mere fondness--indeed, like his noble uncle, he wasenthusiastic in all his aspirations, and a more gallant, noble-mindedlad I never met.

  That evening the newly arrived troops, as well as every man in the placecapable of labouring, set to work with pickaxes, spades, and barrows tothrow up embankments, to cut trenches, to erect batteries, to barricadethe roads, and to loophole all the outer walls of the houses andgardens. Officers were in the meantime despatched by the Governor andthe Mayor to obtain volunteers from Charmouth, Uplyme, and othervillages; while foraging parties were sent out in all directions tocollect provisions, cattle, and fodder. Although, in addition toColonel Blake's five hundred regulars, scarcely more than three hundredfighting men could be mustered in the town, there were no signs ofwavering; but high and low endeavoured to make amends for the paucity oftheir numbers by their dauntless courage, their energy, and unceasingtoil; and even women and children were to be seen in all directions,filling baskets with sods, and carrying materials to the labourers atthe earthworks.

  Lancelot and I kept together, and did our best to be of use, though Icould not do much, being a little fellow; but I know that I worked awayas hard as my strength would allow me. Colonel Blake was everywhere,superintending the operations and encouraging the men. Stopping nearwhere my friends and I were at work, he addressed the labourers.

  "The haughty Cavaliers fancy that they can ride roughshod into yourlittle town, my lads," he said; "but I want you to show them that youcan fight for your hearths and homes as well as did my brave fellows atPrior's Hill; and I do not fear that a traitor will be found within ourtrenches to deliver up the place, while we have a cask of powder in ourmagazines, or a musket to fire it. And even should our ammunition runshort, the Lord of Hosts being with us, we'll drive them back with pikeand sword."

  "Rightly spoken, Colonel Blake," said my father, who had just thenreached the spot where the Colonel was standing. "I am an old man, andhad looked forward to ending my days in peace; but willingly will Ipromise you that the enemy shall march over my dead body before they getwithin our entrenchments. I served on board the ships of your honouredfather, when we had many a tough fight with corsairs, Spaniards,Portingales, and Dutchmen; and I feel sure that I shall not draw mysword in vain when his son commands. Maybe you may remember RichardBracewell?"

  "Well indeed I do," answered Colonel Blake, putting out his hand andwarmly shaking that of my father. "And many a long yarn about youradventures have I listened to with eager interest, while I longed tosail over the wide ocean and to visit the strange countries youdescribed. Who is that youngster standing by you?" he then asked in akindly tone, looking down on me.

  "My only boy, the son of my old age," answered my father. "Though youngnow, he will, I trust, ere long grow big enough to fight for the civiland religious liberties of our country, or to defend her from foreignfoes."

  "Judging by his looks, and knowing whose son he is, I would gladly havehim with me when he is old enough, should heaven spare our lives; but atpresent he is too young to be exposed to the dangers of war, and I wouldadvise you to keep him under lock and key when the fight is going on, orhe will be running where bullets and round shot are falling, and perhapshis young life will be taken before he has had time to strike a blow forthe liberties of our country."

  "I hope that I can do something now, sir," I said, not liking thethoughts of being shut up. "I can fire a pistol if I cannot point anarquebuse; and since morning I have carried a hundred baskets or more ofearth to the embankment."

  "You speak bravely, my boy, and bravely you will act when the timecomes," said the Colonel, and forthwith he addressed himself to otherswho came to receive his orders. Such was my first introduction to onewith whom I was destined to serve for many a year.

  I well remember the spot where we were standing. On one side lay theblue sea extending to the horizon, below us was the town with itswhite-walled, straw-thatched buildings, the church with its spire to theleft, and before us were the green slopes of the hills sprinkled hereand there with clumps of trees, while on the more level spots were to beseen corn-fields and orchards smiling in the rays of the setting sun.Beyond the town was Colway House, a substantial mansion, once theresidence of the Cobham family; and about a mile from it, on theopposite side of the valley, was a collection of buildings known asHayes Farm, both of which had been fortified, and occupied as outposts.

  We had, we knew, not many days to prepare for the defence; and I amproud to say that, scrap of a boy as I was, I worked as hard as many ofmy elders. Late in the evening, when it was already dusk, my fatherfound me, with Lancelot and Dick, still at our self-imposed task.

  "Come, boys," he said, "it is time for you to go home and get somesleep. You must leave it to stronger men to labour during the night."

  "Just let us carry a few more basketfuls, sir," answered Lancelot. "Seethat gap; we have undertaken to fill it up, and, for what we can tell,the enemy may be upon us before the morning."

  "Well, well, lads, I like your spirit. I will not baulk you. Give me aspade; I will try what I can do to expedite the work." And my reveredfather, as soon as the spade had been handed to him, began digging awaywith right goodwill, filling the baskets, which were carried up to theembankment. He soon became so interested in the work that he was asunwilling to knock off as we were.

  "Run back and get a lantern. Its light will help us to finish our taskmore quickly. Maybe the host of the `Three Tankards' will lend theeone; or Master Harris who lives opposite; or, if you cannot get onenearer, go home and bring our big lantern which hangs inside the halldoor. See that it is well trimmed, though."

  "Ay, ay, father," I answered, and set off. Knowing every foot of theway, I was not afraid of running, even though the gathering darknessmade it difficult to see objects at any distance beyond my nose.

  At the first places where I called, all the lanterns had been put intorequisition, and so I had to run on until I reached our house. I foundmy sister Audrey, and Margaret our maid, wondering why we were so longabsent. Supper was on the table, and the viands getting cold. Onhearing why I wanted the lantern, they both wished to come and help us,Audrey declaring that she could carry a basket as well as either of usboys.

  "You must stop and take care of the house," I answered, feeling a littlejealous that a girl should fancy she could work as well as my companionsand I. "There are a good many strangers in the town, and it would notdo to leave the house empty. Margaret can trim the lantern, as sheknows how to do it better than I do. Be quick about it, for I must beoff again as fast as my legs can carry me."

  "Take a crust of bread and a piece of cheese in the meantime, MasterBen," said Margaret, as she took do
wn the lantern, and examined thewick.

  "I have no time for eating; I am not hungry," I answered, and I watchedher impatiently, while she poured in some fresh oil. Taking the lanternas soon as it was lighted, I hurried out, and, holding it before me, ranon without fear of rushing against any one coming from an oppositedirection. I had got a short distance when I found myself in the midstof a body of men, who were coming up from the harbour carrying loads ontheir shoulder. They had, I discovered from the remarks which reachedme, just landed.

  "Do you bring any news?" I inquired.

  "Fine news, young sir," answered one of the men. "Prince Maurice hasbeen driven away from Plymouth, which he tried to take, but couldn't.But, as maybe he will pay a visit to Lyme, we have brought you powderand shot, and other munitions of war, and no doubt Colonel Blake willmake good use of them."

  Having obtained all the information I could from the communicativeseaman, I hurried on with the satisfactory intelligence to the works,where I found my father leaning on his spade, pretty well tired out byhis unusual exertions. The light of the lantern I brought, however,enabled us to proceed, and he recommenced digging with as much energy asbefore.

  As we were running backwards and forwards, I could see numerous otherlights all along the line, within a few yards of each other, marking thespots where the people were working.

  It was nearly midnight before our task was concluded. Not one of us hadfelt hungry or thirsty. My father then insisted on our returning home,and on our way we left Lancelot and Dick at their respective homes.

  We found Audrey and Margaret sitting up for us, both looking somewhatpale, naturally supposing that if the finishing of the earthworks was soimportant, immediate danger was to be apprehended. Supper over, weknelt in prayer, which, on all occasions and under all circumstances,was our wont. Then retiring to bed, I for one slept like a top. Nextday was like the previous one.

  The news that Prince Maurice, at the head of a vast army, was marchinginto Dorsetshire, spread through the town and incited every one torenewed exertions. Volunteers, who came in from all sides, were beingdrilled by Colonel Weir and other officers, most of them having to learnnot only the use of the pike and sword, but how to load and fire anarquebuse or musket.

  The soldiers and townsmen were still labouring away at thefortifications, when one morning, as Lancelot, Dick, and I were employedat the top of an embankment, my father helping us, we saw a horseman whohad been on outpost duty come galloping down the hill towards the town.

  "The enemy are near at hand!" he exclaimed, as he rode up to whereColonel Blake and Governor Ceely stood. "They will be here anon. Icould see them defiling along the road like a host of ants. I had toride hard to escape their advance guard."

  On receiving this news, the colonel ordered the drums to beat to arms.Parties were sent out to strengthen the two outposts, and the troops andtownsmen, with the volunteers, hastened to the lines.

  "How many fighting men have we?" I asked of my father, as I watched thedefenders taking up their appointed positions.

  "Colonel Blake brought five hundred men with him, and, maybe, with thetownsmen and volunteers from the neighbourhood, we shall musterwell-nigh another five hundred," he answered.

  "A thousand men to withstand twenty thousand?" I asked in a doubtfultone.

  "Each man of the one thousand will count for twenty when fighting in ajust cause," he answered. "Colonel Blake thinks that we can not onlywithstand, but drive back the Malignants, or he would not wantonly throwaway our lives."

  We watched eagerly for some time, when at length horse and foot, gaybanners flying, cuirasses and helmets glittering in the bright sun,appeared over the brow of the distant hills. On they came, until everyheight was crowned, and we saw drawn up in battle array what appeared tous an army sufficient at a single charge to overwhelm our slenderdefences.

  There they remained. We could see horsemen galloping to and fro on thesides of the hills, but as yet not a shot had been fired.

  Sentries were posted along our whole line, and the men were ordered tosit down and take their dinners. I saw my father look graver thanusual.

  "Ben," he said, "I have been consulting with Master Kerridge, and heagrees with me that it would be wrong to allow you boys to expose yourlives. I promise you that if you can render service to the cause youshall be employed; and you must all three give me your words that youwill remain where I place you, and not come forth until you are sentfor."

  Very unwillingly Lancelot and Dick and I gave the promise exacted fromus, though we were more content when my father took us to the church,and told us that we might remain in the tower, whence, as it overlookedthe greater portion of the lines, we could see through a narrow loopholewhat was going forward.

  He then returned to the post which he, with Martin Shobbrok, an oldfollower of his in many a voyage, had undertaken to keep. He haddirected me, should the enemy get into the town, to run home and try toprotect my sister from insult, and our house from plunder. "Though Imay never return, my boy, should the Malignants force an entrance, yetyou, Ben, will, I trust, live to become a man, and serve our countryeither on shore or afloat," he said in a grave tone, which showed,however, no signs of fear. I often afterwards thought of his words, andprayed that I might fulfil his expectations.

  We had not long taken up our position in the tower before we saw theCavalier forces moving down the slopes of the hill. One party advancedtowards our outposts at Hayes Farm, and then attacked Colway House, atwhich their great guns commenced a furious fire, wreaths of white smokefilling the calm air. Presently the two little garrisons returned thesalute with right goodwill.

  Then we caught sight of them rushing at full speed towards our lines;and good reason they had to move fast, for, following them close, camehorse and foot in battle array, with trumpets sounding, drums beating,lances in rest, pikes at the charge, and swords flashing in the brightsunlight. The enemy halted, however, when still at a distance, and aherald advanced, who blowing a blast on his trumpet summoned the towninstantly to surrender.

  Colonel Blake, mounting on the ramparts, answered in a loud tone, whichreached our ears--

  "Not while we have men to fight, or breastworks to defend the place.Go, tell the Prince who sent you that such is our resolve."

  Shaking his fist at the town, the herald wheeled round his horse andgalloped off.

  But a short time elapsed before the trumpets sounded a general charge,and the infantry rushed impetuously forward towards the lines, hurlingimmense numbers of hand-grenades among the defenders, which, bursting asthey fell, filled the air with smoke and deafened our ears by theirexplosions.

  Not one of our brave fellows wavered, but fired rapidly in return amongthe dense masses of the foe. The next instant we could see a large bodyof cavalry riding furiously onward, expecting to gain an easy victory.In vain the bravest attempted to ride over the earthworks, up to thevery muzzles of the muskets; but they were driven back by the heavy firepoured into their ranks, and compelled to retreat up the valley, leavingmany dead and wounded behind.

  We three boys could not refrain from giving way to a shout of joy,believing that the battle was won; but we were grievously mistaken.Again the serried ranks of foot advanced with fierce shouts, threateningthe destruction of our little garrison.