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“Safe as a fox in a trap. Satan himself cannot take him from us !”
“But God may,” said Brimblecombe simply.
“Who spoke to you, sir ? If I thought that He- There comes the thunder at last!”
And as he spoke an angry growl from the westward heavens seemed to answer his wild words, and rolled and loudened nearer and nearer, till right over their heads it crashed against some cloud-cliff far above, and all was still. Each man looked in the other's face : but Amyas was unmoved.
“The storm is coming,” said he, "and the wind in it. It will be Eastward-ho now, for once, my merry men all!”
“ Eastward ho never brought us luck,” said Jack in an undertone to Cary. But by this time all eyes were turned to the north-west, where a black line along the horizon began to define the boundary of sea and air, till now all dim in mist.
“ There comes the breeze."
And with that strangely accelerating pace which some storms seem to possess, the thunder, which had been growling slow and seldom far away, now rang peal on peal along the cloudy floor above their heads.
"Here comes the breeze, Round with the yards, or we shall be taken aback.”
The yards creaked round; the sea grew crisp around them; the hot air swept their cheeks, tightened every rope, filled every sail, bent her over. A cheer burst from the men as the helm went up, and they staggered away before the wind, right down upon the Spaniard, who lay still becalmed. “There is more behind, Amyas," said Cary.
- Shall we not shorten sail a little?” “No. Hold on every stitch," said Amyas.
- Give me the helm, man,
Boatswain, pipe away to clear for fight.” It was done, and in ten minutes the men were all at quarters, while the thunder rolled louder and louder overhead, and the breeze freshened fast.
“ The dog has it now. There he goes !” said Cary.
Right before the wind. He has no liking to face us.” “He is running into the jaws of destruction," said Yeo.
“ An hour more will send him either right up the Channel, or smack on shore somewhere."
“There ! he has put his helm down. I wonder if he sees land ? "
“ He is like a March hare beat out of his country,” said Cary, “and don't know whither to run next."
Cary was right. In ten minutes more the Spaniard fell off again, and went away dead down wind, while the Vengeance gained on him fast. After two hours more, the four miles had diminished to one, while the lightning flashed nearer and nearer as the storm came up; and from the vast mouth of a black cloud-arch poured so fierce a breeze that Amyas yielded unwillingly to hints which were growing into open murmurs, and bade shorten sail,
On they rushed with scarcely lessened speed, the black arch following fast, curtained by one flat grey sheet of pouring rain, before which the water was boiling in a long white line; while every moment behind the watery veil, a keen blue spark leapt down into the sea, or darted zigzag through the rain,
“We shall have it now, and with a vengeance; this will try your tackle, master," said Cary,
The functionary answered with a shrug, and turned up the collar of his rough frock, as the first drops flew stinging round his ears. Another minute and the squall burst full upon them, in rain, which cut like hail—hail which lashed the sea into froth, and wind which whirled off the heads of the surges, and swept the waters into one white seething waste, And above them, and behind them, and before them, the lightning leapt and ran, dazzling and blinding, while the deep roar of the thunder was changed to sharp ear-piercing cracks.
“Get the arms and ammunition under cover, and then below with you all,” shouted Amyas from the helm,
“ And heat the pokers in the galley fire,” said Yeo, "to be ready if the rain puts our linstocks out. I hope you'll let me stay on deck, sir, in case
“I must have some one, and who better than you ? Can you see the chase ? "
No; she was wrapped in the grey whirlwind. She might be within half a mile of them, for aught they could have seen of her.
And now Amyas and his old liegeman were alone. Neither spoke ; each knew the other's thoughts, and knew that they were his own. The squall blew fiercer and fiercer, the rain poured heavier and heavier. Where was the Spaniard ?
"If he has laid-to, we may overshoot him, sir !”
“If he has tried to lay-to, he will not have a sail left in the bolt-ropes, or perhaps a mast on deck. I know the stiff-neckedness of those Spanish tubs. Hurrah ! there he is, right on our larboard bow!"
There she was indeed, two musket-shots off, staggering away with canvas split and flying.
“ He has been trying to hull, sir, and caught a buffet,” said Yeo, rubbing his hands. " What shall we do now?
“Range alongside, if it blow live imps and witches, and try our luck once more. Pah! how this lightning dazzles !”
On they swept, gaining fast on the Spaniard,
“Call the men up, and to quarters ; the rain will be over in ten minutes."
Yeo ran forward to the gangway ; and sprang back again, with a face white and wild
“ Land right ahead! Port your helm, sir! For the love of God, port your helm !”
Amyas, with the strength of a bull, jammed the helm down, while Yeo shouted to the men below,
She swung round. The masts bent like whips ; crack wint the foresail like a cannon, What matter ? Within two hundred yards of them was the Spaniard ; in front of her, and above her, a huge dark bank rose through the dense hail, and mingled with the clouds; and at its foot, plainer every moment, pillars and spouts of leaping foam.
“What is it, Morte? Hartland ?”
“ Lundy !” said Yeo. “ The south end! I see the head of the Shutter in the breakers ! Hard a-port yet, and get her close-hauled as you can, and the Lord may have mercy on us still ! Look at the Spaniard !”
Yes, look at the Spaniard !
On their left hand, as they broached-to, the wall of granite sloped down from the clouds toward an isolated peak of rock, some two hundred feet in height. Then a hundred yards of roaring breaker upon a sunken shelf, across which the race of the tide poured like a cataract; then, amid a column of salt smoke, the Shutter, like a huge black fang, rose waiting for its prey; and between the Shutter and the land, the great galleon loomed dimly through the storm.
He, too, had seen his danger, and tried to broach-to. But his clumsy mass refused to obey the helm; he struggled a moment, half hid in foam ; fell away again, and rushed upon his doom.
"Lost ! lost ! lost!” cried Amyas madly, and throwing up his hands, let go the tiller. Yeo caught it just in time,
“Sir, sir ! What are you at? We shall clear the rock yet.” “ Yes !” shouted Amyas in his frenzy ; "but he will not !”
Another minute. The galleon gave a sudden jar, and stopped. Then one long heave and bound, as if to free herself. And then her bows lighted clean upon the Shutter.
An awful silence fell on every English soul, They heard not the roaring of wind and surge ; they saw not the blinding flushes of the lightning ; but they heard one long ear-piercing wail to every saint in heaven rise from five hundred human throats; they saw the mighty ship heel over from the wind, and sweep headlong down the cataract of the race, plunging her yards into the foam, and showing her whole black side even to her keel, till she rolled clean over, and vanished for ever and ever,
“Shame!” cried Amyas, hurling his sword far into the sea, "to lose my right, my right! when it was in my very grasp ! Unmerciful ! ”
A crack which rent the sky, and made the granite ring and quiver ; a: bright world of flame, and then a blank of utter darkness, against which stood out, glowing red-hot, every mast, and sail, and rock, and Salvation Yeo, as he stood just in front of Amyas, the tiller in his hand. All red-hot, transfigured into fire ; and behind, the black, black night.
A whisper, a rustling close beside him, and Brimblecombe's voice said softly“Give him more wine, Will; his eyes are opening."
Hey day?' said Amyas faintly, “not past the Shutter yet! How long she hangs in the wind !”
“We are long past the Shutter, Sir Amyas,” said Brimblecombe. “ Are
mad? Cannot I trust my own eyes ?” There was no answer for a while.
“We are past the Shutter, indeed," said Cary very gently, "and lying in the cove at Lundy."
“Will you tell me that that is not the Shutter, and that the Devil's-limekiln, and that the cliff-that villain Spaniard only gone—and that Yeo is not standing here by me, and Cary there forward, and—why, by-the-by, where are you, Jack Brimblecombe, who were talking to me this minute ?”
"Oh, Sir Amyas Leigh, dear Sir Amyas Leigh,” blubbered poor Jack, “put out your hand, and feel where you are, and pray the Lord to forgive you for your wilfulness !”
A great trembling fell upon Amyas Leigh ; half fearfully he put out his hand; he felt that he was in his hammock, with the deck beams close above his head. The vision which had been left upon his eye-balls vanished like a dream.
"What is this? I must be asleep? What has happened ? Where am I?”
“In your cabin, Amyas," said Cary. “ What? And where is Yeo ?”
“Yeo is gone where he longed to go, and as he longed to go. The same flash which struck you down, struck him dead,”
“ Dead ? Lightning? Any more hurt? I must go and see. Why, what is this ?" and Amyas passed his hand across
" It is all dark—dark, as I live !" And he passed his hand over his eyes again.
There was another dead silence, Amyas broke it.
"Oh, God!" shrieked the great proud sea-captain, "Oh, God, I am blind! blind ! blind !”