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made up their line; amongst their captains-besides Ambrosio de Boccanera, their Admiral-were Hernando de Leon, Roderigo de Rosas, and many other Castilian worthies.
Then the combat was renewed with bitterer ferocity than before; for the Spaniards recognized, not without shame, how few and ill-provided were those who had held them so long at bay; and the English fought like born bull-dogs as they were, knowing that hope of retreat or succour there was none, and bent on biting to the last. Neither did Guiscard d'Angle and his Poitevins bear themselves a whit less gallantly. Whatever his defects as a general, none questioned that John of Pembroke bore himself that day as a valiant knight; or that he was ably seconded by each and every one who sailed from Southampton in his company. Yet the end could not be doubtful. Besides the fearful artillery and terrible engines before mentioned, another devilish contrivance was, for the first time in civilized warfare, brought into play ; and the weaker side had not only to elude the shock of huge prows beetling over their own decks, and the crash of lead and iron, but also the contact of fire-ships. Mortal thews and sinews, however tough, must wear out at last; and the handiwork of shipwrights, ever so cunning, cannot hold out for ever. So 'tis no marvel if, as the day wore on, the cry of St. George Guienne-waxed fainter, and the luck of Castile began to prevail.
In such a condition as this, Brakespeare and Breckenridge found themselves about an hour before noon.
Awhile agone, with great toil and danger, they had shaken off one of those fire-ships; yet their sails had been all ablaze, and hung now in blackened rags from the yards, so that the craft could no longer be handled, and weltered like a log in the water. Nevertheless, before they were quite disabled, they had hurtled through the enemy's line; and now lay on the outer verge of the fight, nearest to the shore. There was a brief lull in the storm that had been harassing them ever since daybreak; a very brief one though-for, not three cables' length off, a huge Spanish galley was working round, like an armed man taking space to run a course; and all knew she only waited to get to windward, to bear down and finish the work already half done.
With a long breath like a gasp, Sir Walter Breckenridge lifted his vizor and looked on his companion, whose face was already bare. On either visage there was a certain seriousness, but that of the elder knight was the gloomier of the twain.
These accursed Spaniards wear not pointless stings." He glanced
rather ruefully round the deck, slippery with blood and cumbered with wounded-the corpses had been cast overboard without ruth or scruple. "Eftsoons must we make choice, betwixt surrendering to ransom or drowning where we stand; for our seams are strained even to bursting, and they tell me of a shrewd leak in the hold. 'Tis the part of a wise man, surely, to choose prison for a brief while, rather than the deep sea for ever and aye; but as we wax old we wax stubborn; and for myself I doubt. What thinkest thou? Thou hast good right to speak; never an one of King Edward's lieges hath wrought for him more doughtily than thou hast done since yesternoon."
"It is my trade”—the other answered coolly. "A day's work more or less matters little in the year's tale: the pleasant passage at your lordship's cost, is, so far, scarce overpaid. But my lips are parched with drought, and I fain would slake them, I own. I warrant, Lanyon here, if ye will grant him leave, would ferret out a flask of the rare liquor we drank last night at supper. There is time enow for a parting cup yet, whilst yon lumbering caravel hangs in the wind."
He spoke quite simply and naturally; not in reckless bravado, or in the ghastly merriment of despair; but rather like a man who hath stood too often on the very brink of the Dark River, to blench when he needs must set foot therein. The heart of the old soldier warmed with genuine admiration, and he smiled outright as he signed to Lanyon to obey. In a few seconds the squire returned, bearing a goodly flagon and a silver tankard; which last he filled to the brim with a practised hand. Brakespeare drained it to the last drop; and Breckenridge, when it was filled again, did him reason in like manner. They pledged each other-these two-with as hearty good-will, as if they had quenched their thirst after a tournay to the sound of flutes and clarions; yet they had no better music then, than the groans of the wounded round their feet, and the gurgle—each minute more and more ominously loud-of the water pouring through the rift in the hold.
Said the Free Companion :
"My lord Sir Walter, ye well can guard your own honour without counsel of mine; and well I wot that when ye speak the word ' surrender,' ye will have done all that beseems a Christian knight—and more. But for myself, I am not minded to see the withinside of a Spanish prison: moreover, I have a tryst to keep within brief space, the which, if I live, I will not fail. That I will stand by you to the last, it needs not to aver; but, when there is nought left here for me to do, I purpose to shift for myself by swimming. My squire here is a born water-dog;
we have swum for our sport, ere this, a longer space than lies betwixt us and the shore; the tide, too, is at the slack, and there is floating wreck enow about, whereon to rest if our arms shall tire."
The old knight smiled again-this time very sadly.
""Tis a brave design”—he said—“ and, if it be within compass of man's strength or hardihood, I doubt not thou wilt achieve it. Thou must carry thine answer concerning the matters we spake of to Bordeaux to other than me; for I know of a surety that this day Walter Breckenridge dealeth his last swordstroke. Still I trust that thy mind will be swayed aright, and that thou mayest yet do King Edward wight service. And so God keep and prosper thee."
Even while their hands were locked together, each glanced over his shoulder to windward. Not half a bowshot off, the great Spanish war-ship bore down under press of sail; her decks crowded with spearmen, and her towers bristling with cross-bows. In the forward turret stood a knight wearing a gorgeous surcoat over bright plate-armour; who ever and anon turned his head, motioning to the steersman with his drawn sword. This was none other than Ponce de Leon, brother to Hernando, the Vice-Admiral, and one of the famousest knights in Castile. The huge black stem forged nearer and nearer, as though purposing to strike the English craft amidships, and sink it with the mere shock; but at the last moment the galley's helm was jammed hard down, so that her sails shivered in the wind, and she ranged up to her enemy broadside on. As the bulwarks touched, the Spaniard cast out his grappells; and then ensued a mellay, fierce and obstinate.
Keen and reckless as in his maiden fray, old Walter Breckenridge cast himself into the teeth of the boarders; and, repelling their first onslaught, crossed blades on the Spanish deck with Ponce de Leon. So doughty, indeed, did the veteran bestir himself, that Ralph, though he had work enough on his own hands, could not refrain from glancing sometimes over his shoulder to watch the sword-play on his left. Suddenly a cry-half of wrath, half of warning-broke from the Free Companion's lips; but it came too late. Walter Breckenridge, fully engaged with the foe in his front, wist not of a blow levelled sidelong at him, till the mace descended where the neck joins the spine. 'Twas a felon stroke; but so starkly delivered that the brave old knight dropped dead in his tracks, with scarce a quiver in his lower limbs-like an ox felled in the shambles. Ponce de Leon turned, in hot anger, to see who had dared to interfere with his handiwork; but he had no chance to chide the offender. Ralph Brakespeare marked who dealt the