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blow-a tall, dark-visaged hidalgo-and swore under his breast a bitter oath that he would have that man's life, at whatsoever peril of his own.
But he chose a surer way than combat, after the rules of warfare; wherein, by stress of numbers, he might have been baulked of his vengeance, and lost liberty to boot. Flinging down his estoc, so that both hands were free, he drove headlong through the press, and in another second, those two were knit in grapple. The Spaniard's mace was useless; but, plucking his poignard from its sheath, he smote his assailant with it on the breast, fair and full. The Toledan blade shivered like glass on the Milan mail-shirt; and, before any were aware of his intent, the Free Companion had dragged his victimchoking and struggling in a grasp against which the gorget was poor fence-across the deck, through the skirts of the throng, and plunged over the weather bulwark, keeping the fetter-lock of his fingers fast. With a splash that was heard over all the battle-din, the two bodies struck the water together; but only one rose to the surface; the other the deep sea kept for her own-to have and to hold until the day, when, perforce, she must render up her dead.
Lanyon, as you know, was standing within earshot when his master first spoke of swimming; and incontinently, without further orders, he began to make ready—in this wise.
There was still a goodly quantity of liquor left in the flask that he carried back to the cabin; putting this to his lips, he drained it to the very dregs, muttering to himself some gruff apology about "keeping out the cold." Next he cast loose his cumbrous leather gipon, and doffed his bascinet, so that he stood bareheaded in tight-fitting jerkin and hose; then he took out of an iron-bound coffer a broad leathern belt, and thrust into this, when he had buckled it round his waist, a light dudgeon-dagger. Thus accoutred, he emerged on deck, just at the moment when the Spaniard cast out his grappling-ladders. The squire had evidently no purpose of taking part in the mellay. He was a very glutton of hard blows at proper times and seasons; but he was none of those hair-brained desperadoes who fight for fighting sake, and would as soon have thought of thrusting himself into a feast whereto he was not bidden, as into a fray where he had no concern. So he
climbed was out of danger, save from stray missiles; and followed keenly and coolly every movement of his master's, intending to guide his own thereby. Seeing Brakespeare disappear, with his prey in his gripe,
up a little way into the lee rigging, where, for the nonce, he
over the bulwark of the Spanish galley, Lanyon drew a long, slow breath, after the fashion of practised divers; and, without more ado, leaped head foremost into the water.
When the Free Companion came up panting after the long plunge, the first sound in his ears was a familiar voice close by.
"Hither away, my lord. Hither away."
And, as he dashed the brine out of his eyes, he saw rising on the crest of the swell the shaggy head and bull-neck of his old retainer.
So many and diverse were the phases of peril those two had faced together, that both master and man took such matters now with incredible equanimity.
"Aha! thou art here, then ?"—was all the knight said. Then, with one hand, unclasping his bascinet, he tossed it away, turned himself about, and led the way shorewards. They might have advanced half a furlong, when a great cry from behind made both 'swimmers look back.
Mere weight of numbers had forced the English back to the deck of their own vessel, and there the fray was waged savagely as ever; for the stout squires and sturdy yeomen fought on the more doggedly, because, since their leader was down, there was none cared to take upon himself to cry "Surrender ;" and the Spaniards, enraged by such obstinacy, were little minded to show quarter. So they hurtled to and fro, never heeding the gurgle of the water rushing into the hold under their feet, or the gunwale's sinking till it touched the water's edge. All at once came a heel to leeward; the green foam-flecked surge swept in amidships up to the waists of the combatants; and tearing herself clear of the grapples, the English craft foundered bodily-carrying with her the dead, the wounded, and the living, who were scarce in better case: for, of those who went down alive, all harnessed, into the ghastly whirlpool, not one in ten saw light again. Amongst the drowned were Ponce de Leon, and other renowned Castilian captains besides. So, when awhile later, the Spaniards stripped Breckenridge of his armour, and flung his corpse over with the rest, a gallant company waited for him down there twenty fathoms deep; though never an one of the sleepers, when he came amongst them, turned on his pillow. "God rest their souls!"-quoth the knight, through his set teeth. “Amen”—said the squire.
With that brief funeral oration, each set his face again shorewards, and swam on silently. For a while they made steady way; the tide, which was at its slack, neither aiding nor impeding
But they were still some distance from the nearest rocky promontory opposite the Isle de Ré, when Ralph Brakespeare began to draw his strokes more and more slowly: and his strength was plainly well-nigh spent.
"A plague on this mail-shirt"-he said, hoarsely, as Lanyon ranged up alongside. "On land it weighed no more than if it had been woven of silk; but it is a shrewd weight to carry through water, and cramps. mine arms to boot. I shall sleep with old Walter Breckenridge to-night after all. So shift for thyself, honest Will: if thou dost win safe back to Hacquemont, tell them that I tried hard to keep tryst."
For the first time in all his life the sturdy Kentishman's heart fluttered like a girl's; yet he constrained himself to speak cheerily.
Nay, nay, my lord, 'tis not yet come to such a pass as to think of farewells. For the matter of that, whether ye sink or swim, I am minded to keep your company. Take breath for a brief space, resting your hands on my shoulders-so. Fear not to trust yourself: I profess I feel not your weight."
For a minute or two there was silence, broken only by the knight's deep labouring breath, during which Lanyon's small keen eyes roved anxiously round over the smooth sea.
"What is that?" he cried out at last, leaping breast-high from the water. By the Mass! if I mistake not, we are saved. Yon wave, breaking in a smooth sea must needs break on a rock a-wash; 'twill be hard if we find not standing ground thereon till the cramp passeth." Some two-score strokes brought them to the spot, and the esquire's hopes proved to be well-founded. It was one of the small sunken islets, common along that dangerous coast, that at ebb-tide are nearly bare; the water now scarcely more than covered it, and there was so little swell that the swimmers had no difficulty in keeping hand and foot-hold. When the strain on his sinews was once slackened, Ralph Brakespeare breathed freely again; and his numbed limbs grew lissom and strong once more in the bright sunshine. Before the water on the rock grew waist-deep, he was sufficiently refreshed to start again; so, swimming slowly in on the back of the young flood-tide, without further danger or mishap they set foot on the reefs, and scrambled safely to shore.
Whilst he took needful rest, sitting on the brown sands, Ralph looked anxiously seaward; and to his practised eyes and ears it was plain that the battle was done. The roar and rattle of the Spanish artillery had ceased altogether; and the shout that came across the water
was as the shout of triumph, not of combat; the throng of ships was beginning to disentangle itself into something like regular lines; whilst every pennon that could be discerned bore the arms of Castile.
At length the knight arose, shaking himself impatiently.
"A sorry sight"-he muttered-"a sorry sight. Though if stout Walter Breckenridge were alive and free, I know not why I should greatly care. Come on, and let us hear what they are saying in Rochelle; albeit, if we find no old acquaintance there, we are like to fare foully, both in food and lodging. The beggarly citizens are scarce like to give us either for charity."
"We need not be beholden to them for such matters "—the squire made answer, with the gruff chuckle which always betokened approval of himself or others. "'Twas not for naught I girt myself with this belt before starting. It felt parlous heavy when your worship looked so wan; and I was fumbling with the buckle, when mine eye lighted on yon blessed rock. Marry, 'tis as well I slipped it not!"
As he smote on the leather with his brawny hand, there came from within a pleasant jangle of gold.
Craving favour at strangers' hands was so repugnant to Ralph Brakespeare's nature, that he felt scarcely less grateful to Lanyon for his providence, than if he had saved his life twice over; yet he only said "I thank thee "'—as he strode onwards without lifting his head from his breast; and with this acknowledgment the squire was more than content.
The event of the long battle was known ere this in La Rochelle; and the townsmen in their hearts were not a little pleased thereat. Yet they thought it best to refrain from public rejoicing-not knowing how soon they might have to give account, for their slackness in rendering aid when it was so bitterly needed. And they did wisely; for on the following day-being the feast of St. John-six hundred Gascon and English spears, headed by the Captal de Buch, Percy, Freville, and Devereux, marched into the town.
Much incensed and grieved were those famous captains, when they found they had come too late; and were fain, that same afternoon, to look on from the walls whilst the Spaniards weighed anchor to beat of drum and flourish of trumpet-their pennons blazoned with the arms of Castile and Arragon, trailing to the sea-and steered for the coast of Galicia, if with not much booty aboard, with prisoners worth goodly ransom.
Mr. Swinburne's Essay on Blake.*
WILLIAM BLAKE, the most spiritual of English artists, and most mystical of English poets, was very obscurely known during his seventy years of life. He was born and bred in the midst of a prosaic generation, with whom his wayward and fiery genius had nothing akin, nor did he take any pains to become popular. Most men write hoping that other men will take pleasure in their compositions. Blake wrote to please himself, and, being an engraver and artist, he possessed the appliances for placing his mental conceptions in what he deemed the most desirable form before his material vision. He engraved his poems on his own copperplates, illustrated and coloured them with his own hands, and then sold these costly productions to a select few, some of whom really appreciated his merits, while others bought his books as an excuse for exercising a delicate charity towards a struggling man. Blake thoroughly despised popularity of the commoner sort, and often designedly wrote and drew that which he knew would shock popular prejudice. As, moreover, the majority of his compositions are of a cloudy, mystical character, full of startling heresies embedded in masses. of almost incomprehensible imagery, it is not likely that many people will ever have patience to toil through them. Even his briefer pieces, such as the Songs of Innocence and Experience, whose merits lie comparatively on the surface, are far less known than they deserve to be, and though their charming and incomparable simplicity affords a most refreshing contrast to the laboured and artificial elegance of most poetry composed during the latter half of the eighteenth century, they were but faintly praised even by such men as Southey and Wordsworth, who spoke of the author as an insane man of genius." Charles Lamb was the only man of eminence of that day who really appreciated Blake's merits.
Those who are unacquainted with the incidents of Blake's career, and who would learn more about a very remarkable-and despite his peculiarities-a very loveable man, will do well, before reading Mr. Swinburne's elaborate essay, to consult the delightful memoir of Blake written by the late Mr. Gilchrist. Concerning his outward life, it is enough to observe here that Blake was a born and bred Londoner, though endowed with an intense admiration for rural things; that * William Blake, a Critical Essay, by A. C. Swinburne. London. 1868.