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The Quest of the 'Golden Hope': A Seventeenth Century Story of Adventure By Percy F. Westerman Characters: 10484

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


Safe in Port

'Twas a strange sight that met my eyes as I rushed on deck and gained the fo'c'sle.

The wind had fallen light, and in the cold, raw gloom of that November morning I could see ahead and on both sides of us a multitude of great warships.

They were sailing in close order, under all plain sail, and had just gone about on the starboard tack, for their crews were still engaged with the halyards and braces, in obedience to orders shouted in a foreign tongue.

This manoeuvre had thrown us fairly across their line, so that only by putting our helm hard up were we able to avoid being run down by a huge two-decker.

In the comparatively small limit of my vision, for the weather was thick, I counted over forty sail, though, judging by the sounds, there must have been twice that number hidden in the mist.

We scraped past the two-decker at barely ten yards' distance. She was high-sided, and painted with one broad yellow and two narrow brown stripes; while through her green-lined ports the muzzles of some thirty-two brass guns flashed dully in the moist atmosphere.

Her decks were crowded with men, for in addition to her crew there were about a hundred phlegmatic-looking soldiers, in blue-and-yellow uniforms. On her poop stood a burly great-coated officer, who raised his speaking-trumpet with the evident intention of hailing us; but apparently he thought better of it, and in almost perfect silence, save for the hiss of the water at her cutwater and the straining and creaking of her tackle, the ship glided past. Then, as she displayed her lofty stern, with its wreath of decorative giltwork, I read the name Maese.

For a full half-hour we were hard put to it to avoid being run down by the ships of the mighty fleet, which, we learned from the crew of the Phoenix, was known to have been lying at Helvoetsluys, ready to carry the Prince of Orange to England to wrest the crown from his incapable father-in-law, King James.

"Where are they bound for, being so far down Channel?" asked the master gunner.

"Nay, I know not," replied Captain Jeremy. "But Heaven forfend that they land in the West. Enough English blood was wasted in the last rising, as many of us know."

"What chance hath the Prince, think you?" he continued, addressing the master of the Phoenix, who had also turned out to see the unwonted sight.

"A far better one than had the Duke of Monmouth," was the answer; "though, with all his faults, give me King James. I fought under him when he was Duke of York, and a braver seaman never trod deck."

"Ah! James Duke of York and James King of England are two very different personages, I trow," replied Captain Jeremy. "The best fighter is ever the worst statesman."

"After all," said the master of the Phoenix, "so long as there are English ships at sea and plenty of work for us poor seamen, it matters not much who rules the roost. That's how the wind blows, say I."

"The wind draws ahead," observed Captain Jeremy; "that is the matter that concerns us chiefly. I doubt whether we'll see port today."

This was indeed the case, for the breeze, now provokingly light, had backed till it came from the east'ard, so that it meant a dead beat to windward. To men long absent from home this was especially galling, though in my case I found consolation in being in the company of Mistress Winifred, with whom I generally managed to have several hours pleasurable conversation.

Neither did we make Poole that day nor the next, for it fell a flat calm, after the manner of St. Martin's summer, so that for thirty-six hours we drifted with the tide within sight of the Dorset hills.

At length a steady southwesterly breeze sprang up, and, with barely a hogshead of biscuit and a gallon of water aboard, the Golden Hope came in sight of Poole Harbour.

"What cheer--ho, Master Light!" exclaimed Captain Jeremy, as a weather-beaten pilot came over the side. "How fares it at home?"

"Precious little news," replied the pilot, "though they say that English beef will henceforth be flavoured with Orange."

"So?"

"Aye; they say the Dutchman hath landed at Torbay, and advanced on Exeter. In short, there are all sorts of rumours, yet I pay scant heed to them."

With the air of a man who, in the exercise of his duty, scorns to indulge in conversation, Master Light made his way aft, and under his guidance the Golden Hope threaded the tortuous channel that leads to Poole Town.

"Is it your wish to berth alongside the quay?" demanded the pilot.

"Nay, rather I would anchor in the stream," replied Captain Jeremy, mindful of the precious nature of our cargo.

"Hands shorten sail!"

Slowly the Golden Hope, with ever-decreasing way, glided abreast of the town, and with the welcome order, "Let go", the anchor plunged into the muddy waters of Poole Harbour.

The voyage of the Golden Hope was over.

The news of the success of the Prince of Orange was hailed with delight by the former crew of the Neptune. To them it meant that they were free to return to their homes in the marshes of Somerset, without fear of being again hauled before the justices and sentenced to a horrible existence in the unhealthy swamps of Barbados; and on this acco

unt we, too, felt glad at the unexpected solution of their difficulties.

Our first care was to get the passengers and crew of the Phoenix safely ashore. There was, we heard, a stout barque on the point of sailing for Virginia in a few days' time, so that those who were of a mind to cross the ocean, and had sufficient means to pay for their passage, could avail themselves of her departure.

Mistress Farndale and her family had resolved to do this, but ere they went ashore I promised to call upon them as soon as my duties would permit, for until the matter of sharing the treasure was settled Captain Jeremy would allow no communication with the land.

Three days later two assessors, being duly qualified Government officers, came post haste from the Royal Mint and boarded us. The seals of the strong room were broken and the massive locks unfastened, and the task of allotting the wealth proceeded.

Having set aside the tithe claimed by the state, and also the amount due to Sir William Soams (who received a good eight hundred per centum on his outlay), the shares owing to the original crew of the Golden Hope and to the men of the Neptune were duly paid out.

Then the residue, by a rough calculation of the value of 180,000 pounds, was to be equally divided 'twixt Captain Jeremy and the heirs of the late Captain Richard Hammond. I could hardly realize the value of this immense sum, though I knew that our share was sufficient to restore the fortunes of our house to its former greatness.

The Golden Hope was now moored alongside a wharf on the Hamworthy side of the harbour, and at two bells in the afternoon watch the men mustered on deck, those who came off the Neptune having fallen in on the larboard side, each with his bundle ready for his long tramp to distant Sedgemoor.

In a few hearty words Captain Jeremy addressed them, thanking them for their services, and wishing them every success in their future. Then, after three ringing cheers, the "Neptunes", their pockets filled with coin, went ashore, amid the boisterous farewells of their comrades of the last two years and more; and as the little band of men, who were now returning to till the soil instead of ploughing the deep, disappeared from our view, I felt that another link with the past had been finally severed.

Our share of the treasure having been placed in safe keeping in the town vaults of the corporation of Poole, those of the crew who wished to take their discharge were dismissed, and under the command of Clemens and the master gunner the Golden Hope sailed for the Thames, where she was to be handed back to her owners.

Two days later Master Phillips, a London goldsmith, arrived, and, having carefully examined the plate, made us a good offer. Thus the precious cargo of the wrecked Madre de Dios passed out of our keeping, though I retained a few pieces of rare and costly workmanship as a visible reminder of the treasure that, according to the friar's prophecy, had been obtained through fire and blood.

* * * * *

Thus the story of the quest of the Golden Hope draws to a close, yet I must briefly dwell on the subsequent history of the principal characters who played their parts in the search for the Madre treasure.

'Enery, bluff, stouthearted seaman, is now master and part owner of the vessel in which he sailed with Captain Jeremy to the far-off West Indies, for the Golden Hope is now engaged in prosperous trading voyages to the Mediterranean ports. Yet whenever she returns home, Captain 'Enery, still much the same as of yore, generally contrives to visit his native Lymington; nor does he forget to extend his journey as far as Brockenhurst, where, joining with his former captain in a glass and a pipe, he'll fight his battles o'er again.

Of Clemens the Cornishman we still hear, though less frequently than we should like. He returned to his native town of Looe, where, having given up the sea, he has worked up a sound boat-building business.

Silas Touchstone, the master gunner, finding little use for his calling on private vessels, took service in His Majesty's Fleet, and promised to make a name for himself. Both at La Hogue and the desperate and successful attempt upon St. Malo our late master gunner was mentioned for conspicuous bravery. To what extent his dauntless courage would have led him 'twould have been hard to say, had not his career afloat been nipped in the bud by the loss of a leg in action in Vigo Bay.

On attaining my twenty-first birthday I took ship to Richmond, in Virginia, where Winifred and I were made one. A happier couple 'twould be hard to find, for our love has stood the test of time. Still, there are moments when I hear the call of the salt-laden breezes, and even yet I may once more adventure myself upon the high seas.

Nor must I omit mention of a tall, elderly man, who, despite his white locks and iron-grey beard, still carries himself erect and alert as of yore. A general favourite with my children, especially his little namesake, now a sturdy child of nine years, Captain Jeremy Miles has given up the sea, and spends the greater part of his leisure hours in spinning yarns to his interested listeners of the quest of the Golden Hope.

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