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Westward Ho!
by Charles Kingsley
The original, squashed down to read in about 25 minutes



(1855)



Charles Kingsley (12 June 1819 - 23 January 1875) from Holne in Devon, was a priest of the Church of England, a university teacher, historian and novelist. He is particularly associated with the West Country and northeast Hampshire. He was a friend and correspondent with Charles Darwin, and one of the first public figures to praise The Origin of Species. Like Dickens before him, most of his novels contain an element of social campaigning.

Abridged: JH

For more works by Charles Kingsley, see The Index



Westward Ho!


I. - How Amyas Came Home the First Time

One bright summer's afternoon in the year 1575 a tall and fair boy came lingering along Bideford Quay, in his scholar's gown, with satchel and slate in hand, watching wistfully the shipping and the sailors, till, just after he had passed the bottom of the High Street, he came to a group of sailors listening earnestly to someone who stood in the midst. The boy, all alive for any sea news, must needs go up to them, and so came in for the following speech, delivered in a loud, bold voice, with a strong Devonshire accent.

"I tell you, as I, John Oxenham, am a gentleman, I saw it with these eyes, and so did Salvation Yeo there; and we measured the heap, seventy foot long, ten foot broad, and twelve foot high, of silver bars, and each bar between a thirty and forty pound weight. Come along! Who lists? Who lists? Who'll make his fortune?"

"Who'll list?" cried a tall, gaunt man, whom the other had called Salvation Yeo. "Now's your time! We've got forty men to Plymouth now, ready to sail the minute we get back; and we want a dozen out of you Bideford men, and just a boy or two, and then we'm off and away, and make our fortunes or go to heaven."

Then the gaunt man pulled from under his arm a great white buffalo horn, covered with rough etchings of land and sea.

The horn was passed from hand to hand, and the schoolboy got a nearer sight of the marvel. To his astonished gaze displayed themselves cities and harbours, plate ships of Spain, and islands with apes and palm-trees, and here and there over-written: "Here is gold," and again, "Much gold and silver." The boy turned it round and round, anxious to possess this wonderful horn. And Oxenham asked him why he was so keen after it.

"Because," said he, looking up boldly, "I want to go to sea. I want to see the Indies. I want to fight the Spaniards." And the lad, having hurried out his say, dropped his head.

"And you shall," cried Oxenham. "Whose son are you, my gallant fellow?"

"Mr. Leigh's, of Burrough Court."

"Bless his soul! I know him as well as I do the Eddystone. Tell your father John Oxenham will come and keep him company."

The boy, Amyas Leigh, took his way homewards, and that night John Oxenham dined at Burrough Court; but failed to get Mr. Leigh's leave to take young Amyas with him, nor did Sir Richard Grenville, the boy's godfather, who was also at dinner, help him with his suit.

But somewhat more than a twelvemonth later, Mr. Leigh, going down on business to Exeter Assizes, caught - as was too common in those days - the gaol-fever from the prisoners, sickened in the very court, and died within a week.

"You must be my father now, sir," said young Amyas firmly to Sir Richard Grenville, on the day after the funeral.

And shortly afterwards, Amyas having broken his slate on the head of Vindex Brimblecombe, Sir Richard thought it well to go up to Burrough. And, after much talk and many tears, matters were so concluded that Amyas Leigh found himself riding joyfully towards Plymouth, and being handed over to Captain Drake, vanished for three years from the good town of Bideford.

And now he is returned in triumph, and the observed of all observers.

The bells of Bideford church cannot help breaking forth into a jocund peal. Bideford streets are a very flower-garden of all the colours, swarming with seamen and burghers and burghers' wives and daughters, all in their holiday attire. Garlands are hung across the streets and tapestries from every window. Every stable is crammed with horses, and Sir Richard Grenville's house is like a very tavern. Along the little churchyard streams all the gentle blood of North Devon, and on into the church, where all are placed according to their degrees, not without shovings and whisperings from one high-born matron and another. At last there is a silence, and a looking toward the door, and then distant music which comes braying and screaming up to the very church doors. Why are all eyes fixed on those four weather-beaten mariners, decked out with knots and ribbons by loving hands? And yet more on that gigantic figure who walks before them, a beardless boy, and yet with the frame and stature of a Hercules, towering, like Saul of old, a head and shoulders above all the congregation? And why, as the five fall on their knees before the altar rails, are all eyes turned to the pew where Mrs. Leigh, of Burrough, has hid her face between her hands, and her hood rustles and shakes to her joyful sobs? Because there was fellow-feeling of old in country and in town. And these are Devon men, and men of Bideford; and they, the first of all English mariners, have sailed round the world with Francis Drake, and are come to give God thanks.

II. - The Brotherhood of the Rose

It was during the three years of Amyas's absence that Rose Salterne, the motherless daughter of that honest merchant, the Mayor of Bideford, had grown into so beautiful a girl of eighteen that half North Devon was mad about the "Rose of Torridge," as she was called. There was not a young gallant for ten miles round who would not have gone to Jerusalem to win her, and not a week passed but some nosegay or languishing sonnet was conveyed into the Rose's chamber, all of which she stowed away with the simplicity of a country girl.

Frank Leigh, Amyas's elder brother, who had won himself honour at home and abroad, and was the friend of Sir Philip Sidney and in favour at the court of Queen Elizabeth, fell as deeply in love with the Rose when he came home to rejoice over the return of Amyas as any young squire of the county.

When the time came for him to set off again for London and for Amyas to join the queen's forces in Ireland, where war was now raging, Frank and Amyas concocted a scheme which was put into effect the next day - first by the innkeeper of the Ship Tavern, who began, under Amyas's orders, a bustle of roasting and boiling; and next by Amyas himself, who invited as many of his old schoolfellows as Frank had pointed out to him to a merry supper; by which crafty scheme in came each of Rose Salteme's gentle admirers and found himself seated at the table with six rivals.

When the cloth was drawn, and sack and sugar became the order of the day, and the queen's health had been duly drunk with all the honours, Frank rose.

"And now, gentlemen, let me give you a health which none of you, I dare say, will refuse to drink with heart and soul as well as with lips - the health of one whom beauty and virtue have so ennobled that in their light the shadow of lowly birth is unseen - the health of 'The Rose of Torridge,' and a double health to that worthy gentleman, whosoever he may be, whom she is fated to honour with her love."

Whereupon young Will Cary, of Clovelly Court, calls out, "Join hands all round, and swear eternal friendship, as brothers of the sacred order of the - of what, Frank Leigh?"

"The Rose!" said Frank, quietly.

And somehow or other, whether it was Frank's chivalrous speech, or Cary's fun, or Amyas's good wine, or the nobleness which lies in every young lad's heart, the whole party shook hands all round, and vowed on the hilt of Amyas's sword to stand by each other and by their lady-love, and neither grudge nor grumble, let her dance with, flirt with, or marry with whom she would; and, in order that the honour of their peerless dame and the brotherhood which was named after her might be spread through all lands, they would go home, and ask their fathers' leave to go abroad wheresoever there were "good wars."

Then Amyas, hearing a sneeze, made a dash at the arras behind him, and, finding a doorway there, speedily returned, dragging out Mr. John Brimblecombe, the stout, dark-skinned son of the schoolmaster.

Jack Brimblecombe, now one-and-twenty and a bachelor of Oxford, was in person exceedingly like a pig; but he was a pig of self-helpful and serene spirit, always, while watching for the best, contented with the worst, and therefore fattening fast while other pigs' ribs stare through their skins.

He had lingered in the passage, hovering around the fragrant smell; and, once there he could not help hearing what passed inside, till Rose Salterne's name fell on his ear. And now behold him brought in red-handed to judgment, not without a kick or two from the wrathful foot of Amyas Leigh.

"What business have I here?" said Jack, making answer fiercely, amid much puffing and blowing. "As much as any of you. If you had asked me in I would have come. You laugh at me because I'm a poor parson's son, and you fine gentlemen. God made us both, I reckon. I tell you I've loved her these three years as well as e'er a one of you, I have. Make me one of your brotherhood, and see if I do not dare to suffer as much as any of you! Let me but be your chaplain, and pray for your luck when you're at the wars. If I do stay at home in a country curacy, 'tis not much that you need be jealous of me with her, I reckon."

So, presently, after a certain mock ceremonial of initiation, Jack Brimblecombe was declared, on the word of Frank Leigh, admitted to the brotherhood, and was sent home with a pint of good red Alicant wine in him, while the rest had a right merry evening. After which they all departed - Amyas and Cary to Ireland, Frank to the court again. And so the Brotherhood of the Rose was scattered, and Mistress Salterne was left alone with her looking-glass.

III. - The Good Ship Rose

When Amyas was in Ireland he made captive a certain Spanish grandee, Don Guzman, and sent him to Sir Richard Grenville to be held at ransom. And then, the Irish being for the time subdued, Amyas sailed with Sir Humphrey Gilbert on that ill-fated voyage to Newfoundland, and returned in rags, landing at Plymouth, where he learnt news of Bideford.

Mrs. Hawkins, wife of John Hawkins the port admiral, gave him supper, and then told him that the Spanish prisoner had "gone off, the villain."

"Without paying his ransom?"

"I can't say that, but there's a poor, innocent young maid gone off with him, one Salterne's daughter."

"Rose Salterne, the mayor's daughter, the Rose of Torridge?"

"That's her. Bless your dear soul, what ails you?"

Amyas had dropped back in his seat as if he had been shot; but he recovered himself, and next morning started for Bideford.

The story was true. Don Guzman had been made governor of La Guayra, in the West Indies, and his ransom had been paid. But he had fallen in love with the Rose, and the girl, driven, some said, by the over-harshness of her father, who loved his daughter and knew not how to manage her, had willingly escaped with him.

Amyas called on Salterne, and the old burgher besought him to go in pursuit of the Spaniard, and promised he would spend any money that was needed to fit out a ship to avenge his child. And Amyas heard that honest John Brimblecombe, now a parson, mindful of his oath to the brotherhood, was longing to seek the Rose, though it might be in the jaws of death. Will Cary, too, was for a voyage to the Indies to cut the throat of Don Guzman.

Then Mrs. Leigh and Frank, her first-born, getting permission to leave the court, both consented to the voyage, and Frank would go too. Old Salterne grumbled at any man save himself spending a penny on the voyage, and forced on the adventurers a good ship of two hundred tons burden, and five hundred pounds towards fitting her out; Mrs. Leigh worked day and night at clothes and comforts of every kind; Amyas gave his time and his brains. Cary went about beating up recruits; while John Brimblecombe preached a fierce crusade against the Spaniards, and Frank grew more and more proud of his brother.

Old Salvation Yeo, who was now in Bideford, again brought twenty good men from Plymouth who had sailed with Drake.

And now November 15, 1583, has come, and the tall ship Rose, with a hundred men on board, and food in abundance, has dropped down from Bideford Quay to Appledore Pool. She is well-fitted with cannon and muskets and swords, and all agreed so well-appointed a ship had never sailed "out over Bar."

Mrs. Leigh went to the rocky knoll outside the churchyard wall and watched the ship glide out between the yellow dunes, and lessen slowly hour by hour into the boundless west, till her hull sank below the dim horizon, and her white sails faded away into the grey Atlantic mist.

And the good ship Rose went westward ho! and came in due time to La Guayra in the Indies, the highest cliff on earth, some seven thousand feet of rock parted from the sea by a narrow strip of bright green lowland. Amyas and his company are at last in full sight of the spot in quest of which they have sailed four thousand miles of sea. Beyond the town, two or three hundred feet up the steep mountain side, is a large white house, with a royal flag of Spain flaunting before it. That must be the governor's house; that must be the abode of the Rose of Torridge. There are ships of war in the landing-place.

Amyas's plan was to wait till midnight, attack the town on the west, plunder the government storehouses, and then fight their way back to their boats. To reach the governor's house seemed impossible with the small force at their disposal.

But Frank would not have their going away without doing the very thing for which they came.

"I will go up to that house, Amyas, and speak with her!" he said.

Then Amyas, Cary, and Brimblecombe drew lots as to which of them should accompany him, and the lot fell upon Amyas Leigh.

At midnight Amyas went on deck, and asked for six volunteers. Whosoever would come should have double prize money.

"Why six only, captain?" said an old seaman. "Give the word, and any and all of us will go up with you, sack the house, and bring off the treasure and the lady before two hours are out!"

"No, no, my brave lads! As for treasure, it is sure to have been put all safe into the forts; and, as for the lady, God forbid that we should force her a step without her own will."

The boat with Frank, Amyas, and the six seamen reached the pebble beach. There seemed no difficulty about finding the path to the house, so bright was the moon. Leaving the men with the boat, they started up the beach, with their swords only.

"She may expect us," whispered Frank. "She may have seen our ship, and some secret sympathy will draw her down towards the sea to-night."

They found the path, which wound in zig-zags up the steep, rocky slope, easily. It ended at a wicket-gate, and they found the gate was open when they tried it.

"What is your plan?" said Amyas.

"I have none. I go where I am called - love's willing victim."

Amyas was at his wits' end. A light was burning in a window on the upper story; twenty black figures lay sleeping on the terrace.

Frank saw the shadow of the Rose against the window. She came down, and he made a wild appeal to her.

"Your conscience! Your religion - "

"No, never! I can face the chance of death, but not the loss of my husband. Go! For God's sake leave me!"

Frank turned, and Amyas dragged him down the hill. Both were too proud to run, but the whole gang of negroes were in pursuit, and stones were flying.

They were not twenty-five yards from the boat, when the storm burst and a volley of great quartz pebbles whistled round their heads. Frank is struck, and Amyas takes him over his shoulders and plunges wildly on towards the beach.

"Men, to the rescue!" Amyas shouts. "Fire, men! Give it the black villains!"

The arquebuses crackled from the boat in front, but, balls are answering from behind. The governor's guard have turned out, followed them to the beach, and are firing over the negroes' heads.

Amyas is up to his knees in water, battered with stones, blinded with blood; but Frank is still in his arms. Another heavy blow - confused mass of negroes and English, foam and pebbles - a confused roar of shouts, shots, curses, and he recollects no more.

He is lying in the stern-sheets of the boat, stiff and weak. Two men only are left of the six, and Frank is not in the boat. With weary work they made the ship, and as, the alarm being now given, it was hardly safe to remain where they were, it was agreed to weigh anchor. Amyas had no hope that Frank might still be alive. So ended that fatal venture of mistaken chivalry.

IV. - Amyas Comes Home for the Third Time

More than three years have passed since the Rose sailed out from Bideford, and never a word has reached England of what has befallen the ship and her company.

Many have been the adventures of Amyas and the men who have followed him. Treasure they have got in South America, and old Salvation Yeo has found a young girl whom he had lost twelve years before, grown up wild among the Indians. Ayacanora she is called, and she is white, for her father was an Englishman and her mother Spanish, for all her savage ways; and will not be separated from her discoverers, but insists on going with them to England. And Amyas has learnt that his brother Frank was burnt by order of the Inquisition, and with him Rose, and that Don Guzman had resigned the governorship of La Guayra.

Amyas swore a dreadful oath before all his men when he was told of the death of Frank and Rose, that as long as he had eyes to see a Spaniard and hands to hew him down he would give no quarter to that accursed nation, and that he would avenge all the innocent blood shed by them.

And now it is February, 1587, and Mrs. Leigh, grown grey and feeble in step, is pacing up and down the terrace walk at Burrough. A flash is seen in the fast darkening twilight, and then comes the thunder of a gun at sea. Twenty minutes later, and a ship has turned up the Bideford river, and a cheer goes up from her crew.

Yes, Amyas has come, and with him Will Cary and the honest parson, Jack Brimblecombe, and the good seamen of Devon; and Ayacanora, who knelt down obedient before Mrs. Leigh because she had seen Amyas kneel, and whom Mrs. Leigh took by the hand and led to Burrough Court.

William Salterne would take none of his share of the treasure which was brought home, and which he had a just claim to.

"The treasure is yours, sir," he said to Amyas. "I have enough, and more than enough. And if I have a claim in law for aught, which I know not, neither shall ever ask - why, if you are not too proud, accept that claim as a plain burgher's thank-offering to you, sir, for a great and a noble love which you and your brother have shown to one who, though I say it to my shame, was not worthy thereof."

That night old Salterne was found dead, kneeling by his daughter's bed. His will lay by him. Any money due to him as owner of the Rose, and a new barque of 300 tons burden, he had bequeathed to Captain Amyas Leigh, on condition that he should re-christen that barque the Vengeance, and with her sail once more against the Spaniard.

In the summer of 1588 comes the great Armada, and Captain Leigh has the Vengeance fitted out for war, and is in the English Channel. He has found out that Don Guzman is on board the Santa Catherina, and is set on taking his revenge.

For twelve months past this hatred of Don Guzman has been eating out his heart, and now the hour has struck. But the Armada melts away in the storms of the North Sea, and Captain Leigh has pursued the Santa Catherina round the Orkneys and down to Lundy Island. And there, on the rock called the Shutter, the Santa Catherina strikes, and then vanishes for ever and ever.

"Shame!" cried Amyas, hurling his sword far into the sea, "to lose my right, when it was in my very grasp!"

A crack which rent the sky, a bright world of flame, and then a blank of utter darkness. The great proud sea captain has been struck blind by the flash of lightning.

Once more Amyas Leigh has come home. His work is over, his hatred dead. And Ayacanora will comfort him.

"Amyas, my son," said Mrs. Leigh, "fear not to take her to your heart, for it is your mother who has laid her there!"

"It is true, after all," said Amyas to himself. "What God has joined together, man cannot put asunder."



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