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THE SPANISH ARMADA.
By W. CLARK RUSSELL.
[WILLIAM CLARK RUSSELL, the popular English writer of sea stories, was born in New York city, February 24, 1844 ; son of the vocalist Henry Russell, author of “Cheer, Boys, Cheer” and “A Life on the Ocean Wave," and of Isabella Lloyd, niece of the poet Charles Lloyd. He was in the British merchant service from thirteen to twenty, when he abandoned the sea for journalism. Since 1887 he has devoted himself entirely to writing fiction. Among the most popular of his nautical novels are : “ John Holdsworth, Chief Mate” (1874), "The Wreck of the Grosvenor,'' “ The Lady Maud,” “Jack's Courtship," “Frozen Pirate," " Marooned,” “ Romance of Jenny Harlowe,” “An Ocean Tragedy," "My Danish Sweetheart," " The Convict Ship," " The Last Entry." He has also written a sketch of Nelson (1890), and a life of Collingwood (1891).]
As the curtain of memory rises upon the most majestic, if not the most glorious, of the conflicts in all maritime history, the very first scene disclosed is hardly less noteworthy than the most impressive of the features of the mighty marine piece. It is a clear summer night; the stars are bright, and spangle the fine liquid dusk down to the sea line; but in the far east there is the green faintness of the lunar dawn, and the black line of the rolling horizon stands out against it as though wrought by the sweep of a brush steeped in India ink. A pinnace of those days, a little sailing craft of some hundred tons, let us call it, is buzzing through the dark waters, with her head east-northeast for Plymouth town. She is a piratical craft, with the Jolly Roger for her bunting, and is commanded by Master Thomas Fleming, a hardy Scotsman. He is short of victuals and water, and his ship besides has been somewhat roughly handled by successive gales of wind; so he is homeward bound, after a tedious and idle filibustering cruise. But it is for something more than the mere design of filling his casks and re-stocking his tierces that he is speeding for the English coast under every press of cloth he can spread abroad. For it is only just now that, whilst standing near the tiller looking to windward, with the weatherly eye of a sailor ever on the watch for a change, he took notice of a blot of blackness making a deeper dye upon the shadow of the night far down in the south. And away past it he descried such another blotch, and yet another and another still, and so on through a range of hard upon two leagues of seaboard; showing, all of
them, like the shoulders of black clouds lifting slowly to the stars, with a compacted mass of vapor to follow.
But Fleming was born in a land that breeds the finest race of sailors in the world, besides having served a long apprenticeship to the business of keeping a bright lookout for prizes. It was impossible he could be mistaken. Every instinct of the mariner in him gave him warning; indeed, it was in full cry at a breath. 'Twas the Spaniard coming, by Our Lady! Those dusky loomings were ships, and nothing else. They were the swelling canvas of the mighty galleons and huge carracks of the Don. So it was "crack on all” with the pirate, and “buzz away with him to Plymouth town to give the news, as nimbly as ever the soft summer night wind could blow his little round-bowed craft along. The mere fancy of the fate of England hanging upon that small craft, swinging her quaint form over the long swells of the Atlantic rolling northwards to the narrow seas, should make a man hold his breath, even three hundred years afterwards, for a moment, as he thinks how it might have been with this tight little island but for the alertness of that piratical, patriotic old Scotsman, willing to heave overboard all sulky prejudice against England, all sullen resentment over the beheading of Queen Mary, at sight of yonder dusky challenge to his heart as a Briton. England lay sleeping restfully after months of bitter disquiet. Master Thomas Fleming knew that. His own suspicions had been lulled, though he had hung much about the Spanish seaboard. The mighty fleet had sailed from the Tagus; but the news of its having been dispersed by a tempest that had wrecked three of the Portuguese galleys, dismasted eight of the bigger ships, and forced the Duke of Medina Sidonia, with such as were visible of his Armada clinging to his skirts, into the Bay of Corunna, there to refresh and to ship more soldiers, was already old. Fleming, picking up the gossip, as he cruised here and there, knew that the British High Admiral, the Lord Charles Howard, had received her Majesty's commands to send four of her tallest and strongest ships to Chatham for repairs and reëquipment, as it was the Queen's belief that the Spanish fleet had no present intention of putting to sea. The pirate was also aware that many of the British ships lying at Plymouth were in a partially dismantled condition, the crews ashore, sails unbent, rigging unrove; and that the fate of the nation was sealed, if the stems of the Don's mighty galleons
struck our English home waters before the noble Howard could be apprised of the enemy's approach. This wonderful passage of our national story grows confused presently with the intermingling of contending vessels, disjointed murderous struggles, the flames of fire ships, the rage of battle slowly trending, like a pall of gunpowder smoke, from abreast of the Start to the white terraces of the Forelands. But that incident of Fleming, that detail of his little pinnace seeming to yearn, in her swelling canvas, with the same wild longing to make haste that animated the spirit of the pirate, stands out bright and sharp in its isolation. One sees the figure of the man, in slouched hat, short cloak, belted doublet, jack boots, spiked beard, and mustachios curled upon his cheeks, standing at the rail of his humming craft, and sending a falcon glance under the sharp of his hand into the southern dusk, where the loom of a hundred dark shadows break the continuity of the sea line there.
It was at four o'clock in the afternoon on July 19, according to the old writers, that Master Thomas Fleming, being arrived at Plymouth Sound, rowed to the Lord High Admiral and told him that the Spaniard was close aboard, sailing large under towers of canvas, vast, incredible multitude of him. It is three hundred years ago, but the variations of human nature are as the polaric changes of the compass, slow, with a steadfast recurrence to the old bearings; and nothing is easier than to imagine to-day what the feeling then was when Fleming delivered his report. There is an old story of Sir Francis Drake leisurely completing his game of bowls, after a glance of indifference seawards. It is a good tale for the marines. There is no illustration in all naval history that so gloriously expressed the English seaman's genius of promptitude as the dispatch Howard and his men exhibited in making ready to prepare for sea and confront the enemy. A large number of the sailors and soldiers belonging to the Royal ships were ashore, as Fleming had heard ; yet before darkness had settled down that same night the admiral was lying ready with six ships, waiting for the morning to break for others to join him. They arrived in twos and threes, and assuredly not one moment too soon ; for at midday the Armada hove into view, whitening in a crescent seven miles of sea with its flowing canvas, and glorifying the blue of the sky beyond it with the radiance of fluttering pennons. The enemy's strength was