The sun was setting brilliantly behind
the peninsula that juts out into the English Channel
and forms the department of La Manche; its last rays
as it fell away behind Cherbourg lit up a strange scene.
On land, looking east, were thirty thousand so-called
French troops; they were, indeed, mostly Irish rapparees
whom Louis had thought suitable for an invasion of
England under James and his own marshal, Bellefonds;
among them and in command were Bellefonds, Melfort,
and James himself now a heartbroken man.
Also there stood by his side one who knew that not
only his heart but his life was broken too Tourville,
who had now come ashore.
What they gazed on in the bay was
enough to break the hearts of any.
There, gathered together, the flames
leaping from the decks to enfold and set on fire the
furled sails, the magazines exploding, the great guns
turned toward the land that owned them and their projectiles
mowing down all on that land, were the best ships of
that French fleet which had put out to sea to crush
the English. Among them were Le Merveilleux,
L’Ambitieux, Le Foudriant, Le Magnifique, Le
St. Philip, L’Etonnant, Le Terrible,
Le Fier, Le Gaillard, Le Bourbon, Le
Glorieux, Le Fort, and Louis. And all were doomed
to destruction, for the English fleet had blockaded
them into the shallow water of La Hogue; there was
no escape possible.
Three hours ere that sun set, Rooke
had sent for St. Georges and bade the latter follow
“I transfer my flag at once,”
he said, “to the Eagle, so as better to direct
a flotilla of fireships and boats. Come with me,”
and stepping into his barge he was quickly rowed to
that vessel with St. Georges alongside him in the
Reaching the Eagle, Rooke, who had
now the command of the attacking party, rapidly made
his dispositions for despatching the flotilla the
officering of the various fireships being at his disposition.
“My Lord Danby,” he said
to that gallant captain, who had refused to remain
doing nothing in his own ship, “you will attack
with the Half Moon and thirty boats; you, Lieutenant
Paul, with the Lightning and thirty more. Mr.
St. Georges, who has done well for us to-day, and has
a trifling grudge against our friends, will take the
And so he apportioned out the various
commands, until, in all, two hundred fireships and
attenders were ready to go into the doomed fleet.
At first things were not favourable.
The Half Moon ran ashore, blown thereto by the breeze
from off the sea, but in an instant Lord Danby’s
plans were formed. He and his crew destroyed her,
so that she could not be used against their own fleet,
then swiftly put off in their boats and rejoined the
others. Meanwhile those others were rapidly creeping
in toward the French.
Already two fireships had set Le Foudriant
and L’Etonnant on fire, the boats were getting
under the bows of all the others, the boarders were
swarming up the sides, cutlasses in hand and mouths,
and hurling grenades on to the French decks.
“Follow!” called St. Georges,
as, his foot upon a quarter-gallery breast rail, his
hand grasping the chain, he leaped into the huge square
port of Le Terrible. “Follow, follow!”
and as he cried out, the sailors jumped in behind
Yet, when they had entered the great
French ship, there was no resistance offered.
She was deserted! As they had come up the starboard
side, her crew, officers and men, had fled over the
larboard as hard as they could swim or wade
they were making for the shore. Yet her guns
on the lower tier forward were firing slowly, one
by one as the boats reached them. A grenade had
been hurled in as St. Georges’s party passed
under her bows and had set the ship alight forward,
and the flames were spreading rapidly.
“Quick!” St. Georges exclaimed,
“ignite her more in the waist and here in the
stern. Cut up some chips, set this after cabin
on fire. As it burns, the flames will fall and
explode the magazine. Some men also to the guns,
draw the charges of those giving on us; leave charged
those pointing toward the shore.”
All worked with a will if
they could not get at the Frenchmen themselves, they
had, at least, the ships to vent their passions upon some
tore up fittings, some chopped wood, some ignited tow
and oakum; soon the stern of the Terrible was in flames.
Meanwhile, from Le Fier hard by so
near, indeed, that her bows almost touched the rudder
of the ship they were in there came an awful
explosion. Her magazine was gone, and as it blew
up it hurled half the vessel into the air, while great
burning beams fell on to the deck of the Terrible
and helped to set her more alight.
“To the boats!” ordered
St. Georges, “to the boats! There is more
work yet, more to be destroyed.” And again,
followed by his men, they descended to their attenders
But now the tide was retreating, they
could do no more that night. They must wait until
the morrow when the tide would come back. Then
there would be, indeed, more work to do. There
were still some transports unharmed; they, too, must
They called the roll that night in
the British fleet. There were many men wounded,
but not one killed. So, amid the noise
of powder rooms and magazines exploding, and under
a glare from the burning French ships which made the
night as clear as day they lay down and rested.
And in the morning they began again.
“The work,” the admiral
said, “is not done yet. It is now to be
Back went, therefore, the fireships
and attenders this time it was the turn
of the transports.
“Hotter this than yesterday,”
called out Lord Danby to St. Georges from one boat
to the other, as, propelled by hundreds of oars, all
swept in toward the transports. His lordship’s
face was raw and bleeding now, for on the previous
day he had burned and nearly blinded himself by blowing
up tow and oakum to set on fire a vessel which he
and his men were engaged in destroying. “Hotter
now. See, there are some soldiers in the transport,
and the forts on shore are firing on us. On,
on, my men!” and he directed those under his
charge to one transport, while St. Georges did the
same as he selected another.
There were more than a dozen of those
transports, and against them went the two hundred
boats, Rooke in chief command. As they neared
the great vessels, however, on that bright May morning,
they found that the work of last night had only to
be repeated. They poured into the ships from
the starboard side, the French poured out on the larboard;
those who could not escape were slaughtered where they
stood. And if to St. Georges any further impetus
was needed though none was, for his blood
was up now to boiling heat and France was the most
hated word he knew it was given him as
he approached the vessel he meant to board; for, from
it, out of a stern port, there glared a pair of eyes
in a ghastly face a face that looked as
though transfixed with horror! the eyes
and face of De Roquemaure! With a cry that made
the rowers before him think he had been struck by
a bullet, so harsh and bitter it was, he steered the
barge alongside the vessel; in a moment he had clambered
on the deck, followed by man after man; had cut down
a French soldier who opposed him, and was seeking his
way toward the cabin where the other was.
“There is an officer below,”
he muttered hoarsely to those who followed him.
“He is mine remember, mine none
others. My hand alone must have his life, my
sword alone take it. Remember!”
As his followers scattered some
to slay the few remaining on board who had not escaped,
some to rush forward and ignite the fore part of the
transport, others to fire the great guns laid toward
the shore, and still others to find and burst open
the powder room he rushed down to where
that cabin was, his sword in hand, his brain on fire
at the revenge before him.
“Now! now! now!” he murmured. “At
Under the poop he went, down the aftermost
companion ladder, through a large cabin the
officers’ living room and then to
a smaller one beyond, opening out of the other on
the starboard side the cabin from which
he had seen the livid, horror-stricken face of his
enemy. But it was closed tight and would not
give to his hand.
“Open,” he called; “open,
you hound, open! You cannot escape me now.
Open, I say!”
There came no word in answer.
All was silent within, though, above, the roars and
callings of the sailors made a terrible din.
“You hear?” again cried
St. Georges, “you hear those men? Open,
I say, and meet your death like a man! Otherwise
you die like a dog! One way you must die.
They are setting fire to the magazine. Cur, open!”
The bolt grated from within as he
spoke, and the door was thrown aside. De Roquemaure
stood before him.
Yet his appearance caused St. Georges
to almost stagger back, alarmed. Was this the
man he had dreamed so long of meeting once again, this
creature before him! De Roquemaure was without
coat, vest, or shirt; his body was bare; through his
right shoulder a terrible wound, around which the
blood was caked and nearly dry. His face, too,
was as white as when he had first seen it from the
boat, his eyes as staring.
“So,” he said, “it
is you, alive! Well, you have come too
late. I have got my death. What think you
I care for the sailors or the powder room? I
was struck yesterday by some of the Englishmen who
passed here as the tide turned, who fired into this
ship ere the tide the tide the ”
“Yet will I make that death
sure!” St. Georges cried, springing at him.
“Wounds do not always kill. You may recover
this from my thrust you shall never recover!” and
he shortened his sword to thrust it through his bare
“I am unarmed,” the other
wailed. “Mercy! I cannot live!”
“Ay, the mercy you showed me!
The attempted murder of my child the theft
of her, the murder perhaps done by now the
galleys! Quick, your last prayer!”
Yet even as he spoke he knew that
he was thwarted again. He could not strike, not
slay, the thing before him. The villain was so
weakened by his wound that he could scarce stand,
even though grasping a bulkhead with his two hands;
was must be dying. Why take
his death, therefore, upon his soul when Fate itself
was claiming him? It would be murder now, not
Moreover, he had another task to execute
ere it was too late.
“Wretch,” he exclaimed,
“die as you are find hell at last
without my intervention! Yet, if you value a
few more minutes of existence, gain them thus.
Tell me, ere you go, where you have hidden my child what
done with ”
Before he could finish there came
another roar from an exploding transport, the sound
of beams and spars falling in the water round; a darkness
over the cabin produced by the volumes of smoke; the
screams of wounded and burnt Frenchmen hurled into
the sea; the loud huzzas and yells of the British
sailors. Then, as that roar and shock died away,
there rose in the air another sound a pæan
of triumph that must have reached the ears of those
on shore as it also reached the ears of those two
men face to face in that cabin. From hundreds
of throats it pealed forth, rising over all else crackling
wood, guns firing, the swish of oars, orders bawled,
and shrieks of dead and dying.
It was the English sailors singing
Henry Carey’s song, almost new then, now known
over all the world:
“God save our gracious
Long live our
save the king!”
“Answer,” St. Georges
cried, “ere your master, the devil, gets you!
ere I send you to him before even he requires you!”
The man had sunk down upon a locker
outside the bunk, his two hands flattened out upon
the lid, his face turned up in agony. From either
side of his mouth there trickled down a small streak
of blood looking like the horns of the new moon; the
lips were drawn back from the teeth, as though in
agony unspeakable. And did he grin mockingly in
this his hour or was it the pangs of approaching
death that caused the grin?
Then he gasped forth:
“You are deceived. The woman who stole your
child was Aurelie ”
“What!” from St. Georges.
“Aided by servant Gaston.
Her servant not mine ”
“My God!” In that moment
there came back to him a memory. The lad, Gaston,
had his arm in a sling the morning he learned the child
was missing; the woman, who lived in the hut and saw
the child taken from Pierre, had said, “His
arm hung straight by his side, as though stiff with
Had he found the truth at last?
“Go on,” he said.
“The bishop’s man had got
it safe. Aurelie and Gaston caught slew
him took the child. She knew your
birth and hated you and
would gain as much as as I.
Seek her if you would-know ”
He fell prone on the lid and spoke no more.
And St. Georges, reeling back against
the opposite bulkhead, stared down at him, forgetting
all that was taking place around the burning transport
in his misery at that revelation.
“Aurelie,” he whispered,
“Aurelie! Hated me, too, and hated her.
O God, pity me!”
And again above all else there rose
the triumphant shout:
“Send him victorious,
Happy and glorious,