How Amyas Kept His Christmas Day
And shoot you round about;
Stand to it, valiant pikemen,
And we shall keep them out.
Theres not a man of all of us
A foot will backward flee;
Ill be the foremost man in fight,
Says brave Lord Willoughby!
It was the blessed Christmas afternoon. The light was fading down; the even-song was done; and the good folks of Bideford were trooping home in merry groups, the father with his children, the lover with his sweetheart, to cakes and ale, and flapdragons and mummers plays, and all the happy sports of Christmas night. One lady only, wrapped close in her black muffler and followed by her maid, walked swiftly, yet sadly, toward the long causeway and bridge which led to Northam town. Sir Richard Grenville and his wife caught her up and stopped her courteously.
You will come home with us, Mrs. Leigh, said Lady Grenville, and spend a pleasant Christmas night?
Mrs. Leigh smiled sweetly, and laying one hand on Lady Grenvilles arm, pointed with the other to the westward, and said:
I cannot well spend a merry Christmas night while that sound is in my ears.
The whole party around looked in the direction in which she pointed. Above their heads the soft blue sky was fading into gray, and here and there a misty star peeped out: but to the westward, where the downs and woods of Raleigh closed in with those of Abbotsham, the blue was webbed and turfed with delicate white flakes; iridescent spots, marking the path by which the sun had sunk, showed all the colors of the dying dolphin; and low on the horizon lay a long band of grassy green. But what was the sound which troubled Mrs. Leigh? None of them, with their merry hearts, and ears dulled with the din and bustle of the town, had heard it till that moment: and yet nowlisten! It was dead calm. There was not a breath to stir a blade of grass. And yet the air was full of sound, a low deep roar which hovered over down and wood, salt-marsh and river, like the roll of a thousand wheels, the tramp of endless armies, orwhat it wasthe thunder of a mighty surge upon the boulders of the pebble ridge.
The ridge is noisy to-night, said Sir Richard. There has been wind somewhere.
There is wind now, where my boy is, God help him! said Mrs. Leigh: and all knew that she spoke truly. The spirit of the Atlantic storm had sent forward the token of his coming, in the smooth ground-swell which was heard inland, two miles away. To-morrow the pebbles, which were now rattling down with each retreating wave, might be leaping to the ridge top, and hurled like round-shot far ashore upon the marsh by the force of the advancing wave, fleeing before the wrath of the western hurricane.
God help my boy! said Mrs. Leigh again.
God is as near him by sea as by land, said good Sir Richard.
True, but I am a lone mother; and one that has no heart just now but to go home and pray.
And so Mrs. Leigh went onward up the lane, and spent all that night in listening between her prayers to the thunder of the surge, till it was drowned, long ere the sun rose, in the thunder of the storm.
And where is Amyas on this same Christmas afternoon? Amyas is sitting bareheaded in a boats stern in Smerwick bay, with the spray whistling through his curls, as he shouts cheerfully
Pull, and with a will, my merry men all, and never mind shipping a sea. Cannon balls are a cargo that dont spoil by taking salt-water.
His mothers presage has been true enough. Christmas eve has been the last of the still, dark, steaming nights of the early winter; and the western gale has been roaring for the last twelve hours upon the Irish coast.
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