Three short stories from "The Captain" volume XXVII How Dymock Came to Derry; Jack Devereux's Scoop; The Powder Hulk
Three short stories from "THE CAPTAIN" volume XXVII
by Percy F. Westerman
Three short stories from "THE CAPTAIN" volume XXVII
How Dymock Came to Derry; Jack Devereux's Scoop; The Powder Hulk
Percy F. Westerman
Mr. Percy F. Westerman has contributed these stories to "THE CAPTAIN,A MAGAZINE FOR BOYS & 'OLD BOYS.'", volume XXVII, published in 1912,by George Newnes, Limited, 3 to 12, Southampton Street, Strand,London.
Contents (in alphabetical order)
|How Dymock Came to Derry (original page: 219)|
|Jack Devereux's Scoop (original page: 482)|
|The Powder Hulk (original page 175)|
How Dymock came to Derry
- By -
Percy F. Westerman
"WE'RE here at last, Kirke, and methinks none too soon," exclaimedCaptain Leake, of His Majesty's frigate Dartmouth, as he pointed tothe beleaguered city of Londonderry. "Now your part of the businessis to commence."
Colonel Percy Kirke, the defender of Tangiers, the man who hadexercised such diabolical cruelty towards the miserable peasants whohad taken up arms on behalf of the rebel Monmouth, was now about tosuccour the Ulstermen, who were fighting for their lives andliberties against King James—the colonel's former sovereign andbenefactor.
"'Tis not my business to throw troops against yonder entrenchments,Leake," he replied, with a shrug of his shoulders. "Until you canforce the enemy's defences my men will remain on board thetransports. Those rogues have held out for six weeks, and they canwell do so for another month."
"Does it seem so?" demanded Leake, indicating the smoke-enshroudedbuildings. "However, you have your orders even as I have, and sinceyou neglect to comply with them I must needs act alone." So sayingthe gallant sea-captain turned on his heel and made his way to thepoop, whence he could command a better view of the scene ofhostilities.
It was in April of the year 1689 that the combined French and Irishforces began what seemed to be a comparatively easy task—thereduction of Londonderry. A handful of sturdy Ulstermen—of Englishand Scottish descent—had bid defiance to the army of the deposedKing James, and, in spite of many a hard-pushed assault, had kept thebesiegers at bay. Then famine was made to do the work that the swordhad failed to accomplish, and in their anxiety the harassed defendersappealed to King William for aid.
Troops were embarked at Liverpool, and the relieving squadron sailedon May 16th, but, strange to relate, the English ships, in spite oftheir having kept the sea, did not arrive off the mouth of the Foyleuntil thirty days after.
Perspective glass in hand, Captain Leake made a careful examinationof the upper reaches of Loch Foyle. For miles on either sidebatteries had been thrown up to contest the passage of the ships ofthe relieving squadron; while to make doubly sure the Frenchengineers had constructed a massive boom from bank to bank at a spotwhere the river is barely a quarter of a mile wide.
In spite of his redoubtable courage the captain's doubts arose whenhe perceived the formidable obstruction. Strong baulks of fir, lashedtogether with thick tarred ropes and secured to either shore by meansof twenty 4 in. cables, iron-shod stakes driven into the bed of theriver, and equally dangerous obstructions formed by boats filled withstones and sunk in the Channel—all combined to present such apowerful means of defence that at first sight appeared to beabsolutely impregnable.
Beyond the enemy's batteries rose the houses of the city, dominatedby the square tower of the cathedral, on which cannons had beenmounted and were keeping up a desultory fire upon the attackingparty. Here and there tall columns of black smoke rose in the stillair, showing that the foemen's mortars had set the houses on fire inmore places than one; but though the damage done by the bombardmentand frequent assaults was apparent, Captain Leake had no visible signof the presence of a still more dreaded foe—the famine that lurkedindiscriminately in both mansion and cottage.
Although the captain knew not of the full extent of this insidiousevil, his experience told him that something must be done.Londonderry appealed for aid—she must not appeal in vain.
"Oh, for a strong northerly breeze," he muttered as he closed hisglass, then, walking to the head of the poop-ladder, he exclaimed"Pass the word for Dymock to come aft."
In less than a minute Jock Dymock—a tall alert youth ofnineteen—stood bareheaded before his chief. The lad was servingaboard the Dartmouth frigate in the capacity of acting third mate,having been chosen for promotion by the gallant Leake himself, whowas ever ready to remark any special signs of ability amongst the menof his crew.
"Dymock, I've sent for you to undertake a desperate errand. Before Isay more understand that whether you elect to take this business inhand or not is left entirely to your discretion. I will not orderyou—I merely ask. Now, you are a native of Derry, I believe? Youknow the coast well?"
"Not Derry born, your honour," replied the young Ulsterman. "Comefrom Moville, over yonder. But I claim to know every sandbank andevery current in the loch, betwixt the Tuns and Derrybridge."
"Good. Now what I want you to do is this: take a letter to GovernorBaker, assuring him that we will take the first opportunity ofthrowing a stock of provisions into the city. How you willproceed—if you make the attempt, and knowing you as I do I feelconfident that you will—must rest with yourself; but at the sametime I shall be curious to know how you propose to act. When you havedecided upon that point let me know."
"I' faith, I'll do my best, sir," replied Dymock. "And my plans arealready laid. I mean to swim to Derry."
"It's a good five miles and in the face of the enemy on both banks,"observed Captain Leake tentatively.
"With the tide 'twill be aisy, your honour. High water at the bridgeis an hour later than here, off McKenny's Bank. That will give meseven hours' favouring tide, and on a dark night I'll cheat therascally Frenchman or my name's not Jock Dymock."
At ten o'clock that same night Jock Dymock, stripped and smeared fromhead to foot with soot and tallow, went over the side of the frigateand entered the long-boat that was waiting alongside. He was unarmedsave for a short keen-bladed dagger slung round his neck, whileplaced within a close-fitting cap was Leake's letter to the Governorof Londonderry.
With muffled oars the boat's crew pulled up stream, guided by theglare of the enemy's watch-fires. The young flood had just set in,but on either hand the vast unbeaconed sandbanks still rose highabove the rippling water. Silently the men urged their craft up thechannel, taking their directions from Dymock's outstretched hand. Thecreaking of a thole, an involuntary sneeze, or thoughtless word orexclamation, would be sufficient to draw upon them a heavy fire fromthe French and Irish musketeers who lay thick on either shore.
Presently, with an almost imperceptible jar, the long-boat's forefootgrounded on the edge of McKenny's Bank. The daring messenger leaptout and waited till the long-boat backed and was lost to view in thedarkness. Then, with every faculty on the alert, he set his faceresolutely towards the city of Derry.
At about every hundred yards Dymock had to cross one of the numerousdeep channels that intersect the sands, till further walking wasimpossible at the edge of the main channel. Here he was within ahundred yards of the northernmost of the enemy's batteries. He coulddistinguish the sentries slowly pacing to and fro, their figuressilhouetted against the glare of the camp-fires.
As noiselessly as a water-rat the intrepid messenger glided into theswift-flowing stream, and, swimming with a powerful breast-stroke,soon began to visibly lessen the distance 'twixt him and his goal.Now the outermost battery was left behind. Should the alarm be raisedhis retreat would be cut off, for at the faintest suspicion, armedboats, provided with bright lanterns, would push off and patrol thenarrow channel.
Against the loom of the lights he could see a low-lying dark massstretched across the stream from bank to bank. It was the boom. Fiftystrokes brought him up to the obstruction, but in vain his fingerssought to find a hold upon the slimy weed-covered baulks of timber.The suction of the current swept his legs beneath the woodwork, andonly by an effort was he able to kick himself clear of the floatingmass.
"Then if I can't climb I must needs dive under it," muttered Dymock,for he felt that in the struggle his strength was failing him, andunless something was done he would be pinned by the dark torrentagainst the side of the boom.
Taking a deep breath he swam downwards. Dark as was the night theutter blackness of the water was still more so. He was gropingblindly beneath the waves.
Already he had lost all sense of direction. He realised that he mustkeep to the required depth and trust to the current to sweep himbeneath the floating mass of timber. He felt that he must rise—yetdared not. His breath was well-nigh exhausted.
Suddenly he felt his body come in contact with a sharp pointedobject. It was one of the stakes fixed in the bed of the river. Thenthe terrible thought assailed him—was the space enough betwixt thetips of the stakes and the bottom of the boom?
Rising slightly he felt the tide sweep him past the obstruction. Theiron point scraped his flesh, but in his anxiety and with thenumbness of his body the pain was not worth noticing. It was mentalnot bodily torment that he felt. Even as he rose his head struck abarnacle-covered baulk, but with barely six inches to spare he wasswept betwixt his Scylla and Charybdis: then up and up he swam tillhis head emerged above the surface and he drank in pure night air.
Turning on his back Dymock floated, breathing deeply and resting histired limbs. The worst of his journey was now over, thought he; withthe tide the passage betwixt the remaining batteries was merely aquestion of time. Now he could discern the low ramparts, theshattered houses, and the battered cathedral tower of the beleagueredcity. With renewed energy, fired by the sense of duty, he once morestruck out, though his strokes were more feeble than of yore.
But Dymock's assurances were short-lived. Rowing straight in hisdirection was a boat—not one of the besiege's patrol craft, but asmall skiff manned by two rowers, who were taking a French officeracross the river.
Ceasing to strike out the swimmer allowed himself to sink till thewater rose to his lips, trusting that in the darkness hissoot-smeared face would escape notice. As he did so some salt waterentered his mouth, and, in spite of his efforts to suppress it, hegave vent to a cough.
"Hey! What was that?" demanded the French officer, and bidding therowers desist he drew