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- Bonnie Prince Charlie - 10/56 -
The consternation of the watch at Ronald's escape was extreme. The shot which the man on guard had fired was their first intimation of the event, and seizing their muskets they had hastily discharged them in the direction of the fugitive, and had then shouted for a boat to be lowered. But never was a boat longer getting into the water than was that of the Glasgow Lass upon this occasion. The captain gave his orders in a leisurely way, and the crew were even slower in executing them. Then somehow the fall stuck and the boat wouldn't lower. When at last she was in the water it was found that the thole pins were missing; these being found she was rowed across the river, the five constables undergoing a running fire of jokes and hilarity from the sailors of the ships they passed near. In answer to their inquiries where the fugitives landed, some of the sailors shouted that she had pulled up the river behind the tier of vessels, others insisted that she had sunk with all hands close by.
Completely bewildered, the chief of the party told the sailors to put them ashore at the first landing. When the party gained the streets they inquired eagerly of all they met whether they had seen aught of the fugitives. Few of those they questioned understood the broad Scotch in which the question was asked, others laughed in their faces and asked how they were to know the man and boy they wanted from any others; and after vainly looking about for some time they returned to the stairs, only to find that the boat had returned to the ship.
A waterman's boat was now hired, and the rower, who had heard what had happened, demanded a sum for putting them on board which horrified them; but at last, after much bargaining, they were conveyed back to the ship. An hour later the chief of the party went ashore, and repairing to the Tower, where he had been ordered to conduct the prisoner, reported his escape. He was at once taken into custody on the charge of permitting the escape of his prisoner, and it was not until three days later, upon the evidence of his men and of the captain and officers of the ship, that he was released.
His four men were put on board a ship returning to Glasgow next day, while he himself was kept to identify the fugitive should he be caught.
A week later Malcolm told Ronald that he had made arrangements with the captain of a Dutch vessel to take them over to Holland.
"We are to go on board at Gravesend," he said, "for they are searching all ships bound for foreign ports. It is not for you especially, but there are supposed to be many Jacobites going to and fro, and they will lay hands on anyone who cannot give a satisfactory account of himself. So it is just as well for us to avoid questioning."
Accordingly the next day they walked down to Gravesend, and taking boat there boarded the Dutch vessel when she came along on the following day. The Dutch captain received them civilly; he had been told by Malcolm that they wished to leave the country privately, and guessed that they were in some way fugitives from the law, but as he was to be well paid this gave him no concern. There were no other passengers, and a roomy cabin was placed at their disposal. They passed down the river without impediment, and anchored that night off Sheerness.
"These Dutch traders are but slow craft," Malcolm said as he walked impatiently up and down the deck next morning, watching the slow progress which they made past the shore. "I wish we could have got a passage direct to France, but of course that is impossible now the two nations are at war."
"What is the war about, Malcolm? I heard at home that they were fighting, but yet that somehow the two countries were not at war."
"No, I don't know how that comes about," Malcolm said. "England has a minister still at Paris; but for all that King George is at the head of a number of British troops in Germany fighting against the French there."
"But what is it about, Malcolm?"
"Well, it is a matter which concerns Hanover more than England; in fact England has no interest in the matter at all as far as I can see, except that as France takes one side she takes the other, because she is afraid of France getting too strong. However, it is a German business, and England is mixed up in it only because her present king is a Hanoverian and not an Englishman. This is the matter as far as I can make it out. Charles VI., Emperor of Germany, died in October, 1740. It had been arranged by a sort of general agreement called the Pragmatic Sanction --"
"What an extraordinary name, Malcolm! What does it mean?"
"I have not the least idea in the world, lad. However, that is what it is called. It was signed by a lot of powers, of whom England was one, and by it all parties agreed that Charles's daughter Maria Theresa was to become Empress of Austria. However, when the emperor was dead the Elector of Bavaria claimed to be emperor, and he was supported by France, by Spain, and by Frederick of Prussia, and they marched to Vienna, enthroned the elector as Duke of Austria, and drove Maria Theresa to take refuge in Hungary, where she was warmly supported.
"The English parliament voted a large sum to enable the empress to carry on the war, and last year sixteen thousand men under the Earl of Stair crossed the seas to cooperate with the Dutch, who were warm supporters of the empress, and were joined by six thousand Hessians and sixteen thousand Hanoverians in British pay; but after all nothing was done last year, for as in the last war the Dutch were not ready to begin, and the English army were in consequence kept idle."
"Then it seems that everyone was against the empress except England and these three little states."
"That is pretty nearly so," Malcolm said; "but at present the empress has bought off the Prussians, whose king joined in the affair solely for his own advantage, by giving him the province of Silesia, so that in fact at present it is England and Hanover, which is all the same thing, with the Dutch and Hessians, against France and Bavaria, for I don't think that at present Spain has sent any troops."
"Well, it seems to me a downright shame," Ronald said indignantly; "and though I have no great love for the English, and hate their Hanoverian George and his people, I shouldn't like to fight with one of the Scotch regiments in the French service in such a quarrel."
"My dear lad, if every soldier were to discuss the merits of the quarrel in which he is ordered to fight there would be an end of all discipline."
"Yes, I see that," Ronald agreed; "if one is once a soldier he has only to obey orders. But one need not become a soldier just at the time when he would be called upon to fight for a cause which he considers unjust."
"That is so, Ronald, and it's fortunate, if your feelings are in favour of Maria Theresa, that we are not thinking of enlisting just at present, for you would be puzzled which side to take. If you fought for her you would have to fight under the Hanoverian; if you fight against the Hanoverian you are fighting against Maria Theresa."
"Well, we don't want to fight at all," Ronald said. "What we want to do is to find out something about my father. I wish the voyage was at an end, and that we had our faces towards Paris."
"It will not be so easy to cross from Holland into France," Malcolm said. "I wish our voyage was at an end for another reason, for unless I mistake there is a storm brewing up."
Malcolm's prediction as to the weather was speedily verified. The wind rose rapidly, ragged clouds hurried across the sky, and the waves got up fast, and by nightfall the sea had become really heavy, dashing in sheets high in the air every time the bluff bowed craft plunged into it. Long before this Ronald had gone below prostrate with seasickness.
"It's just like the obstinacy of these Dutchmen," Malcolm muttered to himself as he held on by a shroud and watched the labouring ship. "It must have been clear to anyone before we were well out of the river that we were going to have a gale, and as the wind then was nearly due south, we could have run back again and anchored in shelter till it was over. Now it has backed round nearly into our teeth, with every sign of its getting into the north, and then we shall have the French coast on our lee. It's not very serious yet, but if the wind goes on rising as it has done for the last four or five hours we shall have a gale to remember before the morning."
Before the daylight, indeed, a tremendous sea was running, and the wind was blowing with terrible force from the north. Although under but a rag of canvas the brig was pressed down gunwale deep, and each wave as it struck her broadside seemed to heave her bodily to leeward. Malcolm on coming on deck made his way aft and glanced at the compass, and then took a long look over the foaming water towards where he knew the French coast must lie. The wind was two or three points east of north, and as the clumsy craft would not sail within several points of the wind she was heading nearly east.
"She is making a foot to leeward for every one she forges ahead," he said to himself. "If she has been at this work all night we cannot be far from the coast."
So the Dutch skipper appeared to think, for a few minutes afterwards he gave orders to bring her about on the other tack. Three times they tried and failed; each time the vessel slowly came up into the wind, but the heavy waves forced her head off again before the headsails filled. Then the skipper gave orders to wear her. Her head payed off to the wind until she was nearly before it. Two or three great seas struck her stern and buried her head deeply, but at last the boom swung over and her head came up on the other tack. During the course of these manoeuvres she had made fully two miles leeway, and when she was fairly under sail with her head to the west Malcolm took another long look towards the south.
"Just as I thought," he said. "There is white water there and a dark line behind it. That is the French coast, sure enough."
It would have been useless to speak, but he touched the arm of the skipper and pointed to leeward. The skipper looked in this direction for a minute and then gave the order for more sail to be put on the ship, to endeavour to beat out in the teeth of the gale. But even when pressed to the utmost it was evident to Malcolm that the force of the waves was driving her faster towards the coast than she could make off it, and he went below and told Ronald to come on deck.
"I would rather lie here," Ronald said.
"Nonsense, lad! The wind and spray will soon knock the sickness out of you; and you will want all your wits about you, for it won't be many hours before we are bumping on the sands, and stoutly built as the craft is she won't hold together long in such a sea as this."
"Do you really mean it, Malcolm, or are you only trying to get me on deck?"
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