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Chapter XXII. Old Friends

The succession of blows that had been given to the power and commerce of Spain had immensely benefited the trade of England and Holland. France, devastated by civil war, had been in no position to take advantage of the falling off in Spanish commerce, and had indeed herself suffered enormously by the emigration of tens of thousands of the most intelligent of her population owing to her persecution of the Protestants. Her traders and manufacturers largely belonged to the new religion, and these had carried their industry and knowledge to England and Holland. Thus the religious bigotry of the kings of Spain and France had resulted in enormous loss to the trade and commerce of those countries, and in corresponding advantage to their Protestant rivals.

Geoffrey Vickars and his partner reaped the full benefit of the change, and the extensive acquaintance of the Spanish trader with merchants in all the Mediterranean ports enabled him to turn a large share of the new current of trade into the hands of Geoffrey and himself. The capital which he transferred from Spain to England was very much larger than that employed by the majority of English merchants, whose wealth had been small indeed in comparison to that of the merchant princes of the great centres of trade such as Antwerp, Amsterdam, Genoa, and Cadiz, and Geoffrey Vickars soon came to be looked upon as one of the leading merchants in the city of London.

"There can be no doubt, Geoffrey," his brother said as he lay on a couch in the garden in the early days of his convalescence, and looked at the river dotted with boats that flowed past it, "the falling of that mast was a fortunate thing for you. One never can tell how things will turn our. It would have seemed as if, were you not drowned at once, your lot would have been either a life's work in the Spanish galleys, or death in the dungeons of the Inquisition. Instead of this, here you are a wealthy merchant in the city, with a charming wife, and a father in law who is, although a Spaniard, one of the kindest and best men I ever met. All this time I, who was not knocked over by that mast, have been drilling recruits, making long marches, and occasionally fighting battles, and am no richer now than the day when we started together as Francis Vere's pages. It is true I have received the honour of knighthood, and that of course I prize much; but I have only my captain's pay to support my dignity, and as I hardly think Spain will continue this useless struggle much longer, in which case our army in Holland will be speedily disbanded, the prospect before me is not altogether an advantageous one."

"You must marry an heiress, Lionel," Geoffrey laughed. "Surely Sir Lionel Vickars, one of the heroes of Nieuport, and many another field, should be able to win the heart of some fair English damsel, with broad acres as her dower. But seriously, Lionel," he went on, changing his tone, "if peace come, and with it lack of employment, the best thing for you will be to join me. Mendez is getting on in years; and although he is working hard at present, in order, as he says, to set everything going smoothly and well here, he is looking forward to taking matters more easily, and to spending his time in tranquil pleasure with Dolores and her children. Therefore, whensoever it pleases you, there is a place for you here. We always contemplated our lines running in the same groove, and I should be glad that they should do so still. When the time comes we can discuss what share you shall have of the business; but at any rate I can promise you that it shall be sufficient to make you a rich man."

"Thank you, with all my heart, Geoffrey. It may be that some day I will accept your offer, though I fear you will find me but a sorry assistant. It seems to me that after twelve years of campaigning I am little fitted for life as a city merchant."

"I went through plenty of adventure for six years, Lionel, but my father in law has from the first been well satisfied with my capacity for business. You are not seven-and-twenty yet. You have had enough rough campaigning to satisfy anyone, and should be glad now of an easier and more sober method of life. Well, there is no occasion to settle anything at present, and I can well understand that you should prefer remaining in the army until the war comes to an end. When it does so, we can talk the matter over again; only be well assured that the offer will be always open to you, and that I shall be glad indeed to have you with me."

A few days after Lionel left him Geoffrey was passing along Chepe, when he stopped suddenly, stared hard at a gentleman who was approaching him, and then rushed towards him with outstretched hand.

"My dear Gerald!" he exclaimed, "I am glad to see you."

The gentleman started back with an expression of the profoundest astonishment.

"Is it possible?" he cried. "Is it really Geoffrey Vickars?"

"Myself, and no other, Gerald."

"The saints be praised! Why, I have been thinking of you all these years as either dead or labouring at an oar in the Moorish galleys. By what good fortune did you escape? and how is it I find you here, looking for all the world like a merchant of the city?"

"It is too long a story to tell now, Gerald. Where are you staying?"

"I have lodgings at Westminster, being at present a suitor at court."

"Is your wife with you?"

"She is. I have left my four children at home in Ireland."

"Then bring her to sup with me this evening. I have a wife to introduce to yours, and as she is also a Spaniard it will doubtless be a pleasure to them both."

"You astound me, Geoffrey. However, you shall tell me all about it this evening, for be assured that we shall come. Inez has so often talked about you, and lamented the ill fortune that befell you owing to your ardour."

"At six o'clock, then," Geoffrey said. "I generally dwell with my father in law at Chelsea, but am just at present at home. My house is in St. Mary Ave; anyone there will tell you which it is."

That evening the two friends had a long talk together. Geoffrey learnt that Gerald Burke reached Italy without further adventure, and thence took ship to Bristol, and so crossed over to Ireland. On his petition, and solemn promise of good behaviour in future, he was pardoned and a small portion of his estate restored to him. He was now in London endeavouring to obtain a remission of the forfeiture of the rest.

"I may be able to help you in that," Geoffrey said. "Sir Francis Vere is high in favour at court, and he will, at my prayer, I feel sure, use his influence in your favour when I tell him how you acted my friend on my landing in Spain from the Armada."

Geoffrey then gave an account of his various adventures from the time when he was struck down from the deck of the Barbary corsair until the present time.

"How was it," he asked when he concluded, "that you did not write to my parents, Gerald, on your return home? You knew where they lived."

"I talked the matter over with Inez," Gerald replied, "and we agreed that it was kinder to them to be silent. Of course they had mourned you as killed in the fight with the Armada. A year had passed, and the wound must have somewhat healed. Had I told them that you had escaped death at that time, had been months with me in Spain, and had, on your way home, been either killed by the Moors or were a prisoner in their galleys, it would have opened the wound afresh, and caused them renewed pain and sorrow."

"No doubt you were right, Gerald, and that it was, as you say, the kindest thing to leave them in ignorance of my fate."

Upon the next visit Sir Francis Vere paid to England, Geoffrey spoke to him with regard to Gerald Burke's affairs. Sir Francis took the matter up warmly, and his influence sufficed in a very short time to obtain an order for the restoration to Gerald of all his estates. Inez and Dolores became as fast friends as were their husbands; and when the Burkes came to England Geoffrey's house was their home.

The meeting with Gerald was followed by a still greater surprise, for not many days after, when Geoffrey was sitting with his wife and Don Mendez under the shade of a broad cypress in the garden of the merchant's house at Chelsea, they saw a servant coming across towards them, followed by a man in seafaring attire.

"Here is a person who would speak to you, Master Vickars," the servant said. "I told him it was not your custom to see any here, and that if he had aught to say he should call at your house in St. Mary Axe; but he said that he had but just arrived from Hedingham, and that your honour would excuse his intrusion when you saw him."

"Bring him up; he may be the bearer of a message from my father," Geoffrey said; and the servant went back to the man, whom he had left a short distance off.

"Master Vickars will speak with you."

The sailor approached the party. He stood for a minute before Geoffrey without speaking. Geoffrey looked at him with some surprise, and saw that the muscles of his face were twitching, and that he was much agitated. As he looked at him remembrance suddenly flashed upon him, and he sprang to his feet. "Stephen Boldero!" he exclaimed.

"Ay, ay, Geoffrey, it is me."

For a time the men stood with their right hands clasped and the left on each other's shoulders. Tears fell down the sailor's weather beaten cheeks, and Geoffrey himself was too moved to speak. For two years they had lived as brothers, had shared each other's toils and dangers, had talked over their plans and hopes together; and it was to Stephen that Geoffrey owed it that he was not now a galley slave in Barbary.

"Old friend, where have you been all this time?" he said at last, "I had thought you dead, and have grieved sorely for you."

"I have had some narrow escapes," Stephen said; "but you know I am tough. I am worth a good many dead men yet."

"Delores, Senor Mendez, you both remember Stephen Boldero?" Geoffrey said, turning to them.

"We have never forgotten you," the Spaniard said, shaking hands with the sailor, "nor how much we owe to you. I sent out instructions by every ship that sailed to the Indies that inquiries should be made for you; and moreover had letters sent by influential friends to the governors of most of the islands saying that you had done great service to me and mine, and praying that if you were in any need or trouble you might be sent back to Cadiz, and that any moneys you required might be given to you at my charge. But we have heard nought of you from the day when the news came that you had left the ship in which you went out."

"I have had a rough time of it these five years," Stephen said. "But I care not now that I am home again and have found my friend Geoffrey. I arrived in Bristol but last week, and started for London on the day I landed, mindful of my promise to let his people know that he was safe and well, and with some faint hope that the capture of Cadiz had set him at liberty. I got to Hedingham last night, and if I had been a prince Mr. Vickars and his dame and Sir Lionel could not have made more of me. They were fain that I should stop with them a day or two; but when I heard that you were in London and had married Senora Dolores, and that Senor Mendez was with you -- all of which in no way surprised me, for methought I saw it coming before I left Cadiz -- I could not rest, but was up at daylight this morning. Your brother offered to procure me a horse, but I should have made bad weather on the craft, and after walking from Bristol the tramp up to London was nothing. I got to your house in the city at four; and, finding that you were here, took a boat at once, for I could not rest until I saw my friend again."

Geoffrey at once took him into the house and set him down to a meal; and when the party were gathered later on in the sitting room, and the candles were lighted, Stephen told his story.

"As you will have heard, we made a good voyage to the Indies. We discharged our cargo, and took in another. I learned that there were two English ships cruising near San Domingo, and the Dons were in great fear of them. I thought that my chance lay in joining them, so when we were at our nearest port to that island I one night borrowed one of the ship's boats without asking leave, and made off. I knew the direction in which San Domingo lay, but no more. My hope was that I should either fall in with our ships at sea, or, when I made the island, should be able to gather such information as might guide me to them. When I made the land, after being four days out, I cruised about till the provisions and water I had put on board were exhausted, and I could hold out no longer. Then I made for the island and landed.

"You may be sure I did not make for a port, where I should be questioned, but ran ashore in a wooded bay that looked as if no one had ever set foot there before. I dragged the boat up beyond, as I thought, the reach of the sea, and started to hunt for food and water. I found enough berries and things to keep me alive, but not enough to stock my boat for another cruise. A week after I landed there was a tornado, and when it cleared off and I had recovered from my fright -- for the trees were blown down like rushes, and I thought my last day was come -- I found that the boat was washed away.

"I was mightily disheartened at this, and after much thinking made up my mind that there was nought for it but to keep along the shore until I arrived at a port, and then to give out that I was a shipwrecked sailor, and either try to get hold of another boat, or take passage back to Spain and make a fresh start. However, the next morning, just as I was starting, a number of natives ran out of the bush and seized me, and carried me away up into the hills.

"It was not pleasant at first, for they lit a big fire and were going to set me on the top of it, taking me for a Spaniard. Seeing their intentions, I took to arguing with them, and told them in Spanish that I was no Spaniard, but an Englishman, and that I had been a slave to the Spaniards and had escaped. Most of them understood some Spanish, having themselves been made to work as slaves in their plantations, and being all runaways from the tyranny of their masters. They knew, of course, that we were the enemies of the Spaniards, and had heard of places being sacked and ships taken by us. But they doubted my story for a long time, till at last one of them brought a crucifix that had somehow fallen into their hands, and held it up before me. When I struck it down, as a good Protestant should do, they saw that I was not of the Spanish religion, and so loosed my bonds and made much of me.

"They could tell me nothing of the whereabouts of our ships, for though they had seen vessels at times sail by, the poor creatures knew nothing of the difference of rig between an English craft and a Spaniard. I abode with them for two years, and aided them in their fights whenever the Spaniards sent out parties, which they did many times, to capture them. They were poor, timorous creatures, their spirits being altogether broken by the tyranny of the Dons; but when they saw that I feared them not, and was ready at any time to match myself against two or, if need be, three of the Spaniards, they plucked up heart, and in time came to fight so stoutly that the Spaniards thought it best to leave them alone, seeing that we had the advantage of knowing every foot of the woods, and were able to pounce down upon them when they were in straitened places and forced to fight at great disadvantage.

"I was regarded as a great chief by the natives, and could have gone on living with them comfortably enough had not my thoughts been always turning homeward, and a great desire to be among my own people, from whom I had been so long separated, devoured me. At last a Spanish ship was driven ashore in a gale; she went to pieces, and every soul was drowned. When the gale abated the natives went down to collect the stores driven ashore, and I found on the beach one of her boats washed up almost uninjured, so nothing would do but I must sail away in her. The natives tried their hardest to persuade me to stay with them, but finding that my mind was fixed beyond recall they gave way and did their best to aid me. The boat was well stored with provisions; we made a sail for her out of one belonging to the ship, and I set off, promising them that if I could not alight upon an English ship I would return to them.

"I had intended to keep my promise, but things turned out otherwise. I had not been two days at sea when there was another storm, for at one time of the year they have tornadoes very frequently. I had nothing to do but to run for it, casting much of my provisions overboard to lighten the boat, and baling without ceasing to keep out the water she took in. After running for many hours I was, somewhere about midnight, cast on shore. I made a shift to save myself, and in the morning found that I was on a low key. Here I lived for three weeks. Fortunately there was water in some of the hollows of the rocks, and as turtles came ashore to lay their eggs I managed pretty well for a time; but the water dried up, and for the last week I had nought to drink but the blood of the turtles.

One morning I saw a ship passing not far off; and making a signal with the mast of the boat that had been washed ashore with me I attracted their attention. I saw that she was a Spaniard, but I could not help that, for I had no choice but to hail her. They took me to Porto Rico and there reported me as a shipwrecked sailor they had picked up. The governor questioned me closely as to what vessel I had been lost from, and although I made up a good story he had his doubts. Fortunately it did not enter his mind that I was not a Spaniard; but he said he believed I was some bad character who had been marooned by my comrades for murder or some other crime, and so put me in prison until he could learn something that would verify my story.

"After three months I was taken out of prison, but was set to work on the fortifications, and there for another two years I had to stop. Then I managed to slip away one day, and, hiding till nightfall, made my way down through the town to the quays and swam out to a vessel at anchor. I climbed on board without notice, and hid myself below, where I lay for two days until she got up sail. When I judged she was well away from the land I went on deck and told my story, that I was a shipwrecked sailor who had been forced by the governor to work at the fortifications. They did not believe me, saying that I must be some criminal who had escaped from justice, and the captain said he should give me up at the next port the ship touched. Fortunately four days afterwards a sail hove in sight and gave chase, and before it was dark was near enough to fire a gun and make us heave to, and a quarter of an hour later a boat came alongside, and I again heard English spoken for the first time since I had left you at Cadiz.

"It was an English buccaneer, who, being short of water and fresh vegetables, had chased us, though seeing we were but a petty trader and not likely to have aught else worth taking on board. They wondered much when I discovered myself to them and told them who I was and how I had come there; and when, on their rowing me on board their ship, I told the captain my story he told me that he thought I was the greatest liar he had ever met. To be a galley slave among the Spaniards, a galley slave among the Moors, a consorter with Indians for two years, and again a prisoner with the Spaniards for as much more than fell to the lot of any one man, and he, like the Spanish governor, believed that I was some rascal who had been marooned, only he thought that it was from an English ship. However, he said that as I was a stout fellow he would give me another chance; and when, a fortnight later, we fell in with a great Spanish galleon and captured her with a great store of prize money after a hard fight for six hours, the last of which was passed on the deck of the Spaniard cutting and slashing -- for, being laden with silver, she had a company of troops on board in addition to her crew -- the captain said, that though an astonishing liar there was no better fellow on board a ship, and, putting it to the crew, they agreed I had well earned my share of the prize money. When we had got the silver on board, which was a heavy job I can tell you, though not an unpleasant one, we put what Spaniards remained alive into the boats, fired the galleon, and set sail for England, where we arrived without adventure.

"The silver was divided on the day before we cast anchor, the owner's share being first set aside, every man his share, and the officers theirs in proportion. Mine came to over a thousand pounds, and it needed two strong men to carry the chest up to the office of the owners, who gave me a receipt for it, which, as soon as I got, I started for London; and here, as you see, I am."

"And now, what do you propose to do with yourself, Stephen?" Geoffrey asked.

"I shall first travel down again to Devonshire and see what friends I have remaining there. I do not expect to find many alive, for fifteen years make many changes. My father and mother were both dead before I started, and my uncle, with whom I lived for a time, is scarce like to be alive now. Still I may find some cousins and friends I knew as a boy."

"I should think you have had enough of the sea, Stephen, and you have now ample to live ashore in comfort for the rest of your life."

"Yes, I shall go no more to sea," Stephen said. "Except for this last stroke of luck fortune has always been against me. What I should like, Master Geoffrey, most of all, would be to come up and work under you. I could be of advantage in seeing to the loading and unloading of vessels and the storage of cargo. As for pay, I should not want it, having, as you say, enough to live comfortably upon. Still I should like to be with you."

"And I should like to have you with me, Stephen. Nothing would give me greater pleasure. If you are still of that mind when you return from Devonshire we can again talk the matter over, and as our wishes are both the same way we can have no difficulty in coming to an agreement."

Stephen Boldero remained for a week in London and then journeyed down to Devonshire. His idea of entering Geoffrey's service was never carried out, for after he had been gone two months Geoffrey received a letter from him saying that one of his cousins, who had been but a little girl when he went away, had laid her orders upon him to buy a small estate and settle down there, and that as she was willing to marry him on no other terms he had nothing to do but to assent.

Once a year, however, regularly to the end of his life Stephen Boldero came up to London to stay for a fortnight with Geoffrey, always coming by road, for he declared that he was convinced if he set foot on board a ship again she would infallibly be wrecked on her voyage to London.

G. A. Henty