And of those who have enjoyed a saunter through this lane, some there will doubtless be who can remember a substantial stone-built house, standing back a distance of about a hundred yards or so from the roadway, and environed by a quaint old-fashioned garden, the entire demesne being situate on the crest of the rise just before Wyke is reached, and commanding an unparalleled view of the roadstead of Portland, with the open channel as far as Saint Alban’s Head to the left, while on the right the West Bay (notorious for its shipwrecks) stretches from the Bill of Portland, far away westward, into the misty distance toward Lyme, and Beer, and Seaton; ay, and even beyond that, down to Berry Head, past Torquay, the headland itself having been distinctly seen from Wyke Nap on a clear day, so it is said, though I cannot remember that I ever saw it myself from that standpoint.
The house to which I refer is (or was, for I believe it no longer exists) known as “The Spaniards,” and was built by my ancestor, Hubert Saint Leger, with a portion of the proceeds of the Spanish prize that— having so harried and worried her that she at length became separated from the main body of the Great Armada—he drove into Weymouth Bay, and there, under the eyes of his admiring fellow-townsmen, fought her in his good ship Golden Rose, until she was fain to strike her colours and surrender to a craft of considerably less than half her size.
“The Spaniards” had continued in possession of the Saint Leger family from the time of its building down to the date of my story; and under its roof I was born. And to its roof I had returned from an Australian voyage, a day or two previous to the events about to be related, to find my dear mother in the direst of trouble. My father, like all the rest of the male Saint Legers, for as many generations as we could trace back, had been a seaman, and had died abroad, leaving my mother such a moderate provision as would enable her, with care, to end her days in peace and comfort beneath the old roof-tree. It was a lonely life for her, poor soul! for I was her only child, and—being a Saint Leger—took naturally to the sea as a profession. That I should do so was indeed so completely a foregone conclusion, that I was especially educated for it at Greenwich; upon leaving which, I had been bound apprentice to my father. And under him I had faithfully served my time, and had risen to the position of second mate when death claimed him, and he passed away in my arms, commending my mother to my tenderest care with his last breath.
So mild and genial was the weather that certain lads, imbued with that spirit of lawlessness and adventure which seems inherent in the nature of the young Briton, had conspired together to defy the authority of their schoolmaster by playing truant from afternoon school and going to bathe in Firestone Bay. And it was while these lads were dressing, after revelling in their stolen enjoyment, that their attention was attracted by the appearance of a tall ship gliding up the Sound before the soft breathing of the languid breeze.
That she was a foreign-going ship was evident at a glance, first from her size, and, secondly, from the whiteness of her canvas, bleached by long exposure to a southern sun; and as she drew nearer, the display of flags and pennons which she made, and the sounds of trumpet, fife, hautboy, and drum which floated down the wind from her seemed to indicate that her captain regarded his safe arrival in English waters as something in the nature of a triumph.
By the time that she had arrived abreast of Picklecombe Point the bathers had completely resumed their clothing and, having climbed to the highest point within easy reach, now stood interestedly watching the slow approach of the ship, her progress under the impulse of the gentle breeze being greatly retarded by the ebb tide. Speculation was rife among the little group of boys upon the question of the shipÕs identity, some maintaining that she must necessarily be a Plymouther, otherwise what was she doing there, while others, for no very clearly denned reason, expressed the contrary opinion.