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Sea-Wolves of the Mediterranean

87 pages
Library of Alexandria
When the ship is ready for launching there comes a moment of tense excitement before the dogshores are knocked away and she slides down the ways. In the case of a ship this excitement is shared by many thousands, who have assembled to acclaim the birth of a perfected product of the industry of man; the emotion is shared by all those who are present. It is very different when a book has been completed. The launching has been arranged for and completed by expert hands; she like the ship gathers way and slides forth into an ocean: but, unlike the ship which is certain to float, the waters may close over and engulf her, or perchance she may be towed back to that haven of obscurity from which she emerged, to rust there in silence and neglect. There is excitement in the breast of one man alone—to wit, the author. If his book possesses one supreme qualification she will escape the fate mentioned, and this qualification is—interest. As the weeks lengthened into months, and these multiplied themselves to the tale of something like twenty-four, the conviction was strengthened that that which had so profoundly interested the writer, would not be altogether indifferent to others. For some inscrutable reason the deeds of sea-robbers have always possessed a fascination denied to those of their more numerous brethren of the land; and in the case of the Sea-wolves of the sixteenth century we are dealing with the very aristocrats of the profession. Circumstances over which they had no control flung the Moslem population of Southern Spain on to the shores of Northern Africa: to revenge themselves upon the Christian foe by whom this expropriation had been accomplished was natural to a warrior race; and those who heretofore had been land-folk pure and simple took to piracy as a means of livelihood. It is of the deeds of these men that this book treats; of their marvellous triumphs, of their apparently hopeless defeats, of the manner in which they audaciously maintained themselves against the principalities and the powers of Christendom always hungering for their destruction. The quality which Napoleon is said to have ascribed to the British Infantry, “of never knowing when they were beaten,” seems to have also characterised the Sea-wolves; as witness the marvellous recuperation of Kheyr-ed-Din Barbarossa when expelled from Tunis by Charles V.; and the escape of Dragut from the island of Jerba when apparently hopelessly trapped by the Genoese admiral, Andrea Doria. All through their history the leaders of the Sea-wolves show the resourcefulness of the real seamen that they had become by force of circumstances, and it was they who in the age in which they dwelt showed what sea power really meant. Sailing through the Mediterranean on my way to Malta in the spring of this year, as the good ship fared onwards I passed in succession all those lurking-places from which the Moslem Corsairs were wont to burst out upon their prey. Truly it seemed as if “The spirits of their fathers might start from every wave,” and in imagination one pictured the rush of the pirate galley, with its naked slaves straining at the oar of their taskmasters, its fierce, reckless, beturbaned crew clustered on the “rambades” at the bow and stern. It might be that they would capture some hapless “round-ship,” a merchantman lumbering slowly along the coast; or again they might meet with a galley of the terrible Knights of St. John or of the ever-redoubtable Doria. In either case the Sea-wolves were equal to their fortune, to plunder or to fight in the name of Allah and his prophet