And indeed, though I remember not exactly after these many years the number of the ships, I think there were at least five score, and in each ship close on five-and-thirty men-at-arms, besides the sailors who had the management of the sailing. Duke William, when thus aroused, did not things by halves. And as we rounded Pointe de Barfleur, and saw on the one side Cape de la Hague looming through the morning air, our fleet rode in a fair line forward, making a semicircle as they sat gaily on the sparkling waves.
And in the ship that was at the northern horn of this great bow was Samson, and I by his favour with him, and the man on the look-out in this great ship, that was called Le Saint Michel, saw more clearly than any other of the mariners of what lay ahead. Now, Le Saint Michel was the ship Duke William loved, and indeed it was both stout and strong, and made for swiftness rather than great burthen. And being the favourite ship of the duke, it was gloriously dight with gold and colour, so that it looked right noble as the sun glinted on its golden vanes, and lit up the splendour of its close-woven sails of crimson, whereon two lions were curiously blazoned. And before upon the prow, as it cleaved the waves, sat St. Michael with wings outspread, white as the gulls that circled around our fleet, as though he were indeed bearing us forward with good hope upon our journey.
“Look you!” said Samson, shading his eyes with his hand as he leant with his arm on the gunwale; “we take our track neatly betwixt Auremen and the Hague, and in so fair a day as this have no fear to run close by yonder cursed Casquettes, where many a good ship hath met its doom. Dost thou see them yet?”
“Yea,” I said. “There, like a rough, jagged set of teeth, they spring yonder from the calm waves and a long track they make where thou seest the foam on either side.”
“Then we will have no risk of our good men,” said Samson, presently. “Port helm, man, and keep a clear mile from yonder hungry rocks.”
Soon the north coast of Guernsey hove in sight, and earnestly I gazed forth for signs of any pirate ships that might intend to do battle with us on the sea. And, indeed, it was well to look, for around from the Grand Havre as we approached swept a great straight column of their low-decked, lean, swift-sailing vessels, and we seemed to see another such column lying-to behind.
“See you them?” I hastily cried to Samson.
“Ay, it means battle,” said he.
But this good soldier, well used to fighting by sea, as well as by land, was even now as cool and undismayed as though he but went about his proper work.
Samson gave his orders with words sharp and few. And indeed it seemed that all was arranged for us to meet such a defence of the coast by our foes. For, like living beings, our great ships sailed swiftly into two lines, strong and steady, with our vessel at the end of the second rank. And all this was done without disorder or confusion, as men-at-arms will form square on parade, and still we rode on the while, and Samson stood watching the pirates’ fleet that lay now in a long line in front of L’Ancresse Bay awaiting our attack, as was meet for them to do.