The sea hawk, p.10
Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font       Night Mode Off   Night Mode

       The Sea-Hawk, p.10

           Rafael Sabatini


  The Swallow, having passed through a gale in the Bay of Biscay--agale which she weathered like the surprisingly steady old tub shewas--rounded Cape Finisterre and so emerged from tempest into peace,from leaden skies and mountainous seas into a sunny azure calm. It waslike a sudden transition from winter into spring, and she ran along now,close hauled to the soft easterly breeze, with a gentle list to port.

  It had never been Master Leigh's intent to have got so far as thiswithout coming to an understanding with his prisoner. But the wind hadbeen stronger than his intentions, and he had been compelled to runbefore it and to head to southward until its fury should abate. Thusit fell out--and all marvellously to Master Lionel's advantage, as youshall see--that the skipper was forced to wait until they stood alongthe coast of Portugal--but well out to sea, for the coast of Portugalwas none too healthy just then to English seamen--before commanding SirOliver to be haled into his presence.

  In the cramped quarters of the cabin in the poop of the little vesselsat her captain at a greasy table, over which a lamp was swingingfaintly to the gentle heave of the ship. He was smoking a foul pipe,whose fumes hung heavily upon the air of that little chamber, and therewas a bottle of Nantes at his elbow.

  To him, sitting thus in state, was Sir Oliver introduced--his wristsstill pinioned behind him. He was haggard and hollow-eyed, and hecarried a week's growth of beard on his chin. Also his garments werestill in disorder from the struggle he had made when taken, and from thefact that he had been compelled to lie in them ever since.

  Since his height was such that it was impossible for him to standupright in that low-ceilinged cabin, a stool was thrust forward forhim by one of the ruffians of Leigh's crew who had haled him from hisconfinement beneath the hatchway.

  He sat down quite listlessly, and stared vacantly at the skipper. MasterLeigh was somewhat discomposed by this odd calm when he had looked forangry outbursts. He dismissed the two seamen who fetched Sir Oliver,and when they had departed and closed the cabin door he addressed hiscaptive.

  "Sir Oliver," said he, stroking his red beard, "ye've been most foullyabused."

  The sunshine filtered through one of the horn windows and beat full uponSir Oliver's expressionless face.

  "It was not necessary, you knave, to bring me hither to tell me somuch." he answered.

  "Quite so," said Master Leigh. "But I have something more to add. Ye'llbe thinking that I ha' done you a disservice. There ye wrong me.Through me you are brought to know true friends from secret enemies;henceforward ye'll know which to trust and which to mistrust."

  Sir Oliver seemed to rouse himself a little from his passivity,stimulated despite himself by the impudence of this rogue. He stretcheda leg and smiled sourly.

  "You'll end by telling me that I am in your debt," said he.

  "You'll end by saying so yourself," the captain assured him. "D'ye knowwhat I was bidden do with you?"

  "Faith, I neither know nor care," was the surprising answer, wearilydelivered. "If it is for my entertainment that you propose to tell me, Ibeg you'll spare yourself the trouble."

  It was not an answer that helped the captain. He pulled at his pipe amoment.

  "I was bidden," said he presently, "to carry you to Barbary and sellyou there into the service of the Moors. That I might serve you, I madebelieve to accept this task."

  "God's death!" swore Sir Oliver. "You carry make-believe to an oddlength."

  "The weather has been against me. It were no intention o' mine to ha'come so far south with you. But we've been driven by the gale. That isoverpast, and so that ye'll promise to bear no plaint against me, andto make good some of the loss I'll make by going out of my course, andmissing a cargo that I wot of, I'll put about and fetch you home againwithin a week."

  Sir Oliver looked at him and smiled grimly. "Now what a rogue are youthat can keep faith with none!" he cried. "First you take money to carryme off; and then you bid me pay you to carry me back again."

  "Ye wrong me, sir, I vow ye do! I can keep faith when honest men employme, and ye should know it, Sir Oliver. But who keeps faith with roguesis a fool--and that I am not, as ye should also know. I ha' done thisthing that a rogue might be revealed to you and thwarted, as well asthat I might make some little profit out of this ship o' mine. I amfrank with ye, Sir Oliver. I ha' had some two hundred pounds in moneyand trinkets from your brother. Give me the like and...."

  But now of a sudden Sir Oliver's listlessness was all dispelled. It fellfrom him like a cloak, and he sat forward, wide awake and with some showof anger even.

  "How do you say?" he cried, on a sharp, high note.

  The captain stared at him, his pipe neglected. "I say that if so beas ye'll pay me the same sum which your brother paid me to carry youoff...."

  "My brother?" roared the knight. "Do you say my brother?"

  "I said your brother."

  "Master Lionel?" the other demanded still.

  "What other brothers have you?" quoth Master Leigh.

  There fell a pause and Sir Oliver looked straight before him, his headsunken a little between his shoulders. "Let me understand," he said atlength. "Do you say that my brother Lionel paid you money to carry meoff--in short, that my presence aboard this foul hulk of yours is due tohim?"

  "Whom else had ye suspected? Or did ye think that I did it for my ownpersonal diversion?"

  "Answer me," bellowed Sir Oliver, writhing in his bonds.

  "I ha' answered you more than once already. Still, I tell you onceagain, since ye are slow to understand it, that I was paid a matter oftwo hundred pound by your brother, Master Lionel Tressilian, to carryyou off to Barbary and there sell you for a slave. Is that plain toyou?"

  "As plain as it is false. You lie, you dog!"

  "Softly, softly!" quoth Master Leigh, good-humouredly.

  "I say you lie!"

  Master Leigh considered him a moment. "Sets the wind so!" said he atlength, and without another word he rose and went to a sea-chest rangedagainst the wooden wall of the cabin. He opened it and took thence aleather bag. From this he produced a handful of jewels. He thrust themunder Sir Oliver's nose. "Haply," said he, "ye'll be acquainted withsome of them. They was given me to make up the sum since your brotherhad not the whole two hundred pound in coin. Take a look at them."

  Sir Oliver recognized a ring and a long pear-shaped pearl earring thathad been his brother's; he recognized a medallion that he himself hadgiven Lionel two years ago; and so, one by one, he recognized everytrinket placed before him.

  His head drooped to his breast, and he sat thus awhile like a manstunned. "My God!" he groaned miserably, at last. "Who, then, is left tome! Lionel too! Lionel!" A sob shook the great frame. Two tears slowlytrickled down that haggard face and were lost in the stubble of beardupon his chin. "I am accursed!" he said.

  Never without such evidence could he have believed this thing. From themoment that he was beset outside the gates of Godolphin Court he hadconceived it to be the work of Rosamund, and his listlessness wasbegotten of the thought that she could have suffered conviction of hisguilt and her hatred of him to urge her to such lengths as these. Neverfor an instant had he doubted the message delivered him by Lionel thatit was Mistress Rosamund who summoned him. And just as he believedhimself to be going to Godolphin Court in answer to her summons, so didhe conclude that the happening there was the real matter to whichshe had bidden him, a thing done by her contriving, her answer to hisattempt on the previous day to gain speech with her, her manner ofensuring that such an impertinence should never be repeated.

  This conviction had been gall and wormwood to him; it had drugged hisvery senses, reducing him to a listless indifference to any fate thatmight be reserved him. Yet it had not been so bitter a draught as thispresent revelation. After all, in her case there were some grounds forthe hatred that had come to take the place of her erstwhile love. But inLionel's what grounds were possible? What motives could exist forsuch an action as this, other tha
n a monstrous, a loathly egoismwhich desired perhaps to ensure that the blame for the death of PeterGodolphin should not be shifted from the shoulders that were unjustlybearing it, and the accursed desire to profit by the removal of the manwho had been brother, father and all else to him? He shuddered in sheerhorror. It was incredible, and yet beyond a doubt it was true. For allthe love which he had showered upon Lionel, for all the sacrifices ofself which he had made to shield him, this was Lionel's return. Were allthe world against him he still must have believed Lionel true to him,and in that belief must have been enheartened a little. And now...Hissense of loneliness, of utter destitution overwhelmed him. Then slowlyof his sorrow resentment was begotten, and being begotten it grewrapidly until it filled his mind and whelmed in its turn all else. Hethrew back his great head, and his bloodshot, gleaming eyes fastenedupon Captain Leigh, who seated now upon the sea-chest was quietlyobserving him and waiting patiently until he should recover the witswhich this revelation had scattered.

  "Master Leigh," said he, "what is your price to carry me home again toEngland?"

  "Why, Sir Oliver," said he, "I think the price I was paid to carry youoff would be a fair one. The one would wipe out t'other as it were."

  "You shall have twice the sum when you land me on Trefusis Point again,"was the instant answer.

  The captain's little eyes blinked and his shaggy red eyebrows cametogether in a frown. Here was too speedy an acquiescence. There must beguile behind it, or he knew naught of the ways of men.

  "What mischief are ye brooding?" he sneered.

  "Mischief, man? To you?" Sir Oliver laughed hoarsely. "God's light,knave, d'ye think I consider you in this matter, or d'ye think I've roomin my mind for such petty resentments together with that other?"

  It was the truth. So absolute was the bitter sway of his anger againstLionel that he could give no thought to this rascally seaman's share inthe adventure.

  "Will ye give me your word for that?"

  "My word? Pshaw, man! I have given it already. I swear that you shall bepaid the sum I've named the moment you set me ashore again in England.Is that enough for you? Then cut me these bonds, and let us make an endof my present condition."

  "Faith, I am glad to deal with so sensible a man! Ye take it in theproper spirit. Ye see that what I ha' done I ha' but done in the way ofmy calling, that I am but a tool, and that what blame there be belongsto them which hired me to this deed."

  "Aye, ye're but a tool--a dirty tool, whetted with gold; no more. 'Tisadmitted. Cut me these bonds, a God's name! I'm weary o' being trussedlike a capon."

  The captain drew his knife, crossed to Sir Oliver's side and slashed hisbonds away without further word. Sir Oliver stood up so suddenly thathe smote his head against the low ceiling of the cabin, and so sat downagain at once. And in that moment from without and above there came acry which sent the skipper to the cabin door. He flung it open, andso let out the smoke and let in the sunshine. He passed out on tothe poop-deck, and Sir Oliver--conceiving himself at liberty to doso--followed him.

  In the waist below a little knot of shaggy seamen were crowding tothe larboard bulwarks, looking out to sea; on the forecastle there wasanother similar assembly, all staring intently ahead and towards theland. They were off Cape Roca at the time, and when Captain Leigh saw byhow much they had lessened their distance from shore since last he hadconned the ship, he swore ferociously at his mate who had charge of thewheel. Ahead of them away on their larboard bow and in line with themouth of the Tagus from which she had issued--and where not a doubt butshe had been lying in wait for such stray craft as this--came a greattall-masted ship, equipped with top-gallants, running wellnigh beforethe wind with every foot of canvas spread.

  Close-hauled as was the Swallow and with her top-sails and mizzen reefedshe was not making more than one knot to the Spaniard's five--for thatshe was a Spaniard was beyond all doubt judging by the haven whence sheissued.

  "Luff alee!" bawled the skipper, and he sprang to the wheel, thrustingthe mate aside with a blow of his elbow that almost sent him sprawling.

  "'Twas yourself set the course," the fellow protested.

  "Thou lubberly fool," roared the skipper. "I bade thee keep the samedistance from shore. If the land comes jutting out to meet us, are we tokeep straight on until we pile her up?" He spun the wheel round in hishands, and turned her down the wind. Then he relinquished the helm tothe mate again. "Hold her thus," he commanded, and bellowing orders ashe went, he heaved himself down the companion to see them executed. Mensprang to the ratlines to obey him, and went swarming aloft to letout the reefs of the topsails; others ran astern to do the like by themizzen and soon they had her leaping and plunging through the greenwater with every sheet unfurled, racing straight out to sea.

  From the poop Sir Oliver watched the Spaniard. He saw her veer a pointor so to starboard, heading straight to intercept them, and he observedthat although this manceuvre brought her fully a point nearer to thewind than the Swallow, yet, equipped as she was with half as much canvasagain as Captain Leigh's piratical craft, she was gaining steadily uponthem none the less.

  The skipper came back to the poop, and stood there moodily watching thatother ship's approach, cursing himself for having sailed into such atrap, and cursing his mate more fervently still.

  Sir Oliver meanwhile took stock of so much of the Swallow's armament aswas visible and wondered what like were those on the main-deck below.He dropped a question on that score to the captain, dispassionately, asthough he were no more than an indifferently interested spectator, andwith never a thought to his position aboard.

  "Should I be racing her afore the Wind if I as properly equipped?"growled Leigh. "Am I the man to run before a Spaniard? As it is I do nomore than lure her well away from land."

  Sir Oliver understood, and was silent thereafter. He observed a bo'sunand his mates staggering in the waist under loads of cutlasses and smallarms which they stacked in a rack about the mainmast. Then the gunner,a swarthy, massive fellow, stark to the waist with a faded scarftied turban-wise about his head, leapt up the companion to the brasscarronade on the larboard quarter, followed by a couple of his men.

  Master Leigh called up the bo'sun, bade him take the wheel, anddispatched the mate forward to the forecastle, where another gun wasbeing prepared for action.

  Thereafter followed a spell of racing, the Spaniard ever lessening thedistance between them, and the land dropping astern until it was no morethan a hazy line above the shimmering sea. Suddenly from the Spaniardappeared a little cloud of white smoke, and the boom of a gun followed,and after it came a splash a cable's length ahead of the Swallow's bows.

  Linstock in hand the brawny gunner on the poop stood ready to answerthem when the word should be given. From below came the gunner's mateto report himself ready for action on the main-deck and to receive hisorders.

  Came another shot from the Spaniard, again across the bows of theSwallow.

  "'Tis a clear invitation to heave to," said Sir Oliver.

  The skipper snarled in his fiery beard. "She has a longer range thanmost Spaniards," said he. "But I'll not waste powder yet for all that.We've none to spare."

  Scarcely had he spoken when a third shot boomed. There was a splinteringcrash overhead followed by a sough and a thud as the maintopmast camehurtling to the deck and in its fall stretched a couple of men in death.Battle was joined, it seemed. Yet Captain Leigh did nothing in a hurry.

  "Hold there!" he roared to the gunner who swung his linstock at thatmoment in preparation.

  She was losing way as a result of that curtailment of her mainmast, andthe Spaniard came on swiftly now. At last the skipper accounted her nearenough, and gave the word with an oath. The Swallow fired her firstand last shot in that encounter. After the deafening thunder of itand through the cloud of suffocating smoke, Sir Oliver saw the highforecastle of the Spaniard rent open.

  Master Leigh was cursing his gunner for having aimed too high. Then hesignalled to the mate to fire the culverin
of which he had charge.That second shot was to be the signal for the whole broadside from themain-deck below. But the Spaniard anticipated them. Even as the skipperof the Swallow signalled the whole side of the Spaniard burst into flameand smoke.

  The Swallow staggered under the blow, recovered an instant, then listedominously to larboard.

  "Hell!" roared Leigh. "She's bilging!" and Sir Oliver saw the Spaniardstanding off again, as if satisfied with what she had done. The mate'sgun was never fired, nor was the broadside from below. Indeed thatsudden list had set the muzzles pointing to the sea; within threeminutes of it they were on a level with the water. The Swallow hadreceived her death-blow, and she was settling down.

  Satisfied that she could do no further harm, the Spaniard luffed andhove to, awaiting the obvious result and intent upon picking up whatslaves she could to man the galleys of his Catholic Majesty on theMediterranean.

  Thus the fate intended Sir Oliver by Lionel was to be fulfilled; and itwas to be shared by Master Leigh himself, which had not been at all inthat venal fellow's reckoning.


Turn Navi Off
Turn Navi On
Scroll Up