The sea hawk, p.13
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       The Sea-Hawk, p.13

           Rafael Sabatini


  In the cabin of the captured Spaniard, Jasper Leigh found himself thatevening face to face with Sakr-el-Bahr, haled thither by the corsair'sgigantic Nubians.

  Sakr-el-Bahr had not yet pronounced his intentions concerning thepiratical little skipper, and Master Leigh, full conscious that he wasa villain, feared the worst, and had spent some miserable hours in thefore-castle awaiting a doom which he accounted foregone.

  "Our positions have changed, Master Leigh, since last we talked in aship's cabin," was the renegade's inscrutable greeting.

  "Indeed," Master Leigh agreed. "But I hope ye'll remember that on thatoccasion I was your friend."

  "At a price," Sakr-el-Bahr reminded him. "And at a price you may find meyour friend to-day."

  The rascally skipper's heart leapt with hope.

  "Name it, Sir Oliver," he answered eagerly. "And so that it ties withinmy wretched power I swear I'll never boggle at it. I've had enough ofslavery," he ran on in a plaintive whine. "Five years of it, and fourof them spent aboard the galleys of Spain, and no day in all of them butthat I prayed for death. Did you but know what I ha' suffered."

  "Never was suffering more merited, never punishment more fitting,never justice more poetic," said Sakr-el-Bahr in a voice that made theskipper's blood run cold. "You would have sold me, a man who did you nohurt, indeed a man who once befriended you--you would have sold me intoslavery for a matter of two hundred pounds...."

  "Nay, nay," cried the other fearfully, "as God's my witness, 'twas neverpart of my intent. Ye'll never ha' forgot the words I spoke to you, theoffer that I made to carry you back home again."

  "Ay, at a price, 'tis true," Sakr-el-Bahr repeated. "And it is fortunatefor you that you are to-day in a position to pay a price thatshould postpone your dirty neck's acquaintance with a rope. I need anavigator," he added in explanation, "and what five years ago you wouldhave done for two hundred pounds, you shall do to-day for your life. Howsay you: will you navigate this ship for me?"

  "Sir," cried Jasper Leigh, who could scarce believe that this was allthat was required of him, "I'll sail it to hell at your bidding."

  "I am not for Spain this voyage," answered Sakr-el-Bahr. "You shall sailme precisely as you would have done five years ago, back to the mouth ofthe Fal, and set me ashore there. Is that agreed?"

  "Ay, and gladly," replied Master Leigh without a second's pause.

  "The conditions are that you shall have your life and your liberty,"Sakr-el-Bahr explained. "But do not suppose that arrived in England youare to be permitted to depart. You must sail us back again, though onceyou have done that I shall find a way to send you home if you so desireit, and perhaps there will be some measure of reward for you if youserve me faithfully throughout. Follow the habits of a lifetime byplaying me false and there's an end to you. You shall have for constantbodyguard these two lilies of the desert," and he pointed to thecolossal Nubians who stood there invisible almost in the shadow but forthe flash of teeth and eyeballs. "They shall watch over you, and seethat no harm befalls you so long as you are honest with me, and theyshall strangle you at the first sign of treachery. You may go. You havethe freedom of the ship, but you are not to leave it here or elsewheresave at my express command."

  Jasper Leigh stumbled out counting himself fortunate beyond hisexpectations or deserts, and the Nubians followed him and hung behindhim ever after like some vast twin shadow.

  To Sakr-el-Bahr entered now Biskaine with a report of the prizecaptured. Beyond the prisoners, however, and the actual vessel, whichhad suffered nothing in the fight, the cargo was of no account. Outwardbound as she was it was not to be expected that any treasures would bediscovered in her hold. They found great store of armaments and powderand a little money; but naught else that was worthy of the corsairs'attention.

  Sakr-el-Bahr briefly issued his surprising orders.

  "Thou'lt set the captives aboard one of the galleys, Biskaine, andthyself convey them to Algiers, there to be sold. All else thou'lt leaveaboard here, and two hundred picked corsairs to go a voyage with meoverseas, men that will act as mariners and fighters."

  "Art thou, then, not returning to Algiers, O Sakr-el-Bahr?"

  "Not yet. I am for a longer voyage. Convey my service to Asad-ed-Din,whom Allah guard and cherish, and tell him to look for me in some sixweeks time."

  This sudden resolve of Oliver-Reis created no little excitement aboardthe galleys. The corsairs knew nothing of navigation upon the open seas,none of them had ever been beyond the Mediterranean, few of them indeedhad ever voyaged as far west as Cape Spartel, and it is doubtful ifthey would have followed any other leader into the perils of the openAtlantic. But Sakr-el-Bahr, the child of Fortune, the protected ofAllah, had never yet led them to aught but victory, and he had but tocall them to heel and they would troop after him whithersoever he shouldthink well to go. So now there was little trouble in finding the twohundred Muslimeen he desired for his fighting crew. Rather was thedifficulty to keep the number of those eager for the adventure withinthe bounds he had indicated.

  You are not to suppose that in all this Sir Oliver was acting upon anypreconcerted plan. Whilst he had lain on the heights watching that fineship beating up against the wind it had come to him that with such avessel under him it were a fond adventure to sail to England, to descendupon that Cornish coast abruptly as a thunderbolt, and present thereckoning to his craven dastard of a brother. He had toyed with thefancy, dreamily almost as men build their castles in Spain. Then inthe heat of conflict it had entirely escaped his mind, to return in theshape of a resolve when he came to find himself face to face with JasperLeigh.

  The skipper and the ship conjointly provided him with all the means torealize that dream he had dreamt. There was none to oppose his will,no reason not to indulge his cruel fancy. Perhaps, too, he might seeRosamund again, might compel her to hear the truth from him. And therewas Sir John Killigrew. He had never been able to determine whether SirJohn had been his friend or his foe in the past; but since it was SirJohn who had been instrumental in setting up Lionel in Sir Oliver'splace--by inducing the courts to presume Sir Oliver's death on the scorethat being a renegade he must be accounted dead at law--and since it wasSir John who was contriving this wedding between Lionel and Rosamund,why, Sir John, too, should be paid a visit and should be informed of theprecise nature of the thing he did.

  With the forces at his disposal in those days of his absolute lordshipof life and death along the African littoral, to conceive was withOliver-Reis no more than the prelude to execution. The habit of swiftrealization of his every wish had grown with him, and that habit guidednow his course.

  He made his preparations quickly, and on the morrow the Spanishcarack--lately labelled Nuestra Senora de las Llagas, but with thatlabel carefully effaced from her quarter--trimmed her sails and stoodout for the open Atlantic, navigated by Captain Jasper Leigh. The threegalleys under the command of Biskaine-el-Borak crept slowly eastward andhomeward to Algiers, hugging the coast, as was the corsair habit. Thewind favoured Oliver so well that within ten days of rounding Cape St.Vincent he had his first glimpse of the Lizard.

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