The sea hawk, p.14
The Sea-Hawk, p.14Rafael Sabatini
CHAPTER IV. THE RAID
In the estuary of the River Fal a splendid ship, on the building of whichthe most cunning engineers had been employed and no money spared, rodeproudly at anchor just off Smithick under the very shadow of the heightscrowned by the fine house of Arwenack. She was fitting out for a distantvoyage and for days the work of bringing stores and munitions aboard hadbeen in progress, so that there was an unwonted bustle about the littleforge and the huddle of cottages that went to make up the fishingvillage, as if in earnest of the great traffic that in future days wasto be seen about that spot. For Sir John Killigrew seemed at last to beon the eve of prevailing and of laying there the foundations of the fineport of his dreams.
To this state of things his friendship with Master Lionel Tressilianhad contributed not a little. The opposition made to his project by SirOliver--and supported, largely at Sir Oliver's suggestion, by Truro andHelston--had been entirely withdrawn by Lionel; more, indeed Lionel hadactually gone so far in the opposite direction as to support Sir John inhis representations to Parliament and the Queen. It followed naturallyenough that just as Sir Oliver's opposition of that cherished projecthad been the seed of the hostility between Arwenack and Penarrow, soLionel's support of it became the root of the staunch friendship thatsprang up between himself and Sir John.
What Lionel lacked of his brother's keen intelligence he made up for incunning. He realized that although at some future time it was possiblethat Helston and Truro and the Tressilian property there might cometo suffer as a consequence of the development of a port so much moreadvantageously situated, yet that could not be in his own lifetime;and meanwhile he must earn in return Sir John's support for his suit ofRosamund Godolphin and thus find the Godolphin estates merged with hisown. This certain immediate gain was to Master Lionel well worth theother future possible loss.
It must not, however, be supposed that Lionel's courtship hadthenceforward run a smooth and easy course. The mistress of GodolphinCourt showed him no favour and it was mainly that she might abstractherself from the importunities of his suit that she had sought andobtained Sir John Killigrew's permission to accompany the latter'ssister to France when she went there with her husband, who was appointedEnglish ambassador to the Louvre. Sir John's authority as her guardianhad come into force with the decease of her brother.
Master Lionel moped awhile in her absence; but cheered by Sir John'sassurance that in the end he should prevail, he quitted Cornwall in histurn and went forth to see the world. He spent some time in London aboutthe Court, where, however, he seems to have prospered little, and thenhe crossed to France to pay his devoirs to the lady of his longings.
His constancy, the humility with which he made his suit, the obviousintensity of his devotion, began at last to wear away that gentlewoman'sopposition, as dripping water wears away a stone. Yet she could notbring herself to forget that he was Sir Oliver's brother--the brother ofthe man she had loved, and the brother of the man who had killed herown brother. Between them stood, then, two things; the ghost of that oldlove of hers and the blood of Peter Godolphin.
Of this she reminded Sir John on her return to Cornwall after an absenceof some two years, urging these matters as reasons why an alliancebetween herself and Lionel Tressilian must be impossible.
Sir John did not at all agree with her.
"My dear," he said, "there is your future to be thought of. You are nowof full age and mistress of your own actions. Yet it is not well for awoman and a gentlewoman to dwell alone. As long as I live, or as longas I remain in England, all will be well. You may continue indefinitelyyour residence here at Arwenack, and you have been wise, I think, inquitting the loneliness of Godolphin Court. Yet consider that thatloneliness may be yours again when I am not here."
"I should prefer that loneliness to the company you would thrust uponme," she answered him.
"Ungracious speech!" he protested. "Is this your gratitude for thatlad's burning devotion, for his patience, his gentleness, and all therest!"
"He is Oliver Tressilian's brother," she replied.
"And has he not suffered enough for that already? Is there to be no endto the price that he must pay for his brother's sins? Besides,consider that when all is said they are not even brothers. They are buthalf-brothers."
"Yet too closely kin," she said. "If you must have me wed I beg you'llfind me another husband."
To this he would answer that expediently considered no husband could bebetter than the one he had chosen her. He pointed out the contiguity oftheir two estates, and how fine and advantageous a thing it would be tomerge these two into one.
He was persistent, and his persistence was increased when he came toconceive his notion to take the seas again. His conscience would notpermit him to heave anchor until he had bestowed her safely in wedlock.Lionel too was persistent, in a quiet, almost self-effacing way thatnever set a strain upon her patience, and was therefore the moredifficult to combat.
In the end she gave way under the pressure of these men's wills, anddid so with the best grace she could summon, resolved to drive from herheart and mind the one real obstacle of which, for very shame, she hadmade no mention to Sir John. The fact is that in spite of all, her lovefor Sir Oliver was not dead. It was stricken down, it is true, until sheherself failed to recognize it for what it really was. But she caughtherself thinking of him frequently and wistfully; she found herselfcomparing him with his brother; and for all that she had bidden Sir Johnfind her some other husband than Lionel, she knew full well that anysuitor brought before her must be submitted to that same comparison tohis inevitable undoing. All this she accounted evil in herself. It wasin vain that she lashed her mind with the reminder that Sir Oliver wasPeter's murderer. As time went on she found herself actually makingexcuses for her sometime lover; she would admit that Peter had drivenhim to the step, that for her sake Sir Oliver had suffered insult uponinsult from Peter, until, being but human, the cup of his endurance hadoverflowed in the end, and weary of submitting to the other's blows hehad risen up in his anger and smitten in his turn.
She would scorn herself for such thoughts as these, yet she could notdismiss them. In act she could be strong--as witness how she had dealtwith that letter which Oliver sent her out of Barbary by the hand ofPitt--but her thoughts she could not govern, and her thoughts were fulloften traitors to her will. There were longings in her heart for Oliverwhich she could not stifle, and there was ever the hope that he wouldone day return, although she realized that from such a return she mightlook for nothing.
When Sir John finally slew the hope of that return he did a wiser thingthan he conceived. Never since Oliver's disappearance had they heard anynews of him until Pitt came to Arwenack with that letter and his story.They had heard, as had all the world, of the corsair Sakr-el-Bahr, butthey had been far indeed from connecting him with Oliver Tressilian. Nowthat his identity was established by Pitt's testimony, it was an easymatter to induce the courts to account him dead and to give Lionel thecoveted inheritance.
This to Rosamund was a small matter. But a great one was that Sir Oliverwas dead at law, and must be so in fact, should he ever again set footin England. It extinguished finally that curiously hopeless and almostsubconscious hope of hers that one day he would return. Thus it helpedher perhaps to face and accept the future which Sir John was resolved tothrust upon her.
Her betrothal was made public, and she proved if not an ardently loving,at least a docile and gentle mistress to Lionel. He was content. Hecould ask no more in reason at the moment, and he was buoyed up by everylover's confidence that given opportunity and time he could find the wayto awaken a response. And it must be confessed that already during theirbetrothal he gave some proof of his reason for his confidence. She hadbeen lonely, and he dispelled her loneliness by his complete surrenderof himself to her; his restraint and his cautious, almost insidiouscreeping along a path which a more clumsy fellow would have taken ata dash made companionship possible between them and very sweet to her.Upon this
Thus they came within a week of the wedding, and Sir John all impatiencenow. The marriage bells were to be his signal for departure; as theyfell silent the Silver Heron should spread her wings.
It was the evening of the first of June; the peal of the curfew hadfaded on the air and lights were being set in the great dining-room atArwenack where the company was to sup. It was a small party. Just SirJohn and Rosamund and Lionel, who had lingered on that day, and LordHenry Goade--our chronicler--the Queen's Lieutenant of Cornwall,together with his lady. They were visiting Sir John and they were toremain yet a week his guests at Arwenack that they might grace thecoming nuptials.
Above in the house there was great stir of preparation for the departureof Sir John and his ward, the latter into wedlock, the former intounknown seas. In the turret chamber a dozen sempstresses were at workupon the bridal outfit under the directions of that Sally Pentreath whohad been no less assiduous in the preparation of swaddling clothes andthe like on the eve of Rosamund's appearance in this world.
At the very hour at which Sir John was leading his company to table SirOliver Tressilian was setting foot ashore not a mile away.
He had deemed it wiser not to round Pendennis Point. So in the bay aboveSwanpool on the western side of that promontory he had dropped anchoras the evening shadows were deepening. He had launched the ship's twoboats, and in these he had conveyed some thirty of his men ashore. Twicehad the boats returned, until a hundred of his corsairs stood rangedalong that foreign beach. The other hundred he left on guard aboard. Hetook so great a force upon an expedition for which a quarter of themen would have sufficed so as to ensure by overwhelming numbers theavoidance of all unnecessary violence.
Absolutely unobserved he led them up the slope towards Arwenack throughthe darkness that had now closed in. To tread his native soil oncemore went near to drawing tears from him. How familiar was the path hefollowed with such confidence in the night; how well known each bush andstone by which he went with his silent multitude hard upon his heels.Who could have foretold him such a return as this.
Who could have dreamt when he roamed amain in his youth here with dogsand fowling-piece that he would creep one night over these dunes arenegade Muslim leading a horde of infidels to storm the house of SirJohn Killigrew of Arwenack?
Such thoughts begot a weakness in him; but he made a quick recoverywhen his mind swung to all that he had so unjustly suffered, when heconsidered all that he came thus to avenge.
First to Arwenack to Sir John and Rosamund to compel them to hear thetruth at least, and then away to Penarrow for Master Lionel and thereckoning. Such was the project that warmed him, conquered his weaknessand spurred him, relentless, onward and upward to the heights and thefortified house that dominated them.
He found the massive iron-studded gates locked, as was to have beenexpected at that hour. He knocked, and presently the postern gaped, anda lantern was advanced. Instantly that lantern was dashed aside and SirOliver had leapt over the sill into the courtyard. With a hand grippingthe porter's throat to choke all utterance, Sir Oliver heaved him out tohis men, who swiftly gagged him.
That done they poured silently through that black gap of the posterninto the spacious gateway. On he led them, at a run almost, towards thetall mullioned windows whence a flood of golden light seemed invitinglyto beckon them.
With the servants who met them in the hall they dealt in the same swiftsilent fashion as they had dealt with the gatekeeper, and such was thespeed and caution of their movements that Sir John and his company hadno suspicion of their presence until the door of the dining-room crashedopen before their eyes.
The sight which they beheld was one that for some moments left themmazed and bewildered. Lord Henry tells us how at first he imagined thathere was some mummery, some surprise prepared for the bridal couple bySir John's tenants or the folk of Smithick and Penycumwick, and he addsthat he was encouraged in this belief by the circumstance that not asingle weapon gleamed in all that horde of outlandish intruders.
Although they came full armed against any eventualities, yet by theirleader's orders not a blade was bared. What was to do was to be donewith their naked hands alone and without bloodshed. Such were the ordersof Sakr-el-Bahr, and Sakr-el-Bahr's were not orders to be disregarded.
Himself he stood forward at the head of that legion of brown-skinnedmen arrayed in all the colours of the rainbow, their heads swathed inturbans of every hue. He considered the company in grim silence, and thecompany in amazement considered this turbaned giant with the masterfulface that was tanned to the colour of mahogany, the black forked beard,and those singularly light eyes glittering like steel under his blackbrows.
Thus a little while in silence, then with a sudden gasp LionelTressilian sank back in his tall chair as if bereft of strength.
The agate eyes flashed upon him smiling, cruelly.
"I see that you, at least, I recognize me," said Sakr-el-Bahr in hisdeep voice. "I was assured I could depend upon the eyes of brotherlylove to pierce the change that time and stress have wrought in me."
Sir John was on his feet, his lean swarthy face flushing darkly, an oathon his lips. Rosamund sat on as if frozen with horror, considering SirOliver with dilating eyes, whilst her hands clawed the table before her.They too recognized him now, and realized that here was no mummery. Thatsomething sinister was intended Sir John could not for a moment doubt.But of what that something might be he could form no notion. It was thefirst time that Barbary rovers were seen in England. That famous raidof theirs upon Baltimore in Ireland did not take place until some thirtyyears after this date.
"Sir Oliver Tressilian!" Killigrew gasped, and "Sir Oliver Tressilian!"echoed Lord Henry Goade, to add "By God!"
"Not Sir Oliver Tressilian, came the answer, but Sakr-el-Bahr, thescourge of the sea, the terror of Christendom, the desperate corsairyour lies, cupidity, and false-heartedness have fashioned out of asometime Cornish gentleman." He embraced them all in his denunciatorygesture. "Behold me here with my sea-hawks to present a reckoning longoverdue."
Writing now of what his own eyes beheld, Lord Henry tells us how SirJohn leapt to snatch a weapon from the armoured walls; how Sakr-el-Bahrbarked out a single word in Arabic, and how at that word a half-dozenof his supple blackamoors sprang upon the knight like greyhounds upon ahare and bore him writhing to the ground.
Lady Henry screamed; her husband does not appear to have done anything,or else modesty keeps him silent on the score of it. Rosamund, whiteto the lips, continued to look on, whilst Lionel, overcome, covered hisface with his hands in sheer horror. One and all of them expected to seesome ghastly deed of blood performed there, coldly and callously as thewringing of a capon's neck. But no such thing took place. The corsairsmerely turned Sir John upon his face, dragged his wrists behind him tomake them fast, and having performed that duty with a speedy, silentdexterity they abandoned him.
Sakr-el-Bahr watched their performance with those grimly smiling eyes ofhis. When it was done he spoke again and pointed to Lionel, who leapt upin sudden terror, with a cry that was entirely inarticulate. Lithe brownarms encircled him like a legion of snakes. Powerless, he was liftedin the air and borne swiftly away. For an instant he found himself heldface to face with his turbaned brother. Into that pallid terror-strickenhuman mask the renegade's eyes stabbed like two daggers. Thendeliberately and after the fashion of the Muslim he was become he spatupon it.
"Away!" he growled, and through the press of corsairs that thronged thehall behind him a lane was swiftly opened and Lionel was swallowed up,lost to the view of those within the room.
"What murderous deed do you intend?" cried Sir John indomitably. He hadrisen and stood grimly dignified in his bonds.
"Will you murder your own brother as you murdered mi
"It seems you love that--whelp, that thing that was my brother," hesaid, sneering. "I wonder will you love him still when you come to bebetter acquainted with him? Though, faith, naught would surprise me ina woman and her love. Yet I am curious to see--curious to see." Helaughed. "I have a mind to gratify myself. I will not separate you--notjust yet."
He advanced upon her. "Come thou with me, lady," he commanded, and heldout his hand.
And now Lord Henry seems to have been stirred to futile action.
"At that," he writes, "I thrust myself between to shield her. 'Thoudog,' I cried,'thou shalt be made to suffer!'
"'Suffer?' quoth he, and mocked me with his deep laugh. 'I have sufferedalready. 'Tis for that reason I am here.'
"'And thou shalt suffer again, thou pirate out of hell!' I warned him.'Thou shalt suffer for this outrage as God's my life!'
"'Shall I so?' quoth he, very calm and sinister. 'And at whose hands, Ipray you?'
"'At mine, sir, I roared, being by now stirred to a great fury.
"'At thine?' he sneered. 'Thou'lt hunt the hawk of the sea? Thou? Thouplump partridge! Away! Hinder me not!"'
And he adds that again Sir Oliver spoke that short Arabic command,whereupon a dozen blackamoors whirled the Queen's Lieutenant aside andbound him to a chair.
Face to face stood now Sir Oliver with Rosamund--face to face afterfive long years, and he realized that in every moment of that time thecertainty had never departed from him of some such future meeting.
"Come, lady," he bade her sternly.
A moment she looked at him with hate and loathing in the clear depths ofher deep blue eyes. Then swiftly as lightning she snatched a knife fromthe board and drove it at his heart. But his hand moved as swiftlyto seize her wrist, and the knife clattered to the ground, its errandunfulfilled.
A shuddering sob escaped her then to express at once her horror of herown attempt and of the man who held her. That horror mounting until itoverpowered her, she sank suddenly against him in a swoon.
Instinctively his arms went round her, and a moment he held her thus,recalling the last occasion on which she had lain against his breast,on an evening five years and more ago under the grey wall of GodolphinCourt above the river. What prophet could have told him that when nexthe so held her the conditions would be these? It was all grotesque andincredible, like the fantastic dream of some sick mind. But it was alltrue, and she was in his arms again.
He shifted his grip to her waist, heaved her to his mighty shoulder,as though she were a sack of grain, and swung about, his business atArwenack accomplished--indeed, more of it accomplished than had been hisintent, and also something less.
"Away, away!" he cried to his rovers, and away they sped as fleetlyand silently as they had come, no man raising now so much as a voice tohinder them.
Through the hall and across the courtyard flowed that human tide; outinto the open and along the crest of the hill it surged, then away downthe slope towards the beach where their boats awaited them. Sakr-el-Bahrran as lightly as though the swooning woman he bore were no more than acloak he had flung across his shoulder. Ahead of him went a half-dozenof his fellows carrying his gagged and pinioned brother.
Once only before they dipped from the heights of Arwenack did Olivercheck. He paused to look across the dark shimmering water to the woodsthat screened the house of Penarrow from his view. It had been partof his purpose to visit it, as we know. But the necessity had now beenremoved, and he was conscious of a pang of disappointment, of a hungerto look again upon his home. But to shift the current of his thoughtsjust then came two of his officers--Othmani and Ali, who had beenmuttering one with the other. As they overtook him, Othmani set nowa hand upon his arm, and pointed down towards the twinkling lights ofSmithick and Penycumwick.
"My lord," he cried, "there will be lads and maidens there should fetchfat prices in the sok-el-Abeed."
"No doubt," said Sakr-el-Bahr, scarce heeding him, heeding indeed littlein this world but his longings to look upon Penarrow.
"Why, then, my lord, shall I take fifty True-Believers and make a raidupon them? It were an easy task, all unsuspicious as they must be of ourpresence."
Sakr-el-Bahr came out of his musings. "Othmani," said he, "art a fool,the very father of fools, else wouldst thou have come to know by nowthat those who once were of my own race, those of the land from whichI am sprung, are sacred to me. Here we take no slave but these we have.On, then, in the name of Allah!"
But Othmani was not yet silenced. "And is our perilous voyage acrossthese unknown seas into this far heathen land to be rewarded by no morethan just these two captives? Is that a raid worthy of Sakr-el-Bahr?"
"Leave Sakr-el-Bahr to judge," was the curt answer.
"But reflect, my lord: there is another who will judge. How shall ourBasha, the glorious Asad-ed-Din, welcome thy return with such poorspoils as these? What questions will he set thee, and what accountshalt thou render him for having imperilled the lives of all theseTrue-Believers upon the seas for so little profit?"
"He shall ask me what he pleases, and I shall answer what I please andas Allah prompts me. On, I say!"
And on they went, Sakr-el-Bahr conscious now of little but the warmthof that body upon his shoulder, and knowing not, so tumultuous were hisemotions, whether it fired him to love or hate.
They gained the beach; they reached the ship whose very presence hadcontinued unsuspected. The breeze was fresh and they stood away at once.By sunrise there was no more sign of them than there had been at sunset,there was no more clue to the way they had taken than to the way theyhad come. It was as if they had dropped from the skies in the night uponthat Cornish coast, and but for the mark of their swift, silent passage,but for the absence of Rosamund and Lionel Tressilian, the thing musthave been accounted no more than a dream of those few who had witnessedit.
Aboard the carack, Sakr-el-Bahr bestowed Rosamund in the cabin overthe quarter, taking the precaution to lock the door that led to thestern-gallery. Lionel he ordered to be dropped into a dark hole underthe hatchway, there to lie and meditate upon the retribution that hadovertaken him until such time as his brother should have determinedupon his fate--for this was a matter upon which the renegade was stillundecided.
Himself he lay under the stars that night and thought of many things.One of these things, which plays some part in the story, though it isprobable that it played but a slight one in his thoughts, was begottenof the words Othmani had used. What, indeed, would be Asad's welcome ofhim on his return if he sailed into Algiers with nothing more to showfor that long voyage and the imperilling of the lives of two hundredTrue-Believers than just those two captives whom he intended, moreover,to retain for himself? What capital would not be made out of thatcircumstance by his enemies in Algiers and by Asad's Sicilian wife whohated him with all the bitterness of a hatred that had its roots in thefertile soil of jealousy?
This may have spurred him in the cool dawn to a very daring anddesperate enterprise which Destiny sent his way in the shape of atall-masted Dutchman homeward bound. He gave chase, for all that he wasfull conscious that the battle he invited was one of which his corsairshad no experience, and one upon which they must have hesitated toventure with another leader than himself. But the star of Sakr-el-Bahrwas a star that never led to aught but victory, and their belief inhim, the very javelin of Allah, overcame any doubts that may havebeen begotten of finding themselves upon an unfamiliar craft and on arolling, unfamiliar sea.
This fight is given in great detail by my Lord Henry from theparticulars afforded him by J
Such was ever his fury in an engagement that it infected and inspiredhis followers. It did so now, and the shrewd Dutchmen came to perceivethat this heathen horde was as a body to which he supplied the brainand soul. They attacked him fiercely in groups, intent at all costs uponcutting him down, convinced almost by instinct that were he felled thevictory would easily be theirs. And in the end they succeeded. A Dutchpike broke some links of his mail and dealt him a flesh wound which wentunheeded by him in his fury; a Dutch rapier found the breach thus madein his de-fences, and went through it to stretch him bleeding uponthe deck. Yet he staggered up, knowing as full as did they that if hesuccumbed then all was lost. Armed now with a short axe which he hadfound under his hand when he went down, he hacked a way to the bulwarks,set his back against the timbers, and hoarse of voice, ghastly of face,spattered with the blood of his wound he urged on his men until thevictory was theirs--and this was fortunately soon. And then, as if hehad been sustained by no more than the very force of his will, he sankdown in a heap among the dead and wounded huddled against the vessel'sbulwarks.
Grief-stricken his corsairs bore him back aboard the carack. Were he todie then was their victory a barren one indeed. They laid him on a couchprepared for him amidships on the main deck, where the vessel'spitching was least discomfiting. A Moorish surgeon came to tend him, andpronounced his hurt a grievous one, but not so grievous as to close thegates of hope.
This pronouncement gave the corsairs all the assurance they required. Itcould not be that the Gardener could already pluck so fragrant a fruitfrom Allah's garden. The Pitiful must spare Sakr-el-Bahr to continue theglory of Islam.
Yet they were come to the straits of Gibraltar before his fever abatedand he recovered complete consciousness, to learn of the final issueof that hazardous fight into which he had led those children of theProphet.
The Dutchman, Othmani informed him, was following in their wake, withAli and some others aboard her, steering ever in the wake of the carackwhich continued to be navigated by the Nasrani dog, Jasper Leigh. WhenSakr-el-Bahr learnt the value of the capture, when he was informed thatin addition to a hundred able-bodied men under the hatches, to be soldas slaves in the sok-el-Abeed, there was a cargo of gold and silver,pearls, amber, spices, and ivory, and such lesser matters as gorgeoussilken fabrics, rich beyond anything that had ever been seen upon theseas at any one time, he felt that the blood he had shed had not beenwasted.
Let him sail safely into Algiers with these two ships both capturedin the name of Allah and his Prophet, one of them an argosy so richlyfraught, a floating treasure-house, and he need have little fear ofwhat his enemies and the crafty evil Sicilian woman might have wroughtagainst him in his absence.
Then he made inquiry touching his two English captives, to be informedthat Othmani had taken charge of them, and that he had continued thetreatment meted out to them by Sakr-el-Bahr himself when first they werebrought aboard.
He was satisfied, and fell into a gentle healing sleep, whilst, on thedecks above, his followers rendered thanks to Allah the Pitying thePitiful, the Master of the Day of Judgment, who Alone is All-Wise,All-Knowing.
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