The sea hawk, p.16
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       The Sea-Hawk, p.16

           Rafael Sabatini
 

  CHAPTER VI. THE CONVERT

  That tale of Othmani's being borne anon to Fenzileh by her son was galland wormwood to her jealous soul. Evil enough to know that Sakr-el-Bahrwas returned in spite of the fervent prayers for his foundering whichshe had addressed both to the God of her forefathers and to the God ofher adoption. But that he should have returned in triumph bringing withhim heavy spoils that must exalt him further in the affection of Asadand the esteem of the people was bitterness indeed. It left her mute andstricken, bereft even of the power to curse him.

  Anon, when her mind recovered from the shock she turned it to theconsideration of what at first had seemed a trivial detail in Othmani'stale as reported by Marzak.

  "It is most singularly odd that he should have undertaken that longvoyage to England to wrest thence just those two captives; that beingthere he should not have raided in true corsair fashion and packed hisship with slaves. Most singularly odd!"

  They were alone behind the green lattices through which filtered theperfumes of the garden and the throbbing of a nightingale's voice ladenwith the tale of its love for the rose. Fenzileh reclined upon adivan that was spread with silken Turkey carpets, and one of hergold-embroidered slippers had dropped from her henna-stained toes. Herlovely arms were raised to support her head, and she stared up at thelamp of many colours that hung from the fretted ceiling.

  Marzak paced the length of the chamber back and forth, and there wassilence save for the soft swish of his slippers along the floor.

  "Well?" she asked him impatiently at last. "Does it not seem odd tothee?"

  "Odd, indeed, O my mother," the youth replied, coming to a halt beforeher.

  "And canst think of naught that was the cause of it?"

  "The cause of it?" quoth he, his lovely young face, so closely modelledupon her own, looking blank and vacant.

  "Ay, the cause of it," she cried impatiently. "Canst do naught butstare? Am I the mother of a fool? Wilt thou simper and gape and trifleaway thy days whilst that dog-descended Frank tramples thee underfoot,using thee but as a stepping-stone to the power that should be thineown? And that be so, Marzak, I would thou hadst been strangled in mywomb."

  He recoiled before the Italian fury of her, was dully resentful even,suspecting that in such words from a woman were she twenty times hismother, there was something dishonouring to his manhood.

  "What can I do?" he cried.

  "Dost ask me? Art thou not a man to think and act? I tell thee thatmisbegotten son of a Christian and a Jew will trample thee in the dust.He is greedy as the locust, wily as the serpent, and ferocious as thepanther. By Allah! I would I had never borne a son. Rather might menpoint at me the finger of scorn and call me mother of the wind than thatI should have brought forth a man who knows not how to be a man."

  "Show me the way," he cried. "Set me a task; tell me what to do andthou shalt not find me lacking, O my mother. Until then spare me theseinsults, or I come no more to thee."

  At this threat that strange woman heaved herself up from her soft couch.She ran to him and flung her arms about his neck, set her cheek againsthis own. Not eighteen years in the Basha's hareem had stifled theEuropean mother in her, the passionate Sicilian woman, fierce as a tigerin her maternal love.

  "O my child, my lovely boy," she almost sobbed. "It is my fear for theethat makes me harsh. If I am angry it is but my love that speaks, myrage for thee to see another come usurping the place beside thy fatherthat should be thine. Ah! but we will prevail, sweet son of mine. Ishall find a way to return that foreign offal to the dung-heap whence itsprang. Trust me, O Marzak! Sh! Thy father comes. Away! Leave me alonewith him."

  She was wise in that, for she knew that alone Asad was more easilycontrolled by her, since the pride was absent which must compel him toturn and rend her did she speak so before others. Marzak vanished behindthe screen of fretted sandalwood that masked one doorway even as Asadloomed in the other.

  He came forward smiling, his slender brown fingers combing his longbeard, his white djellaba trailing behind him along the ground.

  "Thou hast heard, not a doubt, O Fenzileh," said he. "Art thou answeredenough?"

  She sank down again upon her cushions and idly considered herself in asteel mirror set in silver.

  "Answered?" she echoed lazily, with infinite scorn and a hint ofrippling contemptuous laughter running through the word. "Answeredindeed. Sakr-el-Bahr risks the lives of two hundred children of Islamand a ship that being taken was become the property of the State upona voyage to England that has no object but the capturing of twoslaves--two slaves, when had his purpose been sincere, it might havebeen two hundred."

  "Ha! And is that all that thou hast heard?" he asked her mocking in histurn.

  "All that signifies," she replied, still mirroring herself. "I heardas a matter of lesser import that on his return, meeting fortuitouslya Frankish ship that chanced to be richly laden, he seized it in thyname."

  "Fortuitously, sayest thou?"

  "What else?" She lowered the mirror, and her bold, insolent eyes met hisown quite fearlessly. "Thou'lt not tell me that it was any part of hisdesign when he went forth?"

  He frowned; his head sank slowly in thought. Observing the advantagegained she thrust it home. "It was a lucky wind that blew that Dutchmaninto his path, and luckier still her being so richly fraught that he maydazzle thine eyes with the sight of gold and gems, and so blind thee tothe real purpose of his voyage."

  "Its real purpose?" he asked dully. "What was its real purpose?" Shesmiled a smile of infinite knowledge to hide her utter ignorance, herinability to supply even a reason that should wear an air of truth.

  "Dost ask me, O perspicuous Asad? Are not thine eyes as sharp, thy witsas keen at least as mine, that what is clear to me should be hiddenfrom thee? Or hath this Sakr-el-Bahr bewitched thee with enchantments ofBabyl?"

  He strode to her and caught her wrist in a cruelly rough grip of hissinewy old hand.

  "His purpose, thou jade! Pour out the foulness of thy mind. Speak!"

  She sat up, flushed and defiant.

  "I will not speak," said she.

  "Thou wilt not? Now, by the Head of Allah! dost dare to stand beforemy face and defy me, thy Lord? I'll have thee whipped, Fenzileh. Ihave been too tender of thee these many years--so tender that thou hastforgot the rods that await the disobedient wife. Speak then ere thyflesh is bruised or speak thereafter, at thy pleasure."

  "I will not," she repeated. "Though I be flung to the hooks, not anotherword will I say of Sakr-el-Bahr. Shall I unveil the truth to be spurnedand scorned and dubbed a liar and the mother of lies?" Then abruptlychanging she fell to weeping. "O source of my life!" she cried to him,"how cruelly unjust to me thou art!" She was grovelling now, a thing ofsupplest grace, her lovely arms entwining his knees. "When my love forthee drives me to utter what I see, I earn but thy anger, which is morethan I can endure. I swoon beneath the weight of it."

  He flung her off impatiently. "What a weariness is a woman's tongue!" hecried, and stalked out again, convinced from past experiences that didhe linger he would be whelmed in a torrent of words.

  But her poison was shrewdly administered, and slowly did its work. Itabode in his mind to torture him with the doubts that were its veryessence. No reason, however well founded, that she might have urged forSakr-el-Bahr's strange conduct could have been half so insidious asher suggestion that there was a reason. It gave him something vague andintangible to consider. Something that he could not repel since it hadno substance he could grapple with. Impatiently he awaited the morningand the coming of Sakr-el-Bahr himself, but he no longer awaited it withthe ardent whole-hearted eagerness as of a father awaiting the coming ofa beloved son.

  Sakr-el-Bahr himself paced the poop deck of the carack and watchedthe lights perish one by one in the little town that straggled up thehillside before him. The moon came up and bathed it in a white hardlight, throwing sharp inky shadows of rustling date palm and spearlikeminaret, and flinging shafts of silver athwart the
peaceful bay.

  His wound was healed and he was fully himself once more. Two days ago hehad come on deck for the first time since the fight with the Dutchman,and he had spent there the greater portion of the time since then. Onceonly had he visited his captives. He had risen from his couch to repairstraight to the cabin in the poop where Rosamund was confined. He hadfound her pale and very wistful, but with her courage entirely unbroken.The Godolphins were a stiff-necked race, and Rosamund bore in her frailbody the spirit of a man. She looked up when he entered, started alittle in surprise to see him at last, for it was the first time hestood before her since he had carried her off from Arwenack some fourweeks ago. Then she had averted her eyes, and sat there, elbows on thetable, as if carved of wood, as if blind to his presence and deaf to hiswords.

  To the expressions of regret--and they were sincere, for already herepented him his unpremeditated act so far as she was concerned--shereturned no slightest answer, gave no sign indeed that she heard aword of it. Baffled, he stood gnawing his lip a moment, and gradually,unreasonably perhaps, anger welled up from his heart. He turned and wentout again. Next he had visited his brother, to consider in silence amoment the haggard, wild-eyed, unshorn wretch who shrank and coweredbefore him in the consciousness of guilt. At last he returned to thedeck, and there, as I have said, he spent the greater portion of thelast three days of that strange voyage, reclining for the most part inthe sun and gathering strength from its ardour.

  To-night as he paced under the moon a stealthy shadow crept up thecompanion to call him gently by his English name--

  "Sir Oliver!"

  He started as if a ghost had suddenly leapt up to greet him. It wasJasper Leigh who hailed him thus.

  "Come up," he said. And when the fellow stood before him on the poop--"Ihave told you already that here is no Sir Oliver. I am Oliver-Reis orSakr-el-Bahr, as you please, one of the Faithful of the Prophet's House.And now what is your will?"

  "Have I not served you faithfully and well?" quoth Captain Leigh.

  "Who has denied it?"

  "None. But neither has any acknowledged it. When you lay wounded belowit had been an easy thing for me to ha' played the traitor. I might ha'sailed these ships into the mouth of Tagus. I might so by God!"

  "You'ld have been carved in pieces on the spot," said Sakr-el-Bahr.

  "I might have hugged the land and run the risk of capture and thenclaimed my liberation from captivity."

  "And found yourself back on the galleys of his Catholic Majesty. Butthere! I grant that you have dealt loyally by me. You have kept yourpart of the bond. I shall keep mine, never doubt it."

  "I do not. But your part of the bond was to send me home again."

  "Well?"

  "The hell of it is that I know not where to find a home, I know notwhere home may be after all these years. If ye send me forth, I shallbecome a wanderer of no account."

  "What else am I to do with you?"

  "Faith now I am as full weary of Christians and Christendom as you wasyourself when the Muslims took the galley on which you toiled. I am aman of parts, Sir Ol-Sakr-el-Bahr. No better navigator ever sailed aship from an English port, and I ha' seen a mort o' fighting and knowthe art of it upon the sea. Can ye make naught of me here?"

  "You would become a renegade like me?" His tone was bitter.

  "I ha' been thinking that 'renegade' is a word that depends upon whichside you're on. I'd prefer to say that I've a wish to be converted tothe faith of Mahound."

  "Converted to the faith of piracy and plunder and robbery upon the seasis what you mean," said Sakr-el-Bahr.

  "Nay, now. To that I should need no converting, for all that I wereafore," Captain Leigh admitted frankly. "I ask but to sail under anotherflag than the Jolly Roger."

  "You'll need to abjure strong drink," said Sakr-el-Bahr.

  "There be compensations," said Master Leigh.

  Sakr-el-Bahr considered. The rogue's appeal smote a responsive chord inhis heart. It would be good to have a man of his own race beside him,even though it were but such a rascal as this.

  "Be it as you will," he said at last. "You deserve to be hanged in spiteof what promises I made you. But no matter for that. So that you becomea Muslim I will take you to serve beside me, one of my own lieutenantsto begin with, and so long as you are loyal to me, Jasper, all will bewell. But at the first sign of faithlessness, a rope and the yard-arm,my friend, and an airy dance into hell for you."

  The rascally skipper stooped in his emotion, caught up Sakr-el-Bahr'shand and bore it to his lips. "It is agreed," he said. "Ye have shown memercy who have little deserved it from you. Never fear for my loyalty.My life belongs to you, and worthless thing though it may be, ye may dowith it as ye please."

  Despite himself Sakr-el-Bahr tightened his grip upon the rogue's hand,and Jasper shuffled off and down the companion again, touched to theheart for once in his rough villainous life by a clemency that he knewto be undeserved, but which he swore should be deserved ere all wasdone.

 
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