The sea hawk, p.29
The Sea-Hawk, p.29Rafael Sabatini
CHAPTER XIX. THE MUTINEERS
Later that morning, some time after the galeasse had awakened to lifeand such languid movement as might be looked for in a waiting crew,Sakr-el-Bahr went to visit Rosamund.
He found her brightened and refreshed by sleep, and he brought herreassuring messages that all was well, encouraging her with hopes whichhimself he was very far from entertaining. If her reception of him wasnot expressedly friendly, neither was it unfriendly. She listened to thehopes he expressed of yet effecting her safe deliverance, and whilstshe had no thanks to offer him for the efforts he was to exert onher behalf--accepting them as her absolute due, as the inadequateliquidation of the debt that lay between them--yet there was now none ofthat aloofness amounting almost to scorn which hitherto had marked herbearing towards him.
He came again some hours later, in the afternoon, by when his Nubianswere once more at their post. He had no news to bring her beyond thefact that their sentinel on the heights reported a sail to westward,beating up towards the island before the very gentle breeze that wasblowing. But the argosy they awaited was not yet in sight, and heconfessed that certain proposals which he had made to Asad for landingher in France had been rejected. Still she need have no fear, he addedpromptly, seeing the sudden alarm that quickened in her eyes. A waywould present itself. He was watching, and would miss no chance.
"And if no chance should offer?" she asked him.
"Why then I will make one," he answered, lightly almost. "I have beenmaking them all my life, and it would be odd if I should have lost thetrick of it on my life's most important occasion."
This mention of his life led to a question from her.
"How did you contrive the chance that has made you what you are?I mean," she added quickly, as if fearing that the purport of thatquestion might be misunderstood, "that has enabled you to become acorsair captain."
"'Tis a long story that," he said. "I should weary you in the telling ofit."
"No," she replied, and shook her head, her clear eyes solemnly meetinghis clouded glance. "You would not weary me. Chances may be few in whichto learn it."
"And you would learn it?" quoth he, and added, "That you may judge me?"
"Perhaps," she said, and her eyes fell.
With bowed head he paced the length of the small chamber, and backagain. His desire was to do her will in this, which is naturalenough--for if it is true that who knows all must perforce forgiveall, never could it have been truer than in the case of Sir OliverTressilian.
So he told his tale. Pacing there he related it at length, from the dayswhen he had toiled at an oar on one of the galleys of Spain down to thathour in which aboard the Spanish vessel taken under Cape Spartel he haddetermined upon that voyage to England to present his reckoning to hisbrother. He told his story simply and without too great a wealth ofdetail, yet he omitted nothing of all that had gone to place him wherehe stood. And she, listening, was so profoundly moved that at one momenther eyes glistened with tears which she sought vainly to repress. Yethe, pacing there, absorbed, with head bowed and eyes that never oncestrayed in her direction, saw none of this.
"And so," he said, when at last that odd narrative had reached its end,"you know what the forces were that drove me. Another stronger thanmyself might have resisted and preferred to suffer death. But I was notstrong enough. Or perhaps it is that stronger than myself was my desireto punish, to vent the bitter hatred into which my erstwhile love forLionel was turned."
"And for me, too--as you have told me," she added.
"Not so," he corrected her. "I hated you for your unfaith, and most ofall for your having burnt unread the letter that I sent you by the handof Pitt. In doing that you contributed to the wrongs I was enduring,you destroyed my one chance of establishing my innocence and seekingrehabilitation, you doomed me for life to the ways which I was treading.But I did not then know what ample cause you had to believe me whatI seemed. I did not know that it was believed I had fled. Therefore Iforgive you freely a deed for which at one time I confess that I hatedyou, and which spurred me to bear you off when I found you under my handthat night at Arwenack when I went for Lionel."
"You mean that it was no part of your intent to have done so?" she askedhim.
"To carry you off together with him?" he asked. "I swear to God I hadnot premeditated that. Indeed, it was done because not premeditated,for had I considered it, I do think I should have been proof against anysuch temptation. It assailed me suddenly when I beheld you there withLionel, and I succumbed to it. Knowing what I now know I am punishedenough, I think."
"I think I can understand," she murmured gently, as if to comfort him,for quick pain had trembled in his voice.
He tossed back his turbaned head. "To understand is something," saidhe. "It is half-way at least to forgiveness. But ere forgiveness can beaccepted the evil done must be atoned for to the full."
"If possible," said she.
"It must be made possible," he answered her with heat, and on that hechecked abruptly, arrested by a sound of shouting from without.
He recognized the voice of Larocque, who at dawn had returned to hissentinel's post on the summit of the headland, relieving the man who hadreplaced him there during the night.
"My lord! My lord!" was the cry, in a voice shaken by excitement, andsucceeded by a shouting chorus from the crew.
Sakr-el-Bahr turned swiftly to the entrance, whisked aside thecurtain, and stepped out upon the poop. Larocque was in the very actof clambering over the bulwarks amidships, towards the waist-deck whereAsad awaited him in company with Marzak and the trusty Biskaine. Theprow, on which the corsairs had lounged at ease since yesterday, wasnow a seething mob of inquisitive babbling men, crowding to the rail andeven down the gangway in their eagerness to learn what news it was thatbrought the sentinel aboard in such excited haste.
From where he stood Sakr-el-Bahr heard Larocque's loud announcement.
"The ship I sighted at dawn, my lord!"
"Well?" barked Asad.
"She is here--in the bay beneath that headland. She has just droppedanchor."
"No need for alarm in that," replied the Basha at once. "Since she hasanchored there it is plain that she has no suspicion of our presence.What manner of ship is she?"
"A tall galleon of twenty guns, flying the flag of England.
"Of England!" cried Asad in surprise. "She'll need be a stout vessel tohazard herself in Spanish waters."
Sakr-el-Bahr advanced to the rail.
"Does she display no further device?" he asked.
Larocque turned at the question. "Ay," he answered, "a narrow bluepennant on her mizzen is charged with a white bird--a stork, I think."
"A stork?" echoed Sakr-el-Bahr thoughtfully. He could call to mind nosuch English blazon, nor did it seem to him that it could possibly beEnglish. He caught the sound of a quickly indrawn breath behind him.He turned to find Rosamund standing in the entrance, not more than halfconcealed by the curtain. Her face showed white and eager, her eyes werewide.
"What is't?" he asked her shortly.
"A stork, he thinks," she said, as though that were answer enough.
"I' faith an unlikely bird," he commented. "The fellow is mistook."
"Yet not by much, Sir Oliver."
"How? Not by much?" Intrigued by something in her tone and glance, hestepped quickly up to her, whilst below the chatter of voices increased.
"That which he takes to be a stork is a heron--a white heron, and whiteis argent in heraldry, is't not?"
"It is. What then?"
"D'ye not see? That ship will be the Silver Heron."
He looked at her. "'S life!" said he, "I reck little whether it be thesilver heron or the golden grasshopper. What odds?"
"It is Sir John's ship--Sir John Killigrew's," she explained. "She wasall but ready to sail when... when you came to Arwenack. He was for theIndies. Instead--don't you see?--out of love for me he will have comeafter me upon a forlorn hope of overtaking you ere you could makeBar
"God's light!" said Sakr-el-Bahr, and fell to musing. Then he raised hishead and laughed. "Faith, he's some days late for that!"
But the jest evoked no response from her. She continued to stare at himwith those eager yet timid eyes.
"And yet," he continued, "he comes opportunely enough. If the breezethat has fetched him is faint, yet surely it blows from Heaven."
"Were it...?" she paused, faltering a moment.
Then, "Were it possible to communicate with him?" she asked, yet withhesitation.
"Possible--ay," he answered. "Though we must needs devise the means, andthat will prove none so easy."
"And you would do it?" she inquired, an undercurrent of wonder in herquestion, some recollection of it in her face.
"Why, readily," he answered, "since no other way presents itself. Nodoubt 'twill cost some lives," he added, "but then...." And he shruggedto complete the sentence.
"Ah, no, no! Not at that price!" she protested. And how was he to knowthat all the price she was thinking of was his own life, which sheconceived would be forfeited if the assistance of the Silver Heron wereinvoked?
Before he could return her any answer his attention was diverted. Asullen threatening note had crept into the babble of the crew, andsuddenly one or two voices were raised to demand insistently that Asadshould put to sea at once and remove his vessel from a neighbourhoodbecome so dangerous. Now, the fault of this was Marzak's. His was thevoice that first had uttered that timid suggestion, and the infection ofhis panic had spread instantly through the corsair ranks.
Asad, drawn to the full of his gaunt height, turned upon them the eyesthat had quelled greater clamours, and raised the voice which in itsday had hurled a hundred men straight into the jaws of death without aprotest.
"Silence!" he commanded. "I am your lord and need no counsellors saveAllah. When I consider the time come, I will give the word to row, butnot before. Back to your quarters, then, and peace!"
He disdained to argue with them, to show them what sound reasons therewere for remaining in this secret cove and against putting forth intothe open. Enough for them that such should be his will. Not for them toquestion his wisdom and his decisions.
But Asad-ed-Din had lain overlong in Algiers whilst his fleets underSakr-el-Bahr and Biskaine had scoured the inland sea. The men were nolonger accustomed to the goad of his voice, their confidence in hisjudgment was not built upon the sound basis of past experience. Neveryet had he led into battle the men of this crew and brought them forthagain in triumph and enriched by spoil.
So now they set their own judgment against his. To them it seemed arecklessness--as, indeed, Marzak had suggested--to linger here, and hismere announcement of his purpose was far from sufficient to dispel theirdoubts.
The murmurs swelled, not to be overborne by his fierce presence andscowling brow, and suddenly one of the renegades--secretly prompted bythe wily Vigitello--raised a shout for the captain whom they knew andtrusted.
"Sakr-el-Bahr! Sakr-el-Bahr! Thou'lt not leave us penned in this cove toperish like rats!"
It was as a spark to a train of powder. A score of voices instantly tookup the cry; hands were flung out towards Sakr-el-Bahr, where he stoodabove them and in full view of all, leaning impassive and stern uponthe poop-rail, whilst his agile mind weighed the opportunity thus thrustupon him, and considered what profit was to be extracted from it.
Asad fell back a pace in his profound mortification. His face was livid,his eyes blared furiously, his hand flew to the jewelled hilt of hisscimitar, yet forbore from drawing the blade. Instead he let loose uponMarzak the venom kindled in his soul by this evidence of how shrunkenwas his authority.
"Thou fool!" he snarled. "Look on thy craven's work. See what a devilthou hast raised with thy woman's counsels. Thou to command a galley!Thou to become a fighter upon the seas! I would that Allah had strickenme dead ere I begat me such a son as thou!"
Marzak recoiled before the fury of words that he feared might befollowed by yet worse. He dared make no answer, offer no excuse; in thatmoment he scarcely dared breathe.
Meanwhile Rosamund in her eagerness had advanced until she stood atSakr-el-Bahr's elbow.
"God is helping us!" she said in a voice of fervent gratitude. "This isyour opportunity. The men will obey you."
He looked at her, and smiled faintly upon her eagerness. "Ay, mistress,they will obey me," he said. But in the few moments that were sped hehad taken his resolve. Whilst undoubtedly Asad was right, and the wisecourse was to lie close in this sheltering cove where the odds of theirgoing unperceived were very heavily in their favour, yet the men'sjudgment was not altogether at fault. If they were to put to sea, theymight by steering an easterly course pass similarly unperceived, andeven should the splash of their oars reach the galleon beyond theheadland, yet by the time she had weighed anchor and started in pursuitthey would be well away straining every ounce of muscle at the oars,whilst the breeze--a heavy factor in his considerations--was become sofeeble that they could laugh at pursuit by a vessel that depended uponwind alone. The only danger, then, was the danger of the galleon'scannon, and that danger was none so great as from experienceSakr-el-Bahr well knew.
Thus was he reluctantly forced to the conclusion that in the main thewiser policy was to support Asad, and since he was full confident ofthe obedience of the men he consoled himself with the reflection that amoral victory might be in store for him out of which some surer profitmight presently be made.
In answer, then, to those who still called upon him, he leapt down thecompanion and strode along the gangway to the waist-deck to takehis stand at the Basha's side. Asad watched his approach with angrymisgivings; it was with him a foregone conclusion that things being asthey were Sakr-el-Bahr would be ranged against him to obtain completecontrol of these mutineers and to cull the fullest advantage fromthe situation. Softly and slowly he unsheathed his scimitar, andSakr-el-Bahr seeing this out of the corner of his eye, yet affected notto see, but stood forward to address the men.
"How now?" he thundered wrathfully. "What shall this mean? Are ye alldeaf that ye have not heard the commands of your Basha, the exaltedof Allah, that ye dare raise your mutinous voices and say what is yourwill?"
Sudden and utter silence followed that exhortation. Asad listened inrelieved amazement; Rosamund caught her breath in sheer dismay.
What could he mean, then? Had he but fooled and duped her? Were hisintentions towards her the very opposite to his protestations? She leantupon the poop-rail straining to catch every syllable of that speech ofhis in the lingua franca, hoping almost that her indifferent knowledgeof it had led her into error on the score of what he had said.
She saw him turn with a gesture of angry command upon Larocque, whostood there by the bulwarks, waiting.
"Back to thy post up yonder, and keep watch upon that vessel'smovements, reporting them to us. We stir not hence until such be ourlord Asad's good pleasure. Away with thee!"
Larocque without a murmur threw a leg over the bulwarks and dropped tothe oars, whence he clambered ashore as he had been bidden. And not asingle voice was raised in protest.
Sakr-el-Bahr's dark glance swept the ranks of the corsairs crowding theforecastle.
"Because this pet of the hareem," he said, immensely daring, indicatingMarzak by a contemptuous gesture, "bleats of danger into the ears ofmen, are ye all to grow timid and foolish as a herd of sheep? By Allah!What are ye? Are ye the fearless sea-hawks that have flown with me, andstruck where the talons of my grappling-hooks were flung, or are ye butscavenging crows?"
He was answered by an old rover whom fear had rendered greatly daring.
"We are trapped here as Dragut was trapped at Jerba."
"Thou liest," he answered. "Dragut was not trapped, for Dragut found away out. And against Dragut there was the whole navy of Genoa, whilstagainst us there is but one single galleon. By the Koran, if she showsfight, have we no teeth? Will it be the first galleon whose decks wehave overrun? But if ye pr
"But I waste my breath in argument," he ended abruptly. "You have heardthe commands of your lord, Asad-ed-Din, and that should be argumentenough. No more of this, then."
Without so much as waiting to see them disperse from the rail and returnto their lounging attitudes about the forecastle, he turned to Asad.
"It might have been well to hang the dog who spoke of Dragut and Jerba,"he said. "But it was never in my nature to be harsh with those whofollow me." And that was all.
Asad from amazement had passed quickly to admiration and a sort ofcontrition, into which presently there crept a poisonous tinge ofjealousy to see Sakr-el-Bahr prevail where he himself alone must utterlyhave failed. This jealousy spread all-pervadingly, like an oil stain. Ifhe had come to bear ill-will to Sakr-el-Bahr before, that ill-will wasturned of a sudden into positive hatred for one in whom he now beheld ausurper of the power and control that should reside in the Basha alone.Assuredly there was no room for both of them in the Bashalik of Algiers.
Therefore the words of commendation which had been rising to his lipsfroze there now that Sakr-el-Bahr and he stood face to face. In silencehe considered his lieutenant through narrowing evil eyes, whose messagenone but a fool could have misunderstood.
Sakr-el-Bahr was not a fool, and he did not misunderstand it for amoment. He felt a tightening at the heart, and ill-will sprang to lifewithin him responding to the call of that ill-will. Almost he repentedhim that he had not availed himself of that moment of weakness andmutiny on the part of the crew to attempt the entire superseding of theBasha.
The conciliatory words he had in mind to speak he now suppressed. Tothat venomous glance he opposed his ever ready mockery. He turned toBiskaine.
"Withdraw," he curtly bade him, "and take that stout sea-warrior withthee." And he indicated Marzak.
Biskaine turned to the Basha. "Is it thy wish, my lord?" he asked.
Asad nodded in silence, and motioned him away together with the cowedMarzak.
"My lord," said Sakr-el-Bahr, when they were alone, "yesterday I madethee a proposal for the healing of this breach between us, and it wasrefused. But now had I been the traitor and mutineer thou hast dubbedme I could have taken full advantage of the humour of my corsairs. Had Idone that it need no longer have been mine to propose or to sue.Instead it would have been mine to dictate. Since I have given theesuch crowning proof of my loyalty, it is my hope and trust that I may berestored to the place I had lost in thy confidence, and that this beingso thou wilt accede now to that proposal of mine concerning the Frankishwoman yonder."
It was unfortunate perhaps that she should have been standing thereunveiled upon the poop within the range of Asad's glance; for the sightof her it may have been that overcame his momentary hesitation andstifled the caution which prompted him to accede. He considered her amoment, and a faint colour kindled in his cheeks which anger had madelivid.
"It is not for thee, Sakr-el-Bahr," he answered at length, "to make meproposals. To dare it, proves thee far removed indeed from the loyaltythy lips profess. Thou knowest my will concerning her. Once hast thouthwarted and defied me, misusing to that end the Prophet's Holy Law.Continue a barrier in my path and it shall be at thy peril." His voicewas raised and it shook with anger.
"Not so loud," said Sakr-el-Bahr, his eyes gleaming with a response ofanger. "For should my men overhear these threats of thine I will notanswer for what may follow. I oppose thee at my peril sayest thou. Beit so, then." He smiled grimly. "It is war between us, Asad, sincethou hast chosen it. Remember hereafter when the consequences come tooverwhelm thee that the choice was thine."
"Thou mutinous, treacherous son of a dog!" blazed Asad.
Sakr-el-Bahr turned on his heel. "Pursue the path of an old man'sfolly," he said over his shoulder, "and see whither it will lead thee."
Upon that he strode away up the gangway to the poop, leaving the Bashaalone with his anger and some slight fear evoked by that last boldmenace. But notwithstanding that he menaced boldly the heart ofSakr-el-Bahr was surcharged with anxiety. He had conceived a plan; butbetween the conception and its execution he realized that much ill mightlie.
"Mistress," he addressed Rosamund as he stepped upon the poop. "You arenot wise to show yourself so openly."
To his amazement she met him with a hostile glance.
"Not wise?" said she, her countenance scornful. "You mean that I may seemore than was intended for me. What game do you play here, sir, that youtell me one thing and show me by your actions that you desire another?"
He did not need to ask her what she meant. At once he perceived how shehad misread the scene she had witnessed.
"I'll but remind you," he said very gravely, "that once before you didme a wrong by over-hasty judgment, as has been proven to you."
It overthrew some of her confidence. "But then...." she began.
"I do but ask you to save your judgment for the end. If I live I shalldeliver you. Meanwhile I beg that you will keep your cabin. It does nothelp me that you be seen."
She looked at him, a prayer for explanation trembling on her lips. Butbefore the calm command of his tone and glance she slowly lowered herhead and withdrew beyond the curtain.
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