The sea hawk, p.3
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       The Sea-Hawk, p.3

           Rafael Sabatini
 

  CHAPTER I. THE HUCKSTER

  Sir Oliver Tressilian sat at his ease in the lofty dining-room of thehandsome house of Penarrow, which he owed to the enterprise of hisfather of lamented and lamentable memory and to the skill and inventionof an Italian engineer named Bagnolo who had come to England half acentury ago as one of the assistants of the famous Torrigiani.

  This house of such a startlingly singular and Italianate grace for soremote a corner of Cornwall deserves, together with the story of itsconstruction, a word in passing.

  The Italian Bagnolo who combined with his salient artistic talents aquarrelsome, volcanic humour had the mischance to kill a man in a brawlin a Southwark tavern. As a result he fled the town, nor paused in hisheadlong flight from the consequences of that murderous deed until hehad all but reached the very ends of England. Under what circumstanceshe became acquainted with Tressilian the elder I do not know. Butcertain it is that the meeting was a very timely one for both of them.To the fugitive, Ralph Tressilian--who appears to have been inveteratelypartial to the company of rascals of all denominations--affordedshelter; and Bagnolo repaid the service by offering to rebuild thedecaying half-timbered house of Penarrow. Having taken the task inhand he went about it with all the enthusiasm of your true artist, andachieved for his protector a residence that was a marvel of gracein that crude age and outlandish district. There arose under thesupervision of the gifted engineer, worthy associate of MesserTorrigiani, a noble two-storied mansion of mellow red brick, floodedwith light and sunshine by the enormously tall mullioned windows thatrose almost from base to summit of each pilastered facade. The maindoorway was set in a projecting wing and was overhung by a massivebalcony, the whole surmounted by a pillared pediment of extraordinarygrace, now partly clad in a green mantle of creepers. Above the burntred tiles of the roof soared massive twisted chimneys in lofty majesty.

  But the glory of Penarrow--that is, of the new Penarrow begotten of thefertile brain of Bagnolo--was the garden fashioned out of the tangledwilderness about the old house that had crowned the heights abovePenarrow point. To the labours of Bagnolo, Time and Nature had addedtheir own. Bagnolo had cut those handsome esplanades, had builtthose noble balustrades bordering the three terraces with their fineconnecting flights of steps; himself he had planned the fountain, andwith his own hands had carved the granite faun presiding over it and thedozen other statues of nymphs and sylvan gods in a marble that gleamedin white brilliance amid the dusky green. But Time and Nature hadsmoothed the lawns to a velvet surface, had thickened the handsomeboxwood hedges, and thrust up those black spear-like poplars thatcompleted the very Italianate appearance of that Cornish demesne.

  Sir Oliver took his ease in his dining-room considering all this as itwas displayed before him in the mellowing September sunshine, and foundit all very good to see, and life very good to live. Now no man has everbeen known so to find life without some immediate cause, other than thatof his environment, for his optimism. Sir Oliver had several causes.The first of these--although it was one which he may have been far fromsuspecting--was his equipment of youth, wealth, and good digestion; thesecond was that he had achieved honour and renown both upon the SpanishMain and in the late harrying of the Invincible Armada--or, moreaptly perhaps might it be said, in the harrying of the late InvincibleArmada--and that he had received in that the twenty-fifth year of hislife the honour of knighthood from the Virgin Queen; the third and lastcontributor to his pleasant mood--and I have reserved it for the end asI account this to be the proper place for the most important factor--wasDan Cupid who for once seemed compounded entirely of benignity and whohad so contrived matters that Sir Oliver's wooing Of Mistress RosamundGodolphin ran an entirely smooth and happy course.

  So, then, Sir Oliver sat at his ease in his tall, carved chair, hisdoublet untrussed, his long legs stretched before him, a pensive smileabout the firm lips that as yet were darkened by no more than a smallblack line of moustachios. (Lord Henry's portrait of him was drawn ata much later period.) It was noon, and our gentleman had just dined, asthe platters, the broken meats and the half-empty flagon on the boardbeside him testified. He pulled thoughtfully at a long pipe--for he hadacquired this newly imported habit of tobacco-drinking--and dreamed ofhis mistress, and was properly and gallantly grateful that fortune hadused him so handsomely as to enable him to toss a title and some measureof renown into his Rosamund's lap.

  By nature Sir Oliver was a shrewd fellow ("cunning as twenty devils," ismy Lord Henry's phrase) and he was also a man of some not inconsiderablelearning. Yet neither his natural wit nor his acquired endowments appearto have taught him that of all the gods that rule the destinies ofmankind there is none more ironic and malicious than that same Dan Cupidin whose honour, as it were, he was now burning the incense of that pipeof his. The ancients knew that innocent-seeming boy for a cruel, impishknave, and they mistrusted him. Sir Oliver either did not know or didnot heed that sound piece of ancient wisdom. It was to be borne in uponhim by grim experience, and even as his light pensive eyes smiled uponthe sunshine that flooded the terrace beyond the long mullioned window,a shadow fell athwart it which he little dreamed to be symbolic of theshadow that was even falling across the sunshine of his life.

  After that shadow came the substance--tall and gay of raiment under abroad black Spanish hat decked with blood-red plumes. Swinging a longberibboned cane the figure passed the windows, stalking deliberately asFate.

  The smile perished on Sir Oliver's lips. His swarthy face grewthoughtful, his black brows contracted until no more than a single deepfurrow stood between them. Then slowly the smile came forth again, butno longer that erstwhile gentle pensive smile. It was transformed into asmile of resolve and determination, a smile that tightened his lips evenas his brows relaxed, and invested his brooding eyes with a gleam thatwas mocking, crafty and almost wicked.

  Came Nicholas his servant to announce Master Peter Godolphin, and closeupon the lackey's heels came Master Godolphin himself, leaning uponhis beribboned cane and carrying his broad Spanish hat. He was a tall,slender gentleman, with a shaven, handsome countenance, stamped withan air of haughtiness; like Sir Oliver, he had a high-bridged, intrepidnose, and in age he was the younger by some two or three years. He worehis auburn hair rather longer than was the mode just then, but in hisapparel there was no more foppishness than is tolerable in a gentlemanof his years.

  Sir Oliver rose and bowed from his great height in welcome. But a waveof tobacco-smoke took his graceful visitor in the throat and set himcoughing and grimacing.

  "I see," he choked, "that ye have acquired that filthy habit."

  "I have known filthier," said Sir Oliver composedly.

  "I nothing doubt it," rejoined Master Godolphin, thus early givingindications of his humour and the object of his visit.

  Sir Oliver checked an answer that must have helped his visitor to hisends, which was no part of the knight's intent.

  "Therefore," said he ironically, "I hope you will be patient with myshortcomings. Nick, a chair for Master Godolphin and another cup. I bidyou welcome to Penarrow."

  A sneer flickered over the younger man's white face. "You pay me acompliment, sir, which I fear me 'tis not mine to return to you."

  "Time enough for that when I come to seek it," said Sir Oliver, witheasy, if assumed, good humour.

  "When you come to seek it?"

  "The hospitality of your house," Sir Oliver explained.

  "It is on that very matter I am come to talk with you."

  "Will you sit?" Sir Oliver invited him, and spread a hand towards thechair which Nicholas had set. In the same gesture he waved the servantaway.

  Master Godolphin ignored the invitation. "You were," he said, "atGodolphin Court but yesterday, I hear." He paused, and as Sir Oliveroffered no denial, he added stiffly: "I am come, sir, to inform you thatthe honour of your visits is one we shall be happy to forgo."

  In the effort he made to preserve his self-control before so direct anaffront Sir Oliver paled a little
under his tan.

  "You will understand, Peter," he replied slowly, "that you have said toomuch unless you add something more." He paused, considering his visitora moment. "I do not know whether Rosamund has told you that yesterdayshe did me the honour to consent to become my wife...."

  "She is a child that does not know her mind," broke in the other.

  "Do you know of any good reason why she should come to change it?" askedSir Oliver, with a slight air of challenge.

  Master Godolphin sat down, crossed his legs and placed his hat on hisknee.

  "I know a dozen," he answered. "But I need not urge them. Sufficientshould it be to remind you that Rosamund is but seventeen and that sheis under my guardianship and that of Sir John Killigrew. Neither SirJohn nor I can sanction this betrothal."

  "Good lack!" broke out Sir Oliver. "Who asks your sanction or SirJohn's? By God's grace your sister will grow to be a woman soon andmistress of herself. I am in no desperate haste to get me wed, and bynature--as you may be observing--I am a wondrous patient man. I'll evenwait," And he pulled at his pipe.

  "Waiting cannot avail you in this, Sir Oliver. 'Tis best you shouldunderstand. We are resolved, Sir John and I."

  "Are you so? God's light. Send Sir John to me to tell me of his resolvesand I'll tell him something of mine. Tell him from me, Master Godolphin,that if he will trouble to come as far as Penarrow I'll do by him whatthe hangman should have done long since. I'll crop his pimpish ears forhim, by this hand!"

  "Meanwhile," said Master Godolphin whettingly, "will you not essay yourrover's prowess upon me?"

  "You?" quoth Sir Oliver, and looked him over with good-humouredcontempt. "I'm no butcher of fledgelings, my lad. Besides, you are yoursister's brother, and 'tis no aim of mine to increase the obstaclesalready in my path." Then his tone changed. He leaned across the table."Come, now, Peter. What is at the root of all this matter? Can we notcompose such differences as you conceive exist? Out with them. 'Tisno matter for Sir John. He's a curmudgeon who signifies not a finger'ssnap. But you, 'tis different. You are her brother. Out with yourplaints, then. Let us be frank and friendly."

  "Friendly?" The other sneered again. "Our fathers set us an example inthat."

  "Does it matter what our fathers did? More shame to them if, beingneighbours, they could not be friends. Shall we follow so deplorable anexample?"

  "You'll not impute that the fault lay with my father," cried the other,with a show of ready anger.

  "I impute nothing, lad. I cry shame upon them both."

  "'Swounds!" swore Master Peter. "Do you malign the dead?"

  "If I do, I malign them both. But I do not. I no more than condemn afault that both must acknowledge could they return to life."

  "Then, Sir, confine your condemnings to your own father with whom no manof honour could have lived at peace...."

  "Softly, softly, good Sir...."

  "There's no call to go softly. Ralph Tressilian was a dishonour, ascandal to the countryside. Not a hamlet between here and Truro, orbetween here and Helston, but swarms with big Tressilian noses like yourown, in memory of your debauched parent."

  Sir Oliver's eyes grew narrower: he smiled. "I wonder how you came byyour own nose?" he wondered.

  Master Godolphin got to his feet in a passion, and his chair crashedover behind him. "Sir," he blazed, "you insult my mother's memory!"

  Sir Oliver laughed. "I make a little free with it, perhaps, in returnfor your pleasantries on the score of my father."

  Master Godolphin pondered him in speechless anger, then swayed by hispassion he leaned across the board, raised his long cane and struck SirOliver sharply on the shoulder.

  That done, he strode off magnificently towards the door. Half-waythither he paused.

  "I shall expect your friends and the length of your sword," said he.

  Sir Oliver laughed again. "I don't think I shall trouble to send them,"said he.

  Master Godolphin wheeled, fully to face him again. "How? You will take ablow?"

  Sir Oliver shrugged. "None saw it given," said he.

  "But I shall publish it abroad that I have caned you."

  "You'll publish yourself a liar if you do; for none will believe you."Then he changed his tone yet again. "Come, Peter, we are behavingunworthily. As for the blow, I confess that I deserved it. A man'smother is more sacred than his father. So we may cry quits on thatscore. Can we not cry quits on all else? What can it profit us toperpetuate a foolish quarrel that sprang up between our fathers?"

  "There is more than that between us," answered Master Godolphin. "I'llnot have my sister wed a pirate."

  "A pirate? God's light! I am glad there's none to hear you for since hergrace has knighted me for my doings upon the seas, your words go verynear to treason. Surely, lad, what the Queen approves, Master PeterGodolphin may approve and even your mentor Sir John Killigrew. You'vebeen listening to him. 'Twas he sent you hither."

  "I am no man's lackey," answered the other hotly, resenting theimputation--and resenting it the more because of the truth in it.

  "To call me a pirate is to say a foolish thing. Hawkins with whom Isailed has also received the accolade, and who dubs us pirates insultsthe Queen herself. Apart from that, which, as you see, is a very emptycharge, what else have you against me? I am, I hope, as good as anyother here in Cornwall; Rosamund honours me with her affection and I amrich and shall be richer still ere the wedding bells are heard."

  "Rich with the fruit of thieving upon the seas, rich with the treasuresof scuttled ships and the price of slaves captured in Africa and sold tothe plantations, rich as the vampire is glutted--with the blood of deadmen."

  "Does Sir John say that?" asked Sir Oliver, in a soft deadly voice.

  "I say it."

  "I heard you; but I am asking where you learnt that pretty lesson. IsSir John your preceptor? He is, he is. No need to tell me. I'll dealwith him. Meanwhile let me disclose to you the pure and disinterestedsource of Sir John's rancour. You shall see what an upright and honestgentleman is Sir John, who was your father's friend and has been yourguardian."

  "I'll not listen to what you say of him."

  "Nay, but you shall, in return for having made me listen to what he saysof me. Sir John desires to obtain a licence to build at the mouth of theFal. He hopes to see a town spring up above the haven there under theshadow of his own Manor of Arwenack. He represents himself as noblydisinterested and all concerned for the prosperity of the country, andhe neglects to mention that the land is his own and that it is his ownprosperity and that of his family which he is concerned to foster.We met in London by a fortunate chance whilst Sir John was about thisbusiness at the Court. Now it happens that I, too, have interests inTruro and Penryn; but, unlike Sir John, I am honest in the matter, andproclaim it. If any growth should take place about Smithick it followsfrom its more advantageous situation that Truro and Penryn must suffer,and that suits me as little as the other matter would suit Sir John. Itold him so, for I can be blunt, and I told the Queen in the form of acounter-petition to Sir John's." He shrugged. "The moment waspropitious to me. I was one of the seamen who had helped to conquer theunconquerable Armada of King Philip. I was therefore not to be denied,and Sir John was sent home as empty-handed as he went to Court. D'yemarvel that he hates me? Knowing him for what he is, d'ye marvel thathe dubs me pirate and worse? 'Tis natural enough so to misrepresent mydoings upon the sea, since it is those doings have afforded me thepower to hurt his profit. He has chosen the weapons of calumny for thiscombat, but those weapons are not mine, as I shall show him this veryday. If you do not credit what I say, come with me and be present at thelittle talk I hope to have with that curmudgeon."

  "You forget," said Master Godolphin, "that I, too, have interests in theneighbourhood of Smithick, and that you are hurting those."

  "Soho!" crowed Sir Oliver. "Now at last the sun of truth peeps forthfrom all this cloud of righteous indignation at my bad Tressilian bloodand pirate's ways! You, too, are but a trafficker. Now see
what a fool Iam to have believed you sincere, and to have stood here in talk withyou as with an honest man." His voice swelled and his lip curled in acontempt that struck the other like a blow. "I swear I had not wastedbreath with you had I known you for so mean and pitiful a fellow."

  "These words...." began Master Godolphin, drawing himself up verystiffly.

  "Are a deal less than your deserts," cut in the other, and he raised hisvoice to call--"Nick."

  "You shall answer to them," snapped his visitor.

  "I am answering now," was the stern answer. "To come here and prate tome of my dead father's dissoluteness and of an ancient quarrel betweenhim and yours, to bleat of my trumped-up course of piracy and my ownways of life as a just cause why I may not wed your sister whilst thereal consideration in your mind, the real spur to your hostility is notmore than the matter of some few paltry pounds a year that I hinder youfrom pocketing. A God's name get you gone."

  Nick entered at that moment.

  "You shall hear from me again, Sir Oliver," said the other, white withanger. "You shall account to me for these words."

  "I do not fight with... with hucksters," flashed Sir Oliver.

  "D'ye dare call me that?"

  "Indeed, 'tis to discredit an honourable class, I confess it. Nick, thedoor for Master Godolphin."

 
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