The sea hawk, p.34
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       The Sea-Hawk, p.34

           Rafael Sabatini
 

  CHAPTER XXIV. THE JUDGES

  In the absence of any woman into whose care they might entrust her, LordHenry, Sir John, and Master Tobias, the ship's surgeon, had amongst themtended Rosamund as best they could when numbed and half-dazed she wasbrought aboard the Silver Heron.

  Master Tobias had applied such rude restoratives as he commanded, andhaving made her as comfortable as possible upon a couch in the spaciouscabin astern, he had suggested that she should be allowed the rest ofwhich she appeared so sorely to stand in need. He had ushered out thecommander and the Queen's Lieutenant, and himself had gone below to astill more urgent case that was demanding his attention--that of LionelTressilian, who had been brought limp and unconscious from the galeassetogether with some four other wounded members of the Silver Heron'screw.

  At dawn Sir John had come below, seeking news of his wounded friend. Hefound the surgeon kneeling over Lionel.

  As he entered, Master Tobias turned aside, rinsed his hands in a metalbasin placed upon the floor, and rose wiping them on a napkin.

  "I can do no more, Sir John," he muttered in a desponding voice. "He issped."

  "Dead, d'ye mean?" cried Sir John, a catch in his voice.

  The surgeon tossed aside the napkin, and slowly drew down the upturnedsleeves of his black doublet. "All but dead," he answered. "The wonderis that any spark of life should still linger in a body with that holein it. He is bleeding inwardly, and his pulse is steadily weakening. Itmust continue so until imperceptibly he passes away. You may counthim dead already, Sir John." He paused. "A merciful, painless end," headded, and sighed perfunctorily, his pale shaven face decently grave,for all that such scenes as these were commonplaces in his life. "Of theother four," he continued, "Blair is dead; the other three should allrecover."

  But Sir John gave little heed to the matter of those others. His griefand dismay at this quenching of all hope for his friend precluded anyother consideration at the moment.

  "And he will not even recover consciousness?" he asked insisting,although already he had been answered.

  "As I have said, you may count him dead already, Sir John. My skill cando nothing for him."

  Sir John's head drooped, his countenance drawn and grave. "Nor can myjustice," he added gloomily. "Though it avenge him, it cannot giveme back my friend." He looked at the surgeon. "Vengeance, sir, is thehollowest of all the mockeries that go to make up life."

  "Your task, Sir John," replied the surgeon, "is one of justice, notvengeance."

  "A quibble, when all is said." He stepped to Lionel's side, and lookeddown at the pale handsome face over which the dark shadows of deathwere already creeping. "If he would but speak in the interests of thisjustice that is to do! If we might but have the evidence of his ownwords, lest I should ever be asked to justify the hanging of OliverTressilian."

  "Surely, sir," the surgeon ventured, "there can be no such questionever. Mistress Rosamund's word alone should suffice, if indeed so muchas that even were required."

  "Ay! His offenses against God and man are too notorious to leave groundsupon which any should ever question my right to deal with him out ofhand."

  There was a tap at the door and Sir John's own body servant entered withthe announcement that Mistress Rosamund was asking urgently to see him.

  "She will be impatient for news of him," Sir John concluded, and hegroaned. "My God! How am I to tell her? To crush her in the very hourof her deliverance with such news as this! Was ever irony so cruel?"He turned, and stepped heavily to the door. There he paused. "You willremain by him to the end?" he bade the surgeon interrogatively.

  Master Tobias bowed. "Of course, Sir John." And he added, "'Twill not belong."

  Sir John looked across at Lionel again--a glance of valediction. "Godrest him!" he said hoarsely, and passed out.

  In the waist he paused a moment, turned to a knot of lounging seamen,and bade them throw a halter over the yard-arm, and hale the renegadeOliver Tressilian from his prison. Then with slow heavy step and heavierheart he went up the companion to the vessel's castellated poop.

  The sun, new risen in a faint golden haze, shone over a sea faintlyrippled by the fresh clean winds of dawn to which their every stitchof canvas was now spread. Away on the larboard quarter, a faint cloudyoutline, was the coast of Spain.

  Sir John's long sallow face was preternaturally grave when he enteredthe cabin, where Rosamund awaited him. He bowed to her with a gravecourtesy, doffing his hat and casting it upon a chair. The last fiveyears had brought some strands of white into his thick black hair,and at the temples in particular it showed very grey, giving him anappearance of age to which the deep lines in his brow contributed.

  He advanced towards her, as she rose to receive him. "Rosamund, mydear!" he said gently, and took both her hands. He looked with eyes ofsorrow and concern into her white, agitated face.

  "Are you sufficiently rested, child?"

  "Rested?" she echoed on a note of wonder that he should suppose it.

  "Poor lamb, poor lamb!" he murmured, as a mother might have done, anddrew her towards him, stroking that gleaming auburn head. "We'll speedus back to England with every stitch of canvas spread. Take heart then,and...."

  But she broke in impetuously, drawing away from him as she spoke, andhis heart sank with foreboding of the thing she was about to inquire.

  "I overheard a sailor just now saying to another that it is your intentto hang Sir Oliver Tressilian out of hand--this morning."

  He misunderstood her utterly. "Be comforted," he said. "My justice shallbe swift; my vengeance sure. The yard-arm is charged already with therope on which he shall leap to his eternal punishment."

  She caught her breath, and set a hand upon her bosom as if to repressits sudden tumult.

  "And upon what grounds," she asked him with an air of challenge,squarely facing him, "do you intend to do this thing?"

  "Upon what grounds?" he faltered. He stared and frowned, bewildered byher question and its tone. "Upon what grounds?" he repeated, foolishlyalmost in the intensity of his amazement. Then he considered her moreclosely, and the wildness of her eyes bore to him slowly an explanationof words that at first had seemed beyond explaining.

  "I see!" he said in a voice of infinite pity; for the conviction towhich he had leapt was that her poor wits were all astray after thehorrors through which she had lately travelled. "You must rest," he saidgently, "and give no thought to such matters as these. Leave them to me,and be very sure that I shall avenge you as is due."

  "Sir John, you mistake me, I think. I do not desire that you avenge me.I have asked you upon what grounds you intend to do this thing, and youhave not answered me."

  In increasing amazement he continued to stare. He had been wrong, then.She was quite sane and mistress of her wits. And yet instead of the fondinquiries concerning Lionel which he had been dreading came this amazingquestioning of his grounds to hang his prisoner.

  "Need I state to you--of all living folk--the offences which thatdastard has committed?" he asked, expressing thus the very question thathe was setting himself.

  "You need to tell me," she answered, "by what right you constituteyourself his judge and executioner; by what right you send him to hisdeath in this peremptory fashion, without trial." Her manner was asstern as if she were invested with all the authority of a judge.

  "But you," he faltered in his ever-growing bewilderment, "you, Rosamund,against whom he has offended so grievously, surely you should be thelast to ask me such a question! Why, it is my intention to proceedwith him as is the manner of the sea with all knaves taken as OliverTressilian was taken. If your mood be merciful towards him--which as Godlives, I can scarce conceive--consider that this is the greatest mercyhe can look for."

  "You speak of mercy and vengeance in a breath, Sir John." She wasgrowing calm, her agitation was quieting and a grim sternness wasreplacing it.

  He made a gesture of impatience. "What good purpose could it serve totake him to England?" he demanded. "There he must s
tand his trial, andthe issue is foregone. It were unnecessarily to torture him."

  "The issue may be none so foregone as you suppose," she replied. "Andthat trial is his right."

  Sir John took a turn in the cabin, his wits all confused. It waspreposterous that he should stand and argue upon such a matter withRosamund of all people, and yet she was compelling him to it against hisevery inclination, against common sense itself.

  "If he so urges it, we'll not deny him," he said at last, deeming itbest to humour her. "We'll take him back to England if he demands it,and let him stand his trial there. But Oliver Tressilian must realizetoo well what is in store for him to make any such demand." He passedbefore her, and held out his hands in entreaty. "Come, Rosamund, mydear! You are distraught, you...."

  "I am indeed distraught, Sir John," she answered, and took the handsthat he extended. "Oh, have pity!" she cried with a sudden change toutter intercession. "I implore you to have pity!"

  "What pity can I show you, child? You have but to name...."

  "'Tis not pity for me, but pity for him that I am beseeching of you."

  "For him?" he cried, frowning again.

  "For Oliver Tressilian."

  He dropped her hands and stood away. "God's light!" he swore. "You suefor pity for Oliver Tressilian, for that renegade, that incarnatedevil? Oh, you are mad!" he stormed. "Mad!" and he flung away from her,whirling his arms.

  "I love him," she said simply.

  That answer smote him instantly still. Under the shock of it he juststood and stared at her again, his jaw fallen.

  "You love him!" he said at last below his breath. "You love him! Youlove a man who is a pirate, a renegade, the abductor of yourself and ofLionel, the man who murdered your brother!"

  "He did not." She was fierce in her denial of it. "I have learnt thetruth of that matter."

  "From his lips, I suppose?" said Sir John, and he was unable to repressa sneer. "And you believed him?"

  "Had I not believed him I should not have married him."

  "Married him?" Sudden horror came now to temper his bewilderment. Wasthere to be no end to these astounding revelations? Had they reached theclimax yet, he wondered, or was there still more to come? "You marriedthat infamous villain?" he asked, and his voice was expressionless.

  "I did--in Algiers on the night we landed there." He stood gaping at herwhilst a man might count to a dozen, and then abruptly he exploded. "Itis enough!" he roared, shaking a clenched fist at the low ceiling of thecabin. "It is enough, as God's my Witness. If there were no other reasonto hang him, that would be reason and to spare. You may look to me tomake an end of this infamous marriage within the hour."

  "Ah, if you will but listen to me!" she pleaded.

  "Listen to you?" He paused by the door to which he had stepped in hisfury, intent upon giving the word that there and then should make anend, and summoning Oliver Tressilian before him, announce his fate tohim and see it executed on the spot. "Listen to you?" he repeated,scorn and anger blending in his voice. "I have heard more than enoughalready!"

  It was the Killigrew way, Lord Henry Goade assures us, pausing here atlong length for one of those digressions into the history of familieswhose members chance to impinge upon his chronicle. "They were," hesays, "ever an impetuous, short-reasoning folk, honest and uprightenough so far as their judgment carried them, but hampered by a lack ofpenetration in that judgment."

  Sir John, as much in his earlier commerce with the Tressilians as inthis pregnant hour, certainly appears to justify his lordship of thatcriticism. There were a score of questions a man of perspicuity wouldnot have asked, not one of which appears to have occurred to the knightof Arwenack. If anything arrested him upon the cabin's threshold,delayed him in the execution of the thing he had resolved upon, no doubtit was sheer curiosity as to what further extravagances Rosamund mightyet have it in her mind to utter.

  "This man has suffered," she told him, and was not put off by the hardlaugh with which he mocked that statement. "God alone knows what he hassuffered in body and in soul for sins which he never committed. Muchof that suffering came to him through me. I know to-day that he did notmurder Peter. I know that but for a disloyal act of mine he would be ina position incontestably to prove it without the aid of any man. I knowthat he was carried off, kidnapped before ever he could clear himself ofthe accusation, and that as a consequence no life remained him but thelife of a renegade which he chose. Mine was the chief fault. And I mustmake amends. Spare him to me! If you love me...."

  But he had heard enough. His sallow face was flushed to a flamingpurple.

  "Not another word!" he blazed at her. "It is because I do love you--loveand pity you from my heart--that I will not listen. It seems I must saveyou not only from that knave, but from yourself. I were false to my dutyby you, false to your dead father and murdered brother else. Anon, youshall thank me, Rosamund." And again he turned to depart.

  "Thank you?" she cried in a ringing voice. "I shall curse you. All mylife I shall loathe and hate you, holding you in horror for a murdererif you do this thing. You fool! Can you not see? You fool!"

  He recoiled. Being a man of position and importance, quick, fearless,and vindictive of temperament--and also, it would seem, extremelyfortunate--it had never happened to him in all his life to be souncompromisingly and frankly judged. She was by no means the first toaccount him a fool, but she was certainly the first to call him one tohis face; and whilst to the general it might have proved her extremesanity, to him it was no more than the culminating proof of her mentaldistemper.

  "Pish!" he said, between anger and pity, "you are mad, stark mad! Yourmind's unhinged, your vision's all distorted. This fiend incarnate isbecome a poor victim of the evil of others; and I am become a murdererin your sight--a murderer and a fool. God's Life! Bah! Anon when you arerested, when you are restored, I pray that things may once again assumetheir proper aspect."

  He turned, all aquiver still with indignation, and was barely in time toavoid being struck by the door which opened suddenly from without.

  Lord Henry Goade, dressed--as he tells us--entirely in black, and withhis gold chain of office--an ominous sign could they have read it--uponhis broad chest, stood in the doorway, silhouetted sharply against theflood of morning sunlight at his back. His benign face would, no doubt,be extremely grave to match the suit he had put on, but its expressionwill have lightened somewhat when his glance fell upon Rosamund standingthere by the table's edge.

  "I was overjoyed," he writes, "to find her so far recovered, and seemingso much herself again, and I expressed my satisfaction."

  "She were better abed," snapped Sir John, two hectic spots burning stillin his sallow cheeks. "She is distempered, quite."

  "Sir John is mistaken, my lord," was her calm assurance, "I am very farfrom suffering as he conceives."

  "I rejoice therein, my dear," said his lordship, and I imagine hisquesting eyes speeding from one to the other of them, and marking theevidences of Sir John's temper, wondering what could have passed. "Ithappens," he added sombrely, "that we may require your testimony in thisgrave matter that is toward." He turned to Sir John. "I have biddenthem bring up the prisoner for sentence. Is the ordeal too much for you,Rosamund?"

  "Indeed, no, my lord," she replied readily. "I welcome it." And threwback her head as one who braces herself for a trial of endurance.

  "No, no," cut in Sir John, protesting fiercely. "Do not heed her, Harry.She...."

  "Considering," she interrupted, "that the chief count against theprisoner must concern his... his dealings with myself, surely the matteris one upon which I should be heard."

  "Surely, indeed," Lord Henry agreed, a little bewildered, he confesses,"always provided you are certain it will not overtax your endurance anddistress you overmuch. We could perhaps dispense with your testimony."

  "In that, my lord, I assure you that you are mistaken," she answered."You cannot dispense with it."

  "Be it so, then," said Sir John grimly, and he strod
e back to the table,prepared to take his place there.

  Lord Henry's twinkling blue eyes were still considering Rosamundsomewhat searchingly, his fingers tugging thoughtfully at his shorttuft of ashen-coloured beard. Then he turned to the door. "Come in,gentlemen," he said, "and bid them bring up the prisoner."

  Steps clanked upon the deck, and three of Sir John's officers made theirappearance to complete the court that was to sit in judgment upon therenegade corsair, a judgment whose issue was foregone.

 
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