The sea hawk, p.35
The Sea-Hawk, p.35Rafael Sabatini
CHAPTER XXV. THE ADVOCATE
Chairs were set at the long brown table of massive oak, and theofficers sat down, facing the open door and the blaze of sunshine onthe poop-deck, their backs to the other door and the horn windows whichopened upon the stern-gallery. The middle place was assumed by LordHenry Goade by virtue of his office of Queen's Lieutenant, and thereason for his chain of office became now apparent. He was to presideover this summary court. On his right sat Sir John Killigrew, andbeyond him an officer named Youldon. The other two, whose names have notsurvived, occupied his lordship's left.
A chair had been set for Rosamund at the table's extreme right andacross the head of it, so as to detach her from the judicial bench. Shesat there now, her elbows on the polished board, her face resting in herhalf-clenched hands, her eyes scrutinizing the five gentlemen who formedthis court.
Steps rang on the companion, and a shadow fell athwart the sunlightbeyond the open door. From the vessel's waist came a murmur of voicesand a laugh. Then Sir Oliver appeared in the doorway guarded by twofighting seamen in corselet and morion with drawn swords.
He paused an instant in the doorway, and his eyelids flickered as if hehad received a shock when his glance alighted upon Rosamund. Then underthe suasion of his guards he entered, and stood forward, his wristsstill pinioned behind him, slightly in advance of the two soldiers.
He nodded perfunctorily to the court, his face entirely calm.
"A fine morning, sirs," said he.
The five considered him in silence, but Lord Henry's glance, as itrested upon the corsair's Muslim garb, was eloquent of the scorn whichhe tells us filled his heart.
"You are no doubt aware, sir," said Sir John after a long pause, "of thepurpose for which you have been brought hither."
"Scarcely," said the prisoner. "But I have no doubt whatever of thepurpose for which I shall presently be taken hence. However," hecontinued, cool and critical, "I can guess from your judicial attitudesthe superfluous mockery that you intend. If it will afford youentertainment, faith, I do not grudge indulging you. I would observeonly that it might be considerate in you to spare Mistress Rosamund thepain and weariness of the business that is before you."
"Mistress Rosamund herself desired to be present," said Sir John,scowling.
"Perhaps," said Sir Oliver, "she does not realize...."
"I have made it abundantly plain to her," Sir John interrupted, almostvindictively.
The prisoner looked at her as if in surprise, his brows knit. Then witha shrug he turned to his judges again.
"In that case," said he, "there's no more to be said. But before youproceed, there is another matter upon which I desire an understanding.
"The terms of my surrender were that all others should be permitted togo free. You will remember, Sir John, that you pledged me your knightlyword for that. Yet I find aboard here one who was lately with me upon mygaleasse--a sometime English seaman, named Jasper Leigh, whom you hold aprisoner."
"He killed Master Lionel Tressilian," said Sir John coldly
"That may be, Sir John. But the blow was delivered before I made myterms with you, and you cannot violate these terms without hurt to yourhonour."
"D'ye talk of honour, sir?" said Lord Henry.
"Of Sir John's honour, my lord," said the prisoner, with mock humility.
"You are here, sir, to take your trial," Sir John reminded him.
"So I had supposed. It is a privilege for which you agreed to paya certain price, and now it seems you have been guilty of filchingsomething back. It seems so, I say. For I cannot think but that thearrest was inadvertently effected, and that it will suffice that I drawyour attention to the matter of Master Leigh's detention."
Sir John considered the table. It was beyond question that he was inhonour bound to enlarge Master Leigh, whatever the fellow might havedone; and, indeed, his arrest had been made without Sir John's knowledgeuntil after the event.
"What am I do with him?" he growled sullenly.
"That is for yourself to decide, Sir John. But I can tell you what youmay not do with him. You may not keep him a prisoner, or carry him toEngland or injure him in any way. Since his arrest was a pure error,as I gather, you must repair that error as best you can. I am satisfiedthat you will do so, and need say no more. Your servant, sirs," he addedto intimate that he was now entirely at their disposal, and he stoodwaiting.
There was a slight pause, and then Lord Henry, his face inscrutable, hisglance hostile and cold, addressed the prisoner.
"We have had you brought hither to afford you an opportunity of urgingany reasons why we should not hang you out of hand, as is our right."
Sir Oliver looked at him in almost amused surprise. "Faith!" he said atlength. "It was never my habit to waste breath."
"I doubt you do not rightly apprehend me, sir," returned his lordship,and his voice was soft and silken as became his judicial position."Should you demand a formal trial, we will convey you to England thatyou may have it."
"But lest you should build unduly upon that," cut in Sir John fiercely,"let me warn you that as the offences for which you are to suffer werechiefly committed within Lord Henry Goade's own jurisdiction, your trialwill take place in Cornwall, where Lord Henry has the honour to be HerMajesty's Lieutenant and dispenser of justice."
"Her Majesty is to be congratulated," said Sir Oliver elaborately.
"It is for you to choose, sir," Sir John ran on, "whether you will behanged on sea or land."
"My only possible objection would be to being hanged in the air. Butyou're not likely to heed that," was the flippant answer.
Lord Henry leaned forward again. "Let me beg you, sir, in your owninterests to be serious," he admonished the prisoner.
"I confess the occasion, my lord. For if you are to sit in judgment uponmy piracy, I could not desire a more experienced judge of the matter onsea or land than Sir John Killigrew."
"I am glad to deserve your approval," Sir John replied tartly. "Piracy,"he added, "is but the least of the counts against you."
Sir Oliver's brows went up, and he stared at the row of solemn faces.
"As God's my life, then, your other counts must needs be sound--or else,if there be any justice in your methods, you are like to be disappointedof your hopes of seeing me swing. Proceed, sirs, to the other counts. Ivow you become more interesting than I could have hoped."
"Can you deny the piracy?" quoth Lord Henry.
"Deny it? No. But I deny your jurisdiction in the matter, or that of anyEnglish court, since I have committed no piracy in English waters."
Lord Henry admits that the answer silenced and bewildered him, beingutterly unexpected. Yet what the prisoner urged was a truth so obviousthat it was difficult to apprehend how his lordship had come to overlookit. I rather fear that despite his judicial office, jurisprudence wasnot a strong point with his lordship. But Sir John, less perspicuous orless scrupulous in the matter, had his retort ready.
"Did you not come to Arwenack and forcibly carry off thence...."
"Nay, now, nay, now," the corsair interrupted, good-humouredly. "Go backto school, Sir John, to learn that abduction is not piracy."
"Call it abduction, if you will," Sir John admitted.
"Not if I will, Sir John. We'll call it what it is, if you please."
"You are trifling, sir. But we shall mend that presently," and Sir Johnbanged the table with his fist, his face flushing slightly in anger.(Lord Henry very properly deplores this show of heat at such a time.)"You cannot pretend to be ignorant," Sir John continued, "that abductionis punishable by death under the law of England." He turned to hisfellow-judges. "We will then, sirs, with your concurrence, say no moreof the piracy."
"Faith," said Lord Henry in his gentle tones, "in justice we cannot."And he shrugged the matter aside. "The prisoner is right in what heclaims. We have no jurisdiction in that matter, seeing that he committedno piracy in English waters, nor--so far as our knowledge goes--againstany vessel sailing under the English f
Rosamund stirred. Slowly she took her elbows from the table, and foldedher arms resting them upon the edge of it. Thus leaning forward shelistened now with an odd brightness in her eye, a slight flush in hercheeks reflecting some odd excitement called into life by Lord Henry'sadmission--an admission which sensibly whittled down the charges againstthe prisoner.
Sir Oliver, watching her almost furtively, noted this and marvelled,even as he marvelled at her general composure. It was in vain that hesought to guess what might be her attitude of mind towards himself nowthat she was safe again among friends and protectors.
But Sir John, intent only upon the business ahead, plunged angrily on.
"Be it so," he admitted impatiently. "We will deal with him upon thecounts of abduction and murder. Have you anything to say?"
"Nothing that would be like to weigh with you," replied Sir Oliver. Andthen with a sudden change from his slightly derisive manner to one thatwas charged with passion: "Let us make an end of this comedy," he cried,"of this pretence of judicial proceedings. Hang me, and have done,or set me to walk the plank. Play the pirate, for that is a trade youunderstand. But a' God's name don't disgrace the Queen's commission byplaying the judge."
Sir John leapt to his feet, his face aflame. "Now, by Heaven, youinsolent knave...."
But Lord Henry checked him, placing a restraining hand upon his sleeve,and forcing him gently back into his seat. Himself he now addressed theprisoner.
"Sir, your words are unworthy one who, whatever his crimes, has earnedthe repute of being a sturdy, valiant fighter. Your deeds are sonotorious--particularly that which caused you to flee from Englandand take to roving, and that of your reappearance at Arwenack andthe abduction of which you were then guilty--that your sentence inan English court is a matter foregone beyond all possible doubt.Nevertheless, it shall be yours, as I have said, for the asking.
"Yet," he added, and his voice was lowered and very earnest, "were Iyour friend, Sir Oliver, I would advise you that you rather choose to bedealt with in the summary fashion of the sea."
"Sirs," replied Sir Oliver, "your right to hang me I have not disputed,nor do I. I have no more to say."
"But I have."
Thus Rosamund at last, startling the court with her crisp, sharputterance. All turned to look at her as she rose, and stood tall andcompelling at the table's end.
"Rosamund!" cried Sir John, and rose in his turn. "Let me imploreyou...."
She waved him peremptorily, almost contemptuously, into silence.
"Since in this matter of the abduction with which Sir Oliver ischarged," she said, "I am the person said to have been abducted, it wereperhaps well that before going further in this matter you should hearwhat I may hereafter have to say in an English court."
Sir John shrugged, and sat down again. She would have her way, herealized; just as he knew that its only result could be to waste theirtime and protract the agony of the doomed man.
Lord Henry turned to her, his manner full of deference. "Since theprisoner has not denied the charge, and since wisely he refrainsfrom demanding to be taken to trial, we need not harass you, MistressRosamund. Nor will you be called upon to say anything in an Englishcourt."
"There you are at fault, my lord," she answered, her voice very level."I shall be called upon to say something when I impeach you all formurder upon the high seas, as impeach you I shall if you persist in yourintent."
"Rosamund!" cried Oliver in his sudden amazement--and it was a cry ofjoy and exultation.
She looked at him, and smiled--a smile full of courage and friendlinessand something more, a smile for which he considered that his impendinghanging was but a little price to pay. Then she turned again to thatcourt, into which her words had flung a sudden consternation.
"Since he disdains to deny the accusation, I must deny it for him," sheinformed them. "He did not abduct me, sirs, as is alleged. I love OliverTressilian. I am of full age and mistress of my actions, and I wentwillingly with him to Algiers where I became his wife."
Had she flung a bomb amongst them she could hardly have made a greaterdisorder of their wits. They sat back, and stared at her with blankfaces, muttering incoherencies.
"His... his wife?" babbled Lord Henry. "You became his...."
And then Sir John cut in fiercely. "A lie! A lie to save that foulvillain's neck!"
Rosamund leaned towards him, and her smile was almost a sneer. "Yourwits were ever sluggish, Sir John," she said. "Else you would not needreminding that I could have no object in lying to save him if he haddone me the wrong that is imputed to him." Then she looked at theothers. "I think, sirs, that in this matter my word will outweigh SirJohn's or any man's in any court of justice."
"Faith, that's true enough!" ejaculated the bewildered Lord Henry. "Amoment, Killigrew!" And again he stilled the impetuous Sir John. Helooked at Sir Oliver, who in truth was very far from being the leastbewildered in that company. "What do you say to that, sir?" he asked.
"To that?" echoed the almost speechless corsair. "What is there left tosay?" he evaded.
"'Tis all false," cried Sir John again. "We were witnesses of theevent--you and I, Harry--and we saw...."
"You saw," Rosamund interrupted. "But you did not know what had beenconcerted."
For a moment that silenced them again. They were as men who stand uponcrumbling ground, whose every effort to win to a safer footing butoccasioned a fresh slide of soil. Then Sir John sneered, and made hisriposte.
"No doubt she will be prepared to swear that her betrothed, MasterLionel Tressilian, accompanied her willingly upon that elopement."
"No," she answered. "As for Lionel Tressilian he was carried off thathe might expiate his sins--sins which he had fathered upon his brotherthere, sins which are the subject of your other count against him."
"Now what can you mean by that?" asked his lordship.
"That the story that Sir Oliver killed my brother is a calumny; that themurderer was Lionel Tressilian, who, to avoid detection and to completehis work, caused Sir Oliver to be kidnapped that he might be sold intoslavery."
"This is too much!" roared Sir John. "She is trifling with us, shemakes white black and black white. She has been bewitched by that craftyrogue, by Moorish arts that...."
"Wait!" said Lord Henry, raising his hand. "Give me leave." Heconfronted her very seriously. "This... this is a grave statement,mistress. Have you any proof--anything that you conceive to be aproof--of what you are saying?"
But Sir John was not to be repressed. "'Tis but the lying tale thisvillain told her. He has bewitched her, I say. 'Tis plain as thesunlight yonder."
Sir Oliver laughed outright at that. His mood was growing exultant,buoyant, and joyous, and this was the first expression of it. "Bewitchedher? You're determined never to lack for a charge. First 'twas piracy,then abduction and murder, and now 'tis witchcraft!"
"Oh, a moment, pray!" cried Lord Henry, and he confesses to some heatat this point. "Do you seriously tell us, Mistress Rosamund, that it wasLionel Tressilian who murdered Peter Godolphin?"
"Seriously?" she echoed, and her lips were twisted in a little smile ofscorn. "I not merely tell it you, I swear it here in the sight of God.It was Lionel who murdered my brother and it was Lionel who put it aboutthat the deed was Sir Oliver's. It was said that Sir Oliver had run awayfrom the consequences of something discovered against him, and I tomy shame believed the public voice. But I have since discovered thetruth...."
"The truth, do you say, mistress?" cried the impetuous Sir John in avoice of passionate contempt. "The truth...."
Again his Lordship was forced to intervene.
"Have patience, man," he admonished the knight. "The truth will prevailin the end, never fear, Killigrew."
"Meanwhile we are wasting time," grumbled Sir John, and on that fellmoodily silent.
"Are we further to understand you to say, mistress," Lord Henry resumed,"that the prisoner's disappearance from Penarrow was due not to flight,as was supposed, but
"That is the truth as I stand here in the sight of Heaven," she repliedin a voice that rang with sincerity and carried conviction to more thanone of the officers seated at that table. "By that act the murderersought not only to save himself from exposure, but to complete his workby succeeding to the Tressilian estates. Sir Oliver was to have beensold into slavery to the Moors of Barbary. Instead the vessel upon whichhe sailed was captured by Spaniards, and he was sent to the galleys bythe Inquisition. When his galley was captured by Muslim corsairs he tookthe only way of escape that offered. He became a corsair and a leader ofcorsairs, and then...."
"What else he did we know," Lord Henry interrupted. "And I assure you itwould all weigh very lightly with us or with any court if what else yousay is true."
"It is true. I swear it, my lord," she repeated.
"Ay," he answered, nodding gravely. "But can you prove it?"
"What better proof can I offer you than that I love him, and havemarried him?"
"Bah!" said Sir John.
"That, mistress," said Lord Henry, his manner extremely gentle, "isproof that yourself you believe this amazing story. But it is not proofthat the story itself is true. You had it, I suppose," he continuedsmoothly, "from Oliver Tressilian himself?"
"That is so; but in Lionel's own presence, and Lionel himself confirmedit--admitting its truth."
"You dare say that?" cried Sir John, and stared at her in incredulousanger. "My God! You dare say that?"
"I dare and do," she answered him, giving him back look for look.
Lord Henry sat back in his chair, and tugged gently at his ashen tuft ofbeard, his florid face overcast and thoughtful. There was something herehe did not understand at all. "Mistress Rosamund," he said quietly, "letme exhort you to consider the gravity of your words. You are virtuallyaccusing one who is no longer able to defend himself; if your storyis established, infamy will rest for ever upon the memory of LionelTressilian. Let me ask you again, and let me entreat you to answerscrupulously. Did Lionel Tressilian admit the truth of this thing withwhich you say that the prisoner charged him?"
"Once more I solemnly swear that what I have spoken is true; that LionelTressilian did in my presence, when charged by Sir Oliver with themurder of my brother and the kidnapping of himself, admit those charges.Can I make it any plainer, sirs?"
Lord Henry spread his hands. "After that, Killigrew, I do not think wecan go further in this matter. Sir Oliver must go with us to England,and there take his trial."
But there was one present--that officer named Youldon--whose wits, itseems, were of keener temper.
"By your leave, my lord," he now interposed, and he turned to questionthe witness. "What was the occasion on which Sir Oliver forced thisadmission from his brother?"
Truthfully she answered. "At his house in Algiers on the night he...."She checked suddenly, perceiving then the trap that had been set forher. And the others perceived it also. Sir John leapt into the breachwhich Youldon had so shrewdly made in her defences.
"Continue, pray," he bade her. "On the night he...."
"On the night we arrived there," she answered desperately, the colournow receding slowly from her face.
"And that, of course," said Sir John slowly, mockingly almost, "wasthe first occasion on which you heard this explanation of Sir Oliver'sconduct?"
"It was," she faltered--perforce.
"So that," insisted Sir John, determined to leave her no loopholewhatsoever, "so that until that night you had naturally continued tobelieve Sir Oliver to be the murderer of your brother?"
She hung her head in silence, realizing that the truth could not prevailhere since she had hampered it with a falsehood, which was now beingdragged into the light.
"Answer me!" Sir John commanded.
"There is no need to answer," said Lord Henry slowly, in a voice ofpain, his eyes lowered to the table. "There can, of course, be butone answer. Mistress Rosamund has told us that he did not abduct herforcibly; that she went with him of her own free will and married him;and she has urged that circumstance as a proof of her conviction of hisinnocence. Yet now it becomes plain that at the time she left Englandwith him she still believed him to be her brother's slayer. Yet she asksus to believe that he did not abduct her." He spread his hands again andpursed his lips in a sort of grieved contempt.
"Let us make an end, a' God's name!" said Sir John, rising.
"Ah, wait!" she cried. "I swear that all that I have told you istrue--all but the matter of the abduction. I admit that, but I condonedit in view of what I have since learnt."
"She admits it!" mocked Sir John.
But she went on without heeding him. "Knowing what he has sufferedthrough the evil of others, I gladly own him my husband, hoping to makesome amends to him for the part I had in his wrongs. You must believeme, sirs. But if you will not, I ask you is his action of yesterday tocount for naught? Are you not to remember that but for him you wouldhave had no knowledge of my whereabouts?"
They stared at her in fresh surprise.
"To what do you refer now, mistress? What action of his is responsiblefor this?"
"Do you need to ask? Are you so set on murdering him that you affectignorance? Surely you know that it was he dispatched Lionel to informyou of my whereabouts?"
Lord Henry tells us that at this he smote the table with his open palm,displaying an anger he could no longer curb. "This is too much!" hecried. "Hitherto I have believed you sincere but misguided and mistaken.But so deliberate a falsehood transcends all bounds. What has come toyou, girl? Why, Lionel himself told us the circumstances of his escapefrom the galeasse. Himself he told us how that villain had him floggedand then flung him into the sea for dead."
"Ah!" said Sir Oliver between his teeth. "I recognize Lionel there! Hewould be false to the end, of course. I should have thought of that."
Rosamund at bay, in a burst of regal anger leaned forward to face LordHenry and the others. "He lied, the base, treacherous dog!" she cried.
"Madam," Sir John rebuked her, "you are speaking of one who is all butdead."
"And more than damned," added Sir Oliver. "Sirs," he cried, "you provenaught but your own stupidity when you accuse this gentle lady offalsehood."
"We have heard enough, sir," Lord Henry interrupted.
"Have you so, by God!" he roared, stung suddenly to anger. "You shallhear yet a little more. The truth will prevail, you have said yourself;and prevail the truth shall since this sweet lady so desires it."
He was flushed, and his light eyes played over them like points ofsteel, and like points of steel they carried a certain measure ofcompulsion. He had stood before them half-mocking and indifferent,resigned to hang and desiring the thing might be over and ended asspeedily as possible. But all that was before he suspected that lifecould still have anything to offer him, whilst he conceived thatRosamund was definitely lost to him. True, he had the memory of acertain tenderness she had shown him yesternight aboard the galley, buthe had deemed that tenderness to be no more than such as the situationitself begot. Almost he had deemed the same to be here the case until hehad witnessed her fierceness and despair in fighting for his life, untilhe had heard and gauged the sincerity of her avowal that she loved himand desired to make some amends to him for all that he had suffered inthe past. That had spurred him, and had a further spur been needed, itwas afforded him when they branded her words with falsehood, mocked herto her face with what they supposed to be her lies. Anger had taken himat that to stiffen his resolve to make a stand against them and use theone weapon that remained him--that a merciful chance, a just God hadplaced within his power almost despite himself.
"I little knew, sirs," he said, "that Sir John was guided by the handof destiny itself when last night, in violation of the terms of mysurrender, he took a prisoner from my galeasse. That man is, as I havesaid, a sometime English seaman, named Jasper Leigh. He fell into myhands some months ago, and took the same road to escape from t
In silence they all looked at him, but on more than one face he saw thereflection of amazement at his impudence, as they conceived it.
It was Lord Henry who spoke at last. "Surely, sir, this is most oddly,most suspiciously apt," he said, and there could be no doubt that he wasfaintly sneering. "The very man to be here aboard, and taken prisonerthus, almost by chance...."
"Not quite by chance, though very nearly. He conceives that he hasa grudge against Lionel, for it was through Lionel that misfortuneovertook him. Last night when Lionel so rashly leapt aboard the galley,Jasper Leigh saw his opportunity to settle an old score and took it. Itwas as a consequence of that that he was arrested."
"Even so, the chance is still miraculous."
"Miracles, my lord, must happen sometimes if the truth is to prevail,"Sir Oliver replied with a tinge of his earlier mockery. "Fetch himhither, and question him. He knows naught of what has passed here. Itwere a madness to suppose him primed for a situation which none couldhave foreseen. Fetch him hither, then."
Steps sounded outside but went unheeded at the moment.
"Surely," said Sir John, "we have been trifled with by liars longenough!"
The door was flung open, and the lean black figure of the surgeon madeits appearance.
"Sir John!" he called urgently, breaking without ceremony into theproceedings, and never heeding Lord Henry's scowl. "Master Tressilianhas recovered consciousness. He is asking for you and for his brother.Quick, sirs! He is sinking fast."
CHAPTER XXVI. THE JUDGMENT
To that cabin below the whole company repaired in all speed in thesurgeon's wake, Sir Oliver coming last between his guards. Theyassembled about the couch where Lionel lay, leaden-hued of face, hisbreathing laboured, his eyes dull and glazing.
Sir John ran to him, went down upon one knee to put loving arms aboutthat chilling clay, and very gently raised him in them, and held him soresting against his breast.
"Lionel!" he cried in stricken accents. And then as if thoughts ofvengeance were to soothe and comfort his sinking friend's last moments,he added: "We have the villain fast."
Very slowly and with obvious effort Lionel turned his head to the right,and his dull eyes went beyond Sir John and made quest in the ranks ofthose that stood about him.
"Oliver?" he said in a hoarse whisper. "Where is Oliver?"
"There is not the need to distress you...." Sir John was beginning, whenLionel interrupted him.
"Wait!" he commanded in a louder tone. "Is Oliver safe?"
"I am here," said Sir Oliver's deep voice, and those who stood betweenhim and his brother drew aside that they might cease from screening him.
Lionel looked at him for a long moment in silence, sitting up a little.Then he sank back again slowly against Sir John's breast.
"God has been merciful to me a sinner," he said, "since He accords me themeans to make amends, tardily though it be."
Then he struggled up again, and held out his arms to Sir Oliver, and hisvoice came in a great pleading cry. "Noll! My brother! Forgive!"
Oliver advanced, none hindering until, with his hands still pinionedbehind him he stood towering there above his brother, so tall that histurban brushed the low ceiling of the cabin. His countenance was sternand grim.
"What is it that you ask me to forgive?" he asked. Lionel struggled toanswer, and sank back again into Sir John's arms, fighting for breath;there was a trace of blood-stained foam about his lips.
"Speak! Oh, speak, in God's name!" Rosamund exhorted him from the otherside, and her voice was wrung with agony.
He looked at her, and smiled faintly. "Never fear," he whispered, "Ishall speak. God has spared me to that end. Take your arms from me,Killigrew. I am the... the vilest of men. It... it was I who killedPeter Godolphin."
"My God!" groaned Sir John, whilst Lord Henry drew a sharp breath ofdismay and realization.
"Ah, but that is not my sin," Lionel continued. "There was no sin inthat. We fought, and in self-defence I slew him--fighting fair. My sincame afterwards. When suspicion fell on Oliver, I nourished it...Oliverknew the deed was mine, and kept silent that he might screen me. Ifeared the truth might become known for all that... and... and I wasjealous of him, and... and I had him kidnapped to be sold...."
His fading voice trailed away into silence. A cough shook him, and thefaint crimson foam on his lips was increased. But he rallied again, andlay there panting, his fingers plucking at the coverlet.
"Tell them," said Rosamund, who in her desperate fight for Sir Oliver'slife kept her mind cool and steady and directed towards essentials,"tell them the name of the man you hired to kidnap him."
"Jasper Leigh, the skipper of the Swallow," he answered, whereupon sheflashed upon Lord Henry a look that contained a gleam of triumph for allthat her face was ashen and her lips trembled.
Then she turned again to the dying man, relentlessly almost in herdetermination to extract all vital truth from him ere he fell silent.
"Tell them," she bade him, "under what circumstances Sir Oliver sent youlast night to the Silver Heron."
"Nay, there is no need to harass him," Lord Henry interposed. "He hassaid enough already. May God forgive us our blindness, Killigrew!"
Sir John bowed his head in silence over Lionel.
"Is it you, Sir John?" whispered the dying man. "What? Still there? Ha!"he seemed to laugh faintly, then checked. "I am going...." he muttered,and again his voice grew stronger, obeying the last flicker of hisshrinking will. "Noll! I am going! I...I have made reparation... allthat I could. Give me... give me thy hand!" Gropingly he put forth hisright.
"I should have given it you ere this but that my wrists are bound,"cried Oliver in a sudden frenzy. And then exerting that colossalstrength of his, he suddenly snapped the cords that pinioned him as ifthey had been thread. He caught his brother's extended hand, and droppedupon his knees beside him. "Lionel...Boy!" he cried. It was as ifall that had befallen in the last five years had been wiped out ofexistence. His fierce relentless hatred of his half-brother, his burningsense of wrong, his parching thirst for vengeance, became on the instantall dead, buried, and forgotten. More, it was as if they had never been.Lionel in that moment was again the weak, comely, beloved brother whomhe had cherished and screened and guarded, and for whom when the hourarrived he had sacrificed his good name, and the woman he loved, andplaced his life itself in jeopardy.
"Lionel, boy!" was all that for a moment he could say. Then: "Poor lad!Poor lad!" he added. "Temptation was too strong for thee." And reachingforth he took the other white hand that lay beyond the couch, and soheld both tight-clasped within his own.
From one of the ports a ray of sunshine was creeping upwards towards thedying man's face. But the radiance that now overspread it was from aninward source. Feebly he returned the clasp of his brother's hands.
"Oliver, Oliver!" he whispered. "There is none like thee! I ever knewthee as noble as I was base. Have I said enough to make you safe? Saythat he will be safe now," he appealed to the others, "that no...."
"He will be safe," said Lord Henry stoutly. "My word on't."
"It is well. The past is past. The future is in your hands, Oliver.God's blessing on't." He seemed to collapse, to rally yet again. Hesmiled pensively, his mind already wandering. "That was a long swim lastnight--the longest I ever swam. From Penarrow to Trefusis--a fine longswim. But you were with me, Noll. Had my strength given out...I couldhave depended on you. I am still chill from it, for it was cold...cold... ugh!" He shuddered, and lay still.
Gently Sir John lowered him to his couch. Beyond it Rosamund fellupon her knees and covered her face, whilst by Sir John's side Olivercontinued to kneel, clasping in his own his brother's chilling hands.
The others seemed to take this for a signal. It was as if they hadbut waited mute and still out of deference to Oliver. Lord Henry movedsoftly round to Rosamund and touched her lightly upon the shoulder. Sherose and went out in the wake of the others, Lord Henry following her,and none remaining but the surgeon.
Outside in the sunshine they checked. Sir John stood with bent head andhunched shoulders, his eyes upon the white deck. Timidly almost--a thingnever seen before in this bold man--he looked at Sir Oliver.
"He was my friend," he said sorrowfully, and as if to excuse and explainhimself, "and... and I was misled through love of him."
"He was my brother," replied Sir Oliver solemnly. "God rest him!"
Sir John, resolved, drew himself up into an attitude preparatory toreceiving with dignity a rebuff should it be administered him.
"Can you find it in your generosity, sir, to forgive me?" he asked, andhis air was almost one of challenge.
Silently Sir Oliver held out his hand. Sir John fell upon it almost ineagerness.
"We are like to be neighbours again," he said, "and I give you my word Ishall strive to be a more neighbourly one than in the past."
"Then, sirs," said Sir Oliver, looking from Sir John to Lord Henry, "Iam to understand that I am no longer a prisoner."
"You need not hesitate to return with us to England, Sir Oliver,"replied his lordship. "The Queen shall hear your story, and we haveJasper Leigh to confirm it if need be, and I will go warranty for yourcomplete reinstatement. Count me your friend, Sir Oliver, I beg." Andhe, too, held out his hand. Then turning to the others: "Come, sirs," hesaid, "we have duties elsewhere, I think."
They tramped away, leaving Oliver and Rosamund alone. The twain lookedlong each at the other. There was so much to say, so much to ask,so much to explain, that neither knew with what words to begin. ThenRosamund suddenly came up to him, holding out her hands. "Oh, my dear!"she said, and that, after all, summed up a deal.
One or two over-inquisitive seamen, lounging on the forecastle andpeeping through the shrouds, were disgusted to see the lady of GodolphinCourt in the arms of a beturbaned bare-legged follower of Mahound.
The Sea-Hawk by Rafael Sabatini / Actions & Adventure have rating 4.3 out of 5 / Based on17 votes