The sea hawk, p.4
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       The Sea-Hawk, p.4

           Rafael Sabatini


  Anon, after his visitor had departed, Sir Oliver grew calm again. Thenbeing able in his calm to consider his position, he became angry anew atthe very thought of the rage in which he had been, a rage which had somastered him that he had erected additional obstacles to the alreadyconsiderable ones that stood between Rosamund and himself. In fullblast, his anger swung round and took Sir John Killigrew for itsobjective. He would settle with him at once. He would so, by Heaven'slight!

  He bellowed for Nick and his boots.

  "Where is Master Lionel? he asked when the boots had been fetched.

  "He be just ridden in, Sir Oliver."

  "Bid him hither."

  Promptly, in answer to that summons, came Sir Oliver's half-brother--aslender lad favouring his mother the dissolute Ralph Tressilian's secondwife. He was as unlike Sir Oliver in body as in soul. He was comely in avery gentle, almost womanish way; his complexion was fair and delicate,his hair golden, and his eyes of a deep blue. He had a very charmingstripling grace--for he was but in his twenty-first year--and he dressedwith all the care of a Court-gallant.

  "Has that whelp Godolphin been to visit you?" he asked as he entered.

  "Aye," growled Sir Oliver. "He came to tell me some things and to hearsome others in return."

  "Ha. I passed him just beyond the gates, and he was deaf to my greeting.'Tis a most cursed insufferable pup."

  "Art a judge of men, Lal." Sir Oliver stood up booted. "I am forArwenack to exchange a compliment or two with Sir John."

  His tight-pressed lips and resolute air supplemented his words so wellthat Lionel clutched his arm.

  "You're not... you're not...?"

  "I am." And affectionately, as if to soothe the lad's obvious alarm,he patted his brother's shoulder. "Sir John," he explained, "talks toomuch. 'Tis a fault that wants correcting. I go to teach him the virtueof silence."

  "There will be trouble, Oliver."

  "So there will--for him. If a man must be saying of me that I am apirate, a slave-dealer, a murderer, and Heaven knows what else, he mustbe ready for the consequences. But you are late, Lal. Where have youbeen?"

  "I rode as far as Malpas."

  "As far as Malpas?" Sir Oliver's eyes narrowed, as was the trick withhim. "I hear it whispered what magnet draws you thither," he said. "Bewary, boy. You go too much to Malpas."

  "How?" quoth Lionel a trifle coldly.

  "I mean that you are your father's son. Remember it, and strive not tofollow in his ways lest they bring you to his own end. I have just beenreminded of these predilections of his by good Master Peter. Go not overoften to Malpas, I say. No more." But the arm which he flung abouthis younger brother's shoulders and the warmth of his embrace maderesentment of his warning quite impossible.

  When he was gone, Lionel sat him down to dine, with Nick to wait on him.He ate but little, and never addressed the old servant in the courseof that brief repast. He was very pensive. In thought he followed hisbrother on that avenging visit of his to Arwenack. Killigrew was nobabe, but man of his hands, a soldier and a seaman. If any harm shouldcome to Oliver...He trembled at the thought; and then almost despite himhis mind ran on to calculate the consequences to himself. His fortunewould be in a very different case, he refected. In a sort of horror, hesought to put so detestable a reflection from his mind; but it returnedinsistently. It would not be denied. It forced him to a consideration ofhis own circumstances.

  All that he had he owed to his brother's bounty. That dissolute fatherof theirs had died as such men commonly die, leaving behind him heavilyencumbered estates and many debts; the very house of Penarrow wasmortgaged, and the moneys raised on it had been drunk, or gambled, orspent on one or another of Ralph Tressilian's many lights o' love. ThenOliver had sold some little property near Helston, inherited from hismother; he had sunk the money into a venture upon the Spanish Main. Hehad fitted out and manned a ship, and had sailed with Hawkins upon oneof those ventures, which Sir John Killigrew was perfectly entitled toaccount pirate raids. He had returned with enough plunder in specie andgems to disencumber the Tressilian patrimony. He had sailed again andreturned still wealthier. And meanwhile, Lionel had remained at hometaking his ease. He loved his ease. His nature was inherently indolent,and he had the wasteful extravagant tastes that usually go withindolence. He was not born to toil and struggle, and none had sought tocorrect the shortcomings of his character in that respect. Sometimes hewondered what the future might hold for him should Oliver come to marry.He feared his life might not be as easy as it was at present. But he didnot seriously fear. It was not in his nature--it never is in the naturesof such men--to give any excess of consideration to the future. Whenhis thoughts did turn to it in momentary uneasiness, he would abruptlydismiss them with the reflection that when all was said Oliver lovedhim, and Oliver would never fail to provide adequately for all hiswants.

  In this undoubtedly he was fully justified. Oliver was more parent thanbrother to him. When their father had been brought home to die from thewound dealt him by an outraged husband--and a shocking spectacle thatsinner's death had been with its hasty terrified repentance--he hadentrusted Lionel to his elder brother's care. At the time Oliver wasseventeen and Lionel twelve. But Oliver had seemed by so many yearsolder than his age, that the twice-widowed Ralph Tressilian had cometo depend upon this steady, resolute, and masterful child of his firstmarriage. It was into his ear that the dying man had poured the wretchedtale of his repentance for the life he had lived and the state in whichhe was leaving his affairs with such scant provision for his sons. ForOliver he had no fear. It was as if with the prescience that comesto men in his pass he had perceived that Oliver was of those who mustprevail, a man born to make the world his oyster. His anxieties wereall for Lionel, whom he also judged with that same penetrating insightvouchsafed a man in his last hours. Hence his piteous recommendationof him to Oliver, and Oliver's ready promise to be father, mother, andbrother to the youngster.

  All this was in Lionel's mind as he sat musing there, and again hestruggled with that hideous insistent thought that if things shouldgo ill with his brother at Arwenack, there would be great profit tohimself; that these things he now enjoyed upon another's bounty hewould then enjoy in his own right. A devil seemed to mock him withthe whispered sneer that were Oliver to die his own grief would not belong-lived. Then in revolt against that voice of an egoism so loathsomethat in his better moments it inspired even himself with horror, hebethought him of Oliver's unvarying, unwavering affection; he ponderedall the loving care and kindness that through these years past Oliverhad ever showered upon him; and he cursed the rottenness of a mind thatcould even admit such thoughts as those which he had been entertaining.So wrought upon was he by the welter of his emotions, by that fiercestrife between his conscience and his egotism, that he came abruptly tohis feet, a cry upon his lips.

  "Vade retro, Sathanas!"

  Old Nicholas, looking up abruptly, saw the lad's face, waxen, his browbedewed with sweat.

  "Master Lionel! Master Lionel!" he cried, his small bright eyesconcernedly scanning his young master's face. "What be amiss?"

  Lionel mopped his brow. "Sir Oliver has gone to Arwenack upon a punitivebusiness," said he.

  "An' what be that, zur?" quoth Nicholas.

  "He has gone to punish Sir John for having maligned him."

  A grin spread upon the weather-beaten countenance of Nicholas.

  "Be that so? Marry, 'twere time. Sir John he be over long i' th' tongue."

  Lionel stood amazed at the man's easy confidence and supreme assuranceof how his master must acquit himself.

  "You... you have no fear, Nicholas...." He did not add of what. But theservant understood, and his grin grew broader still.

  "Fear? Lackaday! I bain't afeeard for Sir Oliver, and doan't ee beafeeard. Sir Oliver'll be home to sup with a sharp-set appetite--'tisthe only difference fighting ever made to he."

  The servant was justified of his confidence by the events, thou
ghthrough a slight error of judgment Sir Oliver did not quite accomplishall that promised and intended. In anger, and when he deemed that he hadbeen affronted, he was--as his chronicler never wearies of insisting,and as you shall judge before the end of this tale is reached--of atigerish ruthlessness. He rode to Arwenack fully resolved to killhis calumniator. Nothing less would satisfy him. Arrived at that fineembattled castle of the Killigrews which commanded the entrance to theestuary of the Fal, and from whose crenels the country might be surveyedas far as the Lizard, fifteen miles away, he found Peter Godolphinthere before him; and because of Peter's presence Sir Oliver wasmore deliberate and formal in his accusation of Sir John than he hadintended. He desired, in accusing Sir John, also to clear himself inthe eyes of Rosamund's brother, to make the latter realize how entirelyodious were the calumnies which Sir John had permitted himself, and howbasely prompted.

  Sir John, however, came halfway to meet the quarrel. His rancour againstthe Pirate of Penarrow--as he had come to dub Sir Oliver--endered himalmost as eager to engage as was his visitor.

  They found a secluded corner of the deer-park for their business,and there Sir John--a slim, sallow gentleman of some thirty years ofage--made an onslaught with sword and dagger upon Sir Oliver, fullworthy of the onslaught he had made earlier with his tongue. But hisimpetuosity availed him less than nothing. Sir Oliver was come therewith a certain purpose, and it was his way that he never failed to carrythrough a thing to which he set his hand.

  In three minutes it was all over and Sir Oliver was carefully wiping hisblade, whilst Sir John lay coughing upon the turf tended by white-facedPeter Godolphin and a scared groom who had been bidden thither to makeup the necessary tale of witnesses.

  Sir Oliver sheathed his weapons and resumed his coat, then came to standover his fallen foe, considering him critically.

  "I think I have silenced him for a little time only," he said. "And Iconfess that I intended to do better. I hope, however, that the lessonwill suffice and that he will lie no more--at least concerning me."

  "Do you mock a fallen man?" was Master Godolphin's angry protest.

  "God forbid!" said Sir Oliver soberly. "There is no mockery in my heart.There is, believe me, nothing but regret--regret that I should not havedone the thing more thoroughly. I will send assistance from the house asI go. Give you good day, Master Peter."

  From Arwenack he rode round by Penryn on his homeward way. But he didnot go straight home. He paused at the Gates of Godolphin Court, whichstood above Trefusis Point commanding the view of Carrick Roads. Heturned in under the old gateway and drew up in the courtyard. Leapingto the kidney-stones that paved it, he announced himself a visitor toMistress Rosamund.

  He found her in her bower--a light, turreted chamber on the mansion'seastern side, with windows that looked out upon that lovely sheet ofwater and the wooded slopes beyond. She was sitting with a book inher lap in the deep of that tall window when he entered, preceded andannounced by Sally Pentreath, who, now her tire-woman, had once been hernurse.

  She rose with a little exclamation of gladness when he appeared underthe lintel--scarce high enough to admit him without stooping--and stoodregarding him across the room with brightened eyes and flushing cheeks.

  What need is there to describe her? In the blaze of notoriety into whichshe was anon to be thrust by Sir Oliver Tressilian there was scarce apoet in England who did not sing the grace and loveliness of RosamundGodolphin, and in all conscience enough of those fragments havesurvived. Like her brother she was tawny headed and she was divinelytall, though as yet her figure in its girlishness was almost too slenderfor her height.

  "I had not looked for you so early...." she was beginning, whenshe observed that his countenance was oddly stern. "Why... whathas happened?" she cried, her intuitions clamouring loudly of somemischance.

  "Naught to alarm you, sweet; yet something that may vex you." He set anarm about that lissom waist of hers above the swelling farthingale,and gently led her back to her chair, then flung himself upon thewindow-seat beside her. "You hold Sir John Killigrew in some affection?"he said between statement and inquiry.

  "Why, yes. He was our guardian until my brother came of full age."

  Sir Oliver made a wry face. "Aye, there's the rub. Well, I've all butkilled him."

  She drew back into her chair, recoiling before him, and he saw horrorleap to her eyes and blench her face. He made haste to explain thecauses that had led to this, he told her briefly of the calumniesconcerning him that Sir John had put about to vent his spite at havingbeen thwarted in a matter of his coveted licence to build at Smithick.

  "That mattered little," he concluded. "I knew these tales concerningme were abroad, and I held them in the same contempt as I hold theirutterer. But he went further, Rose: he poisoned your brother's mindagainst me, and he stirred up in him the slumbering rancour that in myfather's time was want to lie between our houses. To-day Peter came tome with the clear intent to make a quarrel. He affronted me as no manhas ever dared."

  She cried out at that, her already great alarm redoubled. He smiled.

  "Do not suppose that I could harm him. He is your brother, and, so,sacred to me. He came to tell me that no betrothal was possible betweenus, forbade me ever again to visit Godolphin Court, dubbed me pirate andvampire to my face and reviled my father's memory. I tracked the evilof all this to its source in Killigrew, and rode straight to Arwenack todam that source of falsehood for all time. I did not accomplish quiteso much as I intended. You see, I am frank, my Rose. It may be that SirJohn will live; if so I hope that he may profit by this lesson. I havecome straight to you," he concluded, "that you may hear the tale from mebefore another comes to malign me with false stories of this happening."

  "You... you mean Peter?" she cried.

  "Alas!" he sighed.

  She sat very still and white, looking straight before her and not at allat Sir Oliver. At length she spoke.

  "I am not skilled in reading men," she said in a sad, small voice. "Howshould I be, that am but a maid who has led a cloistered life. I wastold of you that you were violent and passionate, a man of bitterenmities, easily stirred to hatreds, cruel and ruthless in thepersecution of them."

  "You, too, have been listening to Sir John," he muttered, and laughedshortly.

  "All this was I told," she pursued as if he had not spoken, "and alldid I refuse to believe because my heart was given to you. Yet... yet ofwhat have you made proof to-day?"

  "Of forbearance," said he shortly.

  "Forbearance?" she echoed, and her lips writhed in a smile of wearyirony. "Surely you mock me!"

  He set himself to explain.

  "I have told you what Sir John had done. I have told you that thegreater part of it--and matter all that touched my honour--I know SirJohn to have done long since. Yet I suffered it in silence and contempt.Was that to show myself easily stirred to ruthlessness? What was it butforbearance? When, however, he carries his petty huckster's rancour sofar as to seek to choke for me my source of happiness in life and sendsyour brother to affront me, I am still so forbearing that I recognizeyour brother to be no more than a tool and go straight to the hand thatwielded him. Because I know of your affection for Sir John I gave himsuch latitude as no man of honour in England would have given him."

  Then seeing that she still avoided his regard, still sat in that frozenattitude of horror at learning that the man she loved had imbruedhis hands with the blood of another whom she also loved, his pleadingquickened to a warmer note. He flung himself upon his knees beside herchair, and took in his great sinewy hands the slender fingers which shelistlessly surrendered. "Rose," he cried, and his deep voice quiveredwith intercession, "dismiss all that you have heard from out your mind.Consider only this thing that has befallen. Suppose that Lionelmy brother came to you, and that, having some measure of power andauthority to support him, he swore to you that you should never wed me,swore to prevent this marriage because he deemed you such a woman ascould not bear my name with honour to m
yself; and suppose that to allthis he added insult to the memory of your dead father, what answerwould you return him? Speak, Rose! Be honest with thyself and me. Deemyourself in my place, and say in honesty if you can still condemn me forwhat I have done. Say if it differs much from what you would wish to doin such a case as I have named."

  Her eyes scanned now his upturned face, every line of which was pleadingto her and calling for impartial judgment. Her face grew troubled, andthen almost fierce. She set her hands upon his shoulders, and lookeddeep into his eyes.

  "You swear to me, Noll, that all is as you have told it me--you haveadded naught, you have altered naught to make the tale more favourableto yourself?"

  "You need such oaths from me?" he asked, and she saw sorrow spread uponhis countenance.

  "If I did I should not love thee, Noll. But in such an hour I need yourown assurance. Will you not be generous and bear with me, strengthen meto withstand anything that may be said hereafter?"

  "As God's my witness, I have told you true in all," he answeredsolemnly.

  She sank her head to his shoulder. She was weeping softly, overwroughtby this climax to all that in silence and in secret she had sufferedsince he had come a-wooing her.

  "Then," she said, "I believe you acted rightly. I believe with you thatno man of honour could have acted otherwise. I must believe you, Noll,for did I not, then I could believe in naught and hope for naught. Youare as a fire that has seized upon the better part of me and consumed itall to ashes that you may hold it in your heart. I am content so you betrue."

  "True I shall ever be, sweetheart," he whispered fervently. "Could I beless since you are sent to make me so?"

  She looked at him again, and now she was smiling wistfully through hertears.

  "And you will bear with Peter?" she implored him.

  "He shall have no power to anger me," he answered. "I swear that too. Doyou know that but to-day he struck me?"

  "Struck you? You did not tell me that!"

  "My quarrel was not with him but with the rogue that sent him. I laughedat the blow. Was he not sacred to me?"

  "He is good at heart, Noll," she pursued. "In time he will come to loveyou as you deserve, and you will come to know that he, too, deservesyour love."

  "He deserves it now for the love he bears to you."

  "And you will think ever thus during the little while of waiting thatperforce must lie before us?"

  "I shall never think otherwise, sweet. Meanwhile I shall avoid him, andthat no harm may come should he forbid me Godolphin Court I'll even stayaway. In less than a year you will be of full age, and none may hinderyou to come and go. What is a year, with such hope as mine to stillimpatience?"

  She stroked his face. "Art very gentle with me ever, Noll," she murmuredfondly. "I cannot credit you are ever harsh to any, as they say."

  "Heed them not," he answered her. "I may have been something of allthat, but you have purified me, Rose. What man that loved you could beaught but gentle." He kissed her, and stood up. "I had best be goingnow," he said. "I shall walk along the shore towards Trefusis Pointto-morrow morning. If you should chance to be similarly disposed...."

  She laughed, and rose in her turn. "I shall be there, dear Noll."

  "'Twere best so hereafter," he assured her, smiling, and so took hisleave.

  She followed him to the stair-head, and watched him as he descendedwith eyes that took pride in the fine upright carriage of that stalwart,masterful lover.

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