The sea hawk, p.5
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       The Sea-Hawk, p.5

           Rafael Sabatini


  Sir Oliver's wisdom in being the first to bear Rosamund the storyof that day's happenings was established anon when Master Godolphinreturned home. He went straight in quest of his sister; and in a frameof mind oppressed by fear and sorrow, for Sir John, by his general senseof discomfiture at the hands of Sir Oliver and by the anger begotten ofall this he was harsh in manner and disposed to hector.

  "Madam," he announced abruptly, "Sir John is like to die."

  The astounding answer she returned him--that is, astounding to him--didnot tend to soothe his sorely ruffled spirit.

  "I know," she said. "And I believe him to deserve no less. Who deals incalumny should be prepared for the wages of it."

  He stared at her in a long, furious silence, then exploded into oaths,and finally inveighed against her unnaturalness and pronounced herbewitched by that foul dog Tressilian.

  "It is fortunate for me," she answered him composedly, "that he was herebefore you to give me the truth of this affair." Then her assumed calmand the anger with which she had met his own all fell away from her."Oh, Peter, Peter," she cried in anguish, "I hope that Sir John willrecover. I am distraught by this event. But be just, I implore you. SirOliver has told me how hard-driven he had been."

  "He shall be driven harder yet, as God's my life! If you think this deedshall go unpunished...."

  She flung herself upon his breast and implored him to carry this quarrelno further. She spoke of her love for Sir Oliver and announced her firmresolve to marry him in despite of all opposition that could be made,all of which did not tend to soften her brother's humour. Yet because ofthe love that ever had held these two in closest bonds he went so farin the end as to say that should Sir John recover he would not himselfpursue the matter further. But if Sir John should die--as was verylikely--honour compelled him to seek vengeance of a deed to which he hadhimself so very largely contributed.

  "I read that man as if he were an open book," the boy announced, withcallow boastfulness. "He has the subtlety of Satan, yet he does notdelude me. It was at me he struck through Killigrew. Because he desiresyou, Rosamund, he could not--as he bluntly told me--deal with me howeverI provoked him, not even though I went the length of striking him. Hemight have killed me for't; but he knew that to do so would place abarrier 'twixt him and you. Oh! he is calculating as all the fiends ofHell. So, to wipe out the dishonour which I did him, he shifts the blameof it upon Killigrew and goes out to kill him, which he further thinksmay act as a warning to me. But if Killigrew dies...." And thus herambled on, filling her gentle heart with anguish to see this feudincreasing between the two men she loved best in all the world. If theoutcome of it should be that either were to kill the other, she knewthat she could never again look upon the survivor.

  She took heart at last in the memory of Sir Oliver's sworn promise thather brother's life should be inviolate to him, betide what might. Shetrusted him; she depended upon his word and that rare strength of hiswhich rendered possible to him a course that no weaker man would darepursue. And in this reflection her pride in him increased, and shethanked God for a lover who in all things was a giant among men.

  But Sir John Killigrew did not die. He hovered between this world and abetter one for some seven days, at the end of which he began to recover.By October he was abroad again, gaunt and pale, reduced to half the bulkthat had been his before, a mere shadow of a man.

  One of his first visits was to Godolphin Court. He went to remonstratewith Rosamund upon her betrothal, and he did so at the request of herbrother. But his remonstrances were strangely lacking in the force thatshe had looked for.

  The odd fact is that in his near approach to death, and with his earthlyinterest dwindling, Sir John had looked matters frankly in the face,and had been driven to the conclusion--a conclusion impossible to himin normal health--that he had got no more than he deserved. He realizedthat he had acted unworthily, if unconscious at the time of theunworthiness of what he did; that the weapons with which he had foughtSir Oliver were not the weapons that become a Gentleman or in whichthere is credit to be won. He perceived that he had permitted his oldenmity for the house of Tressilian, swollen by a sense of injury latelysuffered in the matter of the licence to build at Smithick, to warp hisjudgment and to persuade him that Sir Oliver was all he had dubbed him.He realized that jealousy, too, had taken a hand in the matter. SirOliver's exploits upon the seas had brought him wealth, and with thiswealth he was building up once more the Tressilian sway in those parts,which Ralph Tressilian had so outrageously diminished, so that hethreatened to eclipse the importance of the Killigrews of Arwenack.

  Nevertheless, in the hour of reaction he did not go so far as to admitthat Sir Oliver Tressilian was a fit mate for Rosamund Godolphin. Sheand her brother had been placed in his care by their late father, and hehad nobly discharged his tutelage until such time as Peter had come tofull age. His affection for Rosamund was tender as that of a lover,but tempered by a feeling entirely paternal. He went very near toworshipping her, and when all was said, when he had cleared his mindof all dishonest bias, he still found overmuch to dislike in OliverTressilian, and the notion of his becoming Rosamund's husband wasrepellent.

  First of all there was that bad Tressilian blood--notoriously bad,and never more flagrantly displayed than in the case of the late RalphTressilian. It was impossible that Oliver should have escaped the taintof it; nor could Sir John perceive any signs that he had done so. Hedisplayed the traditional Tressilian turbulence. He was passionate andbrutal, and the pirate's trade to which he had now set his hand wasof all trades the one for which he was by nature best equipped. He washarsh and overbearing, impatient of correction and prone to trampleother men's feelings underfoot. Was this, he asked himself in allhonesty, a mate for Rosamund? Could he entrust her happiness to the careof such a man? Assuredly he could not.

  Therefore, being whole again, he went to remonstrate with her as heaccounted it his duty and as Master Peter had besought him. Yet knowingthe bias that had been his he was careful to understate rather than tooverstate his reasons.

  "But, Sir John," she protested, "if every man is to be condemned for thesins of his forbears, but few could escape condemnation, and wherevershall you find me a husband deserving your approval?"

  "His father...." began Sir John.

  "Tell me not of his father, but of himself," she interrupted.

  He frowned impatiently--they were sitting in that bower of hers abovethe river.

  "I was coming to 't," he answered, a thought testily, for theseinterruptions which made him keep to the point robbed him of his bestarguments. "However, suffice it that many of his father's viciousqualities he has inherited, as we see in his ways of life; that he hasnot inherited others only the future can assure us."

  "In other words," she mocked him, yet very seriously, "I am to waituntil he dies of old age to make quite sure that he has no such sins asmust render him an unfitting husband?"

  "No, no," he cried. "Good lack! what a perverseness is thine!"

  "The perverseness is your own, Sir John. I am but the mirror of it."

  He shifted in his chair and grunted. "Be it so, then," he snapped. "Wewill deal with the qualities that already he displays." And Sir Johnenumerated them.

  "But this is no more than your judgment of him--no more than what youthink him."

  "'Tis what all the world thinks him."

  "But I shall not marry a man for what others think of him, but for whatI think of him myself. And in my view you cruelly malign him. I discoverno such qualities in Sir Oliver."

  "'Tis that you should be spared such a discovery that I am beseechingyou not to wed him."

  "Yet unless I wed him I shall never make such a discovery; and until Imake it I shall ever continue to love him and to desire to wed him. Isall my life to be spent so?" She laughed outright, and came to standbeside him. She put an arm about his neck as she might have put it aboutthe neck of her father, as she had been in the habit of doing any da
y inthese past ten years--and thereby made him feel himself to have reachedan unconscionable age. With her hand she rubbed his brow.

  "Why, here are wicked wrinkles of ill-humour," she cried to him. "Youare all undone, and by a woman's wit, and you do not like it."

  "I am undone by a woman's wilfulness, by a woman's headstrong resolvenot to see."

  "You have naught to show me, Sir John."

  "Naught? Is all that I have said naught?"

  "Words are not things; judgments are not facts. You say that he is so,and so and so. But when I ask you upon what facts you judge him,your only answer is that you think him to be what you say he is. Yourthoughts may be honest, Sir John, but your logic is contemptible." Andshe laughed again at his gaping discomfiture. "Come, now, deal like anhonest upright judge, and tell me one act of his--one thing that he hasever done and of which you have sure knowledge--that will bear him outto be what you say he is. Now, Sir John!"

  He looked up at her impatiently. Then, at last he smiled.

  "Rogue!" he cried--and upon a distant day he was to bethink him of thosewords. "If ever he be brought to judgment I can desire him no betteradvocate than thou."

  Thereupon following up her advantage swiftly, she kissed him. "Nor couldI desire him a more honest judge than you."

  What was the poor man to do thereafter? What he did. Live up to herpronouncement, and go forthwith to visit Sir Oliver and compose theirquarrel.

  The acknowledgment of his fault was handsomely made, and Sir Oliverreceived it in a spirit no less handsome. But when Sir John came to thematter of Mistress Rosamund he was, out of his sense of duty to her,less generous. He announced that since he could not bring himself tolook upon Sir Oliver as a suitable husband for her, nothing that he hadnow said must mislead Sir Oliver into supposing him a consenting partyto any such union.

  "But that," he added, "is not to say that I oppose it. I disapprove,but I stand aside. Until she is of full age her brother will refuse hissanction. After that, the matter will concern neither him nor myself."

  "I hope," said Sir Oliver, "he will take as wise a view. But whateverview he takes will be no matter. For the rest, Sir John, I thank you foryour frankness, and I rejoice to know that if I may not count you for myfriend, at least I need not reckon you among my enemies."

  But if Sir John was thus won round to a neutral attitude, Master Peter'srancour abated nothing; rather it increased each day, and presentlythere came another matter to feed it, a matter of which Sir Oliver hadno suspicion.

  He knew that his brother Lionel rode almost daily to Malpas, and he knewthe object of those daily rides. He knew of the lady who kept a sort ofcourt there for the rustic bucks of Truro, Penryn, and Helston, and heknew something of the ill-repute that had attached to her in town--arepute, in fact, which had been the cause of her withdrawal into thecountry. He told his brother some frank and ugly truths, concerning her,by way of warning him, and therein, for the first time, the twain wentvery near to quarrelling.

  After that he mentioned her no more. He knew that in his indolent wayLionel could be headstrong, and he knew human nature well enough tobe convinced that interference here would but set up a breach betweenhimself and his brother without in the least achieving its real object.So Oliver shrugged re-signedly, and held his peace.

  There he left the affair, nor ever spoke again of Malpas and the sirenwho presided there. And meanwhile the autumn faded into winter, andwith the coming of stormy weather Sir Oliver and Rosamund had feweropportunities of meeting. To Godolphin Court he would not go since shedid not desire it; and himself he deemed it best to remain away sinceotherwise he must risk a quarrel with its master, who had forbidden himthe place. In those days he saw Peter Godolphin but little, and on therare occasions when they did meet they passed each other with a verymeagre salute.

  Sir Oliver was entirely happy, and men noticed how gentler were hisaccents, how sunnier had become a countenance that they had known forhaughty and forbidding. He waited for his coming happiness with theconfidence of an immortal in the future. Patience was all the serviceFate asked of him, and he gave that service blithely, depending upon thereward that soon now would be his own. Indeed, the year drew near itsclose; and ere another winter should come round Penarrow House would owna mistress. That to him seemed as inevitable as the season itself.And yet for all his supreme confidence, for all his patience and thehappiness he culled from it, there were moments when he seemed oppressedby some elusive sense of overhanging doom, by some subconsciousness ofan evil in the womb of Destiny. Did he challenge his oppression, did heseek to translate it into terms of reason, he found nothing upon whichhis wits could fasten--and he came ever to conclude that it was his veryhappiness by its excessiveness that was oppressing him, giving him attimes that sense of premonitory weight about the heart as if to checkits joyous soarings.

  One day, a week from Christmas, he had occasion to ride to Helston onsome trifling affair. For half a week a blizzard had whirled about thecoast, and he had been kept chafing indoors what time layer upon layerof snow was spread upon the countryside. On the fourth day, the stormbeing spent, the sun came forth, the skies were swept clear of cloudsand all the countryside lay robed in a sun-drenched, dazzling whiteness.Sir Oliver called for his horse and rode forth alone through the crispsnow. He turned homeward very early in the afternoon, but when a coupleof miles from Helston he found that his horse had cast a shoe. Hedismounted, and bridle over arm tramped on through the sunlit valebetween the heights of Pendennis and Arwenack, singing as he went. Hecame thus to Smithick and the door of the forge. About it stood a groupof fishermen and rustics, for, in the absence of any inn just there,this forge was ever a point of congregation. In addition to the rusticsand an itinerant merchant with his pack-horses, there were present SirAndrew Flack, the parson from Penryn, and Master Gregory Baine, one ofthe Justices from the neighbourhood of Truro. Both were well knownto Sir Oliver, and he stood in friendly gossip with them what time hewaited for his horse.

  It was all very unfortunate, from the casting of that shoe to themeeting with those gentlemen; for as Sir Oliver stood there, down thegentle slope from Arwenack rode Master Peter Godolphin.

  It was said afterwards by Sir Andrew and Master Baine that Master Peterappeared to have been carousing, so flushed was his face, so unnaturalthe brightness of his eye, so thick his speech and so extravagant andfoolish what he said. There can be little doubt that it was so. He wasaddicted to Canary, and so indeed was Sir John Killigrew, and he hadbeen dining with Sir John. He was of those who turn quarrelsome inwine--which is but another way of saying that when the wine was in andthe restraint out, his natural humour came uppermost untrammelled. Thesight of Sir Oliver standing there gave the lad precisely what he neededto indulge that evil humour of his, and he may have been quickenedin his purpose by the presence of those other gentlemen. In hishalf-fuddled state of mind he may have recalled that once he had struckSir Oliver and Sir Oliver had laughed and told him that none wouldbelieve it.

  He drew rein suddenly as he came abreast of the group, so suddenly thathe pulled his horse until it almost sat down like a cat; yet he retainedhis saddle. Then he came through the snow that was all squelched andmudded just about the forge, and leered at Sir Oliver.

  "I am from Arwenack," he announced unnecessarily. "We have been talkingof you."

  "You could have had no better subject of discourse," said Sir Oliver,smiling, for all that his eyes were hard and something scared--thoughhis fears did not concern himself.

  "Marry, you are right; you make an engrossing topic--you and yourdebauched father."

  "Sir," replied Sir Oliver, "once already have I deplored your mother'sutter want of discretion."

  The words were out of him in a flash under the spur of the gross insultflung at him, uttered in the momentary blind rage aroused by thatinflamed and taunting face above him. No sooner were they sped than herepented them, the more bitterly because they were greeted by a guffawfrom the rustics. He would have given half his fort
une in that moment tohave recalled them.

  Master Godolphin's face had changed as utterly as if he had removed amask. From flushed that it had been it was livid now and the eyes wereblazing, the mouth twitching. Thus a moment he glowered upon his enemy.Then standing in his stirrups he swung aloft his whip.

  "You dog!" he cried, in a snarling sob. "You dog!" And his lash camedown and cut a long red wheal across Sir Oliver's dark face.

  With cries of dismay and anger the others, the parson, the Justiceand the rustics got between the pair, for Sir Oliver was looking verywicked, and all the world knew him for a man to be feared.

  "Master Godolphin, I cry shame upon you," ex-claimed the parson. "Ifevil comes of this I shall testify to the grossness of your aggression.Get you gone from here!"

  "Go to the devil, sir," said Master Godolphin thickly. "Is my mother'sname to be upon the lips of that bastard? By God, man, the matter restsnot here. He shall send his friends to me, or I will horse-whip himevery time we meet. You hear, Sir Oliver?"

  Sir Oliver made him no reply.

  "You hear?" he roared. "There is no Sir John Killigrew this time uponwhom you can shift the quarrel. Come you to me and get the punishment ofwhich that whiplash is but an earnest." Then with a thick laugh he drovespurs into his horse's flanks, so furiously that he all but sent theparson and another sprawling.

  "Stay but a little while for me," roared Sir Oliver after him. "You'llride no more, my drunken fool!"

  And in a rage he bellowed for his horse, flinging off the parson andMaster Baine, who endeavoured to detain and calm him. He vaulted tothe saddle when the nag was brought him, and whirled away in furiouspursuit.

  The parson looked at the Justice and the Justice shrugged, his lipstight-pressed.

  "The young fool is drunk," said Sir Andrew, shaking his white head."He's in no case to meet his Maker."

  "Yet he seems very eager," quoth Master Justice Baine. "I doubt I shallhear more of the matter." He turned and looked into the forge where thebellows now stood idle, the smith himself grimy and aproned in leatherin the doorway, listening to the rustics account of the happening.Master Baine it seems had a taste for analogies. "Faith," he said, "theplace was excellently well chosen. They have forged here to-day a swordwhich it will need blood to temper."

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