The sea hawk, p.6
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       The Sea-Hawk, p.6

           Rafael Sabatini
 

  CHAPTER IV. THE INTERVENER

  The parson had notions of riding after Sir Oliver, and begged MasterBaine to join him. But the Justice looked down his long nose and opinedthat no good purpose was to be served; that Tressilians were ever wildand bloody men; and that an angry Tressilian was a thing to be avoided.Sir Andrew, who was far from valorous, thought there might be wisdom inthe Justice's words, and remembered that he had troubles enough of hisown with a froward wife without taking up the burdens of others. MasterGodolphin and Sir Oliver between them, quoth the justice, had got upthis storm of theirs. A God's name let them settle it, and if in thesettling they should cut each other's throats haply the countrysidewould be well rid of a brace of turbulent fellows. The pedlar deemedthem a couple of madmen, whose ways were beyond the understanding of asober citizen. The others--the fishermen and the rustics--had not themeans to follow even had they had the will.

  They dispersed to put abroad the news of that short furious quarreland to prophesy that blood would be let in the adjusting of it. Thisprognostication the they based entirely upon their knowledge of theshort Tressilian way. But it was a matter in which they were entirelywrong. It is true that Sir Oliver went galloping along that road thatfollows the Penryn river and that he pounded over the bridge in the townof Penryn in Master Godolphin's wake with murder in his heart. Men whosaw him riding wildly thus with the red wheal across his white furiousface said that he looked a very devil.

  He crossed the bridge at Penryn a half-hour after sunset, as dusk wasclosing into night, and it may be that the sharp, frosty air had a handin the cooling of his blood. For as he reached the river's easternbank he slackened his breakneck pace, even as he slackened the angrygalloping of his thoughts. The memory of that oath he had sworn threemonths ago to Rosamund smote him like a physical blow. It checked hispurpose, and, reflecting this, his pace fell to an amble. He shivered tothink how near he had gone to wrecking all the happiness that lay aheadof him. What was a boy's whiplash, that his resentment of it; shouldset all his future life in jeopardy? Even though men should call hima coward for submitting to it and leaving the insult unavenged, whatshould that matter? Moreover, upon the body of him who did so proclaimhim he could brand the lie of a charge so foolish. Sir Oliver raisedhis eyes to the deep sapphire dome of heaven where an odd star wasglittering frostily, and thanked God from a swelling heart that he hadnot overtaken Peter Godolphin whilst his madness was upon him.

  A mile or so below Penryn, he turned up the road that ran down to theferry there, and took his way home over the shoulder of the hill witha slack rein. It was not his usual way. He was wont ever to go round byTrefusis Point that he might take a glimpse at the walls of the housethat harboured Rosamund and a glance at the window of her bower. Butto-night he thought the shorter road over the hill would be the saferway. If he went by Godolphin Court he might chance to meet Peter again,and his past anger warned him against courting such a meeting, warnedhim to avoid it lest evil should betide. Indeed, so imperious was thewarning, and such were his fears of himself after what had just passed,that he resolved to leave Penarrow on the next day. Whither he would gohe did not then determine. He might repair to London, and he might evengo upon another cruise--an idea which he had lately dismissed underRosamund's earnest intercession. But it was imperative that he shouldquit the neighbourhood, and place a distance between Peter Godolphin andhimself until such time as he might take Rosamund to wife. Eight monthsor so of exile; but what matter? Better so than that he should be driveninto some deed that would compel him to spend his whole lifetime apartfrom her. He would write, and she would understand and approve when hetold her what had passed that day.

  The resolve was firmly implanted in him by the time he reached Penarrow,and he felt himself uplifted by it and by the promise it afforded himthat thus his future happiness would be assured.

  Himself he stabled his horse; for of the two grooms he kept, one hadby his leave set out yesterday to spend Christmas in Devon with hisparents, the other had taken a chill and had been ordered to bed thatvery day by Sir Oliver, who was considerate with those that served him.In the dining-room he found supper spread, and a great log fire blazedin the enormous cowled fire-place, diffusing a pleasant warmth throughthe vast room and flickering ruddily upon the trophies of weaponsthat adorned the walls, upon the tapestries and the portraits of deadTressilians. Hearing his step, old Nicholas entered bearing a greatcandle-branch which he set upon the table.

  "You'm late, Sir Oliver," said the servant, "and Master Lionel bain'thome yet neither."

  Sir Oliver grunted and scowled as he crunched a log and set it sizzlingunder his wet heel. He thought of Malpas and cursed Lionel's folly, as,without a word, he loosed his cloak and flung it on an oaken cofferby the wall where already he had cast his hat. Then he sat down, andNicholas came forward to draw off his boots.

  When that was done and the old servant stood up again, Sir Olivershortly bade him to serve supper.

  "Master Lionel cannot be long now," said he. "And give me to drink,Nick. 'Tis what I most require."

  "I've brewed ee a posset o' canary sack," announced Nicholas; "there'mno better supping o' a frosty winter's night, Sir Oliver."

  He departed to return presently with a black jack that was steamingfragrantly. He found his master still in the same attitude, staring atthe fire, and frowning darkly. Sir Oliver's thoughts were still of hisbrother and Malpas, and so insistent were they that his own concernswere for the moment quite neglected; he was considering whether it wasnot his duty, after all, to attempt a word of remonstrance. At lengthhe rose with a sigh and got to table. There he bethought him of his sickgroom, and asked Nicholas for news of him. Nicholas reported the fellowto be much as he had been, whereupon Sir Oliver took up a cup andbrimmed it with the steaming posset.

  "Take him that," he said. "There's no better medicine for such anailment."

  Outside fell a clatter of hooves.

  "Here be Master Lionel at last," said the servant.

  "No doubt," agreed Sir Oliver. "No need to stay for him. Here is all heneeds. Carry that to Tom ere it cools."

  It was his object to procure the servant's absence when Lionel shouldarrive, resolved as he was to greet him with a sound rating for hisfolly. Reflection had brought him the assurance that this was becomehis duty in view of his projected absence from Penarrow; and in hisbrother's interest he was determined not to spare him.

  He took a deep draught of the posset, and as he set it down he heardLionel's step without. Then the door was flung open, and his brotherstood on the threshold a moment at gaze.

  Sir Oliver looked round with a scowl, the well-considered reproofalready on his lips.

  "So...." he began, and got no further. The sight that met his eyes drovethe ready words from his lips and mind; instead it was with a sharp gaspof dismay that he came immediately to his feet. "Lionel!"

  Lionel lurched in, closed the door, and shot home one of its bolts. Thenhe leaned against it, facing his brother again. He was deathly pale,with great dark stains under his eyes; his ungloved right hand waspressed to his side, and the fingers of it were all smeared with bloodthat was still oozing and dripping from between them. Over his yellowdoublet on the right side there was a spreading dark stain whose naturedid not intrigue Sir Oliver a moment.

  "My God!" he cried, and ran to his brother. "What's happened, Lal? Whohas done this?"

  "Peter Godolphin," came the answer from lips that writhed in a curioussmile.

  Never a word said Sir Oliver, but he set his teeth and clenched hishands until the nails cut into his palms. Then he put an arm about thislad he loved above all save one in the whole world, and with anguish inhis mind he supported him forward to the fire. There Lionel dropped tothe chair that Sir Oliver had lately occupied.

  "What is your hurt, lad? Has it gone deep?" he asked, in terror almost.

  "'Tis naught--a flesh wound; but I have lost a mort of blood. I thoughtI should have been drained or ever I got me home."

 
With fearful speed Sir Oliver drew his dagger and ripped away doublet,vest, and shirt, laying bare the lad's white flesh. A moment'sexamination, and he breathed more freely.

  "Art a very babe, Lal," he cried in his relief. "To ride without thoughtto stanch so simple a wound, and so lose all this blood--bad Tressilianblood though it be." He laughed in the immensity of his reaction fromthat momentary terror. "Stay thou there whilst I call Nick to help usdress this scratch."

  "No, no!" There was note of sudden fear in the lad's voice, and his handclutched at his brother's sleeve. "Nick must not know. None must know,or I am undone else."

  Sir Oliver stared, bewildered. Lionel smiled again that curious twisted,rather frightened smile.

  "I gave better than I took, Noll," said he. "Master Godolphin is as coldby now as the snow on which I left him."

  His brother's sudden start and the fixed stare from out of his slowlypaling face scared Lionel a little. He observed, almost subconsciously,the dull red wheal that came into prominence as the colour faded out ofSir Oliver's face, yet never thought to ask how it came there. His ownaffairs possessed him too completely.

  "What's this?" quoth Oliver at last, hoarsely.

  Lionel dropped his eyes, unable longer to meet a glance that wasbecoming terrible.

  "He would have it," he growled almost sullenly, answering the reproachthat was written in every line of his brother's taut body. "I had warnedhim not to cross my path. But to-night I think some madness had seizedupon him. He affronted me, Noll; he said things which it was beyondhuman power to endure, and...." He shrugged to complete his sentence.

  "Well, well," said Oliver in a small voice. "First let us tend thiswound of yours."

  "Do not call Nick," was the other's swift admonition. "Don't you see,Noll?" he explained in answer to the inquiry of his brother's stare,"don't you see that we fought there almost in the dark and withoutwitnesses. It...." he swallowed, "it will be called murder, fairfight though it was; and should it be discovered that it was I...." Heshivered and his glance grew wild; his lips twitched.

  "I see," said Oliver, who understood at last, and he added bitterly:"You fool!"

  "I had no choice," protested Lionel. "He came at me with his drawnsword. Indeed, I think he was half-drunk. I warned him of what musthappen to the other did either of us fall, but he bade me not concernmyself with the fear of any such consequences to himself. He was fullof foul words of me and you and all whoever bore our name. He struck mewith the flat of his blade and threatened to run me through as I stoodunless I drew to defend myself. What choice had I? I did not mean tokill him--as God's my witness, I did not, Noll."

  Without a word Oliver turned to a side-table, where stood a metal basinand ewer. He poured water, then came in the same silence to treat hisbrother's wound. The tale that Lionel told made blame impossible, atleast from Oliver. He had but to recall the mood in which he himselfhad ridden after Peter Godolphin; he had but to remember, that onlythe consideration of Rosamund--only, indeed, the consideration of hisfuture--had set a curb upon his own bloodthirsty humour.

  When he had washed the wound he fetched some table linen from a pressand ripped it into strips with his dagger; he threaded out one of theseand made a preliminary crisscross of the threads across the lips of thewound--for the blade had gone right through the muscles of the breast,grazing the ribs; these threads would help the formation of a clot.Then with the infinite skill and cunning acquired in the course of hisrovings he proceeded to the bandaging.

  That done, he opened the window and flung out the blood-tinted water.The cloths with which he had mopped the wound and all other similarevidences of the treatment he cast upon the fire. He must remove alltraces even from the eyes of Nicholas. He had the most implicit trustin the old servant's fidelity. But the matter was too grave to permit ofthe slightest risk. He realized fully the justice of Lionel's fears thathowever fair the fight might have been, a thing done thus in secret mustbe accounted murder by the law.

  Bidding Lionel wrap himself in his cloak, Sir Oliver unbarred the door,and went upstairs in quest of a fresh shirt and doublet for his brother.On the landing he met Nicholas descending. He held him a moment intalk of the sick man above, and outwardly at least he was now entirelycomposed. He dispatched him upstairs again upon a trumped-up errand thatmust keep him absent for some little time, whilst himself he went to getthe things he needed.

  He returned below with them, and when he had assisted his brother intofresh garments with as little movement as possible so as not to disturbhis dressing of the wound or set it bleeding afresh, he took theblood-stained doublet, vest, and shirt which he had ripped and flungthem, too, into the great fire.

  When some moments later Nicholas entered the vast room he found thebrothers sitting composedly at table. Had he faced Lionel he would haveobserved little amiss with him beyond the deep pallor of his face. Buthe did not even do so much. Lionel sat with his back to the door andthe servant's advance into the room was checked by Sir Oliver with theassurance that they did not require him. Nicholas withdrew again, andthe brothers were once more alone.

  Lionel ate very sparingly. He thirsted and would have emptied themeasure of posset, but that Sir Oliver restrained him, and refused himanything but water lest he should contract a fever. Such a sparing mealas they made--for neither had much appetite--was made in silence. Atlast Sir Oliver rose, and with slow, heavy steps, suggestive of hishumour, he crossed to the fire-place. He threw fresh logs on the blaze,and took from the tall mantelshelf his pipe and a leaden jar of tobacco.He filled the pipe pensively, then with the short iron tongs seized afragment of glowing wood and applied it to the herb.

  He returned to the table, and standing over his brother, he broke atlast the silence that had now endured some time.

  "What," he asked gruffly, "was the cause of your quarrel?"

  Lionel started and shrank a little; between finger and thumb he kneadeda fragment of bread, his eyes upon it. "I scarce know," he replied.

  "Lal, that is not the truth."

  "How?"

  "'Tis not the truth. I am not to be put off with such an answer.Yourself you said that you had warned him not to cross your path. Whatpath was in your mind?"

  Lionel leaned his elbows on the table and took his head in his hands.Weak from loss of blood, overwrought mentally as well, in a state ofrevulsion and reaction also from the pursuit which had been the cause ofto-night's tragic affair, he had not strength to withhold the confidencehis brother asked. On the contrary, it seemed to him that in making sucha confidence, he would find a haven and refuge in Sir Oliver.

  "'Twas that wanton at Malpas was the cause of all," he complained. AndSir Oliver's eye flashed at the words. "I deemed her quite other; I wasa fool, a fool! I"--he choked, and a sob shook him--"I thought she lovedme. I would have married her, I would so, by God."

  Sir Oliver swore softly under his breath.

  "I believed her pure and good, and...." He checked. "After all, who am Ito say even now that she was not? 'Twas no fault of hers. 'Twas he,that foul dog Godolphin, who perverted her. Until he came all was wellbetween us. And then...."

  "I see," said Sir Oliver quietly. "I think you have something for whichto thank him, if he revealed to you the truth of that strumpet's nature.I would have warned thee, lad. But... Perhaps I have been weak in that."

  "It was not so; it was not she...."

  "I say it was, and if I say so I am to be believed, Lionel. I'd smirchno woman's reputation without just cause. Be very sure of that."

  Lionel stared up at him. "O God!" he cried presently, "I know not whatto believe. I am a shuttle-cock flung this way and that way."

  "Believe me," said Sir Oliver grimly. "And set all doubts to rest." Thenhe smiled. "So that was the virtuous Master Peter's secret pastime, eh?The hypocrisy of man! There is no plumbing the endless depths of it!"

  He laughed outright, remembering all the things that Master Peter hadsaid of Ralph Tressilian--delivering himself as though he were somechaste and self
-denying anchorite. Then on that laugh he caught hisbreath quite suddenly. "Would she know?" he asked fearfully. "Would thatharlot know, would she suspect that 'twas your hand did this?"

  "Aye--would she," replied the other. "I told her to-night, when sheflouted me and spoke of him, that I went straight to find him and paythe score between us. I was on my way to Godolphin Court when I cameupon him in the park."

  "Then you lied to me again, Lionel. For you said 'twas he attacked you."

  "And so he did." Lionel countered instantly. "He never gave me timeto speak, but flung down from his horse and came at me snarling likea cross-grained mongrel. Oh, he was as ready for the fight as I--aseager."

  "But the woman at Malpas knows," said Sir Oliver gloomily. "And if shetells...."

  "She'll not," cried Lionel. "She dare not for her reputation's sake."

  "Indeed, I think you are right," agreed his brother with relief. "Shedare not for other reasons, when I come to think of it. Her reputationis already such, and so well detested is she that were it known she hadbeen the cause, however indirect, of this, the countryside would satisfycertain longings that it entertains concerning her. You are sure nonesaw you either going or returning?"

  "None."

  Sir Oliver strode the length of the room and back, pulling at his pipe."All should be well, then, I think," said he at last. "You were bestabed. I'll carry you thither."

  He took up his stripling brother in his powerful arms and bore himupstairs as though he were a babe.

  When he had seen him safely disposed for slumber, he returned below,shut the door in the hall, drew up the great oaken chair to the fire,and sat there far into the night smoking and thinking.

  He had said to Lionel that all should be well. All should be well forLionel. But what of himself with the burden of this secret on his soul?Were the victim another than Rosamund's brother the matter would haveplagued him but little. The fact that Godolphin was slain, it must beconfessed, was not in itself the source of his oppression. Godolphin hadmore than deserved his end, and he would have come by it months ago atSir Oliver's own hand but for the fact that he was Rosamund's brother,as we know. There was the rub, the bitter, cruel rub. Her own brotherhad fallen by the hand of his. She loved her brother more than anyliving being next to himself, just as he loved Lionel above any otherbut herself. The pain that must be hers he knew; he experienced some ofit in anticipation, participating it because it was hers and because allthings that were hers he must account in some measure his own.

  He rose up at last, cursing that wanton at Malpas who had come to flingthis fresh and terrible difficulty where already he had to face so many.He stood leaning upon the overmantel, his foot upon one of the dogsof the fender, and considered what to do. He must bear his burden insilence, that was all. He must keep this secret even from Rosamund. Itsplit his heart to think that he must practise this deceit with her. Butnaught else was possible short of relinquishing her, and that was farbeyond his strength.

  The resolve adopted, he took up a taper and went off to bed.

 
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