The sea hawk, p.8
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       The Sea-Hawk, p.8

           Rafael Sabatini
 

  CHAPTER VI. JASPER LEIGH

  If that Christmas was one of sorrow at Godolphin Court, it was nothingless at Penarrow.

  Sir Oliver was moody and silent in those days, given to sit for longhours staring into the heart of the fire and repeating to himself againand again every word of his interview with Rosamund, now in a mood ofbitter resentment against her for having so readily believed his guilt,now in a gentler sorrowing humour which made full allowance for thestrength of the appearances against him.

  His half-brother moved softly about the house now in a sort ofself-effacement, never daring to intrude upon Sir Oliver's abstractions.He was well acquainted with their cause. He knew what had happened atGodolphin Court, knew that Rosamund had dismissed Sir Oliver for alltime, and his heart smote him to think that he should leave his brotherto bear this burden that rightly belonged to his own shoulders.

  The thing preyed so much upon his mind that in an expansive moment oneevening he gave it tongue.

  "Noll," he said, standing beside his brother's chair in the firelitgloom, and resting a hand upon his brother's shoulder, "were it not bestto tell the truth?"

  Sir Oliver looked up quickly, frowning. "Art mad?" quoth he. "The truthwould hang thee, Lal."

  "It might not. And in any case you are suffering something worse thanhanging. Oh, I have watched you every hour this past week, and I knowthe pain that abides in you. It is not just." And he insisted--"We hadbest tell the truth."

  Sir Oliver smiled wistfully. He put out a hand and took his brother's.

  "'Tis noble in you to propose it, Lal."

  "Not half so noble as it is in you to bear all the suffering for a deedthat was my own."

  "Bah!" Sir Oliver shrugged impatiently; his glance fell away fromLionel's face and returned to the consideration of the fire. "Afterall, I can throw off the burden when I will. Such knowledge as that willenhearten a man through any trial."

  He had spoken in a harsh, cynical tone, and Lionel had turned cold athis words. He stood a long while in silence there, turning them over inhis mind and considering the riddle which they presented him. He thoughtof asking his brother bluntly for the key to it, for the precise meaningof his disconcerting statement, but courage failed him. He feared lestSir Oliver should confirm his own dread interpretation of it.

  He drew away after a time, and soon after went to bed. For daysthereafter the phrase rankled in his mind--"I can throw off the burdenwhen I will." Conviction grew upon him that Sir Oliver meant that hewas enheartened by the knowledge that by speaking if he choose hecould clear himself. That Sir Oliver would so speak he could not think.Indeed, he was entirely assured that Sir Oliver was very far fromintending to throw off his burden. Yet he might come to change hismind. The burden might grow too heavy, his longings for Rosamund tooclamorous, his grief at being in her eyes her brother's murderer toooverwhelming.

  Lionel's soul shuddered to contemplate the consequences to himself. Hisfears were self-revelatory. He realized how far from sincere had beenhis proposal that they should tell the truth; he perceived that it hadbeen no more than the emotional outburst of the moment, a proposalwhich if accepted he must most bitterly have repented. And then came thereflection that if he were guilty of emotional outbursts that couldso outrageously play the traitor to his real desires, were not all mensubject to the same? Might not his brother, too, come to fall a preyto one of those moments of mental storm when in a climax of despair hewould find his burden altogether too overwhelming and in rebellion castit from him?

  Lionel sought to assure himself that his brother was a man of sternfibres, a man who never lost control of himself. But against this hewould argue that what had happened in the past was no guarantee of whatmight happen in the future; that a limit was set to the endurance ofevery man be he never so strong, and that it was far from impossiblethat the limit of Sir Oliver's endurance might be reached in thisaffair. If that happened in what case should he find himself? The answerto this was a picture beyond his fortitude to contemplate. The dangerof his being sent to trial and made to suffer the extreme penalty of thelaw would be far greater now than if he had spoken at once. The talehe could then have told must have compelled some attention, for hewas accounted a man of unsmirched honour and his word must carry someweight. But now none would believe him. They would argue from hissilence and from his having suffered his brother to be unjustly accusedthat he was craven-hearted and dishonourable, and that if he had actedthus it was because he had no good defence to offer for his deed.Not only would he be irrevocably doomed, but he would be doomed withignominy, he would be scorned by all upright men and become a thing ofcontempt over whose end not a tear would be shed.

  Thus he came to the dread conclusion that in his endeavours to screenhimself he had but enmeshed himself the more inextricably. If Oliver butspoke he was lost. And back he came to the question: What assurance hadhe that Oliver would not speak?

  The fear of this from occurring to him occasionally began to haunt himday and night, and for all that the fever had left him and his wound wasentirely healed, he remained pale and thin and hollow-eyed. Indeedthe secret terror that was in his soul glared out of his eyes at everymoment. He grew nervous and would start up at the least sound, and hewent now in a perpetual mistrust of Oliver, which became manifest in acurious petulance of which there were outbursts at odd times.

  Coming one afternoon into the dining-room, which was ever SirOliver's favourite haunt in the mansion of Penarrow, Lionel found hishalf-brother in that brooding attitude, elbow on knee and chin on palm,staring into the fire. This was so habitual now in Sir Oliver that ithad begun to irritate Lionel's tense nerves; it had come to seem to himthat in this listlessness was a studied tacit reproach aimed at himself.

  "Why do you sit ever thus over the fire like some old crone?" hegrowled, voicing at last the irritability that so long had been growingin him.

  Sir Oliver looked round with mild surprise in his glance. Then fromLionel his eyes travelled to the long windows.

  "It rains," he said.

  "It was not your wont to be driven to the fireside by rain. But rain orshine 'tis ever the same. You never go abroad."

  "To what end?" quoth Sir Oliver, with the same mildness, but a wrinkleof bewilderment coming gradually between his dark brows. "Do you supposeI love to meet lowering glances, to see heads approach one another sothat confidential curses of me may be muttered?"

  "Ha!" cried Lionel, short and sharp, his sunken eyes blazing suddenly."It has come to this, then, that having voluntarily done this thing toshield me you now reproach me with it."

  "I?" cried Sir Oliver, aghast.

  "Your very words are a reproach. D'ye think I do not read the meaningthat lies under them?"

  Sir Oliver rose slowly, staring at his brother. He shook his head andsmiled.

  "Lal, Lal!" he said. "Your wound has left you disordered, boy. With whathave I reproached you? What was this hidden meaning of my words? If youwill read aright you will see it to be that to go abroad is to involvemyself in fresh quarrels, for my mood is become short, and I will notbrook sour looks and mutterings. That is all."

  He advanced and set his hands upon his brother's shoulders. Holding himso at arm's length he considered him, what time Lionel drooped his headand a slow flush overspread his cheeks. "Dear fool!" he said, and shookhim. "What ails you? You are pale and gaunt, and not yourself at all. Ihave a notion. I'll furnish me a ship and you shall sail with me to myold hunting-grounds. There is life out yonder--life that will restoreyour vigour and your zest, and perhaps mine as well. How say you, now?"

  Lionel looked up, his eye brightening. Then a thought occurred to him;a thought so mean that again the colour flooded into his cheeks, for hewas shamed by it. Yet it clung. If he sailed with Oliver, men wouldsay that he was a partner in the guilt attributed to his brother. Heknew--from more than one remark addressed him here or there, and left byhim uncontradicted--that the belief was abroad on the countryside that acertain hostility was springing up between
himself and Sir Oliver onthe score of that happening in Godolphin Park. His pale looks and holloweyes had contributed to the opinion that his brother's sin was weighingheavily upon him. He had ever been known for a gentle, kindly lad, inall things the very opposite of the turbulent Sir Oliver, and it wasassumed that Sir Oliver in his present increasing harshness used hisbrother ill because the lad would not condone his crime. A deal ofsympathy was consequently arising for Lionel and was being testified tohim on every hand. Were he to accede to such a proposal as Oliver nowmade him, assuredly he must jeopardize all that.

  He realized to the full the contemptible quality of his thoughtand hated himself for conceiving it. But he could not shake off itsdominion. It was stronger than his will.

  His brother observing this hesitation, and misreading it drew him to thefireside and made him sit.

  "Listen," he said, as he dropped into the chair opposite. "There is afine ship standing in the road below, off Smithick. You'll have seenher. Her master is a desperate adventurer named Jasper Leigh, who isto be found any afternoon in the alehouse at Penycumwick. I know him ofold, and he and his ship are to be acquired. He is ripe for any venture,from scuttling Spaniards to trading in slaves, and so that the price behigh enough we may buy him body and soul. His is a stomach that refusesnothing, so there be money in the venture. So here is ship and masterready found; the rest I will provide--the crew, the munitions, thearmament, and by the end of March we shall see the Lizard droppingastern. What do you say, Lal? 'Tis surely better than to sit, mopinghere in this place of gloom."

  "I'll...I'll think of it," said Lionel, but so listlessly that all SirOliver's quickening enthusiasm perished again at once and no more wassaid of the venture.

  But Lionel did not altogether reject the notion. If on the one handhe was repelled by it, on the other he was attracted almost despitehimself. He went so far as to acquire the habit of riding daily overto Penycumwick, and there he made the acquaintance of that hardy andscarred adventurer of whom Sir Oliver had spoken, and listened tothe marvels the fellow had to tell--many of them too marvellous to betrue--of hazards upon distant seas.

  But one day in early March Master Jasper Leigh had a tale of anotherkind for him, news that dispelled from Lionel's mind all interest inthe captain's ventures on the Spanish Main. The seaman had followed thedeparting Lionel to the door of the little inn and stood by his stirrupafter he had got to horse.

  "A word in your ear, good Master Tressilian," said he. "D'ye know whatis being concerted here against our brother?"

  "Against my brother?"

  "Ay--in the matter of the killing of Master Peter Godolphin lastChristmas. Seeing that the Justices would not move of theirselves, somefolk ha' petitioned the Lieutenant of Cornwall to command them togrant a warrant for Sir Oliver's arrest on a charge o' murder. But theJustices ha' refused to be driven by his lordship, answering that theyhold their office direct from the Queen and that in such a matter theyare answerable to none but her grace. And now I hear that a petition begone to London to the Queen herself, begging her to command her Justicesto perform their duty or quit their office."

  Lionel drew a sharp breath, and with dilating eyes regarded the mariner,but made him no answer.

  Jasper laid a long finger against his nose and his eyes grew cunning. "Ithought I'd warn you, sir, so as you may bid Sir Oliver look to hisself.'Tis a fine seaman and fine seamen be none so plentiful."

  Lionel drew his purse from his pocket and without so much as lookinginto its contents dropped it into the seaman's ready hand, with amuttered word of thanks.

  He rode home in terror almost. It was come. The blow was about to fall,and his brother would at last be forced to speak. At Penarrow a freshshock awaited him. He learnt from old Nicholas that Sir Oliver was fromhome, that he had ridden over to Godolphin Court.

  The instant conclusion prompted by Lionel's terror was that already thenews had reached Sir Oliver and that he had instantly taken action; forhe could not conceive that his brother should go to Godolphin Court uponany other business.

  But his fears on that score were very idle. Sir Oliver, unable longerto endure the present state of things, had ridden over to lay beforeRosamund that proof with which he had taken care to furnish himself.He could do so at last without any fear of hurting Lionel. His journey,however, had been entirely fruitless. She had refused point-blank toreceive him, and for all that with a humility entirely foreign to him hehad induced a servant to return to her with a most urgent message, yethe had been denied. He returned stricken to Penarrow, there to find hisbrother awaiting him in a passion of impatience.

  "Well?" Lionel greeted him. "What will you do now?"

  Sir Oliver looked at him from under brows that scowled darkly inreflection of his thoughts.

  "Do now? Of what do you talk?" quoth he.

  "Have you not heard?" And Lionel told him the news.

  Sir Oliver stared long at him when he had done, then his lips tightenedand he smote his brow.

  "So!" he cried. "Would that be why she refused to see me? Did sheconceive that I went perhaps to plead? Could she think that? Could she?"

  He crossed to the fireplace and stirred the logs with his boot angrily."Oh! 'Twere too unworthy. Yet of a certainty 'tis her doing, this."

  "What shall you do?" insisted Lionel, unable to repress the questionthat was uppermost in his mind; and his voice shook.

  "Do?" Sir Oliver looked at him over his shoulder. "Prick this bubble,by heaven! Make an end of it for them, confound them and cover them withshame."

  He said it roughly, angrily, and Lionel recoiled, deeming that roughnessand anger aimed at himself. He sank into a chair, his knees loosened byhis sudden fear. So it seemed that he had had more than cause for hisapprehensions. This brother of his who boasted such affection for himwas not equal to bearing this matter through. And yet the thing was sounlike Oliver that a doubt still lingered with him.

  "You... you will tell them the truth?" he said, in small, quaveringvoice.

  Sir Oliver turned and considered him more attentively.

  "A God's name, Lal, what's in thy mind now?" he asked, almost roughly."Tell them the truth? Why, of course--but only as it concerns myself.You're not supposing that I shall tell them it was you? You'll not beaccounting me capable of that?"

  "What other way is there?"

  Sir Oliver explained the matter. The explanation brought Lionel relief.But this relief was ephemeral. Further reflection presented a new fearto him. It came to him that if Sir Oliver cleared himself, of necessityhis own implication must follow. His terrors very swiftly magnified arisk that in itself was so slender as to be entirely negligible. In hiseyes it ceased to be a risk; it became a certain and inevitable danger.If Sir Oliver put forward this proof that the trail of blood had notproceeded from himself, it must, thought Lionel, inevitably be concludedthat it was his own. As well might Sir Oliver tell them the whole truth,for surely they could not fail to infer it. Thus he reasoned in histerror, accounting himself lost irrevocably.

  Had he but gone with those fears of his to his brother, or had he butbeen able to abate them sufficiently to allow reason to prevail, he musthave been brought to understand how much further they carried him thanwas at all justified by probability. Oliver would have shown him this,would have told him that with the collapsing of the charge againsthimself no fresh charge could be levelled against any there, that noscrap of suspicion had ever attached to Lionel, or ever could. ButLionel dared not seek his brother in this matter. In his heart he wasashamed of his fears; in his heart he knew himself for a craven. Herealized to the full the hideousness of his selfishness, and yet, asbefore, he was not strong enough to conquer it. In short, his love ofhimself was greater than his love of his brother, or of twenty brothers.

  The morrow--a blustering day of late March found him again at thatalehouse at Penycumwick in the company of Jasper Leigh. A course hadoccurred to him, as the only course now possible. Last night his brotherhad muttered something of going to Killigrew with
his proofs sinceRosamund refused to receive him. Through Killigrew he would reach her,he had said; and he would yet see her on her knees craving his pardonfor the wrong she had done him, for the cruelty she had shown him.

  Lionel knew that Killigrew was absent from home just then; but hewas expected to return by Easter, and to Easter there was but a week.Therefore he had little time in which to act, little time in which toexecute the project that had come into his mind. He cursed himself forconceiving it, but held to it with all the strength of a weak nature.

  Yet when he came to sit face to face with Jasper Leigh in that littleinn-parlour with the scrubbed table of plain deal between them, helacked the courage to set his proposal forth. They drank sherry sackstiffly laced with brandy by Lionel's suggestion, instead of the morecustomary mulled ale. Yet not until he had consumed the best part of apint of it did Lionel feel himself heartened to broaching his loathsomebusiness. Through his head hummed the words his brother had said sometime ago when first the name of Jasper Leigh had passed betweenthem--"a desperate adventurer ripe for anything. So the price be highenough you may buy him body and soul." Money enough to buy Jasper Leighwas ready to Lionel's hand; but it was Sir Oliver's money--the moneythat was placed at Lionel's disposal by his half-brother's open-handedbounty. And this money he was to employ for Oliver's utter ruin! Hecursed himself for a filthy, contemptible hound; he cursed the foulfiend that whispered such suggestions into his mind; he knew himself,despised himself and reviled himself until he came to swear to be strongand to go through with whatever might await him sooner than be guilty ofsuch a baseness; the next moment that same resolve would set himshuddering again as he viewed the inevitable consequences that mustattend it.

  Suddenly the captain set him a question, very softly, that fired thetrain and blew all his lingering self-resistance into shreds.

  "You'll ha' borne my warning to Sir Oliver?" he asked, lowering hisvoice so as not to be overheard by the vintner who was stirring beyondthe thin wooden partition.

  Master Lionel nodded, nervously fingering the jewel in his ear, his eyesshifting from their consideration of the seaman's coarse, weather-tannedand hairy countenance.

  "I did," he said. "But Sir Oliver is headstrong. He will not stir."

  "Will he not?" The captain stroked his bushy red beard and cursedprofusely and horribly after the fashion of the sea. "Od's wounds! He'svery like to swing if he bides him here."

  "Ay," said Lionel, "if he bides." He felt his mouth turn dry as hespoke; his heart thudded, but its thuds were softened by a slightinsensibility which the liquor had produced in him.

  He uttered the words in so curious a tone that the sailor's dark eyespeered at him from under his heavy sandy eyebrows. There was alertinquiry in that glance. Master Lionel got up suddenly.

  "Let us take a turn outside, captain," said he.

  The captain's eyes narrowed. He scented business. There was somethingplaguily odd about this young gentleman's manner. He tossed off theremains of his sack, slapped down the pot and rose.

  "Your servant, Master Tressilian," said he.

  Outside our gentleman untethered his horse from the iron ring to whichhe had attached the bridle; leading his horse he turned seaward andstrode down the road that wound along the estuary towards Smithick.

  A sharp breeze from the north was whipping the water into white peaksof foam; the sky was of a hard brightness and the sun shone brilliantly.The tide was running out, and the rock in the very neck of the haven wasthrusting its black crest above the water. A cable's length this side ofit rode the black hull and naked spars of the Swallow--Captain Leigh'sship.

  Lionel stepped along in silence, very gloomy and pensive, hesitatingeven now. And the crafty mariner reading this hesitation, and anxious toconquer it for the sake of such profit as he conceived might lie in theproposal which he scented, paved the way for him at last.

  "I think that ye'll have some matter to propose to me." said he slyly."Out with it, sir, for there never was a man more ready to serve you."

  "The fact is," said Lionel, watching the other's face with a sidelongglance, "I am in a difficult position, Master Leigh."

  "I've been in a many," laughed the captain, "but never yet in onethrough which I could not win. Strip forth your own, and haply I can doas much for you as I am wont to do for myself."

  "Why, it is this wise," said the other. "My brother will assuredly hangas you have said if he bides him here. He is lost if they bring him totrial. And in that case, faith, I am lost too. It dishonours a man'sfamily to have a member of it hanged. 'Tis a horrible thing to havehappen."

  "Indeed, indeed!" the sailor agreed encouragingly.

  "I would abstract him from this," pursued Lionel, and at the same timecursed the foul fiend that prompted him such specious words to cloakhis villainy. "I would abstract him from it, and yet 'tis against myconscience that he should go unpunished for I swear to you, MasterLeigh, that I abhor the deed--a cowardly, murderous deed!"

  "Ah!" said the captain. And lest that grim ejaculation should check hisgentleman he made haste to add--"To be sure! To be sure!"

  Master Lionel stopped and faced the other squarely, his shoulders tohis horse. They were quite alone in as lonely a spot as any conspiratorcould desire. Behind him stretched the empty beach, ahead of him theruddy cliffs that rise gently to the wooded heights of Arwenack.

  "I'll be quite plain and open with you, Master Leigh. Peter Godolphinwas my friend. Sir Oliver is no more than my half-brother. I would givea deal to the man who would abstract Sir Oliver secretly from the doomthat hangs over him, and yet do the thing in such a way that Sir Olivershould not thereby escape the punishment he deserves."

  It was strange, he thought, even as he said it, that he could bring hislips so glibly to utter words that his heart detested.

  The captain looked grim. He laid a finger upon Master Lionel's velvetdoublet in line with that false heart of his.

  "I am your man," said he. "But the risk is great. Yet ye say that ye'ldgive a deal...."

  "Yourself shall name the price," said Lionel quickly, his eyes burningfeverishly, his cheeks white.

  "Oh I can contrive it, never fear," said the captain. "I know to anicety what you require. How say you now: if I was to carry him overseasto the plantations where they lack toilers of just such thews as his?"He lowered his voice and spoke with some slight hesitation, fearingthat he proposed perhaps more than his prospective employer mightdesire.

  "He might return," was the answer that dispelled all doubts on thatscore.

  "Ah!" said the skipper. "What o' the Barbary rovers, then! They lackslaves and are ever ready to trade, though they be niggardly payers. Inever heard of none that returned once they had him safe aboard theirgalleys. I ha' done some trading with them, bartering human freights forspices and eastern carpets and the like."

  Master Lionel breathed hard. "'Tis a horrible fate, is't not?"

  The captain stroked his beard. "Yet 'tis the only really safe bestowal,and when all is said 'tis not so horrible as hanging, and certainly lessdishonouring to a man's kin. Ye'ld be serving Sir Oliver and yourself."

  "'Tis so, tis so," cried Master Lionel almost fiercely. "And the price?"

  The seaman shifted on his short, sturdy legs, and his face grew pensive."A hundred pound?" he suggested tentatively.

  "Done with you for a hundred pounds," was the prompt answer--so promptthat Captain Leigh realized he had driven a fool's bargain which it wasincumbent upon him to amend.

  "That is, a hundred pound for myself," he corrected slowly. "Then therebe the crew to reckon for--to keep their counsel and lend a hand; 'twillmean another hundred at the least."

  Master Lionel considered a moment. "It is more than I can lay my handson at short notice. But, look you, you shall have a hundred and fiftypounds in coin and the balance in jewels. You shall not be the loser inthat, I promise you. And when you come again, and bring me word that allis done as you now undertake there shall be the like again."

  Upo
n that the bargain was settled. And when Lionel came to talk of waysand means he found that he had allied himself to a man who understoodhis business thoroughly. All the assistance that the skipper asked wasthat Master Lionel should lure his gentleman to some concerted spotconveniently near the waterside. There Leigh would have a boat and hismen in readiness, and the rest might very safely be left to him.

  In a flash Lionel bethought him of the proper place for this. He swunground, and pointed across the water to Trefusis Point and the grey pileof Godolphin Court all bathed in sunshine now.

  "Yonder, at Trefusis Point in the shadow of Godolphin Court at eightto-morrow night, when there will be no moon. I'll see that he is there.But on your life do not miss him."

  "Trust me," said Master Leigh. "And the money?"

  "When you have him safely aboard come to me at Penarrow," he replied,which showed that after all he did not trust Master Leigh any furtherthan he was compelled.

  The captain was quite satisfied. For should his gentleman fail todisburse he could always return Sir Oliver to shore.

  On that they parted. Lionel mounted and rode away, whilst Master Leighmade a trumpet of his hands and hallooed to the ship.

  As he stood waiting for the boat that came off to fetch him, a smileslowly overspread the adventurer's rugged face. Had Master Lionelseen it he might have asked himself how far it was safe to drivesuch bargains with a rogue who kept faith only in so far as it wasprofitable. And in this matter Master Leigh saw a way to break faithwith profit. He had no conscience, but he loved as all rogues love toturn the tables upon a superior rogue. He would play Master Lionel mostfinely, most poetically false; and he found a deal to chuckle over inthe contemplation of it.

 
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