The sea hawk, p.9
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       The Sea-Hawk, p.9

           Rafael Sabatini


  Master Lionel was absent most of the following day from Penarrow, upona pretext of making certain purchases in Truro. It would be half-pastseven when he returned; and as he entered he met Sir Oliver in the hall.

  "I have a message for you from Godolphin Court," he announced, and sawhis brother stiffen and his face change colour. "A boy met me at thegates and bade me tell you that Mistress Rosamund desires a word withyou forthwith."

  Sir Oliver's heart almost stopped, then went off at a gallop. She askedfor him! She had softened perhaps from her yesterday's relentlessness.She would consent at last to see him!

  "Be thou blessed for these good tidings!" he answered on a note of highexcitement. "I go at once." And on the instant he departed. Such was hiseagerness, indeed, that under the hot spur of it he did not even stayto fetch that parchment which was to be his unanswerable advocate. Theomission was momentous.

  Master Lionel said no word as his brother swept out. He shrank back alittle into the shadows. He was white to the lips and felt as he wouldstifle. As the door closed he moved suddenly. He sprang to follow SirOliver. Conscience cried out to him that he could not do this thing.But Fear was swift to answer that outcry. Unless he permitted what wasplanned to take its course, his life might pay the penalty.

  He turned, and lurched into the dining-room upon legs that trembled.

  He found the table set for supper as on that other night when he hadstaggered in with a wound in his side to be cared for and sheltered bySir Oliver. He did not approach the table; he crossed to the fire, andsat down there holding out his hands to the blaze. He was very cold andcould not still his trembling. His very teeth chattered.

  Nicholas came in to know if he would sup. He answered unsteadily thatdespite the lateness of the hour he would await Sir Oliver's return.

  "Is Sir Oliver abroad?" quoth the servant in surprise.

  "He went out a moment since, I know not whither," replied Lionel. "Butsince he has not supped he is not like to be long absent."

  Upon that he dismissed the servant, and sat huddled there, a prey tomental tortures which were not to be repressed. His mind would turn uponnaught but the steadfast, unwavering affection of which Sir Oliver everhad been prodigal towards him. In this very matter of Peter Godolphin'sdeath, what sacrifices had not Sir Oliver made to shield him? From somuch love and self-sacrifice in the past he inclined to argue now thatnot even in extreme peril would his brother betray him. And then thatbad streak of fear which made a villain of him reminded him that toargue thus was to argue upon supposition, that it would be perilous totrust such an assumption; that if, after all, Sir Oliver should fail himin the crucial test, then was he lost indeed.

  When all is said, a man's final judgment of his fellows must be basedupon his knowledge of himself; and Lionel, knowing himself incapable ofany such sacrifice for Sir Oliver, could not believe Sir Oliver capableof persisting in such a sacrifice as future events might impose. Hereverted to those words Sir Oliver had uttered in that very room twonights ago, and more firmly than ever he concluded that they could havebut one meaning.

  Then came doubt, and, finally, assurance of another sort, assurance thatthis was not so and that he knew it; assurance that he lied to himself,seeking to condone the thing he did. He took his head in his hands andgroaned loud. He was a villain, a black-hearted, soulless villain! Hereviled himself again. There came a moment when he rose shuddering,resolved even in this eleventh hour to go after his brother and save himfrom the doom that awaited him out yonder in the night.

  But again that resolve was withered by the breath of selfish fear.Limply he resumed his seat, and his thoughts took a fresh turn. Theyconsidered now those matters which had engaged them on that day whenSir Oliver had ridden to Arwenack to claim satisfaction of Sir JohnKilligrew. He realized again that Oliver being removed, what he nowenjoyed by his brother's bounty he would enjoy henceforth in his ownunquestioned right. The reflection brought him a certain consolation. Ifhe must suffer for his villainy, at least there would be compensations.

  The clock over the stables chimed the hour of eight. Master Lionelshrank back in his chair at the sound. The thing would be doing evennow. In his mind he saw it all--saw his brother come running in hiseagerness to the gates of Godolphin Court, and then dark forms resolvethemselves from the surrounding darkness and fall silently upon him. Hesaw him struggling a moment on the ground, then, bound hand and foot, agag thrust into his mouth, he beheld him in fancy borne swiftly down theslope to the beach and so to the waiting boat.

  Another half-hour sat he there. The thing was done by now, and thisassurance seemed to quiet him a little.

  Then came Nicholas again to babble of some possible mischance havingovertaken his master.

  "What mischance should have overtaken him?" growled Lionel, as if inscorn of the idea.

  "I pray none indeed," replied the servant. "But Sir Oliver lacks not forenemies nowadays, and 'tis scarce zafe for he to be abroad after dark."

  Master Lionel dismissed the notion contemptuously. For pretence's sakehe announced that he would wait no longer, whereupon Nicholas brought inhis supper, and left him again to go and linger about the door, lookingout into the night and listening for his master's return. He paid avisit to the stables, and knew that Sir Oliver had gone forth afoot.

  Meanwhile Master Lionel must make pretence of eating though actualeating must have choked him. He smeared his platter, broke food, andavidly drank a bumper of claret. Then he, too, feigned a growing anxietyand went to join Nicholas. Thus they spent the weary night, watching forthe return of one who Master Lionel knew would return no more.

  At dawn they roused the servants and sent them to scour the countrysideand put the news of Sir Oliver's disappearance abroad. Lionel himselfrode out to Arwenack to ask Sir John Killigrew bluntly if he knew aughtof this matter.

  Sir John showed a startled face, but swore readily enough that he hadnot so much as seen Sir Oliver for days. He was gentle with Lionel, whomhe liked, as everybody liked him. The lad was so mild and kindly in hisways, so vastly different from his arrogant overbearing brother, thathis virtues shone the more brightly by that contrast.

  "I confess it is natural you should come to me," said Sir John. "But,my word on it, I have no knowledge of him. It is not my way to beset myenemies in the dark."

  "Indeed, indeed, Sir John, I had not supposed it in my heart," repliedthe afflicted Lionel. "Forgive me that I should have come to ask aquestion so unworthy. Set it down to my distracted state. I havenot been the same man these months, I think, since that happening inGodolphin Park. The thing has preyed upon my mind. It is a fearsomeburden to know your own brother--though I thank God he is no more thanmy half-brother--guilty of so foul a deed."

  "How?" cried Killigrew, amazed. "You say that? You believed ityourself?"

  Master Lionel looked confused, a look which Sir John entirelymisunderstood and interpreted entirely in the young man's favour. Andit was thus and in that moment that was sown the generous seed ofthe friendship that was to spring up between these two men, its rootsfertilized by Sir John's pity that one so gentle-natured, so honest, andso upright should be cursed with so villainous a brother.

  "I see, I see," he said. And he sighed. "You know that we are dailyexpecting an order from the Queen to her Justices to take the actionwhich hitherto they have refused against your... against Sir Oliver." Hefrowned thoughtfully. "D'ye think Sir Oliver had news of this?"

  At once Master Lionel saw the drift of what was in the other's mind.

  "I know it," he replied. "Myself I bore it him. But why do you ask?"

  "Does it not help us perhaps to understand and explain Sir Oliver'sdisappearance? God lack! Surely, knowing that, he were a fool to havetarried here, for he would hang beyond all doubt did he stay for thecoming of her grace's messenger."

  "My God!" said Lionel, staring. "You... you think he is fled, then?"

  Sir John shrugged. "What else is to be thought?"

Lionel hung his head. "What else, indeed?" said he, and took his leavelike a man overwrought, as indeed he was. He had never considered thatso obvious a conclusion must follow upon his work so fully to explainthe happening and to set at rest any doubt concerning it.

  He returned to Penarrow, and bluntly told Nicholas what Sir Johnsuspected and what he feared himself must be the true reason of SirOliver's disappearance. The servant, however, was none so easy toconvince.

  "But do ee believe that he done it?" cried Nicholas. "Do ee believe it,Master Lionel?" There was reproach amounting to horror in the servant'svoice.

  "God help me, what else can I believe now that he is fled."

  Nicholas sidled up to him with tightened lips. He set two gnarledfingers on the young man's arm.

  "He'm not fled, Master Lionel," he announced with grim impressiveness."He'm never a turntail. Sir Oliver he don't fear neither man nor devil,and if so be him had killed Master Godolphin, he'd never ha' denied it.Don't ee believe Sir John Killigrew. Sir John ever hated he."

  But in all that countryside the servant was the only one to hold thisview. If a doubt had lingered anywhere of Sir Oliver's guilt, thatdoubt was now dispelled by this flight of his before the approach of theexpected orders from the Queen.

  Later that day came Captain Leigh to Penarrow inquiring for Sir Oliver.

  Nicholas brought word of his presence and his inquiry to Master Lionel,who bade him be admitted.

  The thick-set little seaman rolled in on his bowed legs, and leered athis employer when they were alone.

  "He's snug and safe aboard," he announced. "The thing were done as cleanas peeling an apple, and as quiet."

  "Why did you ask for him?" quoth Master Lionel.

  "Why?" Jasper leered again. "My business was with him. There was sometalk between us of him going a voyage with me. I've heard the gossipover at Smithick. This will fit in with it." He laid that finger ofhis to his nose. "Trust me to help a sound tale along. 'T were a clumsybusiness to come here asking for you, sir. Ye'll know now how to accountfor my visit."

  Lionel paid him the price agreed and dismissed him upon receiving theassurance that the Swallow would put to sea upon the next tide.

  When it became known that Sir Oliver had been in treaty with MasterLeigh for a passage overseas, and that it was but on that account thatMaster Leigh had tarried in that haven, even Nicholas began to doubt.

  Gradually Lionel recovered his tranquillity as the days flowed on. Whatwas done was done, and, in any case, being now beyond recall, there wasno profit in repining. He never knew how fortune aided him, as fortunewill sometimes aid a villain. The royal pour-suivants arrived some sixdays later, and Master Baine was the recipient of a curt summons torender himself to London, there to account for his breach of trustin having refused to perform his sworn duty. Had Sir Andrew Flack butsurvived the chill that had carried him off a month ago, Master JusticeBaine would have made short work of the accusation lodged against him.As it was, when he urged the positive knowledge he possessed, and toldthem how he had made the examination to which Sir Oliver had voluntarilysubmitted, his single word carried no slightest conviction. Not for amoment was it supposed that this was aught but the subterfuge of onewho had been lax in his duty and who sought to save himself fromthe consequences of that laxity. And the fact that he cited as hisfellow-witness a gentleman now deceased but served to confirm his judgesin this opinion. He was deposed from his office and subjected to a heavyfine, and there the matter ended, for the hue-and-cry that was afootentirely failed to discover any trace of the missing Sir Oliver.

  For Master Lionel a new existence set in from that day. Looked uponas one in danger of suffering for his brother's sins, the countrysidedetermined to help him as far as possible to bear his burden. Greatstress was laid upon the fact that after all he was no more than SirOliver's half-brother; some there were who would have carried theirkindness to the lengths of suggesting that perhaps he was not even that,and that it was but natural that Ralph Tressilian's second wife shouldhave repaid her husband in kind for his outrageous infidelities. Thismovement of sympathy was led by Sir John Killigrew, and it spread inso rapid and marked a manner that very soon Master Lionel was almostpersuaded that it was no more than he deserved, and he began to sunhimself in the favour of a countryside that hitherto had shown littlebut hostility for men of the Tressilian blood.

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