The Sea Hawk, by Rafael Sabatini

Chapter 2

Rosamund

Anon, after his visitor had departed, Sir Oliver grew calm again. Then being able in his calm to consider his position, he became angry anew at the very thought of the rage in which he had been, a rage which had so mastered him that he had erected additional obstacles to the already considerable ones that stood between Rosamund and himself. In full blast, his anger swung round and took Sir John Killigrew for its objective. He would settle with him at once. He would so, by Heaven’s light!

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 — a slender lad favouring his mother the dissolute Ralph Tressilian’s second wife. He was as unlike Sir Oliver in body as in soul. He was comely in a very gentle, almost womanish way; his complexion was fair and delicate, his hair golden, and his eyes of a deep blue. He had a very charming stripling grace — for he was but in his twenty-first year — and he dressed with 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 hear some 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 for Arwenack to exchange a compliment or two with Sir John.”

His tight-pressed lips and resolute air supplemented his words so well that 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 too much. ’Tis a fault that wants correcting. I go to teach him the virtue of silence.”

“There will be trouble, Oliver.”

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

“I rode as far as Malpas.”

“As far as Malpas?” Sir Oliver’s eyes narrowed, as was the trick with him. “I hear it whispered what magnet draws you thither,” he said. “Be wary, 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 to follow in his ways lest they bring you to his own end. I have just been reminded of these predilections of his by good Master Peter. Go not over often to Malpas, I say. No more.” But the arm which he flung about his younger brother’s shoulders and the warmth of his embrace made resentment 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 course of that brief repast. He was very pensive. In thought he followed his brother on that avenging visit of his to Arwenack. Killigrew was no babe, but man of his hands, a soldier and a seaman. If any harm should come to Oliver . . . He trembled at the thought; and then almost despite him his mind ran on to calculate the consequences to himself. His fortune would be in a very different case, he refected. In a sort of horror, he sought to put so detestable a reflection from his mind; but it returned insistently. It would not be denied. It forced him to a consideration of his own circumstances.

All that he had he owed to his brother’s bounty. That dissolute father of theirs had died as such men commonly die, leaving behind him heavily encumbered estates and many debts; the very house of Penarrow was mortgaged, and the moneys raised on it had been drunk, or gambled, or spent on one or another of Ralph Tressilian’s many lights o’ love. Then Oliver had sold some little property near Helston, inherited from his mother; he had sunk the money into a venture upon the Spanish Main. He had fitted out and manned a ship, and had sailed with Hawkins upon one of those ventures, which Sir John Killigrew was perfectly entitled to account pirate raids. He had returned with enough plunder in specie and gems to disencumber the Tressilian patrimony. He had sailed again and returned still wealthier. And meanwhile, Lionel had remained at home taking his ease. He loved his ease. His nature was inherently indolent, and he had the wasteful extravagant tastes that usually go with indolence. He was not born to toil and struggle, and none had sought to correct the shortcomings of his character in that respect. Sometimes he wondered 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 did not seriously fear. It was not in his nature — it never is in the natures of such men — to give any excess of consideration to the future. When his thoughts did turn to it in momentary uneasiness, he would abruptly dismiss them with the reflection that when all was said Oliver loved him, and Oliver would never fail to provide adequately for all his wants.

In this undoubtedly he was fully justified. Oliver was more parent than brother to him. When their father had been brought home to die from the wound dealt him by an outraged husband — and a shocking spectacle that sinner’s death had been with its hasty terrified repentance — he had entrusted Lionel to his elder brother’s care. At the time Oliver was seventeen and Lionel twelve. But Oliver had seemed by so many years older than his age, that the twice-widowed Ralph Tressilian had come to depend upon this steady, resolute, and masterful child of his first marriage. It was into his ear that the dying man had poured the wretched tale of his repentance for the life he had lived and the state in which he was leaving his affairs with such scant provision for his sons. For Oliver he had no fear. It was as if with the prescience that comes to men in his pass he had perceived that Oliver was of those who must prevail, a man born to make the world his oyster. His anxieties were all for Lionel, whom he also judged with that same penetrating insight vouchsafed a man in his last hours. Hence his piteous recommendation of him to Oliver, and Oliver’s ready promise to be father, mother, and brother to the youngster.

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

“Vade retro, Sathanas!”

Old Nicholas, looking up abruptly, saw the lad’s face, waxen, his brow bedewed with sweat.

“Master Lionel! Master Lionel!” he cried, his small bright eyes concernedly scanning his young master’s face. “What be amiss?”

Lionel mopped his brow. “Sir Oliver has gone to Arwenack upon a punitive business,” 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 assurance of how his master must acquit himself.

“You . . . you have no fear, Nicholas. . . . ” He did not add of what. But the servant understood, and his grin grew broader still.

“Fear? Lackaday! I bain’t afeeard for Sir Oliver, and doan’t ee be afeeard. Sir Oliver’ll be home to sup with a sharp-set appetite —’tis the only difference fighting ever made to he.”

The servant was justified of his confidence by the events, though through a slight error of judgment Sir Oliver did not quite accomplish all that promised and intended. In anger, and when he deemed that he had been affronted, he was — as his chronicler never wearies of insisting, and as you shall judge before the end of this tale is reached — of a tigerish ruthlessness. He rode to Arwenack fully resolved to kill his calumniator. Nothing less would satisfy him. Arrived at that fine embattled castle of the Killigrews which commanded the entrance to the estuary of the Fal, and from whose crenels the country might be surveyed as far as the Lizard, fifteen miles away, he found Peter Godolphin there before him; and because of Peter’s presence Sir Oliver was more deliberate and formal in his accusation of Sir John than he had intended. He desired, in accusing Sir John, also to clear himself in the eyes of Rosamund’s brother, to make the latter realize how entirely odious were the calumnies which Sir John had permitted himself, and how basely prompted.

Sir John, however, came halfway to meet the quarrel. His rancour against the Pirate of Penarrow — as he had come to dub Sir Oliver — endered him almost 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 of age — made an onslaught with sword and dagger upon Sir Oliver, full worthy of the onslaught he had made earlier with his tongue. But his impetuosity availed him less than nothing. Sir Oliver was come there with a certain purpose, and it was his way that he never failed to carry through a thing to which he set his hand.

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

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

“I think I have silenced him for a little time only,” he said. “And I confess that I intended to do better. I hope, however, that the lesson will 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 have done the thing more thoroughly. I will send assistance from the house as I go. Give you good day, Master Peter.”

From Arwenack he rode round by Penryn on his homeward way. But he did not go straight home. He paused at the Gates of Godolphin Court, which stood above Trefusis Point commanding the view of Carrick Roads. He turned in under the old gateway and drew up in the courtyard. Leaping to the kidney-stones that paved it, he announced himself a visitor to Mistress Rosamund.

He found her in her bower — a light, turreted chamber on the mansion’s eastern side, with windows that looked out upon that lovely sheet of water and the wooded slopes beyond. She was sitting with a book in her lap in the deep of that tall window when he entered, preceded and announced by Sally Pentreath, who, now her tire-woman, had once been her nurse.

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

What need is there to describe her? In the blaze of notoriety into which she was anon to be thrust by Sir Oliver Tressilian there was scarce a poet in England who did not sing the grace and loveliness of Rosamund Godolphin, and in all conscience enough of those fragments have survived. Like her brother she was tawny headed and she was divinely tall, though as yet her figure in its girlishness was almost too slender for her height.

“I had not looked for you so early. . . . ” she was beginning, when she observed that his countenance was oddly stern. “Why . . . what has happened?” she cried, her intuitions clamouring loudly of some mischance.

“Naught to alarm you, sweet; yet something that may vex you.” He set an arm about that lissom waist of hers above the swelling farthingale, and gently led her back to her chair, then flung himself upon the window-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 but killed him.”

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

“That mattered little,” he concluded. “I knew these tales concerning me were abroad, and I held them in the same contempt as I hold their utterer. But he went further, Rose: he poisoned your brother’s mind against me, and he stirred up in him the slumbering rancour that in my father’s time was want to lie between our houses. To-day Peter came to me with the clear intent to make a quarrel. He affronted me as no man has 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 between us, forbade me ever again to visit Godolphin Court, dubbed me pirate and vampire to my face and reviled my father’s memory. I tracked the evil of all this to its source in Killigrew, and rode straight to Arwenack to dam that source of falsehood for all time. I did not accomplish quite so much as I intended. You see, I am frank, my Rose. It may be that Sir John will live; if so I hope that he may profit by this lesson. I have come straight to you,” he concluded, “that you may hear the tale from me before 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 all at Sir Oliver. At length she spoke.

“I am not skilled in reading men,” she said in a sad, small voice. “How should I be, that am but a maid who has led a cloistered life. I was told of you that you were violent and passionate, a man of bitter enmities, easily stirred to hatreds, cruel and ruthless in the persecution of them.”

“You, too, have been listening to Sir John,” he muttered, and laughed shortly.

“All this was I told,” she pursued as if he had not spoken, “and all did I refuse to believe because my heart was given to you. Yet . . . yet of what have you made proof to-day?”

“Of forbearance,” said he shortly.

“Forbearance?” she echoed, and her lips writhed in a smile of weary irony. “Surely you mock me!”

He set himself to explain.

“I have told you what Sir John had done. I have told you that the greater part of it — and matter all that touched my honour — I know Sir John 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 but forbearance? When, however, he carries his petty huckster’s rancour so far as to seek to choke for me my source of happiness in life and sends your brother to affront me, I am still so forbearing that I recognize your brother to be no more than a tool and go straight to the hand that wielded him. Because I know of your affection for Sir John I gave him such latitude as no man of honour in England would have given him.”

Then seeing that she still avoided his regard, still sat in that frozen attitude of horror at learning that the man she loved had imbrued his hands with the blood of another whom she also loved, his pleading quickened to a warmer note. He flung himself upon his knees beside her chair, and took in his great sinewy hands the slender fingers which she listlessly surrendered. “Rose,” he cried, and his deep voice quivered with intercession, “dismiss all that you have heard from out your mind. Consider only this thing that has befallen. Suppose that Lionel my brother came to you, and that, having some measure of power and authority 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 as could not bear my name with honour to myself; and suppose that to all this he added insult to the memory of your dead father, what answer would you return him? Speak, Rose! Be honest with thyself and me. Deem yourself in my place, and say in honesty if you can still condemn me for what I have done. Say if it differs much from what you would wish to do in such a case as I have named.”

Her eyes scanned now his upturned face, every line of which was pleading to her and calling for impartial judgment. Her face grew troubled, and then almost fierce. She set her hands upon his shoulders, and looked deep into his eyes.

“You swear to me, Noll, that all is as you have told it me — you have added naught, you have altered naught to make the tale more favourable to yourself?”

“You need such oaths from me?” he asked, and she saw sorrow spread upon his countenance.

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

“As God’s my witness, I have told you true in all,” he answered solemnly.

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

“Then,” she said, “I believe you acted rightly. I believe with you that no 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. You are as a fire that has seized upon the better part of me and consumed it all to ashes that you may hold it in your heart. I am content so you be true.”

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

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

“And you will bear with Peter?” she implored him.

“He shall have no power to anger me,” he answered. “I swear that too. Do you 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 laughed at the blow. Was he not sacred to me?”

“He is good at heart, Noll,” she pursued. “In time he will come to love you as you deserve, and you will come to know that he, too, deserves your love.”

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

“And you will think ever thus during the little while of waiting that perforce must lie before us?”

“I shall never think otherwise, sweet. Meanwhile I shall avoid him, and that no harm may come should he forbid me Godolphin Court I’ll even stay away. In less than a year you will be of full age, and none may hinder you to come and go. What is a year, with such hope as mine to still impatience?”

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

“Heed them not,” he answered her. “I may have been something of all that, but you have purified me, Rose. What man that loved you could be aught but gentle.” He kissed her, and stood up. “I had best be going now,” he said. “I shall walk along the shore towards Trefusis Point to-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 his leave.

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

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/s/sabatini/rafael/sea_hawk/part1.2.html

Last updated Wednesday, March 5, 2014 at 22:29