The Sea Hawk, by Rafael Sabatini

Chapter 3

The Forge

Sir Oliver’s wisdom in being the first to bear Rosamund the story of that day’s happenings was established anon when Master Godolphin returned home. He went straight in quest of his sister; and in a frame of mind oppressed by fear and sorrow, for Sir John, by his general sense of discomfiture at the hands of Sir Oliver and by the anger begotten of all 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 — did not tend to soothe his sorely ruffled spirit.

“I know,” she said. “And I believe him to deserve no less. Who deals in calumny 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 her bewitched by that foul dog Tressilian.

“It is fortunate for me,” she answered him composedly, “that he was here before you to give me the truth of this affair.” Then her assumed calm and 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 will recover. I am distraught by this event. But be just, I implore you. Sir Oliver has told me how hard-driven he had been.”

“He shall be driven harder yet, as God’s my life! If you think this deed shall go unpunished. . . . ”

She flung herself upon his breast and implored him to carry this quarrel no further. She spoke of her love for Sir Oliver and announced her firm resolve 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 of the love that ever had held these two in closest bonds he went so far in the end as to say that should Sir John recover he would not himself pursue the matter further. But if Sir John should die — as was very likely — honour compelled him to seek vengeance of a deed to which he had himself so very largely contributed.

“I read that man as if he were an open book,” the boy announced, with callow boastfulness. “He has the subtlety of Satan, yet he does not delude me. It was at me he struck through Killigrew. Because he desires you, Rosamund, he could not — as he bluntly told me — deal with me however I provoked him, not even though I went the length of striking him. He might have killed me for’t; but he knew that to do so would place a barrier ‘twixt him and you. Oh! he is calculating as all the fiends of Hell. So, to wipe out the dishonour which I did him, he shifts the blame of it upon Killigrew and goes out to kill him, which he further thinks may act as a warning to me. But if Killigrew dies. . . . ” And thus he rambled on, filling her gentle heart with anguish to see this feud increasing between the two men she loved best in all the world. If the outcome of it should be that either were to kill the other, she knew that she could never again look upon the survivor.

She took heart at last in the memory of Sir Oliver’s sworn promise that her brother’s life should be inviolate to him, betide what might. She trusted him; she depended upon his word and that rare strength of his which rendered possible to him a course that no weaker man would dare pursue. And in this reflection her pride in him increased, and she thanked 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 a better 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 bulk that had been his before, a mere shadow of a man.

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

The odd fact is that in his near approach to death, and with his earthly interest dwindling, Sir John had looked matters frankly in the face, and had been driven to the conclusion — a conclusion impossible to him in normal health — that he had got no more than he deserved. He realized that he had acted unworthily, if unconscious at the time of the unworthiness of what he did; that the weapons with which he had fought Sir Oliver were not the weapons that become a Gentleman or in which there is credit to be won. He perceived that he had permitted his old enmity for the house of Tressilian, swollen by a sense of injury lately suffered in the matter of the licence to build at Smithick, to warp his judgment 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. Sir Oliver’s exploits upon the seas had brought him wealth, and with this wealth he was building up once more the Tressilian sway in those parts, which Ralph Tressilian had so outrageously diminished, so that he threatened to eclipse the importance of the Killigrews of Arwenack.

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

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

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

“But, Sir John,” she protested, “if every man is to be condemned for the sins of his forbears, but few could escape condemnation, and wherever shall 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 above the river.

“I was coming to ‘t,” he answered, a thought testily, for these interruptions which made him keep to the point robbed him of his best arguments. “However, suffice it that many of his father’s vicious qualities he has inherited, as we see in his ways of life; that he has not inherited others only the future can assure us.”

“In other words,” she mocked him, yet very seriously, “I am to wait until he dies of old age to make quite sure that he has no such sins as must 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. “We will deal with the qualities that already he displays.” And Sir John enumerated them.

“But this is no more than your judgment of him — no more than what you think him.”

“’Tis what all the world thinks him.”

“But I shall not marry a man for what others think of him, but for what I think of him myself. And in my view you cruelly malign him. I discover no such qualities in Sir Oliver.”

“’Tis that you should be spared such a discovery that I am beseeching you not to wed him.”

“Yet unless I wed him I shall never make such a discovery; and until I make it I shall ever continue to love him and to desire to wed him. Is all my life to be spent so?” She laughed outright, and came to stand beside him. She put an arm about his neck as she might have put it about the neck of her father, as she had been in the habit of doing any day in these past ten years — and thereby made him feel himself to have reached an unconscionable age. With her hand she rubbed his brow.

“Why, here are wicked wrinkles of ill-humour,” she cried to him. “You are 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 resolve not 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. Your thoughts may be honest, Sir John, but your logic is contemptible.” And she laughed again at his gaping discomfiture. “Come, now, deal like an honest upright judge, and tell me one act of his — one thing that he has ever done and of which you have sure knowledge — that will bear him out to 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 those words. “If ever he be brought to judgment I can desire him no better advocate than thou.”

Thereupon following up her advantage swiftly, she kissed him. “Nor could I desire him a more honest judge than you.”

What was the poor man to do thereafter? What he did. Live up to her pronouncement, and go forthwith to visit Sir Oliver and compose their quarrel.

The acknowledgment of his fault was handsomely made, and Sir Oliver received it in a spirit no less handsome. But when Sir John came to the matter of Mistress Rosamund he was, out of his sense of duty to her, less generous. He announced that since he could not bring himself to look upon Sir Oliver as a suitable husband for her, nothing that he had now said must mislead Sir Oliver into supposing him a consenting party to 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 his sanction. After that, the matter will concern neither him nor myself.”

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

But if Sir John was thus won round to a neutral attitude, Master Peter’s rancour abated nothing; rather it increased each day, and presently there came another matter to feed it, a matter of which Sir Oliver had no suspicion.

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

After that he mentioned her no more. He knew that in his indolent way Lionel could be headstrong, and he knew human nature well enough to be convinced that interference here would but set up a breach between himself 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 siren who presided there. And meanwhile the autumn faded into winter, and with the coming of stormy weather Sir Oliver and Rosamund had fewer opportunities of meeting. To Godolphin Court he would not go since she did not desire it; and himself he deemed it best to remain away since otherwise he must risk a quarrel with its master, who had forbidden him the place. In those days he saw Peter Godolphin but little, and on the rare occasions when they did meet they passed each other with a very meagre salute.

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

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

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

It was said afterwards by Sir Andrew and Master Baine that Master Peter appeared to have been carousing, so flushed was his face, so unnatural the brightness of his eye, so thick his speech and so extravagant and foolish what he said. There can be little doubt that it was so. He was addicted to Canary, and so indeed was Sir John Killigrew, and he had been dining with Sir John. He was of those who turn quarrelsome in wine — which is but another way of saying that when the wine was in and the restraint out, his natural humour came uppermost untrammelled. The sight of Sir Oliver standing there gave the lad precisely what he needed to indulge that evil humour of his, and he may have been quickened in his purpose by the presence of those other gentlemen. In his half-fuddled state of mind he may have recalled that once he had struck Sir Oliver and Sir Oliver had laughed and told him that none would believe it.

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

“I am from Arwenack,” he announced unnecessarily. “We have been talking of you.”

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

“Marry, you are right; you make an engrossing topic — you and your debauched father.”

“Sir,” replied Sir Oliver, “once already have I deplored your mother’s utter want of discretion.”

The words were out of him in a flash under the spur of the gross insult flung at him, uttered in the momentary blind rage aroused by that inflamed and taunting face above him. No sooner were they sped than he repented them, the more bitterly because they were greeted by a guffaw from the rustics. He would have given half his fortune in that moment to have recalled them.

Master Godolphin’s face had changed as utterly as if he had removed a mask. From flushed that it had been it was livid now and the eyes were blazing, 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 came down and cut a long red wheal across Sir Oliver’s dark face.

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

“Master Godolphin, I cry shame upon you,” ex-claimed the parson. “If evil 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’s name to be upon the lips of that bastard? By God, man, the matter rests not here. He shall send his friends to me, or I will horse-whip him every 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 upon whom you can shift the quarrel. Come you to me and get the punishment of which that whiplash is but an earnest.” Then with a thick laugh he drove spurs into his horse’s flanks, so furiously that he all but sent the parson and another sprawling.

“Stay but a little while for me,” roared Sir Oliver after him. “You’ll ride no more, my drunken fool!”

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

The parson looked at the Justice and the Justice shrugged, his lips tight-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 shall hear more of the matter.” He turned and looked into the forge where the bellows now stood idle, the smith himself grimy and aproned in leather in the doorway, listening to the rustics account of the happening. Master Baine it seems had a taste for analogies. “Faith,” he said, “the place was excellently well chosen. They have forged here to-day a sword which it will need blood to temper.”

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