The Sea Hawk, by Rafael Sabatini

Chapter 26

The Judgment

To that cabin below the whole company repaired in all speed in the surgeon’s wake, Sir Oliver coming last between his guards. They assembled about the couch where Lionel lay, leaden-hued of face, his breathing laboured, his eyes dull and glazing.

Sir John ran to him, went down upon one knee to put loving arms about that chilling clay, and very gently raised him in them, and held him so resting against his breast.

“Lionel!” he cried in stricken accents. And then as if thoughts of vengeance were to soothe and comfort his sinking friend’s last moments, he added: “We have the villain fast.”

Very slowly and with obvious effort Lionel turned his head to the right, and his dull eyes went beyond Sir John and made quest in the ranks of those that stood about him.

“Oliver?” he said in a hoarse whisper. “Where is Oliver?”

“There is not the need to distress you. . . . ” Sir John was beginning, when Lionel interrupted him.

“Wait!” he commanded in a louder tone. “Is Oliver safe?”

“I am here,” said Sir Oliver’s deep voice, and those who stood between him and his brother drew aside that they might cease from screening him.

Lionel looked at him for a long moment in silence, sitting up a little. Then he sank back again slowly against Sir John’s breast.

“God has been merciful to me a sinner,” he said, “since He accords me the means to make amends, tardily though it be.”

Then he struggled up again, and held out his arms to Sir Oliver, and his voice came in a great pleading cry. “Noll! My brother! Forgive!”

Oliver advanced, none hindering until, with his hands still pinioned behind him he stood towering there above his brother, so tall that his turban brushed the low ceiling of the cabin. His countenance was stern and grim.

“What is it that you ask me to forgive?” he asked. Lionel struggled to answer, and sank back again into Sir John’s arms, fighting for breath; there was a trace of blood-stained foam about his lips.

“Speak! Oh, speak, in God’s name!” Rosamund exhorted him from the other side, and her voice was wrung with agony.

He looked at her, and smiled faintly. “Never fear,” he whispered, “I shall speak. God has spared me to that end. Take your arms from me, Killigrew. I am the . . . the vilest of men. It . . . it was I who killed Peter Godolphin.”

“My God!” groaned Sir John, whilst Lord Henry drew a sharp breath of dismay and realization.

“Ah, but that is not my sin,” Lionel continued. “There was no sin in that. We fought, and in self-defence I slew him — fighting fair. My sin came afterwards. When suspicion fell on Oliver, I nourished it . . . Oliver knew the deed was mine, and kept silent that he might screen me. I feared the truth might become known for all that . . . and . . . and I was jealous of him, and . . . and I had him kidnapped to be sold. . . . ”

His fading voice trailed away into silence. A cough shook him, and the faint crimson foam on his lips was increased. But he rallied again, and lay there panting, his fingers plucking at the coverlet.

“Tell them,” said Rosamund, who in her desperate fight for Sir Oliver’s life kept her mind cool and steady and directed towards essentials, “tell them the name of the man you hired to kidnap him.”

“Jasper Leigh, the skipper of the Swallow,” he answered, whereupon she flashed upon Lord Henry a look that contained a gleam of triumph for all that her face was ashen and her lips trembled.

Then she turned again to the dying man, relentlessly almost in her determination to extract all vital truth from him ere he fell silent.

“Tell them,” she bade him, “under what circumstances Sir Oliver sent you last night to the Silver Heron.”

“Nay, there is no need to harass him,” Lord Henry interposed. “He has said enough already. May God forgive us our blindness, Killigrew!”

Sir John bowed his head in silence over Lionel.

“Is it you, Sir John?” whispered the dying man. “What? Still there? Ha!” he seemed to laugh faintly, then checked. “I am going. . . . ” he muttered, and again his voice grew stronger, obeying the last flicker of his shrinking will. “Noll! I am going! I . . . I have made reparation . . . all that I could. Give me . . . give me thy hand!” Gropingly he put forth his right.

“I should have given it you ere this but that my wrists are bound,” cried Oliver in a sudden frenzy. And then exerting that colossal strength of his, he suddenly snapped the cords that pinioned him as if they had been thread. He caught his brother’s extended hand, and dropped upon his knees beside him. “Lionel . . . Boy!” he cried. It was as if all that had befallen in the last five years had been wiped out of existence. His fierce relentless hatred of his half-brother, his burning sense of wrong, his parching thirst for vengeance, became on the instant all dead, buried, and forgotten. More, it was as if they had never been. Lionel in that moment was again the weak, comely, beloved brother whom he had cherished and screened and guarded, and for whom when the hour arrived he had sacrificed his good name, and the woman he loved, and placed his life itself in jeopardy.

“Lionel, boy!” was all that for a moment he could say. Then: “Poor lad! Poor lad!” he added. “Temptation was too strong for thee.” And reaching forth he took the other white hand that lay beyond the couch, and so held both tight-clasped within his own.

From one of the ports a ray of sunshine was creeping upwards towards the dying man’s face. But the radiance that now overspread it was from an inward source. Feebly he returned the clasp of his brother’s hands.

“Oliver, Oliver!” he whispered. “There is none like thee! I ever knew thee as noble as I was base. Have I said enough to make you safe? Say that he will be safe now,” he appealed to the others, “that no. . . . ”

“He will be safe,” said Lord Henry stoutly. “My word on’t.”

“It is well. The past is past. The future is in your hands, Oliver. God’s blessing on’t.” He seemed to collapse, to rally yet again. He smiled pensively, his mind already wandering. “That was a long swim last night — the longest I ever swam. From Penarrow to Trefusis — a fine long swim. But you were with me, Noll. Had my strength given out . . . I could have depended on you. I am still chill from it, for it was cold . . . cold . . . ugh!” He shuddered, and lay still.

Gently Sir John lowered him to his couch. Beyond it Rosamund fell upon her knees and covered her face, whilst by Sir John’s side Oliver continued to kneel, clasping in his own his brother’s chilling hands.

There ensued a long spell of silence. Then with a heavy sigh Sir Oliver folded Lionel’s hands across his breast, and slowly, heavily rose to his feet.

The others seemed to take this for a signal. It was as if they had but waited mute and still out of deference to Oliver. Lord Henry moved softly round to Rosamund and touched her lightly upon the shoulder. She rose and went out in the wake of the others, Lord Henry following her, and none remaining but the surgeon.

Outside in the sunshine they checked. Sir John stood with bent head and hunched shoulders, his eyes upon the white deck. Timidly almost — a thing never seen before in this bold man — he looked at Sir Oliver.

“He was my friend,” he said sorrowfully, and as if to excuse and explain himself, “and . . . and I was misled through love of him.”

“He was my brother,” replied Sir Oliver solemnly. “God rest him!”

Sir John, resolved, drew himself up into an attitude preparatory to receiving with dignity a rebuff should it be administered him.

“Can you find it in your generosity, sir, to forgive me?” he asked, and his air was almost one of challenge.

Silently Sir Oliver held out his hand. Sir John fell upon it almost in eagerness.

“We are like to be neighbours again,” he said, “and I give you my word I shall strive to be a more neighbourly one than in the past.”

“Then, sirs,” said Sir Oliver, looking from Sir John to Lord Henry, “I am to understand that I am no longer a prisoner.”

“You need not hesitate to return with us to England, Sir Oliver,” replied his lordship. “The Queen shall hear your story, and we have Jasper Leigh to confirm it if need be, and I will go warranty for your complete reinstatement. Count me your friend, Sir Oliver, I beg.” And he, too, held out his hand. Then turning to the others: “Come, sirs,” he said, “we have duties elsewhere, I think.”

They tramped away, leaving Oliver and Rosamund alone. The twain looked long each at the other. There was so much to say, so much to ask, so much to explain, that neither knew with what words to begin. Then Rosamund suddenly came up to him, holding out her hands. “Oh, my dear!” she said, and that, after all, summed up a deal.

One or two over-inquisitive seamen, lounging on the forecastle and peeping through the shrouds, were disgusted to see the lady of Godolphin Court in the arms of a beturbaned bare-legged follower of Mahound.

End of the Project Gutenberg EBook of The Sea–Hawk, by Raphael Sabatini

This web edition published by:

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