How it came to happen that Sakr-el-Bahr, the Hawk of the Sea, the Muslim rover, the scourge of the Mediterranean, the terror of Christians, and the beloved of Asad-ed-Din, Basha of Algiers, would be one and the same as Sir Oliver Tressilian, the Cornish gentleman of Penarrow, is at long length set forth in the chronicles of Lord Henry Goade. His lordship conveys to us some notion of how utterly overwhelming he found that fact by the tedious minuteness with which he follows step by step this extraordinary metamorphosis. He devotes to it two entire volumes of those eighteen which he has left us. The whole, however, may with advantage be summarized into one short chapter.
Sir Oliver was one of a score of men who were rescued from the sea by the crew of the Spanish vessel that had sunk the Swallow; another was Jasper Leigh, the skipper. All of them were carried to Lisbon, and there handed over to the Court of the Holy Office. Since they were heretics all — or nearly all — it was fit and proper that the Brethren of St. Dominic should undertake their conversion in the first place. Sir Oliver came of a family that never had been famed for rigidity in religious matters, and he was certainly not going to burn alive if the adoption of other men’s opinions upon an extremely hypothetical future state would suffice to save him from the stake. He accepted Catholic baptism with an almost contemptuous indifference. As for Jasper Leigh, it will be conceived that the elasticity of the skipper’s conscience was no less than Sir Oliver’s, and he was certainly not the man to be roasted for a trifle of faith.
No doubt there would be great rejoicings in the Holy House over the rescue of these two unfortunate souls from the certain perdition that had awaited them. It followed that as converts to the Faith they were warmly cherished, and tears of thanksgiving were profusely shed over them by the Hounds of God. So much for their heresy. They were completely purged of it, having done penance in proper form at an Auto held on the Rocio at Lisbon, candle in hand and sanbenito on their shoulders. The Church dismissed them with her blessing and an injunction to persevere in the ways of salvation to which with such meek kindness she had inducted them.
Now this dismissal amounted to a rejection. They were, as a consequence, thrown back upon the secular authorities, and the secular authorities had yet to punish them for their offence upon the seas. No offence could be proved, it is true. But the courts were satisfied that this lack of offence was but the natural result of a lack of opportunity. Conversely, they reasoned, it was not to be doubted that with the opportunity the offence would have been forthcoming. Their assurance of this was based upon the fact that when the Spaniard fired across the bows of the Swallow as an invitation to heave to, she had kept upon her course. Thus, with unanswerable Castilian logic was the evil conscience of her skipper proven. Captain Leigh protested on the other hand that his action had been dictated by his lack of faith in Spaniards and his firm belief that all Spaniards were pirates to be avoided by every honest seaman who was conscious of inferior strength of armaments. It was a plea that won him no favour with his narrow-minded judges.
Sir Oliver fervently urged that he was no member of the crew of the Swallow, that he was a gentleman who found himself aboard her very much against his will, being the victim of a villainous piece of trepanning executed by her venal captain. The court heard his plea with respect, and asked to know his name and rank. He was so very indiscreet as to answer truthfully. The result was extremely educative to Sir Oliver; it showed him how systematically conducted was the keeping of the Spanish archives. The court produced documents enabling his judges to recite to him most of that portion of his life that had been spent upon the seas, and many an awkward little circumstance which had slipped his memory long since, which he now recalled, and which certainly was not calculated to make his sentence lighter.
Had he not been in the Barbados in such a year, and had he not there captured the galleon Maria de las Dolores? What was that but an act of villainous piracy? Had he not scuttled a Spanish carack four years ago in the bay of Funchal? Had he not been with that pirate Hawkins in the affair at San Juan de Ulloa? And so on. Questions poured upon him and engulfed him.
He almost regretted that he had given himself the trouble to accept conversion and all that it entailed at the hands of the Brethren of St. Dominic. It began to appear to him that he had but wasted time and escaped the clerical fire to be dangled on a secular rope as an offering to the vengeful gods of outraged Spain.
So much, however, was not done. The galleys in the Mediterranean were in urgent need of men at the time, and to this circumstance Sir Oliver, Captain Leigh, and some others of the luckless crew of the Swallow owed their lives, though it is to be doubted whether any of them found the matter one for congratulation. Chained each man to a fellow, ankle to ankle, with but a short length of links between, they formed part of a considerable herd of unfortunates, who were driven across Portugal into Spain and then southward to Cadiz. The last that Sir Oliver saw of Captain Leigh was on the morning on which he set out from the reeking Lisbon gaol. Thereafter throughout that weary march each knew the other to be somewhere in that wretched regiment of galley-slaves; but they never came face to face again.
In Cadiz Sir Oliver spent a month in a vast enclosed space that was open to the sky, but nevertheless of an indescribable foulness, a place of filth, disease, and suffering beyond human conception, the details of which the curious may seek for himself in my Lord Henry’s chronicles. They are too revolting by far to be retailed here.
At the end of that month he was one of those picked out by an officer who was manning a galley that was to convey the Infanta to Naples. He owed this to his vigorous constitution which had successfully withstood the infections of that mephitic place of torments, and to the fine thews which the officer pummelled and felt as though he were acquiring a beast of burden — which, indeed, is precisely what he was doing.
The galley to which our gentleman was dispatched was a vessel of fifty oars, each manned by seven men. They were seated upon a sort of staircase that followed the slope of the oar, running from the gangway in the vessel’s middle down to the shallow bulwarks.
The place allotted to Sir Oliver was that next the gangway. Here, stark naked as when he was born, he was chained to the bench, and in those chains, let us say at once, he remained, without a single moment’s intermission, for six whole months.
Between himself and the hard timbers of his seat there was naught but a flimsy and dirty sheepskin. From end to end the bench was not more than ten feet in length, whilst the distance separating it from the next one was a bare four feet. In that cramped space of ten feet by four, Sir Oliver and his six oar-mates had their miserable existence, waking and sleeping — for they slept in their chains at the oar without sufficient room in which to lie at stretch.
Anon Sir Oliver became hardened and inured to that unspeakable existence, that living death of the galley-slave. But that first long voyage to Naples was ever to remain the most terrible experience of his life. For spells of six or eight endless hours at a time, and on one occasion for no less than ten hours, did he pull at his oar without a single moment’s pause. With one foot on the stretcher, the other on the bench in front of him, grasping his part of that appallingly heavy fifteen-foot oar, he would bend his back to thrust forward — and upwards so to clear the shoulders of the groaning, sweating slaves in front of him — then he would lift the end so as to bring the blade down to the water, and having gripped he would rise from his seat to throw his full weight into the pull, and so fall back with clank of chain upon the groaning bench to swing forward once more, and so on until his senses reeled, his sight became blurred, his mouth parched and his whole body a living, straining ache. Then would come the sharp fierce cut of the boatswain’s whip to revive energies that flagged however little, and sometimes to leave a bleeding stripe upon his naked back.
Thus day in day out, now broiled and blistered by the pitiless southern sun, now chilled by the night dews whilst he took his cramped and unrefreshing rest, indescribably filthy and dishevelled, his hair and beard matted with endless sweat, unwashed save by the rains which in that season were all too rare, choked almost by the stench of his miserable comrades and infested by filthy crawling things begotten of decaying sheepskins and Heaven alone knows what other foulnesses of that floating hell. He was sparingly fed upon weevilled biscuit and vile messes of tallowy rice, and to drink he was given luke-warm water that was often stale, saving that sometimes when the spell of rowing was more than usually protracted the boatswains would thrust lumps of bread sodden in wine into the mouths of the toiling slaves to sustain them.
The scurvy broke out on that voyage, and there were other diseases among the rowers, to say nothing of the festering sores begotten of the friction of the bench which were common to all, and which each must endure as best he could. With the slave whose disease conquered him or who, reaching the limit of his endurance, permitted himself to swoon, the boat-swains had a short way. The diseased were flung overboard; the swooning were dragged out upon the gangway or bridge and flogged there to revive them; if they did not revive they were flogged on until they were a horrid bleeding pulp, which was then heaved into the sea.
Once or twice when they stood to windward the smell of the slaves being wafted abaft and reaching the fine gilded poop where the Infanta and her attendants travelled, the helmsmen were ordered to put about, and for long weary hours the slaves would hold the galley in position, backing her up gently against the wind so as not to lose way.
The number that died in the first week of that voyage amounted to close upon a quarter of the total. But there were reserves in the prow, and these were drawn upon to fill the empty places. None but the fittest could survive this terrible ordeal.
Of these was Sir Oliver, and of these too was his immediate neighbour at the oar, a stalwart, powerful, impassive, uncomplaining young Moor, who accepted his fate with a stoicism that aroused Sir Oliver’s admiration. For days they exchanged no single word together, their religions marking them out, they thought, for enemies despite the fact that they were fellows in misfortune. But one evening when an aged Jew who had collapsed in merciful unconsciousness was dragged out and flogged in the usual manner, Sir Oliver, chancing to behold the scarlet prelate who accompanied the Infanta looking on from the poop-rail with hard unmerciful eyes, was filled with such a passion at all this inhumanity and at the cold pitilessness of that professed servant of the Gentle and Pitiful Saviour, that aloud he cursed all Christians in general and that scarlet Prince of the Church in particular.
He turned to the Moor beside him, and addressing him in Spanish —
“Hell,” he said, “was surely made for Christians, which may be why they seek to make earth like it.”
Fortunately for him the creak and dip of the oars, the clank of chains, and the lashes beating sharply upon the wretched Jew were sufficient to muffle his voice. But the Moor heard him, and his dark eyes gleamed.
“There is a furnace seven times heated awaiting them, ) my brother,” he replied, with a confidence which seemed to be the source of his present stoicism. “But art thou, then, not a Christian?”
He spoke in that queer language of the North African seaboard, that lingua franca, which sounded like some French dialect interspersed with Arabic words. But Sir Oliver made out his meaning almost by intuition. He answered him in Spanish again, since although the Moor did not appear to speak it yet it was plain he understood it.
“I renounce from this hour,” he answered in his passion. “I will acknowledge no religion in whose name such things are done. Look me at that scarlet fruit of hell up yonder. See how daintily he sniffs at his pomander lest his saintly nostrils be offended by the exhalations of our misery. Yet are we God’s creatures made in God’s image like himself. What does he know of God? Religion he knows as he knows good wine, rich food, and soft women. He preaches self-denial as the way to heaven, and by his own tenets is he damned.” He growled an obscene oath as he heaved the great oar forward. “A Christian I?” he cried, and laughed for the first time since he had been chained to that bench of agony. “I am done with Christians and Christianity!”
“Verily we are God’s, and to Him shall we return,” said the Moor.
That was the beginning of a friendship between Sir Oliver and this man, whose name was Yusuf-ben-Moktar. The Muslim conceived that in Sir Oliver he saw one upon whom the grace of Allah had descended, one who was ripe to receive the Prophet’s message. Yusuf was devout, and he applied himself to the conversion of his fellow-slave. Sir Oliver listened to him, however, with indifference. Having discarded one creed he would need a deal of satisfying on the score of another before he adopted it, and it seemed to him that all the glorious things urged by Yusuf in praise of Islam he had heard before in praise of Christianity. But he kept his counsel on that score, and meanwhile his intercourse with the Muslim had the effect of teaching him the lingua franca, so that at the end of six months he found himself speaking it like a Mauretanian with all the Muslim’s imagery and with more than the ordinary seasoning of Arabic.
It was towards the end of that six months that the event took place which was to restore Sir Oliver to liberty. In the meanwhile those limbs of his which had ever been vigorous beyond the common wont had acquired an elephantine strength. It was ever thus at the oar. Either you died under the strain, or your thews and sinews grew to be equal to their relentless task. Sir Oliver in those six months was become a man of steel and iron, impervious to fatigue, superhuman almost in his endurance.
They were returning home from a trip to Genoa when one evening as they were standing off Minorca in the Balearic Isles they were surprised by a fleet of four Muslim galleys which came skimming round a promontory to surround and engage them.
Aboard the Spanish vessel there broke a terrible cry of “Asad-ed-Din”— the name of the most redoubtable Muslim corsair since the Italian renegade Ochiali — the Ali Pasha who had been killed at Lepanto. Trumpets blared and drums beat on the poop, and the Spaniards in morion and corselet, armed with calivers and pikes, stood to defend their lives and liberty. The gunners sprang to the culverins. But fire had to be kindled and linstocks ignited, and in the confusion much time was lost — so much that not a single cannon shot was fired before the grappling irons of the first galley clanked upon and gripped the Spaniard’s bulwarks. The shock of the impact was terrific. The armoured prow of the Muslim galley — Asad-ed-Din’s own — smote the Spaniard a slanting blow amidships that smashed fifteen of the oars as if they had been so many withered twigs.
There was a shriek from the slaves, followed by such piteous groans as the damned in hell may emit. Fully two score of them had been struck by the shafts of their oars as these were hurled back against them. Some had been killed outright, others lay limp and crushed, some with broken backs, others with shattered limbs and ribs.
Sir Oliver would assuredly have been of these but for the warning, advice, and example of Yusuf, who was well versed in galley-fighting and who foresaw clearly what must happen. He thrust the oar upward and forward as far as it would go, compelling the others at his bench to accompany his movement. Then he slipped down upon his knees, released his hold of the timber, and crouched down until his shoulders were on a level with the bench. He had shouted to Sir Oliver to follow his example, and Sir Oliver without even knowing what the manoeuvre should portend, but gathering its importance from the other’s urgency of tone, promptly obeyed. The oar was struck an instant later and ere it snapped off it was flung back, braining one of the slaves at the bench and mortally injuring the others, but passing clean over the heads of Sir Oliver and Yusuf. A moment later the bodies of the oarsmen of the bench immediately in front were flung back atop of them with yells and curses.
When Sir Oliver staggered to his feet he found the battle joined. The Spaniards had fired a volley from their calivers and a dense cloud of smoke hung above the bulwarks; through this surged now the corsairs, led by a tall, lean, elderly man with a flowing white beard and a swarthy eagle face. A crescent of emeralds flashed from his snowy turban; above it rose the peak of a steel cap, and his body was cased in chain mail. He swung a great scimitar, before which Spaniards went down like wheat to the reaper’s sickle. He fought like ten men, and to support him poured a never-ending stream of Muslimeen to the cry of “Din! Din! Allah, Y’Allah!” Back and yet back went the Spaniards before that irresistible onslaught.
Sir Oliver found Yusuf struggling in vain to rid himself of his chain, and went to his assistance. He stooped, seized it in both hands, set his feet against the bench, exerted all his strength, and tore the staple from the wood. Yusuf was free, save, of course, that a length of heavy chain was dangling from his steel anklet. In his turn he did the like service by Sir Oliver, though not quite as speedily, for strong man though he was, either his strength was not equal to the Cornishman’s or else the latter’s staple had been driven into sounder timber. In the end, however, it yielded, and Sir Oliver too was free. Then he set the foot that was hampered by the chain upon the bench, and with the staple that still hung from the end of it he prised open the link that attached it to his anklet.
That done he took his revenge. Crying “Din!” as loudly as any of the Muslimeen boarders, he flung himself upon the rear of the Spaniards brandishing his chain. In his hands it became a terrific weapon. He used it as a scourge, lashing it to right and left of him, splitting here a head and crushing there a face, until he had hacked a way clean through the Spanish press, which bewildered by this sudden rear attack made but little attempt to retaliate upon the escaped galley-slave. After him, whirling the remaining ten feet of the broken oar, came Yusuf.
Sir Oliver confessed afterwards to knowing very little of what happened in those moments. He came to a full possession of his senses to find the fight at an end, a cloud of turbaned corsairs standing guard over a huddle of Spaniards, others breaking open the cabin and dragging thence the chests that it contained, others again armed with chisels and mallets passing along the benches liberating the surviving slaves, of whom the great majority were children of Islam.
Sir Oliver found himself face to face with the white-bearded leader of the corsairs, who was leaning upon his scimitar and regarding him with eyes at once amused and amazed. Our gentleman’s naked body was splashed from head to foot with blood, and in his right hand he still clutched that yard of iron links with which he had wrought such ghastly execution. Yusuf was standing at the corsair leader’s elbow speaking rapidly.
“By Allah, was ever such a lusty fighter seen!” cried the latter. “The strength of the Prophet is within him thus to smite the unbelieving pigs.”
Sir Oliver grinned savagely.
“I was returning them some of their whip-lashes — with interest,” said he.
And those were the circumstances under which he came to meet the formidable Asad-ed-Din, Basha of Algiers, those the first words that passed between them.
Anon, when aboard Asad’s own galley he was being carried to Barbary, he was washed and his head was shaved all but the forelock, by which the Prophet should lift him up to heaven when his earthly destiny should come to be fulfilled. He made no protest. They washed and fed him and gave him ease; and so that they did these things to him they might do what else they pleased. At last arrayed in flowing garments that were strange to him, and with a turban wound about his head, he was conducted to the poop, where Asad sat with Yusuf under an awning, and he came to understand that it was in compliance with the orders of Yusuf that he had been treated as if he were a True–Believer.
Yusuf-ben-Moktar was discovered as a person of great consequence, the nephew of Asad-ed-Din, and a favourite with that Exalted of Allah the Sublime Portal himself, a man whose capture by Christians had been a thing profoundly deplored. Accordingly his delivery from that thraldom was matter for rejoicing. Being delivered, he bethought him of his oar-mate, concerning whom indeed Asad-ed-Din manifested the greatest curiosity, for in all this world there was nothing the old corsair loved so much as a fighter, and in all his days, he vowed, never had he seen the equal of that stalwart galley-slave, never the like of his performance with that murderous chain. Yusuf had informed him that the man was a fruit ripe for the Prophet’s plucking, that the grace of Allah was upon him, and in spirit already he must be accounted a good Muslim.
When Sir Oliver, washed, perfumed, and arrayed in white caftan and turban, which gave him the air of being even taller than he was, came into the presence of Asad-ed-Din, it was conveyed to him that if he would enter the ranks of the Faithful of the Prophet’s House and devote the strength and courage with which Allah the One had endowed him to the upholding of the true Faith and to the chastening of the enemies of Islam, great honour, wealth and dignity were in store for him.
Of all that proposal, made at prodigious length and with great wealth of Eastern circumlocution, the only phrase that took root in his rather bewildered mind was that which concerned the chastening of the enemies of Islam. The enemies of Islam he conceived, were his own enemies; and he further conceived that they stood in great need of chastening, and that to take a hand in that chastening would be a singularly grateful task. So he considered the proposals made him. He considered, too, that the alternative — in the event of his refusing to make the protestations of Faith required of him — was that he must return to the oar of a galley, of a Muslim galley now. Now that was an occupation of which he had had more than his fill, and since he had been washed and restored to the normal sensations of a clean human being he found that whatever might be within the scope of his courage he could not envisage returning to the oar. We have seen the ease with which he had abandoned the religion in which he was reared for the Roman faith, and how utterly deluded he had found himself. With the same degree of ease did he now go over to Islam and with much greater profit. Moreover, he embraced the Religion of Mahomet with a measure of fierce conviction that had been entirely lacking from his earlier apostasy.
He had arrived at the conclusion whilst aboard the galley of Spain, as we have seen, that Christianity as practised in his day was a grim mockery of which the world were better rid. It is not to be supposed that his convictions that Christianity was at fault went the length of making him suppose that Islam was right, or that his conversion to the Faith of Mahomet was anything more than superficial. But forced as he was to choose between the rower’s bench and the poop-deck, the oar and the scimitar, he boldly and resolutely made the only choice that in his case could lead to liberty and life.
Thus he was received into the ranks of the Faithful whose pavilions wait them in Paradise, set in an orchard of never-failing fruit, among rivers of milk, of wine, and of clarified honey. He became the Kayia or lieutenant to Yusuf on the galley of that corsair’s command and seconded him in half a score of engagements with an ability and a conspicuity that made him swiftly famous throughout the ranks of the Mediterranean rovers. Some six months later in a fight off the coast of Sicily with one of the galleys of the Religion — as the vessels of the Knights of Malta were called — Yusuf was mortally wounded in the very moment of the victory. He died an hour later in the arms of Sir Oliver, naming the latter his successor in the command of the galley, and enjoining upon all implicit obedience to him until they should be returned to Algiers and the Basha should make known his further will in the matter.
The Basha’s will was to confirm his nephew’s dying appointment of a successor, and Sir Oliver found himself in full command of a galley. From that hour he became Oliver–Reis, but very soon his valour and fury earned him the by-name of Sakr-el-Bahr, the Hawk of the Sea. His fame grew rapidly, and it spread across the tideless sea to the very shores of Christendom. Soon he became Asad’s lieutenant, the second in command of all the Algerine galleys, which meant in fact that he was the commander-in-chief, for Asad was growing old and took the sea more and more rarely now. Sakr-el-Bahr sallied forth in his name and his stead, and such was his courage, his address, and his good fortune that never did he go forth to return empty-handed.
It was clear to all that the favour of Allah was upon him, that he had been singled out by Allah to be the very glory of Islam. Asad, who had ever esteemed him, grew to love him. An intensely devout man, could he have done less in the case of one for whom the Pitying the Pitiful showed so marked a predilection? It was freely accepted that when the destiny of Asad-ed-Din should come to be fulfilled, Sakr-el-Bahr must succeed him in the Bashalik of Algiers, and that thus Oliver–Reis would follow in the footsteps of Barbarossa, Ochiali, and other Christian renegades who had become corsair-princes of Islam.
In spite of certain hostilities which his rapid advancement begot, and of which we shall hear more presently, once only did his power stand in danger of suffering a check. Coming one morning into the reeking bagnio at Algiers, some six months after he had been raised to his captaincy, he found there a score of countrymen of his own, and he gave orders that their letters should instantly be struck off and their liberty restored them.
Called to account by the Basha for this action he took a high-handed way, since no other was possible. He swore by the beard of the Prophet that if he were to draw the sword of Mahomet and to serve Islam upon the seas, he would serve it in his own way, and one of his ways was that his own countrymen were to have immunity from the edge of that same sword. Islam, he swore, should not be the loser, since for every Englishman he restored to liberty he would bring two Spaniards, Frenchmen, Greeks, or Italians into bondage.
He prevailed, but only upon condition that since captured slaves were the property of the state, if he desired to abstract them from the state he must first purchase them for himself. Since they would then be his own property he could dispose of them at his good pleasure. Thus did the wise and just Asad resolve the difficulty which had arisen, and Oliver–Reis bowed wisely to that decision.
Thereafter what English slaves were brought to Algiers he purchased, manumitted, and found means to send home again. True, it cost him a fine price yearly, but he was fast amassing such wealth as could easily support this tax.
As you read Lord Henry Goade’s chronicles you might come to the conclusion that in the whorl of that new life of his Sir Oliver had entirely forgotten the happenings in his Cornish home and the woman he had loved, who so readily had believed him guilty of the slaying of her brother. You might believe this until you come upon the relation of how he found one day among some English seamen brought captive to Algiers by Biskaine-el-Borak — who was become his own second in command — a young Cornish lad from Helston named Pitt, whose father he had known.
He took this lad home with him to the fine palace which he inhabited near the Bab-el-Oueb, treated him as an honoured guest, and sat through a whole summer night in talk with him, questioning him upon this person and that person, and thus gradually drawing from him all the little history of his native place during the two years that were sped since he had left it. In this we gather an impression of the wistful longings the fierce nostalgia that must have overcome the renegade and his endeavours to allay it by his endless questions. The Cornish lad had brought him up sharply and agonizingly with that past of his upon which he had closed the door when he became a Muslim and a corsair. The only possible inference is that in those hours of that summer’s night repentance stirred in him, and a wild longing to return. Rosamund should reopen for him that door which, hard-driven by misfortune, he had slammed. That she would do so when once she knew the truth he had no faintest doubt. And there was now no reason why he should conceal the truth, why he should continue to shield that dastardly half-brother of his, whom he had come to hate as fiercely as he had erstwhile loved him.
In secret he composed a long letter giving the history of all that had happened to him since his kidnapping, and setting forth the entire truth of that and of the deed that had led to it. His chronicler opines that it was a letter that must have moved a stone to tears. And, moreover, it was not a mere matter of passionate protestations of innocence, or of unsupported accusation of his brother. It told her of the existence of proofs that must dispel all doubt. It told her of that parchment indited by Master Baine and witnessed by the parson, which document was to be delivered to her together with the letter. Further, it bade her seek confirmation of that document’s genuineness, did she doubt it, at the hands of Master Baine himself. That done, it besought her to lay the whole matter before the Queen, and thus secure him faculty to return to England and immunity from any consequences of his subsequent regenade act to which his sufferings had driven him. He loaded the young Cornishman with gifts, gave him that letter to deliver in person, and added instructions that should enable him to find the document he was to deliver with it. That precious parchment had been left between the leaves of an old book on falconry in the library at Penarrow, where it would probably be found still undisturbed since his brother would not suspect its presence and was himself no scholar. Pitt was to seek out Nicholas at Penarrow and enlist his aid to obtain possession of that document, if it still existed.
Then Sakr-el-Bahr found means to conduct Pitt to Genoa, and there put him aboard an English vessel.
Three months later he received an answer — a letter from Pitt, which reached him by way of Genoa — which was at peace with the Algerines, and served then as a channel of communication with Christianity. In this letter Pitt informed him that he had done all that Sir Oliver had desired him; that he had found the document by the help of Nicholas, and that in person he had waited upon Mistress Rosamund Godolphin, who dwelt now with Sir John Killigrew at Arwenack, delivering to her the letter and the parchment; but that upon learning on whose behalf he came she had in his presence flung both unopened upon the fire and dismissed him with his tale untold.
Sakr-el-Bahr spent the night under the skies in his fragrant orchard, and his slaves reported in terror that they had heard sobs and weeping. If indeed his heart wept, it was for the last time; thereafter he was more inscrutable, more ruthless, cruel and mocking than men had ever known him, nor from that day did he ever again concern himself to manumit a single English slave. His heart was become a stone.
Thus five years passed, counting from that spring night when he was trepanned by Jasper Leigh, and his fame spread, his name became a terror upon the seas, and fleets put forth from Malta, from Naples, and from Venice to make an end of him and his ruthless piracy. But Allah kept watch over him, and Sakr-el-Bahr never delivered battle but he wrested victory to the scimitars of Islam.
Then in the spring of that fifth year there came to him another letter from the Cornish Pitt, a letter which showed him that gratitude was not as dead in the world as he supposed it, for it was purely out of gratitude that the lad whom he had delivered from thraldom wrote to inform him of certain matters that concerned him. This letter reopened that old wound; it did more; it dealt him a fresh one. He learnt from it that the writer had been constrained by Sir John Killigrew to give such evidence of Sir Oliver’s conversion to Islam as had enabled the courts to pronounce Sir Oliver as one to be presumed dead at law, granting the succession to his half-brother, Master Lionel Tressilian. Pitt professed himself deeply mortified at having been forced unwittingly to make Sir Oliver so evil a return for the benefits received from him, and added that sooner would he have suffered them to hang him than have spoken could he have foreseen the consequences of his testimony.
So far Sir Oliver read unmoved by any feeling other than cold contempt. But there was more to follow. The letter went on to tell him that Mistress Rosamund was newly returned from a two years’ sojourn in France to become betrothed to his half-brother Lionel, and that they were to be wed in June. He was further informed that the marriage had been contrived by Sir John Killigrew in his desire to see Rosamund settled and under the protection of a husband, since he himself was proposing to take the seas and was fitting out a fine ship for a voyage to the Indies. The writer added that the marriage was widely approved, and it was deemed to be an excellent measure for both houses, since it would weld into one the two contiguous estates of Penarrow and Godolphin Court.
Oliver–Reis laughed when he had read thus far. The marriage was approved not for itself, it would seem, but because by means of it two stretches of earth were united into one. It was a marriage of two parks, of two estates, of two tracts of arable and forest, and that two human beings were concerned in it was apparently no more than an incidental circumstance.
Then the irony of it all entered his soul and spread it with bitterness. After dismissing him for the supposed murder of her brother, she was to take the actual murderer to her arms. And he, that cur, that false villain! — out of what depths of hell did he derive the courage to go through with this mummery? — had he no heart, no conscience, no sense of decency, no fear of God?
He tore the letter into fragments and set about effacing the matter from his thoughts. Pitt had meant kindly by him, but had dealt cruelly. In his efforts to seek distraction from the torturing images ever in his mind he took to the sea with three galleys, and thus some two weeks later came face to face with Master Jasper Leigh aboard the Spanish carack which he captured under Cape Spartel.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:12