Part 6 out of 7
"It seems so. Thine aloofness, thine abstractions...."
"Are signs of perturbation, dost suppose?"
"Of what else?"
Sakr-el-Bahr laughed. "Thou'lt tell me next that I am afraid. Yet I
should counsel thee to wait until thou hast smelt blood and powder, and
learnt precisely what fear is."
The slight altercation drew the attention of Asad's officers who were
idling there. Biskaine and some three others lounged forward to stand
behind the Basha, looking, on in some amusement, which was shared by him.
"Indeed, indeed," said Asad, laying a hand upon Marzak's shoulder, "his
counsel is sound enough. Wait, boy, until thou hast gone beside him
aboard the infidel, ere thou judge him easily perturbed."
Petulantly Marzak shook off that gnarled old hand. "Dost thou, 0 my
father, join with him in taunting me upon my lack of knowledge. My youth
is a sufficient answer. But at least," he added, prompted by a wicked
notion suddenly conceived, "at least you cannot taunt me with lack of
address with weapons."
"Give him room," said Sakr-el-Bahr, with ironical good-humour, "and he
will show us prodigies."
Marzak looked at him with narrowing, gleaming eyes. "Give me a
cross-bow," he retorted, "and I'll show thee how to shoot," was his
"Thou'lt show him?" roared Asad. "Thou'lt show him!" And his laugh rang
loud and hearty. "Go smear the sun's face with clay, boy."
"Reserve thy judgment, 0 my father," begged Marzak, with frosty dignity.
"Boy, thou'rt mad! Why, Sakr-el-Bahr's quarrel will check a swallow in
"That is his boast, belike," replied Marzak.
"And what may thine be?" quoth Sakr-el-Bahr. "To hit the Island of
Formentera at this distance?"
"Dost dare to sneer at me?" cried Marzak, ruffling.
"What daring would that ask?" wondered Sakr-el-Bahr.
"By Allah, thou shalt learn."
"In all humility I await the lesson."
"And thou shalt have it," was the answer viciously delivered. Marzak
strode to the rail. "Ho there! Vigitello! A cross-bow for me, and
another for Sakr-el-Bahr."
Vigitello sprang to obey him, whilst Asad shook his head and laughed
"An it were not against the Prophet's law to make a wager...." he was
beginning, when Marzak interrupted him.
"Already should I have proposed one."
"So that," said Sakr-el-Bahr, "thy purse would come to match thine head
Marzak looked at him and sneered. Then he snatched from Vigitello's
hands one of the cross-bows that he bore and set a shaft to it. And then
at last Sakr-el-Bahr was to learn the malice that was at the root of all
this odd pretence.
"Look now," said the youth, "there is on that palmetto bale a speck of
pitch scarce larger than the pupil of my eye. Thou'lt need to strain thy
sight to see it. Observe how my shaft will find it. Canst thou better
such a shot?"
His eyes, upon Sakr-el-Bahr's face, watching it closely, observed the
pallor by which it was suddenly overspread. But the corsair's recovery
was almost as swift. He laughed, seeming so entirely careless that
Marzak began to doubt whether he had paled indeed or whether his own
imagination had led him to suppose it.
"Ay, thou'lt choose invisible marks, and wherever the arrow enters
thou'lt say 'twas there! An old trick, 0 Marzak. Go cozen women with
"Then," said Marzak, "we will take instead the slender cord that binds
the bale." And he levelled his bow. But Sakr-el-Bahr's hand closed upon
his arm in an easy yet paralyzing grip.
"Wait," he said. "Thou'lt choose another mark for several reasons. For
one, I'll not have thy shaft blundering through my oarsmen and haply
killing one of them. Most of them are slaves specially chosen for their
brawn, and I cannot spare any. Another reason is that the mark is a
foolish one. The distance is not more than ten paces. A childish test,
which, maybe, is the reason why thou hast chosen it."
Marzak lowered his bow and Sakr-el-Bahr released his arm. They looked at
each other, the corsair supremely master of himself and smiling easily,
no faintest trace of the terror that was in his soul showing upon his
swarthy bearded countenance or in his hard pale eyes.
He pointed up the hillside to the nearest olive tree, a hundred paces
distant. "Yonder," he said, "is a man's mark. Put me a shaft through
the long branch of that first olive."
Asad and his officers voiced approval.
"A man's mark, indeed," said the Basha, "so that he be a marksman."
But Marzak shrugged his shoulders with make-believe contempt. "I knew he
would refuse the mark I set," said he. "As for the olive-branch, it is
so large a butt that a child could not miss it at this distance."
"If a child could not, then thou shouldst not," said Sakr-el-Bahr, who
had so placed himself that his body was now between Marzak and the
palmetto bale. "Let us see thee hit it, 0 Marzak." And as he spoke he
raised his cross-bow, and scarcely seeming to take aim, he loosed his
shaft. It flashed away to be checked, quivering, in the branch he had
A chorus of applause and admiration greeted the shot, and drew the
attention of all the crew to what was toward.
Marzak tightened his lips, realizing how completely he had been
outwitted. Willy-nilly he must now shoot at that mark. The choice had
been taken out of his hands by Sakr-el-Bahr. He never doubted that he
must cover himself with ridicule in the performance, and that there he
would be constrained to abandon this pretended match.
"By the Koran," said Biskaine, "thou'lt need all thy skill to equal such
a shot, Marzak."
"'Twas not the mark I chose," replied Marzak sullenly.
"Thou wert the challenger, 0 Marzak," his father reminded him. Therefore
the choice of mark was his. He chose a man's mark, and by the beard of
Mohammed, he showed us a man's shot."
Marzak would have flung the bow from him in that moment, abandoning the
method he had chosen to investigate the contents of that suspicious
palmetto bale; but he realized that such a course must now cover him with
scorn. Slowly he levelled his bow at that distant mark.
"Have a care of the sentinel on the hill-top," Sakr-el-Bahr admonished
him, provoking a titter.
Angrily the youth drew the bow. The cord hummed, and the shaft sped to
bury itself in the hill's flank a dozen yards from the mark.
Since he was the son of the Basha none dared to laugh outright save his
father and Sakr-el-Bahr. But there was no suppressing a titter to
express the mockery to which the proven braggart must ever be exposed.
Asad looked at him, smiling almost sadly. "See now," he said, "what
comes of boasting thyself against Sakr-el-Bahr."
"My will was crossed in the matter of a mark," was the bitter answer.
"You angered me and made my aim untrue."
Sakr-el-Bahr strode away to the starboard bulwarks, deeming the matter at
an end. Marzak observed him.
"Yet at that small mark," he said, "I challenge him again." As he spoke
he fitted a second shaft to his bow. "Behold!" he cried, and took aim.
But swift as thought, Sakr-el-Bahr--heedless now of all consequences--
levelled at Marzak the bow which he still held.
"Hold!" he roared. "Loose thy shaft at that bale, and I loose this at
thy throat. I never miss!" he added grimly.
There was a startled movement in the ranks of those who stood behind
Marzak. In speechless amazement they stared at Sakr-el-Bahr, as he stood
there, white-faced, his eyes aflash, his bow drawn taut and ready to
launch that death-laden quarrel as he threatened.
Slowly then, smiling with unutterable malice, Marzak lowered his bow. He
was satisfied. His true aim was reached. He had drawn his enemy into
Asad's was the voice that shattered that hush of consternation.
"Kellamullah!" he bellowed. "What is this? Art thou mad, too, 0
"Ay, mad indeed," said Marzak; "mad with fear." And he stepped quickly
aside so that the body of Biskaine should shield him from any sudden
consequences of his next words. "Ask him what he keeps in that pannier,
0 my father."
"Ay, what, in Allah's name?" demanded the Basha, advancing towards his
Sakr-el-Bahr lowered his bow, master of himself again. His composure was
beyond all belief.
"I carry in it goods of price, which I'll not see riddled to please a
pert boy," he said.
"Goods of price?" echoed Asad, with a snort. "They'll need to be of
price indeed that are valued above the life of my son. Let us see these
goods of price." And to the men upon the waist-deck he shouted, "Open me
Sakr-el-Bahr sprang forward, and laid a hand upon the Basha's arm.
"Stay, my lord!" he entreated almost fiercely. "Consider that this
pannier is my own. That its contents are my property; that none has a
"Wouldst babble of rights to me, who am thy lord?" blazed the Basha, now
in a towering passion. "Open me that pannier, I say."
They were quick to his bidding. The ropes were slashed away, and the
front of the pannier fell open on its palmetto hinges. There was a
half-repressed chorus of amazement from the men. Sakr-el-Bahr stood
frozen in horror of what must follow.
"What is it? What have you found?" demanded Asad.
In silence the men swung the bale about, and disclosed to the eyes of
those upon the poop-deck the face and form of Rosamund Godolphin. Then
Sakr-el-Bahr, rousing himself from his trance of horror, reckless of all
but her, flung down the gangway to assist her from the pannier, and
thrusting aside those who stood about her, took his stand at her side.
For a little while Asad stood at gaze, speechless in his incredulity.
Then to revive the anger that for a moment had been whelmed in
astonishment came the reflection that he had been duped by Sakr-el-Bahr,
duped by the man he trusted most. He had snarled at Fenzileh and scorned
Marzak when they had jointly warned him against his lieutenant; if at
times he had been in danger of heeding them, yet sooner or later he had
concluded that they but spoke to vent their malice. And yet it was
proven now that they had been right in their estimate of this traitor,
whilst he himself had been a poor, blind dupe, needing Marzak's wit to
tear the bandage from his eyes.
Slowly he went down the gangway, followed by Marzak, Biskaine, and the
others. At the point where it joined the waist-deck he paused, and his
dark old eyes smouldered under his beetling brows.
"So," he snarled. "These are thy goods of price. Thou lying dog, what
was thine aim in this?"
Defiantly Sakr-el-Bahr answered him: "She is my wife. It is my right to
take her with me where I go." He turned to her, and bade her veil her
face, and she immediately obeyed him with fingers that shook a little in
"None questions thy right to that," said Asad. But being resolved to
take her with thee, why not take her openly? Why was she not housed in
the poop-house, as becomes the wife of Sakr-el-Bahr? Why smuggle her
aboard in a pannier, and keep her there in secret?"
"And why," added Marzak, "didst thou lie to me when I questioned thee
upon her whereabouts?--telling me she was left behind in thy house in
"All this I did," replied Sakr-el-Bahr, with a lofty--almost a
disdainful--dignity, "because I feared lest I should be prevented from
bearing her away with me," and his bold glance, beating full upon Asad,
drew a wave of colour into the gaunt old cheeks.
"What could have caused that fear?" he asked. "Shall I tell thee?
Because no man sailing upon such a voyage as this would have desired the
company of his new-wedded wife. Because no man would take a wife with
him upon a raid in which there is peril of life and peril of capture."
"Allah has watched over me his servant in the past," said Sakr-el-Bahr,
"and I put my trust in Him."
It was a specious answer. Such words--laying stress upon the victories
Allah sent him--had afore-time served to disarm his enemies. But they
served not now. Instead, they did but fan the flames of Asad's wrath.
"Blaspheme not," he croaked, and his tall form quivered with rage, his
sallow old face grew vulturine. "She was brought thus aboard in secret
out of fear that were her presence known thy true purpose too must stand
"And whatever that true purpose may have been," put in Marzak, "it was
not the task entrusted thee of raiding the Spanish treasure-galley."
"'Tis what I mean, my son," Asad agreed. Then with a commanding gesture:
"Wilt thou tell me without further lies what thy purpose was?" he asked.
"How?" said Sakr-el-Bahr, and he smiled never so faintly. "Hast thou
not said that this purpose was revealed by what I did? Rather, then, I
think is it for me to ask thee for some such information. I do assure
thee, my lord, that it was no part of my intention to neglect the task
entrusted me. But just because I feared lest knowledge of her presence
might lead my enemies to suppose what thou art now supposing, and perhaps
persuade thee to forget all that I have done for the glory of Islam, I
determined to bring her secretly aboard.
"My real aim, since you must know it, was to land her somewhere on the
coast of France, whence she might return to her own land, and her own
people. That done, I should have set about intercepting the Spanish
galley, and never fear but that by Allah's favour I should have
"By the horns of Shaitan," swore Marzak, thrusting himself forward, "he
is the very father and mother of lies. Wilt thou explain this desire to
be rid of a wife thou hadst but wed?" he demanded.
"Ay," growled Asad. "Canst answer that?"
"Thou shalt hear the truth," said Sakr-el-Bahr.
"The praise to Allah!" mocked Marzak.
"But I warn you," the corsair continued, "that to you it will seem less
easy to believe by much than any falsehood I could invent. Years ago in
England where I was born I loved this woman and should have taken her to
wife. But there were men and circumstances that defamed me to her so
that she would not wed me, and I went forth with hatred of her in my
heart. Last night the love of her which I believed to be dead and turned
to loathing, proved to be still a living force. Loving her, I came to
see that I had used her unworthily, and I was urged by a desire above all
others to undo the evil I had done."
On that he paused, and after an instant's silence Asad laughed angrily
and contemptuously. "Since when has man expressed his love for a woman
by putting her from him?" he asked in a voice of scorn that showed the
precise value he set upon such a statement.
"I warned thee it would seem incredible," said Sakr-el-Bahr.
"Is it not plain, 0 my father, that this marriage of his was no more than
a pretence?" cried Marzak.
"As plain as the light of day," replied Asad. "Thy marriage with that
woman made an impious mock of the True Faith. It was no marriage. It
was a blasphemous pretence, thine only aim to thwart me, abusing my
regard for the Prophet's Holy Law, and to set her beyond my reach." He
turned to Vigitello, who stood a little behind Sakr-el-Bahr. "Bid thy
men put me this traitor into irons," he said.
"Heaven hath guided thee to a wise decision, 0 my father!" cried Marzak,
his voice jubilant. But his was the only jubilant note that was sounded,
his the only voice that was raised.
"The decision is more like to guide you both to Heaven," replied
Sakr-el-Bahr, undaunted. On the instant he had resolved upon his course.
"Stay!" he said, raising his hand to Vigitello, who, indeed had shown no
sign of stirring. He stepped close up to Asad, and what he said did not
go beyond those who stood immediately about the Basha and Rosamund, who
strained her ears that she might lose no word of it.
"Do not think, Asad," he said, "that I will submit me like a camel to its
burden. Consider thy position well. If I but raise my voice to call my
sea-hawks to me, only Allah can tell how many will be left to obey thee.
Darest thou put this matter to the test?" he asked, his countenance grave
and solemn, but entirely fearless, as of a man in whom there is no doubt
of the issue as it concerns himself.
Asad's eyes glittered dully, his colour faded to a deathly ashen hue.
"Thou infamous traitor...." he began in a thick voice, his body quivering
"Ah no," Sakr-el-Bahr interrupted him. "Were I a traitor it is what I
should have done already, knowing as I do that in any division of our
forces, numbers will be heavily on my side. Let then my silence prove my
unswerving loyalty, Asad. Let it weigh with thee in considering my
conduct, nor permit thyself to be swayed by Marzak there, who recks
nothing so that he vents his petty hatred of me."
"Do not heed him, 0 my father!" cried Marzak. "It cannot be that...."
"Peace!" growled Asad, somewhat stricken on a sudden.
And there was peace whilst the Basha stood moodily combing his white
beard, his glittering eyes sweeping from Oliver to Rosamund and back
again. He was weighing what Sakr-el-Bahr had said. He more than feared
that it might be no more than true, and he realized that if he were to
provoke a mutiny here he would be putting all to the test, setting all
upon a throw in which the dice might well be cogged against him.
If Sakr-el-Bahr prevailed, he would prevail not merely aboard this
galley, but throughout Algiers, and Asad would be cast down never to rise
again. On the other hand, if he bared his scimitar and called upon the
faithful to support him, it might chance that recognizing in him the
exalted of Allah to whom their loyalty was due, they would rally to him.
He even thought it might be probable. Yet the stake he put upon the
board was too vast. The game appalled him, whom nothing yet had
appalled, and it scarce needed a muttered caution from Biskaine to
determine him to hold his hand.
He looked at Sakr-el-Bahr again, his glance now sullen. "I will consider
thy words," he announced in a voice that was unsteady. "I would not be
unjust, nor steer my course by appearances alone. Allah forbid!"
Under the inquisitive gaping stare of all about them stood Rosamund and
Sakr-el-Bahr regarding each other in silence for a little spell after the
Basha's departure. The very galley-slaves, stirred from their habitual
lethargy by happenings so curious and unusual, craned their sinewy necks
to peer at them with a flicker of interest in their dull, weary eyes.
Sakr-el-Bahr's feelings as he considered Rosamunds's white face in the
fading light were most oddly conflicting. Dismay at what had befallen
and some anxious dread of what must follow were leavened by a certain
measure of relief.
He realized that in no case could her concealment have continued long.
Eleven mortal hours had she spent in the cramped and almost suffocating
space of that pannier, in which he had intended to do no more than carry
her aboard. The uneasiness which had been occasioned him by the
impossibility to deliver her from that close confinement when Asad had
announced his resolve to accompany them upon that voyage, had steadily
been increasing as hour succeeded hour, and still he found no way to
release her from a situation in which sooner or later, when the limits of
her endurance were reached, her presence must be betrayed. This release
which he could not have contrived had been contrived for him by the
suspicions and malice of Marzak. That was the one grain of consolation
in the present peril--to himself who mattered nothing and to her, who
mattered all. Adversity had taught him to prize benefits however slight
and to confront perils however overwhelming. So he hugged the present
slender benefit, and resolutely braced himself to deal with the situation
as he found it, taking the fullest advantage of the hesitancy which his
words had sown in the heart of the Basha. He hugged, too, the thought
that as things had fallen out, from being oppressor and oppressed,
Rosamund and he were become fellows in misfortune, sharing now a common
peril. He found it a sweet thought to dwell on. Therefore was it that
he faintly smiled as he looked into Rosamund's white, strained face.
That smile evoked from her the question that had been burdening her mind.
"What now? What now?" she asked huskily, and held out appealing hands to
"Now," said he coolly, "let us be thankful that you are delivered from
quarters destructive both to comfort and to dignity. Let me lead you to
those I had prepared for you, which you would have occupied long since
but for the ill-timed coming of Asad. Come." And he waved an inviting
hand towards the gangway leading to the poop.
She shrank back at that, for there on the poop sat Asad under his awning
with Marzak, Biskaine, and his other officers in attendance.
"Come," he repeated, "there is naught to fear so that you keep a bold
countenance. For the moment it is Sheik Mat--check to the king."
"Naught to fear?" she echoed, staring.
"For the moment, naught," he answered firmly. "Against what the future
may hold, we must determine. Be sure that fear will not assist our
She stiffened as if he had charged her unjustly.
"I do not fear," she assured him, and if her face continued white, her
eyes grew steady, her voice was resolute.
"Then come," he repeated, and she obeyed him instantly now as if to prove
the absence of all fear.
Side by side they passed up the gangway and mounted the steps of the
companion to the poop, their approach watched by the group that was in
possession of it with glances at once of astonishment and resentment.
Asad's dark, smouldering eyes were all for the girl. They followed her
every movement as she approached and never for a moment left her to turn
upon her companion.
Outwardly she bore herself with a proud dignity and an unfaltering
composure under that greedy scrutiny; but inwardly she shrank and writhed
in a shame and humiliation that she could hardly define. In some measure
Oliver shared her feelings, but blent with anger; and urged by them he so
placed himself at last that he stood between her and the Basha's regard
to screen her from it as he would have screened her from a lethal weapon.
Upon the poop he paused, and salaamed to Asad.
"Permit, exalted lord," said he, "that my wife may occupy the quarters I
had prepared for her before I knew that thou wouldst honour this
enterprise with thy presence.
Curtly, contemptuously, Asad waved a consenting hand without vouchsafing
to reply in words. Sakr-el-Bahr bowed again, stepped forward, and put
aside the heavy red curtain upon which the crescent was wrought in green.
From within the cabin the golden light of a lamp came out to merge into
the blue-gray twilight, and to set a shimmering radiance about the
white-robed figure of Rosamund.
Thus for a moment Asad's fierce, devouring eyes observed her, then she
passed within. Sakr-el-Bahr followed, and the screening curtain swung
back into its place.
The small interior was furnished by a divan spread with silken carpets, a
low Moorish table in coloured wood mosaics bearing the newly lighted
lamp, and a tiny brazier in which aromatic gums were burning and
spreading a sweetly pungent perfume for the fumigation of all
Out of the shadows in the farther corners rose silently Sakr-el-Bahr's
two Nubian slaves, Abiad and Zal-Zer, to salaam low before him. But for
their turbans and loincloths in spotless white their dusky bodies must
have remained invisible, shadowy among the shadows.
The captain issued an order briefly, and from a hanging cupboard the
slaves took meat and drink and set it upon the low table--a bowl of
chicken cooked in rice and olives and prunes, a dish of bread, a melon,
and a clay amphora of water. Then at another word from him, each took a
naked scimitar and they passed out to place themselves on guard beyond
the curtain. This was not an act in which there was menace or defiance,
nor could Asad so interpret it. The acknowledged presence of
Sakr-el-Balir's wife in that poop-house, rendered the place the
equivalent of his hareem, and a man defends his hareem as he defends his
honour; it is a spot sacred to himself which none may violate, and it is
fitting that he take proper precaution against any impious attempt to do
Rosamund sank down upon the divan, and sat there with bowed head, her
hands folded in her lap. Sakr-el-Bahr stood by in silence for a long
moment contemplating her.
"Eat," he bade her at last. "You will need strength and courage, and
neither is possible to a fasting body."
She shook her head. Despite her long fast, food was repellent. Anxiety
was thrusting her heart up into her throat to choke her.
"I cannot eat," she answered him. "To what end? Strength and courage
cannot avail me now."
"Never believe that," he said. "I have undertaken to deliver you alive
from the perils into which I have brought you, and I shall keep my word."
So resolute was his tone that she looked up at him, and found his bearing
equally resolute and confident.
"Surely," she cried, "all chance of escape is lost to me."
"Never count it lost whilst I am living," he replied. She considered him
a moment, and there was the faintest smile on her lips.
"Do you think that you will live long now?" she asked him.
"Just as long as God pleases," he replied quite coolly. "What is written
is written. So that I live long enough to deliver you, then...why, then,
faith I shall have lived long enough."
Her head sank. She clasped and unclasped the hands in her lap. She
"I think we are both doomed," she said in a dull voice. "For if you die,
I have your dagger still, remember. I shall not survive you."
He took a sudden step forward, his eyes gleaming, a faint flush glowing
through the tan of his cheeks. Then he checked. Fool! How could he so
have misread her meaning even for a moment? Were not its exact limits
abundantly plain, even without the words which she added a moment later?
"God will forgive me if I am driven to it--if I choose the easier way of
honour; for honour, sir," she added, clearly for his benefit, "is ever
the easier way, believe me."
"I know," he replied contritely. "I would to God I had followed it."
He paused there, as if hoping that his expression of penitence might
evoke some answer from her, might spur her to vouchsafe him some word of
forgiveness. Seeing that she continued, mute and absorbed, he sighed
heavily, and turned to other matters.
"Here you will find all that you can require," he said. "Should you lack
aught you have but to beat your hands together, one or the other of my
slaves will come to you. If you address them in French they will
understand you. I would I could have brought a woman to minister to you,
but that was impossible, as you'll perceive." He stepped to the
"You are leaving me?" she questioned him in sudden alarm.
"Naturally. But be sure that I shall be very near at hand. And
meanwhile be no less sure that you have no cause for immediate fear. At
least, matters are no worse than when you were in the pannier. Indeed,
much better, for some measure of ease and comfort is now possible to you.
So be of good heart; eat and rest. God guard you! I shall return soon
Outside on the poop-deck he found Asad alone now with Marzak under the
awning. Night had fallen, the great crescent lanterns on the stern rail
were alight and cast a lurid glow along the vessel's length, picking out
the shadowy forms and gleaming faintly on the naked backs of the slaves
in their serried ranks along the benches, many of them bowed already in
attitudes of uneasy slumber. Another lantern swung from the mainmast,
and yet another from the poop-rail for the Basha's convenience. Overhead
the clustering stars glittered in a cloudless sky of deepest purple. The
wind had fallen entirely, and the world was wrapped in stillness broken
only by the faint rustling break of waves upon the beach at the cove's
Sakr-el-Bahr crossed to Asad's side, and begged for a word alone with
"I am alone," said the Basha curtly.
"Marzak is nothing, then," said Sakr-el-Bahr. "I have long suspected
Marzak showed his teeth and growled inarticulately, whilst the Basha,
taken aback by the ease reflected in the captain's careless, mocking
words, could but quote a line of the Koran with which Fenzileh of late
had often nauseated him.
"A man's son is the partner of his soul. I have no secrets from Marzak.
Speak, then, before him, or else be silent and depart."
"He may be the partner of thy soul, Asad," replied the corsair with his
bold mockery, "but I give thanks to Allah he is not the partner of mine.
And what I have to say in some sense concerns my soul."
"I thank thee," cut in Marzak, "for the justice of thy words. To be the
partner of thy soul were to be an infidel unbelieving dog."
"Thy tongue, 0 Marzak, is like thine archery," said Sakr-el-Bahr.
"Ay--in that it pierces treachery," was the swift retort.
"Nay- in that it aims at what it cannot hit. Now, Allah, pardon me!
Shall I grow angry at such words as thine? Hath not the One proven full
oft that he who calls me infidel dog is a liar predestined to the Pit?
Are such victories as mine over the fleets of the unbelievers vouchsafed
by Allah to an infidel? Foolish blasphemer, teach thy tongue better ways
lest the All-wise strike thee dumb."
"Peace!" growled Asad. "Thine arrogance is out of season."
"Haply so," said Sakr-el-Bahr, with a laugh. "And my good sense, too, it
seems. Since thou wilt retain beside thee this partner of thy soul, I
must speak before him. Have I thy leave to sit?"
Lest such leave should be denied him he dropped forthwith to the vacant
place beside Asad and tucked his legs under him.
"Lord," he said, "there is a rift dividing us who should be united for
the glory of Islam."
"It is of thy making, Sakr-el-Bahr," was the sullen answer, "and it is
for thee to mend it."
"To that end do I desire thine ear. The cause of this rift is yonder."
And he jerked his thumb backward over his shoulder towards the
poop-house. "If we remove that cause, of a surety the rift itself will
vanish, and all will be well again between us."
He knew that never could all be well again between him and Asad. He knew
that by virtue of his act of defiance he was irrevocably doomed, that
Asad having feared him once, having dreaded his power to stand
successfully against his face and overbear his will, would see to it that
he never dreaded it again. He knew that if he returned to Algiers there
would be a speedy end to him. His only chance of safety lay, indeed, in
stirring up mutiny upon the spot and striking swiftly, venturing all upon
that desperate throw. And he knew that this was precisely what Asad had
cause to fear. Out of this assurance had he conceived his present plan,
deeming that if he offered to heal the breach, Asad might pretend to
consent so as to weather his present danger, making doubly sure of his
vengeance by waiting until they should be home again.
Asad's gleaming eyes considered him in silence for a moment.
"How remove that cause?" he asked. "Wilt thou atone for the mockery of
thy marriage, pronounce her divorced and relinquish her?"
"That were not to remove her," replied Sakr-el-Bahr. "Consider well,
Asad, what is thy duty to the Faith. Consider that upon our unity
depends the glory of Islam. Were it not sinful, then, to suffer the
intrusion of aught that may mar such unity? Nay, nay, what I propose is
that I should be permitted--assisted even--to bear out the project I had
formed, as already I have frankly made confession. Let us put to sea
again at dawn--or this very night if thou wilt--make for the coast of
France, and there set her ashore that she may go back to her own people
and we be rid of her disturbing presence. Then we will return-- there is
time and to spare--and here or elsewhere lurk in wait for this Spanish
argosy, seize the booty and sail home in amity to Algiers, this incident,
this little cloud in the splendour of our comradeship, behind us and
forgotten as though it had never been. Wilt thou, Asad--for the glory of
the Prophet's Law?"
The bait was cunningly presented, so cunningly that not for a moment did
Asad or even the malicious Marzak suspect it to be just a bait and no
more. It was his own life, become a menace to Asad, that Sakr-el-Bahr
was offering him in exchange for the life and liberty of that Frankish
slave-girl, but offering it as if unconscious that he did so.
Asad considered, temptation gripping, him. Prudence urged him to accept,
so that affecting to heal the dangerous breach that now existed he might
carry Sakr-el-Bahr back to Algiers, there, beyond the aid of any friendly
mutineers, to have him strangled. It was the course to adopt in such a
situation, the wise and sober course by which to ensure the overthrow of
one who from an obedient and submissive lieutenant had suddenly shown
that it was possible for him to become a serious and dangerous rival.
Sakr-el-Bahr watched the Basha's averted, gleaming eyes under their
furrowed, thoughtful brows, he saw Marzak's face white, tense and eager
in his anxiety that his father should consent. And since his father
continued silent, Marzak, unable longer to contain himself, broke into
"He is wise, 0 my father!" was his crafty appeal. "The glory of Islam
above all else! Let him have his way in this, and let the infidel woman
go. Thus shall all be well between us and Sakr-el-Bahr!" He laid such a
stress upon these words that it was obvious he desired them to convey a
Asad heard and understood that Marzak, too, perceived what was here to
do; tighter upon him became temptation's grip; but tighter, too, became
the grip of a temptation of another sort. Before his fierce eyes there
arose a vision of a tall stately maiden with softly rounded bosom, a
vision so white and lovely that it enslaved him. And so he found himself
torn two ways at once. On the one hand, if he relinquished the woman, he
could make sure of his vengeance upon Sakr-el-Bahr, could make sure of
removing that rebel from his path. On the other hand, if he determined
to hold fast to his desires and to be ruled by them, he must be prepared
to risk a mutiny aboard the galeasse, prepared for battle and perhaps for
defeat. It was a stake such as no sane Basha would have consented to set
upon the board. But since his eyes had again rested upon Rosamund, Asad
was no longer sane. His thwarted desires of yesterday were the despots
of his wits.
He leaned forward now, looking deep into the eyes of Sakr-el-Bahr.
"Since for thyself thou dost not want her, why dost thou thwart me?" he
asked, and his voice trembled with suppressed passion. "So long as I
deemed thee honest in taking her to wife I respected that bond as
became a good Muslim; but since 'tis manifest that it was no more than a
pretence, a mockery to serve some purpose hostile to myself, a
desecration of the Prophet's Holy Law, I, before whom this blasphemous
marriage was performed, do pronounce it to be no marriage. There is no
need for thee to divorce her. She is no longer thine. She is for any
Muslim who can take her."
Sakr-el-Bahr laughed unpleasantly. "Such a Muslim," he announced, "will
be nearer my sword than the Paradise of Mahomet." And on the words he
stood up, as if in token of his readiness.
Asad rose with him in a bound of a vigour such as might scarce have been
looked for in a man of his years.
"Dost threaten?" he cried, his eyes aflash.
"Threaten?" sneered Sakr-el-Bahr. "I prophesy." And on that he turned,
and stalked away down the gangway to the vessel's waist. There was no
purpose in his going other than his perceiving that here argument were
worse than useless, and that the wiser course were to withdraw at once,
avoiding it and allowing his veiled threat to work upon the Basha's mind.
Quivering with rage Asad watched his departure. On the point of
commanding him to return, he checked, fearing lest in his present mood
Sakr-el-Bahr should flout his authority and under the eyes of all refuse
him the obedience due. He knew that it is not good to command where we
are not sure of being obeyed or of being able to enforce obedience, that
an authority once successfully flouted is in itself half-shattered.
Whilst still he hesitated, Marzak, who had also risen, caught him by the
arm and poured into his ear hot, urgent arguments enjoining him to yield
to Sakr-el-Bahr's demand.
"It is the sure way," he cried insistently. "Shall all be jeopardized
for the sake of that whey-faced daughter of perdition? In the name of
Shaitan, let us be rid of her; set her ashore as he demands, as the price
of peace between us and him, and in the security of that peace let him be
strangled when we come again to our moorings in Algiers. It is the sure
way--the sure way!"
Asad turned at last to look into that handsome eager face. For a moment
he was at a loss; then he had recourse to sophistry. "Am I a coward that
I should refuse all ways but sure ones?" he demanded in a withering tone.
"Or art thou a coward who can counsel none other?"
"My anxiety is all for thee, 0 my father," Marzak defended himself
indignantly. "I doubt if it be safe to sleep, lest he should stir up
mutiny in the night."
"Have no fear," replied Asad. "Myself I have set the watch, and the
officers are all trustworthy. Biskaine is even now in the forecastle
taking the feeling of the men. Soon we shall know precisely where we
"In thy place I would make sure. I would set a term to this danger of
mutiny. I would accede to his demands concerning the woman, and settle
after-wards with himself."
"Abandon that Frankish pearl?" quoth Asad. Slowly he shook his head.
"Nay, nay! She is a garden that shall yield me roses. Together we shall
yet taste the sweet sherbet of Kansar, and she shall thank me for having
led her into Paradise. Abandon that rosy-limbed loveliness!" He laughed
softly on a note of exaltation, whilst in the gloom Marzak frowned,
thinking of Fenzileh.
"She is an infidel," his son sternly reminded him, "so forbidden thee by
the Prophet. Wilt thou be as blind to that as to thine own peril?" Then
his voice gathering vehemence and scorn as he proceeded: "She has gone
naked of face through the streets of Algiers; she has been gaped at by
the rabble in the sōk; this loveliness of hers has been deflowered by the
greedy gaze of Jew and Moor and Turk; galley-slaves and negroes have
feasted their eyes upon her unveiled beauty; one of thy captains hath
owned her his wife." He laughed. "By Allah, I do not know thee, 0 my
father! Is this the woman thou wouldst take for thine own? This the
woman for whose possession thou wouldst jeopardize thy life and perhaps
the very Bashalik itself!"
Asad clenched his hands until the nails bit into his flesh. Every word
his son had uttered had been as a lash to his soul. The truth of it was
not to be contested. He was humiliated and shamed. Yet was he not
conquered of his madness, nor diverted from his course. Before he could
make answer, the tall martial figure of Biskaine came up the companion.
"Well?" the Basha greeted him eagerly, thankful for this chance to turn
Biskaine was downcast. His news was to be read in his countenance. "The
task appointed me was difficult," said he. "I have done my best. Yet I
could scarce go about it in such a fashion as to draw definite
conclusions. But this I know, my lord, that he will be reckless indeed
if he dares to take up arms against thee and challenge thine authority.
So much at least I am permitted to conclude."
"No more than that?" asked Asad. "And if I were to take up arms against
him, and to seek to settle this matter out of hand?"
Biskaine paused a moment ere replying. "I cannot think but that Allah
would vouchsafe thee victory," he said. But his words did not delude the
Basha. He recognized them to be no more than those which respect for him
dictated to his officer. "Yet," continued Biskaine, "I should judge thee
reckless too, my lord, as reckless as I should judge him in the like
"I see," said Asad. "The matter stands so balanced that neither of us
dare put it to the test."
"Thou hast said it."
"Then is thy course plain to thee!" cried Marzak, eager to renew his
arguments. "Accept his terms, and...."
But Asad broke in impatiently. "Every thing in its own hour and each
hour is written. I will consider what to do."
Below on the waist-deck Sakr-el-Bahr was pacing with Vigitello, and
Vigitello's words to him were of a tenor identical almost with those of
Biskaine to the Basha.
"I scarce can judge," said the Italian renegade. "But I do think that it
were not wise for either thou or Asad to take the first step against the
"Are matters, then, so equal between us?"
"Numbers, I fear," replied Vigitello, "would be in favour of Asad. No
truly devout Muslim will stand against the Basha, the representative of
the Sublime Portal, to whom loyalty is a question of religion. Yet they
are accustomed to obey thee, to leap at thy command, and so Asad himself
were rash to put it to the test."
"Ay--a sound argument," said Sakr-el-Bahr. "It is as I had thought."
Upon that he quitted Vigitello, and slowly, thoughtfully, returned to the
poop-deck. It was his hope--his only hope now--that Asad might accept
the proposal he had made him. As the price of it he was fully prepared
for the sacrifice of his own life, which it must entail. But, it was not
for him to approach Asad again; to do so would be to argue doubt and
anxiety and so to court refusal. He must possess his soul in what
patience he could. If Asad persisted in his refusal undeterred by any
fear of mutiny, then Sakr-el-Bahr knew not what course remained him to
accomplish Rosamund's deliverance. Proceed to stir up mutiny he dared
not. It was too desperate a throw. In his own view it offered him no
slightest chance of success, and did it fail, then indeed all would be
lost, himself destroyed, and Rosamund at the mercy of Asad. He was as
one walking along a sword-edge. His only chance of present immunity for
himself and Rosamund lay in the confidence that Asad would dare no more
than himself to take the initiative in aggression. But that was only for
the present, and at any moment Asad might give the word to put about and
steer for Barbary again; in no case could that be delayed beyond the
plundering of the Spanish argosy. He nourished the faint hope that in
that coming fight--if indeed the Spaniards did show fight--some chance
might perhaps present itself, some unexpected way out of the present
He spent the night under the stars, stretched across the threshold of the
curtained entrance to the poop-house, making thus a barrier of his body
whilst he slept, and himself watched over in his turn by his faithful
Nubians who remained on guard. He awakened when the first violet tints
of dawn were in the east, and quietly dismissing the weary slaves to
their rest, he kept watch alone thereafter. Under the awning on the
starboard quarter slept the Basha and his son, and near them Biskaine was
Later that morning, some time after the galeasse had awakened to life and
such languid movement as might be looked for in a waiting crew,
Sakr-el-Bahr went to visit Rosamund.
He found her brightened and refreshed by sleep, and he brought her
reassuring messages that all was well, encouraging her with hopes which
himself he was very far from entertaining. If her reception of him was
not expressedly friendly, neither was it unfriendly. She listened to the
hopes he expressed of yet effecting her safe deliverance, and whilst she
had no thanks to offer him for the efforts he was to exert on her
behalf--accepting them as her absolute due, as the inadequate liquidation
of the debt that lay between them--yet there was now none of that
aloofness amounting almost to scorn which hitherto had marked her bearing
He came again some hours later, in the afternoon, by when his Nubians
were once more at their post. He had no news to bring her beyond the
fact that their sentinel on the heights reported a sail to westward,
beating up towards the island before the very gentle breeze that was
blowing. But the argosy they awaited was not yet in sight, and he
confessed that certain proposals which he had made to Asad for landing
her in France had been rejected. Still she need have no fear, he added
promptly, seeing the sudden alarm that quickened in her eyes. A way
would present itself. He was watching, and would miss no chance.
"And if no chance should offer?" she asked him.
"Why then I will make one," he answered, lightly almost. "I have been
making them all my life, and it would be odd if I should have lost the
trick of it on my life's most important occasion."
This mention of his life led to a question from her.
"How did you contrive the chance that has made you what you are? I
mean," she added quickly, as if fearing that the purport of that question
might be misunderstood, "that has enabled you to become a corsair
"'Tis a long story that," he said. "I should weary you in the telling of
"No," she replied, and shook her head, her clear eyes solemnly meeting
his clouded glance. "You would not weary me. Chances may be few in
which to learn it."
"And you would learn it?" quoth he, and added, "That you may judge me?"
"Perhaps," she said, and her eyes fell.
With bowed head he paced the length of the small chamber, and back again.
His desire was to do her will in this, which is natural enough--for if it
is true that who knows all must perforce forgive all, never could it have
been truer than in the case of Sir Oliver Tressilian.
So he told his tale. Pacing there he related it at length, from the days
when he had toiled at an oar on one of the galleys of Spain down to that
hour in which aboard the Spanish vessel taken under Cape Spartel
he had determined upon that voyage to England to present his reckoning to
his brother. He told his story simply and without too great a wealth of
detail, yet he omitted nothing of all that had gone to place him where he
stood. And she, listening, was so profoundly moved that at one moment
her eyes glistened with tears which she sought vainly to repress. Yet
he, pacing there, absorbed, with head bowed and eyes that never once
strayed in her direction, saw none of this.
"And so," he said, when at last that odd narrative had reached its end,
"you know what the forces were that drove me. Another stronger than
myself might have resisted and preferred to suffer death. But I was not
strong enough. Or perhaps it is that stronger than myself was my desire
to punish, to vent the bitter hatred into which my erstwhile love for
Lionel was turned."
"And for me, too--as you have told me," she added.
"Not so," he corrected her. "I hated you for your unfaith, and most of
all for your having burnt unread the letter that I sent you by the hand
of Pitt. In doing that you contributed to the wrongs I was enduring, you
destroyed my one chance of establishing my innocence and seeking
rehabilitation, you doomed me for life to the ways which I was treading.
But I did not then know what ample cause you had to believe me what I
seemed. I did not know that it was believed I had fled. Therefore I
forgive you freely a deed for which at one time I confess that I hated
you, and which spurred me to bear you off when I found you under my hand
that night at Arwenack when I went for Lionel."
"You mean that it was no part of your intent to have done so?" she asked
"To carry you off together with him?" he asked. "I swear to God I had
not premeditated that. Indeed, it was done because not premeditated, for
had I considered it, I do think I should have been proof against any such
temptation. It assailed me suddenly when I beheld you there with Lionel,
and I succumbed to it. Knowing what I now know I am punished enough, I
"I think I can understand," she murmured gently, as if to comfort him,
for quick pain had trembled in his voice.
He tossed back his turbaned head. "To understand is something," said he.
"It is half-way at least to forgiveness. But ere forgiveness can be
accepted the evil done must be atoned for to the full."
"If possible," said she.
"It must be made possible," he answered her with heat, and on that he
checked abruptly, arrested by a sound of shouting from without.
He recognized the voice of Larocque, who at dawn had returned to his
sentinel's post on the summit of the headland, relieving the man who had
replaced him there during the night.
"My lord! My lord!" was the cry, in a voice shaken by excitement, and
succeeded by a shouting chorus from the crew.
Sakr-el-Bahr turned swiftly to the entrance, whisked aside the curtain,
and stepped out upon the poop. Larocque was in the very act of
clambering over the bulwarks amidships, towards the waist-deck where Asad
awaited him in company with Marzak and the trusty Biskaine. The prow, on
which the corsairs had lounged at ease since yesterday, was now a
seething mob of inquisitive babbling men, crowding to the rail and even
down the gangway in their eagerness to learn what news it was that
brought the sentinel aboard in such excited haste.
From where he stood Sakr-el-Bahr heard Larocque's loud announcement.
"The ship I sighted at dawn, my lord!"
"Well?" barked Asad.
"She is here--in the bay beneath that headland. She has just dropped
"No need for alarm in that," replied the Basha at once. "Since she has
anchored there it is plain that she has no suspicion of our presence.
What manner of ship is she?"
"A tall galleon of twenty guns, flying the flag of England.
"Of England!" cried Asad in surprise. "She'll need be a stout vessel to
hazard herself in Spanish waters."
Sakr-el-Bahr advanced to the rail.
"Does she display no further device?" he asked.
Larocque turned at the question. "Ay," he answered, "a narrow blue
pennant on her mizzen is charged with a white bird--a stork, I think."
"A stork?" echoed Sakr-el-Bahr thoughtfully. He could call to mind no
such English blazon, nor did it seem to him that it could possibly be
English. He caught the sound of a quickly indrawn breath behind him. He
turned to find Rosamund standing in the entrance, not more than half
concealed by the curtain. Her face showed white and eager, her eyes were
"What is't?" he asked her shortly.
"A stork, he thinks," she said, as though that were answer enough.
"I' faith an unlikely bird," he commented. "The fellow is mistook."
"Yet not by much, Sir Oliver."
"How? Not by much?" Intrigued by something in her tone and glance, he
stepped quickly up to her, whilst below the chatter of voices increased.
"That which he takes to be a stork is a heron--a white heron, and white
is argent in heraldry, is't not?"
"It is. What then?"
"D'ye not see? That ship will be the Silver Heron."
He looked at her. "'S life!" said he, "I reck little whether it be the
silver heron or the golden grasshopper. What odds?"
"It is Sir John's ship--Sir John Killigrew's," she explained. "She was
all but ready to sail when...when you came to Arwenack. He was for the
Indies. Instead--don't you see?--out of love for me he will have come
after me upon a forlorn hope of overtaking you ere you could make
"God's light!" said Sakr-el-Bahr, and fell to musing. Then he raised his
head and laughed. "Faith, he's some days late for that!"
But the jest evoked no response from her. She continued to stare at him
with those eager yet timid eyes.
"And yet," he continued, "he comes opportunely enough. If the breeze
that has fetched him is faint, yet surely it blows from Heaven."
"Were it...?" she paused, faltering a moment.
Then, "Were it possible to communicate with him?" she asked, yet with
"Possible--ay," he answered. "Though we must needs devise the means, and
that will prove none so easy."
"And you would do it?" she inquired, an undercurrent of wonder in her
question, some recollection of it in her face.
"Why, readily," he answered, "since no other way presents itself. No
doubt 'twill cost some lives," he added, "but then...." And he shrugged
to complete the sentence.
"Ah, no, no! Not at that price!" she protested. And how was he to know
that all the price she was thinking of was his own life, which she
conceived would be forfeited if the assistance of the Silver Heron were
Before he could return her any answer his attention was diverted. A
sullen threatening note had crept into the babble of the crew, and
suddenly one or two voices were raised to demand insistently that Asad
should put to sea at once and remove his vessel from a neighbourhood
become so dangerous. Now, the fault of this was Marzak's. His was the
voice that first had uttered that timid suggestion, and the infection of
his panic had spread instantly through the corsair ranks.
Asad, drawn to the full of his gaunt height, turned upon them the eyes
that had quelled greater clamours, and raised the voice which in its day
had hurled a hundred men straight into the jaws of death without a
"Silence!" he commanded. "I am your lord and need no counsellors save
Allah. When I consider the time come, I will give the word to row, but
not before. Back to your quarters, then, and peace!"
He disdained to argue with them, to show them what sound reasons there
were for remaining in this secret cove and against putting forth into the
open. Enough for them that such should be his will. Not for them to
question his wisdom and his decisions.
But Asad-ed-Din had lain overlong in Algiers whilst his fleets under
Sakr-el-Bahr and Biskaine had scoured the inland sea. The men were no
longer accustomed to the goad of his voice, their confidence in his
judgment was not built upon the sound basis of past experience. Never
yet had he led into battle the men of this crew and brought them forth
again in triumph and enriched by spoil.
So now they set their own judgment against his. To them it seemed a
recklessness--as, indeed, Marzak had suggested--to linger here, and his
mere announcement of his purpose was far from sufficient to dispel their
The murmurs swelled, not to be overborne by his fierce presence and
scowling brow, and suddenly one of the renegades--secretly prompted by
the wily Vigitello--raised a shout for the captain whom they knew and
"Sakr-el-Bahr! Sakr-el-Bahr! Thou'lt not leave us penned in this cove
to perish like rats!"
It was as a spark to a train of powder. A score of voices instantly took
up the cry; hands were flung out towards Sakr-el-Bahr, where he stood
above them and in full view of all, leaning impassive and stern upon the
poop-rail, whilst his agile mind weighed the opportunity thus thrust upon
him, and considered what profit was to be extracted from it.
Asad fell back a pace in his profound mortification. His face was livid,
his eyes blared furiously, his hand flew to the jewelled hilt of his
scimitar, yet forbore from drawing the blade. Instead he let loose upon
Marzak the venom kindled in his soul by this evidence of how shrunken was
"Thou fool!" he snarled. "Look on thy craven's work. See what a devil
thou hast raised with thy woman's counsels. Thou to command a galley!
Thou to become a fighter upon the seas! I would that Allah had stricken
me dead ere I begat me such a son as thou!"
Marzak recoiled before the fury of words that he feared might be followed
by yet worse. He dared make no answer, offer no excuse; in that moment
he scarcely dared breathe.
Meanwhile Rosamund in her eagerness had advanced until she stood at
"God is helping us!" she said in a voice of fervent gratitude. "This is
your opportunity. The men will obey you."
He looked at her, and smiled faintly upon her eagerness. "Ay, mistress,
they will obey me," he said. But in the few moments that were sped he
had taken his resolve. Whilst undoubtedly Asad was right, and the wise
course was to lie close in this sheltering cove where the odds of their
going unperceived were very heavily in their favour, yet the men's
judgment was not altogether at fault. If they were to put to sea, they
might by steering an easterly course pass similarly unperceived, and even
should the splash of their oars reach the galleon beyond the headland,
yet by the time she had weighed anchor and started in pursuit they would
be well away straining every ounce of muscle at the oars, whilst the
breeze--a heavy factor in his considerations--was become so feeble that
they could laugh at pursuit by a vessel that depended upon wind alone.
The only danger, then, was the danger of the galleon's cannon, and that
danger was none so great as from experience Sakr-el-Bahr well knew.
Thus was he reluctantly forced to the conclusion that in the main the
wiser policy was to support Asad, and since he was full confident of the
obedience of the men he consoled himself with the reflection that a moral
victory might be in store for him out of which some surer profit might
presently be made.
In answer, then, to those who still called upon him, he leapt down the
companion and strode along the gangway to the waist-deck to take his
stand at the Basha's side. Asad watched his approach with angry
misgivings; it was with him a foregone conclusion that things being as
they were Sakr-el-Bahr would be ranged against him to obtain complete
control of these mutineers and to cull the fullest advantage from the
situation. Softly and slowly he unsheathed his scimitar, and
Sakr-el-Bahr seeing this out of the corner of his eye, yet affected not
to see, but stood forward to address the men.
"How now?" he thundered wrathfully. "What shall this mean? Are ye all
deaf that ye have not heard the commands of your Basha, the exalted of
Allah, that ye dare raise your mutinous voices and say what is your
Sudden and utter silence followed that exhortation. Asad listened in
relieved amazement; Rosamund caught her breath in sheer dismay.
What could he mean, then? Had he but fooled and duped her? Were his
intentions towards her the very opposite to his protestations? She leant
upon the poop-rail straining to catch every syllable of that speech of
his in the lingua franca, hoping almost that her indifferent knowledge of
it had led her into error on the score of what he had said.
She saw him turn with a gesture of angry command upon Larocque, who stood there by the bulwarks, waiting.
"Back to thy post up yonder, and keep watch upon that vessel's movements,
reporting them to us. We stir not hence until such be our lord Asad's
good pleasure. Away with thee!"
Larocque without a murmur threw a leg over the bulwarks and dropped to
the oars, whence he clambered ashore as he had been bidden. And not a
single voice was raised in protest.
Sakr-el-Bahr's dark glance swept the ranks of the corsairs crowding the
"Because this pet of the hareem," he said, immensely daring, indicating
Marzak by a contemptuous gesture, "bleats of danger into the ears of men,
are ye all to grow timid and foolish as a herd of sheep? By Allah! What
are ye? Are ye the fearless sea-hawks that have flown with me, and
struck where the talons of my grappling-hooks were flung, or are ye but
He was answered by an old rover whom fear had rendered greatly daring.
"We are trapped here as Dragut was trapped at Jerba."
"Thou liest," he answered. "Dragut was not trapped, for Dragut found a
way out. And against Dragut there was the whole navy of Genoa, whilst
against us there is but one single galleon. By the Koran, if she shows
fight, have we no teeth? Will it be the first galleon whose decks we
have overrun? But if ye prefer a coward's counsel, ye sons of shame,
consider that once we take the open sea our discovery will be assured,
and Larocque hath told you that she carries twenty guns. I tell you that
if we are to be attacked by her, best be attacked at close quarters, and
I tell you that if we lie close and snug in here it is long odds that we
shall never be attacked at all. That she has no inkling of our presence
is proven, since she has cast anchor round the headland. And consider
that if we fly from a danger that doth not exist, and in our flight are
so fortunate as not to render real that danger and to court it, we
abandon a rich argosy that shall bring profit to us all."
"But I waste my breath in argument," he ended abruptly. "You have heard
the commands of your lord, Asad-ed-Din, and that should be argument
enough. No more of this, then."
Without so much as waiting to see them disperse from the rail and return
to their lounging attitudes about the forecastle, he turned to Asad.
"It might have been well to hang the dog who spoke of Dragut and Jerba,"
he said. "But it was never in my nature to be harsh with those who
follow me." And that was all.
Asad from amazement had passed quickly to admiration and a sort of
contrition, into which presently there crept a poisonous tinge of
jealousy to see Sakr-el-Bahr prevail where he himself alone must utterly
have failed. This jealousy spread all-pervadingly, like an oil stain.
If he had come to bear ill-will to Sakr-el-Bahr before, that ill-will was
turned of a sudden into positive hatred for one in whom he now beheld a
usurper of the power and control that should reside in the Basha alone.
Assuredly there was no room for both of them in the Bashalik of Algiers.
Therefore the words of commendation which had been rising to his lips
froze there now that Sakr-el-Bahr and he stood face to face. In silence
he considered his lieutenant through narrowing evil eyes, whose message
none but a fool could have misunderstood.
Sakr-el-Bahr was not a fool, and he did not misunderstand it for a
moment. He felt a tightening at the heart, and ill-will sprang to life
within him responding to the call of that ill-will. Almost he repented
him that he had not availed himself of that moment of weakness and mutiny
on the part of the crew to attempt the entire superseding of the Basha.
The conciliatory words he had in mind to speak he now suppressed. To
that venomous glance he opposed his ever ready mockery. He turned to
"Withdraw," he curtly bade him, "and take that stout sea-warrior with
thee." And he indicated Marzak.
Biskaine turned to the Basha. "Is it thy wish, my lord?" he asked.
Asad nodded in silence, and motioned him away together with the cowed
"My lord," said Sakr-el-Bahr, when they were alone, "yesterday I made
thee a proposal for the healing of this breach between us, and it was
refused. But now had I been the traitor and mutineer thou hast dubbed me
I could have taken full advantage of the humour of my corsairs. Had I
done that it need no longer have been mine to propose or to sue. Instead
it would have been mine to dictate. Since I have given thee such
crowning proof of my loyalty, it is my hope and trust that I may be
restored to the place I had lost in thy confidence, and that this being
so thou wilt accede now to that proposal of mine concerning the Frankish
It was unfortunate perhaps that she should have been standing there
unveiled upon the poop within the range of Asad's glance; for the sight
of her it may have been that overcame his momentary hesitation and
stifled the caution which prompted him to accede. He considered her a
moment, and a faint colour kindled in his cheeks which anger had made
"It is not for thee, Sakr-el-Bahr," he answered at length, "to make me
proposals. To dare it, proves thee far removed indeed from the loyalty
thy lips profess. Thou knowest my will concerning her. Once hast thou
thwarted and defied me, misusing to that end the Prophet's Holy Law.
Continue a barrier in my path and it shall be at thy peril." His voice
was raised and it shook with anger.
"Not so loud," said Sakr-el-Bahr, his eyes gleaming with a response of
anger. "For should my men overhear these threats of thine I will not
answer for what may follow. I oppose thee at my peril sayest thou. Be
it so, then." He smiled grimly. "It is war between us, Asad, since thou
hast chosen it. Remember hereafter when the consequences come to
overwhelm thee that the choice was thine."
"Thou mutinous, treacherous son of a dog!" blazed Asad.
Sakr-el-Bahr turned on his heel. "Pursue the path of an old man's
folly," he said over his shoulder, "and see whither it will lead thee."
Upon that he strode away up the gangway to the poop, leaving the Basha
alone with his anger and some slight fear evoked by that last bold
menace. But notwithstanding that he menaced boldly the heart of
Sakr-el-Bahr was surcharged with anxiety. He had conceived a plan; but
between the conception and its execution he realized that much ill might
"Mistress," he addressed Rosamund as he stepped upon the poop. "You are
not wise to show yourself so openly."
To his amazement she met him with a hostile glance.
"Not wise?" said she, her countenance scornful. "You mean that I may
see more than was intended for me. What game do you play here, sir, that
you tell me one thing and show me by your actions that you desire
He did not need to ask her what she meant. At once he perceived how she
had misread the scene she had witnessed.
"I'll but remind you," he said very gravely, "that once before you did me
a wrong by over-hasty judgment, as has been proven to you."
It overthrew some of her confidence. "But then...." she began.
"I do but ask you to save your judgment for the end. If I live I shall
deliver you. Meanwhile I beg that you will keep your cabin. It does not
help me that you be seen."
She looked at him, a prayer for explanation trembling on her lips. But
before the calm command of his tone and glance she slowly lowered her
head and withdrew beyond the curtain.
For the rest of the day she kept the cabin, chafing with anxiety to know
what was toward and the more racked by it because Sakr-el-Bahr refrained
through all those hours from coming to her. At last towards evening,
unable longer to contain herself, she went forth again, and as it chanced
she did so at an untimely moment.
The sun had set, and the evening prayer was being recited aboard the
galeasse, her crew all prostrate. Perceiving this, she drew back again
instinctively, and remained screened by the curtain until the prayer was
ended. Then putting it aside, but without stepping past the Nubians who
were on guard, she saw that on her left Asad-ed-Din, with Marzak,
Biskaine, and one or two other officers, was again occupying the divan
under the awning. Her eyes sought Sakr-el-Bahr, and presently they
beheld him coming up the gangway with his long, swinging stride, in the
wake of the boat-swain's mates who were doling out the meagre evening
meal to the slaves.
Suddenly he halted by Lionel, who occupied a seat at the head of his oar
immediately next to the gangway. He addressed him harshly in the lingua
franca, which Lionel did not understand, and his words rang clearly and
were heard--as he intended that they should be--by all upon the poop.
"Well, dog? How does galley-slave fare suit thy tender stomach?"
Lionel looked up at him.
"What are you saying?" he asked in English.
Sakr-el-Bahr bent over him, and his face as all could see was evil and
mocking. No doubt he spoke to him in English also, but no more than a
murmur reached the straining ears of Rosamund, though from his
countenance she had no doubt of the purport of his words. And yet she
was far indeed from a correct surmise. The mockery in his countenance
was but a mask.
"Take no heed of my looks," he was saying. "I desire them up yonder to
think that I abuse you. Look as a man would who were being abused.
Cringe or snarl, but listen. Do you remember once when as lads we swam
together from Penarrow to Trefusis Point?"
"What do you mean?" quoth Lionel, and the natural sullenness of his mien
was all that Sakr-el-Bahr could have desired.
"I am wondering whether you could still swim as far. If so you might
find a more appetizing supper awaiting you at the end--aboard Sir John
Killigrew's ship. You had not heard? The Silver Heron is at anchor in
the bay beyond that headland. If I afford you the means, could you swim
to her do you think?"
Lionel stared at him in profoundest amazement. "Do you mock me?" he
asked at length.
"Why should I mock you on such a matter?"
"Is it not to mock me to suggest a way for my deliverance?"
Sakr-el-Bahr laughed, and he mocked now in earnest. He set his left foot
upon the rowers' stretcher, and leaned forward and down his elbow upon
his raised knee so that his face was close to Lionel's.
"For your deliverance?" said he. "God's life! Lionel, your mind was ever
one that could take in naught but your own self. 'Tis that has made a
villain of you. Your deliverance! God's wounds! Is there none but
yourself whose deliverance I might desire? Look you, now I want you to
swim to Sir John's ship and bear him word of the presence here of this
galeasse and that Rosamund is aboard it. 'Tis for her that I am
concerned, and so little for you that should you chance to be drowned in
the attempt my only regret will be that the message was not delivered.
Will you undertake that swim? It is your one sole chance short of death
itself of escaping from the rower's bench. Will you go?"
"But how?" demanded Lionel, still mistrusting him.
"Will you go?" his brother insisted.
"Afford me the means and I will," was the answer.
"Very well." Sakr-el-Bahr leaned nearer still. "Naturally it will be
supposed by all who are watching us that I am goading you to desperation.
Act, then, your part. Up, and attempt to strike me. Then when I return
the blow--and I shall strike heavily that no make-believe may be
suspected--collapse on your oar pretending to swoon. Leave the rest to
me. Now," he added sharply, and on the word rose with a final laugh of
derision as if to take his departure.
But Lionel was quick to follow the instructions. He leapt up in his
bonds, and reaching out as far as they would permit him, he struck
Sakr-el-Bahr heavily upon the face. On his side, too, there was to be no
make-believe apparent. That done he sank down with a clank of shackles
to the bench again, whilst every one of his fellow-slaves that faced his
way looked on with fearful eyes.
Sakr-el-Bahr was seen to reel under the blow, and instantly there was a
commotion on board. Biskaine leapt to his feet with a half-cry of
astonishment; even Asad's eyes kindled with interest at so unusual a
sight as that of a galley-slave attacking a corsair. Then with a snarl
of anger, the snarl of an enraged beast almost, Sakr-el-Bahr's great arm
was swung aloft and his fist descended like a hammer upon Lionel's head.
Lionel sank forward under the blow, his senses swimming. Sakr-el-Bahr's
arm swung up a second time.
"Thou dog!" he roared, and then checked, perceiving that Lionel appeared
to have swooned.
He turned and bellowed for Vigitello and his mates in a voice that was
hoarse with passion. Vigitello came at a run, a couple of his men at his
"Unshackle me this carrion, and heave it overboard," was the harsh order.
"Let that serve as an example to the others. Let them learn thus the
price of mutiny in their lousy ranks. To it, I say."
Away sped a man for hammer and chisel. He returned with them at once.
Four sharp metallic blows rang out, and Lionel was dragged forth from his
place to the gangway-deck. Here he revived, and screamed for mercy as
though he were to be drowned in earnest.
Biskaine chuckled under the awning, Asad looked on approvingly, Rosamund
drew back, shuddering, choking, and near to fainting from sheer horror.
She saw Lionel borne struggling in the arms of the boatswain's men to the
starboard quarter, and flung over the side with no more compunction or
care than had he been so much rubbish. She heard the final scream of
terror with which he vanished, the splash of his fall, and then in the
ensuing silence the laugh of Sakr-el-Bahr.
For a spell she stood there with horror and loathing of that renegade
corsair in her soul. Her mind was bewildered and confused. She sought
to restore order in it, that she might consider this fresh deed of his,
this act of wanton brutality and fratricide. And all that she could
gather was the firm conviction that hitherto he had cheated her; he had
lied when he swore that his aim was to effect her deliverance. It was
not in such a nature to know a gentle mood of penitence for a wrong done.
What might be his purpose she could not yet perceive, but that it was an
evil one she never doubted, for no purpose of his could be aught but
evil. So overwrought was she now that she forgot all Lionel's sins, and
found her heart filled with compassion for him hurled in that brutal
fashion to his death.
And then, quite suddenly a shout rang out from the forecastle.
"He is swimming!"
Sakr-el-Bahr had been prepared for the chance of this.
"Where? Where?" he cried, and sprang to the bulwarks.
"Yonder!" A man was pointing. Others had joined him and were peering
through the gathering gloom at the moving object that was Lionel's head
and the faintly visible swirl of water about it which indicated that he
"Out to sea!" cried Sakr-el-Bahr. "He'll not swim far in any case. But
we will shorten his road for him." He snatched a cross-bow from the rack
about the mainmast, fitted a shaft to it and took aim.
On the point of loosing the bolt he paused.
"Marzak!" he called. "Here, thou prince of marksmen, is a butt for
From the poop-deck whence with his father he too was watching the
swimmer's head, which at every moment became more faint in the failing
light, Marzak looked with cold disdain upon his challenger, making no
reply. A titter ran through the crew.
"Come now," cried Sakr-el-Bahr. "Take up thy bow!"
"If thou delay much longer," put in Asad, "he will be beyond thine aim.
Already he is scarcely visible."
"The more difficult a butt, then," answered Sakr-el-B ahr, who was but
delaying to gain time. "The keener test. A hundred philips, Marzak,
that thou'lt not hit me that head in three shots, and that I'll sink him
at the first! Wilt take the wager?"
"The unbeliever is for ever peeping forth from thee," was Marzak's
dignified reply. "Games of chance are forbidden by the Prophet."
"Make haste, man!" cried Asad. "Already I can scarce discern him. Loose
"Pooh," was the disdainful answer. "A fair mark still for such an eye as
mine. I never miss--not even in the dark."
"Vain boaster," said Marzak.
"Am I so?" Sakr-el-Bahr loosed his shaft at last into the gloom, and
peered after it following its flight, which was wide of the direction of
the swimmer's head. "A hit!" he cried brazenly. "He's gone!"
"I think I see him still," said one.
"Thine eyes deceive thee in this light. No man was ever known to swim
with an arrow through his brain."
"Ay," put in Jasper, who stood behind Sakr-el-Bahr. "He has vanished."
"'Tis too dark to see," said Vigitello.
And then Asad turned from the vessel's side. "Well, well--shot or
drowned, he's gone," he said, and there the matter ended.
Sakr-el-Bahr replaced the cross-bow in the rack, and came slowly up to
In the gloom he found himself confronted by Rosamund's white face between
the two dusky countenances of his Nubians. She drew back before him as
he approached, and he, intent upon imparting his news to her, followed
her within the poop-house, and bade Abiad bring lights.
When these had been kindled they faced each other, and he perceived her
profound agitation and guessed the cause of it. Suddenly she broke into
"You beast! You devil!" she panted. "God will punish you! I shall
spend my every breath in praying Him to punish you as you deserve. You
murderer! You hound! And I like a poor simpleton was heeding your false
words. I was believing you sincere in your repentance of the wrong you
have done me. But now you have shown me...."
"How have I hurt you in what I have done to Lionel?" he cut in, a little
amazed by so much vehemence.
"Hurt me!" she cried, and on the words grew cold and calm again with very
scorn. "I thank God it is beyond your power to hurt me. And I thank you
for correcting my foolish misconception of you, my belief in your pitiful
pretence that it was your aim to save me. I would not accept salvation
at your murderer's hands. Though, indeed, I shall not be put to it.
Rather," she pursued, a little wildly now in her deep mortification, "are
you like to sacrifice me to your own vile ends, whatever they may be.
But I shall thwart you, Heaven helping me. Be sure I shall not want
courage for that." And with a shuddering moan she covered her face, and
stood swaying there before him.
He looked on with a faint, bitter smile, ühderstanding her mood just as
he understood her dark threat of thwarting him.
"I came," he said quietly, "to bring you the assurance that he has got
safely away, and to tell you upon what manner of errand I have sent him."
Something compelling in his voice, the easy assurance with which he
spoke, drew her to stare at him again.
"I mean Lionel, of course," he said, in answer to her questioning glance.
"That scene between us--the blow and the swoon and the rest of it--was
all make-believe. So afterwards the shooting. My challenge to Marzak
was a ruse to gain time--to avoid shooting until Lionel's head should
have become so dimly visible in the dusk that none could say whether it
was still there or not. My shaft went wide of him, as I intended. He is
swimming round the head with my message to Sir John Killigrew. He was a
strong swimmer in the old days, and should easily reach his goal. That
is what I came to tell you."
For a long spell she continued to stare at him in silence.
"You are speaking the truth?" she asked at last, in a small voice.
He shrugged. "You will have a difficulty in perceiving the object I
might serve by falsehood."
She sat down suddenly upon the divan; it was almost as if she collapsed
bereft of strength; and as suddenly she fell to weeping softly.
"And...and I believed that you...that you...."
"Just so," he grimly interrupted. "You always did believe the best of
And on that he turned and went out abruptly.
He departed from her presence with bitterness in his heart, leaving a
profound contrition in her own. The sense of this her last injustice to
him so overwhelmed her that it became the gauge by which she measured
that other earlier wrong he had suffered at her hands. Perhaps her
overwrought mind falsified the perspective, exaggerating it until it
seemed to her that all the suffering and evil with which this chronicle
has been concerned were the direct fruits of her own sin of unfaith.
Since all sincere contrition must of necessity bring forth an ardent
desire to atone, so was it now with her. Had he but refrained from
departing so abruptly he might have had her on her knees to him suing for
pardon for all the wrongs which her thoughts had done him, proclaiming
her own utter unworthiness and baseness. But since his righteous
resentment had driven him from her presence she could but sit and brood
upon it all, considering the words in which to frame her plea for
forgiveness when next he should return.
But the hours sped, and there was no sign of him. And then, almost with
a shock of dread came the thought that ere long perhaps Sir John
Killigrew's ship would be upon them. In her distraught state of mind she
had scarcely pondered that contingency. Now that it occurred to her all
her concern was for the result of it to Sir Oliver. Would there be
fighting, and would he perhaps perish in that conflict at the hands
either of the English or of the corsairs whom for her sake he had
betrayed, perhaps without ever hearing her confession of penitence,
without speaking those words of forgiveness of which her soul stood in
such thirsty need?
It would be towards midnight when unable longer to bear the suspense of
it, she rose and softly made her way to the entrance. Very quietly she
lifted the curtain, and in the act of stepping forth almost stumbled over
a body that lay across the threshold. She drew back with a startled
gasp; then stooped to look, and by the faint rays of the lanterns on
mainmast and poop-rail she recognized Sir Oliver, and saw that he slept.
She never heeded the two Nubians immovable as statues who kept guard.
She continued to bend over him, and then gradually and very softly sank
down on her knees beside him. There were tears in her eyes--tears wrung
from her by a tender emotion of wonder and gratitude at so much fidelity.
She did not know that he had slept thus last night. But it was enough
for her to find him here now. It moved her oddly, profoundly, that this
man whom she had ever mistrusted and misjudged should even when he slept
make of his body a barrier for her greater security and protection.
A sob escaped her, and at the sound, so lightly and vigilantly did he
take his rest, he came instantly if silently to a sitting attitude; and
so they looked into each other's eyes, his swarthy, bearded hawk face on
a level with her white gleaming countenance.
"What is it?" he whispered.
She drew back instantly, taken with sudden panic at that question. Then
recovering, and seeking womanlike to evade and dissemble the thing she
was come to do, now that the chance of doing it was afforded her--"Do you
think," she faltered, "that Lionel will have reached Sir John's ship?"
He flashed a glance in the direction of the divan under the awning where
the Basha slept. There all was still. Besides, the question had been
asked in English. He rose and held out a hand to help her to her feet.
Then he signed to her to reenter the poop-house, and followed her within.
"Anxiety keeps you wakeful?" he said, half-question, half-assertion.
"Indeed," she replied.
"There is scarce the need," he assured her. "Sir John will not be like
to stir until dead of night, that he may make sure of taking us unawares.
I have little doubt that Lionel would reach him. It is none so long a
swim. Indeed, once outside the cove he could take to the land until he
was abreast of the ship. Never doubt he will have done his errand."
She sat down, her glance avoiding his; but the light falling on her face
showed him the traces there of recent tears.
"There will be fighting when Sir John arrives?" she asked him presently.
"Like enough. But what can it avail? We shall be caught--as was said
to-day--in just such a trap as that in which Andrea Doria caught Dragut
at Jerba, saving that whilst the wily Dragut found a way out for his
galleys, here none is possible. Courage, then, for the hour of your
deliverance is surely at hand."
He paused, and then in a softer voice, humbly almost, "It is my prayer,"
he added, "that hereafter in a happy future these last few weeks shall
come to seem no more than an evil dream to you."
To that prayer she offered no response. She sat bemused, her brow
"I would it might be done without fighting," she said presently, and
"You need have no fear," he assured her. "I shall take all precautions
for you. You shall remain here until all is over and the entrance will
be guarded by a few whom I can trust."
"You mistake me," she replied, and looked up at him suddenly. "Do you
suppose my fears are for myself?" She paused again, and then abruptly
asked him, "What will befall you?"
"I thank you for the thought," he replied gravely. "No doubt I shall
meet with my deserts. Let it but come swiftly when it comes."
"Ah, no, no!" she cried. "Not that!" And rose in her sudden agitation.
"What else remains?" he asked, and smiled. "What better fate could
anyone desire me?"
"You shall live to return to England," she surprised him by exclaiming.
"The truth must prevail, and justice be done you."
He looked at her with so fierce and searching a gaze that she averted her
eyes. Then he laughed shortly.
"There's but one form of justice I can look for in England," said he.
"It is a justice administered in hemp. Believe me, mistress, I am grown
too notorious for mercy. Best end it here to-night. Besides," he added,
and his mockery fell from him, his tone became gloomy, "bethink you of my
present act of treachery to these men of mine, who, whatever they may be,
have followed me into a score of perils and but to-day have shown their
love and loyalty to me to be greater than their devotion to the Basha
himself. I shall have delivered them to the sword. Could I survive with
honour? They may be but poor heathens to you and yours, but to me they
are my sea-hawks, my warriors, my faithful gallant followers, and I were
a dog indeed did I survive the death to which I have doomed them."
As she listened and gathered from his words the apprehension of a thing
that had hitherto escaped her, her eyes grew wide in sudden horror.
"Is that to be the cost of my deliverance?" she asked him fearfully.
"I trust not," he replied. "I have something in mind that will perhaps
"And save your own life as well?" she asked him quickly.
"Why waste a thought upon so poor a thing? My life was forfeit already.
If I go back to Algiers they will assuredly hang me. Asad will see to
it, and not all my sea-hawks could save me from my fate."
She sank down again upon the divan, and sat there rocking her arms in a
gesture of hopeless distress.
"I see," she said. "I see. I am bringing this fate upon you. When you
sent Lionel upon that errand you voluntarily offered up your life to
restore me to my own people. You had no right to do this without first
consulting me. You had no right to suppose I would be a party to such a
thing. I will not accept the sacrifice. I will not, Sir Oliver."
"Indeed, you have no choice, thank God!" he answered her. "But you are
astray in your conclusions. It is I alone who have brought this fate
upon myself. It is the very proper fruit of my insensate deed. It
recoils upon me as all evil must upon him that does it." He shrugged his
shoulders as if to dismiss the matter. Then in a changed voice, a voice
singularly timid, soft, and gentle, "it were perhaps too much to ask,"
said he, "that you should forgive me all the suffering I have brought
"I think," she answered him, "that it is for me to beg forgiveness of
"For my unfaith, which has been the source of all. For my readiness to
believe evil of you five years ago, for having burnt unread your letter
and the proof of your innocence that accompanied it."
He smiled upon her very kindly. "I think you said your instinct guided
you. Even though I had not done the thing imputed to me, your instinct
knew me for evil; and your instinct was right, for evil I am--I must be.
These are your own words. But do not think that I mock you with them. I
have come to recognize their truth."
She stretched out her hands to him. "If...if I were to say that I have
come to realize the falsehood of all that?"
"I should understand it to be the charity which your pitiful heart
extends to one in my extremity. Your instinct was not at fault."
"It was! It was!"
But he was not to be driven out of his conviction. He shook his head,
his countenance gloomy. "No man who was not evil could have done by you
what I have done, however deep the provocation. I perceive it clearly
now--as men in their last hour perceive hidden things."
"Oh, why are you so set on death?" she cried upon a despairing note.
"I am not," he answered with a swift resumption of his more habitual
manner. "'Tis death that is so set on me. But at least I meet it
without fear or regret. I face it as we must all face the inevitable--
the gifts from the hands of destiny. And I am heart-ened--gladdened
almost--by your sweet forgive-ness."
She rose suddenly, and came to him. She caught his arm, and standing
very close to him, looked up now into his face.
"We have need to forgive each other, you and I, Oliver," she said. "And
since forgiveness effaces all, let...let all that has stood between us
these last five years be now effaced."
He caught his breath as he looked down into her white, straining face
"Is it impossible for us to go back five years? Is it impossible for us
to go back to where we stood in those old days at Godolphin Court?"
The light that had suddenly been kindled in his face faded slowly,
leaving it grey and drawn. His eyes grew clouded with sorrow and
"Who has erred must abide by his error--and so must the generations that
come after him. There is no going back ever. The gates of the past are
tight-barred against us."
"Then let us leave them so. Let us turn our backs upon that past, you
and I, and let us set out afresh together, and so make amends to each
other for what our folly has lost to us in those years."
He set his hands upon her shoulders, and held her so at arm's length from
him considering her with very tender eyes.
"Sweet lady!" he murmured, and sighed heavily. "God! How happy might we
not have been but for that evil chance...." He checked abruptly. His
hands fell from her shoulders to his sides, he half-turned away, brusque
now in tone and manner. "I grow maudlin. Your sweet pity has so
softened me that I had almost spoke of love; and what have I to do with
that? Love belongs to life; love is life; whilst I... Moriturus te
"Ah, no, no!" She was clinging to him again with shaking hands, her eyes
"It is too late," he answered her. "There is no bridge can span the pit
I have dug myself. I must go down into it as cheerfully as God will let
"Then," she cried in sudden exaltation, "I will go down with you. At the
last, at least, we shall be together."
"Now here is midsummer frenzy!" he protested, yet there was a tenderness
in the very impatience of his accents. He stroked the golden head that
lay against his shoulder. "How shall that help me?" he asked her.
"Would you embitter my last hour--rob death of all its glory? Nay,
Rosamund, you can serve me better far by living. Return to England, and
publish there the truth of what you have learnt. Be yours the task of
clearing my honour of this stain upon it, proclaiming the truth of what
drove me to the infamy of becoming a renegade and a corsair." He started
from her. "Hark! What's that?"
From without had come a sudden cry, "Afoot! To arms! To arms! Holā!
"It is the hour," he said, and turning from her suddenly sprang to the
entrance and plucked aside the curtain.
Up the gangway between the lines of slumbering slaves came a quick patter
of feet. Ali, who since sunset had been replacing Larocque on the
heights, sprang suddenly upon the poop still shouting.
"Captain! Captain! My lord! Afoot! Up! or we are taken!"
Throughout the vessel's length came the rustle and stir of waking men. A
voice clamoured somewhere on the forecastle. Then the flap of the awning
was suddenly whisked aside and Asad himself appeared with Marzak at his
From the starboard side as suddenly came Biskaine and Othmani, and from
the waist Vigitello, Jasper--that latest renegade--and a group of alarmed
"What now?" quoth the Basha.
Ali delivered his message breathlessly. "The galleon has weighed anchor.
She is moving out of the bay."
Asad clutched his beard, and scowled. "Now what may that portend? Can
knowledge of our presence have reached them?"
"Why else should she move from her anchorage thus in the dead of night?"
"Why else, indeed?" returned Asad, and then he swung upon Oliver standing
there in the entrance of the poop-house. "What sayest thou,
Sakr-el-Bahr?" he appealed to him.
Sakr-el-Bahr stepped forward, shrugging. "What is there to say? What is
there to do?" he asked. "We can but wait. If our presence is known to
them we are finely trapped, and there's an end to all of us this night."
His voice was cool as ice, contemptuous almost, and whilst it struck
anxiety into more than one it awoke terror in Marzak.
"May thy bones rot, thou ill-omened prophet!" he screamed, and would have
added more but that Sakr-el-Bahr silenced him.
"What is written is written!" said he in a voice of thunder and reproof.
"Indeed, indeed," Asad agreed, grasping at the fatalist's consolation.
"If we are ripe for the gardeners hand, the gardener will pluck us."
Less fatalistic and more practical was the counsel of Biskaine.
"It were well to act upon the assumption that we are indeed discovered,
and make for the open sea while yet there may be time."
"But that were to make certain what is still doubtful," broke in Marzak,
fearful ever. "It were to run to meet the danger."
"Not so!" cried Asad in a loud, confident voice. "The praise to Allah
who sent us this calm night. There is scarce a breath of wind. We can
row ten leagues while they are sailing one."
A murmur of quick approval sped through the ranks of officers and men.