The sun was dipping swiftly to the world's rim when Sakr-el-Bahr with his
Nubians and his little retinue of corsairs came to the gates of that white house
of his on its little eminence outside the Bab-el-Oueb and beyond the walls of
When Rosamund and Lionel, brought in the wake of the corsair, found
themselves in the spacious courtyard beyond the dark and narrow entrance, the
blue of the sky contained but the paling embers of the dying day, and suddenly,
sharply upon the evening stillness, came a mueddin's voice calling the faithful
Slaves fetched water from the fountain that played in the middle of the
quadrangle and tossed aloft a slender silvery spear of water to break into a
myriad gems and so shower down into the broad marble basin. Sakr-el-Bahr washed,
as did his followers, and then he went down upon the praying-mat that had been
set for him, whilst his corsairs detached their cloaks and spread them upon the
ground to serve them in like stead.
The Nubians turned the two slaves about, lest their glances should defile the
orisons of the faithful, and left them so facing the wall and the green gate
that led into the garden whence were wafted on the cooling air the perfumes of
jessamine and lavender. Through the laths of the gate they might have caught a
glimpse of the riot of colour there, and they might have seen the slaves
arrested by the Persian waterwheel at which they had been toiling and chanting
until the call to prayer had come to strike them into statues.
Sakr-el-Bahr rose from his devotions, uttered a sharp word of command, and
entered the house. The Nubians followed him, urging their captives before them
up the narrow stairs, and so brought them out upon the terrace on the roof, that
space which in Eastern houses is devoted to the women, but which no woman's foot
had ever trodden since this house had been tenanted by Sakr-el-Bahr the
This terrace, which was surrounded by a parapet some four feet high,
commanded a view of the city straggling up the hillside to eastward, from the
harbour and of the island at the end of the mole which had been so laboriously
built by the labour of Christian slaves from the stones of the ruined
fortress—the Peñon, which Kheyr-ed-Din Barbarossa had wrested from the
Spaniards. The deepening shroud of evening was now upon all, transmuting white
and yellow walls alike to a pearly greyness. To westward stretched the fragrant
gardens of the house, where the doves were murmuring fondly among the mulberries
and lotus trees. Beyond it a valley wound its way between the shallow hills, and
from a pool fringed with sedges and bullrushes above which a great stork was
majestically sailing came the harsh croak of frogs.
An awning supported upon two gigantic spears hung out from the southern wall
of the terrace which rose to twice the height of that forming the parapet on its
other three sides. Under this was a divan and silken cushions, and near it a
small Moorish table of ebony inlaid with mother-of-pearl and gold. Over the
opposite parapet, where a lattice had been set, rioted a trailing rose-tree
charged with blood-red blossoms, though now their colours were merged into the
Here Lionel and Rosamund looked at each other in the dim light, their faces
gleaming ghostly each to each, whilst the Nubians stood like twin statues by the
door that opened from the stair-head.
The man groaned, and clasped his hands before him. The doublet which had been
torn from him in the sôk had since been restored and temporarily repaired by a
strand of palmetto cord. But he was woefully bedraggled. Yet his thoughts, if
his first words are to be taken as an indication of them were for Rosamund's
condition rather than his own.
"O God, that you should be subjected to this!" he cried. "That you should
have suffered what you have suffered! The humiliation of it, the barbarous
cruelty! Oh!" He covered his haggard face with his hands.
She touched him gently on the arm.
"What I have suffered is but a little thing," she said, and her voice was
wonderfully steady and soothing. Have I not said that these Godolphins were
brave folk? Even their women were held to have something of the male spirit in
their breasts; and to this none can doubt that Rosamund now bore witness. "Do
not pity me, Lionel, for my sufferings are at an end or very nearly." She smiled
strangely, the smile of exaltation that you may see upon the martyr's face in
the hour of doom.
"How?" quoth he, in faint surprise.
"How?" she echoed. "Is there not always a way to thrust aside life's burden
when it grows too heavy—heavier than God would have us bear?"
His only answer was a groan. Indeed, he had done little but groan in all the
hours they had spent together since they were brought ashore from the carack;
and had the season permitted her so much reflection, she might have considered
that she had found him singularly wanting during those hours of stress when a
man of worth would have made some effort, however desperate, to enhearten her
rather than repine upon his own plight.
Slaves entered bearing four enormous flaming torches which they set in iron
sconces protruding from the wall of the house. Thence they shed a lurid ruddy
glow upon the terrace. The slaves departed again, and presently, in the black
gap of the doorway between the Nubians, a third figure appeared unheralded. It
He stood a moment at gaze, his attitude haughty, his face expressionless;
then slowly he advanced. He was dressed in a short white caftan that descended
to his knees, and was caught about his waist in a shimmering girdle of gold that
quivered like fire in the glow of the torches as he moved. His arms from the
elbow and his legs from the knee were bare, and his feet were shod with
gold-embroidered red Turkish slippers. He wore a white turban decked by a plume
of osprey attached by a jewelled clasp.
He signed to the Nubians and they vanished silently, leaving him alone with
He bowed to Rosamund. "This, mistress," he said, "is to be your domain
henceforth which is to treat you more as wife than slave. For it is to Muslim
wives that the housetops in Barbary are allotted. I hope you like it."
Lionel staring at him out of a white face, his conscience bidding him fear
the very worst, his imagination painting a thousand horrid fates for him and
turning him sick with dread, shrank back before his half-brother, who scarce
appeared to notice him just then.
But Rosamund confronted him, drawn to the full of her splendid height, and if
her face was pale, yet it was as composed and calm as his own; if her bosom rose
and fell to betray her agitations yet her glance was contemptuous and defiant,
her voice calm and steady, when she answered him with the question—"What is your
intent with me?"
"My intent?" said he, with a little twisted smile. Yet for all that he
believed he hated her and sought to hurt, to humble and to crush her, he could
not stifle his admiration of her spirit's gallantry in such an hour as this.
From behind the hills peeped the edge of the moon—a sickle of burnished
"My intent is not for you to question," he replied. "There was a time,
Rosamund, when in all the world you had no slave more utter than was I. Yourself
in your heartlessness, and in your lack of faith, you broke the golden fetters
of that servitude. You'll find it less easy to break the shackles I now impose
She smiled her scorn and quiet confidence. He stepped close to her. "You are
my slave, do you understand?—bought in the market-place as I might buy me a
mule, a goat, or a camel—and belonging to me body and soul. You are my property,
my thing, my chattel, to use or abuse, to cherish or break as suits my whim,
without a will that is not my will, holding your very life at my good pleasure."
She recoiled a step before the dull hatred that throbbed in his words, before
the evil mockery of his swarthy bearded face.
"You beast!" she gasped.
"So now you understand the bondage into which you are come in exchange for
the bondage which in your own wantonness you dissolved."
"May God forgive you," she panted.
"I thank you for that prayer," said he. "May He forgive you no less."
And then from the background came an inarticulate sound, a strangled,
snarling sob from Lionel.
Sakr-el-Bahr turned slowly. He eyed the fellow a moment in silence, then he
"Ha! My sometime brother. A pretty fellow, as God lives is it not? Consider
him Rosamund. Behold how gallantly misfortune is borne by this pillar of manhood
upon which you would have leaned, by this stalwart husband of your choice. Look
at him! Look at this dear brother of mine."
Under the lash of that mocking tongue Lionel's mood was stung to anger where
before it had held naught but fear.
"You are no brother of mine," he retorted fiercely. "Your mother was a wanton
who betrayed my father."
Sakr-el-Bahr quivered a moment as if he had been struck. Yet he controlled
"Let me hear my mother's name but once again on thy foul tongue, and I'll
have it ripped out by the roots. Her memory, I thank God, is far above the
insults of such a crawling thing as you. None the less, take care not to speak
of the only woman whose name I reverence."
And then turning at bay, as even the rat will do, Lionel sprang upon him,
with clawing hands outstretched to reach his throat. But Sakr-el-Bahr caught him
in a grip that bent him howling to his knees.
"You find me strong, eh?" he gibed. "Is it matter for wonder? Consider that
for six endless months I toiled at the oar of a galley, and you'll understand
what it was that turned my body into iron and robbed me of a soul."
He flung him off, and sent him crashing into the rosebush and the lattice
over which it rambled.
"Do you realize the horror of the rower's bench? to sit day in day out, night
in night out, chained naked to the oar, amid the reek and stench of your fellows
in misfortune, unkempt, unwashed save by the rain, broiled and roasted by the
sun, festering with sores, lashed and cut and scarred by the boatswain's whip as
you faint under the ceaseless, endless, cruel toil?"
"Do you realize it?" From a tone of suppressed fury his voice rose suddenly
to a roar. "You shall. For that horror which was mine by your contriving shall
now be yours until you die."
He paused; but Lionel made no attempt to avail himself of this. His courage
all gone out of him again, as suddenly as it had flickered up, he cowered where
he had been flung.
"Before you go there is something else," Sakr-el-Bahr resumed, "something for
which I have had you brought hither to-night.
"Not content with having delivered me to all this, not content with having
branded me a murderer, destroyed my good name, filched my possessions and driven
me into the very path of hell, you must further set about usurping my place in
the false heart of this woman I once loved."
"I hope," he went on reflectively, "that in your own poor way you love her,
too, Lionel. Thus to the torment that awaits your body shall be added torment
for your treacherous soul—such torture of mind as only the damned may know. To
that end have I brought you hither. That you may realize something of what is in
store for this woman at my hands; that you may take the thought of it with you
to be to your mind worse than the boatswain's lash to your pampered body."
"You devil!" snarled Lionel. "Oh, you fiend out of hell!"
"If you will manufacture devils, little toad of a brother, do not upbraid
them for being devils when next you meet them."
"Give him no heed, Lionel!" said Rosamund. "I shall prove him as much a
boaster as he has proved himself a villain. Never think that he will be able to
work his evil will."
"'Tis you are the boaster there," said Sakr-el-Bahr. "And for the rest, I am
what you and he, between you, have made me."
"Did we make you liar and coward?—for that is what you are indeed," she
"Coward?" he echoed, in genuine surprise. "'Twill be some lie that he has
told you with the others. In what, pray, was I ever a coward?"
"In what? In this that you do now; in this taunting and torturing of two
helpless beings in our power."
"I speak not of what I am," he replied, "for I have told you that I am what
you have made me. I speak of what I was. I speak of the past."
She looked at him and she seemed to measure him with her unwavering glance.
"You speak of the past?" she echoed, her voice low. "You speak of the past
and to me? You dare?"
"It is that we might speak of it together that I have fetched you all the way
from England; that at last I may tell you things I was a fool to have kept from
you five years ago; that we may resume a conversation which you interrupted when
you dismissed me."
"I did you a monstrous injury, no doubt," she answered him, with bitter
irony. "I was surely wanting in consideration. It would have become me better to
have smiled and fawned upon my brother's murderer."
"I swore to you, then, that I was not his murderer," he reminded her in a
voice that shook.
"And I answered you that you lied."
"Ay, and on that you dismissed me—the word of the man whom you professed to
love, the word of the man to whom you had given your trust weighing for naught
"When I gave you my trust," she retorted, "I did so in ignorance of your true
self, in a headstrong wilful ignorance that would not be guided by what all the
world said of you and your wild ways. For that blind wilfulness I have been
punished, as perhaps I deserved to be."
"Lies—all lies!" he stormed. "Those ways of mine—and God knows they were none
so wild, when all is said—I abandoned when I came to love you. No lover since
the world began was ever so cleansed, so purified, so sanctified by love as was
"Spare me this at least!" she cried on a note of loathing
"Spare you?" he echoed. "What shall I spare you?"
"The shame of it all; the shame that is ever mine in the reflection that for
a season I believed I loved you."
He smiled. "If you can still feel shame, it shall overwhelm you ere I have
done. For you shall hear me out. Here there are none to interrupt us, none to
thwart my sovereign will. Reflect then, and remember. Remember what a pride you
took in the change you had wrought in me. Your vanity welcomed that flattery,
that tribute to the power of your beauty. Yet, all in a moment, upon the
paltriest grounds, you believed me the murderer of your brother."
"The paltriest grounds?" she cried, protesting almost despite herself
"So paltry that the justices at Truro would not move against me."
"Because," she cut in, "they accounted that you had been sufficiently
provoked. Because you had not sworn to them as you swore to me that no
provocation should ever drive you to raise your hand against my brother. Because
they did not realize how false and how forsworn you were."
He considered her a moment. Then he took a turn on the terrace. Lionel
crouching ever by the rose-tree was almost entirely forgotten by him now.
"God give me patience with you!" he said at length. "I need it. For I desire
you to understand many things this night. I mean you to see how just is my
resentment; how just the punishment that is to overtake you for what you have
made of my life and perhaps of my hereafter. Justice Baine and another who is
dead, knew me for innocent."
"They knew you for innocent?" There was scornful amazement in her tone. "Were
they not witnesses of the quarrel betwixt you and Peter and of your oath that
you would kill him?"
"That was an oath sworn in the heat of anger. Afterwards I bethought me that
he was your brother."
"Afterwards?" said she. "After you had murdered him?"
"I say again," Oliver replied calmly, "that I did not do this thing."
"And I say again that you lie."
He considered her for a long moment; then he laughed. "Have you ever," he
asked, "known a man to lie without some purpose? Men lie for the sake of profit,
they lie out of cowardice or malice, or else because they are vain and vulgar
boasters. I know of no other causes that will drive a man to falsehood, save
that—ah, yes!—" (and he flashed a sidelong glance at Lionel)—"save that
sometimes a man will lie to shield another, out of self-sacrifice. There you
have all the spurs that urge a man to falsehood. Can any of these be urging me
to-night? Reflect! Ask yourself what purpose I could serve by lying to you now.
Consider further that I have come to loathe you for your unfaith; that I desire
naught so much as to punish you for that and for all its bitter consequences to
me that I have brought you hither to exact payment from you to the uttermost
farthing. What end then can I serve by falsehood?"
"All this being so, what end could you serve by truth?" she countered.
"To make you realize to the full the injustice that you did. To make you
understand the wrongs for which you are called to pay. To prevent you from
conceiving yourself a martyr; to make you perceive in all its deadly bitterness
that what now comes to you is the inevitable fruit of your own faithlessness."
"Sir Oliver, do you think me a fool?" she asked him.
"Madam, I do—and worse," he answered.
"Ay, that is clear," she agreed scornfully, "since even now you waste breath
in attempting to persuade me against my reason. But words will not blot out
facts. And though you talk from now till the day of judgment no word of yours
can efface those bloodstains in the snow that formed a trail from that poor
murdered body to your own door; no word of yours can extinguish the memory of
the hatred between him and you, and of your own threat to kill him; nor can it
stifle the recollection of the public voice demanding your punishment. You dare
to take such a tone as you are taking with me? You dare here under Heaven to
stand and lie to me that you may give false gloze to the villainy of your
present deed—for that is the purpose of your falsehood, since you asked me what
purpose there could be for it. What had you to set against all that, to convince
me that your hands were clean, to induce me to keep the troth which—God forgive
me!—I had plighted to you?"
"My word," he answered her in a ringing voice.
"Your lie," she amended.
"Do not suppose," said he, "that I could not support my word by proofs if
called upon to do so."
"Proofs?" She stared at him, wide-eyed a moment. Then her lip curled. "And
that no doubt was the reason of your flight when you heard that the Queen's
pursuivants were coming in response to the public voice to call you to account."
He stood at gaze a moment, utterly dumbfounded. "My flight?" he said. "What
"You will tell me next that you did not flee. That that is another false
charge against you?"
"So," he said slowly, "it was believed I fled!"
And then light burst upon him, to dazzle and stun him. It was so inevitably
what must have been believed, and yet it had never crossed his mind. O the
damnable simplicity of it! At another time his disappearance must have provoked
comment and investigation, perhaps. But, happening when it did, the answer to it
came promptly and convincingly and no man troubled to question further. Thus was
Lionel's task made doubly easy, thus was his own guilt made doubly sure in the
eyes of all. His head sank upon his breast. What had he done? Could he still
blame Rosamund for having been convinced by so overwhelming a piece of evidence?
Could he still blame her if she had burnt unopened the letter which he had sent
her by the hand of Pitt? What else indeed could any suppose, but that he had
fled? And that being so, clearly such a flight must brand him irrefutably for
the murderer he was alleged to be. How could he blame her if she had ultimately
been convinced by the only reasonable assumption possible?
A sudden sense of the wrong he had done rose now like a tide about him.
"My God!" he groaned, like a man in pain. "My God!"
He looked at her, and then averted his glance again, unable now to endure the
haggard, strained yet fearless gaze of those brave eyes of hers.
"What else, indeed, could you believe?" he muttered brokenly, thus giving
some utterance to what was passing through his mind.
"Naught else but the whole vile truth," she answered fiercely, and thereby
stung him anew, whipped him out of his sudden weakening back to his mood of
resentment and vindictiveness.
She had shown herself, he thought in that moment of reviving anger, too ready
to believe what told against him.
"The truth?" he echoed, and eyed her boldly now. "Do you know the truth when
you see it? We shall discover. For by God's light you shall have the truth laid
stark before you now, and you shall find it hideous beyond all your hideous
There was something so compelling now in his tone and manner that it drove
her to realize that some revelation was impending. She was conscious of a faint
excitement, a reflection perhaps of the wild excitement that was astir in him.
"Your brother," he began, "met his death at the hands of a false weakling
whom I loved, towards whom I had a sacred duty. Straight from the deed he fled
to me for shelter. A wound he had taken in the struggle left that trail of blood
to mark the way he had come." He paused, and his tone became gentler, it assumed
the level note of one who reasons impassively. "Was it not an odd thing, now,
that none should ever have paused to seek with certainty whence that blood
proceeded, and to consider that I bore no wound in those days? Master Baine knew
it, for I submitted my body to his examination, and a document was drawn up and
duly attested which should have sent the Queen's pursuivants back to London with
drooping tails had I been at Penarrow to receive them."
Faintly through her mind stirred the memory that Master Baine had urged the
existence of some such document, that in fact he had gone so far as to have made
oath of this very circumstance now urged by Sir Oliver; and she remembered that
the matter had been brushed aside as an invention of the justice's to answer the
charge of laxity in the performance of his duty, particularly as the only
co-witness he could cite was Sir Andrew Flack, the parson, since deceased. Sir
Oliver's voice drew her attention from that memory.
"But let that be," he was saying. "Let us come back to the story itself. I
gave the craven weakling shelter. Thereby I drew down suspicion upon myself, and
since I could not clear myself save by denouncing him, I kept silent. That
suspicion drew to certainty when the woman to whom I was betrothed, recking
nothing of my oaths, freely believing the very worst of me, made an end of our
betrothal and thereby branded me a murderer and a liar in the eyes of all.
Indignation swelled against me. The Queen's pursuivants were on their way to do
what the justices of Truro refused to do.
"So far I have given you facts. Now I give you surmise—my own conclusions—but
surmise that strikes, as you shall judge, the very bull's-eye of truth. That
dastard to whom I had given sanctuary, to whom I had served as a cloak, measured
my nature by his own and feared that I must prove unequal to the fresh burden to
be cast upon me. He feared lest under the strain of it I should speak out,
advance my proofs, and so destroy him. There was the matter of that wound, and
there was something still more unanswerable he feared I might have urged. There
was a certain woman—a wanton up at Malpas—who could have been made to speak, who
could have revealed a rivalry concerning her betwixt the slayer and your
brother. For the affair in which Peter Godolphin met his death was a pitifully,
shamefully sordid one at bottom."
For the first time she interrupted him, fiercely. "Do you malign the dead?"
"Patience, mistress," he commanded. "I malign none. I speak the truth of a
dead man that the truth may be known of two living ones. Hear me out, then! I
have waited long and survived a deal that I might tell you this
"That craven, then, conceived that I might become a danger to him; so he
decided to remove me. He contrived to have me kidnapped one night and put aboard
a vessel to be carried to Barbary and sold there as a slave. That is the truth
of my disappearance. And the slayer, whom I had befriended and sheltered at my
own bitter cost, profited yet further by my removal. God knows whether the
prospect of such profit was a further temptation to him. In time he came to
succeed me in my possessions, and at last to succeed me even in the affections
of the faithless woman who once had been my affianced wife."
At last she started from the frozen patience in which she had listened
hitherto. "Do you say that... that Lionel...?" she was beginning in a voice
choked by indignation.
And then Lionel spoke at last, straightening himself into a stiffly upright
"He lies!" he cried. "He lies, Rosamund! Do not heed him."
"I do not," she answered, turning away.
A wave of colour suffused the swarthy face of Sakr-el-Bahr. A moment his eyes
followed her as she moved away a step or two, then they turned their blazing
light of anger upon Lionel. He strode silently across to him, his mien so
menacing that Lionel shrank back in fresh terror.
Sakr-el-Bahr caught his brother's wrist in a grip that was as that of a steel
manacle. "We'll have the truth this night if we have to tear it from you with
red-hot pincers," he said between his teeth.
He dragged him forward to the middle of the terrace and held him there before
Rosamund, forcing him down upon his knees into a cowering attitude by the
violence of that grip upon his wrist.
"Do you know aught of the ingenuity of Moorish torture?" he asked him. "You
may have heard of the rack and the wheel and the thumbscrew at home. They are
instruments of voluptuous delight compared with the contrivances of Barbary to
loosen stubborn tongues."
White and tense, her hands clenched, Rosamund seemed to stiffen before him.
"You coward! You cur! You craven renegade dog!" she branded him.
Oliver released his brother's wrist and beat his hands together. Without
heeding Rosamund he looked down upon Lionel, who cowered shuddering at his feet.
"What do you say to a match between your fingers? Or do you think a pair of
bracelets of living fire would answer better, to begin with?"
A squat, sandy-bearded, turbaned fellow, rolling slightly in his gait,
came—as had been prearranged—to answer the corsair's summons.
With the toe of his slipper Sakr-el-Bahr stirred his brother.
"Look up, dog," he bade him. "Consider me that man, and see if you know him
again. Look at him, I say!" And Lionel looked, yet since clearly he did so
without recognition his brother explained: "His name among Christians was Jasper
Leigh. He was the skipper you bribed to carry me into Barbary. He was taken in
his own toils when his ship was sunk by Spaniards. Later he fell into my power,
and because I forebore from hanging him he is to-day my faithful follower. I
should bid him tell you what he knows," he continued, turning to Rosamund, "if I
thought you would believe his tale. But since I am assured you would not, I will
take other means." He swung round to Jasper again. "Bid Ali heat me a pair of
steel manacles in a brazier and hold them in readiness against my need of them."
And he waved his hand.
Jasper bowed and vanished.
"The bracelets shall coax confession from your own lips, my brother."
"I have naught to confess," protested Lionel. "You may force lies from me
with your ruffianly tortures."
Oliver smiled. "Not a doubt but that lies will flow from you more readily
than truth. But we shall have truth, too, in the end, never doubt it." He was
mocking, and there was a subtle purpose underlying his mockery. "And you shall
tell a full story," he continued, "in all its details, so that Mistress
Rosamund's last doubt shall vanish. You shall tell her how you lay in wait for
him that evening in Godolphin Park; how you took him unawares, and...."
"That is false!" cried Lionel in a passion of sincerity that brought him to
It was false, indeed, and Oliver knew it, and deliberately had recourse to
falsehood, using it as a fulcrum upon which to lever out the truth. He was
cunning as all the fiends, and never perhaps did he better manifest his cunning.
"False?" he cried with scorn. "Come, now, be reasonable. The truth, ere
torture sucks it out of you. Reflect that I know all—exactly as you told it me.
How was it, now? Lurking behind a bush you sprang upon him unawares and ran him
through before he could so much as lay a hand to his sword, and so...."
"The lie of that is proven by the very facts themselves," was the furious
interruption. A subtle judge of tones might have realized that here was truth
indeed, angry indignant truth that compelled conviction. "His sword lay beside
him when they found him."
But Oliver was loftily disdainful. "Do I not know? Yourself you drew it after
you had slain him."
The taunt performed its deadly work. For just one instant Lionel was carried
off his feet by the luxury of his genuine indignation, and in that one instant
he was lost.
"As God's my witness, that is false!" he cried wildly. "And you know it. I
fought him fair...."
He checked on a long, shuddering, indrawn breath that was horrible to hear.
Then silence followed, all three remaining motionless as statues: Rosamund
white and tense, Oliver grim and sardonic, Lionel limp, and overwhelmed by the
consciousness of how he had been lured into self-betrayal.
At last it was Rosamund who spoke, and her voice shook and shifted from key
to key despite her strained attempt to keep it level.
"What... what did you say, Lionel?" she asked. Oliver laughed softly. "He was
about to add proof of his statement, I think," he jeered. "He was about to
mention the wound he took in that fight, which left those tracks in the snow,
thus to prove that I lied—as indeed I did—when I said that he took Peter
"Lionel!" she cried. She advanced a step and made as if to hold out her arms
to him, then let them fall again beside her. He stood stricken, answering
nothing. "Lionel!" she cried again, her voice growing suddenly shrill. "Is this
"Did you not hear him say it?" quoth Oliver.
She stood swaying a moment, looking at Lionel, her white face distorted into
a mask of unutterable pain. Oliver stepped towards her, ready to support her,
fearing that she was about to fall. But with an imperious hand she checked his
advance, and by a supreme effort controlled her weakness. Yet her knees shook
under her, refusing their office. She sank down upon the divan and covered her
face with her hands.
"God pity me!" she moaned, and sat huddled there, shaken with sobs.
Lionel started at that heart-broken cry. Cowering, he approached her, and
Oliver, grim and sardonic, stood back, a spectator of the scene he had
precipitated. He knew that given rope Lionel would enmesh himself still further.
There must be explanations that would damn him utterly. Oliver was well content
to look on.
"Rosamund!" came Lionel's piteous cry. "Rose! Have mercy! Listen ere you
judge me. Listen lest you misjudge me!"
"Ay, listen to him," Oliver flung in, with his soft hateful laugh. "Listen to
him. I doubt he'll be vastly entertaining."
That sneer was a spur to the wretched Lionel. "Rosamund, all that he has told
you of it is false. I...I...It was done in self-defence. It is a lie that I took
him unawares." His words came wildly now. "We had quarrelled about... about... a
certain matter, and as the devil would have it we met that evening in Godolphin
Park, he and I. He taunted me; he struck me, and finally he drew upon me and
forced me to draw that I might defend my life. That is the truth. I swear to you
here on my knees in the sight of Heaven! And...."
"Enough, sir! Enough!" she broke in, controlling herself to check these
protests that but heightened her disgust.
"Nay, hear me yet, I implore you; that knowing all you may be merciful in
"Merciful?" she cried, and almost seemed to laugh
"It was an accident that I slew him," Lionel raved on. "I never meant it. I
never meant to do more than ward and preserve my life. But when swords are
crossed more may happen than a man intends. I take God to witness that his death
was an accident resulting from his own fury."
She had checked her sobs, and she considered him now with eyes that were hard
"Was it also an accident that you left me and all the world in the belief
that the deed was your brother's?" she asked him.
He covered his face, as if unable to endure her glance. "Did you but know how
I loved you—even in those days, in secret—you would perhaps pity me a little,"
"Pity?" She leaned forward and seemed to spit the word at him. "'Sdeath, man!
Do you sue for pity—you?"
"Yet you must pity me did you know the greatness of the temptation to which I
"I know the greatness of your infamy, of your falseness, of your cowardice,
of your baseness. Oh!"
He stretched out suppliant hands to her; there were tears now in his eyes.
"Of your charity, Rosamund...." he was beginning, when at last Oliver
"I think you are wearying the lady," he said, and stirred him with his foot.
"Relate to us instead some more of your astounding accidents. They are more
diverting. Elucidate the accident, by which you had me kidnapped to be sold into
slavery. Tell us of the accident by which you succeeded to my property. Expound
to the full the accidental circumstances of which throughout you have been the
unfortunate victim. Come, man, ply your wits. 'Twill make a pretty tale."
And then came Jasper to announce that Ali waited with the brazier and the
"They are no longer needed," said Oliver. "Take this slave hence with you.
Bid Ali to take charge of him, and at dawn to see him chained to one of the oars
of my galeasse. Away with him."
Lionel rose to his feet, his face ashen. "Wait! Ah, wait! Rosamund!" he
Oliver caught him by the nape of his neck, spun him round, and flung him into
the arms of Jasper. "Take him away!" he growled, and Jasper took the wretch by
the shoulders and urged him out, leaving Rosamund and Oliver alone with the
truth under the stars of Barbary.