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Lionel ate very sparingly. He thirsted and would have emptied the measure of posset, but that Sir Oliver restrained him, and refused him anything but water lest he should contract a fever. Such a sparing meal as they made--for neither had much appetite--was made in silence. At last Sir Oliver rose, and with slow, heavy steps, suggestive of his humour, he crossed to the fire-place. He threw fresh logs on the blaze, and took from the tall mantelshelf his pipe and a leaden jar of tobacco. He filled the pipe pensively, then with the short iron tongs seized a fragment of glowing wood and applied it to the herb.
He returned to the table, and standing over his brother, he broke at last the silence that had now endured some time.
"What," he asked gruffly, "was the cause of your quarrel?"
Lionel started and shrank a little; between finger and thumb he kneaded a fragment of bread, his eyes upon it. "I scarce know," he replied.
"Lal, that is not the truth."
"'Tis not the truth. I am not to be put off with such an answer. Yourself you said that you had warned him not to cross your path. What path was in your mind?"
Lionel leaned his elbows on the table and took his head in his hands. Weak from loss of blood, overwrought mentally as well, in a state of revulsion and reaction also from the pursuit which had been the cause of to-night's tragic affair, he had not strength to withhold the confidence his brother asked. On the contrary, it seemed to him that in making such a confidence, he would find a haven and refuge in Sir Oliver.
"'Twas that wanton at Malpas was the cause of all," he complained. And Sir Oliver's eye flashed at the words. "I deemed her quite other; I was a fool, a fool! I"--he choked, and a sob shook him--"I thought she loved me. I would have married her, I would so, by God."
Sir Oliver swore softly under his breath.
"I believed her pure and good, and...." He checked. "After all, who am I to say even now that she was not? 'Twas no fault of hers. 'Twas he, that foul dog Godolphin, who perverted her. Until he came all was well between us. And then...."
"I see," said Sir Oliver quietly. "I think you have something for which to thank him, if he revealed to you the truth of that strumpet's nature. I would have warned thee, lad. But...Perhaps I have been weak in that."
"It was not so; it was not she...."
"I say it was, and if I say so I am to be believed, Lionel. I'd smirch no woman's reputation without just cause. Be very sure of that."
Lionel stared up at him. "O God!" he cried presently, "I know not what to believe. I am a shuttle-cock flung this way and that way."
"Believe me," said Sir Oliver grimly. "And set all doubts to rest." Then he smiled. "So that was the virtuous Master Peter's secret pastime, eh? The hypocrisy of man! There is no plumbing the endless depths of it!"
He laughed outright, remembering all the things that Master Peter had said of Ralph Tressilian--delivering himself as though he were some chaste and self-denying anchorite. Then on that laugh he caught his breath quite suddenly. "Would she know?" he asked fearfully. "Would that harlot know, would she suspect that 'twas your hand did this?"
"Aye--would she," replied the other. "I told her to-night, when she flouted me and spoke of him, that I went straight to find him and pay the score between us. I was on my way to Godolphin Court when I came upon him in the park."
"Then you lied to me again, Lionel. For you said 'twas he attacked you."
"And so he did." Lionel countered instantly. "He never gave me time to speak, but flung down from his horse and came at me snarling like a cross-grained mongrel. Oh, he was as ready for the fight as I--as eager."
"But the woman at Malpas knows," said Sir Oliver gloomily. "And if she tells...."
"She'll not," cried Lionel. "She dare not for her reputation's sake."
"Indeed, I think you are right," agreed his brother with relief. "She dare not for other reasons, when I come to think of it. Her reputation is already such, and so well detested is she that were it known she had been the cause, however indirect, of this, the countryside would satisfy certain longings that it entertains concerning her. You are sure none saw you either going or returning?"
Sir Oliver strode the length of the room and back, pulling at his pipe. "All should be well, then, I think," said he at last. "You were best abed. I'll carry you thither."
He took up his stripling brother in his powerful arms and bore him upstairs as though he were a babe.
When he had seen him safely disposed for slumber, he returned below, shut the door in the hall, drew up the great oaken chair to the fire, and sat there far into the night smoking and thinking.
He had said to Lionel that all should be well. All should be well for Lionel. But what of himself with the burden of this secret on his soul? Were the victim another than Rosamund's brother the matter would have plagued him but little. The fact that Godolphin was slain, it must be confessed, was not in itself the source of his oppression. Godolphin had more than deserved his end, and he would have come by it months ago at Sir Oliver's own hand but for the fact that he was Rosamund's brother, as we know. There was the rub, the bitter, cruel rub. Her own brother had fallen by the hand of his. She loved her brother more than any living being next to himself, just as he loved Lionel above any other but herself. The pain that must be hers he knew; he experienced some of it in anticipation, participating it because it was hers and because all things that were hers he must account in some measure his own.
He rose up at last, cursing that wanton at Malpas who had come to fling this fresh and terrible difficulty where already he had to face so many. He stood leaning upon the overmantel, his foot upon one of the dogs of the fender, and considered what to do. He must bear his burden in silence, that was all. He must keep this secret even from Rosamund. It split his heart to think that he must practise this deceit with her. But naught else was possible short of relinquishing her, and that was far beyond his strength.
The resolve adopted, he took up a taper and went off to bed.
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The Sea-Hawk -by- Rafael Sabatini