The Sea-Hawk HTML version
His resolve being taken, Asad drew Tsamanni aside and spent some moments in talk with
him, giving him certain instructions for the conduct of affairs ashore during his absence.
That done, and the wazeer dismissed, the Basha himself gave the order to cast off, an
order which there was no reason to delay, since all was now in readiness.
The gangway was drawn ashore, the boatswains whistle sounded, and the steersmen leapt
to their niches in the stern, grasping the shafts of the great steering-oars. A second blast
rang out, and down the gangway-deck came Vigitello and two of his mates, all three
armed with long whips of bullock-hide, shouting to the slaves to make ready. And then,
on the note of a third blast of Larocque's whistle, the fifty-four poised oars dipped to the
water, two hundred and fifty bodies bent as one, and when they heaved themselves
upright again the great galeasse shot forward and so set out upon her adventurous voyage.
From her mainmast the red flag with its green crescent was unfurled to the breeze, and
from the crowded mole, and the beach where a long line of spectators had gathered, there
burst a great cry of valediction.
That breeze blowing stiffly from the desert was Lionel's friend that day. Without it his
career at the oar might have been short indeed. He was chained, like the rest, stark naked,
save for a loincloth, in the place nearest the gangway on the first starboard bench abaft
the narrow waist-deck, and ere the galeasse had made the short distance between the
mole and the island at the end of it, the boatswain's whip had coiled itself about his white
shoulders to urge him to better exertion than he was putting forth. He had screamed under
the cruel cut, but none had heeded him. Lest the punishment should be repeated, he had
thrown all his weight into the next strokes of the oar, until by the time the Peñon was
reached the sweat was running down his body and his heart was thudding against his ribs.
It was not possible that it could have lasted, and his main agony lay in that he realized it,
and saw himself face to face with horrors inconceivable that must await the exhaustion of
his strength. He was not naturally robust, and he had led a soft and pampered life that was
very far from equipping him for such a test as this.
But as they reached the Peñon and felt the full vigour of that warm breeze, Sakr-el-Bahr,
who by Asad's command remained in charge of the navigation, ordered the unfurling of
the enormous lateen sails on main and foremasts. They ballooned out, swelling to the
wind, and the galeasse surged forward at a speed that was more than doubled. The order
to cease rowing followed, and the slaves were left to return thanks to Heaven for their
respite, and to rest in their chains until such time as their sinews should be required again.
The vessel's vast prow, which ended in a steel ram and was armed with a culverin on
either quarter, was crowded with lounging corsairs, who took their ease there until the
time to engage should be upon them. They leaned on the high bulwarks or squatted in
groups, talking, laughing, some of them tailoring and repairing garments, others
burnishing their weapons or their armour, and one swarthy youth there was who
thrummed a gimri and sang a melancholy Shilha love-song to the delight of a score or so
of bloodthirsty ruffians squatting about him in a ring of variegated colour.