How it came to happen that Sakr-el-Bahr, the Hawk of the Sea, the Muslim rover, the
scourge of the Mediterranean, the terror of Christians, and the beloved of Asad-ed-Din,
Basha of Algiers, would be one and the same as Sir Oliver Tressilian, the Cornish
gentleman of Penarrow, is at long length set forth in the chronicles of Lord Henry Goade.
His lordship conveys to us some notion of how utterly overwhelming he found that fact
by the tedious minuteness with which he follows step by step this extraordinary
metamorphosis. He devotes to it two entire volumes of those eighteen which he has left
us. The whole, however, may with advantage be summarized into one short chapter.
Sir Oliver was one of a score of men who were rescued from the sea by the crew of the
Spanish vessel that had sunk the Swallow; another was Jasper Leigh, the skipper. All of
them were carried to Lisbon, and there handed over to the Court of the Holy Office. Since
they were heretics all--or nearly all--it was fit and proper that the Brethren of St. Dominic
should undertake their conversion in the first place. Sir Oliver came of a family that never
had been famed for rigidity in religious matters, and he was certainly not going to burn
alive if the adoption of other men's opinions upon an extremely hypothetical future state
would suffice to save him from the stake. He accepted Catholic baptism with an almost
contemptuous indifference. As for Jasper Leigh, it will be conceived that the elasticity of
the skipper's conscience was no less than Sir Oliver's, and he was certainly not the man to
be roasted for a trifle of faith.
No doubt there would be great rejoicings in the Holy House over the rescue of these two
unfortunate souls from the certain perdition that had awaited them. It followed that as
converts to the Faith they were warmly cherished, and tears of thanksgiving were
profusely shed over them by the Hounds of God. So much for their heresy. They were
completely purged of it, having done penance in proper form at an Auto held on the
Rocio at Lisbon, candle in hand and sanbenito on their shoulders. The Church dismissed
them with her blessing and an injunction to persevere in the ways of salvation to which
with such meek kindness she had inducted them.
Now this dismissal amounted to a rejection. They were, as a consequence, thrown back
upon the secular authorities, and the secular authorities had yet to punish them for their
offence upon the seas. No offence could be proved, it is true. But the courts were satisfied
that this lack of offence was but the natural result of a lack of opportunity. Conversely,
they reasoned, it was not to be doubted that with the opportunity the offence would have
been forthcoming. Their assurance of this was based upon the fact that when the Spaniard
fired across the bows of the Swallow as an invitation to heave to, she had kept upon her
course. Thus, with unanswerable Castilian logic was the evil conscience of her skipper
proven. Captain Leigh protested on the other hand that his action had been dictated by his
lack of faith in Spaniards and his firm belief that all Spaniards were pirates to be avoided
by every honest seaman who was conscious of inferior strength of armaments. It was a
plea that won him no favour with his narrow-minded judges.