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Title: Brethren of the Main Author: Rafael Sabatini * A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook * eBook No.: NUMBER.html Language: English Date first posted: June 2013 Most recent update: June 2013 This eBook was produced by: Colin Choat Project Gutenberg of Australia eBooks are created from printed editions which are in the public domain in Australia, unless a copyright notice is included. We do NOT keep any eBooks in compliance with a particular paper edition. Copyright laws are changing all over the world. Be sure to check the copyright laws for your country before downloading or redistributing this file. This eBook is made available at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg of Australia License which may be viewed online at http://gutenberg.net.au/licence.html To contact Project Gutenberg of Australia go to http://gutenberg.net.au
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Production Note: "——" represents "unprintable" words in the original magazine version of the stories and has been retained in this ebook. The reader is encouraged to substitute "god," "damn," "hell," "bloody," or any other suitable epithet.
Captain Blood first appeared in a series of nine stories, under
the general title of "Brethren of the Main," which appeared in the
Premier Magazine, beginning December 1920. The stories were
reprinted in Adventure Magazine in 1921. All nine stories
are reproduced here.
In 1922 Sabatini stitched most of the stories into the novel "Captain Blood." However he did much more than stitch, and eventually Captain Blood became a very popular novel, praised by George MacDonald Fraser among others. Peter Blood was a favourite of readers and the writer. Sabatini wrote fifteen more stories about him, one included in Turbulent Tales and the others distributed in two collections titled The Chronicles of Captain Blood and The Fortunes of Captain Blood.
Two of the stories in "Brethren of the Main" ("Blood-Money" and "Santa Maria") later appeared in The Chronicles of Captain Blood.
2. Don Diego Valdez
3. The Prize
6. Santa Maria
7. Lord Julian's Mission
8. The Hostage
9. Captain Blood's Dilemma
With his armed negroes following at his heels, like a brace of hounds, Colonel Bishop came suddenly and softly round a corner of one of the avenues intersecting the great blocks of ripening amber sugar-canes. Thus, he disturbed a close and intimate colloquy between Jerry Pitt, the rebel convict, and another man, who plunged away incontinently into the woods that almost bordered the plantation at this point.
Colonel Bishop let him go unpursued and gave his attention to Jerry Pitt—an unfortunate who had been shipped to Barbados and there sold into a ten-years' slavery for having been out with Monmouth in the 'West Country. Under the planter's baleful glance the rebel convict turned cold and shivered, despite the sweltering heat.
The colonel, a massive fellow, lightly clad in biscuit-colored taffetas set off with certain gold-lace fripperies, stepped forward, swinging a slender bamboo cane.
"And what was the bashful Nuttall saying to you?" he asked, his voice thick and sneering.
The convict hung his head and shifted uncomfortably on his bare feet. A pair of cotton breeches, loose and ragged, clothed him from waist to knee. Above and below he was naked, save for a broad hat of plaited straw that sheltered his unkempt head of golden hair from the tropical sun.
The planter's bamboo cane descended with stinging force upon those naked shoulders.
"Answer me, scum! What is his commerce with you?"
The young man raised sullen eyes, set in a face that a year of slavery and degradation had almost stripped of its erstwhile comeliness. But still he made no answer.
"Stubborn, eh?" The colonel was sarcastically humorous. He knew a dozen ways—some of them quite diverting—of conquering stubbornness in these convict swine. "'Swounds, you impudent dog! Do you think I'm to be mocked? D'ye think I don't guess the business that brings him sneaking here?"
"Why weary yourself with asking, then?" said Jerry.
There was something in his voice of the bitter recklessness that is begotten of despair. If the planter really guessed the business that had brought Nuttall secretly to see the slave, death could matter little.
Brute fury awoke in Colonel Bishop and he fell to lashing those defenseless shoulders until, stung beyond endurance, the lingering embers of his manhood fanned into momentary flame, Pitt sprang toward him.
But as he sprang the watchful blacks sprang also. Muscular bronze arms coiled crushingly about the frail white body and in a moment the unfortunate slave stood powerless, his wrists pinioned behind him in a thong of hide.
"Fetch him along," said the planter, and he turned away.
Down the avenue between golden walls of cane the wretched Pitt was hurried to a plateau, smooth and green, before the roomy white house of the overseer. From here a view was commanded of Carlisle Bay, the fort, and the long sheds of the wharf, to which a few shallow boats were moored. Out in the roads, standing in for the shore, before a gentle breeze that scarcely ruffled the sapphire surface of the Caribbean, came a stately frigate flying the English ensign.
Colonel Bishop stood and gazed a moment, shading his eyes with his hand. Light as was the breeze, the vessel spread no canvas to it beyond her spritsail. Her every other sail was furled, leaving a clear view of the majestic lines of her hull from towering stern-castle to gilded beak-head aflash in the brilliant sunshine. So leisurely an advance argued a master indifferently acquainted with these waters cautiously sounding his way as he crept forward.
The planter turned from his survey of her to give his attention once more to Master Pitt. Within the stockade about the house of the overseer stood a pair of stocks for slaves who required correction. Into these at a word from the colonel the negroes had meanwhile clapped their prisoner.
"Mutinous curs that show their fangs to their master muse learn good manners at the cost of a striped hide," snarled Colonel Bishop and with that he went about his executioner's job.
That with his own hands he should have done what most men of his station would, out of self-respect, have relegated to a negro, gives the measure of the man's beastliness. It was almost with relish, as if gratifying some feral instinct of cruelty, that now he lashed his victim.
And by the time that from very weariness he flung away the broken remnants of his bamboo, the wretched slave's back was bleeding pulp from neck to waist. His body had sunk forward, and he was moaning faintly, his senses mercifully dulled by pain.
Colonel Bishop set a foot upon the crossbar, and bent over him.
"That will learn you a proper submission," said he. "And there you stay without meat or drink—without meat or drink, d'ye hear me?—until you are ready to confess the business on which Nuttall sought you." He took his foot from the bar, and stood up. "When you've had enough of this, send me word—and we'll have the branding-irons to you."
On that he laughed, swung on his heel and strode out of the stockade, his negroes following, and Pitt was left alone.
Presently, from the partial stupor which pain had mercifully induced, a new variety of pain aroused him. The stocks stood in the open, under the full glare of the tropical sun, and its blistering rays scorched the lad's mangled, bleeding back like flames of fire. And soon to this was added a torment still mom unspeakable.
Flies—the cruel flies of the Antilles, drawn by the scent of blood, descended in clouds upon him. The ingenious Colonel Bishop, who so well understood the art of loosening stubborn tongues, knew that not all his ingenious cruelty could devise a torture more intolerable than that which Nature would procure a man exposed to her in Pitt's condition.
The slave—who in far-off Somerset, a year ago, had been a man of some substance and position—writhed in the stocks, and writhing, screamed in agony.
Thus was he found by Mr. Peter Blood, who to the troubled vision of that anguished lad seemed to materialize suddenly before him out of nothing. Steadying himself a moment to look up, Pitt found a 'pair of light-blue eyes regarding him from under brows that were very black and very level.
The condition of Mr. Blood's shirt and breeches was such that they barely held together. He wore no stockings, and his feet were thrust into wooden shoes that he had been at pains to fashion for himself; also his hat was of plaited straw of the kind worn by negroes and slaves, but it was rakishly cocked; this and the ringlets of his thick black hair, his small turned-up mustachios and little pointed beard, suggested a gentleman fallen upon evil days, who sought to make the best possible show upon the slenderest resources.
With a large palmetto leaf Mr. Blood whisked away the flies that were devouring Jerry's back, then slung the leaf by a strip of fiber from his neck, to protect him from further attacks. Next, sitting down beside the sufferer, he drew his head on to his own shoulder, and bathed his face from a pannikin of cold water that he carried.
Jerry quivered and moaned on a long-drawn breath.
"Drink!" he gasped. "Give me drink, for the love of God!"
The pannikin was held to his lips drank greedily, nor ceased until he had drained it. Cooled and revived, he sat up.
"My back," he groaned.
"Och, be easy now," said Mr. Blood. "Sure your back's taking no harm at all since I've covered it up. I'm wanting to know what's happened to you. Glory be, now! D'ye think we can do without a navigator, that ye go and provoke the beast Bishop until he all but kills you?"
Jerry sat up and groaned again; but now his anguish was mental rather than physical.
"I don't think a navigator will be wanted this time, doctor," he said, and proceeded to explain. "Nuttall came to me an hour ago in the plantation. He is in trouble through this boat he's sought for us. The magistrates sent for him yesterday, to explain how he, a debtor, comes by money to purchase a boat, and what he wants with it. Nuttall's in despair."
"And is that all?"
Mr. Blood got up and shrugged. He was a gentleman of something more than middle height, sparely built, with a lean, good-humored, bony face burnt by exposure almost to the golden-brown of a half-caste Indian.
"Nuttall'll be forced to keep a close tongue for his own sake. There's mighty unpleasant penalties for helping slaves to escape, worse than being branded on the forehead. But—" He checked, suddenly grave. "Does the colonel know?"
"He more than suspects. It was to wring the facts from me that he did this. I'm to rot here unless I speak."
"Bad cess to the filthy slaver!" snapped Mr. Blood, and fell thoughtful. "It must be contrived nevertheless," he muttered. "We can't go without you, and you'll not be disappointing a score of us that depend upon your seamanship."
"But we're not going, Peter," the prisoner insisted.
"Ye're light-headed," said Mr. Blood. "Not going! And everything prepared, and the weapons snugly stowed away in the wharf, the navigating implements, the provisions, and every other blessed thing required?"
"But don't you understand that we've no boat? The magistrates have ordered it to be confiscated unless Nuttall can satisfactorily account for his possession of it."
Mr. Blood stood quite still, stricken dumb for a moment by the cruel realization that he had toiled and schemed through long months, with the patience of a spider, only to be balked on the very eve of action, when all was ready and success seemed fully assured. The worst difficulty had been to obtain money for the boat. He had contrived to communicate with friends in England; and these friends had loyally assisted him: They had sent out merchandise from home consigned to a friend that Mr. Blood had made in Bridgetown, and this friend had sold the merchandise and held the proceeds at Mr. Blood's disposal.
He turned away, and with agony and despair in his eyes looked out to sea, over the blue water by which he had hoped so fondly soon to be travelling out of this hell of slavery into freedom.
Slowly and majestically the great red ship was now entering the bay, and already one or two pinnaces were putting off from the wharf to board her. From where he stood Mr. Blood could see the glint of the brass cannons mounted on the prow above her beak-head. And then another object interposed itself in his line of vision, and a furious voice assailed him.
"What the —— are you doing here?"
The returning Colonel Bishop strode through the opening in the Stockade, his negroes following.
"The duties of my office," answered Mr. Blood, bland as a Chinaman.
Before he had turned soldier of fortune; and again after some six or seven years of that roving life, Mr. Peter Blood had been a surgeon. Indeed, it was this that had undone him. Established at Bridgewater when Monmouth's army marched thither, he had been requisitioned to attend a wounded gentleman of the duke's immediate following.
Purely from motives of humanity he had gone, and purely from motives of humanity—having no interest, in or sympathy with the cause—he had remained to minister to other wounded. With them he had been taken prisoner after Sedgmoor. He had explained himself, but none had listened to him.
"And what for should I be out with the Protestant Champion, seeing that I'm a Papist bred?" he had asked Jeffreys, when he came to stand his trial for high treason.
But he had been browbeaten, silenced—no easy matter this—and finally sentenced to death. That sentence had finally been commuted to transportation. Slaves were urgently required in the plantations, and rebel convicts were cheaper than negroes.
Mr. Blood swore that he had performed his last service in the cause of humanity; nor could he have been induced to practise medicine in Barbados had he not discovered that by doing so he could mitigate a lot that must otherwise have proved unendurable. His services were lent from time to time by his master, Colonel Bishop, to other colonials; and it was thus that he had come to make that friend at Bridgtown who had served him in the matter of the sale of the merchandise from home.
The colonel, striding furiously forward; observed two things. The empty pannikin on the seat beside the prisoner and the palmetto leaf protecting his back. The veins of his forehead stood out like cords.
"Have you done this?"
"Of course I have." Mr. Blood seemed surprized.
"I said that he was to have neither meat nor drink until he—until I ordered it."
"Sure, now, I never heard you!" said Mr. Blood.
"You never heard me!" He looked as if he were about to strike the man. "How should you have heard me when you weren't there?"
"Then how did ye expect me to know what orders ye'd given? All I knew was that one of your slaves was being murdered by the heat of the sun and the flies. And says I to myself, this is one of the colonel's slaves, and I am the colonel's doctor, and sure it's my duty to be looking after the colonel's property. So I just gave the fellow a spoonful of water and covered his back from the sun. And wasn't I right now?"
"Right!" The colonel was speechless.
"Be easy now, be easy!" Mr. Blood implored him.. "It's an apoplexy ye'll be contracting if ye give way to heat like this. D'ye know, colonel darling, ye'll be the better for a blood-lettin', so ye would."
The planter thrust him aside with an imprecation, stepped up to the prisoner, and ripped the palmetto leaf from his back.
"In the name of humanity, now—" Mr. Blood was beginning.
"Out of this!" roared the colonel. "And don't you come near him again until I send for you unless you want to be served in the same way."
He was terrific in his menace, in his bulk and in the power of him. But Mr. Blood never flinched. Aforetime the colonel had found him a difficult man to cow. He remembered it now, as he found himself steadily regarded by those light-blue eyes that looked so arrestingly odd in that tawny face—like pale sapphires set in copper. And he swore to himself that he would mend the fellow's impudence. Meanwhile, Mr. Blood was speaking, his tone quietly insistent.
"In the name of humanity," he repeated, "ye'll allow me to do what I can to help; his sufferings, or I swear to you that I'll forsake at once the duties of doctor, and —— another sufferer will I 'tend in this unhealthy island at all. And I'll be reminding you that your own lady is mortal sick this minute with the fever."
"By ——, you dog! D'ye dare to take that tone? D'ye dare make terms with me?"
"I do that." The unflinching glance squarely met the planter's eyes, that were blood-injected, and yellowish in the whites.
Colonel Bishop considered him for a long moment in silence.
"I've been too soft with you," he said at last. "But that's to be mended." And he tightened his lips. "I'll have the rods to you until there's not an inch of skin to your dirty back."
"Will ye so? And what would your lady do then?"
"Ye're not the only doctor on the island."
Mr. Blood actually laughed.
"And will ye tell that to Governor Creed that's got the gout in his foot so that he can't stand? Ye know very well it's —— another doctor but myself will the governor tolerate at all, being an intelligent man and knowing what's good for him."
But the colonel's brute passion, thoroughly aroused, was not to be balked so easily.
"If ye're alive when my blacks have one with you, perhaps you'll come to your senses." He swung to his negroes. "Make him fast, and let him have a hundred lashes so that—"
The rest of his command was never uttered. At that moment a terrific rolling thunder-clap drowned his voice and shook the very air. Colonel Bishop jumped, the negroes jumped with him, and so did Mr. Blood. Then the four of them stared together seaward.
Down in the bay all that could be seen of the great ship, standing now within a cable's length of the sort, were her top-masts emerging from a cloud of smoke in which she was enveloped. From the cliffs about the bay a flight of startled sea-birds had risen to circle in the blue, giving tongue to their alarm, the plaintive curlew noisiest of all.
Staring from the eminence on which they stood, not yet understanding what had taken place, they saw the British flag dip from the masthead and vanish in the rising cloud below. A moment more, and up through that cloud to replace the English ensign soared the gold and crimson banner of Castile. An then they understood.
"Pirates!" cried the colonel, and again, "Pirates!"
Fear and incredulity were blended in his rasping voice. He had paled under his tan until his face was the color of clay, and there was a wildness in his glance. His negroes looked at him, grinned idiotically; all teeth and eyeballs.
The stately ship that had been allowed to sail so leisurely into the bay under her false colors was a Spanish privateer coming to pay off some of the heavy scores piled up by such Brethren of the Main as Morgan and his successors. And no suspicion had she aroused until she saluted the slumbering fort at short range with a broadside of twenty guns.
Even as they watched, they beheld her creep forward from under the rising cloud of smoke, her mainsail now unfurled to increase her steering way, and go about close-hauled so as to bring her larboard guns to bear upon that unready fort.
With the crashing roar of the second broadside, Colonel Bishop awoke from stupefaction to a recollection of where his duty lay. In the town below drums were beating frenziedly, and a trumpet was bleating, as if the peril needed further advertising.
As commander of the Barbados Militia, Colonel Bishop's place was at the head of his scanty troops in that fort that was being pounded into rubble by the Spanish guns. Remembering it, he went off abruptly at a run despite the heat, his negroes trotting after him.
"Now that," said Mr. Blood, "is what I call a timely interruption. Though what'll come of it," he added, as an afterthought "the —— himself knows."
He picked up the palmetto leaf, and carefully replaced it on the back of his patient and fellow slave. As yet a third broadside thundered forth, there came, panting and sweating into the stockade Kent the overseer, followed by best part of a score of plantation workers, some of whom were black and all of whom were in a state of panic. Ahead of them Kent dashed into the low white house to bring them forth again almost immediately, armed now with muskets and hangers, and equipped with bandoleers.
A little knot of rebels convict that had followed hung timidly about the place questioning Mr. Blood.
As the hastily armed force hurried away Kent paused a moment to fling a word of counsel to the white slaves.
"To the woods!" he roared. "Take to the woods, and lie there quiet until we have gutted those Spanish swine."
On that he flung away after his men whom he was going to add to the force massing in the town to oppose and overwhelm the Spanish landing-parties.
The slaves would instantly have followed his advice, had not Mr. Blood detained them.
"Sure now, and where's the need for haste—and in this heat?" he asked. "Maybe there'll be no need to take to the woods at all, and anyway it'll be time enough for that when the Spaniards are masters of the town."
And so, joined now by other stragglers and numbering in all some thirty men—rebels convict all, and most of them associates of Blood and Pitt in their now shipwrecked project of escape from the island—they stayed to watch the fortunes of the furious battle that was being waged below.
The landing was contested by the militia and by every islander capable of bearing arms, with the fierce resolution of men who knew that no quarter was to be expected in defeat. But they had been taken by surprize, and their fort put out of action, when the guns of the frigate effectively covered the landing-parties that made the shore in their own boats and in several of those that had rashly gone out to the Spaniard before her identity was revealed.
By sunset two hundred and fifty Spaniards were masters of the town, the islanders were disarmed, and at Government House Governor Creed, supported by Colonel Bishop and some lesser officers, were being urbanely informed by Don Diego Valdez of the sum required in ransom. For a hundred thousand pieces of eight and fifty head of cattle, Don Diego would forbear from reducing the place to ashes.
And what time their suave commander was settling these details with the apoplectic British governor, the Spaniards were smashing and pillaging with every form of violence, feasting and making merry after the hideous manner of their kind.
When the tropical night descended there were not above ten men on guard aboard the Cinco Llagas—as their ship was named—so confident were the Spaniards of the complete subjection of the islanders. And while their fellows feasted ashore, the gunner and his crew, who had so nobly done their duty and insured the easy victory of that day, were feasting on the gun-deck upon the wine and fresh meat fetched out to them from shore by Don Diego's son and lieutenant, who had remained to join them.
Above, two sentinels kept watch at stem and stern; and an indifferent watch it must have been, for they saw nothing of the two pinnaces that under cover of the darkness came gliding from the shore with well-greased rowlocks to bring up under the frigate's quarter. From the stern gallery still hung the ladder by which Don Diego had descended to the boat that had 'taken him ashore. The sentry in the stern, coming presently round the gallery in his pacing, beheld the black figure of a man standing before him at the ladder's head.
"Who's there?" he asked, but without alarm.
"It is I," softly answered Mr. Peter Blood in Spanish.
A considerable sojourn in the Spanish Netherlands had made him fluent in the language.
The Spaniard came a step nearer. "Is it you, Pedro?"
"Peter is my name, but I doubt I'm not the Peter you're expecting."
"How?" quoth the sentry.
"This way," said Mr. Blood.
The wooden railing was a low one, and the Spaniard unsuspecting. Save for the splash he made as he struck the water below, narrowly missing one of the crowded boats, not a sound announced his misadventure. Armed as he was with corselet, cuissarts and headpiece, he sank to trouble them no more.
"Whist!" hissed Mr. Blood to his waiting companions. "Come on now, and without noise."
Within bye minutes the rebels convict were aboard, all thirty of them, overflowing from that narrow gallery about the sides of the round house, and crouching on the quarter-deck itself. Lights showed ahead. Under a lantern in the prow they saw the black= figure of the other sentry, pacing on the forecastle.
Crouching low, they glided noiselessly as shadows to the companion and slipped without sound down into the waist. A score of them were armed with muskets taken from the overseer's house and others from the secret hoard that Mr. Blood had so laboriously assembled against the day of their escape. The remainder had equipped themselves, some with cutlasses and some with pole-axes.
In the vessel's waist they hung a while, alert, until Mr. Blood had satisfied himself that no watcher showed above decks save that inconvenient fellow in the prow. Their first attention must be for him, and it was Blood himself who crept forward with two companions, leaving the others in charge of a resolute fellow named Ogle. When they returned there was no watch above the Spaniard's decks.
Meanwhile the revelers below continued to make merry at their ease in the conviction of complete security. Even when their quarters were invaded and themselves surrounded by some thirty wild, hairy, half-naked men who, save that they appeared once to have been white, must have looked like savages, the pirates could not believe their eyes. Who could have dreamed that a handful of forgotten plantation-slaves should take so much upon themselves?
The half-drunken Spaniards, their laughter suddenly silenced, the song perishing on their lips, stared stricken and bewildered at the leveled muskets. And then from out of that pack of uncouth savages stepped a slim, tall fellow with light-blue eyes in his tawny face, eyes in which there was a light of wicked humor. He addressed them in excellent Spanish.
"You will save yourselves pain and trouble by considering yourselves my prisoners, and suffering yourselves to be quietly bestowed under hatches, out of harm's way."
"Por Dios la Virgen!" swore young Esteban Valdez, which did no justice at all to an amazement utterly beyond expression.
After that the rebels convict refreshed themselves with the good things in the consumption of which the Spaniards had been interrupted. To taste palatable Christian food after months, of salt fish and corn dumplings was in itself a feast to those unfortunates. It required all the firmness of which Mr. Blood was capable to prevent excesses. Dispositions were to be made against what must yet follow before they could abandon themselves to the full enjoyment of the fruits of victory, and those dispositions occupied some considerable portion of the night.
Soon after the sun had peeped over the shoulder of Mount Hillbay, one of Mr. Blood's sentries, who paced the quarterdeck in Spanish corselet and headpiece, a Spanish musket on his shoulder, announced the approach of a boat. It was Don Diego Valdez coming aboard with four great treasure-chests containing the ransom delivered to him at dawn by Governor Creed. Six men at the oars accompanied him.
Aboard the frigate all was quiet and orderly. She rode at anchor, her larboard to the shore, and the main ladder on her starboard side. Round to this came the boat with Don Diego and his treasure. Mr. Blood had disposed swiftly and effectively. The slings were ready, and the capstan manned.
Don Diego, stepping on to the deck alone and entirely unsuspecting, was promptly and quietly put to sleep by a tap over the head from a marlinspike efficiently handled by a one-eyed giant named Wolverstone. He was carried away to his cabin, whilst the treasure-chests, handled by the men he had left in the boat, were swiftly hauled aboard. Then the fellows who had manned the boat came up the ladder one by one, to be handled with the same quiet efficiency. Mr. Blood had a genius for these things and almost an eye for the dramatic. For dramatic now was the spectacle presented to the survivors of the raid ashore.
With Colonel Bishop at their head and gout-ridden Governor Creed sitting on the ruins of a wall beside him, they glumly watched the departure of the eight boats bearing the Spanish ruffians who had glutted themselves with rapine and murder and violences unspeakable. They were between relief at this departure of their remorseless enemies and despair at the wild ravages which, temporarily at least, had wrecked the prosperity and happiness of that little colony.
The boats pulled out, with their loads of laughing, jeering, taunting pirates, and they had come midway between the wharf and the frigate when suddenly the air was shaken by the boom of a gun. A round shot struck the water within a fathom of the foremost boat and hurled a shower of spray over its occupants.
They paused on their oars, turning in angry dismay, volubly to anathematize this dangerous carelessness on the part of their gunner, until to silence them came a second shot better aimed that crumpled the boat into splinters and flung them, dead and living, into the water.
But if it silenced them, it gave sudden vehement, angry and bewildered tongues to the occupants of the other seven boats. From each the suspended oars stood out parallel with the water, while on their feet in their excitement the Spaniards screamed oaths to the frigate, asking themselves and it what madman had been let loose amid her guns.
Plump into the middle of them came another shot, smashing a second boat with fearful execution. Followed a moment of awful silence, then among the pirates all was gibbering and jabbering and splashing of oars as they attempted to pull in every direction at once. Some were for going ashore, others for heading straight to the frigate and there discovering what might be amiss. That something was gravely amiss there could he no further doubt, particularly as while they discussed and fumed and cursed two more shots came over the water to account for yet a third of their boats.
After that their opinions were no longer divided. They went about—or attempted to do so, for before they had accomplished it two more of them had been sunk. The three boats that remained afloat, without concerning themselves with their more unfortunate fellows struggling in the water, headed back for the wharf at speed.
If the Spaniards understood nothing, the forlorn islanders on the shore understood still less, until at last to help their wits the flag of Spain came down from the masthead of the frigate, and the English ensign soared to its empty place. Even then bewilderment persisted, and they observed with fearful eyes the return of their enemies who might vent upon them the ferocity aroused by these extraordinary events.
The resolute Ogle, however, continued to give proof that his knowledge of gunnery was not of yesterday. After the fleeing Spaniards went his shots, and the last of their boats flew into splinters as it touched the wharf. That was the end of that pirate crew, which not ten minutes ago had been laughingly counting up the pieces of eight that would accrue to each of them from their easy victory.
The few stragglers that swam ashore had afterward reason to regret it.
The mystery of the succor that had come to the islanders at the eleventh hour to turn the tables on the Spaniards and preserve for the island the extortionate ransom that had been wrung from it, remained yet to be probed. That the frigate was now in friendly British hands could no longer be doubted. And the only possible inference ran the truth very closely. A party of islanders must have got on board her during the night. It remained to ascertain the precise identity of these mysterious saviors and to do them fitting honor. Upon this errand—Governor Creed's condition not permitting him to go in person—went Colonel Bishop as the governor's deputy, attended by two officers.
Stepping from the ladder into the frigate's waist, the colonel's eyes sparkled when they alighted upon the four treasure-chests, the contents of one of which had been entirely contributed by himself. Ranged on either side of them stood a dozen men, in two martial files, with breasts and backs of steel, polished Spanish morions on their heads, overshadowing their faces, and muskets ordered at their sides.
The planter could not be expected to recognize at a glance in these upright, furbished, soldierly figures, the ragged, unkempt scarecrows that but yesterday had been his slaves. Still less could he be expected to recognize at once the courtly gentleman who advanced to meet him—a lean, graceful gentleman dressed in the Spanish fashion, all in black With silver lace, a gold-hilted sword dangling beside him froth a gold-embroidered baldrick, a broad castor with a sweeping plume set above his carefully curled ringlets of deepest black.
"Be welcome aboard the Cinco Llagas, colonel darling," the planter heard himself greeted in a voice vaguely familiar. "We've made the best of the Spaniards' wardrobe to do fitting honor to this visit. Though I confess it's the governor himself we were expecting."
"Peter Blood!" ejaculated Colonel Bishop. And then understanding and exultation followed swiftly upon his amazement. "Gadsmylife!" he roared. "My slaves! And it was with these you took the Spaniards and turned the tables on them. Odswounds, it's heroic!"
"Heroic, is it? Bedad, it's epic," said Mr. Blood, and added fervently, "Blessed be my genius!"
The colonel sat down on one of the chests, took off his broad hat and mopped his brow.
"Y'amaze me," he said. "On my soul, y'amaze me! I couldn't have believed it. I'll take oath I couldn't. To have recovered the treasure, and to have captured for us this fine ship, with all she'll hold! It will be something to set against the losses we have suffered. Gadsmylife, Blood, you deserve well for this; you all deserve well for it, and —— me, you shall find me grateful. His Excellency shall write home an account of your exploit, and maybe some part of your sentence on the island will be remitted you."
"I'm thinking so myself," said Mr. Blood, in a tone that made the colonel look up. Among the rebels convict some one made so bold as to laugh. "And meanwhile there's a matter of flogging that's due to me. Ye're a man of your word in such matters, colonel, and ye said, I think, that ye'll not leave a square inch of skin to my back—"
The planter rose abruptly, to interrupt. Almost, it seemed, the suggestion offended him.
"Tush, tusk! After this splendid deed of yours, do you suppose I can be thinking of such things? There's no longer any question of that for you, my friend."
"Yet I'm thinking it's mighty lucky for me the Spaniards didn't come today instead of yesterday, or it's in the sand case as poor Jerry Pitt I'd be this minute. And if I'd been like that, where was the genius that would have turned the tables on these thieving Spaniards?"
"Why speak of it?"
"Because ye've worked a deal of mischief and cruelty in your time, and I want this to be a lesson to you, a lesson that yell remember. There's Jerry Pitt lying up there in the cabin with the fever and a back that's every color of the rainbow. And if it hadn't been for the Spaniards maybe it's dead he'd be by now. That's bad enough. But when I think that ye meant to do the like by me, I'm wondering if I'll let you go ashore at all."
"What the —— do you mean?"
Alarm leaped at last within the colonel's soul, and though his tone was blustering his face was white.
"Anyway, I think I'll just keep you aboard as a hostage for the good behavior of Governor Creed, and what's left of the fort, until we weigh anchor and put to sea."
Horror prevented Colonel Bishop from echoing the whole of that incredible speech.
"Just so," said Mr. Blood, and he turned to the officers who had accompanied the colonel. "The boat's waiting, sirs. You'll have heard what I said. Convey it with my compliments to his Excellency."
"If you please, gentlemen, my name is Blood, elected captain of this ship, the Cinco Llagas, taken as a prize of war from Don Diego Valdez, who is my prisoner aboard. We've turned the tables on more than the Spaniards. So now you'll understand. There's the ladder. You'll find it more convenient than being heaved over the side, which is what will happen if you linger."
They went, though not without some hustling, despite the bellowing of Colonel Bishop, whose monstrous rage was fanned by terror at finding himself at the mercy of those men whom he had so foully abused.
There were among them some six or seven who possessed a fair knowledge of seamanship, being men of Devon. These, with others to assist them as directed, went about the handling of the ship. The anchor weighed and the mainsail unfurled, they stood out for the open before a fair breeze without any interference from the fort.
As they approached the headland, east of the bay, Mr. Blood returned to the planter, who, under guard and panic-stricken, was seated dejectedly on one of the treasure-chests he had fondly dreamed of taking ashore with him.
"Can ye swim, colonel?"
Colonel Bishop looked up, at once fierce and sullen, making no answer.
"As your doctor now, I prescribe a swim to cool the excessive heat of your humors," Mr. Blood pleasantly explained himself; and as the colonel still made no answer, he continued: "It's a mercy for you I'm not by nature bloodthirsty. And it's the devil's own labor I've had to prevail upon these lads not to hang you from the yard-arm. I doubt if ye're worth the pains I've taken, but ye shall have a chance to swim for it. It's not above a quarter of a mile to the headland there, and with luck ye'll manage it. Come on! Now don't be hesitating, or it's the —— knows what may happen to you."
Colonel Bishop rose and shrugged. A merciless despot who had never known the need for restraint in all these years, he was doomed by ironic fate to practise restraint in the very moment when his feelings had reached their most violent intensity.
Mr. Blood gave an order. A plank was run out over the gunwale and lashed down.
"If you please," said Mr. Blood, with a graceful flourish of invitation.
The planter looked at him with burning fury in his glance. Then he kicked off his shoes, tore off his coat, and sprang upon the plank. A moment he paused, looking down in terror at the green water rushing past some twenty-five feet below.
"Just take a little walk, colonel darling," said a smooth, mocking voice behind him.
Clinging to a ratline, Colonel Bishop looked round in hesitation, and saw the bulwarks lined with faces—the faces of men that but yesterday would have turned pale under his glance, faces that were now all wickedly agrin.
He uttered an oath, and stepped out upon the plank. Three steps he took, then missed his balance, and went tumbling down into the green depths below.
When he rose again, gasping for air, the frigate was already some furlongs to leeward. But the roaring cheer of mocking valediction from the rebels convict still reached him to drive the iron deeper into his soul.
Don Diego Valdez awoke, and with languid eyes in aching head he looked around the sunlit cabin. Then he closed his eyes again, and endeavored to think. But between the pain in his head and the confusion that he discovered in his mind, he found thought almost impossible.
An indefinite sense of alarm drove him to consider his surroundings yet again. There could be no doubt that he lay in the roundhouse of his own ship, the Cinco Llagas, so that his disquiet must be ill-founded.
And yet stirrings of memory coming now to the assistance of reflection compelled him uneasily to insist that here something was not as it should be. The position of the sun, flooding the cabin with golden light from the square window astern, suggested that it was early morning, unless indeed they were sailing eastward, in which case it would be late afternoon.
That they were sailing he could feel from the gentle forward heave of the vessel under him. And how did they come to be sailing, and he, the master, not to know whether their course lay east or west, not to be able to recollect whither they were bound?
His mind went back over the adventure of yesterday, if of yesterday it was. He was clear oh the matter of the easily successful raid upon the Island of Barbados; every detail of it stood vividly in his memory up to the moment at which, returning aboard, he had stepped on to the deck.
He had brought the ransom of a hundred thousand pieces of eight, wrung from the defeated islanders, and his men had been following in eight boats that were laden also with plunder and provisions. That much he clearly remembered. But there memory abruptly ceased. It was as if he had fallen asleep at the moment of stepping from the ladder to the deck.
He was beginning to torture his mind with conjecture when the door opened, and to Don Diego's increasing mystification he beheld his best suit of clothes step into the cabin. It was a singularly elegant and characteristically Spanish suit of black taffeta with silver lace that had been made for him a year ago in Cadiz, and he knew each detail of it so well that it was impossible he could be mistaken.
The suit paused to close the door, then advanced toward the couch on which Don Diego was extended; and inside the suit came Mr. Peter Blood, a tall, slender gentleman of about Don Diego's own height and shape... Seeing the wide, startled eyes of the Spaniard upon him, Mr. Blood lengthened his stride.
"Awake, eh?" said he in Spanish.
The recumbent man looked up, bewildered, into a pair of light-blue eyes that regarded him out of a tawny, sardonic face set in a duster of black ringlets.
Mr. Blood's fingers touched the top of Don Diego's head, whereupon Don Diego winced and cried out in pain.'
"Tender, eh?" said Mr. Blood.
He took Don Diego's wrist between thumb and second finger. And then at last the Spaniard spoke.
"Are you a doctor?"
"Among other things," was the cryptic answer.
Mr. Blood continued his study of the patient's pulse.
"A trifle intermittent," said he, and dropped the wrist.
Don Diego struggled up into a sitting position on the red-velvet couch.
"Who the —— are you?" he asked. "And what the —— are you doing in my clothes and aboard my ship?"
The level, black eyebrows went up.
"You are still delirious, I fear. This is not your ship. This is my ship, and these are my clothes."
"Your ship?" quoth the other, aghast; and, still more aghast, he added:
"Your clothes? But—Then—"
He stared, his eyes wild. Then he looked round the cabin once again, scrutinizing each familiar object.
"Am I mad?" he asked at last. "Surely this ship is the Cinco Llagas?"
"The Cinco Llagas it is."
The Spaniard broke off. His glance grew still more troubled.
"Valga me Dios!" he cried out like a man in anguish. "Will you tell me also that you are Don Diego Valdez?"
"Oh, no; my name is Blood—Captain Peter Blood. This ship, like this handsome suit of clothes, is mine by right of conquest. Just as you, Don Diego, are my prisoner."
Startling as was the explanation, yet it soothed Don Diego, being so much less startling than the things he was beginning to imagine.
"But—are you not Spanish, then?"
"You flatter my Castilian accent. I have the honor to be Irish. You were thinking that a miracle had happened. So it has—a miracle wrought by my genius, which is considerable."
And very succinctly now Captain Blood elucidated the mystery. Last night what time the two hundred and fifty Spaniards commanded by Don Diego were making merry in conquered Bridgetown Mr. Blood and some thirty forgotten plantation slaves—rebels convict all, who had been out with Monmouth in the West Country and as a consequence suffered transportation—had quietly slipped aboard the Cinco Llagas, overpowered the slight contingent which was guarding her with characteristic Spanish carelessness, and so possessed themselves of the ship.
"When you came aboard this morning with the ransom of a hundred thousand pieces of eight we tapped you over the head to keep you quiet. After that we hauled the treasure-chests aboard, and then proceeded to sink by gunfire the boats containing your marauding followers. That much successfully accomplished, and having no desire to return into slavery, we put to sea."
The Spaniard's countenance had gone red and white by turns during that brief narration. He had put a hand to the back of his head, and there discovered, in confirmation of the story, a lump as large as a pigeon's egg.
"And my son? What of my son?" he cried out. "He was with the gunner left on guard aboard."
"Your son is safe; he and the gunner and his crew—ten of them in all—are snugly in irons under hatches."
Don Diego sank back on the couch, his glittering, dark eyes fixed upon the tawny face of Captain Blood, and silently composed himself, After all, he had the stoicism proper to his desperate trade.
With the utmost composure he inquired—
"And now, Se˝or Capitßn?"
"And now," said Captain Blood, "being a humane man, I am sorry to find that ye're not dead from the tap we gave you. For it means that you'll be put to the trouble of dying all ever again."
"Is that necessary?" asked Don Diego without apparent perturbation.
Captain Blood's light-blue eyes approved his bearing.
"Ask yourself," said he. "Tell me, as an experienced and bloody pirate, what in my place should you do yourself?"
"Ah, but there is a difference."
Don Diego sat up to argue the matter. "It lies in the fact that you boast yourself a humane man."
Captain Blood perched himself on the edge of the long oak table.
"But I am not a fool," said he, "and I'll not allow a natural Irish sentimentality to stand in the way of my doing what is necessary and proper. You and your ten surviving scoundrels are a menace on this ship. More than that, she is none so well found in water and provisions:
"True, we are fortunately a small number, but you and your party inconveniently increase it. So that on every hand, you see, prudence suggests to us that we should deny ourselves the pleasure of your company, and, steeling our soft hearts to the inevitable, invite you to take a walk along a plank."
"I see," said the Spaniard pensively.
He swung his legs from the couch, and sat now upon the edge of it, his elbows on his knees. He had taken the measure of his man, and met him now with a mock urbanity and a suave detachment that matched his own.
"I confess," he admitted, "that there is much force in what you say."
"You take a load from my mind," said Captain Blood. "I would not appear unnecessarily harsh, especially since I and my friends owe you so very much. For, whatever it may have been to others to us your raid upon Barbados was most opportune. I am glad therefore that you agree that I have no choice."
"But, my friend, I did not agree so much."
"If there is any alternative that you can suggest I shall be most happy to consider it."
In thought Don Diego stroked his pointed black beard.
"Can you give me until morning for reflection? My head aches so damnably that I am incapable of thought. And this, you will admit, is a matter that asks for serious thought."
Captain Blood stood up. From a shelf he took a half-hour glass, reversed it so that the bulb containing the red sand was uppermost, and stood it on the table.
"I am sorry to press you in such a matter, Don Diego, but one glass is all that I can give you. If by the time those sands have run out you can propose no acceptable alternative I shall most reluctantly be driven to ask you to go over the side with your friends."
Captain Blood went out and locked the door.
Elbows on his knees and face in his hands, Don Diego sat watching the rusty sands run from the upper to the lower bulb. And as he watched, the lines in his lean, broad face grew deeper. Punctually as the last grains filtered through the door reopened.
The Spaniard sighed and sat upright to face the returning Captain Blood with the answer for which he came.
"I have thought of an alternative, sir captain; but it depends upon your charity. It is that you put us ashore on one of the islands of this pestilent archipelago, and leave us to shift for ourselves."
Captain Blood pursed his lips.
"It has its difficulties," he said slowly.
"I feared it would be so."
Don Diego sighed again, and stood up.
"Let us say no more."
The light-blue eyes of Captain Blood played over him like points of steel.
"You ape not afraid to die, Don Diego?"
The Spaniard threw back his head, a frown between his eyes.
"The question is offensive, sir."
"It is not so intended. Let me put it in another sway, perhaps more happily—
"You do not desire to live?"
"Ah, that I can answer. I do desire to live; and even more do I desire that my son may live. But the desire shall not make a coward of me for your amusement, master mocker."
It was the first sign he had shown of the least heat or resentment.
Captain Blood did not directly answer. As before he perched himself on the corner of the table.
"Would you be willing, sir, to earn life and liberty—for yourself, your son and the other Spaniards who are on board?"
"To earn it?" said Don Diego; and the watchful Captain Blood did not miss the quiver that ran through him. "To earn it, do you say? Why, if the service you would propose is one that can not hurt my honor—"
"Could I be guilty of that?" cried the captain. "For I realize that even a pirate has his honor."
And he forthwith propounded his offer.
"If you will look from those windows, Don Diego, you will see what appears to be a faint cloud on the horizon. That is the island of Barbados well astern. All day we have been sailing east before the wind with but one intent—to set as great a distance between Barbados and ourselves as possible.
"But now, almost out of sight of land, we are in a difficulty. The only man among us schooled in the art of navigation is fevered, delirious in fact, as a consequence of certain ill-treatment he received ashore before we carried him away with us. I can handle a ship tolerably well in action, and there are one or two men of Devon aboard, who can assist me; but in the higher mysteries of seamanship and of the art of finding our way over trackless wastes of the ocean we know nothing. To hug the land, and go blundering about what you so aptly call this pestilent archipelago is for us to court disaster', as you can perhaps conceive.
"And so it comes to this: We desire to make for the Dutch settlement of Curašao as straightly as possible, there to victual our ship and invite adventurers to join us so as to make up a proper complement. Will you pledge me your honor if I release lieu upon parole that you will navigate us thither? If so we will either restore you and your surviving men to liberty upon arrival there, or if you prefer it carry you off again to put you ashore as you have suggested on one of the lesser isles."
Don Diego bowed his head upon his breast, and strode away in thought to the stern windows. There he stood looking out upon the sunlit sea and the dead water in the great ship's wake—his ship that these English dogs had wrested from him; his ship that he was asked to bring safely into a port where she would be completely lost to him and refitted to make war upon his kin. That was in one scale; in the other were the lives of eleven men, his own included.
He turned at length; and, his back being to the light, the captain could not see how pale his face had grown.
"I accept," he said.
Thus was the bargain made, and thereafter Don Diego enjoyed the freedom of the ship that had been his, and the navigation of her was left entirely in his hands. And because those who manned her were new to the seas of the Spanish Main, and had not yet learned to see in every Spaniard a treacherous cruel dog to be slain at sight, they used him with the civility which his own suave urbanity invited.
He took his meals in the great cabin with Blood and the half-dozen officers elected to support him. Of these were Hagthorpe, a slight, fair man of thirty; Wolverstone, a swarthy giant who had lost an eye at Sedgemoor; and Ogle the gunner, a burly than who had seen a deal of fighting in his time and whose ignorance of ships was equalled only by his knowledge of guns and all that appertained to them.
They found Don Diego an agreeable, even an amusing companion, and their friendly feeling toward him was fostered by his fortitude and brave equanimity in this adversity.
That Don Diego was not playing fair it was impossible to suspect. Moreover there was no conceivable reason why he should not. And he had been of the utmost frankness with them.
He had denounced their mistake in sailing before the wind upon leaving Barbados. They should have left the island to leeward, heading into the Caribbean and away from the archipelago.
As it was, they would now be forced to pass through it again so as to make Curašao, and this passage was not to be accomplished without some measure of risk to themselves. At any point between the islands they might come upon an equal or superior craft; whether she were Spanish or English would be equally bad for them, and being under-manned they were in no case to fight. To lessen this risk as far as possible Don Diego directed at first a southerly and then a westerly course; and so, taking a line midway between the islands of Tobago and Grenada, they won safely through the danger zone and came into the comparative security of the Caribbean Sea.
"If this wind holds," he told them that night at supper after he had announced to them their position, "we should reach Curašao inside three days."
For three days the wind held—indeed it freshened a little on the second—and yet on the evening of the third day the Cinco Llagas was plowing through a sea contained on every side by the blue bowl of heaven. Captain Blood uneasily mentioned it to Don Diego.
"It will be for tomorrow morning," he was answered with calm conviction.
"By the saints, it is always 'tomorrow morning' with you Spaniards; and tomorrow never-comes, my friend."
"But this tomorrow is coming, rest assured. However early you may be astir you shall see land ahead, Don Pedro."
Captain Blood passed orb, content, and went to visit Jerry Pitt, his patient, to whose condition Don Diego owed his chance of life. For twenty-four hours now the young navigator had been rid of fever, and so far indeed was he recovered that he complained of his confinement, of the heat in his cabin.
To indulge him Captain Blood consented that he should take the air on deck; and so as the last of the daylight was fading from the sky Jerry Pitt came forth upon the captain's arm.
Seated on the hatch-coamings, the Somerset lad gratefully filled his lungs with the cool night air, and professed himself revived thereby. Then his eye wandered to the darkling vault of heaven, spangled already with a myriad golden points of light. A while he scanned it idly, vacantly; and then his attention became sharply fixed. He looked round and up at Captain Blood, who stood beside him.
"D'ye know anything of astronomy, Peter?" quoth he.
"Astronomy, is it? Faith now, I couldn't tell the Belt of Orion from' the Girdle of Venus."
"Ah! And I suppose the rest of this lubberly crew share your ignorance."
"It would be more amiable of you to suppose that they exceed it."
Jerry pointed ahead to a spot of light in the heavens over the starboard bow.
"That is the North Star," said he.
"Is it now? Glory be, I wonder ye can pick it out from the rest."
"And the North Star ahead almost over your starboard bow means that we're steering a course north-northwest, or indeed north by west, for I doubt if we are standing more than ten degrees westward."
"And why shouldn't we?"
"Ye told me, I think, that we came west of the archipelago between Tobago and Grenada with Curašao for our destination. If that were our present course we should have the North Star abeam, out yonder."
On the instant Captain Blood shed his laziness. He was about to answer when a shaft of light clove the gloom above their heads, coming from the round-house door which had just been opened. It closed again, and presently there was a step on the companion. Don Diego was approaching.
Captain Blood's fingers pressed Jerry's shoulder with significance. Then he called the Don, and spoke to him in English, as had become his custom when others were present.
"Will ye settle a slight dispute for us, Don Diego?" said he lightly. "We are arguing, Mr. Pitt and I, as to which is the North Star."
The Spaniard's tone was easy; there was almost a suggestion that laughter lurked behind it, and the reason for this was explained by his next sentence.
"But you tell me, Mr. Pitt he is your navigator?"
"For lack of a better," laughed the captain, good-humoredly contemptuous. "Now I am ready to wager him a. hundred-pieces of eight that that is the North Star."
And he flung out an arm toward a point of light in the heavens straight abeam. He afterward told Pitt that had Don Diego confirmed him he would have run him through upon the instant. Far from that, however, the Spaniard freely expressed his scorn.
"You have the assurance that is of the ignorance, Don Pedro; and you lose. The North Star is this one."
And he indicated it.
"You are sure?"
"But, my dear Don Pedro!"
The Spaniard's tone was one of amused protest.
"But could I be mistaken? Besides, there is the compass. Step into the steering-room and see what is our course."
His utter frankness, and the easy manner of one who has nothing to conceal resolved at once the doubt that had leaped so suddenly in the mind of Captain Blood. But Jerry Pitt was satisfied less easily.
"In that case, Don Diego, will you tell me, since Curašao is our destination, why our course is what it is?"
Again there was no faintest hesitation on Don Diego's part.
"Well may you ask," said he, and sighed. "I had hope it would not be observed. I have been of a carelessness—oh, of a carelessness of the most culpable. I neglect observations. It is my way. I am too sure of myself. I depend too much upon dead reckoning.
"The result is that I find today when at last I take out the quadrant that we do come by a half-degree too much south, so that Curašao is now almost due north of us. That is what cause the delay. But we will be there tomorrow."
The explanation, so completely satisfactory and so readily and candidly forthcoming, left no room for further doubt. Considering it afterward, Captain Blood confessed to Pitt that it was absurd to have suspected Don Diego. Pirate though he was, he had proved his quality when he had announced himself ready to die sooner than enter into any undertaking that could hurt his honor.
New to the sea and to the ways of adventurers who sailed it, Captain Blood still entertained illusions. But the next dawn was to shatter them rudely and forever.
Coming on deck before the sun was up, he saw land ahead, as the Spaniard had promised them last night. Some ten miles ahead it lay, a long coast-line filling the horizon east and west, with a massive headland jutting forward straight before them.
Staring at it, he frowned. He had not conceived that Curašao was of such considerable dimensions. Indeed, this looked less like an island than the main itself.
Beating out against the gentle landward breeze he beheld a great ship on their starboard bow, that he conceived to be some four or five miles off, and—as well as he could judge her at that distance—of a tonnage equal if not superior to their own. Even as he watched her she altered her course, and, going about, came heading toward them close-hauled.
A score of his fellows were astir on the forecastle, looking eagerly ahead, and the sound of their voices and laughter reached him across the length of the stately Cinco Llagas.
"There," said a soft voice behind him in liquid Spanish, "is the Promised Land, Don Pedro."
It was something in that voice, a muffled note of exultation, that awoke his suspicion and made whole the half-doubt that he had been entertaining. He turned sharply to face Don Diego, so sharply that the sly smile was not effaced from the Spaniard's countenance before Captain Blood's eyes had flashed upon it.
"You find an odd satisfaction in the sight of it—all things considered."
The Spaniard rubbed his hands, and Captain Blood observed that they were unsteady.
"The satisfaction of a mariner."
"Or of a traitor—which?" snapped the Irishman.
And as the Spaniard fell back before him with suddenly altered countenance that confirmed his every suspicion he flung an arm out in the direction Of the distant shore.
"What land is that?" he blazed at him. "Will you have the effrontery to tell me that is the coast of Curašao?' He advanced upon Don Diego furiously, and Don Diego, step by step, back.
"Shall I tell you what land it is? Shall I tell you?"
His fierce assumption of knowledge seemed to dazzle and daze the Spaniard. For still he made no answer. And then Captain Blood drew a bow at a venture—or not quite at a venture. Such a coast-line as that, if not of the main itself—and the main he knew it could not be—must belong to either Cuba or Hispaniola. Now, knowing Cuba to lie farther north and west of the two, it followed, he reasoned swiftly, that if Don Diego meant betrayal he would steer for the nearer of these Spanish territories.
"That land, you treacherous, forsworn Spanish dog, is the island of Hispaniola."
Having said it, he closely watched that swarthy face, now overspread with pallor, to see the truth or falsehood of his guess reflected there. But now the retreating Spaniard had come to the middle of the quarter-deck, where the mizzen-sail made a screen to shut them off from the eyes of the Englishmen below. His lips writhed in a snarling smile.
"Ah, perro inglez! You know too much," he said under his breath, and sprang for the captain's throat.
Tight-locked in each other's arms, they swayed a moment, then together went down upon the deck, the Spaniard's feet jerked from under him by the Irishman's crooked right leg. Don Diego had confidently thought to choke the life out of Captain Blood, and so gain the half-hour that might be necessary to bring up that fine ship that was beating toward them—a Spanish ship perforce, he assumed, since none other would be so boldly cruising in these Spanish waters off Hispaniola. But all that he had accomplished was completest self-betrayal, as he realized when he found himself upon his back with his opponent kneeling on his chest, whilst the men, summoned by their leader's shout, came clattering up the companionway to his assistance.
"Will I say a prayer for your dirty soul now whilst I am in this attitude of prayer?"
Captain Blood was furiously mocking him.
But the Spaniard, though defeated now beyond hope for himself, forced his lips to smile and gave back mockery for mockery.
"Who will pray for your soul, I wonder, when that frigate comes to lie board and board with you?"
"That frigate!" echoed Captain Blood, suddenly realizing the assumption upon which his prisoner had acted, and perceiving that already it was too late to avoid the consequences of Don Diego's betrayal of them.
There was no trace of humor or urbanity about him now. His light eyes blazed; his face was livid with suppressed fury.
He rose, relinquishing the Spaniard to his men.
"Make him fast," he bade them. "Truss him, wrist and heel, but don't hurt him—not so much as a hair of his precious head."
The injunction was very necessary. Frenzied by the thought that they were likely to exchange the slavery from which they had so lately escaped for a slavery still worse, they would have torn the Spaniard limb from limb upon the spot. And if they now obeyed their captain and refrained, it was only because the sudden steely note in his voice promised for Don Diego Valdez something far more exquisite than death.
"You scum! You dirty pirate! You 'man of Honor!'" Captain Blood apostrophized his prisoner.
But Don Diego looked up at him and laughed.
"You underrated me."
He spoke English so that all might hear.
"I tell you that I was not fear death, and I show you that I was not fear it. You no understand. You just an English dog."
"Irish, if you please."
Captain Blood insisted upon that even at such a moment.
"And your parole, you gentleman of Spain?"
"You think I give my parole to leave such filth as you in possession of this my so beautiful ship, to go and make war upon other Spaniards! Ha!"
Don Diego laughed in his throat.
"You fool! You can kill me. Pish! What is it to die? I die with my work well done. In less than an hour you will be the prisoners of Spain, and the Cinco Llagas will fly the flag of Spain again."
White-faced, Captain Blood continued to regard him, fury blunting his wits and choking his power of thought.
"Wait," he bade his men at last; and, turning on his heel, he went aside to the rail.
There he was joined by Hagthorpe, Wolverstone and Ogle, the gunner. In silence they stared with him across the water at that other ship. She had veered a point, away from the wind, and was running now on a line that must in the end converge, with that of the Cinco Llagas.
"In less than half an hour," said the captain presently, "we shall have her across our hawse, sweeping our decks with ibex guns."
"We can fight," said the one-eyed giant, Wolverstone, with an oath.
"Fight!" sneered Blood. "Undermanned as we are, mustering a bare thirty men, in what case are we to fight? It's just suicide, so it is. Our only chance would be to persuade her that we are Spaniards so that she may leave us to go our ways."
"And how is that possible?" quoth Ogle.
"It isn't possible," said Blood. "If it were—"
And then he broke off and stood musing, his eyes upon the green water. Ogle, with a bent for sarcasm, interposed a suggestion bitterly.
"We, might send Don Diego Valdez in a boat manned by his Spaniards to assure her that we are all loyal subjects of his Catholic Majesty."
The Captain looked as if he would have struck him. Then another light, the light of inspiration, flashed in his glance.
"Bedad, ye've pointed the way!" said he. He swung on his heel abruptly and strode back to the knot of men about Don Diego.
"Below, and fetch pp the Spanish prisoners," he commanded. "And you, Hagthorpe, set the flag of Spain aloft, where they can see it."
When presently the ten sullen, manacled Spaniards were paraded before him on the quarter-deck Captain Blood briefly and coldly recited to them the treachery of which Don Diego had been guilty and the peril in which they consequently stood:
"This peril," he announced to them, "you share with us. For if we must perish you shall perish with us. But there is one chance—one slender chance—of life for us and for you if you will agree to do as I shall bid you."
Behind him Don Diego laughed aloud, the exaltation of martyrdom on his white face.
"There is no way," he cried in a vibrant voice. "Provide none for him. Let us die rather, and long live Spain!"
Captain Blood did not heed him; his attention was entirely given to those ten prisoners, and on the sullen faces of those hinds he saw the light of no such exaltation as their captain sought to kindle in them. He turned to those who guarded Don Diego.
"Lash him across the mouth of that cannon," he commanded, pointing to the nearest stern-chaser.
The order quenched some of that Roman spirit that Captain Blood observed and secretly admired in his prisoner. A man may not fear death itself, and yet be appalled by the manner of it.
Don Diego glared maniacally, his eyeballs rolling in his head, and then he fell to struggling in the arms that held him whilst from his lips poured blasphemy and insult whose source was horror. But for all his vain struggles his body was swiftly and relentlessly stretched in an arc across the mouth of the gun, and his legs and arms lashed to the Carriage on either side of it. Thence he addressed his tormentor in a tone of frenzy.
"You foul barbarian heretic! You inhuman savage! Will it not content you to kill me in some Christian fashion?"
"Gag him," said Captain Blood.
And in this he had a certain subtle purpose. In a moment, surprize being spent, the Spaniard might recover his intrepidity of spirit, and seek again to instil firmness into his followers.
To these the Irishman now turned, observing with satisfaction the horror stamped on every face of the ten. He commanded the gunner, who was a personable fellow with an air of authority, to stand forward from the rest, and then very deliberately he explained himself in the excellent Castilian of which he was master.
"That ship," he said, "will presently be opening fire upon us unless meanwhile we can take measures to avert it. Now, we are in no case to fight, as your captain well knew when he abused his parole to steer us into this trap.
"But if we are not in case to fight, neither are we in case to surrender, which would mean our death or worse. If die we must, we will die fighting. And if we are driven to fight, it is this gun that will open fire on our side."
And his hand touched the stern-chaser that bore Don Diego stretched across its jaws.
"I trust that you understand me."
Esteban, the gunner, stared white-faced into those pitiless light eyes.
"If I understand?" he cried. "But, nombre de Dios! How should I understand? You speak of averting a fight. But how?"
"A fight might be averted; escape might be possible," he was answered, "if Don Diego were to go aboard that frigate and by-his presence properly accredited satisfy her that the Cinco Llagas is indeed a ship of Spain as her flag announces."
He pointed aloft to the gold-and-crimson banner of Castile that floated from her mast-head.
"But since Don Diego is otherwise engaged he can not go in person. He must be represented. You might go as his lieutenant in a boat manned by these countrymen of yours to complete the illusion.
"Should you return without accident, having so played your part that we shall be free to continue on our voyage, Don Diego shall have his life, as shall every one of yon. But if there is the least hitch through treachery or misadventure the battle will be opened on our side by this gun, which will 'be trained upon your boat."
He paused, then asked—
"What have you to say to that?"
A silence followed, broken at last by the Spaniards behind the gunner.
"But accept!" they exhorted him, several speaking at once. "Accept, and do it, name of ——!"
Captain Blood smiled.
"You hear," he said, and added, "Believe me, it is good advice."
Esteban moistened his dry lips, and with the back of his band mopped the beads of sweat from his brow, His eyes were upon the figure of his captain, and he saw the man's muscles heaving as he attempted to, writhe in his bonds.
"But...but, how is it to be done? What am I to say to the captain of that ship?"
"You shall be dressed to suit your rank of lieutenant to Don Diego, and you shall bear a letter, which I shall furnish you, which Don Diego is most anxious should be conveyed at once to Cadiz. He has sent you with it in the hope that she may be homeward bound for Spain."
And now those behind Esteban, who saw in this their only chance of life, hoarsely cried out to him to do as was required. To this clamor and to his own terrors the gunner yielded.
Captain Blood's manner became brisk. Time enough had been lost already, and the two ships running ever along their converging lines stood now scarcely more than a mile apart. He ordered the bilboes to be stuck off the prisoners, and the long-boat to be got ready for launching.
Esteban meanwhile he carried off to the round-house with him, and what time the gunner donned the garments supplied him Captain Blood was very busy with pens and papers amid the effects of Don Diego. His task was accomplished by the time that Esteban was ready, and he presented to the gunner a package bearing as a superscription a name and address in Cadiz which the captain had found among Don Diego's letters. This package was sealed with the arms of Valdez, and none could have suspected from its eminently correct exterior the t it contained nothing but some sheets of blank paper.
When they came forth again upon the quarter-deck the other vessel was within half a mile of them. Blood issued an order, and a blank shot was fired from the prow; instantly the helm was put over, and the Cinco Llagas was lying to, her sails flapping idly in the breeze, whilst the Spanish seamen went about launching the boat.
Meanwhile the other vessel, veering a point or two, crept on until she had halved the distance separating them. Not until then did she also heave to in answer to the signal to stand awaiting the boat that was speeding toward her across the sunlit waters. To have held her course so long, and even now to refrain from showing her flag, argued suspicion on her part, and for a moment Captain Blood had almost feared that it was her intention to come on until she lay board and board with them. He drew a breath of relief, when at last he saw her pause.
He was standing with Wolverstone, Hagthorpe and Ogle by the stern-chaser that bore the still writhing Don Diego; Ogle kept the gun trained on the long-boat, whilst his mate swung a spluttering fuse, ready to apply it to the touch-hole at the word of command.
Anxious and watchful were the eyes that followed the boat across the intervening waters until it brought up against the black hull of the frigate, and they could make out Esteban going briskly up the ladder.
After that followed some five minutes of intensest, almost agonizing suspense for all, and then across the water floated the note of a trumpet, to be drowned the next moment in the roar of eight guns that belched fire and metal. The broadside was aimed high, with intent no doubt to sweep the decks of the Cinco Llagas since she was standing almost bow on to the enemy.
Fortunately the aim was a thought too high, and the shot hummed and tore through Captain Blood's shrouds, doing little real damage beyond slight wounds to two men who were struck by flying splinters. But if the broadside did not deal the death it was intended to deal, it, dealt a consternation almost as fatal.
"We are betrayed! The Spanish dog has betrayed us!" was the cry that went up.
With an oath muttered through clenched teeth Ogle swung to his mate.
"Fire!" he cried, and obediently the man stooped to touch off the gun.
Don Diego writhed again, and then stiffened in his bonds, turning his eyes to sea as the man moved to obey the gunner.
But before the match could touch the powder Blood had torn it from the fellow's hand and set his foot upon it, spinning round as he did so, a wild excitement on his swarthy face.
"Strike that flag!" he roared. "We are not betrayed. It is because the Spaniards have been loyal that this has happened."
And he flung out an arm to point to the other ship's mainmast, to the head of which the English ensign was swiftly soaring, to disclose at last her true identity now that the moment to deliver battle was arrived.
The fact was quickly grasped by every man aboard. Eager hands tore at the halyard, and before the Pride of Bristol—as the other vessel was named—could begin to go about the flag of Spain was down and the English flag afloat on the breeze above the Cinco Llagas.
That, and the extraordinary tale which by now Esteban was relating—confirmed in part by the blank contents of the package he carried—was enough to give the Pride of Bristol pause. The Spaniards were ordered aboard and temporarily detained, whilst an English crew in charge of the mate took possession of the long-boat and put off to visit the Cinco Llagas.
Captain Blood received the mate of the Pride of Bristol with a tale in which there were perforce certain reservations. It proved not only fully satisfying, but it excited the hilarity of the mate to such a degree that Blood was sorely tempted to kick him overboard.
When at last he recovered from his tempestuous hilarity he announced that Captain Blood should have back his Spanish prisoners, but advised that Don Diego Valdez be hanged out of hand for a treacherous pirate.
"Sure now, I disagree with you entirely," he was answered. "He may be a pirate and a Spaniard and a traitor, but he's a man of Roman spirit. And I've passed my word that if his men kept faith with me he should have his life."
He turned to those about him and pointed to the gun, where Don Diego still hung in his bonds.
"Release him," he commanded. "I keep faith, Don Diego. Your life is spared you. Do you hear?"
Something flickered in his face as he asked the question. He step close up to the Spaniard, and then he caught his breath. Don Diego Valdez was dead.
He stood by in silence whilst his men lowered the limp form to the deck. Then the surgeon in him awoke, and he went down on one knee beside the body. No wound or slightest hurt was visible.
It was as he supposed. Don Diego had been slain by the anticipation of death when the other vessel fired her broadside.
Captain Blood rose, and as he turned again, there was an odd wistfulness in his eyes.
"He was a man of a spirit greater than his poor body could contain," he said. "His immortal soul was stouter than his poor mortal heart. Be that his epitaph!"
The fame of Captain Peter Blood had run like ripples before the breeze across the face of the Caribbean from the Bahamas to the Windward Isles, from New Providence to Trinidad. An echo of it had reached Europe and at the Court of St. James's representations were made by the ambassador of Spain, to whom it was answered that it must not be supposed that Captain Blood held any commission from the Kin of England; that he was in fact a proscribed rebel, and that any measures against him by King Philip V would receive the cordial approbation of King James II. It was a brutum fulmen that inspired no terrors.
In old Tortuga, that nest of piracy, the captain look his ease, what time his eight-score reckless followers gamed and drank and squandered in excesses the gold they had brought back from their last raid upon the sea-going subjects of the King of Spain. And meanwhile adventurers of every degree—from men who knew no trade but that of piracy to rude boucan-hunters athirst or easy plunder—flocked to offer him their swords.
One day as as he sat with Hagthorpe and Wolverstone over a pipe and a bottle of rum in the stifling reek of tar and stale tobacco of a waterside tavern, he was accosted by a splendid ruffian in a gold-laced coat of dark-blue taffetas, with a crimson sash that was a foot wide about the waist.
"C'est vous qu'on appelle Le Sang?" (Are you the the man they call Blood?) the fellow hailed him.
The captain knew enough French to understand the question. He looked up to consider the questioner before replying. The man was tall and built on lines of agile strength, with a swarthy aquiline face that was brutally handsome. A diamond of great pride flamed on the indifferently clean hand resting on the pommel of his long rapier, and there were gold rings in his ears, half-concealed by the long ringlets of his oily chestnut hair.
Captain Blood took the pipe-stem from between his lips.
"My name," he said, "is Peter Blood. The Spaniards know me for Don Pedro Sangre, and a Frenchman may call me Le Sang if he pleases."
"Good," said the gaudy adventurer in English, and without further invitation he drew up a stool and sat down at that greasy table.
"My name," he informed the three men, two of whom at least were eying him askance, "it is Levasseur. You may have heard of me."
They had, of course. Captain of a twenty-gun ship, with a crew mainly composed of French boucan-hunters from Northern Hispaniola, his reputation as a buccaneer stood high among the Brethren of the Main. A monstrously vain, roaring, quarrelsome, hard-drinking, hard-gaming scoundrel, he enjoyed also a reputation of another sort. There was about his gaudy, swaggering raffishness something that the women found singularly alluring.
It was current gossip that even Mademoiselle de La Place, the daughter of the governor of Tortuga, had been caught in the snare of his wild attractiveness, and that Levasseur had gone the length of audacity by asking her hand in marriage of her father. M. de La Place had made him the only possible answer. He had shown him the door. Levasseur had departed in a rage, swearing that he would make mademoiselle his wife in the teeth of all the fathers in Christendom and that M. de La Place should bitterly rue the affront he had put upon him.
This was the man that now thrust himself upon Captain Blood with a proposal of association, offering not only his sword, but his ship and the men who sailed in her.
A dozen years ago, as a lad of barely twenty, Levasseur had sailed with that monster of cruelty, L'Ollonais, and his own subsequent exploits bore witness and did credit to the school in which he had been reared. It is doubtful if in his day there was a greater scoundrel among the Brethren of the Main; and yet, repulsive though he found him, Captain Blood could not deny that the fellow's proposals displayed boldness, imagination and resource; and he was forced to admit that jointly they could undertake operations of a greater magnitude than was possible singly to either of them.
The climax of Levasseur's project was to be a raid upon the wealthy mainland city of Maracaybo; but for this, he admitted, six hundred men at the very least would be needed, and six hundred men were not to be conveyed in the two bottoms they now commanded. Preliminary cruises must take place, having for one of its objects the capture of further ships.
Being pressed by both Hagthorpe and Wolverstone, who did not share his own personal dislike of the Frenchman, the end of the matter was that within a week articles were drawn up between Levasseur and Captain Blood, and signed by them and by the chosen representatives of their followers.
It was provided as usual that should the two vessels separate, a strict account must afterward be rendered of all prizes severally taken, whilst the vessel taking a prize would retain three fifths of its value, surrendering two-fifths to its associate. These shares were subsequently to be divided among the crew of each vessel in accordance with the articles already obtaining between each captain and his own men. For the rest, the articles contained all the clauses that were usual, among which was the provision that any one found guilty of abstracting and concealing any part of a prize, be it of no more value than a peso, should be summarily hanged from the yard-arm.
All being now settled, they made ready for sea, and on the very eve of sailing Levasseur narrowly escaped being shot in a romantic attempt to scale the wall of the governor's garden, with the object of taking passionate leave of the infatuated Mademoiselle de La Place. He desisted after having been twice fired upon from among the fragrant pimento trees where the governor's guards we posted.
That night he slept on board his ship—which with characteristic flamboyance he had named La Foudre—and there on the following morning he received a visit from Captain Blood, whom he greet as his admiral. The Irishman came to settle certain final details, of which the most important was an understanding that in the event of the two vessels becoming separated by accident or design they should rejoin each other exactly a month later at Tortuga.
Thereafter Levasseur entertained his admiral at dinner, and jointly they drank success to the expedition, most copiously on the part of Levasseur. Finally Captain Blood went over the side and was rowed to his great red ship, the Colleen—formerly the Spanish frigate Cinco Llagas.
No sooner had he departed than a canoe brought up alongside La Foudre, and a half-caste Indian stepped out of her and went up the ladder with a folded scrap of paper for Captain Levasseur.
The captain unfolded the letter, sadly soiled and crumpled by contact with the half-caste's person.
Roughly translated, this is what the note contained:
MY WELL BELOVED:
I am in the Dutch brig Jonguroura, which is about to sail. Resolved to separate us forever my cruel father is sending me to Europe, in my brother's charge. I implore you, come to my rescue! Deliver me, my well-beloved hero.
MADELEINE, who loves you.
The well-beloved hero was moved to the soul of him by that passionate appeal. His scowling glance swept the bay for the Dutch brig that had been riding there. She was nowhere to be seen. He roared out the question in his mind. In answer the half-caste pointed to a sail standing out to sea a mile or so away.
"There she go," he said.
"There!" The Frenchman gasped and stared, his face empurpling. "And where have you been that you come here only now with this? Answer me."
The half-caste cowered terrified before his fury. His explanation, if he had one, was paralyzed by fear. Levasseur caught him by the throat, shook him twice, snarling the while, then he hurled him into the scuppers. His head struck the gunwale, and he lay there, quite still, a trickle of blood issuing from his mouth.
Levasseur dashed one hand against the other as if dusting them.
"Heave that filth overboard," he ordered those who stood behind him in the waist. "Then up anchor, and let us after her."
"Steady, captain. What's this?"
There was a restraining hand upon his arm, and the broad face of his lieutenant, Cahusac, a burly, fearless, Breton scoundrel, was stolidly regarding him.
Levasseur made clear his purpose with a deal of unnecessary obscenity.
Cahusac shook his head.
"A Dutch brig!" said he. "Impossible! We should not be allowed."
"And who will deny us?"
Levasseur was between amazement and anger.
"For one thing there's your own crew will be none too willing. For another there's Captain Blood."
"I care nothing for Captain Blood."
"But it is necessary that you should. He has the power, the weight of metal and of men."
"Ah!" said Levasseur, showing his teeth. But his eyes, riveted upon that distant sail, were gloomily thoughtful.
Cursing in his soul, even before the anchor was weighed, the association into which he had entered, he was already studying ways of evasion. What Cahusac implied was true. Blood would never suffer violence to be done in his presence to a Dutchman, but it might be done in his absence; and, being done, he must perforce condone it.
Within the hour the Colleen and La Foudre were beating out to sea together. All day the Dutch brig was in sight, though by evening she had dwindled to the merest speck on the northern horizon.
Their own course lay eastward along the northern coast of Hispaniola. To that course the Colleen held steadily through the night, with the result that when day broke again she was alone. La Foudre, under cover of the darkness, had struck away to the northeast with every rag of canvas on her yards.
Cahusac had attempted yet again to protest, but feebly.
"The —— take you!" Levasseur had answered him. "A ship's a ship, whether she be Dutch or Spanish, and ships are our present need. That will suffice for the men."
Dawn found La Foudre close on the Dutchman's heels, not a mile astern, and the sight of her very evidently flustered the Jongvrouw. No doubt mademoiselle's brother, recognizing Levasseur's ship, would be responsible for this. They saw her crowding canvas in a futile endeavor to outsail them, whereupon they stood off to starboard and raced on until they were in such a position as to send a warning shot across her bow.
The Jongvrouw veered, showed them her rudder and opened fire with her stern-chasers. The small shot went whistling through La Foudre's rigging with some slight damage to her canvas. Followed a brief running fight, in the course of which the Dutchman let fly a broadside. Five minutes after that they were board and board. The Jongvrouw was held tight in the clutches of the La Foudre's grapnels with the buccaneers storming noisily into her waist.
The Dutchman's master, purple in the I face, stood forward to beard the pirate, and at his heels came an elegant, pale faced young gentleman in whom Levasseur recognized his brother-in-law elect.
"Captain Levasseur, this is an outrage for which you shall be made to answer. What do you seek on board my ship?"
"At first I sought only something that belongs to me. But since you chose war and opened fire with some damage to my ship and loss of life to five of my men, why war it is, and your ship a prize of war."
From the quarter rail Mademoiselle de La Place looked down with glowing eyes in breathless wonder upon her well-beloved hero, towering there, masterful, audacious, beautiful. He saw her, and with a glad shout sprang toward her.
The Dutch master got in his way to arrest his progress. In his natural impatience to reach his mistress, Levasseur did not stay to argue. He swung the poleax that he carried, and the Dutchman went down in blood with a cloven skull. The eager lover stepped carelessly across the body and came on, his countenance joyously alight.
But mademoiselle was shrinking now. She was a girl upon the threshold of glorious womanhood, of a fine height and nobly molded, with heavy coils of glossy black hair above and about a face that was the color of old ivory. Her countenance was cast in lines of arrogance, stressed by the low lids of her full, dark eyes.
In a bound her well-beloved hero was beside her. Flinging away his bloody pole-ax, he opened wide his arms to enfold her. But she still shrank even within his embrace which would not be denied; a look of dread had come to temper the normal arrogance of her almost perfect face.
"Mine, mine at last, and in spite of all!" he cried exultantly, truly heroic.
But she, endeavoring to thrust him back, her hands against his breast, could only falter—
"Why, why did you kill him?"
He laughed, and answered her heroically with the tolerance of a god for the mortal to whom he condescends:
"He stood betwixt us. Let his death be a symbol. Let all who would stand between us mark it and beware."
It was so splendidly terrific, the gesture of it was so broad and fine and his magnetism so compelling, that she cast aside her silly tremors and yielded herself freely, intoxicated, to his fond embrace. Thereafter he swung her to his shoulder, and, stepping with ease beneath that burden, bore her in a sort of triumph, lustily cheered by his men, to the deck of his own ship. Her inconsiderate brother might have ruined that romantic progress but for the watchful Cahusac, who quietly tripped him up and then trussed him like a fowl.
Thereafter what time the captain languished in his lady's smile within the roundhouse Cahusac was dealing with the spoils of war. The Dutch crew was ordered into the longboat and bidden to to the devil. Fortunately, as they numbered fewer than thirty, the long-boat, though perilously overcrowded, could yet contain them. Then Cahusac, having inspected the cargo, put a quartermaster and a score of men aboard the Jongvrouw and left her to follow La Foudre, which he now headed south for the Leeward Islands.
Cahusac was disposed to be ill-humored. The risk they had run in taking the Dutch brig and doing violence to members of the family of the governor of Tortuga was out of all proportion to the value of their prize. He said so sullenly to Levasseur.
"You'll keep that opinion to yourself," the captain answered him. "Don't think I am the man to thrust my neck into a noose. I am going to send an offer of terms to the governor of Tortuga that he will be forced to accept.
"Set a course for the Virgen Magra. We'll go ashore and settle things from there. And tell them to fetch that milksop La Place to the roundhouse."
Levasseur went back to the adoring lady.
Thither too the lady's brother was presently conducted. The captain rose to receive him, bending his stalwart height to avoid striking the cabin roof with his head. Mademoiselle rose too.
"Why this?" she asked Levasseur, pointing to her brother's pinioned wrists—the remains of Cahusac's precautions.
"I deplore it," said he. "I desire it to end. Let M. de La Place give me his parole—"
"I give you nothing," flashed the white-faced youth, who did not lack for spirit.
Levasseur shrugged his deep regret, and mademoiselle swung, protesting, to her brother.
"Henri, this is foolish. You are not behaving as my friend. You—"
"Little fool," he broke in—and the "little" was out of place; she was the taller of the twain—"little fool, do you think I should be acting as your friend to make terms with this blackguard pirate?"
"Steady, my young cockerel," Levasseur laughed; but his laugh was not nice.
Nevertheless M. de La Place continued, undeterred:
"Don't you perceive your wicked folly in the harm it has brought already? Lives have been lost—men have died—that this monster might overtake you. And don't you yet realize where you stand—in the power of this beast, of this cur, born in a kennel, and bred in thieving and murder?"
He might have said more, but at that moment Levasseur struck him across the mouth. For Levasseur cared as little as another to hear the truth about himself.
Mademoiselle suppressed a scream as the youth staggered back under the blow. He came to rest against a bulkhead, and leaned there with bleeding mouth. But his spirit was unquenched, and there was a ghastly smile on his white face as his eyes sought his sister's.
"You see," said he simply. "He strikes a man whose hands are bound."
The simple words, and more than that their tone of ineffable disdain, aroused the passion that never slumbered deeply in Levasseur.
"And what should you do if your hands were unbound, you pitiful puppy?"
He seized his prisoner by the breast of his doublet and shook him.
"Answer me! What should you do? Tchah! You empty windbag. You—"
And then came a torrent of words unknown to mademoiselle, yet of whose foulness her intuitions made her conscious.
With blenched cheeks she stood by the cabin table and cried out to Levasseur to stop. To obey her he opened the door and flung her brother through it and down the companion.
"Put that under hatches until I call for it again," he roared, and shut the door.
Thus mademoiselle beheld her well-beloved hero's nature in curl-papers, as it were, and she found the spectacle terrifying. It recalled the brutal slaughter of the Dutch captain, and suddenly she realized that what her brother had just said was no more than true.
"Why, sweetheart, what is this?" Cried Levasseur, regarding her.
He moved toward her. She recoiled as he advanced. There was a smile on his face, a glitter in his eyes, that awoke a panic in her, fetched her heart into her throat.
He caught her as she reached the uttermost limits of the cabin, seized her in his long arms and pulled her to him.
"No, no!" she panted.
"Yes, yes," he mocked her; and his mockery was the most terrible thing of all.
He crushed her to him brutally, deliberately hurtful because she resisted, and kissed her while she writhed in his embrace. Then, his passion mounting, he grew angry and further revealed himself, stripped off the last rag of hero's mask that still may have hung upon his face.
"Little fool, did you not hear your brother say that you are in my power? Remember it, and remember that of your own free will you came. I am not the man with whom a woman may play fast and loose. So you'd best accept what you have invited."
He kissed her again, almost contemptuously, and flung her off.
"No more scowls," he said. "You'll have smiles for me, or you'll be sorry else."
Some one knocked. Levasseur strode off to open. Cahusac appeared with a long face.
"I've something to show you, captain," said he grimly. "Will you step out here?"
Cahusac pointed away to starboard. Levasseur looked, and muttered an oath. Two ships that at the distance seemed of considerable burden were heading for them some five miles away.
Ahead of them a low cloud showed on the horizon which Cahusac pronounced the northernmost of the Virgin Islands.
"If they follow us what's to happen?" demanded Cahusac.
"We'll fight," growled Levasseur.
"Counsels of despair," said Cahusac and he spat upon the deck.
"This comes of going to sea with a love-sick madman. Now keep your temper, captain, for the crew will be at the end of theirs if we have trouble as a result of this Dutchman business."
For the remainder of that day Levasseur's thoughts were of anything but love. He remained on deck, his eyes now upon the land, now upon those two slowly gaining ships. To run for the open could avail him nothing. He must stand at bay and fight.
And then toward evening when within three miles of shore and when he was about to give the order to strip for battle he almost fainted from relief when a voice from the crow's-nest above announced that the larger of the two ships was the Colleen. Her companion was presumably a prize.
But the pessimism of Cahusac abated nothing. "What will Blood say about this Dutchman?"
"Let him say what he pleases."
Levasseur laughed in the immensity of his relief.
"And what about the children of the governor of Tortuga?"
"He must not know."
"He'll come to know in the end."
"Aye; but by then, morbleu, the matter will be settled. I shall have made my peace with the governor. I tell you I know the way to compel him to come to terms."
Presently the four vessels lay to off the northern coast of La Virgen Magra, a narrow little island, arid and treeless, uninhabited save by birds and turtles and unproductive of anything but salt, of which there were many ponds to the south.
Levasseur put off in a boat, accompanied by Cahusac and two other officers, and went to visit Captain Blood aboard the Colleen.
"Our brief separation has been mighty profitable," was the Irishman's greeting. "It's a busy morning we've both had."
He was in high good humor as he led the way to the great cabin for a rendering of accounts.
The tall ship that accompanied the Colleen was a Spanish vessel of sixteen guns, the Santiago from Puerto Rico, with a hundred and twenty thousand weight of cacao, forty thousand pieces of eight and the value of ten thousand more in jewels. A rich capture of which two-fifths, under the articles, went to Levasseur and his crew.
Of the money and jewels a division was made on the spot. The cacao, it was agreed, should be taken to Tortuga to be sold.
Then it was the turn of Levasseur, and black grew the brow of Captain Blood as the Frenchman's tale unfolded. At the end he roundly expressed his disapproval. The Dutch were friendly people whom it was a folly to alienate, particularly for so paltry a matter as these hides and tobacco, which at most would fetch a bare twenty thousand pieces.
But Levasseur answered him as he had answered Cahusac, that a ship was a ship and that it was ships they needed against their projected enterprise. Perhaps because things had gone well with him that day, Blood ended by shrugging the matter aside.
Thereupon Levasseur proposed that the Colleen and her prize should return to Tortuga to unload the cacao and enlist the further adventurers that could now be accommodated. Levasseur meanwhile would effect certain necessary repairs, and then, proceeding south, await his admiral at Saltatudos, an island conveniently situated in the latitude of 11░ 11' N. for their enterprise against Maracaybo. To Levasseur's relief Captain Blood not only agreed but pronounced himself ready to set sail at once.
No sooner had the Colleen departed than Levasseur brought his ships into the lagoon and set about the erection of temporary quarters ashore for himself, his men and his enforced guests during the careening of La Foudre.
At sunset that evening the wind freshened; it grew thence to a gale, and from that to such a hurricane that Levasseur was thankful to find himself ashore and his ships safe within the ample shelter of the lagoon.
In the glory of the the following morning, fresh an clean after the storm, with an invigorating briny tang in the air from the salt-ponds on the south of the islands, Levasseur set about the matter of making himself safe with the governor of Tortuga.
With his back to a ridge of bleached dunes, beside the spread of sail from which he had improvised a tent, sat Levasseur, enthroned upon an empty cask. A guard of honor of a half-dozen of his officers hung about him.
Before him, guarded by two negroes in cotton drawers, stood young La Place, in frilled shirt and satin breeches. His comely face was haggard, his hands were tied behind him in a thong of leather. Near at hand, on his right and also under guard but unpinioned, mademoiselle sat hunched upon a hillock of sand.
Levasseur was addressing M. de La Place, speaking to him in French.
"So that there may be no misunderstanding, let me recapitulate," he was saying to young La Place with mock suavity. "Your ransom is at twenty thousand pieces of eight, and you shall have liberty upon your parole to go to Tortuga to collect it. I will provide the means to convey you thither. Your father should not consider that an excessive sum to pay for the life and liberty of his only son and for the dowry of his only daughter. Indeed, if anything I am too modest, pardi."
M. de La Place raised his head, and looked the captain straight between the eyes.
"I refuse—utterly and absolutely. So do your worst, and be —— for a filthy pirate."
Levasseur laughed carelessly. He had himself well in hand this morning.
"You will not persist in your refusal," said he. "But I must warn you that should you give me your parole under stress and afterward play me false I shall know how to find and punish you; also, should you forget to return with the dowry you'll not consider it unreasonable that I may forget to marry your sister. You'll bear in mind that meanwhile her honor remains in pawn to me."
M. de La Place cast a wild glance at mademoiselle, and observed the gray despair that had almost stamped the beauty from her face. Disgust and fury swept across his countenance.
Then he roused himself, and answered resolutely:
"No, you dog! A thousand times, no!"
Levasseur's fingers had been tying knots in a length of whipcord. He held it up a moment.
"You know this? It is a rosary of pain that has wrought the conversion of many a stubborn heretic. It is capable of screwing the eyes out of a man's head by way of helping him to see reason. As you please."
He flung the length of knotted cord to one of the negroes, who in an instant made it fast about the prisoner's brows. Then between cord and cranium the black inserted a short length of metal, round and slender as a pipe-stem. That done, he rolled his eyes toward Levasseur, awaiting the captain's signal.
Levasseur considered his victim, and beheld him tense and braced, his haggard face of a leaden hue, beads of perspiration glinting on his pallid brow just beneath the cord.
Mademoiselle cried out and would have risen; but her guards restrained her, and she sank down again moaning.
"I beg that you will spare yourself and your sister," said the captain, "by being reasonable. What after all is the sum I have named? To your wealthy father a bagatelle. I repeat, I have been too modest. But since I have said twenty thousand pieced of eight, twenty thousand pieces of eight it shall be."
"And for what, if you please, have you asked twenty thousand pieces of eight?"
In execrable French, but in a voice that was crisp and pleasant, seeming to echo some of the mockery that had invested Levasseur's, that question floated over their heads.
Startled, they looked up and round; and on the crest of the dunes behind then in sharp silhouette against the deep cobalt of the sky they beheld the tall, lean figure and tawny face of Captain Blood. He was scrupulously dressed in black with silver lace, a crimson ostrich plume curled about the broad brim of his hat affording the only touch of color.
Launching himself upon the yielding sand, into which he sank to the level of the calves of his fine boots of Spanish leather, Captain Blood came sliding erect to the beach. He was followed by Wolverstone, the one-eyed giant, and a dozen others. He doffed his hat with a flourish to the lady.
"Good morning, captain," said he, in English now; and he explained his presence. "'Twas last night's hurricane. We had no choice but to ride it with stripped poles, and it drove us back the way we had gone. Moreover—bad 'cess to it—the Santiago sprang her mainmast; so we've put into the cove on the west of the island. But who are these?"
And he designated the man and the woman.
"VoilÓ!" said Cahusac pregnantly.
Levasseur, white with rage and chagrin, controlled himself to answer.
"As you see, two prisoners."
"Ah! Washed ashore in last night's gale, I presume?"
Levasseur contained himself with difficulty before that irony.
"They were in the Dutch brig."
"I don't remember that ye mentioned that before."
"I did not. They are prisoners of my own—a personal matter. They are French."
Captain Blood's light eyes stabbed at Levasseur, then at the prisoners.
M. de La Place stood tense and braced as before, but the gray horror had left his face. Hope had leaped within him at this interruption, obviously as little expected by his tormentor as by himself. His sister, moved by a similar intuition, was leaning forward with parted lips and gaping eyes.
"So!" said Captain Blood. "Who are they?"
His crisp, authoritative, faintly disdainful manner stirred Levasseur's quick anger. The blood crept slowly back into his blenched face, and his glance grew in insolence, almost in menace. Meanwhile the prisoner answered for him.
"I am Henri de La Place, and this is my sister. M. de La Place, governor of Tortuga, is our father."
Levasseur swung aside with an imprecation. In Captain Blood amazement quenched every other emotion.
"The saints preserve us now! Is it mad ye are entirely, Levasseur? Children of the governor of Tortuga, which is the one safe place of shelter that we enjoy in these islands—"
Levasseur broke in angrily.
"I have already told you that it is a matter personal to me. I make me alone responsible to the governor of Tortuga."
"And the twenty thousand pieces of eight? Is that also a matter personal to you?"
"Now I don't agree with you at all."
Captain Blood sat down on the cask that Levasseur had lately occupied, and looked up blandly.
"I'll be informing you that I heard the entire proposal that ye made to this lady and this gentleman, and I'll be reminding you that we sail under a ides that admit no ambiguities. You have fixed their ransom at twenty thousand pieces of eight. That sum belongs to your crew and mine in the proportion by the articles established. You'll hardly be disputing that.
"But what is far more grave is that you have concealed from me this part of the prizes taken on your last cruise, and for such offense as that the articles provide certain penalties that are something severe in character."
"If you dislike my conduct we can dissolve the association."
"So we will. But first you'll satisfy the articles under which we sailed upon this cruise."
"What do you mean?"
"I'll be as short as I can," said Captain Blood. "I'll waive for the moment the unseemliness of making war upon the Dutch, of taking French prisoners and of provoking the anger of the governor of Tortuga. I'll accept the situation as I find it. Yourself you've fixed the ransom of this couple at twenty thousand pieces; and, as I gather, the lady is to be your perquisite. But why should she be your perquisite more than another's, seeing that she, belongs by the articles to us all, as a prize of war?"
Black as thunder grew the brow of Levasseur.
"However," added Captain Blood, "I'll not dispute her to you if you are prepared to buy her."
"At the price you have set upon her."
Levasseur contained his rage that he might reason with the Irishman.
"That is the ransom of the man. It is to be paid for him by the governor of Tortuga."
"No, no. Ye've parceled the twain together—very oddly, I confess. Ye've set their value at twenty thousand pieces, and for that sum you may have them, since you desire it; but you'll pay for them the twenty thousand pieces that are ultimately to come to you as the ransom of one and the dowry of the other, and that sum shall be divided among our crews."
Levasseur laughed savagely.
"Ah, ša! CrÚdieu! The good jest!"
"I quite agree with you," said Captain Blood.
But as, laughing still, Levasseur swung to his officers, he saw something that choked the laughter in his throat. Captain Blood had shrewdly played upon the cupidity that was the paramount inspiration of those adventurers. And Levasseur now saw it written on their faces how unanimously they leaped at Captain Blood's suggestion that all must participate in the ransom which their leader had thought to appropriate to himself.
It gave the gaudy ruffian pause, and whilst in his heart he cursed those followers of his, who could be faithful only to their greed, he perceived—and only just in time—that he had best tread warily.
"You misunderstand," he said, swallowing his rage. "The ransom is for division when it comes. The girl meanwhile is mine on that understanding."
"Good!" grunted Cahusac. "On that understanding all arranges itself."
"You think so?" said Captain Blood. "But if M. de La Place should refuse to pay? What then?"
He laughed, and got lazily to his feet.
"No, no," he continued. "If Captain Levasseur is meanwhile to keep the girl, as he proposes, then let him pay the ransom, and be his the risk if it should not afterwards be forthcoming."
"That's it," said one of Levasseur's officers.
And Cahusac added:
"Captain Blood is right. It in in the articles."
"What is in the articles, you fools?"
Levasseur was in danger of losing his head.
"Nom de Dieu! Where do you suppose that I have twenty thousand pieces? My whole share of the prizes of this cruise does not come to a quarter of that sum. I'll be your debtor until I've earned it: Will that content you?"
It might have done so, but that Captain Blood was determined that it should not.
"And if you should die before you earn it? Ours is a calling fraught with risks, my captain."
"Curse you!" Levasseur flung upon him, livid with fury. "Will nothing satisfy you?"
"Oh, yes. Twenty thousand pieces of eight for immediate division."
"I haven't got it."
"Then let some one buy the prisoners who has."
"And who do you suppose has it if I have not?"
"I have," said Captain Blood quite simply.
Levasseur's mouth fell open.
"You? You want the girl?" he gasped.
"Why not? And I exceed you in gallantry in that I will make sacrifices to obtain her, and in honesty in that I am ready to pay for what I want."
He sat down again on the cask, and drew from an inner pocket of his doublet; a leather bag. And whilst Levasseur stared at him, still agape, he untied the mouth of it and rolled into his left palm four or five pearls each the size of a sparrow's egg.
"You boast a knowledge of pearls, Cahusac. At what do you value this?"
The Breton took between coarse finger and thumb the proffered lustrous, delicately iridescent sphere. His shrewd eyes first dilated in amazement of its size and beauty, then narrowed to appraise it.
"A thousand pieces," he answered shortly.
"It will fetch rather more in Tortuga or Jamaica," said Captain Blood, "and twice as much in Europe. But I'll accept your valuation. They are almost of a size, as you can see. Here are twelve, representing twelve thousand pieces of eight, which is La Foudre's share of three-fifths of the prize, as provided by the articles. For the eight thousand pieces that go to my ship, I make myself responsible to my own men. And now, Wolverstone, if you please, will you take my property aboard the Colleen."
He stood up again, indicating the prisoners.
But at this Levasseur threw wide the flood-gates of his fury.
"Ah, that—no, by example! You shall not take her."
He would have sprung upon Captain Blood, but one of his own officers got in his way.
"Nom de Dieu, my captain! What will you do? It is settled, honorably settled, with satisfaction to all."
"To all?" blazed Levasseur. "Ah, ca! To all of you, you swine. But what of me?"
Cahusac, clutching the pearls, stepped to his side.
"Don't be a fool, captain. Do you want to provoke trouble between the crews? His men outnumber us by nearly two to one. Besides, he's paid handsomely for the girl, and dealt fairly with us."
"Dealt fairly? You—"
In all his foul vocabulary he could find no epithet to describe his lieutenant. He caught him a blow that almost sent him sprawling. The pearls were scattered in the sand.
Cahusac dived after them, his fellows with him, and for some moments they groped there on hands and knees, oblivious to all else. And yet in those moments vital things were happening.
Levasseur, his hand on his sword, his face a white mask of rage, was confronting Captain Blood to hinder his departure.
"You do not take her while I live," he cried.
"Then I'll take her when you're dead," said Captain Blood with cool indifference, and his own blade flashed in the sunlight. "By the articles it's hanged at the yardarm ye ought to be. But since ye prefer it this way, ye muck-rake, faith, I'll be humoring you."
He waved away the men who would have interfered, and the blades rang together.
M. de La Place looked on, a man bemused, unable to surmise what the issue either way could mean to him. Meanwhile Blood's men, who had taken the place of his negro guards, had removed the crown of whipcord from his brow. As for mademoiselle, she had risen and was leaning forward, a hand pressed tightly to her heaving breast, her face white, a wild terror in her eyes.
It was soon over. The brute strength upon which Levasseur so confidently counted could avail nothing against the Irish-man's practised skill. When with both lungs transfixed he lay prone on the white sand, coughing out his rascally life, Captain Blood looked at Cahusac across the body.
"I think that cancels the articles between us," he said. "If you will come to our anchorage you shall have your share of the other booty and dispose of it as you please. If you would sail with me again first make your peace with the Dutch and restore the brig and her cargo."
They went, the two prisoners with them; and, the division made, they parted company whilst Mademoiselle de La Place and her brother—the latter relieved now of his bonds—were conducted to the great cabin of the Colleen and left there in agonized bewilderment, conceiving that their escape was but from pan to fire.
Mademoiselle flung herself on her knees before her brother to implore his pardon for all the evil her wicked folly had wrought. M. de La Place was not in a forgiving mood. He answered her in bitterness.
"I am glad that at least you realize what you have done. And now this man has bought you, and you belong to him. You realize that too, I hope?"
He might have said more, but he checked, perceiving that Captain Blood stood in the doorway regarding them. Mademoiselle sprang up at sight of him and shrank away in fear.
Captain Blood came forward.
"Mademoiselle, I beg you to dismiss your fears," he said with gentle gravity. "Aboard this ship you shall be entreated with all honor. So soon as we are in case to put to sea again we steer a course to Tortuga to take you home to your father.
"And pray do not consider that I have bought you, as your brother has just said. I have but provided ransom necessary to bribe a gang of scoundrels to depart from obedience to the arch-scoundrel who commanded them, and so deliver your honor out of all peril. Count it, if you please, a friendly loan to be repaid entirely at your own convenience."
Mademoiselle looked at him with incredulity. Monsieur de la Place rose to his feet.
"Monsieur, is it possible that you are serious?"
"I am that. It doesn't happen often. I may be a pirate, but I'm not a low scoundrel like Levasseur, who should have stayed in Europe and practised purse-cutting. We dine in an hour, and I trust you will honor my table with your presence."
Mademoiselle came slowly forward staring at him between dread and wonder.
"Oh, you are noble!"
"Not to my knowledge," said Captain Blood.
Abruptly she fell on her knees, caught his hand and kissed it before he could wrench it from her.
"What do you do?" he cried.
"An amende. In my mind I dishonored you by deeming you his like, by conceiving your fight with Levasseur a fight between jackals. On my knees, monsieur, I implore you to forgive me."
Captain Blood looked down at her and a smile broke on his lips, irradiating the light-blue eyes that looked so odd in that tawny face.
"Why, child," said he, "it might be hard to forgive you the stupidity of having thought otherwise."
The altercation was at its height when Captain Peter Blood lounged out of the Church of Nuestra Senora del Carmen at Maracaybo, which he had impiously appropriated for the purposes of a corps-de-garde, and joined the contentious group.
This consisted, on the one side, of his one-eyed lieutenant Wolverstone, young Jerry Pitt, quartermaster of the Colleen, and Hagthorpe, who was in command of the Elizabeth. Opposed to these stood Cahusac, the Breton buccaneer who had joined them with his ship La Foudre and his contingent of some six score French adventurers:
Below, in the wide, sunlit, dusty square, sparsely fringed with tall palms whose fronds drooped listlessly in the quivering heat, surged a couple of hundred wild fellows belonging to both parties, their own excitement momentarily quelled that they might listen to the altercation among their leaders.
In this Cahusac appeared to be having it all his own way, and his harsh, querulous voice was raised that all might hear his truculent denunciation. In appearance he was a short, sturdy, powerfully built man, bow-legged and as long in the arms as an ape, while his dress was of a quality to advertise his trade and ludicrously in contrast with the sober garb of Wolverstone and the almost foppish daintiness of Jerry Pitt.
His soiled and blood-stained blue cotton shift was open in front to cool his hairy chest, and the girdle about the waist of his leather breeches carried an arsenal of pistols and a knife, while a cutlas hung from a leather baldric loosely slung about his body; above his countenance, broad and flat as a Mongolian's, a red scarf was swathed, turbanwise, about his head.
"I warned you all from the first," he was furiously complaining, "that things were too easy. It was enough for me to find the fort abandoned and our entrance practically undisputed; then this similarly abandoned city, out of which the inhabitants had removed themselves and everything of value. I guessed then that it was intended to lure us on and detain us here until it should be too late to get out to sea again.
"But you, you would not listen to me; you, you would go on. Well, we went on to Gibraltar. True that in the end we caught the deputy-governor; true that we compelled him handsomely to ransom that city, and that between ransom and plunder we have taken upwards of two hundred thousand pieces of eight.
"But what is it in reality? Just a piece of cheese in a mouse-trap; and we are the mice; we are in the trap and the cats are waiting for us in the shape of those four Spanish men-of-war lurking outside the bottle-neck of this cursed lagoon. 'Sangdieu! That is the situation into which your obstinacy has brought us."
The single eye of the gigantic Wolverstone rolled terribly.
"May I be flayed—" he was beginning when Peter Blood, sauntering forward thrust himself between the two.
Leaning lightly upon his long ebony cane, his lean, swarthy face with its singularly light eyes shaded by a broad plumed hat, he had the air of a lounger in the Mall or the Alameda—the latter rather, since his elegant suit of violet taffetas with gold-embroidered buttonholes was in the Spanish fashion.
But the long, stout, serviceable rapier, thrust up behind by the left hand that rested lightly on the pommel, corrected the impression. That and those steely light eyes of his announced the adventurer.
"There's something that ye're leaving out of the account, Cahusac," said he, more in weariness than anger. "Success depended, as we all know, upon speed. We've been a month in doing what should have been done—and what but for your own blundering would have been done—inside of a week."
"Ah, nom de Dieu! Was it my fault perhaps that—"
"Whose fault was it that you ran your ship aground on the shoal in the middle of the lake? You knew your way better than any pilot; and as a consequence we wasted three precious days in getting canoes to bring off your men and your gear. Those three days gave the folk at Gibraltar pot only time to hear of our coming but time in which to get away. After that, and because of it, we had to follow the deputy-governor to his island fortress and a fortnight and best part of a hundred lives were lost in reducing it.
"That's how we come to have delayed until this Spanish fleet gets round from Caracas to block our way out; and if ye hadn't lost La Foudre and so reduced our fleet from three ships to two, we should even now be in case to fight our way through with a reasonable hope of succeeding. Yet you think it is for you to come hectoring it here, upbraiding us for a situation that is entirely the result of your own ineptitude."
He turned from Cahusac to address the mob of buccaneers who had surged nearer to hear him, for he had not troubled to raise his voice.
"I hope that will help to correct some of the misapprehension that appears to have been disturbing you," said he.
"It's no use dealing with what's past and done," cried Cahusac, more sullen now than truculent—whereupon Wolverstone laughed a laugh that was like the neighing of ra horse. "The question is, what are we to do now?"
"Sure, now, there's no question at all," said Captain Blood.
"Indeed, but there is;" Cahusac insisted. "Don Miguel de Espinosa offers us safe and unmolested passage to sea if we will depart at once without damage to the town, releasing our prisoners and surrendering the plunder taken at Gibraltar."
"Which argues," said Hagthorpe, "that even at a disadvantage at which he has us, the Spanish admiral is still afraid of us."
"Or else that he is unaware of the true extent of our weakness," was the fierce retort. "And anyway it's my opinion that we should accept these terms."
"Well, it's not mine, now," said Captain Blood. "So I've refused them."
Cahusac's broad face grew purple. A muttering from the men behind enheartened him.
"Refused? Will you tell me precisely what answer you have returned the admiral?"
"I have sent him word that unless within four and twenty hours we have his parole to stand out to sea without hindering our passage and a ransom of fifty-thousand pieces for Maracaybo, we will reduce this beautiful city to ashes and thereafter go out and destroy his fleet."
The impudence of it left Cahusac speechless. But among the English buccaneers in the square there was some laughter and acclamation, showing that they savored the audacious humor of the tapped dictating terms to the trapper. Soon even Cahusac's French followers were infected by it, until in his truculent obstinacy Cahusac remained the only dissentient.
He withdrew in mortification. But he had his revenge of the morrow when Don Miguel's messenger brought back a letter in which the Spanish admiral took Heaven to witness that since the pirates had refused his magnanimous offer to accept their surrender with the honors of war, he should now await them at the mouth of the lake, there to destroy them on their coming forth.
He added that should they delay departure he would, as soon as he was re-enforced by a fifth ship which he was expecting from Caracas, himself come inside to seek them at Maracaybo.
Captain Blood was out of temper.
"Trouble me no more!" he snapped at Cahusac, who came growling to him again. "Send word to Don Miguel that you have seceded from me. He'll give you safe conduct, devil a doubt. Then take your men aboard one of the sloops and put to sea, and —— go with you."
Cahusac would certainly have pursued that course if only his men had been unanimous in the matter, They, however, were torn between greed and apprehension. If they went they must leave behind their share of the plunder; which was considerable, as well as the slaves and other prisoners they had taken. If they did this, and Captain Blood should afterward get away—and from their knowledge of his resourcefulness they accounted the thing, though unlikely, not impossible—he would profit by that which they now relinquished.
This was a possibility too bitter to be contemplated. And so, in the end, their surrender was not to Don Miguel but to Captain Blood. Thy had come into the venture with him and they would go out of it with him or not at all. Such was the message he received from them that evening by the mouth of Cahusac himself.
He welcomed it, and he invited the Breton to sit down and join the council which was even then deliberating with him upon the means to be employed. They occupied the spacious patio of the governor's house—which Captain Blood had appropriated to his own uses—a cloistered stone quadrangle in the middle of which a fountain played coolly under a trellis of vines.
Orange trees grew on two sides of it, and the still evening air was heavy with the scent of them. It was one of those pleasant exterior-interiors which Moorish architects had introduced to Spain and, the Spaniards had carried with them to the New World.
There that council of war, composed of six in all, deliberated until late upon the plan of action which Captain Blood put forward.
The great fresh-water lake of Maracaybo, nourished by a score of rivers from the snow-capped ranges that flank it on two sides, is some hundred and twenty miles in length and almost the same distance across at its widest. It is in the shape of a great bottle, having its neck toward the sea at Maracaybo. Beyond this neck the waters widen again, and then two long narrow strips of land, known as the Islands of Palomas and Vigilias, squarely block the channel, forming a natural breakwater.
The only passage out to sea for vessels of any draft lies in the narrow strait between these islands. Palomas is some ten miles in length and unapproachable for half a mile on either side by any but the shallowest craft, save toward its eastern end where, completely commanding the narrow passage out to sea, stands the massive fort which the buccaneers had found deserted on their coming.
Well within that natural breakwater the four Spanish ships rode at anchor in mid-channel. The admiral's La Concepcion was a mighty galleon of forty-eight great guns and eight small; next in importance was the Salvador with thirty-six guns; the other two, the Infanta and the San Felipe, though smaller vessels, were still formidable enough with their twenty guns and a hundred and fifty men apiece.
Such was the place and such the fleet of which the gantlet was to be run by Captain Blood and his own Colleen of forty guns, the Elizabeth of twenty-six and two sloops captured at Gibraltar, which thy had indifferently armed with four culverins each. In men they had a bare four hundred survivors of the five hundred and odd that had left Tortuga, to oppose to some thousand Spaniards.
The plan submitted by Captain Blood to his council was a desperate one, as Cahusac uncompromisingly pronounced it.
"Why, so it is," the captain agreed. "But I've done things more desperate."
Complacently he pulled at a pipe that was loaded with that fragrant Sacerdotes' tobacco for which Gibraltar was famous and of which they had brought away some hogsheads.
"And, what's more, they've succeeded."
He breathed into his companions, and even into Cahusac, some of his own spirit of unconquerable confidence, and in that confidence all went busily to work. For three days from sunrise to sunset the buccaneers labored and sweated over the preparations for the action that was to procure them their deliverance.
Their main operations were on the larger of the two sloops captured at Gibraltar. They began by tearing down all bulkheads until they had reduced her to to the merest shell, and in her sides they broke open so many ports that her gunwale was converted into the semblance of a grating. Next they increased by a half-dozen the scuttles in he deck, and finally they packed her hull with tar and pitch and brimstone, to which they added six barrels of gunpowder, placed like guns at the open ports on her starboard side.
On the evening of the fourth day, everything being now in readiness, all were got aboard. But they did not weigh anchor until some two hours after midnight. Then at last on the first of the ebb they drifted silently down toward the bar with all canvas furled, save only their spritsails, which, so as to give them steeringway, were spread to the faint breeze that stirred through the purple darkness of the tropical night.
The order of their going was as follows: Ahead went their improvised fire-ship in charge of Wolverstone with a crew of six volunteers, each of whom was to have a hundred pieces of eight over and above his share of plunder as a special reward. Next came the powerful Colleen. She was followed at a distance by the Elizabeth, commanded by Hagthorpe, with whom was the now shipless Cahusac and the bulk of his French followers. The rear was brought up by the second sloop and some eight canoes, aboard which the prisoners and slaves had been shipped and most of the captured merchandise.
As the first glimmerings of opalescent dawn dissolved the darkness the straining eyes of the buccaneers were able to make out the tall rigging of the Spanish vessels at their anchorage less than a quarter of a mile ahead. Entirely without suspicion as the Spaniards were and confident of their own overwhelming strength, it is unlikely that they used a vigilance keener than their careless habit.
Certain it is that they did not sight Blood's fleet in that dim light until some time after Blood's fleet had sighted them. By the time that the Spaniards were roused to activity Wolverstone's sloop was almost upon them, speeding under canvas which had been crowded to her yard the moment the galleons had loomed into view.
Straight for the admiral's great ship, the Concepcion, did Wolverstone head the sloop; then, lashing down the helm, he kindled a great torch of plaited straw that had been steeped in bitumen. First it glowed, then as he swung it round his head it blossomed into flame, just as the slight vessel went crashing and bumping and scraping against the side of the Concepcion and rigging became entangled with rigging, to the strain of yards and snapping of spars overhead. His six men stood at the posts to starboard, each of them armed with a grapnel, four on the gunwhale, two aloft. At the moment of impact the grapnels were slung to bind the Spaniard to the them, those aloft to complete and preserve the entanglement of rigging.
Aboard the rudely awakened galleon all was scurry, confusion, trumpetings and shouting. At first they had made a desperately hurried attempt to get up the anchor; but this they abandoned upon conceiving themselves on the point of being boarded.
The Spaniards stood to arms to receive the onslaught, and its slowness in coning began to intrigue them, considering what were the usual tactics of the buccaneers. Further puzzled were they by the spectacle of the gigantic Wolverstone speeding naked along his deck with a flaming torch held high. Not until he had completed his work did they begin to suspect the truth—that he was lighting slow-matches, and then one of the Concepcion's officers, rendered reckless by panic ordered a boarding-patty on to the sloop. But the order came too late.
Wolverstone had seen six fellows drop overboard, and then had sped himself to the larboard gunwale. Thence he flung his blazing torch down the nearest gaping scuttle and dived overboard in his turn, to be picked up presently by the long-boat from the Colleen. But before that happened the sloop was a thing of fire, from which explosions were hurling blazing combustibles aboard the Spanish flagship and long tongues of flame were licking out to consume the galleon, beating back those daring Spaniards who, too late, strove desperately to cut her adrift.
And while the most formidable vessel of the Spanish fleet was thus being put out of action at the outset, Blood had sailed in to open fire upon the Salvador. First athwart her hawse he had loosed a broadside that had swept her decks with terrific carnage, then, going on and about, he had put a second broadside into her hull at short range. Leaving her thus half-crippled, temporarily at least, and keeping to his course, he had bewildered the crew of the Infanta by a couple of shots from the chasers on his beak head, then crashed alongside to grapple and board her, while Hagthorpe was doing the like by the San Felipe after subjecting her to a punishing fire.
And in all this time not a single shot had the Spaniards contrived to fire, so completely had they been taken by surprize and so swift and paralysing had been Blood's stroke.
Boarded now and faced by the cold steel of the buccaneers, neither the Infanta nor the San Felipe offered much resistance. The sight of their admiral in flames and the Salvador drifting crippled from the action so utterly disheartened them that they accounted themselves vanquished and laid down their arms.
The Salvador might yet have attempted to retrieve the fortunes of the day and by a resolute stand encouraged the other two undamaged vessels to a resistance that might have turned the scales. But it happened that the Salvador was handicapped in true Spanish fashion by being the treasure-ship of the fleet.
Intent above all upon saving her precious freight from falling into the hands of the pirates, Don Miguel, who with a remnant of his crew had meanwhile transferred himself aboard her from his burning vessel, headed her down toward Palomas and the fort that guarded the passage.
This fort the admiral in those days of waiting had taken the precaution secretly to garrison and rearm. For the purpose he had stripped the fort of Cojero, farther out on the gulf, of its entire armament, which if not very considerable in the number of guns at least included a battery of cannon-royal of more than ordinary range and power.
With no suspicion of this, Captain Blood gave chase, accompanied by the Infanta, which was manned now by a prize crew under the command of Wolverstone. The stern-chasers of the Salvador desultorily returned the fire of her pursuers. But such was the damage she herself sustained that presently, coming under the guns of the fort, she began to sink and finally settled down in the shallows with part of her hull above water. Thence, some in boats and some by swimming, the admiral got his crew ashore on Palomas as best he could.
And then, just as Blood accounted the victory won and that his way out to sea lay clear, the fort suddenly revealed its unsuspected strength. With a roar the cannons-royal proclaimed themselves, and the Colleen staggered under a double blow. A sixty-pound shot had breached her bulwarks at the waist, scattering death and confusion among the seamen gathered there, while another had smashed her mizzen just above the yard and sent it crashing forward into the main shrouds, so that for the moment she was hardly in case either to fight or run.
Pitt, her quartermaster, himself seized, the helm and put it hard over. In he partially crippled state she answered slowly. Fortunately she was almost out of range of the fort's lesser batteries, and by the time the cannons-royal had reloaded she presented only her stern to the Spanish gunners.
Meanwhile it had fared even worse with the frailer Infanta. Although hit by one shot, only, this had crushed her larboard timbers on the water-line, starting a leak that must presently have filled her but for Wolverstone's prompt action in ordering her larboard guns to be flung overboard, Thus lightened and listing now to starboard, he fetched her about and went staggering after the retreating Colleen, followed by the fire of the fort, which did them, however, no further damage.
Out of range at last they lay to, joined by the Elizabeth and the San Felipe, to consider their position. It was a bitter moment for Captain Blood. He was' compelled to digest the fact that having destroyed a force so superior in ships and guns and men that the Spanish admiral had justifiably deemed it overwhelming, their victory was rendered barren by three lucky shots from an unsuspected battery by which they had been surprized. And barren must their victory continue until they could reduce the fort that still remained to defend the passage.
The Colleen no longer now in case to put to sea, the Infanta merely kept afloat by artifice, and the San Felipe sorely damaged by the fire she had sustained from the buccaneers before surrendering, it was clear that nothing remained but to return to Maracaybo, there to refit before attempting to force the passage.
Almost it needed the spur Of Cahusac's pessimism to revive Captain Blood's drooping spirits. And the arguments he used to the Frenchman were similar to those which he addressed next day to Don Miguel in a truculent letter that was couched however, in purest and very scholarly Castillian.
I showed your Excellency yesterday (he wrote) of
what I am capable. I have sunk or captured the vessels of the proud
fleet with which you coming to Maracaybo to destroy us. So that you
can no longer boast of doing this even when your re-enforcements
reach you from Caracas on the Santo Ni˝o. From what has
occurred you may judge what will occur. I should not trouble your
excellency with this letter but that I am a humane man, abhorring
Therefore before proceeding to deal with your fort, which you may deem invincible, as I have already dealt with your fleet, which you deemed invincible, I make you purely out of humanitarian considerations this last offer of terms.
I will spare this city of Maracaybo, leaving behind me the forty prisoners I have taken, in consideration of your paying me the sum of fifty thousand pieces of eight and a hundred head of cattle as a ransom, thereafter granting me unmolested passage out to sea. My prisoners, who are mostly persons of consideration and include a deputy-governor and a bishop, I will retain as hostages for this until after my departure, sending them back in the boats which we shall take with us for that purpose.
If your Excellency should be so ill-advised to refuse these terms, I warn you that I shall, give no quarter. I shall begin by leaving a heap of ashes where this pleasant city of Maracaybo now stands, and as soon as my ships are refitted I shall come out and do the like by your fort.
That letter he dispatched by the hand of the deputy-governor of Maracaybo, who had been taken prisoner at Gibraltar. It was a shrewd choice of messenger. The deputy-governor was of all men the most anxious for the preservation of his city, the one man who on his own account would plead most fervently for this at all costs.
And as Captain Blood reckoned so it befell. The deputy-governor added his own passionate pleas to the proposals of the letter. But Don Miguel was of harder mettle. True, his fleet had been partly destroyed and partly captured. But that was due to the accident of his having been taken by surprize.
It was something that could not happen again. There should be no surprizing the fort. He invited the deputy-governor to observe that he was increasing its strength and augmenting its armament by the thirty-six guns of the Salvador, which his men, working at low tide, were salving from the stranded galleon.
Let Captain Blood do his work at Maracaybo, there should be a bitter reckoning for him when he decided—as sooner or later decide he must—to come forth.
Back to Maracaybo came the deputy-governor with the admiral's answer. And infected by the admiral's stout courage, he delivered it as truculently as Don Miguel could have desired.
"And is it like that?" said Captain Blood.
He smiled, though the heart of him had sunk like a stone through water when he heard how the fort was increasing its strength.
"Well, well! It's a pity now that the admiral's so headstrong. That is how he lost his fleet. And that is how ye'll lose your city. It's mighty sorry I am, for I detest waste. But what can I do? I'll have the faggots to the place in the morning, and perhaps when Don Miguel sees the blaze he'll begin to believe that Peter Blood is a man of his word. Ye may go, Don Francisco."
The deputy-governor went out with dragging feet, followed by guards, his spark of truculence extinguished by dismay.
But no sooner had he departed than up leaped Cahusac, who had been of the council assembled to receive the admiral's reply. His face was white.
"Death of my life! What have you to say now?" And he raved on: "I knew the admiral would never yield to your bluster. He holds us pinned, and he knows it. The delay in refitting destroys your last hope and that impudent letter of yours has sealed the doom of every man of us."
"Have you done?" quoth Blood quietly.
"No, I have not."
"No: matter. Ye may spare us the rest. It won't move us and it won't help us to solve the riddle that's before us."
"What are you going to do? Will you tell me that?"
It was not a question; it was a demand.
"Ah, now don't let it concern you," said Blood smoothly. "After all, your room'll be pleasanter than your company, Cahusac. You and those that think with you are welcome to leave us. I've no doubt at all that the Spanish admiral will welcome a reduction in our force, even at this late hour. Ye Shall have the sloop as a parting gift, and you can join Don Miguel in the fort for all I care."
White-faced and quivering with anger, Cahusac glowered at him for a moment.
"It shall be as my men decide," said he, and on that stalked out, leaving the others to deliberate in peace.
Betimes next morning he sought Captain Blood again. He found him alone in the patio, pacing to and fro, his head sunk on his breast. Cahusac mistook consideration for dejection. Each of us carries in himself the standard by which to measure his neighbor.
"We have taken you at your word, captain," he announced between sullenness and defiance.
Shoulders hunched, hands behind his back, Captain Blood paused and regarded the buccaneer with mildly questioning eyes.
"Last night I sent one of my men to the Spanish admiral with a letter offering to capitulate if he would grant us passage with the honors of war. This morning I have his answer. He accords us this on the understanding that we carry nothing away. My men are embarking on the sloop. We sail at once."
"Bon voyage!" said Captain Blood, and he turned on his heel to resume his interrupted meditation.
"Is that all you have to say to me?" cried Cahusac.
"I desire to spare your feelings," said Captain Blood over his shoulder.
"Ha! Then it's adieu, my captain." Venomously he added, "It's my belief that we shall not meet again."
"Your belief is my hope," said' Captain Blood.
Cahusac flung away, obscenely vituperative. Before noon he was under weigh with sixty dejected followers whom he had persuaded into this empty-handed departure. The admiral kept faith and allowed them to depart unmolested, which, from his knowledge of Spanish ways, was almost more than Captain Blood expected.
Meanwhile no sooner had the deserters weighed anchor than the deputy-governor begged to see Captain Blood again. The captain received him pleasantly.
"Good morning to you, Don Francisco. I have postponed the bonfire until nightfall. It will make a better show in the dark."
Don Francisco, a slight, nervous elderly man of high lineage and low vitality, came straight to business. He confessed that a night's reflection had quickened his apprehensions for his beautiful city and his condemnation of the admiral's irreconcilability.
"I am here to tell you, Don Pedro, that if you will hold your hand for three days I will undertake to raise the ransom you demand, which Don Miguel refuses."
"And where will you be raising it?" Captain Blood frowned his surprize.
"That must remain my affair. Give me leave for three days on parole, and I see you fully satisfied. Meanwhile my son remains in your hands as a hostage for my return."
"By the saints! Ye're a bold man, Don Francisco, to come to me with such a tale—to tell me that ye can raise the ransom, and yet refuse to say how. D'ye think that with a match between your fingers ye'd grow more communicative now?"
If Don Francisco turned a shade paler, yet he shook his head.
"That was the way of Morgan and L'Ollonais. But it is not the way of Captain Blood. You have the repute of making war like a gentleman."
"So I have," said Captain Blood. "I find it more profitable. That's why ye're accorded the three days. You shall have what mules you need. About it, Don, Francisco."
Away went Don Francisco, to return punctually on the third day, his mule laden with plate and coin to the value demanded and a herd of a hundred head of cattle driven in by negro slaves.
The cattle were handed over to those of the company who normally were boucan-hunters and skilled in the curing of meat, and for best part Of a week thereafter they were busy at the waterside with the salting of carcasses.
And while this was proceeding on the one hand, on the other the refitting and repairing of the ships went on apace. Indian spies employed by Blood confirmed the deputy-governor's statement that the Spaniards had salved the thirty-six guns from the stranded Salvador and thus made a really formidable addition to their strength.
The fact that all the artillery as emplaced upon the seaward side of the fort so as to command the channel inspired in Blood the notion to land secretly on Palomas and attempt to take the fort by storm, by a surprize attack upon its rear before the gun could be shifted to meet it. If he abandoned that plan it was not so much because of the difficulties it presented as because a stratagem—arising out of it—promised more certain and complete success.
Upon this, all being now in readiness, he decided to act. So confident was he of success hat he released at once all his prisoners with the exception of the slaves, whom he regarded as legitimate prizes. Then all being aboard, the treasure safely stowed in the holds and the slaves under hatches, they weighed anchor and stood out for the bar, each vessel towing three periaguas astern.
The admiral, beholding their advance in the full light of noon, rubbed his hands in satisfaction and laughed through his teeth.
"At last, por Dios!" he cried. "Here end the troubles caused to the subjects of the Catholic king by this infamous pirate."
He issued orders briskly. The guns were manned, the gunners already kindling fuses, when it was observed that the buccaneer fleet, while still approaching Palomas, was at the same time bearing away to westward. At last the four ships cast anchor within a half-mile of the island—that is to say, on the very edge of the shoal water that makes Palomas unapproachable on either side except by vessels of the shallowest draft—opposite a point a mile and a half behind the fort, There they rode, within view but just out of range of the Spaniards.
Watching them through his telescope, the puzzled admiral observed the canoes they were towing to go alongside and remain hidden for a little while behind the hulls. When at last they reappeared, rowing away from the fleet, each boat was crowded with armed men. Thus laden they headed for the shore, which was densely wooded to the water's edge.
The admiral's eye followed them until they were screened by the foliage. Soon the canoes came forth again, empty now save for the men who rowed them. Back to the ships they pulled, to return once more with a fresh load of men, which similarly they conveyed ashore.
"They are landing to attack us in the rear!" cried an officer.
"I had perceived it," said the admiral. He laughed, unintimidated. "Let them attack where they please. It is themselves will be destroyed."
But toward evening, when the canoes had made a half-dozen journeys with their armed loads and had been seen to convey also at least a dozen guns ashore, the admiral's equanimity abandoned him.
"What fool told me they number but three hundred? They've put at least twice that number ashore already."
He was not to guess that the men he beheld in the boat were always the same; that they went from ship to shore standing upright in full and that they returned to the ships lying invisible below the gunwales of the craft. Nor was he to guess that when night fell, in spite of all those ostentatious landing-operations there was not a single buccaneer ashore.
By now he was sharing his followers' lively fears of this impending night attack by land delivered by a force at least twice as strong ad they had suspected the pestilent Blood to command. In the last hours of daylight the Spaniards did precisely what Captain Blood so confidently counted that they must do. They set themselves to labour like the damned at their ponderous guns which commanded the passage out to sea. Groaning and sweating they toiled in panic-stricken haste to shift the greater number and more powerful of these guns to the landward side, and there to emplace them anew, so that they might be prepared to receive the attack that at any moment now might burst upon them from the wood not half a mile away.
Night closed in, dark and moonless, and the Spaniards waited in moral anxiety for the onslaught of those wild devils whose fury and reckless courage in attack was a byword on the seas of the Main. And while they so alertly waited on the landward side, Blood's ships, with never a light showing, had left their anchorage and were groping their way by soundings toward the channel that led to the passage out to sea.
The Elizabeth and the Infanta, side by side, were abreast of the fort before their shadowy bulks and the soft gurgle of water at their prows were detected. A shout of alarm rang out, followed instantly by such a roar of human fury as may have resounded about Babel at the confusion of tongues. To increase the Spanish distraction, the detected Elizabeth emptied her larboard guns into the fort as she was hurried past on the swiftly ebbing tide.
Realizing—though not yet how—he had been duped and that his prey was in the act of escaping after all, the admiral frantically commanded that the guns that had been moved be dragged back to their former emplacements, and he ordered his gunners to the depleted batteries that of all his powerful but now unavailing armament still remained trained upon the channel.
From these, after the loss of some precious moments, the fort at last wildly made fire. The obsession that an attack might still at any moment break upon their rear served to increase the general confusion.
That cannonade was answered by a terrific broadside from the Colleen, which had now drawn abreast and was crowding canvas to her yards. The enraged and gibbering Spaniards had a brief vision of her as the line of flame leaped from her red flank. After that they saw her no more.
Assimilated by the friendly darkness which the Spanish guns were speculatively stabbing, the escaping ships fired never another shot that might assist their baffled and bewildered enemies to locate them. Some slight damage they sustained, but by the time the Spaniards had resolved their confusion into some order of dangerous offense, Blood's fleet, well served by a southerly-breeze, was through the narrows and standing out to sea.
And that is how Don Miguel de Espinosa was left to chew the bitter cud of a lost opportunity and to consider in what terms he would acquaint the supreme council of the Catholic king that Peter Blood had got away from Maracaybo with two hundred and fifty thousand pieces of eight, to say nothing of slaves and lesser merchandise and two twenty-gun frigates that were lately the property of Spain.
Nor was that the end of the losses suffered on this occasion by the Catholic king. For on the following evening off the coast of Oruba Captain Blood's fleet met the belated Santo Ni˝o, speeding under full sail to re-enforce the admiral at Maracaybo.
At first the Spaniard conceived that she was meeting the victorious fleet of Don Miguel returning from the destruction of the pirates. When at comparatively close quarters the Cross Of St. George went up to disillusion her, she chose the better part of valor and struck her flag. Captain Blood ordered her crew to take to the boats and land themselves at Oruba or wherever else they pleased.
Then he went aboard the San Ni˝o to investigate this further prize. When her hatches were taken off a human cargo was disclosed within her hold.
"Slaves," said Wolverstone, and persisted in that belief until Cahusac crawled out of the dark bowels of the ship and stood blinking in the sunlight. There was more than sunlight to make the Breton pirate blink; and those that crawled out after him—the remnants of his crew—cursed him horribly for the pusillanimity which had brought them the ignominy of being delivered by those whom they had deserted as lost beyond hope.
Their sloop had encountered and had been sunk by the Santo Ni˝o three days ago, and Cahusac had—as the events were to prove—narrowly escaped hanging merely that in future he might be a mock among the Brethren of the Main.
For many a day thereafter the jeering question asked him in Tortuga was—
"Where do you spend the gold that you brought back from Maracaybo?"
Captain Peter Blood was pleased with the the world; which is but another way of saying that he was pleased with himself.
He stood on the mole at Carona and surveyed the shipping in that port designed by very nature for a stronghold. Enclosed on either side by mountainous walls of rock, and the mouth, of that miniature gulf—only to be approached by two channels, demanding skilful pilotage—commanded by the massive fort with which man had supplemented nature, the French and English buccaneers who made it their lair might thence deride the might of the King of Spain.
Captain Blood considered with pride the five great ships that now mad up his fleet, every spar and timber Of which had once been the property of Spain. His own flag-ship, the Colleen of forty guns—that once had been the Cinco Llagas with her red bulwarks and gilded ports was touched into a lovely thing of flame by the setting sun. Beside her rode the Elizabeth and, beyond, the smaller three twenty-gun vessels lately captured in the affair at Maracaybo. These ships, originally named the Infanta, the San Felipe and the Santo Ni˝o, Blood had renamed the Clotho, the Lachesis, and the Atropos, meaning thereby playfully to convey that they were the arbiters of the fate of any Spaniard henceforth encountered by them upon the seas.
Captain Blood smiled in appreciation of his own delicate, scholarly humor. He was, as has been said, well pleased with himself. His following numbered close upon a thousand men, and he could double that number when he pleased. For his luck was passing into a proverb, and luck is the highest quality that can be demanded in a leader of hazardous enterprises. Not the great Morgan himself in his best days had wielded such authority and power. Not even Montbar—surnamed by Spaniards the Exterminator—had been more dreaded by Spain than Don Pedro Sangre, as they translated his name, accounting it most apt.
Order, he knew, was being taken against him. Not only the King of Spain, of whose power he had made a mock, but also the King of England—whom he accounted, and with some reason, a contemptible fellow—were concerting measures for his destruction, and news has lately come to Tortuga that, nearer at hand, the Spanish Admiral Don Miguel de Espinosa, who had been the latest and most terrible sufferer at his hands, had proclaimed that he would pay ten thousand pieces of eight to any man who should deliver up to him the person of Captain Blood, alive. Don Miguel's was a vindictiveness that was not to be satisfied by mere death.
Peter Blood was not intimidated, nor on that account was he likely to mistrust his luck so much as to let himself run to rust in the security of Tortuga. For that which he had suffered—and he had suffered much—at the hands of man, he had chosen to make Spain the scapegoat. Thus he accounted that he served a twofold purpose. He took compensation and at the same time served, not indeed the Stuart King, whom he despised—although himself born an Irishman and bred a Papist—but England, and for that matter all the rest of civilised mankind, which cruel, treacherous, greedy, bigoted Castile sought to debar from intercourse with the New World.
He turned from the mole, almost deserted by now of its usual crowd of bustling traders of many nations—English, French and Dutch—of planters and of seamen of various degrees, of buccaneers who were boucan-hunters and buccaneers who were frankly pirates, of Indians, fruit-selling half-castes, negro slaves and all the other types of the human family that throughout the day converted the quays of Cayona into an image of Babel.
As he turned away, the voice of Hayton, the boatswain of the Colleen, called after him from the boat that had brought him ashore—
"Back at eight bells, captain?"
"At eight bells," said Blood over his shoulder, and sauntered on, swinging his long ebony cane, an elegant courtly figure in gray and silver that in nothing suggested the ruthless buccaneer.
He took his way up toward the town, saluted as he went by most of those whom he met and stared at by the rest. He chose to go by way of the wide, unpaved rue du Roi de France, which the townsfolk had sought to embellish by flanking it with rows of palm-trees.
As he approached the tavern of "The King of France" the little crowd about its portals drew themselves to attention. From within came a steady drone of voices, as a muffled accompaniment to foul exclamations, snatches of coarse songs and the shrill, foolish laughter of women. Through all ran the rattle of dice and the clinking of drinking-cans.
Blood realized that his buccaneers were making merry with the gold they had brought from Maracaybo. The ruffians overflowing from that house of infamy hailed him with a ringing cheer. Was he not king of all the ruffian that made up the great Brotherhood of the Main?
The captain acknowledged their greeting by raising his cane, and passed on. He had business with M. de La Place, the Governor of Tortuga, and that business took him now to the handsome stone house crowning the eminence to the east of the town. The captain was a provident man, and he was providing against the day when the death or downfall of King James might make it possible for him to return home. It was his practise to make over the bulk of his share of prizes to the governor against bills of exchange on France, which he forwarded to Paris for collection and deposit.
Because these transactions were profitable to M. de le La Place, and still more because of a signal service that the captain had once done him and his, Peter Blood was a welcome visitor at the governor's house. And this not only with the governor himself, but with the son and daughter who composed his family.
This evening, his business being transacted, Mademoiselle de La Place elected to escort Captain Blood down the short avenue of her father's fragrant garden. A pale-faced, black-haired beauty, tall and statuesque of figure and richly gowned in the last mode of France, Mademoiselle de La Place was as romantic of appearance as of temperament. And as she stepped gracefully beside the captain in the gathering dusk she showed her purpose to be not without a certain romantic quality also.
"Monsieur," she said, and continued in French, hesitating a little, "I have come to implore you to be ever on your guard. You have too many enemies."
He halted and, half-turning, hat in hand, he bowed until his long black ringlets almost met across his clear-cut, gipsy-tinted face.
"Mademoiselle, your concern is flattering—but so flattering." Erect again, his bold eyes, so startlingly light under their black brows and in a face so burnt and swarthy, laughed into her own. "I do not want for enemies, true. It is the penalty of greatness. But at least they are not in Tortuga."
"Are you so very sure of that?"
He frowned and considered an instant before slowly answering her:
"Mademoiselle, you speak as if from some knowledge."
"Hardly so much. My knowledge is but the knowledge of what a slave told me to-day. He says that the Spanish admiral had placed a price upon Your head."
"That is just the Spanish admiral's notion of flattery, mademoiselle."
"And that Cahusac has been heard to say that he will make you rue the wrong you did him at Maracaybo."
"That was indiscreet of Cahusac. Besides, all the world knows he was not wronged. He was allowed to depart in safety as he wished when he thought the situation grown too dangerous."
"But, by so doing he sacrificed his share of the prizes and for that he and his companions have since been the mock of Tortuga. Can you not conceive what must be that ruffian's feelings?"
They had reached the gate.
"You will take precautions? You will guard yourself?" she begged him.
"Since it your gracious wish, and so that I may live on to serve you," he gallantly consented, and with formal gallantry bowed low to kiss her hand.
Seriously concerned, however, by her warning he was not. That Cahusac should be vindictive, he could well believe. But that Cahusac should utter threats here in Tortuga was an indiscretion too dangerous too be credible in the case of a cur who took no risks.
He stepped out briskly through the night that was closing down, soft and warm, and came soon within sight of the lights of the rue du Roi de France. As he reached the head of that now deserted thoroughfare a shadow detached itself from the mouth of a lane on his right to intercept him.
Even as he checked, prepared to fall on guard, he made out the figure to be a woman's a and heard his name called softly in a woman's voice.
"Captain Blood!" And now she addressed him quickly, breathlessly, "I saw you pass two hours ago. But I durstn't be seen speaking to you in daylight here in the street. So I have been on the watch for your return. Don't go on, captain. You are walking into danger, walking to your death."
At last his puzzled mind recognized her. And before the eyes of his memory flashed a scene enacted a week ago at "The King of France." Two drunken ruffians had quarreled over a woman—part of the human wreckage of Europe washed up on the shores of the New World—an unfortunate creature of a certain comeliness, which, however, like the cast-off finery she wore, was tarnished, soiled and crumpled. The woman, arrogating a voice in a dispute of which she was the object, was brutally struck by one of her companions, and Blood, upon an impulse of chivalrous anger, had felled her assailant and escorted her from the place.
"They're lying in wait for you down yonder," she was saying, "and, they mean to kill you."
"Who does?" he asked her, Mademoiselle de La Place's words of warning sharply recalled.
"A score of them there are, and if they was to know—if they was to see me here a-warning you—my own throat would be cut before morning."
She peered fearfully about her through the gloom, as she spoke, and fear quivered in her voice. Then she cried out huskily as if with mounting terror.
"O, don't let us stand here! Come with me. I'll make you safe until daylight. Then you can go back to your ship, and if you're wise you'll Stay on board after this or else come ashore in company. Come!" she ended, and caught him by the sleeve.
"Whisht now! Whisht!" said he, resisting the pressure on his arm. "Whither will you be taking me?"
"O, what odds, so long as I make you safe?" She was dragging at him with all her weight. "You was kind to me and I can't leave you to be killed. And we'll both be murdered unless you come."
Yielding at last, he allowed her to lead him from the wide street into the by-way from which she had issued to intercept him. It was a narrow lane with little one-storied houses that were mostly timber standing at wide intervals along one side of it. Along the other ran a palisade enclosing a plantation.
At the second house she stopped. The little door stood open and the interior was dimly lighted by the naked flame of a brass oil-lamp standing upon a table.
"Go in," she bade him in a shuddering whisper.
Two steps led down to the floor of the house, which was below the level of the street. Down these went Captain Blood and on into the room, whose air was rank with the reek of stale tobacco and the sickly odor of the little oil lamp. The woman followed and closed the door; and then, before Captain Blood could turn to inspect his surroundings in that dim light, he was struck over the head from behind by something heavy and hard-driven, which if it did not stun him outright at least stretched him sick and faint upon the grimy, naked, boards of the floor.
At the same moment, a woman's scream that ended abruptly in a stifled gurgle, cut sharply upon the silence.
In an instant, before Captain Blood could move to help himself, before he could even recover from his bewildered surprise, swift, nervous, skilful hands had done their work upon him. Thongs of hide lashed his ankles, and his, arms, which had been dragged behind him. Then he was rolled over on to his back, lifted, forced into a chair and lashed by the waist to that.
A man of low stature and powerful, ape-like build, long in the body and short in the legs, was leaning over him. The sleeves of his blue shirt were rolled to the elbow of his prodigious, long, muscular and hairy arms. Little black eyes twinkled wickedly in a broad face that was almost as flat and sallow as a mulatto's. A red and blue scarf swathed his head, completely concealing his hair; heavy gold rings hung in the lobes of his great ears.
Captain Blood considered him for a long moment, setting a curb upon the violent rage that arose in him in a measure as his senses cleared. Instinctively he realised that violence and passion would help him not at all and that at all costs they must be suppressed. And he suppressed them.
"Cahusac!" he said slowly. And then added, "This is an unexpected pleasure entirely!"
"Ye've dropped anchor at last, captain," Said Cahusac, and he laughed softly with infinite malice.
Blood looked beyond him toward the door, where the woman was writhing in the grasp of Cahusac's companion.
"Will you be quiet, you slut, or must I quiet you?" the fellow Was growling menacingly.
"What are you going to do to him, Sam?" She whimpered.
"That's no business of yours, my girl."
"Oh, yes, it is. You told me he was in danger and I believed you, you lying tyke!"
"Well—so he was. But he's safe and snug now. You go in there, Molly," he commanded, and pointed across the room to the black entrance of an alcove.
"I'll not—" she was beginning angrily.
"Go on!" he snarled, "or it'll be the worse for you."
He seized her roughly again and thrust her, still resisting, across the room and into the alcove. He closed the door and bolted it.
"Stay you there and keep quiet, or I'll quiet you once for all."
From beyond the door he was answered by a moan. Then there was the creak of a bed as the woman flung herself violently upon it, and thereafter silence.
Captain Blood accounted her part in this business explained and more or less ended. He looked up into the face of his sometime associate and his lips smiled to simulate a calm he was far from feeling.
"Would it be an impertinence to inquire what ye're intending, Cahusac?" said he.
Cahusac's companion laughed and lounged across to the table, a tall loose-limbed fellow with a long face of an almost Indian cast. His dress implied a hunter. He answered for Cahusac, who glowered, morosely silent.
"We intend to hand you over to Don Miguel de Espinosa."
He stooped to give his attention to the lamp, pulling up the wick and trimmings it, so that the light in the shabby little room was suddenly increased.
"C'est ša!" said Cahusac. "And Don Miguel, no doubt, he'll intend to hang you from the yard-arm."
"So Don Miguel's in this, is he? Glory be! I suppose it's the blood-money that's tempted ye. Sure now, it's the very work ye're fitted for, devil a doubt. But have ye considered all? There are reefs ahead, my lad. Hayton was to have met me with a boat at the mole at eight bells. I'm late as it is. Eight bells was made an hour ago and more. Presently they'll take alarm. They knew where I was going. They'll follow and track me. To find me, the boys will be turning Tortuga inside out like a Sack.
"And what'll happen to ye then, Cahusac? Have you thought of that? The pity of you is that ye're entirely without foresight. It was lack of foresight that sent you away empty-handed from Maracaybo. And even then, but for me, you'd be hauling at the oar of a Spanish galley this minute. Yet ye're aggrieved, being a poor-spirited, cross-grained cur, and to vent your spite you're running straight upon destruction. If ye've a spark of sense you'll haul in sail, my lad, and heave to before it's too late."
Cahusac leered at him for only answer, and then in silence went through the captain's pockets. The other, meanwhile, sat down on a three-legged stool Of pine.
"What's o'clock, Cahusac?"' he asked,
Cahusac consulted the captain's watch.
"Near half-past nine, Sam."
"Plague on it." grumbled Sam. "Three hours to wait."
"There's dice in the cupboard," said Cahusac, "and here's something to be played! for."
He jerked his thumb toward the yield of Captain Blood's pockets, which made a little pile upon the table. There were some twenty gold pieces, a little silver, an onion-shaped gold watch, a gold tobacco-box, a pistol and lastly a jewel Which Cahusac, had detached from the lace at the captain's throat. To thee he now added the Captain's sword and rich baldric of gray leather heavily wrought in gold.
Sam rose, went to a cupboard, and fetched thence the dice. He set them on the table, and drawing up his stool, again resumed his seat. The money he divided into two equal halves. Then he added the sword and the watch to one pile and the jewel, the pistol and the tobacco-box to the other.
Blood, very alert and watchful—so concentrated indeed upon the problem of winning free from this trap that he was hardly conscious of the pain in his head from the blow that had felled him—began to speak again. Resolutely he refused to admit the fear and hopelessness that were knocking at his heart.
"There's another thing ye've not considered," said he slowly, almost drawling. "And that is that I might be willing to ransom myself at a far more handsome price than the Spanish admiral has offered for me."
"Tiens! And your certainty that Hayton will come to your rescue, then? What of that?"
He laughed again, and Sam laughed with him.
"It's probable," said Blood. "Most probable. But not certain—nothing is, in this uncertain world. No even that the Spaniard will pay you the ten thousand pieces of eight they tell me he has been after offering. You could make a better bargain with me, Cahusac."
He paused, and his keen, watchful glance observed the sudden gleam of covetousness in the Frenchman's eye, as well as the frown contracting the brow of the other ruffian.
"You might make such a bargain as would compensate you for what you missed at Maracaybo. For every thousand pieces that the Spaniard offers, sure now 'I'll offer you two."
Cahusac's jaw fell; his eyes widened.
"Twenty thousand pieces!" he gasped in blank amazement.
And then Sam's great ham of a fist crashed down upon the rickety table, and he swore swore foully and fiercely.
"None of that!" he roared. "I've made my bargain and I abides by it. It'll be the worse for me if I doesn't—aye, and for you, Cahusac. Besides, are you such a gull that you think this pretty pimp'll keep faith with you?"
"He knows that I would. He's sailed with me," said Blood. "He knows that my word is accounted good even by Spaniards."
"Maybe. But it's not accounted good by me." Sam stood over him, the long evil face with its sloping brows and heavy eye-brows grown dark and menacing. "I'm pledged to deliver you safely at midnight, and when I pledges myself to a job I does it. Understand?"
Captain Blood looked up at him, and actually smiled.
"Perfectly," said he. "You leave nothing to the imagination."
And he meant it literally, for what he had clearly gathered was that it was Sam who had entered into league the Spanish agents and that he dared not for his life's sake break faith with them.
"Then that's as well," Sam answered him. "If you wants to be spared the discomfort of a gag for the next three hours, you'll just hold your plaguey tongue. Understand that?"
He thrust his long face forward into his captive's, sneering and menacing.
Understanding, Captain Blood abandoned his desperate clutch of the only slender straw of hope that he had discovered in the situation. He realized that he was to wait here helpless in his bonds until the time appointed for delivery to some one who should carry him off to Don Miguel de Espinosa. Upon what would happen of him then he scarcely dared to dwell. He knew the revolting cruelties of which a Spaniard was capable and he could guess what a spur of rage would be the Spanish admiral's.
A sweat of horror broke upon his skin. Was he indeed to end his gloriously hazardous career in this mean way? Was he who had so proudly sailed the seas Of the Main as a conqueror to founder thus in a dirty backwater? He could found no hope upon the search that Hayton and the others would presently be making.
That, as he had said, they would turn the place inside out, he never doubted. But he never doubted either that they would come too late. They might hunt down his betrayers, and wreak a terrible vengeance upon them. But how should that avail him?
The fogs of passion thickened in his mind; despair smothered the power of thought. He had close upon a thousand devoted men here in Tortuga, almost within hail, and he bound and helpless, and so to be delivered to the vindictive justice of Castile! That insistent, ever-recurring thought beat backwards and forwards like a pendulum in his brain, distracting it.
And then, in a sense, he came to himself again. His mind grew clear once more, preternaturally clear and active. Cahusac he knew for a venal scoundrel, who would keep faith with none if he saw profit in treachery. And the other was probably no better; indeed, probably worse, since interest alone—that Spanish blood-money—had lured him to his present task. He concluded that he had too soon abandoned the attempt to outbid the Spanish admiral. That way he might yet throw a bone of contention to these mangy curs, over which they would perhaps end by tearing at each other's throats.
A moment he surveyed them now, observing the evil greed in the eyes of each as they watched the fall of the dice over their trifling stakes from the gold and trinkets of which they had rifled him, and over which they were gaming to beguile the time of waiting.
And then he heard his own crisp voice breaking the silence.
"You gamble there for halfpence with a fortune within your reach."
"Are you beginning again?" growled Sam.
But the Captain went on undaunted.
"I'll outbid the Spanish admiral's blood-money by forty thousand pieces. I offer you fifty thousand pieces of eight for my life."
Sam, who had risen in anger, stood suddenly arrested by the mention of so vast a sum.
Cahusac had risen too, and now both men stood, one on each side of the table, tense with excitement, which, if unexpressed as yet, was none the less to be read in the sudden pallor of their faces and dilation of their eyes. At last the Frenchman broke the silence.
"Dieu de Dieu! Fifty thousand pieces of eight!" He uttered the words slowly, as if to impress the figure upon his own and his companion's mind. And he repeated. "Fifty thousand pieces of eight! Twenty-five thousand for each! Pardi! but that is worth some risk! Eh, Sam?"
"A mort of money, true," said Sam, thoughtfully. And then he recovered. "Bah! What's a promise, anyhow? Who's to trust him? Once he's free, who's to make him pay, and he's—"
"Oh, I pay," said Blood. "Cahusac will tell you that I always pay." And he continued. "Consider that such a sum, even when divided, will make each of you wealthy, to lead a life of ease and plenty. Mucho vi˝o, muchas mugeres!" he laughed in Spanish. "To be sure now, you'll be wise."
"It could be done," he muttered persuasively. "It's not yet ten, and between this and midnight we could put ourselves beyond the reach of your Spanish friends."
But Sam was not to be persuaded. He had been thinking; yet, tempting as he must find the lure, he dared not yield, discerning a double peril within it. Committed now by Spain to this venture, he dared neither draw back nor shift his course. Between the certain rage of the Spaniards should he play them false, and the probable resentment of Blood once he was restored to liberty, Sam saw himself inevitably crushed. Better an assured five thousand pieces to be enjoyed in comparative safety than a possible twenty-five thousand accompanied by such intolerable risks.
"It could not be done at all!" he cried angrily. "So let us hear no more about it. I've warned you once already."
"Mordieu!" cried Cahusac thickly. "But I say it could! And I say it's worth the risk."
"You say so, do you? And where's the risk for you? The Spaniards do not even know that you're in the business. It's easy for you, my lad, to talk about risks that you won't be called upon to run. But it's not quite the same for me. If I fails the Don, he'll want to know the reason. And, anyhow, I've pledged myself, and I'm a man of my word. So let's hear no more about it."
He towered there, fierce and determined, and Cahusac, after a scowling stare into that long, resolute face, uttered a sigh of exasperation, and sat down again.
Blood perceived quite clearly the inward rage that consumed the Frenchman. Vindictive though he might be towards the Captain, the venal scoundrel preferred his enemy's gold to his blood, and it was easy to guess the bitterness in which he saw himself compelled to forgo the more tangible satisfaction, simply because of the risks with which acceptance would be fraught for his associate.
For a spell there was no word spoken between the twain, nor did Blood judge that he could further serve his ends by adding anything to what he had already said. He took heart, meanwhile, from the clear perception of the mischief he had already made.
When at last he broke the brooding silence, his words seemed to have no bearing whatever upon the situation.
"Though you may mean to sell me to Spain, sure there's no reason why ye should let me die of thirst in the meantime. I've a throat that's like the salt ponds on Saltatudos, so I have."
Although he had a definite purpose to serve, to which he made his thirst a pretext, yet that thirst itself was real, and it was suffered by his captors in common with himself. The air of the room, whose door and window were tight-barred, was stifling. Sam passed a hand across his dank brow and swept away the moisture.
"——, The heat!" he muttered. "And now I thirst myself."
Cahusac licked his dry lips.
"Is there nothing in the house?" he asked.
"No. But it's only a step to the 'King of France'."
He rose. "I'll go fetch a jack of wine."
Hope soared wildly in the breast of Captain Blood.
It was precisely for this that he had played. Knowing their drinking habit, and how easily suggestion must arouse their desire to indulge it, he had hoped to send one of them upon that errand, and that the one to go would be Sam. With Cahusac he was sure he could make a deal at once.
And then Cahusac, the fool, ruined all by his excessive eagerness. He, too, was on his feet.
"A jack of wine! Yes, yes!" he cried. "Make haste. I, too, am thirsty."
Almost was there a quiver in his voice. Sam's ears detected it. He stood arrested, pondering his associate, and reading in his face the little rascal's treacherous intent.
He smiled a little.
"On second thoughts," said he, slowly, "it will be best if you goes and I stays on guard."
Cahusac's mouth fell open; almost he turned pale. Inwardly Captain Blood cursed him for a triple fool.
"D'ye mean that ye don't trust me?" he demanded.
"It ain't that—not exactly," he was answered. "But it's me that stays."
"Ah, ša!" Cried Cahusac angrily. "If you don't trust me with him, I don't trust you neither."
"You don't need to. You know that I dursn't be tempted by his promises. That's why I'm the one to stay."
Cahusac considered him silently, then shrugged and turned aside. At least he realized that what Sam said was true. A moment he pondered, his eyes narrowing.
"Ah, bah! I go!" he declared, and abruptly went.
As the door closed on the departing Frenchman, Sam resumed his seat at the table. Blood listened to the quickly receding footsteps until they had faded in the distance; then he broke the silence with a laugh that startled his companion.
Sam looked up sharply.
"What's amusing you now, Captain?"
Blood would have preferred to deal with Cahusac. Cahusac was a certainty. Sam was hardly a possibility, obsessed as he obviously was by the fear of Spain. Still, that possibility must be exploited, however slender it might appear.
"Your rashness, bedad!" answered Captain Blood. "Ye'll not trust him to remain on guard, yet ye trust him out of your sight."
"And what harm can he do?"
"He might not return alone," said the Captain darkly.
"Blister me!" cried Sam. "If he tries any such tricks, I'll pistol him at sight. That's how I serves them that gets tricky with me."
"Ye'd be wise to serve him so in any case. He's a treacherous tyke, Sam, as I should know. Ye've baffled him to-night, and he's not the man to forgive. Ye should know that from his betrayal of me. But ye don't know. Ye've eyes, Sam, but no more sight than a blind puppy. And a head, Sam, but no more brains than are contained in a melon, or you'd never hesitate between Spain and me."
"Oh, that's it, is it?"
"Just that—just fifty thousand pieces of eight that I offer, and that I pledge my honour to pay you, as well as pledging my honour to bear no malice and seek no vengeance. Even Cahusac assures you that my word is good, and was ready enough to accept it."
He paused. The rascally hunter was considering him silently, his face clay-coloured and the perspiration standing in beads upon his brow. Presently he spoke hoarsely.
"Fifty thousand pieces, you said?" quoth he softly.
"To be sure. For where's the need to share with the French cur? D'ye dream he'd share with you if he could make it all his own by slipping a knife into your back? Come, Sam, make a bold bid for fortune. —— your fears of Spain! Spain's a phantom! I'll protect you from Spain. You can lie safe aboard my flagship."
Again the scoundrel considered.
"Fifty thousand. Ah, but the risk!"
"Sure, there's no risk at all," said Blood. "Not half the risk you run when it comes out that you sold me to Spain, as come out it will. Man, ye'll never leave Tortuga alive. And if ye did, my buccaneers would hunt ye to the end of the earth."
"But who's to tell?"
"There's always someone. Ye were a fool to undertake this job, a bigger fool to have taken Cahusac for partner. Hasn't he talked openly of vengeance? And when they get him, as get him they will, it's as sure as Judgment that he'll give you away."
"And won't he, therefore, be the first man suspected? And when they get him, as get him they will, isn't it as sure as judgment that he'll tell on you?"
"By ——, I believe you in that!" cried Sam, presented with facts which he had never paused not considered.
"And in the rest as well, Sam," said Captain Blood persuasively.
"Wait! Let me think!"
As once before, Captain Blood judged wisely that he had said enough for the moment. So far his success with Sam had been greater than he had dared to hope.
The minutes sped, and Sam, elbows on the table and head in his hand, sat still and thoughtful. When at last he looked up, and the yellow light beat once more upon his face, Blood saw that it was pallid and gleaming. He tried to conjecture how far the poison he had dropped into Sam's mind might have done its work. Presently Sam plucked a pistol from his belt and examined the priming. This seemed to Blood significant. But it was more significant still that he did not replace the pistol in his belt. He sat nursing it, his yellowish face grimly set, his coarse lips tight with purpose.
"Sam," said Captain Blood softly, "what have you decided?"
"I'll put it out of the power of that French mongrel to bubble me," said the ruffian.
"And nothing else?"
"The rest can wait."
With difficulty Captain Blood bridled his eagerness to force the pace.
Followed an apparently interminable time of waiting, in a silence broken only by the ticking of the Captain's watch where it lay upon the table. Then, faintly at first, but swiftly growing louder as it drew nearer, came a patter of steps in the lane outside. The door was pushed open, and Cahusac appeared carrying a great black jack.
Sam was already on his feet beyond the table, his right hand behind him.
"You've been a long time gone!" he grumbled. "What kept you?"
Cahusac was pale, and breathing rather hard, as if he had been running. Blood, whose mind was preternaturally alert, knowing that he had not run, looked elsewhere for a reason, and guessed it to lie in either fear or excitement.
"I made all haste," was the Frenchman's answer. "But I was athirst myself, and I stayed to quench it. Here's your wine."
He set the leather jack upon the table.
And on the instant, almost at point-blank range, Sam shot him through the temple.
Through the rising cloud of smoke, whose acrid smell took him sharply in the throat and set him coughing, Blood saw a picture that he was to retain in his mind to the end of his days. Face downwards on the floor lay Cahusac with twitching limbs, whilst Sam leaned forward, across the table to watch him, a grin on his long, animal face.
"I take no risk with French swines like you," he explained himself, as if his victim could still hear him.
Then he put down the pistol and reached for the jack. He raised it to his mouth, and poured a full draught down his parched throat. Noisily he smacked his lips as he set down the vessel.
Then as a bitter after-taste caught him in the throat he made a grimace, and apprehension charged suddenly through his mind and spread upon his countenance. He snatched up the jack again and thrust his nose into it, sniffing audibly like a questing dog. Then, with eyes dilating in horror, he stared at Blood out of a countenance that was leather-hued, and in an awful voice screamed a single word—
Then he swung round, and, uttering horrible, blood-curdling blasphemies, he hurled the jack and the remainder of its contents at the dead man on the floor.
A moment later he was doubled up by pain, and his hands were clawing and clutching at his stomach. Then he mastered himself, and without any thought now for Blood, or anything but the torment at work upon his vitals, he reeled across the room and pulled the door wide. The effort seemed to increase his agony. Again he was taken by a cramp that doubled him until his chest was upon his knees, and he howled the while, blaspheming at first, but presently uttering mere inarticulate, animal noises. He collapsed at last upon the floor, a raving, writhing lunatic.
Captain Blood considered him grimly, amazed but no whit intrigued.
Here was no riddle. Never had poetic retribution more fitly and promptly overtaken a pair of villains. Cahusac had loaded the wine with the poison of the manchineel apple, so readily procurable in Tortuga. With this, and so that he might be free to make a bargain with Captain Blood, and secure to himself the whole of the ransom the Captain offered, he had murdered his associate in the very moment in which, with the same intent, his associate had murdered him.
If Captain Blood had his own wits to thank for much, he had his luck to thank for more.
Gradually and slowly, as it seemed to the captive spectator, though in reality very quickly, the poisoned man's struggles grew fainter. Presently they were merely, and ever decreasingly, sporadic, and finally they ceased altogether, as did his breathing, which at the last had grown stertorous. He lay quite still in a cramped huddle against the open door.
By then Captain Blood was giving his attention to himself, and he had already wasted some moments and some strength in ineffectual straining at his bonds. A drumming on the door of the alcove reminded him of the presence of the woman who had been used unconsciously to decoy him. The shot and Sam's utterances had aroused her into activity. Captain Blood called to her.
"Break down the door! There's no one left here but myself."
Fortunately, that door was but a feeble screen of slender planks, and it yielded quickly to the shoulder that she set against it. Wild-eyed and dishevelled, she broke at last into the room, then checked and screamed at what she beheld there.
Captain Blood spoke sharply, to steady her.
"Now, don't be screeching for nothing, my dear. They're both as dead as the planks of the table, and dead men never harmed anyone. There's a knife yonder. Just be slipping it through these plaguey thongs."
In an instant he was free and on his feet, shaking out his ruffled plumage. Then he recovered his sword, his pistol, his watch, and his tobacco-box. The gold and the jewels he pushed together in a little heap upon the table.
"Ye'll have a home somewhere in the world, no doubt. This will help you back to it, my girl."
She began to weep. He took up his hat, picked up his ebony cane from the floor, bade her goodnight, and stepped out into the lane.
Ten minutes later he walked into an excited, torch-lit mob of buccaneers upon the mole, whom Hagthorpe and Wolverstone were organizing into search-parties to scour the town. Wolverstone's single eye fiercely conned the Captain.
"Where the devil have you been?" he asked.
"Observing the luck that goes with blood-money," said Captain Blood.
The buccaneer fleet of five tall ships rode snugly at anchor in a sequestered creek on the western coast of the Gulf of Darien. A cable's length away, across gently heaving, pellucid waters, shot with opalescence by the morning sun, stretched a broad crescent of silver-grey sand; behind this rose the forest, vividly green from the rains now overpast, abrupt and massive as a cliff.
At its foot, among the flaming rhododendrons thrusting forward like outposts of the jungle, stood the tents and rude log huts, palmetto thatched—the buccaneer encampment during that season of careening, of refitting, and of victualling with the fat turtles abounding thereabouts.
The buccaneer host, some eight hundred strong, surged there like a swarming hive, a motley mob, English and French in the main, but including odd Dutchmen, and even a few West Indian half-castes. There were boucan-hunters from Hispaniola, lumbermen from Campeachy, vagrant seamen, runagate convicts from the plantations, and proscribed outlaws from the old world and the new.
Out of the jungle into their midst stepped, on that glowing April morning, three Darien Indians, the foremost of whom was of a tall, commanding presence, broad in the shoulder and long in the arm. He was clad in drawers of hairy, untanned hide, and a red blanket served him for a cloak. His naked breast was streaked in black and reds in his nose he wore a crescent-shaped plate of beaten gold that hung down to his lip, and there were massive gold rings in his ears. A tuft of eagle's feathers sprouted from his sleek black hair, and he was armed with a javelin which he used as a staff.
He advanced calmly and without diffidence into their staring midst, and in primitive Spanish announced himself as the cacique Guanahani, called by the Spaniards Brazo Largo. He begged to be taken before their captain, to whom he referred also by his Hispanicised name of Don Pedro Sangre.
They conducted him aboard the flagship, the Colleen, and there, in the captain's cabin, the Indian cacique was courteously made welcome by a spare gentleman of a good height, very elegant in the Spanish fashion, whose resolute face, in cast of features and deep coppery tan, might, but for the eyes of a vivid blue, have been that of a Darien Indian. Brazo Largo came to the point with a directness and economy of words to which his limited knowledge of Spanish constrained him.
"Usted venir con migo. Yo llevar usted mucho oro Espa˝ol. Caramba!" said he, in deep, guttural tones. Literally this may be rendered: "You to come with me. I take you much Spanish gold," with the added vague expletive "Caramba!"
The blue eyes flashed with interest. And, in the fluent Spanish acquired in less unregenerate days, Captain Blood answered him with a laugh:
"You are very opportune. Caramba! Where is this Spanish gold?"
"Yonder." The cacique pointed vaguely westward. "March ten days."
Blood's face grew overcast. Remembering Morgan's exploit across the isthmus, he leapt at a conclusion.
"Panama?" quoth he.
But the Indian shook his head, a certain impatience in his sternly wistful features.
"No. Santa Maria." And he proceeded clumsily to explain that there, on the river of that name, was collected all the gold mined in the mountains of the district for ultimate transmission to Panama. Now was the time when the accumulations were heaviest. Soon the gold would be removed. If Captain Blood desired it—and Brazo Largo knew that there was a prodigious store—he must come at once.
Of the Indian's sincerity and goodwill towards himself Captain Blood entertained no single doubt. The bitter hatred of Spain smouldering in the breast of all Indians under Spanish rule made them the instinctive allies of any enemy of Spain.
Captain Blood sat on the locker under the stern windows and looked out over the sun-kissed waters of the lagoon.
"How many men would be required?" he asked at last.
"Forty ten, fifty ten, perhaps," said Brazo Largo, from which the Captain adduced that he meant four or five hundred.
He questioned him closely as to the nature of the country they would have to cross and the fortifications defending Santa Maria. Brazo Largo put everything in the most favourable light, smoothed away all difficulties, and promised not only himself to guide them, but to provide bearers to convey their gear. And all the time, with gleaming, anxious eyes, he kept repeating to Captain Blood:
"Much gold. Much Spanish gold. Caramba!"
"You are very eager that we should go, my friend?" said Blood, pondering him. "You seem to hate the Spaniard very bitterly."
"Hate!" said Brazo Largo. His lips writhed, and he made guttural noises of emphatic affirmation. "Huh! Huh!"
"Well, well, I must consider." He called the boatswain and delivered the cacique into his care for entertainment.
A council, summoned by bugle-call from the quarter-deck of the Colleen, was held as soon there after as those concerned were come aboard.
Assembled about the oak table in the admiral's cabin, they formed a motley group, truly representative of the motley host encamped ashore. Blood, at the table's head, looking like a grandee of Spain in the sombre richness of his black and silver, the long ringlets of his sable hair reaching to his collar of fine point; young Jerry Pitt, ingenuous of face, and in plain grey homespun, like the West of England Puritan that he had been; Christian, stiffly built, stern-faced, wearing showy clothes without grace, looked the simple, downright captain of fortune he was become; Wolverstone, herculean of build, bronzed of skin, and picturesquely untidy of person, with a single eye of a fierceness far beyond his nature, was perhaps the only one whose appearance really sorted with his trade; Mackett and James had the general appearance of mariners; lastly, Yberville, who commanded a French contingent, vying in elegance with Blood, had more the air and manner of a Versailles exquisite than of a leader of desperate and bloody pirates.
The admiral—for such was the title by now bestowed by his following upon Captain Blood—laid before them the proposal brought by Brazo Largo. He merely added that it came opportunely, inasmuch as they were without immediate plans.
Opposition sprang naturally enough from those who were, first and foremost, seamen—from Pitt, Mackett, and James. Each in turn dwelt upon the hardships and the dangers attending long overland expeditions. Christian and Wolverstone, intent upon striking the Spaniard where he most would feel it, favoured the proposal, and reminded the council of Morgan's successful raid upon Panama. Yberville, a French Huguenot proscribed and banished for his faith, and chiefly intent upon slitting the throats of Spanish bigots, wherever and whenever it might be done, proclaimed himself also for the venture in accents as mild and gentle as his words were hot and bloodthirsty.
Thus stood the council equally divided, and it remained for Blood to cast the vote that should determine the matter. But the admiral hesitated, and in the end resolved to leave the decision to the men themselves. He would call for volunteers, and if their numbers reached the necessary, he would lead them across the isthmus, leaving the others with the ships.
The captains approving this, they went ashore at once, taking the Indians with them. There Blood harangued the buccaneers, fairly expounding what was to be said for and what against the venture.
"I myself," he announced, "have resolved to go if so be that I am sufficiently supported." And then, after the manner of Pizarro on a similar occasion, he whipped out his rapier, and with the point of it drew a line in the sand. "Let those who choose to follow me across the isthmus, step now to windward of this line."
A full half of them responded noisily to his invitation. They included to a man the boucan-hunters from Hispaniola—who were by now amphibious fighters, and the hardiest of all that hardy host—and most of the lumbermen from Campeachy, for whom swamp and jungle had no terrors.
When counted they proved to number four hundred and twenty men. The others, who held aloof, were chiefly fellows who by rearing or from late habit were followers of the sea, and who mistrusted themselves away from their ships.
Brazo Largo, his coppery face aglow with satisfaction, departed to collect his bearers; and he marched them, fifty stalwart savages, into the camp next morning. The adventurers were ready. They were divided into three companies, each commanded respectively by Wolverstone, Yberville—who had shred his fripperies and dressed himself in the leather garb of the hunter—and a hard-bitten fighter named Christian.
Thus they set out, preceded by the Indian bearers, who carried their heavier gear—their tents, six small brass cannons of the kind known as sakers, cans for fireballs, good store of victuals—doughboys and strips of dried turtle—and the medicine-chest. From the decks of the fleet bugles called farewell, and, in pure ostentation, Pitt, who was left in charge, fired a salute from his guns as the jungle swallowed the adventurers.
Ten days later, having covered a distance of some 160 miles, they encamped within striking distance of their destination. The first part of the journey had been the worst, when their way lay over precipitous mountains, laboriously scaled on the one side and almost as laboriously descended on the other. On the seventh they rested in a great Indian village, where dwelt the king or chief cacique of the Indians of Darien, who, informed by Brazo Largo of their object, received and treated them with all honour and consideration.
Gifts were exchanged, knives, scissors, and beads on the one side, against plantains and sugarcane on the other; and, reinforced here by scores of Indians, the buccaneers pushed on. They came on the morrow to the river of Santa Maria, on which they embarked in a fleet of some seventy canoes of Indian providing.
But it was a method of travelling that afforded at first little of the ease it had seemed to promise. All that day and the next they were constrained, at the distance of every stone's cast, to turn out, to haul the boats over shallows or rocks or over trees that had fallen across the channel.
At last the navigation grew clearer, and presently, the river becoming broad and deep, the Indians discarded the poles, with which hitherto they had guided the canoes, and took to paddles and oars.
And so they came at length by night within sakershot of Santa Maria. The town stood on the riverbank a half-mile beyond the next bend.
The buccaneers proceeded to unload their arms, which were fast lashed to the insides of the canoes, the locks, as well as their cartridge-boxes and powder-horns, well cased and waxed down. Then, not daring to make a fire lest they should betray their presence, they posted sentries, and lay down to rest until daybreak.
It was Blood's hope to take the Spaniards so completely by surprise as to seize their town before they could put themselves in posture of defence, and so snatch a bloodless victory. This hope, however, was dispelled at dawn, when a distant discharge of musketry, followed by a drum beating frenziedly Ó travailler within the town, warned the buccaneers that they had not stolen upon the Spaniards as unobserved as they imagined.
To Wolverstone fell the honour of leading the vanguard, and two score of his men were equipped with firepots—shallow cylindrical cans filled with resin and gunpowder—whilst others bore forward the sakers, which were under the special command of Ogle, the gunner from the Colleen. Next came Christian's company, whilst Yberville's brought up the rear.
They marched briskly through the woods to the very edge of the savannah, where, at a distance of perhaps two furlongs, they beheld their Eldorado.
Its appearance was disappointing. Here was no handsome city of New Spain, such as they had been expecting, but a mere huddle of one-storeyed wooden buildings, thatched with wild cane and palmetto royal, clustering about a church, and defended by a fort. The place existed solely as a receiving station for the gold produced by the neighbouring mountains, and it numbered few inhabitants apart from the garrison and the slaves who worked in the goldfields.
Fully half the area occupied by the town was taken up by the mud fort, which, whilst built to front the river, presented its flank to the savannah. For further defence against the very hostile Indians of Darien, Santa Maria was encircled by a stout palisade, some twelve feet high, pierced by loopholes for musketry at frequent intervals.
Within the town drums had ceased, but a hum of human movement reached the buccaneers as they reconnoitred from the wood's edge before adventuring upon the open ground. On the parapet of the fort stood a little knot of men in morion and corselet. Above the palisade quivered a thin line of smoke, to announce that Spanish musketeers were at their posts with matches ready lighted.
Blood ordered the sakers forward, having decided to breach the palisade towards the north-east angle, where a storming party would be least attainable by the gunners of the fort. Accordingly, Ogle mounted his battery at a point where a projecting spur of the forest on his left gave him cover. But now a faint easterly breeze beginning to stir carried forward the smoke of their fuses, to betray their whereabouts and invite the speculative fire of the Spanish musketeers. Bullets were already flicking and spattering through the branches about them when Ogle opened with his guns. At that short range it was an easy matter to smash a breach through wooden pales that had never been constructed to resist such weapons. Into that breach, to hold it, rushed the badly-captained Spanish troops. A withering volley from the buccaneers scattered them, whereupon Blood ordered Wolverstone to charge.
"Fire-balls to the van! Scatter as you advance, and keep low. God speed you, Ned! Forward!"
Forth they leapt at the double, and they were halfway across the open before the Spaniards brought any considerable body of fire to bear upon them. Then they dropped, and lay supine in the short gamma grass until that frenzied musketry had slackened, when they leapt up again, and on at speed before the Spaniards could reload. And meanwhile Ogle had swung his sakers round to the right, and he was freely hurling his five-pound shot into the town on the flank of the advancing buccaneers.
Seven of Wolverstone's men lay on the ground where they had paused, ten more were picked off, during that second forward rush, and now Wolverstone was at the breach. Over went a score of fireballs to scatter death and terror, and before the Spaniards could recover from the confusion caused by these, the dread enemy was upon them, yelling as they burst through the cloud of smoke and dust about the breach.
Nevertheless, the Spanish commander, a courageous if unimaginative officer named Don Domingo Fuentes, rallied his men so effectively that for a quarter of an hour the battle swayed furiously backwards and forwards in the breach. But in a battle of cold steel there were no troops in the world that, in anything approaching equality of numbers, could have stood long against these hardy, powerful, utterly reckless fellows.
Gradually, but relentlessly and inevitably, the cursing, screaming Spaniards were borne back by Wolverstone, supported now by the main host, with Blood himself in command. Back and back they were thrust, fighting with a wild fury of despair, until the beaten-out line of their resistance suddenly snapped. They broke and scattered, to re-form again, and by a rearguard action gain the shelter of the fort, leaving the buccaneers in possession of the town.
Within the fort, with the two hundred demoralized survivors of his garrison of three hundred men, Don Domingo Fuentes took counsel, and presently sent a flag of truce to Captain Blood, offering to surrender with the honours of war. But this was more than Blood could prudently concede. He knew that his men would probably be drunk before night, and he could not take the risk of having two hundred armed Spaniards in the neighbourhood at such a time.
Being, however, averse to unnecessary bloodshed, and eager to make an end without further fighting, he returned a message to Don Domingo, pledging his word that if he would surrender at discretion, no violence should be done to the life or ultimate liberty of the garrison or the inhabitants of Santa Maria.
The Spaniards piled arms in the great square within the fort, and the buccaneers marched in with banners flying and trumpets blaring. The commander stood forward to make formal surrender of his sword. Behind him were ranged his two hundred disarmed men, and behind these again the scanty inhabitants of the town, who had sought refuge with them. They numbered not more than sixty, amongst whom were perhaps a dozen women, a few negroes, and three friars in the black-and-white habit of Saint Dominic. The black slave population, it was presently ascertained, were at the mines in the mountains, whither they had just returned.
Don Domingo, a tall, personable man of thirty, in corselet and headpiece of black steel, with a little peaked beard that added length to his long, narrow face, addressed Captain Blood almost contemptuously.
"I have accepted your word," he said, "because, although you are a pirate scoundrel and a heretic in every other way dishonourable, you have at least the reputation of observing your pledges."
Captain Blood bowed. He was not looking his best. Half the coat had been torn from his back, and he had taken a scalp wound in the battle. But, however begrimed with blood and sweat, dust and gunpowder, his grace of deportment remained unimpaired.
"You disarm me by your courtesy," said he.
"I have no courtesies for pirate rogues," answered the uncompromising Castilian. Whereupon Yberville, that fierce hater of all Spaniards, thrust himself forward, breathing hard, but was restrained by Captain Blood.
"I am waiting," Don Domingo intrepidly continued, "to learn your detestable purpose here; to learn why you, the subject of a nation at peace with Spain, dare to levy war upon Spaniards."
"Faith, now, it's just the lure of gold, which is as potent with pirates as with more respectable scoundrels all the world over—the very lure that has brought you Spaniards to plant this town conveniently near the goldfields. To be plain, Captain, we've come to relieve you of the season's yield, and as soon as ye've handed it over we'll relieve you also of our detestable presence."
The Spaniard laughed.
"To be sure, you conceive me a fool!" he said.
"Far from it. I'm hoping, for your own sake, that ye're not."
"Do you think that, forewarned as I was of your coming, I kept the gold at Santa Maria?" He was derisive. "You are too late, Captain Blood. It is already on its way to Panama. We embarked it in canoes during the night, and sent a hundred men to guard it. That is how my garrison comes to be depleted, and that is why I have not hesitated to surrender."
He laughed again, observing Blood's rueful countenance.
A gust of rage swept through the ranks of the buccaneers pressing behind their leader. The news had run as swiftly as flame over gunpowder, and with similar effect in the explosion it produced. With yells of execration and sinister baring of weapons, they would have flung themselves upon the Spanish commander, who—in their view—had cheated them, and they would have torn him there and then to pieces, had not Blood swung round and made of his own body a shield for Don Domingo.
"Hold!" he commanded, in a voice that blared like a trumpet. "Don Domingo is my prisoner, and I have pledged my word that he shall suffer no violence!"
Yberville it was who fiercely voiced the common thought.
"Will you keep faith with a Spanish dog who has cheated us? Let him be hanged!"
"It was his duty, and I'll have no man hanged for doing no more than that!"
For a moment Blood's voice was drowned in uproar. But he stood his ground impassively, his light eyes stern, his hand upheld, imposing some measure of restraint upon them.
"Silence, there, and listen! You are wasting time. The harm is far from being beyond repair. The gold has but a few hours' start. You, Yberville, and you, Christian, re-embark your companies at once, and follow. You should come up with them before they reach the Gulf, but even if you don't, it is still a far cry to Panama, and you'll overtake them long before they're in sight of it. Away with you! Wolverstone's company will await your return here with me."
It was the only thing that could have stayed their fury and prevented a massacre of the unarmed Spaniards. They did not wait to be told a second time, but poured out of the fort and out of the town faster than they had poured into it. The only grumblers were the six score men of Wolverstone's company who were bidden to remain behind. They locked up the Spaniards, all together, in one of the long pent-houses that made up the interior of the fort. Then they scattered about the little town in quest of victuals and such loot as there might be.
Blood turned his attention to the wounded. These, both his own men and the Spaniards, had been carried into another of the pent-houses, where beds of hay and dried leaves had been improvised for them. There were between forty and fifty of them in all, of which number one quarter were buccaneers. In killed and wounded the Spanish loss had been upwards of a hundred men; that of the buccaneers between thirty and forty.
With a half dozen assistants, of whom one was a Spaniard who had some knowledge of medicine, Blood went briskly to work to set limbs and patch up wounds. Absorbed in his task, he paid no heed to the sounds outside, where the Indians, who had gone to earth during the fighting, were now encamped, until suddenly a piercing scream disturbed him.
Before he could move or speak, the door of the hut was wrenched open, and a woman, hugging an infant to her breast, reeled in, calling him wildly by his Hispanicised name.
"Don Pedro! Don Pedro Sangre!"
Then, as he stepped forward, frowning, she gasped for breath, clutched her throat, and fell on her knees before him, crying agonizedly in Spanish:
"Save him! They are murdering him—murdering him!"
She was a lithe young thing that had scarcely yet crossed the threshold of womanhood, whom at a casual glance you might, from her apparel and general appearance, have supposed a Spaniard of the peasant class. Her blue-black hair and liquid black eyes were such as you might see in many an Andalusian, nor was her skin much swarthier. Only the high cheekbones and peculiar, dusky lips proclaimed, upon a closer inspection, her real race.
"What is it?" said Blood. "Whom are they murdering?"
A shadow darkened the sunlit doorway and Brazo Largo entered, dignified and grimly purposeful. Overmastering terror of the advancing Indian froze the crouching woman's tongue. Now he was standing over her. He stooped and set his hand upon her shrinking shoulder. He spoke to her swiftly in the guttural tongue of Darien, and though Blood understood no word of it, yet he could not mistake the note of stern command.
Wildly, a mad thing, she looked up at Captain Blood.
"He bids me go to see them roasting him alive! Mercy, Don Pedro! Save him!"
"Save whom?" barked the Captain, almost in exasperation.
Brazo Largo answered him, explaining:
"She to be my daughter—this. Captain Domingo, he come village, one year now, and carry her away with him. Caramba! Now I roast him, and take her home."
He turned to the girl.
"Vamos," he commanded, continuing to use his primitive Spanish, "you to come with me. You see him roast, then you come back village."
Captain Blood found the explanation ample. In a flash he recalled Guanahani's excessive eagerness to conduct him to the Spanish gold at Santa Maria, and how that eagerness had momentarily awakened suspicion in him. Now he understood. In urging this raid on Santa Maria, Brazo Largo had used him and his buccaneers to exploit a private vengeance and to recover an abducted daughter from Domingo Fuentes. But however deserving of punishment that abduction might appear, it was also revealed that, whether the girl had gone off willingly or not with the Spanish captain, his subsequent treatment of her had been such that she now desired to stay with him, and was concerned to the point of madness for his life and safety.
"Is it true what he says—that Don Domingo is your lover?" the Captain asked her.
"He is my husband, my married husband, and my love," she answered, a passion of entreaty in her liquid eyes. "This is our little baby. Do not let them kill him, Don Pedro! Oh, if they do," she moaned, "I shall kill myself!"
Captain Blood looked across at the grim-faced Indian.
"You hear? The Spaniard has been good to her. She desires his life. And his offence being as you say, it is her will that decked his fate. What have you done with him?"
Both clamoured at once, the father in angry, almost incoherent, remonstrance, the girl in passionate gratitude. She sprang up and caught Blood's arm to drag him thence.
But Brazo Largo, still protesting, barred the way. He conveyed that in his view Captain Blood was violating the alliance between them.
"Alliance!" snorted Blood. "You have been using me for purposes of your own. You should have been frank with me and told me of your quarrel with Don Domingo before I pledged myself that he should suffer no violence. As it is—"
He shrugged, and went out quickly with the young mother. Brazo Largo stalked after them, glowering and thoughtful.
Outside, Blood ran into Wolverstone and a score of men who were returning from the town. He ordered them to follow him, telling them that the Indians were murdering the Spanish captain.
"Good luck to them!" quoth Wolverstone, who had been drinking.
Nevertheless, he followed, and his men with him, being in reality less bloody in deed than in speech.
Beyond the breach in the palisade they came upon the Indians—some forty of them—kindling a fire. Near at hand lay the helpless Don Domingo, bound with leather thongs. The girl sped to him, crooning soft Spanish endearments. He smiled in answer out of a white face that yet retained something of scornful calm. Captain Blood, more practical, followed with a knife and slashed away the prisoner's bands.
There was a movement of anger among the Indians, instantly quelled by Brazo Largo. He spoke to them rapidly, and they stood disappointed but impassive. Wolverstone's men were there, musket in hand, blowing on their fuses.
They escorted Don Domingo back to the fort, his little wife tripping between him an the buccaneer captain, whom she enlightened on the score of the Indians' ready obedience to her father.
"He told them that you must have your way since you had pledged your word that Domingo's life should be safe. But that presently you would depart. Then they would return and deal with him and the other few Spaniards left here."
"We must provide against it," said Captain Blood, to reassure her.
When they got back to the fort they found that, in their absence, the remainder of the Indians, numbering rather more than a score, had broken into the shed where the Spaniards were confined. Fortunately the business had only just begun, and the Spaniards, although unarmed, were sufficiently numerous to offer a resistance, which, so far, had been effective. Nevertheless, Captain Blood came no more than in time to prevent a general massacre.
When he had driven off his savage allies, the Spanish commander desired a word with him.
"Don Pedro," he said, "I owe you my life. It is difficult to thank you."
"Pray don't give yourself the trouble," said Captain Blood. "I did what I did, not for your sake, but for the sake of my pledged word, though concern for your little Indian wife may have had some part in it."
The Spaniard smiled almost wistfully as his glance rested on her standing near him, her fond eyes devouring him.
"I was discourteous to you this morning. I beg your pardon."
"That is an ample amend." The Captain was very dignified.
"You are generous. May I ask, sir, what is your intention regarding us—myself and the others?"
"Nothing against your liberty, as I promised. So soon as my men return, we shall march away and leave you."
The Spaniard sighed.
"It is what I feared. You will leave us, weakened in strength, our defences wrecked, at the mercy of Brazo Largo and his Indians, who will butcher us the moment your backs are turned. For don't imagine that they will leave Santa Maria until that is done."
Captain Blood considered, frowning.
"You have certainly stirred up a personal vengeance, which Brazo Largo will prosecute without pity. But what can I do?"
"You could suffer us to depart for Panama at once, whilst you are here to cover our retreat from your Indian allies. Ah, wait, Don Pedro! I would not propose it did I not deem you, from what I have seen, to be a man of heart, a gallant gentleman, pirate though you may be. Also you will observe that, since you have disavowed any intention of retaining us as prisoners, I am really not asking for anything at all."
It was quite true, and, upon turning it over in his mind, Captain Blood came to the conclusion that they would be much better off at Santa Maria without these Spaniards, who had to be guarded on the one hand and protected on the other. Therefore he consented.
Wolverstone demurred. But when Blood asked him what possible purpose could be served by keeping the Spaniards at Santa Maria, Wolverstone confessed that he did not know. All that he could say was that he trusted no living Spaniard, which did not seem to have any bearing on the question.
So Captain Blood went off to find Brazo Largo, who was sulking on the wooden jetty below the fort.
The Indian rose at his approach, an exaggerated impassivity on his countenance.
"Brazo Largo," said the Captain, "your men have set my word at naught and put my honour in danger."
"I not understand," the Indian answered him. "You make friends with Spanish thieves?"
"Make friends! No. But when they surrendered to me I promised, as the condition of their surrender, that no harm should come to them. Your men would have murdered them in violation of that promise had I not prevented it."
The Indian was contemptuous.
"Huh! Huh! You not my friend. I bring you to Spanish gold, and you turn against me."
"There is no gold," said Blood. "But I am not quarrelling on that. You should have told me, my friend, before we came this journey, that you were using me so that we might deliver up to you your Spanish enemy and your daughter. Then I should not have passed my word to Don Domingo that he would be safe, and you could have drunk the blood of every Spaniard in the place. But you deceived me, Brazo Largo."
"Huh! Huh!" said Brazo Largo. "I not say anything more."
"But I do. There are your men. After what has happened, I cannot trust them. And my pledged word compels me to defend the Spaniards so long as I am here."
The Indian bowed.
"Perfectamente! So long as you here. What then?"
"If there is trouble again, there may be shooting, and some of your braves may be hurt. I should regret that more than the loss of the Spanish gold. It must not happen, Brazo Largo. You must summon your men, and let me consign them to one of the huts in the fort for the present—for their own sakes."
Brazo Largo considered. Then he nodded. He was a very reasonable savage. And so the Indians were assembled, and Brazo Largo, smiling the smile of a man who knew how to wait, submitted to confinement with them in one of the penthouses.
The assembled buccaneers murmured a little among themselves, and Wolverstone ventured to express the general disapproval.
"Ye're pushing matters rather far, Captain, to risk trouble with the Indians for the sake of those Spanish dogs!"
"Oh, not for their sake. For the sake of my pledged word, and that bit of an Indian girl with her baby. The Spanish commander has been good to her, and he's a gallant fellow."
"Lord help us!" said Wolverstone, and swung away in disgust.
An hour later the Spaniards were embarking from the jetty, under the eyes of the buccaneers, who, from the mud wall of the fort, watched their departure with some misgivings. The only weapons Blood allowed the voyagers were half a dozen fowling-pieces. They took with them, however, a plentiful supply of victuals, and Don Domingo, like a prudent captain, was very particular in the matter of water. Himself he saw the casks stowed aboard the canoes. Then he took his leave of Captain Blood.
"Don Pedro," he said, "I have no words in which to praise your generosity. I am proud to have had you for my enemy."
"Let us say that you are fortunate."
"Fortunate, too. I shall tell it wherever there are Spaniards to hear me that Don Pedro Sangre is a very gallant gentleman."
"I shouldn't," said Captain Blood. "For no one will believe you."
Protesting still, Don Domingo stepped aboard the piragua that carried his Indian wife and their half-caste baby. His men pushed the vessel off into the current, and he started on his journey to Panama, armed with a note in Captain Blood's hand, ordering Yberville and Christian to pass him unscathed in the event of his coming up with them.
In the cool of the evening the buccaneers sat down to a feast in the open square of the fort. They had found great stores of fowls in the town, and some goats, besides several hogsheads of excellent wine in the house of the Dominican fathers. Blood, with Wolverstone and Ogle, supped in the departed commander's well-equipped quarters, and through the open windows watched with satisfaction the gaiety of his feasting followers. But his satisfaction was not shared by Wolverstone, whose humour was pessimistic.
"Stick to the sea in future, Captain, says I," he grumbled between mouthfuls. "There's no packing off a treasure there when we come within saker-shot. Here we are, after ten days' marching, with another ten days' marching in front of us! And I'll thank God if we get back as light as we came, for as likely as not we shall have differences to settle with old Brazo Largo, and we'll be lucky if we get back at all, ever. Ye've bungled it this time, Captain."
"Ye're just a foolish heap of brawn, Ned," said the Captain. "I've bungled nothing at all. And as for Brazo Largo, he's an understanding savage, so he is, who'll keep friends with us if only because he hates the Spaniards."
"And ye behave as if ye loved 'em," said Wolverstone. "Ye're all smirks and bows for this plaguey commander who cheated us out of the gold, and ye—"
"Sure now, he was a gallant fellow, Spaniard or no Spaniard," said Blood. "In packing off the gold when he heard of our approach he did his duty. Had he been less gallant, he would have gone off with it himself, instead of remaining here at his post. Gallantry calls to gallantry; and that's all I have to say about it."
And then, before Wolverstone could make answer, sharp and clear above the noise the buccaneers were making rang the note of a bugle from the side of the river. Blood leapt to his feet.
"It will be Christian and Yberville returning!" he cried.
"Pray God they've got the gold at last!" said Wolverstone.
They dashed out into the open and made for the parapet, to which the men were already swarming. As Blood reached it, the first of the returning canoes swung alongside of the jetty, and Christian sprang out of it.
"Ye're soon returned," cried Blood, leaping down to meet him. "What luck?"
Christian, tall and square, his head swathed in a yellow kerchief, faced him in the dusk.
"Certainly not the luck that you deserve, Captain." His tone was curious.
"Do you mean that you didn't overtake them?"
Yberville, stepping ashore at that moment, answered for his fellow-leader.
"There was nobody to overtake, Captain. He fooled you, that treacherous Spaniard; he lied when he told you that he had sent off the gold; and you—you believed him—you believed a Spaniard!"
"If ye'd come to the point now!" said Captain Blood. "Did I hear ye say he had not sent off the gold? D'ye mean that it is still here?"
"No," said Christian. "What we mean is that, after he had so fooled you with his lies that ye didn't even trouble to make search, you allowed them to go off scot-free, taking the gold with them."
"What?" the Captain barked at him. "How do you know this?"
"A dozen miles or so from here we came upon an Indian village; and we had the wit to stop and inquire how long it might be since a Spanish fleet of canoes had gone that way. They answered that no such fleet had passed to-day, or yesterday, or any day since the last rains. That's how we knew that your gallant Spaniard had lied. We put about at once to return, and midway back we ran into Don Domingo's party. The meeting took him by surprise. He had not reckoned that we'd seek information so soon. But he was as smooth and specious as ever, and a deal more courteous. He confessed quite frankly that he had lied to you, adding that subsequently, after our departure, he had purchased his liberty, and that of all who accompanied him, by surrendering the gold to you. He was instructed by you, he said, to order us to return at once; and he showed us your note of hand, which made him safe."
And then Yberville took up the tale.
"But we being not quite so trustful of Spaniards, and arguing that he who lies once will lie again, took them ashore and subjected them to a search."
"And d'ye tell me that you found the gold?" cried Blood, aghast.
Yberville paused a moment and smiled.
"You had permitted them to victual themselves generously against that journey. Did you observe at what spring Don Domingo filled his water-casks?"
"His water-casks?" quoth Blood.
"Were casks of gold—there's six or seven hundred-weight of it at the least. We've brought it with us."
By the time the joyous uproar excited by that announcement had settled down, Captain Blood had recovered from his chagrin. He laughed.
"I give you best," he said to Christian and Yberville. "And the least I can do, by way of amends for having suffered myself to be so utterly fooled, is to forgo my share of the booty." And then, on a graver note: "What did you do with Don Domingo?"
"I would have shot him for his perfidy!" said Christian fiercely. "But Yberville here—Yberville, of all men—turned mawkish, and besought me to let him go."
Shamefacedly the young Frenchman hung his head, avoiding the Captain's glance of questioning surprise.
"Oh, but after all," he flung out, defiant almost in self-defence, "what would you? There was a lady in the case—his little Indian wife."
"Faith, now, it was of her that I was thinking," said Blood. "And for her sake and his—oh, and also for our own—it will be best to tell Brazo Largo that Don Domingo and his wife were slain in the fight for the gold. The sight of the recovered water-casks will amply confirm the story. Thus there should be peace for all concerned, himself included."
And so, although they brought back that rich booty from Santa Maria, Blood's part in that transaction was rated as one of his few failures. Not so, however, did he himself account it.
On the 15th of September of the year 1688, three ships were afloat, many mile apart, upon the Caribbean, which in their coming conjunctions were to work out the destinies of several persons. The first of these was Captain Blood's flagship the Colleen, which had been separated from the buccaneer fleet in a hurricane off the Lesser Antilles. In somewhere about 17░ N. Lat., and 74░ Long., she was beating up for the Windward Passage before the intermittent southeastly breezes of that stifling season, intent upon making Tortuga. The second was the powerful Spanish Milagrosa, which, accompanied by the smaller frigate, the Hidalga, lurked off the Caymites, to the north of the long peninsula that thrusts out from the south-west corner of Hispaniola.
Aboard the Milagrosa sailed the Spanish Admiral, Don Miguel de Espanosa, who—to use a term not yet invented in his day—might be said to have run amuck.
The disgrace into which had fallen as a result of the disasters suffered at the hands of Captain Blood, culminating in the affair of Maracaybo, had driven the admiral all but mad. And as a madman he went raging up and down the Caribbean to take vengeance upon any ship, French or English, that came within his horizon. The Supreme Council of Castile might anon condemn him for his practices. But how should that matter to one who was already condemned beyond redemption?
The third ship was an English man-of-war on her way from Plymouth to Jamaica, with a very distinguished passenger in the person of Lord Julian Wade, charged by his kinsman, my Lord Sunderland, with a mission of some consequence and delicacy.
To conciliate Spain, and in response to the Spanish ambassador's constant and grievous expostulations, Sunderland, the secretary of state, had appointed Colonel Bishop to the deputy-governorship of Jamaica.
A strong man, who for some years now had been the virtual ruler of Barbados, where he had amassed great wealth out of extensive plantations, Colonel Bishop had made himself felt by the buccaneers. But chief of those who still eluded him was Captain Peter Blood, who continued undeterred and in great force to harass the Spaniards upon sea and land, and to keep the relations between England and Spain in a state of perpetual ferment.
More formidable than any buccaneer since Morgan, his skill and luck were proverbial from the Bahamas to Trinidad, and as long as he was free to roam the seas so long would there be men to follow him.
His lair was in Tortuga, that French haven of buccaneers who paid tribute to its governor for the shelter afforded them in that stronghold. To hunt him thither, and to have cleared the place was a course unthinkable on the score of the offence that it might give to France. In despair, Sunderland bethought him of the plan adopted with Morgan, who had been enlisted into the King's service under Charles II.
It was known that Blood was a man with a grievance. Convicted of participation in the Monmouth rising, he had been transported to the plantations. It might well be that his present outlawry was forced upon him by these circumstances, and that he would welcome the opportunity of emerging from it.
And so, Sunderland sent out his kinsman, Lord Julian, with some commissions made out in blank and full directions as to the course to be pursued with Captain Blood and with any other buccaneer sufficiently formidable to be worth seducing by these means from his pursuits.
The Royal Mary—the vessel bearing that ingenious, tolerably accomplished, mildly dissolute, entirely elegant envoy of my Lord Sunderland—made a good passage to St. Nicholas, her last port of call before Jamaica. As a preliminary, Lord Julian should report himself to the deputy-governor at Port Royal and thence, at need, have himself conveyed to Tortuga.
Now it happened that the deputy-governor's niece had come to St. Nicholas some two months earlier on a visit. Out of consideration of her uncle's rank and position, the passage home she requested was accorded her aboard the Royal Mary.
To Lord Julian her advent revived interest in a voyage that was growing tedious.
Miss Arabella Bishop was not perhaps a lady who in England would have commanded much notice in his fastidious and discerning eyes. She was a straight up-and-down slip of a girl, of a fairly good height, with a rather boyish voice and an almost boyish ease of movement. Her hair was dark-brown, and her complexion, in contrast, was very delicately pink and white, her eyes large and hazel, her features small.
It required a delicate-minded man to appreciate Miss Bishop, and whilst far from gross, yet my lord Julian's mind did not possess the requisite degree of delicacy; but it must not be understood that this weighed against him.
They became good friends at once and might have had a very pleasant voyage together but for the mad-dog Spanish admiral, whom they encountered on the second day out, when half-way across the Gulf of Gonaves.
The captain of the Royal Mary was not disposed to be intimidated, even when Don Miguel opened fire on him. If this Spaniard wanted a fight, the Royal Mary was just the ship to give it to him. No doubt he was justified of his gallant confidence, but a lucky shot from the Spaniard got into his powder-magazine, and blew up half his ship almost before the fight had started.
In the captain's cabin under the poop of that half-shattered vessel, Lord Julian was administering comfort to Miss Bishop. His efforts were indifferent. He was far from comfortable himself. Not that he was by any means a coward. But this cooped-up fighting in a thing of wood that might at any moment sink under his feet into the depths of ocean was disturbing to one who could be brave enough ashore. Fortunately Miss Bishop did not appear to be in desperate need of support. Certainly she was pale, and her hazel eyes may have looked a little larger than usual. But she had herself well in hand. Half-sitting, half-leaning on the captain's table, she preserved her calm sufficiently to seek to pacify her octoroon waiting-woman, who was groveling at her feet, in a state of terror.
And the cabin-door flew open and 'a Spanish officer stood considering them. Behind him there was a gleam of head-pieces and breastplates. Lord Julian spun round and clapped a hand to his sword.
The Spaniard was brisk and to the point.
"Don't be a fool," he said in his own tongue. "The ship is sinking. Unless you want to go down in her, you'll come aboard the Milagrosa at once. I'm sent to fetch you. But it's as you please."
Miss Bishop interpreted, and as neither wished to drown, they chose the less evil alternative offered. They stayed no longer than was necessary to enable Miss Bishop to collect some spare articles of dress, and my lord to snatch up his valise.
As for the survivors of the Royal Mary—her commander had been killed in the explosion—they were abandoned by the Spaniards to their own resources. Let them take to the boats, and if those did not suffice, let them swim or drown. If Lord Julian and Miss Bishop were retained, it was because Don Miguel perceived their obvious value.
He received them with urbanity. It was an urbanity that Lord Julian did not at all reciprocate. He was profoundly annoyed. If he had done nothing positively discreditable in the unusual and difficult position into which Fate had thrust him, at least he had not cut a creditable figure. And there had been a lady present!
He was determined to do better now. Haughtily he demanded to know his captor's name. The admiral—tall, sunburned, black-bearded and aquiline of face—announced himself.
"I am Don Miguel de Espinosa, Admiral of the Navies of the Catholic King."
Lord Julian gasped.
If Spain made Such a hubbub about the depredations of a runagate adventurer like Captain Blood, what could not England answer now?
"Will you tell me, then, why you have done this?" he asked. And added—"I hope you realize the strict account to which you shall be brought for your violence to this lady and to myself."
Don Miguel smiled with a flash of white teeth behind the black beard.
"I offer you no violence. On the contrary, I have saved your lives. Colonel Bishop is a rich man, and you, milord, are no doubt also rich. I will consider and fix your ransom."
"So that you're just a —— pirate, as I supposed," stormed his lordship.
The admiral ceased to smile. He revealed something of the rage that had eaten into his brain.
"I treat you English heretic dogs," he said, "just as Spaniards upon the seas have been treated by you robbers and thieves out of ——! You send your Captain Bloods, your Hagthorpes and your Morgans against us, and perfidiously disclaim responsibility for what they do." He laughed, savagely.
"Let Spain disclaim responsibility for me, when your ambassador, at the Escurial shall go whining his complaints of this the Supreme Council."
"Captain Blood and the rest are not admirals of England."
"Are they not? How do I know? How does Spain know? Are you not liars all, you English heretics?"
"Sir!" Lord Julian's voice was harsh as a rasp. His eyes flashed. Instinctively he swung a hand to an empty scabbard. He shrugged at its emptiness.
"Of course," said he, "it sorts with all I have heard of Spanish honor that you should insult a man who is unarmed and your prisoner."
The admiral's face flamed scarlet. He heaved himself out of his seat as if intending violence. Then, as suddenly curbing his anger, he sat down again, and shortly bade the attending officer remove the prisoners.
Lord Julian smiled as they left the cabin. "Decidedly I think I had the last word there," he said almost gaily, with a toss of his auburn ringlets. He felt that he was doing better. Miss Bishop returned his smile, quite steadily. It was impossible that he did not find her admirable.
"You are not afraid?" he asked.
"Since we are to be held to ransom it follows that they will not hurt us," she replied.
"That is true," he said, and when presently he spoke again it was on another subject.
"I came out here to put down piracy—blister me! But I begin to think that the French are right in desiring piracy to continue as a curb upon these Spanish scoundrels."
He was presently to be strongly confirmed in that opinion.
Meanwhile their treatment was courteous, a cabin being placed at the disposal of Miss. Bishop and her terrified woman and another at Lord Julian's.
The Milagrosa, with her consort, the Hidalga, rolling after her, steered a south-by-westerly course; then veered to the southeast round Cape Tiburon, and standing well out to sea, with the land no more than a cloudy outline to larboard, she headed directly east, and so ran straight into Captain Blood's Colleen. That happened early on the following morning.
As Miss Bishop, newly risen, stepped out upon the quarter-deck, with his lordship in attendance, she stood arrested, staring at the big red ship that once had been the Cinco Llagas out of Cadiz. She was bearing down upon them, her mountains of snowy canvas bellying forward, the long pennon with the cross of St. George fluttering from her maintop in the morning breeze, the red hull with gilded port-holes and gilded beakhead aflash in the morning sun.
She was not to recognize it for a ship she had seen once before: three years ago when, as the Cinco Llagas, this vessel had raided Bridgetown in Barbados where she then resided, and where Blood was a slave in her uncle's household.
Blood with some fellow-slaves, had got aboard her in the night, whilst the Spaniards were feasting in the ravished town. Terribly had he turned the tables upon the victorious raiders and thereafter made off with his rebel crew to become a scourge to all Spaniards in these seas.
"Look," said Miss Bishop, pointing, and Lord Julian observed her eyes to sparkle. "She is English and she comes resolutely on. She means to fight."
Lord Julian's face betrayed anything but satisfaction. He had been in his first sea-fight yesterday, and he felt that the experience would suffice him for a long time. This, I insist, is no reflection on his courage.
"More fool her captain, then," said my lord. "What can he hope to do against two such heavy hulks as these? If they could blow the Royal Mary out of the water, what will they do to this vessel. Look at that devil Don Miguel! He's utterly fiendish in his disgusting glee!"
Telescope in hand on the quarter-deck, Don Miguel was issuing his orders with eyes alight and face transfigured. Already the gunners were kindling their matches; sailors were aloft, taking in sail; others were busy spreading a stout rope net above the waist, as a protection against falling spars.
Meanwhile Don Miguel had been signaling to his consort, in response to which the Hidalga had drawn steadily forward until she was now ahead of the Milagrosa, half a cable's length to starboard, and, from the height of the tall poop, my lord and Miss Bishop could see her own bustle of preparation. The advancing English ship was reefing tops and mainsail stripping in fact to mizzen and spritsails for the coming action. Thus, almost silently, without challenge or exchange of signals, had action been mutually decided.
The Colleen, advancing now more slowly, was already within saker-shot and they I could make out the figures stirring on her forecastle and the brass guns gleaming on her prow. The gunners of the Milagrosa blew upon their smouldering matches and looked up impatiently at the admiral.
"Patience," he exhorted them. "Save your fire until we have him. He is coming straight to his doom—straight to the yard-arm and the rope that have been so long waiting for him."
"Stab me!" said his lordship. "They're just mad to engage such odds."
"Gallantry will often win through, even against overwhelming strength," said Miss Bishop. He look at her, and marveled to note in her bearing only excitement.
"Presently," he said, "you will suffer me to place you under cover."
"I can see best from here," she answered him. And added, quietly—"I am praying for this Englishman. He must be very brave."
"Foolhardy!" said his lordship gloomily.
The Colleen was advancing now bows on, as if to pass between the two Spanish ships. My lord pointed it out.
"He's crazy—surely!" he cried. "He's driving straight into a death-trap. No wonder that black-faced don is holding his fire."
But even at that moment, the admiral raised his hand and the gunners on the prow touched off off his guns. As the thunder of them rolled out, they were answered almost at once by two successive flashes from the brass cannon of the Colleen's beakhead, and scarcely had the watchers on the poop seen the splash made by one of the shots in striking the water near them, when with a rending crash and a shiver that shook the Milagrosa from stem to stern, the other came to lodge in her forecastle.
To avenge the blow, the Hidalga blazed at the Englishman with her chasers. But even at that short range—between two and three hundred yards—neither shot took effect.
At a hundred yards the Colleen's forward guns, being reloaded, fired again at the Milagrosa, and this time smashed her bowsprit into splinters. Don Miguel swore and his own forward guns replied. But they were aimed too high, and whilst one of the shots scarred the Colleen's mainmast, the other went wide. And now she was between the Spaniards, her bows in line with theirs, and coming steadily on.
His lordship held his breath, and Miss Bishop gasped. She had a glimpse of the wickedly grinning face of Don Miguel, and the grinning faces of the men at the guns in the waist. At last the Colleen was right between the Spanish ships, prow to poop and poop to prow.
In the act of ordering the trumpeter at his elbow to give the signal for both ships, Don Miguel checked, paralyzed by the belated apprehension that in firing into the Englishman he and his consort would also be firing into each other.
Toe late he ordered his helmsman to put the tiller hard over and swung the ship to larboard, as a preliminary to maneuvering for a less impossible position of attack. At that very moment the Colleen seemed to explode as she swept by. Eighteen guns from each of her flanks emptied themselves at that pointblank range into the hulls of the two Spanish Vessels.
Half-stunned: by the reverberating thunder, and thrown off her balance by a sudden lurch of the ship, Miss Bishop fell violently against Lord Julian who kept his feet by clutching the rail on which he had been leaning. Billowing clouds of smoke to starboard blotted out everything and its acrid odor, taking them presently in the throat, set them gasping and coughing.
From the grim confusion and turmoil in the waist below arose a clamor of fierce Spanish blasphemies and the screams of maimed men.
The Milagrosa staggered slowly ahead, a gaping rent in her bulwarks, her foremast shattered, fragments of the yards hanging in the netting spread below. Her beakhead was in splinters and a shot had smashed through into the great cabin reducing it to wreckage.
Suddenly through the lifting smoke loomed the outline of a ship, ghostly at first, in the enveloping haze, then her red hull clear as she swept nearer with poles all bare save for the spritsail spread to give her steering way.
Instead of holding to her course, as Don Miguel had imagined, the Colleen had gone about, under cover of the smoke, and sailing now in the same direction as the Milagrosa, was converging upon her so sharply that almost before the frenzied Don Miguel had realized the situation, his vessel reeled under the rending impact with which the other came hurtling alongside.
Grapnels clanked and tore and caught in half a dozen places and the Spaniard was gripped in the tentacles of the English ship.
Beyond her, and now well astern, the Hidalga was descried in desperate case. She was bilging fast, with an ominous list to larboard, and it could be no more than a question of moments before she settled down. Her crew was striving desperately to launch the boats.
Of this Don Miguel's anguished eyes had no more than a fleeting but comprehensive glimpse before his own decks were invaded by a wild, yelling swarm of boarders. Never was hunter more swiftly converted into helpless prey. For helpless the Spaniards were. The swiftly executed boarding maneuver had taken them completely by surprise in the moment of confusion following the punishing broadside they had sustained.
There was a valiant but futile effort by some of Don Miguel's officers to rally the men. The Spaniards, never at their best in close quarter fighting, were here demoralized by knowledge of the men with whom they ad to deal. Their hastily formed ranks were smashed at once.
Driving across the waist, to the quarter-deck bulkheads, and up to the forecastle, the fighting resolved itself into skirmishes between groups, whilst another swarm of buccaneers dropped through the hatch to the main deck below to overpower the gun-crews at their stations there.
On the quarter-deck, toward which an overwhelming wave of buccaneers was sweeping, led by a one-eyed giant, naked to the waist, stood Don Miguel, numbed by despair and rage. Above and behind him on the poop, Lord Julian and Miss Bishop looked on, his lordship aghast at the fury of this cooped-up fighting, the lady sick and faint with horror.
At last the rage of that brief fight was spent. They saw the banner of Castile come fluttering down from the masthead. A buccaneer had slashed the halyard with his cutlass. The boarders were in possession and on the upper deck groups of disarmed Spaniards stood huddled now like herded sheep.
Suddenly Miss Bishop recovered from her nausea, to lean forward, stating with eyes that were suddenly dilated.
Picking his way daintily through that shambles in the waist, came a tall, slender man with a deeply tanned face that was shaded by a broad plumed hat. He was richly dressed in black with silver lace, and carried himself with easy assurance.
Up the broad companion to the quarterdeck he came, and there, very gracefully, doffed his feathered hat to salute the Spanish admiral, who, livid of face, with distorted mouth and labored breathing, stood stiffly unresponsive. A crisp, metallic voice, speaking perfect Spanish, reached those two spectators on the poop.
"We meet at last, Don Miguel," it said. "And if the meeting is little to your taste, at least it is of your own seeking."
The Spaniard uttered an inarticulate cry of rage and his hand swept to the hilt of his sword. But the other caught his wrist and held it.
"Calm, Don Miguel!" he was quietly but firmly, enjoined. "Do not drive me to the ugly extremes that you yourself would have practised had the situation been reversed. You are at liberty to go."
He pointed to the boats, which his men were heaving from the booms amidships.
"Your boats are being launched. Yonder are the shores of Hispaniola. You should make them safely. And if you'll take my advice, Don Miguel you'll not hunt me again. But get you home to Spain, and to concerns that you understand better than this trade of the sea."
For a long moment the defeated admiral stared his hate in silence, then, still without speaking, he went down the companion, staggering like a drunken man, his useless rapier clattering behind him. His conqueror, who had not even troubled to disarm him, watched him go; then turned and faced those two immediately above him on the poop.
Lord Julian might have observed, had he been less taken up with other things, that the man suddenly turned pale under his deep tan. Then he came swiftly up the steps. Lord Julian stood forward to meet him.
"Ye don't mean, sir, that you'll let that Spanish scoundrel go free?" he cried.
The gentleman in black seemed to become aware of his lordship for the first time.
"Why, who the —— may you be?" he asked, with a marked Irish accent. "And what business may it be of yours, at all?"
His truculence and utter lack of proper deference must be corrected.
"I am Lord Julian Wade," his lordship announced with that object. Apparently the announcement made no impression.
"Are you, indeed? Then perhaps ye'll explain what the —— you're doing aboard this ship?"
Lord Julian controlled himself to explain, shortly and impatiently.
"He took you prisoner, did he—along with Miss Bishop there?"
"You are acquainted with Miss Bishop?" cried his lordship.
But this mannerless fellow had stepped past him, and was making a leg to the lady, who on her side was unresponsive and forbidding to the point of scorn. Observing this, he turned to answer Lord Julian's question.
"I had that honor once," said he. "But it seems that Miss Bishop has forgotten me."
A note of mockery rang in his voice. His lips were twisted into a wry smile and there was pain in the blue eyes that gleamed so vividly under his black brows.
"I do not number thieves and pirates among my acquaintances, Captain Blood," said the lady, frostily.
"Captain Blood!" cried his lordship, in excitement. "Are you Captain Blood?"
"What else were ye supposing?" Blood asked the question wearily, his mind on other things.
We touch here upon the great romance of that hard-used gentleman's life.
Years ago when, as a transported rebel, he had been a slave in her uncle's household, they had been, after a manner, friends. He was not, after all, as other slaves. He was a man of parts and he had enjoyed certain liberties not commonly accorded to his kind. It was entirely because of his deep regard for her that—at considerable risk to himself—he had prevailed upon his fellow-slaves to give Colonel Bishop a chance of life when—in the hour of their deliverance—that hard man lay in their power.
The love that Peter Blood had conceived for her had never been spoken. But it had been with him in these three years, and it had been his dream that there might come day when they should meet again upon more equal terms.
The last thing that he had pictured was that he should meet her thus as her deliverer amid the reek and smoke of battle upon the deck of a conquered ship. The anticipation would have warmed his heart, as much as the realization now froze it.
Her short, cruel speech had been to him as a blow across the eyes. He could not trust himself to answer her. Instead he addressed Lord Julian.
"If ye'll escort Miss Bishop aboard my ship, I'll have ye put ashore in some convenient place. And you had best make haste, for we are about to scuttle this hulk."
He was turning to depart but Lord Julian caught him by the sleeve with one hand, whilst with the other he pointed to to Don Miguel, who was leaning dejectedly against the forecastle bulkhead.
"Do I understand that ye're not going to hang that Spanish scoundrel?"
"What for should I be hanging him?"
"Because he's just a —— pirate!"
"Ah!" said Blood, and Lord Julian marveled at the sudden haggardness of a countenance that had been so devil-may-care but a few moments since. "I am a —— pirate myself; and so I am merciful to my kind. Don Miguel goes free."
Lord Julian gasped.
"After what he has done to me—to us!" he cried. Then he contained his indignant amazement. He spoke coldly. "Captain Blood, you disappoint me. I had hopes of great things for you."
"Go to the ——," said Captain Blood and continued on his way.
And that was the last Lord Julian saw of him for some hours.
When next they met it was toward evening on the quarter-deck of the Colleen, and the meeting was of his lordship's seeking. He had transferred himself, as he was bidden, to Blood's ship, together with Miss Bishop, their luggage and her woman. Food was served them in the great cabin, but Captain Blood did not join them at table nor indeed at all.
He sent an officer, however, to inform them that he had altered his course with intent to land them on the coast of Jamaica, as near Port Royal as he dared venture.
"I marvel," said Miss Bishop, when the door had closed upon the departing messenger, "that he does not hold us to ransom."
Lord Julian looked at her. There was something here that intrigued him hopelessly.
"Isn't that—I venture the remark in all submission, Miss Bishop—isn't it a little ungrateful?"
"Ungrateful?" She stared at him out of those discomposing hazel eyes. "I don't think I understand."
"Well, now—Didn't he come to our rescue?"
"I wasn't aware that he knew of our presence aboard the Milagrosa."
"Still, you're probably aware that he delivered us." There was the least asperity in Lord Julian's tone. "And living in these savage places of the New World, ye can hardly fail to be aware of what is known even in England—that this fellow Blood makes war upon Spaniards only. Though why he should be so nice in the matter is more than I can think. Sink me! When you consider how he's fared at the hands of his fellow-countrymen, you can marvel that he should discriminate. To be sold into slavery. Ugh!" His lordship shuddered. "And to a —— colonial planter!" he checked abruptly. "I beg your pardon Miss Bishop. For the moment—"
"You were carried away by your heart in the defense of this sea-robber?" Miss Bishop's scorn was almost fierce.
His lordship stared at her again. Then he narrowed his handsome eyes.
"I wonder why you hate him so!" said he softly.
"Hate him?" She stared a moment, then laughed disdainfully. "Lord! What a thought! I don't regard the fellow at all."
"Then ye should. He's worth regarding. He'd be an acquisition to the king's service—a man that can do the things he did this morning. Blister me! I doubt if the royal navy has his like. To thrust himself deliberately between those two ships at pointblank range and to turn the tables on them. And we were not the only ones bubbled. That Spanish admiral never guessed the intent until it was too late, and Blood had him in check."
Miss Bishop was moved to sarcasm.
"You should use your interest with my Lord Sunderland to have the king offer him a commission."
"Faith, it isn't necessary. It's done already. I have his commission in my pocket this minute, or, leastways, in my valise."
And he amazed her still further by an exposition of the circumstances. In that amazement, he left her, and went out in quest of Blood. He found him pacing the quarter-deck, a very thoughtful, downcast man.
Lord Julian, with the amiable familiarity he used, slipped an arm through the captain's, and fell into step with him.
"Ye're mighty condescending, sir, sneered Blood. His lordship should have seen that his temper wasn't at its best.
"I desire that we be friends, captain."
"Sure now, that's mighty civil of you."
His lordship swallowed his resentment of the obvious sarcasm.
"It's an odd coincidence that we should meet thus," said he, "considering that I came out to the Indies especially to seek you."
"Ye're not the first that's done that," said Captain Blood, grimly. "But they've mostly been Spaniards, and they hadn't your luck. Don Miguel de Espinosa was one of them."
"You misapprehend me completely," said Lord Julian and proceeded to explain himself and his mission.
When he had done, Blood disengaged his arm from his lordship's and stood squarely before him.
"Ye're my guest aboard this ship," said he, "and I still have some notions of decent behavior left me from other days. So I'll not be telling you what I think of you for daring to bring me this offer, or of my Lord Sunderland—since he's your kinsman—for sending it.
"But it doesn't surprize me at all that a man who is minister to such a king as James Stuart conceives that every other man can be seduced by bribes to betray those who trust him." He flung out an arm to indicate his buccaneers lounging in the waist.
"Again you misapprehend," cried Lord Julian, between concern and indignation. "It is intended to include your followers in your commission."
"And d'ye think they'll go with me to hunt their brethren—the Brethren of the Main? On my soul, Lord Julian, 'tis yourself does the misapprehending. And there's more to it. D'ye think I could take a commission of King James's? I tell ye I wouldn't be soiling my hands with it—though they be the hands of a thief and a pirate. That's what Miss Bishop called me. And who made me a thief and a pirate?"
"If you were a rebel—" His lordship was beginning.
"I was no such thing—no rebel at all. Wasn't a bred a papist. And what should I be doing with the Protestant Champion, Monmouth? I was just performing an act of charity, when they took me, and that filthy vampire Jeffreys—bad cess to him!—condemned me to transportation.
"D'ye dream what it is to be a slave? But there! I grow hot for nothing at all. I'm grateful to ye, Lord Julian, for your kindly intentions. I am so. But ye'll understand perhaps. Ye look as if ye might."
Lord Julian shrugged.
"A pity," he sighed. "Oh, blister me—a cursed pity!" He held out his hand. "But no offence between us. For damme, ye're a fine fellow, Captain Blood."
"I'm a pirate and a thief," said Captain Blood. He laughed without mirth, and disregarding the proffered hand, swung on his heel.
Lord Julian departed almost sorrowfully. Just within the doorway of the passage leading to the cabin he almost ran into Miss Bishop. He followed her to the roundhouse, his mind too full of Captain Blood to concern itself closely with her movements. There he flung into a chair and exploded.
"Blister me if ever I met a man that I liked better. Yet there's nothing to be done with him."
He looked across at her with brooding eyes.
"Your words have rankled with him. He threw them at me twice. He wouldn't take the commission; he wouldn't take my hand even. What's to be done with a fellow, like that? He'll end on a yard-arm for all his luck. And the fool's running into danger at the present moment on our account."
"How?" she asked him, with a faint show of interest.
"By sailing to Jamaica, the headquarters of the English fleet. True, your uncle commands it—"
Her interest quickened very suddenly. She leaned across the table to interrupt him, a little breathlessly.
"Don't imagine there is any hope for him in that," said she. "He has no bitterer enemy in the world. I believe that it was nothing but the hope of taking and hanging him that made my uncle accept the deputy-governorship of Jamaica, and leave his Barbados plantations. Captain Blood doesn't know that, of course—"'
"I can't think it would make the least difference to him if he did," said Lord Julian. "A man who can forgive such an enemy as Don Miguel, and take up such an uncompromising attitude as this with me, isn't to be judged by ordinary rules. He's chivalrous to the point of idiocy."
"And yet he has been what he has been, and done the things he has done in these past three years!" Miss Bishop sat down and stared through the stern windows into the fading eventide, deep in thought.
She was awakened next morning very early by a sharp bugle call and the clanging of a bell in the ship's belfry. On the main deck under her cabin she could hear sounds of swift, labored bustle, the clatter of many feet and hoarse shouting voices. She rose and called her woman, a vague sense of alarm pervading her.
Aroused by the same sounds, Lord Julian was already astir, and dressing hurriedly. Presently he emerged on deck, and looked up into a mountain of canvas. Every foot of sail that she possessed, had been crowded to the Colleen's yards to catch the morning breeze.
Ahead and on either side, stretched the limitless expanse of ocean sparkling golden in the sun, a mere half-disc as yet above the horizon straight ahead. By the rail stood Captain Blood in altercation with the one-eyed giant, Wolverstone, who had yesterday led the raiding-party. Their voices ceased as his lordship appeared and Blood turned to greet him.
"Good morning to you," he said, and added: "I've blundered badly, so I have. I should have known better than to have come so close to Jamaica by night. But I was in haste to land you."
He waved his hand astern as he spoke, and, turning, Lord Julian cried out in his amazement. There, not more than three miles away, was land—an uneven mass of vivid green that filled the Western horizon. And a couple of miles this side of it, bearing after them, came three great white ships.
"They fly no colors, but they're part of the Jamaica fleet," said Blood without excitement. "When dawn broke, we found ourselves running right into them. It's been a race ever since. And the Colleen's been at these four months, and her bottom's too foul for the speed we're needing."
"So that you're like to be in yet another sea-fight afore ye've done wi' ships, my lord," was Wolverstone's sardonic comment.
"Sure now, that's a point we were just arguing," said Blood. "For I hold that we're in no case to fight such odds."
"The odds be ——," swore Wolverstone. "We're used to odds. The odds was heavier at Maracaybo; yet we won out and took three ships."
"Ay—but those were Spaniards."
"And what better are these—commanded by a lubberly Barbados planter? What ever ails you, Peter? I've never known ye scared afore."
A gun boomed out behind them.
"That'll be the signal to lie-to," said Blood, and he sighed.
Wolverstone squared himself defiantly before his captain.
"I'll see Colonel Bishop in —— or ever I lies to for him." And he spat, presumably for purposes of emphasis.
His lordship intervened.
"O, but—by your leave—surely there is nothing to be apprehended from Colonel Bishop. Considering the service you have rendered to his niece and to me—"
"Tchah!" Wolverstone interrupted him "Ye don't know Colonel Bishop; that's clear. Not for his niece, not for his own mother, would he forego the blood the blood he thinks is due to him. A drinker of blood he is. We know. We been his slaves—Peter and me."
"But there is myself," said his lordship, with great dignity.
"I assure you," said his lordship, sharply, "that my word counts for something in England."
"Maybe—in England. But this ain't England."
Came the roar of a second gun, and a round shot splashed the water less than a cable's length astern. Blood leaned over the rail to a fair young man immediately below him by the helmsman at the whip-staff.
"Bid them take in sail, Jerry," he said, quietly. "We lie to."
But Wolverstone interposed again.
"Hold there a moment, Jerry! Wait!" He swung back to face the captain.
"Peter, ye've gone mad! Will ye doom us all to —— out of tenderness for that cold slip of a girl?"
"Stop!" cried Blood in a fury.
But Wolverstone would not stop.
"It's the truth, you fool," he asserted. "It's that —— petticoat's making a coward of you. It's for her that ye're afraid—and she, Colonel Bishop's niece! My ——, man, yell have a mutiny aboard, and I'll lead it myself sooner than surrender to be hanged in Port Royal."
Their glances met, and the burly giant saw unmistakable pain reflected in those light eyes—eyes which he had known merry, angry, cunning, reckless, but never sad.
"There is," said Captain Blood, "no question of surrender for any man aboard, save only myself. It's myself that scoundrel Bishop wants. I'll send him a message offering to surrender and taking Miss Bishop and his lordship with me, but only on condition that the Colleen is allowed to proceed unharmed. It's a bargain he'll accept, if I know him at all."
"It's a bargain he'll never be offered," roared-Wolverstone, angrier than ever.
And then Miss Bishop stepped out on to the deck. She had heard every word, nor scrupled to betray the fact.
"There is yet another way, sir," she said, "that perhaps you have overlooked." She seemed a little out of breath, and her pleasant boyish voice was disposed to quaver. "Allowing that my uncle is as great an ogre as you say, yet you can make yourself, your ship and your crew quite safe from his anger by the proposals which Lord Julian made you yesterday."
Blood looked at her in silence, his eyes expressionless.
"Ay—blister me!" cried his lordship, eagerly. "Though my word may carry little weight in these barbarous latitudes, the king's word will be respected. That is your way, Captain Blood."
"What way is that?" quoth Wolverstone, mistrustfully, and Jerry Pitt drew his head to the level of the deck that he might hear the answer.
"The way of Morgan," Captain Blood replied. "Accept the king's commission, and shelter us all behind it."
Wolverstone gaped in stricken amazement. "It—it has been offered you?"
"Ay, and refused by him—though Heaven knows it should be preferable to sleeping on the bottom of the sea," said his lordship.
"Better put it to the men," cried Pitt, and Wolverstone grunted his approval.
"I'll do nothing of the kind," said Blood.
"Then I will," Pitt declared, and went off at once upon that errand, never heeding Blood's heated protest.
He was still protesting when Pitt returned with two-thirds of the crew crowding after him to urge upon their captain to take this one way of saving them. He protested until Miss Bishop intervened.
"It is an honorable proposal, sir," she said with some heat, provoked by the scorn he was heaping on at.
His blue eyes regarding her, were hard as sapphires.
"Do ye suppose now," he asked her, "that it could redeem a man who was a pirate and a thief?"
Her glance fell away. Her voice faltered a little in replying.
"If he needs redeeming. But perhaps he has been judged too harshly."
The blue eyes flashed and the firm lips relaxed from their grim set.
"Why—if ye think that," he said, "life might have its uses, after all." He swung to Lord Julian. "Date it yesterday. And for the love of glory make me nothing less than a colonel, so that I may talk to Bishop as man to man."
Secretly rejoicing at this successful accomplishment of his mission, Lord Julian plunged away to his cabin and Blood renewed the order to take in sail and lie to. This time it was obeyed without demur. When he turned again to address Miss Bishop, she, had vanished.
As the ships of the Jamaica fleet came up with them, Blood signaled his request that they should send a boat. It came, manned by a score of sailors, and in the stern-sheets sat Colonel Bishop himself.
"He has courage, at least," said Blood as he watched the approaching boat from the bulwarks amidships.
"Blood-lust will often stifle prudence," sneered Wolverstone.
But Bishop had taken his measures. As he was stepping on to the deck of the Colleen, he announced that the guns of his three ships were trained on her to blow her out of the water at the first sign of treachery.
Arms akimbo, and feet planted wide he stood, a massive man in whose great red-face a pair of beady eyes gloated malevolently upon the redoubtable buccaneer he had compelled to surrender. And that same cornered buccaneer, apparently nowise discomposed, airily smiled a welcome.
"Good-day to ye, colonel darling. It's mighty glad I am see you looking so well and hearty."
"Hearty enough to hang you for a —— pirate," growled the deputy-governor.
Blood appealed to Lord Julian, who stood beside him.
"D'ye hear that now? And did ye ever hear the like? But what did I tell ye? Perhaps ye'll be explaining to the colonel just who I am."
"I have the honor to inform you, sir, that this is Colonel Blood, a gentleman holding a commission in his majesty's service."
The deputy-governor scowled between perplexity and anger at the elegant speaker.
"And who the —— may you be?" quoth he. Lord Julian's dress and air and speech precluded the possibility of his being a member of Blood's crew.
"Ye're not very civil, sir, even for a colonial planter," said his lordship in cold reproof. "My name is Wade—Lord Julian Wade, my Lord Sunderland's kinsman and his Majesty's envoy to these barbarous parts. You were notified, I think, of my coming. My ship, the Royal Mary, fell a victim to a Spanish privateer, and I might never have arrived but for the gallantry of Colonel Blood, who rescued me, together with your own niece."
He pointed to the quarter-deck, where Miss Bishop waited with her woman. She waved a hand to her uncle, and by her presence corroborated the incredible and unpalatable story that he had just heard. But the colonel was too dumbfounded to have much thought for his niece just then.
"You have granted a commission to this man?" He brushed the matter aside with a contemptuous oath. "It shall be canceled."
"On what grounds, if you please?" His lordship was very frosty.
"That ye were imposed upon—bubbled; that you did not know what ye were doing, what this man has done; first, a rebel, then an escaped slave, then a blood-thirsty pirate."
"I assure you, sir, I was fully informed of all. I do not grant the king's commissions lightly."
"Don't you, by ——? Ye've done so in this case, let me tell you. And as his majesty's deputy governor of Jamaica, I'll take leave to correct your mistake in my own. There's a gallows waiting for this rascal in Port Royal."
There was an uneasy stir among the men crowding in the waist. But Lord Julian answered promptly:
"No my mistake, colonel. I take my instructions from my Lord Sunderland, and he expressly designated Captain Blood for this commission if Captain Blood Blood could be persuaded to accept it. I have his letter of directions."
He paused so as to stress the question he next added—
"Do you still presume to describe it as a mistake, sir, and dare you take the risk of correcting it?"
The deputy-governor's haughty, malevolent glance faltered and his full face lost some of its high color.
"It not for me to question my Lord Sunderland's wisdom," he said at last in a voice that was suddenly grown husky.
"His lordship will glad to hear it," said Lord Julian.
Blood was breathing freely again at last.
"It only remains, Colonel Bishop," said he, "to settle whether you'll return to your ship, or honor me with your company into Port Royal, whither I am conveying Lord Julian."
Colonel Bishop declined the hospitality. In departing with his niece, he even forgot to return thanks for her rescue. But this was a matter that Miss Bishop repaired in such a manner as to encourage Blood's soaring hopes of redemption.
In the great harbor of Port Royal—spacious enough to have given moorings to all the ships of all the navies of the world—the Colleen, Peter Blood's great red-hulled ship, rode at anchor. Almost she had the air of a prisoner; for a quarter of a mile ahead to starboard rose the lofty, massive single round tower of the fort, whilst a couple of cables' length astern and to larboard rode the six men-of-war that composed the Jamaica squadron.
Abeam with her, across the harbour, were the flat-fronted white buildings of that imposing city coming down to the very water's edge.
Behind these the red roofs rose like terraces marking the gentle slope upon which the city stood, dominated, here by a turret, there by a spire, and behind these again a range of green hills with, for ultimate background, a sky that was like a dome of polished steel. On a cane day-bed that had been set on the quarter-deck and sheltered from the dazzling, blistering sunshine by an improvized awning of brown sail-cloth lounged Peter Blood.
From immediately below him came the swish of mops and the gurgle of water in the scuppers, for it was still early morning and under the directions of the bo'sun the swabbers were at work in the waist and forecastle. And despite the heat, one of the toilers found breath to croak a ribald buccaneering ditty:
For we laid her board and board
And we put her to the sword,
And we sank her in the deep blue sea.
So it's heigh-ho and heave-a-ho!
Who'll sail to the south with me?
Blood heaved a sigh and the ghost of a smile played over his keen, lean, sun-tanned face. Then the black brows came together over the vivid blue eyes and thought swiftly closed the door upon his immediate surroundings.
He was considering his queer destiny; and it seemed to him that the wheel of it had come full circle.
Transplanted to the plantations after Sedgemoor, as a rebel, he had been sold into slavery at Barbados to a wealthy brutal planter named Bishop. Thence he had escaped to become in a short while the admiral of a buccaneering fleet that was the terror of Spain and the cause of perpetually strained relations between the courts of the Escurial and St. James's.
Despairing of subduing him by force, Lord Sunderland, the Secretary of State, set about seducing him from his allegiance to the Brotherhood of the Main by a commission in the King's service. It was a proposal that Blood would have scorned had not a curious set of circumstances entangled him in their net.
The ship bearing Lord Julian Wade—Lord Sunderland's envoy and kinsman—had fallen a victim to a Spanish privateer off Hispaniola, and Lord Julian had been taken prisoner together with Miss Arabella Bishop, who was returning from St. Nicholas to Jamaica, of which her uncle—the whilom Barbados planter was now deputy-governor. From this captivity Blood had rescued them, and then, largely as a consequence, he had run into a half-squadron of the fleet from Port Royal commanded by Colonel Bishop himself, of whom Blood knew that in no circumstances could he expect quarter.
Thus, when Miss Bishop had urged him then to place himself under shelter of the commission of which Lord Julian was the bearer, he had succumbed—not from love of life, but because she who scorned him for what he he was become had pointed out that by loyal service he might find redemption.
And so it fell out that the exultation of his bitter enemy, Colonel Bishop, was dashed as it reached its zenith and his hand closed upon the buccaneer he had sworn to hang. Instead of going to the gallows here was Blood taking: his ease in Port Royal waters, holding colonel's rank in the King's service, his fine ship a unit in the Jamaica squadron.
Presently when news of it reached the buccaneer fleet that vainly awaited him in Tortuga, his name that had stood so high among the Brethren of the Main would become a byword, a thing of execration, and before all was done his life might pay forfeit for what would be accounted a treacherous defection. And for what had he placed himself in this position? To redeem himself in the eyes of a slip of a girl who continued, notwithstanding, to regard him with aversion.
He had scarcely seen her since his coming to Port Roy a fortnight ago, and this although daily he had haunted the fort where her uncle resided, and daily braved the unmasked hostility and baffled rancor in which Colonel Bishop held him. It was the graceful elegant young trifler from St. James's, Lord Julian Wade, who absorbed her every moment. And what chance had Blood, a desperate adventurer with a record of outlawry, against such a rival as that, a man of parts, moreover, as he was bound to admit?
In the bitterness of his soul, he beheld himself to be as the dog in the fable that had dropped the substance to snatch a delusive shadow.
A boat that had approached unnoticed from the shore scraped and bumped alongside the Colleen and a raucous voice sent up a hailing shout. From the ship's belfry two silvery notes rang clear and sharp, and a moment or two later the bo'sun's whistle shrilled a long wail.
The sounds disturbed Colonel Blood from his disgruntled musings. He rose, a tall active man, very elegant in black and silver of a Spanish fashion, the long ringlets of his jet-black hair reaching to the collar of fine point that adorned his doublet. He advanced the carved rail of the quarter-deck just as Jerry Pitt, the master of the Colleen, set foot upon the companion. This active, shapely, golden-bearded Devonshire lad had been Blood's fellow-slave in Barbados and his closest friend in those three years of piracy that had followed their escape.
"A note for you from the deputy-governor," he said shortly, and proffered the folded sheet he carried.
Blood broke the seal and read swiftly. Pitt, loosely clad in shirt and breeches, leaned against the rail and watched him, unmistakable concern imprinted on his fair, frank countenance.
Blood uttered a short laugh and curled his lip.
"It is a very peremptory summons," he said, and passed the note to his friend. Pitt's gray eyes skimmed it.
"You'll not go?" he said, between question and assertion.
"Why not? Haven't I been a daily visitor at the fort—"
"But it'll be about Wolverstone that he wants to you. It gives him a real grievance at last. You know, Peter, that it is Lord Julian alone who has stood between this rascal Bishop and his hate of you. If now he can show that—"
"What if he can?" Blood interrupted carelessly. "Shall I be in greater danger there than here aboard, now that we've but fifty men left and they lukewarm rogues who would as soon serve the king as me? Jerry, dear lad, the Colleen's a prisoner here, bedad, 'twixt the fort there and the fleet yonder. Don't be forgetting that."
Jerry clenched his hands.
"Why did ye let Wolverstone and the others go?" he cried with a touch of bitterness.
"What else could I do in honesty?" And as Pitt did not answer him—"Ye see?" he said, and shrugged. "I'll be getting my hat and stick and sword, and going ashore in the cock-boat. See it manned for me."
"Ye're, going to deliver yourself into Bishop's hands," cried Jerry.
"Well, well, maybe he'll not find me quite so easy to grasp as he imagines." And with a laugh, Blood departed to his cabin.
Jerry Pitt answered the laugh with an oath. A moment he stood irresolute where Blood had left him. Then slowly, reluctance dragging at his feet, he went down the companion to give the order for the cock-boat.
"If anything should happen to you, Peter," he said as Blood was going over the side, "Colonel Bishop had better look to himself. These fifty lads may be lukewarm at present, as you say, but—sink me—they'll be anything but lukewarm then."
"And what should be happening to me, Jerry? Sure now, I'll be back for dinner, so I will." Blood climbed down into the waiting boat. But laugh though be might, he knew as well as Jerry that in going ashore that morning he carried his life in his hands. Because of this it may have been that when he stepped on to the narrow mole in the shadow of the shallow outer wall of the fort through whose crenels were thrust the black noses of it's heavy guns, he gave order that the boat should stay for him at that spot. He realized that he might have to retreat in a hurry.
Walking leisurely he skirted the embattled wall and passed through the great gates into the courtyard at the rear of the fort. Half a dozen soldiers lounged there, and in the shadow cast by the wall the commandant himself was slowly pacing. He stopped short at sight of Colonel Blood and saluted him, as was due, but the smile that lifted the officer's stiff mustachios was grimly sardonic.
Colonel Blood's attention, however, was elsewhere. On his right stretched a spacious garden beyond which rose the white house that was the residence of the deputy-governor. In that garden's main avenue that was fringed with palms and sandalwood he had caught a glimpse of Miss Bishop sauntering alone. He crossed the courtyard with suddenly lengthened stride.
"Good morning to ye, ma'am," was his greeting as he overtook her; and, hat in hand now, he added on a note of protest—"Sure it's nothing less than uncharitable to make me run in this heat."
"Then why run?" she asked him coolly, standing very slim and straight before him, all in white and very maidenly save in her almost unnatural composure. "I am pressed," she added. "So you will forgive me if I do not stay."
"You were none so pressed until I came," said he, and if his lips smiled, his blue eyes were oddly hard.
"Since you perceive it, sir, I wonder that you trouble be so insistent."
"Because the reason for it escapes me. And I'm by nature inquisitive."
Her breathing unhurried, her clear hazel eyes quite steadily considering him, she answered:
"I should have though that I had made the reason clear."
"Meaning, now, that I am a thief and a pirate?"
She shrugged and turned aside.
"I desired to avoid repeating words that seemed to offend you," she said coolly.
"So that ye can be charitable in some ways." He laughed softly. "Glory be, now, I should be thankful for so much. Yet I can't forget that when I was no better than a slave in your uncle's household in Barbados ye used me with a certain kindness."
"You were different then. You had been transported for rebellion. But that was your only only offence, and it is possible to respect a rebel. You were just an unfortunate gentleman."
"And what else would ye be calling me now?"
"Hardly unfortunate. We have heard of your good fortune on the seas—how your luck has passed into a byword. And we have heard other things."
"Ay—a deal of lies, devil a doubt, as could prove to you."
"I can not think why you should trouble to put yourself on your defense," said she discouragingly.
"So that ye may think less badly of me than ye do."
"What I think of you is a very little matter, sir."
"Can ye say that, now? Can ye say that, knowing as ye must that it was on that very account I was persuaded to accept this cursed commission in a service I despise? Didn't ye urge me with the plea that thus I might redeem the past? It's little enough I was concerned to redeem the past save only in your eyes. In my own I've done nothing at all that I'm ashamed of, considering the provocation I received."
Her glance faltered and fell away before his own that was so intent.
"I—I can't think why you should speak to me like this," she said with less than her earlier assurance.
"Ah now, can't ye indeed?" he cried. "Sure then I'll be telling ye."
"Oh, please! I beg that you will not." There was real alarm in her voice. But he never heeded it.
"Ye'll remember that day, a fortnight since, when the three ships of the Jamaica fleet bore down upon me. What was it, d'ye suppose, that made me afraid to fight? As ye heard Wolverstone say, I'd faced heavier odds and come out victorious. Ye may also have heard him say that it was having you aboard that made a coward of me. And that was the truth, so it was. I couldn't bear to think of the harm that might come to you in the terrible fight there'd have been if I engaged them."
"I—I realized that; and I am very grateful. I shall always be grateful."
"Maybe, but if it's also your intention always to think of me as a thief and a pirate, faith ye may keep your gratitude for all the good it's like to do me."
A livelier color crept into her cheeks.
"You misunderstand," she said. "It isn't that."
"What is it then?" quoth he, and added the question: "Lord Julian?"
She started, and stared at him blankly indignant.
"Och, frank' with me," he urged her. "'Twill be a kindness. So it will."
"You—you are quite insufferable," she said, her chin in the air. "I beg that you will let me pass."
He stepped aside and with the broad feathered hat which he still held in his hand he waved her on towards the house.
"I'll not be detaining you any longer, ma'am."
She moved to depart, then checked and faced hi again. There was now a perceptible heave of the slight breast that faintly swelled the light bodice of gray silk.
"That day three years ago," she said, "when Don Diego Valdez raided Bridgetown, I saw things that I shall remember with horror to my dying hour, and I heard tell afterwards of others even more unspeakable. When I think of that what Valdez and his raiders did in Barbados then, you and your buccaneers have since been doing in a score of Spanish settlements, do you wonder that I—that I—desire as little as may be of your company whilst your new duties keep you in Port Royal?"
Nor as that all she said. Having been driven, as she felt, to explain herself, she went almost to the very limits of candor.
"Perhaps because in the old days I honored you for an unfortunate gentleman, pitied you for your misfortune, and esteemed you for the gifts you revealed and the fortitude with which you bore adversity, I am now the more readily moved to horror by the thought of what you have become."
Thus did she deal him, relentlessly, a death-wound to all his hopes. In what she said she afforded him reason enough for her aloofness; but his mounting jealousy preferred a reason other than the one she offered. Indeed, because she offered it so fully, he accounted it no reason at all, but just a pretext.
"Oh, madam!" he Cried, and there was mockery in the crisp voice. "Qui s'excuse, s'accuse. Ye'll know French, no doubt."
"I must know more than French to be able to guess your meaning. But it doesn't really matter. The Peter Blood I once knew in Barbados, and esteemed, is dead, sir."
"I am thinking that's the truth," he answer her, his bitterness increasing. "For it was yourself that killed him." And in answer to her gasp and sudden stare of mingled scorn and amazement he explained himself:
"You killed him on that day when ye tempted him to take a commission that made him a renegade and false to those who trusted him.
"With all the sins he has committed and all those that your imagination adds to them, at least he could boast until that day that he had never broken faith with any man. Because he saw that ye scorned him for a pirate, and because falsely ye represented that in this way he might redeem himself, he succumbed. And for what? To be told now what you have just told me—that though I redeem myself in the eyes of the world and of the law, in your eyes I remain a thief and a pirate, contemptible and to be shunned.
"Was not that to practise a deceit upon me? Will ye pretend that ye lacked the wit to see that it was redemption in your eyes alone that concerned me? What is the world and the law to me? I have shown—" He broke off. "Oh, but there! I've said enough, and perhaps more than enough; for after all maybe, the cursed thing ye made me do for nothing can be undone. Good day to you ma'am."
He turned and putting on his hat with a certain abrupt fierceness he strode away towards the house without waiting for an answer.
A negro slave con conducted him to the wide piazza on the other side of the house in whose shade Colonel Bishop and my Lord Julian Wade took what little air there was.
They contrasted oddly, those two: the deputy-governor elderly, big, and corpulent, with a coarse, mahogany-colored face; Lord Julian young, tall and elegant, with a high-bred countenance and a slow musical voice.
Colonel Bishop hailed his visitor with a series of grunts of vague but apparently ill-humored import. He did not trouble to rise, not even when his lordship, obeying the instincts of finer breeding, set him the example. From under scowling brows the wealthy Barbados planter considered this Colonel Blood who once had been his slave, whilst, hat in hand leaning lightly upon his long beribboned cane Colonel Blood waited, revealing nothing in his countenance of the anger seething within him, which was being steadily nourished by this cavalier reception.
At last, with scowling brow and in self-sufficient tones, Colonel Bishop delivered himself.
"I have sent for you, Colonel Blood, because of certain news that has just reached me. I am informed that yesterday evening a frigate left the harbor having on board your associate Wolverstone and a hundred men of the hundred and fifty that were serving under you. His lordship and I shall be glad to have your explanation of how you came to permit that departure."
"Permit?" quoth Blood. "I ordered it."
The answer left Bishop speechless for moment. Then:
"You ordered it?" he said in accents of unbelief whilst Lord Julian raised his eye-brows. "'Swounds! Perhaps you'll explain yourself. Whither has Wolverstone gone?"
"To Tortuga. He's gone with a message to the officers commanding the other four ships of the fleet that is awaiting me there, telling them what's happened and why they are no longer to expect me."
Bishop's great face seemed to swell and its high color to deepen.
"You hear that, my lord?" he cried. "Deliberately he has let Wolverstone loose upon the seas again—Wolverstone, the worst of all that gang of pirates after himself. I hope your lordship begins to perceive the mistake you made in granting the King's commission to such a man as this against all my counsels. Why this thing is—it's just mutiny—treason! By ——! It's matter for a. court-martial."
"Och, cease your blather of mutiny and treason and courts-martial." Blood put on his hat, and sat down unbidden. "I have sent Wolverstone to inform Hagthorpe and Christian and Yberville and the rest of my lads that they've one clear month to follow my example, quit piracy and get back to their boucans or their logwood, or else clear out of Caribbean seas. That's what I've done."
"But the men?" his lordship interposed in his level cultured voice. "This hundred men that Wolverstone has taken with him?"
"They are those of my crew who had no taste for the King's service and have preferred to seek work of other kinds. It was in our compact, my lord, that there should be no constraining of my men."
"I don't remember it," said his lordship.
"Perhaps it wasn't explicitly stated. But ye couldn't have supposed that I'd be consenting to anything different."
And then the deputy-governor exploded.
"You have given those —— rascals in Tortuga this warning so that they may escape! That is what you have done. That is how you abuse the commission that has saved your own neck!"
Colonel Blood considered him for a moment out of a face that was as impassive as a mask.
"The object in view," said he then, "was—leaving out of account your own appetites, which, as every one knows are just those of a hangman—to clear the Caribbean of buccaneers. Sure now, I've taken the most effective way of attaining that object. The knowledge that I've entered the King's service should in itself go far toward disbanding the fleet of which I was until lately a leader."
"Ah!" sneered the deputy-governor malevolently. "And if it does not?"
"It will be time enough then to consider what to do."
Lord Julian forestalled a fresh outburst on the part of Bishop.
"It is possible," he said, "that my Lord Sunderland will be satisfied provided that the solution is such as you promise."
It was a courteous conciliatory speech urged by friendliness toward Blood and understanding of the difficult position in which the buccaneer had found himself. His lordship was disposed to take his stand upon the letter of his instructions. Therefore he now held out a friendly hand to help him over the latest and most difficult obstacle which Blood himself had enabled Bishop to place in the way of his redemption.
Unfortunately the last person from whom Peter Blood desired assistance at that moment was this young nobleman in whom he beheld a successful rival.
"Anyway," he answered, with a suggestion of defiance and more than a suggestion of a sneer, "it's the most ye should expect from me and certainly the most ye'll get."
His lordship frowned.
"I don't think that I quite like the way ye put it. Blister me if I do, Colonel Blood."
"I am sorry for that, so I am," said Blood, impudently. "But there it is. I'm not on that account concerned to modify it."
His lordship's eyes seemed to open a little wider. They were gray eyes, clear, honest and fearless.
"Ah!" he said. "You're a prodigiously uncivil fellow. You disappoint me, Colonel Blood. I had formed the notion that you might be a gentleman."
"And that's not your lordship's only mistake," Bishop put in. "You made a worse when by a commission you sheltered this rascal from the gallows I had prepared for him in Port Royal."
"Aye—but the worst mistake of all in this matte of commissions," said Blood to his lordship, "was the one that made this greasy slaver deputy-governor of Jamaica instead of its hangman, which is the office for which he's by nature fitted."
"Colonel Blood!" cried his lordship in sharp protest. "Upon my soul and honor, sir, you go much too far. You are—"
But here Bishop interrupted him. He had heaved himself to his feet at last and was venting fury in unprintable abuse. Colonel Blood, who had also risen, stood apparently impassive for the storm to spend itself. When at last this happened, he ad dressed himself quietly to Lord Julian as if Colonel Bishop had not spoken.
"Your lordship was about to say?" he asked with challenging smoothness.
But his lordship had by now recovered his habitual composure and was again disposed to be conciliatory, He laughed and shrugged.
"Faith! Here's a deal of unnecessary heat," said he. "And God knows this accursed climate provides enough of that. Perhaps, Colonel Bishop, you are a little uncompromising and you, sir, are certainly a deal too peppery. I have said, speaking on behalf of my Lord Sunderland, that I am content to await the result of your experiment."
But Bishop's fury had by now reached a stage in which it was not to be restrained.
"Are you indeed?" he roared. "Well, then, I am not. This is a matter in which your lordship must allow me to be the better judge. And anyhow I'll take the risk of acting on my own responsibility."
Lord Julian abandoned the struggle. He smiled wearily, shrugged, and waved a hand in implied resignation. The a deputy-governor stormed on.
"Since my lord here has made you a colonel, I can't regularly deal with you out of hand for piracy as you deserve. But you shall answer before a court-martial for your action in the matter of Wolverstone, and take the consequence."
"I see," said Blood "And it's yourself as deputy-governor will preside over that court-martial. So that ye can wipe off old scores by hanging me, it's little ye care how ye do it!" He laughed and added: "Praemonitus, praemunitus."
"What shall that mean?" quoth Lord Julian sharply.
"I had imagined that your lordship would have had some education."
He was at pains, it seemed, to be provocative.
"It's not the literal meaning I am asking, sir," said Lord Julian, with frosty dignity. "I want to know what you desire us to understand?"
"I'll leave your lordship guessing," said Blood. "And I'll be wishing ye both a very good day." He swept off his feathered hat, and made them a leg very elegantly.
"Before you go," said Bishop, "and to save you from any idle rashness, I'll tell you that the harbor-master and the commandant have their orders. You don't leave Port Royal, in fine gallows' bird. ——, you'll find permanent moorings here, in Execution Dock."
Colonel Blood stiffened, and his vivid blue eyes stabbed the bloated face of his rancorous enemy. He passed his long cane into his left hand, and with his right thrust negligently into the breast of his doublet, he swung to Lord Julian, who was thoughtfully frowning.
"Your lordship, I think, promised me immunity from this."
"What I may have promised," said his lordship, "your own conduct makes it impossible to perform." He rose. "You did me a service, Colonel Blood, and I had hoped that we might be friends. But since you appear to prefer it otherwise—" He shrugged, and waved a hand toward the deputy-governor.
Blood surveyed him with undisguised hostility. He laughed unpleasantly.
"Ye mean that ye haven't the strength of character to resist the urgings of a bully. Well, well—as I said before—praemonitus, praemunitus. I'm afraid that ye're no scholar, Bishop, or ye'd know that it means forewarned, forearmed."
"Forewarned? Ha!" Bishop almost snarled. "The warning comes a little late. You do not leave this house." He took a step in the direction of the doorway, and raised his voice. "Ho there—" he was beginning to call.
Then with a sudden, audible catch in his breath, he stopped short. Colonel Blood's right hand had emerged from the breast of his doublet bringing with it a long pistol with silver mountings richly chased which he leveled at the deputy-governor's head.
"And forearmed," said he. "Don't stir from where you are, my lord, or there may be an accident."
And my lord, who had been moving to Bishop's assistance, stood instantly arrested. Chapfallen, with much of his high color suddenly departed, the deputy-governor was swaying on unsteady legs. Colonel Blood considered him with a grimness that increased his panic.
"I marvel that I don't pistol you without more ado, ye fat blackguard. If I don't it's for the same reason that once before I gave ye your life when it was forfeit.
"Ye're not aware of the reason, to be sure; but it may comfort ye to know that it exists. At the same time I'll warn ye not to put too heavy a strain on my generosity, which resides at the moment in my trigger-finger." He cast his cane from him, thus disengaging his left hand. "Be good enough to give me your arm, Colonel Bishop. Come, come, man your arm."
Under the compulsion of that sharp tone, those vivid, resolute eyes and that gleaming pistol, Bishop obeyed without demur. His recent foul volubility was stemmed. He could not trust himself to speak. Colonel Blood tucked his left arm through the deputy-governor's proffered right. Then he thrust his own right hand with its pistol into the breast of his doublet.
"Though invisible, it's aiming at ye none the less, and I give you my word of honor that I'll shoot ye dead upon the very least provocation, whether that provocation is yours or another's. Ye'll bear that in mind, Lord Julian. And now, ye greasy hangman, step out as brisk and lively as ye can and behave as naturally as ye may, knowing that your life hangs on a thread."
In the courtyard of the fort the commandant, who had been instructed to hold himself in readiness with the necessary men against the need to effect the arrest of Colonel Blood, was amazed by the curious spectacle of the deputy-governor of Jamaica strolling forth arm-in-arm and apparently on the friendliest terms with the intended prisoner. For, as they went, Colonel Blood was chatting and laughing briskly.
They passed out of the gates unchallenged and so came to the mole where the cock-boat from the Colleen was waiting. They took their places in the stern-sheets and were pulled away together, always very close and friendly, to the great red ship where Jerry Pitt so anxiously awaited news.
Great was his amazement to see the deputy-governor come toiling up the entrance ladder with Blood following very close behind him.
"Sure I walked into a trap, as ye feared, Jerry," Blood hailed him. "But I walked out again and fetched the trapper with me. He loves his life, does this fat coward."
Colonel Bishop stood in the waist, his great face blenched to the color of clay, his mouth loose, almost afraid to look at the fierce fellows lounging there, of whom he caught a glimpse out of the tail of his scared and bulging eyes. Blood shouted an order to the bo'sun who was leaning against the forecastle bulkhead.
"Throw me a rope with a running noose over the yard-arm there, against the need of it. Now don't be alarming yourself, colonel darling. It's no more than a provision against your being unreasonable, which I am sure ye'll not be. We'll talk the matter over whiles we are dining, for I trust ye'll not refuse to honor my table by your company."
He led away the will-less, cowed bully to the great cabin. A negro in white drawers and cotton shirt made haste by his command to serve dinner.
Colonel Bishop collapsed on a locker under the stern windows and spoke now for the first time.
"May I ask wha—what are your intentions?" he quavered.
"Why, nothing sinister, colonel. Although ye deserve nothing less than that same rope and yard-arm, I assure you that it's to be employed only as a last resource. Ye've said his lordship made a mistake when he handed me a commission which the Secretary of State did me the honor to design for me. I'm disposed to agree with you, and I think I'll be getting back to Tortuga and my buccaneers who at least are honest, decent fellows. So I've fetched ye aboard as a hostage."
"My ——!" groaned the deputy-governor. "Ye—ye never mean that ye'll carry me to Tortuga!"
Blood laughed outright.
"Oh, I'd never serve ye such a bad turn as that. No, no. All I want is that ye ensure my safe departure from Port Royal. Ye've given certain orders to your harbor-master and others to the commandant of that plaguey fort. Ye'll be so goods as to send for them both aboard here, and inform them in my presence that the Colleen is leaving this afternoon on the King's service and is to pass out unmolested. And so as to make quite sure of their obedience, they shall go a little voyage with me themselves. Here's what you require. Now write—unless you prefer the yard-arm. I'll not be constraining you at all. Ye've a perfectly free choice."
The deputy-governor took the proffered pen and wrote in an unsteady hand that summons to his officers.
Blood dispatched it ashore and then bade his unwilling guest to table.
"I trust, colonel, your appetite is as stout as usual."
The wretched Bishop took the seat to which he was commanded. As for eating, however, that was not easy to a man in his position; nor did Blood press him. Blood himself fell to with a good appetite. But before he was midway through the meal came Jerry Pitt to inform him that Lord Julian Wade had just come aboard and was asking to see him instantly. Blood laughed.
"I was expecting him," said he. "Fetch him in."
Lord Julian came. He was very stern and dignified. His eyes took in the situation at a glance.
Colonel Blood rose to meet him.
"It's mighty friendly of you to have joined us, my lord."
"Colonel Blood," said his lordship with asperity. "I find your humor a little forced. I don't know what may be your intention, but I wonder do you realize the risks you are running?"
"And I wonder did your lordship realize the risk to yourself in following us aboard as I had counted that you would do?"
"What shall that mean, sir?"
Blood signaled to the negro standing behind Bishop.
"Set a chair for his lordship. Jerry, send his lordship's boat ashore. Tell them he'll not be returning yet awhile."
"What's that?" cried his lordship. "Blister me! D'ye mean to detain me? Are ye mad?"
"Better wait, Jerry, in case his lordship should turn violent," said Blood. "You, Tim," he addressed the negro, "you heard the message. Carry it to Hayton. Bid him deliver it."
"Will you tell me what you intend, sir?" demanded his lordship, quivering with anger.
"Just to make myself and my lads here safe from this murdering blackguard's gallows in Port Royal. I've said that I trusted to your gallantry not to leave him in the lurch, but to follow him hither, and there's note from his hand gone ashore to summon the harbor-master and the commandant of the fort. Once they are aboard, I shall have the hostages I need for our safety."
"You scoundrel!" said his lordship through his teeth.
"Sure now that's entirely a matter of the point of view," said Blood. "Ordinarily it isn't the kind of name I could suffer any man to apply to me. Still, considering that ye willingly did me a service once, and that ye're likely unwillingly to do me another, I'll overlook your discourtesy, so I will."
His lordship laughed.
"You fool," he said. "Do you dream that I came aboard your pirate ship without taking my measures? I informed the commandant exactly how you had compelled Colonel Bishop to accompany you. Judge now whether he or the harbor-master will obey the summons, or whether you will be allowed to depart as you imagine."
Blood's face fell.
"I'm sorry for that," said he, gravely.
"I thought you would be," answered his lordship.
"Oh, but not on my account. It's the deputy-governor there I'm sorry for. D'ye know what ye've done? Sure now, ye've very likely hanged him."
"My ——!" cried Bishop, in a sudden increase of panic.
"If they so much as put a shot across my bows, up goes their deputy-governor to the yard-arm. Your only hope, colonel, lies in the fact that I shall send them word to that effect. And so that you may mend as far as you can the harm you have done it's yourself shall bear them the message my lord."
"I'll see you —— before I do," fumed his lordship.
"Why, that's unreasonable and unreasoning. But if ye insist, another messenger will do as well, and another hostage aboard—as I had originally intended—will make my hand the stronger."
Lord Julian stared at him, realizing exactly what he had refused.
"You'll think better of it now that ye understand?" quoth Blood.
"Aye, in God's name, go, my lord," spluttered Bishop, "and make yourself obeyed. This —— pirate has me by the throat."
His lordship surveyed him with an eye that was not by any means admiring. Then he shrugged and turned to Blood again.
"Very well," he said slowly. "But, stab me, if I understand. I suppose I can trust you that no harm will come to Colonel Bishop if you are allowed to sail?"
"You have my word for it," said Blood "And also that I shall put him safely ashore again without delay."
Lord Julian bowed stiffly to the cowering deputy-governor.
"I do as you desire me, sir," he said coldly, and on that took his departure, escorted by Blood to the entrance ladder at the foot of which still swung the Colleen's own cock-boat.
"Good-by, my lord," said Blood, and proffered a parchment that he had drawn from his pocket. "It's the commission. Bishop was right when he said that it was a mistake."
"I am sorry," said Lord Julian, sincerely.
"In other circumstances—" began Blood "Oh, but there! Ye'll understand. The boat's waiting."
Yet with his foot on the first rung of the ladder, Lord Julian hesitated.
"I still do not perceive—blister me if I do!—why you should not have found someone else to carry your message to the commandant and kept me aboard as an added hostage for his obedience to your wishes."
Blood's vivid eyes looked into the other's that were so clear and honest, and he smiled.
A moment he seemed to hesitate. Then he explained himself quite fully.
"It's the same reason," said he, "that's been urging me to pick a quarrel with you so that I might have the satisfaction of slipping a couple of feet of steel into your vitals. The reason's name is Arabella Bishop. It was in the hope of redeeming myself in her eyes that I accepted this commission that ye brought me. But I have discovered that that is beyond accomplishment, which is why I have returned you the commission.
"I have discovered also that if she's choosing you, as I believe she is, she's choosing wisely between us, and that's why I'll not have your life risked by keeping you aboard whilst the message goes by another who might bungle it. And now perhaps ye'll understand. I have told you because—oh, plague on it!—so that ye may tell her, so that she may realize that there's something of the unfortunate gentleman left under the thief and pirate she accounts me, and that her own good is my supreme desire. Knowing that, she may—faith, she may remember me in her prayers. That's all, my lord."
Lord Julian looked at the buccaneer in silence a moment. In silence he held out his hand and in silence Blood took it.
"I wonder whether you are right," said his lordship, "and whether you are not the better man."
"Where she is concerned, do you make sure that I am right. Good-by to you."
Lord Julian went down the ladder, and was pulled ashore. From the distance he waved to Blood, who stood leaning on the bulwarks watching the receding cock-boat.
The Colleen sailed within the hour, moving lazily before a sluggish breeze. The fort remained asleep, and there was no movement from the fleet to hinder her departure. Lord Julian had carried the message effectively and had added to it his own personal comments.
In tow of the Colleen went a sloop, manned by Jamaica sailors got together at the last moment. To this sloop Colonel Bishop was transferred when some five miles out to sea, and thus sent back to sleep that same night in Port Royal.
Five miles out at sea from Port Royal, whence the details of the coast of Jamaica were losing their sharpness, the Colleen hove to, and the sloop she had been towing was hauled alongside.
To the head of the ladder in the ship's waist Captain Blood escorted his compulsory guest, Colonel Bishop, the deputy-governor, whom he had constrained aboard as a hostage for his own safe passage out of Port Royal. The colonel, a great, fleshy man, who for three hours and more had been in a state of mortal panic, breathed freely at last, and as the tide of his fears receded, so that of his hatred of this audacious buccaneer resumed its normal flow.
But he was circumspect. He kept to himself the passionate vow that, once in Port Royal, there was no effort he would spare, no nerve he would not strain, to bring Peter Blood to final moorings in Execution Dock.
Captain Blond had no illusions. But he was not, and never would be, the complete pirate. Not another buccaneer in the Caribbean would have denied himself the satisfaction of stringing Colonel Bishop from the yard-arm. But Blood was not of these. He was wanting in ruthlessness, and he abhorred bloodshed and avoidable violence in all its forms. Had that not been enough to restrain him, here was more.
Arabella Bishop was the deputy governor's niece, and though Arabella Bishop might despise Blood for a pirate rogue, though he might definitely have relinquished all hope of ever winning her for his own, yet she abode in his soul as a bitter-sweet, purifying, almost sanctifying influence. The love that is never to be realized will often remain a man's guiding ideal. Because of her, if for no other reason, Bishop's life, whatever its menace to his own, must remain sacred to him.
And so he smiled into the bloated, sallow face and the little, malevolent eyes that fixed him with a hatred not to be dissembled.
"A safe journey home; to ye, colonel darling," said he in valediction. "It's the second time ye've served me for a hostage. I'm lucky to ye, colonel, as ye should be perceiving. If ye'll be advised, ye'll avoid me in future."
Jerry Pitt, the master of the Colleen, was at the captain's elbow; and mild though the nature of this fair-haired Devonshire lad, his blue eyes looked darkly upon the departure of the deputy-governor of Jamaica. Behind them a little mob of buccaneers, grim, stalwart, sun-tanned, fierce-eyed devils, were restrained from cracking Bishop like a flea only by their submission to the dominant will of their Captain.
The colonel's instincts warned him that his life was held precariously. Therefore he did nothing, but fled, blundering and tumbling down that ladder to the sloop and its waiting negro crew.
They pushed the frail craft off from the great, red-hulled ship, hoisted sail, put out their sweeps, and headed back for Port Royal. And Bishop, the great hulk of him huddled in the stern sheets, sat silent, dark brows knitted, coarse lips pursed, malevolence and vindictiveness so whelming his late panic, that he forgot his near escape of the yard-arm and the running noose.
On the mole at Port Royal, under the low embattled wall of the fort with its single tower, Major Mallard, the commandant, and Lord Julian Wade, waited to receive him.
Lord Julian was a kinsman and envoy of that crafty, intriguing statesman, Sunderland. He had lately reached the West Indies on a mission which had for its object at all costs to put an end to buccaneering, and in particular to terminate the career of Captain Blood, whose exploits on the Main were a source of perpetual trouble between Spain and England. Sunderland had empowered his kinsman, at need and failing all other means, to seduce Blood away from his outlawry by a commission in the king's service.
Circumstances favoring the design, Lord Julian had all but succeeded, and his success might have been complete but for the unquenchable rancor of Colonel Bishop, who sought to trip and trap and persecute Captain Blood to his doom. Because of this, and because, too, the one thing that Blood had hoped to find, redemption in the eyes of Miss Arabella Bishop, was denied him, the captain had torn up the commission, and set sail once more for Tortuga, where his ships and his men—still ignorant of his momentary defection—should be awaiting him.
As Colonel Bishop stepped ashore, Major Mallard was disposed to be apologetic.
"It was by the orders of Lord Julian, sir, that I allowed Blood's ship to go. I would have sunk her here in the harbor, and that in spite of your excellency's being aboard, but for your orders by Lord Julian that I should let her pass, and his lordship's assurance that he had Blood's word that no harm should come to you so that no harm came to him. I'll confess that I thought it rash in his lordship to accept the word of that —— pirate—"
"I have found it as good as another's," said Lord Julian coldly, cropping the major's too eager eloquence. He was far from being in the best of tempers. Having written home to the secretary of state that his mission had succeeded, he was now faced with the necessity of writing again to confess that his success had been ephemeral. And because Major Mallard's mustachios seemed lifted by a sneer at the notion of a buccaneer's word being acceptable, he added still more curtly: "My justification is here in the person of Colonel Bishop, returned safe and sound. As against that, sir, your opinion does not weigh for much."
"Oh, as your lordship says," Major Mallard's manner was tinged with irony. "To be sure, there's the colonel safe and sound. And out there is that pestilent Blood also safe and sound, to continue his piratical ravages.
"Ah, but not for long. No, by ——." Thus he colonel at last delivered himself, with the emphasis of an unprintable oath. "If I spend every shilling of my fortune and every ship of the Jamaica fleet, I'll have that foul knave in a hempen neck-tie before I've done. And I'll not be long about it." He took Lor Julian by the arm. "Come, my lord. We must take order, about this."
They skirted the redoubt and passed through the great gates in the wall that enclosed together with the fort the spacious, fragrant garden and the white house that was the deputy-governor's residence, where Arabella waited anxiously. The sight of her uncle brought her relief.
"You took a great risk, sir," she told Lord Julian, half reprovingly.
But Lord Julian answered her as he had answered Mallard.
"There was no risk, ma'am. So that Blood's ship were allowed to pass the fort, no harm should come to Colonel Bishop. He pledged me his word to that."
She looked at him, and a more vivid color tinged her face. At the moment, however, the subject was not pursued. The deputy-governor's mood did not permit it. At supper and for long thereafter he talked of nothing but laying Blood by the heels, fuming and cursing almost at every mention of the buccaneer's name.
But next morning, very early, before the heat of the day came to render the open intolerable to his lordship, Lord Julian same upon Miss Bishop in the garden. He espied her from his window, and hurried forth to join her on one of the garden terraces where a pergola of orange-trees provided a shaded, sauntering-space that was it once cool and fragrant.
He had for her what amounted to a message from Captain Blood. He had delayed its delivery, and it may be doubted if he would have delivered it at all, but for the profit to himself that he hoped to make.
He gave her good-morrow and announced that he had to talk to her of Captain Blood.
"'Twill he a change of subject," said she ironically, alluding to her uncle's last night's rantings. But keener eyes than his lordship's might have observed in her countenance a sign that this half sneer was but a feminine pretense.
She was of fair height, slim as a boy, with a boyish note in her voice, and a boyish, easy grace of movement. The ringlets of her dark brown hair clustered about a neck that was singularly white for one who had spent most of her short life within the tropic of Cancer. A scarlet rose, fresh-gathered, was pinned at her breast, like a splash of blood against the shimmering gray of her silken gown.
His lordship, very fine in blue taffetas, and with no more foppishness than may be condoned in a young than Of quality, considered her and found her very good.
"He desired me to give you a message—a message that should prove to you that there is still something left in him of the unfortunate gentleman that—that—for which you once knew him."
"He thinks me credulous," said she, and my Lord marveled at her indifference, lacking the wit to find it suspicious. "What, pray, was the message?"
He did not immediately answer. He found that he had not sufficiently considered the terms he should employ, and the matter, after all, was delicate. They paced on in silence towards the brilliant sunshine where the pergola was interrupted by the passage upwards to the house. Across this patch of light fluttered a gorgeous butterfly that was like black and scarlet velvet, and large as a man's hand. His lordship's brooding eyes followed it out of sight before he answered.
"It is not easy. Stab me, it is not. He was a man who deserved well, and amongst us we have marred his chances; your father (sic—uncle?) because he could not forget his rancor; you, because—because, having urged him to take the king's commission as a means of redeeming what was past, you would not after wards admit to him that he was so redeemed."
She had turned her shoulder to him so that he could not see her face. "And you?" she asked him quietly. "What part has your lordship had in this—that you should incriminate yourself with us?"
"My part?" Again he hesitated; then plunged recklessly on, as men do when determined to perform a thing they fear. "If I understood him aright—if he understood aright, himself, my part was entirely passive, but none the less effective. I implore you to observe that I but report his words. I say nothing for myself. He thought, then—so he told me—that my presence here had contributed to his inability to redeem himself in your eyes, and unless he were so redeemed then redemption was nothing."
She faced him fully, a frown of perplexity bringing her brows together above her troubled eyes.
"He thought that you had contributed?" she echoed. It was clear she asked for enlightenment. He plunged on, to afford it her, his glance a little scared, his cheeks flushing.
"Aye, and he sad so in terms which told me something that I hope above all things, and yet dare not believe, for God knows I am no coxcomb, Arabella. He said—But first let me tell you how I was placed. I had gone aboard his ship to demand the instant surrender of your Uncle, whom he held captive. He laughed at me. Colonel Bishop should be a hostage for his safety.
"By rashly venturing aboard his ship I afforded him in my own person yet another hostage as valuable at least as Colonel Bishop. Yet he bade me depart, not from the fear of consequences, for he is above fear, nor from any personal esteem for me, whom he confessed he had come to find detestable, and this for the very reason that made him concerned for my safety—"
"I do not understand," she said as he paused. "Is that hot a contradiction in itself?"
"It seems so only. He saw in me one who made it impossible that he should win you—so he said. Therefore he could with satisfaction have killed me. But because my death might cause you pain, because your happiness was the thing that above all things he desired, he surrendered that part of his guarantee of safety which my person afforded him.
"If his departure should be hindered, and I should lose my life in what might follow, there was the risk that you might mourn me. Because of that he bade me leave his ship and had me put ashore."
She looked at him with eyes that were aswim with tears. He took a step toward her, a catch in his breath, his hand held out.
"Was he right, Arabella? My life's happiness hangs upon your answer."
But she continued silently to regard him with those tear-laden eyes, and a doubt, a tormenting doubt, beset him. When presently she spoke, he saw how true had been the instinct of which that doubt was born, for her words revealed the fact that of all he had said the only thing that had touched her consciousness and absorbed it from all other considerations was Blood's conduct as it regarded herself.
"He said that!" she cried. "He did that! and for me! Oh!" She turned away, and through the slender, cluttering trunks of the bordering orange-trees she looked out across the glittering waters of the great harbor to the distant hills. Thus for a little while, my lord standing stiffly, fearfully, waiting for fuller revelation of her mind. At last she spoke, slowly, deliberately, in a voice that at moments was half suffocated:
"Last night when my uncle displayed his rancor and his evil rage, it began to be borne in upon me that such vindictiveness can belong only to thole who have wronged. It is the frenzy into which men whip themselves to justify an evil passion. I began the to suspect that I had been too credulous; that all the unspeakable things he had attributed to Peter Blood in these last years possibly were not true.
"Now I am sure of it—just as I am sure that I have added to the wrongs that weigh down that unfortunate gentleman. To a scoundrel such as he was described to me, and such as I too readily believed him, the fact of which you have just told me would have been impossible."
"I agree," said his lordship, gently.
"You must. But though you disagreed, that would now weigh for naught. What weighs—oh so bitterly—is the thought that but for the words in which yesterday I repelled him, he might have been saved. And now he is lost—back at his outlawry and piracy and my uncle vowing to take and destroy him."
"The only agents were your uncle's hostility and his own obstinacy, which would not study compromise. You must not blame yourself for anything."
She swung to him with some impatience.
"You Can say that, having reported to me his words, which in themselves prove how much I was to blame. It was my scorn of him; it was the epithets I cast at him that drove him. So much he has told you. Once I esteemed him very highly. That was in the old days in Barbados, when he was transported there a slave, a rebel convict, for his part in the Monmouth rising. Because of that very esteem, I came to abhor him for his subsequent unworthiness. But I begin to understand what drove him then, just as I take shame and sorrow in the part I have had in driving him to that desperate curse again."
"You have no cause for that," said he. "But if it will afford you solace, you may still count on me to do what man can to rescue him from this position."
"You will do that?" she cried, with sudden, eager hopefulness. "You promise?" She held out her hand to him impulsively. He took it in both his own.
"I promise," he answered her. And then, retaining still the hand she had surrendered to him—"Arabella," he said, very gently, "there is still this other matter upon which you have not answered me."
"This other matter?"
"This matter that concerns myself, and all my future, oh! so very closely. This thing that Blood believed, that prompted him—that—that—you are not indifferent to me."
He saw the fair face color and grow troubled once more.
"Indifferent to you?" said she. "Why, no. We have been good friends; we shall continue so, I hope, my lord!"
"Friends! Good friends?" He was between dismay and bitterness. "It is not your friendship only that I ask, Arabella. You heard what I said, what I reported. You will not say that Peter Blood was wrong?"
Gently she sought to disengage her hand, the trouble in her face increasing. A moment he resisted; then realizing what he did he set her free.
"Arabella!" he cried, on a note of sudden pain.
"I have friendship for you, my lord. But only friendship."
His castle of hope came clattering down about him, leaving him a little stunned. As he had said, he was no coxcomb. Yet here was something that he did not understand. She confessed to friendship, and it was in his power to offer her a great position, one to which she, a colonial planter's daughter, however, could never have aspired even in her dreams. This she rejected, yet spoke of friendship.
Peter Blood had been mistaken, then. How far had he been mistaken? Had he been as mistaken in her feelings toward himself as he obviously was in her feelings towards his lordship? In that case—his reflections broke off short. To speculate was to wound himself in vain. He must know. And so he asked her frankly—
"Is it Peter Blood?" But with his frankness there was mixed a certain grimness.
"I do not know," she answered him, faltering, which was hardly true. For, as if an obscuring veil had suddenly been rent that morning, she was permitted at last to see Peter Blood as he really was, and in his true relations to other men, and that sight, vouchsafed her some twenty-four hours too late, filled her with pity and regret and yearning.
Lord Julian knew enough of woman to be left in no doubt of the true meaning of that answer. He bowed his head that she might not see the anger in his eyes, for as a man of honor he took shame in that anger which as a human being he could not repress. And because nature in him was stronger—as it is in most of us—than training, Lord Julian from that moment began to practise something that was akin to villainy.
The lingering regard in which he had held Peter Blood was choked by the desire to supplant and destroy a rival. He had passed his word to Arabella that he would use his powerful influence on Blood's behalf. But he forgot his pledge, and secretly set himself instead to aid and abet Arabella's uncle in the plans he laid for the trapping and undoing of that buccaneer.
When the Jamaica fleet put to sea some few days later, Lord Julian sailed with Colonel Bishop in Vice-Admiral Craufurd's flag-ship. Not only was there no need, for either of them to go but the deputy-governor's duties should have kept him ashore, while Lord Julian was a useless man aboard a ship. Yet both went in obedience to the urgings of personal vengeance, and that common emotion became a link between them, binding them in a sort of friendship that must otherwise have been impossible between men so dissimilar in breeding and in aspirations.
The hunt was up. They cruised awhile off Hispaniola, watching the Windward Passage, and suffering the discomforts of the rainy season which had now set in. But they cruised in vain, and after a month of it, returned to Port Royal there to find awaiting them the most disquieting news from the Old World.
The megalomania of Louis XIV had set it in a blaze of war. The French legionaries were ravaging the Rhine provinces, and Spain had joined the nations leagued to defend themselves from the wild ambitions of France. And there was worse than this. There were rumors of civil war in England, weary of the bigoted tyranny of King James. It was reported that William of Orange had been invited to come over.
Week passed, and every ship from home brought additional news. William had crossed from England, and in March of that year, 1689, they learned that he had accepted the crown, and that James had thrown himself into the arms of France for rehabilitation. To a kinsman of Sunderland's this was disquieting news indeed.
It was followed by letters informing Colonel Bishop that there was war with France, and that in view of its effect upon the colonies, a new governor general was coming out to the West Indies in the person of Lord Willowby, and that with him came squadron under the command of Admiral van der Kuylen to re-enforce the Jamaica fleet against eventualities.
Bishop realized that this must mean the end of his supreme authority, even though he should continue in Port Royal as deputy-governor. Lord Julian, in the lack of direct news to himself, did not know what it might mean to him. But he had been very close and confident with Colonel Bishop regarding his hopes of Arabella, and Colonel Bishop, more an ever, now that political events put him in danger Of being retired, was anxious to enjoy the advantage of having a man of Lord Julian's eminence for his relative.
"The girl is in love with that rascal Blood," said his Lordship dolefully. "That—blister me!—is the hideous truth. And as long as Blood lives, she will hope."
"Then with Blood dead perhaps she'll come to her silly senses," said her uncle. "Now is our opportunity. This war with France removes all restrictions in the matter of Tortuga. We are free to invest it in the service of the crown."
"Ah!" said Lord Julian, and pulled thoughtfully at his lip.
"I see that you understand." Bishop laughed coarsely, "I'll hunt this rascal in his lair, right under the beard of the king of France, and we'll take him this time if we reduce Tortuga a heap of ashes."
On that expedition they sailed two days later, taking every ship of the fleet and several other vessels as auxiliaries. To Arabella and the World in general it was given out that they were going to raid French Hispaniola.
More than ever now should colonel Bishop's sense or duty have kept him in Port Royal. But his hatred smothered duty, and made him reckless. In the great cabin of Vice-Admiral Craufurd's flagship, the Imperator, the deputy-governor got drunk that night to celebrate his conviction that the sands of Captain Blood's career were running out.
Meanwhile, Captain Blood, carrying torment in his bosom, had blown into the fortified harbor of Tortuga, that stronghold of the buccaneers, ahead of the gales; and, sheltered there, he brooded in sullenness upon the past without plans or hopes for the future. He was drinking hard in those days, and for a season was in danger—out of his hopelessness and sense of utter damnation—of sinking to the brutish level of others of his kind before him.
He had been welcomed gladly, and without resentment, for what was past, by the buccaneers assembled in the island. Wolverstone had explained away his defection as no more than a ruse to enable him to turn round in a tight corner, and since here he was returned among them, Wolverstone's explanation was universally accepted.
He found then some six hundred men and four ships at his command. They were practically all Englishmen of his following. The French contingent had taken one of the ships and gone a-cruising on its own. Blood's officers, promptly returning to their allegiance, sought him with proposals of remunerative raids upon various Spanish settlements. But to all he showed an indifference which, as weeks passed and the rain came to an end, begot first impatience and then exasperation.
The truth was that, although he had come back to Tortuga and the Brethren of the Main, he could not shut out of his memory the epithets of "thief and pirate" that Arabella had cast at him. He found himself held fast in the bondage of that scorn. Therefore his despair but grew the deeper.
He was degenerating before the eyes of all. He had lost the almost foppish concern for his appearance, and was grown careless and slovenly in dress. He allowed a black beard to grow on the cheeks that had ever been so carefully shaven, and the long, thick black hair, once so carefully curled, hung now a lank, untidy mane, about a face that was changing from its vigorous swarthiness to an unhealthy gray, while the blue eyes that once had been so vivid and compelling were now dull and lack-luster. Wolverstone, the only one who held the clue to his degeneration, ventured once—and once only—to beard him frankly with it.
"What a plague ails thee, Peter?" the giant had growled "Lord, man, will you spend your days moping and swilling because a white-faced ninny in Port Royal 'll have none o' ye? 'Sblood and 'Ounds! If ye wants the wench, why the plague doesn't ye go and fetch her?"
The blue eyes glared at him from under the jet-black eyebrows with something of the old fire. But Wolverstone went on heedlessly.
"I'll be nice wi' a wench as long as niceness be the key to her favor. But, sink me now if I'd rot myself in rum on account of anything that daggles a petticoat. If there's no other expedition that'll tempt you why not Port Royal? What a plague does it matter if it is an English settlement? It's commanded by Colonel Bishop, and the there's no lack of rascals in your company'd follow you to —— if it meant getting Colonel Bishop by the throat.
"It could be done, I tell you. We've but to spy the chance when the Jamaica fleet is away. There's enough plunder in the town to tempt the lads, and there's the wench for you. Shall I sound them on't?"
Blood was on his feet, his eyes blazing, his livid face distorted.
"Ye'll leave my cabin this minute, so ye will, or by Heaven it's your corpse'll be carried out of it. Ye mangy hound, d'ye dare come to me with such proposals?" He fell to cursing his faithful officer with a virulence the like of which he had never yet been known to use. And Wolverstone in terror went out without another word. The subject was not raised again. Captain Blood was left to his idle abstraction.
And then one day there came aboard the Colleen, M. de La Place, the governor of Tortuga, accompanied by a chubby little gentleman, amiable of countenance, amiable and self-sufficient of manner.
"My captain," M. de La Place delivered himself, "I bring you M. de Cussy, the governor of French Hispaniola, who desires a word with you."
Captain Blood pulled the pipe from his mouth, shook, as it were, some of the rum out of his wits, rose and made a leg to M. de Cussy.
"Serviteur!" said he.
M. de Cussy returned the bow, and accepted a seat on the locker under the stern windows.
"You have a good force here under your command, my captain," said he.
"Some six hundred men."
"And I understand that they grow restive in idleness."
"They may go to the devil when they please."
M. de Cussy took snuff delicately.
"I have something better than that to propose," said he.
"Propose it then," said Blood, without interest.
M. De Cussy did not find Captain Blood encouraging. Nevertheless he went on.
"News has reached us from France that there is war with Spain."
"Is that news?" wondered Blood.
"I am speaking officially, my captain. I am not alluding to unofficial colonial skirmishes, and unofficial predatory measures which we have condoned out here. There is war—formally war—between France and Spain in Europe. It is the intention of France that this war be carried into the New World. A fleet is coming out from Brest under the command of M. le Baron de Rivarol for that purpose.
"I have letters from him desiring me to equip it supplementary squadron and raise a force of not less than a thousand men to re-enforce him on his arrival. What I have come to propose to you, my captain, is, in brief, that you enroll your ships and your force under M. de Rivarol's flag."
Blood looked at him with a faint kindling of interest.
"You are offering to take us into the French service?" he asked. "On what terms, monsieur?"
"With the rank of capitaine de vaisseau for yourself, and suitable ranks for the officers serving with you. You will enjoy the pay of that rank, and you will be entitled together with your men to one-tenth share in all prizes captured."
"Devilishly generous!" sniffed Blood. "We can sail out of here tomorrow, disembowel a Spanish settlement, and keep the whole of the plunder."
"Ah, yes, but with the risks attaching to acts of piracy. With us your position will be regular and official, and considering the powerful fleet by which M. de Rivarol is backed the enterprises to be undertaken will be on a much vaster scale than anything you could attempt on your own account. So that the one-tenth in this case may be equal to more than the whole in the other."
"I will consult my officers," said Captain Blood, and sent for them.
They came, and the matter was laid before them by M. de Cussy himself. The proposal was opportune. The men were dissatisfied with their leader's inaction, and would no doubt be ready to accept the service of M. de Cussy offered on behalf of France, but the share was too small. For one-fifth of the prizes, the officers would answer for their men, not for less.
M. de Cussy was distressed. He had his instructions. It was taking a deal upon himself to exceed them. The buccaneers were firm. Unless M. de Cussy could make it one-fifth there was no more to be said. M. de Cussy finally consenting, the articles were drawn up and signed. The buccaneers were to be at Petit Goave by the end Of January, when M. de Rivarol had announced that he might be expected.
After that followed days of activity in Tortuga, refitting the ships, boucanning meat, laying in stores. Captain Blood meanwhile remained listless and aloof. If he had given his consent to the undertaking, or rather, allowed himself to be swept into it by the wishes of his officers, it was only because the service offered was of a regular and honorable kind, nowise connected with piracy, with which he swore in his heart that he had done forever.
But his consent remained passive. The service entered awoke no zeal in him. He was perfectly indifferent—as he told Hagthorpe, who ventured once to offer remonstrance—whether they went to Petit Goave or to ——, and whether they entered the service of Louis XIV or of Satan.
Still in this mood he sailed from Tortuga, and still in this mood came to his moorings in the bay of Petit Goave. In this mood he greeted M. le Baron de Rivarol when that nobleman with his fleet of five men-of-war at last dropped anchor alongside the buccaneer ships in the middle of February. He had been six weeks on the voyage, he announced, and delayed by unfavorable weather.
Summoned to wait on him, Captain Blood repaired to the castle of Petit Goave, where the interview was to take place. The baron, a tall, hawk-faced man of forty, cold and distant of manner, measured Captain Blood with an eye of obvious disapproval. Of Hagthorpe, Christian and Wolverstone, who stood ranged behind their captain, he took no heed whatsoever.
His manner implied plainly that he despised them, and that he desired them at once to understand it. It had a curious effect upon Captain Blood. It awoke the devil in him, and it awoke at the same time his self-respect, which of late had been slumbering.
A sudden shame of his disordered, ill-kempt appearance made him perhaps the more defiant. There was almost a significance in the way ha hitched his sword-belt round, so that the wrought hilt of his serviceable rapier was brought into fuller view. He waved his captains to the chairs that stood about.
"Draw up to the table, lads. Ye're keeping the baron waiting."
Haughtier grew the stare of M. de Rivarol. To sit at table with these bandits placed him upon what he accounted a dishonoring equality with them. It had been his notion that—with the possible exception of Captain Blood—they should take his instruction standing, as became men of their quality in the presence of a man of his. He did the only thing remaining to mark a distinction between him and them. He put on his hat.
"Ye're very wise now," said Blood, amiably. "I feel the draft myself." And he covered himself with his plumed castor.
M. de Rivarol changed color. He quivered visibly with anger, and was a moment controlling himself before he ventured to speak. M. de Cussy was obviously very ill at ease.
"Sir," said the baron, frostily, "you compel me to remind you that the rank you hold is that of capitaine de vaisseau, and that you are in the presence of the General of the Armies of France by Sea and Land in America. You compel me to remind you further that there is a deference due from your rank to mine."
"I am happy to assure you," said Captain Blood, "that the reminder is unnecessary. I am by way of accounting myself a gentleman, although I may not look like one at present; and I should not account myself that were I capable of anything but courtesy to those whom nature or fortune may have placed above me, or to those who, being placed beneath me in rank, may labor under a disability to resent my lack of it."
It as a neatly intangible rebuke. M. de Rivarol bit his lip. Captain Blood swept on without giving him time to reply—
"Thus much being clear, shall we proceed to business?"
M. de Rivarol's hard eyes considered him a moment:
"Perhaps it will be best," said he. He took up a paper. "I have here a copy of the articles into which you entered with M. de Cussy. Before proceeding further, I have to observe that M. de Cussy has exceeded his instructions in admitting you to one-fifth of the prizes taken. His authority did not warrant his going beyond one-tenth."
"That is a matter between yourself and M. de Cussy, my general."
"Oh, no. It is a matter between myself and you."
"Your pardon, my general. The articles are signed. So far as we are concerned, the matter is closed. Also, out of consideration for M. de Cussy, we should not desire to be witnesses of the rebukes you may consider that he deserves."
"What I may have to say to M. de Cussy is no concern of yours."
"That is what I am telling you, my general."
"But—nom de nom!—it is your concern, I suppose, that we can not award you more than one-tenth share." M. de Rivarol smote the table in exasperation.
"You are quite certain of that, M. le Baron—that you can not?"
"I am quite certain that I will not."
Captain Blood shrugged and raised his eyebrows.
"In that case," said he, "it but remains for me to present my little account for our disbursements and compensation for our derangement in coming hither. That settled, we can part friends, M. le Baron. No harm has been done."
"What the —— do you mean?" The baron was on his feet, leaning forward across the table.
"Is it possible that I am obscure? My French is perhaps not of the purest, but—"
"Now look you here, monsieur le filibustier, I am not a man with whom it is safe to play the fool, as you may very soon discover. You have accepted the service of the king of France—you and your men; you hold the rank and draw the pay of a capitaine de vaisseau, and these, your officers, hold the rank of lieutenants. These ranks carry obligations which you would do well to study, and penalties for failing to discharge them which are something severe.
"The first obligation of an officer is obedience. I commend it to your attention. You are not to conceive yourselves, as you appear to be doing, my allies in the enterprises I have in view; but my subordinates. In me you behold a commander to lead you and not a companion or an equal. You understand me, I hope."
"Oh, be sure that I understand," Captain Blood laughed. He was recovering his normal self amazingly under the inspiring stimulus of conflict. The only thing that marred his enjoyment was the circumstance that he had not shaved.
"I forget nothing, I assure you, my general. I do not forget, for instance, as you appear to be doing, that the articles we signed are the conditions of our service; and the articles provide that we receive one-fifth share. Refuse us that, and you cancel our articles. Cancel our articles and you cancel our services with them. From that moment we cease to have the honor to hold rank in the navies of the king of France."
There was more than a murmur of approval from his three captains.
Rivarol glowered at them, check-mated.
"In effect—" M. de Cussy was beginning timidly.
"In effect, monsieur, this is your doing," the baron flashed on him, glad to have some one into whom he could sink his fangs. "You should be broke for it. You bring the king's service into disrepute; you force me, his majesty's representative, into ah impossible position."
"Is it impossible to award us the one-fifth share?" quoth Captain Blood, silkily. "In that case, there is no need for heat or for injuries to M. de Cussy. M. de Cussy knows that we would not have come for less. We depart again upon your assurance that you cannot award us more, and things are as they would have been had M. de Cussy adhered rigidly to his instructions. I have proved, I hope, to your satisfaction, M. le Baron, that if you repudiate the articles you can neither claim our services nor hinder our departure—not in honor."
"Not in honor, sir? What the —— do you mean by that? Do you imply that any course that were not in honor would be possible to me?"
"I do not imply it, because it would not be possible," said. Captain Blood. "We should see to that. Therefore it is not worth implying. It is, my general, for you to say whether the articles are repudiated."
The baron sat down.
"I will consider the matter," he said sullenly. "You shall be advised of my resolve."
Captain Blood rose, his officers rose with him. Together they removed themselves from the august and irate presence of the General of the King's Armies by Land and Sea in America.
There followed for M. de Cussy an extremely bad quarter of an hour. M. de Cussy, in fact, deserved sympathy. His self-sufficiency was blown from him by the haughty M. de Rivarol, as down from a thistle by the winds of Autumn. The general of the king's armies abused him—this man who was governor of Hispaniola—as if he were a lackey. Having exhausted abuse, he proceeded to indignities.
Since he accounted that M. de Cussy had proved himself unworthy of the post he held, the baron took over the responsibilities of that post for as long as he might remain in Hispaniola, and to give effect to this he began by bringing soldiers from his ships, and setting his own guard in M. de Cussy's castle.
Out of this, trouble followed quickly. Wolverstone coming ashore next morning in the picturesque garb he affected, his head swathed in a colored handkerchief, was jeered at by an officer of the newly landed French troops. Not accustomed to being jeered at, Wolverstone replied in kind and with interest. The officer passed to insult, and Wolverstone struck him a blow that felled him, and left him only the half of his poor senses. Before noon, by M. de Rivarol's orders, Wolverstone was under arrest in the castle.
The baron had just sat down to dinner with M. de Cussy when the negro who waited on them announced Captain Blood. Peevishly, M. de Rivarol bade him be admitted, and there entered into his presence a spruce and modish gentlemen, dressed with care and somber richness in black and silver, his clear-cut, copper-colored face scrupulously shaven, his long black hair in ringlets that fell to a collar of fine point.
In his right hand the gentleman carried a broad black hat with a scarlet ostrich-plume, in his left a long ebony cane. His stockings were of silk, a bunch of ribbons masked his garters, and the black rosettes on his shoes were finely edged with gold.
For a moment M. de Rivarol did not recognize him. For Blood looked ten years younger than yesterday.
"I come inopportunely," said the captain, courteously. "My apologies. My business could not wait. It concerns, M. de Cussy, Captain Wolverstone of the Lachesis, whom you have placed under arrest."
"It was I who placed him under arrest," said M. de Rivarol.
"Indeed! But I thought that M. de Cussy was governor of Hispaniola."
"Whilst here, monsieur, I am the supreme authority. It is as well that you should understand it."
"Perfectly. But it is not possible that you are aware of the mistake that has been made."
"Mistake, do you say!"
"I say mistake. On the whole it is polite of me, to assume a mistake. Also, it is expedient. It will save discussions. Your people have arrested the wrong man, M. de Rivarol. Instead of the French officer, who used the grossest provocation, they have arrested Captain Wolverstone. It, is a matter which I beg you to reverse without delay."
M. De Rivarol's hawk-face flamed scarlet. His dark eyes bulged.
"Sir, you—you are insolent, I think!" Normally a man of the utmost self-possession, he was so rudely shaken now that actually stammered.
"M. le baron, you are childish. This is the New World. It is not merely new; it is novel to one reared amid the superstitions of the Old. That novelty you have not yet had time, perhaps, to realize, so I overlook the offensive epithet you have used. But justice is justice in the New World as in the Old, and injustice as intolerable here as there. Now justice demands the enlargement of my officer, and the arrest and punishment of yours. That justice I invite you, with submission, to administer."
"With submission?" snorted the baron, in furious scorn.
"With utmost submission, monsieur. But at the same time I will remind M. le baron, that my buccaneers number six hundred; your soldiers five hundred; and M. de Cussy will inform you of the interesting fact that any one buccaneer is equal in action to at least three troops of the line. I am perfectly frank with you, monsieur, to save time and hard words. Wither Captain Wolverstone is instantly set at liberty, or we must take measures to set him at liberty ourselves. The consequences may be appalling. But it is for you to say, M. le baron."
M. de Rivarol was white to the lips. In all his life he had never been so bearded and defied. But he controlled himself.
"You will do me the favor to wait in the anteroom, M. le capitaine. I desire a Word with M. de Cussy. You shall presently be informed of my decision."
When the door had closed, the baron loosed his fury upon the head of the governor.
"So, these are the men you have enlisted in the king's service, the men who are to serve under me—men who do not serve but dictate, and this before the enterprise that has brought me from France is even under way. What explanations do you offer me, M. de Cussy? I warn you that I am not pleased with you. I am, in fact, as you may perceive, exceedingly angry."
The governor seemed to shed his chubbiness. He drew himself stiffly erect.
"Your rank, monsieur, does not give you the right to rebuke me; nor do the facts. I have enlisted for you the men that you desired me to enlist. It is not my fault if you do not know how to handle them better. As Captain Blood has told you, this is the New World.".
"So, so!" M. de Rivarol smiled malignantly. "Not only do you offer no explanation, but you venture to put me in the wrong. Almost I admire your temerity. But there!" He waved the matter aside. He was supremely sardonic. "It is, you tell me, the New World, and—new worlds, new manners, I suppose. In time I may conform my ideas to this new world, or I may conform this new world to my ideas." He was menacing on that.
"For the moment, I must accept what I find. It remains for you, monsieur, who have experience of these savage by-ways, to advise me out of that experience how to act."
"M. le baron, it was folly to have arrested this buccaneer captain. It would be a madness to persist. We have not the force to meet force."
"In that case, monsieur, perhaps you will tell me what we are to do with regard to the future. Am I tobhe dictated to at every turn by this man Blood? 'Is the enterprise upon which we are embarked to be conducted as he decrees? In short, am I, he king's representative in America, to b at the mercy of these rascals?"
"Oh, by no means. I am enrolling volunteers here in Hispaniola, and I am raising a corps of negroes. I compute that when this is done we shall have a force of a thousand men, the buccaneers apart!"
"But in that case why not dispense with them?"
"Because their skill and experience in the class of warfare before us will render them always the sharp edge of any weapon that we may forge. At the same time we shall have a sufficient force to keep them in control. For the rest, monsieur, they have certain notions of honor. They will stand by their articles, and so that they are justly dealt with, the will deal justly and give no trouble. I have experience of them, and I pledge you my word for that."
M. de Rivarol condescended to be mollified. It was necessary that he should save his face, and in a degree the governor afforded him the means to do so, as well as a certain guarantee for the future in the further force he was raising.
"Very well," he said. "Be so good as to recall this Captain Blood."
The captain came in, assured and very dignified. M. le Rivarol found him detestable, but dissembled it.
"M. le capitaine, I have taken counsel with M. le gouverneur. From what he tells me, it is possible that a mistake has been committed. Justice, you may be sure, shall be done. To ensure it, I shall myself preside over a council to be composed of two of my senior officers, yourself and an officer of yours. This council shall hold at once an impartial investigation into the affair, and the offender, the man guilty of having given provocation, shall be punished."
Captain Blood bowed. It was not his wish to be extreme.
"Perfectly, M. le baron. And now, sir, you have had the night for reflection on this matter of the articles. Am I to understand that you confirm or that you repudiate them?"
M. De Rivarol's eyes narrowed. His mind was full of what M. de Cussy had said—that these buccaneers must prove the sharp edge of any weapon that he might forge. He could not dispense with them. He perceived that he had blundered tactically in attempting to reduce the agreed share. Withdrawal from a position of that kind is ever fraught with loss of dignity.
But there were those volunteers that M. de Cussy was enrolling to strengthen the hand of the king's general. Their presence might admit anon of the reopening of this question. Meanwhile he must retire in the best order that he could.
"I have considered that too," he announced. "And whilst my opinion remains unaltered, I must confess that since M. de Cussy has pledged us, it is for us to fulfil the pledge. The articles are confirmed, sir."
Captain Blood bowed again. In vain M. de Rivarol looked searchingly for the least trace of a smile of triumph on those firm lips. The buccaneer's face remained of the utmost gravity.
Wolverstone was set at liberty that afternoon, and his assailant sentenced to two months' detention. Thus harmony was restored. But it had been an unpromising beginning, and there was more to follow shortly, of a similar discordant kind.
Blood and his officers were summoned a week later to a council which sat to determine their operations against Spain. M. de Rivarol laid before them a project for a raid upon the wealthy Spanish town of Cartagena. Captain Blood professed astonishment. Sourly invited by M. de Rivarol to state his grounds for it, he did so with the utmost frankness.
"Were I General of the King's Armies in America," said he, "I should have no hesitation or doubt as to the best way in which to serve my royal master and the French nation. That which I think will be as obvious to M. de Cussy as it is to me, is that we should at once invade Spanish Hispaniola, and reduce tie whole of this fruitful and splendid island into the possession of the king of France."
"That may follow," said M. de Rivarol. "It is my wish that we begin with Cartagena."
"And in our absence, a Spanish invasion of French Hispaniola is possible. If we begin by reducing the Spaniards here, that possibility will be removed. We shall have added to the crown of France the most coveted possession in the West Indies. The enterprise offers no particular difficulty; it may be speedily accomplished, and once accomplished, it would be time to look further afield. That would seem the logical order in which this campaign should proceed."
He ceased, and there was silence. M. de Rivarol sat back in his chair, the feathered end of a quill between his teeth. Presently he cleared his throat and asked a question.
"Is there anybody else who shares Captain Blood's opinion?"
None answered him. His own officers were overawed by him; Blood's followers naturally preferred Cartagena, because offering greater chances of loot. But they were not sufficiently concerned to thwart their captain.
"You seem to be alone in your opinion," said the baron, with his vinegary smile.
The Captain laughed outright. The baron's haughty airs and graces had so imposed upon Blood that it was only now that at last he perceived the fellow's peddling spirit. Therefore he laughed; there was really nothing else to do. But his laughter was charged with more anger even than contempt. He had been deluding himself that he had done with piracy.
The conviction that this French service was free of any taint of that was the only consideration that had induced him to accept it. Yet here was this supercilious gentleman, who dubbed himself General of the Aries of France, proposing a plundering, thieving raid which, when stripped of its mean, transparent mask of legitimate warfare, was revealed as piracy of the most flagrant kind.
M. de Rivarol, intrigued by his mirth, scowled upon him disapprovingly.
"Why do you laugh, monsieur?"
"Because I discover here an irony that is supremely droll. You, Monsieur le baron, General of the King's Armies by Land and Sea in America, propose an enterprise of a purely buccaneering character; whilst I, the buccaneer, am urging one that is more concerned with upholding the honor of France."
M. de Rivarol perceived nothing of the kind. M. de Rivarol, in fact, was extremely angry. He bounded to his feet, and every man in the room rose with him—save only M. de Cussy, who sat on with a grim smile on his lips. He, too, read the baron like an open book, and reading him, despised him.
"Monsieur le filibustier," cried Rivarol, in a thick voice. "It seems that I must again remind you that I am your superior officer."
"My superior officer! You! Lord of the world! Why, you are just a common pirate! Ah! But you shall hear the truth for once, and that before all these gentlemen who have the honor to serve the king of France. It is for me, a buccaneer, a sea-robber to stand here and tell you what is in the interest of French honor and the French crown. Whilst you, the French king's appointed general, neglecting this, are for spending the king's resources against an outlying settlement of no account and shedding French blood in seizing a place that cannot be held, only because it has been reported to you that there is much gold in Cartagena, and that the plunder of it will enrich you.
"It is worthy of the huckster who sought to haggle with us about our share, and to beat us down after the articles pledging you were already signed. If I am wrong—let M. de Cussy say so. If I am wrong let me be proven wrong, and I will beg pardon. Meanwhile, monsieur, I withdraw from this council. I will have no further part in your deliberations. I accepted the Service of the king of France with intent to honor that service.
"I cannot honor that service by lending countenance to a waste of life and resources in raids upon unimportant settlements, with plunder for their only object. The responsibility for such decisions must rest with you, and with you alone. I desire M. de Cussy to report me to the ministers of France.
"For the rest, monsieur, it merely remains for you to give me your orders. I await them aboard my ship—and anything else, of a personal nature, that you may feel I have provoked by the terms I have felt compelled to use in this council. Monsieur le baron, I have the honor to wish you good-day."
He stalked out, and his three captains—although they thought him mad—rolled after him in loyal silence.
M. De Rivarol was gasping like a landed fish. The stark truth had robbed him of speech. When he recovered it, it was to thank Heaven vigorously that the council was relieved of Captain Blood's own act of that gentleman's further participation in its deliberations. Inwardly M. de Rivarol burned with shame and rage. The mask had been plucked from him, and he had been held up to scorn—he, the General of the King's Armies by Sea and Land in America.
Nevertheless, it was to Cartagena that they sailed in the middle of March. Volunteers and negroes had brought up the forces directly under M. de Rivarol to a thousand men. With these he thought he could keep the buccaneer contingent in order and submissive.
They made up an imposing fleet, led by M. de Rivarol's flagship Victorieuse, a mighty vessel of eighty guns. Each of the four other French ships was at least as powerful as Blood's Colleen, which was of forty guns. Followed the lesser buccaneer vessels, the Elizabeth, Lachesis, and Atropos, and a dozen frigates laden with stores, besides canoes and small craft in tow.
They only just missed the Jamaica fleet with Bishop, which sailed North for Tortuga two days after their own southward passage.
Having crossed the Caribbean in the teeth of contrary winds, it was not until the first days of April that the French fleet hove in sight of Cartagena, and M. de Rivarol summoned a council aboard his flagship to determine the method of assault.
"It is of importance, messieurs," he told them, "that we take the city by surprize, not only before it can put itself into a state of defence, but before it can remove its treasures inland. I propose to land a force sufficient to achieve this to the north of the city tonight after dark." And he explained in detail the scheme upon which his wits had labored.
He was heard respectfully and approvingly by his officers, scornfully by Captain Blood, and indifferently by the other buccaneer captains present. For it must be understood that Blood's refusal to attend councils had related only to those concerned with determining the nature of the enterprise to be undertaken.
Captain Blood was the only one among them who knew exactly what lay ahead. Two years ago he had himself considered a raid upon the place, in circumstances which he was presently to disclose.
The baron's proposal was one to be expected from a commander whose knowledge of Cartagena was confined to what might be derived from maps. Geographically and strategically considered, it is a curious place. It stands almost four-square, screened east and north by hills, and it may be said to face south upon the inner of two harbors by which it is normally approached. The entrance to the outer harbor, which is in reality a lagoon some three miles across, lies through a neck known as the Boca Chica—or Little Mouth—and is defended by a fort.
A long strip of densely wooded land to westward acts here as a natural breakwater, and as the inner harbor is approached another strip of land thrusts across at right angles from the first, towards the mainland on the east. Just short of it, this ceases, leaving a deep but very narrow channel, a veritable gateway, into the secure and sheltered inner harbor. Another fort defends this second passage.
East and north of Cartagena lies the mainland, which may be left out of account. But to the west and north-west, this city, so well guarded on every other side, lies directly open to the sea. Beyond a strip of beach, and its own stout walls, it appeared to have no other defences.
But those appearances were deceptive, and they had utterly deceived M. de Rivarol, when he devised his plan. He now informed Captain Blood that the honor of opening the assault was to be accorded to the buccaneers.
Captain Blood understood the intention perfectly. For the buccaneers the dangers; for M. de Rivarol the honor, glory and profit of the enterprise.
"It is an honor which I must decline," said he, quite coldly.
Wolverstone grunted approval, and Hagthorpe nodded. Christian, who himself was of a cold, calculating temperament, looked at his leader calmly expectant. The French officers—there were six of them present—stared their haughty surprize at Captain Blood, while the baron challengingly fired a question at him.
"How? You decline it, sir? You decline to obey orders, do you say?"
"I understood, M. le baron, that you summoned us to deliberate upon the means to be adopted."
"Then you understood amiss, M. le capitaine. You are here to receive my orders. I have already deliberated, and I have decided. I hope you understand."
"Oh, I understand," laughed Blood. "You have deliberated, you say, and you have decided. But unless your decision rests upon a wish to destroy my buccaneers, you will alter it when I tell you what lies ahead. This city of Cartagena looks very vulnerable on the northern side, all open to the sea as it apparently is. Ask yourself, M. le baron, how came the Spaniards who built it where it stands, to have been at such trouble to fortify it to the south, if from the north it is so easily assailable?" That gave M. de Rivarol pause.
"The Spaniards," Blood pursued, "are not quite the fools you are supposing them. Let me tell you, messieurs, that two years ago I mad a survey of Cartagena as a preliminary to raiding it. I came hither with some friendly trading Indians, myself disguised as an Indian, and in that guise I spent a week in the city and studied carefully all its approaches.
"On the side of the sea, where it looks so temptingly open to assault, there is shoal water for over half a mile out—far enough out I assure you, to ensure that no ship shall come within bombarding range of it. It is not safe to venture nearer land than three-quarters of a mile, and the city stands fully half a mile back from the beach."
"But our landing will be effected in canoes and piraguas and open boats," cried an officer, impatiently.
"In the calmest season of the year, the surf will hinder any such operation. And you will also bear in mind that if landing were possible as you are suggesting, that landing could not be covered by the ships' guns. In fact, it is the landing parties would be in danger from their own artillery."
"If the attack is made by night, as I propose, covering will be unnecessary. You should be ashore in force before the Spaniards are aware of the intent."
"You are assuming that Cartagena is a city of the blind, that at this very moment the are not conning our sails and asking themselves who we are and what we intend."
"But if they feel themselves secure from the north, as you suggest," cried the baron, impatiently, "that very sense of security will lull them."
"Perhaps. But then, they are secure."
"Nevertheless, we make the attempt," said the obstinate baron.
"If you still choose to do so after what I have said, you are of course the person to decide. But I do not lead my men into fruitless danger."
"If I command you—" the baron was beginning. But Blood unceremoniously interrupted him.
"M. Le Baron, when M. de Cussy engaged us on your behalf, it was as much for our knowledge and experience of this class of warfare as for our strength. I have placed my own knowledge and experience in this particular matter at your disposal. I will add that I abandoned my own project of raiding Cartagena, not being in sufficient strength at the time to force the entrance of the harbor, which is the only way into the city."
M. de Rivarol bit his lip in chagrin. His gloomy eye smoldered as it considered the self-contained buccaneer.
"But if I command you to go—to make the attempt?" he asked. "Answer me, monsieur, let us know once for all where we stand, and who commands this expedition."
"Positively, I find you tiresome," said Captain Blood, and he swung to M. de Cussy, who sat there gnawing his lip, intensely uncomfortable. "I appeal to you, monsieur, to justify me to the general."
M. de Cussy started out of his gloomy abstraction. He cleared his throat. He was clearly nervous.
"In view of what Captain Blood has submitted—"
"Oh, to the —— with that!" snapped Rivarol. "It seems that I am followed by poltroons. Look you, M. le capitaine, since you are afraid to undertake this thing, I myself will undertake it. The weather is calm, and I count upon making good my landing. If I do so, I shall have proved you wrong, and I shall have a word to say to you tomorrow which you may not like. I am being very generous with you, sir." He waved his hand regally. "You have leave to go."
It was sheer obstinacy and empty pride that drove him, and he received the lesson he deserved. The fleet stood in during the afternoon to within a mile of the coast, and under cover of darkness three hundred men, of whom two hundred were negroes—the whole of that contingent being employed—were pulled away for the shore in the canoes, piraguas and ships' boats. Rivarol's pride compelled him, however much he may have disliked the venture, to lead them in person.
The first six boats were caught in the surf, and pounded into fragments before their occupants could extricate themselves. The thunder of the breakers and the cries of the Shipwrecked warned those who followed, and thereby saved them from sharing the same fate. By the baron's urgent orders they pulled away again out of danger, and stood about to pick up such survivors as contrived to battle towards them. Close upon fifty lives were lost in the adventure, together with half a dozen boats stored with ammunition and light guns.
M. de Rivarol went back to his flagship an infuriated, but by no means a wiser, man. Wisdom—not even the pungent wisdom experience thrusts upon us—is not for such as him. His anger embraced all things, but focused chiefly upon Captain Blood. By some warped process of reasoning, he held Captain Blood chiefly responsible for this misadventure.
He went to bed considering furiously what he should say to Captain Blood on the morrow. He was awakened at dawn by the rolling thunder of guns. Emerging upon the poop in nightcap and bedgown, he beheld a sight that increased his unreasonable and unreasoning fury. The four buccaneer ships under canvas were going through extraordinary maneuvers half a mile off the Boca Chica, and little more than half a mile away from the remainder of the fleet, and from their flanks flame and smoke were belching each time they swung broadside to the great round fort that guarded that narrow entrance. The fort was returning the fire vigorously and viciously. But the buccaneers timed their broadsides with extraordinary judgment to catch the defending ordnance reloading, then as they drew the Spaniards' fire, they swung away again, not only taking care to be ever moving targets but, further, to present no more than bow or stern to the fort when the heaviest cannonades were to be expected.
Gibbering and cursing, M. de Rivarol stood there and watched this action so presumptuously undertaken by Blood on his own responsibility. The officers of the Victorieuse crowded round him, but it was not until M. de Cussy came to join the group that he opened the sluices of his rage. And M. de Cussy invited the deluge that now caught him. He had come up rubbing his hands and taking a proper satisfaction in the energy of the men whom he had enlisted.
"Aha, M. de Rivarol!" he laughed. "He understands his business, this Captain Blood, He'll plant the lilies of France on that fort before breakfast."
The baron swung upon him, snarling.
"He understands his business, eh? His business, M. de Cussy, let me tell you, is to obey my orders, and I have not ordered this. Parbleu! When this is over, I'll deal with him for his —— insubordination."
"Surely, M. le baron, he will have justified it if he succeeds."
"Justified it! Ah! Can a soldier ever justify acting without orders?" He raged on furiously, his officers supporting him out of their detestation of Captain Blood.
Meanwhile the fight went merrily on. The fort was suffering badly. Yet for all their maneuvering the buccaneers were not escaping punishment. The starboard gunwale of the Atropos had been hammered into splinters, and a shot had caught her astern in the coach. The Elizabeth was badly battered about the forecastle, and the Colleen's maintop had been shot away, while towards the end of that engagement the Lachesis came reeling out of the fight with a shattered rudder, steering herself by sweeps.
The absurd baron's fierce eyes positively gleamed with satisfaction.
"I pray Heaven they may sink all his infernal ships," he cried in his frenzy.
But Heaven didn't hear him. Scarcely had he spoken than there was a terrific explosion, and half the fort went up in fragments. A lucky shot had found the powder magazine.
It may have been a couple of hours later, when Captain Blood, as spruce and cool as if he had just come from a levee, stepped upon the quarter-deck the Victorieuse to confront M. de Rivarol, still in bedgown and nightcap.
"I have to report to M. le baron that we are in possession of the fort on Boca Chica. The standard of France is flying from what remains of its tower, and the way into the outer harbor is open to your fleet."
M. de Rivarol was compelled to swallow his fury, though it choked him. The jubilation among his officers had been such that he could not continue as he had begun. Yet his eyes were malevolent, his face pale with anger.
"You are fortunate, M. Blood, that you succeeded," he said. "It would have gone very ill with you had you failed. Another time be so good as to await my orders, lest you should afterwards lack the justification which your good fortune has procured you this morning."
Blood smiled with a flash of white teeth, and bowed.
"I shall be glad of your orders now, general, for pursuing our advantage. You realize that speed in striking is the first essential."
Rivarol was left gaping a moment. Absorbed by his ridiculous rage, he had considered nothing. But he recovered quickly.
"To my cabin, if you please," he commanded, haughtily, and was turning to lead the way when Blood arrested him.
"With submission, my general, we shall be better here. The scene of our coming action is laid out like a map." He waved his hand toward the lagoon, the country flanking it, and the considerable city standing back from the beach. "If it is not a presumption in me to offer a suggestion—" He paused. M. de Rivarol looked at him sharply, suspecting irony, but the swarthy face was bland, the keen blue eyes steady.
"Let us hear your suggestion," he consented.
Blood pointed out the fort at the mouth of the inner harbor, which was just barely visible above the trees on the intervening tongue of land. He announced that its armament was less formidable than that of the outer fort which they had reduced, but on the other hand the passage was very much narrower than the Boca Chica, and before they could attempt to make it in any case, they must dispose of those defences. He proposed that the French ships should enter the outer harbor, and proceed at once to bombardment.
Meanwhile, he would land three hundred buccaneers and some artillery on the eastern side of the lagoon, beyond the fragrant garden islands dense with richly bearing fruit-trees, and proceed simultaneously to storm the fort in the rear. Once this were captured, it would be for M. de Rivarol to garrison to the fort, whilst Captain Blood would sweep on with his men, and seize the church of Nuestra Se˝ora de la Poupa, plainly visible on its hill immediately eastward of the town. That dominant position held, the surrender of the city should quickly follow.
Supercilious until that moment, and disposed for his own pride's sake to treat the buccaneer's suggestions with cavalier criticism, M. de Rivarol's manner suddenly changed. Swift possession of the city meant possession of its treasure. He became alert and brisk, went so far as to commend Captain Blood's plan, and issued orders that action might be taken upon it at once.
It is not necessary to follow that action step by step. Blunders on the part of the French marred its smooth execution and the indifferent handling of their ships led to the sinking of two of them in the course of the afternoon by the fort's gunfire. But by evening, owing largely to the irresistible fury with which the buccaneers stormed the place from the landward side, the second fort had surrendered, and before dusk Blood and his men, with some ordinance hauled thither by mules, dominated the city from the heights of Nuestra Se˝ora de la Poupa.
At noon on the morrow, shorn of defences and threatened with bombardment, Cartagena sent offers of surrender to M. de Rivarol. Puffed up with pride at a victory for which he took the entire credit, the baron dictated his terms. He demanded that all public effects and office accounts be delivered up; that the merchants surrender all moneys and goods held by them for their correspondents; the inhabitants could choose whether they would remain in the city or depart.
But those who went must first deliver up all their property, and those who elected to remain must surrender half and become the subjects of France; religious houses and churches should be spared; but they must present accounts of all moneys and valuables in their possession.
Cartagena agreed, having no choice in the matter, and on the next day, which was the fifth Of April, M. de Rivarol entered the city and proclaimed it now a French colony, appointing M. de Cussy its governor. Thereafter he proceeded to the cathedral, where very properly a Te Deum was sung in honor the conquest. This by way of grace, whereafter M. de Rivarol proceeded to devour the city. The only detail in which the French conquest of Cartagena differed from an ordinary buccaneering raid was that under the severest penalties no soldier was to enter the house of any inhabitant.
But this apparent respect for the persons and property of the conquered was based in reality upon M. De Rivarol's anxiety lest a doubloon should be abstracted from all the wealth that was pouring into the treasury opened by the baron in the name of the king of France. Once the golden stream had ceased, he removed all restrictions, and left the city a prey to his men, who proceeded further to pillage it of that part of their property which the inhabitants who became French subjects had been assured should remain inviolate.
The plunder was enormous. In the course of four days over a hundred mules laden with gold went out of the city, and down to the boats waiting at the beach to convey the treasure aboard the ships.
During the capitulation, and for some time after, Captain Blood and the greater portion of his buccaneers had been at their post on the heights of Nuestra Se˝ora de la Poupa, utterly in ignorance of what was taking place. Blood, although the man chiefly, if not solely responsible for the swift reduction of that city, was not even shown the deference of being invited to the council of officers which with M. de Rivarol determined the terms of the capitulation.
In his odd frame of mind, he was content to smile his contempt of the French general. Not so, however, his captains, and still less his men. Resentment smoldered among them for awhile, and at last flamed out when they had been a week at Cartagena. Blood pacified them temporarily by undertaking to voice their grievance to the baron, and went off in quest of him to that end.
He found him in offices which he had set up, with a staff of clerks to register the treasure brought in and to cast up the surrendered account-books with a view to ascertaining precisely what were the sums to be delivered up.
"M. le baron," said he, "I must speak frankly, and you must suffer it. My men are on the point of mutiny."
M. de Rivarol looked him over with a faint lift of the eyebrows.
"Captain Blood, I too will speak frankly; and you too must suffer it. If there is a mutiny, you and your captains shall be held personally responsible. The mistake you make is in assuming with me the tone of an ally, whereas I have given you clearly to understand from the beginning that you are simply in the position of having accepted service under me. Your proper apprehension of that fact will save the waste of a deal of words."
Blood contained himself with difficulty. One of these fine days, he felt that for the sake of humanity he must slit the comb of this supercilious, arrogant cockerel.
"You may define our positions as you please," said he. "I am concerned with facts; chiefly with the facts that we entered into definite articles with you. Those articles provide for a certain distribution of the spoil. My men are not satisfied."
"Of what are they not satisfied?" demanded the baron.
"Of your honesty, M. de Rivarol."
A blow in the face could scarcely have taken the Frenchman more aback. He stiffened, and drew himself up, his eyes blazing, his face of a deathly pallor. The clerks at the tables laid down their pens, and awaited the explosion in a sort of terror.
The great gentleman delivered himself in a voice of concentrated rage.
"Do you really dare so much, you and the dirty thieves that follow you? Parbleu! You shall give me satisfaction for that word, though it entail a yet worse dishonor to meet you. Faugh!"
"I will remind you," said Blood, "that I am speaking not for myself but for my men. It is they who are not satisfied, they who threaten that unless satisfaction is afforded them, and promptly, they will take it."
"Take it?" said Rivarol, trembling in his rage. "Let them attempt it, and—"
"Now don't be rash. My men are within their rights, as you are aware. They demand to know when this sharing of the spoil is to take place."
"God give me patience!" burst, out the furious general. "How can we share the spoil before it has been completely gathered?"
"They are led to believe that it is gathered, and anyway they view with suspicion that it should all be stowed aboard your ships and remain in your possession. They say that hereafter there will be no ascertaining what the spoil really amounts to."
"But—name of Heaven!—I have kept books. They are there for all to see."
"They do not wish see account-books; few of them can read. They want to view the treasure itself. Thy know—you compel me to be blunt—that the accounts have been falsified. Your books show the spoil of Cartagena to amount to some ten million livres. The men know—and they are very skilled in these computations—that it exceeds the enormous total of forty millions. They insist that the treasure itself be produced, and weighed in their presence, as is the custom among the Brethren of the Main."
"I have nothing to do with filibuster customs. I am a leader of armies, not of plundering thieves."
"Oh, but of course!" Blood's irony laughed in his eyes. "But I warn you that unless you yield to this just demand, you may look for trouble, and it would not surprize me if you leave Cartagena at all, nor convey a single gold piece home to France."
The argument continued yet awhile, to be concluded, at last, by an ungracious undertaking from M. de Rivarol to submit. He considered that in an encounter he might conceivably defeat the buccaneers. But conceivably he might not. And even if he did, the effort would be so costly to him in men that he might not thereafter find himself in sufficient strength to hold what he had seized.
He announced that he would make the necessary preparations, and that if Captain Blood and his officers would wait upon him on board the Victorieuse tomorrow morning, the treasure should be produced, and their fifth share surrendered into their own keeping.
Among the buccaneers that night there was hilarity over the sudden abatement of M. de Rivarol's monstrous pride. But when the next dawn broke over Cartagena, the only ships to be seen were the Colleen and the Elizabeth riding at anchor, and the Atropos and the Lachesis careened on the beach for repair of the damage sustained in the bombardment. The French ships were gone. They had been warped out of the harbor under cover of night, and three sail, faint and small on the horizon, to westward, was all that remained to be seen of them. The absconding M. de Rivarol had gone off with the treasure, taking with him the troops and the mariners he had brought from France. He had left behind him at Cartagena not only the empty-handed buccaneers, whom he had swindled, but also M. de Cussy and the volunteers and negroes from Hispaniola, whom he had swindled no less.
The two parties were fused into one by their common fury, and before the exhibition of it the inhabitants of that ill-fated city were stricken with a deeper terror than they had yet known since the coming of this expedition.
Captain Blood alone set a curb upon his deep chagrin. He had promised himself that before parting from M. de Rivarol he would present a reckoning for all the petty affronts and insults to which that unspeakable fellow—now proved a scoundrel—had subjected him.
"We must follow," he declared. "Follow and punish."
At first that was the general cry. Then came the consideration that only two of the buccaneer ships were seaworthy—and these could not accommodate the entire force, particularly being at the moment indifferently victualled for a long voyage.
The crews of the Lachesis and Atropos and their captains, Wolverstone and Christian, with them, renounced the intention. After all there would be a deal of treasure still hidden in Cartagena. They would remain behind to extort it whilst fitting their ships for sea. Let Blood and Hagthorpe and those who sailed with him do as they pleased.
There was a moment when it nearly came to a battle between the two parties into which the buccaneers were thus divided, and meanwhile those French sails were growing less and less visible on the horizon. Blood was reduced to despair. If he went off now, Heaven knew what would happen to the city, the temper of those he was leaving being what it was. Yet if he remained, it would simply mean that his own and Hagthorpe's crews would join in the Saturnalia, and so increase the hideousness of events now inevitable.
Swiftly he resolved—being compelled to it by all the circumstances. Within the hour, the water-casks at last replenished and stored aboard, the Colleen and the Elizabeth put to sea upon that angry chase.
Blood sat in his cabin, his head in his hands, torment in the eyes that stared straight before him, when his quarter-master and best friend Jerry Pitt came to find him.
"What now, Peter?" cried the fair-haired young Devonshire mariner, who like himself was a victim of the Monmouth rising, and with him had taken to this other outlawry when they escaped together from the slavery into which they had been transported. "Lord, man, ye're never fretting over this business of Rivarol!"
"No," Said Blood thickly. And for once he was communicative. It may well be that he must vent the thing that oppressed him or be driven mad by it. "But if she knew! If she knew! O God! I had intended to have done with piracy, and I thought to have done with it for ever. Yet here have I been committed by this scoundrel to the worst piracy that ever I was guilty of. Think of Cartagena! Think of the hell those devils will be making of it now! And I must have that on my soul!"
"Nay, Peter—not on your soul; but on Rivarol's. It is that dirty thief who has brought this about. What could you have done to prevent it?"
"I would have stayed if it could have availed."
"It could not, and you know it. So why repine?"
"There is more than that to it," groaned Blood. "What now? What remains? Loyal service with the English was made impossible for me. Loyal service with France his led to this; and that is equally impossible hereafter. What remains, then? Piracy? I have done with it. Egad, I believe the only thing left is to go and offer my sword to the king of Spain."
But something remained—the last thing he could have expected—something toward which they were rapidly sailing over the tropical sunlit sea.
Heading a course for Hispaniola, since they judged that hither must Rivarol go to refit before attempting to cross to France, the Colleen and the Elizabeth plowed briskly northward with a moderately favorable wind for two days and nights without ever catching a glimpse of their quarry.
The third dawn brought with it a haze which circumscribed their range of vision, and begat an apprehension that M. de Rivarol might escape them altogether.
Their position then—according to the log kept by Jerry Pitt—was approximately 75░ 30' W. Long. by 17░, 45' N. Lat., so that they had Jamaica on their larboard beam some thirty miles to westward, and, indeed, away to the north-west, faintly visible as a bank of clouds, appeared the great ridge of the Blue Mountains, whose peaks were thrust into the clear upper air above the low-lying haze. The wind, to which they were sailing very close, was westerly, and it bore to their ears a booming sound as of surf breaking upon a lee-shore.
"Guns!" said Pitt, who stood with Blood upon the quarter-deck. Blood nodded, listening.
"Ten miles away, perhaps fifteen—somewhere off Port Royal, I should judge," Pitt added. Then he looked at his captain. "Does it concern us?" he asked.
"Guns off Port Royal—that should argue Colonel Bishop at work. And against whom should he be in action but against friends of ours? I think it may concern us. Anyway we'll stand in to investigate. Bid them put the helm over."
Close-hauled they tacked aweather, guided by the sound of combat which grew in volume and definition as they approached it. Thus for an hour perhaps. Then, as, telescope lo his eye, Blood raked the haze, expecting at any moment to behold the battling ships, the guns abruptly ceased. But they held to their course, nevertheless, with all hands on deck, eagerly, anxiously scanning the sea ahead. And presently an object loomed into view, which soon defined itself for a great ship on fire. As the Colleen, with the Elizabeth following closely, raced nearer on their northwesterly talk, the outlines of the blazing vessel grew clearer. Presently her masts stood out sharp and black above the smoke and flames, and through his telescope Blood made out plainly the pennon of St. George fluttering from her maintop.
"An English ship!" he cried.
He scanned the seas for the conqueror in the battle of which they had this grim evidence, and at last as they drew closer to the doomed vessel they made out the shadowy outlines of three tall ships, some three or four miles away, standing in towards Port Royal. The first and natural assumption was that they must belong to the Jamaica fleet, and that the burning vessel was a defeated buccaneer, and because of this they sped on to pick up the three boats that were standing away from the blazing hull. But Jerry Pitt, who, through the telescope, was examining the receding squadron, observed things apparent only to the trained mariner, and made the incredible announcement that the largest of these three vessels was the Victorieuse!
They took in sail and hove to as they came up with the drifting boats, laden to capacity with survivors. And there were others adrift on some of the spar and wreckage with which the sea was strewn, who must be rescued.
One of the boats bumped alongside the Colleen, and up the entrance ladder came first a slight, spruce little gentleman in a coat of mulberry satin laced with gold, whose wizened, yellow, rather peevish face was framed in the curls of a heavy black periwig. His modish an costly apparel had nowise suffered by the adventure through which he had passed, an he carried himself with the assurance of a man of rank.
Here, quit clearly, as no buccaneer. He was closely follow by one who in every particular, save that of age, was his physical opposite, corpulent, in a brawny vigorous way, with a full, round, weather-beaten face, whose mouth was humorous, and whose eyes were blue and twinkling. He was well-dressed, without fripperies, and bore with him an air of authority.
As the little man stepped from the ladder into the waist, whither Captain Blood had gone to receive him, his sharp, ferrety black eyes swept the uncouth ranks of the assembled crew of the Colleen.
"And where the —— may I be now?" he demanded irritably. "Are you English, or what the —— are you?" he challenged Blood.
"I have the honor to be Irish, sir. My name is Blood—Captain Peter Blood, and this is my ship the Colleen, all very much at your service."
"Blood!" shrilled the little man. "O 'Sblood! A pirate." He swung to the colossus who followed him—"A —— pirate, Van der Kuylen. Rend my vitals, but we're come from Scylla to Charybdis."
"So?" said the other gutturally, and again "So?" Then the humor of it took him, and he yielded to it.
"——! What's to laugh at, you porpoise?" spluttered mulberry-coat. "A fine tale this'll make at home. Admiral Van der Kuylen first loses his fleet in the night, then has his flagship fired under him by a French squadron, and ends all by being captured by a pirate. I'm glad you find it matter for laughter. Since, for my sins, I happen to be with you, I'm —— if I do."
"There's a misapprehension, if I may make so bold as to point it out," said Blood quietly. "You are not captured, gentlemen, you are rescued. When you realize it, perhaps it will occur to you to acknowledge the hospitality I am offering you. It may be poor, but it is the best at my disposal."
The fierce little gentleman stared at him.
"I think you permit yourself to be ironical," he disapproved him and proceeded at last to introduce himself. "I am Lord Willoughby, King William's governor general of the West Indies, and this is Admiral Van der Kuylen, commander of His Majesty's West Indian fleet, at present mislaid somewhere in this —— Caribbean Sea."
"King William?" quoth Blood, and he was conscious that his officers behind him were edging near, sharing his wonder. "And who may be King William, and of what country may he be king?"
In a wonder greater than his own, Lord Willoughby stared back at him. At last:
"I am alluding to His Majesty William of Orange, who has been king of England for two months and more."
There was a moment's silence, until Blood realized what he was being told.
"D'ye mean, sir, that they've roused themselves at home, and kicked out that scoundrel James and his gang of ruffians?"
His lordship's smile brought lines like gashes into his leathery cheeks.
"'Slife! Hadn't you heard? Where the —— have you been at all?"
Captain Blood informed him briefly. Further explanations followed. King James was fled to France, and living under the protection of King Louis, wherefore, and for other reasons, England was now at war with France. That was how it happened that the Dutch admiral's flagship had been attacked by M. de Rivarol's fleet that morning, from which it clearly followed that in his voyage from Cartagena the Frenchman must have spoken some ships that gave him news of the state of things at home.
After that, with renewed assurances that aboard his ship they should be honorably entreated, Captain Blood led the governor-general and the admiral to his cabin, what time the work of rescue went on. Blood's mind was is a turmoil. If King James were dethroned and banished, there as an end to his own outlawry, and to that of many of his followers, proscribed for participation in the Monmouth rising.
It became possible for him to return home and take up his life again at the point where it was so unfortunately interrupted four years ago. The thing so filled his mind, moved him so deeply, that he must afford it expression. In doing so, he revealed of himself more than he knew or intended to the astute little gentleman who watched him so keenly the while.
"Go home if you will," said his lordship, when Blood paused. "You may be sure that none will harass you, considering what it was that drove you to your piracy. But should you chose first to serve King William out here, during this war, your knowledge of the West Indies and your skill, of which we have heard a deal, should earn your the gratitude of the present government. You should consider it. ——, sir, it is a rare opportunity that you are given."
"That your lordship gives me," Blood amended. "I am very grateful. But at the moment, I confess, I can consider nothing but the great news. It alters the shape of the world. I must accustom myself to view it as it now is, before I can determine my own place in it."
"Pitt came in to report that the work Of rescue was at an end and the men picked up—some forty-five in all—safe aboard the two buccaneer ships. He asked for orders. Blood rose.
"I am negligent of your lordship's concern in my consideration of my own. You'll be wishing me to land you at Port Royal."
"At Port Royal?" The little man squirmed wrathfully on his seat. Wrathfully and at length he informed Blood that they had put into Port Royal last evening to find its deputy-governor absent. "He had gone on some wild-goose chase to Tortuga after buccaneers, taking the whole of the fleet with him. So I was informed by Major Mallard, who appears to be governing in his absence. This although word of my coming had reached him before he sailed. And the fool, knowing this, and knowing that there's war with France, has left the place wholly unprotected, save by a ramshackle fort that can be reduced to rubble in an hour."
Blood leaped to his feet.
"Does Rivarol know this?" he cried.
It was the Dutch admiral who answered him.
"Would he go dere if he did not? He take some brisoners. Berhabs dey tell him. Berhabs he make dem tell. Id is a gread obbordunidy."
His lordship snarled like a mountain-cat.
"That knave Bishop shall answer for it with his head if there's any mischief done through this desertion of his post: What if it were deliberate, eh? What if this is his way of serving King James from whom he held his office?"
Captain Blood was generous.
"Hardly so much. It was just vindictiveness that urged him. It's myself he's hunting at Tortuga, my lord. But, I'm thinking that while he's about it I'd best be looking after Jamaica for King' William." He laughed with more mirth than he had used in the last two months. "Set a course for Port Royal, Jerry, and make all speed. We'll be level yet with M. de Rivarol, and wipe off some other scores at the same time." Both Lord Willoughby and the admiral were on their feet.
"But you are not equal to it,—!" cried his lordship. "Any one of the Frenchman's three ships is a match for both yours, man."
"In guns—aye," said Blood, and he smiled. "But there's more than guns that matter in a sea-fight. If your lordship would like to see an action fought as an action should be fought, this is your opportunity."
Both stared at him.
"But the odds!" cried his lordship.
"Id is imbossible," said Van der Kuylen, shaking his great head. "Seamanshib is much. Bud guns is guns."
"If I can't defeat him, I can sink my ships in the channel, and block him until Bishop gets back from his wild-goose chase with his fleet, or until your own squadron turns up."
"And what good will that be, pray?" demanded Willoughby.
"I'll be after telling you. Rivarol is a fool to take this chance, considering what he's got aboard. He carries in his hold the treasure plundered from Cartagena, amounting to forty million livres." They jumped at the mention of that colossal sum. "He has gone into Port Royal with it. Whether he defeats me or not, he doesn't come out of Port Royal with it again, and that treasure shall find its way into King William's coffers, after, say, one-tenth share shall have been paid to my buccaneers. Is that agreed, Lord Willoughby?"
His lordship stood up, and shaking back the cloud of lace from his wrist, held out a delicate white hand.
"Captain Blood, I discover greatness in you," said he.
"Sure it's your lordship has the fine sight to perceive it," laughed the captain.
"Yes, yes! Bud how vill you do id?" growled Van der Kuylen.
"Come on deck, and is a demonstration I'll be giving you before the day's much older."
"Vhy do you vait, mein friend?" growled Van der Kuylen.
"Aye, in ——'s name!" snapped Willoughby.
It was the afternoon of that same day, and the two buccaneer ships, rocked gently with idly flapping sails under the lee of the long spit of land forming the great natural harbor of Port Royal, and less than a mile from the straits leading into it, which the fort commanded. It was two hours and more since they had brought up thereabouts, having crept thither unobserved by the city and by M. de Rivarol's ships, and all the time the air had been a-quiver with the roar of guns from sea and land, announcing that battle was joined between the French and the defenders of Port Royal.
"You said you would show us zome fine dings. Where are dese fine dings?"
Blood faced them, arrayed for battle in back-and-breast of steel. He smiled.
"I'll not be trying your patience much longer. Indeed, I notice already a slackening in the fire. But it's this way, now. Sure there's nothing at all to b gained by precipitancy, and everything to gained by delay."
Lord Willoughby eyed him suspiciously.
"Ye think that in the meantime Bishop may come back, or Admiral Van der Kuylen's fleet appear."
"Sure now I'm thinking nothing of the kind. What I'm thinking is that in his engagement with the fort M. de Rivarol, who's a lubberly fellow when all's said, will be taking some damage that may make the odds a trifle more even. Sure, it'll be time enough to go forward when the fort has shot its bolt."
"Aye, aye." The sharp approval came like a cough from the little governor general. "Ye're entirely right. Ye've the qualities of a great commander, Captain Blood. I beg your pardon for having misunderstood you."
"And that's very handsome of your lordship. Ye see, I have some experience of this kind of action, and whilst I'll take any risk that I must, I'll take none that I needn't. But—" He broke off to listen. "Aye, I was right. The fire's slackening. It'll mean the end of Mallard's resistance in the fort. Ho, there, Jerry!"
He leaned on the carved rail and bawled his orders crisply. The bo'sun's pipe shrilled out, and in a moment the ship that had seemed to slumber there awoke to life. Came the padding of feet along the decks, the creaking of blocks and the hoisting of sail. The helm was put over hard, and in a moment they were moving, the Elizabeth following, ever in obedience to the signals from the Colleen, whilst Ogle the gunner, whom he had summoned, was receiving Blood's final instructions before plunging down to his station on the main deck.
Within a quarter of an hour they had rounded the head, and stood in to the harbor mouth, within saker shot of Rivarol's three ships, to which they abruptly disclosed themselves. The fort was a smoking rubbish heap, and the victorious Frenchman with the lily standard trailing from his mastheads was sweeping forward to snatch the prize whose defences he had shattered.
Blood scanned the French ships and chuckled. The Victorieuse and the Medusa appeared to have taken no more than a few scars; but the third vessel, the Balaine, listing heavily to larboard so as to keep the gash gash in her starboard flank well above water, was out of account.
"You see!" he cried to Van der Kuylen, and without waiting for the Dutchman's approving grunt, he shouted an order: "Helm hard-a-port!"
The sight of that great red ship with her gilt beak-head and open ports swinging broadside on, must have given check to Rivarol's soaring exultation. Yet before he could move to give an order, before he could well resolve what order to give, a volcano of fire and metal burst upon him from the buccaneer, and his decks were swept by the murderous scythe of that broadside. The Colleen held to her course, giving place to the Elizabeth, which, following closely, executed the same maneuver.
And then while still the Frenchmen were confused, panic-stricken by an attack that took them so utterly by surprize, the Colleen had circled and was returning in her tracks, presenting now her larboard guns, and loosing her second broadside in the wake of the first. Came yet another broadside from the Elizabeth, and then Blood's trumpeter sent a call across the water, which Hagthorpe perfectly understood.
"On now, Jerry," he cried. "Straight into them before they recover their wits. Stand by there! Prepare to board! Hayton—the grapnels! And pass the word to the gunner in the prow to fire as fast as he can load."
He discarded his feathered hat, and covered himself with a steel head-piece, which a negro had had brought him. Briskly he explained himself to his two guests. "Boarding is our only chance here. We are too heavily outgunned."
Of this last the fullest demonstration followed quickly. The Frenchmen having recovered their wits at last, both ships swung broadside on, and concentrating upon the Colleen, as the nearer and heavier of their assailants, volleyed upon her jointly at almost the same moment.
Unlike the buccaneers, who had fired high to cripple them above decks, the French fired low to smash the hull of their assailant. The Colleen rocked and staggered under that terrific hammering, although Pitt kept her headed towards the French so that she should offer the narrowest target. For a moment she seemed to hesitate, then she plunged forward again, her beakhead in splinters, he forecastle smashed, and a gaping hole forward, that was only just above the waterline. Indeed, to make her safe from bilging, Blood ordered a prompt jettisoning of the forward guns, anchors, water-casks and whatever else was movable.
Meanwhile, the Frenchmen going about, gave the like reception to the Elizabeth. The Colleen, indifferently served by the wind, pressed forward to come to grips. But before she could accomplish her object, the Victorieuse had loaded her starboard guns again, and pounded her advancing enemy with a second broadside at close quarters. Amid the thunder of cannon, the rending of timbers, and the screams of maimed men, the half-wrecked Colleen plunged and reeled into the cloud of smoke that concealed her prey, and then from Hayton went up the cry that she was going down by the head.
Blood's heart sank. And then in that very moment of his despair, the blue and gold flank of the Victorieuse loomed through the smoke. But even as he caught that enheartening glimpse he perceived, too, how sluggish now was their advance, and how with every second it grew more sluggish. They must sink before they reached her.
Thus, with an oath, opined the Dutch admiral, and from Lord Willoughby there was a word of blame for Blood's seamanship in having risked all upon this gambler's throw of boarding.
"There was no other chance!" cried Blood, in broken-hearted frenzy. "If ye say it was desperate and foolhardy, why so it was; but the occasion and the means demanded nothing else. I fail within an ace of victory."
But they had not yet completely failed. Hayton himself and a score of sturdy rogues his whistle had summoned were crouching for shelter amid the wreckage of the forecastle with grapnels ready. Within nine or ten yards of the Victorieuse, when their way seemed spent, and their forward deck already awash under the eyes of the jeering, cheering Frenchmen, those men leaped up and forward, and hurled their grapnels across the chasm. Of the four they flung two reached the Frenchman's quarter-deck, and fastened there. Quick as lightning those sturdy buccaneers threw themselves upon the chain of one of these, neglecting the other, to warp the ships together. Blood, watching from his own quarter-deck, sent out his voice in a clarion call:
"Musketeers to the prow!"
The musketeers, at their station in the waist, obeyed him with the speed of men who know that in obedience is the only hope of life. Fifty of them darted forward instantly, and from the ruins of the forecastle they blazed over the heads of Hayton's men, mowing down the French soldiers, who, unable to dislodge the irons, which had bitten deeply into the timbers of the Victorieuse, were themselves preparing to fire upon the grapnel crew.
Starboard to starboard the two ships swung together with a jarring thud. By then Blood was down in the waist, judging and acting with the hurricane speed the occasion demanded.
Sail had been lowered by slashing away the tackle that held the yards. The advance guard of boarders, a hundred strong, was ordered to the poop, and his grapnel men were posted and prompt to obey his command at the very moment of impact. As a result the foundering Colleen was literally kept afloat by the half-dozen grapnels that in an instant moored her firmly to the Victorieuse.
Willoughby and Van der Kuylen on the poop had watched in breathless amazement the speed and precision with which Blood and his desperate crew had gone to work.
And now he came racing up, his bugler sounding the charge, the main host of the buccaneers following him, whilst the vanguard led by the gunner Ogle, who had been driven from his guns by water in the main-deck leaped shouting to the prow of the Victorieuse, to whose level the high poop of the water-logged Colleen had sunk. Led now by Blood himself, they launched themselves upon the French like hounds upon the stag they have brought to bay. After them went others, until all had gone, and none but Willoughby and the Dutchman were left to watch the fight from the poop of the abandoned Colleen.
For fully half an hour that battle raged aboard the Frenchman. Beginning in the prow, it surged through the forecastle to the waist, where it reached a climax of fury. The French resisted stubbornly, and they had the advantage of numbers to encourage them. But for all their stubborn valor, they were slowly pressed back and back, across the decks that were dangerously canted to starboard by the pull of the water-logged Colleen.
The buccaneers fought with the desperate fury of men who know that retreat is impossible, for there was no ship to which they could retreat, and here they must prevail and make the Victorieuse their own, or perish. And their own they made her in the end, and at a cost of nearly half their numbers. Driven to the quarter-deck, and thence at last to the poop, the surviving defenders, urged on by the infuriated Rivarol, maintained awhile their desperate resistance. But in the end, Rivarol went down with a bullet in his head, and the French remnant, numbering scarcely a score of whole men, called for quarter.
Even then Blood's labors were not at an end. The Elizabeth and the Medusa were tight-locked, and Hagthorpe's followers were being driven back aboard their own ship for the second time. Prompt measures were demanded. Whilst Pitt and his seamen bore their part with the sails, and Ogle went below with a gun-crew, Blood ordered the grapnels to be loosed at once. Lord Willoughby and the Admiral were already aboard the Victorieuse. As they swung off, to the rescue of Hagthorpe, Blood, from the quarter-deck of the conquered vessel, looked his last upon the ship that had served him so well, the ship that had become to him almost as a part of himself.
A moment she rocked after her release, then slowly and gradually settled down, the water gurgling and eddying about her topmasts, all that remained visible to mark the spot where she had met her victorious death. As he stood there, above the ghastly shambles of the waist, some one spoke behind him.
"I think, Captain Blood, that it is necessary I should beg your pardon for the second time. Never before have I seen the impossible made possible by resource and valor, or victory so gallantly snatched from defeat."
He turned, and presented to Lord Willoughby a formidable front. His head-piece was gone, his breast-plate dinted, his right sleeve a rag hanging from his shoulder about a naked arm. He was splashed from head to foot with blood, and there was blood from a scalp-wound that he had taken matting his hair and mixing with the grime of powder on his face to render him unrecognizable. But from that horrible mask two vivid eyes looked out preternaturally bright, and from those eyes two tears had plowed each a furrow through the grime of his cheeks.
When the cost of the victory came to be reckoned, it was found that of three hundred and twenty buccaneers who had left Cartagena with Captain Blood a bare hundred remained sound and whole. The Elizabeth had suffered so seriously that it was doubtful if she could ever again be rendered seaworthy, and Hagthorpe, who had so gallantly commanded her, was among the dead. Against this, on the other side of the account, stood the facts that with a far inferior force and by sheer skill and desperate valor, Blood's buccaneers had saved Port Royal from bombardment and pillage, and they had captured the fleet of M. de Rivarol and seized, for the benefit of King William, the splendid treasure which she carried.
It was not until the evening of the following day that Van der Kuylen's truant fleet of nine ships came to anchor in the harbor of Port Royal, and its officers, Dutch and English, were made acquainted with their admiral's true opinion of their worth.
Six ships of that fleet were instantly refitted for sea. There were other West-Indian settlements demanding the visit of inspection of the new governor general, and Lord Willoughby was in haste to sail for the Antilles.
"And meanwhile," he complained to his admiral, "I am detained here by the absence of this fool of a deputy-governor."
"So?" said Van der Kuylen. "But vhy should dat detain you?"
"That I may break the dog as he deserves, and appoint his successor in some man possessed of a sense of where his duty lies and the ability to perform it."
"Aha! Bud id is nod necessary you remain for dat. And meandime de Vrench vill haf deir eye on Barbados, vhich is not vell defended. You haf here chust de man you vant. He vill require no insdrucshons, dis one. He vill know how to make Bord Royal safe bedder nor you or me."
"You mean Blood?"
"Of gourse. Gould any man be bedder? You haf seen vhat he can do."
"You think so, too, eh? Egad! I had thought of it; and rip me, why not? He's a better man than Morgan, and Morgan was made governor."
Blood was sent for. He came, spruce and debonair once more, having exploited the resources of Port Royal so to render himself. He as a trifle dazzled by the honor proposed to him, when Lord Willoughby made it known. It was so far beyond anything that he had dreamed, and he was assailed by doubts of his capacity to undertake so onerous a charge.
"—— me!" snapped Willoughby. "Should I offer it unless I were satisfied of your capacity? If that's your only objection—"
"It is not, my lord. I had counted upon going home, so I had. I am hungry for the green lanes of England." He sighed. "There will be apple-blossoms in the orchards."
"Apple-blossoms!" His lordship's voice shot up like a rocket, and cracked on the word. "What the ——? Apple-blossoms!" He looked at Van der Kuylen.
The Admiral raised his brows and pursed his lips. His eyes twinkled humorously in his great face.
"So!" he said. "Very boedical!"
My lord wheeled fiercely upon Captain Blood.
"You've a past score to wipe out, my lad!" he admonished him. "You've done something towards it, I admit, and you've shown your quality in doing it. That's why I offer you the governorship of Jamaica in his majesty's name—because I account you the fittest man for the office that I have seen."
Blood bowed low.
"Your lordship is very good. But—"
"Tchah! There's no 'but' to it. If you want your past forgotten, and your future assured, this is your chance. And you are not to treat it lightly on account of apple-blossoms or any other —— sentimental nonsense. Your duty lies here, at least for as long as the war lasts. When the war's over, you may get back to Somerset and cider, or your native Ireland and its potheen; but until then you'll make the best of Jamaica and rum."
Van der Kuylen exploded into laughter. But from Blood the pleasantry elicited no smile. He remained solemn to the point of glumness. His thoughts were on Miss Bishop, who was somewhere here in this very house in which they stood, but whom he had not seen since his arrival. Had she but shown him some compassion—
And then the rasping voice of Willoughby cut in again, upbraiding him for his' hesitation, pointing out to him his incredible stupidity in trifling with such a golden opportunity. He stiffened and bowed.
"My lord, you are right. I am a fool. But don't be accounting me an ingrate. If I hesitate it is because there are considerations with which I will not trouble your lordship."
"Apple-blossoms, I suppose?" sniffed his lordship.
This time Blood laughed, but there was still a lingering wistfulness in his eyes.
"It shall be as you wish—and very gratefully, let me assure your lordship. I shall know how to earn his majesty's approbation. You may depend upon my loyal service."
"If I didn't, I shouldn't offer you this governorship."
Thus it was settled. Blood's commission was made out and sealed in the presence of Mallard, the commandant, and the other officers of the garrison, who looked on in round-eyed amazement, but kept their thoughts to themselves.
"Now we can go aboud our business," said Van der Kuylen.
"We sail tomorrow morning," his lordship announced.
Blood was startled.
"And Colonel Bishop?" he asked.
"It becomes your affair. You are now the governor. You will deal with him as you think proper on his return. Hang him from his own yard-arm. He deserves it."
"Isn't the task a trifle invidious?" wondered Blood.
"Very well. I'll leave a letter for him. I hope he'll like it."
Captain Blood took up his duties at once. There was much to be done to place Port Royal in a proper state of defence, after what had happened there. He made an inspection of the ruined fort, and issued further instructions for the work upon it, which was to be started immediately.
Next he ordered the careening of the three French vessels, that they might be rendered seaworthy once more. Finally, with the sanction of Lord Willoughby, he marshaled is buccaneers and surrendered them one-fifth of the captured treasure, leaving it to their choice thereafter either to depart or to enrol themselves in the service of King William.
A score of them elected to remain, and among these was Jerry Pitt, whose outlawry, like Blood's, had come to an end with the downfall of King James.
On the following morning, while Van der Kuylen's fleet was making finally ready for the sea, Blood sat in the spacious, whitewashed room that was the governor's office, when Major Mallard brought him word that Bishop's homing squadron was in sight.
"That is very well," said Blood. "I am glad he comes before Lord Willoughby's departure. The orders, major, are that you place him under arrest the moment he steps ashore. Then bring him here to me. A moment." He wrote a hurried note. "That to Lord Willoughby aboard Admiral Van der Kuylen's flagship."
Major Mallard saluted and departed. Peter Blood sat back in his chair and stared at the ceiling, frowning. Time moved on. Came a tap at the door, and an elderly negro slave presented himself. Would his excellency receive Miss Bishop?
His excellency changed color. He sat quite still, staring at the negro a moment, conscious that his pulses were drumming. Then quietly he assented.
He rose when she entered, and if he was not as pale as she was, it is because his tan dissembled it. For a moment there was silence. Then she moved forward, began to speak, haltingly, in an unsteady voice, amazing in one usually so calm and deliberate.
"I—I—Major Mallard has just told me—"
"Major Mallard exceeded his duty," said Blood, and because he sought to steady his voice, it became harsh and unduly loud. He saw her start, and stop, and instantly he made amends. "You alarm yourself without reason, Miss Bishop. Whatever may lie between me and your uncle, I shall not follow his example by abusing my position to prosecute a private vengeance. On the contrary, I shall abuse it to protect him. Lord Willoughby's recommendation to me is that I should hang Colonel Bishop. My own intention is to send him back to his plantation in Barbados."
She came slowly forward now. "I—I am glad that you will do this. Glad for your own sake." She held out her hand to him. He considered it critically. Then he bowed over it.
"I'll not presume to take it in the hand of a thief and a pirate," said he, bitterly.
"You are no longer that," she said, and strove to smile.
"Yet I owe you no thanks that I am not," he answered. "I think there's no more to be said, unless it be to assure you also that Lord Julian Wade has nothing to apprehend from me. Is that the assurance that your peace of mind requires?"
"For your own sake—yes. But for your own sake only. I would not have you do anything mean or dishonoring."
"Thief and pirate though I be?"
She clenched her hand, and made a little gesture of despair and impatience.
"Will you never forgive me those words?"
"I'm finding it a trifle hard, I confess. But what does it matter, when all is said?"
Her clear hazel eyes considered him a moment wistfully. Then she put out her hand again.
"I am going, Captain Blood. Since you are so generous to my uncle, I shall be returning to Barbados with him. We are not like to meet again—perhaps never. Won't you say good-by?"
He seemed to rouse himself, to shake off a mantle of deliberate harshness. He took her hand.
"You are returning to Barbados?" he said, slowly. "Will Lord Julian be going with you?"
"Why do you ask that?" She confronted him quite fearlessly.
"Sure now didn't he give you my message, or did he bungle it?"
"Oh, he gave it me. It touched me very deeply. It made me perceive my error and my injustice. I owe it to you that I should say this by way of amend. I judged too harshly where it was a presumption to judge at all."
He was still holding her hand.
"And Lord Julian, then?" he asked, his eyes watching her, bright as sapphires in that copper-colored face.
"Lord Julian will very likely be going home to England."
"But didn't he ask you to go with him?"
"He did. I forgive you the impertinence."
A wild hope leaped to life within him.
"And you? Glory be, ye'll not be telling me ye refused to become my lady, when—"
"Oh! You are insufferable!" She tore her hand from his, and backed away from him. "I should not have come—Good-by."
She was speeding to the door. He sprang after her, and caught her. Her face flamed, and her eyes stabbed him like daggers.
"These are pirate's ways, I think! Release me!"
"Arabella!" he cried, on a note of pleading. "Are ye meaning it? Must I release ye? Must I let ye go and never set eyes on ye again? Or will ye stay and make this exile endurable until we can go home together? Och, ye're crying now! What have I said to make ye cry, my dear?"
"I—I thought you'd never say it," she mocked him through her tears.
"Well, now, ye see, there was Lord Julian, a fine figure of a—"
"There was never, never anybody but you, Peter."
They had, of course, a deal to say thereafter, so much indeed, that they sat down to say it, while time sped on, and Governor Blood forgot the duties of his office. And meanwhile Colonel Bishop's fleet had come to anchor, and the colonel with Lord Julian had landed on the mole.
A corporal's guard was drawn up to receive him, and in advance of this stood Major Mallard and two others who were unknown to the deputy-governor: one slight and elegant, the other big and brawny.
Major Mallard advanced.
"Colonel Bishop, I have orders to arrest you. Your sword, sir!"
Bishop stared, empurpling, his eyes bulging.
"What the—? Arrest me? By whose orders, pray?"
"By the orders of the governor of Jamaica," said the elegant little man behind Major mallard. Bishop swung to him.
"The governor? Ye're mad!" He looked from one to the other. "I am the governor," he announced furiously.
"You were," said the little man, dryly. "But you're broke for abandoning our post without due cause in time of war, and thereby imperilling the settlement of which you had charge! It's a serious matter, Colonel Bishop, as you may find. It rests with your successor entirely, whether it's a hanging matter."
Bishop made a noise in his throat, rapped out an oath, and then, shaken by a sudden fear:
"Who the devil may you be?" he asked.
"I am Lord Willoughby, governor general of His Majesty's colonies in the West Indies. You were informed of my coming."
The remains of Bishop's anger fell from him like a cloak. He broke into a sweat of fear. Behind him Lord Julian looked on, his handsome face suddenly white and drawn.
"But, my lord," began the colonel, "it is because—"
"I am not concerned to hear your reasons," his lordship interrupted him harshly. "I am on the point of sailing and I have not the time. The governor will hear you, and no doubt deal justly by you." He waved to Major Mallard, and Bishop, a crumpled, broken man, allowed himself to be led away.
To Lord Julian, who went with him, since none deterred him, Bishop expressed himself when presently he had sufficiently recovered.
"This is one more item to the account of that scoundrel Blood," he said, through his teeth. "My ——, what a reckoning there will be when we meet!"
Major Mallard turned away his face that he might conceal a smile.
In the hall of the governor's house, the house that so long had been his own residence, Colonel Bishop was detained under guard, while Major Mallard went ahead to announce him. Miss Bishop was still with Peter Blood. Major Mallard's announcement startled them back to realities.
"You will be merciful with him. You will spare him all you can, Peter, for my sake," she pleaded.
"To be sure I will," said Blood. "But I'm afraid the circumstances won't."
She effaced herself, and Major Mallard fetched the colonel.
"His excellency the governor will see you now sir," said he, and threw wide the door.
Colonel Bishop staggered in, and stood waiting. At the table sat a man of whom for a moment nothing was visible but a carefully curled black head. Then this man raised his eyes. Colonel Bishop made a noise in his throat, and paralyzed by amazement, stared into the face of his excellency the governor of Jamaica, which was the face of the man he had been hunting in Tortuga, to his present undoing.
The situation was best expressed to Lord Willoughby by Van der Kuylen, as the pair stepped aboard the admiral's flagship:
"It is very boedigal!" he said, his blue eyes twinkling. "Cabdain Blood is fond of boedry—you remember de abble-blossoms. So? Ha-ha!"
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