Captain Blood/Chapter XII
The Cinco Llagas and the Encarnacion, after a proper exchange of signals, lay hove to within a quarter of a mile of each other, and across the intervening space of gently heaving, sunlit waters sped a boat from the former, manned by six Spanish seamen and bearing in her stern sheets Don Esteban de Espinosa and Captain Peter Blood.
She also bore two treasure-chests containing fifty thousand pieces of eight. Gold has at all times been considered the best of testimonies of good faith, and Blood was determined that in all respects appearances should be entirely on his side. His followers had accounted this a supererogation of pretence. But Blood's will in the matter had prevailed. He carried further a bulky package addressed to a grande of Spain, heavily sealed with the arms of Espinosa—another piece of evidence hastily manufactured in the cabin of the Cinco Llagas—and he was spending these last moments in completing his instructions to his young companion.
Don Esteban expressed his last lingering uneasiness:
"But if you should betray yourself?" he cried.
"It will be unfortunate for ... everybody. I advised your father to say a prayer for our success. I depend upon you to help me more materially."
"I will do my best. God knows I will do my best," the boy protested.
Blood nodded thoughtfully, and no more was said until they bumped alongside the towering mass of the Encarnacion. Up the ladder went Don Esteban closely followed by Captain Blood. In the waist stood the Admiral himself to receive them, a handsome, self-sufficient man, very tall and stiff, a little older and greyer than Don Diego, whom he closely resembled. He was supported by four officers and a friar in the black and white habit of St. Dominic.
Don Miguel opened his arms to his nephew, whose lingering panic he mistook for pleasurable excitement, and having enfolded him to his bosom turned to greet Don Esteban's companion.
Peter Blood bowed gracefully, entirely at his ease, so far as might be judged from appearances.
"I am," he announced, making a literal translation of his name, "Don Pedro Sangre, an unfortunate gentleman of Leon, lately delivered from captivity by Don Esteban's most gallant father." And in a few words he sketched the imagined conditions of his capture by, and deliverance from, those accursed heretics who held the island of Barbados.
"Benedicamus Domino," said the friar to his tale.
"Ex hoc nunc et usque in seculum," replied Blood, the occasional papist, with lowered eyes.
The Admiral and his attending officers gave him a sympathetic hearing and a cordial welcome. Then came the dreaded question.
"But where is my brother? Why has he not come, himself, to greet me?"
It was young Espinosa who answered this:
"My father is afflicted at denying himself that honour and pleasure. But unfortunately, sir uncle, he is a little indisposed—oh, nothing grave; merely sufficient to make him keep his cabin. It is a little fever, the result of a slight wound taken in the recent raid upon Barbados, which resulted in this gentleman's happy deliverance."
"Nay, nephew, nay," Don Miguel protested with ironic repudiation. "I can have no knowledge of these things. I have the honour to represent upon the seas His Catholic Majesty, who is at peace with the King of England. Already you have told me more than it is good for me to know. I will endeavour to forget it, and I will ask you, sirs," he added, glancing at his officers, "to forget it also." But he winked into the twinkling eyes of Captain Blood; then added matter that at once extinguished that twinkle. "But since Diego cannot come to me, why, I will go across to him."
For a moment Don Esteban's face was a mask of pallid fear. Then Blood was speaking in a lowered, confidential voice that admirably blended suavity, impressiveness, and sly mockery.
"If you please, Don Miguel, but that is the very thing you must not do—the very thing Don Diego does not wish you to do. You must not see him until his wounds are healed. That is his own wish. That is the real reason why he is not here. For the truth is that his wounds are not so grave as to have prevented his coming. It was his consideration of himself and the false position in which you would be placed if you had direct word from him of what has happened. As your excellency has said, there is peace between His Catholic Majesty and the King of England, and your brother Don Diego...." He paused a moment. "I am sure that I need say no more. What you hear from us is no more than a mere rumour. Your excellency understands."
His excellency frowned thoughtfully. "I understand ... in part," said he.
Captain Blood had a moment's uneasiness. Did the Spaniard doubt his bona fides? Yet in dress and speech he knew himself to be impeccably Spanish, and was not Don Esteban there to confirm him? He swept on to afford further confirmation before the Admiral could say another word.
"And we have in the boat below two chests containing fifty thousand pieces of eight, which we are to deliver to your excellency."
His excellency jumped; there was a sudden stir among his officers.
"They are the ransom extracted by Don Diego from the Governor of...."
"Not another word, in the name of Heaven!" cried the Admiral in alarm. "My brother wishes me to assume charge of this money, to carry it to Spain for him? Well, that is a family matter between my brother and myself. So, it can be done. But I must not know...." He broke off. "Hum! A glass of Malaga in my cabin, if you please," he invited them, "whilst the chests are being hauled aboard."
He gave his orders touching the embarkation of these chests, then led the way to his regally appointed cabin, his four officers and the friar following by particular invitation.
Seated at table there, with the tawny wine before them, and the servant who had poured it withdrawn, Don Miguel laughed and stroked his pointed, grizzled beard.
"Virgen santisima! That brother of mine has a mind that thinks of everything. Left to myself, I might have committed a fine indiscretion by venturing aboard his ship at such a moment. I might have seen things which as Admiral of Spain it would be difficult for me to ignore."
Both Esteban and Blood made haste to agree with him, and then Blood raised his glass, and drank to the glory of Spain and the damnation of the besotted James who occupied the throne of England. The latter part of his toast was at least sincere.
The Admiral laughed.
"Sir, sir, you need my brother here to curb your imprudences. You should remember that His Catholic Majesty and the King of England are very good friends. That is not a toast to propose in this cabin. But since it has been proposed, and by one who has such particular personal cause to hate these English hounds, why, we will honour it—but unofficially."
They laughed, and drank the damnation of King James—quite unofficially, but the more fervently on that account. Then Don Esteban, uneasy on the score of his father, and remembering that the agony of Don Diego was being protracted with every moment that they left him in his dreadful position, rose and announced that they must be returning.
"My father," he explained, "is in haste to reach San Domingo. He desired me to stay no longer than necessary to embrace you. If you will give us leave, then, sir uncle."
In the circumstances "sir uncle" did not insist.
As they returned to the ship's side, Blood's eyes anxiously scanned the line of seamen leaning over the bulwarks in idle talk with the Spaniards in the cock-boat that waited at the ladder's foot. But their manner showed him that there was no ground for his anxiety. The boat's crew had been wisely reticent.
The Admiral took leave of them—of Esteban affectionately, of Blood ceremoniously.
"I regret to lose you so soon, Don Pedro. I wish that you could have made a longer visit to the Encarnacion."
"I am indeed unfortunate," said Captain Blood politely.
"But I hope that we may meet again."
"That is to flatter me beyond all that I deserve."
They reached the boat; and she cast off from the great ship. As they were pulling away, the Admiral waving to them from the taffrail, they heard the shrill whistle of the bo'sun piping the hands to their stations, and before they had reached the Cinco Llagas, they beheld the Encarnacion go about under sail. She dipped her flag to them, and from her poop a gun fired a salute.
Aboard the Cinco Llagas some one—it proved afterwards to be Hagthorpe—had the wit to reply in the same fashion. The comedy was ended. Yet there was something else to follow as an epilogue, a thing that added a grim ironic flavour to the whole.
As they stepped into the waist of the Cinco Llagas, Hagthorpe advanced to receive them. Blood observed the set, almost scared expression on his face.
"I see that you've found it," he said quietly.
Hagthorpe's eyes looked a question. But his mind dismissed whatever thought it held.
"Don Diego..." he was beginning, and then stopped, and looked curiously at Blood.
Noting the pause and the look, Esteban bounded forward, his face livid.
"Have you broken faith, you curs? Has he come to harm?" he cried—and the six Spaniards behind him grew clamorous with furious questionings.
"We do not break faith," said Hagthorpe firmly, so firmly that he quieted them. "And in this case there was not the need. Don Diego died in his bonds before ever you reached the Encarnacion."
Peter Blood said nothing.
"Died?" screamed Esteban. "You killed him, you mean. Of what did he die?"
Hagthorpe looked at the boy. "If I am a judge," he said, "Don Diego died of fear."
Don Esteban struck Hagthorpe across the face at that, and Hagthorpe would have struck back, but that Blood got between, whilst his followers seized the lad.
"Let be," said Blood. "You provoked the boy by your insult to his father."
"I was not concerned to insult," said Hagthorpe, nursing his cheek. "It is what has happened. Come and look."
"I have seen," said Blood. "He died before I left the Cinco Llagas. He was hanging dead in his bonds when I spoke to him before leaving."
"What are you saying?" cried Esteban.
Blood looked at him gravely. Yet for all his gravity he seemed almost to smile, though without mirth.
"If you had known that, eh?" he asked at last.
For a moment Don Esteban stared at him wide-eyed, incredulous. "I don't believe you," he said at last.
"Yet you may. I am a doctor, and I know death when I see it."
Again there came a pause, whilst conviction sank into the lad's mind.
"If I had known that," he said at last in a thick voice, "you would be hanging from the yardarm of the Encarnacion at this moment."
"I know," said Blood. "I am considering it—the profit that a man may find in the ignorance of others."
"But you'll hang there yet," the boy raved.
Captain Blood shrugged, and turned on his heel. But he did not on that account disregard the words, nor did Hagthorpe, nor yet the others who overheard them, as they showed at a council held that night in the cabin.
This council was met to determine what should be done with the Spanish prisoners. Considering that Curaçao now lay beyond their reach, as they were running short of water and provisions, and also that Pitt was hardly yet in case to undertake the navigation of the vessel, it had been decided that, going east of Hispaniola, and then sailing along its northern coast, they should make for Tortuga, that haven of the buccaneers, in which lawless port they had at least no danger of recapture to apprehend. It was now a question whether they should convey the Spaniards thither with them, or turn them off in a boat to make the best of their way to the coast of Hispaniola, which was but ten miles off. This was the course urged by Blood himself.
"There's nothing else to be done," he insisted. "In Tortuga they would be flayed alive."
"Which is less than the swine deserve," growled Wolverstone.
"And you'll remember, Peter," put in Hagthorpe, "that boy's threat to you this morning. If he escapes, and carries word of all this to his uncle, the Admiral, the execution of that threat will become more than possible."
It says much for Peter Blood that the argument should have left him unmoved. It is a little thing, perhaps, but in a narrative in which there is so much that tells against him, I cannot—since my story is in the nature of a brief for the defence—afford to slur a circumstance that is so strongly in his favour, a circumstance revealing that the cynicism attributed to him proceeded from his reason and from a brooding over wrongs rather than from any natural instincts.
"I care nothing for his threats."
"You should," said Wolverstone. "The wise thing'd be to hang him, along o' all the rest."
"It is not human to be wise," said Blood. "It is much more human to err, though perhaps exceptional to err on the side of mercy. We'll be exceptional. Oh, faugh! I've no stomach for cold-blooded killing. At daybreak pack the Spaniards into a boat with a keg of water and a sack of dumplings, and let them go to the devil."
That was his last word on the subject, and it prevailed by virtue of the authority they had vested in him, and of which he had taken so firm a grip. At daybreak Don Esteban and his followers were put off in a boat.
Two days later, the Cinco Llagas sailed into the rock-bound bay of Cayona, which Nature seemed to have designed for the stronghold of those who had appropriated it.