T HE 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 King 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 took 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 for easy plunder—flocked to offer him their swords.
One day 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 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 price 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 wild 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 should retain three-fifths of its value, surrendering two-fifths to its associate. These shares were subsequently to be subdivided 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 man 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 were posted.
That night he slept on board his ship—which with characteristic flamboyance he had named La Fondre—and there on the following morning he received a visit from Captain Blood, whom he greeted 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 back 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:
I am in the Dutch brig Jongvrouw, 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 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 never 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 wereout 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 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 pole-ax 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 long-boat and bidden go 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 toward 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 was unfolded. At the end he roundly expressed his disapproval. The Dutch were a 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 following morning, fresh and 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 lied 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 fixed 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 busy 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,1who 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 pieces 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 them 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.
"Voilà!" 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 dc La Place, and this is my sister. M. dc 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 articles 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 an 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, ça! Crédieu! 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 afterward be forthcoming."
"That's it," said one of Levasseur's officers.
And Cahusac added:
"Captain Blood is right. It is 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, ça! 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 Irishman'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 the 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."