Chapter XXIII: Hostages
Peter Blood stood in the pillared portico of Government House, and with unseeing eyes that were laden with pain and anger, stared out across the great harbour of Port Royal to the green hills rising from the farther shore and the ridge of the Blue Mountains beyond, showing hazily through the quivering heat.
He was aroused by the return of the negro who had gone to announce him, and following now this slave, he made his way through the house to the wide piazza behind it, in whose shade Colonel Bishop and my Lord Julian Wade took what little air there was.
“So ye’ve come,” the Deputy-Governor hailed him, and followed the greeting by a series of grunts of vague but apparently ill-humoured import.
He did not trouble to rise, not even when Lord Julian, obeying the instincts of finer breeding, set him the example. From under scowling brows the wealthy Barbados planter considered his sometime slave, who, hat in hand, leaning lightly upon his long beribboned cane, revealed nothing in his countenance of the anger 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, Captain Blood, because of certain news that has just reached me. I am informed that yesterday evening a frigate left the harbour 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 a moment. Then:
“You ordered it?” he said in accents of unbelief, whilst Lord Julian raised his eyebrows. “‘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 colour to deepen. He swung to Lord Julian.
“You hear that, my lord? 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 at last to perceive the folly of 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 God! It’s matter for a court-martial.”
“Will you 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 in which to follow my example, quit piracy, and get back to their boucans or their logwood, or else sail out of the Caribbean Sea. 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 have no taste for King James’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, with sincerity.
Blood looked at him in surprise. Then he shrugged. “Faith, I’m not to blame for your lordship’s poor memory. I say that it was so; and I don’t lie. I’ve never found it necessary. In any case ye couldn’t have supposed that I should consent to anything different.”
And then the Deputy-Governor exploded.
“You have given those damned 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!”
Peter Blood considered him steadily, his face impassive. “I will remind you,” he said at last, very quietly, “that the object in view was--leaving out of account your own appetites which, as every one knows, are just those of a hangman--to rid the Caribbean of buccaneers. Now, I’ve taken the most effective way of accomplishing that object. The knowledge that I’ve entered the King’s service should in itself go far towards disbanding the fleet of which I was until lately the admiral.”
“I see!” sneered the Deputy-Governor malevolently. “And if it does not?”
“It will be time enough then to consider what else is to be done.”
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 towards Blood and understanding of the difficult position in which the buccaneer 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, whom he regarded with the jaundiced eyes of jealousy.
“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 it’s the most ye’ll get.”
His lordship frowned, and dabbed his lips with a handkerchief.
“I don’t think that I quite like the way you put it. Indeed, upon reflection, Captain Blood, I am sure that I do not.”
“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 pale eyes opened a little wider. Languidly he raised his eyebrows.
“Ah!” he said. “You’re a prodigiously uncivil fellow. You disappoint me, sir. I had formed the notion that you might be a gentleman.”
“And that’s not your lordship’s only mistake,” Bishop cut in. “You made a worse when you gave him the King’s commission, and so sheltered the rascal from the gallows I had prepared for him in Port Royal.”
“Aye--but the worst mistake of all in this matter of commissions,” said Blood to his lordship, “was the one that trade this greasy slaver Deputy-Governor of Jamaica instead of its hangman, which is the office for which he’s by nature fitted.”
“Captain Blood!” said his lordship sharply in reproof. “Upon my soul and honour, 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 his fury in unprintable abuse. Captain Blood, who had also risen, stood apparently impassive, for the storm to spend itself. When at last this happened, he addressed 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 plaguey 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 Deputy-Governor stormed on.
“Since my lord here has given you a commission, 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 consequences.”
“I see,” said Blood. “Now we come to it. And it’s yourself as Deputy-Governor will preside over that same 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, you see, 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 me 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 Harbour-Master and the Commandant have their orders. You don’t leave Port Royal, my fine gallows bird. Damme, I mean to provide you with permanent moorings here, in Execution Dock.”
Peter Blood stiffened, and his vivid blue eyes stabbed the bloated face of his 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 difficult to perform.” He rose. “You did me a service, Captain Blood, and I had hoped that we might be friends. But since you prefer to have it otherwise...” He shrugged, and waved a hand towards the Deputy-Governor.
Blood completed the sentence in his own way:
“Ye mean that ye haven’t the strength of character to resist the urgings of a bully.” He was apparently at his ease, and actually smiling. “Well, well--as I said before--praemonitus, praemunitus. I’m afraid that ye’re no scholar, Bishop, or ye’d know that I 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. Captain Blood’s right hand had reemerged from the breast of his doublet, bringing with it a long pistol with silver mountings richly chased, which he levelled within a foot of 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. Chap-fallen, with much of his high colour suddenly departed, the Deputy-Governor was swaying on unsteady legs. Peter 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. Ye mean to hang me, and since that’s the worst that can happen to me anyway, you’ll realize that I’ll not boggle at increasing the account by spilling your nasty blood.” 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 resolute eyes, and that gleaming pistol, Bishop obeyed without demur. His recent foul volubility was stemmed. He could not trust himself to speak. Captain Blood tucked his left arm through the Deputy-Governor’s proffered right. Then he thrust his own right hand with its pistol back into the breast of his doublet.
“Though invisible, it’s aiming at ye none the less, and I give you my word of honour 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, or it’s the black stream of Cocytus ye’ll be contemplating.” Arm in arm they passed through the house, and down the garden, where Arabella lingered, awaiting Peter Blood’s return.
Consideration of his parting words had brought her first turmoil of mind, then a clear perception of what might be indeed the truth of the death of Levasseur. She perceived that the particular inference drawn from it might similarly have been drawn from Blood’s deliverance of Mary Traill. When a man so risks his life for a woman, the rest is easily assumed. For the men who will take such risks without hope of personal gain are few. Blood was of those few, as he had proved in the case of Mary Traill.
It needed no further assurances of his to convince her that she had done him a monstrous injustice. She remembered words he had used--words overheard aboard his ship (which he had named the Arabella) on the night of her deliverance from the Spanish admiral; words he had uttered when she had approved his acceptance of the King’s commission; the words he had spoken to her that very morning, which had but served to move her indignation. All these assumed a fresh meaning in her mind, delivered now from its unwarranted preconceptions.
Therefore she lingered there in the garden, awaiting his return that she might make amends; that she might set a term to all misunderstanding. In impatience she awaited him. Yet her patience, it seemed, was to be tested further. For when at last he came, it was in company--unusually close and intimate company--with her uncle. In vexation she realized that explanations must be postponed. Could she have guessed the extent of that postponement, vexation would have been changed into despair.
He passed, with his companion, from that fragrant garden into the courtyard of the fort. Here the Commandant, who had been instructed to hold himself in readiness with the necessary men against the need to effect the arrest of Captain 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, 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 Arabella was waiting. They took their places side by side in the stern sheets, and were pulled away together, always very close and friendly, to the great red ship where Jeremy Pitt so anxiously awaited news.
You conceive the master’s 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, Jeremy,” Blood hailed him. “But I walked out again, and fetched the trapper with me. He loves his life, does this fat rascal.”