Chapter XXXI: His Excellency the Governor
When the cost of that victory came to be counted, 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 in that last action, was 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 valour, Blood’s buccaneers had saved Jamaica 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 harbour 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 dad dedain you?”
“That I may break the dog as he deserves, and appoint his successor in some man gifted with a sense of where his duty lies, and with the ability to perform it.”
“Aha! But id is not necessary you remain for dat. And he vill require no insdrucshons, dis one. He vill know how to make Port Royal safe, bedder nor you or me.”
“You mean Blood?”
“Of gourse. Could any man be bedder? You haf seen vhad 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 was a trifle dazzled by the honour 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.
“Damme!” 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 of Somerset.”
“Apple-blossoms!” His lordship’s voice shot up like a rocket, and cracked on the word. “What the devil... ? Apple-blossoms!” He looked at van der Kuylen.
The Admiral raised his brows and pursed his heavy lips. His eyes twinkled humourously in his great face.
“So!” he said. “Fery boedical!”
My lord wheeled fiercely upon Captain Blood. “You’ve a past score to wipe out, my man!” he admonished him. “You’ve done something towards it, I confess; 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 damned 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 as this. He stiffened and bowed.
“My lord, you are in the right. I am a fool. But don’t be accounting me an ingrate as well. If I have hesitated, 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 astonishment, but kept their thoughts to themselves.
“Now ve can aboud our business go,” said van der Kuylen.
“We sail to-morrow morning,” his lordship announced.
Blood was startled.
“And Colonel Bishop?” he asked.
“He 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 yardarm. 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 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 marshalled his buccaneers and surrendered to 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 amongst these were Jeremy Pitt, Ogle, and Dyke, whose outlawry, like Blood’s, had come to an end with the downfall of King James. They were--saving old Wolverstone, who had been left behind at Cartagena--the only survivors of that band of rebels-convict who had left Barbados over three years ago in the Cinco Llagas.
On the following morning, whilst van der Kuylen’s fleet was making finally ready for 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 colour. He sat quite still, staring at the negro a moment, conscious that his pulses were drumming in a manner wholly unusual to them. Then quietly he assented.
He rose when she entered, and if he was not as pale as she was, it was because his tan dissembled it. For a moment there was silence between them, as they stood looking each at the other. Then she moved forward, and began at last 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 of the effort he made to steady his voice it sounded harsh and unduly loud.
He saw her start, and stop, and instantly made amends. “You alarm yourself without reason, Miss Bishop. Whatever may lie between me and your uncle, you may be sure that I shall not follow the example he has set me. I shall not abuse 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 shall treat him without mercy. 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 that. Glad, above all, 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 no thanks to you that I am not,” he answered. “I think there’s no more to be said, unless it be to add the assurance that Lord Julian Wade has also nothing to apprehend from me. That, no doubt, will be 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 dishonouring.”
“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?”