Captain Blood was pleased with the world — which is but another way of saying that he was pleased with himself.
He stood on the mole at Cayona and surveyed the shipping in the rockbound harbour. With pride he considered the five great ships that now made up his fleet, every spar and timber of which had once been the property of Spain. There was his own flagship, the Arabella, of forty guns, that once had been the Cinco Llagas out of Cadiz, with her red bulwarks and gilded ports aflame in the evening sunlight, with the scarcely less powerful blue and white Elizabeth beside her. Beyond them rode the three smaller twenty–gun vessels captured in the great affair at Maracaybo from which Blood was lately returned. These ships, originally named the Infanta, the San Felipe, and the Santo Ni?o, Blood had renamed after the three Parcae, the Clotho, the Lachesis, and the Atropos, by which it was his intention playfully to convey that they were the arbiters of the fate of any Spaniard henceforth encountered by them upon the seas.
Captain Blood took satisfaction in his own delicate, scholarly humour. He was, as I have said, well pleased with himself. His following numbered close upon a thousand men, and he could double this number whenever he pleased. For his luck was passing into a proverb, and luck is the highest quality that can be sought in a leader of hazardous enterprises. Not the great Henry Morgan himself in his best days had wielded such authority and power. Not even Montbar — surnamed by Spain the Exterminator — had been more dreaded by Spaniards in his day that was Don Pedro Sangre, as they translated Peter Blood’s 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 had 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 civilized mankind, which cruel, treacherous, greedy, bigoted Castile sought to debar from intercourse with the New World.
He was turning from the mole, almost deserted by now of its usual bustling heterogeneous crowd, when the voice of Hayton, the boatswain of the Arabella, 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, elegant and courtly in a suit of grey and silver.
He took his way up towards 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 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 back from Maracaybo. The ruffians overflowing from that house of infamy hailed him with a ringing cheer. Was he not the king of all the ruffians that made up the great Brotherhood of the Coast?
He acknowledged their greeting by a lift of the hand that held the cane, and passed on. He had business with M. d’Ogeron, the Governor, and this business took him now to the handsome white house crowning the eminence to the east of the town.
The Captain was an orderly, provident man, and he was busily providing against the day when the death or downfall of King James II might make it possible for him to return home. For some time now it had been his practice 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. Peter Blood was ever a welcome visitor at the Governor’s house, not only because these transactions were profitable to M. d’Ogeron, but in a still deeper measure because of a signal service that the Captain had once done him and his in rescuing his daughter Madeleine from the hands of a ruffianly pirate who had attempted to carry her off. By M. d’Ogeron, his son and his two daughters, Captain Blood had ever since been regarded as something more than an ordinary friend.
It was therefore nowise extraordinary that when, his business being transacted, he was departing on this particular evening, Mademoiselle d’Ogeron should choose 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 latest mode of France, Mademoiselle d’Ogeron 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 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. Only he who is without anything is without enemies. But at least they are not in Tortuga.»
«Are you so very sure of that?»
Her tone gave him pause. He frowned, and considered her solemnly for an instant before replying.
«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 has 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 he will make you rue the wrong you did him at Maracaybo.»
The name revealed to him the rashness of his assertion that he had no enemy in Tortuga. He had forgotten Cahusac; but he realized that Cahusac would not be likely to have forgotten him. Cahusac had been with him at Maracaybo, and had been trapped with him there by the arrival of Don Miguel de Espinosa’s fleet. The French rover had taken fright, had charged Blood with rashness in his conduct of the enterprise, had quarrelled with him and had made terms with the Spanish Admiral for himself and his own French contingent. Granted a safe–conduct by Don Miguel, he had departed empty–handed, leaving Captain Blood to his fate. But it proved not at all as the timorous Cahusac conceived it. Captain Blood had not only broken out of the Spanish trap, but he had sorely mauled the Admiral, captured three of his ships, and returned to Tortuga laden with rich spoils of victory.
To Cahusac this was gall and wormwood. With the faculty for confusing cause and effect which is the chief disability of stupid egoists, he came to account himself cheated by Captain Blood. And he was making no secret of his unfounded resentment.
«He is saying that, is he?» said Captain Blood. «Now, that is indiscreet of him. Besides, all the world knows he was not wronged. He was allowed to depart in safety as he wished when he thought the situation grew too dangerous.»
«But by doing so 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.
He smiled upon her friendly anxiety.
«If only so that I may live on to serve you.» With formal courtesy he bowed low over her hand and kissed it.
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 to 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, and heard his name called softly in a woman’s voice.
As he halted she came closer, and addressed him quickly, breathlessly. «I saw you pass two hours since. But I dursn’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 quarrelled over a woman — a fragment 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 castoff 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 d’Ogeron’s words of warning sharply recalled.
«There’s a score of them. 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.
«Oh, 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!»
«Oh, what odds, so long as I make you safe?» She was dragging on 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, as much for her sake as his own, he allowed her to lead him from the wide street into the byway 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 set 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 odour 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 with something heavy and hard–driven, which, if it did not stun him outright, at least stretched him sick and faint upon the grimy naked earth of the unpaved 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, sinewy, skilful hands had done their work upon him. Thongs of hide lashed his ankles and his wrists, 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, apelike build, long in the body and short in the legs, was leaning over him. The sleeves of his blue shirt were rolled to the elbows 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 the great ears.
Captain Blood considered him for a long moment, setting a curb upon the violent rage that rose in him in a measure as his senses cleared. Instinctively he realized 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 towards 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 ruffian was threatening.
«What are you going to do with him, Sam?» she whimpered.
«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 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 at neck and waist and thrust her, still resisting, across the room and into the alcove. He closed the door and bolted it.
«Stay you there, you slut, and keep quiet, or I’ll quiet you once for all.»
From behind 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 the table, a tall, loose–limbed fellow, with a long face of an almost Indian cast of features. His dress implied the 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 trimming it, so that the light in the shabby little room was suddenly increased.
«C’est ?a!» said Cahusac. «And Don Miguel, no doubt, he’ll intend to hang you from the yardarm.»
«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 that 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 it is that ye’re entirely without foresight. It was lack of foresight that sent ye away empty–handed from Maracaybo. And even then, but for me, ye’d be hauling at the oar of a Spanish galley this very 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 towards 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, besides a sword and rich balrick of grey 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 drawlingly, «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.»
But they weren’t impressed. Cahusac merely mocked him.
«Tiens! And your certainty that Hayton will come to your rescue then? What of that?»
He laughed, and Sam laughed with him.
«It’s probable,» said Blood, «most probable. But not certain; nothing is, in this uncertain world. Not even that the Spaniard will pay you the ten thousand pieces of eight they tell me he has been after offering for me. 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. Therefore he continued.
«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 two.»
Cahusac’s jaw fell, his eyes widened.
«Twenty thousand pieces!» he gasped in blank amazement.
And then Sam’s great fist crashed down upon the rickety table, and he 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 — ay, and for you, Cahusac. Besides, are you such a gull that you think this pretty hawk’ll keep faith with you?»
«He knows that I would,» said Blood, «he’s sailed with me. 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 eyelids, 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.
«Faith,» said he. «You don’t leave much to a man’s imagination.»
And he meant it literally; for what he had clearly gathered was that it was Sam who had entered into league with the Spanish agents, and dared not for his life’s sake break with them.
«Then that’s as well,» Sam assured him. «If you want 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 his delivery to someone who should carry him off to Don Miguel de Espinosa. Upon what would happen to 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.
«God of God! 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. Muchovi?o, muchas mugeres!» he laughed in Spanish. «To be sure now, you’ll be wise.»
Cahusac licked his lips and looked at his companion. «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 while 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.
«Hell! 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.»
Cahusac became really and vehemently angry. «Ah, ca! Name of God! 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.»
For a long moment the two ruffianly associates glowered at each other in angry silence. Then Cahusac’s glance became sullen. He shrugged and turned aside, as if grudgingly admittingly that Sam’s reasoning was unanswerable. He stood pondering with narrowed eyes. Finally he bestirred himself as if with sudden resolve.
«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, as we know, 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. «Yell 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. Damn your fears of Spain! Spain’s a phantom! I’ll protect you from Spain. You can lie safe aboard my flagship.»
Sam’s eyes flashed momentarily, then grew troubled again by thought.
«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 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 Heaven, I believe you in that!» cried the man, presented with facts which he had never paused to consider.
«Faith, you may believe me in the rest as readily, Sam.»
«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 seed he had sown might now be left awhile to germinate.
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 leathern jack upon the table.
And on the instant, almost at point–blank range, Sam shot him through the heart.
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. The riddle did not even require the key supplied by the single word that Sam had ejaculated. It was very plain to read.
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.