The love–story of Jeremy Pitt, the young Somerset–shire shipmaster, whose fate had been linked with Peter Blood’s since the disastrous night of Sedgemoor, belongs to the later days of Blood’s career as a buccaneer, to the great days when he commanded a fleet of five ships and over a thousand men of mixed nationality, held in a discipline to which his skill and good fortune made them willing to submit.
He had lately returned from a very successful raid upon the Spanish pearling fleet in the Rio de la Hache. He had come back to Tortuga to refit, and this not before it was necessary. There were several other buccaneer vessels in the harbour of Cayona at the time, and the little town was boisterous with their revelry. Its taverns and rum–shops throve, whilst the taverners and the women, white and half–castes, as mixed in origin and nationality as the buccaneers themselves, eased the rovers of a good deal of the plunder of which they had eased the Spaniards, who, again, were seldom better than robbers.
Usually these were unquiet times for Monsieur d’Ogeron, the agent of the French West India Company and Governor of Tortuga.
Ogeron himself, as we know, did very well out of the buccaneers in the percentages on their prizes which they very readily paid as harbour dues, and in other ways. But M. d’Ogeron had two daughters, the dark and stately Madeleine and the slight and joyous brunette Lucienne. Now Madeleine, for all her stateliness, had once succumbed to the wooing of a ruffianly buccaneer named Levasseur. To abstract her from this danger her father had shipped her off to France. But Levasseur, getting wind of it in time, had followed, seized the ship that carried her, and the worst might have befallen her but for the timely intervention of Captain Blood, who delivered her, unscathed, from his clutches and restored her, sobered by the experience, to her father.
Since then M. d’Ogeron had sought to practise discretion in the guests he received in the big white house set in its fragrant garden just above the town.
Captain Blood, by the service he had rendered the family on that occasion, had come to be regarded almost as a member of it. And since his officers, all of them driven to their trade as a consequence of transportation suffered for a political offence, were men of a different stamp from the ordinary buccaneer, they, too, were well received.
Now this in itself created a difficulty. If Monsieur d’Ogeron’s house was open to the captains who followed Blood, he could not without offence close it to other buccaneer commanders. Therefore he was constrained to tolerate the visits of some whom he neither liked nor trusted, and this despite the protests of a guest from France, the fastidious and delicate Monsieur de Mercceur, who cared little for the company of any of them.
Monsieur de Mercoeur was the son of one of the governors of the French West India Company, sent by his father on a voyage of instruction to the settlements in which the company was interested. The frigate Cygne, which had brought him a week ago, had been at anchor since in Cayona Bay, and would continue there until the young gentleman should see fit to depart again. From this his social consequence may be inferred. Obviously he was a person whose wishes a colonial governor would do his utmost to respect. But how was he to respect them, for instance, where such a truculent, swaggering fellow as Captain Tondeur of the Reine Margot was concerned? Monsieur d’Ogeron did not quite see how he could forbid him the house, as Monsieur de Mercceur would have desired, not even when it became apparent that the rascal was attracted thither by Mademoiselle Lucienne.
Another who was yielding to the same attraction was young Jeremy Pitt. But Pitt was a fellow of a very different stamp, and if his courtship of Lucienne occasioned Monsieur d’Ogeron some distress, at least it caused him no such uneasiness as that begotten by Tondeur.
If ever there was a man designed by nature for a lover, that man was Jeremy Pitt, with his frank, smooth, comely face, his ingenuous blue eyes, his golden locks and his neatly–apparelled, graceful figure. With the vigour of a man he combined the gentleness of a woman. Anything less like a conspirator, which he had been, and a buccaneer, which he was, it would be impossible to conceive. He had, too, ingratiating ways and a gift of almost poetical expression to complete his equipment as the ideal lover.
His instincts — or it may have been his hopes — and perhaps something in the lady’s kindly manner, led him to believe that Lucienne was not indifferent to him; and so one evening, under the fragrant pimento trees in her father’s garden, he told her that he loved her, and whilst she was still breathless from the effects of that avowal he kissed her lips.
Quivering and troubled she stood before him after that operation. «Monsieur Jeremy…you…you should not…you should not have done that.» In the fading light Mr. Pitt saw that there were tears in her eyes. «If my father knew…»
Jeremy interrupted her with emphasis.
«He shall. I mean him to know. He shall know now.» And as Monsieur de Mercoeur and Madeleine were at that moment approaching, Jeremy departed at once in quest of the Governor of Tortuga.
Monsieur d’Ogeron, that slight, elegant gentleman who had brought with him to the New World the courtliness of the 01d, could scarcely dissemble his distress. Monsieur d’Ogeron had grown wealthy in his governorship and he had ambitions for his motherless daughters, whom he contemplated removing before, very long to France.
He said so, not crudely or bluntly, but with an infinite delicacy calculated to spare Mr. Pitt’s feelings, and he added that she was already promised in marriage.
Jeremy’s face was overspread by blank astonishment.
«Promised! But she told me nothing of this!» He forgot that he had never really given her such opportunity.
«It may be that she does not realize. You know how these things are contrived in France.»
Mr. Pitt began an argument upon the advantages of natural selection, nipped by Monsieur d’Ogeron before he had properly developed it.
«My dear Mr. Pitt, my friend, consider, I beg, your position in the world. You are a filibuster in — short, an adventurer. I do not use the term offensively. I merely mean that you are a man who lives by adventure. What prospect of security, of domesticity, could you offer a delicately–nurtured girl? If you, yourself, had a daughter, should you gladly give her to such a man?»
«If she loved him,» said Mr. Pitt.
«Ah! But what is love, my friend?»
Although perfectly aware of what it was from his late rapture and present misery, Jeremy found a difficulty in giving expression to his knowledge. Monsieur d’Ogeron smiled benignly upon his hesitation.
«To a lover, love is sufficient, I know. To a parent, more is necessary so as to quiet his sense of responsibility. You have done me an honour, Monsieur Pitt. I am desolated that I must decline it. It will be better that we do not trouble our mutual esteem by speaking of this again.»
Now when a young man discovers that a certain woman is necessary to his existence, and when he believes with pardonable egotism that he is equally necessary to hers, he does not abandon the quest at the first obstacle.
At the moment, however, the matter could be pursued no further because of the interruption afforded by the entrance of the stately Madeleine accompanied by Monsieur de Mercceur. The young Frenchman’s eyes and voice sought Lucienne. He had charming eyes and a charming voice, and was altogether a charming person, impeccable as to dress and manners. In build he was almost tall, but so slight and frail that he looked as if a strong wind might blow him over; yet he possessed an assurance of address oddly at variance with his almost valetudinarian air.
He seemed surprised not to find Lucienne with her father. He desired, he announced, to persuade her to sing again some of those Proven?al songs with which last night she had delighted them. His gesture took in the harpsichord standing in a corner of the well–appointed room. Madeleine departed to seek her sister. Mr. Pitt rose to take his leave. In his present mood he did not think he could bear to sit and hear Lucienne singing Proven?al songs for the delight of Monsieur de Mercoeur.
He went off with his woes to Captain Blood, whom he found in the great cabin of the Arabella, that splendid red–hulled ship which once had been the Cinco Llagas, but since re–named by Blood after the little lady to whom all his life he remained faithful, as has been elsewhere related.
The Captain laid down his well–thumbed copy of Horace to lend an ear to the plaint of his young friend and shipmaster. Lounging on the cushioned locker under the sternports, Captain Blood thereafter delivered himself, as sympathetic in manner as he was uncompromising in matter. Monsieur d’Ogeron was entirely right, the Captain opined, when he said that Jeremy’s occupation in life did not justify him in taking a wife.
«And that’s only half the reason for abandoning this notion. The other is that Lucienne charming and seductive child though she may be, is a thought too light to promise any peace and security to a husband not always at hand to guard and check her. That fellow Tondeur goes daily to the Governor’s house. It hasn’t occurred to you, now, to ask yourself what is attracting him? And why does this frail French dandy, Monsieur de Mercoeur, linger in Tortuga? Oh, and there are others I could name who have had, no doubt, your own delectable experience with a lady who’s never reluctant to listen to a tale of love.»
«Now devil take your lewdness!» roared out Pitt, with all a lover’s unbounded indignation. «By what right do you say such a thing as that?»
«By the right of sanity and an unclouded vision. Ye’ll not be the first to have kissed Mademoiselle Lucienne’s lips; and ye’ll not be the last neither, not even if ye marry her. She has a beckoning eye, so she has, and it’s the uneasy husband I should be at sea if she were my wife. Be thankful ye’re not the husband of her father’s choice. Lovely things like Lucienne d’Ogeron were created just to trouble the world.»
Jeremy would listen to no more of this blasphemy. It was like Blood, whom he bitterly denounced as without faith and without ideals, to think so vilely of the sweetest, purest saint in all the world. On that he flung out of the cabin, and left the Captain free to return to his Horace.
Blood, however, had planted a rankling seed in our young lover’s heart. The clear perception of grounds for jealousy is a sword that can slay love at a stroke; but the mere suspicion of their existence is a goad to drive a lover on. Feverishly, then, on the morrow, and utterly oblivious of Monsieur d’Ogeron’s rejection of his suit, Mr. Pitt made his way betimes to the white house above the town. It was earlier than his wont, and he came upon the lady of his dreams walking in the garden. With her walked Captain Tondeur, that man of sinister reputation. It was said of him that once he had been a fencing–master in Paris, and that he had taken to the sea so as to escape the justice it was desired to mete out to him by the family of a gentleman he had killed in a duel. He was a man of middle height and deceptive slimness, for he was as tough as whipcord. He dressed with a certain raffish elegance and moved with agile grace. His countenance was undistinguished save for the eyes, which, if small and round and black ere singularly penetrating. They were penetrating Mr. Pitt now with an arrogant stare that seemed to invite him to depart again. The Captain’s right arm was about the waist of Mademoiselle Lucienne. It remained there notwithstanding Mr. Pitt’s appearance, until presently, after a moments surprised pause, the lady disengaged herself in some embarrassment.
«It is Monsieur Jeremy!» she cried, and added, quite needlessly, thought Mr. Pitt: «I was not expecting you.»
Jeremy took the hand she proffered and bore it to his lips, more or less mechanically, whilst mumbling a greeting in his indifferent French. Followed an exchange of commonplaces, and then an awkward pause, at the end of which said Tondeur with a scowl:
«When a lady tells me that I am unexpected, I understand her to mean that I am inopportune.»
«No doubt a common experience in your life.» Captain Tondeur smiled. Your practised, duellist is always self–possessed.
«At least not a subject for pertness. It is not always wise to be pert. The moment’s glitter may lead to painful instruction.»
Lucienne intervened. She was a little breathless. Her eyes were scared.
«But what is this? What are you saying? You are wrong, Monsieur le Capitaine, to assume Monsieur Jeremy inopportune. Monsieur Jeremy is my friend, and my friends are never inopportune.»
«Not perhaps to you, Mademoiselle. But to other friends of yours they can be monstrously so.»
«Again you are mistaken.» Her manner was frigid. «He is no friend of mine to whom other friends of mine are unwelcome in my presence.»
The Captain bit his lip, and Jeremy took a fragment of comfort, for all that he still hotly remembered that arm about the waist of the woman whose lips he had kissed last night and also Captain Blood’s condemnation of her.
The elements of a very pretty quarrel were shattered by the sudden appearance of Monsieur d’Ogeron and Monsieur de Mercceur. Both were out of breath as if they had been hurrying. They checked, however, and seemed relieved when they saw who was present. It was as if Monsieur d’Ogeron found not quite what he had expected, and relief upon the safety for Lucienne which is believed to reside in numbers. Their advent put an end to acrimony, and perhaps because he was in the humour for little else, Captain Tondeur presently took his leave. A smile of disquieting significance accompanied his parting words to Jeremy.
«I shall look forward, monsieur, to an early opportunity of continuing our interesting discussion.» Anon, when Jeremy, too, would have departed, Monsieur d’Ogeron detained him. «Remain yet a moment, Monsieur Pitt.»
He took the young man by the arm in a friendly manner and drew him away from Monsieur de Mercceur and Lucienne. They moved up the avenue and entered a tunnel fashioned of over–arching orange trees imported from Europe; a cool place this where the ripe fruit glowed like lamps against the dusky green.
«I did not like the parting words of Captain Tondeur, nor yet his smile. That is a very dangerous man. You would be wise to beware of him.»
Jeremy bridled a little. «Do you suppose I fear him?»
«I suppose you would be prudent to do so. A very dangerous man. A canaille. He comes here too much.»
«Regarding him as you do, why do you permit it?»
Monsieur d’Ogeron made a grimace. «Regarding him as I do, I cannot do otherwise.»
«You are afraid of him?»
«I confess it. Oh, not for myself, Monsieur Pitt. But there is Lucienne. He pays his court to her.»
Jeremy quivered with fury. «Could you not forbid him your house?»
«Of course.» Monsieur d’Ogeron smiled crookedly. «I did something of the kind once before, in the case of Levasseur. You know the story.»
«Oh, but…Oh, but…» Jeremy encountered a difficulty, but finally surmounted it. «Mademoiselle Madeleine was so misguided as to lend herself to the scheme of Levasseur. You do not dream that Mademoiselle Lucienne —»
«Why should I not dream it? This Tondeur canaille though he be, is not without attraction, and he has over Levasseur the advantage that he was once a gentleman and can still display the manners of one when it suits him. An inexperienced child like Lucienne is easily allured by your bold, enterprising wooer.»
Mr. Pitt was a little sick at heart and bewildered. «Yet what good can temporising do? Sooner or later you will have to reject him. And then…What then?»
«It is what I ask myself,» said Monsieur d’Ogeron almost lugubriously. «Yet an evil that is postponed may ultimately be removed by chance.» And then, suddenly, his manner changed. «Oh, but your pardon, my dear Mr. Pitt. Our talk is taking a turn very far from what I intended. A father’s anxiety! I meant to do no more than utter a warning, and I beg that you will heed it.»
Mr. Pitt thought he understood. What was in Monsieur d’Ogeron’s mind was that Tondeur scented a rival in Jeremy and that such a man would take prompt means to eliminate a rival.
«I am obliged to you, Monsieur d’Ogeron. I can take care of myself.»
«I trust so. Sincerely I trust so.» And on that they parted.
Jeremy went back to dine on board the Arabella, and after dinner, pacing the poop with Blood, he told him what had passed.
Captain Blood was thoughtful. «There is cause enough to warn you. Though why the Governor should be troubling to do so is just a trifle odd. I’ll pay him a visit, so I will. I may be able to help him, though I don’t yet see how. Meanwhile, Jerry, if ye’re prudent, yell be keeping the ship. Devil a doubt but Tondeur will be looking for you.»
«And I am to avoid him, am I?» snorted Jeremy.
«If ye’re wise.»
«If I’m a coward.»
«Now isn’t a live coward better than a dead fool, which is what ye’ll be if ye come to grips with Master Tondeur? Ye’ll not be forgetting the man’s a fencing–master; whilst you…Pshaw! It would be just murder, so it would. And where’s the glory of suffering that?»
Pitt knew it in his heart and yet would not admit the humiliating knowledge. Therefore, neglecting Blood’s advice, he went ashore on the morrow, and was sitting with Hagthorpe and Wolverstone in the tavern of the King of France when Tondeur found him.
It was in the neighbourhood of noon, and the common–room was thronged with buccaneers, a few ordinary seamen from the Cygne, beachcombers and the land–sharks of both sexes who prey upon seafaring men, and particularly upon buccaneers, who are ever prodigal of their broad pieces of eight. The air of the ill–lighted place was heavy with the reek of rum, tobacco, spun–yarn and humanity.
Tondeur came forward leisurely, his left hand resting on his hilt, exchanging nods and bringing up at last before Jeremy’s table.
«You permit?» quoth he, and without waiting for an answer, he drew up a stool and sat down. «I am fortunate so soon to be able to resume the little discussion that yesterday was interrupted.»
Jeremy, understanding perfectly what was coming, stared at him uneasily. His two companions, understanding nothing, stared with him.
«We discussed inopportuneness, I think, and your sluggishness in perceiving that your presence was not required.»
Jeremy leaned forward. «What we discussed is no matter. You are here, I think, to pick a quarrel with me.»
«I?» Captain Tondeur stared and frowned. «Why should you suppose that? You do me no harm. It is not in your power to do me harm. Yo are not even in my way. If you were, I should crack you like a flea.» He laughed contemptuously, offensively, and by that laugh flung Jeremy, as he intended, into a passion.
«I am no flea for your cracking.»
«Are you not?» Tondeur got up. «Then be careful not to pester me again, or you may find yourself under my thumbnail. You have your warning.» He spoke loudly, so that all might hear him, and his tone brought a hush upon the crowded room.
He was turning away contemptuously when Jeremy’s answer arrested him.
«You insolent dog!»
Captain Tondeur checked. He raised his brows. A snarling smile lifted an end of his little moustache. And meanwhile the burly Wolverstone, still understanding nothing, sought instinctively to restrain Jeremy, who had also risen.
«Dog?» said the Captain slowly. «Dog, eh? It is apt enough. The dog and the flea. All the same, I do not like dog. You will be so good as to retract’ dog. You will retract it at once. I am not a patient man, Monsieur Pitt.»
«Certainly I will retract it,» said Jeremy. «I’ll not insult an animal.»
«Meaning the dog. I’ll substitute instead —»
«Substitute rat,» said a sharp voice from the background, which made Tondeur spin round where he stood.
Just within the doorway lounged Captain Blood, tall and elegant in his black and silver, leaning upon his ebony cane. The intensely blue eyes in his clear–cut, sun–tanned face met and held the stare of Captain Tondeur. He sauntered forward, speaking easily and without stress as he came.
«Rat, I think, describes you better, Captain Tondeur.» And he stood waiting for the Frenchman’s answer.
It came presently in the wake of a sneering laugh. «I see. I see. The little shipmaster here is to be protected. Papa Blood intervenes to save the little coward.»
«Certainly he is to be protected. I will not have my shipmaster murdered by a bully–swordsman. That is why I intervene. You might have foreseen it, Captain Tondeur. As for cowardice, you paltry rascal, that is the attribute of the rat to which I liken you. You trade upon a certain skill with the sword; but you are careful to employ it only against those you have reason to believe unskilled. That is the coward’s way. Oh, and the murderer’s, which is, I believe, what they call you in France.»
«That’s a lie, anyway,» said Tondeur, livid.
Captain Blood was unperturbed. He was deliberately playing Tondeur’s own game of baiting an opponent into fury. «You may proceed to prove it upon me, in which case I shall retract, either before or after killing you. Thus you will die in honour, having lived in dishonour. The inner room there is spacious and empty. We can —»
But Tondeur interrupted him, sneering. «I am not so easily distracted. My affair is with Mr. Pitt.»
«Let it wait until you have settled mine.»
Tondeur contained himself. He was white with passion and breathing hard.
«Look you, Captain Blood: I have been insulted by this shipmaster of yours, who called me dog in the presence here of these. You deliberately seek to thrust yourself into a quarrel that does not concern you. It is not to be tolerated. I appeal me to the company.»
It was a shrewd move and the result justified it. The company was on his side. Such of Captain Blood’s own men who were present kept silent, whilst the remainder loudly gave the Frenchman reason. Not even Hagthorpe and Wolverstone could do more than shrug, and Jeremy made matters utterly hopeless by declaring himself on the side of the enemy.
«Captain Tondeur is in the right, Peter. You are not concerned in this affair.»
«You hear?» cried Tondeur.
«I am concerned, whatever may be said. You mean murder, you scum, and I mean to prevent it.» Captain Blood abandoned his cane, and carried his hand to his sword.
But dozens sprang to restrain him, protesting so forcibly and angrily that, finding himself without even the support of his own followers, Captain Blood was forced to give way.
Even the staunch and loyal Wolverstone was muttering in his ear: «Nay, Peter! A God’s name! Ye’ll provoke a riot for naught. Ye were just too late. The lad had committed himself.»
«And what were you doing to let him? Well, well! There he goes, the rash fool.»
Pitt was already leading the way to the inner room: a lamb not merely going to the slaughter, but actually conducting the butcher. Hagthorpe was with him. Tondeur followed closely, and others brought up the rear.
Captain Blood, with Wolverstone at his side, went with the crowd, controlling himself now with difficulty.
The inner room was spacious and almost bare. What few chairs and tables it contained were swiftly thrust aside. The place was little more than a shed or pent–house built of wood, and open from the height of some three feet along the whole of one side. Through this opening the afternoon sun was flooding the place with light and heat.
Sword in hand, stripped to the waist, the two men faced each other on the bare earthen floor, Jeremy, the taller of the two, sturdy and vigorous; the other, light, sinewy and agile as a cat. The taverner and the drawers were among the press of onlookers ranged against the inner wall; two or three young viragos were in the crowd, but most of the women had remained in the common–room.
Captain Blood and Wolverstone had come to stand towards the upper end of the room at a table on which there were various objects cleared from the others: some drinking–cans, a couple of flagons, a jack and a pair of brass candlesticks with wide saucer–like stands. In the moments of waiting, whilst preliminaries were being settled, Blood, pale under his tan and with a wicked look in his blue eyes, had glanced at these objects, idly fingering one or two of them as if he would have employed them as missiles.
Hagthorpe was seconding Jeremy. Ventadour, the lieutenant of the Reine Margot, stood by Tondeur. The antagonists faced each other along the length of the room, with the sunlight on their flank. As they took up their positions, Jeremy’s eyes sought Blood’s. The lad smiled to him. Blood, unsmiling, answered by a sign. For a moment there was inquiry in Jeremy’s glance, then understanding followed.
Ventadour gave the word: «Allez, messieurs!» and the blades rang together.
Instantly, obeying that signal which he had received from his captain, Jeremy broke ground, and attacked Tondeur on his left. This had the effect of causing Tondeur to veer to that side, with the result that he had the sun in his eyes. Now was Jeremy’s chance if he could take it, as Blood had foreseen when he had signalled the manoeuvre. Jeremy did his best, and by the assiduity of his endeavours kept his opponent pinned in that position of disadvantage. But Tondeur was too strong for him. The practised swordsman never lost touch of the opposing blade, and presently, venturing a riposte, availed himself of the ensuing disengage to break ground in his turn, and thus level the position, the antagonists having now completely changed places.
Blood ground his teeth to see Jeremy lose the only advantage he possessed over the sometime fencing–master who was bent on murdering him. Yet the end did not come as swiftly as he expected. Jeremy had certain advantages of reach and vigour. But these did not account for the delay, nor yet did the fact that the fencing–master may have been a little rusty from lack of recent practice. Tondeur played a closely circling blade which found openings everywhere in the other’s wide and clumsy guard. Yet he did not go in to finish. Was he deliberately playing with his victim as cat with mouse, or was it perhaps that, standing a little in awe of Blood and of possible consequences should he kill Pitt outright, he aimed merely at disabling him?
The spectators, beholding what they beheld, were puzzled by the delay. They were puzzled still more when Tondeur again broke ground, so as to place his back to the sun and turn his helpless opponent into the position of disadvantage in which Tondeur had erstwhile found himself. To the onlookers this seemed a refinement of cruelty.
Blood, who now directly faced Tondeur, picked up in that moment one of the brass candlesticks from the table beside him. None observed him, every eye being upon the combatants. Blood alone appeared entirely to have lost interest in them. His attention was bestowed entirely upon the candlestick. So as to examine the socket intended for the candle, he raised the object until its broad saucer–like base was vertical. At that moment, for no apparent reason, Tondeur’s blade faltered in its guard, and failed to deflect a clumsy thrust with which Jeremy was mechanically in the act of countering. Meeting no opposition, Jeremy’s blade drove on until some inches of it came out through Tondeur’s back.
Almost before the amazed company had realized this sudden and unexpected conclusion, Captain Blood was on his knees beside the prostrate man. He called for water and clean linen, the surgeon in him now paramount whilst Jeremy — the most amazed in that amazed crowd — stood foolishly looking on beside him.
Whilst Blood was dressing the wound, Tondeur recovered from his momentary swoon he stared with eyes that slowly focussed the man who was bending over him.
«Assassin!» he said through his teeth, and then his head lolled limply on his shoulder once more.
«On the contrary,» said Blood, his finger deftly swathing the body which Ventadour was supporting, «I’m your preserver.» And to the company he announced: «He will not die of this, for all that it went through him.. With luck he’ll be ruffling it again within the month. But he’d best not be moved from here for some days, and he’ll need care.»
Jeremy never knew how he found himself once more aboard the Arabella. The events of the afternoon were dim to him as the transactions of a dream. He had looked, as he conceived, into the grim face of death, and yet he had survived. That evening at supper in the great cabin he made philosophy upon it.
«It serves,» he said, «to show the advantages of never losing heart or admitting defeat in an encounter. I might so easily have been slain to–day; and it would have been simply and solely by a preconception: the preconception that Tondeur was the better swordsman.»
«It is still possible that he was,» said Blood.
«Then how came Ito run him through so easily?»
«How indeed, Peter?» demanded Wolverstone, and the other half–dozen present echoed the question, whilst Hagthorpe enlarged upon the theme.
«The fact is the rascal’s reputation for swordsmanship rested solely upon his own boasting. It’s the source of many a reputation.» And there the discussion was allowed to drop.
In the morning Captain Blood suggested that they should pay a visit to Monsieur d’Ogeron, and render their account to him of what had taken place. As Governor of Tortuga, some formal explanation was due to him, even though his acquaintance with the combatants should render it almost unnecessary. Jeremy, at all times ready to visit the Governor’s house on any pretext, was this morning more than willing, the events having set about him a heroic halo.
As they were being rowed ashore Captain Blood observed that the Cygne was gone from her moorings in the bay, which would mean, Jeremy opined with faint interest, that Monsieur de Mercceur had at last departed from Tortuga.
The little Governor gave them a very friendly welcome. He had heard of the affair at The King of France. They need not trouble themselves with any explanations. No official cognizance would be taken of the matter. He knew but too well the causes which had led to it.
«Had things gone otherwise,» he said quite frankly, «it would have been different. Knowing who would be the aggressor — as I warned you, Monsieur Pitt — I must have taken some action against Tondeur, and I might have had to call upon you, Captain Blood, to assist me. Order must be preserved even in such a colony as this. But as it is, why, the affair could not have had a more fortunate conclusion. You have made me very happy, Monsieur Pitt.»
This augured so well that Mr. Pitt presently asked leave to pay his homage to Mademoiselle Lucienne.
Monsieur d’Ogeron looked at him as if surprised by the request.
«Lucienne? But Lucienne has gone. She sailed for France this morning on the Cygne with her husband.»
«Her…her husband?» echoed Jeremy, with a sudden feeling of nausea.
«Monsieur de Mercoeur. Did I not tell you she was promised? They were married at cock–crow by Father Benoit. That is why I say you have made me very happy, Monsieur Pitt. Until Captain Tondeur was laid by the heels I dared not permit this thing to take place. Remembering Levasseur, I could not allow Lucienne to depart before. Like Levasseur, it is certain that Tondeur would have followed, and on the high seas would have dared that which he dared not here in Tortuga.»
«Therefore,» said Captain Blood, in his driest tone, «you set the other two by the ears, so that whilst they were quarrelling over the bone, the third dog might make off with it. That, Monsieur d’Ogeron, was more shrewd than friendly.»
«You are angry with me, Captain!» Monsieur d’Ogeron appeared genuinely distressed. «But I had to think of my child, and besides, I had no doubt of the issue. This dear Monsieur Pitt could not fail to prevail against a man like Tondeur.»
«This dear Monsieur Pitt,» said Captain Blood, «might very easily have lost his life for love of your daughter so as to forward your marriage schemes for her. There’s a pretty irony in the thought.» He linked his arm through that of his young shipmaster, who stood there white and hang–dog. «You see, Jerry, the pitfalls injudicious loving can dig for a man. Let’s be going, my lad. Good day to you, Monsieur d’Ogeron.»
He almost dragged the boy away. Then, because he was very angry, he paused when they had reached the door, and there was an unpleasant smile on the face he turned to the Governor.
«Why do you suppose that I should not do on Mr. Pitt’s behalf what you feared Tondeur might do? Why shouldn’t I go after the Cygne and capture your daughter for my shipmaster?»
«My God!» ejaculated Monsieur d’Ogeron, suddenly appalled by the prospect of so merited a vengeance. «You would never do that!»
«No, I would not. But do you know why?»
«Because I’ve trusted you. Because you are a man of honour.»
«Honour! Bah! I’m just a pirate. It’s because I don’t think she is good enough for Mr. Pitt, as I told him from the outset, and as I hope he now believes.»
That was all the revenge he took of Monsieur d’Ogeron for his foxy part in the affair. Having taken it, he departed, and the stricken Jeremy suffered himself to be led away.
But by the time they had reached the mole the lads numbness had given place to rage. He had been duped and tricked, his very life had been put in pawn to serve the schemes of those others, and somebody must pay.
«If ever I meet Monsieur de Mercceur…» he was raging.
«You’ll do fine things,» the Captain mocked him. «I’ll serve him as I served that dog Tondeur.» And now Captain Blood stood still that he might laugh.
«Oh! It’s the fine swordsman ye’ve become all at once, Jerry. The very butcher of a silk button. I’d best be disillusioning you, my young Tybalt, before ye swagger into mischief.»
«Disillusioning me?» Jeremy stared at him, a frown darkening that fair, honest face. «Did I, or did I not, lay low that French duellist yesterday?»
And Blood, still laughing, answered him: «You did not!»
«I did not? I did not?» Jeremy set his arms akimbo. «Well ye tell me, then, who did?»
«I did,» said the Captain, and on that grew serious. «I did it with the bright bottom of a brass candlestick. I flashed enough reflected sunlight into his eyes to blind him whilst you were doing the business.»
He saw Jeremy turn pale, and added the reminder: «He would have murdered you else.» Then there was a whimsical twist of his firm lips, a queer flash from his vivid eyes, and he added on a note of conscious pride: «I am Captain Blood.»