They laughed, and drank the damnation of King James - quite unofficially, but the more fervently on that account. Then Don Esteban, uneasy on the score of his father, and remembering that the agony of Don Diego was being protracted with every moment that they left him in his dreadful position, rose and announced that they must be returning.
"My father," he explained, "is in haste to reach San Domingo. He desired me to stay no longer than necessary to embrace you. If you will give us leave, then, sir uncle."
In the circumstances "sir uncle" did not insist.
As they returned to the ship's side, Blood's eyes anxiously scanned the line of seamen leaning over the bulwarks in idle talk with the Spaniards in the cock-boat that waited at the ladder's foot. But their manner showed him that there was no ground for his anxiety. The boat's crew had been wisely reticent.
The Admiral took leave of them - of Esteban affectionately, of Blood ceremoniously.
"I regret to lose you so soon, Don Pedro. I wish that you could have made a longer visit to the Encarnacion."
"I am indeed unfortunate," said Captain Blood politely.
"But I hope that we may meet again."
"That is to flatter me beyond all that I deserve."
They reached the boat; and she cast off from the great ship. As they were pulling away, the Admiral waving to them from the taffrail, they heard the shrill whistle of the bo'sun piping the hands to their stations, and before they had reached the Cinco Llagas, they beheld the Encarnacion go about under sail. She dipped her flag to them, and from her poop a gun fired a salute.
Aboard the Cinco Llagas some one - it proved afterwards to be Hagthorpe - had the wit to reply in the same fashion. The comedy was ended. Yet there was something else to follow as an epilogue, a thing that added a grim ironic flavour to the whole.
As they stepped into the waist of the Cinco Llagas, Hagthorpe advanced to receive them. Blood observed the set, almost scared expression on his face.
"I see that you've found it," he said quietly.
Hagthorpe's eyes looked a question. But his mind dismissed whatever thought it held.
"Don Diego..." he was beginning, and then stopped, and looked curiously at Blood.
Noting the pause and the look, Esteban bounded forward, his face livid.
"Have you broken faith, you curs? Has he come to harm?" he cried - and the six Spaniards behind him grew clamorous with furious questionings.
"We do not break faith," said Hagthorpe firmly, so firmly that he quieted them. "And in this case there was not the need. Don Diego died in his bonds before ever you reached the Encarnacion."
Peter Blood said nothing.
"Died?" screamed Esteban. "You killed him, you mean. Of what did he die?"
Hagthorpe looked at the boy. "If I am a judge," he said, "Don Diego died of fear."
Don Esteban struck Hagthorpe across the face at that, and Hagthorpe would have struck back, but that Blood got between, whilst his followers seized the lad.
"Let be," said Blood. "You provoked the boy by your insult to his father."
"I was not concerned to insult," said Hagthorpe, nursing his cheek. "It is what has happened. Come and look."
"I have seen," said Blood. "He died before I left the Cinco Llagas. He was hanging dead in his bonds when I spoke to him before leaving."
"What are you saying?" cried Esteban.
Blood looked at him gravely. Yet for all his gravity he seemed almost to smile, though without mirth.
"If you had known that, eh?" he asked at last. For a moment Don Esteban stared at him wide-eyed, incredulous. "I don't believe you," he said at last.
"Yet you may. I am a doctor, and I know death when I see it."
Again there came a pause, whilst conviction sank into the lad's mind.
"If I had known that," he said at last in a thick voice, "you would be hanging from the yardarm of the Encarnacion at this moment."
"I know," said Blood. "I am considering it - the profit that a man may find in the ignorance of others."
"But you'll hang there yet," the boy raved.
Captain Blood shrugged, and turned on his heel. But he did not on that account disregard the words, nor did Hagthorpe, nor yet the others who overheard them, as they showed at a council held that night in the cabin.
This council was met to determine what should be done with the Spanish prisoners. Considering that Curacao now lay beyond their reach, as they were running short of water and provisions, and also that Pitt was hardly yet in case to undertake the navigation of the vessel, it had been decided that, going east of Hispaniola, and then sailing along its northern coast, they should make for Tortuga, that haven of the buccaneers, in which lawless port they had at least no danger of recapture to apprehend. It was now a question whether they should convey the Spaniards thither with them, or turn them off in a boat to make the best of their way to the coast of Hispaniola, which was but ten miles off. This was the course urged by Blood himself.
"There's nothing else to be done," he insisted. "In Tortuga they would be flayed alive."
"Which is less than the swine deserve," growled Wolverstone.
"And you'll remember, Peter," put in Hagthorpe, "that boy's threat to you this morning. If he escapes, and carries word of all this to his uncle, the Admiral, the execution of that threat will become more than possible."
It says much for Peter Blood that the argument should have left him unmoved. It is a little thing, perhaps, but in a narrative in which there is so much that tells against him, I cannot - since my story is in the nature of a brief for the defence - afford to slur a circumstance that is so strongly in his favour, a circumstance revealing that the cynicism attributed to him proceeded from his reason and from a brooding over wrongs rather than from any natural instincts. "I care nothing for his threats."
"You should," said Wolverstone. "The wise thing'd be to hang him, along o' all the rest."
"It is not human to be wise," said Blood. "It is much more human to err, though perhaps exceptional to err on the side of mercy. We'll be exceptional. Oh, faugh! I've no stomach for cold-blooded killing. At daybreak pack the Spaniards into a boat with a keg of water and a sack of dumplings, and let them go to the devil."
That was his last word on the subject, and it prevailed by virtue of the authority they had vested in him, and of which he had taken so firm a grip. At daybreak Don Esteban and his followers were put off in a boat.
Two days later, the Cinco Llagas sailed into the rock-bound bay of Cayona, which Nature seemed to have designed for the stronghold of those who had appropriated it.
Captain Blood -by- Rafael Sabatini