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Cahusac shrugged his shoulders, and tossed his long arms to heaven.
"Voila!" said he, pregnantly, to the firmament.
Levasseur gnawed his lip, and changed colour. But he controlled himself to answer civilly:
"As you see, two prisoners."
"Ah! Washed ashore in last night's gale, eh?"
"Not so." Levasseur contained himself with difficulty before that irony. "They were in the Dutch brig."
"I don't remember that you mentioned them before."
"I did not. They are prisoners of my own - a personal matter. They are French."
"French!" Captain Blood's light eyes stabbed at Levasseur, then at the prisoners.
M. d'Ogeron stood tense and braced as before, but the grey horror had left his face. Hope had leapt within him at this interruption, obviously as little expected by his tormentor as by himself. His sister, moved by a similar intuition, was leaning forward with parted lips and gaping eyes.
Captain Blood fingered his lip, and frowned thoughtfully upon Levasseur.
"Yesterday you surprised me by making war upon the friendly Dutch. But now it seems that not even your own countrymen are safe from you."
"Have I not said that these... that this is a matter personal to me?"
"Ah! And their names?"
Captain Blood's crisp, authoritative, faintly disdainful manner stirred Levasseur's quick anger. The blood crept slowly back into his blenched face, and his glance grew in insolence, almost in menace. Meanwhile the prisoner answered for him.
"I am Henri d'Ogeron, and this is my sister."
"D'Ogeron?" Captain Blood stared. "Are you related by chance to my good friend the Governor of Tortuga?"
"He is my father."
Levasseur swung aside with an imprecation. In Captain Blood, amazement for the moment quenched every other emotion.
"The saints preserve us now! Are you quite mad, Levasseur? First you molest the Dutch, who are our friends; next you take prisoners two persons that are French, your own countrymen; and now, faith, they're no less than the children of the Governor of Tortuga, which is the one safe place of shelter that we enjoy in these islands...."
Levasseur broke in angrily:
"Must I tell you again that it is a matter personal to me? I make myself alone responsible to the Governor of Tortuga."
"And the twenty thousand pieces of eight? Is that also a matter personal to you?"
"Now I don't agree with you at all." Captain Blood sat down on the cask that Levasseur had lately occupied, and looked up blandly. "I may inform you, to save time, that I heard the entire proposal that you made to this lady and this gentleman, and I'll also remind you that we sail under articles that admit no ambiguities. You have fixed their ransom at twenty thousand pieces of eight. That sum then belongs to your crews and mine in the proportions by the articles established. You'll hardly wish to dispute it. But what is far more grave is that you have concealed from me this part of the prizes taken on your last cruise, and for such an offence as that the articles provide certain penalties that are something severe in character."
"Ho, ho!" laughed Levasseur unpleasantly. Then added: "If you dislike my conduct we can dissolve the association."
"That is my intention. But we'll dissolve it when and in the manner that I choose, and that will be as soon as you have satisfied the articles under which we sailed upon this cruise.
"What do you mean?"
"I'll be as short as I can," said Captain Blood. "I'll waive for the moment the unseemliness of making war upon the Dutch, of taking French prisoners, and of provoking the anger of the Governor of Tortuga. I'll accept the situation as I find it. Yourself you've fixed the ransom of this couple at twenty thousand pieces, and, as I gather, the lady is to be your perquisite. But why should she be your perquisite more than another's, seeing that she belongs by the articles to all of us, as a prize of war?"
Black as thunder grew the brow of Levasseur.
"However," added Captain Blood, "I'll not dispute her to you if you are prepared to buy her."
"At the price you have set upon her."
Levasseur contained his rage, that he might reason with the Irishman. "That is the ransom of the man. It is to be paid for him by the Governor of Tortuga."
"No, no. Ye've parcelled the twain together - very oddly, I confess. Ye've set their value at twenty thousand pieces, and for that sum you may have them, since you desire it; but you'll pay for them the twenty thousand pieces that are ultimately to come to you as the ransom of one and the dowry of the other; and that sum shall be divided among our crews. So that you do that, it is conceivable that our followers may take a lenient view of your breach of the articles we jointly signed."
Levasseur laughed savagely. "Ah ca! Credieu! The good jest!"
"I quite agree with you," said Captain Blood.
To Levasseur the jest lay in that Captain Blood, with no more than a dozen followers, should come there attempting to hector him who had a hundred men within easy call. But it seemed that he had left out of his reckoning something which his opponent had counted in. For as, laughing still, Levasseur swung to his officers, he saw that which choked the laughter in his throat. Captain Blood had shrewdly played upon the cupidity that was the paramount inspiration of those adventurers. And Levasseur now read clearly on their faces how completely they adopted Captain Blood's suggestion that all must participate in the ransom which their leader had thought to appropriate to himself.
It gave the gaudy ruffian pause, and whilst in his heart he cursed those followers of his, who could be faithful only to their greed, he perceived - and only just in time - that he had best tread warily.
"You misunderstand," he said, swallowing his rage. "The ransom is for division, when it comes. The girl, meanwhile, is mine on that understanding."
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Captain Blood -by- Rafael Sabatini