17. The Dupes
It was a crestfallen Captain Blood who presided aver that hastily summoned council
held on the poop-deck of the Arabella in the brilliant morning sunshine. It was, he
declared afterwards, one of the bitterest moments in his career. He was compelled to
digest the fact that having conducted the engagement with a skill of which he might
justly be proud, having destroyed a force so superior in ships and guns and men that
Don Miguel de Espinosa had justifiably deemed it overwhelming, his victory was
rendered barren by three lucky shots from an unsuspected battery by which they had
been surprised. And barren must their victory remain until they could reduce the fort that
still remained to defend the passage.
At first Captain Blood was for putting his ships in order and making the attempt there
and then. But the others dissuaded him from betraying an impetuosity usually foreign to
him, and born entirely of chagrin and mortification, emotions which will render
unreasonable the most reasonable of men. With returning calm, he surveyed the
situation. The Arabella was no longer in case to put to sea; the Infanta was merely kept
afloat by artifice, and the San Felipe was almost as sorely damaged by the fire she had
sustained from the buccaneers before surrendering.
Clearly, then, he was compelled to admit in the end that nothing remained but to return
to Maracaybo, there to refit the ships before attempting to force the passage.
And so, back to Maracaybo came those defeated victors of that short, terrible fight. And
if anything had been wanting further to exasperate their leader, he had it in the
pessimism of which Cahusac did not economize expressions. Transported at first to
heights of dizzy satisfaction by the swift and easy victory of their inferior force that
morning, the Frenchman was now plunged back and more deeply than ever into the
abyss of hopelessness. And his mood infected at least the main body of his own
"It is the end," he told Captain Blood. "This time we are checkmated."
"I'll take the liberty of reminding you that you said the same before," Captain Blood
answered him as patiently as he could. "Yet you've seen what you've seen, and you'll
not deny that in ships and guns we are returning stronger than we went. Look at our
present fleet, man."
"I am looking at it," said Cahusac.
"Pish! Ye're a white-livered cur when all is said."
"You call me a coward?"