20. Thief And Pirate
Captain Blood paced the poop of his ship alone in the tepid dusk, and the growing
golden radiance of the great poop lantern in which a seaman had just lighted the three
lamps. About him all was peace. The signs of the day's battle had been effaced, the
decks had been swabbed, and order was restored above and below. A group of men
squatting about the main hatch were drowsily chanting, their hardened natures
softened, perhaps, by the calm and beauty of the night. They were the men of the
larboard watch, waiting for eight bells which was imminent.
Captain Blood did not hear them; he did not hear anything save the echo of those cruel
words which had dubbed him thief and pirate.
Thief and pirate!
It is an odd fact of human nature that a man may for years possess the knowledge that
a certain thing must be of a certain fashion, and yet be shocked to discover through his
own senses that the fact is in perfect harmony with his beliefs. When first, three years
ago, at Tortuga he had been urged upon the adventurer's course which he had followed
ever since, he had known in what opinion Arabella Bishop must hold him if he
succumbed. Only the conviction that already she was for ever lost to him, by introducing
a certain desperate recklessness into his soul had supplied the final impulse to drive
him upon his rover's course.
That he should ever meet her again had not entered his calculations, had found no
place in his dreams. They were, he conceived, irrevocably and for ever parted. Yet, in
spite of this, in spite even of the persuasion that to her this reflection that was his
torment could bring no regrets, he had kept the thought of her ever before him in all
those wild years of filibustering. He had used it as a curb not only upon himself, but also
upon those who followed him. Never had buccaneers been so rigidly held in hand,
never had they been so firmly restrained, never so debarred from the excesses of
rapine and lust that were usual in their kind as those who sailed with Captain Blood. It
was, you will remember, stipulated in their articles that in these as in other matters they
must submit to the commands of their leader. And because of the singular good fortune
which had attended his leadership, he had been able to impose that stern condition of a
discipline unknown before among buccaneers. How would not these men laugh at him
now if he were to tell them that this he had done out of respect for a slip of a girl of
whom he had fallen romantically enamoured? How would not that laughter swell if he
added that this girl had that day informed him that she did not number thieves and
pirates among her acquaintance.
Thief and pirate!
How the words clung, how they stung and burnt his brain!