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18. The Milagrosa
The affair at Maracaybo is to be considered as Captain Blood's buccaneering
masterpiece. Although there is scarcely one of the many actions that he fought -
recorded in such particular detail by Jeremy Pitt - which does not afford some instance
of his genius for naval tactics, yet in none is this more shiningly displayed than in those
two engagements by which he won out of the trap which Don Miguel de Espinosa had
sprung upon him.
The fame which he had enjoyed before this, great as it already was, is dwarfed into
insignificance by the fame that followed. It was a fame such as no buccaneer - not even
Morgan - has ever boasted, before or since.
In Tortuga, during the months he spent there refitting the three ships he had captured
from the fleet that had gone out to destroy him, he found himself almost an object of
worship in the eyes of the wild Brethren of the Coast, all of whom now clamoured for the
honour of serving under him. It placed him in the rare position of being able to pick and
choose the crews for his augmented fleet, and he chose fastidiously. When next he
sailed away it was with a fleet of five fine ships in which went something over a
thousand men. Thus you behold him not merely famous, but really formidable. The
three captured Spanish vessels he had renamed with a certain scholarly humour the
Clotho, Lachesis, and Atropos, a grimly jocular manner of conveying to the world that he
made them the arbiters of the fate of any Spaniards he should henceforth encounter
upon the seas.
In Europe the news of this fleet, following upon the news of the Spanish Admiral's
defeat at Maracaybo, produced something of a sensation. Spain and England were
variously and unpleasantly exercised, and if you care to turn up the diplomatic
correspondence exchanged on the subject, you will find that it is considerable and not
always amiable.
And meanwhile in the Caribbean, the Spanish Admiral Don Miguel de Espinosa might
be said - to use a term not yet invented in his day - to have run amok. The disgrace into
which he had fallen as a result of the disasters suffered at the hands of Captain Blood
had driven the Admiral all but mad. It is impossible, if we impose our minds impartially,
to withhold a certain sympathy from Don Miguel. Hate was now this unfortunate man's
daily bread, and the hope of vengeance an obsession to his mind. As a madman he
went raging up and down the Caribbean seeking his enemy, and in the meantime, as an
hors d'oeuvre to his vindictive appetite, he fell upon any ship of England or of France
that loomed above his horizon.
I need say no more to convey the fact that this illustrious sea-captain and great
gentleman of Castile had lost his head, and was become a pirate in his turn. The
Supreme Council of Castile might anon condemn him for his practices. But how should