“Why shouldn’t I tell you? It’s the same reason that’s been urging me to pick a quarrel with you so that I might have the satisfaction of slipping a couple of feet of steel into your vitals. When I accepted your commission, I was moved to think it might redeem me in the eyes of Miss Bishop — for whose sake, as you may have guessed, I took it. But I have discovered that such a thing is beyond accomplishment. I should have known it for a sick man’s dream. I have discovered also that if she’s choosing you, as I believe she is, she’s choosing wisely between us, and that’s why I’ll not have your life risked by keeping you aboard whilst the message goes by another who might bungle it. And now perhaps ye’ll understand.”
Lord Julian stared at him bewildered. His long, aristocratic face was very pale.
“My God!” he said. “And you tell me this?”
“I tell you because... Oh, plague on it! — so that ye may tell her; so that she may be made to realize that there’s something of the unfortunate gentleman left under the thief and pirate she accounts me, and that her own good is my supreme desire. Knowing that, she may... faith, she may remember me more kindly — if It’s only in her prayers. That’s all, my lord.”
Lord Julian continued to look at the buccaneer in silence. In silence, at last, he held out his hand; and in silence Blood took it.
“I wonder whether you are right,” said his lordship, “and whether you are not the better man.”
“Where she is concerned see that you make sure that I am right. Good-bye to you.”
Lord Julian wrung his hand in silence, went down the ladder, and was pulled ashore. From the distance he waved to Blood, who stood leaning on the bulwarks watching the receding cock-boat.
The Arabella sailed within the hour, moving lazily before a sluggish breeze. The fort remained silent and there was no movement from the fleet to hinder her departure. Lord Julian had carried the message effectively, and had added to it his own personal commands.
Five miles out at sea from Port Royal, whence the details of the coast of Jamaica were losing their sharpness, the Arabella hove to, and the sloop she had been towing was warped alongside.
Captain Blood escorted his compulsory guest to the head of the ladder. Colonel Bishop, who for two hours and more had been in a state of mortal anxiety, breathed freely at last; and as the tide of his fears receded, so that of his deep-rooted hate of this audacious buccaneer resumed its normal flow. But he practised circumspection. If in his heart he vowed that once back in Port Royal there was no effort he would spare, no nerve he would not strain, to bring Peter Blood to final moorings in Execution Dock, at least he kept that vow strictly to himself.