“In the name of humanity,” he repeated, “ye’ll allow me to do what I can to ease his sufferings, or I swear to you that I’ll forsake at once the duties of a doctor, and that it’s devil another patient will I attend in this unhealthy island at all.”
For an instant the Colonel was too amazed to speak. Then —
“By God!” he roared. “D’ye dare take that tone with me, you dog? D’ye dare to make terms with me?”
“I do that.” The unflinching blue eyes looked squarely into the Colonel’s, and there was a devil peeping out of them, the devil of recklessness that is born of despair.
Colonel Bishop considered him for a long moment in silence. “I’ve been too soft with you,” he said at last. “But that’s to be mended.” And he tightened his lips. “I’ll have the rods to you, until there’s not an inch of skin left on your dirty back.”
“Will ye so? And what would Governor Steed do, then?”
“Ye’re not the only doctor on the island.”
Mr. Blood actually laughed. “And will ye tell that to his excellency, him with the gout in his foot so bad that he can’t stand? Ye know very well it’s devil another doctor will he tolerate, being an intelligent man that knows what’s good for him.”
But the Colonel’s brute passion thoroughly aroused was not so easily to be baulked. “If you’re alive when my blacks have done with you, perhaps you’ll come to your senses.”
He swung to his negroes to issue an order. But it was never issued. At that moment a terrific rolling thunderclap drowned his voice and shook the very air. Colonel Bishop jumped, his negroes jumped with him, and so even did the apparently imperturbable Mr. Blood. Then the four of them stared together seawards.
Down in the bay all that could be seen of the great ship, standing now within a cable’s-length of the fort, were her topmasts thrusting above a cloud of smoke in which she was enveloped. From the cliffs a flight of startled seabirds had risen to circle in the blue, giving tongue to their alarm, the plaintive curlew noisiest of all.
As those men stared from the eminence on which they stood, not yet understanding what had taken place, they saw the British Jack dip from the main truck and vanish into the rising cloud below. A moment more, and up through that cloud to replace the flag of England soared the gold and crimson banner of Castile. And then they understood.
“Pirates!” roared the Colonel, and again, “Pirates!”
Fear and incredulity were blent in his voice. He had paled under his tan until his face was the colour of clay, and there was a wild fury in his beady eyes. His negroes looked at him, grinning idiotically, all teeth and eyeballs.