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Captain Blood

Rafael Sabatini


  By Rafael Sabatini





  Peter Blood, bachelor of medicine and several other things besides,smoked a pipe and tended the geraniums boxed on the sill of his windowabove Water Lane in the town of Bridgewater.

  Sternly disapproving eyes considered him from a window opposite, butwent disregarded. Mr. Blood's attention was divided between his task andthe stream of humanity in the narrow street below; a stream which pouredfor the second time that day towards Castle Field, where earlier inthe afternoon Ferguson, the Duke's chaplain, had preached a sermoncontaining more treason than divinity.

  These straggling, excited groups were mainly composed of men with greenboughs in their hats and the most ludicrous of weapons in their hands.Some, it is true, shouldered fowling pieces, and here and there a swordwas brandished; but more of them were armed with clubs, and most of themtrailed the mammoth pikes fashioned out of scythes, as formidable tothe eye as they were clumsy to the hand. There were weavers, brewers,carpenters, smiths, masons, bricklayers, cobblers, and representativesof every other of the trades of peace among these improvised men of war.Bridgewater, like Taunton, had yielded so generously of its manhood tothe service of the bastard Duke that for any to abstain whose age andstrength admitted of his bearing arms was to brand himself a coward or apapist.

  Yet Peter Blood, who was not only able to bear arms, but trained andskilled in their use, who was certainly no coward, and a papist onlywhen it suited him, tended his geraniums and smoked his pipe on thatwarm July evening as indifferently as if nothing were afoot. One otherthing he did. He flung after those war-fevered enthusiasts a line ofHorace--a poet for whose work he had early conceived an inordinateaffection:

  "Quo, quo, scelesti, ruitis?"

  And now perhaps you guess why the hot, intrepid blood inherited from theroving sires of his Somersetshire mother remained cool amidst all thisfrenzied fanatical heat of rebellion; why the turbulent spirit which hadforced him once from the sedate academical bonds his father wouldhave imposed upon him, should now remain quiet in the very midst ofturbulence. You realize how he regarded these men who were rallying tothe banners of liberty--the banners woven by the virgins of Taunton, thegirls from the seminaries of Miss Blake and Mrs. Musgrove, who--as theballad runs--had ripped open their silk petticoats to make colours forKing Monmouth's army. That Latin line, contemptuously flung after themas they clattered down the cobbled street, reveals his mind. To him theywere fools rushing in wicked frenzy upon their ruin.

  You see, he knew too much about this fellow Monmouth and the prettybrown slut who had borne him, to be deceived by the legend oflegitimacy, on the strength of which this standard of rebellion hadbeen raised. He had read the absurd proclamation posted at the Crossat Bridgewater--as it had been posted also at Taunton andelsewhere--setting forth that "upon the decease of our Sovereign LordCharles the Second, the right of succession to the Crown of England,Scotland, France, and Ireland, with the dominions and territoriesthereunto belonging, did legally descend and devolve upon the mostillustrious and high-born Prince James, Duke of Monmouth, son and heirapparent to the said King Charles the Second."

  It had moved him to laughter, as had the further announcement that"James Duke of York did first cause the said late King to be poysoned,and immediately thereupon did usurp and invade the Crown."

  He knew not which was the greater lie. For Mr. Blood had spent a thirdof his life in the Netherlands, where this same James Scott--who nowproclaimed himself James the Second, by the grace of God, King, etcetera--first saw the light some six-and-thirty years ago, and he wasacquainted with the story current there of the fellow's real paternity.Far from being legitimate--by virtue of a pretended secret marriagebetween Charles Stuart and Lucy Walter--it was possible that thisMonmouth who now proclaimed himself King of England was not even theillegitimate child of the late sovereign. What but ruin and disastercould be the end of this grotesque pretension? How could it be hopedthat England would ever swallow such a Perkin? And it was on his behalf,to uphold his fantastic claim, that these West Country clods, led by afew armigerous Whigs, had been seduced into rebellion!

  "Quo, quo, scelesti, ruitis?"

  He laughed and sighed in one; but the laugh dominated the sigh, for Mr.Blood was unsympathetic, as are most self-sufficient men; and hewas very self-sufficient; adversity had taught him so to be. A moretender-hearted man, possessing his vision and his knowledge, might havefound cause for tears in the contemplation of these ardent, simple,Nonconformist sheep going forth to the shambles--escorted to therallying ground on Castle Field by wives and daughters, sweethearts andmothers, sustained by the delusion that they were to take the fieldin defence of Right, of Liberty, and of Religion. For he knew, asall Bridgewater knew and had known now for some hours, that it wasMonmouth's intention to deliver battle that same night. The Duke was tolead a surprise attack upon the Royalist army under Feversham that wasnow encamped on Sedgemoor. Mr. Blood assumed that Lord Feversham wouldbe equally well-informed, and if in this assumption he was wrong,at least he was justified of it. He was not to suppose the Royalistcommander so indifferently skilled in the trade he followed.

  Mr. Blood knocked the ashes from his pipe, and drew back to close hiswindow. As he did so, his glance travelling straight across the streetmet at last the glance of those hostile eyes that watched him. Therewere two pairs, and they belonged to the Misses Pitt, two amiable,sentimental maiden ladies who yielded to none in Bridgewater in theirworship of the handsome Monmouth.

  Mr. Blood smiled and inclined his head, for he was on friendly termswith these ladies, one of whom, indeed, had been for a little while hispatient. But there was no response to his greeting. Instead, the eyesgave him back a stare of cold disdain. The smile on his thin lips grew alittle broader, a little less pleasant. He understood the reason of thathostility, which had been daily growing in this past week since Monmouthhad come to turn the brains of women of all ages. The Misses Pitt,he apprehended, contemned him that he, a young and vigorous man, of amilitary training which might now be valuable to the Cause, should standaloof; that he should placidly smoke his pipe and tend his geraniums onthis evening of all evenings, when men of spirit were rallying to theProtestant Champion, offering their blood to place him on the thronewhere he belonged.

  If Mr. Blood had condescended to debate the matter with these ladies, hemight have urged that having had his fill of wandering and adventuring,he was now embarked upon the career for which he had been originallyintended and for which his studies had equipped him; that he was a manof medicine and not of war; a healer, not a slayer. But they would haveanswered him, he knew, that in such a cause it behoved every man whodeemed himself a man to take up arms. They would have pointed out thattheir own nephew Jeremiah, who was by trade a sailor, the master of aship--which by an ill-chance for that young man had come to anchor atthis s
eason in Bridgewater Bay--had quitted the helm to snatch up amusket in defence of Right. But Mr. Blood was not of those who argue. AsI have said, he was a self-sufficient man.

  He closed the window, drew the curtains, and turned to the pleasant,candle-lighted room, and the table on which Mrs. Barlow, hishousekeeper, was in the very act of spreading supper. To her, however,he spoke aloud his thought.

  "It's out of favour I am with the vinegary virgins over the way."

  He had a pleasant, vibrant voice, whose metallic ring was softened andmuted by the Irish accent which in all his wanderings he had never lost.It was a voice that could woo seductively and caressingly, or command insuch a way as to compel obedience. Indeed, the man's whole nature was inthat voice of his. For the rest of him, he was tall and spare, swarthyof tint as a gipsy, with eyes that were startlingly blue in that darkface and under those level black brows. In their glance those eyes,flanking a high-bridged, intrepid nose, were of singular penetrationand of a steady haughtiness that went well with his firm lips. Thoughdressed in black as became his calling, yet it was with an elegancederived from the love of clothes that is peculiar to the adventurer hehad been, rather than to the staid medicus he now was. His coat was offine camlet, and it was laced with silver; there were ruffles of Mechlinat his wrists and a Mechlin cravat encased his throat. His great blackperiwig was as sedulously curled as any at Whitehall.

  Seeing him thus, and perceiving his real nature, which was plain uponhim, you might have been tempted to speculate how long such a man wouldbe content to lie by in this little backwater of the world into whichchance had swept him some six months ago; how long he would continue topursue the trade for which he had qualified himself before he had begunto live. Difficult of belief though it may be when you know his history,previous and subsequent, yet it is possible that but for the trickthat Fate was about to play him, he might have continued this peacefulexistence, settling down completely to the life of a doctor in thisSomersetshire haven. It is possible, but not probable.

  He was the son of an Irish medicus, by a Somersetshire lady in whoseveins ran the rover blood of the Frobishers, which may account for acertain wildness that had early manifested itself in his disposition.This wildness had profoundly alarmed his father, who for an Irishman wasof a singularly peace-loving nature. He had early resolved that theboy should follow his own honourable profession, and Peter Blood, beingquick to learn and oddly greedy of knowledge, had satisfied his parentby receiving at the age of twenty the degree of baccalaureus medicinaeat Trinity College, Dublin. His father survived that satisfaction bythree months only. His mother had then been dead some years already.Thus Peter Blood came into an inheritance of some few hundred pounds,with which he had set out to see the world and give for a season a freerein to that restless spirit by which he was imbued. A set of curiouschances led him to take service with the Dutch, then at war with France;and a predilection for the sea made him elect that this service shouldbe upon that element. He had the advantage of a commission under thefamous de Ruyter, and fought in the Mediterranean engagement in whichthat great Dutch admiral lost his life.

  After the Peace of Nimeguen his movements are obscure. But we know thathe spent two years in a Spanish prison, though we do not know how hecontrived to get there. It may be due to this that upon his releasehe took his sword to France, and saw service with the French in theirwarring upon the Spanish Netherlands. Having reached, at last, the ageof thirty-two, his appetite for adventure surfeited, his health havinggrown indifferent as the result of a neglected wound, he was suddenlyoverwhelmed by homesickness. He took ship from Nantes with intent tocross to Ireland. But the vessel being driven by stress of weatherinto Bridgewater Bay, and Blood's health having grown worse during thevoyage, he decided to go ashore there, additionally urged to it by thefact that it was his mother's native soil.

  Thus in January of that year 1685 he had come to Bridgewater, possessorof a fortune that was approximately the same as that with which he hadoriginally set out from Dublin eleven years ago.

  Because he liked the place, in which his health was rapidly restoredto him, and because he conceived that he had passed through adventuresenough for a man's lifetime, he determined to settle there, and takeup at last the profession of medicine from which he had, with so littleprofit, broken away.

  That is all his story, or so much of it as matters up to that night, sixmonths later, when the battle of Sedgemoor was fought.

  Deeming the impending action no affair of his, as indeed it was not, andindifferent to the activity with which Bridgewater was that night agog,Mr. Blood closed his ears to the sounds of it, and went early to bed. Hewas peacefully asleep long before eleven o'clock, at which hour, asyou know, Monmouth rode but with his rebel host along the Bristol Road,circuitously to avoid the marshland that lay directly between himselfand the Royal Army. You also know that his numerical advantage--possiblycounter-balanced by the greater steadiness of the regular troops on theother side--and the advantages he derived from falling by surprise uponan army that was more or less asleep, were all lost to him by blunderingand bad leadership before ever he was at grips with Feversham.

  The armies came into collision in the neighbourhood of two o'clock inthe morning. Mr. Blood slept undisturbed through the distant boom ofcannon. Not until four o'clock, when the sun was rising to dispel thelast wisps of mist over that stricken field of battle, did he awakenfrom his tranquil slumbers.

  He sat up in bed, rubbed the sleep from his eyes, and collected himself.Blows were thundering upon the door of his house, and a voice wascalling incoherently. This was the noise that had aroused him.Conceiving that he had to do with some urgent obstetrical case, hereached for bedgown and slippers, to go below. On the landing he almostcollided with Mrs. Barlow, new-risen and unsightly, in a state of panic.He quieted her cluckings with a word of reassurance, and went himself toopen.

  There in slanting golden light of the new-risen sun stood a breathless,wild-eyed man and a steaming horse. Smothered in dust and grime, hisclothes in disarray, the left sleeve of his doublet hanging in rags,this young man opened his lips to speak, yet for a long moment remainedspeechless.

  In that moment Mr. Blood recognized him for the young shipmaster,Jeremiah Pitt, the nephew of the maiden ladies opposite, one who hadbeen drawn by the general enthusiasm into the vortex of that rebellion.The street was rousing, awakened by the sailor's noisy advent; doorswere opening, and lattices were being unlatched for the protrusion ofanxious, inquisitive heads.

  "Take your time, now," said Mr. Blood. "I never knew speed made byoverhaste."

  But the wild-eyed lad paid no heed to the admonition. He plunged,headlong, into speech, gasping, breathless.

  "It is Lord Gildoy," he panted. "He is sore wounded... at Oglethorpe'sFarm by the river. I bore him thither... and... and he sent me for you.Come away! Come away!"

  He would have clutched the doctor, and haled him forth by force inbedgown and slippers as he was. But the doctor eluded that too eagerhand.

  "To be sure, I'll come," said he. He was distressed. Gildoy had been avery friendly, generous patron to him since his settling in these parts.And Mr. Blood was eager enough to do what he now could to dischargethe debt, grieved that the occasion should have arisen, and in such amanner--for he knew quite well that the rash young nobleman had been anactive agent of the Duke's. "To be sure, I'll come. But first give meleave to get some clothes and other things that I may need."

  "There's no time to lose."

  "Be easy now. I'll lose none. I tell ye again, ye'll go quickest bygoing leisurely. Come in... take a chair..." He threw open the door of aparlour.

  Young Pitt waved aside the invitation.

  "I'll wait here. Make haste, in God's name." Mr. Blood went off to dressand to fetch a case of instruments.

  Questions concerning the precise nature of Lord Gildoy's hurt could waituntil they were on their way. Whilst he pulled on his boots, he gaveMrs. Barlow instructions for the day, which included the matter of adinner he
was not destined to eat.

  When at last he went forth again, Mrs. Barlow clucking after him likea disgruntled fowl, he found young Pitt smothered in a crowd of scared,half-dressed townsfolk--mostly women--who had come hastening for newsof how the battle had sped. The news he gave them was to be read in thelamentations with which they disturbed the morning air.

  At sight of the doctor, dressed and booted, the case of instrumentstucked under his arm, the messenger disengaged himself from those whopressed about, shook off his weariness and the two tearful aunts thatclung most closely, and seizing the bridle of his horse, he climbed tothe saddle.

  "Come along, sir," he cried. "Mount behind me."

  Mr. Blood, without wasting words, did as he was bidden. Pitt touchedthe horse with his spur. The little crowd gave way, and thus, uponthe crupper of that doubly-laden horse, clinging to the belt of hiscompanion, Peter Blood set out upon his Odyssey. For this Pitt, in whomhe beheld no more than the messenger of a wounded rebel gentleman, wasindeed the very messenger of Fate.