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Captain Blood, Page 3

Rafael Sabatini


  It was not until two months later--on the 19th of September, if youmust have the actual date--that Peter Blood was brought to trial, upona charge of high treason. We know that he was not guilty of this; butwe need not doubt that he was quite capable of it by the time he wasindicted. Those two months of inhuman, unspeakable imprisonment hadmoved his mind to a cold and deadly hatred of King James and hisrepresentatives. It says something for his fortitude that in all thecircumstances he should still have had a mind at all. Yet, terribleas was the position of this entirely innocent man, he had cause forthankfulness on two counts. The first of these was that he should havebeen brought to trial at all; the second, that his trial took placeon the date named, and not a day earlier. In the very delay whichexacerbated him lay--although he did not realize it--his only chance ofavoiding the gallows.

  Easily, but for the favour of Fortune, he might have been one of thosehaled, on the morrow of the battle, more or less haphazard fromthe overflowing gaol at Bridgewater to be summarily hanged in themarket-place by the bloodthirsty Colonel Kirke. There was about theColonel of the Tangiers Regiment a deadly despatch which might havedisposed in like fashion of all those prisoners, numerous as they were,but for the vigorous intervention of Bishop Mews, which put an end tothe drumhead courts-martial.

  Even so, in that first week after Sedgemoor, Kirke and Fevershamcontrived between them to put to death over a hundred men after a trialso summary as to be no trial at all. They required human freights forthe gibbets with which they were planting the countryside, and theylittle cared how they procured them or what innocent lives they took.What, after all, was the life of a clod? The executioners were kept busywith rope and chopper and cauldrons of pitch. I spare you the details ofthat nauseating picture. It is, after all, with the fate of Peter Bloodthat we are concerned rather than with that of the Monmouth rebels.

  He survived to be included in one of those melancholy droves ofprisoners who, chained in pairs, were marched from Bridgewater toTaunton. Those who were too sorely wounded to march were conveyed incarts, into which they were brutally crowded, their wounds undressed andfestering. Many were fortunate enough to die upon the way. When Bloodinsisted upon his right to exercise his art so as to relieve some ofthis suffering, he was accounted importunate and threatened with aflogging. If he had one regret now it was that he had not been out withMonmouth. That, of course, was illogical; but you can hardly expectlogic from a man in his position.

  His chain companion on that dreadful march was the same Jeremy Pitt whohad been the agent of his present misfortunes. The young shipmasterhad remained his close companion after their common arrest. Hence,fortuitously, had they been chained together in the crowded prison,where they were almost suffocated by the heat and the stench duringthose days of July, August, and September.

  Scraps of news filtered into the gaol from the outside world. Some mayhave been deliberately allowed to penetrate. Of these was the tale ofMonmouth's execution. It created profoundest dismay amongst those menwho were suffering for the Duke and for the religious cause he hadprofessed to champion. Many refused utterly to believe it. A wild storybegan to circulate that a man resembling Monmouth had offered himself upin the Duke's stead, and that Monmouth survived to come again in gloryto deliver Zion and make war upon Babylon.

  Mr. Blood heard that tale with the same indifference with which he hadreceived the news of Monmouth's death. But one shameful thing he heardin connection with this which left him not quite so unmoved, and servedto nourish the contempt he was forming for King James. His Majesty hadconsented to see Monmouth. To have done so unless he intended to pardonhim was a thing execrable and damnable beyond belief; for the only otherobject in granting that interview could be the evilly mean satisfactionof spurning the abject penitence of his unfortunate nephew.

  Later they heard that Lord Grey, who after the Duke--indeed, perhaps,before him--was the main leader of the rebellion, had purchased his ownpardon for forty thousand pounds. Peter Blood found this of a piece withthe rest. His contempt for King James blazed out at last.

  "Why, here's a filthy mean creature to sit on a throne. If I had knownas much of him before as I know to-day, I don't doubt I should havegiven cause to be where I am now." And then on a sudden thought: "Andwhere will Lord Gildoy be, do you suppose?" he asked.

  Young Pitt, whom he addressed, turned towards him a face from which theruddy tan of the sea had faded almost completely during those months ofcaptivity. His grey eyes were round and questioning. Blood answered him.

  "Sure, now, we've never seen his lordship since that day atOglethorpe's. And where are the other gentry that were taken?--the realleaders of this plaguey rebellion. Grey's case explains their absence,I think. They are wealthy men that can ransom themselves. Here awaitingthe gallows are none but the unfortunates who followed; those who hadthe honour to lead them go free. It's a curious and instructive reversalof the usual way of these things. Faith, it's an uncertain worldentirely!"

  He laughed, and settled down into that spirit of scorn, wrapped inwhich he stepped later into the great hall of Taunton Castle to take histrial. With him went Pitt and the yeoman Baynes. The three of them wereto be tried together, and their case was to open the proceedings of thatghastly day.

  The hall, even to the galleries--thronged with spectators, most of whomwere ladies--was hung in scarlet; a pleasant conceit, this, of the LordChief Justice's, who naturally enough preferred the colour that shouldreflect his own bloody mind.

  At the upper end, on a raised dais, sat the Lords Commissioners, thefive judges in their scarlet robes and heavy dark periwigs, BaronJeffreys of Wem enthroned in the middle place.

  The prisoners filed in under guard. The crier called for silence underpain of imprisonment, and as the hum of voices gradually became hushed,Mr. Blood considered with interest the twelve good men and true thatcomposed the jury. Neither good nor true did they look. They werescared, uneasy, and hangdog as any set of thieves caught with theirhands in the pockets of their neighbours. They were twelve shaken men,each of whom stood between the sword of the Lord Chief Justice's recentbloodthirsty charge and the wall of his own conscience.

  From them Mr. Blood's calm, deliberate glance passed on to consider theLords Commissioners, and particularly the presiding Judge, that LordJeffreys, whose terrible fame had come ahead of him from Dorchester.

  He beheld a tall, slight man on the young side of forty, with an ovalface that was delicately beautiful. There were dark stains of sufferingor sleeplessness under the low-lidded eyes, heightening their brillianceand their gentle melancholy. The face was very pale, save for the vividcolour of the full lips and the hectic flush on the rather high butinconspicuous cheek-bones. It was something in those lips that marredthe perfection of that countenance; a fault, elusive but undeniable,lurked there to belie the fine sensitiveness of those nostrils, thetenderness of those dark, liquid eyes and the noble calm of that palebrow.

  The physician in Mr. Blood regarded the man with peculiar interestknowing as he did the agonizing malady from which his lordship suffered,and the amazingly irregular, debauched life that he led in spite ofit--perhaps because of it.

  "Peter Blood, hold up your hand!"

  Abruptly he was recalled to his position by the harsh voice of the clerkof arraigns. His obedience was mechanical, and the clerk droned out thewordy indictment which pronounced Peter Blood a false traitor againstthe Most Illustrious and Most Excellent Prince, James the Second, bythe grace of God, of England, Scotland, France, and Ireland King, hissupreme and natural lord. It informed him that, having no fear of God inhis heart, but being moved and seduced by the instigation of the Devil,he had failed in the love and true and due natural obedience towards hissaid lord the King, and had moved to disturb the peace and tranquillityof the kingdom and to stir up war and rebellion to depose his said lordthe King from the title, honour, and the regal name of the imperialcrown--and much more of the same kind, at the end of all of which he
was invited to say whether he was guilty or not guilty. He answered morethan was asked.

  "It's entirely innocent I am."

  A small, sharp-faced man at a table before and to the right of himbounced up. It was Mr. Pollexfen, the Judge-Advocate.

  "Are you guilty or not guilty?" snapped this peppery gentleman. "Youmust take the words."

  "Words, is it?" said Peter Blood. "Oh--not guilty." And he went on,addressing himself to the bench. "On this same subject of words, may itplease your lordships, I am guilty of nothing to justify any of thosewords I have heard used to describe me, unless it be of a want ofpatience at having been closely confined for two months and longer in afoetid gaol with great peril to my health and even life."

  Being started, he would have added a deal more; but at this point theLord Chief Justice interposed in a gentle, rather plaintive voice.

  "Look you, sir: because we must observe the common and usual methods oftrial, I must interrupt you now. You are no doubt ignorant of the formsof law?"

  "Not only ignorant, my lord, but hitherto most happy in that ignorance.I could gladly have forgone this acquaintance with them."

  A pale smile momentarily lightened the wistful countenance.

  "I believe you. You shall be fully heard when you come to your defence.But anything you say now is altogether irregular and improper."

  Enheartened by that apparent sympathy and consideration, Mr. Bloodanswered thereafter, as was required of him, that he would be tried byGod and his country. Whereupon, having prayed to God to send him a gooddeliverance, the clerk called upon Andrew Baynes to hold up his hand andplead.

  From Baynes, who pleaded not guilty, the clerk passed on to Pitt, whoboldly owned his guilt. The Lord Chief Justice stirred at that.

  "Come; that's better," quoth he, and his four scarlet brethren nodded."If all were as obstinate as his two fellow-rebels, there would never bean end."

  After that ominous interpolation, delivered with an inhuman iciness thatsent a shiver through the court, Mr. Pollexfen got to his feet. Withgreat prolixity he stated the general case against the three men, andthe particular case against Peter Blood, whose indictment was to betaken first.

  The only witness called for the King was Captain Hobart. He testifiedbriskly to the manner in which he had found and taken the threeprisoners, together with Lord Gildoy. Upon the orders of his colonel hewould have hanged Pitt out of hand, but was restrained by the lies ofthe prisoner Blood, who led him to believe that Pitt was a peer of therealm and a person of consideration.

  As the Captain's evidence concluded, Lord Jeffreys looked across atPeter Blood.

  "Will the prisoner Blood ask the witness any questions?"

  "None, my lord. He has correctly related what occurred."

  "I am glad to have your admission of that without any of theprevarications that are usual in your kind. And I will say this, thathere prevarication would avail you little. For we always have the truthin the end. Be sure of that."

  Baynes and Pitt similarly admitted the accuracy of the Captain'sevidence, whereupon the scarlet figure of the Lord Chief Justice heaveda sigh of relief.

  "This being so, let us get on, in God's name; for we have much to do."There was now no trace of gentleness in his voice. It was brisk andrasping, and the lips through which it passed were curved in scorn. "Itake it, Mr. Pollexfen, that the wicked treason of these three roguesbeing established--indeed, admitted by them--there is no more to besaid."

  Peter Blood's voice rang out crisply, on a note that almost seemed tocontain laughter.

  "May it please your lordship, but there's a deal more to be said."

  His lordship looked at him, first in blank amazement at his audacity,then gradually with an expression of dull anger. The scarlet lips fellinto unpleasant, cruel lines that transfigured the whole countenance.

  "How now, rogue? Would you waste our time with idle subterfuge?"

  "I would have your lordship and the gentlemen of the jury hear me on mydefence, as your lordship promised that I should be heard."

  "Why, so you shall, villain; so you shall." His lordship's voice washarsh as a file. He writhed as he spoke, and for an instant his featureswere distorted. A delicate dead-white hand, on which the veins showedblue, brought forth a handkerchief with which he dabbed his lips andthen his brow. Observing him with his physician's eye, Peter Bloodjudged him a prey to the pain of the disease that was destroying him."So you shall. But after the admission made, what defence remains?"

  "You shall judge, my lord."

  "That is the purpose for which I sit here."

  "And so shall you, gentlemen." Blood looked from judge to jury. Thelatter shifted uncomfortably under the confident flash of his blue eyes.Lord Jeffreys's bullying charge had whipped the spirit out of them. Hadthey, themselves, been prisoners accused of treason, he could not havearraigned them more ferociously.

  Peter Blood stood boldly forward, erect, self-possessed, and saturnine.He was freshly shaven, and his periwig, if out of curl, was at leastcarefully combed and dressed.

  "Captain Hobart has testified to what he knows--that he found me atOglethorpe's Farm on the Monday morning after the battle at Weston. Buthe has not told you what I did there."

  Again the Judge broke in. "Why, what should you have been doing therein the company of rebels, two of whom--Lord Gildoy and your fellowthere--have already admitted their guilt?"

  "That is what I beg leave to tell your lordship."

  "I pray you do, and in God's name be brief, man. For if I am to betroubled with the say of all you traitor dogs, I may sit here until theSpring Assizes."

  "I was there, my lord, in my quality as a physician, to dress LordGildoy's wounds."

  "What's this? Do you tell us that you are a physician?"

  "A graduate of Trinity College, Dublin."

  "Good God!" cried Lord Jeffreys, his voice suddenly swelling, his eyesupon the jury. "What an impudent rogue is this! You heard the witnesssay that he had known him in Tangiers some years ago, and that he wasthen an officer in the French service. You heard the prisoner admit thatthe witness had spoken the truth?"

  "Why, so he had. Yet what I am telling you is also true, so it is. Forsome years I was a soldier; but before that I was a physician, and Ihave been one again since January last, established in Bridgewater, as Ican bring a hundred witnesses to prove."

  "There's not the need to waste our time with that. I will convict youout of your own rascally mouth. I will ask you only this: How came you,who represent yourself as a physician peacefully following yourcalling in the town of Bridgewater, to be with the army of the Duke ofMonmouth?"

  "I was never with that army. No witness has sworn to that, and I dareswear that no witness will. I never was attracted to the late rebellion.I regarded the adventure as a wicked madness. I take leave to ask yourlordship" (his brogue became more marked than ever) "what should I,who was born and bred a papist, be doing in the army of the ProtestantChampion?"

  "A papist thou?" The judge gloomed on him a moment. "Art more likea snivelling, canting Jack Presbyter. I tell you, man, I can smell aPresbyterian forty miles."

  "Then I'll take leave to marvel that with so keen a nose your lordshipcan't smell a papist at four paces."

  There was a ripple of laughter in the galleries, instantly quelled bythe fierce glare of the Judge and the voice of the crier.

  Lord Jeffreys leaned farther forward upon his desk. He raised thatdelicate white hand, still clutching its handkerchief, and sproutingfrom a froth of lace.

  "We'll leave your religion out of account for the moment, friend," saidhe. "But mark what I say to you." With a minatory forefinger he beat thetime of his words. "Know, friend, that there is no religion a mancan pretend to can give a countenance to lying. Thou hast a preciousimmortal soul, and there is nothing in the world equal to it in value.Consider that the great God of Heaven and Earth, before Whose tribunalthou and we and all persons are to stand at the last day, will takevengeance on thee for every falsehood, and j
ustly strike thee intoeternal flames, make thee drop into the bottomless pit of fire andbrimstone, if thou offer to deviate the least from the truth and nothingbut the truth. For I tell thee God is not mocked. On that I charge youto answer truthfully. How came you to be taken with these rebels?"

  Peter Blood gaped at him a moment in consternation. The man wasincredible, unreal, fantastic, a nightmare judge. Then he collectedhimself to answer.

  "I was summoned that morning to succour Lord Gildoy, and I conceived itto be the duty imposed upon me by my calling to answer that summons."

  "Did you so?" The Judge, terrible now of aspect--his face white, histwisted lips red as the blood for which they thirsted--glared uponhim in evil mockery. Then he controlled himself as if by an effort.He sighed. He resumed his earlier gentle plaintiveness. "Lord! How youwaste our time. But I'll have patience with you. Who summoned you?"

  "Master Pitt there, as he will testify."

  "Oh! Master Pitt will testify--he that is himself a traitorself-confessed. Is that your witness?"

  "There is also Master Baynes here, who can answer to it."

  "Good Master Baynes will have to answer for himself; and I doubt nothe'll be greatly exercised to save his own neck from a halter. Come,come, sir; are these your only witnesses?"

  "I could bring others from Bridgewater, who saw me set out that morningupon the crupper of Master Pitt's horse."

  His lordship smiled. "It will not be necessary. For, mark me, I do notintend to waste more time on you. Answer me only this: When Master Pitt,as you pretend, came to summon you, did you know that he had been, asyou have heard him confess, of Monmouth's following?"

  "I did, My lord."

  "You did! Ha!" His lordship looked at the cringing jury and uttered ashort, stabbing laugh. "Yet in spite of that you went with him?"

  "To succour a wounded man, as was my sacred duty."

  "Thy sacred duty, sayest thou?" Fury blazed out of him again. "Good God!What a generation of vipers do we live in! Thy sacred duty, rogue, is tothy King and to God. But let it pass. Did he tell you whom it was thatyou were desired to succour?"

  "Lord Gildoy--yes."

  "And you knew that Lord Gildoy had been wounded in the battle, and onwhat side he fought?"

  "I knew."

  "And yet, being, as you would have us believe, a true and loyal subjectof our Lord the King, you went to succour him?"

  Peter Blood lost patience for a moment. "My business, my lord, was withhis wounds, not with his politics."

  A murmur from the galleries and even from the jury approved him. Itserved only to drive his terrible judge into a deeper fury.

  "Jesus God! Was there ever such an impudent villain in the world asthou?" He swung, white-faced, to the jury. "I hope, gentlemen of thejury, you take notice of the horrible carriage of this traitor rogue,and withal you cannot but observe the spirit of this sort of people,what a villainous and devilish one it is. Out of his own mouth he hassaid enough to hang him a dozen times. Yet is there more. Answer methis, sir: When you cozened Captain Hobart with your lies concerning thestation of this other traitor Pitt, what was your business then?"

  "To save him from being hanged without trial, as was threatened."

  "What concern was it of yours whether or how the wretch was hanged?"

  "Justice is the concern of every loyal subject, for an injusticecommitted by one who holds the King's commission is in some sense adishonour to the King's majesty."

  It was a shrewd, sharp thrust aimed at the jury, and it reveals,I think, the alertness of the man's mind, his self-possession eversteadiest in moments of dire peril. With any other jury it must havemade the impression that he hoped to make. It may even have made itsimpression upon these poor pusillanimous sheep. But the dread judge wasthere to efface it.

  He gasped aloud, then flung himself violently forward.

  "Lord of Heaven!" he stormed. "Was there ever such a canting, impudentrascal? But I have done with you. I see thee, villain, I see theealready with a halter round thy neck."

  Having spoken so, gloatingly, evilly, he sank back again, and composedhimself. It was as if a curtain fell. All emotion passed again from hispale face. Back to invest it again came that gentle melancholy. Speakingafter a moment's pause, his voice was soft, almost tender, yet everyword of it carried sharply through that hushed court.

  "If I know my own heart it is not in my nature to desire the hurt ofanybody, much less to delight in his eternal perdition. It is out ofcompassion for you that I have used all these words--because I wouldhave you have some regard for your immortal soul, and not ensure itsdamnation by obdurately persisting in falsehood and prevarication. But Isee that all the pains in the world, and all compassion and charity arelost upon you, and therefore I will say no more to you." He turned againto the jury that countenance of wistful beauty. "Gentlemen, I must tellyou for law, of which we are the judges, and not you, that if any personbe in actual rebellion against the King, and another person--who reallyand actually was not in rebellion--does knowingly receive, harbour,comfort, or succour him, such a person is as much a traitor as he whoindeed bore arms. We are bound by our oaths and consciences to declareto you what is law; and you are bound by your oaths and your consciencesto deliver and to declare to us by your verdict the truth of the facts."

  Upon that he proceeded to his summing-up, showing how Baynes and Bloodwere both guilty of treason, the first for having harboured a traitor,the second for having succoured that traitor by dressing his wounds. Heinterlarded his address by sycophantic allusions to his natural lordand lawful sovereign, the King, whom God had set over them, and withvituperations of Nonconformity and of Monmouth, of whom--in his ownwords--he dared boldly affirm that the meanest subject within thekingdom that was of legitimate birth had a better title to the crown."Jesus God! That ever we should have such a generation of vipers amongus," he burst out in rhetorical frenzy. And then he sank back as ifexhausted by the violence he had used. A moment he was still, dabbinghis lips again; then he moved uneasily; once more his features weretwisted by pain, and in a few snarling, almost incoherent words hedismissed the jury to consider the verdict.

  Peter Blood had listened to the intemperate, the blasphemous, and almostobscene invective of that tirade with a detachment that afterwards, inretrospect, surprised him. He was so amazed by the man, by the reactionstaking place in him between mind and body, and by his methods ofbullying and coercing the jury into bloodshed, that he almost forgotthat his own life was at stake.

  The absence of that dazed jury was a brief one. The verdict found thethree prisoners guilty. Peter Blood looked round the scarlet-hung court.For an instant that foam of white faces seemed to heave before him. Thenhe was himself again, and a voice was asking him what he had to sayfor himself, why sentence of death should not be passed upon him, beingconvicted of high treason.

  He laughed, and his laugh jarred uncannily upon the deathly stillnessof the court. It was all so grotesque, such a mockery of justiceadministered by that wistful-eyed jack-pudding in scarlet, who washimself a mockery--the venal instrument of a brutally spiteful andvindictive king. His laughter shocked the austerity of that samejack-pudding.

  "Do you laugh, sirrah, with the rope about your neck, upon the verythreshold of that eternity you are so suddenly to enter into?"

  And then Blood took his revenge.

  "Faith, it's in better case I am for mirth than your lordship. For Ihave this to say before you deliver judgment. Your lordship sees me--aninnocent man whose only offence is that I practised charity--with ahalter round my neck. Your lordship, being the justiciar, speaks withknowledge of what is to come to me. I, being a physician, may speak withknowledge of what is to come to your lordship. And I tell you that Iwould not now change places with you--that I would not exchange thishalter that you fling about my neck for the stone that you carry inyour body. The death to which you may doom me is a light pleasantry bycontrast with the death to which your lordship has been doomed by thatGreat Judge with whose name your
lordship makes so free."

  The Lord Chief Justice sat stiffly upright, his face ashen, his lipstwitching, and whilst you might have counted ten there was no sound inthat paralyzed court after Peter Blood had finished speaking. All thosewho knew Lord Jeffreys regarded this as the lull before the storm, andbraced themselves for the explosion. But none came.

  Slowly, faintly, the colour crept back into that ashen face. The scarletfigure lost its rigidity, and bent forward. His lordship began to speak.In a muted voice and briefly--much more briefly than his wont on suchoccasions and in a manner entirely mechanical, the manner of a manwhose thoughts are elsewhere while his lips are speaking--he deliveredsentence of death in the prescribed form, and without the leastallusion to what Peter Blood had said. Having delivered it, he sank backexhausted, his eyes half-closed, his brow agleam with sweat.

  The prisoners filed out.

  Mr. Pollexfen--a Whig at heart despite the position of Judge-Advocatewhich he occupied--was overheard by one of the jurors to mutter in theear of a brother counsel:

  "On my soul, that swarthy rascal has given his lordship a scare. It's apity he must hang. For a man who can frighten Jeffreys should go far."