Captain Blood HTML version

2. The Lord Chief Justice
It was not until two months later - on the 19th of September, if you must have the actual
date - that Peter Blood was brought to trial, upon a charge of high treason. We know
that he was not guilty of this; but we need not doubt that he was quite capable of it by
the time he was indicted. Those two months of inhuman, unspeakable imprisonment
had moved his mind to a cold and deadly hatred of King James and his representatives.
It says something for his fortitude that in all the circumstances he should still have had a
mind at all. Yet, terrible as was the position of this entirely innocent man, he had cause
for thankfulness on two counts. The first of these was that he should have been brought
to trial at all; the second, that his trial took place on the date named, and not a day
earlier. In the very delay which exacerbated him lay - although he did not realize it - his
only chance of avoiding the gallows.
Easily, but for the favour of Fortune, he might have been one of those haled, on the
morrow of the battle, more or less haphazard from the overflowing gaol at Bridgewater
to be summarily hanged in the market-place by the bloodthirsty Colonel Kirke. There
was about the Colonel of the Tangiers Regiment a deadly despatch which might have
disposed in like fashion of all those prisoners, numerous as they were, but for the
vigorous intervention of Bishop Mews, which put an end to the drumhead courts-martial.
Even so, in that first week after Sedgemoor, Kirke and Feversham contrived between
them to put to death over a hundred men after a trial so summary as to be no trial at all.
They required human freights for the gibbets with which they were planting the
countryside, and they little cared how they procured them or what innocent lives they
took. What, after all, was the life of a clod? The executioners were kept busy with rope
and chopper and cauldrons of pitch. I spare you the details of that nauseating picture. It
is, after all, with the fate of Peter Blood that we are concerned rather than with that of
the Monmouth rebels.
He survived to be included in one of those melancholy droves of prisoners who, chained
in pairs, were marched from Bridgewater to Taunton. Those who were too sorely
wounded to march were conveyed in carts, into which they were brutally crowded, their
wounds undressed and festering. Many were fortunate enough to die upon the way.
When Blood insisted upon his right to exercise his art so as to relieve some of this
suffering, he was accounted importunate and threatened with a flogging. If he had one
regret now it was that he had not been out with Monmouth. That, of course, was
illogical; but you can hardly expect logic from a man in his position.
His chain companion on that dreadful march was the same Jeremy Pitt who had been
the agent of his present misfortunes. The young shipmaster had 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 during those days of July, August, and September.