Excerpt from At Drake's Command by David Wesley Hill

Chapter 1: A Fine Morning to Be Whipped

November 15, 1577
Plymouth, England

At Drake's Command by David Wesley HillIt was as fine a morning to be whipped as any I had ever seen. The November sky was cloudless except for a puff or two of pure white fleece above the Hoe, the high greensward beyond Plymouth, which was just visible past the rooftops of the city. A stiff sea breeze was pushing back the usual stink and the air tasted as sharp and pure as dry sack. I took in a deep breath, trying not to think of what lay ahead.

Chained by the wrists to the tail of the parish beadle’s cart, I was being led toward Sutton Pool, the city harbor, where the civic ducking stool, stocks, and whipping post were located.

I had been stripped of my doublet and boots and now wore only breeches and a thin shirt. The cobbles were icy against the soles of my naked feet and I began to make a point of stepping in the piles of slop littering the street. This helped warm my toes but did little for the rest of me. I was shivering by the time the cart turned onto the quay side.

“Say, Hal,” I called to the beadle. “Could you hurry a trifle? It is uncommonly cold and I am not attired properly.”

Hal Audley had been clanking a bell to draw the attention of passers-by. He spared a glance over his shoulder, only his melancholy blue eyes and huge beak of a nose showing between the brim of his hat and the woolen scarf swaddling his neck and the bottom of his face.

“Now, Perry,” he answered, “how long would you say we have been acquainted, you and I?”

“All my life, at least. You were a friend to my parents well before I came onto the scene.”

“In that time have you ever known me to neglect my duty? To shirk from the task when a jack needed emptying or a woman required sympathy? No, not Hal Audley! If a thing needs doing, it needs doing well, that is my philosophy. Constable Felix has ordained a solemn march to the post, and a solemn march I will provide. You could do worse, Perry, than to heed my example. Chin up, lad, eyes forward, and let us continue our pavane at its proper tempo.”

Hal resumed his dismal clanking and to my discomfort we proceeded along the waterfront at the same slow cold pace as before.

Sutton Pool was a basin of deep water two hundred yards wide. Most of its circumference was hemmed in by buildings occupied by establishments catering to the maritime fleet—taverns and lodging houses, chandlers, coopers, sail makers, and victuallers. At the far end of the pool was a narrow channel allowing passage out into Plymouth Sound. This was guarded on the west by a blockhouse and on the east by a square stone fort with round towers at each corner. In times of war a great chain could be strung between the castle and the blockhouse, denying enemy ships access to the harbor.

In the center of the pool a dozen vessels lay at anchor, rocking on the choppy water, their cables and rigging creaking, timbers groaning, the pennants at their mastheads snapping in the wind. Small boats went between them and the quay, taking off cargo and ferrying out casks of wine and barrels of salted pork and beef, sacks of oats and barley and dried peas, marine hardware of diverse sort, and huge bales of combed gray wool. Closer at hand weather-beaten fishing smacks were lodged right against the dock, bumpers scraping with unnerving screeches against the pilings while their crews unloaded the morning catch, sole and plaice and halibut as wide as both arms outstretched, buckets full of wriggling brill, angry tunny, and sluggish codfish with bloated orange innards popping from their mouths and vents.

The dock was crowded with the typical bustle—longshoremen and sailors, wives in search of bargains, servants in blue livery, merchants, whores, idlers, and onlookers. All this commotion slowed our passage and allowed everyone to take note of me. Those with nothing better to do, and this was a fair number, fell in behind the cart and accompanied us to the stocks, so that we formed a straggling parade. Many of these people knew me, and so I was not abused as much as I might have been if I were a stranger or disliked, which is to say, only an urchin or two pelted me with clods and fish heads during the journey.

Sam Goodman, a cordwainer who spent more time in his cups than at his trade, clapped my back with a leathery hand and said:

“Perry, bring forth a tankard of your best ale since I have a burning thirst. What? What stops you? Have you no ears with which to hear? I have made an honest request and yet see no action. Your master must have report of this! Tardiness is not a virtue.”

“I fear you must be blind as well as thirsty, Sam,” I replied. “If you had eyes, you would see I am chained to the cart and thus prevented from doing you service.”

“Indeed, indeed,” Goodman answered with heavy humor. “I had not noticed. Tell me, Perry, what circumstance has reduced you so low? Was the roast underdone? The capon poorly seasoned? Or have you—and this is an offense sublimely criminal—singed the porridge? Awk!

This exclamation was caused by the impact of Beth Winston’s palm against his cheek. She was a tiny woman but by no means frail and the slap left behind a blushing imprint. “Have you no shame, Sam Goodman?” she asked, stretching on tip toes to meet his eyes. “To taunt the boy is poor sport. Leave off, else your wife will hear what occurred between us on your last visit.”

“Please, Beth,” Sam gulped, “I meant no harm. I merely wanted to take Perry’s mind off his troubles.”

“Tell that to someone who will believe it. Now away with you before I surrender to a Papist urge and confess your sins.”

Her glare followed him until Sam had retreated among the crowd. Then she turned me a softer glance.

“How do you fare, Peregrine James?” Beth asked.

“Well enough, I suppose, all things considered.”

“Brave child. To suffer cruelty without complaint, when innocent of wrong, is the heart of martyrdom. There is little justice in this world, where those with wealth may purchase judgment against those without.”

“It could have been worse, Beth. I would be facing the gallows had the jury valued the brooch more.”

“They would not have dared! It was sufficient travesty you were convicted when every man present understood the truth.” She walked beside me a few paces, a pensive expression on her face, which was naturally pale and needed only the slightest dusting of alabaster to achieve beauty. Over her bodice Beth wore a tippit, a short cape of scarlet cloth, and the brisk wind was spreading it behind her. Perhaps the wind had reddened her eyes, too. She rested her fingertips on my wrist just above the clasp of the manacles.

“I bear a token from Annie,” she said.

“What is it?”

“She sends you five shillings, her entire savings, enough to carry you to London with some remainder so that you may establish yourself.”

“I do not want the money.”

“Listen to what I say. There is nothing for you in Plymouth. Who will employ you with the stripes of a thief on your back? Especially with Annie’s father spreading lies like manure on a field. By springtime even those who know what really happened will believe his falsehoods since it is the character of men to enjoy slander above fact and to forget what they know to be true in favor of evil gossip.”

“I will not go to London, Beth. Nor will I accept Annie’s money. Return it to her. Or keep it yourself.”

I shrugged away as she sought to tuck the small cloth sack of coin in my breeches. Then the bells of St. Andrew’s began ringing—Yogge’s Bells, as they were known, after the merchant who had financed their construction. Once, twice, eleven times in succession sounded the knell and then all eight bells in the tower clapped together.

On the brink of the quay side was the civic ducking stool, an ungainly contraption of wrought iron, which was generally used for the chastening of women although on occasion quarrelsome married couples were ducked together, strapped back-to-back, as well as slanderers and brewers of sour beer and bakers of adulterated bread. Beside it was the pillory, this wooden, in which was jailed a man I did not know, his ears nailed to the board restraining his neck and hands, a dull grimace on his face, his beard dirty with egg and bits of fish gut.

The whipping post was planted in front of the stocks and stool. It was a stout chunk of ship’s mast as thick around as my thigh and half again as tall as I was. An iron ring was sunk into the wood at shoulder height and I could not help but notice the cobbles beside the post were discolored with dried blood.

Hal swung his legs to the ground and stood upright with an audible clacking of the knees for he was forty years of age and not a young man. He paused to brush dust from his jerkin and then walked around to the tail of the cart. Upon noticing Beth, he tipped his hat, a copotain of blue felt in the shape of a loaf of sugar, and gave her a quick bow.

“Mistress Beth.”

“Beadle Audley.”

“If you have come for the entertainment, I fear that you are early. It still lacks an hour of noon.”

“I have not come for the entertainment. Such spectacle is not to my taste, particularly when an innocent boy is to be misused. No, Master Audley, on the contrary, I have come to ask for your leniency. Spare the rod and do not insist Perry suffer for a felony he did not commit.”

Hal pulled at the tip of his immense nose, a nervous gesture. “Mistress, I cannot.”

This did not deter Beth. Placing her hands on either side of her waist, which thrust her bosom tight against her bodice and made it plain she was generously proportioned although of slight build, she tilted her head and stared aslant at the beadle with a coquettish look.

“I do enjoy performing favors for good friends,” she remarked slyly. “With equal fervor do I shun the company of boors and ingrates.”

The bobbing of Hal’s Adam’s apple as he swallowed caused the scarf around his throat to bulge and shrink and bulge again.

“Pray, do not take offense,” he said at last, “but you are not the only whore in Plymouth, Mistress Beth. Still, let us not argue,” he went on hurriedly, observing the twin spots of color catching fire in her cheeks. “I love Peregrine James as if he were mine own son and would not do this thing save that it is my obligation. What is more, Constable Felix himself has promised to attend. He is a stern master who will judge my efforts with an expert eye. No, Beth, you ask me for what I cannot give.”

Their argument went back and forth while Hal unclipped my manacles from the cart and attached them to the whipping post.

I was not listening. All the week I was in jail awaiting trial, and during the half hour the procedure actually required, and during the days since my conviction, and even through the long cold walk to the quay side, I had managed not to think about the situation I was in. Now, however, the iron encompassing my wrists and the hard trunk of fir to which I was joined made forgetfulness impossible.

One Sunday had already passed. In another two, Annie would be standing at the door of St. Andrew’s with her flaxen hair loose to the waist while another man placed his ring upon her finger.

London? A bitter laugh escaped my lips and was swept away by the wind. London was too near—a thousand miles too near. No, I told myself, I could travel half the world around and still not be far enough from Plymouth.

Beth had drawn Hal Audley aside and they were continuing their conversation while the crowd formed an irregular semi-circle around me and waited for the show to begin. Hucksters went among them selling trinkets, oranges from Seville, mugs of hot cider, roast beef ribs heavy with fat, and crisp fried smelts doused with vinegar. After a week of little but oat gruel and stale beer and bad cheese, the sight and smell of this good fare wet my mouth and caused my belly to churn. So I turned away from land and looked instead upon Sutton Pool.

Although I had been conceived in Plymouth and had spent my life in one of the busiest of English ports, I had never considered going to sea myself. In all my twenty years, in fact, I had never been aboard a vessel grander than a wherry, when my father would take me fishing for salmon and pike on the Plym and Tamar rivers, which framed the city and drained into the sound. Now, though, the ships straining at their cables upon the choppy water held new interest for me—not the smacks and trawlers, nor the swag-bellied coastal traders that never sailed farther than the Low Countries or Calais, but the larger ships bound for distant shores. One such lay directly in my view, the flagship of a fleet of five, which was about to embark, or so rumor had it, on a voyage to Alexandria in the land of Egypt, where the Nile flowed into the Mediterranean. She was the Pelican.

Even as I gazed upon her, out of the corner of my eye I observed her captain striding along the quay side with the swaggering bow-legged step of a man more accustomed to having a heaving deck under the soles of his boots than the solid stone upon which he was walking. He had a slight limp in one leg, where a piece of lead shot still lodged, a souvenir of battle. I recognized him by the gold of his hair and by his fiery beard and by the boom of his laughter as he bantered with a companion. This was no great achievement, however, since everyone in Plymouth, from the lowest scullion to the highest aristocrat, knew him or knew of him. His name was Drake, Francis Drake.

The man at his side was a different sort. A full head taller than the robust mariner, he was slender instead of stocky, dark-complexioned where Drake was fair, and he moved with the languid motion of a gentleman rather than with the jaunty energy of a seafarer. His doublet was of burgundy silk, the codpiece of rich plum velvet embroidered with gold, and his boots of supple leather reached above the knee. I recognized him, too. He was Thomas Doughty, the second of the three captains in command of the expedition to Africa.

The pair halted twenty paces from the whipping post and each turned me an incurious glance before resuming their discussion. A watch had evidently been set for them aboard the Pelican because a ship’s boat soon put forth toward the dock, propelled across the white caps by the oars of the sailors crewing her, spray jetting from her bow. I realized that if I was to speak, it must be soon or never.

“Captain Drake, sir,” I asked. “Have you a moment?”

I had to call three times to gain his attention. At first I feared Drake would ignore me in spite of his reputation for being approachable by even the meanest citizen but after a word to Doughty he strode to the post and looked me up and down with a calculating eye, turning upon me the scrutiny of a man accustomed to evaluating other men.

“What is it, boy?” he asked. “Quickly.”

Despite the chill Drake was not wearing a scarf. His clothes were plain, practical rather than showy, tailored of hardy wool rather than velvet, satin, or silk. His boots, although well-made, were well-used, the leather bearing the whitish stains of brine and weather. Not that Drake disdained fashion—I would later see him dressed as gaudily as any courtier, trussed in finery and as brilliant as a peacock. But Drake was a sailor first and he possessed the practical temperament that was essential for survival upon the ocean.

“They say you sail for Alexandria, Captain Drake.”

“God’s blood, is my business known to every vagabond and ragamuffin littering the streets of Plymouth?”

“I cannot speak to that, captain, since I am not one nor the other. My name is Peregrine—Perry—James.”

“Well, then, Mr. James, who is neither vagabond nor ragamuffin, what would you have with me?”

“I would have a position among your crew, sir, if there is need for another man.”

Drake’s complexion, as I have mentioned, was fair despite the years he had endured on deck beneath the sun and despite exposure to the fury of gales and tempests beyond counting. This allowed the blood now suffusing his cheeks to be easily noticed and I feared my request had angered him. But he threw back his head and laughed with such enjoyment that people across the quay turned to discover the cause.

When he had collected himself, he asked, “Damn me, lad, what need have I for a thief?”

His tone was not unkind but the words stung even so. “I am no thief, captain,” I protested. “I am innocent and unfairly convicted.”

“That I have heard before and from men eminently guilty of crime.”

“In my case it is fact, Captain Drake,” I exclaimed with as much sincerity as I could muster. “My only wrong was to love my master’s daughter. But her father had a more favorable marriage in mind. I was an unwanted suitor and for that offense he resolved to see me hang.”

Drake approached nearer, until mere inches separated us, and stared into my eyes without blinking. His own were bright blue framed by the brightest white, the eyes of a raptor, cold and pitiless and without sentiment. It required all my strength to meet his gaze without flinching.

Finally he said: “Do you vow by Jesus and by our holy Lord that what you say is nothing but the truth.”

“By Jesus, Captain Drake. My oath as a Christian.”

“Yes, I do believe you, lad, for it is well known I am an admirable judge of character.”

“Then you would have me, sir?”

“I did not say that. While ‘tis true I could always find employment for a sailor, it is clear you are not one. Have you some other skill?”

“I speak Spanish, Captain Drake. And some Portuguese, which is not so different a tongue. My mother, God rest her, was from Cordoba.”

Drake was not impressed. “What else?” he asked.

“I am a cook, sir.”

“Hardly a remarkable distinction, Perry James. To boil salt pork is no great accomplishment—”

“A word, Francis, if you please.”

This was the moment Thomas Doughty entered my life. At the time I did not care for him. The difference in our stations was too great for there to be easy sympathy between us. Nor did he possess the common touch that came so naturally to Drake, who had risen from humble origins. Doughty was a gentleman and moved among the highest circles in the land, hobnobbing with Walshingham, Hatton, Burghley, and other familiars of the queen, while I was a convicted felon awaiting the lash. I doubted he meant me well when he pulled Drake out of earshot and engaged the sea captain in conversation. No, I was certain Doughty was convincing Drake to have nothing to do with me and I was surprised when they both returned to my side. It was Doughty who spoke first:

“Are you not the cook at the Jack and Rasher?” he asked.

“I was, sir. Although I distrust the owner will have me back since he charged me with theft and bore witness against me in the assizes.”

“And you are familiar with cooking as it is done on the continent, which is to say, in the manner of the Italians and French?”

“Aye, sir. God bless my mother, she taught me the secrets of gravies and sauces, the use of spices, how to braise and roast, and the trick of decorating food so that the dishes are well presented upon the table.”

“Indeed. I have had an excellent meal at the Jack and Rasher, better than I had hoped to discover in Plymouth. Francis—” this while bowing politely to Drake—”may I suggest we find a place for Mr. James among our company. He could be useful. In particular when we are obliged to entertain certain foreign dignitaries.”

I did not understand the emphasis Doughty placed upon this last word but what he meant was no mystery to Drake. He slapped Doughty on the back, a gesture that the gentleman, by his studied expression, endured rather than enjoyed.

“God’s blood,” Drake exclaimed. “You have the right of it, Tom. Let no one say Englishmen lack proper culture! Damn my eyes, we will instruct the dons in the meaning of refinement, will we not?”

“Then you will have me, sir?” I repeated.

“Perhaps, lad. It is a brave expedition we are embarking upon and I have no sympathy for cravens. Tom, I must return to the Pelican—” the ship’s boat had come up against the quay side and was being fended off the pilings by the oars and brawny arms of its crew—”and I cannot linger. Stay awhile, and observe how Perry accepts the lash. If he whimpers, well, leave him to his life and we will be quits. But should he meet the sting with a roar and bear his anguish with indignation, then include him in our roster.”

“As you wish, Francis,” replied Doughty just as Yogge’s bells tolled, signaling the noon hour and the execution of my sentence.

The crowd had quieted in anticipation of the entertainment. It had grown in number, too, certain parents having summoned their children so that they might be instructed in the peril of wrongdoing and profit by my example. Beth was in the first row, clasping a pomander to her face. Not far from her side was Constable Felix, Hal Audley’s master, a portly man dressed in robes trimmed with beaver and wearing a tasseled hat garnished with ostrich feathers. He was drinking tobacco from a pipe and spitting the smoke into the air with a bored look, his attendance evidently a matter of responsibility rather than of pleasure.

“On with it, man,” he called to Hal. “We do not have all afternoon.”

The beadle unfolded a broadside and recited the charges against me and the punishment to be inflicted upon my person, “two dozen strokes, stout and true and delivered without stinting.” Then he hefted the handle of the lash in one hand and ran its tails through the fingers of the other while approaching the whipping post with a solemn tread.

“How goes it, Perry?” he inquired. “Are you prepared?”

“As prepared as any man,” I answered with such bravado as I could summon.

“Remember what I instructed,” Hal went on. He spoke with unusual urgency, as if his words carried deeper import than their surface meaning, although I lacked the sense to decipher the riddle. “Heed my example, Perry, and give your all to the role fate has prescribed for you. As I have said occasionally, a thing worth doing is a thing worth doing well. This is my firm belief.”

“Aye, Hal, I hear you,” I replied and braced myself against the post, unable to prevent my shoulders from tightening, or to stop my heart from racing, or to keep my mouth from going dry. I pressed my cheek against the wood and stared out on Sutton Pool—there swam the Pelican, a bustle of activity about her as the final stores for the journey to Egypt were hoisted aboard—and attempted to ignore the noise Hal Audley made while stepping away to gain room for a round-up, the rustle of cloth as he raised his arm, the grunt he uttered while swinging the lash.

“One!”

The cry wrenched from my throat came not from pain but from surprise.

I hardly felt the lick of the cattails. To all appearances the beadle was delivering the sentence with authority, lifting the whip above his head and sending the thongs toward me with such velocity that they whistled and hissed as they cut the air. Yet I did not notice the caress.

“Two!”

This time, my wits dulled by amazement, I failed to make any response. Not until the third stroke did I finally catch on. Through flattery or bribery or by using a feminine inducement whose nature I did not care to know better, Beth had convinced the beadle to hold back. Belatedly I understood the message Hal had sought to convey in the guise of philosophical advice. Craning my neck around, I saw him once more drawing the thongs of the lash through the fingers of his free hand, and I realized he was secretly coating the leather with red ochre or a similar dye so the cattails would leave evidence of their cruelty even though my skin remained unbroken.

“Four!”

Entering into the spirit of the sham, I pretended to be wounded. “God damn you, Hal Audley,” I cried.

“Five!”

Again I cursed the beadle and wrenched at the manacles, attempting to persuade the crowd of my anguish while impressing Thomas Doughty with my rage. Unfortunately, I was unskillful at deception.

Lounging against the ironwork frame of the ducking stool, Doughty had been taking exact note of the proceedings. Soon he was tugging at the point of his beard and peering my way with a puzzled expression. Constable Felix, too, by the nature of his profession a connoisseur of such sights, proved unconvinced of my sincerity.

“Put more vigor in it, Audley,” he called. “Need I provide instruction in every detail?”

“As you wish, sir—eight!”

I redoubled my efforts, tearing at my restraints like a madman and cleaving the air with all the oaths known to me, to no avail. Muttering peevishly, the constable came forward until he was standing beside the beadle. As Hal raised the whip for a tenth stroke, Felix lifted his cane, a strong piece of oak with a knob carved to resemble a snarling wolf, and applied the stick with a thump to Hal’s back just as the whip touched my own shoulders with a far kinder stroke.

“‘Tis how the job is done, Audley,” the constable informed his subordinate. “Do you require further illustration?”

“I am striving my best, sir,” Hal protested.

“Your best is not adequate. Harder now.”

Perhaps because of friendship, perhaps because of prior arrangement with Beth, or perhaps because of simple kindness, Hal failed to increase the power of his strokes enough to please Constable Felix. He matched Hal blow for blow, falling on the beadle with unkind energy when Hal refused to do me any harm. This strange show caused the crowd to quiet. It enraged Beth, however, and she strode into the melee. Grabbing the love-lock curling beneath the constable’s hat, she pulled down his head and slapped his face.

“Leave off,” she said. “Leave off, you ugly toad.”

Her assault took Constable Felix so aback that he could not find his voice nor come up with a coherent plan how to deal with the angry woman. Instead he sought refuge in habitual activity, which is to say, he continued striking poor Hal each time the beadle pretended to strike me. Beth, in turn, applied the flat of her hand to the constable’s cheek whenever he hit Hal.

“Fourteen,” grunted Hal, going on with the count in a stolid voice while Constable Felix protested:

“Get away from me, harlot, or I will clap you in the stool myself and quench your temper in Plymouth harbor.”

“I dare you!” Beth replied. “What amusing tales I could tell of certain unnatural notions you hold regarding intimate congress with the female sex, had I the necessary inspiration.”

Beth, it would appear, possessed intriguing knowledge about more than a few of the men of Plymouth. Constable Felix did not cease beating Hal but he said nothing further to Beth about bathing and endured her attentions with a stoic grimace on his plump face. It seemed curious to me that I, who was supposed to receive the reprimand, was receiving the least injury although I could not decide whether Hal was worse off than the constable or vice versa. At last the beadle allowed his arm to rest and the lash to relax upon the cobblestones.

“Why have you stopped, man?” Constable Felix asked, giving Hal another knock in emphasis. “Continue.”

“The job is done, sir,” Hal replied.

“You are mistaken! ‘Tis not half done. Go on, else you will take the boy’s station at the post.”

“Hold, hold.”

Thomas Doughty was sauntering toward us. A twitch at the corner of his mouth betrayed that he was having difficulty maintaining a solemn demeanor. This did not endear him to Constable Felix, who freed his love-lock from Beth’s hold and settled his hat upon his head.

“Who are you, sir, to interfere with the execution of justice?” he replied, passion getting the better of sense for it was plain Doughty was a gentleman even if Constable Felix was ignorant of his exact identity.

“Why, I am little when compared to a dignitary such as yourself, sir,” Doughty answered in so smooth a tone that the sarcasm was lost upon the constable. “Most recently I had the privilege of serving his lordship Christopher Hatton in the capacity of private secretary. At present I am engaged on an insignificant venture on behalf of her grace Elizabeth to negotiate a trade agreement with the sultan of Alexandria. My name, sir, is Thomas Doughty.”

This revelation had a sobering effect on Constable Felix and for a moment I hoped he would swallow his tongue in a fit of apoplexy but he recovered his poise and regained enough temerity to argue.

“Your permission, sir,” said the constable, “my charge was to ensure the delivery of two dozen strokes of the lash upon the back of this young felon, Peregrine James.”

“Which you have done, sir. I myself noted each one as it was dealt and your man provided an exact measure.”

“If your worship says so,” said Felix, plainly unconvinced. But another thwack of the stick upon Hal’s back put the constable in better spirits. “Audley, you laggard,” he exclaimed, “what are you waiting for? Undo the boy and get on with business.”

The audience began to disperse, some returning to their shops, others to their homes, most to idleness along the waterfront. Soon Hal, Beth, and Doughty were my sole companions.

While the beadle freed my wrists, I said, “You have my thanks, Hal. I only wish I were not so dull and a better player besides. I fear the constable will not be kind to you.”

“Do not worry on my behalf,” he answered. “I can handle Felix. A shilling or two, or even better a kidney pie baked by a widow I know, will do wonders toward easing his temper.”

As I rubbed my wrists where the manacles had chafed them, Thomas Doughty came over and regarded me with amusement. Hooking his thumbs in the belt supporting his blade, a slim rapier of the kind used on the continent, he said, “You intrigue me, Mr. James. I did not expect cunning from such an earnest fellow. I supposed you to be a simple lad.”

I did not think it right to reveal Beth’s leadership of the affair. “Sir,” I said hotly, “even a simple lad or earnest fellow will go to extraordinary lengths when wrongly convicted of crime by the slander of evil men.”

“Hold, Mr. James. I speak in admiration, not in censure.”

“Then you will have me on the adventure, sir?”

“As the matter stands, no. Captain Drake charged me with bearing report of your fortitude under the lash. In conscience, this I cannot do since I have not seen it. Would you have my recommendation, there is just one thing to be done and one thing only.”

“Tell me what that is, Captain Doughty.”

“Why, Mr. James, ‘tis child’s play. You must endure another stint at the whipping post. What is more,” Doughty went on, “so that I may have confidence the strokes fall true, this time I must wield the rod myself.”