The Elizabeth was now heading northwest, having long passed the straits of Gibraltar, under full sail and perfect weather. She was making excellent time, about seven knots. At this rate, the Elizabeth would be on course to reach Plymouth about three days after the Intrepid. Both ships were headed there, but for very different reasons.
Mr. North was hoping to reach port quickly to repair and re-provision the Intrepid. Given his triumphs over the pirates, he believed that he would retain command over the Intrepid. Captain Braden, poor devil, was probably dead by now. North’s crew would be loyal to him after having seen him in action. North believed that he could come back after those pirates with a repaired fighting ship, and he would surely bring glory to himself, and prizes to his men. He cared very little for England’s interests, but if he prospered, he didn’t care if it helped the English cause in Europe either. That would be nice for England, but that was not his highest concern.
Captain Carr was interested in bringing his cargo home safely. The faster he got his ship home, the faster he was paid. He also did not relish the thought of having to fight his way past the Spanish coast. He had planned to alter his course slightly west to avoid the Spanish coast after having heard of the presence of pirates. He also was considering the possibilities of finding the Intrepid. What would one find if he happened to encounter that ship? The crew of the Intrepid had set their captain adrift. It could have been for fear of the plague, or perhaps the crew had simply mutinied and had set the captain adrift rather than kill him. Maybe they didn’t even know he had a disease, or maybe he developed it after he was adrift. Maybe he didn’t even have the plague.
Carr pondered these thoughts as evening slowly exchanged places with the setting sun. The Elizabeth was now heading due west into the setting sun, taking advantage of a change in winds. The beauty of it was startling on this evening. Orange and purple hues enveloped wisps of clouds. This evening would be calm and pleasant.
“Better enjoy it now,” thought Carr, “for next week may bring trouble.”
“Captain Carr!” hailed William Harvey, “I have some good news.”
Carr turned and inquired of Harvey his good fortune.
“I am confident that Captain Braden is fully recovered of his illness. Based upon such recovery, I rather doubt he had the plague. He probably had some other illness which mimicked the plague,” Harvey concluded.
“That is good news!” responded Carr. “I trust that Captain Braden can join me tomorrow at the helm to discuss our voyage home. He may be of help in navigating by the pirates he spoke of.”
Harvey agreed. “Yes, I think he would be most happy to join you. He probably wants to get back to sailing as soon as possible.”
On the Intrepid, Dr. Shepherd was asking if we could check the rest of the crew for signs of plague.
“Dr. Shepherd,” I countered, “I think the ones with symptoms will be coming to us if it still persists on this ship.”
“Perhaps you are right, Dr. Greene,” said Shepherd. “I suppose that if there is no more sickness on board, we may be of no further use to Mr. North. I also believe that if we are of no further use, we too shall be set adrift…or worse.”
I had to agree with Shepherd on this point, painful as it was to face. We would be a liability to North’s story about Captain Braden. The crew was solidly behind North, if for no other reason than that they feared him. Truth was, many of the crew actually were willing to follow his leadership. Wherever North was, action would follow. Many of this crew wanted just that – action of any type. While there were several veterans, many were very young, sixteen and seventeen years old, some of them. Adventure was getting into their blood, and a few more battles would seal them forever as fighting sailors who would need that fighting to feel alive. North could provide that for them, because that was who he was, and that was all he knew.
“What do you suggest?” I asked Shepherd.
“I suggest that we pray,” Shepherd said calmly. I was not a praying man, and I thought that we should do something a bit more helpful, hatch some plan to escape perhaps.
“Pray?” I repeated. “You go right ahead, Mr. Shepherd, you pray. I will try to find a sailor or two who might be inclined to help us,” I said sarcastically.
“Then that is what I shall pray for,” said Shepherd, “a sailor or two who might help us.”
With that he smiled and turned over in his straw bed.
“Imagine that,” I thought. “Sailors on this ship who will want to help Shepherd and me!” I laughed at the thought. Joseph Shepherd was still thought to be a Jonah, maybe even a madman. His unusual ideas, his calm in the face of storms, his confidence that was seen as arrogance – none of those attributes had won him a friend – except for me. I was his friend. I had come to respect his intellect and medical knowledge. It was beyond me, and I knew it. His willingness to help those who had tried to harm him was truly an amazing thing. Yes, I liked this man, but I could not imagine anyone else on this ship who might do anything to help him. Actually, my own insolence toward this uneducated, superstitious group of bounders and thieves had not won me many friends among them either. Up until this very moment, I had not really cared. Now, my life could be in this group’s hands. Yes, Dr. Shepherd, may God help us!