Joseph Shepherd Chs. 11-12

                    Chapter 11

The Elizabeth made good time on her way to Plymouth. The rest of her journey, nine days of good weather and fair winds, brought her into Plymouth on August 29th. Captain Carr supervised the unloading of his ship’s cargo, and his brother Jacob was on hand to greet him. Jacob was usually on hand when Edwin’s ship came into dock, and Jacob’s dockworkers always seemed to land the contract to unload Edwin’s ships. Edwin was pleased to see his brother. Jacob was six years Edwin’s junior, and had always managed to travel to see him, even when their paths were not close.

Captain Braden asked to be taken to the Lord Admiralty as soon as possible to tell his tale of mutiny and the scurrilous acts of Mr. North. William Harvey was anxious to see his wife, Elizabeth, daughter of one of the royal physicians. This is primarily how he secured his position as court physician to King James. He would seek a ride to London as quickly as possible.

The Intrepid, limping along, was also helped on her journey by the good weather and fair winds. Some repairs on the rigging, and adding some extra cloth to her remaining masts, helped to restore some speed to the ailing ship. On board, the tension was diminishing, but hostility remained toward Joseph Shepherd and me. The story of exactly how Mr. North came to command the ship was changing. Would anyone believe that there was plague on the ship that was cured? How could they explain the expulsion of Captain Braden? Mr. North did have a plan that could deal with all of his problems.

“Mr. Swailes,” summoned North. “Come here, I have need of you.”

“Yes, Captain,” said Swailes, “I’m here.”

Swailes was loyal to North, and he believed him to be just the kind of tough officer that a warship needed. North had brought them through peril, two battles, and a near disastrous storm.

“Swailes,” North began, “you must help the men to understand that our safety was secured only through the strong leadership and difficult decisions that we made as officers on this ship. When we reach port in Plymouth, we need to be all of one mind about decisions we made at sea, including having to set Braden adrift. He was diagnosed by Dr. Greene as having the plague. We acted on that information, and saved the ship by our quick actions.”

Swailes seemed unsure of why he needed to convince the men of anything. Had the story changed a bit? Yes, Braden had the plague, or so we thought, he reasoned, but there were two other men who had the plague, and they recovered. Furthermore, Captain North had told the crew that Captain Braden had voluntarily asked to be set adrift so as not to infect the crew.

“Swailes!” said North more sternly to get his attention. “Did you hear me?”

“Yes, Captain,” said Swailes, “I was just wondering why…”

“Stop wondering and just follow my orders,” interrupted North. “I know how people think, and you just need to be clear that Greene diagnosed Braden, his doctor friend Shepherd was in agreement, and we decided, for the safety of the ship, to set him adrift. If we say that some of the crew had the plague, people might panic, and they might not allow us to stay in port. We need to get to Plymouth quickly, and we need to be together on what happened. Remember, this is a crew of heroes who fought off pirates, and returned to tell of it.”

Swailes agreed with North. This was a fine fighting crew, which deserved recognition. What would it hurt to tell the story just a bit differently than what it appeared to be? People just do not understand what it’s like on the ocean in battles and gales. Mr. North should be supported if that is what he orders. No harm done, he reasoned.

North would tell a darker tale of Shepherd and me. He would say how we had convinced him that Captain Braden was dying, and that by setting him adrift, North had saved the ship. He would say that we had predicted that Braden would die quickly on the little boat, and that if he stayed on the Intrepid, the rest of the ship was doomed.

I had surmised as much on my own. I was aware that if Joseph Shepherd and I were able to survive until we got to port, we would be blamed for the decision to set Captain Braden adrift. If we all held to the same story, no one would be held accountable. Braden was dead, we presumed, and the Intrepid would have made it safely to Plymouth. In fact, Shepherd and I could even take credit for the safety of the crew. It was a tidy story, if only it were true. When Mr. Swailes came to me with the story, I decided not to refute it. To do so might be fatal to Shepherd and to me.

When I talked with Joseph Shepherd, he was not so compliant. Recovering nicely now from his stab wound in the side, Shepherd was able to get around reasonably well, though he was still in some pain. Shepherd had been meticulous to wash the wound with fresh saltwater every day, and he had done another curious thing. He had put some of the sulfur, which we used to help preserve apples, on his side after cleansing the wound. It was another trick I learned from him that I would surely incorporate into my medical practice.

“Dr. Greene,” said Shepherd, “am I to believe that a man of your character will go along with this lie of Mr. North?”

Shepherd had a way of piercing through to my conscience that I had never before experienced.

“Joseph,” I said in a more familiar way than I had ever addressed him, “Captain Braden is surely dead, and we will surely be dead if we do not go along with this story. I cannot see much harm in it, really.”

“No harm in a lie?” he asked. “The real harm,” he said, “is the harm it will do to your soul. You are only worried about the harm it will do to your body.”

He had a point there, but when it came to saving my body, or saving my soul, I would go with the one that I could see and feel.

“Perhaps you do not care about your body, Dr. Shepherd, but I care very much for mine,” I said. I did not feel very noble in this line of reasoning, but I could not see who would be hurt by this plan. Yes, it was not actually true, but Braden was dead, we were all alive, and no amount of truth telling would bring Captain Braden back to life.

“I ask you, Dr. Greene,” Shepherd continued, “what if Captain Braden is not dead? Does that make your lie any different?”

 I thought about that for a moment. If Braden were alive somehow, we would still be justified, in a way. If he lived, then we would not be responsible for his death. There would be a chance that we could be caught in our lie, and that would not be good, but it was certainly not likely either.

Then again, if he were dead, it could be because of North’s actions, but Shepherd and I had not been in agreement with that plan. We had no choice, even though it very much appeared that Braden was recovering. So, by lying, we would be allowing a murderer to go free of his crime. It could also be that Braden died of the plague, despite his presumed rally of health. Then, it was a good decision to let him adrift to save the ship.

While all of this was tumbling in my head, I understood Shepherd’s point. No matter the outcome, truth is truth, not to be changed by the life or death of Braden. I could participate in the lie to save my skin, or I could hold fast to the truth, and risk death – death in defense of nothing more than honor.

Captain North broke into our conversation with a more pleasant than usual greeting.

“Good afternoon, Dr. Greene,” he said. “I trust that Mr. Swailes has spoken to you about Captain Braden’s unfortunate death at sea. You know, I have been thinking about good Captain Braden, and I think that we might actually help his memory, and perhaps the lot of his wife and children, by saying that Braden ordered himself off the ship to save it. What do you think of that?”

“Isn’t that what you told the crew after you set him adrift?” I asked.

A shadow came over North’s face and his demeanor changed markedly.

“Greene,” he said, “you will promise to say whatever I tell you to say or I will throw you overboard before we reach Plymouth, so help me God!”

He turned and left without even acknowledging the presence of Joseph Shepherd, who witnessed the increasingly outrageous behavior of Mr. North. I believed that North would not hesitate to throw both Shepherd and me overboard. In fact, I believed that Mr. North was in danger of being completely out of control. In fact, he seemed to be showing signs of being deranged.

“No harm in a lie, Dr. Greene?” asked Shepherd.

“He is becoming mad, Joseph,” I said. “I fear for the whole crew.”

“Then we must not allow the lies to continue,” said Shepherd. “North must be stopped now.”

The Intrepid would be making port in Plymouth any day. I could see the gulls at a distance, so I knew that we were closing in on land.

“Mr. Swailes,” I said as I saw the tall lean figure of Swailes approach, “tell me which story we will be telling about Captain Braden’s departure when we reach Plymouth.”

Swailes was not amused at my question. “You will tell whatever story Captain North says you’ll tell,” he said rather smugly. Mr. Swailes, while an officer on the ship, was not known to be of the best and brightest stock. His sister was related to North by marriage, her husband being North’s nephew. Mr. North tried to surround himself with people he trusted, and when the summons came to man the Intrepid, North engaged Swailes to sign on. North arranged to have Captain Braden name several of his friends as officers on the ship. This managed to engender some of the crew’s loyalty to North. Captain Braden had failed to recognize this troublesome pattern when staffing his ship.

“Mr. Swailes,” I continued, “don’t you think that if we keep changing the story that someone will get confused and accidentally tell the truth?”

Shepherd saw the humor in this and laughed out loud for the first time since boarding the ship.

Swailes glared and said, “I don’t know what the truth is anymore, and I do not care! You just say what we tell you!”

He walked off muttering to himself. Mr. Kelley came by at that moment and saw the end of the exchange.

“Swailes is a fool, isn’t he, Dr. Greene?” ventured Kelley.

“I rather think so, Mr. Kelley, but the rest of the crew, save yourself, are just as foolish. I believe that such behavior might just have us in irons after we land,” I said.

Kelley led us into a corner and began to speak in lowered tones.

“That is why I came by,” he said. “I heard that Mr. North is planning to have you both killed before we reach port.”

While I had felt this to be very possible all along, the words chilled me to the bone as Kelley breathed them.

“When is this to happen?” I asked when I could get my thoughts collected.

“Probably tomorrow,” said Kelley. “I will help you if I can, but I am not sure how to do so. Keep alert, and I will try to warn you if I hear more.”

“Shepherd,” I intoned, “you are a praying man. Pray for an answer to this!”

Mr. Shepherd was calm, as usual, and said, “God is in control. I need not worry.”

I was at once comforted, then incredulous that he could trust so completely.

“Do you understand the danger here?” I asked.

“Yes,” he said, “I am well aware that our lives are at stake, that there are those who would have us killed for no good reason other than to save themselves. I have faced this before.”

I began to wonder if he had been thrown off the last ship he was on before the Intrepid saved him some weeks ago. Perhaps he really was a Jonah, and anybody that touched him was bound for trouble.

“What happened to you in the past?” I asked, “Do you remember any more about what happened before you came aboard?”

“Yes,” he said. “The last few days much of my memory has been coming back. I was not thrown from a ship for having the plague. I was living in Egypt before I set sail. I was aboard an English trading ship, the Herald, which was bound for the West Indies. I was told that this was an English voyage, but the truth was that Portugal wanted to avoid any interference from Spanish ships, or pirates loyal to Spain. Hiring an English ship for Portuguese trading in the New World was a trick that the Portuguese felt might enhance their waning position in the New World.

“I had a desire to see this New World, and I had hired on as a ship’s physician. The ship was to stop in West Africa for some provisions of food and fresh water before our trip across the ocean. We had loaded a fine supply of ivory as well when the captain told us that the rest of the cargo was going to require every man to keep his senses keen and his guard up. I then saw that the ‘cargo’ was human slaves. About fifty black men, women, and children, chained together, mostly naked, looking wide-eyed and frightened. They were packed into the lowest deck chained together, and laid on wooden shelves, just like we had loaded the ivory.

“I was shocked at the sight of this. When I refused to participate in the loading of the slaves, I was beaten by several other hands, and then put into chains myself. I was thrown right beside the slaves, and they were even more fearful of my presence than of being packed like ivory into the ship. They had kept me on board to try to keep as many slaves alive as possible. Usually, about half of the ‘cargo’ of slaves dies on those voyages. When we set sail, the ship was blown off course by a storm. We ended up just off the coast of Spain. I complained to the captain that God was punishing the ship for the evil of participating in the slave trade. The captain laughed at me, and told me that he would ‘spare me that punishment’ by setting me adrift in the ocean. A number of the crew took it upon themselves to mock me, beat me, and then set me adrift with a week’s supply of salt fish and water. They were convinced that I would die on the little boat they set me on. I was given a hard blow to the head before I tumbled onto the little boat. The next thing I remembered, I was being picked up by the Intrepid.”

I was amazed at Shepherd’s tale. However, he now had a bigger problem than before. Mr. North was fully capable of murder, and we would be his victims unless we could find a way to save ourselves.


                       Chapter 12

William Harvey took his position as a court physician very seriously, and he felt obliged to report to the port master in Plymouth that there had been plague on the warship Intrepid. Indeed, the Elizabeth, making good sailing time, had beaten the Intrepid into Plymouth by more than seven days at this time. Harvey relayed how Captain Braden had been stricken, and subsequently recovered, and that Braden was even now seeking travel to London to discuss the mutiny on the Intrepid. Harvey felt obliged to protect the residents of Plymouth, even though he was doubtful that the Intrepid would seek port at Plymouth. The port master, a stout, ruddy man of some advanced years by the name of Alvin Toll, allowed as how this port was under his authority, and that no plague ship would be allowed entry. Harvey then felt satisfied that he had done his duty, and he made arrangements for a carriage to London.

Edwin Carr had finished overseeing the unloading of his ship, and he had, as usual, delegated some of that chore to his brother Jacob. Edwin believed that Jacob was meticulous in his oversight, and that he usually had ensured that the job was done promptly and with little waste of cargo or time. Edwin and Jacob then decided to spend the evening together in celebration of another successful voyage.

“There has been some unrest here since you left,” said Jacob.

 “Has King James found new ways to enrage the people?” asked Edwin, smiling.

“No,” replied Jacob, laughing, “he uses the same old ways.”

Edwin joined in the laughter, and together they hoisted a pint of ale to the King.

“All hail the King!” toasted Jacob. Several of the men drinking nearby replied with, “The bastard King of Scotland, may he rest with his head on a pike!”

The whole tavern erupted in song about the old days of Queen Elizabeth. Nostalgia was playing well these days, even though the queen was not far removed from the throne. She was sorely missed. This papist-leaning (as some thought) King James was not well appreciated.

“I’ve heard that a group of the Puritan people are heading to the New World from Plymouth,” said Captain Carr.

“Yes,” replied Jacob, “but not for treasure. They leave for religious freedom. I don’t think that I’d travel to America for religion, but I might go to find some silver.”

“Jacob, Jacob, always looking for the silver,” said Edwin, shaking his head.

“Yes,” said Jacob, “I will always be looking for more silver. I can count on silver, and very little else.”

Alvin Toll entered the pub and walked over to Edwin Carr. He had always liked Captain Carr, and he had never been able to see how two such opposite men as Jacob and Edwin had come out of the same womb.

“Edwin,” hailed Toll, “how was your voyage?”

“Most enjoyable, Mr. Toll,” replied Carr. “Some adventure, good company, fair weather, and, all in all, a successful trip.”

“You always seem to have a good trip, Edwin,” said Toll. “Good captains have good trips. I hear that you picked up a Captain Braden who had the plague.”

“Who told you that?” asked Carr.

“Why, none other than William Harvey,” said Toll, proud to have spoken to such a man as Harvey. “If the Intrepid tries to dock in Plymouth, she will meet with a hundred cannons fending her off!”

Toll was now swelling with pride over his well-protected port, even though he had grossly exaggerated the number of cannon in the port. He would make sure that no breach was found on his watch. 

Joseph Shepherd was praying when I walked in on him. Mr. North had allowed us to stay out of our shackles so as not to arouse undue suspicion and morale problems, or to divide sentiments on the ship. There were those among the crew, chiefly Mr. Kelley, who felt some loyalty toward us for the medical care they had received. Mr. Crane and Mr. Elliott, the two sailors whose symptoms of the plague were successfully treated by Joseph Shepherd, had also naturally felt kindly disposed to us.

“Joseph, we are now just a few days out of Plymouth,” I said. “What do you think our course of action should be?”

I asked this in some despair, believing that we would be summoned to Mr. North any moment and heaved overboard. North would make up some tale of our disappearance, the crew generally would not ask too many questions, and they would sail into port, heroes of some victories over pirates  at sea.

“I have been praying about our situation,” replied Shepherd, “and I think that we should go to Mr. North and ask him to do the right thing by us and by the ship.”

“Oh, how wonderful!” I exclaimed in mockery, “Of course, that is the best solution, sure to work!”

Shepherd endured my naturally cynical response and continued.

“Our job is not to convince him of anything; our job is to tell him the truth. God will take care of the rest.”

So simple a solution in Shepherd’s eyes – just tell North the truth and trust in God. I wished it were that simple.

“Think about it,” continued Shepherd. “We have little to lose in the venture. If he hears our pleas, he can either accept them, or reject them. As it stands now, we are destined to die for his sins. If he rejects us, we are no worse off for having asked him to do right.”

Shepherd had an odd but true point. There was little to lose; it was just a fearsome thing to do. Shepherd’s courage never ceased to amaze me.

“Your plan is better than anything I have come up with,” I said. “Proceed.”

We gathered ourselves and went to the top deck and to the helm where North was standing. He looked so proud commanding his damaged ship on her final leg home to Plymouth.

I interrupted North’s reverie by asking, “Mr. North, may we have a word with you?”

North looked around and saw Shepherd and me standing to his side. The wind had almost completely died down, and the weather was beautiful. I wondered if this would be the last few moments of sunshine I would ever experience. I was taken by surprise when Joseph began to speak. I had felt it to be my place as the ship physician, but Shepherd started boldly, yet softly, to address North.

“Mr. North,” Shepherd began, “we believe that we must ask what your intentions are for Dr. Greene and me.”

North looked a bit surprised at the directness of the question. He replied, “I intend to have you say what I tell you to say when we reach Plymouth. There will be an inquiry about what happened on our voyage, and I intend to make sure that you two say the right things.”

“We will indeed say the right things,” said Shepherd.

“What do you mean?” asked North.

“I mean,” said Shepherd, “that we will tell the truth.”

North was in no mood to banter back and forth over semantics. “The truth is what I tell you it is!” he thundered.

“Captain North,” began Shepherd, “surely as His Majesty’s representative on this vessel, you have a high responsibility. Would you have us lie to His Majesty’s inquiry?”

North seemed increasingly uncomfortable with this line of thinking. He started to turn red from his neck to his ears, and he ordered the nearest sailors to seize us and throw us in irons. Mr. Crane and Mr. Kelley were nearby and had heard the exchange. North pointed to them and ordered them to seize us. They hesitated, and North was now fury itself. He started to jump down from his elevated perch on the helm when a gust of wind slammed into the ship. North tripped on his way out of the helm booth, and the wheel spun into his shoulder, knocking him down with some force. He let out an oath, and tried to clamber back up. As he stood, I saw his left shoulder noticeably drooping down, horribly separated from the socket. The pain was searing, and he staggered toward us. Crane and Kelley stood motionless, unable to move.

“Seize those bastards!” he shouted.

No one moved. Time seemed to be frozen as North tried to steady himself, but the pain was more than he could stand. He fell again, heavily onto his left side. He screamed in pain, and then quickly passed out.

I looked at Joseph, then at Crane and Kelley. Joseph responded first.

“Help me get him below deck so that we can minister to him,” Shepherd said. Crane and Kelley grabbed his limp form and took him below deck to the infirmary.

“Dr. Greene, we will need to assess if the shoulder is broken or separated, or both,” said Shepherd. I began to question my Hippocratic Oath very seriously at this time. I was not convinced that I wanted to help the man who would have me killed as soon as I helped him to feel better. While I was musing, Shepherd had placed his hand on the shoulder and determined that the shoulder socket appeared to be in place and unbroken. He asked if I concurred, and after a cursory examination, I agreed with Shepherd. Joseph then asked if I wanted to jerk the shoulder back in place, or if he should proceed. I told Joseph that it was my place as ship physician, and I commenced to work on the shoulder to jerk it back into place. There had evidently been a great deal of damage to the sinews of the shoulder, and I could not budge it. Joseph then placed his hand behind North’s shoulder blade and lifted. At the same time, he rotated the shoulder forward and then out, and I saw the shoulder slide back into the socket.

At that moment, North came back to consciousness. Crane and Kelley were now joined by a number of the crew who was asking what had happened to Captain North.

Kelley spoke up, “Captain North took a nasty fall and broke his shoulder. Mr. Shepherd and Dr. Greene got him fixed up, I think.”

North was still in enormous pain, but now somewhat relieved by the procedure done by Shepherd.

“Seize these men,” North said, but much more weakly than before. The crew began to mutter, questioning the reason for such seizure.

Before anyone could respond, Kelley continued, “Captain North is still a bit out of his head from his fall. I think he needs some rest.”

Mr. Swailes came bursting in at that moment and asked about the confusion.

“Captain North was hurt,” Kelley said, “and the doctors have patched him up.”

Swailes was not totally satisfied with this answer, but he did not know enough at that point to recognize Kelley’s clever cover of what was happening. I then interrupted.

“Dr. Shepherd,” I said, “I believe that Captain North is in need of some pain relief. Please get him a large draught of rum.”

At that, Shepherd put a mug of rum to North’s lips, and North gladly drank. Shepherd kept the mug in place till North drained it. Shepherd then refilled the mug with more rum, now laced with tincture of opium which I had secured while North was drinking his first mug of rum. North drank this mixture with some prodding by Shepherd, who seemed to have a strange quality of calm and persuasion that paralyzed resistance. North came away from the drinks quiet and at ease. He seemed to forget his orders for Shepherd and me, and he slowly drifted away into sleep.

Swailes then took charge.

“Captain North had ordered me to put Shepherd and Dr. Greene back into chains,” he said. “Mr. Jenkins, please take them to quarters below.”

Jenkins hesitated, perhaps questioning the authority of Swailes. He had just seen us minister to a fallen captain, and now he was being ordered to put the helpers in chains. The rest of the crew seemed unwilling to have another mutiny on their hands, and they drifted away up to the main deck, going about their duties as if nothing had happened. Swailes looked around to the dwindling crew and decided that it was better to rescind an order that would not be followed rather than to have an order ignored.

Kelley looked at Joseph and me and said, “I told you I would help if I could.”

He left quickly to get to his post.

The Intrepid was closing in on Plymouth, and there was plenty to do before we got to port.


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