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She was a beautiful ship, in the frigate class, fashioned, not
merely in her lines, but in her details, with an extreme of that
loving care that Spanish builders not infrequently bestowed. She
had been named, as if to blend piety with loyalty, the San Felipe,
and she had been equipped with a fastidiousness to match the beauty
of her lines.

The great cabin, flooded with sunlight from the tall stern windows
of horn, which now stood open above the creaming wake, had been
made luxurious by richly carved furnishings, by hangings of green
damask and by the gilded scrollwork of the bulkheads. Here Peter
Blood, her present owner, bending over the Spaniard who reclined on
a day bed by the stern locker, was reverting for the moment to his
original trade of surgery. His hands, as strong as they were
shapely, and by deftness rendered as delicate of touch as a
woman’s, had renewed the dressing of the Spaniard’s thigh, where
the fractured bone had pierced the flesh. He made now a final
adjustment of the strappings that held the splint in place, stood
up, and by a nod dismissed the negro steward who had been his
acolyte.

‘It is very well, Don Ilario.’ He spoke quietly in a Spanish that
was fluent and even graceful. ‘I can now give you my word that you
will walk on your two legs again.’

A wan smile dispelled some of the shadows from the hollows which
suffering had dug in the patient’s patrician countenance. ‘For
that,’ he said, ‘the thanks to God and you. A miracle.’

‘No miracle at all. Just surgery.’

‘Ah! But the surgeon, then? That is the miracle. Will men
believe me when I say I was made whole again by Captain Blood?’

The Captain, tall and lithe, was in the act of rolling down the
sleeves of his fine cambric shirt. Eyes startlingly blue under
black eyebrows, in a hawk-face tanned to the colour of mahogany,
gravely considered the Spaniard.

‘Once a surgeon, always a surgeon,’ he said, as if by way of
explanation. ‘And I was a surgeon once, as you may have heard.’

‘As I have discovered for myself, to my profit. But by what queer
alchemy of Fate does a surgeon become a buccaneer?’

Captain Blood smiled reflectively. ‘My troubles came upon me from
considering only—as in your case—a surgeon’s duty; from beholding
in a wounded man a patient, without concern for how he came by his
wounds. He was a poor rebel who had been out with the Duke of
Monmouth. Who comforts a rebel is himself a rebel. So runs the
law among Christian men. I was taken red-handed in the abominable
act of dressing his wounds, and for that I was sentenced to death.
The penalty was commuted, not from mercy. Slaves were needed in
the plantations. With a shipload of other wretches, I was carried
overseas to be sold in Barbados. I escaped, and I think I must
have died at somewhere about the time that Captain Blood came to
life. But the ghost of the surgeon still walks in the body of the
buccaneer, as you have found, Don Ilario.’

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