Thursday, January 7, 2016

The Damsel isn't THAT Distressed!

The thing about Peter Blood, the hero of Rafael Sabatini's 1922 novel Captain Blood, is that he really couldn't help himself---he was a hero. No matter that the circumstances of his life had forced him to become a pirate. He would continue to act with honor, to show mercy and--when necessary--rescue damsels.

The original novel covered Blood's career from start to finish, but there was plenty of room for some "untold adventures" that took place during his piratical days. So in 1931, Sabatini published Captain Blood Returns (later titled The Chronicle of Captain Blood), giving us ten more tales of daring-do. He would published another anthology of short stories in 1936.

Now remember that Captain Blood is as quick on his feet as he is with a sword--a savvy and skilled commander who out-thinks as well as out-fights his opponents. But he wasn't perfect. Sabatini knew an identifiable protagonist--no matter how capable--needed to screw up on occasion.

That's what happened in "The Expiation of Madame De-Coulevain," the eighth of the ten stories in Chronicles. While Blood's flagship is being careened, he took three smaller craft and forty men to raid Spanish pearl boats. But they are caught by a warship. Blood is the only survivor of the expedition and finds himself floating at sea, clutching to a piece of wreckage.

He's found by a Spanish ship commanded by the boorish Don Juan de la Fuente. Thinking quickly, Blood claims to be a Dutch national and is taken aboard as Don Juan's guest. So now all Peter has to do is pretend to enjoy Don Juan's crude jokes and ribald songs until they put to shore, then find a way to return to his own ship. That shouldn't be too hard.

But first, Don Juan will stop to raid a French port. Blood knows how brutal Spanish soldiers are when looting a town, but there's nothing he can really do about it except grit his teeth and wait until its over.

When Don Juan returns with a woman prisoner, though, the situation changes. Blood can't stand by and allow a woman to be abused. He's going to have to do something about that...

Of course, if a woman is there by choice and doesn't want to be rescued, then that's another matter, isn't it? It's really too bad Peter Blood didn't know that before cracking open Don Juan's skull.

It's odd to call a story involving several instances of brutal violence "delightful," but I can't help it. That's the feeling Sabatini gives to the story--with Blood doing his best to protect a woman and then having to improvise his way out of his troubles when he discovers the whole purpose of the raid was so Don Juan could run off with another man's wife.

All this leads up to the next story in the collection, when Peter runs into more trouble by simply trying to return the woman to her husband.
All ten stories in The Chronicles of Captain Blood are fun. Peter Blood is one of the most consistently entertaining heroes ever created and hanging out with him is always worthwhile. But "The Expiation of Madame De-Coulevain" is arguably the best of the bunch. Backed by Sabatini's always engaging prose, it has Blood making poor judgement calls without forgetting that he's usually the smartest guy in the room, then has him thinking fast on his feet to get himself out of a difficult situation. It is, as I said, a delightful story.

You can access The Chronicles of Captain Blood online HERE.

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