“Do you laugh, sirrah, with the rope about your neck, upon the very threshold of that eternity you are so suddenly to enter into?”
And then Blood took his revenge.
“Faith, it’s in better case I am for mirth than your lordship. For I have this to say before you deliver judgment. Your lordship sees me — an innocent man whose only offence is that I practised charity — with a halter round my neck. Your lordship, being the justiciar, speaks with knowledge of what is to come to me. I, being a physician, may speak with knowledge of what is to come to your lordship. And I tell you that I would not now change places with you — that I would not exchange this halter that you fling about my neck for the stone that you carry in your body. The death to which you may doom me is a light pleasantry by contrast with the death to which your lordship has been doomed by that Great Judge with whose name your lordship makes so free.”
The Lord Chief Justice sat stiffly upright, his face ashen, his lips twitching, and whilst you might have counted ten there was no sound in that paralyzed court after Peter Blood had finished speaking. All those who knew Lord Jeffreys regarded this as the lull before the storm, and braced themselves for the explosion. But none came.
Slowly, faintly, the colour crept back into that ashen face. The scarlet figure lost its rigidity, and bent forward. His lordship began to speak. In a muted voice and briefly — much more briefly than his wont on such occasions and in a manner entirely mechanical, the manner of a man whose thoughts are elsewhere while his lips are speaking — he delivered sentence of death in the prescribed form, and without the least allusion to what Peter Blood had said. Having delivered it, he sank back exhausted, his eyes half-closed, his brow agleam with sweat.
The prisoners filed out.
Mr. Pollexfen — a Whig at heart despite the position of Judge-Advocate which he occupied — was overheard by one of the jurors to mutter in the ear of a brother counsel:
“On my soul, that swarthy rascal has given his lordship a scare. It’s a pity he must hang. For a man who can frighten Jeffreys should go far.”
Mr. Pollexfen was at one and the same time right and wrong — a condition much more common than is generally supposed.
He was right in his indifferently expressed thought that a man whose mien and words could daunt such a lord of terror as Jeffreys, should by the dominance of his nature be able to fashion himself a considerable destiny. He was wrong — though justifiably so — in his assumption that Peter Blood must hang.