But the wild-eyed lad paid no heed to the admonition. He plunged, headlong, into speech, gasping, breathless.
“It is Lord Gildoy,” he panted. “He is sore wounded ... at Oglethorpe’s Farm by the river. I bore him thither ... and ... and he sent me for you. Come away! Come away!”
He would have clutched the doctor, and haled him forth by force in bedgown and slippers as he was. But the doctor eluded that too eager hand.
“To be sure, I’ll come,” said he. He was distressed. Gildoy had been a very friendly, generous patron to him since his settling in these parts. And Mr. Blood was eager enough to do what he now could to discharge the debt, grieved that the occasion should have arisen, and in such a manner — for he knew quite well that the rash young nobleman had been an active agent of the Duke’s. “To be sure, I’ll come. But first give me leave to get some clothes and other things that I may need.”
“There’s no time to lose.”
“Be easy now. I’ll lose none. I tell ye again, ye’ll go quickest by going leisurely. Come in ... take a chair...” He threw open the door of a parlour.
Young Pitt waved aside the invitation.
“I’ll wait here. Make haste, in God’s name.” Mr. Blood went off to dress and to fetch a case of instruments.
Questions concerning the precise nature of Lord Gildoy’s hurt could wait until they were on their way. Whilst he pulled on his boots, he gave Mrs. Barlow instructions for the day, which included the matter of a dinner he was not destined to eat.
When at last he went forth again, Mrs. Barlow clucking after him like a disgruntled fowl, he found young Pitt smothered in a crowd of scared, half-dressed townsfolk — mostly women — who had come hastening for news of how the battle had sped. The news he gave them was to be read in the lamentations with which they disturbed the morning air.
At sight of the doctor, dressed and booted, the case of instruments tucked under his arm, the messenger disengaged himself from those who pressed about, shook off his weariness and the two tearful aunts that clung most closely, and seizing the bridle of his horse, he climbed to the saddle.
“Come along, sir,” he cried. “Mount behind me.”
Mr. Blood, without wasting words, did as he was bidden. Pitt touched the horse with his spur. The little crowd gave way, and thus, upon the crupper of that doubly-laden horse, clinging to the belt of his companion, Peter Blood set out upon his Odyssey. For this Pitt, in whom he beheld no more than the messenger of a wounded rebel gentleman, was indeed the very messenger of Fate.
Oglethorpe’s farm stood a mile or so to the south of Bridgewater on the right bank of the river. It was a straggling Tudor building showing grey above the ivy that clothed its lower parts. Approaching it now, through the fragrant orchards amid which it seemed to drowse in Arcadian peace beside the waters of the Parrett, sparkling in the morning sunlight, Mr. Blood might have had a difficulty in believing it part of a world tormented by strife and bloodshed.