My name is Henry Pelham. I was born a gentleman. I became a scholar. But then circumstances decreed that I became a plunderer and a murderer. In short I became a Buccaneer. I fell from grace, let me tell you my story.
I was born in the West Country in the town of Bude , in Cornwall , in the year 1640. My parents were well-born. My father being a magistrate and a graduate of Caius College, Cambridge.
He was a man of rectitude and learning and a strong supporter of King Charles during the Late Rebellion. He raised a group of Cornishmen on his own account and fought at the Battle of Lostwithiel against the Earl of Essex, where he was wounded in the neck. As a result he retired from warfare and returned to Bude, where he awaited his punishment at the hands of the Army.
In the year 1646 a band of troopers arrived at his house , where I was but six years old. They laid hold of my father and threw him down: When my mother attempted to intervene, they took and bound her tightly to a chair and laughed and called her a Papist and amused themselves by throwing items of rubbish at her. My father they beat with the end of an iron stirrup until he was bleeding and unconscious. These gentry then wandered about the house stealing what took their fancy and sampling my fathers wine and carousing and laughing and singing , in a manner which brought shame upon the New Model Army. A shame I need hardly add which went unpunished .
They took my father’s clock, , my mother’s jewels and all the money from my father’s strongbox which he kept, totaling five hundred pounds. They were well pleased , the average pay of the Noddle being six shillings and eight pence a week. It was enough to kill each one of them with drink ten times over.
Many a time I have imagined running across one of them in the street in the Billingsgate – in his decrepitude he asks for alms from passers- by, as I pass by I deliver the alms of a sword thrust to the chest, executed as many times as necessary to assure certain death.
As I grew I realised our impoverishment and the bitterness of my father and the sadness of my mother as the forces of the Army held the country in an iron vice. I attended the local grammar school, but took no interest in the lessons , except for the study of Greek at which I was exceedingly proficient and could construe the whole of Herodotus at the age of thirteen. I amused myself as a poacher on the lands of the local landowner, who was a stiff Puritan and had sided with the Parliament.
When I was twenty years of age King Charles1 was restored to the throne of England; in turn my father was restored to his former position and became a gentleman once more. He was now able to invest funds in my education and obtained me a place at his former college of Caius in Cambridge, to study the Greek Language. Many of its members had sided with the Parliament and it had little to offer its students , as an institution which in the Great Struggle which was the Civil War had backed the losing side . I read a great deal in the Greek language and mastered Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides , whose' Trojan Women' I could recite. But Greek at this time was not regarded, Latin was the language in which to shine; in this language I had no interest.
I spent my time fishing in the River Cam, wrestling with the local rapscallions and fornicating away the money my father could scarcely afford to give me. Indeed I am sure he kept himself in a state very close to poverty to ensure my education. Such has been the way I was always to repay his love.
My skill at Greek was so considerable that despite being a wastrel, I obtained my degree in 1664 and from Cambridge I proceeded to London. I was apprenticed at the Inns of Court to be a lawyer, but regarded this as simply another opportunity to indulge my taste for idle or vicious pastimes. I detested the law and only picked up a law book to translate parts of it into Greek as an idle exercise.
It was in London that I discovered the love of a woman which went beyond the desires of the flesh. Hitherto the burning fires of youth had blinded me to the kinship which can exist between man and woman which is lost in the madness and fury of lust. I was drawn to women as an irresistible magnet of my desires, at the same time regarding them as inferior or low creatures. I realise now I was simply the victim of my own ignorance of the deepest impulses which truly animate humanity, by implication of course what I myself most desired.
In a tavern in Aldgate which I frequented lived a woman who was employed as a singer for the customers; she also eked out a living as a seamstress. She was frequently pestered by the customers, but she would not and was most inflexible in rejecting all advances. She was a proud and unaccountable sort, who kept herself apart. During the day she would dress severely, almost like a Puritan , so that all of her flesh was covered , but in the evening when she was required to sing , she would envelop herself in fine silks and muslins, which would yet expose or suggest the most tender part of herself. She very often aroused the most extreme passions with her bare flesh and tender songs, but never would she satisfy any man no matter how gallant or handsome he was.
Men were attracted from all over London to win her, but none succeeded and eventually the tide receded and she was left much to herself.
Despite the fact that she was a challenge to any man: I kept apart from her, because there were so many others to detain me, but also because of the fear that defeat would also follow my suit like all the others. And yet I could not help noticing that she seemed to have a special eye for me and often I would see observing my every movement as I engaged in some mundane task. I felt her to be a morass into which I would sink like so many others before me.
Then one day as I was idly leafing through my Euripides, while she, engaged in sewing on the other side of the room, laughingly bade me construe or translate as I read .
It greatly struck me that she should have any interest in such matters or indeed to understand what construe really meant.
I recited a speech from 'Iphiginea in Tauris' and then looked over to her and bowed my head, while she laid aside her sowing and clapped.
She then came and sat down beside me and indicated that she wished me to instruct her in the Greek Language. There was nothing flirtatious in her manner, but something vibrant and cheerful which caught me.
So began what was at first a friendship overlaid with that relationship which exists between teacher and pupil. She was avid and punctilious and made rapid progress and also great demands upon my intellect. We would gather together in my room at Grays Inn, in the early evening and spent many happy hours talking and laughing and construing through Aeschylus and Homer and Lucian , for who she had a particular fondness.
It was love by degrees; it advanced at small steps, sometimes retreating but always retrieving its onward course. It informed me with a passionate desire to instruct her; she seemed to wish to share in the knowledge that I had. We found that when we were apart we came to think of each other, in tender, concerned ways.
Love crystallised for me in a single moment when she told me of her upbringing in the country , in one story she was out early to milk the cows and there began to sing for herself as she went about her task. She loved horses and would ride through the countryside singing songs at the top of her voice. She said that one of the boys in the village had overheard her one day and told his fellows in Christina's presence” I was up on Beeches Hill and 'eard what sounded like a flock of geese , but then I realised it was just Christina singing her daft songs” There was something so captivating in her manner as she told this story and in the way she deprecated herself in telling it that my heart was suddenly caught . I did not express this feeling for a long time, I sensed that she did not have the same sentiments and that to speak my heart would ruin all.
But then I was visited by a misfortune, my mother died and when I returned to London after attending her funeral, her manner toward me changed. It became so sweet and gentle and commiserating. I began to feel that she really cared for me and so at last I found the courage to open my heart and tell her I loved her.
She greeted my declaration with a strange, perplexed expression as we sat on the floor of my lodgings. She looked at me as if I were a sufferer in the grip of a serious illness, for which there was no cure. But then she bit her lip, like a little girl and laid her hand on my arm as if to say 'I hope you will be better soon,' But she did not withdraw from me, but stayed near as I told her more of my feelings.
Then I was so bold as to ask if she felt the same for me, but she would not say it and bade me never speak of it again. She told me she was a person who many had loved, but for some reason she could never fathom, she was unable to return it. She was a stranger to love and would always remain so.
I thought now that all was lost, but she returned the next day and seemed to gaze at me in a new light as if wishing to gauge the depth of my affection. She sang for me and smiled her pretty smile, so that I felt emboldened to embrace her which she accepted, but she would not be kissed.
She did not wish it but our intimacy deepened, she found fault with me and tried to stay away, but in the end she always came back and sang for me and gave me presents of sweetbreads and began to construe Aeschylus like an Oxford don.
We began to act like fondest lovers, though by no word would she admit it, but her eyes told a different story and she would ply me with endless questions of myself and my family, of my predispositions and my former lovers. I said I had no true ones before I met her.
To be apart was an endless time and each reunion bought greater rapture than before.
Then one evening we sat together in a tavern down by the Billingsgate. We sat close and faced each other. We regarded each other's faces over and over and smiled and laughed and touched. We stared, we devoured each other. She then began to look at me with a strange fixed expression. I was alarmed, I thought she was unwell .Then she began to say over and over again that she desired, she wanted me.
At long last the iron wall which lay around her heart was pierced and the water of love burst through in violent cascade. She held me close, she touched my face and hair, she kissed me.
And so Christina came to love me , as well as I loved her. And even then, though I longed to lay with her, she would not , though she burned with scorching fire she resisted and fought me, if I sought anything more than a kiss or a long embrace.
And so as an exhausted soldier lies down in a breach in the fortress at the end of a siege, so I lay down in her arms and wished for nothing more . We lived the life of lovers as then at long last she invited me into her bed , but only for a few short months into the summer of 1665. Then I was suddenly recalled to Bude attending to my father who was ailing; he needed someone to govern his affairs and lay things in order, a tumor having appeared in his throat which was slowly suffocating him.
I had stayed in Bude attending to my father's business and nursing him , when suddenly one night I awoke with a start and I saw in my mind Christina continually sneezing and then she fell down in a heap. I cried out. I knew Christina was dying.
The next morning I told my father I must return to London and despite his piteous look, I took his best horse and reached the capital in four days.
I could sense a dreadful fear and danger long before I reached London, it seemed to travel in the air and live in the trees as I passed. I could see it in the faces of the people as I passed. They way they would not meet my eye and appeared nasty and brutish with each other.
I spoke to no-one and no-one spoke to me and I did not realise until I reached Brentford that London was in the grip of Plague.
I rushed to Aldgate. The tavern was closed. It seemed deserted.! Yet somehow I knew Christina was there. I burst open the door and rushed upstairs to her room. Her door was open. She lay on the bed, her head towards the window.
Her face was white and cold, her teeth bared in the rictus of death. The red circles of Plague upon her cheek and arms, her lips blue and dead. In her hand she clutched a piece of paper , which when I had forced it out of her hand had the following letters. A
These letters she had undoubtedly used in repeated incantation to ward off the symptoms of the plague. I carefully put the piece of paper in my jerkin and looked at the rest of her. Her clothing had been torn to rags, to reveal the dread buboes upon her armpits and in her groin. I thought how she must have turn at them in a lunacy of pain. The burning hell of her last hours were very plain to see.
I shed no tears, instead a vast cavern opened inside, for the rest of life to fill with the waters of grief. I employed a man who had received the plague and survived it to take her body to St. Martin's in the Fields and there we performed our own funeral service, the priests being all dead or too craven to attend. I kissed her spirit as it ascended into heaven and felt, in compensation, my own descend into hell.
I became an angry, dastardly man. I hated cripples and despised the sick. I picked quarrels with the innocent and trampled on them. I let my father die without my love to support him in his last hours and left him in the agony of death crying for me. I lived on wine and spirits and spent with desperate urgency all the money he had left.
I burned my Greek books and became a footpad, terrorising the neighbourhood . I used women as an opiate of forgetfulness. A few discovered me in my grief and I saw the look of pity on their faces as my own dissolved in tears. To repay them next day in hatred and abandonment.